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 gathered in secret in order to find a cure for our manmade disaster. Webinars and conference calls rang on in constant as government and its professionals scrambled for answers. We had salt water and factory sized air purifiers. Scientists were now being paid to find a miracle in the despair. Their new tasks, 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 incorrect. The planet's natural resources were dwindling faster than had originally surmised. The processes it took to make their chore a reality was the on the agenda of every egg head involved. Debates and theories flooded the airwaves, but now a plan needed to become a reality.
Scientists worked day and night over countless equations and endless tests using the one water source available, the oceans of the world. It seemed that we were doomed until a marvelous breakthrough surfaced. Within two years, we did it. We created a method in which the salt and bacteria of the world’s seas and oceans was completely removed leaving fresh drinking water for human consumption.
The unique irrigation and desalinization factories 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 cities and townships all over. We sold the technology overseas and once again, the United States reigned supreme. Those countries that could afford the technology added supplement ideas and soon the world's resource problems were simply the chatter at the local water cooler. It was amazing. The United States had saved the world and 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 reverberated from country to country. At first the funds used to create the factories was deducted from other line items in the country's budget, but once it was proven a success, it was a boom. The economic crisis was over as well. Each state got a tax cut and major breaks along with excess funding for irrigation for crops. It was a huge 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 factories came the need to expand our produce and meat science. Once again, we relied heavily on beakers and test tubes and once again, a miracle peeked from a lab in some remote part of the US. Hunger would now be a blip in the past.
Our intelligence had engineered a science that made our produce and meat much larger and leaner than before. However, that did not 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 provide nutrition for the consumer for days. Those who were used to all day snacking no longer lingered in cabinets and refrigerators for a quick fix. Those with eating compulsions were able to have the control they needed. Animals could live longer and survive in almost bleak conditions so food was always available.
This 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 it 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. 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. Deaths from heart attacks were nearly eradicated and obesity statistics declined at a rapid pace. It seemed that we had found the miracle cure for weight and weight related illnesses. In addition, the elevated price was nothing more than a bonus for the drug companies. Fast food restaurants started using the new products at an increase 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. However, 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 caused the outbreak 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 crop burnings from California to Florida. All drugging of animal and plant life would cease and medicines collected and destroyed. Suddenly we had to be organic, but that was easier said than done. 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 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 lethal 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 very tough for some and fatal for others. 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 pleasant. 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 11 members who all had survived the misfortune of the deadly crop virus of 2032. Now, loaded on a rigged bus headed north he and his group of followers were looking for another patch of land to call their own. At this point, he was very skeptical about finding any territory that was stable and fit for crops. He had witnessed the demise of the terrain 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 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. Now he was to lead a group of people who had more hope in him than he had in himself.
He kept his doubts quiet as they maneuvered the tricked up school bus onward through mountain terrain and the cold temps of Georgia. Marcus and been driving since midnight and 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 withered 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 11 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.” She chomped on the apple and with a smile moved on.
“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 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 rare 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 guns 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. Finally, the chores, everyone must have a job to do in order to keep this place running well. We need all the help we can get in maintaining the land and this place. 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 by the way, there is no maid service. Oh and the most important rule, 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.”
With the rules and ways of life explained, 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. Hollie and Michael, the newlyweds, took the next room. They had managed to find each other and love during the tumultuous time and married quickly. Deciding that the world might come to an end, it seemed better to have a partner to share it with. Across the hall were five other adjacent rooms. Starting off at the lower end were Dianne, Steven and David, the siblings. Their parents had been killed by the virus during the second stages. They were the only late teens early twenty somethings in the group and no one took any of their shit. Tifton and Claire, the golden haired lesbian and her male friend 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 a 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. Such were the tales of the others. Everyone was seeking survival and companions. They talked until 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 and 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 had been known to wash out the roads as the day progressed. The group packed and at on the way in order to expedite the trip. Everyone was not going as some had to stay behind and complete daily tasks. Those that did go took the chance to talk to their new hosts and learn more about their little colony.
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 an integral part of the project when it started. 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. 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 and come back to her. She became the leader of their group as her skills in hunting seemed to rival that of even the best marks man, Jeffrey. She had been raised by a single father and knew which weapon to use during which months. The others Macey, Joey, Donovan and Travis were the heavy duty lifters. They had been dockworkers 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. The signs and symptoms of early onset along with the benefits of the survivors was valued information as far as their physician was concerned. There were plenty of secrets the government 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 one 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. The last team would gather housing and repair items, sheets, spreads, blankets, nails, paint, spackle and such. They spent the morning moving steadily and gathering as much as they could hold on the bus.
