By the Shores of Time
“We’re running out of space,” Elizabeth sighed, setting down her pen on a booked ledger.
She glanced over at Victoria, having thrown in another deranged survivor with the help of her comrades. Her knuckles were bloodied after the lengthy cost of subduing one person. The lieutenant turned toward the deranged man, his bloodied mouth brandishing his stained teeth. The nurse looked down the line of cells, hearing its captive’s belligerence. She wondered how Celeste was doing, having spent her entire day noting their mental health from the safety of the security room.
“It would be better to put them down,” she noted, gauging the head nurse’s reaction.
“That would piss off a lot of people,” the nurse winced tiredly.
“But they’re showing symptoms, aren’t they? Rambling, aggressive behavior, confusion—Chances are one of them killed those folks on the second floor.”
“Then why is Greg still locked up in here with them.”
“He hasn’t given me the answers I wanted.”
“Wanted? He hardly leaves his little lab… And one of these days he’s going to have a bad infection. Let him go already.”
“You can treat his wounds while you’re here,” Victoria ignored her plea before hopping on the elevator.
They exchanged glances as the creaky doors closed. Elizabeth feared Victoria became the thing she fought against when they ousted Alex from leadership. Those who were behind bars were his loyalists, suspicious under normal circumstances, but this wasn’t one of them.
“Ms. McDaniel,” the guard awaited next to her door.
“Y—yeah, sorry,” she replied, regaining her focus.
The armed soldier guided her down the dimly lit corridor. The overwhelming stench of defecation nauseated her as she held her breath through most of the walk. They remained in their corners, mumbling incoherently. She noted the emaciated appearances among many who ignored their little scraps of now-spoiled food provided over the course of a few days. Dry blood painted their mutilated skin, revealing their mental degradation. They were deemed too dangerous to approach, according to Greg.
With those who were still able to interact with her, she was met with a hurl of unsavory comments and reaching hands. The tension lingered even though they were behind sturdy metal bars weren’t enough to make her at ease. When they arrived at the scientist’s cell, his glazed eyes shone under the bright light. His cell also served as an interrogation room, one left with dried blood and glistening sweat throughout. She sat across him, noting his swollen, grizzled face with a weak gasp. The bags under his eyes darkened from sleepless nights. The bruises covered his once pale face, leaving discoloration throughout.
“Greg?” she spoke soothingly as she held his hand. “Dear god—”
“God—” he muttered as their eyes met. “He’s not here. Only devils.”
His intense gaze came with trembling hands. Having been left within the confines of the mad, it seemed that he was fighting off the spreading influence. She glimpsed missing fingernails dried with a layer of fresh blood. The nurse couldn’t comprehend the level of cruelty the lieutenant willfully carried out.
“You gotta get me out of here,” he whispered, glimpsing the guard. “It’s spreading.”
“What’s spreading?” she questioned.
“Look around us. It’s all coming apart. I keep telling her, but she won’t listen!”
“A lot—Is going on, Greg. We’re low on food, supplies, and everyone’s on edge.”
“Ms. McDaniel, you’re not one for things to just go by unnoticed, not willingly.”
A prisoner rattled against his bars while trying to reach for her ponytail. Elizabeth shifted herself closer to the wounded scientist. She met the eyes of a mad man as scrawny as his peers. His eyes were filled with derangement and hate. The guard slammed his rifle repeatedly, shattering the captive’s forearm before they slipped back into the darkness. He nodded at the nurse as he walked back into the hall, unphased by what he’d done. The nurse began cleaning his wounds, wiping layers of blood. After mending his exposed flesh with bandages, she remained a little longer to talk to him.
“So, what happened?” she questioned. “About the knife?”
“Like I told her, I found it when I woke up,” he answered. “I didn’t know what happened until she barged into my lab. Perhaps I should’ve stayed away when I saw it.”
“You should’ve come out first thing.”
“Come on, does it look like I have it in me to kill anyone?”
She kept her lips sealed upon seeing his desperate plea.
“And what of the priest?” he remarked.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged.
“And you would think he’d be stuck here down with me. We’re both on the extremes of… perspectives?”
“Yeah, I don’t think it would be wise talking about this with—”
“I don’t care if he reports to her! I care about the truth of the matter. This is a manufactured witch hunt!”
“But, playing politics at the end of the world? What’s the point then?”
“Look, I’m just the nurse—” she shook her head. “I’m not here to take sides.”
“Not taking a side is taking a side! We’re making the same mistake we did with Alex.”
“Look,” she massaged her forehead, annoyed by his insistence. “I’ll see if I can talk to her, but it’s gonna take more than me to take you out.”
