Chapter 8 - Entry 5
May 11th cont.
Frank and I remained outside that night; his shuffling form walking in tireless circles around the Home’s stone walls while I sat perched atop its tower. Molly brought us both food from time to time. Hope remained in shock and hadn’t moved from the bed after we’d cleaned her up.
I could hear gunfire off in the distance, slowly diminishing to sporadic bursts and single shots as the hours dragged by. All was silent by midnight. Nothing to indicate the massacre that had occurred. Until they set the Fort on fire and a false dawn rose from the raging inferno.
Hope, wrapped in a blanket and red-eyed from crying, and Molly joined me on the tower’s flat roof shortly before the sun began to rise. Its red rays mingled with the burning Fort’s smoke and flames until nearly half the horizon seemed ablaze. The three of us shared a thermos of coffee as we watched in silence. Only Frank, slowly circling the Home’s stone walls, moved within our line of sight.
“I know you had to shoot them,” Hope whispered softly, gaze locked onto the distant columns of smoke and ash.
I nodded in reply and placed a scarred hand on her knee, squeezing gently. Best I could do, being the amazing people person I am.
“You think they’re gonna come after us?” Molly asked a few minutes later.
I shrugged. “Doubt it. No idea what set them off to begin with. Didn’t seem like a supply raid or else they would’ve been more careful with the explosives. Best guess is they saw the Fort as a threat and wanted to make sure there wasn’t an organized group in the area big enough to challenge their dominance.”
“You don’t think it was the Army again?”
“No. Defiantly wasn’t the Army.” I replied to Hope’s question after lighting up a cigarette. “I think it was that Dead Cross militia group Silas told me about.”
“We should go see if there are any survivors,” Hope finally offered after another long silence had passed.
“Umm no. No that’s not what we should do. Whoever attacked them will probably be waiting for survivors to return. At least a small unit left to observe. I don’t want to get on their radar.” Shrugging, I blew smoke rings into the air and sighed. “Folks need to take care of themselves, Hope. I can’t be everywhere at once and it’s not my fucking job to save the world.”
“What about Marley and Mary? What if they’re alive?” Hope asked after I’d spoken, meeting my gaze with puffy eyes growing moist with fresh tears.
“If they’re still alive then they’ll have to survive on their own.” It hurt to say but not as much as the look of disappointment that settled over Hope’s face. I’d made a promise to Maliqe to watch over her daughter but circumstances made that impossible. Despite Marley letting me off the hook, a niggling feeling of responsibility and obligation gnawed at my stomach.
I turned away and rose, getting angry at the situation all over again, then spotted movement at the treeline. Flicking off the safety of my gun pulled the girls’ attention to where I was looking.
Three Infected stepped from the trees, their yellow skin and red eyes seeming more pronounced beneath the crimson shaded skies above. Two males and one female, all with messy black hair, thick dark clothing and empty hands. Those hands reached skywards in the universal gesture of ‘we give up’.
Frank was a blurry streak as he rushed towards the trio, face locked in a wordless scream of sheer rage.
“Dad! Stop!” Molly yelled from behind me.
To our surprise, he did, halting some ten feet from the newcomers. It was as if a switch had been flipped; primal wrath shifting to slackjawed statue in less than a heartbeat.
The trio hadn’t moved an inch by the time I’d climbed down the tower and stood beside Frank. Molly and Hope were inside the Home, rifles in hand and scanning the surrounding woods for others through the windows.
I cocked my head sideways and took in a long pull of their scents. Woodsmoke. Sweat and body odor. Fear.
“You are Jaeger?”
I nodded to the male that had spoken but remained silent, watching the three while Frank stood still as stone beside me.
“Your friends to the south were attacked last night?”
Again I nodded.
“We have come seeking your help.”
I blinked, jaw dropping slightly. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“No. I am not.”
“You motherfuckers attacked us twice, stole our food and trashed our RV. Now you want me to help you? Get the fuck out of my woods before I rip off your heads and shit down your…”
“Wait,” the female interrupted. “Please hear us out,” That said as she slowly lowered her arms and took a half step forward. “We are not with the group that attacked you. They want us dead even more than you.”
I sighed and rubbed my temple, feeling a fresh headache starting. “Follow me. We’re going to get closer to the building so the others can hear what you have to say. Fuck around with me and I’ll kill you slow and painfully.”
All three nodded and the two men lowered their arms. I had a cigarette going by the time we stood just outside the Home’s walls where Hope and Molly could hear the conversation.
“Ok, sit. Hands behind your head. Let’s take this from the top. First, you said you’re not with the group that attacked us. Explain that to me.” I’d positioned myself between the soon-seated trio and the Home’s stone walls, gun held casually pointed in their collective direction. Frank shuffled up behind them, vacant stare watching me.
