Chapter 11 - Entry 5
October 16th, 2021 cont - October 17th, 2021
“Frank who?” Mary asked, her question mirroring my thoughts.
Jaeger continued to stare at us, unmoving and unblinking for several long moments before her nostrils flared and she began to speak. “Frank was at the Fort with Molly. He was her father. White eyes like me.” Her voice seemed strained. Raspy and cracked as if she hadn’t spoken aloud for quite some time.
“Why did he take my son?”
“Because he had white eyes.” Jaeger replied as if it were obvious.
“How do you know Frank took him?” Asked Mary after a few silent moments had passed.
“Because Frank is usually the one Simon sends.” She frowned and holstered her sidearm, continuing to study us as she pulled out a small cigar and lit it with a flameless lighter. Thick black smoke billowed from her nostrils and lips, drifting with the heavy mist to tickle my nose with its acrid scent.
“Please Jaeger. What the hell is going on? Who is Simon and why did he send Frank to take my son?”
A sneer pulled one corner of Jaeger’s lips upwards as she ghosted forward without a sound. First she circled around me, sniffing the air like a dog, before repeating the gesture with Mary. I tried hard not to react, feeling as though she were sizing me up and deciding if I’d make a better lunch than conversation subject.
“Simon is a White-Eye. He’s been gathering all the others to him far up north. Frank and the others do what Simon says. Its like he’s got some sorta control over them.” Here Jaeger shrugged and took another long pull off her little cigar.
“But why steal children?” Mary asked softly, then chewed her lower lip nervously before adding, “We saw a map where you’d been sighted all over the east coast. White-Eyes turned up missing everywhere you went.”
Jaeger’s chuckle was dark and without any hint of humor as she smoked, watching us through the thick cloud curling from her smirking lips. “I’m not like the others. They are to me as you humans are to them.” Another mirthless chuckle and she shook her head. “I went after the others because some of them had useful abilities I wanted. Simple as that.”
She shrugged and turned around, taking a few steps away from us before adding, “Simon’s people heard the same radio chatter and went to gather them. Sometimes I got there first. Sometimes they did.”
My head spun at her words, trying to absorb their meaning. More unsettling than their content was the way she spoke. The mood. Humans. White-Eyes. Jaeger. The new food chain.
“Do you do what Simon says?” I felt desperate to get more information. Needed to know everything I could. Anything to save my child.
“Nope. He doesn’t have any control over me. We reached an understanding after I sent several of his people back in little plastic baggies.” A shrug and chuckle followed.
“What do you mean they had useful abilities you wanted?” Mary asked.
Jaeger turned back and glided to stand in front of Mary, their noses nearly touching. Mary’s body began to shiver. Jaeger smiled and licked her lips.
“I’ve had a lot of time to think. Did some reading. Learned a few things. You see, unlike the other White-Eyes, I was an accident. A fluke. The shit those doctors put into my system made me different. You know what’s so unique about stem cells?”
She waited until Mary shook her head before taking a step back and pulling another drag from her cigar.
“They’re like a blank slate of genetic material. That’s why doctors loved em so much. In theory, you could tweak them to grow into a new liver. Or skin. Or whatever you wanted. They start off as one thing and change into another. Whatever a body needs.”
“That’s why you can heal so fast.” I said.
Jaeger nodded and winks. “These zombies can heal too. They need food. Calories. So I heal and use up calories stored in my system. But there’s more to it than that. I figured it out after Maliqe bit me.”
Realization dawned on me then as I remembered what my aunt was capable of. “You can gain the abilities of other White-Eyes.”
“You got it,” Jaeger answered with a grin, one scarred hand reaching up to tap her nose. “Some of them anyway. Just need a little blood. Tested it out with Frank. Now I’ve got a measure of his strength. No new scars thanks to a chick in South Carolina. Harder bones from a boy in Maine.”
“The stem cells adapt and change your body?” Mary asked.
“Yup. All the other White-Eyes got what they got and nothing more. Me? I’m fucking superman.” Jaeger chuckled again and turned to face me. The smile faded from her lips before she spoke again. “But not children. Defiantly not babies. I only hunted folks who knew what the changes were.”