Joey had been in the warehouse gathering housing items. He moved from one pile to the next when he stopped suddenly. A growling rumble caught his attention. 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 by surprise, 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 torn to shreds by a massive 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 kill the animal with blows to the skull. Joey, bloodied and gnarled laid in a puddle, his agonizing screams filling the air.
Kyla and Pratt tended 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 suffering man that quieted his pain. 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 more solemn. The women 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. The leader 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 an uneasiness lurking in the minds of the survivors. Kyla seemed to worry more as the day drug on. She retreated to one of the cabins, a troubled look on her face. Some of her immediate henchmen followed while the rest were left to watch over the newcomers. Or was it to police the newcomers into staying. That was the feel of the atmosphere to Marcus and his crew some expressed their concerns. Gwenyth would be the first to speak.
“I don’t like the way things are going on here. What the hell happened to that guy? He was near death yesterday and now he is gone. They jumped up to find him and by night, they are creeping away to a cabin to have some secret meeting. There’s something wrong and there are others who feel the same way I do.”
Marcus understood her emotions and tried to speak with to them and calm their nerves.
“I admit that things seem a bit strange. I saw that guy just like you did and I was sure he would have been dead by this morning. But we are not in a position to where we can start snooping around without suspicion. They have guns and expertise in these woods. We must play it careful until a good moment arises where we have the upper hand. So play it cool”
He was right, 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 were ahead. The rest of the team came in later that night. They checked the rooms to make sure their guests were in place. For now, their secrets were still safely tucked away.
As the night went on a cold wind swept through the village as a snow drizzle began to blanket the home. Everything was quiet and still. The fears of the night seemed to slumber as the guests and their strange hosts. But everyone only seemed to be sleeping well. A couple of the guests had decided they had stayed long enough.
Tifton and Claire packed provisions and double layered their clothes. They did not care for the new company and their obvious skeptical behavior. They packed their immediate needs as usual and quietly opened their bedroom door. As they entered the hall, another door opened. It was the siblings, Dianne, Steven and David. They wanted out as well.
“We want to go to. There’s something wrong with this place.” They whispered quietly.
Tifton and Claire agreed as they could use the company. They decided to take one of Kyla’s cars, an SUV. The group took the smallest of the three vehicles. They easily pushed it to the gate and then once on the other side, they could start it and be on their way. Their plan seemed to be working as they moved along quietly warming themselves using the vehicle’s heater. It ran quite smoothly as was comfy for the small crew. As they felt they were out of danger, they began to talk and recount the last couple of days. Tifton drove carefully, following the dark winding road. The quiet drizzle of snow glided down in a whispery curtain that disappeared on impact. Tifton 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 the outline. Tifton slammed on the breaks as the car slid forward gently.
“What the hell was that?” Dianne spoke up. “It was muscular, dark and fast. Let’s just get outta here.”
Tifton checked to make sure everyone was still in the mood to go. The group agreed to move on. Tifton started the car and moved forward, but as he descended the winding road, something shook the vehicle. He pushed down on the gas thinking that maybe he got caught on a large tree branch. But even as he pushed forward the car jerked even more.
“Are you sure you are on the gas?” Steven was starting to sound concerned.
“Yes, I can drive you know.” Tifton remarked. “We’re hung on something”
David had been quiet up until now.
“We’re not hung on anything. Something has us. Gun that engine and get us the hell outta here!”
Tifton continued to press on the gas and slowly they moved forward. Their fears seemed to quiet as the car began to pick up speed as they inched along. Tifton breathed in a large sigh as the group settled. David, feeling less pessimistic, sighed deeper than the rest. As they approached the final turn, the next group of roads would lead to a highway, they laughed at themselves. They were home free. Suddenly the car lifted from the road and slammed into a large oak. Something was charging the mangled wreckage. As the passengers in the back seat squirmed around to free from their seatbelts a massive crash came from the back window. David felt large claw-like hands grab him and pull him through the jagged class. He screamed and reached for help as his flesh tore beneath the shards. Steven and Diane quickly grabbed for him but whatever had him was not letting go and more powerful than the two of them. He was sucked into the night, his screams were the only beacon that he was still alive and then a horrifying sound of death filled the air and a loud thud shook the car. The remaining passengers began to squirm and scream as they knew their fate. Things went eerily quiet for a moment as Tifton tried to calm everyone down.
“Start looking for anything we can use as a weapon!”
