Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beauty is a Beast L Redd



Long ago in a peaceful, quiet kingdom nestled between a bluish green sea and a plush olive forest there lived a royal family. The king, Joseph, was a strong, intelligent man who was adored by his people due to his fair and honest practices. The princess, a dainty, warm hearted girl of average beauty was blessed with the gift of song. Her love for the arts hung in many homes throughout the kingdom. She too was adored and loved by all. However, the queen was nowhere near as meek, humble, and beloved as the rest of the family. In her eyes, beauty and power reigned supreme. She seldom responded to requests to visit local charities or even the sick at their last request. Too involved with her own ideas of what her position required she stayed busy by courting the aristocratic side of the lifestyle. She would take long days away scheduling teas and luncheons with neighboring royals and well to dos. She wanted nothing of the common man and what he had to offer. So when the day came and it was time for the princess to be betrothed, she was angered when no prince from the neighboring families offered marriage to her daughter, Akina. Even though the queen had done all she could to ensure a successful, substantial nuptial, the neighboring royals were no fools and wanted no part of her snobbery. The queen lashed out and did as always, blamed her daughter.

"If you had been more beautiful this wouldn't have happened. Now look, you are 18 with no hopes for a husband and no hopes of an alliance with an affluent kingdom." The queen spouted her venom through most of the night when the king finally put her in her place.

"Madera, my darling, the trouble is not with our daughter, it's you. You have turned the neighboring families against us with your constant ill advised notions of what your position should be. To be a royal is a great responsibility to the kingdom that we protect not just a crown and golden pass to rub elbows with the rich. It is because of you that our daughter has no offers."

With those words the king slept in an adjoining chamber and did not return to her bed for weeks. The queen continued to smolder regarding Akina's fate. If she did not marry there would be no heir and without an heir, the kingdom would be lost. The queen decided it was up to her to set the proper marriage in place.

On the eve of spring, a grand festival was planned to celebrate the end of another harsh winter. As usual, Queen Madera made no plans to attend on time but instead scheduled a secretive trip into the nether-woods. The dark guest carriage would be escorting the woman to the mighty sorcerer, Gilsham. He was her final solution to the issue at hand. Upon arrival she was greeted by a tall dark figure. His eyes were a steely gray, his hair long, thick and black. His olive colored skin and perfect smile hid his true age, but it was known to many that he had walked the forest in the time of the ancient elders. His looks mattered not to her as she offered the faithless man 200 gold coins in exchange for a spell. A spell that would make her daughter irresistible and more beautiful than any other princess in the land. At that point, no prince could deny her marriage and they would line up in the grand the foyer bidding for her daughter's virtue and her hand. Madera would invite the wealthiest of the royals and only the best would be eligible to bid.  

"Are you sure this is what you want, oh great queen?  This type of spell can have wicked drawbacks as your ways are less than noble." Gilsham spoke with a frank tone to the woman. She ignored his caution.

"I paid you well, now do as I request!  My ways are of you no matter to you. You work for me." Madera spouted cynical, arrogant venom.

Towards the end of the day as the festival launched into a joyous dance and bonfire, the queen appeared. Happy and full of joy she moved along the crowd of peasants and middle class as quick as an acquitted man leaving the hanging rope. Eyeing her daughter and husband at the other side of the stone pathway, she nodded and placed herself at their side. She was rather late and the king wanted answers.

"Where have you been all day?  The evening dance depends on our first waltz of the afternoon and you are late!" The king was quite displeased as his hazel eyes flared flecks of green and his brow wrinkled in discontent.

"My lord, I wanted to look my best and so I purchased a new gown for this occasion. I am sorry for keeping you waiting." On the outside her apology was honest and authentic, but on inside the lies grew toxic as the asp's venom. She held her true intentions far from the surface as she continued with her daughter. "My darling Akina, I am so happy to see you smiling again. Let's put all that marriage nonsense aside. I am not worried nor shall I bother you further. There will be a prince in your future all in good time." Smiling at her daughter as she caressed her face, she turned to her husband as it was time for the ceremonial dance.

The king and queen's dance was both elegant and stunning. In tune to each other's rhythms they were as ballerinas on a stage. The tradition of this first dance was very important to the town as it was heaped in superstition. The first dance of the night was always performed by the royal couple. They would waltz atop a platform that covered the majority of the land that would become the year's crops. As they passed over each segment is it said a blessing from heaven for a bountiful harvest would occur. The couple would have to dance the length of half a football field and then some in order to bless the town with a prosperous harvest season. Once three quarters of a way through the waltz, the town members would join in and take to the stage in celebration.

In the beginning, the king and queen were as one and the waltz was divine. However, this did not last. The happy couple was more than half way through when the queen stepped on a hanging piece of her petticoat and stumbled. The king, quick on his feet, caught her as the town gasped.

"What is happening with you?" He asked. "It is this petticoat, it is longer than I expected and my heel was caught. I will have to be careful for the remainder of the eve."

The king nodded and continued to move along with the queen. However, someone in the crowd caught her eye and she stumbled again. This time the king was not able to catch her and she fell to the platform. The music stopped as the town gasped again but this time whispers followed. Joseph snatched up his bride and with a stern look he motioned for the musicians to continue. They completed the ritual, but dread filled the town as the superstitious took the stumbles to be signs of bad luck that would soon befall the small settlement.

Once the dance was done the king pulled the woman to the side and scolded her with harsh words. "Whatever is going on with you, you must gather yourself!  We are looked to as the deciding factor of the kingdom and I cannot have you and your pretentious ideals ruining the lives of these people!  I do not buy for one minute that you have forgotten about the marriage. I know you Madera Hoffsgood." The queen snatched away from him giving him a cold glare that chilled his soul. "You will not call me by my maiden name again, sir. I am your queen and I will have prosperity for this family. I don't care what you think. I am doing it all around here to ensure our place in the kingdom!" The king was quick to spout back at her. "You mean to ensure your place." With that the king stomped off his daughter at his side.

Madera took no thought to the events that had taken place. The face in the crowd that caught her attention and therefore caused the fall was her main concern. She moved to a remote section of town between two cobblestone buildings where Gilsham was waiting for her.

"How dare you show your face here?!" She spouted. "I cannot be seen with you. What is it that you want, I paid you handsomely!"

"Yes, you did, you paid very well, and even though I find you to be the most vile, evil hearted member I have ever known, I cannot let your daughter suffer. The spell that you have has a warning. If the man she marries truly loves her and not just her beauty she will be happy and prosper. But if the man only sees her for her outer shell, her life will be filled with disgrace and pain. Please make sure the man she marries love her before you allow the marriage."

"You will not give orders to me!" The queen stomps off towards the castle, the vial containing the potion in her bodice.

That night the queen plotted as never before. Anxious to try the concoction she schemed of ways to invite the most affluent of the royals to their palace and thus begin the bidding war. It was midnight before she was able to close her eyes in deep sleep. The evening's affairs far behind and her plot to cement her status among the wealthiest began.

The morning arrived with a strong rain storm that blew through the town. Quite unexpected and unusual for that time of year, the townspeople stayed hushed in superstitious silence. To most the bad luck had begun but to others it was just a freak storm that would blow over and planting could begin afterwards.

In spite of the weather, the castle was alive and bustling. The maids and butlers were busy making breakfast while the queen visited with her daughter, a glass of juice in her hands.

