The Rage: Part 25

XXV

You might think that when the end of the world comes, people will put aside their petty squabbles and pull together to ensure their own survival. You would be wrong. People will always be selfish. Put their backs against a wall and they’ll sell you the bricks.

When things look bleak, the weakest look for any way to survive. The schemers use this to bait them. Offer a starving man a trail of crumbs and he’ll put himself in your cage.

I’ve seen places they’ve been. Survival games. Carnage.

The man in front of me is one of those. No one offers safety on a plate. If we follow him, we will wind up caged. If we’re lucky, we’ll be forced to work for food. If we’re not, we’ll be bait. They’ll place bets on which of us will be last to die when the Ragers find us. Or they’ll make us kill each other.

Some people would rather satisfy themselves than ensure the survival of our species.

I just need to wait for the moon to rise. So long as he doesn’t have companions of his own, Topi and I can overpower him. He can’t kill us both.

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The Rage: Part 24

XXIV

“Where are you companions?”

The man speaks before I can think of a good question. I narrow my eyes.

“How do you know I am not alone?”

“When I last saw you, you had companions. Are they dead?”

“We’ve met before?” I scan his face again. I’m sure I would have remembered someone so disfigured. I’m sure I would have tried to kill them.

“I’ve seen you before. You were at the storehouse.”

“You’ve been following us?”

“I have been protecting you. I can help you. There is shelter nearby. I can take you. You will be safe there.”

I shake my head. There is no safety in this world. The last time we believe we were safe, we lost Miro. This is a trap.

“Give me back my knife.” I keep my eyes fixed on him and force myself to breathe normally.

“You will turn it on me.”

I nod. What choice do I have? He is not going to save us. He’s a Rager waiting to be born. Perhaps he’s more resilient to the contagion than most people, but it will only be a matter of time before he changes. I have to put my pack first.

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The Rage: Part 23

XXIII

Trust is one of those things that is supposed to be earned. Some people earn it slowly through years of not getting you killed. Some people earn it faster by repeated saving of lives. Some people demand it in the first moments you meet. Those are the people most likely to see you die.

This man knows I cannot trust him and yet I have little choice. If I choose not to trust him, Emilia and Topi will die in that underground tunnel. If I decide to call them out, he could kill them before they have a chance to defend themselves. This all rests on me.

The sun is still bright in the sky, but the visor the man gave me allows me to see. We have a few hours to wait before the light dims enough for Topi and Emilia to leave the tunnel. I have time to decide if this man means to harm us.

It’s been so long since I met anyone new that I barely know where to begin. Miro was always the one to evaluate the threats. I only ever took them down. What questions do I ask? I take a deep breath.

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The Rage: Part 22

XXII

“Here.”

The man positions the frame over my eyes. The blinding glare of the sunlight surrenders to the comfort of the shadows. He steps back and I see him for the first time, his colours tainted by the exposure. He’s like no other man I’ve ever seen.

He has walked in the sun long enough to kill any other man. His skin is dark like rust and his hair like frost. His left eye is green. The right is orange and struck through by four diagonal scars from a Rager’s claws. His gaze dares me to back away. He knows he is infected.

“Who are you?”

“I am the man who is going to save your life.”

I cast my eye over him again. He carries little equipment, but what there is, is attached to a harness around his chest and waist. On one hip, he has a blade, on the other, a length of sturdy pipe. The handle of my knife sticks out of a pouch beneath his arm.

“Where are your companions?”

He seems too lucid to be a Rager, his tone calm despite the anger in his voice. If he wanted me dead, I would be.

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The Rage: Part 21

XXI

“You’re still alive?”

The voice is gruff and aggressive. I’ve heard this before. Words spat like they were poison. Every syllable a knife. Infection.

I take out my knife and lunge at the fuzzy shape. He moves, sidestepping me. I turn and the room spins with me. The man steps forward and I thrust the blade at him again, but he avoids the attack. He’s too fast – or I’m too slow. He grabs my arm and pulls the knife from my hand.

“Are you the only one left?”

I turn to the side and aim my foot at his stomach. The force pushes him back and frees me, but I’m face on to the cloudy window and I can’t see him.

“I’m not the enemy.” He’s behind me. “Are you the only one?”

“You’re infected,” I reply. “Give back my knife and I can help you.”

“I don’t need your help. You need mine.”

He takes my arm and pulls me into the shadows. I wait for his claws to sink into my flesh, for teeth in my arteries. Something hard pushes against my palm. Something cold. I run my fingers over the smooth edges. Metal. Glass. A visor?

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The Rage: Part 20

XX

It took three days to get through the tunnel. I walked ahead of Topi and Emilia. At the end, a hut sheltered us from the outside, but the light was still dazzling when I crawled out. Topi and Emilia are still down there, waiting for the sun to set.

I am half-blind, hungry and thirsty. I hear things moving outside. Perhaps rats. Perhaps ragers. I reach for my knife.

No. Voices.

There are voices outside.

I listen carefully. Topi and Emi are too deep in the tunnel for it to be them. I am not alone here. The voice comes closer. Louder.

The door rattles. I remain silent. It is still too light out for me to open my eyes. A knock. A thump. I crouch in a corner and wait.

I have never heard a rager speak after they’ve turned. While there is still humanity, they talk, but as the Rage takes over, they lose it. At first, they swear. Then they scream. Then they just growl.

Whoever is outside, they can still speak.

The latch clicks and the handle screeches as it is turned. Cool air floods the shelter. Footsteps approach. They stop in front of me.

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