It’s been a while, but here’s the next chapter in my zombie saga where zombies are NOT the monsters to fear…
It remained hard enough not acting on her true urges. Day after day, she realized more that raw animal meat was not the sustenance her body desired. But she refused to allow her own temptations to overtake her morality. Eating human flesh still required immoral acts she would not accommodate. Morality still mattered more than simple indulgence.
Dead or not, I will retain my dignity. At least whatever dignity society will allow me.
Her tears had stopped, but the numbness remained. The emptiness in her stomach felt as though it was being lined with straw.
Collins turned on her television in hopes of determining whether safety was likely if she left her studio. Durand and the young student appeared fearful of her safety, and she was certain nothing good came of the infected man from the other day. The sound of bats on bone reverberated through her skeleton. She cringed.
National news anchors continued on in frenzy. Images popped up of other protesters around the country yelling at passersby, 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. Peppered between footage of said protests were sound bites of Congressman Moran and others in his party calling for protection of the “true minority” and legislation protecting “citizens’ rights.” There were even snippets of video of Congressman Moran standing above a large rabble 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 Moran, “Witnesses in nearly every city, including my home city, describe that the inevitable has happened in nearly every neighborhood in our great country.”
He spoke with the voracity of a gym coach.
The incumbent, President Somani chimed in, “These are innocent human beings we are talking about.”
“Hardly,” reported Moran.
The reporter pretended to moderate, looking to Moran, “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 have to fear for their lives the way they do now. I would put a stop to all this. A father should be allowed to protect his family. A mother should be able to sleep soundly knowing her children are safe. If they can’t, I don’t know what we’re living for.”
President Somani interjected, “Those are undocumented stories. This is little more than scare tactics to gain votes. Just because these people have urges…”
“Yes,” barked Moran. “Urges. Unnatural urges. But they aren’t ‘just urges’.”
The chiseled candidate threw finger quotes around as if swatting a swarm of flies.
“They crave human flesh. They crave death and destruction. Just look at what they did a couple weeks ago. Kiki the service dog was worth tens of thousands. And they mutilated that poor creature.”
“A man died that day, too,” President Somani said softly.
“What do you say to reports that the doors were locked from the outside?”
Moran chuckled, “You can’t believe everything you hear on TV. Those are just conspiracies.”
“My administration is working diligently to determine the cause of that incident,” attempted Somani.
“Working diligently is another term for sitting on their thumbs. Look,” Moran leaned in, propping himself up by his elbows. “They crave human flesh. They have unnatural urges. Eventually, as we’ve seen that day and in reports elsewhere, they will act on those urges. Then what?”
“We must show compassion for these people. We’ve asked them to stay home if they show symptoms. Until we know what causes this, we can’t determine how to handle this. They are, after all, still human beings who deserve our respect and human dignity. Sure they are repugnant in their urges, but we have an obligation to them as fellow people.”
“For once,” Moran said, pulling back and leaning in his chair. “I agree with Somani. These things are repugnant. We already know these things retain sick appetites for human flesh. Sooner or later, they’d have to cave. Government has only one obligation: protect it’s citizens.”
“Protect them from what,” Somani spat back. “Protect the people from themselves?”
“If it’s necessary, yes.”
Reddening, Moran turned to face his video audience directly, “Each one of these infected creatures is a ticking time bomb waiting to pounce on you or your family. They can’t control their urges any more than you can control the urge to piss.”
“Forgive me,” broke in the reporter, “But I have to ask this. Are they even human anymore? Do they feel? Do they breed? What do we do?”
“What part of this infection,” the gray haired president interjected, “detracts from their humanity? If someone is in a coma, we still give him or her rights. These are human beings we are talking about. And they are more sentient than others we provide fewer rights to.”
“My opponent here seems to think that we are best left to fend for ourselves. I think your government should do more than my opponent’s party is doing currently. It’s time your government protects you from these terrorists.”
“Now there’s no proof any infected person is, themselves, a terrorist.”
The pseudo-moderator asked of the President, “But you said so yourself in your speech to the nation not two months ago that The Hush was caused by terrorism.”
“I said it was likely. But that doesn’t suggest…”
“Hear that,” Moran barked. “Back peddling flip-flopper.”
“Are you suggesting, President, that The Hush is not caused by terrorism?”
