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Turn

Katy wakes up, blanket and sheets soaked in sweat. Yet, she is shivering, feeling no warmth at all in her body. A touch to her wet forehead, and she feels she is burning up, her bodies futile effort to fight off the infection. She closed her eyes tightly, till stars exploded in the dark. She was doomed. There was no way around it.

She got out of bed, got in the shower, shivering even in almost scoldingly hot water. She was starting to shake again, and her muscles felt stretched and stiff. She still had to go to work, despite what was coming. She head no choice. The rent was do, and the bank was breathing down her neck, and she couldn’t just lay down and die. She wanted to, to just put herself away. And she would never, in the time left, get out from under it. Maybe a week left. Maybe a week and a half. And then, her debt, her obligations would pass on to her brother. The cycle endless, even in death.

She dressed in her maintenance worker uniform for one of the tony stores out in Turkey Creek, her job to keep everything running smoothly for the rich and haughty people there to throw around their riches and expect to be treated like royalty. They’d stare down there noses at her, a lowly servant basically, even if she wasn’t infected.

The TV in her tiny living room played the local morning news, now starting at 4 A.M., when she was getting up. A blandly pretty blonde talked about an upcoming celebrity wedding. She drank her bitter, black coffee as the blonde prattled on about how amazing the couple were, trying to sell everyone on way this was so exciting. All while the country sank into ruin, and the quiet plague that everyone tried to keep out of their minds.

She rode the KAT bus all the way from Chapman Highway, just past the Kroger, to West Knoxville. She tried to listen to music on her phone and earbuds, something sad but soothing. But all the sounds in the world where coming into her head like a dull roar, a tall and angry wave that never crested, so she gave up.

She turned and looked out the window, seeing one of the unfortunate, one that had turned, like she would, one of the undead. Two police officers had young man, thin and wiry, down on the sidewalk, gun drawn to his head, as he snapped and tried to bit them, kicking and writhing. It was all the officers could do to keep him down and get him handcuffed. Extreme aggression was the last stage.

Getting off the bus, finally, in Turkey Creek, her hands trembled. She almost couldn’t light her cigarette. Then, once it was lit, she immediately was hit by a wave of nausea and she throw up onto the sidewalk.

Letting herself into the shop with her master key, she noticed the edges of her vision were haloed by darkness. All of it taken together, the sweats, the cold chills, the dull roar of all sound, the tunnel vision, meant it wouldn’t be long before she turned, before she too was just another raving monster that would be put down with two in the head. Another victim of the plague, the unfortunate undead, that would be cast aside and ignored by everyone who could.

She felt another wave of nausea hit her, and she rushed over to a garbage can, feeling as if she might vomit again, but it was just dry heaves.

“You alright?” Someone asked.

She stood back up and turned to see Richie, another one of the maintenance workers behind her. She tried to catch her breath and smile.

“Yeah. Breakfast must not have agreed with me.”

“You okay, though?”

“Yeah…just….a little out of sorts lately.” She said, trying to paper over all that was failing, all that was happening with a smile.

Richie didn’t look convinced, but didn’t push it.

“I’ve got a bottled water.” He said, slinging his backpack off and digging inside of it. “It might at least get that awful taste out of your mouth.”

“Thanks, Richie.”  She said, taking the offered water as he produced it from his backpack. She smiled at him, genuinely this time. Dear, sweet Richie. Always looking out for her. Always quick with a witty line. It was a knife in her heart that she didn’t have time to get to know him, become his friend.

Katy drank the water greedily, taking the whole bottle in one draught. She threw the bottle in the trash. Richie smiled at her, and she squeezed his shoulder.

“You’re a good kid.” She said.

Katy started on the daily checklist, all that needed to be done before opening for business. She started shaking again, and her teeth chattered with another cold chill. She hoped when she turned, she sunk her teeth into one of the rich assholes, and not her own kind.

And All Of That And All That Happened After

“Do you think it’s like in that old movie, that like, Hell’s full?”

 

               “No, because everyone who dies comes back as a zombie, and that would mean everyone goes to hell, and that The Church has been lying to us all these years, and were fucking suckers, and also that it doesn’t matter if you’re good, you still burn, and who needs to think shit like that?”

 

               The two others in the armored van continued like that. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, or at least lose myself in non thought, just free floating blackness. I wanted to lulled by the hum of the engine and the tires on the road, and the rocking of the van as we made our way back to Paladin Base.

