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We are the Monsters Chapter two Part three The People of Carrol

By the time Cleo had changed and cleaned up, the whole of Carrol was awake and heading out to their jobs. Keeping her distance from the inhabitants wasn’t a challenge. Most of everyone who lived here gave Cleo a wide berth, either out of respect or fear, she couldn’t decide.

The red brick, two story former high school was the center piece of Carrol and where the community got its namesake. The entire downstairs had been converted into a hospital, nursing home, and daycare for the few residents that needed round the clock care. Dr. Temult, greeting Cleo warmly as she ascended the stairs two at a time, was sent here in the beginning when the hospitals failed. With him, he brought a truck load of equipment and supplies as well as an attitude full of vigor only an ER doctor could possess. Now his dark hair was peppered with silver and grey while lines bordered his tired eyes.

He had stayed with her during the first days she and Evin had arrived, curious about the change. When the days turned into weeks and her condition improved, showing no sign the virus was winning, he excitedly ran a number of tests on her. With what he had available Doc was able to announce that Cleo was as normal as everyone else. Minus the physical changes, Cleo was still human.

Doc was one of the few people in the community that didn’t cross the street to avoid her or leave the market stalls when she arrived. In fact, he had an annoying tendency to gravitate towards her, loaded with questions and a clipboard. The only other person as curious as him was the Professor. While Docs questions leaned toward her own abilities, Professor Thorm asked about the state of the zombies and the world at large.

Once all the residents had moved out into the apartments, Thorm went to work transforming the upstairs into a fully functional library. Three rooms had been preserved for classes, but the majority became the last standing archive of humanity. Immensely proud of his work, Thorm was a stickler for rules. No open flame, no taking books from the library, must sign in and out with the desk clerk, no food or drink, no loud voices, no everything that might damage the library or disturb the peace of his inner sanctum.

A light flooded out into the darkened hallway from one of the classrooms. Creeping across the light linoleum floor, Cleo saw a hand written sign on the propped open-door reading ‘Benji Wu Survival 101’. Stepping into the doorway, she saw a younger light brown skinned man with short, tightly curled brown hair, and a slight pull to his eyes turn towards his class of six students.

On the board behind him ‘the five rules of survival in the wastes’ was written in all capital letters. Two fingers, dusted in chalk, landed next to the number one spot. Left blank, he looked to the class then to Cleo.

“And finally, we find ourselves at the most important rule. Can anyone take a guess what it might be?” His eyes lingered on Cleo in the doorway, a slight crook of a smile pulling up the corner of his mouth. All six students sat quietly, glancing at one another when one mousy looking girl, no older than twelve, held up her hand.

“Don’t kill the living?” A tremor to her voice shook the words right off her lips.

“That is the rule of the land, which we will cover upon my return. Perhaps, our fearless messenger could answer this question for us? What do you think is the most important rule of survival beyond our walls, Ms. Tanner?”

Six pairs of eyes turned towards her, a mix of awe and curiosity on their faces. None of them shifted away from her or showed any fear as she glanced at each of them in turn. This was the future of Carrol, these six kids. Clearing her throat, Cleo spoke loudly, addressing the class.

“No matter what you think or how much you prepare, there is never a moment outside those walls where you should believe you are safe.”

One kid, a boy in his late teens, smiled coldly. A soft chuckle escaping his lips. Cleo ignored him, grinding her teeth. Benji had turned to write the words ‘vigilance at all times’ next to number one, missing the snide look on the boy’s face.

“Too many of us have fallen because we became complacent outside these walls. Dropping your guard, even just for a second, can be the tipping point between life and death.” He said. “And not just for you. It could be a team member that pays the price for your complacency.”

“Not for her.” The teenage boy interrupted him.

“Excuse me?” Cleo snapped, but Benji held up his hand and addressed the boy.

“Speak your mind, Trevor.” Benji said, no trace of a smile on his face, his voice hard around the edges but still encouraging.

“Well, she’s bitten, right? Why do we even need to go out there anymore when those things don’t even bother her. She could walk straight through a crowd of them no problem. Why do we still send our people outside the walls when she could just do it for us and save us the hassle of losing those we love?” Trever said, slinking back in his chair, gesturing with the pencil in his hand.

Cleo recognized him as being the brother to Jordan Thomas who had died in the field several months ago. The funeral was, as always, was the hardest part. Not just because losing someone was difficult. But the way people looked at her after was a constant reminder of her difference.

