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Date Posted: 16:39:42 06/19/23 Mon
Author: Comicality
Subject: (Chapter 27)
In reply to: Comicality 's message, "(S) "Shelter 27 - Moments Of Clarity"" on 19:37:43 06/16/23 Fri

"Shelter 27"

It was such an uneasy feeling...not knowing who I could trust or if I’d even be able to comfortably sleep at night knowing that any one of the teenagers in this building was possibly a predator in disguise. That, at any moment, they could suddenly switch over and become one of those mindless monsters outside. Any mood, any random emotion, any trigger set off in a moment of anger...could somehow destroy us all and have this temporary shelter collapse in on us without our knowledge.

Nothing can prepare you for it. Puberty is so random, so powerful, that the line between an adorable kid and a fully capable threat can become so blurred that it barely exists at all. But it’s always been a pretty harmless transition up until now. An annoyance at best. What happens when that fluctuating and sudden change actually becomes a real problem for the rest of us?

Needless to say...my short conversation with Spencer after his questionable behavior took a hold of him...wasn’t enough to convince me that he was, like...ok. You know?

At this point, any one of us could suddenly change. Me included. Or maybe Donovan...or Preston...or Walker. How do we know who the enemy is and who isn’t until it’s too late to do anything about it?

I don’t know it just...it feels like the walls are beginning to close in on us now. And when the caravan of survivors get here from Hillside’s massacre...I can only imagine that tensions will rise and things are liable to get even worse as paranoia reaches an all time high and we begin looking at one another as savage murderers in the making.

I noticed a bit of commotion coming from the left of me, and I witnessed the rather odd sight of Donovan asking Stephen is he was ok, reaching out his hands in a way that made it look like he was trying to comfort or soothe him in some way. Asking if he was ok or if he had been hurt or frightened by what had just happened. But Stephen just backed away from him and kept brushing Donovan’s hands off of his shoulders, completely rejecting his sincere efforts to comfort him. “No. Stop it. I don’t want you to touch me. I don’t need you to touch me.” Stephen said, causing Donovan to back off a little bit.

“I just wanted to know if you were ok. What am I doing wrong here?” He asked.

“You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t do anything at all. That’s the problem.” Stephen said, his eyes misting up again. “You played me for a sucker and you left me behind.”

“Left you behind? Dude, are you kidding me right now?” Donovan sounded almost hurt by the accusation. “We were just...doing what we always did. It’s not like I deliberately ran off and tried to escape at the sake of your own life. What are the odds that a sudden zombie outbreak was going to happen and trap us all. Everybody had to fight to survive, Stephen. Not just you. And not just because I left you behind...”

“All I know is that I found myself all alone in the end of it all. ALONE! And despite you constantly keeping me at arm’s length all the time...the first thing that I worried about was whether or not you were ok. How ridiculous is that?”

“Stephen...dude, you sound crazy right now...”

But Stephen pushed Donovan back another step, his short blond hair and pretty face twisted up with aggression and disappointment, and he said, “All I know is that when I felt like I needed somebody...there was nobody there. My dad had to fight through hell to get to me...just to make sure that I was safe. What did you do? Huh?” He sniffled. Donovan seemed so confused, and to be honest...I can’t say that I blamed him. What did Stephen want him to do about the outbreak? It’s not like he could take on the whole city at once. That’s just not humanly possible. But as Stephen continued...I think I was beginning to understand that whatever it was that he was talking about...it ran much deeper and much further back than anything that I could really understand. “All this time...all I could do was think about you. Thinking that if I just made enough of an effort...you’d think about me too. I kept trying Donovan. I really did. But all you know how to do is get what you came for and think about yourself. Well, I’m don being ‘useful’.” Stephen had tears rolling down his cheeks now. “If I’m not performing for you or giving you what you want...you can’t even be bothered to talk to me. It’s like I don’t exist outside of your need for free entertainment. And then it’s like, ‘Oh, hey! Guess who! Here I am again, I was thinking about you, Stephen.’ But you weren’t, were you? You were just looking for more reasons to find me worthy of your attention again. And it’s just a game that I don’t want to play anymore. I deserve better than that after everything I’ve given you.”

I think I was starting to see what was going on here. Two boys don’t engage in a conversation like this unless...

Donovan’s head turned towards me, and despite him being clearly hurt by all this, he flashed me a nasty look to basically tell me to mind my own business. And Stephen’s head turned to see me overhearing their conversation as well. Donovan directed his eyes down to the floor, his fingers running through the dark curls on his head, and he mumbled, “You’ve got this all wrong. Ok? Can we just talk about this later? Just you and me?”

Stephen let out an insulted chuckle as he scoffed at Donovan’s refusal to speak. “Don’t bother. There’s nothing left to talk about.” He said. “Go back to your pretend life. Don’t stay out in the open for my sake. I stopped caring weeks ago.” And with that, Stephen wiped his eyes and walked back down the hall to the infirmary to check on his dad again, making sure that he was alright.

