Emeline and the Mutants, by Rachel Tsoumbakos
Description: At first, no one realised what was happening. Not that it would have made any difference in the grand scheme of things. It started out as a sudden rise in missing persons. People disappeared with no explanation. One day they were going about their lives, as they normally did. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. The next, they were gone, just up and left, taking nothing at all with them.
With this disappearance rate, there was also a sudden upsurge in murder and accidental deaths. Unexplained deaths came close on their heels. At first, there was no link between the two, but it did not take long for the authorities to catch up to speed. About as long as it took for an autopsy to be completed. Of course, the backlog in the system meant that this correlation was discovered weeks after it should have been.
Then there were people who had been mutilated beyond recognition. Tests would show that these people were being killed by dogs. Big dogs. Other people were ripped apart without any plausible explanation. Others, still, appeared to be drained of all their blood.
Speculation was rife. Some people blamed society; others blamed religion. Others still, blamed aliens. That third party were closer to the actual reality than they would be led to believe at first.
What had happened was that the viruses used to create the cure, had mutated. They mutated in such a way that no one would have guessed. The very nature of the cure was its mutating factor, which effectively crossed out the mutating factor of the AIDS virus. In a way, it was a negative and a negative coming together to create a positive, just like in mathematics.
However, it turned out that this positive effect wore off over time. Alternatively, it split apart. The positive became two separate negatives again. However, because they had co habited together for so long within the human body, they had changed slightly. They had taken on the traits of the body that it had lived in. It had taken common genetic information and mutated, once again, as the virus split back into its original form, but not in a helpful, healthy way this time.
Something interesting happened instead. People were no longer predisposed to cancer and diabetes. They were now more apt to becoming a zombie, vampire, werewolf or a troll.
“I-I’m sorry,” Emeline said in a small voice. She was feeling sick and ready to get off the roller coaster now. “I was momentarily confused.”
The troll smiled. Just when you thought the revolting creature couldn’t get any uglier, he went and proved you wrong. And wrong is exactly what happened when the troll smiled. It did strange things to his face. It scrunched it up in places and exposed other features in unattractive ways.
“I have a riddle for you too,” he said.
It went like this:
“An apple begins with me and age too.
I am in the midst of a man and foremost in every apprehension.
You will find me in everyday and see me in all autumns.
It’s a pity that you cannot see me in the air and yet it’s so wonderful to be a part of the great Atlantic Ocean.”
Emeline heard the words but they all ran around inside of her head like small children with bad manners and had consumed way too many sugary treats. Instead of trying to sort out the jumbled mess, all Emeline could wonder at was where all the trolls came up with all their ridiculous riddles. Was there a book they read perhaps? Or was it just something that was inside their heads naturally, a part of the mutation?
She tried to focus and saw the troll looking at her.
“Could you repeat the riddle please?” She asked sheepishly.
Hell’s bells, she was in trouble.
She thought frantically and tried in vain to rearrange all the words that were jumping erratically around in her head. She looked over towards Gwennie, but the troll saw and threw stones at the small woman. He plucked them from a small pouch at his waist. He threw with such accuracy that Gwennie was forced to flee. Especially once he started aiming for her temple.
****. ****. ****. What had he said? Something about apples and the Atlantic Ocean. She frowned. Was there some other way she could get past the troll perhaps?
She thought back over all the troll lore that had been pieced together over the few short years that they had been in existence. Bullets wouldn’t work, she quickly deduced. Only a clean decapitation would kill the beast.
Now Emeline had a knife on her, but it was packed safely away in the bottom of her backpack. Her gun was at her hip and would stun the troll, even if it wouldn’t kill him outright. However, she wasn’t game to whip it out Clint Eastwood-style. Moreover, accuracy was greatly reduced and she would be dead before she could even get the safety off. Trolls were renowned for their stupidity, but she wasn’t sure that even that was a guarantee that he would fall for letting her go through her bag.
The troll began to bang his foot against the ground. It appeared that he was beginning to get a little riled up. Think, think. She scolded.
