Degeneration

Warning: Profanity and Violence

Update 51: Harbinger

“The dog, where is he?” Brad appeared in front of the bars, his expression was a mixture of concern and anger.

“Beats me,” I shrugged sitting against the bathtub resting my forearms on my knees.

“You signaled him, like before. You whistled and he bolted out the back door before anyone could get ahold of him.”

An amused laugh escaped me, “If you say so.”

Brad sighed in frustration, “We don’t have time for this. I’m assuming you won’t go willingly, and I’m not gonna risk you getting loose so…”

Max came into view next to his father and handed him a pistol. I couldn’t make out exactly what caliber it was until he had it pointed at me. I knew exactly what was coming out of that barrel as he squeezed the trigger.

“Awe fu-” The dart stung going into my neck. “You guys really suck,” I declared before the tranquilizer took affect.

 ***

I woke with my vision obscured by a burlap sack over my head and my wrists tightly bound behind my back with thick scratchy rope. I was on my side with my ankles bound as well, my knees bent to fit inside what must have been the back of the SUV. My body swayed and bounced with every turn and bump in the road as my breathing drew fabric closer to my face before pushing it away upon exhaling. The lack of any sort of light penetrating the sack over my head told me it was nighttime.

I remained still in order to not alert them that the tranquilizers had worn off. From the sound of small rocks hitting the bottom of the SUV and the roughness of the ride I could conclude that we were on a dirt road. I’m guessing that the stuff that has been accelerating my healing process fought off the tranquilizers sooner than expected, so there’s no telling how long we’d been driving.

Brad had mentioned a woman, that would most likely be where they were taking me. Clearly they were part of a much larger community and wouldn’t be more than 15-20 miles away from their main compound.

We passed through what sounded like a heavy gate, my guess would be that it was very crudely put together with metal scraps from cars, sheds, boxcars, and various other places. Words were exchanged between Brad and another man, there was another set of footsteps and heartbeat next to the first man, two guards. At least on the ground. The more vocal guard explained to Brad that everyone was already out back behind the house. We started moving again.

The gears shifted beneath the floor as we crept to a stop. We were greeted by the smell of burning wood and sounds of an eager crowd. Dozens of voices, heartbeats were pounding excitedly. A faint smell of gunpowder…they were armed.

“I’ll take her inside,” Brad’s voice was stern, but held a hint of fear. “You make sure everything else is ready.”

Shannon’s “Mhm,” seemed a bit more fearful.

There was a gentle sob that must have come from Nora before Max groaned and flung his door open.

“Let’s go Abbie,” Max ordered.

Without a word she slid across the seat and hopped out of the vehicle. Guess I was right about the syringe. Its healing properties seem to be accelerated beyond whatever they’d injected into me.

The back door opened up and after a few seconds a couple of hands grasped my arms tightly before hoisting me up over a shoulder. It had to be Brad. With his free hand he slammed the door shut and started towards the house as I remained limp.

A single guard let us through the first door. The voices inside were different, the heartbeats less excited. The smell of gun grease and powder much stronger. Larger weapons, well maintained. Professionals.

After going up about 25 steps and 30 feet down a hallway we were granted permission to enter one of the rooms. The room smelled of spice and dirt. About 10 steps in I braced for impact as my body was dropped hard on the floor. The pain shot through my shoulder and I bit my cheek to keep from making a sound.

“This is not the one you said you were bringing,” an angry female voice scolded. The woman had an accent, I couldn’t quite place it. It was similar to the one I heard back on the island where my team slaughtered an entire village, but not as strong.

“There were complications,” Brad’s voice was shaky. “But this one…this one is really…I mean, you gotta see this.”

I closed my eyes as Brad yanked off the sack that was covering my head.

“Something’s not right,” he declared. “I mean look at her! She’s the reason the other one isn’t here. Hell she even killed the one she showed up with without batting an eye! Cut him up real good, then he turned into one of those things and…well, it saved Abbie’s life.”

Silence.

“So…will this…uh…”

“Leave,” the woman’s words were firm and commanding.

“Leave?”

“Get out! You as well, go!”

I counted three sets of footsteps rushing towards the door. Brad stayed.

“But…”

“You’ve done your part now go!”

Brad let out a sigh of relief before joining the others and slamming the door behind him.

“Well now,” the woman’s voice got closer as if she were kneeling next to me. “If you are here, that means death is not far behind,” I felt the tip of a sharp blade press against my throat, “and it will come for me this night.”

I opened my eyes to see a familiar face.

“Ayida.”

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Planning to work on an update for either this or my other story this weekend. Things have just been a bit hectic and I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who has taken the time to read anything I’ve written. It is greatly appreciated.

Update 50: Just not that simple

While the others were at Abbie’s bedside hoping and praying that the syringe I’d Taken from Gage worked, I was wiping the blood from my face in the guest bathroom.

Guest Bathroom, seems a strange concept to me now. There was no dust, no blood, no cracks in the mirror. It was spotless, with a flowery shower curtain, a purple bathrobe hung on the door, white tiled floor, and even a ceramic vase filled with purple and white flowers on a small shelf. Aside from the mess in the basement and the giant hole in the ceiling of the den, the house served as a reminder of the way things had been. It was peaceful, quiet; it was a home.

I splashed some cold water on my face and grabbed one of the wash-cloths sitting in a neatly folded pile on the counter. The cloth was softer than any I’d felt in a long time and smelled of citrus. As I dragged the wash-cloth over my face wiping away the blood splatter my heart nearly jumped out of my chest upon seeing what I thought was another person standing in front of me.

