Through the Eyes of Ruth
I hate him. I hate him so much, all he does is kill. He killed my husband and my friends now it is his turn to be killed. He is the only human left alive so I know what I need to do. I need to get inside his head and inside his life. I need to see how he makes things run so I can some back and tell my people and then we can destroy him. I am so nervous about this. What if he is smart enough to know what I really am? My people try and reassure me that they can make me human and that these pills will work to allow me to walk in daylight. I guess we will find out tomorrow.
Time to go into the field where I hope he sees me. I think I am ready. I think I can do this. I hope this works I hope he is dumb enough to truly think that I am human. Well here goes nothing. I see him. He is across the field sitting on a porch but I still have to act like I don’t see him. I am so nervous but I need to be just a lonely human girl walking around in daylight because I am not a vampire. Maybe I should go back I am not ready for this. I have to do this for my husband, he would be so proud. I think he sees me.
“Hi!” I hear him yell, “Hi, there!”
He startled me with his yelling to me. I look up and our eyes meet.
This really scared me. I don’t know what to do. Run. I will run because I cannot do this I cannot lie to someone no matter how much I hate him. And I do not think I can fool him. If he survived this long he must be very intelligent. He has begun to run after me.
“Wait!” he cries.
I will not wait I am too afraid. But he is gaining on me. I will not run anymore. I will let him catch me so I can do the job I was sent to do. I will do this for my husband which he killed.
“I won’t hurt you!” He yelled but I am still running but not as fast as I could because he needs to catch up so I can get this over with.
I will trip, that will let him catch up, but I am still frightened to do this.
“I won’t hurt you!” I hear him cry again.
I get up and begin to run again. I must make it look like I am truly frightened by him and not just by the task.
“Stop!” he cries.
I won’t stop. I am not going to just give up. I have to make this look believable. He is so close now that I can hear him breathe. He is very fast. He must be very determined but then again I already knew that. I turn to look and I see him. He is tall and threatening. I know what he is capable of and that is why I am doing this. And he grabs my shoulder and I scream and fall onto some rocks. I try and back myself away from him because he is truly terrifying.
He sticks out his hand and says “Here.”
I slap away his hand and struggle to my feet. I turn and begin to run away again because I don’t think that I can do this. I think that as soon as he finds out what I am he will kill me. But then he caught me again.
“What are you afraid—“he begins to cry but before he can finish I slapped him across his face. I wanted him to fear me like I feared him.
But then he yells, “Will you stop!”
I kept fighting and clawing at him and he ripped part of my dress. He ripped my dress apart like he is going to rip me apart when he finds out that I am a vampire that is spying on him.
When I kicked his shin he yelled, “Damn it!”
And then he hit me. He slapped me right across my face like I did his. I give up. I begin to cry and hopefully he will show some mercy. I really hope that the tears do not make the makeup wear off.
“Get up,” he said. “I am not going to hurt you.”
Yeah right. Once you find out my secret you are going to kill me without even thinking about it like you did my husband.
“I said I’m not going to hurt you,” he told me again.
I still don’t believe him. But I slowly stand up and hold the piece of the torn dress over my breast.
Then he asks, “What…what’s your name?”
I don’t know what to say. Do I lie? Do I just tell him my name? I don’t think that it will hurt to give him my name.
“Well?” he impatiently says.
“R-Ruth” I stutter in response.
He reaches out and touched my shoulder and whispers, “Ruth.” And a few seconds later again he says, “Ruth.”
For what seemed like eternity we just stood there facing each other. A monster facing another monster.
In the middle of my rest I feel and hand on my shoulder and I hear Robert say, “Wake up.”
Slowly he begins to pull my necklace out from chest and I slowing wake so I do not frighten him. But I do need to take a pill so that I can stay awake so hopefully I can steal a few moments alone.
“What are you d-doing?” I ask.
“I’m…nothing,” he responds.
He steps away from me and asks, “Where are you from?”
I do not know how to respond.
“I asked you where you were from.” He says a little irritated.
“Ing-Inglewood,” I said shakily.
“I see,” he said “Did…did you live alone?”
“I was married.”
“Where is your husband?”
“He’s dead.” I said but I really wanted to say ‘You killed him last week.’
“For how long?” he asks.
“And what did you do after he died?”
“Ran, I ran away.” I told him.
“You mean you’ve been wandering all this time?”
Then Robert left the room and walked into the kitchen. I knew he went into the kitchen because I could hear a cabinet door sliding open and then slamming shut. He comes back into the room and pushes a dish of garlic into my face.
“What are you doing?” I cry and begin to cough.
“Why do you turn away?” he asks.
“Why do you turn away?” he asks again.
“It smells!” I begin to cry. “Don’t! You’re making me sick!”
Oh no. He is going to find me out. I think I am going to vomit. He pushes the plate closer to my face. I begin to gag and push myself away from the garlic.
“Stop it! Please!” I begged.
