The Cost of Survival

Submitted into Contest #160 in response to: Set your story during a drought.... view prompt


Horror Suspense Thriller

In the far south, water is considered to be a scarce and holy thing. With it, everything lives and grows to change. So when, in the town of Backwaters, wells run dry and a drought preoccupies its lands, water became a mere means of survival. Anyone with it controls the outcome of everyone else's existence. People are creatures of survival and will do whatever it takes to ensure they survive, whether that's done by underhanded tricks, or by them just simply looking out for themselves.

A couple moving into a new town passed through Backwaters as they stopped for gas. The husband, Jacob, is a man with a pearly smile as he dresses in a loose tie dye t-shirt with khaki shorts and flip flops. He has tan skin, so you can see he is used to the sun's heat due to his work as an exterior painter, painting fences and houses on hot days like these. As many can imagine, Jacob's clothes are the result of his job, getting easily stained with dried paint and flakes getting into his hair. His wife, Julie, works as a convenience store manager, and had a meeting that was being held in the new town they were moving to.

Julie dressed in a two-piece tropical colored dress that stopped just above the knees with a matching set of low pumps with a long white overcoat to keep her skin from being too exposed to the sun. She had on a yellow sun hat, which held down her naturally brown wavy hair. Jacob drove up to a gas station to get a fill-up and went inside after chatting briefly with Julie to see if she wanted anything to drink. She asks for an ice tea or lemonade and something to snack on for the road ahead. He responds with a "okay," and goes inside. The air conditioner is cold, but it also smells musty and Jacob has to restrain himself from covering his nose from the stench of moldy walls and rotten food. He looks to the man behind the counter, who merely gives him a glance-over before offering a crooked smile with some of his teeth missing. Jacob feels shivers as he wonders if the person standing there knew at all how badly the place smelled, and if they were immune or just didn't care. He quickly tries to scan for something refreshing at the very least before just passing up on the option after when finding a dead rat among the available bottles of sodas. He goes up to the man while pulling out his credit card from his wallet, asking how much would it be to fill-up his tank.

The man points to a sign behind him for Jacob to read as he steps aside. His bristly, and dirty gray hair was sticking out in puffs, while his overalls were worn from time out in the field with only one button to hold them up. Jacob looks towards the board and finds that to fill his tank up, which had less than a quarter tank of gas left and he paid forty dollars and went outside to fill his tank up. Julie in the meantime was reading in the car as she kept the air on to keep cool. The sun's rays beat down harshly despite the cover from the roof over the car. She felt uncomfortable and used her GPS to see how far off the town was from Backwaters. That's when she noticed something moving in her rearview mirror, but when she looked up fully, nothing was there. It was at that time Jacob came outside to start filling the tank up and explained he would get her snacks and drink at the next stop they made without going into details about the rat. Jacob finishes up refilling the tank, also mentioning the store owner to Julie as he gets in again on the driver's seat and asks how Julie felt about the idea of staying the night in a motel to refresh themselves to leave out in the morning. She is hesitant, and doesn't like the information given of the man behind the counter. However, remembering it is only for one night, she agreed to it.

So Jacob drove around to find a motel and that's where they stayed the night. The person behind the counter asks them bizarre questions such as: are they alone? Does anyone know they are there? Do they have any illness or are they allergic to anything? They answer truthfully, although Julie being suspicious of the clerk and lying partly, said she was sick and was getting over a common cold as she faked a cough. The person nods in understanding and hands them a key to their room. When they arrived, Jacob asked Julie why she lied, and she told him how uncomfortable she felt about all the questions that were being asked. He reminds her it is only for the night then they will be gone in the morning, and Julie replies, "alright."

They spend some time together enjoying the peace and quiet, and in the morning they return the key to the front desk. Prepared to leave as soon as possible, they head out only to find their car has been vandalized. Their ties are flat and the sides of the car are scratched up. Such a sight left Julie enraged, and she suspected it was the clerk. Jacob tries to stop her, but she's already moving inside. Slamming a hand down on the counter she demands to know what the reasons were for the damage done to their car. The clerk isn't too sure what she's on about, but says reassuringly he's never done anything to her vehicle. If it was damaged it was likely done by another individual and that it doesn't concern him. Julie asks him to pull up security cameras to find out who the person was. Unfortunately, they don't have cameras. Julie reluctantly pulls away as she goes to call for Jacob, but he is nowhere in sight.

Feeling worried she calls his name several times as she walks past their car, but doesn't find him anywhere. She doesn't notice Jacob's broken phone under their car. She decides to head back to the room they share to try and formulate a plan. She has only enough money to last her a few days, a week at best, as she used the majority to rent a room at a fancy hotel for the upcoming meeting she was having. They were now stranded in Backwaters during a drought and Jacob went missing. Her only conclusion is that someone kidnapped him during her conversation with the person at the counter. She was tempted to call him, but realized if that was indeed the case he would have his cell phone confiscated if it wasn't already. She felt utterly alone, but couldn't give in just yet. Maybe she could sway the clerk to help her, she thought. Get him on her side then find Jacob. She goes downstairs again to find him gone.

