Chapter 9 - Entry 1
May 11th cont – May 12th
There was a weird, awkward silence after I’d spoken where no one moved or seemed to breathe. Except for Molly, who started laughing her ass off. At least until she projectile vomited all over the table and started having some kind of seizure.
“Oh fuck it,” I snarled and emptied a clip into Messiah’s bald head.
“Get them unchained. Right! Fucking! NOW!” That got people moving.
Hope and Molly were not in good shape as they and the other six Fort survivors joined me at the camp’s edge. It was a group effort getting everyone back Home and wrapped in blankets near the fireplace. One man, whose name I never caught, died shortly after we arrived. His twitching form and final, pain-wracked expression kept everyone on edge long after I’d tossed his corpse out the door.
I searched for Frank but couldn’t find him anywhere. Not a trace. Not even a piece of him laying around somewhere. Granted, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time looking. Molly, Hope and Cleo were my priority.
They turned yellow. Eyes grew bloodshot red. Puke, sweat and piss gathered on the stone living room floor in sickly puddles. Throughout it all I brought them water, clean towels and blankets, buckets and generally did my best to help everyone weather the storm.
Even when the campfires started burning in the Home’s backyard.
Oh I watched them gathering; small groups of Infected drifting in by drips and drabs. I handed out guns to my wards inside and kept myself armed at all times. Doors locked. Curtains pulled closed. There just wasn’t enough time or energy for me to do more than keep an eye on things and let events unfold.
There were a dozen tents set up outside by the time dawn broke the night’s black hold. Everyone but Molly and I were asleep by then. Exhaustion threatened to claim us both as I held her that morning, rocking back and forth while she cried, shivered and moaned.
I promised her I’d never think she was a monster. Swore it didn’t matter to me if her skin was yellow, pink or neon-orange. Meant every word that left my lips.
“Now we’re both freaks of nature hun. You’re stuck with me.” I teased softly, kissing her sweat soaked forehead for the millionth time. Finally she drifted off to sleep in our bed, wiped as clean as I could with the last towel left unsoiled.
It was then that I pounded down coffee and smoked my first cigarette since our return. Soft snores and forms restlessly shuffling in their sleep were mirrored both inside and out. I stepped into the cold morning air, cancer stick in one hand and SMG in the other. Movement at the treeline caught my attention.
Elizabeth, the Infected female who’d originally asked for my help, stepped wearily from the forest’s shadows once again and slowly made her way forward. She limped slightly and tremors caused one arm to shake badly. Still she smiled and looked over the makeshift campsite that had formed overnight.
“I couldn’t get them all to come but I think others might straggle in over the next few days.”
“Why are they here?” I asked, flicking my dead cigarette into the dew-covered weeds before lighting a fresh one.
Her gaze swept from tent to tent as she moved to within a few feet of my position. “You killed their leader and a few think that makes you the new head honcho.” Elizabeth shrugged and gave me a mischievous wink with one crimson eye. “I kinda reinforced that opinion and led them here.”
“Fuck you Elizabeth. I’m not anyone’s Messiah.” The HK’s barrel raised on its own accord; deceptively small opening tracing a line up her body as my trigger finger itched and twitched.
She paid it no mind and simply nodded. “No you’re not and that’s why we’re here. We don’t want another Messiah. We want someone to lead us, see to our safety, and help us survive.”
“That’s not my fucking job!” I shouted, spit spraying outwards as my legs carried me well inside her personal bubble. “You are not my burden to bear!” Raging, my face only inches from hers, I never heard Cleo approach until her weary voice reached my ear.
“These people are different now, just like you Jaeger. And me. Hope. Molly. All of us. Where can any of us go?” Her hand came to rest on my shoulder, pulling my gaze from Elizabeth to meet her shiny new bloodred eyes. “Who would accept monsters like us into their homes?”
“It’s not my problem.” I hissed, jerking my shoulder away from Cleo’s grasp and taking a step backwards.
“Then make it your problem. Be more than a spirit of death and destruction.” Cleo whispered softly.
“Fuck you too, Cleo.”
Exhaustion robbed my curse of conviction as I turned and headed back inside. Both legs felt like lead during the impossibly long trek to the tower’s stone roof. From there I watched Cleo and Elizabeth talk a little longer before they parted ways. Cleo went back inside. Elizabeth climbed into a tent and promptly fell asleep.