Finally he pulls it away from my face and says “You’re one of them.”
I get up run into the bathroom and begin throwing up. I don’t know what I should do. I didn’t think he would find out this quickly. I haven’t gotten all the information I needed. I have to think of an excuse. I could tell him that I am expecting. That would be a good excuse but then he will start asking questions about how far along I am and so on. I will just tell him I have a weak stomach, I mean that’s believable. And if he still accuses me I will point out that I was out in daylight when he first saw me and that I am also awake now and it is daytime. Well time to go face him.
“Are you satisfied?” I asked rather snottily.
“Never mind that,” he said “You’re on trial not me.”
“Listen to me,” he continued. “I have every reason to suspect you of being infected. Especially now that you’ve reacted in such a way to garlic.”
I did not respond. I didn’t know how to respond.
“Haven’t you anything to say?” he asked.
“You think I’m one of them.” I accused.
“I think you might be.” He corrected.
I hold my cross up and respond, “And what about this?”
“That means nothing.”
“I’m awake,” I added. “I’m not in a coma.”
He disregarded my last statement and said, “I’ve been in
many times, he finally said. “Why didn’t you hear my car?” Inglewood
is a big place,” I quickly respond. Inglewood
I think he is starting to believe that I am human.
“I’d…like to believe you,” he added.
“Would you?” And as soon as I said that I felt sick again. I really need to take another pill.
“I’ve had a weak stomach all my life. I saw my husband killed last week. Torn to pieces. Right in front of my eyes I saw it. I lost two children to the plague. And for the past week I’ve been wandering all over. Hiding at night, not eating more than a few scraps of food. Sick with fear, unable to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time. Then I hear someone shout at me. You chase me over a field, hit me, drag me to your house. Then when I get sick because you shove a plate of reeking garlic in my face, you tell me I am infected! What did you expect to happen?” I explain.
Now I am getting angry. I wish he would just believe me. I am so far into my mission that I have to finish it but I have to make him believe me. I try and fix my dress. I am so frustrated! I am so frustrated that I begin to cry.
“Would…” he started. “Would you let me take a sample of your blood?” he asked. “I could--”
That’s it I am done. He is never going to believe me without proof. Time to give up.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
As I fumble with the lock I ignore him.
“You can’t go out there,” he said, surprised. “The street will be full of them in a little while.”
More like full of us. “I’m not staying here,” I cried. “What’s the difference if they kill me?”
He grabs my arm and I cry, “Leave me alone! I didn’t ask to come here. You dragged me here. Why don’t you leave me alone?”
All he said in response was “You can’t go out.”
He leads me back to the couch where he brings me a glass of whiskey. I try and deny the glass but he makes me take it and says, “Drink it, It’ll calm you down.”
Angrily, I respond, “So you can shove more garlic in my face?”
He shakes his head and say, “No.”
I pick up the glass and take a sip. I cannot stand the taste. It burns all the way down my throat and causes me to start coughing. I set the glass down on the arm of the chair and try and take deep breaths to relax my body so that I do not throw up.
“Why do you want me to stay?” I sadly ask.
Hesitantly, he responds, “Even if you are infected, I can’t let you go out there. You don’t know what they’d do to you.”
I close my eyes and say, “I don’t care.”
While we are eating supper he breaks the silence by saying, “I don’t understand it, almost three years now, and still there are some of them alive. Food supplies are being used up. As far as I know, they still lie in a coma during the day.” He shook his head. “But they’re not dead. Three years and they are not dead. What keeps them going?”
“We used to see them sometimes. We were afraid to go near them, though. We didn’t think we should touch them.” I said.
“Didn’t you know they’d come back after they died?” He asked.
I shook my head, “No.”
“Didn’t you wonder about the people who attacked your house at night?”
Here come the questions again. “It never entered our minds that there were…” I shook my head slowly. “It’s hard to believe something like that.”
“I suppose,” he said.
I want to know what he knows about vampires. Is he aware of this mutated gene? How we can walk and talk just like regular humans. And with a little pill we can walk in the daylight like humans and with a little makeup we even look like humans.
“Tell me more about them,” I said.
He brought me more coffee then asked, “How do you feel now?”
“I feel better, thank you.”
This man is very compassionate. It feels good just to have conversation with him. He is not a killer, he is a survivalist. He only wants to kill the vampires so that he lives longer than them. However, I still do not think that he trusts me.
“You still don’t trust me,” I asked.
He shrugs and responds, “It’s…not that.”
“Of course it is. Oh, very well. If you have to check my blood, check it.”
Maybe if I do this he will trust me more. I can get the information I need and then I will let him take my blood and know what I truly am but will run away before he hurts me.
He puts his cup down and says, “Good. Very Good.”
And then he adds, “If you are infected I’ll do everything I can to cure you.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Let’s wait and see.”
Then he asks, “Shall we do it now?”
I need to buy a little more time. “Please,” I said, “in the morning. I…still feel a little ill.”
