A white tattered cloth punctured through a jagged wooden stick hangs overhead like a proud banner. The cool night wind gusts through the tears of the dirty white cloth creating a flapping noise snapping it back and forth. The wrinkled letters begin to unfold as the cloth catches the wind and sways upward, revealing the sloppily written letters of R.I.P. The red lettering looks rough and jarring exhibiting that blood was utilized in the propaganda. The crackling and popping sound from the large bonfire acts as a song to the terrifying noises and cries of the people dancing around it. A ritual of acceptance and fearlessness soothes them to their soul. The fire provides an orange glow underneath the radiant stars and luminous full moon hovering over the chaos of the infected world. The screams and moans of Freakers in the distance add to the ambiance of their ritual.
“Get Low!” one calls out in low a gravelly voice.
A large bald man gets shoved from behind toward the fire and thrown down to the ground forcefully by two other Rippers. The ritual around him continues to proceed as the people dancing are blinded to their surroundings. Both Rippers resemble each other along with the people around them with their shaven heads and covered with slander and scars all over their bare bodies from self-inflicted cuts. One mark is distinctive on each person, the letters R.I.P engraved onto their foreheads. The Rest in Peace cult began growing and making a name for themselves after the outbreak. They worship the Freakers and believe that becoming infected is a gift. Most of these Rippers were junkies, criminals, people with schizophrenia and suicidal in the previous world. Some however, were people that could never get their head above the poverty line and struggled in multiple areas of their life causing depression. Now, they feel more alive than they ever felt.
Another bald man, this time leaner with multiple scars covering his body heads toward the man being pinned down. His scars seem different, like they have been there longer than the others. The word “sacrifice” is cut into his arm starting at his shoulder and running down to his wrist. As he reaches him, the scarred man holds a bloody machete in his hand and hovers over the unscathed man on the ground. Drops of blood slowly drip off the sharp tip of the blade and onto the man’s forehead. The light from the fire reveals the letters R.I.P on the scarred man’s forehead with the shadows concealing the rest of his face. The man reaches in his pocket and shoves his hand up to his nose taking a deep breath, releasing leftover white particles floating in the air around him. The noises that come out of his mouth next sound animalistic as if he just regained life. He begins to clench his fists and pound at the air like he is preparing for a boxing match. He holds the machete right up to the middle of his face seeing the blood trickle down the shaft and the reflection of the flames on the steel. He bends over the helpless man on the ground staring into his soul for a moment with a slight grin on his face.
“Lost One, I see your pain, but I also see your want to let go of your ego. Don’t struggle because here you will find peace and you will be Free. Your sacrifice comes at a cost – but you will know Freedom the way we do,” explains the confident leader.
The large man on the ground screams out in pain as the scarred man begins to engrave the letter “R” onto his forehead with the blade of the machete. The blade cuts into the flesh as blood erupts from his forehead and trickles down the corner of his right eye. The letter “I” is carved next with a quick vertical slice in the middle of his forehead. Lastly, the letter “P” is cut above his left eye with the stem of the letter reaching just above his eyelid. Blood flows down the man’s face like a slow-moving waterfall. The man continues to kick out of instinct but is held against his will while the leader pursues to cut the flesh of the man in several other places. Some damage has already been done to the man’s body from his initial visit to the Ripper camp. Other Rippers tortured him and shaved him prior to this night to make sure he was ready to go on the Path. Before he continues, he blows more of the white powder into the wounded man’s face to lessen the pain.
“Time to get low,” the leader shouts.
Next, he cuts his arms – flashes of his childhood begin to pop into his mind. A quick slice to his chest – brings him back to the playground with his father. A slash to his stomach – he feels his mother’s hand stroking his hair as she reads him a bedtime story. Finally, multiple small slices are done to the top of his head – he hears his guardian shout his name repeatedly, “Justin! Justin!” At this point, the large man has gone unconscious with blood spilling out from several cuts on his body forming a large puddle of blood encircling him. The leader holding the machete screams out to his fellow Rippers sending their chants even louder. With each cut inflicted on him, it motivated the others to inhale more of the powder and use their own blades to create marks to celebrate. They take pleasure in the pain with the extra dose of powder kicking in. They kick, and they leap as they dance overtop of the unconscious man’s body. They begin to lose control of their bodily movements during their ritual causing them to eventually collapse staring up into the night sky.