"Akina, I am so sorry for the events that took place last night. Your father is so on edge with me and that darn petticoat got in the way. I didn't have it tailored properly, I was in a rush. Your father made too much of the incident, really." The serpentine royal slithered a fake apology as slick as a snail trail.

"Mother, I have to forgive you, but you must forget this issue with the marriage. It won't be that bad. Besides, I want to be loved." Akina's words were graceful and spoken with a full and pure heart. However, the queen was well into her plan.

"I understand, my lovely, here have some juice to start your day." The queen offered the princess the glass and she accepted finishing the mixture without a blink.

Later that day the queen was in her room making arrangements for a grand spring ball. The king entered the room offering an apology for the previous night. The queen accepted and even stated that she had been wrong to rush the tailor. When asked what she was up to, she explained that she wanted to have a spring carnival that would end with a ball. Wanting to invite the village and neighboring towns, she wanted to show good faith for her failure to dance without stumble. The king was hesitant at first, but seeing her genuine wish to invite townsfolk to the ball, he decided to let her have her party.

The next day the storm cleared and the nearby rivers were filled with fresh water for crops and wells. Farmers went about their chores as the ground was perfect for planting. The rains had been a good omen after all. Within the next few weeks, crops sprouted in brilliant shades of green, orange and yellow. It was a good season. Meanwhile the queen's plans were underway.

The ball would be a further celebration of the bounty of spring, but underneath it would be the introduction of her daughter once again, but with the works of the potion under way.

Over the next few weeks, the princess seemed to have a glow about her. Her hair shined as glossy as morning dew, her skin was radiant and free of girlish blemishes. Gone was her splotchy skin and many freckles. She seemed to blossom into a rose overnight. The girl had not been ugly to begin with, she simply had traits that made her human and were natural for girls of her age. However, the last few weeks her appearance was almost divine. Noticing his daughter's transformation, the king asked what she was doing something different. The young woman simply replied "no" and continued to move about the castle. Noticing the changes within herself, the young princess seemed to smile more and raised her head high as she strolled along the gardens and castle grounds. She caught the attention of every man and woman in the kingdom. Then the day of the spring carnival arrived followed by the grand ball.

The courtyard was filled to the brim with people from every background. It was a marvelous event catered and decorated by the finest planner in the land. When the moment came to unveil the hosting family, the king, queen and princess appeared from the stone steps of their almighty castle. The entire party gasped in amazement. The princess was more beautiful than the finest diamonds that she wore. Every prince attending the party took note and immediately began asking for dances and moments to gaze upon her beauty. Needless to say the queen was pleased and even the king smiled in relief as he saw his daughter happier than ever, a young handsome suitor at her side.

Over the next few weeks, messengers brought parchments with proposals and possible endowments for the hand of the beautiful girl. The queen was thrilled and for once the king thought it a good thing. The princess was pleased with the excitement, but felt uneasy at a marriage not founded in love, the king understood her sentiment.

"You know, Madera, I was allowed to choose you as my love. Remember those days, you were a shy peasant with the heart of an angel. I could not resist you." The king held his queen in his arms.

"Yes, I was a peasant and I loved you then as I do now, but I can understand the rules of our class." The queen's words were an uninvited slip. The king quickly saw the plan in hand. "You want her married to some over-stuffed, boy with dreams of righteous glory and kingship instead of a love that will take her through time. What happened to woman I married?"

"That little nothing of a peasant girl is no more and has learned the ways of the regal. She must marry for her security and if she does not choose then I will choose for her!" Within that moment the queen felt the sting of the king's hand across her jaw as she fell to the floor. Akina, a witness to this action rushed to her defense.

"Mom, are you okay?" She lifted the woman from the floor. "Father, you were out of line. She is only looking out for our kingdom. Sure her ways are strange but underneath she means us good." Naive and believing her mother wanted the best, the young princess made a decision. "I have chosen to marry Prince Farnsworth. He has offered the best for me and the kingdom. I can grow to love him if that is what it takes." The princess stood stern in her decision. The queen jumped for joy internally.

The marriage would take place in the summer as a garden ceremony would be prepared. Prince Theodore Richard Timothy Farnsworth II would unite his kingdom with that of King Joseph Michael Vanderhall and all would be divine. Overjoyed with Akina's choice, Madera quieted in the months to come as she and her daughter planned a lavish and stunning event.

The wedding day arrived and just as planned the castle and courtyard were filled with the most vibrant blooms of the season. Being held on the castle grounds would ensure a place for all to witness the vows and partake of the illustrious flower garden. As the guests arrived and the halls were prepared, the queen was readying herself in her dressing chamber. A knock at her door, a visitor entered with sudden haste.

"You must not let this wedding take place. His heart is cold and has no love for your daughter. Please have her marry Prince Caleb for he truly loves her," Gilsham snuck into the castle and to the chambers of the queen.

"Get out or I will have you hanged!" As she prepared to yell, he was quick to place a sleeping spell on her as he made his escape. Found on the floor of her bedroom, she remembered nothing and said she must have fainted. The wedding would go on as planned.

The event was the spectacle of the season and one of the most lavish ceremonies to ever take place. The bride's gown of Italian lace and silk was embroidered with pearls and crystals around the bodice. The train flowed elegantly behind the bride as she seemed to float down the aisle. The queen and king in their best sat proud and confident on the first rows.

The dinner and party afterward were just as grand as the ceremony. Both houses now combined, the treaty of lands and sea were signed and affluence flowed freely. The newlyweds would reside in a castle that the prince had built between the two now massive kingdoms. Their wedding night would be spent in the guest chambers of the princes' parent's castle. She would endure the travel to her new home first thing in the morning.

Everything seemed to go well and the foreboding of the sorcerer seemed silly. The bride and groom seemed happy and in love. There was no more to be said. The queen settled in for the night. Her husband was nervous as it was his daughter's first wedding night. He paced the floor in anxiety hoping the young prince would be gentle and use tact.

The newlyweds settled into the bed as the consummation of the marriage began. The prince was ever more the gentleman and took his bride with caution and care. The fairytale seemed to have a happy ending.

The following morning the couple had breakfast with their parents before the brief trip to their own palace. Smiles and tears were exchanged as the two made their way into the world, a fresh new start. Akina smiled and waved goodbye as she sat next to her husband inside their plush oak and metal carriage. She had no more worries and felt her life open to a new chapter. Soon she would look to having a family of her own and maybe one day a modest sovereignty.

The adjoining kingdoms were quite happy as new ports evolved and ships brought goods from opposite ends of the world to their door. The common man was able to move up and the peasants seemed to prosper as well. The lands grew and opportunities for work followed. The night of the spring fling was forgotten and all was well or so it seemed.

Over the next few months, Akina began to see a different side of her prince. He grew distant and sarcastic, stayed out all hours of the night having wild parties and orgies with any and every woman he could. Akina, being the strong willed woman, approached him about his behavior, to which he replied with a sharp blow across her cheek. The young princess was in tears, thoughts of what she had done wrong filled her head as the servants lifted her and tended to her bruised face. The news spread that the prince was an out of control womanizer. However, Madera kept a tight hold on the messengers and their deliveries. Each letter she kept tucked away in her dresser, never replying to her daughter's tears. The king had suspicions as he had grown accustomed to hearing from Akina weekly. When he had not heard from her in a month he asked the queen. She, of course, lied.