“All right,” he said, nodding. “In the morning.”
Later in the day we sat staring at the beautiful mural that he painted and listened to Schubert’s Fourth Symphony.
“I wouldn’t have believed it,” I said, seeming cheery. “I never thought I’d be listening to music again. Drinking wine.” And then I added, “You’ve certainly done a wonderful job.”
“What about your house?” he asked.
“It’s nothing like this,” I said. “We didn’t have a—“
“It’s nothing like this,” I said. “We didn’t have a—“
“How did you protect your house?” he interrupted.
“Oh.—“I thought a moment. “We had it boarded up, of course. And we used crosses.”
“They don’t always work,” he said quietly.
I looked at him blankly. “They don’t?”
“Why should a Jew fear the cross?” He asked. “Why should a vampire who had been a Jew fear it? Most people were afraid of becoming vampires. Most of them suffer from hysterical blindness before mirrors. But as far as the cross goes—well, neither a Jew nor Hindu nor a Mohammedan nor atheist, for that matter, would fear the cross.”
Then he added to end his statement, “That’s why the cross doesn’t always work.”
“You didn’t let me finish,” I said. “We used garlic too.”
“I thought it made you sick.”
“I was already sick. I used to weigh a hundred and twenty. I weight ninety-eight pounds now.”
I really wish he would stop bringing the garlic up. I think that if he shoved that in anyone’s face they would gag. He is a really smart man. I wonder how he found out about the thing with crosses.
As he pours more wine for me I say, “I’ve been admiring your mural. It almost makes you believe you’re in the woods.”
“It must have taken a lot of work to get your house like this,” I told him.
“You should know,” he said. “You went through the same thing.”
“We had nothing like this,” I said. “Our house was small. Our food locker was half the size of yours.”
“You must have run out of food,” he said.
“Frozen food,” I said. “We were living out of cans.”
“What about water?” he asked then.
Here he goes again with these questions. He is trying to find a reason to say that I am a vampire. He doesn’t trust me but I need him to.
“You don’t believe a word I have said, do you?” I said.
“It’s not that,” he said. “I’m just curious how you lived.”
“You can’t hide it from your voice,” I said. “You’ve been alone too long. You’ve lost all talent for deceit.”
He grunts. I hope that means that he thinks that I am right. That he begins to tell himself how dumb he is for not believing me.
“Tell me about your husband,” he said abruptly.
Or maybe not.
“Not now,” I said. “Please.”
It brought out too many emotions. I pictured him staking my husband while he was in a coma, but it is very had to picture him actually doing it. I see a figure but not actually him. Maybe because now that I really know him I think that he is too kind and I don’t want to believe that he really did it.
“You know,” he said, trying to ease the moment. “I’ve been thinking. If three people could survive the plague, why not more?”
“Do you think it is possible?” I asked.
“Why not? There must have been others who were immune for one reason or another.”
No only you are immune.
“Tell me more about the germ.” I said.
“There’s an awful lot of detail,” he said.
Well then I will start with how he knows about the cross. “You were saying something about the cross before,” I said. “How do you know it’s true?”
“You remember what I said about Ben Cortman?” he said, glad to restate something she already knew than go into fresh material.
“You mean that man you—“
He nodded. “Yes, come here,” he said, standing.” I’ll show him to you.”
While he is standing behind me looking out the peephole, he says, “He’s the one by the lamppost.”
Then I said, “There are so few. Why are they?”
“I’ve killed off most of them,” he said. “But they manage to keep a few ahead of me.”
“I’ve killed off most of them,” he said. “But they manage to keep a few ahead of me.”
When he admitted that he has killed most of them it struck me hard. It makes me sad to think of him as a killer. But I have to remind myself that he is just trying to survive.
“How come the lamp is on out there?” I asked. “I thought they destroyed the electrical system.”
“I connected it with my generator,” he said, “so I could watch them.”
“Don’t they break the bulb?”
“I have a very strong globe over the bulb.”
“Don’t they climb up and try to break it?”
“I have garlic all over the post.”
Smart. I shook my head. “You’ve thought of everything.”
I turn to him, “Will you excuse me for a moment.”
I walk into the bathroom and lock the do so that I know he won’t walk in and so that I can take another pill. When I came out of the bathroom he was still sitting in the same spot. He’s thinking very deeply and I don’t have to guess much to know what he is thinking. I lift the record from the turntable and turn it. The third movement of the symphony began.
“Well, what about Cortman?” I asked.
He looked at me blankly. “Cortman?”
“You were going to tell me something about him and the cross.”
“Oh. Well, one night I got him in here and showed him the cross.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked nervously.
“You’re staring at me.”
“I’m sorry,” he said coldly. “I…I’m just thinking.”
I start to sip my wine. My hand is shaking so I drink very carefully so I do not spill on his robe.
“When I showed him the cross,” he said, “he laughed in my face.”
