Posts Tagged ‘Cult’

Cold, aching, my head pounding to a vicious beat, these are not the sensations anyone would want to wake up to. My hand reached about me for a blanket, because surely there must be one, I was after all lying stretched out. No, not stretched but scrunched a bit, curled up in a fetal position. Was this from a bad dream? I couldn’t remember. No blanket could be found and about me not soft sheets upon a mattress but something hard and grooved that my fingers struck causing them to ache. My eyes open to find beneath my cheek a sheet of metal, corrugated. That made little sense to my hazed mind.

I tried to stretch my legs out to ease their ache only to find they hit something boxing me in. I had my shoes on still so it didn’t hurt but the toe of one boot slipped into a hole of some kind and for a moment it was stuck until I struggled to get it released. My eyes open further and as if sight lent it strength the smells of the room washed over me. The smell of blood, metallic and sickening first came to me. The smell of rot – A familiar scent that the zees had given us, which fully woke me to my senses and caused me to struggle to sit up, that invaded my nose and my mind causing panic. I banged my head on something above me and paused to look about at what I was laying upon. A cage – no a kennel like that which a large dog would be enclosed. All about me metal bars. I was trapped, a padlock upon the door to keep me in. The room was large, dark and in the distance I could hear the dead moaning. They sounded close and yet not within the room, a room that appeared to have been sectioned off. The ceiling was high above me and the only light came from skylights that showed me blue skies with no signs of clouds. I was in some kind of abandon warehouse that had been repurposed but for what?

Memories tumbled back, the alleyway, the face with the skull and the robes. I shuddered and bit back a cry before starting to search my arms for signs of a needle mark. I felt sick to my stomach and worry and stress caused me to wonder if it was a sign of the sickness that would turn me into one of the dead. The dead – why was I still alive? Why hadn’t they killed me and left my body in that desolated place? I was fully clothed in the clothes I had been in when they took me. My face ached from where the blow that knocked me unconscious had hit and the dizziness I felt had to have been from drugs. Vague memories of a car and faces, voices talking and arguing surface. Nothing concrete I could grab onto and make sense of my surroundings.

“Here, have some water it will help.” Between the bars in a paper cup a small portion of water was held out to me. Drugged, it must be drugged, or infected or perhaps even poison. Fear caused my reaction and my hand struck out knocking the paper cup from the slim hand of the voice who spoke. A female voice, gentle and kind even. Was it a trick? It must be, everything about me was death and torment.

“Easy now, I’m not going to hurt you. You’re okay. Nobody gets hurt while they are in this room.” Her tone reassured me and at the same time there was a hint of the honest brutal truth. It was safe in this room which means there were other rooms. Rooms where it was not so safe and perhaps people did not return from. I looked towards the voice into the face of a woman in her early fifties. A motherly figure, perhaps like the one who once came to my safe house there to use her reassuring appearance to fool victims of the Cult? “I understand you’re afraid. I am Sirena. Do you remember your name?”

My name – I remember my name. It had not been taken from me. My tone was harsh and cracked from being dehydrated, “Chyram.”

“Alright Chyram, I’m going to give you some more water, please don’t spill it. I only have a little left right now.” She was in a cage as well, though while mine was a dog kennel, hers appeared to be that of a large bird cage like what a parrot would be kept. I watched in silence as she poured out the precious liquid from a flask and passed me the water. This time I took it to my mouth and smelt it a carefully before having a sip. It seemed clean, but I couldn’t be sure. Yet I needed the liquid too badly to deny myself. “So you are Chyram. Somehow I expected you to be more of something. Maybe taller or at least older.”

“You’ve heard of me?”

“Only what Charlie has said in passing. He likes to pace about this room when he’s talking to his goddess. I suppose it’s fitting for him to do so since he claims those in this room were chosen. The last month or so has had him ranting about you.”

I processed that slowly. Charles talks to a deity? Of course he does, he after all seemed to see himself as a prophet. Why not rant out loud. “Chosen? Chosen to do what? To become zees like his other followers?”