“Well,” asked the troll. “Do you have an answer, or don’t cha?”
“Um, I’m thinking, okay?” she answered. “I’m kind of feeling the pressure.”
The troll made a quick snort, and snot flew out of his nose. It landed at Emeline’s feet.
Jumping back in disgust, she was tempted to turn back and run back the way she had come from, but she knew that for all the troll’s size, they were incredibly quick on their feet. He would be there and ready to greet her at the other side before she even had a chance to get away. And where would she flee to anyway; the compound? Alternatively, she could jump over the edge of the bridge, but that would be risking her neck.
The troll took out a hunk of meat while he waited. It was a disgusting grey colour and had bits of yellow fat hanging off it. He held it in his left hand while his right hand pulled out a crude knife. It looked handmade. He attempted to cut a chunk of the rotting meat off the bone. With a curse and a stamp of one foot, the troll had no luck in removing any meat.
“Can I sharpen that blade for you?” Emeline asked suddenly, an idea forming in her head. She just hoped that this particular troll was as stupid as the rest.
The troll looked up at Emeline. He looked back at the knife, and then sniffed the meat in his hand. You could almost hear the click of the cogs in his brain as he thought things through. If he was hungry enough, he just might fall for it.
Eventually he stuck out the knife. It came within an inch of Emeline’s intestines. That was only because her reflexes were good and she had jumped back with his sudden movement. She took the blade from the troll. It was heavy and badly made. She wondered where the troll had got the crude implement, but she wasn’t about to ask him.
“I need to get my whet stone out of my bag,” Emeline cautioned.
She put the knife down on the rough planks of the bridge. There were great gaps between the boards so she positioned the knife carefully. She didn’t want it to fall down between the planks and disappear into the water below. Emeline considered trying to get to her super sharp dagger at the bottom of her bag, but only for a second. She didn’t want to rouse the troll’s suspicions any more than she had to.
She unzipped the small compartment at the front of her bag, even though she really didn’t want to. She kept her movements slow and open, so that the troll was aware of what she was doing. They didn’t think quickly, but sudden movements were something that registered on an instinctual level. She pulled out a small pouch and opened it. Inside was her whetstone. She showed it to the ugly troll.
As she glanced up, she saw Gwennie behind her. She was trying to beckon to her. Emeline squinted, but just slightly. She didn’t want the troll to remember that Gwennie was still there. She watched as Gwennie made a gesture. It looked like she was making a triangle with her fingers. Emeline stood up slowly, her eyes always just left of the trolls, so that it appeared that she was looking at him, but really she was keeping Gwennie in her sight.
She wished that Gwennie would think to pull out a knife and kill the troll. Of course, it would also help if Gwennie wasn’t a midget. It’s a bit hard to decapitate someone when you only came to their knees.
Emeline started to sharpen the blunt knife. It would take a little while. She hoped that the troll would not grow tired and disenchanted while he waited. Disenchantment with a troll equalled grumpiness. Emeline was not prepared to see what would happen with a grumpy troll on this narrow bridge.
As she sharpened the rough blade, she shook her head slightly at Gwennie to indicate that she had no idea what she was trying to say. Gwennie stopped with her hand gestures and thought some more. After a moment of thinking, one hand tapping the side of her face, and her face poised ready as if she were about to say “A-ha,” she looked intently again at Emeline.
Emeline felt like she was stuck in some sort of wretched dream in which she was being tortured by a bad mime. Gwennie insisted on distracting her. Now she had made an ’O’ with her thumb and index finger of one hand. She then held one finger up next to it. She held it up for Emeline to see, then frowned and promptly reversed what her hands were doing.
Emeline gave up watching Gwennie. The blade was getting sharper now and she really had to concentrate on not cutting herself. It was nearly sharp enough for her task.
She could see the troll’s feet. He was prancing from one foot to the other. He was hungry. Trolls ate constantly. If they weren’t sleeping or killing animals by catching them and ripping them apart limb by limb, then they were consuming calories.
