Among Others: 20th Chapter

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Among Others: Chapter 20:

Collins sat at her kitchen table. Pundits blurted on about the horrible incident at the Stevens’ home. Very little of the four bodies remained except bone and blood spatter. Were it not for the fact they died in their own house, it would have taken authorities weeks to identity their remains. This sounded like usual sensationalism coming from media heads, but Collins knew better. She was there.

From the two children’s bodies she saw, it was clear what their urges were truly capable of if allowed free reign without limitations. Like all urges, temperance was key. What Collins allowed simply opened a Pandora’s Box inside the fat man and young man with the broken face.

Maybe that is our nature. Perhaps demonstrators are right. We are abominations with time bombs strapped to our stomachs. Sooner or later we have to indulge. Right? I know the sensation. I feel it yearning to get out and feed. That night I, I snapped that poor girl’s neck. What did she do? She didn’t have a dog in this fight.

Then again, what about what everyone else is doing to us. We never asked for this. We didn’t choose to be this way. It just happened. Hell, it’s not even contagious. I’ve lived okay on socially acceptable raw meats. And the old man and the woman with knotted hair, they didn’t eat those people. She froze on the spot. The old man probably acted out of survival. Maybe pity.

Maybe we are able to control it. Three of us refused to eat them. I revile the fact that I killed that little girl. But I still killed her.
Little Miss Carla Stevens. I am so sorry for what happened to you. If there is a God out there, judge me. All I ask is that you not judge too harsh. I feel guilty for what I’ve done. So does the old man. Do not blame him for any of this. He wanted no part. He probably just wanted to finish out his life the way millions of other old men have. Happy. Plump. Sitting on his porch wasting the days away enjoying reliving his best moments. Now he can’t. He’s forced to live outside that realm of possibility.
We did not choose this for ourselves. It happened to us. We did nothing to anyone else before last night. Last night was forced upon us. Dogs cowering in corners, starved and beaten, they came at us with dog tags and collars claiming our own best interests, unwilling to listen to us. And they react in blind anger when we bite. Where is the justice in that?
The courts were created to judge blindly, follow the letter, and sometimes, the spirit, of the law. But we are not part of that law. We are not written into that law. We are systematically written out of the law. By our very existence, we are illegal. Catholics call it Original Sin. The sin you yourself did not commit but by your being what you are, you are branded with it.

Clicking sounds came from the front door breaking Collins’ lost thoughts. So scared that her safe house had been discovered, she tried to jump up to hide. Instead, she froze to the wooden chair she sat at all day. Several more clicks, then the knob turned. What few breaths she took ceased. The door opened.
Emerging with sagging facial features, the old man wearing overalls stumbled into the apartment. The woman with knotted red hair dragged behind her a cart overflowing with plastic bags. Collins leaped to assist the old man to a seat. He pushed her with a shaking hand as he found his own way and fell into a chair.
“Are you okay,” Collins asked as she leaned over him to check him over for anything wrong. He answered with deep slow breaths and sweat. The woman with knotted red hair tapped Collins’ back.
“He’s tired,” the woman said as she finished dragging their bounty to the kitchen to unload. She stopped long enough to Sign, “Me too.”
Collins rushed, as fast as one could in her position, to aid the woman so she could sit while someone else put the food away.
“Thank you,” the woman Signed weakly as she sat in the only vacant kitchen table chair.
“No. Thank you. Thank you both. This is amazing.”
There was enough food to last the group at least a week if they ate healthy meals, longer if they rationed, longer still if the fat man and young man with the broken face succeeded in destroying at least half of their targets. At least then their stores of food only had to feed three people.
Curiosity begged her to ask what happened at the police station or what the old man and woman with knotted red hair contended with now that securities were put in place. Neither of them were in any fit state to speak let alone discuss their day in detail enough to satisfy Collins.
She kept herself quiet by putting each can, bottle, package and frozen bag of meat from each plastic grocery bag away neatly. With the cart empty and every bag knotted and placed in the corner between her refrigerator and the wall, she poured the old man and then the woman with knotted red hair a glass of water. They thanked her in turn.
Having nowhere else to sit where the three of them could see each other, she sat on the floor with her back against the refrigerator. It took all her energy, rubbing her hands together like they were freezing and in need of warming to keep from asking them about their day. She wanted to wait until they were ready to speak. They deserved that much.
The old man wearing overalls that now seemed to swallow his frail body spoke first.
“It was insulting.”
There were dozens of first words Collins’ mind suggested to her. None included insults. At least not insults that did not end in beatings,a neither the old man nor the woman with knotted red hair appeared to have been beaten. Not physically anyway.
“What was insulting?”
“My wife left me,” he started before taking another sip of water, “when she found out I did not have the flu.”
“I am sorry.”
“Do not apologize. You did nothing wrong.”
“I…”
“I am a God fearing man. She is a God fearing woman. She believes, we believe, this is all payback for our sins.” Collins started to interject but the old man purposefully shifted his eyes away.
“So she left. I was alone for weeks before I realized I needed food. Those news reports. I knew what people were thinking, what they were saying. But I had to eat. So, I waited until night. The less people saw of me, the better. It was my fault after all. I’m the sinner. A leper cursed by his own evil ways. That was when I stumbled on these three. Huddled over a dog like a pack of wolves. I was so damn hungry. I had to. The sickness demanded it.”
Shifted to one side, he reached in and pulled out a fat, ragged old wallet at least as old as his dusty green overalls. It did not take him long to find what he sought. He placed a card on the table and continued.
“I worked in the damn steel mill just outside of town here my whole life. Sixty years I gave those bastards. Sixty years I paid taxes. Lived well. Lived right.
“When we left here this morning, it was like none of that mattered. People looked at me like I trampled babies as I walked. I was always a law biding citizen. Following the law means doing what is asked of you, even when you don’t agree. That is why I spat at those anti-war kids so many years ago. ‘You got a good home’ I said. ‘You have a place to sleep. You have food on your table. They risk their lives so you can do this. Still you stand here and treat your protectors like they are dirt.’
“I didn’t like when my government went to war. Liked it less when they asked me to go. But I went. I fought. I said nothing. Did my duty and went home. Thanked God every morning and night that I could, too. Pride. I had pride in this country. After all those wars, after all those boys died, I still had pride.
“I am dead. Inside, I am dead.”
“No,” Collins reaffirmed, “None of us are dead. You know that and we know that. Those are lies they tell.”
The old man swimming in his overalls waved for her to calm down, “Breathing does not make you alive. This disease, this thing, whatever it is, it does not mean we are dead. They…Them, out there, with their hate. They make us dead. We are dead to the world. We are dead in here.” He pointed to his slow beating heart.
“Worst of all,” his Signing slowed, his hands shaking, “We are dead to the country I was so proud of before. I gave my life. My whole life to it. Blink your eyes. It’s gone. Just like that.”
One tear traveled down his translucent skin toward a quivering mouth. Soon his whole face fell prey to those salty emotions. The woman with knotted red hair, who remained quiet and still until then dragged her chair over next to the old man. They held each other as they both cried.
Collins could not say anything. There was nothing to say. The hissing sobs convinced the young man with the broken face to turn away from his television viewing long enough to notice the old man and woman with knotted red hair were back. He tapped the fat man.
They shuffled over to the two crying bundles of sticks covered in pale blue skin. The young man petted the woman’s knotted red hair. Tears pooled in his eyes though they stayed where they were born. The fat man simply looked at Collins with want. She nodded back to him. Tapping the young man back, they staggered off to the bathroom together to prep for the long night ahead.
Uncertain what to do or how to feel, Collins pulled her knees in close and hugged them with her back still to her refrigerator. Pangs of something chewing at her navel enticed her to cry. Her tear ducts had different plans. Their rebellion disallowed subsistence in her stomach pains. Instead, it increased the pain as it traveled from her navel up her spine and through her teeth. She closed her eyes hoping to dull the sensations to no avail.

