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Dee sat down on the fallen tree and started working on dinner. She took one of the rabbit-sized deer-creatures and used her knife to remove most of the meat from the greasy carcass.
She fed the meat to Treach.
"Sorry in advance," Dee sighed as the dog ate, finishing the meal in a few noisy gulps. Then she watched.
Treach sniffed around the fire, drank some more water, and generally behaved like a dog for an hour or so.
"All right, then..." Dee cut up the second carcass and ate it. Although the roasting meat smelled like chicken, it tasted more like veal, but with a stringy texture. It wasn't bad. In fact, it was good. She washed it down with lots of the clean-tasting water from the bucket. She filled her empty water bottle and her canteen, then sat back down on the tree. She was considering eating the third animal when something moved in the woods.
A twig snapped loudly... the same sign that her benefactor had used to announce himself before.
Treach sniffed in the direction of the sound, but didn't move.
"Come on back," said Dee.
The scarecrow slid noiselessly into the camp. He looked tired, and the shirt he wore under his stolen coat had more blood on it.
"Trouble?" Dee asked.
He shook his head and shrugged out of the coat, dropping it on the ground as he approached the fire. The shirt was plastered to his shoulder, at the center of a large bloodstain.
He looked at Dee, then shook his head.
"Like hell. Let me see..."
Dee got up, but she didn't approach until the nodded his permission and began unbuttoning his shirt.
"So what are you doing?" she asked. "Hunting them down?"
He didn't reply.
"And what's my place in all this?"
He looked at her. Clearly he wanted to say something... but he didn't.
There were two nasty gashes on his arm... one horizontally across the shoulder, and the other down the bicep. Neither was life threatening, but they needed attention. Specifically, they needed stitches and antibiotics.
" Can't do much in the way of stitches, I've only got..." Dee frowned. Out of habit, she had been inspecting his naked torso for additional wounds. She didn't see any.
But there should have been.
He'd had dozes of cuts and gouges all over him just this morning. Now, there were only scars, and in may cases not even that. Even the most serious of the injuries were... just gone, as were the stitches she'd made earlier. There were a few pieces of thread embedded in one of the larger scars, but the rest...?
Dee's hands froze. She moved back.
The scarecrow inspected one of the old healed wounds. He didn't look surprised, but he looked at Dee and nodded in appreciation. Then he pointed to the fresh gash on his shoulder and smiled.
"What's going on here?" said Dee. "Nobody heals that fast. The stitches-"
He tapped one of the knives on his belt. He'd removed them. He'd removed them once they were no longer necessary to hold the wounds closed. But that should have taken days... not hours.
The scarecrow picked up his coat and turned the left shoulder toward her, showing her they symbol: A wheel with daggers instead of spokes, with a fist at the center. He thrust it at her, as if it were an answer to her question.
He pointed at the fist at the center of the bladed wheel, then at himself.
"That doesn't mean anything to me."
He gave her an incredulous look.
"I'm sorry. It just doesn't."
He made a drinking motion, gulping from an invisible cup.
He shook his head rapidly, and mimed drinking once more.
"You... drank something?"
Smiling, he nodded rapidly.
"Something that... heals wounds? What? Where is it?"
Now it was his turn to look confused.
"Do you have some with you? Are the... other soldiers... carrying it? Is that why you're attacking them?"
He shook his head slowly, as if in disbelief at her ignorance.
"This would be SO much easier if you could talk! Hell, if you've got this magic healing juice, why CAN'T you talk!"
The scarecrow licked his lips, thinking. Then he had an idea.
He drew one of his knives and squatted down to scratch at the dirt.
"What are you doing?"
He was digging a hole. It only took a few seconds for him to find what he needed. He jabbed his fingers in the hole pulled out a long, pale worm. It looked like an ordinary earthworm... one of the few 'ordinary' things she'd seen all day.
He held it out toward Dee.
"I'm not eating that!"
He jerked the worm up and down, making it curl around his fingers... making sure she had seen it. Then he dropped it back in the hole and stood up.
He tapped his index finger against the left side of his head.
"What?" said Dee.
He tapped his skull, pointed at the worm that was rapidly vanishing into the loosened soil, then pointed to his head again. He wiggled his finger, making it look like a-
"Worm?" said Dee.
The scarecrow wiggled ALL of his fingers.
"Worms... in your head? In your brain!?"
He nodded slowly.
"Oh my God!" Dee searched for the worm that he'd dug up, but it was gone. If she could identify it-
The scarecrow showed her his thumb and forefinger, pressed tightly together.
"Tiny worms," said Dee, understanding. "Did they.... did they do that to you?"
"Is that why you can't talk?"
"Oh God... that mean's it's... it's eating your... oh God in heaven... how could they DO that!?"
He fixed her with an expressionless stare.
"What about that stuff you drank? The healing... whatever?"
He shook his head.
"Must be in the blood," said Dee. "Can't cross the blood-brain barrier, so... the worms just keep eating while you stay healthy. Until they eat enough to..."
Dee felt nauseous. She swallowed the lump that had risen into her throat, but that didn't help.
The scarecrow wasn't finished.
He opened his mouth and pointed inside.
He wiggled his finger again. Like a worm.
"In your mouth? It's... it's transmissible through bites?"
The scarecrow clearly didn't know what 'transmissible' meant.
"The worms are in your saliva. You bite someone... they have worms too."
He nodded, solemnly.
"So... what happens to them? To you!?"
He thought for a moment. He frowned. Scowled. He twisted his face into a grimace, baring his teeth and snapping at the air like an animal. Dee didn't know what he was showing him, but it looked frightening.
"I don't..." she began. Then she remembered what she'd seen earlier. What she'd seen him do. The man had worms in his brain that were turning him into a psychopath and, eventually, a literally mindless killer. "It's already happening," she said. "Loss of impulse control. Loss of SPEECH. Episodes of blind rage."
"...an urge to bite people and spread the infection?"
The scarecrow didn't nod, but he didn't have to.
"Motor control is unaffected. And with this other stuff you were telling me about... the stuff that makes you heal? A wound that isn't immediately fatal... you'll just walk it off. So eventually you'll just be..."
The scarecrow stared at her with blank, emotionless eyes.