“But when I held the torah before his eyes, I got the reaction I wanted.”
“A torah. Table of law, I believe it is.”
“And that…got a reaction?”
“Yes. I had him tied up, but when he saw the torah he broke loose and attacked me.”
“He struck me on the head with something. I don’t remember what. I was almost knocked out. But, using the torah, I backed him to the door and got rid of him.”
“So you see, the cross hasn’t the power the legend says it has. My theory is that, the legend came into its own in
Europe, a continent predominantly Catholic, the cross would naturally become the symbol of defense against powers of darkness.”
“Couldn’t you use your gun on Cortman?” I asked, stupidly.
“How do you know I had a gun?”
“I…assumed as mush.” I said. “We had guns.”
“Then you must know bullets have no effect on vampires.”
“We were…never sure.” I said, and then went on quickly: “Do you know why that’s so? Why don’t bullets affect them?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said.
We then sat in silence listening to music. All he is doing is staring at me. The wheels in his head are spinning. I wish I really knew what his doubts about me were. It’s really nice to have a conversation with someone. In the colony all everyone talks about is him. I do not think he is that threatening. He’s a nice man. He is helping us out. The record stopped so I got up and began looking at the other records that he had.
“May I play this?” I asked holding up an album.
Without even looking he said, “If you like.”
“Tell me about yourself,” I said.
“Nothing to tell,” he said.
Smiling, I responded, “You scared the life out of me this afternoon. You and your bristly beard. And those wild eyes.”
I begin to flirt with him. He blows out smoke.
“What do you look like under all those whiskers?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just an ordinary face.”
“How old are you, Robert?”
He is thinking. He is making a funny face like me using his name disgusts him. It’s a nice name. I bet if he shaved he would be quite attractive. I turn my head away because I feel bad that I have created this awkward situation.
“You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to,” I said quietly. “I won’t bother you I will go home tomorrow.”
“But…” he said.
“I don’t want to spoil your life,” I said. “You don’t have to feel any obligation to me just because…we’re the only ones left.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I…I have been alone a long time.”
I didn’t look up.
“If you’d like to talk,” he said. “I’ll be glad to…tell you anything I can.”
Good. Now to start asking questions.
“I would like to know about the disease,” I said. I lost two of my girls because of it. And it caused my husband’s death.”
“It’s a bacillus,” he said, “ a cylindrical bacterium. It creates and isotonic solution in the blood, circulates the blood slower than normal, activates all bodily functions, lives on fresh blood, and provides energy. Deprived of blood, it makes self-killing bacteriophages or else sporulates.”
So I have no idea what any of those words mean. I am trying to break his explanation down to try to figure it out.
“Well,” he said, “most of those things aren’t so important. To sporulate is to create an oval body that has all the basic ingredients of the vegetative bacterium. The germ does that when it gets no fresh blood. Then, when the vampire host decomposes, these spores go flying out and seek new hosts. They find one, germinate—and one more system is infected.”
I shake my head incredulously. I understand and this will be an easy way to explain it to my people.
“Bacteriophages are inanimate proteins that are also created when the system gets no blood. Unlike the spores, though, in this case abnormal metabolism destroys the cells.”
He then told me about the imperfect waste disposal of the lymphatic system, the garlic as allergen causing anaphylaxis, and the various vectors of the disease.
“Then why are we immune?” I asked.
After a long pause, he shrugged, and said, “I don’t know about you. As for me, while I was stationed in
during the war I was bitten by a vampire bat. And, though I can’t prove it, my theory is that the bat had previously encountered a true vampire and acquired the vampire germ. The germ caused the bat to seek human rather than animal blood. But, by the time the germ was passed into my system, it had been weakened in some way by the bat’s system. It made me terribly ill, of course, but it didn’t kill me, and as a result, my body built up and immunity to it. That’s my theory, anyway. I can’t find any better reason.” Panama
“But…didn’t the same thing happen to others down there?”
“I don’t know,” he said quietly. “I killed the bat.” He shrugged. “Maybe I was the first human he attacked.”
I looked at him without saying a word. So since he has the vampire germ he must be a mutated version of the vampire like me. Hmmm…Interesting. Then he goes on to tell me about the major obstacle in his study of the vampires.
“St first I thought the stake had to hit their hearts,” he said. “I believed the legend. I found out that wasn’t so. I put stakes in all parts of their bodies and they died. That made me think it was hemorrhage. But then one day…”
And then he told me about the woman who had decomposed before his eyes.
“I knew then it couldn’t be hemorrhage,” he went on, I could tell the excitement in her voice. “I didn’t know what to do. Then one day it came to me.”
“What?” I asked.
“I took a dead vampire, I put his arm into and artificial vacuum. I punctured his arm inside that vacuum. Blood spurted out.” He paused. “But that’s all.”
I couldn’t help but stare at him. He is vicious. Using us as his science experiments. That’s exactly what he is going to do with me when he finds out that I have been lying.
