The Rage: Part 29

XIX

Topi comes out first when I give them the signal that it is clear to move. He eyes the man with suspicion, but does not speak. The man barely looks him over; he knows he has strength enough to overpower us. If the Rage takes him, he’ll have more than enough. Topi and I work together to help Emilia up the ladder. As soon as she is upright, the man steps towards her. Topi and I block his route.

“How far along are you?” he asks, stopping only just on his side of the line.

I scowl, looking between him and Emilia. She looks away, her hands clasped in front of her, pulling her clothing more tightly over her front. If she had been injured, we would have known about it; there is no way she could be infected and we not know about it. The last time we saw a Rager was days ago. She would have turned by now.

“Two months?” He asked. “Three? More?”

“What are you talking about?” I begin. “People don’t last—”

“Three,” Emilia interrupted.

I look at Topi. He shakes his head before I speak.

“She’s pregnant. How did you not know?”

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The Rage: Part 28

XXVIII

He’s still there when darkness falls. Still alone. I hear no movement outside. We both hear Emilia complaining beneath the floor hatch. He says nothing. We haven’t spoken for hours.

I still don’t know what he wants.  I don’t know if I can trust him. All I know is that Emilia will not stay put much longer. If I don’t speak to her, she will force her way out of that tunnel. If I do speak to her, she’ll demand to meet the man. Either way, she’s the weak link.

Emilia is desperate. She would accept his help without even stopping to think about it and if she dies because he is dangerous, I have failed. I cannot let that happen.

The only way I can protect her is to go with her, but then Topi will be alone if he refuses this ‘help’.  Topi is more capable than Emilia, but even he won’t survive long alone. None of us would. I wish Miro were here. He would know exactly what to do. Now it is all on me.

I look at the hatch and back to the man. What else can I do?

“How close is your shelter?”

 

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The Rage: Part 27

XXVII

“I am not a threat to you.” The man puts his back against the wall and folds his arms.

I scruff the dirt with the toecap of my boot, drawing a thick line down the middle of the room. “If you are not a threat, you will stay on that side of the line. Then I won’t kill you.” I extend my hand to him. “Give me back my knife.”

The man nods and draws his own weapon, a long, thick blade with a heavy handle. It’s the kind of weapon purpose made for this job. Sturdy. Sharp. When I kill him, it will be mine.

He returns my knife point first, forcing me to take hold of the sharp edge. He’s done this before. I can’t grip it tightly enough to harm him or I cut myself and by the time I have readjusted, he will be ready for me. As soon as I touch the knife, we both jump away from the line, our backs against the walls of the shack.

“What is your name?” he asks.

“Why do you care about my name?”

He shrugs. “I don’t.”

“What’s yours?”

Again, he just shrugs. “Does it matter?”

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The Rage: Part 26

XXVI

“You should leave,” I say, trying to put as much authority in my voice as I can muster. Authority. Like that’s a thing anymore.

“There is a village not far from here,” he replies, ignoring me. “We have fortifications. We have clean water. We have food.”

“You are infected.” I draw each word out to be sure he understands. “You have to go.”

“I am not dangerous. I can help you!”

I take a step back. He doesn’t have long left. He doesn’t realise what he’s becoming. Perhaps he doesn’t even realise he’s trying to kill me. I brace myself and curse myself for not being prepared for this. But maybe, if he’s that far gone, he’ll be as desperate as the others. Maybe…

“I know how to cure you,” I say. “Would you like that?”

He clenches his jaw and his lip curls. His mismatched eyes fix on me like a hunter on prey. Perhaps he’s too far gone.

“I’ll need my knife back, but I can stop you suffering.” I nod and extend my hand, smiling. I think. I’m not sure I remember what smiling feels like.

The man shakes his head and moves away from me.

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The Rage: Part 25

XXV

You might think that when the end of the world comes, people will put aside their petty squabbles and pull together to ensure their own survival. You would be wrong. People will always be selfish. Put their backs against a wall and they’ll sell you the bricks.

When things look bleak, the weakest look for any way to survive. The schemers use this to bait them. Offer a starving man a trail of crumbs and he’ll put himself in your cage.

I’ve seen places they’ve been. Survival games. Carnage.

The man in front of me is one of those. No one offers safety on a plate. If we follow him, we will wind up caged. If we’re lucky, we’ll be forced to work for food. If we’re not, we’ll be bait. They’ll place bets on which of us will be last to die when the Ragers find us. Or they’ll make us kill each other.

Some people would rather satisfy themselves than ensure the survival of our species.

I just need to wait for the moon to rise. So long as he doesn’t have companions of his own, Topi and I can overpower him. He can’t kill us both.

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The Rage: Part 24

XXIV

“Where are you companions?”

The man speaks before I can think of a good question. I narrow my eyes.

“How do you know I am not alone?”

“When I last saw you, you had companions. Are they dead?”

“We’ve met before?” I scan his face again. I’m sure I would have remembered someone so disfigured. I’m sure I would have tried to kill them.

“I’ve seen you before. You were at the storehouse.”

“You’ve been following us?”

“I have been protecting you. I can help you. There is shelter nearby. I can take you. You will be safe there.”

I shake my head. There is no safety in this world. The last time we believe we were safe, we lost Miro. This is a trap.

“Give me back my knife.” I keep my eyes fixed on him and force myself to breathe normally.

“You will turn it on me.”

I nod. What choice do I have? He is not going to save us. He’s a Rager waiting to be born. Perhaps he’s more resilient to the contagion than most people, but it will only be a matter of time before he changes. I have to put my pack first.

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The Rage: Part 23

XXIII

Trust is one of those things that is supposed to be earned. Some people earn it slowly through years of not getting you killed. Some people earn it faster by repeated saving of lives. Some people demand it in the first moments you meet. Those are the people most likely to see you die.

This man knows I cannot trust him and yet I have little choice. If I choose not to trust him, Emilia and Topi will die in that underground tunnel. If I decide to call them out, he could kill them before they have a chance to defend themselves. This all rests on me.

The sun is still bright in the sky, but the visor the man gave me allows me to see. We have a few hours to wait before the light dims enough for Topi and Emilia to leave the tunnel. I have time to decide if this man means to harm us.

It’s been so long since I met anyone new that I barely know where to begin. Miro was always the one to evaluate the threats. I only ever took them down. What questions do I ask? I take a deep breath.

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