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The air stank of filth and human waste. The summer heat heightened the smell but Scott had long grown accustomed to the stench. Sweat glistened on his sun burnt, bare chest and shoulders. He reached up running his fingers through his short brown hair. They came away wet and covered in grime. He couldn't remember for the life of him when he'd last been allowed to bathe. There was a large tube of water in the center of the pen where the prisoners were kept. Scott eyed it not yet so thirsty that he was willing to expose himself to the germs and bacteria it contained.
Eleven other men shared the small fenced in pen with him. Most of them sat around lost in their own thoughts like he was. Buck and Hank played cards with a tattered deck they'd been able to bribe the guards for. Hank had traded a section of the flesh from his left thigh in order to get it. The bandage he wore was yellowed and Scott guessed that soon Hank would succumb to infection from the wound and die. Scott had seen a lot of men die over the three weeks he'd been trapped here. The guards didn't seem to care, as long as they had one or two healthy males it would be enough for their purposes.
The women that had been taken alive were treated much better than the men. Scott had never been inside their actual quarters but he knew that it was inside the compound of the breeding center and out of the sun. It had plumbing, and was kept clean and free of disease. Unlike the pig slop the men were fed, the women also were given real food. It all made sense in a sick kind of way. The men were disposable in a fashion where as the dead guards needed the women to make babies. Each woman could givebirth to numerous more "cattle" for the pens and the dead's food supply where as you only needed one man to knock them all up.
Of all the men in the pen with Scott only David stood at the fence, peering through it at the hills beyond the compound. He was a newcomer to the breeding center and still hoped that someone would come to rescue them. He dreamed of escape. It was a dangerous thing. There was no way out other than death, Scott knew, it was just a question of how one died and ended up on the other side of the fence.
If someone died in the pen while the guards weren't around, Scott and the other prisoners made damn sure they didn't get back up even if it meant repeatedly bashing the corpse's head with a stone until they were covered in blood. The newly risen dead weren't always as evolved as the guards and often went on a feeding frenzy among the men. Stopping that from happening was worth the lashing the person who did it received. All the men took turns so that no one person was overly punished or outright put to death for the deed. It was Scott's turn now and he figured it would be Hank's skull he was bashing open when the time came.
The guards mostly stayed inside the compound proper. Whatever force had raised them from the dead also greatly reduced their rate of decay but not to the point where it stopped it. Being outside in the ninety-degree plus heat of the summer was unhealthy for them in the long run. Scott watched as "Hole in his neck" peeked out the compound door for the hourly check of the pen. The dead man had gotten his name from the way his throat was torn open and his rotting windpipe dangled out of it. "Hole in his neck" was one of the few guards who couldn't still speak but he held a high rank among the dead and was easy enough to get along with along if you stayed out of his way and didn't cause trouble in the pen. The dead man looked over the pen, his gaze lingering only for a moment on David who still stood at the fence obviously discontent with the way things were, then he popped back inside closing the door to the air-conditioned compound behind him.
Tired, Scott pushed himself to his feet, wiping his hands on what was left of the pair of tattered black jeans he wore, and headed over to where David stood. David didn't notice his approach.
"You've got to stop doing this," Scott warned.
David jumped at the sound of his voice. His bloodshot eyes stared at Scott in shock. "Doing what?"
"Hoping," Scott answered with a single word. Then he added, "If you don't, they'll likely have you for dinner soon. It makes them nervous when one of us shows any bit of spirit left. Just be thankful you're not one of them already and get over it."
David started to respond but Scott had already turned his back to the newcomer to the pen and was headed towards his spot to sit for a while longer and wait on the cool of the night.
Posted March 8, 2010
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