"Maybe they are just being newlyweds and are thinking of starting their own family, give them time. I am sure she will write us soon." Madera would move through the halls of her newly renovated castle and hum sweet melodies as he daughter suffered. Not caring of the cruelty to her but of her own twisted desires, she had taken certain matters into her hands to assure her place would remain.

Gilsham a mighty sorcerer he was, but still in some ways quite vulnerable to human fate knew that his days were coming short. His visions haunted him as he tried to undo the horror that the princess now endured. He was able to meet with her for a moment, as the prince always had her followed. He came to the castle posing as a candle salesman, knowing the woman's love for fresh scents he was able to gain a conference with her and when he did he explained his true reason for visitation.

"My lady, Akina, please forgive my deception, but I had to see you. I am aware of your predicament and I have come to help." The princess responded. "What predicament do you speak of sir?" Her words were gentle but her quivering hands told another story. "The man you married is not the same. The reason is behind a potion I gave your mother that she in turn gave to you. The queen wanted you married to a wealthy prince and I obeyed. For this I am not proud. I tried to warn her but she would not listen. You must leave this place before your sorrow expands beyond the reaches of time."

Akina listened to the broken sorcerer. Part of her wanted to disbelieve his tale, but deep down she knew it was true. Her tears flowed as never before as her life crumbled before the stranger. "Why did you let her do this to me?!" She screamed. "Is there a cure for this madness, will he ever be the man I married?" The princess was desperate to hold on to her marriage. The sorcerer responded. "I have tried to find a potion to reverse the spell, but I have not been successful. For now you must leave this place as the curse increases daily."

The princess had Gilsham thrown from the castle and warned that if he returned he would be hanged. Too upset to heed his warnings, she continued with her life as it was. She grew cautious of how to handle the prince and steered clear of his evil. Unfortunate for her the prince did not do the same. His beatings grew more violent and if he drank, he would rape the woman until she pleaded for him to stop.

Gilsham returned to his cottage that day fearful for the future that was unfolding. He slaved over a bubbling cauldron for hours searching for a cure. It was in the early morning light of the following day that he succeeded. He bottled the potion and packaged it with a lettered parchment. He requested a messenger boy that day and sent the parcel to its new owner. Relieved that he could undo his evil, he settled in for the night with a clean conscience. Over the next few days he would not be seen which was not that unusual, but when a rancid odor snaked its way through the town, his cottage was searched and his dead body was found ripped open and left in the middle of the floor.

The king intercepted a messenger for the queen on that brisk October morning. As he unrolled the letter, the horror that had been hidden from him was revealed.

Father, I know now that you have not received any of my letters, but I still try. I don't know how much more of this I can take. My prince has become more violent and I lock myself in my room at night. I pray you get this letter, as I am at a loss. He would surely have me followed if I tried to leave. Father I am with child and do not wish to bring him or her into this life. Please, if you get this letter, help me, come to me for I know only you can tame the beast that he has become.

Your daughter

Akina

 

Angered at the thought that he had been kept in the dark about her circumstances the king demanded to know if there were more of the letters. The servants were quick to lead him to his wife's chamber. She was out for the day running errands so he was able to plunder as he pleased. He ransacked her room until he came across a secret compartment in her dresser. He tore the lock off the hinge and there they were. A stack of his daughter's grief was tucked away from his presence for months. He wept as he gathered them all in his cloak and ordered a steed for riding. The servants were happy to oblige.

"Before I return, pack the queen's belongings and remove her from this place!  I will allow her one chest of gold and that is all!  If she returns before I do make sure is gone before I return!" The servants were pleased with his request and moved with haste.

Just as Joseph was about to mount his horse, a messenger arrived with a parcel. The king opened it and perused the information and immediately knew what to do. He rode hard to his daughter's palace in hopes of ending her suffering. As he blazed through the town, the queen saw him and hurried home. Once she arrived she found her things packed and loaded on a guest carriage.

"What is the meaning of this?!" She blared at the servants as they went about their chore. "The king has asked that you be removed from the premises. We are following his orders to the tee. You have a chest of gold and all your belongings. You are to be gone before he returns." The male servant, Christian spoke with great pride. The queen's faced sunk as she knew he had found the letters. Gathering her own horse she raced for the castle, she knew a shorter way and arrived before her husband. She was greeted at the door by her battered daughter. Disheveled and dazed the woman stood in the foyer, a large bloody kitchen knife in her hand. The servants were long gone and she remained alone in her suffering.

"My daughter, come away with me. I am so sorry it has taken me this long. I had been away on business and when your father came to me with the letters I rushed to your side." Her lies flowed with ease as she stood on the front steps of the grand palace. "Mother, I want to believe you." The princess' words were slurred. "But I know better, I know what you did and I know why you did it. And I can never forgive you." With those words she plunged the bloody knife into her mother's guts ripping her open and spilling her bowels forth. The queen fell to the cold stone as her innards oozed forward onto the castle steps. In the distance, she could hear the hoofs of her husband as he arrived at the castle. Seeing his daughter in such disarray brought tears to his eyes. He raced to her, the bottle containing the cure in his hand, but before he could reach her, she plunged the knife into her stomach. The king's heart burst with grief as his daughter lay dying. He held her tight in his arms.

"I am so sorry, your mother hid everything from me. Please at least take this potion, maybe it will reverse the evil." The king was hopeful.

Akina drank the bitter liquid, but it was too late. Her fate and the fate of her unborn child were done. "I know you were not aware of her treachery, father. I hold no grudge against you. I love you so." The princess died in peace.

The queen, still struggling to hold on, attempted to gurgle one last lie. The king unsheathed his sword and quickly lopped off her head. For the murder of the sorcerer, their daughter's life and their marriage, he felt the only judgment fitting was death.

As word of the queen's treachery spread, the prince's family came to investigate only to find the body of the queen and their son slashed and stabbed to pieces. The king had taken his daughter to be buried in their sacred crypt. As for the queen, her remains were burned on a great pyre and set out to sea. The king wanted no part of her to remain. The treaty between the lands fell apart as Prince Theodore's family sought retribution. The king was broken in every way, his lands dried up, his wealth diminished and his lovely daughter was dead. He decided to join her. His body was found hanging in the crypt next to where she lay. The stumble of that early spring chattered among those that remained.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Post from Amazon.com.uk

Check out the review from The Wood Sprite's Tale on Amazon.com.uk.
 
 
 
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful story with a twist 14 Jan 2013

By chriker

Amazon Verified Purchase

This book was not quite what i expected, but it was a beautifully written story. I did find it a little short though. Maybe I was just so engrossed in the story I didn't notice how quickly I was turning the pages. I love the fact it was about young sprites coming of age and two special sprites had to go on a very special journey. I won't say too much otherwise it will spoil the story. But it is a lovely story about good overcoming evil. :-)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Hunger - L Redd


 
The Hunger

 

Once upon a time there was a brilliant planet called earth.  And that is just about where the fairy tale ends.  It has been many years since the tragic disintegration of this once stunning land and its people.  We had managed to destroy our waters, infect our meats with chemicals, drugs and poison.  We even polluted the very air we took in and one day our mother earth grew tired and struck back. 

