‘I see that you’ve met your uncle,’ John said.
‘Pete, uncle Peter. Yes, we met him. Why didn’t you tell us about him? Why did you lie to us when we were young? This wasn’t fair. How could you leave him out there? It’s so fucking cold of you.’ Tina gets agitated. Her mother takes her outside.
‘You too, Tom. You guys need some nutrition. Hungry souls are angry souls,’ Mary said.
‘Yes, I remember mother.’ Tom joins his mother and sister reluctantly.
John is thinking about his brother. He needs to bring him back. It’s been a decade. Peter was considered dead by him and his family. He’s one shrewd son of a gun, he always has been, always having his way, John thought. And now he has a family of his own. This must have changed him. John gets excited at the thought of meeting his brother. He has a lot to say to him. He regrets his actions but he did what needed to be done. He had to set an example. Others look up to him for action. He can’t let them down. He knows he’s a leader and will always have to act like one.
John and Peter together laid the foundation of the sanctuary. It houses two million now. The crazy bridge idea was Peter’s. He made sure, no matter what, it is completed as per his directions. That bridge has saved thousands of lives, probably millions in over a decade and the mastermind couldn’t reap its benefits. He didn’t have enough time to see his plan in action.
‘Others, you say. What others? First, tell us what made you leave. Adventures lead to tragedies in these times.’ The father holds tightly onto the arms of Tina and Tom. They try to loosen his grip but he won’t let go. He tightens it further.
The mother is supporting all of this. She’ll rather see her children suffer anguish if they have to. For they’ve to breathe.
‘That’s exactly why we went there. We heard of others near the big oak tree. They are fighting for their lives there. Men, women, and children. They seem to be doing just fine. They are…’ Tina said.
‘Alive.’ The father lets go of their arms. He remembers his brother. He banished him from the community. All these years and still he survives. He went too far with his experiments. His ambition led to the death of some people. Fact says they turned into Nomans. But humans considered it equal to their demise. When humans turn into Nomans, they lose their minds. A part of them still remains but not the human one. All they want is flesh and blood. They unleash fury upon mankind. But the humans didn’t allow it to happen. They resisted as far as possible. They separated themselves from the evil, the undead.
It all started with John, the father who’s now the commander. He made humans build a moat around themselves. He helped save thousands of lives. Mary, the mother was the first life he saved. His brother Peter, a virologist came to the foreground and took charge of getting under the skin of the issue. It turned out to be a massive problem which led to his banishment.
Jeremy enters the meeting room feeling guilty of his F score. The attendees present there give him an edge reminding him of his lateness. He mutely apologizes and takes his seat next to Karen, his ex. They had some good times together until his obsession began with the F score. So, they parted ways. Karen’s F score is thrice that of Jeremy’s. The difference is his score and others has made him look down upon others as lesser souls. Ones who don’t care about the mother who gave them land to live, air to breathe, and food to eat. Their lack of devotion is appalling and Jeremy is proud of his.
It’s been seven years since the dawn of the F score. Initially, it was ridiculed as just another marketing gimmick. It was balked at as an instrument of mass control and suppression. The common people denoted it as the Fuck system. They blamed the rich folks for this.
It’s all a game for them…They polluted the world and now they want us to suffer further…Will their jets be grounded for good…What exactly are they doing…There will be a massacre…No bastard will be left alive…Let’s get the one who had this novel idea…I’ll cut them down to pieces…
‘Hurry! The bridge will collapse.’ Tina shouts at the top of her voice. Tom speeds up. He’s driving fast for a first timer. He speeds up further by pushing the boost button. The speed of the vehicle doubles in the blink of an eye. Tina and Tom find themselves thrust back against their seats. Their pulse rate shoots up quick and they hold their breath for the longest time in their lives. A couple of seconds later they find themselves on the other side of the bridge. They look back at their shoulders and find the Nomans staring at them. The bridge has collapsed. The Nomans are known to fear water. As long as the bridge functions properly, the moat will keep the humans safe from the Nomans.
Tina and Tom find their parents staring at them. Their younger sister is looking at them trying to figure out why they left her behind. She also wants to see what’s out there.
‘What’s out there is nothing that should bother you. You are too young. Take your time. Later, you will wish you had stayed this way.’ The mother signals Janice, the young one to step towards home.