“Am I mistaken, Cleo? Do the dead bother you or are you some kind of present-day Moses parting the dead sea?” Benji asked her, his voice remaining calm, his eyes never leaving Trevor. The kid cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter under Benji’s gaze, but kept twirling his pencil.

“My mom said… She said… that…” It was the girl who had answered first. It was like her teeth were a dam and the words a river. Benji calmly looked to her, encouraging her to speak. “She said that Cleo, uh, Ms. Tanner, is very brave for going out there alone. Traveling for days, even weeks, to bring us information from other settlements. It would be too much for one of us, but for Ms. Tanner, it’s a sacrifice to keep us close to home.”

“And with as much scavenging we need to do, it would be too much for one person. I believe Ms. Tanner helped set up the safe routes early on in Carrols history, is that right?” Benji leaned against the desk. “You and Evin showed up, what, a year after Carrol was established? You’ve been here longer than most of us.”

The attention on her made her skin crawl. Swallowing hard, she glanced around at the students. All but Trevor looked to her with curiosity, waiting for her to speak. It was odd to have someone defend her, especially a stranger. Cleo avoided any kind of familiarity with anyone besides Babel, Evin, and recently Professor Thorm to avoid conflict. Everyone was going to have their opinions. Unconsciously crossing her arms, her thumb found the bite mark hidden beneath her clothes, rubbing it like a worry stone.

“Ms. Tanner is a blessing to this community. We were in a poor state when she and her sister arrived on our doorstep.” Professor Thorm addressed the class next to Cleo, his thick English accent dominating the room. “Many of us were too afraid to step outside these walls, to brave the surrounding area just to find supplies. She encouraged us and gave us the strength to fight for our survival.

“And because of her time, and others, spent in the wastes, we are capable of making these innovations to our community. Making us stronger. Safer. Able to survive. A problem this size requires several sets of eyes and experiences to solve.

“If I were you and every other citizen of this community, I’d be thanking her for the dangers she puts herself through developing ties to other communities. A task she volunteered for; I might add.” His thick silver grey brows knitted together as his eyes landed on Trevor. The boy shrunk in on himself as Thorm twisted the end of his mustache with a slight flourish. “Now, if you will excuse us, Ms. Tanner and I have business. I expect this classroom to be clean when I return to inspect it after you are finished, Mr. Wu.”

Thorm pulled Cleo from the room, all eyes following their exit. Only the sound of Benji’s voice fading and the soft squeak of their shoes echoing down the hall filled the void between them. The professor adjusted his tweed jacket, fraying around the edges but otherwise in great condition. A small pair of glasses bounced lightly against his chest as he hurried to keep up with Cleo’s gait. He was a short man, maybe 5’3 or 5’4, but what he lacked in stature he made up for in presence.

“I swear, some people need an attitude adjustment. They’ve no right to treat you that way, M’dear.” He said, leading them into his office. “If they knew what you’ve done for us, well, they wouldn’t so callous.”

The only new addition to this space since he was a teacher here was a small bed pressed into one corner. The walls were covered in book shelves of old, delicate tomes and a slew of private romance novels. Bustling over to one corner, he carefully lit a camp stove to heat up some water. Only he was allowed to have open flame within the library, but even then he was exceptionally careful. Crossing to his chair, his eyes darted to the open flame constantly.

“They have every right to be callous towards me.” Cleo sighed, flopping down into an armchair, rubbing her hand across her eyes.

“Nonsense. Now, on to more pressing matters.” He shifted in his seat, placed his glasses on the edge of his nose, pulling a yellow legal pad from one of the drawers. Glancing up, he sighed. “Ms. Tanner. Don’t let their prejudices against you get you down. They don’t see what you do. And if they do, they are certainly taking it for granted.”

“I think the dead are eating each other.” She blurted out, not wanting to continue that conversation. Thorm’s bushy grey brows practically disappeared in the wild mane of his equally grey hair.

“Are you certain?” He asked, scribbling down notes. “Did you witness this event?”

“I only saw the aftermath.”

“And you’re sure it was a fellow zombie they ate and not a living person?”

No one knew about Albert and company, and if the community knew that she had kept them as some sort of sick welcoming committee, it would reinforce their fear of her. But Thorm wasn’t the masses. This information needed to be researched and understood. So, she told him everything. How she had trapped them when setting up her safe route, how she recorded their movements and behaviors, how it was because of this particular group they figured out the dead weren’t decaying. The only thing she didn’t tell him was their names. That was too personal. That was hers to keep.

