Eden turned to Donovan as Corrigan disappeared behind the elevator doors. Her eyes were quickly growing wet as she collapsed into his arms.
“Hey, come on now.” Donovan lifted Eden’s head up by the chin and looked into her eyes, he couldn’t help but think they looked so much like his own. “You’ll see him again,” he said and he knew she believed him.
“I still worry about him,” she said.
“Understandably.” The pair looked at each other, holding hands while Charles came around the corner dressed in his usual three piece suit--even though just moments ago he was still in his pyjamas. He tilted his head in their direction and smiled. They let go of each other and looked him over suspiciously.
“I’m so glad the three of us have got a moment alone,” the old man said with a crooked smile.
“I’m sorry?” Donovan asked, feeling his stomach churn.
“Please, come with me.” Charles drifted lazily down the hallway, giving the other two a moment to catch up. “Any time now.”
Donovan’s chest tightened with anxiety. As he looked back at Eden the door to the stairs creaked open behind them and Aleksi slipped out of the darkness.
“I think you should follow him,” Aleksi said.
Donovan struggled with a momentary lapse of judgment and took a small step toward Aleksi. He stopped as he felt a tug in the back of his brain. He turned to Eden and she stared into his eyes. Donovan knew she was telling him to lay off, telling him that now wasn’t the time to fight. She reached out and grabbed his hand. There was warmth where their palms touched and Donovan fell back to her side. They turned around and followed Charles down the hallway. His pace quickened and he hopped forward as if he were an actor in a musical, sliding to his front door and holding his arms out in what Donovan assumed was supposed to be a welcoming gesture. The whole thing was terrifying, like some psychotic silent clown.
Aleksi followed them down the hall and into the apartment. Charles entered last and closed the door. “Oh what fun!” the old man said, smiling. “Please, have a seat!”
Donovan and Eden looked at each other, neither of them wanted to sit.
“I assure you,” Charles said, “you’ll be safe here with me and Aleksi. Please, get comfortable.”
Aleksi advanced on them and they fell into the overstuffed cushions. “We just want to talk,” Aleksi said as he took up a position next to Charles and stared at the both of them with an unidentifiable expression.
“Well, scotch anyone?”
“Do we really have to play this game again?” Donovan asked and Charles laughed.
“Oh yes, oh yes. I’m sorry. It’s just such a habit. Now is not the time for scotch though, I’m afraid.” Charles pulled one of his wing back chairs up closer to face Donovan and Eden on the couch. “I must know. When were you bitten?”
“What?” Donovan and Eden said in unison. They looked at each other, then back at Charles.
“When were you bitten?” Charles asked again and Donovan felt like the question was being asked of both of them. “It’s a simple enough question.”
“I wasn’t--” Donovan started.
At the same time Eden said, “Who me?”
“You were both bitten by zombies correct?” Charles’ tone turned to a mocking one as he said the word.
“Why do you say it like that?” Donovan asked, ”Zombies.”
“Well, I suppose they could be considered zombies. But I rather feel as though that’s a bit of a simple explanation, don’t you? I mean, we’ve all seen the movies haven’t we? A zombie bites you, you die, and you turn into one. That’s how they are supposed to work, right? It’s simple. You two, however, are far from simple. You may have even noticed before you were bitten that you were... complex, the bite just enhanced you.”
Another silent pause filled the room.
“What happened to us when we were bitten? Why didn’t we die?” Donovan said.
“Now, answering that question is a bit of a different task. Most humans can’t handle the disease and they die. There are a number of us who have survived and come out stronger for it though.”
“Us?” Donovan asked. “Were you bitten too?”
Charles let loose a wild hoot of laughter, as if Donovan had told a hilarious joke. “You are quite the specimen, aren’t you? So curious, always asking questions, questions, questions. You’d think a curious kitten like you would have seen right through a man like Jasper. You too, Eden, I’m quite disappointed with you in that department as well. At least with Max out of the way you can have a fresh start. Find a man who deserves you, dear, not some pedo who obviously only has eyes for your little brother. Poor Donnie’s not so fortunate.”
Eden was raging and Donovan could feel it. Her anger didn’t make him forget his own though. “What do you mean ‘see right through a man like Jasper’?”
“We’ll get to that in time, what matters now is that this ‘disease’ hasn’t had the same effect on the two of you as it’s had on... well, everyone else!”
“What effect has it had on us then?”
“I’m sure you both feel it. Like I said, you’ve probably even felt it before you were bitten, but now, whoa!” Charles said, his eyes sparkling. “You see things, you feel things. Your minds have opened wide to the world around you. Something about your DNA has over powered the disease and changed it to be something else, something you can use to your benefit to survive all this!”
“So then what happened? What’s this ‘benefit’ we have?”
“Well that’s what we’re here to find out, isn’t it?”
“How indeed,” Charles cocked a brow at Donovan and stood up. “I’ve seen more than you can imagine. A serpent who uses love as a weapon, an angel who passes knowledge and skills on to heroes like a virus. You yourself saw your aunt transform into a beast and command the legions of undead with her screams. I’m not equipped to tell you why these things happen, of everyone in my group I’d say Tiberius would be best versed in the things we’ve seen this disease do and he doesn’t really like to share his work.”
There was a knock on the door. Without saying a word Aleksi went to answer it. Donovan strained his ears to hear the low whispers, but to no avail. Aleksi turned to Charles and after a moment the old man nodded his head.
Romie entered the room, holding Jasper up by his arms and dragging him into the apartment. He was bruised and bloody, one eye was swollen shut and his nose was bent.
“What happened?” Donovan rushed towards Jasper, but Aleksi stepped between them, arms crossed over his chest. “What did you do to him?”