It started in the year 2020.  Our fresh waters had reached the pinnacle of their end.  Our top scientists were gathered quietly in secret meetings in small cities.  Webinars and conference calls were held weekly as government and its professionals tried to find a more permanent cure.  All that was left salt water and factory sized air purifiers.  Scientists were being paid to find a way to make the desert waters of the sea drinkable and preserve the energy that it took to clean the atmosphere.  The original calculations had proven to be wrong and all of the natural resources were dwindling faster than they had originally thought.  This processes it took to make their chore a reality had been discussed and theorized but now it had to be finalized and a plan had to be acted upon.  They worked day and night over countless equations and endless tests using the one water source available, the oceans of the world.  And finally there was a breakthrough.  Within two years we had done it.  We had created a method in which the salt and bacteria of the world’s seas and oceans was completely removed and only the fresh pure water remained for consumption.  The unique irrigation and desalinization plants were born and placed at the edge of the four corners of the United States.  Large trucks roared night and day to deliver the fresh resource to towns all over the states.  Overseas, the technology was sold and spread like an angry fire in the heat of summer.  It was amazing.  The United States had saved the world.  The water shortage was now a mere fairytale.  We had conquered the first stage in a battle against dying resources. 

This new system also had an economic impact that could be felt just as easily.  At first the funds used to create the factories was taken from other line items, but once it was proven a success and the technology spread overseas, it was a boom.  The economic crisis was finally over.  Each state got a tax cut and major breaks along with excess funding for irrigation for crops.  It was a great success and the world bowed to our science and our technology.  That was when we really got the big head.  Our scientists, thinking they were invincible decided to take it further.  With the invention of the new water resource plants came the need to expand our produce and meat science.  Once again we relied heavily on beakers and test tubes.  And when a breakthrough was made, hunger was sure to be a thing of the past.  Our intelligence had engineered a science that made our produce and meat larger.  But that didn’t bring the Nobel.  The appetite curb was the impressive piece.  Once consumed, the food would break down in such a way that it removed the appetite but continued to further provide nutrition for the consumer for days.  Those who were used to snacking all day suddenly quit and those who had eating compulsions finally got the help they needed.  It was the biggest breakthrough in weight loss and health management that anyone could have made.  The test subjects, which were animals at first, did very well.  And this condition continued for months.  It was two years before the FDA would solidify the findings and release the new drugs to dairy, poultry and beef houses all over the US.  And when they did, there were remarkable changes in the human structure.  Suddenly blood pressure issues, heart disease and diabetes began to decrease in drastic numbers.  Heart attacks grew few and far between and obesity was at a staggering low.  It seemed that we had found the miracle cure for weight and weight related illnesses. 

And the elevated price was nothing more than a bonus for the drug companies.  Fast food restaurants started using the new products at an increased price and we paid it.  We shipped our product all over the world and gloried in the demand.  As the wealth flowed we marveled in our success.  But it would not last for long.

Two years went by and everyone seemed to be doing well.  But there was something brewing so deadly and so quiet that when it made its presence known it was too late to do anything.  It started with a cluster of stomach viruses and vomiting and was followed by high fevers and oozing skin lesions.  In the final stages the victim began vomiting up their own bile.  It was a horrifying disease triggered by the body’s reaction to the “miracle” drug. 

Within a few months of detection, 60% of the world’s population would succumb to the deadly virus.  The overseas production and exports came to a screeching halt.  The US was blamed for the deaths and destruction of many of the world’s populations and industries.  It was a horrible reality.  The dead were being burned instead of buried.  The fear that the remains contained too much of whatever toxins still remained was too broad.  Our great scientists could only find certain triggers in the contagion.  But there was still more.  Finally, the air reeked of the poisoned burning flesh.  One by one businesses had to shut down as workers were dying faster than they could be replaced.  All over the world the effect of this catastrophe caused ghost towns to sprout as people migrated to find a better life.  Those were the survivors.  Of the 40% who survived, 20% managed to live through the initial symptoms while their bodies created antibodies that protected them from the remaining ailments.  They were strong and carried on as they had done before.  The other 20% however had a much different story.  But that will be for later.

What was left of government ordered that all crops be burned immediately and that the injections and sprays used on that food source be collected and destroyed.  Suddenly we had to be organic, but that was easier said.  The poison that seeped into our food, seeped into our soil.  Once again there were these great moments of happiness as plush green pastures of brilliant fruit and vegetables began to sprout across what was once a burned wasteland.  But this time we made sure.  The food was tested immediately and at first it was thought to be safe.  But after a month, it was discovered the new oasis was a trap.  We thought we could absolve our sins with fire, but once again we were wrong.  The fire was a catalyst igniting molecules and sending them deep into the ground.  The seeds that remained were infused with the deadly viral poison and as beautiful as these spring like patches of earth seemed, they were deadly.  This time they were ordered dug up and the land was tested when done.  But the damage to the economy was too great.  Stock markets crashed and government officials at the heart of the cover up were assassinated one by one as a disgruntled squad of Americans took over.  Clusters of survivors joined and formed villages and began growing crops as best they could from the land that had not been touched by the vile creation of man.  These new townships would last as long as the land would allow.  It was a very tough for some.  The land would only sustain a few and then dry up forcing the survivors to move on.  They hiked about moving from one township to the next and some were not as pleasant as others.  Now, this is where the story begins. 

Marcus Wellington was in charge of a small township that had dried up in southern Tampa.  He was the leader of about 15 members who all had survived the misfortune of the deadly crop virus of 2032.  Now, loaded on a rigged bus headed north he and 14 followers were looking for another patch of land to call their own.  At this point, he was very skeptical about finding any land that was stable and fit for crops.  He had witnessed the demise of the land and the effect it had on those who were not as strong.  When their own township began it boasted over 100 members.  But when the conditions of the land began to deteriorate, the elderly, sickly and feeble were the first to go.  Marcus had grown tired of digging graves and giving uplifting speeches to the grieving.  He knew there was no end to their pain.  He had lost his wife and children at the beginning of the contagion.  He had burned them together and never forgave the government for their greed and quick fix of things, as he saw it.  The only good thing was the water system, they should have left well enough alone.  And now he was to lead a group of people who had more hope in him than he had in himself.  For now, he kept his thoughts to himself and pushed the tricked up school bus onward through mountain terrain and cold temps of Georgia.  Marcus and been driving since midnight.  The dark circles under his eyes told the tale of an exasperated man clinging to an ounce of hope.  Tess was asleep in the front row.  She had driven most of the previous day and was now in need of rest.  He peeked at her every now and then to catch a glimpse of her breathing.  From beneath her darkened lashes and locks of brown hair she so reminded him of his wife, Anne.  The only difference being, Tess was a little taller and undoubtedly more of a tomboy.  She was quick to help in building the new irrigation systems in the camps and enjoyed tending to the gardens.  She had a knack for that sort of thing.  And that was why when the crops began to grow weak she would know ahead of time that it would soon be time to move on.  Her instincts were always on, sharp as a fresh blade.  As for now, Marcus inched along a narrowing road and eventually came upon a clearing and what he saw filled him with amazement.  Tucked away in a quiet cove of plush greenery was a plantation like village that seemed to step out of old war novel.  The cold chill in the air had not bothered the landscape.  As the bus came to a stop at the large iron gates Marcus alerted his passengers of their new destination.  There were guards posted at the gates and immediately welcomed the newcomers by allowing them safe passage.  They chugged along a circular drive and slowed to stop at the front of a massive porch.  They were greeted by a woman dressed in jeans and an old t shirt and eating a fresh ripe apple.  Marcus stepped out of the vehicle and began to make his usual speech.  But this time, he would be cut off as she eased the stress of walking into a new township.