The flames seem to mimic their dance and their shadows come alive. The haunting sounds of Freakers play as a lullaby in their heads and the blades of their weapons act as their lovers. The tall pine trees of the Pacific Northwest unroot and shoot up toward the sky like rockets. The stars spin around and around to form memories and future thoughts. So many names bounce around in their heads, but they can’t place them. Maybe it’s their friends, family members, themselves? The ground begins to shake creating a vortex in the Earth sucking anything in its radius in. The Rippers fall into the fiery abyss where they reach out with hope calling for the Freakers to join them in their eternal home. Bodies of the Lost are lifeless and tied up as sacrifices with their feet dangling and their wrists bonded by jagged wooden sticks. Ragged t-shirts are balled up in their mouths causing suffocation. The sacrifices are lined up forming a long and narrow path leading to a dark cave. The Rippers begin to shuffle down the path grouped together like a horde as their bare feet drag across the gravel. Once they reach the cave, screams of monsters become deafening and their minds become distorted. Thousands of Freakers come barreling out of the darkness and engulf the scarred Rippers until each one of them has been devoured piece by piece.
Then, the world turns black.
The rain rapidly taps at the large man’s head slowly waking him up. He tries to adjust his eyes by blinking excessively but his focus is lost with the bright morning sun trying to peek through the trees. He struggles to lift his head up from the soaked ground trying to look down at the damage of his body. Dried blood sticks to the back of his shaven head as dark red gooey strings dangle to the ground. He stretches his fingers to feel every cut laid upon his arm. He tries to push off the ground with the palms of his hands, but loses traction sinking into the mud causing him to fall back down. He attempts to sit up one more time using a little extra movement from his sore body and successfully gets upright. His throbbing head hangs down with his chin touching his chest. He slowly lifts his head to scan his nearby surroundings and sees the other Rippers lying passed out on the ground with their weapons placed next to them.
His focus starts to become a little clearer the more he squints and moves his head. Sitting there in an unusually peaceful moment, he realizes that he isn’t Lost anymore. Last night was his initiation and waking up this morning proved he has reached Freedom. This realization hits him right in his stomach. He doesn’t feel a sense of fear or remorse but feels a sense of purpose and strength. He takes his finger and gently outlines each of his new cuts given to him by the leader himself. He traces the “R” engraved on his forehead and releases a slight grin. Flopping back down to the ground with the puddle of rain and blood splashing up on his bare back, he looks up to the sky and shouts, “get Low!”
The old world was never for him. Surviving out in the shit for over a year now has made him realize that he hasn’t lost anything. He didn’t have a family, a career nor a home. He was in-between homeless shelters and sleeping outside at parks just trying to get by, conning people in town along the way to get some extra cash. At 13 years old, both of Justin’s parents died in a car accident and was given up to foster care where he remained until he was 18. Due to his parents passing and his living situation, he never seemed to fit in anywhere. He could never make friends in school because he was always being bullied by the rich snobby kids. Whether they would make fun of him for living in a house full of kids that no one cared about or being the loser that no one sat with at lunch, the harassment continued his whole middle school and high school career until he dropped out. From there, Justin went down a lonely path of recklessness and lost any ambition to make something of himself. He tried a few times to take his own life, but never had the courage to completely go through with it. So, he drowned his sorrows in alcohol and drugs to escape society.