They scrambled for devices. There were a couple of steel bats in the back, Diane quickly grabbed them handing one to Steve. Then from nowhere the side window exploded in sharp shards of glass as a hungry and bloodied face appeared fangs dripping with the remains of his last victim. Steve swung wildly, but that only seemed to enrage the creature more. He lunged inside the vehicle grabbing the large man and biting him viciously on the neck and ripping through his jugular. Blood sprayed over the seats and screaming survivors and he was yanked from the vehicle as well. This time the sounds of bones crushing beneath a massive force while muscle and tissue were ripped from their bone could be heard with excruciating clarity. His blood splattered the broken glass from the window as just outside the vehicle the creature took his feast.
“We need to run!” Tifton heard his wife, but could not believe what she had said. “If we stay here, we are doomed, we need to take our chances, it can only get one at a time.”
Diane, clearly shaken and disagreeing with that idea screamed out.
“That is fuckin’ suicide! It will pick us off one by one out there. We just have to try and be prepared for the next attack.”
Claire rebutted. “It is picking us off one by one in here and if you haven’t noticed it is going for the men first. It is thinking! It knows we don’t stand a chance on our own. We have to fight our way out of here! Find me something from back there.”
Diane pulled out a crowbar. The bat that Steve had was still in the back seat. The group reluctantly decided to run. But just as they were opening the door, a bright light caught their eye and gunshots could be heard as bullets whizzed by the car. The creature quickly dropped its meal and darted off into the night. Jeffrey had done a room check and realized that some of the tenants had gone missing.
Marcus, Kyla, Jeffrey and Pratt ran to the aid of the survivors. They plucked them from the mangled vehicle and ushered them into the other car. Kyla was clearly upset.
“What the hell were you thinking? And what the hell was that?”
Tifton answered her immediately. “Why don’t you tell us what the hell that was! I saw it and it looked like your friend that was attacked. But it’s different, it’s animal. So you tell us what the hell is going on!”
The team was visibly shaken, but no one uttered a word. That was when Marcus knew there was more to the story. As they entered the gates, Kyla loaded her gun and ordered everyone to move inside to the living room area and wait for further instructions. Her team stood as guards with loaded sawed off shotguns, ready to take down any predator. Once inside, the happy little community began to show their true side.
Kyla lit into the remaining members of Marcus’s team.
“You disobeyed our orders and have caused further damage to the livelihood of this community. You all will be confined to one of the larger rooms. We have moved your things and prepared your space. You will be guarded carefully so none of this happens again. You cannot be trusted.”
Tifton quickly spoke up. “Now wait just a damn minute! It’s you that cannot be trusted. You haven’t told us a damn thing about what is really happening here. I saw that damn thing and it was your buddy Joey. He had claws and teeth like razors and was covered in hair and moved like nothing I ever saw before. He turned into some kind of predator and my guess is that you knew that when you couldn’t find him. You were just waiting. Now someone needs to come out with the truth here!”
Jeffrey, quick to act, took the butt end of his gun and hammered it across Tifton’s head knocking him unconscious. He cocked the rifle and told everyone to move to their new digs. Kyla sat quietly watching the team carry their injured comrade to their room. She ordered that they be locked in and a guard posted outside of their door.
Their new oppressors held the firepower and military experience but they knew if they stayed, things could only get worse. They talked amongst themselves in whispers. For the next couple of hours they tried to come up with a plan that would save them from their captors and keep them from being eaten by the beast that now stalked the compound. As the wee hours of the morning approached, they grew sleepy and decided to call it a night. But that would not be the end of their discussions. There was a light knock on the door as the knob turned and a new visitor now stood before them. It was Morgan. Seeing the fear in all of their eyes, she announced that she was there for peaceful reasons and that she would tell them what they needed to know.
“Why should we believe you?” Tess spoke. But Morgan calmed her fears.
“I know you all are afraid and you should be. There is something very sinister about this place and the people in it. They are the other 20%.”
“The other 20%, what the hell is that?” Tess asked.
“In the beginning we played God. Dr. Pratt and myself worked on the water and food projects. The water project went as planned and worked well. But the food project was a disaster.”
“The virus that wiped out humanity causing death and pestilence that was you?” Marcus asked.
“I was on one of the teams as was Dr. Pratt. I was kicked off the project early as I knew that it was a bad idea to manipulate our food at any level, especially the genetic and/or cellular levels. The host would have no choice but to acquire some form of the drugs and behaviors that we were noted in the lab animals. But no one wanted to hear it. They thought that since we were human we could control the outcome better. In the lab, we did, but humans do not live in labs. By the time, I had finished my experiments that proved the drugs weren’t safe, I was locked out and removed from the project. Pratt remained and continued to work, but he knew the risks. He was struggling to find a cure but it was too late. The drugs had been released and distributed through food to the public and you know the rest.”