Smoke still spiraled lazily from the Fort to the south and for the moment I was grateful trees blocked my view of its shattered shell. That smoke forced my mind to revisit the questions surrounding the attack. Made me gradually come to accept Cleo’s words as truth. None of those people could survive for long unless they stuck together. Not even Silas and his well defended Fort had been able to survive another group’s fear of their simple existence.
We were all monsters, really. Some of us just looked like it on the outside.
Exhaustion finally pulled me under long before noon. The sound of children laughing woke me close to sunset.
Cleo and a few others were inside, cooking food for the gathered Infected when I made my way downstairs. Hope gave me a hug. Molly came padding over with coffee and a crooked smile.
“Hey bitch. What are we going to do with all these people?”
I chuckled and kissed her yellow nose. “Guess I’ll have to figure that out. You feeling better?”
“Yeah. Stomach’s still a little queasy but I’m ok. You seen Dad around?”
“Nope. Looked some last night but with everything going on, I couldn’t spare much time.” I frowned and pulled a chair over towards the stairs, away from all the bustle and activity.
Molly sat down on the floor and leaned her chin on my leg. “He left before they broke in here and nabbed us. Just got up and walked outside.”
“I’m sure he’s ok. Your Dad’s pretty tough.” It was the best I could offer.
“Dad died when he changed. I know that now. Even the times he seemed to have a bit of his personality back weren’t really real, in a way.” I felt her shoulder rise and fall in a shrug against my leg before she grew silent. Together we just sat there quietly and watched twenty people with yellow skin and red eyes come and go through the door of our Home.
I waited until everyone had eaten dinner and generally settled down before leaving Molly and heading outside. People tried to approach me but I warded them off with a raised hand and angry glare. They left me be.
The forest beyond seemed like a different world as I wandered through the steaming darkness. Soft ground felt spongy beneath my feet and new streams were forming where hot springs overflowed and headed downhill.
My legs took me where they wanted to go, leading me on a meandering trip that circled the Home’s clearing several times. I tried not to think, focusing on the sounds and scents surrounding me. It worked some of the time.
Eventually I sat down on a mossy rock and lit a cigarette. Trees loomed large in the cherry’s weak glow and gradually the silence and heavy darkness swallowed me whole. I stayed there for a few hours, simply existing in a place of calm solitude. I might have dozed. It was one of those things where you lose track of time and perspective.
Everyone was outside by the time I returned. Twenty-one yellow faces and sets of red eyes fell on me as a hush swept over the group. I chuckled and lit up another cigarette on my way to stand before them.
“I’m not that Messiah guy. I don’t care if you eat zombies or sardines out of fancy little cans. You’re not drinking my blood and don’t expect me to shave my head and start talking in some kind of bullshit religious mumbo jumbo.”
A few of the kids laughed at that before nearby adults hushed them softly.
I raised my hand and pointed at the stone building behind them. “That’s my Home. Hunter’s Home. Invitation only. You don’t just walk in whenever you feel like it. Well, you can for now but only until we get you set up with your own digs.”
My hand moved then to wave at the woods surrounding us. “And that’s my forest. You can live there but don’t be bringing strangers around. You don’t talk about the forest. You don’t talk about me. You don’t ever share information with outsiders about us. The Fort got crushed because they attracted the wrong kind of attention. We don’t want attention. We just want to be left alone to survive.”
My gaze drifted from face to face after that, waiting until a nod was given before moving on. Cleo tossed me a grin when I spied her among the crowd. My middle finger wagged back in reply with vigor.
“I don’t know if it was that asshole’s blood, eating a zombie, or both that makes the zombies leave you alone but I know it’s going to wear off eventually. We need to take advantage of that before it goes away and go gather supplies. I don’t have enough food here to feed you all for very long and you’re going to need stuff to build homes once we clear out some land.” I shrugged. “Unless you want to live in those tents forever.”
Molly brought me a cold beer and started to rejoin the crowd until my arm encircled her waist. I kissed her nose and had a long, deep pull off the bottle.
“Cleo’s in charge. Elizabeth is her second in command. My job is to help you get settled and keep you safe. Defense and offence. I’m no good at dealing with people in non-violent ways so don’t expect me to get all cozy with you. When I tell you to do something, I expect it to be done. Fuck around and betray us and I’ll deal with you the same way I dealt with that Messiah jackass. If you don’t like it then you can pack your shit and get the fuck out right now.”
With that I led Molly inside and closed the door behind me. We watched through the windows as wide grins and happy hugs rippled through the crowd in waves. Some cried. A few actually danced. But not a single one of them left.