I hadn’t seen my own reflection in a clean mirror of this size for so long that the sight of my transformation startled me. The infection, or whatever was running through my veins was taking its toll. My senses were heightened, I was stronger, but the thing in the mirror wasn’t me. My skin had turned ghostly pale and the blackened veins had stretched even further onto my face. Dark circles had formed beneath my eyes, and my pupils seemed to have faded to the point that they were barely visible.

Even my hands had gotten paler around the blackened veins that stretched down to blend into my equally black fingertips. Was I even…I found myself checking my wrist for a pulse. Still there. Stronger though. Odd, I looked as though death had taken me and handed my body over as a vessel for some demonic entity. Yet, somehow I was still in there. Still in control. If that’s what you call it anyway.

I’d gained some control over the buzzing sound inside my head. I couldn’t completely shut it off, but I could focus in on it when I needed to. There was something else though. Beneath the nearly constant buzzing; thoughts. Thoughts that were not my own, thoughts that were chaotic and barely made any sense. Thoughts about family that I never had, friends I never knew, and houses I’d never lived in. They would come in waves and last only a short while, then disappear. Sometimes the thoughts seemed to turn to screams in my head, sometimes whispers. I feared that the infection was finally starting to take control, so whatever I was going to do…I needed to do it fast.

A knock on the door stole my attention from my thoughts. I set the wash-cloth to the side of the sink and as I turned to open the door something behind the robe caused me to pause. A curved black mark barely peeking out from behind the robe. I pushed the robe aside revealing the symbol painted in black beneath it. It appeared to be a snake in a circular pattern weaving in and out of itself until its face had met its tail. The same symbol that was painted on the front door and tattooed on the back of Brad and Shannon’s necks. I felt like I’d seen it before, but couldn’t place it. Something wasn’t right.

I replaced the robe and opened the door. It was Nora holding a pile of folded clothes on top of a clean towel. She had a smile on her face and her eyes were red and puffy as though she’d been crying.

“Abbie’s going to be fine. Just fine,” she said excitedly. “Thank you…for what you did. It mustn’t have easy.”

“Easiest thing I’ve done in a while,” I replied.

She seemed puzzled and a bit frightened by my response. She stared at me in silence, until I tilted my head down toward the pile of clothes she was holding.

“Oh,” she jumped a bit remembering why she’d knocked on the door in the first place. “Some fresh clothes if you wanted to get cleaned up. Shower works just fine. There’s some soap in there. It’s uh, homemade, but it does the job.”

“Thanks,” I feigned a smile and accepted her gesture. After I took the pile from her she scurried away. Before she was out of view I noticed that she did not have the symbol tattooed on her neck like the others. Could just be that she was too old and wouldn’t be able to handle it, but there could also be another reason she wasn’t marked.

I was about to shut the door when I heard a creaking sound above my head and small specks of dust sprinkled down from the top of the door frame. Upon inspection I discovered several holes in the floor across the bottom of the doorway. Directly above was another row of holes equal in size and positioning. As I was trying to determine the purpose of the holes the creaking became accompanied by the moan of steel parts that had been set into motion.

“Shi-,” I jumped back just as the bars came slamming down in front of me, tossing aside the items that Nora had left with me. Though I knew it would be useless, I grabbed hold of the bars to test their strength. It was useless, they wouldn’t budge.

“Damn it!” I shouted in frustration slamming my fists into the bars and leaning my forehead against them. “How did I not see this coming,” I grumbled to myself.

“Sorry lady,” I looked up to see Brad coming down the hall. “You saved our little Abbie, but…you just, you put us in a really rough spot ya know?” Brad was now standing on the other side of the bars stumbling over his words.

“We would have let you go…coulda just, passed through and no one would ever know, but the man in the basement…we…it was our turn ya see? The earth is in pain…out of balance. She can heal it, but only through blood. She doesn’t enjoy it ya know? If there was another way…”

He must have realized by the scornful expression on my face I didn’t care to hear how difficult it was for their precious leader to kill me.

“Look I just…I’m sorry. I really am grateful for what you did for Abbie.”

I shrugged, “Do what you gotta do.” My voice became stern and I glared at him through the bars that separated us, “But I will kill you before this is over.”

Brad looked a bit shaken by that last part. “I believe you,” he replied.

Update 49-2: Saving Abbie Continued

A defiant laugh, accompanied by an involuntary blood filled cough that sent a light mist to sprinkle my pants with red liquid.  We’d been at this for a while now and he’d refused to tell me anything useful. Not surprising. We’d all gone through training for these situations. I knew this was going to be difficult and it was very likely I would never get anything out of him. Still, no point in making it easy for him.

He was a bloody mess at this point; blood trickling out from the gashes in his torso, his knuckles dragging on the floor and beginning to swell from the trauma they had suffered when I worked on them earlier. One eye was swollen completely shut and the other on the verge of being in the same condition, the veins bulging out of his forehead.

I knelt on one knee to be face to face with him. There was no need to worry about retaliation, or an escape attempt. His hands were useless and the blows to his head had him disoriented.

Resting my elbow on my knee and holding the knife loosely I grabbed the back of his head with my other hand to make sure I had his full attention, “See this is the part where I tell you I’m not enjoying this, but we both know I don’t like to lie.”

“Fuck you,” he spat. I clenched my eyes shut as the drops hit my face.

“I’m a little busy right now, but thanks for the offer,” I jerked his head back causing him to swing back and forth as I rose to my feet.