“You and your crew are quite welcomed here.  What you see is real and edible.  We are completely organic here and look forward to forming new relationships with those willing to accept our organic ways.  Tell me your name and how many are you?”

“My name is Marcus Wellington and including me there are 15 of us.  We come from Florida so the cold will be new for us.  But, we are the strong ones so I think we can handle it.  Thank you for your welcome.  By the way, your place seems magnificent.  Do you have room?”

 “Of course we have room.  There are cabins out back as well.  My name is Kyla Roman and welcome to Raven’s Place.”

The members of the small community from Florida unloaded and stood on the gracious, majestic porch.  Kyla smiled warmly as she began the tour.  Taking them through the oak and ceramic foyer was just the beginning.  There was an extensive library and large kitchen.  The rooms were large and could easily house two to three persons.  Kyla explained that the home had been a bed and breakfast but was abandoned by its owners when the tragic virus took hold.  They eventually died and left the place to ruin.  When Kyla and her followers found it, it was falling apart.  But luckily a couple of her survivors were contractors and easily recreated a home that could house and comfort many.  As they entered the library, Marcus noticed that there weren’t many in her crew.  He asked her how many they would be joining.  Her response was very insightful.

“There are ten of us.”

“10?, with all that you have accomplished, only 10.”  Marcus was puzzled.  But she immediately put his thoughts to rest.

“We had another group somewhat larger than yours come through here about six months ago.  But they did not believe in our ways.  We asked them to leave and they did, along with a good amount of out stored rations.  But we easily replenish.”

“What do you mean, your ways?”

Kyla explained to the group as they settled.  The whispers from the crowds died down as she began to speak.

“As I stated before, I bid you welcome.  We are a fully organic tribe and take pride in a day’s work.  Now, we do have some rules as you know things are so different from before.  First, there is to be no brewing of illegal substances.  That includes beer, liquor, tobacco, cocaine, meth, you get the picture.  We will allow wine however it can only be drunk in moderation.  We allow one to two glasses a day and since we ration it out, well ya know.  It is our belief that in order to keep the body clean and prolong your lives we must not pollute our organs as we did before.  Doctors are few and far between these days and we have only one on the premises.  He works with what pharmaceuticals we have salvaged, the last thing we need is an outbreak that he is not equipped to deal with so please keep your bodies clean of toxins.  There is also a curfew.  Everyone must be in their cabin or this house by dark.  We have known of wolves and some panther in this area and we have some fire power but would rather have you inside where it is safe.  Meals are prepared by our staff and consist of fresh fruits and veggies.  We have limited meat due to the breakdown of civilization.  But we do have eggs thanks to an ample chicken coop out back.  And now the chores.  Everyone will have chores.  We need all the help we can get to keep this land fertile.  So up at dawn and in by dark, chores during the day include water retrieval, food retrieval, gardening and cleaning.  Please keep your rooms clean, there is no maid service.  And finally, sex.  If you must pleasure with one another, please do it in privacy and use protection.  Like I said we have no ways to treat extensive diseases.  Our one doctor is it.  Are there any questions?”

Tess raised her hand and began to speak.  What do we do for supplies for feminine and what not?”

“Oh, yes forgive me.  There is an abandoned store and warehouse that we visit every other week and snatch up those kinds of things so if you need anything please feel free to join us tomorrow.  We have a run to make right after breakfast.”         

After the rules and way of things was rendered the newcomers were shown to their rooms.  A roster of their names and placements were taken for safety and check in purposes.  First Marcus and Tess took the first room on the lower end of the hall.  Jalisa, an ex school teacher and health food nut, and her daughter Kimber, who was more of a liberal, took the room in front of them.  Terry and Jonathon, the twins as they were called because of their similar build and expression, were next to them.  Hollie and Michael, the newlyweds, took the next room.  In the middle of the turmoil they had found each other and married quickly.  Deciding that the world might come to an end, it seemed better to have a partner to share it with.  Gwenyth and Charleen, the dark haired herbologists from Miami had been issuing their own medicines for headaches and such.  They were unsure if their brand of medicine would be appreciated so they kept quiet regarding their skills.  Across the hall were five other rooms that sat slightly adjacent.  This was done so that no one opened the door looking into the room just across from them.  Starting off at the lower end were Dianne, Steven and David, the siblings.  Their parents had been killed by the virus and only they survived.  They were the only early twenty somethings in the group, but due to circumstances they had to grow up pretty fast as no one took any of their shit.  Tifton and Claire, the golden haired lesbians from Key West, made up the next room and next to them were Gregory and Alvin Proctor, the most whorish men on the journey. 

That evening the new family feasted on roasted vegetables and one single piece of chicken meat.  Not a leg or thigh, but simply a single slice of meat.  They talked about where they came from and how they came about being in the group.  Tifton and Claire had been working in a bar where Gregory and Alvin frequented.  When hell broke loose, they were living in the same complex.  As everyone got sick they seemed to be the only ones left.  Gwenyth and Charleen had similar tales of being the last ones left in their neighborhood.  They had started trekking north to find people and food.  Such were the tales of the others.  Everyone was seeking survival and companions.  They talked till late in the night each of them having their own tale and all drawn together by the need to survive.  As the conversations died down, sleep took over and everyone finally got a full night’s rest on a full stomach of good clean food.  It was truly a good feeling that they had taken for granted so many years ago.

Marcus and Tess retreated to their room first.  They enjoyed a hot shower together and cuddled as if it were the first time.  Her smell lit his senses and ignited his passion.  He had longed for a quiet moment since the travel and now he got his wish.  She was all for him.  But they were not the only ones.    

The next morning the sun rose on a rainy cold day.  The trip to the store would have to be moved up as the rain was known to get worse as the day goes.  They quickly packed and ate on the road.  They had also decided that everyone did not need to go.  There would have to be some left behind to watch the mansion and do chores.  Those that went got a chance to talk to their new hosts and learn more about their little colony while on the road.  There was Jeffrey the ex military marks man.  He was a tall strong man whose only conversations were of his days in the service before the virus took hold.  His battalion had been one of the ones sanctioned to burn crops after the deadly infection was discovered.  His troop also burned the bodies of the dead in the abandoned cities and quickly moved to the next task as ordered.  Next in line to Kyla were Morgan and Dr. Timothy Pratt.  Dr. Pratt tended to the sick and held a wealth of knowledge about how the virus worked.  He knew more than most because his good friend Morgan was a part of the project in the beginning.  But when Morgan discovered that there were grave discrepancies, she quickly abandoned the study and fled to warn people of the impending danger.  The medical community and the press black listed her and said her accusations were of a disgruntled, fired employee.  No one took her seriously until after people started dying.  Morgan and Timothy Pratt were brother and sister on the same crusade.  They now did everything they could to keep things in balance within their little community.  And then there was Kyla.  She had worked as a lab assistant to Dr. Pratt and for a while had a strong sexual relationship with him until he decided that he wanted to see other people.  She accepted his decision but never strayed far from him.  She secretly hoped that he would change his mind.  She became the leader of their group as her skills in hunting seemed to rival that of even the good marks man, Jeffrey.  She had been raised by a single father and knew which weapon to use during which months.  The others Macey, Joey, Le Marcus and Travis were the heavy duty lifters.  They had been dock workers up north on the salt water projects.  Their job had moved them around as they were needed as part of the setup crew.  The last two Shareen and Vivvie had also been lab assistants with their fingers on the pulse of things when the food industry crumbled.  Together this group had more than enough knowledge of the sickness that had taken so many and how to recognize the early onset.  They also knew of some of the benefits that the survivors had inherited from the disease.  There were plenty of secrets the government had kept after the initial outbreak and only a few were privy to that knowledge.