“You don’t see,” He said.
“I…No,” she admitted.
“When I let air back in the tank, the arm decomposed,” he said.
I still stared.
“You see,” he said, “the bacillus is a facultative saprophyte. It lives with or without oxygen; but with a difference. Inside the system, it is anaerobic and sets up a symbiosis with the system. The vampire feeds it fresh blood, the bacteria provides the energy so the vampire can get more fresh blood. The germ also causes, I might add, the growth of the canine teeth.”
“Yes?” I said.
“When air enters,” he said, “the situation changes instantaneously. The germ becomes aerobic and, instead of being symbiotic, it becomes virulently parasitic.” He paused. “It eats the host,” he said.
“Then the stake…” I started.
“Lets air in. Of course. Lets it in and keeps the flesh open so that the body glue can’t function. So the heart has nothing to do with it. What I do now is cut the wrists deep enough so that the body glue can’t work.” He smiled a little. “When I think of all the time I used to spend making stakes.”
I nodded. This is remarkable. Its sad that he uses us as experiments but this will be good information to tell my people. I know this man is cruel. But I can’t but help think of why. He has been alone for three years in this world full of vampires. I would get curious too. He is a very smart man and is just trying to survive in hopes that he can outlive them. I noticed I was still holding my wine glass so I set it down.
“That’s why the woman I told you about broke down so rapidly,” he said. “She’d been dead so long that as soon as air struck her system the germs caused spontaneous dissolution.”
I shudder. Now this is really creepy. I picture him doing this to me. Would I dissolve as easily as her too? Does the mutated gene I carry change how easily I can be killed?
“It’s horrible,” I said.
He looked at me surprised. I mean I know that the vampires that do not carry the mutated gene like I do are very vicious and uncontrollable but some of them are like me. For example, he killed my husband. I am glad that he did not do these experiments on him otherwise I would have killed him myself. But maybe if he knew about the mutated gene he would stop killing at random. Maybe my people would accept him into our colony and we can live as one. It’s a long shot but in a perfect world this would work. But we all know that right now it is no where near close to a perfect world.
“And what about the…the ones who are still alive?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “when you cut their wrists the germ naturally becomes parasitic. But mostly they die from a simple hemorrhage.”
I turn away and press my lips together. I can not speak badly about what he is done. Then he will start accusing me of being one of them again. I think he has just started to trust me.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
“N-nothing. Nothing,” I said.
He smiled, “One gets used to these things,” he said. “One has to.”
I shuddered again.
“You can’t abide by Robert’s Rules of Order in the jungle,” he said. “Believe me, it’s the only thing I can do. Is it better to let them die of disease and return—in a far more terrible way?”
I do not know.
“But you said a lot of them are—are still living,” I said nervously. “How do you know they’re not going to stay alive?”
“I know,” he said. “I know the germ, know how it multiplies. No matter how long their systems fight it, in the end the germ will win. I’ve made antibiotics, injected dozens of them. But it doesn’t work, it can’t work. You can’t make vaccines work when they’re already deep in the disease. Their bodies can’t fight the germs and make the antibodies at the same time. It can’t be done, believe me. It’s a trap. If I didn’t kill them, sooner or later they’d die and come after me. I have no choice; no choice at all.”
I will not die. We have a vaccine for that. If we didn’t have this drug then, yes, I would become one of them. I bet he would be very interested, but I know I can’t. So far I have taken in a lot of information but a lot of it I wish I didn’t know.
“Do you actually think I’m wrong?” he asked in an incredulous voice.
I bit my lip.
“Ruth,” he said.
I heard Robert cry in the darkness. He lurched up to his feet.
“Virge?” he said again, weakly, shakily. “Virge?”
“It—it’s me,” I said.
I gasped as he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder.
“It’s Ruth. Ruth,” I said in a terrified whisper.
He stood there rocking slowly in the darkness, eyes gazing without comprehension at the dark before him. Virge must have been his wife. He must have been dreaming about her. This is so sad.
“It’s Ruth,” I said again, more loudly.
All of a sudden he shook his head and rubbed his eyes with shaky fingers. Then he stood there staring, weighted beneath a sudden depression.
“Oh,” He muttered faintly. “Oh, I…”
He remained there, feeling his body weaving slowly in the dark as the mists cleared from his brain. He looked at the open peephole, then back at her.
“What are you doing?” He asked, voice still thick with sleep.
“Nothing,” I said nervously. “I couldn’t sleep.”
He blinked his eyes suddenly at the flaring lamplight. Then his hands dropped down from the lamp switch and he turned around. I was against the wall still, blinking at the light, and my hands were at my sides drawn into fists.
“Why are you dressed?” he asked in a surprised voice.
My throat moved and I stared at him. Why does he ask so many questions? Is it still because he thinks I am one of them or is it because he is afraid of me leaving?
“I was…just looking out,” I said.