“You never were cut out for this,” he chuckled as he struggled to speak. “You and that weak stomach. Think you’re better than the rest of us? You think the men you killed were any different than the ones we killed?”

“I didn’t kill families,” I growled. “I didn’t kill children and defenseless villagers.”

“You think none of them had families,” his laughter now sending surges of irritation down my spine as my jaw tightened. “You really are delusional Specs.”

My lips tightened as I paced in front of him, “Mhm.”  I paused momentarily, then felt a slight smile begin to form as my gaze fell on a syringe on the workbench.  I’d found it in his pocket. I’d seen the translucent red fluid it contained before, back in the labs.

I turned to face him once again. I’d put this off long enough, time to quit playing around. I tore the pant leg where he had suffered a fracture and my suspicions were verified. The makeshift splint was gone, and the wound had been neatly bandaged.   Only a small amount of blood had soaked through, not enough for the wound that should have been there. I sliced the bandage off and dropped it on the floor.

The wound had nearly healed, but something was preventing it from healing completely. Perhaps the injection wasn’t strong enough.

“You have a family Gage? I mean a real one, not the fictional people you conjured up to further your own agenda.”

His words came out more strained now, “You’re gonna kill me either way.”

“True,” I confirmed. “But still…is there someone who should be informed of your passing? Would they even miss you?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.”

“I can’t wait,” I smiled before jamming my knife into his leg and reopening the wound, his screams filling the basement and traveling up the steps through the rest of the house. I’m sure the others were concerned about what was happening, but they knew not to come down.

I knelt in front of him again, “Oh stop. We’re almost done here.”

“Fucking bitch,” he shouted through clenched teeth.

“That’s not nice,” I replied flicking his forehead causing him to jerk away. “You gotta give me something, I mean, I’d really hate to think that this was all for nothing.”

“Go to Hell,” he spat.

“I’m pretty sure Hell already came to me.”

Rising to my feet once more, I stepped over to the workbench and placed the knife next to the syringe. I lingered a moment staring down at the syringe, then snatched it up tromped back over to Gage. Holding the syringe in front of him I asked, “This is different isn’t it? Different than what they injected into me?”

He laughed. “It came from you!”

A wave of disbelief washed over me, my heart stopped. Everything stopped. I placed my hand over the scar on my abdomen. Gage’s laughter cut through the silence and I felt a savage scream rising from my chest as I thrust the syringe towards the eye that hadn’t swollen shut, stopping myself just before the tip of the needle came into contact with his pupil. The laughter stopped.

I calmed myself and placed the needle back on the workbench.

Kneeling in front of Gage one last time I gently picked up his arm, “So…if you injected yourself with that stuff, you’re infected right? I mean, not so much to turn you obviously, but if something were to happen, you’d come back as one of them right?”

“Let’s just get this over with,” he growled.

I raised one hand in a gesture for him to be quiet, “In a minute. It’s just…there’s something I’ve been curious about. I mean, just look at me, I’m clearly not well. Whatever they did it,” a bemused chuckle found its way out of my lips, “it just really messed me up, and there you are; injected with something from the same strain and you seem to be just fine. Well, aside from what I’ve done to you.”

“What’s your point? Upset they didn’t give you the good stuff?”

“Upset,” I repeated, while staring at his arm. “Upset isn’t the word I would use. In any case, my emotional state has nothing to do with the quality of some magic healing potion cooked up in a lab. If anything it would be the fact that it was injected into my bloodstream against my will, and they took something from me that didn’t belong to them.”

I smiled. “I’m really just curious, what would happen if…” I sunk my teeth into his arm, biting deep into his flesh as he screamed. I clamped down with an inhuman force and pulled my head back tearing a chunk of skin and muscle from his arm and spitting it onto the floor.

I stood up and backed away as he shouted, “What the fuck is wrong wi–” His words faded as life began to leave him.  His body convulsed instinctively trying to fight off death, but its efforts were futile. The veins around the wound began to blacken and stretch, until finally all movement stopped.

The other man that was tied up groaned as he began to gain consciousness, “Wha—what’s going on?”

I went and pulled the end of the rope that was holding Gage up, undoing the slip knot and sending him crashing with a loud thump onto the ground.

“Wh-what is that…what are you doing?!”

Gage’s body began to twitch and a faint wheezing rose from where his body lay. He lifted his head to reveal vacant milky eyes.

“Hey…hey you can’t do this,” the other man demanded, while trying to break free from his restraints.

I leaned against the workbench as Gage crawled towards the panicked man and sunk his teeth in. The man’s screams were louder than Gage’s had been only moments ago as Gage ripped and tore at his flesh.  He was at it for quite some time before finally turning his blood soaked face towards me. Bits of skin still clung to the blood dripping from his chin.

He had a hard time standing at first. His legs wobbled under the effort and nearly gave out a couple times before he finally managed to steady himself. He had the same problem with his first few steps. He came at me slowly at first, then he began to pick up the pace as my hand searched the workbench behind me for the knife. Just as my fingers found the knife Gage had closed the gap between us and came to a dead stop inches in front of me.

We stood eye to eye neither of us making a move, and almost as if he were waiting for something. What was he doing? Why did he stop? Whatever this was, I didn’t have time to figure it out right now. My hand tightened around the knife before plunging it into his skull. I pulled the knife out as he fell to the floor. This time he wouldn’t be coming back.

Brad finally burst through the door and came running down the stairs. He stopped and surveyed the mess in his basement, “What the Hell happened?”

