We finally broke apart, and I couldn’t stifle the gasp for air I took, it was as if he sucked the very breath from me. My lips were so wet, but my throat was so dry, and I could still taste him in my mouth. I went in for another kiss, but he stopped me, and I could see apprehension in his eyes before he turned away from me.
“Wait, I can’t do this.. not like this.”
I looked at him like he was crazy, I couldn’t believe I was hearing the words come from his mouth, not right now, not at a moment like this. I felt the burning flush of blush, heat the skin of my cheeks, as a mutinous tear streaked it’s way down. I pushed him off me, and turned away from him, I couldn’t bare to even look at the bastard. He tried to speak but I screamed, telling him to get out, and he hesitated before leaving me alone on the Betty.
As soon as he departed, I ran back to the toilet and threw up, but even though I was drunk I had sense enough to hold my dreads back. When I finished, I rinsed my mouth out and stumbled drunkenly to the couch, throwing myself haphazardly across it. I tried to fall into the sanctity of sleep, but I just found myself laying there crying. I felt a soft warm tongue, stroking the side of my face, and I opened my eyes to see Buster there licking the tears.
I had totally forgotten about the dog, with the mess going on, but he seemed to feel my pain and tried to offer me comfort. I pet him for a little while, before he climbed on the couch with me and cuddled up, I wrapped my arms around him and felt comfort from his warmth as I finally drifted to sleep.
I awoke shortly before the dawn, to Buster whining by the door, so I let him out to do his business. While I wait, I could see a group of soldiers, whom I assume, were leaving for an early morning scavenge of the city. I watched as they hopped into two large jeeps, that were clearly old models, probably running purely on gasoline.
Even so, the seven of them seemed more than capable of securing enough food, to ensure the thirty or so people housed here, would be fed well. Buster barked, as he ran up to me, so I stroked behind his ears gently, to satisfy him. He sniffed the air, and his ears perked to attention, it was clear he’d caught something in the breeze.
He suddenly took off running, to where the soldiers were making their exit, and I sprinted behind him but failed miserably at catching him. I made one final swipe at him, but it was too late, he had slipped through the gate and I had no choice but to follow. The dog felt like family to us at this point, and I could only imagine Serafi’s face if she found out he was gone, I’d never be able to forgive myself. I tried to stalk quietly behind him down the street, as he follow the men, but not too closely. After about three blocks or so of traveling through the business district, I was finally able to catch up to him, but by this time I had more interest in the soldiers and where they were headed at such a leisurely pace.
The streets still remain bare of infected, but I didn’t take any chances, and continue my silent tactic of pursuit. I was surprised to find they didn’t go far, stopping right outside Parkview Field, so I stalked quietly behind the persistent dog leading the way. We hid behind an overgrown hedge and watched as they unloaded several large tarps, one guy carried what looked like a large tool kit, as he lead the men inside.
Standing outside, it was clear to see the building had been modified recently, the ball field almost completely enclosed. When they were inside, I followed Buster as he crept toward the entrance, the eerie howling of the wind and my heart beating like a drum filled my ears. Walking into the empty lobby was shock, and an awful truth cut deep into my core, this building was clearly used for quarantine and containment. The only time I had seen a setup as advanced as this, was when I interned for a aunt who worked for the CDC, the case in time had been a rare of outbreak of Ebola at an American embassy in Angola.
The entire room was encased in sterile plastic, and the filtered air had that familiar smell of chemical cleansers. It was one of the things, besides blood, that I found to be a roadblock in my pursuit of a career in Medicine. The atmosphere was so unsettling, but I didn’t let it deter me from moving forward, I pressed for the elevator and climbed inside when the doors opened. I hit the floor to the Owner’s Box, and rode it to the top, as a monotone tune played through unseen speakers. The doors opened and I stepped into what I assumed was one of the Generals many offices, there were papers and a map of the city strewn across a nearby table. Most, if not all, of the surrounding buildings had been X’d out in red ink, only the ball field and the academy were circled in blue. That’s when I noticed the lit cigarette, sitting in an ashtray at the other end of the table, and the elevator groaned to life.
“Shit..” I mumbled under my breath, and gave a low whistle for Buster to ‘come’, I soon felt him at my feet.
I started to panic as I searched for a hiding spot, that’s when Buster ran over to a set of lockers, lined against the wall. I opened the first two, and found them packed full of baseball memorabilia, the third was locked but the fourth was a saving grace. We had barely made it inside, when the elevator doors opened up, and three of the soldiers entered the room. Buster was silent as a mouse, but I could hear my heart thumping in my chest, I just knew we were going to get caught. Two of them were engaged in conversation, while a third made his way directly towards me, and I prepared myself for the worst.
“..She’s got a nice slim frame just how I like’m, even though the haircut makes her look like a dude.”
“Haha.. You’re right, she might be one’na dem lezbo’s.”
“Naw, I seen’er hugged up with one of the Mercs..”
