Running was over.
Now we hide like rats.
Running or hiding. That was my life.
I was ready for The Church.
Deliver them now from every evil.
As it was now, three survivors stood apart in the damp sewers. The foul stench of festering human waste had tears welling up in my eyes. Lettie hit the back of her flashlight with the palm of her hand. She held it steady in the stranger’s face. I charged this woman fast with Lettie’s penknife plunged right into the woman’s neck.
“Who the hell are you? What were you thinking? You led them right to us!” I hissed.
“Let me explain.” The woman lifted her eyebrows and looked down at the penknife jabbed in her throat.
I stepped back with my hands at my sides.
“My name’s Mia,” she said, inhaling a deep breath.
“Well, Mia, you are lucky I’m not killing you for putting our lives at risk just to save your ass,” I said. I motioned for Lettie to follow me down the sewer.
Mia furrowed her eyes confused. “You mean you’ll just leave me down here, alone?”
“You aren’t my problem,” I said with not even a shred of sympathy. Baggage was heavy, and my shoulders could no longer bear the weight.
“Wait,” Mia said quickly. “What if I told you where I was headed?”
I didn’t care to listen any further, and I knew Lettie would follow suit. I turned my back to the woman and began to walk.
“Listen to me! There’s a place called The Church. There’s food and water there. There is also a way to change everything as we know it. A man by the name of Father Dane has a way of leading the chosen few to another place. An afterlife. A place where we don’t have to be one of the scratchers forever! There’s hope! And I know where that hope is! I’ll take you there if we can stick together. I’m too scared to go through the city and go there alone.”
Not even seconds passed before I spun on my heels and replied, “You’re lying. You just don’t want to be a free lunch for scratchers. We’ve all heard of The Church. I don’t believe you know where it is.”
It would have ended there, before Lettie asked the next question. “Where is it?”
“I’ll take you to it,” Mia answered quickly. “I was traveling with someone,” she looked down at her hands for a minute, “before he got The Itch, and he told me exactly how to get there. The street names and everything.”
I crossed my arms against my chest, getting more annoyed by the minute.
Mia added with heavy desperation lacing her tone, “It’s a chance to get off the infested street. Away from this life. Don’t you get it? Crossing over to an afterlife with the hand of Father Dane is the way out. It’s not death. Or at least not the way most think of death. It’s our salvation. True salvation.”
Lettie pulled me to her left, and we huddled in a corner. “This is it,” Lettie whispered. “She knows where The Church is.”
I shook my head. By now, I knew not to place much stock in false hopes. “What? You’re just going to take this girl at her word? You actually think this make-believe place exists? And even if The Church exists, do you really think there is some better afterlife of some sort to go to?”
Lettie nodded. “We have nothing to lose to find out.”
“This is insane. There is no place called The Church. It’s most likely a trap or some sick and twisted sex house where we will be tortured and eventually killed or something.”
“What’s the plan then, Hannah? We run, and then what? Run until we starve or until we get infected? Just admit it, we’re running mighty low on options.”
I knew Lettie had a point, but she also knew nothing of Mia or her true intentions.
“The screams,” Mia uttered, noticing the silence near the sewer hatch. “They’re gone.”
No question about it, I was putting myself at risk by even talking to Mia, though I’d risked my life for much less. I didn’t want to do any deep decision-making right then and there.
“We need to lay low for awhile,” I said, announcing to them both. “I’ll decide where we’re going tomorrow.”
Lettie leaned in and whispered, “I want to go. We’ve ran out of options, and this place is all we got.”
I nodded. “Fine.” I looked at Mia and then back at Lettie. “Tomorrow we head to The Church. I just hope we don’t regret this.”
I stepped into a puddle on the damp, stone floor, my bare feet touching the dank, muddy water. Filth wasn’t new to me, to the point where I didn’t flinch. I just walked straight through the muck. Around me, hopeful women moved down the hallway of The Church, terror mixed with excitement blanketed their faces. Hushed whispers echoed off the concrete walls. It almost appeared as if they were walking into a dungeon… hopefully not to their doom.