No real updates. Just more great story…
Among Others: Chapter 28
“Why did they not turn off the camera,” asked the woman with knotted red hair, still visibly shaken by what she witnessed the day before. She stared down at her small bowl of canned chicken. It was clear to Collins she sought no explanation from her. Collins resigned herself to just watching the woman, waiting for a sign she wanted something more from her than someone to listen.
“She died in front of the world. What if she had children? What if she had family? What if they were watching? That poor woman. The pain she must have felt. And nobody helped her. The camera person just recorded her dying. He could have helped. He could have put that camera down and helped.” Then she looked to Collins, “Do you think this will ever stop?”
“I don’t know.”
“I feel dirty.”
“But you do not look sad. You look like nothing.”
The woman’s comment made Collins realize she was cold. She felt nothing for the newscaster, even though images of her gruesome murder replayed in her mind along with that of the young girl in the alleyway and the little girl that she herself murdered. No sympathy emerged for the woman wet with tears across from her. She was not hungry. There were no more pangs for freedom or equality. Images of death constantly replayed in her head, but no emotions came with them or proceeded them. Everything inside her went numb. She was finally the Wretch her government painted her to be. This same thought occurred to Collins, but it did not phase her. Instead, the thought came in, stood pensive a moment, and left again, not to be considered further.
Collins finished her reserved portion of the same canned chicken the woman with knotted red hair stared at waiting for it to give her answers to questions she could not stomach to ask. The old man ate his on the couch watching news programing. They each took turns watching the same 24-hour news source. Nobody spoke of it, but they each waited for the same detrimental news.
Sooner or later proper authorities were going to find their current hideout at the old man’s home. Collins was a well known fugitive now. Her driver’s license photo flickered onto the screen frequently, though her driver’s license was suspended due to her status as a Wretch. Her name scrolled across the news ticker along the bottom of the screen every few minutes. Thus far, to Collins’ amazement, and relief, the old man and the woman with knotted red hair had not yet been identified, at least not to the press. It mattered less to her that their safe house would be compromised because it belonged to the old man than the fact that, as of yet, neither the woman with knotted red hair’s nor the old man’s names had been tainted by this fight. A fight she started. Only fooling herself, she hoped their names would remain pristine to the end and beyond.
Collins tapped her cleanly licked fork on the edge of the woman’s plastic bowl bringing the woman back from somewhere outside the kitchen. She did not want to pry into her thoughts, but the woman still needed her strength. Slowly, even for someone in their position, the woman finished her last few bites. She chewed like the canned chicken was months passed expiration. Her lips twitched, her tongue looked as though it would flick her food out of her mouth at its first opportunity.
Done, Collins cleared the table. The old man, now known to Collins to be Geissler in a previous life, handed her his empty bowl as well. While the television droned on about attacks by Wretches and government involvement in taking down the known terrorist, Helen Killer, she washed the dinner dishes.
How she hated that name, Helen Killer. The reference was not lost to her. Whether she was actively listening to the television, the mention of her new nickname brought Collins to rolling her eyes and sighing a dramatic sigh. Sometimes she disappeared to the old man’s bathroom when entire segments of dramas disguised as news programs discussed her new primetime alter ego.
She was hardly a killer. The government set to protect her had already killed more Wretches in the name of national interest than all the Wretch attacks against Normals combined. Video footage of Wretch massacres or lynching were displayed with captions referring to freedom, equality, and cleansing. The occasional attack against a Normal family played like the assassination of well-respected stately leaders. Massive funeral processions, special hour long memorial programs ran regularly. Newscasters announced college funds for surviving children of deceased Normal parents.
Yet even more rare, but gaining momentum were the reports of Normal mothers bearing Wretch children. Of course, once diagnosed, they sent the Wretch child to an orphanage. Without fail, the Normal father, prompted by media hype and government regulations, accused the Normal mother of infidelity irrespective of facts at hand. If married, they divorced. If not married, shunned and ostracized by the media for being the bearer of a Wretch and a whore.
The orphanages overflowed with Wretch infants and abandoned Wretch teens. Regulations barring Wretches from marrying, driving, holding anything but the most menial of jobs, and from adopting at all, meant Wretch children, when old enough, would simply age out. What happened with aging out Wretches was unknown. Such problems stretched far enough ahead of the next election to keep them out of media spotlights.
Whether she wanted it or not, the government labeled Collins the face of the cause. Not a symptom. Not a reaction. The problem.
Drying and putting away the last of dinner’s dishes, she took inventory by scanning the cupboards, refrigerator, and the old man’s large but useless pantry since it was filled with outdated canned vegetables and decade old soups. She calculated the days left until their rations gave out.
At least five days. Maybe a week if we try hard enough.