Don’t Feed the Trolls – Chapter 17
Just when she thought everything was finally settling down, Shelly is once again thrown into the fray. Her friends are stuck on the other side of the Mississippi River, with no weapons, no food, and no chance of survival without her help. Throw in the complete collapse of civilization, extremely limited technology, and hordes of zombies that are becoming more and more sentient every day…
Hey, no one said it was going to be easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Shelly made sure to update hers just before she left.
Please note: this work contains language and themes that may not be appropriate for young readers.
Jan. 10, 2019
Slightly jumbled, but need to get this down.
There was a rockslide. A bad one. BG got sideswiped by a rock and knocked down the slope. A couple trees broke his fall, but they also broke half his fucking ribs, arm, and leg. He got off lucky though. He was able to climb back up and radio for help. Dick and Robin…not so much.
I saddled Pretty and headed for them as soon as I heard the radio go off. Tiny and Vicki were right behind me. When I got there, the road was covered, BG was busted to shit and back, and he was over there, trying to move a tree all on his own, the idiot. BG said Dick and Robin had been right behind him when the rocks came down, so he was convinced they were somewhere under that damn tree. We managed to drag him away from it so Tiny could get to work on him, and I went to digging on my own.
Doug and Christine showed up with Sarai and some of the others, and we used the horses to move the tree, but the boys weren’t under it.
Gray showed up and she had a steady stream of words coming out of her mouth that made me remember she’s one of the boys (it’s easy to forget she’s one of Will’s people most of the time). Kept telling us to be careful, one wrong move, and we’d trigger an even bigger slide. Joshua was there, too. I guess she had been part of the last group Doug and Christine were picking up.
I’m still trying to decide if it was a good thing or not.
We finally found Dick. And Robin. Gray said the rocks and trees must’ve fallen just right, cause we lifted a tree branch, and there they were, right next to each other. We had to dig out their bodies, the only place that was clear was the space around their heads. It looked like Robin tried to shield Dick from most of the impact.
We got them out of the dirt, they were still breathing. Barely. Their hearts kept stopping though. Tiny and Vicki worked on both of them. They would get a pulse, stop to take a breath for a minute, and they’d lose it again. Sarai ended up taking over working on Dick so the other two could focus on Robin.
Joshua kept trying to ask questions, but everyone was too busy trying to get the boys stabilized to answer, so I took her off to the side with me. Ty came over and gave me an update on BG. The boys all have basic field training for things like broken bones, so he was getting everything set. Their biggest concern with him was internal bleeding.
Dick and Robin…Tiny called me over. Said if I had any goodbyes to say, I’d better get it done. They both had a pulse, but it was weak, and Tiny said they had no idea how long it would last.
Joshua asked what that meant. I don’t know if it’s because of the way they spread the virus or what, but she couldn’t understand what death was. She was under the impression that they would just move to different bodies. Ones that weren’t “broken.”
She still wasn’t understanding when we loaded up the boys and headed back to shelter.
On the way, I talked to Jean and Ty. We weren’t comfortable staying where we were, not after having to use the radios. I asked Joshua, and she said she felt the waves. She was at least a mile away when he called for help, and that was through rock. The boys were pretty sure we were near one of the settlements, so when we got to the houses we were staying in, I checked and my notes, and they were right.
We had Doug and Mike run over to it to see if they could take on our civvies. According to my notes, the people there were gonna try and build a road to Knoxville, so we figured, if we could at least get the Nashville people there, they could help out until we could catch up. We also kinda figured that Dick and Robin’s chance of survival would be settled by then, but honestly, we weren’t even hanging our hopes on that. I had already resigned myself to burying them both.
While Doug and Mike were gone, we started moving everyone. I didn’t write it in my notes to Will, but there was a river between us and the settlement. None of us wanted to risk getting cut off, so we gathered up everyone and got as far as we could while we still had light. We almost lost the boys three more times before we had to stop.
The boys managed to hold on that night. Sometime along the way, Luna made Joshua understand what death means for us humans. I woke up randomly in the middle of the night and saw Joshua sitting between the boys. I figured she just wasn’t handling it well and went back to sleep
That was a couple days ago.
The next day, Doug and Mike showed up right around dawn. They said the settlement was still standing. The road isn’t even halfway built, but things had changed a lot and they were ready to accept anyone we needed to send in. They said the townspeople were already preparing rooms, and they’d keep our people safe until we got there. We split our men and got everyone on the road. Will’s boys said they’d see the people to town safely then come back to serve as reinforcements. Luna sent along Ron and Ginny, to help watch for twitchers, but she refused to leave, and the other trolls wanted to stay with her. Poppy said she wasn’t leaving Tiny, and that was that.