“But why are you dressed?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
Through the open peephole we hear Cortman shout, “Come out, Neville!” So he pushed the small wooden door shut and turned to me.
“I want to know why you’re dressed,” he said again.
“No reason,” I said.
“Were you going to leave while I was asleep?”
I gasped as he grabbed my wrist.
“No, no,” I said quickly. “How could I, with them out there?”
He stood breathing heavily, looking at my frightened face. I missed my getaway chance. Now how will I leave? I need to get back. I am out of pills and I won’t be able to stay awake during the day. Abruptly he dropped my arm and turned away. I hate hurting him like this. Just him thinking that I am going to leave has put him in so much pain what is he going to do when I actually leave?
“Was that her name?” I asked him.
His muscles tightened, then went slack.
“It’s all right,” he said in a dead voice. “Go to bed.”
I drew back a little. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean…”
“I thought you were my wife,” he said. “I woke up and I thought—“
He drank a mouthful of whiskey, coughing as part of it went down the wrong way. I stayed in the shadows, listening.
“She came back, you see,” he said. “I buried her, but one night she came back. She looked like—like you did. An outline, a shadow. Dead. But she came back. I tried to keep her with me. I tried, but she wasn’t the same anymore…you see. All she wanted was—“
He forced down the sob in his throat.
“My own wife,” he said in a trembling voice, “coming back to drink my blood!”
He jammed down the glass on the bar top. Turning away, he paced restlessly to the peephole, turned, and went back and stood again before the bar. Ruth said nothing; she just stood in the darkness, listening.
“I put her away again,” he said. “I had to do the same thing to her I’d done to the others. My own wife.” There was a clicking in his throat. “A stake,” he said in a terrible voice. “I had to put a stake in her. It was the only thing I knew to do. I—“
He couldn’t finish. He stood there a long time, shivering helplessly, his eyes tightly shut. I am crying inside. I could not even imagine having to kill my own husband. This poor man. No wonder he didn’t trust me. He was afraid to. Afraid that he would get attached and then find out that I am not real, or was a vampire and he would have to stake me like he did his own wife. Then he spoke again.
“Almost three years ago I did that. And I still remember it, it’s still with me. What can you do? What can you do?” He drove a fist down on the bar top as the anguish of memory swept over him again. “No matter how much you try, you can’t forget or—or adjust or—ever get away from it!”
He ran his shaking fingers through his hair. I forgot what emotions were like. I mean when he killed my husband I was sad but this, this is overwhelming. I never felt this was before and I just met this man. I came in here hating him and now it is the complete opposite. I love him. I love his compassion. I love his determination. It’s so crazy; I do not know how to respond to him. How do you comfort someone who has been through all of this heartache?
“I know what you feel, I know. I didn’t at first, I didn’t trust you. I was safe, secure in my little shell. Now…” He shook his head slowly, defeatedly. “In a second, it’s all gone. Adjustment, security, peace—all gone.”
My voice was as broken and lost as his.
My voice was as broken and lost as his.
“Why were we punished like this?” I asked.
He drew in a shuddering breath.
“I don’t know,” he answered bitterly. “There’s no answer, no reason. It just is.”
I was close to him now. And suddenly, without hesitation or drawing back, he drew me against him, and they were two people holding each other tightly in the lost measure of night. It felt so right though I know I should not get close to him. I have to leave him tonight. But I don’t want to go. I feel for him. He needs me as his companion. I must warn him about what is going to happen after I leave. Oh, this breaks my heart.
My hand rubbed over his back stroking and clutching, while his arms held me firmly. I need to comfort him. He needs to calm down. I cannot leave when he is worked up because then I won’t know what he will do to himself.
Then we were sitting in the darkness, pressing close together, as if all the heat in the world were in their bodies and they would share the warmth between them. I could feel the shuddering rise and fall of his breasts as he held close to me, my arms tight around his body, my face against his neck. His big hands moved roughly through my hair, stroking and feeling the silky strands. This feels so right and it breaks my heart that I have to leave.
“I’m sorry, Ruth.”
“For being so cruel to you, for not trusting you.”
I was silent, holding tight.
“Oh, Robert,” I said then; “it’s so unfair. So unfair. Why are we still alive? Why aren’t we all dead? It would be better if we were all dead.”
“Shhh, shhh,” he said. “It’ll be all right.”
I shake my head against him. No it is not going to be ok. You soon will find out what I truly am. Then you will hate yourself and me. Be so frustrated that you opened your home up to one of them. I will try and save you Robert, I will.
“It will, it will,” he said.
“How can it?”
“It will,” he said, but even he sounded unsure with his words.
“No,” I said. “No.”
“Yes, it will. It will, Ruth.”
If you only knew what is going to happen. It kills me more and more each time he uses my name. They way he says it and the compassion in his voice it just kills me.
For the longest time we just sat there holding each other close. I forgot about everything, time and place; it was just the two of us together, needing each other.
“Come,” he said. “We will check you.”