The other male spoke this time, voice deep and rich with a hint of Canadian accent. “We’d set up inside an apartment complex north of here after the…apocalypse. There was a chain link fence already in place and we managed to hit a supermarket before things got really ugly. Oil heat and natural gas appliances. All in all we were doing ok.”
I nodded and waved my cigarette towards them, “That before the yellow skin and red eyes? How many of you were there?”
“Yes. Before we changed.” He paused and looked down to the ground for a moment before speaking again. “There were twenty of us all together. Several families. Children. We took in everyone that asked for our help. That’s what doomed us, in the end.”
My eyes rolled as the speech got a bit more melodramatic but kept quiet, waiting for Shakespeare to give me useful information.
“A man came to the gates and the undead parted for him like water before Moses. His eyes were like yours.” Another pause as a shiver rippled down his spine. “He called us to the parking lot and told us we didn’t need to hide like frightened children. That if we followed him, we’d inherit the world and live without fear of the Risen. That’s what he called the zombies. Risen.”
“Did he control the zombies or did they just ignore him?” I asked.
The female replied. “No he didn’t control them and Gary’s hamming it up a bit. They didn’t part like the Red Sea. Messiah just nudged past them to reach the gate.”
I chuckled and nodded. “Someone tell me what happened without embellishing please. Little details like that only confuse the issue. And, Messiah? Really? Can’t anyone just be Bob?” Another eyeroll followed.
“That’s what he called himself. Messiah. And forgive my need to spin a greater yarn.”
“You were an actor or something before, weren’t you?” I asked, smirking.
“English professor.” He replied.
“Same thing.” I said. “Go on.”
“To abbreviate things a bit, naturally most of our group leapt at the offer. We invited him in and the first ceremony began that night.”
I chuckled again. “Lemme guess. Zombie barbecue?”
“You’ve seen it?” Asked the woman.
“Yeah. And this Messiah clown.”
“There was more to it than simply eating a zombie. Each of us drank from a cup filled with his blood before devouring the flesh. He turned it into a blasphemous version of Communion.” Again he shivered. “The effects were felt after our meal. A few died. One woman miscarried. All of us suffered horrible pains and grew terribly ill. By morning it had passed and the zombies no longer troubled us.”
“So you got what you wanted?”
“Initially, yes. We could wander freely and gather supplies without fear. Not that we needed much in the way of food. Messiah ensured we ate zombie flesh and drank his blood each night, claiming we would die otherwise. But we discovered that was a lie two weeks ago when the three of us became trapped in a basement after the home above collapsed during an earthquake.”
The female nodded and broke into the story. “We were stuck down there for nearly a week, eating normal canned food and drinking water from the home’s hot water heater. Nothing bad happened to us. We didn’t die. But the zombies came after us once we dug ourselves out.”
“So is it the guy’s blood or eating zombie meat that makes them ignore you?” I asked.
None of them knew.
Sighing again, I let them lower their arms and lit myself a fresh cigarette. “Ok so you didn’t melt from not eating zombie meat but they started treating you like a normal human again. Then what happened?”
Shakespeare continued his story. “When we finally made it back to the others and told them what had happened, Messiah insisted we immediately be Purified again with his blood and a feast. We refused.”
“Why?” Molly asked from the window behind me.
“Because we felt clearheaded for the first time since the initial ceremony. The changes aren’t just physical, you see.” A pause. A deep breath. Then Shakespeare went on. “Nerve endings feel deadened to pain and we gained strength but at the cost of our ability to reason. It was as if we no longer had emotional safeguards in place. Instant rage. Deep depression. Higher brain functions were dampened. Whether it was his blood or the meat, the three of us finally felt more like the people we once were from its absence.”
“Obviously he didn’t take you saying ‘No’ too well.” I prompted.
He laughed bitterly and shook his head. “No. Not at all. We barely managed to escape. Some of those people are our family, Jaeger. Others our friends and loved ones. Which leads us back to the point of coming to you. We saw the aftermath of your last encounter and have heard the rumors of your abilities. We want you to kill the Messiah and free the others.”
“I’ve already got more on my plate than I can handle right now. Not interested.”
“The fuck we aren’t!” Molly growled while stepping outside. “If that fucker’s the reason they keep attacking us then you should wax that asshole just to end his bullshit.”
“He’s the only reason they have attacked you. The others know you are like him. Changed. Therefore he sees you as a threat. You’ll never be left alone while the Messiah lives.”
Hope moved to stand beside Molly and joined the others in watching me expectantly. The headache had grown between my temples while my patience had shriveled like balls in ice water. Growling, I snubbed out my cigarette with far more vigor than necessary and seriously considered shooting all three of the fuckers.
Then Frank put a hand on the woman’s shoulder and patted it twice.