I don’t know how long I’ve been kept here. The prey bound me with ropes, prevented me from moving. Put me in a building. The same prey, Chris, comes in, feeds me the meat from my bag, talks to me. It seemed to have known me from before, when I was still a prey. It calls me Kaitlyn, my name. My name is Kaitlyn. Every day, it has me drink a cup of poison. It’s killing me slowly. But I can’t refuse. The prey tells me if I refuse, the other prey will come to kill me. I don’t understand. Why kill me slowly, but threaten to kill me quickly if I refuse?
The prey calls the poison the cure; I know it’s a lie. The drink weakens me. But it tastes familiar. Perhaps it’s not poison to prey. However, to me, it is. My limbs are less responsive. My vision is blurry. My sense of smell, sense of hearing, both are dull. Even my sense of taste is waning. Meat doesn’t taste as good. It doesn’t hold back the hunger as well as it used to. I need brains. But the prey won’t feed me them. In the first place, I can’t communicate with it. It tried to get me to write words like in the openable bricks—books, the prey calls them. It should’ve been possible. But I can’t. Reading is easy. Writing, I don’t know how to formulate my thoughts, formulate words. It’s similar to speaking. I can’t do it.
The prey is trying to teach me. I’m trying to learn. But it doesn’t make sense. I learn one character one day. And I forget it the next. It’s the poison. It’s corroding my mind. I don’t understand. Why does the prey want to communicate with me while I’m dying? Why is it investing time in me when it’s killing me? Doesn’t it have better things to do? I don’t know. The prey cares for me. We must’ve been close. It tells me stories about myself. We lived together in a group with two other prey, Mom and Dad. But I died. And it didn’t. It hasn’t told me how. I can’t ask. I can’t do anything. I’m wasting time. But is there really anything I can do when my time of death is dictated by the prey?
Sometimes, another prey comes too. Jen, the one that stopped me from breaking out of the encirclement. It doesn’t talk much with me. It only stays in the room, on the other side of the metal cage, watching, making sure I don’t do anything I’m not allowed to do. Which is anything. I’m lucky the prey feed me. But I don’t know why they’re prolonging my death. If I had a prey captive, the only reason I’d keep it alive longer is to preserve its flesh. Is that it? The prey are going to eat me. After they eat all the bodies from the failed attack, they’re going to eat me. But why try to talk to me in that time? Perhaps they think they can learn from me.
The door opened. Chris came in. But today was different. There’s another prey with him, not Jen.
“Hmm, not a lot of progress, huh?”
That voice, it’s the chief’s. The leader of the prey.
“That’s not true. There’s been plenty of progress.”
“You’re deluding yourself.” The chief came closer. It took off its dome, crouched in front of the metal fence. “I don’t want to say I told you so, but … I told you so. She’s too far gone. There’s no way for the cure to remove the fungus faster than the fungus can reproduce without killing her. Just looking at her arm should’ve been enough to tell you that. If she wasn’t infected, the whole thing would’ve fallen off by now.”
“But she’s sane. She’s rational. She can understand me when I speak. She even knows how to read.”
“Isn’t that why we called her the smart infected? She’s still infected. Maybe she maintained a bit of rationality, but she still eats people. She’s eaten people, Chris. Butchered them, salted them, and smoked them. If your sister turns back into a human and realizes that, do you think she could live with herself?”
Yes. I could. Prey kill other prey. It’d be a waste not to eat the dead.
“We’ve all killed people, Chief.”
“But you didn’t eat them.”
“Does it matter? Dead is dead. What happens to the dead’s body after they die is none of their business.”
“There’s some religions out there that’d disagree with you.”
“And those people who follow those religions are dead too.”
A gust of air came out of the chief’s mouth. “Look. We’re running low on the antifungal medication. As the leader of the group, you know I have choices to make. Prioritizing our safety or using the cure on someone that can’t be cured. It’s an obvious choice for me, but I know you don’t want to hear it. People are getting angry, Chris. The smart infected that lead the invasion is being kept alive, using up the cure. If she was actually cured, then I could keep them calm, but this…, there’s no progress here. They’ll want her dead.”
Was the prey really trying to cure me? The poison was actually a cure? Maybe. But it doesn’t matter if the chief’s words are true. If the cure worked, the prey would let me live as prey. Since it hasn’t worked, the prey want me dead. Dying. I wanted to survive to find out who I was. And I figured it out: I’m Kaitlyn. I was a mathematician. I have a brother named Chris. My parents, the ones who brought me into the world, are dead. They’re answers. But they’re not what I was looking for. Why am I alive? I don’t know. Perhaps dying wouldn’t be so bad. Surviving for the sake of surviving, with no purpose, doesn’t that make me an other? They live to eat. And they eat to live. A constant cycle that involves nothing else. How am I any different from them? Because I can think? Because I can obtain food more efficiently? In the end, that only makes me better at finding food to eat to live to eat more to live to eat. It’s pointless. Dying makes the most sense. Living is irrational. How did I not see that earlier?
“Then I’ll leave the garrison, take her away. I’ll raid pharmacies myself to get more medication. I’m not going to give up on her.”
“And what about Jen?”
“I’ll ask her if she wants to come. If she does, she does. If she doesn’t, well, I can’t blame her.”
“Is that how it is? If that’s your choice, I’m not going to stop you, but I’m certainly not going to help you either. Quite frankly, I wish you’d come to your senses, but things always get a little heated when family is involved. You were quite level-headed too.”
“Chief, you probably already know this and don’t need to be told, but … you know how it is, everyone who’s survived this long, we’re all a little—or a lot—off in the head.” Chris turned to stare at me. “All of us.”
I, Kaitlyn, stared back.