We are just a few short chapters away from the conclusion of “Among Others” my first novel, and your first ever zombie story told from the point of view of the zombie.
Noon came and went. The fat man and young man with the broken face still had not shown up at the apartment, or on television. All the Councilmen and the one Councilwoman were accounted for in news reports accompanied by vicious footage news crews drooled over to show their viewers. Footage finally surfaced of other attacks outside the city.
The rumors are true?
What Collins had hoped for, what she risked it all for had come to pass. Between her own group’s brazen attacks and the checkpoint reminders of a Wretch’s position in their new society, Wretches around the country began to stand up for themselves.
Political officials, government workers, private sector workers, families of all walks of life flashed in bloody messes across the screen.
There is no way the fat man and young man with the broken face are responsible for all this. We did it. We managed to start the revolution. Wow, that was a little too easy.
Collins never spoke to anyone who was not already in her apartment. Whatever played out in other towns and other cities throughout the country were not her doing. Not directly, anyway. She did not order their attacks, nor did she put the thoughts into their heads. No authority would be able to pin the revolution on her. Truth is, she was little more than a wandering spark in a dry forest. Then again, truth matters little in war, and even less during social uprisings.
A large part of her smiled internally at the unspoken solidarity. As interviewees were claiming, all incidents outside Ground Zero appeared to happen several hours after reports emerged of the first attacks the night before.
Assumptions floated of a mass conspiracy, some well orchestrated plans had come to fruition. Masterminds behind the scenes biding their time until, for whatever reason, last night that plan hatched mayhem. Of course, Collins knew better.
No well orchestrated plan existed. It was two Wretches ruling the night with a list she handed them. The others were apparent copycats. Her mind wandered.
Perhaps it was the government copying these attacks to justify their own crackdowns on Wretches within their jurisdictions. Perhaps what I hoped for came true. Most Wretches were willing to stand back and allow their rights to be trampled as they felt helpless. Children stop crying when it learns its parent will never feed it. It gives up. A dog in a cage will act similarly, choosing passivity to aggressive tendencies when it realizes barking or gnawing at the bars is futile. But, open that cage, start beating that same passive canine and a new beast is born of the ashes.
It is easy learn passivity when it lessens pain and enables life to continue. When life is finally at stake, that dog will fight for itself. Pure instinct takes over.
Perhaps, too, dogs around the country were pulled from their cages and beaten for the final time.
Where the hell are those two goons?
The woman with knotted red hair ate canned sardines splayed out on a plastic plate. The old man still had not moved from his spot on the couch. Collins had turned on the television and was sitting opposite the old man. Neither acknowledged the other.
Conversations between news anchors and Chiefs of Police in the city and around the country started including ‘leads’ and ‘persons of interest’. Between fact and fiction, Collins no longer knew which was which or if any of those persons were the fat man or the young man with the broken face.
Then again, they said ‘persons’ of interest. We are not persons, or even people in the eyes of the law or the general public. Well, not yet.
Another ‘Breaking News’ icon flashed grabbing Collins’ attention.
Just another house filled with collateral damage. Oh those poor children. What did they do?
“Our researchers and dirt diggers have come up with the name of the woman in the footage we’ve been showing with Councilman Christopher Miller three months before his death.”
As proof that the footage still existed, it played again as the news anchor continued.
“The name of the woman seen here briefly is one Helen Collins. On the line with us now is Edward Lassiter, the individual who uploaded this video to the Internet which has since gone viral. Mr. Lassiter, thank you for joining us today.”
“I would say I’m excited to be here today but, it is a sad day for freedom.”
“I understand, sir,” though the news anchor’s lack of emotion suggested otherwise, “You were there that night, correct?”
“Tell me about that night.”
“Well, um, it was a special Council Meeting called to discuss what to do about the problem of Wretches in our city.”
“This was not a normally scheduled meeting then?”
“No. Those of us in the city requested the meeting to express our disappointment with the inaction by politicians to deal with the lazy Wretches unwilling to speak the national language. We elected them. They do what we ask them. That’s my money paying for their livelihood.”
“When you posted your video on the Internet, you added a caption stating you took the video with your phone. What made you take this video? Was there something about Helen that lead you to start recording her speech, Mr. Lassiter?”