After everyone left, Luna came and found me. Told me I needed to go check on Joshua. Said she was worried about her and that the trolls were acting weird. I went hunting for her and found her sitting in between the boys again. Just staring straight out in front of her. Sometimes her fingers or her face would twitch, but that was it.
The trolls couldn’t tell us what was going on. All they knew was that she wasn’t a “bad cloud.”
The way they were acting, it wasn’t like they were scared of her…it was more like they were worried ABOUT her. They tried reading to her. Luna tried to convince her to practice jump rope. Nothing.
The only time she moved from her spot was when Jean came in from outside. There were curtains hanging in the living room where we had the boys, and I guess the wind from the door opening made them move. She jumped up, ran over and ripped every single curtain down in the room, then stared at them like she was daring them to move again. When she was satisfied that she had established dominance over those pesky pieces of cloth, she turned around and went back to her vigil.
Luna was sitting next to me when this happened. I heard her say “oh shit, she thinks they’re the veil” and had to ask her what she meant. She said her trolls had asked about what was going on, too, and the only way she knew how to explain death to them was to use the scene from the Potter books where Sirius falls through the veil. It worked for them, and none of them had reacted this way, so she was a little freaked out.
That night, Robin’s heart stopped again. It took forever to get it started back up. Sarai, Tiny and Vicki called a quick meeting. Said that the way things were going, even if the boys somehow survived, they’d likely be either vegetables or severely brain damaged. The damage was too bad and they didn’t have the equipment to do anything about it. It was at the point where we needed to decide if we’d just let nature take its course or help it along.
We were all sitting right by the boys when we were talking about this, so Joshua heard us. She asked what kind of equipment we’re missing and what they did. Sarai and Tiny told her. I guess they figured it was better than her running around attacking the curtains again.
When they explained ventilators and the defib paddles, she actually turned her head and looked at them. Asked if, basically, all that we needed was some way to keep their lungs and heart working. Tiny said, well, yeah, and their brain. If their brain doesn’t work, the rest is useless.
She told Tiny their brains were still working. She could feel them. It was just their bodies that were failing. The other trolls agreed with her about their brains. Said they could still feel activity in…I don’t remember the names, but Tiny said they’re all parts of the brain. They talked some more, and the trolls know a shit ton about brains (I’m not the only one that finds that both ironic and fucking hilarious, right?). We’re not sure HOW they know, but they do. They also can sense when the heart is about to stop, which would’ve been very helpful to know before, but they didn’t realize that was something they needed to tell us.
At any rate, Tiny had to explain that activity in the brain isn’t enough to keep them alive. We have the boys on IVs for nutrients, but we only have so many, and once they’re gone, it’s gonna be all downhill, unless the boys wake up enough to eat on their own. He went down the full list of what’s going to happen from here. When he got to the internal bleeding and sepsis, I had to walk out. It was too much and it all boiled down to the fact that they were basically already dead.
Sarai eventually came out to talk to me. Said that it was probably better to have the conversation about the boys away from Joshua. Told me about the trip from NORAD to where we found them. The boys doted on Joshua, trying to reverse the “dehumanization process” the jackass in charge did. Sarai was actually kinda annoyed with herself, cause she thought Joshua had just formed connections to the rest of us through the “data” shared in the injections. She never thought that Joshua would use that information to understand her past experiences, and we have NO idea how this is going to affect her development. I thought about asking Luna, but she’s only eleven. A smart eleven year old, but still. It didn’t feel right asking her, especially when I went back inside and found her in a puppy pile with her trolls, crying.
The next day, I woke up and nearly shit myself. Joshua had lost ALL of her color. She looked exactly like when we first picked them up.
Tiny and Jean were doing their best to not look creeped the fuck out, but I could see the “WTF” going on in their head. I asked Joshua what was going on. She said she was preparing. Asked her, “preparing for what?”
I had NO idea what that meant at the time, but Tiny and Jean did. Said it’s from the movie, War Games. Something about AI and playing games, and I have no idea. I’ve been told I have to watch it when I get home. In the meantime, we have no idea how SHE knows about the movie, or – at the time – what exactly that meant.
We let it go. Gave her some space.