“I don’t really understand it. Some have been held here and then turned but he’s kept me in this room for well I’m not really sure how long.” Her tone became philosophical, “seems like months at least. Charlie’s always going on about the grand plan and how I play some critical role. I keep telling him that he’s a fool. Even if he’s hearing someone on the other end of the line they are crazy to think that I’ll either willingly help them, or that I’m likely to last long enough to do any good.”

“So you’re infected then? How long have you been sick?”

She chuckled softly, “oh I’ve been ill since my twenties, least that’s when the doctors told me that I had a few years to live. Irony of it is with this plague I’ve probably out lived most of them, at least those who didn’t escape to the Green Zones. No I have another kind of illness. This crisis has not been kind to those of us needing medicines.” She shrugged her shoulders a bit, “for now I just hold out and wait for a more universal answer to why all this happened. I’m in the right place where I need to be at this time. Maybe I’ll talk some love back into that mad man.”

I frowned at her words. Sick with something else? I could see the pinched look and hints of poor health though nothing showed in her words or attitude. “How can you be so calm about all of this? You’re dying.”

Her expression turned more serious and her eyes settled on me. They were a storm of greyish blue and I could see grief within them held at bay by some means I couldn’t grasp. An inner strength or a practiced skill as she had been sick for a long time, “who is to say I’m calm about this? I’ve had my days when I cried and I’ve had my days when I screamed into the air at how unfair my situation is. Yet others have died in wars and from worse. I have counted each and every extra year I’ve gained as a blessing. A way to see more, do more and to leave a mark on this world so that it’s a better place than where I found it.”

I couldn’t help but snort a bit in distain. “I’m sorry lady, Sirena was it? How is this world any better than the one you were born into? People are dying. People are fighting one another. A mad man seeks to infect those that are just trying to live long enough to see an end to this plague.”

Her lips smiled faintly, “you’re very cynical for your age. I’ll tell you how it’s better. It’s better because of people like you. Those who fight against the bad that has happened and don’t give up. I remember two weeks ago when his face started to appear on the news station,” she chuckled softly. “He was raving so crazy he actually had spittle coming from his mouth. Terrible, I shouldn’t laugh. But he is my purpose I think. I’m here so that I can help him get back his love of humanity. A part of him honestly believes that whoever he thinks he’s hearing, well they are guiding him to help mankind. I don’t know who is deceiving him or why they are keeping me here, but I won’t give up on reminding him the good in people.”

I shook my head and leaned back against the cage, sipping the water before asking, “How do you know he’s actually hearing anyone. It’s probably just voices in his head.”

“You know I thought that at first until I saw the ear piece. He keeps it hidden in his hood most of the time but it’s there. Someone is talking to him. When he receives a message the ear piece gets a little red light that turns on.”

My eyes widen as I breathed out the one word that mattered to me, “who?”

Sirena’s head shook, “I don’t know. As far as I can tell he’s the only one who gets to talk to her. And you could be right. It could be simply a voice in his head. He’ll be here soon. Around noon he comes to check on me and now you as well and to talk to her.”

Steven rubbed at his eyes from the rooftop a block from the target. They hadn’t stopped moving so he was forced to not sleep for nearly four days to keep up. Exhaustion took over by the time they pulled into the compound. He nearly got caught from being so tired. “You know what dead heroes are right? Legends,” Jonathan’s voice grated at the moment with how his head thumped with a dull roar. “You should find a foxhole and sleep. You’re not useful at this point even for recon.”

Hating to admit it, Steven raised his binoculars up to examine the compound again. The vehicle had gone into a large warehouse once it passed guarded gates. There were towers with robed figures patrolling. The whole structure was fenced off with double fences. In the yard were more fenced areas, some holding the living and some the dead. Between the double fences were zees that seemed to act like watch dogs. Any sign of anything living approaching and they would all race to that part of the fence clamouring to get out and tear into the flesh of the object of their affection. It was unlike anything he had seen to date in this crazy world. The dead, nature’s new alarm system.

Steven pulled back from his sniper’s nest into a small lean-to he had crafted on the roof. It was well hidden and would block out the daytime sunlight. A few hours sleep will help set his mind to rights. Maybe at that point some sort of plan could be hatched. At the very least he’ll have his wits about him and he’ll be able to actually do proper recon.