“You really don’t listen do you? This whole thing seems to be blown way out of proportion. My opponent seems more content creating some hateful undercurrent than getting anything done. Just because terror plots might have caused The Hush, does not make all those affected by it terrorists.
“These infected are still people. They are still citizens. At worst, they simply have different colored skin with different eating habits. I can’t even begin to comprehend where morality and terrorism comes into question.”
“That’s where the president is dead wrong.”
“How so,” asked the proud-of-himself moderator.
“Terrorism is about fear, is it not?”
“So,” asked President Somani.
“By refusing to die, by living among normal citizens with their immoral urges, they are causing fear in the hearts and minds of everyone in this Great Nation. By definition, their existence creates fear. They create terror. They are terrorists.”
“Now wait a minute,” the President responded.
“It’s time we got serious. The terrorists already have.”
“So what can we do,” interrupted the moderator.
The incumbent said, sweating, “Federal health officials are requesting that all infected people be identified and carry around identification cards. For their own safety, and so the state can monitor the outbreak. These are still people with thoughts, feelings, and families of their own. They are not much different from us.
“From there, your government has promised to keep track of, and provide care and flesh clinics for those infected. The clinics, obviously, would only be stocked with flesh from those who volunteered their bodies to science and State. They would…”
“Care? Clinics,” spat Moran. “Are you barking mad?”
“Well, because of the lack of blood to the brain, the infected lose significant portions of their mental capacity rendering them virtually mentally retarded. Because of this, my administration deemed it necessary and humane to provide services for these, these mentally deficient infected people. That way, the nation can remain worry free and safe. This is what true compassion for the ill looks like.”
“Services,” yelled Moran, who was now seven shades of irate. “These terrorists don’t need free handouts from honest, hardworking citizens. They need the Book thrown at ‘em. And as your president,” Moran turned once again to his home audience, “I will work tirelessly to make that happen. These wretches do not deserve our sympathy for refusing to abide by nature or by state need. Wretches like this require other means.”
Just as President Somani tried to interject again, the moderator 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 normal people. Good night, everyone, and good luck.”
Following the fearful reporter’s plastic gaze was a grotesque animation of a zombie biting the side off the network’s logo shaped like a man draped in the state flag with several young children in tow.
Every morsel of Collins ached. She was no terrorist. She was not dead. And she was not mentally retarded. Then she wondered about her reading skills and how they started so poorly when her infection took hold.
Nobody can read that stuff. Hell, in the best of times, some of those texts were a struggle. Even for me. How do they get off calling us retarded?
Collins tried to shake off the banter she just heard. It was not the first time she was privileged to such political rhetoric. She just was not used to being the object of that rhetoric. Being of majority race in her country, and coming from a modest, but not poor background, Collins’ identity rarely came into question in political debates. Her gender sneaked into national dialog but only indirectly and only through reproductive rights, which seemed so foreign and distant now. After all, questioning the validity of the majority in any democracy means losing elections. And in democracies, winning elections is the goal, the only goal.
Fearing Durand may have forgotten about her after several days, restlessness collected in her legs. She needed to know what the outside world looked like. She needed to know that the outside world had not yet forgotten about her.
She did not need to apply her concealer before heading out. Self-consciousness kept her reapplying every morning. Out of her 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, aimlessly. On the grounds just outside her department, a new group of protesters collected. They wore antibacterial masks and carried signs of similar distaste as the group Collins witnessed days earlier. This group, however, also held bats and other blunt objects.
As tempered as her mind was due to lack of oxygen, Collins knew all too well those instruments were in hand to beat anything they despised coming within swinging distance. Looks on 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. Before she did, she recognized several faces in the crowd. They had attended her seminar. They had infected family members. They thanked her not two weeks ago.
Convinced they stared at some more obvious cold bodies, she pulled the tuft from behind her ear to hide behind it, looked forward, and walked quickly. Enough fear collected inside her to do an about-face and head back to her apartment, but if she turned just then, she might bring attention to herself. Being so close to her department building, she decided to stroll around it and head back the way she came.
As she made her way back around the department’s office building that looked more like a rundown house than a university building, she watched the rabble torment a pale feminine passerby like school children on a playground; much older but just as dangerous.
The pale person 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.