‘You mean her to stay ignorant. Yeah!’ Tom simmered. He gets out of the vehicle and finds a slap waiting for him. He gets to his knees from the blow across his face.
‘Mother, no. It was me.’ Tina steps forward and gets one from her mother.
‘You are my children. This doesn’t mean you’ll do as you wish. We have rules. We have…’
‘We have to abide by them. Stop it already.’ Tom gets up and holds onto his sister.
‘Stop this nonsense. Give me one good reason.’ The father grabs the arm of Tina.
‘Not here. Not in front of them. We found something. There are others,’ Tina whispered.
By the time John reaches the top of the last hill, he finds two people beside him: Mary and the leader. He’s not sure what happened till now. Where are the others? This question had him occupied throughout the journey.
After resting for five minutes, the leader asks them to take the final few steps. John is wary of what might happen next. He looks at the leader for leadership, but the leader stands still and tells them to march. In a matter of a few minutes, the couple ends their trek.
It’s been seven hours. It’s four in the morning. The sun is unusually out. Mary smiles and hugs John.
‘We did it. My little sis would be so proud. I can feel her smiling down at me,’ Mary said.
John finds Mary doing all right given the events of the night. Every soul is missing. More than a hundred souls started the journey with them. They are nowhere to be seen or heard. John gives out a shout ‘Hey.’ It sounds more like a cry for help. He is shattered from the horrors of the night. Mary pulls him and tells him to reach the point where they are supposed to find a vehicle to transport them back to the city. John looks at her with contempt and has second thoughts. What if they were the only ones who came for the trek? He can’t think of any other possibility. His mind must have tricked him into believing things from his childhood stories. He saw monsters from his fairy tales keeping him company throughout the difficult journey.
From the top of the fifth hill, John looks ahead. He can’t see the eight remaining hills. From the start, it seemed like a hill with multiple ups and downs as told by the guide. They are thirteen in total, all connected to one another, the leader said. One after another he climbed up and down, one after another the trekkers followed the leader, and one after another they are withering away in the wilderness. John wonders how many will be left to reach the designated endpoint of the journey. He was shivering just now but the sixth hill has a different story to tell. Suddenly, he starts sweating. There is no wind, no ominous sounds. He hears people breathing heavily around him. A trekker took out his inhaler. How can an asthma patient be on this trip, John thought. This is trekking 101. No one with recent surgery is allowed. No one pregnant is allowed. No one with any major illness is allowed. But who’s this audacious idiot out here to prove the fundamentals wrong?
‘Yeah, I know. I’m not supposed to be here,’ the man said. He catches John’s eyes fixated at him.
‘What made you dare?’ John asked.
‘My daughter. She passed away last year. I promised her…’ His voice breaks and he sobs. John taps his shoulder thrice.
This is all a coincidence. Someone else died and a family member is here. Just like Mary John has this eerie feeling empowering him. He senses loss and grief in each of his peers. Then what is he doing here? He wasn’t close to his sister-in-law. They hardly saw each other. The night is filled with confusion. Each hill brings out anomalies making the journey relentlessly eventful.
It’s been two hours but John feels like he’s been walking forever. He has just finished four hills and the headcount of the participants reduced to half. He wonders what’s going on with the diminishing trekkers. He wonders when this suffering will end. His back has taken a beating. The rucksack weights nine pounds comprising mostly of water and snacks. He’s shivering from the sudden intense cold winds coming in from all directions. The windcheater is not helping him now. The sweat on his brows has vanished. His eyes are craving for fluidity. He takes out his eye drops and pours a couple of drops in each eye. This makes his eyes move normally again.
It goes dark while he’s halfway up the fifth hill. He switches off his head torch and turns it back again. There must be an error in the circuitry after being switched on for so long or the batteries might be running out of juice, he thought.
After climbing the fifth one, he looks down and finds few trekkers being attacked by something. They are trying to run but they go down one by one. It happened so fast that John is still trying to figure out what he saw. He heard of mountain lions from some people before the trek. He thought they were trying to scare him. Were they right, John shivered. He also heard about snakes. He feels his brain would explode with all such theories. It’s too much to take in. One night is not enough to process such disbeliefs which are coming out to be true. He reminds himself of all the horror stories he has read during his teenage years. He can’t be a part of one.