Fast forward a couple years and the world went to hell. Luckily enough for him, the day the outbreak occurred he was sitting on a bench at the park looking out toward the mountains just before his afternoon ritual of downing a bottle of cheap whiskey. Sirens started to sound, people at the park were scrambling and a loud crash involving multiple vehicles was heard up the road. He marched toward the noise until he saw people running wildly and viciously attacking emergency personal. Justin paused, then immediately began to run the opposite way where he found a group of people trying to flee the area. He was fortunate that day to run across this group who eventually built up a small camp and became sustainable in a world where you count the number of days gone. Nevertheless, when you are a man of little ambition and could care less for the people around you, you don’t last long in a place like this. He used them to survive when he needed it the most, and since that obstacle has passed he was just there to once again get by. Not too long after people started doing jobs to keep the camp running, he was kicked out. Each person needed to contribute, or you were worthless to the camp. One of the campers was kind enough to slip him a few credits before he left, which was the currency used to buy food, weapons, etc. This helped him get to the next camp, and then the camp after where he started to repeat his old lifestyle.
Of course, he had to get his hands dirty by killing Freakers during his travels but somehow, he continued his lucky streak of surviving. He had one poorly conditioned pistol and a hatchet that he received from the first camp to help him survive amongst the vast Oregon wilderness. He would then steal or con his way into getting a little extra ammo here or there at camps to get to the next place. Justin found his way to a camp located in Hot Springs where he stayed for a short time. This was a slave camp where it was required to work each day for long hours for little to no credits. Plus, the so-called “security” would beat on you if they felt bored. To bide his time, Justin volunteered to do supply runs to get outside the gate because it felt freer to be out in the shit, then stuck working in the camp. The crazy old woman in charge was happy to use him as an errand boy because right before he came in their supply group was ambushed and killed.
During the night before falling asleep on his thin cot underneath a small tarp roof, Justin would eavesdrop on stories being told from campers around the fire. Multiple stories were told about a group of people called the Rippers, or the Rest in Peace cult. He would hear snippets of their conversation before dozing off:
“They all follow their leader Carlos…”
“They live as a unite of some sort and wish to be Freakers themselves, it’s crazy…”
“I saw them cutting themselves with machetes man, and then dancing like a possessed person…”
“The Rippers take some sort of PCP drug I think, sending them all bat-shit crazy…”
From the moment he heard these stories, he became fascinated by how they lived. Surviving wasn’t living, and he was ready to move on once again but this time to a place he could call home. A place where people are like him, a place where you can start anew and a place where the meaning of home could be something he hasn’t felt for a very long time.
One morning, a drifter came into camp to take a job. As Justin was walking by him, he overhead the drifter talking about a location of a Ripper camp nearby. Immediately, he knew what he had to do. He quickly met up with Brad, the other guy who does supply runs with him. Brad is a good guy who wouldn’t even hurt a fly. A goofy looking man with a tall and slender build, legs longer than his torso with a bad receding hairline making you think he is bald by looking at the front of him. He takes any shit given to him and always tries to look at the positives of a situation. How the man survived until now is a mystery to Justin. He also knows how to ride a motorcycle, which comes in handy for longer distance supply runs and – for this situation. Justin convinced him that they need to hurry and follow the drifter because he overheard him talking about an abandoned camp with loads of supplies. Brad went along with Justin’s plan in hoping to gain some extra credits and trailed the drifter out of the gate. They followed him all the way until they started seeing the sigils of the Rippers, then pulled the bike over.
“Ok, that’s far enough man. I’m not going into Ripper territory,” said Brad.
“Let me just get off here then,” said Justin.
“Are you crazy? Those supplies aren’t worth it. Let’s just get back to camp,” suggests Brad.
“I can’t go back. I can’t stand it there. I’m not being a slave for that woman anymore. Leave me here, I’ll be ok. I’ve survived out in this before,” said Justin.
Brad didn’t take no for an answer and shut off his bike. He unmounted and approached Justin to talk some sense with him. Gently, he nudged Justin toward the bike to insist that they start moving before Freakers come around.
“I said no! I’m not like you people. I’m looking for more and staying at the camp isn’t it. This is how I want to live, so please let me decide my own fate,” Justin pleads.
“This is a suicide mission, you know that right?” says Brad.
Both men pause, look down at the broken road, look toward Ripper territory then back at each other. Justin’s mind is already made up with one foot pointed in the direction of the sigils. Brad can tell in his eyes how determined he is to move on and try whatever he is going to try. In Brad’s heart, he can’t seem to justify leaving this man to venture into Ripper territory alone. If he died, it would haunt his conscious for the rest of his days.
