Among Others: 6th Chapter

My fingers are tired so I will hand you Chapter 6 of “among Others”, leaving other discussion on my current NaNoWriMo situation for a later time.

“Among Others” Chapter 6 (edited 12/29/11)

Days passed before considering heading outside again. Only lack of food convinced Collins to chance getting mauled by angry protesters. That, and Collins wanted human interaction again. She refused to even turn on her television fearing what grizzly sights she might see. Her urges for raw meat were not getting any worse but neither were they subsiding. Any hope of this infection simply leaving dwindled while she sat in that quiet apartment.

Undead or not, food is necessary.

She figured she might make it through the weekend but that only delayed the inevitable. Sooner or later she had to venture out.
Peering outside before embarking was impossible, the apartment had only one window. Over the kitchen sink a small window peered out against the wall of the adjacent building. Nothing to be excited about.
Studio apartment with no windows meant cheap rent, which, in turn, meant she could take time off to travel, see the world, and not worry about finances. Now, it allowed Collins to live on borrowed time. Provided neighbors’ curiosity never peaked, she could hold up for several months; even longer if she reigned in her appetite and stayed out of sight.
It was hard enough not acting on her true urges. Day after day, she realized more that raw animal meat was not the sustenance her stomach desired. But she refused to allow her own urges to overtake her morality.
Dead or not, I will retain my dignity. At least whatever dignity society will allow me.
Collins turned on the television in hopes of determining whether or not safety was likely if she left her studio. National news anchors jabbered on in a frenzy. Images popped up of other protesters around the country yelling at passers-by, shoving pale onlookers. News crews never intervened. Reports explained the brouhaha as an “obvious response to blatant disregard for human life.” Their tone let Collins know they were not speaking about the actions of protesters.
The same ditsy reporter she was familiar with sat at a glass round table asking two candidates running for office about ‘the attacks’.  
Said the first candidate, “Witnesses in nearly every city, including our own, describe that the inevitable has happened in nearly every city in our great country.” He spoke with the voracity of a gym coach.
The incumbent chimed in, “These are innocent human beings we are talking about.”
“Hardly,” retorted the first.
The reporter pretended to moderate, “What exactly are these witnesses claiming?”
“Witnesses have said that these, these, things have broken into houses and attacked families while they sleep. If elected, nobody would fear for their lives they way they do now. I would put a stop to all this.”
Interjected the second panelist, “Those are undocumented stories. This is little more than scare tactics to gain votes. Just because these people have urges…”
“Yes, because they have urges. But they aren’t ‘just urges’.” The portly candidate threw finger quotes around as if swatting a swarm of flies, “They crave human flesh. That is hardly an ‘urge’. When left to their own devices, urges will sooner or later lead to acting on those urges. It is an inevitability that they act. Eventually they will kill someone. Then what?”
“But why?”
“For their flesh, of course.”
The candidate paused for his interviewer’s expected gasp, which he received, before continuing, “We already know these things retain sick appetites for human flesh. Sooner or later, they’d have to cave. Each one of these infected creatures are a ticking time bomb waiting to pounce on you or your family.”
“Forgive me, but I have to ask this. Are they even human anymore? Do they feel? Do they bleed? What do we do?”
“What part of this infection,” the gray haired incumbent interjected, “ detracts from their humanity? If someone is in a coma, we still give them rights. These are human beings we are talking about.”
“My opponent here seems to think that we are best left to fend for ourselves. I think your government should do more than my opponents party is doing currently. It’s time we got serious. The terrorists already have.”
“So what can we do,” interrupted the newscaster.
The incumbent said, “Federal health officials are requesting that all of these things be identified and carry around identification cards. From there, the government has promised to keep track of, and provide care and flesh clinics for these ghastly things.”
“Care? Clinics?” spat the first candidate.
“Well, because of the lack of blood to the brain, the affected lose significant portions of their mental capacity rendering them virtually mentally retarded. Because of this, the government deemed it necessary and humane to provide services for these, these mentally deficient creatures.”
“Services,” barked the fat candidate who was now red in the face, “These terrorists don’t need free handouts from honest, hardworking citizens. They need the book thrown at ‘em. And as your Congressman, I will work tirelessly to make that happen.”
Just as the incumbent tried to interject again, the newscaster cut him off with a “That’s all the time we have for tonight. Join us tomorrow night when we discuss the government’s plan to rid the country of us normal people. Good night, everyone. And stay safe.” Following the fearful reporter’s petrified gaze was a grotesque animation of a zombie biting the side off the network’s logo shaped like a man.

