Among Others: 22nd Chapter

I realized as these last few chapters present themselves to me, that several significant plot lines and scenes are missing from earlier chapters. But don’t worry, they will be added with the edits as the edits are completed.

Among Others: Chapter 22

Amber morning sunlight peeked through the kitchen curtains before Collins realized neither the fat man nor the young man with the broken face had returned. It was likely her worst fears were coming true. News reports were still coming in from all over the city. Tickers at the bottom of the screen plastered names of Councilmen and Councilwomen attacked overnight. Unconfirmed, though touted as just as truthful, reports emerged of attacks throughout the state. Other elected officials in other towns and in capital cities and even rumors of attempted attacks on federal government employees marched on in silence like the lines of Wretches at checkpoints.

By now it was impossible to decipher fact from fiction. Collins knew the fat man and young man with the broken face did not break in to homes across the country. Even quicker Normals could not succeed in such massacres in such a short time span. Besides, eventually, patterns would present themselves to detectives pointing out a path like bloody breadcrumbs in a forest. However, for better or worse, no incoming reports suggested anything beyond terrorism and unknown assailants.

Certainly they would announce captures of culprits if only to lower fears.

The woman with knotted red hair had perched herself at the corner of the couch huddled in one of Collins’ small blankets. The old man wearing overalls was still in the bathroom. Collins assumed he just needed alone time. Long walks to ponder about daily happenings or one’s own thoughts was no longer a viable option. At least not if you were a Wretch.

About once an hour, another name flashed on the television screen with names of Councilmen and Councilwomen Collins set the fat man and young man with the broken face to visit. In her mind she checked off the names as they popped on screen. Images shifted from lines of Wretches waiting their turns to be questioned and humiliated to professionally taken photos of elected officials found dead in their homes as details were made available. Then, sometime after daybreak, it happened.