We almost lost the boys another two times each that day. The trolls were all on high alert. They said the electric pulses were slowing down and getting weaker. We made the decision to give the boys one more night, then to let them go.
That night, we went to bed. Vicki sat with Joshua and the boys. Poppy stayed nearby to help.
When I woke up, the moon was high and it was fucking freezing. I mean, we’d been having some pretty mild weather, but yesterday it started getting cold again, so we’d already plugged in the solar panels and had the heater running. I was nice and warm when I fell asleep, but I could see my breath when I woke up.
I could hear Gray talking with Jay and Garcia, so I figured something was wrong with the heater. I got up, put on some of the cold weather gear and started tossing more blankets on the people still sleeping.
Sarai was sitting with the boys, so I gave her a couple for them while I took care of everyone else. She finished and started helping me. When we were done, she reached out and grabbed my wrist. Told me, “don’t freak out.” Which, of course, means my brain went RIGHT into overdrive.
She led me back over to the corner where we had the boys laid out. Before I even got to them, I could tell something was different. Before, their breathing seemed to fill the room. It was painful to listen to, but I dreaded the sound of silence more.
Now, the sound wasn’t as rough. It was still heavy, but it was like someone had smoothed out some of the edges. I asked Sarai if that meant they were getting better or getting worse, but she didn’t get to answer.
Jay and Garcia came in and started yelling for people to wake up. Told them to get dressed and ready to move. We needed to find a new house, stat. They didn’t know what the hell was going on with the house, but whatever it was, it wasn’t the heater. It was working just fine.
It took us about an hour to get everything ready to go, and a new house cleared for use. Then there was the transporting everything, getting the boys onto stretchers and into the wagon, getting everyone back OUT of the wagon. By the time we got everything settled, I was ready to sleep again, but Sarai called me over to talk to her and the other two medics. I should’ve known something was up by the way she made sure she was out of reach of all of us before she told us what had happened.
Long story short: the boys are infected, Joshua did it, and Sarai let it happen.
Short story long:
Sarai said she took over watching the boys after Vicki’s turn. She tried talking to Joshua, but Joshua wouldn’t respond, so she gave up, figuring it was Joshua’s way of coping or processing. A little bit later, she noticed that it was getting colder than it should’ve been, so she went to check out the heater. While she was doing that, Jay and Garcia also woke up, and they all kinda brainstormed what might be wrong.
Sarai heard a strange sound at one point, like someone choking, and figured it was one of the boys coding again. She ran over, and…
I hate how she described it, it’s so…anime porn-ish, but basically, tentacles? She said Joshua had black tentacles coming out of her mouth, and they were shoving themselves down Dick and Robin’s throats. That was what the choking sound was from.
According to her, she froze. From what I’ve seen of Williams’ boys so far, I highly doubt it, but that’s her excuse for why she didn’t put a bullet between Joshua’s eyes. She said that by the time she UNfroze, the tentacles had broken off and had disappeared completely into the boys. That’s when she realized the same thing I did earlier.
Their breathing had changed. Almost instantly. She checked their pulse, it’s almost back to normal. Their coloring is better, but it’s not back to normal yet. She doesn’t know what exactly Joshua did, but she doesn’t think they’ve been infected in the “normal” way. It’s still too early to tell for sure, but it’s been a couple hours and they haven’t woke up. They’re not throwing up, they’re not twitching…they look like they’re just sleeping.
Joshua still refuses to leave their side, but she’s not as black and white anymore. Sarai thinks that the reason she lost her color was cause she was gearing up for this. She thinks Joshua had been monitoring the boys’ hearts and brains and waited until she COULDN’T wait any longer.
Tiny said it made sense. Joshua had asked him a LOT of questions about what level of brain activity was considered too low for survival and the different types of life support, and what exactly the purpose of each one was. Then he did what none of us thought to do – he asked Joshua. He asked her what she did and why she did it.
According to her, she’s “tricked” their body. She’s making the brain stay alive and do what it needs to do to keep the body alive while it “repairs” itself. She’s also supposedly gathering information on the internal damage so she can “better assist” the medics in treating the boys and to “increase their chances of survival without the usage of advanced life support systems.”
She also said that the “virus” is not affecting their…I don’t know how to spell them, but the same parts of the brain that affect memories and emotions that they all talked about before. She said she’s maintaining control over the “virus” that she placed in them and will withdraw it when the boys are able to survive without its help.
It’s a lot to unpack, but I think what hit all of us hardest is her reason for doing it.