A crash from beyond the closed bathroom door brought Collins away from the hurt. She did not know what it was but assumed it was cramped in her tiny bathroom with the fat man and the young man both struggling to occupy the same space and use the same small mirror.
The old man and woman with knotted red hair had gone quiet. She wondered if they fell asleep in each others’ arms. Sleep was so rare in their present state. It would be wrong to wake them or interfere in their slumber.

Out from behind the closed door emerged two bumbling men that with war paint on their faces. Either excitement over impending feasts or general lack of makeup essentials, they looked dreadful, even for half dead men wearing blotchy concealer. Collins tucked a tuft of her hair behind one ear as she turned them around to adjust their faces. While the fat man waited outside, she moved relatively swiftly smoothing out concealer for the young man being sure to blotch gingerly around his still tender nose bridge. Without concealer, his nose and half his face turned three disturbing rippled shades of purple. She had no recollection of what it looked like before, but now it was a crooked mess any wicked witch would recoil at the sight of.
He winced.
“Sorry,” she Signed.
Trying not to move, he did not respond.
She pulled back to take in her work .His nose was jetting out in two directions and his eyes still mostly shut from swelling but his skin tone looked passable from a short distance. She nodded to him. Since his concealer had not dried, his smile grew naturally not cracking his mock layer of skin. With a wave, the fat man took the young man’s place next to Collins for facial edits.

Before the fat man and young man with the broken face left for their night of ill mannered frivolity and gorging on countless fresh kills, Collins dragged them away from view of the sleeping woman and old man.
“You have your list. Correct?”
The young man with the broken face fumbled through his pockets and came up with an already ragged folded paper. He presented it to Collins like a child happy with his grades.
“Good. Remember, anyone on that list. As many as you can before morning. Except that name right there. The crossed off name. You are not to go to that house under any circumstance. Do you understand.”
They nodded.
“I mean it. That address is off limits.” She looked into each man’s eyes as she Signed these next few words, “Do not go there.”
The fear she saw in their eyes reassured her they would abide by her one condition.
“There are eight other houses on that list. Time will run out before you finish those eight.”
They nodded again.
“Be back here by six in the morning. Sunrise is at half passed six. That way you are less likely to get caught. It is important you do not get caught. There is no telling what they will do if anyone catches you.”
“I do not like jail,” the fat man grumbled.
“Jail will be the least of your worries.”
The two men hissed chuckles. She wished she were joking. If caught, as in any war, the first thing to go is freedom and life. Civilians with amped up emotions fueled by media hype fanned by government propaganda due to upcoming elections would likely beat them both to death. Worse things still if the mood struck their assailants right. Authorities hiding behind national security guises and society’s best interests would be even less relenting choosing torture as a form of information gathering. Torture was nothing either man wanted. Worse still, Collins feared at least one man, if not both, would crack under relatively little pressure. Collins, the woman with knotted red hair and the old man wearing overalls would be found out. Inevitably, authorities would make connections between attacks perpetrated by the fat man and young man with the broken face and the attacks of the other night. Whether those connections existed or not. Which, of course, they did.

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