I picked the syringe up off the workbench and handed it off to him as I headed towards the stairs, “Give it to Abbie.”

Update 49-1: Saving Abbie Continued

What was I doing? That’s what a normal person would ask themselves, but the fact of the matter was there wasn’t a single decent bone in my body. I could say I did what I did to protect people, but that would be lying. The truth was that it was the only thing I knew how to do and it was essential for my own survival.

At least without my memory I thought I cared about the others. I thought that what I did was done out of concern for their lives, something noble and worthy of their friendship. The memories had been flooding in and now I knew exactly who I was, and there was nothing noble about it. This was made clear by the blood dripping from the knife in my hand and the man hanging by his feet in front of me. Standard questioning practice, at least in my business it was.

All this time, staring me in the face knowing at any minute I might recognize him and he never broke a sweat.  I guess the new face they gave him was the reason for that, but a little bit of plastic surgery couldn’t hide who he was. Not from me. For starters his name wasn’t Ethan. It was Gage.

His area of expertise was in covert operations. He knew how to blend in with the enemy, become one of them while feeding information back to the team. His appearance was never the same, a different face for each job, that’s where he got the codename Chameleon. Honestly I don’t know how he survived all the surgeries.

For the sake of this mission he took on the role of a broken man trying to save his family. Problem was, he didn’t have a family, and the only thing broken was his nose. The locket he carried containing pictures of what he tried to pass off as his family was a fake. Picked up off a corpse somewhere along the way. There was no shortage of dead bodies in this wasteland, all he had to do was find one that matched his new face and that little piece of jewelry would add enough credibility to his sob story that no one would question it. Not a good person anyway, but let’s face it, I was far from good and his time was up.

There has been a slight delay in posts as I deal with some personal stuff, including school and work. I’ve also run into that slight roadblock of being unsure whether I want to continue the story or not. I know that my writing started out pretty sloppy, but I’d hoped that it would improve some over the time that I’ve been working on this story. I’m not exactly sure that it has and therefore not sure whether or not to continue. I’ll do my best to at least finish the story as I am getting close to the end, but whatever updates I do will likely be very far apart if I don’t just remove the story entirely. For anyone who has taken the time to read it thank you, I really do appreciate it.

Update 48: Saving Abbie

 

It was a completely different world at that house. Brad, Shannon, and Max were like one of those regular “All American” families you’d see on TV. Their house seemed to be frozen in time, unaffected by what was going outside their property, no broken glass, no boarded windows. They were self-maintained with a well that supplied them with water, a power generator, and lush garden with plump tomatoes, leafy greens, herbs and spices. They even had a coop full of at least 7 chickens.

Flowers and vines climbed up the sides of the house, stretching as far as they could to be close to the sunlight. The smell of death that seemed to engulf the rest of the world could hardly pierce the thick wall of sweet-smelling spices and flowers encompassing the house. It was almost too incredible to believe.

It was only in that room where the young girl rested in her bed on the verge of death that the scent of Jasmine couldn’t overpower the stench of rotting flesh around the wound in her shoulder. The antibiotics weren’t going to help her. The wound was already septic.

She hadn’t exactly been bitten Brad and Shannon explained as we sat down at the kitchen table after they’d shown us around the property. Max was sitting in silence, a frown on his face listening to the conversation. Nora, Shannon’s mother, was bustling around the kitchen preparing dinner and making adjustments for the unexpected guests. Tank was lying at my feet gobbling down some mixture of leftover deer meat, sweet potatoes, and rice. Nora was at the counter chopping away at some lettuce while the meat sizzled in the frying pan.

“Max and I were hunting for whatever we could find out there,” Brad explained. Abbie and Shannon were here tending to the garden, Nora was inside pretending the whole world hadn’t gone to Hell as usual. It was only a matter of time before the outside made it to our door.

There were four of them, big, strong; two men and a woman. Shannon’s an excellent shot, handles herself real well in most cases, but the circumstances this time,” he paused and lowered his head. Shannon patted him on the back.

“I couldn’t take on all four of them myself,” Shannon continued, anger streaking her voice as her eyes narrowed and stared straight into mine. “If Abbie had been inside…I should have made her stay inside,” Her eyes softened and she lowered her head for a moment before returning to an enraged expression of a mother wolf protecting her children.

“I told her to get back and pointed my gun at them, but they had three guns on me and one on Abbie, What was I supposed to do,” her head lowered again, weighed down by the heaviness of her shame for not being able to protect her family weighing it down.

Brad looked at Shannon with forgiving eyes, “You did what you had to sweetie.”

Shannon offered a reluctant smile before continuing, “I dropped my gun, just like they said. Abbie was only 10 feet away, but if I moved…” a sinister smile crossed Shannon’s face. It was only there for an instant, but that instant told me that something wasn’t right.

“Bastards got what they deserved,” she spat.

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Ethan chimed in.

“Uh, after dinner,” Brad suggested as Nora placed a large bowl of brightly colored vegetables on the table.

Shannon continued her story as we each scooped salad onto our plates, “They took us inside, made us sit on the couch in the den. Mom was somewhere upstairs, they hadn’t found her yet.

They started talking about the last house they were at as they rummaged through our things. Another family up the road, started talking about the awful things they did to them, how badly they beat and tortured them, how much they suffered. That’s when I noticed the necklace dangling from the woman’s wrist.

