Dispersion: Part Two of the Specious Series is now available! Download it here.
*Obvious spoiler warning if you haven’t read Specious yet.*
Dispersion – Chapter One
I flinch at the rotting smell lingering in the living room, waiting for it to get worse, and swallow down the pit of anxiety that refuses to leave. Down the hallway is the room where it all started. I sacrificed so much in the vain hope this might work.
The sheets I placed in front of the door remain in the same position. For the first time since we left Potentia, I address my older brother. “I don’t know what state Matt’s going to be in.”
Dominic’s eyes don’t leave mine. “As long as he is still tied up like you said, it will be easy enough.” He pulls out his medical bag and rummages through it.
Allison bites her nails, chest frantically heaving. When I catch her eye, she stops her nervous chewing. Beside her, Jess stares blankly at the sheets, nose still at an awkward angle. The bruising around her eyes somehow makes her appear even more haunted. Her sharp features are relaxed in a vague expression.
I was wrong. That room isn’t where it all began. It’s where everything fell apart.
Without thinking, I take a step forward. Jess flinches away and lowers her eyes. I bite my tongue. This is all my fault.
Dominic speaks calmly. “The two of us will go in first to make sure he is properly secured.”
“I need to go in there with you,” Allison says, pushing her unruly red hair out of her face.
Before Dominic can respond, I say, “As soon as we make sure it’s safe for you to go in there, I’ll let you know. We don’t want you to put the baby in danger.”
Allison looks down at her stomach, nodding reluctantly.
Dominic tests the feel of the syringe before returning his steady gaze to mine. “No time like the present, Joe. You take the lead.”
I force myself not to react to his cruel nickname. We need him to cooperate. I take a big step forward to remove the sheets from the cracks and toss them away carelessly. I pull the door open, my sweaty palms forcing me to tighten my grip.
We lost so much for the possibility of getting Matt back. He has to get better. How else can I justify what’s happened to us this past month? If this doesn’t work, how could I ever look at Jess again?
Matt must come back to us. There’s no other option.
Taking a deep breath, I push the door open and retch, eyes watering. No matter how much I’m exposed to the smell of rotting flesh, nothing can prepare me for it.
I look around…and don’t see Matt in this bedroom.
My eyes close. It was all for nothing. He must have escaped.
“He is on the other side of the bed,” my brother says. At the sound of his voice, a weak moan escapes from behind the bed.
A decomposing hand is tied to the bed with his arm at an awkward angle. I move to the other side of the room, and the rest of Matt comes into view. I suck in a breath.
When we left, he had turned only hours before. His body hadn’t truly started to decompose yet and still had at least a little bit of life in it.
The isolation from a food source forced its body to turn on itself, and the result is horrifying. Its skin has turned an unhealthy gray as it’s wasted away. An empty shell has replaced the once-solid frame. Its head turns and snaps menacingly, teeth shining through a ruined bottom lip.
It stumbles to its feet and lunges toward me. Even though it’s no longer the person Matt was before, I can’t help but feel bad for this creature. It must’ve been in agony this whole time we’ve been gone. Solitary isn’t something I would wish on anyone…unless it were my older brother who put me there in the first place.
“If you’re not going to do anything, get out of the way,” Dominic says, pushing me to the side. He shoves the creature back on the bed. There’s a small crack as he pops its shoulder out of its socket.
Before it can react, he stabs the syringe in its neck and takes a step back. Within seconds, the creature goes limp. Its yellowed eyes close to hide its insanity.
Matt’s entire body is motionless.
“What did you do?” I ask.
“I gave him a sedative so we could administer the medicine properly.” Each word Dominic speaks is measured and even. He pulls another syringe out of his pocket and twists off the cap. Methodically, he measures certain parts of Matt’s decomposing body to insert medicine.
Dominic crinkles his nose in disgust as he touches him, but offers no other sign of emotion as he upholds his promise.
Even though I don’t want to acknowledge him, I still ask, “Why are you doing it like that?”
“Why would I waste my time explaining something to you that you will not understand?”
I clench my jaw. “Why do you talk to me like that?” I spit back.
“Because I can.” Before I can respond, he continues. “It is going to take several hours before we know if it is going to be successful. The cancer needs time to fight off the infection.”
“Do you think it’s going to work?” I ask.
“Honestly, Joe, I am not entirely sure. He has not been able to feed on anything but his own body since he turned. Even if he does make it back, it is not going to be for long. As soon as this is taken care of, I want to leave this place and find the group out in Acroisia. Don’t forget your part of the deal.”