“No we don’t, you said there was another 20%?” Marcus guided her back towards her original conversation. She reluctantly continued.
“Oh, right, the 20%. As you know the virus immediately killed 60% of the people who ingested it and 40% survived. Half of those suffered greatly before miraculously healing. The other half had some symptoms but seemed fine. The latter was truly blessed. The other group however, was the one that I had detected. Both of the surviving groups showed improvements. They were able to go longer without eating and suffered no ill effects. But one of the groups had horrible consequences. That’s the other 20. They formed an unusual and deadly bond to the chemicals that were used. Their bodies were stronger and they could go even longer without eating, but the consequence was horrible. At the end of their starvation cycle, they would have to consume large quantities of organ meat and brain tissue. If they didn’t, they would start to change. Claws, fangs, being short tempered were just a few of the symptoms. It was like the body was changing to fit its most urgent need. It transformed the host into a killing machine, a predator so it could get what it needed in order to change back.”
“So Joey was starving and the attack forced him into a change? What kind of shit is this?” Tess questioned.
“No. Joey's body is reacting to the saliva from his attacker. No, he will not change back. In his case, DNA from another creature has entered his blood stream. He was nearing his starvation end and was doing fine, but something new was added to his equation, foreign DNA. His body immediately took on the new material and altered him to become the ultimate predator and he cannot change back. He has to be destroyed. Listen to me, I don’t want any more deaths on my conscience. I am willing to help you, but you must act fast. The others that are nearing their starvation end are hungry and you have the fresh materials they need to survive.”
“Materials? You mean we are the grocery list?" Marcus chimed in. Tess was quick to respond as well.
What are we going to do? They have firepower and experience." Tess was clearly upset and the others agreed with her.
“Yes, they need your systems to survive. I will try and sneak you a couple of weapons when you are out doing chores. I cannot let them know I am with you. They would kill me too.”
Morgan crept quietly into the hall and sat at her post as if nothing had changed. She was their guard.
The next day the flurries had dissipated and the day seemed fresh and clean. A loud rap on the door startled them awake as Jeffrey bellowed out that breakfast was ready. They washed and presented themselves knowing this could be their last day alive. It was a quiet somber meal. Kyla gave orders for some to tend the garden house and others to clean and prep fresh veggies. They were placed in groups of threes with a guard and a gun.
Marcus, Tess, and Gregory were teamed with Morgan who was heavily armed and led them outback to the garden house. She instructed them on what to pull how to tell if everything was fresh. Hollie, Michael and Claire were on house duty. They cleaned every bedroom, bathroom, and common area. They were guarded by Jeffrey, so they dared not make a mistake. As for Diane, Tifton and Alvin, they were instructed to clean out the vehicles and tend to the wreckage. There were still items in that old car that were needed for their protection. Their guards were Macey and Travis. That day moved on as if they were on a chain gang. No one moved, spat, or farted without approval. At the end of the day, once again another meal where conversation was null and the atmosphere was thick with schemes and plotted betrayal.
That night, they were locked in their rooms with Kyla as their guard. She was starting to look a bit frail and disheveled. Marcus knew that she would change soon. He didn’t have to ask who was human and who was something else. He could tell. He could sense it some way and knew that he had to move fast to save his people. He couldn’t sleep that night which was just as good. The crashing window from downstairs rattled the tenants from their slumber. Donovan and Travis sprung into action and raced to the scene. As the made it to the bottom of the stairs, they noticed the glass on the floor by the large picture window. The glistening light from the night sky shone brightly through the curtains as the wind blew them gently to and fro. Donovan stepped into the light. He didn’t know how much of a mistake he had made. As he peered through the broken glass, he felt a tight grip on his throat as he was snatched through the opening and his neck twisted until it made a loud pop. Travis shot into the opening and raced to his aid. He saw the creature, his friend on his shoulder, as he took two good steps and leapt into the moonlit night. Heavy footsteps followed behind him as Jeffrey was on the scene.
“We got to board up the windows or that damn thing’s gonna pick us off one by one.”
He was right. They started that night gathering every board they could and every nail in the house. They worked until dawn, all of them. The next day it was more evident that someone else would die. Kyla was deteriorating faster and didn’t make an appearance at breakfast. That day was quiet, sullen, and rainy. Morgan and Dr. Pratt took the group to the medical cabin for tests. The others watched over Kyla, Travis and Macey. They were becoming gravely ill and hungry.