It was an ivory rose pendant, surrounded by pearls. It was old; Janice’s. She was our neighbor down the road, Abbie used to play with her daughter, we would go into the city every other weekend and have lunch and go shopping, just the girls. She was loved that necklace so much, it belonged to her grandmother, it was all she had left of her. Now this woman had it wrapped around her wrist.

The clasp was broken; there was still some blood on it. She had to tie the chain in a knot. My stomach was turning and I was afraid of what they would do to me and Abbie….and mom.

It was the older man, not that old, maybe in his 40’s. He’s the one who spotted the pictures. He started questioning me, asking where the rest of my family was. I told him they were dead, he didn’t believe me. Said, ‘two little ladies couldn’t survive out here on their own for this long.’ I was shaking and trying to keep Abbie close. She wasn’t really scared yet, just confused.

‘Mom, why did you say daddy and Max are dead,’ she asked me.

They gathered around the couch then, as the older one started getting angry.

‘See now, you shouldna lied to me like that. I’m a sensitive guy,’ the others laughed. ‘and when my feelings get hurt, I need to vent my anger somewhere!’

He grabbed Abbie and put the gun to her head. I screamed and tried to reach for her, but one of the others held me back, laughing while I struggled. She’s was crying and calling out to me. I kept screaming; I couldn’t do anything. I’d never felt more helpless.

I thought we were gonna die until, but…” she looked at Brad to finish the story.

“But Max and I were already in the house,” Brad took over.

“We came back in time to see them going inside. We climbed up the side of the house and were lucky enough to catch Nora before she went downstairs. Max and I went to the attic and Nora waited for our signal with a shotgun at the top of the stairs.

We loosened some floorboards and made a small opening while they were making noise down here. Got some rope, I held one end across one of the more sturdy beams while Max lowered the other end through the hole.

Floorboards were getting old. I was going to replace them before all this happened.

Max hooked a noose around the neck of the man holding Shannon and gave me the signal. I jumped, smashing through the floor hanging onto the rope so tight my hands were bleeding. The force of my weight bursting through the floor was enough to snap the guys neck on the other end of the rope. I came down on top of one of the other men, only knocked him down and disoriented him though.

I’d let go of the rope as soon as I hit the floor and the other guy’s body dropped behind Shannon. She was already after the woman while I was getting up.

The guy beneath me rolled into the back of my legs and sent me back down to the floor. He was pounding my face, Shannon and the other woman were slamming each other into walls and furniture with their hands at each other’s throats half the time.

I managed to bring my knee up into his stomach and push him off enough to put a boot to his face. Crushed his nose pretty good, his blood was spilling out all over the place, but he still kept coming at me.

I was still on my back when I saw Nora coming into the den. I kicked the guy in the stomach with both feet this time, forcing him backwards. Nora got off a clear shot with the 12 gauge straight into his chest and pointed it at the man holding Abbie.

Shannon finally got in a solid hit and knocked the other woman to the ground. She went ballistic. Grabbed the fire poker and started bashing the woman’s face in, screaming at her like an animal. By the time she was done she was covered in the other woman’s blood.

The man still had Abbie though and none of us were making a move. You could feel the tension rising in the room as he tried to bargain with us, her life for his. He was outnumbered and still trying to give orders. All of his friends were dead on the floor and he still thought there was a way out.

He started backing up towards the door holding Abbie up with one arm so Nora couldn’t fire the shotgun at him without risking hitting Abbie. Shannon and I didn’t have any guns on us, he was gonna walk right out that door with our baby.

Shannon was screaming at me to do something when the butt of a rifle swung from behind and clocked him upside the head. He dropped Abbie, and she got spun around and stood there shaking and sobbing, just staring at the man, too scared to move.

He started to wobble before falling to one knee. Max was standing behind him with the rifle. We would have all been in the clear, but this guy was a stubborn bastard. He started trying to get back up and when he realized he couldn’t he raised the gun and fired one shot. Just one shot right before Max hit him again, straight through Abbie’s shoulder.”

Brad and Shannon both sat with their heads low now, Shannon hunched over her plate, hardly touched her meal; and Brad leaning back in his chair was scraping at the plate with an empty fork pushing food around. Max hadn’t said a word or even picked up his fork after Nora had served the meal.

“I’ll never forget that scream,” Brad’s tone was solemn.

“We tried to keep the wound clean,” Shannon added, staring down at her plate. “She started getting a fever yesterday morning. We should have left sooner to get the medicine.”

“You’d do anything to save your daughter,” I asked; rhetorical question of course.

“Without question,” Brad replied now leaning forward in his chair.

“Absolutely,” Shannon raised her head.

A knowing smile formed on my face and Ethan turned and raised an eyebrow, “You know something?”

“Maybe,” I replied placing my fork on my now empty plate and directing my attention towards Brad and Shannon. “I think you had something to show us.”

“Caught on to that did you,” Brad seemed a little surprised.

“Well you did say ‘after dinner’ and it appears to be that time. Just seems odd you’d say that and then go ahead and tell us that whole story.”

Brad looked over to Shannon who nodded an acknowledgement back at him.

“Well then,” he sighed and rose from his chair. “Let’s get to it.”

Max stayed in the kitchen helping Nora clean up after dinner. Tank kept them company while Ethan and I followed Shannon and Brad to the basement. A wall of putrid smell burst through the door as soon as it opened. Somehow they’d managed to keep it insulated enough so that the smell didn’t seep into the rest of the house. Ethan gagged and covered his mouth.

Brad flipped on the light and the steps creaked as each person moved into the basement. The smell only got stronger with each step. Shannon shut the door behind us.

