Chapter Three: The Casualty of Normalcy

 

Freckles lies. She has no wish to go to Atonement today. She knows she should—the guilt will eat at her like the Wormwood coursing through her veins, but she can't bring herself to; she hasn't been able to go since…

Ignore it. Meryl hardly goes to Atonement, and he's fine, isn't he? A little rough around the edges, and perhaps a bit damaged,  but isn't everyone else? Paying her respects to the dead sounds nice on paper, but…the dead are dead, aren't they? They can't hear her laments or see her pray against some stupid make-shift alter. The dead have no knowledge of the living—aside from the Dandies.

She shudders.

Her boots clack down the corridor as she makes her way to the furthest shower, away from Meryl, and draws the curtains tight. She quickly undresses, piling her clothes just outside of the curtain, and immediately turns on the shower. The water is cold, but it feels wonderful compared to the sweltering heat inside Detox. Freckles refuses to shut her eyes, not even for a moment; if she does, the images of her kills will blare like disco lights behind her eyelids, taunting her. No, the dead don't stay dead, do they? They live on in the minds of the living, doomed to haunt for all eternity.

Time oozes by at a snail's pace. Unsure of how much of it has passed, she reaches up and begins to scrub her scalp with the community shampoo left in the corner of the shower. It smells medicinal, but it does the job; soon, the blood coating her skin is nothing more than a lathery spiral swirling down the drain.

As soon as she turns off the shower head, she realizes she's made a crucial mistake; she's forgotten to grab a towel on her way in. With balancing the water, jerky, med-kit, and her knife, she hardly thought of anything else. Freckles is surprised to find a towel right outside her curtain, along with a neatly folded pile of fresh clothes. Her old ones are gone, probably discarded down the laundry shoot. Water droplets drip down her wavy tresses as she picks up the fresh towel and pats her face dry.

Meryl. This must have been Meryl, trying to make it up to her for sporting about their kills. It melts her heart right down to the nerves. Most people see Meryl as cold and uncaring, but that simply isn't so. He's lost his filter through the years of senseless murders. Killing has become a daily chore, like brushing his teeth or combing his thick hair. It doesn't phase him anymore, what he says or how he says it. She realized long ago that this is why he needs her: to be his conscience. It's why they work so well together. He's able to keep up her morale when she has none to spare, and she, in turn, reminds him of what it is to be human. While most others would turn their back on the jockish southerner, Freckles can only search for the good in him. It's her job to continue to stoke that small ember of goodness in his heart. Without her, it's quite possible his humanity would snuff out completely.

She dresses in silence before she begins the tedious task of lacing up her boots. It's become ritual: pulling the straps out and stripping the boot down to the framework before stringing the laces back together in an intricately crossed design. Freckles doesn't believe in luck, but if she did, this would be her lucky routine. She never knows when she'll be back in Namaste, and she can't stomach the idea of being killed simply because she tripped over her shoelaces. If she's going to die, she'll die with some dignity, damn it.

Gathering up her gear, she tucks the blade carefully into the loop of her pants: ready for a moment's notice, but not directly in her possession. There's no need to walk around with a blade in hand while visiting The Bazaar. It's her next stop, and she doesn't want to intimidate anyone. She checks down the rows of showers and sees Meryl is gone. It puts a sad sense of relief in her chest like a balloon deflating—she loves the lessened pressure but misses the swelling feeling she gets when she sees him. Freckles isn't sure why she feels this way—conflict resides in her heart.

As she makes her way out of the showers, she's met with a gut-wrenching sight - a new player has emerged from the bowels of Namaste, soaking one of the cots in blood and bile. Three volunteers surround the girl as she gags into a regulation mop bucket. Freckles internally grimaces as she rests the medical kit down on a nearby table; on the outside, she is a warrior. Casualties are synonymous with normalcy around here., and down below, in Namaste, sits an unresting war-zone. She turns her eyes on the elevator that will take her upwards, towards humanity.

A Dandy resides casually next to the lift's button, cradling an axe. Its waxy, blue-filmed eyes drift in Freckle's direction as she approaches; ashy, rotting fingers grip tighter around the hilt. The nails are discolored; pale, like the rest of it. The smell hits her like a puff of perfume being sprayed in a retail store—but it's anything but pleasant. It's the scent of decay, bodily fluids, and rotting meat. A distorted, rattling sound comes from its unhinged mouth. Since Dandies have no need to breathe, it's a haunting sound, indeed.

Carefully, she reaches out next to the corpse's sleeve and presses her left hand against the square panel between the elevators. A screen lights up with a green line that scans down the length of her fingers to the bottom of her palm. The screen turns green, and the shifting of pulleys can be heard, drawing the elevator to Detox.

The Dandy's neck joints pop as its head careens in her direction. Freckles takes to counting the dents in the metal elevator door as she waits for a lift rather than making eyes with the sack of useless meat beside her. One, two, three… How many people have banged against this door in a fit of Rage? How many humans have been slammed against this metal frame as they foamed at the mouth like rabid dogs, hungry for a kill? How many men and women have stepped through these doors, never to be heard from again? She counts up to thirty before the doors open, the lift is in her view.

With a sigh of relief, Freckles steps forward onto the elevator and away from Detox. A column of buttons display in a panel at elbow-level. Her fingers automatically drift towards the number twelve, one floor up, but she stays her hand at the last moment. No. She doesn't want to go there. So she moves her hand up, to the number thirteen. Ding. The elevator doors sound and begin to draw together, pinching shut the view of the three volunteers surrounding the bloodied girl from moments ago. Only now, there are no frantic movements. Just the hanging of heads. The patting of shoulders. The immotile arm that dangles off the infirmary cot. Another life lost to Rage.

Freckles wishes she could close her eyes to block out the sight, but she doesn't want to face her memories. Instead, she stares ahead and waits for the doors to close completely, wondering when Wormwood will finally claim her, and if she'll finally be at peace—or if she will be just another mindless Dandy, forced to haunt everyone who ever cared for her. Not that it would matter much. The people she loves are very few and far between these days.