“And you suspect they consumed the oldest one. Hmm, is this group still trapped? Can you entice them to attack another? Maybe witness this event first hand?”

“No, I. They’re dead. Well, deader.” She sighed, crossing her arms over the place in her chest that began to hurt when she spoke about them. It was stupid to mourn their second death, but a piece of her was sad, knowing they wouldn’t be there to welcome her home anymore. “They’re still not decaying, Professor. Shouldn’t they be falling apart by now?”

“It’s been five years, give or take, since the onslaught. I doubt very much they will ever truly decay.” His eyes found her over the thin frames of his dollar store reading glasses. “Is this something you’re worried about with your… Unique condition?”

“No. I don’t… No.” Her arms wrapped around her torso, slinking further down into her chair.

Thorm was the only one she had expressed any kind of concern or worry that maybe she was more like the dead than the living. He had listened patiently, taking notes while she talked. Only concern pinched his face together, never judgement. He considered Cleo as one of the most important relics of the history they lived in. Though his kindness towards her felt foreign, she allowed it since she blurted out I’m scared and he didn’t laugh or cajole her.

“You are not one of them, Cleo.” He said, quietly, picking up on her sudden change of emotion. “You are one of us. Always have been. I will ask Shay if there is a team that might be able to replicate this data, I don’t want you to worry yourself over it.”

She tried to protest, but Thorm stood firm. Reassuring she had done everything she could and asked for the written documents she had created of her observations. Making a mental note to rewrite the entire journal to hide how far she had taken her experiment, she agreed to bring it to him.

“How is Evin doing here?” Cleo asked.

“She’s wonderful. Thank you for the recommendation. I was a bit leery taking on one as young as her, but you taught her well. She’s respectful, listens to detail, mindful of the knowledge kept within these stacks, helped me integrate a new system of organization that doesn’t require moving all the books around every time a new shipment comes in.”

Thorm handed her a steaming cup of tea while he talked, reminding her of the box of tea she had found for him. A personal request not brought to Yan’s attention, an act likely to put Cleo on her shit list if Yan ever found out. Pulling the yellow box with a black band at the top and a bright red rose in one corner from her pocket. Wincing slightly at how crumpled it got, she handed it to him.

“Ah-ha! You found it!” A wide smile splitting his mustache into an elegant arc across his cheeks.

“Is it really that good you’d risk my life to get it?”

Thorm chuckled, tearing into the thin cardboard. “Risk your life? I thought you ‘parted the dead sea like some modern Moses?’ No, this tea is absolutely atrocious. No no no. I am only after this.”

With a flourish, he produced a small bag, removing from within a tiny figurine made of painted plaster no bigger than the end of his thumb.

“Another wolf. Drat. Here, you keep this one.” He tossed the small blueish green figure towards her, discarding the box of tea into a trashcan next to his desk. Cleo collected the tea as a way of a silent apology to Yan for going behind her back and pocketed it.

“All of that for this?” She held up the small wolf, if you could call its poorly modeled form a wolf at all. “Why?”

“For the thrill of collecting, Ms. Tanner. Now, I do believe the younger Miss. Tanner will be arriving shortly. If you don’t wish for her to know of our involvement, I suggest you exit down the back stairs.” He winked at her conspiratorially.

“You’ll keep on her?” She asked, Thorm answering with a nod. “Try to make her job more fulfilling or exciting. Find tasks that are less tedious and boring.”

“You know, if you really wanted her to stick around here and not follow in your footsteps, perhaps you should shift some of your duties onto the shoulders of others and actually stay here for longer than an afternoon.” He leveled her with an intent stare, a slight smile peeking out from under his thick mustache.

She went to answer, but he waved a hand at her, returning to the notes he took during their discussion, dismissing her. Despite his frothy nature, Cleo genuinely liked Thorm. He was not only kind in his own way, but saw people for who they were. Often reading them like a book and not afraid to tell someone off for misconduct. Though she feared him advocating for her in the long run. Slipping out the door and through the stacks, she watched Evin’s turquois colored ponytail bob over the shelves towards Thorm’s office.


Published by Lady Storm

I am a spiritual practitioner that has walked many different paths. Some could call me a jack of all trades when it comes to belief systems. While I don't hold all the answers, I hold many tools that will help unearth answers to questions anyone may have.

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