As they arrived at the store and warehouse the rains began to pour in sheets.  Visibility was mostly a white haze of cold, thick, pellets.  As they prepared for a drenching, everyone knew their job.  They were in teams so that each team would gather the required rations.  The medical team would gather whatever they could find from the pharmacy.  The health and beauty team gathered all the necessary supplies for daily living like soap, deodorant, feminine products and anything needed to make one more presentable during the day.  And the last team for housing supplies gathered repair items, sheets, spreads and blankets.  They spent the morning gathering the needed items.  They moved quickly in order to finish and get back to camp.

Joey had been in the warehouse gathering housing items.  He moved from one pile to the next when suddenly he stopped.  He thought he heard a noise, like a growl.  The pelting of the rain on the metal roof and the distant chatter of his teammates caused no immediate concern.  But underneath their motion and sound there was something else, something hungry.  Then out of the blue, a low hungry growl followed by the crashing of boxes pierced the air.  Joey broke into a run, his cart out in front of him as a large panther gave chase.  He screamed loudly as he could feel the animal gaining.  Macey and Travis were the first to hear him.  They raced to the warehouse to find Joey being taken down by the beast.  They ran to his aid as the beast tore into his back and neck.  Blood spewed from the wounds as a broken faucet in the winter.  They each grabbed a shovel from the garden section and began swinging at the animal.  Joey’s screams alerted the others as the men fought the beast and finally were able to remove the animal from the ruptured man.  They killed the animal with blows to the skull.  They rushed to Joey who was still a bloody screaming mess.  Kyla and Pratt quickly attended the man and sewed his wounds together.  They had gathered antibiotics and creams that would keep out germs.  They loaded him on the bus and headed home quickly.  Pratt administered a painkiller to the ailing man that quieted his agonizing pain and suffering.  When they arrived at the mansion, there were questions from those left behind.  Once he was situated, Kyla explained what had happened.  This now meant that everyone had to be careful.  The animals were coming out in the day and that really spelled trouble as they were looking for food as well.  Joey would sleep the rest of the day as his friends watched over him.  Kyla seemed worried more than the others.  She stayed at his side and checked his wounds every hour.  Marcus noticed tenseness in the group.  He knew that Joey was hanging by a thread and with this being the first non viral fatality it reminded everyone that they were actually closer to the food chain than ever before.  That night, dinner was bit more solemn.  The ladies retreated to bed as the men took turns on watch.  The fear of a possible hungry animal getting in was too great and with a wounded man the smell of blood was in the air.  It was a long night and no one slept well.  But the following morning would prove to be no better.  When Kyla awoke, her thoughts were strictly on Joey.  She wanted to see how he had faired through the night.  She remembered hearing rain and every once in a while a low muffled moan.  She figured he was either dreaming of what had happened or had some inklings of pain seeping through his medicated state.  She was anxious to see what progress he had made.  But when she opened the door the only sight she saw was an empty bed and a few drops of blood on the sheets.  She called out immediately, and doors began to open up and down the hall.  The discovery of the missing, drugged and wounded man was a mystery that needed solving.  Without proper dosages, he could die from infection, if he wasn’t dead already.  Kyla and Marcus organized search parties.  Macey and Shareen began to look around the room for clues.  The only thing they could find was an open window. 

“But how and why does a heavily sedated, severely wounded man go out a window?”  Shareen could not understand what she was supposed to be finding.  The group took a break from the search and rescue to eat and discuss what they had either heard or seen.  The loud thunderstorm that came through the night before made it hard for anyone to recall anything other than snoring and deep rem sleep.  They would continue to search until late into the evening.  They gave up at the first sign of dark.  There was a sinister sensation lurking in the minds of the survivors.  Kyla seemed to worry more as the day drug on.  She retreated to one of the cabins, her immediate crew followed while everyone else was told to stay inside.  A few of the members of Marcus’s clan expressed their concerns.  Gwenyth was the first to speak.

“I don’t like the way things are going on here.  What the hell happened to that guy.  They have got to be hiding something.  And there are others who feel the same way I do.”

Marcus understood her emotions and tried to speak with the survivors.  He asked them not to go out and try anything stupid.  They didn’t know what they were up against and it would be a bad move to assume that there weren’t other animals in the woods waiting.  For now they would retire and keep their wits sharp for darker days soon they would see.

That night a cold wind swept through the village.  The house was quiet as everyone had turned in for bed, well almost everyone.  Tifton and Claire packed provisions and double layered their clothes.  They had decided not to stay and figured a cold night would be best to escape.  As they entered the hall, another door opened.  It was the siblings.  They had the same thoughts and had heard the commotion in the hall. 

“We want to go to.  There’s something wrong with this place.”

They agreed to let them tag along.  They decided to take one of Kyla’s cars.  They had two smaller vehicles but they used the bus for the outings because of its size.  The group decided to take the SUV.  They pushed it to the gate and the men opened the massive iron doors.  Once outside they started the engine and all jumped in.  They moved along quietly warming up using the vehicle’s heater.  It churned along quietly.  They talked with each other as they felt they had made the great escape.  They followed the darken path slowly.  The road twisted and turned ahead of them.  It was not going to be an easy journey, but Tifton took it slow and steady.   He was about to make another turn when an object darted across the road in front of the moving car.  Dianne and Claire caught a glimpse of a dark object.  Tifton slowed to a stop.  He asked was everyone ok and the response was unanimous.  Steven remarked that it must have been a coyote or something.  Claire spoke as she had a better view. 

“That was too large for a coyote.”

Tifton started to move once again and slowly continued on the winding road.  He made the next turn and the final road was a straight shot.  He continued but suddenly the car jerked and rocked and a loud scraping noise filled the cabin of the car.  The passengers, now regretting their escape, began to yell out.  Steven began to look in the back for a weapon of some sort.  Just as he did a large claw like hand broke through the glass and snatched him through the opening in the back window.  The sound of his screams as his flesh caught on the jagged glass pieces was horrendous and agonizing.  The remaining members of the party screamed in fear as the sound of his bones being crunched beneath the jaws of something horrifying could be heard throughout.  His blood gushed and dripped along the remaining windowpanes. 

In the night the black, ooze that seeped from his wounds began to cover the windows.  They were trapped and waiting to be picked off one by one. 

“We need to run.”  Tifton and his wife darted out into the night.  Dianne and David still looked for a weapon.  Finally David stated they had to run for it.  They were opening the door when the figure dashed toward Tifton and Claire.  It jumped Tifton forcing him to ground and ripping his head off his body.  Clair screamed as the creature grabbed her by the throat tearing through her flesh and veins.  The salty, metallic ooze gathered in her mouth and lungs as she gargled at a scream she fell dead within moments.  The being turned its attention to the headless body gnawing at the stomach and ripping out the liver and spleen.  David pulled Dianne to run back to the house.  They sprinted quickly sobbing heavily.  There was no way they were going to escape.  Dianne was sure they would not make it.  The creature let out a growling howl that chilled her soul and sent her blood cold racing to the epidermis of her skin.  It was pursuing them.  David pulled her along.

“We’ve got to make it and warn the others!”

