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Event Eight: The Other Side

The stench, I could see it floating in the air. The pale green particles were everywhere, partially illuminated by the dim light barely shining through the clouds. Everything was decayed and falling apart here. We truly had reached the edge of civilization. As my nostrils breathed in the particles, I felt as if it was already over, though I still had a few days to gloat about my inevitable end. The grime and dirt clung to me becoming more pronounced along with my young sisters’ pains as well. I didn’t think they were ready to have their flesh slowly deteriorate and fall off, I didn’t think anyone was ready for that. The youngest of my sisters was still dragging her old teddy bear around. One of it’s eyes had fallen off ages ago, and dirt now covered every inch of it’s frayed body.
We needed to get to The Other Side, it was the only place that was safe. In the desolates that spanned the gap between our town and The Other Side, there was no place to hide, there was no refuge, only the dead grass that writhed in the wind making our beds.
“Hey, you there!” said a voice a distance behind me.
I turned around quickly, startled to hear someones voice. A rag tag looking group of men holding guns, crossbows and swords pointed in our direction were approaching from a few feet away. I didn’t know who they were, but it appeared they were one of the remaining border patrols.
“What do you think you’re doing out here?”
The man asking questions, the apparent leader of the group, was just as dirty as we were. Maybe even dirtier. I looked into the man’s eyes, there was pain, exhaustion, and determination, and I explained to the him that we needed to get to The Other Side.
“Like that?” exclaimed The Leader. “I don’t think so. You’ll be eaten alive in no time. Just another body to the mass.”
I asked him what we were supposed to do, I was frustrated and tired.
He gestured with his hand toward the deep dark wasteland. “Well, not feed yourself to them, that’s for sure.”
I crossed my arms and glared. My sisters cuddled around close to me.
The man glanced around at his men and then at the darkness. “Look, follow me.”
They all turned and trudged after him, there must’ve been about twelve of them. I didn’t have many options and they were the first full people I’d seen in days. Holding my sisters close to me, I followed them and we walked for a long while.
One of the refugees shouted. “Look, there’s one.”
Guns fired for a few minutes. I couldn’t see what happened, there were too many people in front of me. After the firing stopped, everyone kept walking as if nothing had happened, but as we continued I could see a mutilated corpse lying on the ground a few feet away on its back, arms in two different directions and a mushy mouth open to teeth turned sideways and saliva full of blood. My sisters stared at it in horrified curiosity.
This happened two or three more times, one of them being a dog that had been eaten to the bone. Finally, after a while of trudging through the gray waste, we came upon a broken down mill. Most of it was fallen apart, but the sections that were kept together had people living in it. Even fewer people were here than in our group. Sad looking faces peered out of tents and around broken, rust ridden door hinges of the windmill. When we arrived, most of the group dispersed into the surrounding rubble.
“Okay, so you’re gunna stick right here for now. We really don’t need another body trying to take a bite out of our legs. We’ve been barely holding up here. Supplies are low — what a surprise — and I’m not sure if you’re going to be able to get much from us. You were probably better off wherever you came from.” As he talked, I picked at my lips, they were dry, I hadn’t had any water for a while. “But you’re here now, and I’m not letting you run off into the wild like that with those girls.”
I continued to pick, I moved my hand to the other side of my lips and a huge chunk of flesh came off.
“You can’t just sit around though, you’ll have to hold your own… What on earth?”
He let go of his gun and it fell to his side, hanging on a sling around his shoulder. He shuffled over quickly, took a hold of my head and used his thumb to pull down my lower eyelid, staring intently.
“Yugh! You’re already turning into one kid. I thought you would’ve at least known how to stop yourself from falling apart like that.”
He looked at me, arms crossed and eyebrows pulled down in severe thought. I looked at the piece of lip in my hand, it was a discolored yellow and was speckled with dirt. I touched another part of my face and a smaller piece of skin fell off. My body trembled.
“Brother?” my littlest sibling cried. She was holding onto a clump of her hair that pulled out and was looking up at me with sad, confused eyes.
“Do you even know how this stuff works kid?” said The Leader.
I shook my head no.
He sighed. “ It’s bacteria. It can pass right through almost anything and spreads in the air. One of the few things it can’t pass through, is the human body and similar life forms. In that case… it eats it’s way through, which leaves it’s victims in a crazed state. It’s been guessed that the pain of it eating to your bones is so extreme that the mind can’t handle it anymore. That’s the proposition I choose to believe, the other and more radical, in my opinion, is that the bacteria takes control of your body and tries to spread faster by biting people as a means to get past the skins protection. But either way, there’s only one thing you can do to stop it from eating you while you’re out here.”