Collins did not need to apply her concealer before heading out. Self consciousness kept her reapplying every morning. Only a few blocks separated Collins from the grocery store. It was possible to get there and back without incident, she hoped.
Out of the apartment complex she moved quickly, or what she figured was quickly, in hopes of masking her otherwise slow, undead gait. Others like her puttered around the streets, still aimlessly. Across the street at the edge of campus grounds, a new group of protesters collected. They wore masks and carried signs of similar distaste as the group Collins witnessed beating the defenseless person several days ago. This group, however, also held bats or other blunt objects.
As tempered as her mind was due to lack oxygen, Collins knew all too well those instruments were in hand to beat anything they despised coming within swinging distance. The look in their half covered faces seemed to beg one of her wandering counterparts to step close to any normal passerby. Collins tried to tear her eyes away from them. Convinced they stared at some of the more obvious cold bodies, she tucked a tuft of hair behind her ear, looked forward and walked quickly to her destination.

Inside, she opened her collapsible cart and made her way to the seasonal isle. Just in case anyone asked why so much meat was in your cart, she placed a few collections of plastic party cups.
“I’m preparing for tonight’s party,” she hoped the cups would say to any onlooker. Then she headed for the meat counter. The clerk behind the glass counter was different from her last visit.
Thank goodness.
Two meat laden parties in two weeks in times like these with flesh hungry infected people meandering about might start to look suspicious. As she placed package upon package of multi-pound slabs of steak, ribs, and chicken giblets, Collins again became painfully aware of her caked on concealer.
“Can I help you with anything, ma’am,” asked the young man behind the counter.
Unsure how to react since her speech was gone, she pretended not to hear the clerk.
“Ma’am?”
Still she ignored him.
Just go away. Please.
Then the clerk leaned over and waved a plastic gloved hand near her face. Collins jumped back quickly, especially for someone with stunted reflexes.
“Didn’t mean to startle you, Ma’am,” as he backed off, clearly ashamed of his scaring her.
Collins shook her head, tucking her hair behind her ears. She pointed to one ear and mouthed the word ‘deaf’. The young man turned red and looked around in hopes of someone pulling him away from such an uncomfortable situation. Then he mouthed back to her with over exaggerated lip movements and no sound, “Can I help you with anything?” He was shaking. She refrained from rolling her eyes.
She pointed to the cups and other party favors.
“A party,” the clerk mouthed awkwardly. She nodded, tucked the ever loose tuft of hair behind her ear again taking great care to not touch the concealer plastered on her face. Then he mouthed what she believed was “If there is anything else you need, let me know.” She tried to smile but the concealer refused to allow it. She nodded, tucking the same tuft of dusty blond hair. Now they were both free of the uncomfortable conversation.
With her cart filled to its brim with slabs of different cuts of meat, Collins moved toward the row of registers. Then she realized, she was the only person not wearing a mask. This made it look to obvious. If everyone else is wearing a mask, so should she.
The pharmacy department was not difficult to find. Piles of face masks lined every end cap of every isle in the pharmacy. She pretended to examine a box of masks before tossing two atop her pile of meat and party favors. Again at the registers, she looked about to see where the cashier from the other day worked. Register four. She pulled her cart up to register nine. Far enough from register four to not rouse suspicion in its occupant.
As she waited her turn, she closed her eyes wondering when this would all end or how it will end. Will she be found out for who, or what, she is? If so, she’ll likely be beaten to death by some unruly mob of protesters in the name of community security or self defense. Nobody is capable of maintaining a rouse forever. Eventually, someone had to figure it out.
“Miss,” a voice pulled Collins back. Opening her eyes, an irritated young cashier waiting chewing gum loud enough to wake the dead.
Collins paid and left.

Back on the sidewalk she saw her apartment complex in the near distance. Across the street a small mob of protesters tormented a pale feminine passerby like school children on a playground; much older but just as dangerous.
The pale woman seemed confused. Her blouse covered in drool from her gaping mouth. Collins’ apartment never felt so far away. She was already walking as fast as she could to make it appear she was walking at a normal pace. Her cart rattled loudly.
No one in the mob bothered to look her direction. They began pushing the defenseless drooling woman. They yelled horrible things within inches of her face. The woman’s eyes dripped tears as obvious as the drool down her chin but she made no sound. She did not sniffle though snot ran down her upper lip mixing with the drool.
How am I not that dysfunctional?
She knew she had the sickness, yet she kept much of her senses. Then it hit her just as the mob began hitting their prey, if everyone’s IQ dropped relative to their original IQ, then that explained her inability to read complex text but not walk around drooling on herself. Even if this were true, and it likely was, she still housed the illness that made her an abomination in so many people’s eyes.  
Collins wanted to intervene when she watched the tallest man slap the poor drooling woman in the face. Then what would she do? There was no way of overpowering an entire mob, even if she were not engulfed with this infection.
Also, were she to involve herself, someone in the mob was likely to see through her caked on concealer for who, or what, she was now. And if they did not see through her ruse, they were sure to start beating on her because, as one of their signs read, “You’re either with us or against us.” Tucking her hair behind her ear with her free hand, she continued on her way home trying to forget what she witnessed.

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