“Aw damn, we finally get some new pussy aroun here and it’s taken.. I guess I don’t feel so bad abou..”
“Alright! Enough, you two.. We have to have our heads on straight for transporting these specimens, we’re expected to bring them in fully functional.” The third man had interrupted them, as he stopped in front of the locked locker, next to the one that held Buster and I.
He entered the combination, and pulled out a heavy looking gym bag, and turned back to his men. One of them had gone over to the window, and drew open the thick curtain that covered it. He looked out for a moment, before joining his comrades by the elevator, which immediately opened up. As they stepped inside and the doors proceeded to close, I was about to sigh in relief but the doors popped open again. The third man walked back inside, he stopped, letting his squinty eyes scan the room. He walked over to the table and grabbed the cigarette, before hurrying back to the elevator, the doors closed and they finally made their descent.
I immediately burst out of the locker, and was about to walk over to the window, when Buster began to whine. I paused nervously, but my curiosity would get the best of my yellow spine. I held in a gasp, as I looked out across the field, littered with cages. Cages full of the risen dead, the infected, hell.. I didn’t know what to call these things anymore.
What made me so different from these people? I should be walking around with the insatiable hunger that plagued them, yet here I stood, still some semblance of human. I found it harder to refer to myself as such, it seems, as the days go by, but for right now it still fit. I didn’t bother to wipe the silent tears, as they streaked down my cheeks. The number of men, women, and children infected below, had to be in the thousands. Whole families, separated and sorted, within the compact cages. This must have been where they filtered out the infection, it hit here just as hard as anywhere else, dwindling their numbers to the double digits.
I ducked down low, as I could see the soldiers come out onto the field, quickly making their way through the many isles and crossways. They opened the first cage and grabbed a young man, around my age, quickly immobilizing him and wrapping him up. His thrashing and gnawing were useless, and so, was the struggle of the other two infected encased with him. I watched for a moment, as the soldiers went to the next cage, and figured this was high time to split.
I called Buster, as I pressed for the elevator, and it soon opened. As I stepped inside, I couldn’t help to wonder what they had planned for those infected people, and I knew I had to get back to the fort before anyone could notice I was gone.
“Where the hell have you been?! The General has been asking about you all fucking morning!”
“Um.. Walking the dog?” I answered, sorta in a question, not sure if Balthazar would be satisfied with such an answer.
“Bitch, I don’t wanna hear it! We don’t have the time.. The man is waiting for us in the mess hall. He supposably has some grand announcement that must be heard by all of us.” He replied, dragging me by the arm.
“Hold up, I have to tell you something important!” I told him, trying to plant my feet.
“It can wait!” He said, not even looking back, as he continued to pull me along. “We’ve been covering for you all morning, and the General was starting to get suspicious.. Lucky I found you, now, when I did.”
I sighed, as we entered the building, heading straight for the cafeteria. The room was packed, everyone was here, but the band of soldiers still on mission. Majority of the eyes landed on me, as Tzar lead us to where our group was seated, unfortunately that was in the center of the room where the General stood. I took the empty seat beside Serafi, and Buster wedged between our legs, to cuddle up to her side. She smiled at me warmly, and I returned the same, as I gave her a light pinch to the shoulder. Saint, who now seemed permanently attached to her hip, gave me a grin.
Granny slid her untouched bowl of porridge across the table to me, I shook my head no, not in the mood to stomach such slop. We both laughed, and received chastising looks from Bloodhound and the Doctor, from down the table. Jerry rolled his eyes at me and said something slick I couldn’t hear, but Timber Wolf gave him a sharp nudge with his elbow, and whispered a retort. Those hershey eyes met mine, and I felt the moment stand still, but in time, our staring contest was interrupted by the General. He stood up and climbed on the table, blocking my view of Caiden, which was fine by me, because I had made a point not to look in his direction.
“Attention, Attention Everybody.. I guess you all are wondering why I have you gathered here, and I promise it won’t take long. As you know, we been working hard on fixing our communication issues but finally, at 0200 hours, we made contact with The Capital..”
An explosion of murmuring and loud gasps filled the room, everyone in our group looked to the Wolf, only to receive a nod in confirmation of the man’s words. Someone shushed loudly, and the volume of the talking gradually lowered, the General waited till he could be heard clearly before he continued.
“.. I have some good news and some bad news, and I always like to end on a good note so.. To make a long story short, the President of the United States and her family have succumb to infection, so has Vice President Booker. This means the new President is Republican House majority leader Minerva Rockefeller..”
I had to think about who that was, and put a name to a face, I knew the Rockefellers were among the wealthiest in the world and an immensely powerful political family dynasty. I vaguely recalled her conservative style and meticulous auburn hair. The woman had always come off hawkish and power hungry to me, so she was perfect for the job.
“.. Under President’s orders, all active compounds are to engage isolation procedures, and maintain until further notice. Basically that means it’ll be a day in hell before we receive any assistance from home base, and it’s every man for themselves.. It appears our government is in shambles and needs to regroup, Uncle Sam can’t baby us anymore because we aren’t a priority to them.. But we knew this from the beginning, people! We knew they would fail us again! It is up to us to ensure the survival of the human race! We the People!”
