The mind is an amazing device that finds methods to protect the body from all sorts of harm. Going into shock can give strength to an injured person, allowing them to survive and find either help or safety in dire situations. Devastating trauma witnessed can be processed and washed away so that we can go forward and smile again. So it is with the outbreak: The survivors are learning to cope. The mind truly is an amazing piece of work.
When Drachen warned me of what ATCO had learned about, I was shocked into disbelief. But I could not argue the proof he showed me in the pictures and the bodies discovered. Nor could I dispute the death toll that was being tallied as a result. I returned home and, after the panic involving Malkoris’ possible infection, I talked over with him the new threat we could end up facing. Forget the moose cult somewhere out there in the world a madman had formed a new kind of cult: A death cult devoted to ridding the world of living humanity.
From the mind can come some of the darkest impulses given life. It was impossible to say at that point if this leader was mad before the outbreak or if it was the infestation of the dead that drove him or her to it. Nobody was certain at that point who led the cultists, nor fully what methods they were using. However, smaller safe houses were being gobbled up and destroyed by this evil. More ground that was fought and won from the dead was being taken back by the zees. The only real proof Drachen could give me was the graffiti tagging found in the areas where the living were exterminated.
Recent losses in membership from many of the major safe house communities was being blamed upon the new threat, but there was no proof that the newly formed safe house where these members had gone, Grind House, was behind the spread of this phenomena. Nobody wanted to attack and remove Grind House without proof, and reviewing the data I was provided did not convince me that they were the ones to blame.
Following our return to Terry Fox, Malkoris and I decided to search our territory for any signs of the cult. I had shown Malk the symbols seen on the walls of desecrated safe houses. We both decided not to talk to Beebles about this issue. It would have given her one more thing to worry and obsess on. By mid afternoon I was feeling confident that we had not attracted the attention of any new horde of zees nor any sinister cultists. Most of the territory divided up between me and Malkoris that I was to cover had been searched. It was not until I was right on the border, a border that stretches out into the wild ruins not yet cleared, that I found the sign I had so desperately not wanted to see.
I took out the spray can that Shark City tattoos had traded with me and covered up the symbol. In defiance I wrote in the paint with a red can the word “LIVE” in bold brash writing. My mind wondered briefly if red was the best color to use, the color of blood. But blood is part of what keeps us alive and has been a symbol of life and living in many cultures and religions. It fit. Though I would not discuss this with my fellow safe house members, I was a believer, and to see a perversion such as this cult caused me to feel ill at heart. Had we not seen enough already? How much bad can man bring upon himself?
With that task done, I headed for home, needing now to connect with Malkoris and to discuss how we would strengthen our defenses. It was no longer feasible for Terry Fox to remain at the CVC level of five but we would have to push into the level six bracket to build up our strength. When I arrived Malkoris was at the bottom of the stairs to greet me. “We have two strangers with us. Beebles has seen them into quarantine and gotten them food.”
In my mind’s eye I saw the symbol that had been sprayed on the wall. “Have you taken a look at them yet?” Malkoris shook his head which could only mean one thing. Both were likely female and therefore it was agreed upon that I would do any infection examinations for women, as he would for men. I headed up the steps telling my companion, “I found a marking. What about you?” His eyes looked at me before narrowing slightly. Again he shook his head negative. Perhaps that was a good sign, to only find the one so far.
In the quarantine room two women were there to greet me. One looked older than me while the other was barely out of her teen years. The elder spoke while the younger would not meet my eye, “hello, we have been waiting. Beebles said that you led this small group. We’ve come looking for lost groups like yourself to tell you that there is a safer place to be. A place we are all gathering.” I flickered a look between them and noted that the younger woman raised her head enough to look at me before very slightly shaking her head. Was it a sign or just in my mind? How could I be certain at this point with my own paranoia?
“We are content at this point here, thank you. And if we need to flee there are other safe houses that have promised to shelter us. Which safe house do you come from?” I held my breath waiting for a response.
Again the elder woman spoke for the two of them, “it is very understandable that you want to be cautious. We are much the same, since what we have to offer is a vaccination, a cure for the plague. And I know you no doubt have your doubts about my words,” no kidding I doubted her, “many have tried to sell false promises, but this is truly the real thing. I’m so confident I will demonstrate it on us first.”
If I had any doubt that something was wrong before, the look of terror on the young woman’s face as she scrambled back from the older lady was enough. In her hand the old woman had a needle, the liquid within some greenish black concoction. I brought out my .22 pistol and pointed it at the crone, “how about you put that down on the table.”
Her eyes never left the younger woman. The expression upon her face turned, twisting to something malicious from the kind, almost motherly appearance it had been. She spat on the floor, a gesture that the young woman jumped back from as well. “Traitor, betrayer, you will never join your family now in the Glory!” Her arm rose up and at first I thought she was going to plunge the needle into the young woman. I prepared to fire, only surprise stopped me as she struck her own body, her thumb pressing down to push the foul liquid into her blood stream.
The young woman rushed towards me, “we need to get out of this room quickly! It won’t take more than an hour for her to change and she’s going to be infectious sooner!” The old woman’s head turned to follow her progress and with a shriek she launched herself towards us both. I felt my finger squeeze the trigger and my arm jerked from the snap of the bullets leaving the gun. Three shots, blam, blam, blam, straight to her chest sent the woman to the ground at my feet. Briefly, I saw the man who was dead in the ATCO office and the cool expressions of those who had executed him. I could not maintain that indifference and twisted to the side to hurl up what little was still in my belly.
The young woman spoke, “you had to. And you can’t stop there, she will rise up. She’s one of them now. Just like them all. Just like my family now.” I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and grimaced. Standing straighter, I looked down at the body of the woman and fired off three shots into her head. Beebles and Malkoris raced into the room to see what had happened, weapons drawn. I drew in a breath and used my foot to roll the woman over, looking for the needle. With a cloth I picked it up and placed it in a box. ATCO will want to see this, and likely so would Rite Aid.
Again it was the young woman who spoke first, “may I have some food?” There was silence, “please, it’s been three days. They wouldn’t let me eat.”
With a more gravelly tone I spoke, “You’ll stay in this room. Beebles bring her food, do not approach her. Strip down out of everything, because I’ll want to inspect your gear as well. We’re going to get rid of the body first.” I gestured for Malkoris to help me and we started to carry the witch out. Tonight was going to be a long night and I better get some answers.