Jaeger turned then and started walking away once more, apparently done entertaining questions. She left Mary and I staring at each other with mouths open and minds reeling.
“Where up north? Where are they? I have to get my son back.”
Jaeger had walked some distance before I spoke. Abruptly she spun and locked her inhuman eyes on me. Without thinking, I found myself taking a few steps back. Her head cocked to the side and a slow smile crept over her lips.
“Forget it. There must be a hundred White-Eyes up there by now. They’re building a town. A new culture. Your son is safer there than anywhere else in this broke-ass world. And you wouldn’t stand a chance of getting him back with an army of heavily armed humans.”
The mist swallowed her pale form as she walked away, leaving Mary and I shivering despite the humid heat of her forest. I started to take a step forward until Mary laid a hand on my shoulder. We left, feeling both oddly lucky to be alive and deeply disturbed.
Karl and the others hit us with a million questions after we returned home. We’d barely made it back before the sun set and the world grew covered it darkness. I felt cold deep down inside, and not just from the difference between Jaeger’s warm forest and the chilly October air. My mood matched the lightless sky and gray surroundings. Bleak, bitter and hopeless.
After hours of questioning, I crawled into my bed for a long, sleepless night. My mind couldn’t shut itself down. Mental movies played out where a city of White-Eyes grew and prospered while humanity withered and died. Mal would grow up believing his was a superior race.
Maybe it was.
I wondered what sort of culture they were developing. Would they make new gods in their image? Would they turn humans into slaves or place themselves as benevolent dictators who ruled over simple children?
And what of Jaeger? Was she a goddess among men? Would she hunt them down in their own cities, stealing their powers and growing so powerful no force on earth could stop her? Was she that already?
Eventually the subtle glow of sunrise lighten my room. A shower and fresh change of clothes preceded breakfast in the cafeteria. Karl and several others were already there, surrounded by coffee mugs and half-eaten meals. He offered me a weary smile before rejoining the urgently whispered conversation at hand. I was surprised when he joined me a short while later.
“Marley, I wanted to say I’m sorry. For everything. I’ve been…an ass and treated you badly.” Karl’s hand reached across the table, seeking mine in what had been a familiar gesture.
My own hand slid away. “Thank you. Easy to say with Mal gone now though.”
He nodded and looked away, emotions warring across his face. “We’ll never be the same. I know that and accept responsibility for it. But I am sorry. Truly sorry.”
“If I have another child like Mal, someday, will you and the others try to kick us out again?”
Karl was silent for a time before answering. “We were scared, Marley. We’re barely hanging on as it is. You know it wouldn’t take much to send this whole thing crashing down.”
“That’s bullshit Karl. We both…”
He held up a hand as I started to speak, shaking his head and continuing. “But I’ll promise you this. So long as I’m in charge, no one will be forced to leave because they had a child that was different.”
“We’ll see Karl.”
I left him there and went back to my room to cry. Sheer exhaustion finally won out over mental distress and sleep came at last. Night had fallen outside by the time I woke, sweating from some horrible dream I couldn’t remember.
The woman’s voice came from a darkened corner of my room. Her silhouette filled the rocking chair I’d used to nurse Mal after he’d first been born.
“It’s ok. I’m not here to hurt you. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
I couldn’t place the voice but it seemed familiar somehow. Freaked out and scared, I reached for the lamp at my bedside with one hand and the gun under my pillow with the other. No light came on when I pulled the string. The gun was gone when I tossed my pillow aside.
“Don’t cry out for help or I’ll be forced to leave. I’m only here to talk. About Mal.”
That stopped the scream dead in my throat and banished any remnants of sleep from my mind. I slid both feet to the ground and put the bed between us, my back to the door.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“Oh you know me, sweety. From years ago at the Fort. Though I’m much changed now.” There was a pause as white teeth briefly flashed in the meager light that spilled beneath the door. She leaned forward, yellow skin and red eyes barely discernible in the gloom.