It looked like there was a massacre down there. The floor was just dirt, but there were trails of blood leading over to a workbench surrounded by pools of blood. Chunks and pieces of body parts too mangled to determine which section they’d been hacked off of.

Following the trail of blood dripping over the edge of the tabletop was a gruesome looking chipper smeared with blood and bucket filled with red and black sludge. Directly in the center of the room and bound to a sturdy beam was a barely conscious man facing the carnage of the workbench. His hair was matted with blood, and his face was heavily bruised with deep gashes.

“We’ve been mixing them with the mulch,” Brad explained kicking the foot of the man on the floor. He grunted and mumbled a few unintelligible words while trying to lift his head. His head barely moved.

Ethan, finally succumbed to the churning in his stomach and spewed his dinner all over the floor.

“Guess we should’ve did this before dinner,” I joked.

Really?” Ethan gasped wiping his face.

I chuckled a little and turned to address Brad and Shannon, “Just to be clear; anything to save your daughter?” Still rhetorical, but it never hurts to ask.

“Yes!” Shannon spoke with certainty.

“Of course!” Brad added.

“All I needed to hear.”

Satisfied with their answer I spun around and jammed my heel into the side of Ethan’s leg, sending him screaming down onto one knee. The last thing he saw as he looked up at me with a mixture of anger and confusion was my fist coming towards his face.

Friend or Foe? : Update 47

Aside from the Venetian masked man with the shotgun barking out orders on when and where to turn no one had really been talking as we left the city.  We were taking side streets to get out as quickly as possible. Our gracious escort didn’t bring up where we were going or why. All he’d said since we started driving was, “Left, turn left here,” or “Take this street.” I don’t want to complain or anything, but some polite conversation about the weather or even why the fuck they had a gun pointed at my dog would be nice. Eh, all in due time I suppose. After a while we finally made it to a long stretch of road where I was told to continue on for about 50 miles. Wherever we were headed we’d be there in just under an hour, less even if I got the urge to get there in a hurry, but I was going to need some time to size up our new friends, and I’m guessing that the lack of protests at my current rate or speed suggested they were doing the same. I’d occasionally check the mirror to see how Tank was doing; I’d adjusted it early on so that I could keep an eye on him. I’ll play along for now, but one aggressive move towards him and they’re all dead.

“So,” I sighed, “you guys with the carnival?”

No response.

“Ok…not much of a talker. That’s fine. I’m just saying what’s up with the masks?”

“What’s up with that face,” the man with the shotgun now resting on his lap, but still pointed at me replied.

“Ok that’s just rude. I’m very sensitive about my condition.”

“Really?”

“No.”

“Didn’t think so.”

I checked the mirror again and noticed that the person sitting with Tank had lowered their gun and was now petting him. Tank appeared to be at ease, which was a good sign.

“The dog is safe as long as he doesn’t try anything,” the man in the passenger seat assured me. “So what’s with the face?”

“What’s with the masks?”

He pulled back the hood and removed the mask, his two companions did the same. He appeared to be in his mid-30’s. The woman in the back seat next to Ethan looked to be about the same age. Then there was a kid in the back with Tank, probably about 15. A family from the looks of it. “Helps with the smell,” he replied holding the mask out towards me. I raised an eyebrow and leaned over inhaling a sweet-smelling aroma of herbs and spices.

“Nice. A bit excessive, but nice.”

“We do what we have to. So what’s wrong with your face? Are you sick?”

“Something like that. I’m not exactly sure myself. Memory’s a bit fuzzy.”

“Contagious?”

“Well, I don’t go around biting people, so when I do I’ll let you know.”

“What about the dog?”

I hesitated for a moment, “Yeah.” I nearly choked on the word.

“Shit,” the woman began to panic turning towards her son. “Max be careful with that dog! What the hell were you thinking Brad?  I told you we should’ve stayed away! Why didn’t you listen to me?”

“Calm down Shannon. Everything is fine.”

“No Brad…it is not fine. None of this is fine! You’re putting everyone in danger!”

As they argued I glanced over and noticed a symbol tattooed on the side of Brad’s neck. I couldn’t clearly make out what it was at the time, but I noticed the other two had them as well. There was more going on here than appearances would have one believe.

Brad managed to calm his angry wife and as we were coming up on a car on the side of the road he told me to pull over. Shannon hopped out and began rummaging through the car.

“Ran out of gas on the way,” Brad began to explain. “Figured our supplies would slow us down so we decided to pick them up on the way back.”

“Why would you leave your supplies,” I asked as his wife returned to the car with two heavy backpacks. She flung them onto the seat next to Ethan and climbed back in.

“We’re in a hurry. Keep going.”

Shannon dug through one of the bags and pulled out a bottle of water. She handed it to her son before taking a few swigs herself then passed it up to Brad. Against protests from his wife he gave the bottle to Ethan who promptly chugged down several gulps.

“Why are you in such a hurry,” I asked as he offered me the bottle. Seeing that there was very little left I asked that they give it to Tank. Again Shannon was hesitant, but handed the bottle to her son telling him to be careful. He tilted the bottle slightly so that Tank could lap it up while Brad explained,

“Someone is sick. She got…hurt,” he replied solemnly. “We just need to get her some medicine and she’ll be fine. Think you could speed up a little?”

“Sure.” I pressed the acceleration as far as it would go. Needless to say it didn’t take us much longer to get there.