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“Where do I even start to explain my feelings about Charles and how we met? It had been a year ago at the beginning of the fall, the start of the frost. The initial horror of the turning event, the outbreak that had swept the globe, had faded and we were all focused on survival. There were days running ahead of shuffling crowds of zees, a time when they still moved with near-human running speeds – the rot barely setting in many of the less mutilated. Unlike now, where their rotting frames slow them down and it’s sheer overwhelming numbers that besiege us. Nights were spent huddled together with the living, watching each other with suspicion of outbreak signs. Some still held out hope of a cure and would hide any infections to the devastating effects upon those of us who sheltered them. My vocal sarcasm had earned me the right to lead a group to my chagrin. The burden weighed heavily on my shoulders and I felt completely unprepared to be responsible for so many lives when my own was in total flux. Recent memories of what I had done to survive pulled at me and caused nightmares during the few hours I was able to sleep those days. No don’t ask – I won’t discuss what I did in the starting days.

“Joseph’s wife was nice. You know, one of those people that you describe as sappy nice. She always was seeing the bright side of people. She used to make me laugh at times that weren’t appropriate because of the irony in her sunny disposition despite some of our most desperate moments. Like when I would despair that I had scavenged for an entire day but found no food for the group, she would talk about how before the outbreak she could never find a diet that worked for her. Stupid humor, you know? Things that weren’t funny but that left you either laughing or crying. Maybe it was her delivery but she always brought a smile to my face.

“His son was very angry all the time. I think somewhere in their dust he had left behind a girl friend and carried the youthful guilt of lost love. Only our lost loves now haunted us among the dead. We looked for their faces in every zee we put down. I remember that he had a very vindictive expression anytime he was able to end a zee. I always thought he’d be something of a crusader, or one of those cold eyed mercenary types we see from time to time now, hired guns with loyalty to none but themselves.

“Joseph just seemed like a man desperate to keep his family together and alive. He was grasping at straws following me and not questioning my judgments. Perhaps if I had seemed surer of myself he would have kept with us instead of being seduced away by the words of Charles.

“We had taken shelter at a gas station off a highway exit. There were relatively few people in the area and even fewer zees. Back then, you have to remember, the zees still largely grouped together and chased the masses of living that were fleeing ahead of them. Like game animals driven ahead of people beating the bushes, that slow, ever-steady march taking survivors away from populated sections and towards the sea. I don’t know what they expected to find when they reached the water. Maybe some thought they would swim or that there would be boats left. A few probably thought they would even build boats, which goes to show just how far removed from ‘men of the sea’ they had become. You know, some say life began in the sea, and I don’t know if I buy that line. I do know many lives ended in the sea when the main horde caught up with the living trapped at the beaches.

“That did make things better for those of us who had stayed away from the bulk. We managed to hide from the dead as they passed through like waves flooding the streets. And one day we woke up to find only stragglers and crawlers. Nothing we couldn’t manage. It was only a matter of time before the remaining horde would turn back, wandering and looking for the living to feed upon. That dispersed group was something we all feared, and with winter approaching others were afraid of how we’d hide at night. I had managed to keep my group from using electric heat or lights at night so that we weren’t beacons in the darkness, but that wasn’t going to work for the winter.

“Then that idiot, what was his name? Oh right, Stanley something or other. We all heard the story of how good old Stan trapped his dead wife in his restaurant’s walk-in freezer. We heard how she froze solid and he was able to decapitate her and end her unlife existence. The story spread like the virus itself through the survivor camps. Zees freeze and solid frozen zees are easy to kill. Safe to kill as well because there would be no blood splatter to risk infections. That’s when I heard of Charles, the man with the plan to save us all. He was going to lead us all up north to the snow so that when the winter freeze came we could live without fear. His caravan was considered a Mecca of paradise, supplies, and the living. Every story that was spread about him became wilder and more detailed.

“Charles was working on a cure and was close, but he needed the frozen zees to safely experiment upon. Charles says that the frozen weather will slow down any infection found in the blood. Charles has gathered together scientists, doctors, and all sorts of educated people who clearly believe in him. By the end of it you’d swear some thought Charles could turn water to wine, as if he was some second coming of Christ.