Dianne was a puddle of tears but still managed to find the strength to run.  They were right outside the gates when they heard a rustle in the trees the creature was upon them and when he lashed out he took David to the ground in one might blow.  He tore at his stomach and chest ripping out his heart as it still pumped blood removed from its shell.  Dianne ran to the gate and forced herself through the bars.  She turned one last time to see in the moonlight her other brother being torn apart and in an instant she caught a glimpse of the face of the being.  She knew the eyes, she knew the facial expression it was very familiar.  She found herself stepping backward in disbelief and screaming for someone to open the door.  Jeffrey had been up on patrol as he was on edge with everything else that had happened.  His military instincts had kicked in.  He rushed to the door and caught glimpse of the girl running toward him a large dark being was scaling the gate and in pursuit.  She screamed for him to get a gun as she made it to the porch and doorway.  Jeffrey slammed the door behind her as the being took off into the woods.  He ran to the gun cabinet and grabbed a semi automatic for cover.  The rest of the house began to stir as the noises from the outside and downstairs startled them awake.   They began to run downstairs.  Jeffrey sounded the alarm that meant trouble had been sighted and the men needed to take up arms.  Kyla was furious when she learned of the disobedience.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?  How many of you were there!”

Marcus intervened as Kyla slapped Dianne hard across the face. 

“Hey, keep your hands to yourself!  None of us liked the way you went off with your crew and didn’t say a word to us.  And yes they disobeyed, but a price has been paid.  So slow your roll.”

He turned to Dianne and then glanced at his people.  He noticed her bothers, Tifton and Claire were missing.  He confirmed with her and she nodded.  She also pulled on his arm and whispered in his ear.  He looked at her and nodded.  Dr. Pratt tended to the girl but she did not want any medicines or pain killers, her distrust of their host was evident.

  There were gunshots and some noises from outside but no luck.  Jeffrey would lead a team to pick up the truck when the sun began to rise.  Dianne sat up in her room staring out a large picture window and wanting the nightmare to end.  There was a knock on the door.  It was Marcus.  He and Tess entered quietly. 

“You said you wanted to see me and Tess.”

“Yes, there is something with these people.  That creature from the other night was one of them.  It was Macey.  I saw it in his eyes and on his face but he wasn’t human.  He was part animal.  He had claws for hands and long fanglike teeth and his hair was thick and long.  But his face, his face was horrible.  It was covered in blood and flesh.  He tore at their organs, he only at their organs.

At first Marcus didn’t know what to think.  He asked her was she sure?  After all it was night and the moon light can play tricks on the eyes.  She told him to remember that night and that Macey did not come out with the others.  Marcus tried to remember, Tess already knew that what she said was the truth. 

“Marcus, she’s telling the truth.  I remember last night and he wasn’t there.  They all sprung up and raced for their guns like they knew.  They didn’t even ask what she had seen.

“Jeffrey was at the door.  I know he saw it.  He was first to go after it.”  A stream of tears raced down her cheeks.

“Something’s not right here, baby.  We need to get outta here.” 

From outside they heard a call.  “We found em all.  It’s Joey and the others.”

Everyone raced outside to see what the ruckus about.  Jeffrey and his search team found not only the bodies of those who ran but also Joey.  Dr. Pratt and his assistants took over immediately.  They would perform autopsies but they already knew the answers.  Marcus looked to Kyla.

“What the fuck is going on around here?”

She continued to lie.  “A wild animal is all.  It s just a wild animal.”

Marcus could tell she was hiding something.  He quickly responded to her lie.

“Wild animal, then where is Macey.  Everyone is here but him.  You really need to come clean lady.  This shit ain’t amusing and we ain’t dumb.  What really happened to the last group that was here?”

“Don’t cross me.  You are only part of the first 20%, but we are more.”

She quickly stormed off.  Her words echoed in his head.  What the hell did she mean, they are more and the first 20%.  While they were busy examining bodies, he noticed that the remaining members of her group had formed a patrol and now stood outside in posts with large guns.  No one was allowed to leave the grounds.  Everyone had to stay in sight.  They were beginning to feel like prisoners and the only reason was known to the guards.  Marcus assembled his own team and started an operation of his own.  Gwenyth and Charleen took to the library looking for any evidence they could find.  Alvin and Gregory volunteered outside and stayed close to the ladies in Kyla’s team.  They figured they could use their charm to get some information out of them.  The rest of the crew just kept their eyes open and listened for any information they could. 

They found nothing that day.  And nothing was said about the autopsies.   It was all kept so quiet.  But later on that night, Macey showed up and was quarantined to a cabin.  Kyla went to see him.  “What the hell is going on?!  You were told to be careful.  We needed enough organ meat for the entire camp and you went and blew it you idiot!”

“I couldn’t help it.  His systems were failing I couldn’t let that go to waste and it was so good and felt so good, I couldn’t stop.”  Macey was trembling at the thought of the fresh kill.

“Well you have put us all out in the open and we may have to dispose of this group as we did the last.  You are not to leave this cabin.  Jeffrey and Travis will stay with you.  We will say that you are not well and fear that you have flu and that we can’t risk contagion.  Stay your ass put and concentrate on being human.” 

Kyla stormed from the building and over to Dr. Pratt.  She asked him to sedate Macey until further notice.  The entire time these events were taking place, Tess saw from a window on the second floor and Gregory heard some of what was said as he was on the back by the kitchen taking out the trash.  He moved quickly to find Marcus.  Gwenyth and Charleen searched the library.  But turned nothing.  But something strange took place.  One of the lab assistants arranged a private meeting with them for later in the night.  She knew they were in danger and she knew she had to help.

Marcus was skeptical about the meeting while the news that Tess and Gregory discovered was disturbing.  He asked everyone to move with great caution.  They needed to leave, but he did not know how.  But later on that night he would secretly watch over the meeting with Gwen and Char.  He didn’t want another member of his family to go missing. 

Shareen came to the secret meeting, while Vivvie stayed behind as look out.  They knew that Kyla was up and about and they wanted to make sure she didn’t find out what they were about to tell.  Shareen met with Marcus, Tess, Char and Gwen up in Char’s room. 

“I can’t stay long so I will have to tell you the quick version.  You all are like me and Vivvie.  We are the 20% that didn’t have any adverse effects to the virus.  Dr. Pratt, Kyla and the rest of my group are the other 20.”

She pulled out a portfolio filled with documents and handed them to Char and Gwen.

“With your backgrounds you will better understand.  Yes, I know you deal with herbs heavily and you know how they work in the body.  I can smell it in your skin and I am sure Kyla has smelled this as well.  Your group must be careful.  Dr. Pratt is working on a cure, but I fear it is too late.  There are members of our group who don’t want to be cured. “

She got up to leave, but there were still so many questions.  But she could not stay.  She glided down the hallway and into her room.  Char and Gwen began to look over the papers.  Some were news clippings and others were notes, classified at the government level.  Char divvied out sections to everyone and they all began to read.  Some of it made sense and was just the basics but the rest of it was completely over the top.  Char and Gwen spent most of the night trying to decipher just what they were dealing with.  By morning some of it made sense.  After breakfast Char and Gwen walked the grounds in plain sight.  They were being watched.  But they were on a mission of their own.  But with the cold it was too late all the flowers had died.  But there was a greenhouse outback.  They should be able to look there.