We pulled up to a quaint little cottage surround by a garden of flowers, vegetables, and other plant life. We were miles away from any cities or heavily populated areas. Everyone jumped out of the car and hurried inside the house. The air was filled with an aroma similar to the one emanating from the mask. The house was filled with old style furniture and seemed to be pretty cozy. I followed them to a room where an older woman with short white hair sat in a chair holding a shotgun next to a very young girl, maybe about 7 or 8, laying in a large soft bed beneath a thick flowery comforter. The air in the room was heavy, and beneath the scent of flowers that adorned a small white dresser there was a smell of sickness. She was coughing and her face was soaked in sweat. Brad ran over to her while Shannon prepared a syringe.

“It’s ok sweetie,” Brad consoled while brushing his hand over her hair. “Everything’s gonna be ok.”

As Shannon brought the syringe over Brad pulled back the blanket just enough for the injection. I couldn’t see the wound, but her shoulder had been bandaged and the skin around it had a yellowish tint. Whatever happened she was wounded and it was getting infected. Without proper medical care that’s always a risk. This kid didn’t have a very good chance, but if my conclusions were correct, I might just be able to help her. If they’re not…well, I’m gonna look pretty foolish.

Plagued: Update 46

Sure there might have been a better way to go, and most likely they’d already taken all of our weapons from the truck. To be honest it was a pretty stupid idea, but if my luck hadn’t run out yet then just maybe our weapons would still be there and we wouldn’t have to scavenge for some half-assed replacements down the road. Something was bothering me though; no alarms were going off, the guards all looked way too relaxed, I mean after what just happened in the basement this place should be locked down on high alert. At the very least we should have drawn some attention due to the fact that I had to support Ethan because of his messed up leg. This was just way too easy. Then there was Ethan, where had he gone during that whole fight back there? How did he find us so fast, and conveniently with a spare uniform and a couple of weapons? Another thing was that a couple times I noticed he would put a lot of weight on his injured leg without even flinching. Is this all just a trap? Why go through all of this? They could have easily just set up a sniper on the roof and taken me out with one shot, why the big escape, wearing disguises and sneaking through dead center of numerous guards and cleanup crew with an injured man leaning on my shoulder? Doesn’t matter right now, I’ll just go with it till we’re clear of this place. Then I’m going to get some answers. For now I just need to keep my head down and hope my appearance isn’t too noticeable.

“There,” Ethan grunted. “The truck.”

Workers were rushing past us trying to clean up the mess from earlier. Smashed containers, metal shards, pools and trails of drying blood, it’s amazing that we managed to get out of there alive…well, in a sense anyway. We stopped suddenly to let two workers carrying a stretcher with three decaying bodies stacked on top pass. A mangled hand fell free and dangled over the edge of the stretcher.

“What do you think they’re gonna do with them,” Ethan whispered.

“Burn em’ would be my guess,” I replied, my gaze following them as they carelessly dropped the bodies into a pit lined with scorch marks around the edges that reeked of gasoline and burnt flesh. There were deep scratches and what looked like a few fingernails that had broken clear off while being dragged. My stomach turned a bit realizing they didn’t just use that pit for people who were infected, or at least they didn’t bother waiting till they turned or putting them down humanely. These people were definitely sick. Kinda made me wish I’d set up explosives before we started out. Oh well, maybe I’ll swing back around this place after the current mission is over to tie up loose ends. For now we just had to get to the tru—shit.

“Maybe we should consider a new ride,” I suggested upon discovering that they had completely ransacked the truck. The seats were ripped up and torn out. They’d completely gutted the inside, must have thought we were planning something to tear it apart like that. Now they were starting under the hood. Guess my luck was finally running out.

Ethan cocked his head to the side, “Maybe.”

I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye off to the side, beyond the guards and clean-up crew. The familiar movements and size told me it was Tank. Guess we should have went his way instead, would have saved a lot more time.

We changed direction as subtly as we could, not that anyone would have cared at this point. I tried telling myself they were just too busy to notice us, but somehow I knew that wasn’t true. It took a little bit, but eventually we made it clear of the facility and were out on the street. I leaned Ethan against a brick wall and began searching through the cars scattered all over the street. Some were empty, some had rotting bodies that had been in there for months, some windows were too blood-smeared to even see inside.

I leaned my AR  against the side of a large black SUV and opened the door that had black dried sludge crusted on the window. The pungent smell hit me pretty hard and I paused before pulling the body of the driver out onto the pavement. There was no life left in him at all thanks to the gaping hole in the top of his head and the 9mm that fell from his hand. I picked up his gun and checked the magazine. 10 round magazine, mines the one in his head…or through it. I tucked the gun into my belt and leaned in and noticed a hole in the roof of the vehicle with even more of the black muck than there was on the window. The keys were still in the ignition. I climbed into the driver seat and checked the back of the SUV for any more bodies. Aside from the mess in the front seat the car was pretty empty and tidy. I held my breath and turned the key. The car hesitated a little before roaring to a start.

“Yes!” Looking out the windshield I caught sight of Tank running sniffing the ground ahead of us till he heard the engine. He perked up his ears and excitedly ran towards the SUV. As I turned to get out of the car I was greeted by the barrel of a 12 gauge double barrel shotgun. Standing at the other end of the shotgun was a figure dressed in layered dirty and torn clothes with their face hidden beneath a hood and what looked like a plague mask, standing next to a similarly dressed individual with their gun pointed in Tanks direction.

“Call the dog off before this gets ugly,” a muffled voice ordered beneath the mask.

I whistled for tank to stop, not taking my eyes off of the person in front of me and reluctantly obeyed.

“Hand over the gun and get in the car,” came the next order.