Donovan didn’t even look at me a second time. He just sort of shuffled off to go be by himself for a while. I know that I hadn’t known him for very long...but something about his current demeanor was so far off from what I was used to seeing from him. Tough guy exterior aside, I could have told you that Donovan definitely had a sensitive heart in there somewhere. But this was a whole different level of loneliness that I had never seen from him before. He didn’t really seem like the kind of guy to get ‘hurt’ in these situations.

I know that Stephen appeared to be a year, maybe two years, younger than Donovan was, but...I mean...did the two of them have something going before all of civilization took a serious left turn? Because that’s what it sounds like to me. Weird. Donovan being involved with another boy. I never would have bet money on seeing something like that happen! I guess you learn something new every day.

As the soldiers around us worked to clear us all out of the hallway, a few of them bagging up the bodies and being forced to drag them past us to take outside, I suddenly became aware of the fact that I had become utterly desensitized to this sort of thing. I mean...you’d think that it would take years in a foxhole during times of war before your mind switched over to the idea that any of this was ‘normal’, but to be honest...it didn’t take that long at all. My mind was so overwhelmed by the fear and carnage of it all that my survival instincts had numbed themselves to the acts of body disposal as if it was as simple as taking the garbage can to the curb on trash day. Such horrors should never become mundane, and you never really prepare yourself for the day when it would be. But...

...There are moments...

...Little moments of clarity...where you see something like that and you realize the loathsome dismissal that you’ve become a part of. Where you hear that little voice in your head actually saying, ‘Well...I guess it’s just another few bodies for the fire.’...and you begin to understand that you’ve accepted the madness when you should have been fucking freaking OUT about it! There was a time, not long ago, when I would have. But not anymore. Dead bodies don’t freak me out anymore. It makes me wonder...

...Where did that part of me go? And is he ever coming back? Or is that just a part of my innocence that’s just been lost forever?

As I walked away to be by myself for a few minutes, I felt this weird anxiety swelling up in my chest. It was almost like a big enough bubble in my chest to keep me from breathing. I started thinking about Stephen and how much he was worried about his dad. Then I thought about his mom being bitten at work and having to have been put down. I thought about the high school boys in the hallway, and Alex trying desperately to get in touch with his own parents without any luck. And something about it just hit me. Like...all of a sudden, without warning. I know that Cain kept telling me that my mom and dad would be ok and that they’d certainly be meeting up with us again as soon as a caravan could bring them to the shelter...but, I’m starting to think that I was desensitized to that part of the equation too. Another moment of clarity that was certain to do my turbulent emotions more harm than good if I dared to dwell on them for too long.

I think Walker and Eddie could tell that I was growing increasingly disturbed just from the look on my face alone...but decided not to say anything about it as I looked them in the eyes and passed by them in the hallway. Probably for the best, because I hardly doubted that I’d know what what to say anyway.

Eddie had lost his older brother to what was going on outside. Walker...his parents. Stephen was struggling with the fact that the only family he had left was his dad...who was struggling with his own survival at the moment. Donovan lost his brother and his father, Spencer’s dad was out on a survival run for the sake of the rest of us...and Alex...my precious Alex...as much as he tries to hide it, he was worried about his own parents too. I’ve seen him slumped down, on the verge of tears, when he thinks I’m not watching. But I am. I cant help but to watch him. His beauty is so captivating...even when he cries.

It was this that weighed so heavily on my heart as I found my way back to the cafeteria and walked over to a quiet spot by the window to see the flickering light of dead bodies being set on fire slightly off in the distance. The high school football field ablaze with the carcasses of those who didn’t make it out of this tragedy alive. And...as I watched them burn...I began to wonder if I would be one of those bodies someday in the near future. If I would be one of those corpses that just became another log in the fire. Or maybe my brother. Or maybe...even Alex...if I don’t fight with everything I have to keep him safe. How ‘desensitized’ would I be when I woke up to the fact that the whole world has gone to shit...and everybody that I personally loved and cared about...was burned down to ashes right in front of me?

“What’s up?” Came a slightly high pitched voice over my shoulder, startling me a bit as I didn’t expect to hear it while I was lost in my own thoughts. I jumped a little and turned to see Preston jump back a little in response. “I’m sorry. Did I scare you?”

“No, I just...I didn’t see you.” I replied.

“Oh. Ok.” He said. “Sorry.” He moved closer to the window and stood right beside me. “I heard they gunned down some zombies in the hallway. Soldiers are questioning everybody to see how the might have gotten in here. I’m keeping away from them because they might find a reason to give me another shot. Plus, I don’t even know this place like other people do. I doubt I could be much help, anyways.” He peered out of the window, and said, “I can’t even imagine what that must smell like. Burning all those dead people. That’s prolly why they wear all of those masks and stuff, eh?”

“Yeah. Probably.” I said softly.