I began to shake more violently, partly out of fear, and partly because my body was weakening. I asked him what I was supposed to do.
He smiled and bent over to my height. “Well, I’ll tell yah how to stop it from eating you alive if you help us out with a little task.”
I glared at him.
He stood back up to his full height.
“We were attacked a few days ago while we were out in the wilderness. It was a surprise and most of us dropped all our gear and took off. They can tear you apart, but they aren’t that fast, I mean, heck, half their muscles are gone, how could they be? Every time we’ve tried to get back there, there’re a load of them that pop up out of the ground just waiting to gnaw our legs off. But, if a single person were to slip through, he may be able to bring back most of the supplies without dying. And since you’re turning into one anyway, they might not even notice you.”
I glared at him longer, it felt like my eyes were going to fall out. He knew what I was thinking, I didn’t need to say it. Besides, the poor man looked like he was going to be sick to himself, this place had changed him, he wasn’t always this way, I could tell.
I held out my hand and asked for a gun, looking away in disgust of the situation.
He looked away as well and smirked “Oh no, you’ll need as much arm space as you can get to carry everything back. You’re on your own till you get to the supplies.” He pointed. “Just keep walking, you’ll come upon it in no time. Just make it back alive and make it fast, you wouldn’t want your sisters to reach the point where we’d have to put them down.”
I glanced at them, turned and walked.
After I was well out of sight of the encampment, it got darker and everything was overshadowed with an ominous pale aura, the bacteria accumulated, amassing to watch the next contestant fail their course. I was among its city.
I saw a hand sticking up out of the ground only a few of feet away from me. A shiver ran down my spine. I could be walking over hundreds of bodies and I wouldn’t know it. I saw more of the pale bacteria lingering in the air directly around me. He seemed to be right, it did mask me, none of them moved. I saw a few other various body parts sticking up from the earth, a foot, a shoulder, a face.
Finding the supplies he told me about untouched and lying haphazardly in a small circle, I gathered as much as possible, slinging things over my shoulder and strapping a few to my belt. There was a pile of ashes in the middle of the circle, it was still smoking. He lied, they must’ve only just left this place. I made sure to find a gun and held it tightly as I left the clearing in a hurry.
Walking away in silence that seemed quieter than before, and wisely taking this as a terrible sign, I became much more aware of my surroundings. A hand twitched, a leg, a head, the ground. Slowly, as if they were uncertain, they rose. I was about halfway, right in the middle of my way back to the camp. The first to attack was a dog, large clumps of fur had fallen off, and the skin around the eyes, mouth, and feet were pulled back to reveal the bones, the ears were completely gone, fallen off long ago. It was surprisingly active for a half dead mutt. It saw me, or sensed me, and started running in my direction. It was still a bit off, and I had a chance to shoot at it. I filled its body with bullets, too many was not enough. It fell, and the rest rose. The sound must’ve woken them, or else it was the clear smell of gun powder and blood; A human was near.
An arm burst out of the ground just a few inches from my foot. The entire field was alive. Parts of it bubbled up, as if it thought it was a geyser and turned into a river of corpses. I didn’t wait, I didn’t have time to be in shock, I needed to get back. I could see my sisters faces sliding off in my minds eye and the feeling to save and protect them grew.
I ran.
Most of them were too slow to get at me, but the ones that you were almost able to make out as being human bit at my heals. They came up on both sides of me, some of them crying out in an agonizing scream, distorted by vocal chords that now only half remained. A few more dogs appeared and passed the sprinting corpses.
While still running, I shot my gun wildly left and right. A few of them were hit, but got up moments later to continue the chase.
There were only a few now, I left the mass behind, and I was almost to the camp.
One of them came too close, just out of arms reach and I was out of bullets. I didn’t have time to reload. People from the camp shot their large crossbows, the over-sized arrow pinning it to the ground.
I jumped over a log’s cadaver as I entered the encampment, taking refuge behind it, there were many of the old trees surrounding the camp. Guns fired and my pursuers were no more. I collapsed on the ground and they took the supplies off me without a word.
The Leader grabbed my shirt and picked me up off the ground, leaving me standing.
“Good work kid.”
I met his eyes and continued to stay silent.
“Right, well, I guess I’ll show you what you have to do now.”
My sisters came running to me from out of one of the tents.