“Well, everyone that showed up to City Hall was allowed to speak for two minutes. Almost everyone in the room, something like a hundred to a hundred and fifty people spoke. It was encouraging to see. It was like my own beliefs over the last six months were justified. When this Wretch stood up and walked down to the podium, it was clear she was not normal.”
“By not normal, Mr. Lassiter, what exactly do you mean? Your video starts only at the end of the alleged Wretch’s speech.”
“Well, for one, everyone there was very angry. They were hollering and shaking. Everyone who spoke ran up to the podium. She strolled all awkward to the podium like some drunk ass. That’s how they walk. Like they own the place. Like we don’t matter. Then, when she had Councilman Miller speak for her, I put two and two together. It was clear she was a Wretch.”
“Do you believe that the now late Councilman Christopher Miller was working with this clandestine Wretch leader?”
“Well, you can’t see it in the video because of the quality of my cellphone camera, but it was clear to anyone there that Councilman Miller was sweating. You could tell he did not want to be there speaking for Helen. I believe he was forced.”
Collins desperately wanted to break something. She never forced Miller to say anything. They were friends. Of all the lies and stretched truths since the beginning, dragging her friendship through the proverbial mud, especially after she inadvertently got Miller killed, was too much. The interviewed man knew only what his sickened and fogged eyes allowed him to see. Then again, it was, in fact, her fault, her friend, was dead.
Perhaps I deserve this.
She tucked her hair behind her ears allowing her to catch the old man across from her waving in her direction.
“What was that speech about?”
“Why does it matter,” she asked, visibly irritated at what was clearly more accusations.
“It matters to me. It matters to Miller. And it matters to Him.”
The old man’s sunken eyes seemed to sink deeper into his already imploding skull. Collins did not sit, but she obliged the old man’s question.
“Like everyone else, I stood idle while others in my position were ridiculed. I walked to work on the other side of campus covered in make up, walking fast to hide who I was. Demonstrators yelled at Wretches as they walked passed. Many were probably walking to work.”
“Or looking for somewhere to live after they were evicted,” the old man added with a flicker of a smile.
“I am one of the guilty that stood by while all this happened. No. I watched it. I saw groups yell at Wretches. They belittled them, if they were lucky. The less lucky were beaten. The luckiest were killed or left for dead. Nobody cared about their dead bodies. She died because I did nothing.”
“She,” the old man asked, “She who?”
Tears fell from her eyes uncontrollably. Collins sat down.
“The night I got this scar,” she pointed to the still scabbed over ‘W’ on her forehead, “It was that same night as the City Hall meeting. After I left, someone grabbed me. I, he, well…”
“Take your time, now.”
She wiped a few tears but they kept coming in buckets, she cleared her throat out of instinct before continuing.
“We were both dragged into an alley. They raped us both.”
“I’m so sorry,” the old man tried to console Collins.
“No,” she flicked back, “I’m sorry. I walked away with this. That poor poor girl. She, well, her…she died in my arms. Those Normals tore her apart. Literally. All because I stood by and did nothing.”
“What could you have done?”
Collins did not answer immediately.
“You could do nothing.”
“That meeting gave me a chance to speak, plead with the community for civility. Of course we know that didn’t work. I spoke out and I got that girl killed. Now, people are dying all over the state and it’s all my fault.”
The old man nearly drowning in his dusty green overalls continued staring at Collins, his lips tightening around his already tense blue flesh. He patted Collins knee with his skeleton hand.
“What about the meeting?”
Confused with the change of topic, she wiped a few more wet spots on her face and sniffled loudly.
“By the time this video started, the City Manager questioned my identity. He accused me of being a Wretch. He convinced the room to stop listening to me because of who I was. I refused to respond to his question of my identity. I finished my statement and left as quickly as I could. Then…then…”
The dam broke letting salty tears flood her cheeks. She licked her lips and tried to swallow something caught in her throat. Through watery distortion, she saw the old man apologize for the incident.
“Do not feel sorry for me, old man. Be sorry for the young girl, not much older than the girl I killed that night, who died with that same image in her mind. That was her last experience on this earth. Me. One died because I did nothing. The other died at my hands.”
If Collins could have seen, the old man’s sunken eyes widened as he bit his lower lip.
“After those bastards ran off, I crawled over to her to help her. She breathed heavy. She died in my arms. She did not die by choice.”
The old man did not respond. Old age changes one’s perspective. It is easier to realize when saying nothing at all is louder than screaming into a loudspeaker.