“He was trying to get out,” Romie said. “He climbed out onto the roof of the strip mall and got stuck. The snipers saw him and we went down to bring him back.”
“So why does he look all beat up?” Donovan asked.
“Because we beat him up.”
“But why would you do that?”
“He was trying to get out!” Romie spoke a little louder and a little slower. Then she turned to Charles and said, “Chuck, when you said this kid was special, were you talking like... Yyou know?” She waved her hands in the air as if to encourage everyone in the room to fill in her blanks.
“Well,” Charles said with a bit of a chuckle, “that’s exactly what we were telling stories about before you arrived--how special Donovan truly is.” Charles nodded at Romie and she moved to tie Jasper to a dining chair. Jasper winced and avoided looking at Donovan while Charles smiled at the two of them. “I’m glad that our friend Jasper is here to share in the storytelling.”
“Storytelling?” Donovan asked, looking at Jasper’s swollen face.
“Why yes!” Charles clapped his hands together. “You see, Jasper here is quite adept at storytelling, aren’t you, my boy? Part of the reason I hired him in the first place.”
“What’s he talking about?” Donovan asked, but Jasper gave no response. “Jasper, talk to me here. Give me something. What’s this crazy old guy talking about?”
“I’m... I’m sorry...”
“Sorry for what?”
“It was never meant to go this far,” Jasper half-whispered and he shook with silent sobs. “My source told me Charles was out of the city, I thought we could get in and out...”
“You think your people are the only ones with spies?” Charles said and Romie punched Jasper in the gut. “Donovan, I hear you lifted some classified info from my man Aleksi the other night. With just a touch no less.”
Donovan looked at his hands and thought about Aleksi grabbing his arm on the night he’d arrived. He remembered the memories that filtered in from the other man.
“You think that will work again?” Charles asked.
Donovan stepped closer to Jasper and grabbed hold of his arm. The vision that came to him wasn’t clear but he knew it gave him a feeling of dishonesty and betrayal. There were so many layers of secrets hidden inside of Jasper that it was impossible to peel them apart.
“It didn’t work, did it? Not the way you wanted it to anyway.” Charles said, continuing to grin. “You may have noticed I have a way with people. I truly thought Jasper was under my thumb the entire time he worked for me. Turns out he’s more complex then he lets on. Nothing like you and Eden though, I promise.”
“Jasper, tell me what’s happening here!”
“Now calm down, boy,” Charles said, patting Donovan’s shoulder. “We’ve got something in common you know. Jasper worked for me, it’s true, but it turned out he was lying to me as well. Just like he’s been lying to you. Jasper was conspiring with another of my ungrateful employees. Apparently I let them get too close, gave them a bit too much information about the prophecies and they got greedy. They broke away from me and formed their own, more devious enterprise.”
“Prophecies? What prophecies, and what do they have to do with me?”
Just like Donovan had assumed he would, Charles ignored the question and instead carried on with his previous long-winded explanation. “He let you think he loved you to get close to you, to keep you from falling into my hands. You were in the infirmary for a good day and a half and he didn’t visit you once, but I believe he made frequent visits to see Marion. Who was she anyway? Just some stranger who showed up while you were sleeping? Do you still believe that particular story? You were nothing but a job to him, to both of them.”
“That’s not true!” Jasper called out but he quickly received another punch from Romie.
“You see, along with many other gruesome details about the end of the world, while he worked for me Jasper discovered that there was hope for the future of man kind and during an apocalypse whoever controls the hope has the power. So, he took it upon himself to keep you safe from me until the day arrived that you’d reach your higher purpose.”
Donovan looked at his bleeding boyfriend and felt more of that burning anger that he knew so well. “Jasper, is this true?”
“There’s no need to get angry,” Charles said. “In the end, it would appear as though Jasper wasted his time. Not only did he end up delivering you directly to me, but it turns out Aleksi and I had misinterpreted the prophecies all along.” He turned to Eden and Donovan felt her worry grow. “While the two of you were in the infirmary I had the doctor run some tests. According to him, your brain scans were not only quite marvellous, but they were exactly the same.”
“What does that mean?” Eden asked.
“Oh, we’ll find out soon enough.” Charles said, shrugging his shoulders. “I wish I could tell you more, but Dr. Kent prefers to operate as secretly as possible. I don’t even know what really goes on down there. He even asked me to scramble poor Noah’s brains after he’d been in the lab. Of course I didn’t. It wouldn’t do to have to retrain him every day, I told the good doctor that too but it didn’t help him relax.”
Donovan felt a tugging in his brain, it was coming from Eden’s direction and when he looked at her he could see she was crying. Just then the door swung open and Dr. Kent entered the room. He had more blood stains on his lab coat than usual and his hair was even more frazzled than before. When he caught sight of Donovan and Eden, they both looked at him and felt a coldness steal their body heat.
“Is it time?” the doctor asked, his enthusiasm clearly visible.
“Yes, yes I think it is.” Charles clapped his hands together with a grin. Aleksi moved over to grab Donovan’s elbow. Unlike the last time they touched, Donovan didn’t see the chair in front of the window, nor did he see his own house across the street. He only saw Aleksi’s disgruntled face looking down at him. Aleksi grabbed hold of Eden too and they followed Dr. Kent to the door.
“Charles, you can’t do this!” Jasper called out.
“You know that there’s nothing I can’t do,” Charles snapped. “If you didn’t want this, you shouldn’t have done such a good job of leading him right to me. You’d think a man with so many lies to tell would be more weary of his sources.” Donovan just managed to hear Charles laugh before he was pushed down the hall by Aleksi and the old man’s voice faded away.