The Price of Independence - Day 24

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Tremaine had set the table for another spectacular meal. Altman couldn’t understand how the man did it with nobody to assist him. He was growing visibly weaker by the day and yet his vision was going, and yet he always had food available in quantity, well prepared in a timely manner.

He’d just sat down to eat with Kaylene and Tremaine; they had looked for Deman without success. “He’s probably out taking a walk to cool down,” Kaylene had opined.

“I’m sure you must be right. We’ll save him some food, if there’s any left,” Tremaine had agreed, and Altman gave it no further thought.

They’d just about finished dining and were working on a nicely aged brandy when a crash sounded from the front hall. “Who’s there?” Tremaine called out, his voice suddenly tremulous with fright; the sound of bestial breathing approached as uneven footsteps staggered their way.

Kaylene gasped and Altman bolted up out of his chair as Deman appeared in the doorway, hands on the door frame to keep himself steady, breathing labored and with an ugly, unhinged look in his eye.

He looked horrible; his skin was patched with ugly dark red splotches, like the worst sunburn Altman had ever seen had been allowed to grow worse still. Half of his face was so burned, with welts and large boils and blisters showing everywhere the dark burns appeared. His hands were so burned it was a wonder he could move his fingers. They showed the same boils and blisters that covered his face.

One eye was bloodshot and pink, and horribly discolored, the iris slightly misshapen and several shades lighter in color than it had been. The lid over it was swollen so that it looked like it shouldn’t be able to close properly.

But worse than the deformities was his expression. He stared at Altman, newly mismatched eyes intense with the light of madness. This didn’t look like his friend, he thought. This person barely looked human.

Altman backed away from the table towards the entrance to the kitchen. “Uncle, come with us please,” he said softly. Tremaine couldn’t see Deman, but could hear well enough and complied without a word. Kaylene began circling the table away from Deman and the kitchen alike.

Deman started forward as soon as Altman moved, stumbling dizzily and nearly falling as he crossed the space between the door frame and the nearest chair. He grasped it with one damaged hand, keeping his feet, keeping his eyes locked on Altman. “We … You …” he ground out between labored breaths.

“What happened to you, Dem?” Altman asked, still backing away. The look in the man’s eyes was terrifying. “We looked for you.”

“… led me there … left me there … if you … idiotic nonsense … your fault!” His voice rose to an inarticulate scream with the last, and he lurched toward Altman, hands like claws. Altman backed off into the doorway to the kitchen while Kaylene circled around behind the mad man.

Deman nearly fell with the effort of reaching his friend and snarled, an animal growl of rage and frustration. Altman’s mouth dropped open at the ferocity of it; Kaylene paused in her circling of the table, eyes wide. Altman ducked back into the kitchen quickly.

Deman fumbled clumsily at his belt, grabbing his pistol with his burned, awkward fingers. Kaylene rushed forward, but he lurched ahead of her, bursting into the kitchen and firing several shots with enthusiasm, if not accuracy.

Altman turned when the shots stopped sounding; he’d heard 3 loud cracks and then a solid thump and groan. Kaylene had Deman pinned to the floor and was trying to pry the pistol from his grip when a fourth, final —BANG— sounded.