“I think I’m done,” Emeline finally said. She held the knife up and examined it in the light. “I need to test it first though. I would hate to ruin you meat.”
Har de har.
“On what?” the troll asked innocently.
“Well, in the movies, they always test a knife on a strand of hair,” Emeline replied just as innocently; like it was an idea that had just occurred to her unexpectedly. “Maybe we could use your hair?”
Emeline could see Gwennie jumping up and down in the background. She appeared to be miming a sneeze. Except that she just kept being caught in the ’Ah’ part of ’Ah-choo.’ Emeline ignored her and smiled at the troll instead.
“Okay,” said the troll hesitantly, as if he was trying to work out the loophole. “If you think it will help.”
“Oh, yes,” said Emeline with a smirk. “It will definitely help.”
The troll leaned over to Emeline and held his head out at an angle, so that she could reach his grimy locks. The smell was so horrible that Emeline would have happily chewed off her own arm if she thought it would help in her escape.
She reached out with the knife in one hand. The other hand reached up and grabbed a hunk of the troll’s hair. It was slimy and damp. Emeline felt her stomach lurch.
The troll realised exactly half a second before his demise what was going on. He attempted to pull back, but by that stage, Emeline was happy to let him go, since she had his head clutched firmly in one hand. His head, of course, was no longer attached to his body, so she no longer cared what the rest of him did.
What she did worry about though, was all the blood shooting out at her from the artery in his neck. Troll blood is like raw sewerage. It is thick and stinks to high heaven. In addition, like the unspeakable sludge that is flushed away, it can cause infection if it enters any open wounds. Of which Emeline now had a few. She jumped back, but not before she was splashed all over with the thick gelatinous gloop. The troll was dead, and Emeline was now free to cross the bridge in peace, but she needed to tend to her wounds as soon as possible if she was to have any chance of fighting the infection that the troll’s blood would invariably cause.
Gwennie ran up to Emeline. Emeline shooed her back. She didn’t want Gwennie to get blood on her too. She followed her off the bridge and ran around and down to the stream underneath it. She chose a spot a little upstream from the troll’s bridge, since there was no point attempting to wash the blood off her body and risk recontamination from the blood that was now dripping slowly through the gaps in the bridge.
She jumped into the cold water and immediately submerged herself – clothes and all. Once the majority of the blood and gore was gone, Emeline stripped off completely. She would probably have to boil up her clothes if she ever wanted to wear them again.
Gwennie averted her eyes discretely in an attempt to give Emeline some privacy. Not that nudity bothered Emeline, but it was a nice gesture none the less.
After scrubbing her entire body with a cake of soap from her backpack, Emeline hopped out of the frigid water. She didn’t have a conventional towel to dry herself with, but instead she had a small piece of chamois. It was very effective at drying her and had the added advantage of taking up hardly any room in her bag. Then she fished out a change of clothes. She pulled on a black t-shirt and a pair of matching leggings. She had no other shoes, so barefoot it would have to be for the time being at least.
When she was all dried and dressed, Gwennie took one look at her and shook her head with a curt snort for emphasis. Emeline pulled out her antiseptic salve and a small compact mirror. It had a small set of bristles in the lid that you could push out and use to brush your hair. She began to apply the ointment to her face, avoiding eye contact with Gwennie. However, Gwennie had something to say anyway.
“You’re a dumb ****, Emeline,” she finally blurted out, and then laughed. Emeline frowned at her but said nothing. The ointment was having an instant soothing effect on both the bullet wounds and the infection that was already starting.
“Really?” she said.
“Yeah,” the answer to the riddle was ’A,’” she said.
Emeline thought about all the silly actions that she had seen Gwennie performing. Yes, she was right. It all made sense now.
“Yeah, well my way turned out just fine,” she replied before returning to applying the balm to her face.
Gwennie laughed long and hard at that comment.
Emeline and the Mutants, by Rachel Tsoumbakos