In his dreams, Reuben saw the dead. He saw them stacked up as they were outside that burning hospital. Men, women, children, elders, babes, whites, blacks, rich, and poor, all alike they lay there. He saw their faces, all their hanging lifeless faces. Piled up in layers, their drooping eyes stared out at him in lines as straight as Roman roads. And thus, they gazed upon him as a single whole. As though in death, all their bodies had morphed together into one abomination. As he looked back into their eyes, he knew not what he saw. Was it resentment? Hatred? Indifference? Or was it judgement?
He could not tell. All he knew was that they were looking back at him intently. Amongst them, he began to see faces he recognised. People he had seen in the compound. People he had supped with. People he had shared space with. Unmasked and unprotected, they lay there glowering at him in silenced accusation. With each face he saw he recalled his interaction with them, he remembered how close he was to them. And he recollected too how close they had been to him. The more faces he saw the more it overwhelmed him. Panica began to take hold as his mind focused and focused on this more and more. A ceaseless chanting voice rattled through his dream world shrieking:
“You’re next! You’re next! You’re next! You’re dead! You’re dead! You’re already dead!”
Of a sudden then all the corpses spontaneously combusted into a great roaring wall of fire so ravenous and malefic in its fury that it almost blinded the dreaming Reuben. The curtain of flame parted, and an ice-white stallion came leaping through crying and screaming like a banshee. The rider that sat upon this steed was a smiling skeleton of blood-red bones. As the dead horseman galloped out of view, Reuben saw through the gap in the wall of fire the sun rising from the depths of the horizon. Yet this sun was no life-giver. There was no warmth or love to this ascending orb. It was not even yellow.
It was grey, grey as the banner of decay. And sprouting from its ash-coloured surface there spiked a whole carpet of crimson protrusions, pulsing and brimming with insidious malice to spread its grasp across all before it. Reuben recognised it at once.
“Corona,” he gasped and there the hissing voice returned to him.
“From the sun all life grows. On the sun, all things green and hale depend. Now Corona is the sun, all things shall live by its design...”
Reuben shuddered awake and sat upright, sweat bleeding down his face. His heart was hammering against his ribs and his lungs were gasping for air. His vision was blurred, the last glimpses of his dream still fading away in the dark. He felt as though he had no control over himself. Over anything. Then as the monstrous face of the virus evaporated altogether, he saw his cramped little cell of a room. He was alone, and that was good. For so long as he was alone, he was isolated. Isolation meant safety. Within these confines, no harm could come to him. His body began to relax. His fixation dissipated. His anxiety was no more.
Just as his nerves began to ease though he very nearly jumped out of his skin. Right above his head, he could hear a salvo of machine-gun fire being let loose. He then heard returning gunfire. The walls began to tremble and vibrate as bullets bounced and ricocheted off them.
The compound was under attack. The Iron Klan had come!
Nimbly and swiftly he hopped out of bed, locked the door to his room and propped his mattress up against it.
No sooner had he done so however than the storm of steel had ceased. A silence ringing with the echo of violence abounded for a second or two. Then the hoots and laughs and taunts of the Brave King and his men up on the roof began. They had prevailed. The attackers had been defeated. The compound was safe. Reuben put his room back together and returned to a soundly dreamless sleep.
The next morning, he climbed up to the rooftop where the Brave King was lounging in a sunchair, an assault rifle resting on his lap.
“We got ‘em good boy!” said the Brave King in self-congratulation. “Take a little peek for yourself.” Reuben walked over to the rim of the rooftop and surveyed the damage below. A handful of corpses were strewn out across the surrounding fields. Three bodies were entangled in the barbed wire. “Bunch of god damn idiots!” continued the Brave King. “We planned on this here for years and they come strollin’ up to us like picnic-goers! Guess they’re so used to takin’ easy pickings they don’t know what to do when bullets start flying right back at ‘em.”
“They didn’t even get close,” muttered Reuben to himself as his eyes became glued to the bullet-riddled cadaver caught in the barbed wire.