“We’re not leaving with Matt sick,” I say. It’s important that I make this clear now. “We need to give him as much time as we can.”
“My word might not mean much to you, but I will help him stay alive as long as I can. I will fulfill my part of the arrangement,” Dominic says. “But then you have to fulfill yours.” He takes a seat in a chair.
I gently move Matt’s body under the tan comforter to hide his appearance as much as possible from Allison. With only his head uncovered, I take a step back. It’s still blatantly apparent he’s lost way too much weight. His cheekbones accent his bony face, erasing the warmth his wide features used to bring.
I open the window to get some fresh air. The vehicle we used to travel here is visible through the corner of the window. During the drive, I was eager to get away from Dominic after being trapped in such a small space with him.
It appears I haven’t been able to.
“Allison, the two of you can come in here now,” I say. It’s going to be a shock for them to see him like this, as it was for me, but at least his deteriorated body is somewhat hidden now.
I take a seat on the floor and wait to find out if our friend will come back to us. If there is a reason for all of our recent suffering—a reason for why Jess won’t make eye contact with me anymore.
The memories of our captivity suddenly come flooding back. The seemingly endless passage of time stuck in my windowless cell. While Allison was treated fairly and I only had to endure some uncomfortable genetic tests, Jess was subjected to much worse. Neither she nor Dominic have disclosed what happened exactly, but I have my guesses.
Allison’s unsure footsteps enter the room, followed by a desperate sob when she spots Matt.
“Dominic says it’s going to take several hours before we’ll know if it worked,” I say. I look past her in the hope of seeing Jess. There’s only Allison. “Where is she?”
“She wanted to take a shower,” Allison says.
She glares angrily at Dominic, but he doesn’t notice. He’s too preoccupied with observing his experiment. Allison takes a few tentative steps toward the bed and stares down. She caresses some dark hair off of Matt’s forehead and sits down on the bed beside him.
“So now we wait?” she asks, voice full of anticipation.
“Now we wait.” I stare out of the open window. The fresh air helps hide the stench of death, but not enough to fully override the evidence of the disaster.
Out in the distance, I spot the creek where Jess and I shared our first kiss. That night was when Matt turned into one of the mindless beasts. There’s never enough time.
Dominic clears his throat, reminding me why we’re here in the first place. He’s the reason this happened. If it weren’t for him, Jess wouldn’t be so broken. I want to hit him in his smug face and break his nose again.
My eyes tear away from him and fall onto Allison and Matt. We have to put up with Dominic for Matt’s sake.
I sigh. “I’m going to walk around the property and make sure all of the fences are still in place.” I need to get out of this room and away from Dominic.
“Be safe,” Allison says. Even though she addresses me, her attention remains focused on Matt. Her hair has fallen over her face, hiding her expression.
I hesitate before I leave the room, watching my brother. He rubs his beard as he reads through his notes, eyes darting across the pages. Did he take the same copious notes when he ran his experiments on me? After he forced me into giving him some of my spinal fluid to run genetic tests on, I wonder if he had that same thoughtful expression while he recorded it all.
How about with Andrew, when he turned him into one of the Letum only to see if he could bring him back? Are those the notes he’s going over now, or are they someone else’s? He never admitted how many people he ran those experiments on. I’m not sure I even want to know.
And Jess? Did he write down everything he did to her in there? All of the beating and breaking her—both physically and mentally—does he think he has that down to a science? Does the answer to how far his abuse went lie in that notebook?
For all the importance placed on genetics, I don’t understand how Dominic and I come from the same parents. We went to him for help because I was naïve enough to believe there was still some good left in him. I can’t make that mistake again.
I close the door behind me, taking a deep breath of the—relatively—better air. The shower is still running.
I grab a machete and head outdoors with fresh determination. This is something I understand. I can go out there and kill the Letum. I may not be able to get Jess to look at me, but at least I can do this.
I sprint toward the fence and follow it clockwise around the cabin. With every step, I’m more desperate to find one of the Letum. Out of all the times I wanted to avoid them and they showed up anyway, none are here the one time I actually want them.
I exhale air. What’s becoming of me if I’m almost begging to find the Letum? I push that thought away and start running, trying to escape its implication.
My side aches in protest at the physical exercise. A small voice in my head cautions me to slow down. It reminds me of my prolonged captivity. I ignore it.
If I can kill some of these creatures, maybe the balance will return.
I spot the awkward movement right past the fence and exclaim in relief. Without another thought, I jump over the fence and race toward it. The infected reacts to my noise and moans in excitement. It used to be a young woman. Its dress has been torn down its body. Its yellowed, dead eyes register my movement as it moans in its version of excitement.