The men and women around us started to clap, and shout in agreement, hurling obscenities at the public officials that spurned us all. Our group just sat there in an awkward silence, unsure of what to say or do, hell, we weren’t even heading to D.C., and our mission was still considered a priority. The General appeared to revel in the raw emotion of the people, commanding them as if he were Alexander himself.
“.. We know now that our efforts to thrive in this heinous new world weren’t in vain, we know we should NEVER question the ethics of survival, as only instinct and evolution will save us all! With that my brothers and sisters, I bring you good news.. news to surely foster hope within our ranks. I stand before you today to tell you EVOLUTION is possible!”
Full applause broke out in the mess hall, as the people cheered, some even cried. I looked to the faces of my friends, and they all looked as confused as I was, what the hell was this man going on about?
“.. I know this to be fact, though many have spurned our ways, and dismissed them as the radical musings of mad men. Yet as fate would have it, our visitors have one among them who has developed an IMMUNITY.. Yes, you heard me correctly, someone has evolved a mutation to withstand infection!” He paused and looked around the room, a crazed look in his cold opal eyes, as they scanned the room. “I know now, I haven’t steered you wrong, my flock, this only reaffirms my decision to Shepherd you down the harrowing path we’ve chosen! We will double our efforts for survival, and we will evolve to usher humanity into the new world! I say tonight we celebrate. We celebrate our dedication to LIFE, we celebrate our lost loved ones, we celebrate the strength built within us to adapt to a world now fit only for the monsters of our worst nightmares.. We celebrate the fight we have before us, as we will prove VICTORIOUS!”
I had to give it to the man, he sure knew how to please this crowd, and please them he did. They fed from his passion and fire, as if it were more filling to their bellies than the soggy porridge served to them for breakfast. They were all on their feet in a riot, excited by the promises of a man, that came off a little like a lunatic instead of a maverick. Where did he get off, making such ludicrous claims of genetic manipulation? Even with all the mechanical marvels that are sure to reside at our primary destination, it will be a burden of a task to procure a remedy to infection from my DNA. How would he expect to do the unthinkable without any of that?
I got up from the table, and tried to sneak off on my own, but Patience and Buster were quick to tag along. I guess they have had enough excitement for one morning as well, because they made it out of the building before I could. When I got outside, I could see the soldiers were finally returning from their ‘scavenge’ at Parkview field. The man who had come close to finding Buster and I, stared at me intently as the drove pass, but he only nodded and looked away. As they turned to go around to the rear of the building, I tried to listen close for signs of any flesh eaters struggling, but I heard none.
Someone tapped my shoulder, and I nearly jumped from my skin, spinning round brought me face to face with the Wolf. He looked glorious in the morning light, his earthy brown complexion just glistened under the sun, and I caught myself just staring a moment. Then the fury from last night resurfaced, so I just turned away from him and just started walking, not sure where I was going but I had to get away from here. He kept pace to my right, and soon his velvety baritone, broke the tense silence between us.
“You sure broke out of there fast..”
“Yeah, I did.” I replied nonchalantly, looking out to the academy lawn, where Patience ran around in circles as she played with Buster.
“You were also gone for most of the morning, no one knew where you went, and no one could find you.”
“And Cows ‘Moo’, are we done sharing obvious facts now?” I looked as him, showing my frustration with his presence clear on my face, I didn’t care if I was being dramatic or not.
“Look, I know you’re upset about last night.. Things weren’t handled properly, I know that, and I’ll take the fault. I don’t blame you for not telling us about the changes, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s none of our business if you pose no threat to us.. At least as far as mutations are concerned.” He giving me that smile of his, we slowed to a stroll and I immediately felt a release of tension, I loathed to love the effect he had on me.
“As long as you keep the gruesome twosome in line, we won’t have any further problems.” I replied, finally returning some semblance of a smile, he had a way of easing my spirit’s. “I know there are answers owed, but I was trying to do that in my own time.. Especially, since I have no idea what’s going on myself.”
“I promise to keep them in line as best I can, even thou now, It seems I have to worry about more than just the Doctors greedy hands, trying to get a hold of you.”
“Wha.. What do you mean?” I stammered nervously, as guilty thoughts of my encounter with Caiden, cross my mind.
“The General has clearly gone full time cult leader on us, the man has the potential to become a liability to the mission” He replied, all serious in his tone. “I hate to say, but I’m questioning the decision to come here..”
“You hate to say it, huh?”
His eyes shot to me, and he cut them into an acute glare, but I just grinned like a cat who ate the canary.
“Go on, go ahead and say it, have your peace..” He told me, with grin.
“I FUCKING told you so!” I screamed at the top of my lungs with glee, causing the two at play to stop and stare in bewilderment.
“That was a bit of an overkill..” He mentioned, as we both burst into laughter.