Ethan was being dragged over by a third plague doctor wannabe with Ethan’s AR slung over their shoulder and shoved into the back seat with a .45 against his head followed by his captor.

“I’m not leaving my dog,” I protested while handing over my recently acquired gun.

“Suit yourself, but the dog rides in the back and if he so much as lifts his lip he’ll get a bullet through that fat head of his.” He nodded to his companion, who kept his gun pointed towards Tank while pressing the switch to unlock the back of the car.

“Fine, but don’t call my dog fat. His head is perfectly normal for his size.” I whistled to Tank again and nodded towards the goon that had my guns, “Follow!”

Tank again obeyed reluctantly and masked assailant number two guided him into the back of the SUV, then hopped in with him, not once taking their gun off of Tank.

With the shotgun still on me the one giving orders walked around to the passenger seat and got in, slamming the door shut. I stood there for a moment weighing my options, Tank and I would have had a pretty good chance against them and this little side trip was seriously cutting into our time, but this little trio had piqued my curiosity and gunfire would surely alert the guards we’d just gotten past. Guess I’ll just go with it.

Never said I had a plan (part 2): Update 45

There wasn’t time to wait around for an answer. Still holding the knife I whistled to Tank and nodded toward what looked like the exit and he led the way with his nose to the ground. He managed to find his way in here, he’ll be able to retrace his steps and get us out. The first hallway we went through was almost as dark as the one I had just left. The difference was that the first door I went through was practically torn off the hinges and the slight glow at the other end coming from behind that door which was slightly propped open, and these rooms seemed more for storage of random junk rather than infected people. I expected more guards every second, but none came. I could hear the frantic footsteps above me, but none were coming this way. I should have been scared, but at this point I was in survival mode and only focused on the task at hand; getting the hell out of here.

As I got closer to the door I noticed a trail of bloody paw prints that faded as they got farther away from the door. That must have been how Tank got in and I knew exactly what was holding that door open. The body on the other side of the door had its throat ripped out and was lying in a pool of blood lit up by his flashlight that had fallen when he was attacked. Behind him was a set of stairs leading up a few stories. Tank hopped over the body, splashing through the blood and creating another trail leading up the stairs. I was stepping over the body when the wheezing started and a hand shot up and grabbed my ankle. I looked down to see the body of the guard turning over and picking his head up snapping his teeth. His eyes were milky and dull, his skin pale under the blood splatter on his face. I tugged on my leg until I broke free then used that foot to stomp on his head crushing until I felt his skull crushing under my boot mixing fragments of bone, skin, and hair into the gelatinous mess that used to be his brain. Even after his entire head was no more than a pile viscous matter I continued stomping. I stomped as the rage burned in my veins with the realization of my greatest confirmed. I clenched my teeth and tightened my jaw to fight back the tears that were stinging my eyes. I stomped hoping that I could pound the proof into the dirt; that I could make it disappear as if it never existed. The proof that…a nudge against my hand stopped my vicious assault on what was now an unrecognizable puddle of red goop. I looked down at the blood dripping from Tanks mouth as he nudged my hand with a whimper. I didn’t realize how much my heart had been pounding or that my hands were shaking. We were infected…carriers. We might not be affected by it the same way, but we could spread it just as easily as the others.

“Let’s go,” I told Tank in a shaky voice. He turned and leapt up the stairs. I took one last look at the body on the floor and the blood covering my boot before following Tank. We ran past a few doors before Tank finally picked one. My guess is Tank squeezed in behind that guard down there through this door, took him out then…somehow busted down that other door. The infection must be making us stronger, either that or making us more resilient to pain. Whatever it was there was no time to worry about it, we had to get out of there. I pushed the heavy door open and was greeted by a flood of light sending a sharp pain shooting from my eyes to the sides of my head. After my eyes adjusted I saw that I was outside, ground level, on the outer side of the building near the water. I inched my way out a bit to peak around the corner; the place was still a mess from all the knocked over containers and they had a cleanup crew still in the process of neutralizing the area. Guards were posted everywhere on high alert. The truck was out of the question, unless I could get around the cleanup crew. We could take the water route, but the splash from this height might give us away. If I could get a little lower I could ease us both in.

I was leaning over to see if there was a walkway or ledge of some sort a little further down when a tap on the shoulder sent me spinning around raising the knife in a reverse grip, my other hand clenched tightly in a fist ready to attack. I began a swipe towards the throat with the knife, but it was pushed to the side by a forearm.

“Whoa, hey,” Ethan exclaimed in half whispering and half yelling.

“Ethan?” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He was standing in front of me in one of the guards uniforms. I didn’t see the splint on his leg, but noticed a slight outline beneath his pants on the lower leg where the splint should’ve been. “How the hell did you get up here so…where did you go?”

He smirked and limped over to a messy pile of clothes, picked them up and tossed them over to me, another uniform. “Put that on. We can walk right out through the front.”

I hesitated. Tank and I could have made it in the water, but there’s no way Ethan could with that messed up leg. “Shit. Alright.”

Ethan kept watch making sure no one snuck up on us while I quickly changed into a uniform. I tossed my other clothes in a nearby dumpster, tightened the strap on my helmet, picked up the extra weapons Ethan had brought and patted him on the shoulder, “Now what?”

“Now we get outta here,” he replied.

I signaled for Tank to go around and he took off on his own path.

“Alright let’s go,” I said trying to muster up a false optimism.

With a nod from Ethan we started towards the heavily guarded area we were captured in not too long ago.