“I wish my mom was here. Whenever I was feeling sad...she’d make a batch of blueberry muffins. And we’d cut them open, right down the center, and add some extra butter...and, like, the butter would make the flavor of the sugar bread and the blueberries taste sooooo much better! They were...they were so awesome.” There was a brief, but sad pause in Preston’s conversation. Almost as if he was feeling what I was feeling at that moment. “I sure wish I had some of my mom’s blueberry muffins right now. They’d make me feel good. It’s almost like I can taste them right now.”

Feeling the emotion choke me up a little bit, I asked him, “Do you think...she made it out? Maybe to a shelter of her own, wherever she is?”

Despite Preston’s usual upbeat personality, I could clearly notice a concerned and almost disturbed look wash over him, his face getting much more serious from the mere question of the fact that maybe she didn’t. “Ummm...I dunno. I think so.” He mumbled softly. “My mom is great. She prolly...like...found a way.” He said. “...Maybe...”

I felt bad for ruining his mood, and I told him, “I’m sure she did. Somehow.”

“Yeah...” He sniffled sadly. “The world would be a messed up place if there was no more blueberry muffins, right?” He said, and turned his attention back to the window to watch the military folks toss more lifeless bodies onto the fire. “She didn’t want me to go, you know? To public school. She thought I was gonna get my brain all messed up and not know up from down.” He said. “But...I wanted friends, Jake. I wanted to learn and to live and to see ‘life’. It took a lot of convincing, but she finally let me go. And you know what? I really really loved it. The good parts, AND the bad. I just wanted to be a part of the world that existed outside of my house and my front and back yards. She gave me a chance to finally experience life for myself...and I loved it.” Then I saw a stray tear roll down Preston’s smooth cheek, and I put my hand on his shoulder to comfort him. “I just don’t want to think about the fact that she might have been hurt...and I wasn’t there to help her out. I don’t want to imagine a world without my mom’s blueberry muffins. You know?”

“I totally understand.” I said. But sympathizing with his current mood, I felt compelled to say, “I’m sure your mom is fine, Preston. Just look around us, a lot of people survived and we’re all just starting to figure things out again.”

Preston wiped his tears away on the back of his arm, whimpering, “Yeah. She probably did. I’m sure of it.” And he said, “If I saw any zombies in this school, I’d fight them and make them extinct. I swear.” He was quietly sobbing when he said it, but it was so cute that it made me smile regardless.

“Extinct, huh?” I giggled, holding back a few sobs of my own.

“Yeah. For sure.” He said. “If a zombie tries to run up and bite me, I’d be like BLAM! I’d kick him right in the worm!”

I laughed out loud. “In the WORM?”

“Yeah! You know...right in the pickle!” Then he lowered his voice and whispered, “In his penis and junk below it.” Which only made me laugh again. Leave it to fucking Preston to lighten my mood a little bit during the zombie apocalypse. “What? For real! No joking!”

“I totally believe you, Pres!”

“I don’t even know if zombies have pickles...but that’s what I’m going with. Unless it’s a girl zombie. Then...I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to punch her in the tit or something...”

I laughed out loud again, holding on to Preston’s shoulder to keep my balance. And when he asked me what I was laughing at...literally confused because he had no idea how utterly adorable he was...I just told him, “No...I simply think that your strategy for fighting off members of the cannibal undead is a very good strategy, indeed.”

“You think so?” He said, eyes widening and totally involved in believing the compliment. “Cool!”

I think it did as much to soothe Preston’s nerves as it did my own. And, I don’t know...I felt really good about that. It would seriously break my heart in two if I had to see Preston cry actual tears in front of me over his mom. I mean...maybe he’s just trying to live in an alternate reality just like I am...pretending that everything is ok. But the truth is...it’s NOT ok. Far from it.

I just witnessed a group of high school kids get mercilessly gunned down, shot to pieces, and dragged out to my high school football field to be incinerated like a plague of rats...and it’s getting harder and harder for me to ‘feel’ anything in response. And there’s a part of me that is happy that my emotions have adapted to the horror going on all around me, and the threat of more horrors to come...

...But there’s another part of me that fears what this sudden horror is turning me into. And I’m ashamed for not treating this tragedy with the level of gravitas that it deserves.

I’m feeling lost here. And as Preston and I looked back out of that window, seeing the soldiers in Hazmat suits now burning the corpses of the teenagers that I had just seen in the hallway only moments before...teens with lives, with dreams, with entire futures ahead of them before the outbreak...I began to feel the anxiety swelling in my chest all over again.

It was soothing to have Preston hold my hand and lean his head on my shoulder...but it only caused my thoughts to take a downward spiral into the bottomless pit of doubt and displacement. What if my parent’s weren’t ok? What if I never got the chance to see them again?

Like Walker, visions of my mom being bitten by one of these things...having her flesh and muscle torn from her arms, or her legs...the idea of my father being overwhelmed by the outbreak and unable to fight them off...no matter how hard he tried...it just gutted me in a way that I couldn’t really explain if I tried.

Am I alone? Just me and Cain...are we all that’s left of our family?

And now that we might have a breach...should we escape? After this major invasion...security is only going to get more and more strict, and harder to bypass.

Maybe it is time to leave. Our very survival may depend on it.

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