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, things Collins never heard in a public space before. The woman’s eyes dripped as obviously as the drool down her chin but she made no effort to rid herself of her aggressors. She did not sniffle though snot ran down her upper lip mixing with the drool. Occasionally, she hissed. She even Signed a couple words Collins could not make out as she stood behind the woman and some distance away.
How am I not that dysfunctional?
She had the sickness, yet she kept much of her senses. During her seminar, there were the occasional seemingly dim infected people, but most could recite her Sign Language phrases. Many even engaged her in conversation.
Then it hit her, just as the mob began hitting their prey.
If everyone’s IQ dropped relative to their original IQ, then that explains at least some of my current state. Then again, I was unable to read originally. Perhaps as this Hush infects our bodies, the “use it or lose it” proverb exists in some exponential form.
Pulled back into the present, Collins wanted to intervene when she watched the tallest man slap the poor drooling woman across the face. She stepped forward to assist her, but caught herself before bringing attention to her movements.
What could she do? There was no way of overpowering an entire mob, even if not engulfed with this infection. Were she to involve herself, someone in the mob would see through her caked-on concealer for who, or what, she was now. Even if they did not, they would recognize who she was since her face had been broadcast throughout the city and in many national syndicates. She was a known infected. But, if they did not see through her rouse, or recognize her, they were sure to start beating on her because, as one of their signs read, “YOU’RE EITHER WITH US OR AGAINST US.”
As much as she feared she would regret it, she pulled her hands out of her pockets and walked toward the rabble. The tallest man slapped the drooling woman in the face.
“Helen,” a familiar voice yelped. Durand stepped between her and the protesters looking deep into her eyes. Then he Signed, “You can’t be here.”
Her neck craned, “That poor woman.”
“Seriously, Helen,” he whispered into her ear. His whisper felt distant, assumingly because of the lack of warmth provided due to how much makeup covered it.
“But she’s about to be…” she Signed but did not finish.
“Durand,” another voice barked. “Why do I always have to see you even when Collins is…”
Her boss hesitated. Concerned with the woman being engulfed by the young rabble, she did not turn to look at him.
“When Collins is nowhere to be found.”
She thought she saw Durand Sign an apology from her periphery.
“Durand,” he snapped as only Durand acknowledged him. “If you see Dr. Collins, would you remind her of my obligation to announce her presence if she returns to campus.”
At such an odd comment given his obvious visual of her, she turned to him. His eyes only glanced at her for a briefest moment before returning to Durand.
“I trust at least you have Collins’ best interest in mind.” Though he continued on his path away from them, she heard him utter, “Lord only knows few others do.”
“Sweetie,” he said as he tugged on her arm. “We really need to leave.”
Collins tried to pull back but Durand had an unusually strong grip on her. This caused her to finally look at Durand. Absolute horror covered his face, even through his antibacterial mask. Unable to comprehend what collected on his face or why, her body allowed her friend to pull her through campus and all the way to her complex.
“What the hell is everyone’s problem,” she asked finally. “And why didn’t you let me intervene on that woman’s behalf?”
“Helen,” he Signed. “I know you mean well. But, um, it’s not safe for you.”
“What do you mean? I’m wearing makeup.”
“But you’re too well known on campus. Like, Luger said, he’s required to report you to campus police if you come on campus.”
“What the hell for?”
“Helen, Sweetie. Don’t do this.”
“Do what? This is insane,” she flicked.
“Stay off campus. Stay inside. Keep your makeup on.”
“What about food? What about the others? What about my rights as a damn citizen?”
“Just, um, call me if you need something.”
“I can’t. My phone is broken. Remember?”
“Um, well, how about this. We’ll meet every other day at the café on twelfth at one.” Durand’s attention darted from side to side. Sweat dripped from his face more than usual.
She felt her head going loose and her surroundings vibrating but managed a, “Starting today?”
“Fine, Sweetie. Starting today. But wear makeup, wear gloves and for heaven sake, wear your mask. You’re not fooling anyone without it.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she peered at her friend in search of answers to questions she did not know.
“Helen,” he said aloud, taking hold of her exposed hands. “They are hurting people. Moran is showing up to protests. Those protests are turning violent. I care too much about you to have something like that happen.”
They stood quiet for a time. Collins broke first.