Marcus had read through his section and discovered that the 20% of those who survived the virus had side effects that kept them from repeated contagion.  Their sense of smell was kicked up a notch and any food that was tainted would have a sickly sour sweet aroma.  Also some people had been found to have heightened strength and in some cases extremely keen vision.  There were still tests being done when the program was shut down.  He also learned that there was another side effect, hearing.  Gregory had reported hearing a full conversation between Kyla and Dr. Pratt about getting Macey under control and that Macey could not contain his changes.  Marcus still didn’t know what that meant, but he felt like he was getting closer.  There was a knock on the door.  He shuffled his papers out of sight and answered, it was Kyla.  Marcus suggested they step outside and talk.

They were on the front porch when she began to apologize for her behavior the other night.  He of course told her to apologize to Dianne. He then asked her what the hell was going on and that he wanted the truth.

“I wish I could tell you, but I can’t.  I want you and your people to leave at once.  It’s too dangerous for you here.”

“Fine we will leave at dawn.  I will speak with my people immediately.” 

Marcus tried to find everyone for a meeting but something was wrong.  Jalisa, Kimber, Holley and Michael were all missing.  Char had not seen them since lunch and Gwen only saw each of them briefly. Dr. Pratt had requested to see everyone for physicals and they had not yet returned.  Marcus knew that something had gone wrong. 

“We need weapons now!  “Terry and Johnathan were instructed to go raid the cabinets for bullets and guns, while Char and Gwen revealed their findings from the greenhouse.

“We found a sleeping herb in the greenhouse.  We can at least mix a tea or put it in the coffee.  We have already started breaking it down.”

Marcus instructed them to make two pots of coffee.  He and Gregory went in search of the missing members of their crew.  They were starting with Dr. Pratt’s office.

The men arrived at the back door of the cabin.  Everything was dark and quiet.  They eased through the back door preparing themselves for the unknown.  But after going through each room, they discovered that no one was there.  They stood in the large foyer questioning what was going on.  They heard voices coming from outside, they darted inside a large hall closet and hid behind a stack of packed boxes.  The voices entered the room.  The men listened quietly.  One of the voices was Dr. Pratt and the other was one Vivvie.

“We have to tell them the truth.  They need to know in order to survive.  What if she does let them go?  They won’t know what to look for, Dr. Pratt, please tell them.”

Pratt had listened but was running out of time.  His own body was beginning to feel the change and it needed the nutrients he had gathered earlier.

“I want to help them, but I am nowhere near a cure and I have to live and use the knowledge I do have in order to help.  If she does not let them go, then their time is going to run out very fast.  Help me gather the remaining tools from the kitchen.  They listened as the footsteps grew lighter as the two headed for the kitchen.  Marcus peeked out from the closet and headed to kitchen.  He wanted his answers and wanted no more riddles.  He charged the doctor from behind, grabbing him in a choke hold and demanded that he tell all that he knew.  Vivvie was in shock and stood still as Gregory held her in place.

“What the hell do you mean our time is running out! And where are the others you requested earlier?”

The doctor struggled against his grip but could not break free. 

“Okay, I’ll tell you.  But I promise you won’t like it.”

Marcus jerked him violently and then let him go. The doctor started talking immediately.  He gasped for air in between words.

“Those that did not die from the virus were broken into two groups.  There are 20% who have heightened senses and strength.  The other 20 are cursed.  The body breaks down ever so often and has to replenish.  It can only do so with fresh nutrients from other bodies.  While the body breaks down the person goes through a transformation.  They become animal like.  Claws, thicker hair and elongated k nines have been reported.  I encountered that with this group.  As for me my organs are dying.  It starts with the kidneys.  I have been on a make shift dialysis for weeks.  The only reason why I am still alive is because the group needs me.  And they are a dangerous group and Kyla is their leader.  She will kill you all if you know what they truly are so leave at once. 

“Not without the others.  Now where are they!?”  Marcus stood face to face with the good doctor.

“It is already too late for them.  They were processed earlier today.”

Pratt felt a strong thud against list jaw as he went down.  There were cries and screams as Marcus kicked and beat the man into a bloody stream of tears and vomit.  Vivvie watched in horror.  She feared she was next. 

“And which part of the 20 are you?”  Gregory looked at the sobbing woman.

“Shareen and I are normal we were needed to administer the dosage of the nutrients.”

“What are the nutrients and what did he mean processed?”  Gregory turned and looked her in the eyes.  He was afraid of her answer but he knew he had to hear it.  She started sobbing heavily and as  she spoke she vomited onto the floor.  She gathered herself and became coherent. 

“Organ meat.  The nutrients are organ meat.  They must be clean and without chemical infusion.  We have to take out the vital organs, the kidney, liver the heart and in some cases the brain.  It must be ground up and eaten raw.  If we cook it, it loses the nutrients needed to make them well.  They took your friends earlier and made enough to last a month.  Their bodies were buried out behind where Macey was being kept.  I am so sorry.”

Gregory back handed the woman and yelled to Marcus that they needed to leave.  The men rushed out the door.  Vivvie yelled at the men to take her with them.  They left her and the doctor in a puddle of blood and tears.  By now they knew too much and finding the rest of the group alive was going to be tricky.  And as they entered the house they realized that their fight had just begun. 

“C’mon in.  We’ve  been waiting.”

Kyla had her henchmen ready at the backdoor, their shotguns primed at the new targets.  Marcus followed along, Gregory close behind him.  Kyla watched them carefully as she spoke. 

“So, you beat out doctor to a pulp to get the information you wanted.  And now you know our secret.  What shall we do with you now?  I suppose we could kill you, but that would be a waste of nutrients.  You see we need the doctor to mix the magic that keeps us human.  The batch he made earlier was supreme.”

“And I can make more.”

Pratt appeared from the side door bloodied and scarred.  He crept to Kayla’s side and quickly gulped down the thick, crimson elixir.   He felt his body begin to heal immediately as his cuts and bruises returned to their natural state.  Marcus and the others were immediately struck with awe.  The man healed and straightened up before their eyes. His bones crackled as they fused to their correct placement   He smiled and began to speak.

“No, they should not be killed.  We should keep them as harvest.  Let’s not make the same mistake as we did before.  This time the mixture is stronger and can last longer.  I had a breakthrough.  I need them to continue my work.”

Kyla agreed.  She could feel the potion working in her system making her stronger.  As the doctor had said they would be able to go longer without the change or need to kill.  She had Marcus and the others locked in a basement while they celebrated.  Just as dark settled, the partying quieted.  The key was placed in the lock as it was jiggled open.  Vivvie stood at the top of the stairs and asked them to come upstairs.  Marcus lead the group and upon stepping onto the stop step and seeing what lied before him, he could not understand.  Pratt, Kyla, Macey and the rest of her changelings lay dead.

“Pratt had come up with a formula that would extend the life of their organs.  It made them stronger and more able to feed as viciously as they wanted once it wore off.  He had decided that with this discovery, they need not live any longer.  He knew that they no longer belonged in this world.  He mixed a poison with the last batch and drank it along with them.  He knew that he would soon be unable to control what was happening.  They were all fine after the initial drink, but within an hour they began to convulse and bleed from every pore.  They died drowned in their own blood.  The doctor asked me and Shareen to look after your group as we know what to look for and we can help.  We still have his notes and know all his works.  We can also teach you about your new senses and what they mean.  We will not change as we are as you are.  Please let us help you.”

    As the others emerged from the basement, Marcus agreed to add the ladies to his flock.  That night they burned the bodies and the memories of that horrible experience.  They cleaned the cabins and the house the next day and began to make the real fresh start.