We set the corpses on fire and stood watching them burn.
Some of them were our families, some strangers to town. In the old days, we would have
used a cemetery. But the old days were gone. Only nightmares awaited us, asleep or awake. The war had been going on so long; none of us remembered anything else but the constant fear gnawing at us.
I clasped the hand before me. “My name is Bethany.”
I glanced at the wearied, ragged traveler, who’d come asking for shelter from the ghouls that stalked our lands. She had come alone, unarmed, and possessing more wits than most of us still had. That alone made me suspicious. I tried to ignore the feeling that skittered through me, alerting my frayed nerves. She’s too pristine, too hardy. She looks like—a cheerleader from school days buried beneath the rubble.
A few others eyed her as well and I nodded to myself.
I wasn’t just being paranoid.
Suicide bombers arrived all the time.
Best to help this one out of town now.
“Well, Gayle. Afraid we’re out of space. We’re going to have to ask you to move on.”
Big, tremulous eyes stared at me. “But—they’re out there.”
“Can’t be helped. This place can only hold so many and we’ve reached our limit now.”
She dropped to her knees as I motioned for two guards to relief me of her. “Please—”
“Pat her down before she leaves,” I told them.
I caught up with Mace. “Believe that? Another one trying to slink through the gates.”
He glanced at me. “This is war. I’m surprised that they have anymore humans left to do their biddings though.”
Behind us, Gayle struggled as she was cast out the doors of town. In the distance, a line of ghouls were headed our way. She screamed and fought to get back inside. “I’m one of you—” she screamed. “Don’t you recognize a friend, anymore?”
The ghouls were almost to her. She turned to run but it was too late. They tore her apart like she was a pile of rags. My mouth dropped open as the sirens went off. In the next instant, we were in hand to hand combat with the creatures. They forced their way inside the town, into what was left of our population. When the sun burnt orange in the sky, they withdrew, our numbers decimated further.
I nodded at Mace. “She was right about one thing. I guess we don’t know the difference anymore.”
He shrugged. “Maybe we never did. These—things—they warp our thoughts, shove us into corners and kill the rest outright. We fight to hold onto our humanity—but somewhere along the way, we’ve lost it. Become like them.”
A few days later, a ten-year-old boy ran toward our town square. “Help me! Help me!”
I thought of Gayle, about the tragedy. “Let him in,” I called.
He came into the center of town, all of us gathering around to listen to his tale. When we were all packed in tight, he pulled the bomb from his pocket. “Suckers. Gayle was only a warning. I’m the real threat.”
©Copyright 2010, Oct. 16, tlc.