The image with the name she did not want to see plastered on her television screen appeared. At first the report suggested the man they spoke of was the only Councilman who managed to escape harm during the “Night of Terror” as news anchors had already begun calling it. The mention of his name, sparked Collins’ attention. The woman with knotted red hair never budged. To her, there was no difference between one Councilperson and another. Each was just as unknown as the next. They were just names and faces.
Collins stood from her place on the floor against her refrigerator. Now standing against her couch, she held herself up with her hands anchored on the couch’s back. Before the story of the Councilman concluded, a string of details emerged about his stint on the Council and reelection campaigns where no challengers stood in his way and his present employment at the University. News anchors announced that, if reports of attacks took place in the same order as the attacks themselves, Councilman Christopher Miller’s home would have been attacked around 2AM. This was not the case.
“In fact,” the news caster continued, “Councilman Miller’s home was not invaded at that time.”
What an odd way to phrase that.
“When authorities believed his life in danger, several officers were sent to Miller’s home around four this morning. What they found was probably the most gruesome scene to this point.”
Collins’ heart sank below her hips.
The one thing I requested of the fat man and young man with the broken face was that they steer clear of Miller’s house. One request. Of all the homes and the more than a dozen bodies they left lying dead, half eaten, throughout the night, they still…Oh God.
She felt sick, her knees buckled under her. Scared, the woman with knotted red hair threw her blanket away to come to Collins’ aid. The sound she made hitting the linoleum also brought the old man wearing overalls out of the bathroom. The woman with knotted red hair knelt down beside Collins cradling her head as she sobbed uncontrollably.
The old man wearing overalls found his seat at the table again and stared at the women on the floor. His face was considerably more sunk in, adding more emphasis to his eye sockets than when he entered the bathroom hours earlier. Skin around his neck seemed to tighten, skin around the back of his hands appeared looser. He looked to the television to see what Collins and the woman with knotted red hair had been watching for hours. It was clear to him exactly what his keeper had done. Or, more importantly, what she had sent her two stupid minions to do. At the same time, the old man could not figure out what it was about this one casualty, a Councilman Christopher Miller, that dropped Collins to a pile of nerves dripping onto the floor.
Being an old man with man years of experience behind him and few ahead of him, his foresight was heightened. As little as he knew about Collins or about this particular elected official, he knew something more affected her than a sudden change of moral character.
Like the death of any elected official, only after death do their colleagues speak well of them. With no colleagues to speak well or even ill of the Councilman, news anchors were forced to speak with tearful neighbors with the dead man’s blood infested home as a backdrop.
Neighbors spoke of his good, usually quiet, nature. Then a passing comment neither the reporter nor the neighbor thought twice about caught the old man’s attention.
“He taught us a lot of Sign Language so we could communicate with our niece more. That is, before this until these plots against our country made it illegal to speak Sign Language.”
There were no incidental happenstances in his many years. Only links between two otherwise oblivious instances. Collins knew how to Sign so well when he met her all those weeks earlier. With slightly diminished mental processes she could not have taught herself Sign in the month prior to their meeting. She knew this man. It was like suggesting that two Chinese women murdered in the same small Caucasian Southern town in Louisiana who died three years apart were not connected. Then his premonitions were confirmed by the next news segment.
The old man watched as shaky amateur footage of a Council meeting months ago played onscreen. Standing at the podium speaking was Councilman Miller, but there was no sound. His eyes kept jetting to his left as if he were reading from a teleprompter. Then the camera jostled around to catch a slow Collins Signing while looking disgusted at everyone on the Council. However, her face was not the pale blue color he was accustom to seeing on Collins. Instead, she wore the same concealer they used the other night. Just as the camera steadied enough to watch her Sign, she stopped, turned, and walked up the isle and out the door followed by several young men raising their fists as they went.
No part of her speech was visible though. The camera lens shook too much to enable reading her Sign and the clip was so short anything the old man would have seen meant nothing by itself. It was clear to him Collins was feeling the sting that comes with all decisions, good or bad. Even when those decisions are not your own, but made for you.
Footage of Councilman Miller played twice over. The news anchor suggested to his audience that the woman in the video should be brought in for questioning. It was clear from the video and the angry mob that one witnessed raising their fists and silently yelling, that Collins had already been labeled a Wretch.
Her Signing gave her away, the old man thought, Now her hopes for freedom and equality were going to take those very hopes and smother them.
Not wanting to see any more, the old man wearing overalls walked passed the women and turned off the television. The ensuing silence brought Collins back. She struggled to stand on her own, brushing her hair back behind her ears as she stood.
“Turn it back on,” she demanded of the old man.
“Nobody needs to see that,” he said, “Especially a friend of that poor man.”
She trembled at the comment. It made what happened all so real.
“Turn it on,” she said more slowly this time, “We need to know if they get caught.”
“Where are they,” he asked. He appeared fatigued, like a starving slave after a hard day’s labor.
“Turn it on first.”
“No. Tell me first.”
She tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear, “Honestly, I do not know. They were suppose to come back before morning.”
“You let your anger take over your head.”
“No I didn’t.”
“You sent two young men, desperate to quell their urges, into a world filled with temptations. You gave them the okay to do this. Did you not expect them to do what they did? God help us all.”
“I told them not to. I gave them explicit orders to stay away from Chris.”
The old man’s sunken eyes widened, “You know this man well?”
“We knew each other for years. I asked him to speak on my behalf at a Council Meeting a few months back. He had such a kind heart. So timid. I never wanted this to happen. Not to him. He didn’t deserve any of this.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That I knew him?”
“That you did not want this.”
“I did not want my friend, and a good man, to die.”
“What did you expect? Killing people never leads to good outcomes. You wanted death. You got death.”
“They need to learn that we are people with rights.”
“You are teaching death and hatred, not equality and freedom.”
“Others like us would not speak for themselves. And, when they did, nobody listens to them.”
“That is their choice. Those who chose to speak just need to speak louder.”
“Those who do not choose to speak up needed to be forced into it. Those who refused to listen needed to have their eyes opened. They brought this on themselves. All of them. All of them except Chris.”
“No. They opened the door. You walked through it. That was your choice.”
“Listen, old man.” The woman with knotted red hair pulled herself up and tried to interject but Collins put her hand up to stop her.
“Wretches die every day when we do nothing.”
“That is the choice of the murderer.”
“It is also the choice of the already dead to demand their government protect not only what they consider to be their constituents but those who actually are their citizens. If you disagree with my decisions, the door is always open.”
“I am old. I want to see this world change as much as you. But you’re doing it wrong. You young people want change now. What good change do you see?”
“It takes time.”
“Yes, it does. Yes, it does,” the old man dropped his hands to his sides and plopped into the couch. He faced away from Collins, staring at the black screen.

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