I run toward it. In one fluid motion, I slam my arm down and the machete crushes its face inward. Its eyes split apart, revealing the gray mush inside its head.
It falls instantly. Its face is unrecognizable, and it’s hard to believe it ever belonged to a person. The hair attached to the head is a shade of brown similar to Jess’s. Its left boob hangs out of its dress. It’s such a vulnerable, shocking sight that I automatically readjust the dress to cover it.
This used to be someone. If a cure is possible, did I rob this person of her potential to be saved?
I drop my head. So much is wrong, and I don’t know the way to correct any of it. All I know is I need to be strong for Jess and Allison. I let the tears flow down my face but resolve that these will be the last.
I take a few deep breaths and get back to my feet. I leave the girl behind and cross back over the fence. While I made the first half of my walk in a fury, wishing to encounter some of the infected, I spend the remainder walking slowly, hoping for avoidance.
Luckily, I don’t see any other Letum and complete the circle around the fence. The sun rises to its full height and sweat drips down my back. I make my way back up the patio. I set my weapon down, the darkened blood drying, and open the front door to go back inside.
The shower is still running. I frown. I must’ve been outside for over an hour. I take large steps toward the noise and pass by Matt’s tomb. Allison and Dominic haven’t changed positions.
Even though I know the answer, I still ask, “Is Jess still in the shower?” The unease raises my voice.
Allison’s eyes widen. I run to the bathroom and bang on the door.
“Jess? Are you okay?” I call out.
Her silence is deafening. Pain shoots through my hand while I continue my desperate pounding. I shouldn’t have left her alone.
I slam my shoulder against the door again and again until I force it open.
Jess doesn’t even turn her head at my loud entrance. She sits naked in the shower while the water slides down her body, weighing down her normally curly hair. Her lips have a bluish tinge and her teeth chatter.
The water heater wasn’t built to last this long.
“Are you okay?” I repeat.
She doesn’t react.
Bruises cover her entire body along with various cuts and scrapes.
I clench my fists and struggle to breathe. Dominic decided he could do that to someone else. He took something and hit her, bruising her all over. He must’ve held her down with a knife when he cut her. All she did was choose me, and he saw that as reason enough to ruin her life.
Someone like him doesn’t deserve to live.
“Jess…” Allison’s soft voice comes from behind.
Allison pushes past me and grabs a towel from under the sink. She turns the water off, and Jess finally notices we’re in the room with her. Her eyes are blank.
“You’re going to get through this,” Allison says. She steps into the tub and drapes the towel around her. “You’re strong enough for this.” Allison’s hands rest on Jess’s shoulders. The two of them make eye contact.
Very slowly, Jess shakes her head.
Dominic joins us and says, “What is going on in here?”
Jess drops her head. Allison jerks up in fury. There’s only one thing I can think to do. I push Dominic out of the room and close the door behind me.
“I don’t know why you’re trying to hide her. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” he says.
My gut tells me he did much more than look at her. The obvious physical abuse is one thing, but if he did more…I can’t accept that. It’s all my fault.
He turns away and walks down the hallway. I shove him into the wall—hard. His arms rise to catch himself. When he turns to face me, our father’s strong features etched across his face, there’s an angry amusement in his expression.
I wish we were back in the territories so I could take the tools he used on Jess and punish him with them.
Dominic chuckles darkly and faces me. “There’s nothing you can do to change the past. That must be eating you alive right now.”
I tighten my jaw and struggle to remind myself that we need his help with Matt. My hands shake with tension.
“I bet you’re overwhelmed imagining what I did to her.” Dominic smiles smugly. “I hope you fall asleep at night wondering what I did when we were alone.”
He steps even closer and his head is now inches away. I tilt my chin up to maintain eye contact.
“Whatever you think happened, whatever your worst fear is, I did more,” he says quietly. “And you brought her to me so willingly.”
He smiles again and walks away.
The moment he disappears into Matt’s room, my body slumps as I sit on the floor. He takes pleasure in making me squirm, but what if he isn’t talking it up? What if he did do more?
My hands won’t stop shaking.
I don’t care that we’re brothers. I don’t care that we need his help. If he hadn’t walked away, I’m not confident I could keep control. I want him dead…and I want to be the one to do it.
Once Matt is back, there won’t be anything to stop me.
My breathing hitches. Even if I kill Dominic, that won’t be enough to reverse what happened to Jess. There’s nothing I can do to take that back.