“No man, I can’t let you do this. I’m sorry but if you die, which you most likely will that is on my hands. Now, I need you to get back on the bike,” begs Brad.
Freakers begin to roam toward their direction from the top of the tree covered hill. Their voices carried through the desolate air now capturing the Freaker’s attention. Justin and Brad look up to see about ten alerted Freakers running wildly down the hill letting out their haunting screeches. Out of instinct, Brad lunges toward Justin and grabs him by the arm to try and pull him toward the bike.
“We need to move, now!” yells Brad.
“No!” screams Justin.
Brad doesn’t let up on the grip he has on his friend’s arm. The Freakers get closer to them, chopping at the bit on their next prey. Their hands spread wide with pointed black fingernails reaching toward the men. The smell starts to become intoxicating with the combination of rot, blood and shit. Eyes bloodshot and bulging from their skulls seem to be staring into the men’s souls. The pattern of their feet sounds unorthodox with a fast and rapid pace as they come stumbling down the hill. Justin looks at the Freakers, then looks down at Brad’s hand grasping his arm. He realizes this man won’t leave him alone and if he doesn’t go with him they both will die. In a spark of rage, Justin grabs his hatchet from his belt and swiftly chops down on Brad’s arm slicing it in half. The hand loosens its grip and slides down Justin’s arm and plops on the ground. Blood sprays from the decapitated limb directly onto Justin’s face. Brad screams out in terrible pain and drops to the ground in shock looking at the other half of his arm on the ground. Justin stands still for a moment, looking down at all the blood. The noises of the Freakers and Brad’s screams are completely blocked out as he stands there shuddering. This was the first human being he has ever killed. He dropped the hatchet that was dangling from his shaking hand. His vision was fuzzy with adrenaline and remorse. Out of survival instinct, he jumps out of the way from the impending Freakers. They go straight toward Brad and begin devouring the man’s body. Justin peeks back and realizes that Brad is a distraction for him to get away seeing the group of Freakers piling around his now dead body. Justin looks forward and shambles through a new world of meticulously placed jagged wooden sticks, bonfires and banners of Ripper propaganda.
“Welcome friend,” a deep voice rings out from behind him.
He gradually turns his head and shields the sun with his hand trying to look up at the man walking behind him. The leader crouches down in front of him to meet him eye to eye, like a catcher waiting to receive a pitch. With the bloody machete still in hand, he scans the man’s body and points the tip of the blade at each cut relishing in his work.
“Do you know who I am?” The leader hisses out like a snake.
“Of course, you’re Carlos. I’ve heard many stories of you,” mutters the wounded man.
“And what is your name?” Carlos asks.
“My name? I – I don’t have one,” the man stutters.
“Good. I can see you understand. I have a place for you here, and I am pleased that you chose to come to me. I will show you the Path,” says Carlos.
Carlos stands up and turns with his back facing the man revealing a large burn scar covering his whole back. He raises his arms and looks out toward the other Rippers as a preacher would at the altar in front of his congregation. The Rest in Peace cult give him their full attention. The wounded man finally musters up enough strength to stand on his own two feet to give Carlos the respect as the others do. He stands mere feet away from their leader with a slight hunch in his back due to his injuries. Carlos expresses such gravitas, that it captivates the man the instant he starts speaking.
“My followers! You have given up your names. You have given up your memories. You have all felt pain and life has brought you Low in the previous world. You were Lost, but now you have joined me, each one of you. We walk the Unnamed Path and we do not fear. One Mind brings us together and One Mind keeps us safe. We protect the Free from the Lost, to protect the world. Today, another one is Found and joins us as we prepare for the Rising. It is coming my friends, and our work is not done yet.”
After the speech, the Rippers scatter and the man who once had a name is no more. He stands still looking over his body, each cut he can still feel from the night before. Blood covers his face as the day he chose to go on this path. He looks up at that R.I.P banner flying in the wind and feels proud. He continues this life not as a beaten down camper, not as a lost foster boy or a drunk homeless man. But a man who embraces this world, protects this world and lives free as One Mind.
He can now, Rest in Peace.