Clays Ark | Chapter 22 of 51

Author: Octavia E. Butler | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 6443 Views | Add a Review

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Past 15

NOW ELI WOULD BECOME an active criminal as well as the carrier of a disease. Now, with the help of Lorene and Meda, he would abduct a man. He would take Meda’s father’s Ford and go to what was left of old U.S. 95. Meda knew 95 from State Highway 62 to Interstate 40. It was desolate country, she said. No towns, almost no private haulers on the road. Just a few daredevil sightseers, taking their chances among the bike packs and car families, and a few well-armed, individualistic ranchers.

Eli worried about taking Meda along. She was four months pregnant, and he worried about both her and the child. She was not an easy woman to become attached to, but the attachment had happened. Now he could not lose her. He could not lose her.

Meda had always been physically strong, had taken pride in being able to match her brothers at hard work and hard play. Now the disease had made her even stronger, and her new strength had made her overconfident.

She would not, she told Eli, sit at home, trembling and wondering whether her child’s father had survived. She intended to see that he survived—and, he thought, maybe get herself killed in the process.

Eli swung from anger to amusement to secret gratitude for her concern. There were still bad times with her—times when she cursed him and mourned her family. But these times came less frequently. Both the disease organism and the child inside her were driving her toward him. Perhaps she had even begun to forgive him a little.

Now she helped him plan.

“We can hide here,” she said, using an old paper auto club map. “There’s a junction. A dirt road runs into Ninety-five. There are some hills.”

All four of them sat clustered at one end of the large dining room table. Lorene, who was to have the new man if he lived; Gwyn, who was already pregnant again and in less immediate need of a man of her own; Meda; and Eli.

Covertly, Eli watched Gwyn, saw that she seemed at ease, uninterested in the map. A few weeks before, she would have torn the yellowed paper in her eagerness to take part and get a man for herself. Now, pregnant by Eli, she was content. The organism had turned them all into breeding animals.

“What do you think?” Meda asked him.

He looked at the map. “Damn lonely stretch of road,” he said. “Anyone working here?” He pointed to a quarry that should have been nearby.

Meda shook her head. “Too dangerous. What this highway really is at that point is a sewer. From what I’ve heard about city sewers, the only reason they’re worse is because they have more sewer rats. But the gangs here are just as dangerous, and the haulers … body-parts dealers, arms smugglers—that kind. The few holdout ranchers are dangerous too. If they don’t know you, they shoot on sight.”

“Dangerous,” Eli said. “And close. Too close to us here. I used to see lights from Ninety-five when I went out at night.” When he went out to kill and eat chickens to supplement Meda’s mother’s idea of three good meals. “I think I saw lights from State Highway Sixty-two, too. If we accidentally catch anyone important, I don’t want search parties coming right to us.”

Meda gave a short, bitter laugh. “People disappear out here all the time, Eli. It’s expected. And nobody’s important enough these days to search this country for.”

Eli glanced up from the map and smiled. “I am. Or I would be if anyone knew I was alive.”

“Come on,” she said, irritated, “you know what I mean.”

“Yeah. I hear bike gangs and car families can be damned vindictive, though, if they think you’ve hurt one of theirs. Let’s go up to I-Forty. If things are bad there, we could even go on to I-Fifteen.”

“That far?” Meda said. “Fuel, Eli.”

“No problem. We’ll take the Ford. With its twin tanks it can go just about anywhere within reason and come back without a fill-up.”

“And there are more people on Forty and Fifteen,” Lorene said. “Real people, not just sewer rats. I could get an honest hauler or a farmer or a city man.” She sounded like an eager child listing Christmas possibilities. In a moment, Eli would have to make her hear herself. Left on her own, she could do a lot of harm before she realized what was happening to her.

“The Ford’s been to Victorville and back without fuel problems,” Gwyn said lazily. She was from Victorville, Eli knew. Christian had met her there, where she had worked with her brothers at their mother’s roadside station. She shrugged. “I don’t think we’ll have a fuel problem.”

Meda looked at her strangely, probably because of her lazy tone, then spoke to Eli. “I assume you want to use Ninety-five for going and coming.”

“We can use it for going,” he said. “If you think it’s worth the detour.”

She shook her head. “Car families set up roadblocks. Armored tour buses and private haulers just bull their way through, but cars get caught. Especially one car alone.”

“We’ll use this network of dirt roads, then. I like them better anyway. You know the best ones?”

She nodded. “In good weather, some of them are smoother than Ninety-five, anyway.”

“And the dirt roads will give captives the idea they’re more isolated than they are. They won’t be able to prowl around and find out the truth the way I did until they’ve made it through the crisis period. After that, they won’t care.”

“Are you sure they won’t?” Meda asked. “I mean … this is our home, but some stranger …”

“This will be his home.”

Lorene giggled. “I’ll make him feel at home. You just catch him.”

Eli turned to look at her.

“You know,” she said, still laughing, “this is the kind of thing you always read about men doing to women—kidnapping them, then the women getting to like the idea. I think I’m going to enjoy reversing things.”

Silence. Meda and Gwyn sat staring at Lorene, clearly repelled.

“We won’t touch him,” Eli told Lorene. “We’ll leave it to you to give him the disease.”

Lorene’s smile vanished. She looked from Meda and Gwyn to Eli.

“He might die on you,” Eli continued. “If he does, we’ll get you another one.”

She frowned as though she did not understand.

“We’ll get you as many as necessary,” he said.

“You don’t have any right to make me feel guilty!” she whispered. Her voice rose abruptly. “This is all your fault! My husband—”

“Remember him!” Eli said. “Remember how it felt to lose him. Chances are, you’ll be taking someone else’s husband soon.”

“You have no right—”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “But then, there isn’t anyone else to say these things to you. And you have to hear them. You have to understand what you are—why you feel what you feel.”

“It’s because you killed—”

“No. Listen, Lori. It’s because you’re the host, the vehicle of an extraterrestrial organism. It’s because that organism needs new hosts, new vehicles. You need to infect a man and have children and you won’t get any peace until you do. I understand that. God knows I understand it. The organism is a damned efficient invader. Five people died because I couldn’t fight it. Now, it’s possible that at least one person will die because you can’t fight it.”

“No,” Lorene whispered, shaking her head.

“It’s something we can’t forget or ignore,” Eli continued. “We’ve lost part of our humanity. We can lose more without even realizing it. All we have to do is forget what we carry, and what it needs.” He paused. She had turned away, and he waited until she faced him again. “So we’ll get you a man,” he said. “And we’ll turn him over to you. You’ll give him the disease and you’ll care for him. If he dies, you’ll bury him.”

Lorene got up and stumbled out of the room.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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