The Leader reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wood carver. He grabbed my arm and took the wood carver to it. It was extremely sharp and peeled a layer of my skin off quickly and painlessly. He held the sliver of my arm in his one hand, put back the wood carver, and pulled out a small mixing bowl and grinder from inside his backpack. He proceeded to grind up the skin.
“Here, sprinkle this in the air around you.”
I raised an eyebrow and did what he said.
“The bacteria doesn’t actually attach itself to your skin, it’s in the air and always is. By doing that, the disease attacks those dead pieces of skin instead of constantly barraging your body. The only reason this works is because, though they do move through the air, they move real slow. I think that’s why they hide in the ground, the bacteria can’t get to them there.” As he said this he had a half crazed expression on his face as he imagined his last sentence, almost as if he had just came to this conclusion.
I took the tools from him and we carved my sisters, the youngest’s expression continually confused.
“No, I don’t wanna.” they cried.
I told him that we still needed to get through to The Other Side holding a heartless expression that was now continually plastered onto my face.
“You’ll have to wait kid, just stick with us for now. Maybe we’ll take a trip over there at some point, but not yet, not now. We have our lives to keep here.”
He didn’t know. How could he?
I asked him if he knew why we needed to get through, my plaster face drying.
“No, I’m sure it’s important kiddo, but we aren’t running off just for you.” he said, motioning to me and my sisters.
I told him why. I told him how it spread to the town, how the bacteria snuck in from behind them, how it turned half the population in a few days time, and how we were fortunate enough to be on the outskirts, making our escape easier. We were one of the few shattered groups to make it away.
“Wait,” the mask of a fool hearty hero was but a shadow now, the shadow that I had seen only in his eyes before. “the town we were protecting is polluted?”
I nodded again. He got right up close to my face and grabbed my shoulders, he was visibly shaking.
“Do you know what we did to protect that town from these monsters, this bacteria?” he shouted.
A few of the soldiers turned around and peaked out of their tents to see what The Leader was shouting about. I could see horrible events flashing before the his eyes. His expression changed numerous times. I had just smashed the last of his hope, turning it to shrapnel.
“We all suffered, through pain, slow pain, discomforts, and great… great losses… I had to chose to leave some of them behind. I… I…”
He loosed his grip and let his arms fall to his sides. Everyone stood there in silence for a time, staring at the ground.
After a few minutes passed, the leader spoke.
“Everyone pack up, we’re going to the Other Side.” he mumbled.
Only I heard him, everyone else stayed and continued staring. He repeated his order again, this time shouting it. An immediate scramble. All the soldiers rushed to gather their things. We didn’t need to gather anything, we didn’t have anything, except for our clothes and a dirty teddy bear.
They were ready in no more than a minute. They must have had a lot of practice with getting ready quickly, their encampment encroached upon by half people all the time. The leader took a quick count. I did the same, curious. Twenty-three including the captain and the three of us.
“Alright, that’s all of us, let’s move out!” he signaled with his hand towards the darkness and they all followed him, The Leader.
I took my sisters’ hands and we did the same, being just behind the leader.
We navigated around the mass of plagued beings that were between the old and new camping grounds, bypassed them without encounter, and kept going. Deeper and deeper into the green darkness. We went on like this for days, barely resting, and when we did, it was far from comfortable. We didn’t see pure water, we didn’t have fresh food, moldy and stale was all we got, and the dirt that covered our bodies irritated the skin constantly.
One of the soldiers shouted a profanity. Everyone stopped.
“What?” One of the other men shouted. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
The men broke up and gathered to the one making all the ruckus. The leader jogged over as well, asking what it was.
More profanities. I walked over to see an arm was sticking vertically out of the ground. It was clearly affected by the bacteria. This was not what was startling. There was a head just under the surface of the ground, the rain had washed some of the dirt away so only a thin layer remained, making a shelled earth mask for the corpse. As I examined this, everyone slowly backed away, their eyes scanned the earth and I saw what they were looking at. The face and arm spread. There were more. Some only barely sticking out of the ground in numerous places. I looked to the path we were on and it became thick with them.
No one said much of anything, but stared.
“D’you think they’re still alive?” whispered one of the nearby soldiers.
“I don’t know.” The Leader answered. “It doesn’t look like it. But you can never tell…”
At that moment the one arm braced itself on the ground and pushed, pulling a body out. It was not the one with the dirt mask. This one was much less decayed.
More cursing along with, this time, gunfire. More of them broke through the earth. The Leader shouted some orders and the men changed action according to his commands. They changed themselves into a uniform group and picked up any trapped or straggling soldiers that had the misfortune of standing too close to a stray arm. I rushed into the center of them along with my sisters.