“I am supposed to run blood tests to see if you can be used. I don’t want to do this. I can’t take it. The others were horrible.” Pratt’s confession was difficult and gruesome. “They were cut up like some kind of cattle and their organs were ground into shakes. I know Morgan has spoken with you. You have to take down Jeffrey first. Kyla, Travis and Macey are sick now and they are weak. The others are just as afraid as I am. Here take these syringes and these guns. The syringes are filled with cyanide, plunge the contents directly into the blood stream. The guns are fully loaded.”
Alvin interrupted the good doctor. “Why haven’t you done this yourself?”
“They suspect that I am tired of their ways. But they keep me around for my services. I've been working on an anecdote. Kyla has been breathing down my neck for a cure. She despises the taste of human organs. Before you go, there is something else you must know about this virus. For those of you who have survived and created antibodies, you have other side effects. Your senses are keener, you can hear sharper and see farther than before. You will weather the harsh changes in temperature with little effect to your immune system. You are truly the goal we were trying to reach. It is up to you to eradicate the evil that lives here. I will have your test results to them by nightfall. Have a plan ready for they are hungry and will want you dispatched immediately.”
Morgan led them back to their room. It was cloudy and beginning to rain again. Marcus, Tess, Hollie, Michael, Daine, Tifton, Claire, Gregory and Alvin plotted their survival as the hours ticked on. They came up with a plan and waited quietly.
It was late in the afternoon when Pratt’s tests results were in. They were all candidates for dinner. None of them had any of the negative side effects and they were all in good health with strong working organs and immune systems. Kyla ordered Jeffrey to bring them the two boys, Gregory and Alvin. They were to be killed immediately and prepared for consumption.
Jeffery moved up the stairs and unlocked the door. As he stood in the doorway, he motioned for the two brothers to come forward, as they did he shot Alvin in the leg. Disabling him meant his brother had to help him. This also meant that no one was going to try anything stupid. The rifle was an automatic and with Jeffrey on the trigger, anyone who decided to step out of line would be dead before they hit the ground.
For now, they all stepped back as Gregory helped his wounded brother to his feet. Alvin grimaced in pain as he stumbled forward, blood running down his pant leg. He limped forward his brother’s shoulder acting as a crutch aiding him along the way. Jeffrey waited as they approached, rifle held firmly in his hands. Alvin stumbled forward falling to the ground. Gregory stooped down to help. He was able to get his brother half way when they began to move slowly forward.
“C’mon ladies get a move on!” Jeffrey was growing impatient. He decided to step up and help them. But as he reached down to grab Alvin’s arm, Gregory plunged the cyanide filled syringe into his shoulder. The effects took hold immediately. Gregory ripped the gun away from the dying man. Jeffrey fell to the floor as the effects of the poison ripped through him like scissors in a paper mache class. His body began to die system by system until he suffocated in his own shell. His last breaths were painful but not long.
The crew downstairs, alerted to the commotion, was becoming unhinged. Kyla could feel the change rumbling to the surface. She leapt from her seat, hands like claws and teeth elongating to fangs, she could feel her muscles tense as she moved with catlike precision to the stairs. The others moved after her knowing they could be cleaning up her mess if she no longer had control. Macey and Travis moving slower than most as their bodies were breaking down and weakening, the last stage before the change.
At the top of the stairs, Marcus and his team prepared. Alvin moved back into the room where Daine took care of his wound. Tess, Michael, Hollie, Claire, Tifton and Gregory grabbed the guns they had been given by Pratt and the extra syringes. They positioned themselves to the sides and back of Marcus. As Kyla rounded the corner, she leapt into the air. Marcus began shooting and did not stop until she fell. Once on the floor, he finished her with a shot to her head. The others followed, but held up their hands in a truce. They wanted no parts in death, but were infected with the virus. Upon seeing their fallen leader member, Macey and Travis began to run, but they would not make it far as Marcus chased them with a stream of bullets.
The bodies, removed from the house, were placed outside in a pile as an offering for the beast. Marcus and Gregory sat quietly on the roof waiting for his appearance. And just like any wild animal, he did not disappoint. Just as he began to lunge at the fresh meal, Marcus took aim and fired three shots. He hit the beast in the back, the head, and leg. Joey fell to the ground snarling and growling in agony. A final shot to his frontal lobe quieted the creature.
The bodies were then burned and all the boards, except for the broken window, were taken down. The next day brought a huge sigh of relief. Raven’s place was now a real community, the monsters were gone and the nightmare over.