Pappy sat in his chair with a book on his lap. The smell of cabbage filled our small apartment as I worked on tonight’s dinner. The work at the nursery had been hard and my fingers ached from pulling weeds, but that was life in the lower city.
“Dinner smells good, sweet pea.” Pappy placed his book on top of the pile of books beside his chair. “How much longer until its done.”
“You can’t rush perfection,” I replied as I took the book I used as a hotplate and set it in the center of the rusted metal table we use for our meals. I couldn’t remember a time when we didn’t sit down at this little rust bucket and enjoy our dinner as a family.
Many families don’t have the opportunity to eat a proper meal, let alone would they have the ability to eat together. Pappy once told me that there was a time when families stuck together, weathered every storm and every trial together as a unit, but that was a long time ago. That was before the revenant. That was a time when humans were favored by God. We were his children and we misbehaved. I guessed the revenant were God’s way of punishing humans for their sins.
“Careful, sweet pea, you don’t want to burn yourself.” Pappy reached over and took the pot of broth from the burner and placed it on the table. Smiling, I plopped myself into my chair and served our meal. It was nice sitting at the table with Pappy. I felt a pain in my chest as I watched Pappy take the first bite of his meal. A tear ran down my cheek as he looked up at me with fogged glasses and a smile on his face.
I hadn’t seen him smile like that in a long time. He looked happy, but he was always. That was before the….
My fingers burned, and I dropped the spoon I had been holding. It fell from my grasp and landed in the bowl of broth sloshing some of the hot liquid onto my arm. I swatted at the hot liquid, but I couldn’t get the burn to stop. It spread from my fingertips up through my arm and into my chest.
The pain was suffocating. I looked over at Pappy in alarm and called out to him to help me, but he didn’t move. Slowly he continued to eat the broth, his smile never fading.
“Help me, Pappy,” I cried. “Help me. It burns.” Pappy took another sip from his broth. His face changed morphing into the face of my enemy. One second Pappy was sitting before me, and then Pappy was gone.
“Why would I help you, my dear wife,” Cassius said as he placed the spoon back into his bowl of broth and picked up the empty glass on the table. “The only way to help you is to drain you.” Cassius stood with a knife in his hand. He quickly closed in on me, before I had a chance to flee. Grabbing my wrist, he sliced through the skin and let the blood drain from my wrist into the glass he was holding beneath.
The fire raged on inside of me. “Release me,” I yelled as I struggled against him. But I couldn’t free myself. My hand was strapped to the chair in the examination room. Cassius walked around the examination chair holding a syringe in his hand.
“I will release you once you have given me what I want,” Cassius replied. I pulled against the straps again, but I wasn’t strong enough to free myself. A laugh at the door pulled my attention. Hadyn stood in the doorway leaning against the door frame with a smirk on his face.
“Hadyn, help me.” I pleaded. He stood straight and walked into the examination room.
“Yes, Hadyn, help my dear wife.” Cassius handed the syringe to Hadyn and took a step back. The whites of Haydn’s icy blue eyes disappeared as he stared down at me. I was helpless. This was it. This was how I was going to die. I thought I had escaped the revenant, but the truth is that I will never escape them.
Hadyn dropped the syringe and leaned down closer to me. His warm breath tickled my neck sending shivers through my spine. “Don’t scream,” he warned. “This is going to hurt.”
I inhaled deeply as his fangs sank into my neck and I was eclipsed into darkness.
“She’s awake,” said an unfamiliar voice. The smells of a burning fire caught my nose. Had I not died? Surely, Hadyn didn’t spare me. “Go get the grand elder and tell the others she is awake.”
Grand elder? Others?
The panic that was starting to build within my chest started to subside, but the burning sensation was still there. Why did it feel like my chest and arms were on fire? If I am not in the tower, then where am I? Prying my eyes open slowly, I stared up at my strange surroundings.
A roof made of fabric supported by the limbs of a tall tree, or rather several trees. The crackle of a fire caught my attention and I turned to search it out.
Trying to sit up in the bed, two hands pushed me back down atop the covers. “Easy there, killer, you are safe here.” My shoulders ached where they had put pressure on them. It felt as if my body had been mauled, torn apart and put back together again. Everything hurt. It was agonizing and took everything within me to keep myself from crying out due to the pain coursing through my body.
“What did you do to me?” I asked the strange man as he took his hands off my shoulders.
“You drank the water from the river, didn’t you?” He asked as he stood and moved to a nearby table. Wiping his hands with a towel, he picks at the plate of food sitting on the table. My stomach grumbled at the sight of the food. It hadn’t been that long ago since I had eaten but it felt like ages. “The river is polluted. It’s not safe to drink. You were lucky you didn’t drink too much, or I would be burying your corpse instead of nursing you to health.”
“What happened? Where am I?”
“I found you sleeping against a tree at the river about a half a day’s walk from here,” he replied as he peeled the skin off a small potato and popped it into his mouth. “Once I realized you weren’t dead, I brought back here. You’re lucky. If the revenant had found you instead of me, you would have been carted off to the city.”
“The city?” I asked. “I just left the city.” He stopped mid-bite, the bit of potato falling from his lips.
“I just left the city.” A fly flew through the air, and he swatted it away before it could fly into his mouth.
A gust of cool air entered the small shelter as an elderly woman dressed in animal skins entered. Her hair was bound atop her head, held up by the knot she had tied it in. She was old, older than Pappy had been before the accident. A necklace of bone hung around her neck and jangled as she neared the bed.
“You escaped the city?” she asked in a hoarse voice. I nodded in response. Her brows furrowed in the middle as she took me in, looking from my head to my toes. “You aren’t as skinny as some of the others that have come before you.”
“There are others?” I asked but then felt embarrassed. Of course, there are others. Humans have been cast from the city for as long as I can remember. Gage and the young girl that lived in my building were the two most recent humans that had been cast from the city walls that I can remember. I can’t imagine what they felt when they were cast outside the walls. I had gone voluntarily, but most don’t get an option to choose. Their plights were decided by the Consulate.
The elder woman sat on the bed next to me and placed her hand on my forehead. “Good. Your fever broke,” she said. Her hand was cold and felt good against the skin of my head. “You should be fine in a few days.” She looked at the man sitting at the table. “Tomas, call Keera and have her look after….” The elder woman focused on me once more. “I didn’t catch your name. What should I call you child?”
“Phoebe,” I replied. “My name is Phoebe.” She nodded before once again addressing Thomas.
“Thomas, have Sara look after Phoebe and make sure no one disturbs her while she recovers.” Tomas stood, leaving his half-empty plate of food on the table and exited the tent. The elder woman stood to leave, the bones around her neck chiming as they bounced off each other.
“Excuse me,” I said before she could leave. “But where am I?”
“You are in Deliverance,” she replied without turning to face me. “This is one of the last human settlements in the south.”
Deliverance? Human settlements? I had never heard that humans were living in settlements outside the city. Cannibals. I had heard cannibals but not other humans, nor humans living in settlements. I went to ask her about it, but she had left.
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