Many cries, screams and unintelligible words came from everywhere, the living and the questionable. I couldn’t see what was happening. A yelp, and one of the men in front of me fell. For a split second I saw him getting mauled and ripped apart by the numerous diseased creatures before the gap he left closed up again, once more forming the protective wall around us and all the time running further along our path as fast as we could. They ate and ate, but they were not satisfied. They consumed, but did not grow.
“Hold.” yelled The Leader.
The firing stopped.
“Think we got em all?” called one of the men that was out of my sight.
They all waited to see if there were more. Nothing.
“How many did we lose?” The Leader said.
Everyone checked to see who was left standing. Four of them got pulled away and trampled under. We were down to nineteen.
We continued on from this point, the group getting more and more disheartened than before. A single day passed and we were attacked again. Most of them being surprise attacks, or as surprising as you can get when your pray is always expecting something. But they slowly picked us off. Almost one every other day. Night time was the worst. They could be standing feet from our guards and still go unnoticed, drag them off and then be back for more. My sisters were running on next to nothing. We were almost out of food and we hadn’t anything to drink for a couple of days. They were so muddy and full of dirt, I could barely see them. We were all dirty. They kept complaining about their tummies hurting. My stomach was hurting pretty bad too.
“Brother, my tummy really hurts, I’m so hungry.” My littlest sister croaked.
Poor thing, if only we could find some drinking water. Her eyes were bloodshot from not getting enough rest, and her hair was a tangled mess.
“I could eat an entire cow!” she managed to rasp.
We were down to nine; They had taken so many of us. We were only able to keep a single guard awake at any one time now. The night we started doing this, the next morning we were down to eight, the rest of us untouched. The unusual thing about this was not that we were untouched, which was strange, granted, but that the guard was still in the camp. We found him lying on his back, throat ripped out and clothes all bloody. His face was mauled and other various parts appeared as if they had been bitten into, and stranger still, his right thumb was broken completely off.
“Why didn’t we hear him?” said The Leader.
A few more days passed.
“We’ll be to The Other Side in a day.” said The Leader with a strange mix of despair and hope, staring at the last soldier to have his throat pulled from his neck and thumb gone.
We were six. The strange occurrence had happened two more times.
“We can make it tonight if we start immediately.” He continued.
I glanced at my littlest sister. She was bitting her tongue out of anxiety and she was shaking.
I told them we needed to go, my voice breaking several times. I needed water and food before I went insane. I almost couldn’t go any longer.
It was now midday. A large hill was before us, and over it was The Other Side.
It began to rain.
“Look!” One of the two remaining soldiers yelled.
He was pointing behind us, away from the hill and The Other Side. We spun to see a huge mass of bodies making their way to us. There were hundreds. Most of them were moving slowly, but a select few began to run and then charge at us.
“Run.” screamed The Leader. They were about a quarter of a mile away and catching up. We were too exhausted.
We sprinted to the hill. It was steep enough so we were almost climbing it, grabbing onto roots and branches from long dead trees.
It began to pour.
I looked back to see how close they were behind us once we just about reached the top. They were still at the bottom. Good, we were able to put some distance between them and us.
I threw my hand over, grasped a half dead tree root and pulled myself up. We had reached the top and I could see The Other Side. Their walls built up high, cannons and turrets mounted on towers, it was the picture of safe and it was no more than two hundred feet away.
The rest of us managed to the top.
The Leader yelled to the gatekeeper to let us in. I could here yelling from behind the walls, but couldn’t hear what it was that they were screaming. I saw the cannons turn to fire at the oncoming horde. They fired, a shot that shook the ground. The Leader’s head was gone. He fell to the ground. The cannon turned again. One of the soldiers yelled. His head was gone.
Why were they shooting at us? Panic rushed through me as the feeling of rescue vanished. I looked at my littlest sister. Her mouth opened and she stuck out her tongue. Her tongue? Why was she… No. It wasn’t a tongue, it was a thumb…
Another shot and the last soldier was gone. We had forgotten to carve our skin.
I looked at her, the rain had washed away the dirt, grime and mud, revealing skin that was falling off. Muscles drooping, and bones visible. The teddy bear fell from her hand, thumb dropped out of her mouth and she hissed at the wall and all its prowess. The older sister did the same. I looked down at my arms and chunks of it were missing. All the hair had fallen off. And my nails were pealing. And I was hungry…

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