She takes the opportunity to go behind his desk to find a lot of paperwork as well as files in cabinets. There is information on both of them She checks the contents of the files to find out it was more or less information on their health and whether or not they were conditioned enough for project RESERVE. Julie doesn't know what any of that has to do with project RESERVE, but she keeps reading, staying alert in case she hears anyone coming. Project RESERVE was classified information about the survival of this town and its people. Project RESERVE was meant as a last ditch effort if things went south quickly. And only certain people can meet the conditions needed for project RESERVE to be complete without issues. She sees on their file that Jacob is marked for project RESERVE, while Julie is marked unsuitable. She figures this is because she informs the person at the counter she is sick and getting over a cold.

Whatever project RESERVE is, they have to be in perfect health to be used in it. Juile puts everything back sighing, in deep thought, when she is grabbed from behind. She struggles, to no avail. She falls unconscious as a cloth is used to cover her mouth and nose and she breathes in some fumes that puts her to sleep. When she awakens her ankle is chained to the bed and she finds herself trapped inside a padded room. She looks around desperate and scared to find only one single window, a door that leads somewhere, and a wooden table and chair. She tries to get up, but her body is still numb and stiff from the fumes she breathed in through the cloth. There is a knock at the door before someone enters. It was the man behind the counter dressed in his uniform for the motel. A red cap with a red and dark blue blazer and matching pants. He had a bowl of something to eat for Julie.

He was prepared to leave, but is stopped when Julie calls out to him:

"Wait, where am I? Who are you? Where is my husband?!"

The man is hesitant to answer, but decides to comply.

"You are still in Backwaters town Mrs.," he replied. "I just brought you here to stay out of sight from the others. It's..safer here. For you anyways. Your husband is now subjected to Project RESERVE and will most likely never see you again."

"What?!" Julie exclaimed with fearful eyes. "Why? Please we did nothing wrong! Please let us go. I promise we won't tell a soul about what you're doing here. Please."

"I'm sorry Mrs., but that's not possible," he shook his head no. "As you understand, Backwaters is in a terrible time of development. This drought has started and been ongoing for quite some time. The people of Backwaters have suffered dearly and even lost many to its daunting condition. We are out of water and are low on food. Soon enough we'll all die off one by one. But until then, the people of Backwaters will continue to struggle to survive."

"B..But why?" Julie pales at this information growing anxious from the news. "If things are this bad here, why not leave to somewhere better and suited for living?"

"The people of Backwaters believe in their heart that eventually this town will be restored once the drought is over and that eventually it'll return to its former glory and beautiful self. But until then they just have to be patient and wait until that day comes. They just have to survive until that day comes. Then the sacrifices that happen here will mean something or so they believe."

"But that's crazy! Julie shouts, her heart beating rapidly as she processes all this. "If you stay here and it doesn't change you'll all eventually die! How can anyone want that?"

"Such is the fate of the people of Backwaters," he responded. "I have seen many people come and go and I've seen too many of my neighbors dirty and stain their hands just to uphold that belief. Naturally, I cannot stand the sight of them anymore. But I feel also obligated to see it through to the end as I have been a witness to their decaying sanity."

"T..then why am I here? Julie calms a bit as she feels she knows the answer, but still wants to hear it from him.

"I want to protect you," He told her with sadness in his eyes also mixed with guilt. "I have wronged many and robbed them of any chances to live a life so I wish to atone even if just by helping as little as one person pair group that comes here. I wish to help you escape, but that is impossible as you will surely die in the heat if not by someone out there. Therefore I'm going to make you a member of this community so you can live. And by doing so the town of Backwaters shall forever live on."

"What about my future, my job?" Julie's mouth dried as she could hardly believe the words she was hearing. "What about Jacob?! Why isn't he here? What's going to happen to him?"

"You don't want the answer to that," The man holds a painful expression as he turns away from her.

"Please!" Julie demanded. "If what you say is true I deserve to know everything, even if it's hard for me to hear."

Giving her a glance in her direction he sighs, taking a seat.

"Your husband is right now being drained of his sweat and blood and the people who have captured him will preserve said sweat and blood to lengthen their life," he explained. "In other words, they'll drain him dry until he is dead. That's the fate of those who come to Backwaters. Those healthy will die to let others survive."

"You people are crazy," Julie shakes her head, as tears swell up in her eyes. "You're all freakin crazy!"

"With that, I bid you good day Miss," He stood up and turned to leave then stopped. "You should eat your food to conserve your strength. You'll be here for a very..long time."

With that, the man left a distraught Julie as she cries out for help. For anyone to save her. She cries her eyes out as she is left alone to her thoughts. The man visited as often as two days apart bringing her food and drinks, whatever he could spare. Julie eventually grew used to her situation and ended up living a life secluded in Backwaters. The people she had a meeting with grew concerned when she never showed, never answered any calls or anything. So a small group went to find her or gather some information on where she could've gone even passing through the town of Backwaters. When asking if Julie Rocks came through, the person behind the counter replied, "never heard of her." And began another cycle in Backwaters.

August 24, 2022 22:27

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