No chatter. Here is chapter 3 of the as of yet unpublished zombie story where the monster is not the most evil creature in the room. Enjoy.
As the weekend came and went, Collins’ voice degraded completely. Each morning she tested it with similar, disturbing outcomes. Nothing but groans and hisses of unimpeded air released from her throat. She still felt fine. Other than short segments of news suggesting infected people stay indoors, officials remained as silent as she had become.
Irrespective of her current condition and that of others like her, she still had a class to teach.
Her walk across campus was even quieter than the previous week. Uninfected students and faculty powerwalked from one location to another wearing antibacterial masks. They stopped to talk to no one. Equal in number to the uninfected powerwalking persons were lethargic-looking pale bodies stumbling around in the otherwise dead streets. Apart from occasional groups of pale characters huddled over a squirrel or stray cat, he University Square looked no different.
Nobody bothered the huddled groups of feral eaters. Though it still bothered her to see it firsthand, her stomach whispered carnal instigations that pulled her toward them. She struggled to ignore it.
Those who did not wander aimlessly or find themselves in buffet groupings were wandering up to powerwalkers begging for change. More than once, she saw what she thought were normal, uninfected students, walking against her. As they passed, however, she noticed the awkward amount of makeup covering their faces and their pale hands. They too made no effort to seek out potential stray food. Perhaps she was not the only infected person trying to continue living as normal life as possible.
Just then, an ashen man with a three-day beard and newer but well-slept in clothes stumbled into Collins’ path with a small whiteboard.
Will answer any trivia question for $ was written on it. He held it up for Collins to read.
Collins shook her head and Signed, “I can’t speak either.”
The pale man appeared to get her drift, though her exact words fell upon unknowing eyes. He backed away to request attention from someone more generous.
Feeling guilty, she turned back to give the man the few dollars scrunched up in her pocket. Before she pulled her hands from her jeans, three young men with backpacks and healthy skin tones surrounded the man.
They’re going to beat that poor man.
She was helpless against a group that size. So was the man they engulfed.
The gang went quiet for a moment. Then laughter emanated from it. Collins could not believe what she was witnessing. She felt so weak and useless. All of her being begged her to intervene rather than simply watch. Her body allowed only the latter with regard to her wishes for the former.
I’m standing right here and they’re going to do it.
She pulled her cellphone from her other pocket and dialed the first two numbers to the emergency responders before she remembered she no longer had a voice with which to speak to any dispatch operator.
One of the younger men put his arm around the disheveled busker. The three men tightened their circle around the man with the three-day beard. Together, the four of them seemed to glide toward the University Center building. Just as swift, a door entered and the four entered. She watched through the wide windows. The group split as two of the young men purchased something from the vendor. The third stayed with the busker, his arm still resting across his shoulders.
Returning to the group, they handed a drink and something in a small bag to the busker before the four of them sat down. Collins relaxed.
If this infection becomes a permanent situation, perhaps it’s not a guarantee that we will be outcasts. Maybe my thesis on outbreaks and democracies is incorrect. There is hope yet. God, I hope my thesis is incorrect.
Collins put her copy of History of Madness on the head table in her classroom and wrote much of her instructions on the board before she heard a gruff voice behind her.
“Collins, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”
She turned. It was her boss. She wanted to ask the same of him, but refrained from trying. Instead, she gave her best, confused look.
“There are no more subs to go around. Ergo, I am your sub. That does not mean, however, that you should be teaching.”
Frustrated as she was, she could not argue with her boss. She and her class could not discuss anything, and they already missed two sessions due to her condition. She handed her book to her boss and turned to leave.
“I need to talk to you, Collins.”
A single heckle rose from a single student.
“Shut it,” her boss barked. “Or you’ll find yourself out of this class as well.”
With his attention returned to Collins, his voice did not soften, “My office. Wait for me. You know what time I’m done here.”
Confused, she stood staring at the man who just chewed his tongue. He raised an eyebrow.
“We’re done here, Collins.”
A want to respond bubbled up inside, but she swallowed it down. She knew she should not have shown to school. He told her not to. News segments suggested more of the same. Worst of all, he belittled her in front of her students.
