Sat, 1 August 2009 - 8:53 pm

Unmasking

It started off as such a normal day, as far as ‘normal’ applies here. And then it nosedived, without warning.

There were no signs of more shamblers in the area, so we moved the vehicles over to the chemistry building to load them up. With so many ‘helping’ hands, it took ages to get everything done, even though we’re not planning to take all of the vehicles with us. After a quick survey last night, it looks like we’ll have maybe a dozen heading out, give or take a few vacillating souls.

I went to check that we hadn’t missed any equipment and heard a shout from one of the back rooms. I called for the others as I ran back to see what it was, though once I saw what was going on, I wished I hadn’t.

 

Jersey had called out, but when I got there, his air was choked off. Ben was the cause and the Wolverine was batting feebly at his arm. I didn’t think: I ran over and tried to pull Ben off with words and hands.

It was like trying to move the arm of a statue. Ben scowled and shoved me off, and I wound up sprawled on the ground.

“Jersey’s dead anyway,” he said. When I asked what the hell he meant, he added, “She has an acid burn.”

I stared at him, trying to work out which part to process first. Jersey’s batting was fading, so I put the rest of it aside and told Ben to let go, let go. Some of the others were arriving, and I think it was that more than anything else that made him release the Wolverine. Jersey fell into a heap and gasped for air, trying to scrabble away.

“She’s been lying since we met her,” Ben said, spitting the words out like pips. He glanced at the doorway, where Conroy and Dale were among the onlookers. They were as stunned as the rest of us, like fish. “And probably for a while before that. About that, and about being burned.”

We all looked to Jersey for an answer, an argument; anything. It was there, written plainly on his face. Her face. Guilt, fear. She must have kept that secret for so many months, from everyone. Now the thin tissue of it was torn irreparably.

She glared at us, rubbing her throat and coughing, and then stumbled out of a side door. She wanted nothing more than to get away from all of us, and I didn’t blame her. No-one tried to stop her.

It was enough of a distraction that no-one asked Ben what he was doing choking the life out of the psuedo-boy. I don’t think any of them realised what he was doing before they got there.

The onlookers milled about uncertainly, angry murmurs fluttering between them. I caught sight of Terry, who has spent so much time with Jersey lately, looking uncertain about everything. I asked him to go after her, make sure she’s all right, make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid. He asked me why I didn’t want to go, and I told him that I needed to talk to Ben.

He’s a good lad. He didn’t know what to think of his new friend any more, but he went anyway. I hope he managed to say the right things. I can’t imagine how scared she must be now; I haven’t seen her since she ran off.

 

I turned around and Ben had already gone. It took me a while to find him, and by then I was afraid of what I’d discover with him this time. He was on his own, luckily, and my fear relaxed into anger.

“You were going to kill her.” It wasn’t a question; we both knew the truth of that.

He frowned at me, folding his arms over his chest. “I told you – she’s dead anyway.”

“You don’t know that.”

“She’s been burned. That means she’ll get the Sickness and die.”

I didn’t know what to say to him. Words cluttered up in my throat behind a roadblock of shock. It wasn’t that she would get the Sickness: it was his abrupt attitude about it. As iff that justified everything and anything.

“Ben, that takes months. And she might not die! She could turn out like you.” I tried to make that sound like a good thing, but my heart wasn’t in it. “We might be able to find a way to stop it!”

“She’s dead, Faith. Face it.”

“No! And even if she was… even if we were sure, that doesn’t give you the right to just… kill her.” I looked at him, at the way he avoided my gaze but wasn’t apologetic at all, and suddenly he felt like a stranger.

“Why not? She’s dead and I’m hungry. What would you have me do?”

“You can’t just kill people! Is this what happened with Steve? Did you kill him before the Sickness could take him?”

He just glared at me. “He was dead, too.”

“But still alive when you got to him! Ben, you can’t do this! You just can’t!”

He stepped closer and looked down at me, pulled his lips back. “It’s survival, Faith. They’re not going to make it, so I might as well.”

I stared up at him, ice all over and shivering. It felt like someone else was having this conversation. “How many has there been?” My voice sounded small and far away. It took me a moment to figure out why my cheeks were wet.

He just looked at me for a long moment.

“No more,” I said. “Promise me there won’t be any more.”

“And if I do? Will you offer a vein every time I’m hungry?”

“If I have to.”

The next thing I knew, my back was against a wall and there was a fresh cut on my arm. I didn’t fight him. I felt my heart throbbing and the wall wasn’t enough to hold me up. I asked him to stop just before my knees buckled. He said my name, but it was too dark. I don’t remember hitting the floor.

 

That was a few hours ago. I just woke up, wrapped in blankets. He must have put me to bed. I don’t know where he is now. I don’t feel good. I can’t keep doing this; I know that now. I think he’ll kill me without meaning to. Add me to the list of those he’s sacrificed so that he can keep on being.

There’s a part of me that wants to believe in him, but it’s growing smaller all the time. The knowledge is seeping through me, slow as slush: I love a killer. Do I dare to think I can still change him? The more I know, the less I like it. But I still don’t know enough. It won’t be enough until it’s too much.

Bones to entrails, I ache. It’s cold tonight. Or maybe it’s just me, all the way through.

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