I stiffened in his arms. Why? Please just a little more time. Everything was good but now I have to leave and hurt you.
“No, no,” he said quickly. “Don’t be afraid. I’m sure we won’t find anything. But if we do, I’ll cure you. I swear I’ll cure you Ruth.”
I looked up at him in the darkness but did not say a word. He stood and pulled me up with him. I want to scream and tell him not but I know that our time together has ended. I love him but I have to let him go.
“Let me,” he said. “I won’t hurt you. I promise I won’t. Let’s know. Let’s find out for sure. Then we can plan and work. I’ll save you, Ruth. I will. Or I’ll die myself.”
I was still tense. I don’t want to do this.
“Come with me, Ruth.”
He led me into the bedroom. He must have seen how frightened I looked because he pulled me close and stroked my hair.
“It’s all right,” he said. “All right, Ruth. No matter what we find, it’ll be all right. Do you understand?”
He sat me down on the stool and my face was completely blank, my body was shuddering and he heated the needle over a Bunsen flame.
Then he bent over and kissed me on the cheek.
“It’s all right now,” he said gently. “It’s all right.”
I closed my eyes as he jabbed in the needle. And then watched as he pressed out the blood and rubbed it on the slide. I hope he can forgive me.
“There. There,” he said anxiously, pressing a little cotton to the nick on my finger. As he was placing the slide under the microscope he kept looking at me and smiling.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Please don’t. I’ll cure you if you’re infected. I will, Ruth, I will.”
I sat without saying a word; I looked at him with listless eyes as he worked. My hands kept stirring restlessly in my lap because I was debating about what I would do next.
“What will you do if—if I am,” I said then.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Not yet. But there are a lot of things we can do.”
“Vaccines, for one.”
“You said vaccines didn’t work,” I said, my voice was shaking a little.
“Yes, but…” He broke off as he slid the glass slide onto the microscope.
“Robert, what could you do?”
I slid off the stool as he bent over the microscope.
“Robert, don’t look!” I begged, my voice pleading.
But he’d already seen.
He stopped breathing. His blank eyes met mine.
“Ruth,” he whispered in a shocked voice.
And then I picked up a wooden mallet and crashed it down on his forehead.
I saw one of his legs give out and as he fell he knocked over the microscope. I feel so bad. I am sorry Robert Neville. I wish it could really work out really I did fall in love with you. He looked up at my fright-twisted face. The mallet came down once again and he cried out in pain. I feel his pain too. If he only hadn’t looked like I asked. He fell to both knees and his palms struck the floor as he toppled forward. I began to sob loudly. I wish that it didn’t have to be this way.
“Ruth,” he mumbled.
“I told you not to!” I cried.
He clutched at my legs as I drove the mallet down a third time, this time at the back of his skull.
On a note, I write:
Now you know. Know that I was spying on you, know that almost everything I told you was a lie.
I’m writing this note, though, because I want to save you if I can.
When I was first given the job of spying on you, I had no feelings about your life. Because I did have a husband, Robert. You killed him.
But now it’s different. I know now that you were just as much forced into you situation as we were forced into ours. We are infected. But you already knew that. What you don’t understand yet is that we’re going to stay alive. We’ve found away to do that and we’re going to set up society again slowly but surely. We’re going to do away with all those wretched creatures whom death has cheated. And, even though I pray otherwise, we may decide to kill you and those like you.
I’ll try to save you. I’ll tell them you’re too well armed for us to attack now. Use the time I’m giving you, Robert! Get away from your house, go into the mountains and save yourself. There are only a handful of us now. But sooner or later we’ll be too well organized, and nothing I say will stop them from destroying you. For God’s sake, Robert, go now, while you can!
I know you may not believe this. You may not believe that we can live in the sun for periods now. You may not believe that my tan was only make-up. You may not believe that we can live with the germ now. ‘
That’s why I am leaving one of my pills.
I took them all the time I was here. I kept them in a belt around my waist. You’ll discover that they’re a combination of defebrinated blood and a drug. I don’t know myself just what it is. The blood feeds the germs, the drug prevents its multiplication. It was a discovery of the pill that saved us from dying, that is helping to set up society again slowly.
Believe me, it’s true. And escape!
Forgive me, too. I didn’t mean to hit you, it nearly killed me to do it. But I was so terribly frightened of what you’d do when you found out.
Forgive me for having to lie to you about so many things. But please believe this: When we were together in the darkness, close to each other, I wasn’t spying on you. I was loving you.
They brought him in. I was so sad when they came back. But I knew deep down in my heart he wouldn’t leave. I moved over to the cot where he lay.
“Are you thirsty?”
He looked up at me with dull eyes and groaned in agony. Why? Why didn’t he listen to me? He twisted his head on the pillow, biting his lip and clutching the blanket feverishly. The red spot grew bigger.
I was on my knees now, patting perspiration from his brow, touching his lips with a cool, wet cloth. Neville lay there motionless, staring at me with pain-filled eyes.