“I mean, sure, he could vouch for you. The problem is we have no leads on who did it. She’s keeping you here for that reason. We can’t trust you being out there and—”
“Why?” he seethed, slamming his fists on the table. “Why exactly can’t I be trusted, after everything I’ve done? How the hell would it benefit me to do it?”
Elizabeth halted the approaching guard, looking over to assure him his rifle butt wouldn’t be necessary. It was unlike the scientist to have outbursts, but it was enough to persuade her of the serious nature of his claim.
“Take a deep breath,” she responded. “Don’t want the big guy to beat the crap outta you.”
Greg nodded begrudgingly after taking a deep breath. He eased his tension, looking at her with concerned eyes.
“Just hang in there,” she continued. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Please,” he whispered. “There isn’t much time.”
She nodded silently, heeding his warning. The grave tone left a strange sensation swelling in her chest. Indeed, nothing was going right, everything seemed to reach its breaking point. The maniacal laughter overlapped the muffled weeping, creating a symphony of doom. The atmosphere filled her with dread as she walked through the darkness.
* * * * *
Later that day…
A single gunshot echoed into the forest as a body dropped. The bullet ripped off much of its skull, spilling out brain matter against the withered tree near it. The reflective light disappeared into the gray layering. Victoria sniped over a dozen infected from various ranges; One of many ways she relieved stress. She flicked her cigarette off the roof upon hearing the familiar footsteps shuffling from the stairs. A tired smile crawled along her face as she turned to see Nathanial.
“If it isn’t the hermit,” she mocked.
“Victoria, I have to ask you to release those prisoners,” he demanded, seeing her bemused reaction.
“A bold hermit at that. What’d you do, meditate and grow a pair?”
The priest winced as she held her smug smile. Setting aside the rifle, she took another cigarette from her vest pocket. Nathanial walked along the edge, glimpsing silhouettes of the infected laid within the misty terrain. Sorrow permeated his jarred expression before turning toward the sniper.
“Is this what you do to ease your stress?” he continued.
“Yes,” she replied before looking down her scope. “Is there a problem?”
Her sights trained on an infected between a pair of rotting trees. With the dense fog, it made for a hard target, but a little challenge is all she asked. As she placed the rifle’s butt against her shoulder, she steadied before pulling the trigger. Her grip held the gun in place while the recoil took its toll. The grimace marked her satisfaction after glancing toward him again.
“And you’re kinda intruding on that stress relief,” she said.
“They’re still people,” he argued without a tone.
“Are we talking about the prisoners or those things out there? If you’d like, you can go out there with them. Maybe you can civilize them—”
“Lt. Salazar, don’t—”
“Don’t what? Make a mockery of whatever you’re about to suggest. Remember the only reason you and Greg aren’t bunk buddies is because I can’t afford to lose control here.”
“Is that it? Control?”
The lieutenant scoffed, resting the weapon to her side as she faced the barren rooftop with all but her snipers patrolling the roof. Over time it became layered by a strange ash-like substance. No matter where she looked it was an endless sea of fog.
“Let me tell you a story about my time as a guerilla,” she glanced over. “I used to be part of a left-wing guerilla movement in Colombia. Between government patrols and non-compliant citizens, you can imagine how difficult it was to gain a foothold. The moment we did, it looked like the town was on our side, but we came to find out the local mayor was in cahoots with the government.”
“What are you trying to say?” the priest interrupted.
“Well, it didn’t end up too well for the townsfolk. One late night the government forces unleashed mortar strikes which ended up killing more civilians than it did the intended targets. All for what?”
Victoria chuckled, choking after inhaling the smoke. Nathanial watched, seemingly indifferent to her story. She noted his cold reaction, expecting a smidgen of humanity from the holy man. His weeks of isolation and self-reflection showed, having emerged an uneasy presence within the dwindling precinct.
“When we ransacked his office that night,” she concluded. “We discovered he coordinated with the government prior to our arrival. The people… Didn’t know any better. No, they went along with what he said, believing his message of better opportunities. Like an unassuming pueblo would ever be something the government would care for. He died a dog’s death, may I add. We beat him but he got away. Oh, the irony—When he reached the town’s edge he was shot, anyway by his collaborators. His bullet-ridden body was found when we made our escape.”
“What does this have to do with what’s going on?”
“Trust—Can’t always be certain. Where is our allegiance in all this? You’re only walking around because I know where to draw the line. But don’t be mistaken, I have my eye on you.”
“Is that a threat?”
“A threat? No need. I’ve got my brand of order, but what do you have?”
“Right, but how many of them will side with you in the end? It’s just like the mayor, who sided with the government over the welfare of his people. Greed, self-preservation… things inherent in human nature. There’s no way for me to take your word on anything at this point.”
“So, who is the mayor in this situation?” he questioned.
She flashed a smile, one appropriate for his response.
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