He could not fire her. She received tenure two years prior. That understood, it did not mean he could not find some sort of reprimand that fit her indiscretions.
She wondered if anything else could go wrong with her new semester. Flu symptoms worse than she could remember made prepping for her lectures near impossible. Her boss did not even want her teaching until she recovered. Atop all that, some strange ailment, something far worse than influenza, something she may in fact have, was causing people to act strange. She sighed as she corralled a tuft of her hair behind her ear, making sure not to brush against her concealing mask.
Each time her stomach growled, flashes of her meal the other night crossed her mind. Her mouth salivated, only making her stomach groan louder. She had not eaten since that first midday meal of raw meat. Nothing in her fridge appealed to her, but she revolted the suggestion she might actually want meat again.
As she crossed the University Square, the busker who asked her for change earlier was sitting alone on a bench. He wore the jacket of one of the three students who fed him earlier. In his hands and in his mouth were the remnants of what appeared to be raw sections of chicken. It drooled its fleshy juices down his wrists and onto his pants as he drooled onto the bitten into drumstick.
Those kids must have convinced the clerk to sell them something uncooked from the back room.
The three other young men were nowhere in sight. Instead, stumbling sick people and rushing healthy people made their way through the Square. Only the man eating on the bench appeared satisfied, at least at this moment in time.
The office was deadly quiet.
Collins picked up the next book she intended to teach. Scanning her underlines and margin scribbles, frustration congealed as she struggled to understand her most basic comments on the sides of the pages. Unable to produce a cogent thought, she threw the book at the wall. It tumbled down onto a pile of graded tests from previous semesters from students who never cared enough to retrieve them. She never cared enough to throw them away.
Her chair creaked as she leaned back and closed her eyes. She was so hungry, but the urge to refrain from raw meat still outweighed her primal need to sustenance. More than anything though, she wished she could read something, anything.
Growing up in a deaf household, Collins embraced reading. Deaf people spend their time visually taking in their surroundings. When rebelling, typical hearing teenagers run to their room and blast their music to drown out pestering parents. Many deaf teenagers attempting to find themselves, while grasping for control over their world, do similarly. Bass vibrations in the floor reverberate through their bodies. Added bonuses exist when the teenager is deaf but his or her parents are not. Not only do they redirect focus to the pounding bass and drum beats, but their parents are annoyed through incredibly loud “devil music.” Having the opposite problem, deaf parents who listen to thundering music, Collins retreated into books. She hated music.
Her deaf parents and mostly deaf younger brother played music so loud neighbors called local authorities on countless occasions. When she put two and two together as it were, it was not uncommon for Collins to make those same calls, particularly when irritated with her parents. Like any teenager, one’s rebellion is inexplicably linked to their parents’ preferences, more accurately, the parents’ antithesis.
If a parent is a business suit wearing, clean cut, high-minded pillar of the greater community, said teenager revolts against that system. If that same parent is instead a free-loving, drugs are okay, damn the Man, hipster who bucks against the system with every action, that same said teenager will buck their parents’ system and join the very institutions their parents built a wall around. Collins, in this respect, was no different.
Raised by parents who blasted any heavy, beat laden music when angry, or happy; and sibling to a younger brother who followed suit as he was still too young to realize a world outside the one created for him, Collins rebelled into silence and books. It was a dual rebellion on two fronts of the same war.
Music left Collins’ toes curling. Silence was her worldly controlling mechanism. Once she procured enough money, she ran out and purchased overpriced, noise cancelling headphones. For weeks, she pretended to listen to whatever CD she found lying around the house, which in itself caused a backlash. Before long though, Collins did not hide the fact she burrowed into a cave of silence the way a teenager hides a new tattoo until gathering enough fortitude to display it proudly as a badge of honor and rebellion. Just as strongly as if it were a tattoo, it too caused upheaval in her father’s home.
Books just provided a secondary escape. Symptoms of the first rebellion, she had to do something while hugging her knees on her bed in a cone of silence while waiting for the world to grow up around her.
