Time ran short for Collins, the old man wearing overalls, and the woman with knotted red hair. No one spoke of the images of the fat man or the young man with the rebroken face. All three inhabitants of that shrinking studio apartment stared at an otherwise silent, unmoving front door. Footage of lines leading to checkpoints flashed on the television screen. Sound emanated from its speakers but it fell on deaf ears. Only ringing entered or exited their ear canals.
Collins wondered what to do next. It was clear neither the old man nor the woman with knotted red hair were leaving her behind. She was unable to convince them that their safety was more important than any interest they had in her as their temporary landlord. She looked to the silent door screaming for her attention. It did nothing, said less.
If they left her apartment in search of safety elsewhere, they would have nothing. If they stayed where they were, they would lose everything. No decent options presented themselves to her. Food could only last a few weeks if they rationed with great discipline.
Yeah. If we even get that lucky.
As luck stood idle from a distance while she suffered for what Normals assumed was simply an illness to be cured, or worse, a choice to commit treason against the state, she expected their food storage to last well beyond any need.
For such a small apartment, all three of them kept their distance from each other. The old man was back at the kitchen table. He sat doing nothing, saying less. The woman with knotted red hair cuddled up at one end of the couch covered in a small blanket watching the news again. Staring blankly at scenes of frozen lines peppered with footage of vicious attacks across the country, by Wretches against innocent Normals as well as Normals against innocent Wretches, though news casters never mentioned the innocence of victim Wretches only Normal victims, the woman with knotted red hair sat wide awake. Like horrible car crash scenes one drives up to and passed, her eyes refused to look away. Each image, either of dead Wretches or of dead Normals, chiseled sections of her heart and carted them to a far away place she knew was no longer far off. Every ill-mannered word mentioned about Wretches carved empty wholes into her gut. Yet her body did not let her look away.
Collins was back on the linoleum kitchen floor with her back against her refrigerator. The television was not visible from her angle. Voices and noise from it remained in earshot, but none of it entered her head. Ringing from her own thoughts rang too loud.
It was all for nothing. We killed. I killed. All other Wretches strategically suffered terrible reminders of their abominable ‘condition’ for nothing. The fat man and that young man with the broken face tortured and killed dozens of people. Other Wretches around the country killed similar innocent lives in other innocent cities. Bloodshed oozes from their homes around the state. For what? In the name of what? Freedom? Equality? Rights? Safety? Pity? Power?
All this pain, all this suffering was for nothing. Soon we will be hauled off. Yeah. If we are so lucky. No one will care. We will get no grave. No one will visit us.
Those with the most power will win in the end. We had no chance from the beginning. My selfish wishes for human interaction brought these defenseless creatures into my home. I lured them into their death with my own wants. What the hell was I thinking?
That is when Collins jumped off the floor where she was again perched against her refrigerator.
“We can’t stay here,” she flicked at both her roommates. “They’ll find us. It’s too soon.”
Without thinking, Collins grabbed a duffel bag from her closet dumping its contents on the floor. Running the kitchen cupboards, she filled the bag with every can of meat it would hold. Then she grabbed her collapsible grocery cart and filled it as well. Something grabbed her shoulder. She turned.
“Where will we go,” asked the woman with knotted red hair.
“I don’t know, but we can’t stay here. It’s not safe. Start packing.”
Realizing the absurdity of asking a refugee to pack when she had nothing to pack, she apologized. Then added, “Your place. Can we go there?”
“Mine,” the woman asked in surprise. “I haven’t paid rent in months.”
Collins banged a can of sardines on the floor to grab the old man’s attention.
“What about your place?”
“I haven’t been to that house in ages. What if my wife…”
“It’s your house though. Right? You own it. So, if you didn’t pay rent, that wouldn’t matter. Right?”
“Then that’s where we’ll go,” Collins flicked back.
She threw the full duffel bag at the woman with the knotted red hair. Pushing the woman with the duffel bag and pulling her cart full of food stuffs, the old man held his bony hands out. With her free hand, she told the old man there was no time for it, they had to leave. He pointed to her face, and then to his own.
Oh my God. Of course. How could I be so stupid?
In her haste to save the woman, the old man and herself, she completely forgot about needing to put on concealer before leaving the apartment. She and the woman with knotted red hair stumbled off to the bathroom first. Before long, they returned, the woman with knotted red hair handed the old man a bottle of concealer.
Seeing the old man’s irritated look at the bottle, Collins added, “You don’t have to if you don’t feel it’s right. I’d understand.”
“Kid,” he flicked as he slid passed the woman with knotted red hair, “I only have to do two things in this world.”
The old man took longer than Collins hoped, but far less time than she feared. Neither the woman with knotted red hair nor the old man looked very convincing. Unfortunately, time was not on their side. She handed them each an anti-bacterial mask, grabbed her full cart and hurried everyone out of her apartment.
They were three blocks away from her apartment complex before she realized they left her television on. Then she wondered exactly where it was they were headed. They followed the old man but he never told them where his house was.
Collins jogged to catch up to the old man who appeared to run at full tilt. They looked at each other but did not slow down. The old man pointed straight ahead, nodded.
Coming up on a cul-da-sac just east of the University campus and four blocks from her studio apartment, Collins wondered which house belonged to the old man. Her questions were answered silently.
A small, single-story white ranch stood alone. All the other homes had cars in the drive. This small ranch house did not even have any lights on to welcome anyone. Its curtains were pulled shut. Confirming her assumption, the old man huffed up the short drive to the brown wooden door. The street-side mailbox was shaped like a fish with “Geissler” carved into its side.