               It didn’t work though. My heart still thudded in a sickening and breathless hollowness. I still strained to catch my breath and not feel like I was suffocating. And the two other assholes in my squad would not stop yammering about god and hell and the undead. None of it went anywhere. None of it meant anything.

 

               The van shuddered and shimmied as we went over the fat concrete lip at the entrance to motorpool. Finally, maybe, this night would fucking end. Harris and Walters where the muscle and the firepower. I was the Priest In Command. They would only have to unload the young woman’s body, but I would have to perform Rites over here, before putting the corpse into the crematorium to burn.

               Harris and Walters unloaded the stretcher with the body, and placed it on the gurney, and started wheeling it to the Revenant Chapel, which held the crematorium. Then they’d change from their battle armor into civvies, lock up their weapons and be done. This job was hell for everyone who did it, who rounded up the Revenants, or who were present at deaths or any mass casualty event where their were in short order going to be lots of undead to be put down. But I hated being a Priest, and having Perform the Rite that we were told would send the good to heaven despite the Curse of Returning. I hated having to be last one to be with them, to bear witness to their final destruction.

               Most of all I hated the thoughts it led to. 15 years the Curse of Returning had been here, and it never ended and we humans rose again after corporeal death, hungry and ravenous and soulless, to have to be destroyed again by a well placed hollow point in the skull, and for all the devotion and prayers and songs of praise all of us in The Church sent wafting up to heaven, it never got better, the curse never lifted, and society just continued to crumble, to grow tattered and dissolute, in the face of all this madness. All the awnsers The Cardinals could not supply.

 

               The Revenant Chapel was nothing like glories The Church had once produced. Nothing awe inspiring or hushed and sacred. It was a plain cinderblock room painted cream, with an aluminum cross painted a flat gold above the hatch to the crematorium oven. All functionality and utterly banal, like everything else.

 

               I was supposed to remain in body armor and keep my side arm holstered on my leg, and my main assault weapon on the sling when I performed The Rite. I was not going to do any of that. Off came armor and weaponry, and shirt, undershirt and boots. I was hot and I couldn’t breathe and the weight and the air and even the silence seem oppressive, like the weight of a million atmospheres.

               This Revenant was a young woman, poor and already a mother. We’d killed her in front of her two daughters because otherwise the daughters would have been eaten by their undead mother. But the girls would carry the weight of that death forever, and already they’d been born with so much else to scar them.

               I cleaned the body with holy water. I placed a communion wafer in her mouth. I said prayers over her and burned insense. I told her her Father In Heaven would receive her into paradise.

               Tears welled in my eyes as I went through all this, though I never broke down into sobs. All that had happened and all that was yet to come and all that we, God’s Perfect Children, suffered in the dirt and mud of this world, and He showed no interest, just let it all play out.

               The woman had been sweet and loving. She’d been a devout believer. She’d loved her daughters and did the best she could by them. She died in a stupid accident, and all of that and all that happened after they saw, and no angel wiped away their tears.

              

               I crumpled against the cold cinderblock wall, the sobs finally coming. I held my crucifix in my hands, and mouthed the words of prayer, but I felt nothing getting past the ceiling.

 

 

               I left Paladin Base as the sun was coming up. This early the day was actually cool and all was still quiet and I almost imagined it was all over, we’d all gone to heaven, the world would not wake-up and continue, we could all rest forever.

              

               I share a small bungalow on a back alley, behind a ratty apartment complex and a old Victorian house down at heel and now a half way house, with my lover. Priests are supposed to be celibate and refrain from romantic love and pleasures of the flesh, but my heart is hungry and demands love and affection, and, well, there’s worse things I could do.

 

               She is not awake yet. The morning sun casts a hollow on her. Her back is turned to me, and with her long, dark hair fanning out over her naked back, and the soft rhythm of her breathing, and that wonderous light making her glow like a Madonna, all purity and love. In that, in that simple sight, I’m reminded of what beauty this world can be, and how it can take you out of all the pain and emptiness, and almost make it seem worthwhile.

 

               I lift up the covers and bury my face in my lovers hair. I reach one arm around her chest and the other meets it after passing under her neck. She sighs and I wash her body with my tears and anoint her with all the light and devotion and sweetness that is left in my broken heart.

               We make love, and then she dresses for her day. She kisses me, once, softly on the lips, I drift to sleep with the smell of her perfume filling me with bittersweet dreams, and puts me in some long lost garden.