“You shittin’ me?!” laughed the Brave King. “Ain’t nothin’ stickin’ its nose within a hundred miles of here without us knowin’ about it, day or night. They ever come back again we’ll blow ‘em all to Hell just like last night!”
“They’ll come back?” countered Reuben concernedly.
“Maybe,” shrugged the Brave King. “Maybe they were just testin’ our defences. Seein’ what kinda grit we got. Or maybe we gave ‘em fuckers such a bloody nose they’ll look for lower hangin’ apples in future. Either way, anyone comes this way with the wrong ideas, it’s a policy of shoot first and bury them later.”
“Brave King!” called one of the guards peering through a set of binoculars. “We got incoming.” David hopped out of his chair and took the lenses out of his soldier’s hands.
“Refugees by the look of ‘em,” surmised the guard.
“Darn toothin,” agreed the Brave King. “Likely they heard we kicked ass last night and now want us to protect ‘em from the Klan. Looks like these here folks want salvation.”
From his vantage point on the rooftop, Reuben watched as the Last Haven erupted into life. Within minutes there was a line of gunmen at the gates to the property and three loudspeakers were blaring out a recording of Douglas’ saying:
“Come one and come all! Believe in God and save your soul! All who believe are saved! All who hide will die! Only cowards behind masks!”
As his words rang out again and again and again across the empty landscape, the road became jampacked with a huge slithering caravan of hapless refugees. In droves they came to the gateway, pawing and begging for succour and sanctuary. No open arms were there to meet them though. Only guards with judging eyes.
Those without masks were admitted without question, as a matter of fact, they were hurried on in. As for the more cautious of their number though, the ones who feared to infect or be infected, they were subjected to interrogation. If they bore the mask only to survive the oppressive regime of “yankee liberalism”, then that was no issue. All they need do then is hail Mary and walk right in. But should someone say that they feared for their life or the lives of others by taking their mask off, then that person was escorted away to a holding pen, out of view from all the other refugees.
Observing it all from the rooftop, Reuben looked on as the Brave King’s men took ten people at a time from the holding pens. They bound their hands and forced them to their knees. One by one then, they took a hammer to their heads and dashed their skulls to pieces. When life twitched through them no more, the bodies were carried away and hurled into a garbage truck. Then the next batch of ‘unworthy’ souls was taken from the holding pen and the process was repeated, again and again, and again until the garbage truck could take no more.
“I know how this may look to you,” came a voice. Reuben pivoted around to find Douglas behind him.
“You’re slaughtering them like cattle,” said Reuben, struggling to keep his emotions together.
“It’s necessary son,” justified the Holy King. “If we let ‘em go they’ll cause all sort of trouble for us. They’ll go back to their Commie friends and tear this place apart. We gotta make sure they don’t do that. Won’t have no crooked Commie sleepin’ tight under God’s roof, no siree.”
Reuben almost felt like strangling his rescuer in that moment. This was as bad as what the Klan had done, worse perhaps because people had come here in search of refuge only to have their heads bashed in. But he held his silence. He had no intention of joining the dead.
Whatever this place was, it was safe, and he did intend to remain safe.
“They bring their vile ideas in here,” continued Douglas. “It’ll spread like a God damn contagion and before you or I know it we’ll all be on the wrong end of God’s judgement. We gotta keep this place secure. We gotta quarantine ourselves from these heathen liars and crooks... I know you must think I’m no better than those devils you saw the other day. But believe me son, this is the only way. God told me so.”
“God told you?”
“Why of course. God speaks to me in my dreams. And he told me to dash them against the rocks... I am God’s vessel on Earth, Reuben. And all that he says to me is truth. Therefore, all that I do, I do as God would.” There was nothing he could respond to that with. He just held his tongue until the man slapped him on the shoulder. “Now!” he boomed with the familiar friendliness which he could so effortlessly conjure. “There’s a mighty amount of people coming through our doors here now and I believe there is a whole mountain of paperwork that Fisherman is working through. You go down to him now and give him a Samaritan hand, won’t you?”
Reuben curtly nodded and left the Holy King to survey his kingdom.