She loved how irate her father became every time he stomped upstairs to find her door closed and his daughter reading a book. His open door policy had nothing to do with privacy per say. It just happened to generate an added bonus to parenting. No, the real reason was for communication. Without an ability to knock or scream from the base of the stairs that dinner was ready, open spaces enabled attention getting movements or gestures.
This struggle did not last long before her father, in another drunken rage, pulled Collins’ bedroom door off its hinges, splintering the frame, and leaving it by the curb for pick up. It continued taunting her ask she left for school three days in a row before trash pick-up carted it away. That is when Collins found refuge in piles upon piles of library books.
Books became virtual wooden doors her father could do only so much to unhinge. Most parents only dream of such rebellion. A teen safely tucked away in confines of the home reading anything and everything their hormonal hands can grab. Then again, the grass is always greener when you use plastic turf.
“Collins,” a voice echoed, bringing her back to this reality.
“I know you’re here. My office. Now.”
Her boss’ office was considerably larger than her own. Even still, it had little room after the stalagmite field of books and term papers. His office was also the only one with a window, but one could not tell since it, too, was covered. By the time Collins entered, he already sat behind his steel desk.
“Close the door.”
His voice remained caustic. Collins noticed his face redder than usual. It was clear he was upset. She sat.
He inhaled then exhaled for what seemed like forever. As he inhaled again, he seemed to search for a kernel of corn stuck in his teeth with his tongue. His fingers ruffled a few random pages on his desk but she could tell he was stalling. She wanted to ask him what their meeting entailed. The first syllable came out as a quiet hiss. She closed her mouth and waited.
“I’ll be teaching your class for the foreseeable future.”
You can’t do this, she tried to scream. Only groans and dull hisses erupted into the room. His eyes did not leave his desk. Retracing her comment, she Signed out of habit. Of course her boss neither understood nor looked up to attempt to do so. He cleared his throat.
“It’s clear your talents are,” he caught himself and seemed to stutter, “needed elsewhere.”
Are you kidding me, she hissed loudly without an ounce of comprehension.
“Oh, give it a rest, Collins.”
He slammed an open desk drawer closed and looked to the ceiling. Out of sheer curiosity of his lack of attention, she looked up to find nothing of consequence above them. Looking back at her boss, she saw what she thought was sweat drooling down his cheek. Upon further inspection, she noticed it came from his eye.
Oh my sweet love, he’s crying.
“This,” he paused to find the word he wanted, “situation does not seem to be going away.”
Collins remained far too confused by his tear to grasp fully what he said.
“People need to be able to speak to each other. You know Sign Language better than anyone else I have authority over.”
She was not sure if she should be proud of his assertion or insulted by his comment.
“I will be manning your lectures for the coming weeks so…” his voice cracked. “So that you have time to teach an informal seminar on Sign Language.”
“Why the sudden change of attitude,” she Signed to blind eyes.
As if he understood what she Signed, “My son is infected.”
Another tear fell. His lip quivered behind its bushy overgrowth surroundings.
“He’s had it since day one. He’s ten. He’s lived in our house since we brought him home from the hospital three days after he was born. But we can’t ask him how school was. He cannot say good morning to his mother.”
By this time, he leaned across his desk, his wet reddened eyes staring into Collins’.
“I implore you, teach Sign Language. It’s tearing my poor wife apart. Shit, it’s ripping the whole family in half.”
She could find no words, so she merely gave a slight nod. Retorting, he snorted in the remnants of his pride, wiped his face with one burly hand, and leaned back in his chair.
“Of course, I give permission to use our meeting room. It’s doubtful you’ll need much more. Perhaps that bumbling friend of yours, Durand, could find himself useful as well. I suggest four thirty every afternoon. That enables the few who might be interested to come. You start tomorrow.”
With that, he blew his nose into a handkerchief and slowly folded it back up and replaced it in his pocket. During this, they did not speak.
“You’re excused, Collins.”
Baffled by the sudden change of temperament but relieved to not face reprimand, she stood. As she climbed over the last pile of papers to exit his office, he muttered, “Mention this conversation to anyone and it’s your career.”