“So,” he finally said.
I didn’t answer. I got up and sat on the edge of the bed. I patted his brow again. Then I reached over him and poured water into a glass. He lifted his head to drink a little.
His head fell back on the pillow.
“Thank you,” he murmured.
I sat looking at him.
“You wouldn’t believe me, would you?” I said.
He coughed a little.
“I…believed you,” he said.
“Then why didn’t you go?”
“I…couldn’t,” he muttered. “I almost went several times. Once I even packed and…started out. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t…go. I was used to the…the house. It was a habit, just…just like the habit of living. I got…used to it.”
My eyes ran over his sweat-greased face and I pressed my lips together as I patted his forehead again.
“It’s too late now,” I said then. “You know that, don’t you?”
Something clicked in his throat as he swallowed.
“I know,” he said.
He tried to smile but his lips only twitched.
“Why did you fight them” I said. “They had orders to bring you in unharmed. If you hadn’t fired at them they wouldn’t have harmed you.”
“What’s the difference…” he gasped.
His eyes closed and he gritted his teeth tightly to force back the pain.
His smile was weak and tortured.
“Your…your society is…certainly a fine one,” he gasped. “Who are those…those gangsters who came to get me? The…the council of justice?”
My look was dispassionate.
“New societies are always primitive,” I answered. “You should know that. In a way were like a revolutionary group—repossessing society by violence. It’s inevitable. Violence is no stranger to you. You’ve killed. Many times.”
“Only to…to survive.”
“That’s exactly why we’re killing,” I said calmly. “To survive. We can’t allow the dead to exist beside the living. Their brains are impaired, they exist for only one purpose. The have to be destroyed. As one who killed the dead and the living, you know that.”
He took a deep breath that I can tell pained him. His eyes were stark with pain as he shudder.
“I hope so,” he said. “But…but did you see their faces when they…they killed?” His throat moved convulsively. “Joy,” he mumbled. “Pure joy.”
My smile was thin and withdrawn.
“Did you ever see your face,” I asked, “when you killed?” I patted his brow with the cloth. “I saw it—remember? It was frightening. And you weren’t even killing then, you were just chasing me.”
He closed his eyes and thought.
“Maybe you did see joy on their faces,” I said. “It’s not surprising. They’re young. And they are killers—assigned killers, legal killers. They’re respected for their killing, admired for it. What can you expect from them? They’re only fallible men. And men can learn to enjoy killing. That’s an old story, Neville. You know that.”
He looked up at me. My smile was tight.
“Robert Neville,” I said, “the last of the old race.”
His face tightened.
“Last?” he muttered.
“As far as we know,” I said casually. “You’re quite unique, you know. When you’re gone, there won’t be anyone else like you within our particular society.”
He looked toward the window.
“Those are…people…outside,” he said.
I nodded. “They’re waiting.”
“For my death?”
“For your execution,” I said. And it killed me to admit.
“You better hurry,” he said.
We looked at each other for a long moment. Something gave in me. My face grew blank as I fought back the tears.
“I knew it,” I said softly. “I knew you wouldn’t be afraid.”
Impulsively I put my hand over his.
“When I first heard that they were ordered to your house, I was going to go there and warn you. But then I knew that if you were still there, nothing would make you go. Then I was going to try to help you escape after they brought you in. But they told me you’d been shot and I knew that escape was impossible too.”
A smile flitted over my lips.
“I’m glad you’re not afraid,” I said. “You’re very brave.” My voice grew soft. “Robert.”
We were silent as I tightened my hand around his.
“How is it you can…come in here?” he asked then.
“I’m a ranking officer in the new society,” I said.
His hand stirred under mine.
“Don’t…let it get…” He coughed up blood. “Don’t let it get…too brutal. Too heartless.”
“What can I—“I started, then stopped. I smiled at him. “I’ll try.” I said.
I leaned over him.
“Robert,” I said, “listen to me. They mean to execute you. Even though you’re wounded. They have to. The people have been out there all night, waiting. They’re terrified of you, Robert, they hate you. And they want your life.”
I reached up quickly and unbuttoned my blouse. Reaching under my brassiere, I took out a tiny packet and pressed it into his right palm.
“It’s all I can do, Robert,” I whispered, “to make it easier. I warned you, I told you to go.” My voice broke a little. “You just can’t fight so many, Robert.”
“I know.” The words were gagging sounds in his throat.
For a moment I stood over my bed. Then I bent over and pressed my lips on his.
“You’ll be with her soon,” I murmured hastily.
Then I straightened up, my lips pressed together tightly. There are so many more things I wish I could tell him. I buttoned the two top buttons on my blouse. I looked down at him for a moment longer. I love you Robert Neville. And I am sorry for my betrayal. Then I glanced down at his right hand.
“Take them soon,” I murmured, and turned quickly away.
I walk out of the room and burst into tears.