They eat people.
The words scream in my mind over and over. I shake my head slowly and take a step back. His arms feel safe around me, but now the horror comes from him, too, and I have no where else to turn. "No. No, you're wrong."
His hands clench to loose fists at his side. They relax, again as desperation fill his eyes. "You saw the bite marks on Iris's arms. They were still there, even when I pulled her out of the water."
"If he had..." But it doesn't make sense. "If they eat people, how are they still up and walking around?"
"We can't tell. We found a man in the woods, back when we would still go into the woods." Quill makes a face like he's just tasted sour milk. "He was half eaten. His legs, his arms, everything inside was gone. But his head...his mouth kept opening and snapping. He was still alive."
If Quill wasn't there to save me, would Ross have eaten me? What would have been left when he was done?
"Once they bite you, the sickness spreads. You become one of them." Quill's voice is raw as he continues, "Ross got bit by that horse. We put it down, later. There was nothing else we could do."
"If they won't die, how do you–" I remember the way Quill had slammed Ross's rotting head into the stair railing, and bile rises in my throat. "Oh."
"There's nothing much we can do now but wait—see if this runs itself out like the typhoid two winters ago."
"This is a little different than typhoid!"
"Is it?" He's suddenly angry. "Have you ever watched someone die of it?"
I know nothing of John Quill's life outside of the months I have been with the Shakers. I don't know his age, besides that he's young. I don't know his family, or if he has one. Despite all of this, I regret the remark I couldn't have known he would take umbrage to.
"You see the world differently than I do," he mutters angrily, and stalks away, out the door before I can apologize or explain myself.
No matter how I offended him, I believe my assertion. This sickness is not the same as typhoid. That illness kills. Whatever stalks us here won't stop, even in death.
* * * *
dreams are filled with blood and violence. Upon waking, they haunt me. Every shadow is Ross's corpse, come to devour me. Every living person is but a future monster.
And what of me? Is it inevitable that I will become one, as well? Will Quill?
He does not speak to me that day, or the next, though I see him often. He lingers near the places I am whenever I look for him, but if my cousin notices, I can't say. Benjamin is hardly about anymore, hiding himself away until it is time for prayer.
We gather at the meeting house nightly, though the children no longer come. They stay in their house, with members of the community to watch over them. The meetings are still lively with dance and song. I find it impossible, as I study the rapturous expressions of the Shakers as they pass in their circle configurations, to know whether they feel safe or use their faith to convince themselves that they are.
We return to the dwelling house in the dark. Twilight comes earlier every night, so we walk in two straight lines, flanked every sixth row by a man with a lantern. They should be holding guns, I think, and realize with a chill of dread why they aren't. The Shakers won't fight. They refused to join in the war against the Confederacy, not out of political interest, but because they abhor violence. No one here would raise a weapon on another person–living or dead–even if they had one.
YOU ARE READING
After her father’s death and her mother’s hasty remarriage, Evelyn Whitney is handed over to the Shaker commune of Bannock, New York, into a life she has little chance of escaping. When the dead become monsters and community loyalties fracture, Evel...