“It was mere chance that his caravan passed us that day, and on finding living he stopped to try and convince us to join him. I think the first thing I noticed was how adoring people were in the way they addressed him or even looked at him. His camper was in the middle of the pack, surrounded by others, and they used CB radios to direct each other. Each camper had snipers on the roof to protect the people, and they were over crowded with the living. The caravan moved at a walking pace as many trailed behind on foot.

“When we approached, Charles greeted us warmly and I felt his eyes scan the group before settling upon me. I don’t know exactly what he saw, but he knew I was leading our ragged group. He sized up the entire dynamic and focused his attention on me with words that sounded promising. I received praise for the work I had done in keeping the group together and alive so far, though there were always hints of doubts in his words and tone. It was if he was truly amazed at my luck rather than ability, and back then my own self-assurance was fragile enough that it began to be broken down. I cannot express how tempting it was to be told that the burden on my shoulders didn’t need to be there. That they had plenty who could take that upon themselves, and I could just become one of the crowds loyally following along behind him. I would be safe, and look at how much good I could do for so many more if I was willing to do so?

“I might have bought it if I hadn’t seen her face. She was young; probably fourteen, and briefly I saw her in the glass of the window behind him, hidden within the camper. I asked about her and for a moment his expression changed. I saw anger that I was questioning Charles, but the flicker was so fast I thought it might have been my imagination. Charles explained how the orphans, children who were lost, often travelled with him because he found their reflections refreshing and full of hope. That expression, ‘children who were lost,’ somehow didn’t seem to require their parents being dead. It was a whole brand new definition of an orphan which Charles had a great deal of philosophical ideology on.

“Disquiet came to me not just from his words but also from how accepting his followers were in them. What I had seen in that girl’s expression wasn’t hope. Charles further went on to explain how he helped council those who had been traumatized by what they had seen. There was a force in his voice as he spoke about his actions and I listened to him praise himself for the first time.

“Previously, he had stood back and let others do the talking for him. There had been a benevolent smile on his face, and an encouraging nod when others told us how wonderful Charles truly was. And his followers treated his smiles and nods as if they were blessings for saying the right words. Yet to hear him talk about himself was something entirely different. Charles had crossed the line from leader to savior before his time. He was already certain of his own sainthood and that he single-handedly would save the world.

“I don’t know what my expression was, but Charles saw something he didn’t like. Maybe the conman had seen he’d lost his mark with me, because that’s when the speech changed. Openly, he belittled what I had done and the losses we had taken. He exposed – or seemed to expose – my weaknesses, including pride and inexperience. He promised the people with me that they would be safe. Joseph saw a new straw to cling to, this one seeming to be stronger, sturdy, and unbendable.

“Within ten minutes, his family had packed up the few things they had with them and joined the caravan. We sat on the roof of the gas station and watched the caravan move on. It took most of the afternoon, all the while heading north to some promised safe place that Charles had told his followers he knew of. I never saw any proof that they survived until now. This is Charles. This is his picture. He is the one leading the Cult. I don’t know what happened when he went north, but there’s something about straw that doesn’t bend. It breaks. Something up North happened to change him to this and I need to find him.”

I finished my speech and drew in a slow breath, watching Ezekiel’s expression. He had been fairly quiet through my entire speech. “He definitely sounds like a dangerous man. We will publish this image on the station but we will do it my way.” I started to protest but Ezekiel’s tone left no room for argument, “My way, Chyram. His picture will be shown as a person of interest upon whom we are seeking information. I won’t say exactly who or what at this time. Not until we have either a better image of him, or more concrete information. I won’t cause a panic to people who are starting to heal. All calls and information will be directed to the station and then sent to you. Your connection to this image will not be broadcast at this time, but we are holding onto the right to break the news on that story later.”

He paused to pick up the image of Charles again and study it before saying, “One final thing: There’s something we need you to do for us. Don’t worry, it’s right up your alley anyway, with your hero complex.”

I made a face at that statement. This world worked on barters. You want something, you give something, and if you don’t have goods it’ll be based on your skills. Why were my identified skills in public viewing that of being a hero? I sure as hell didn’t want to become a legend, since there was only one way for a hero to do that – die.

“Name it.”

Or maybe my skills weren’t that of a hero, just someone who was stupid enough to not be able to say no to any request for help?