They were sick. Always sick, it seemed. Their withered and pale forms with skeletal outstretched limbs reminded him of molted and diseased birds—almost alien. But he knew they were human. Like those before. All children, and all abandoned by their caregivers.
It was as if this disease, or virus, or whatever the hell it was taking healthy thriving children and twisting them into malformed mockeries of humanity had somehow managed to reflect the hideous nature of the uninfected. Entire communities had resorted to simply turning out these poor souls. Leaving them to die in the streets, or in the wilds, or wherever the most convenient place be for them to die.
Even those left to wander aimlessly in community spaces were ignored and given wide berth by the uninfected. Their cries for mercy falling always on deaf ears. They had always been among the most vulnerable in every society, and now even their natural guardians refused them. Choosing, instead, to insulate themselves from that which might take their healthy children.
Healthy, of course, being a relative understanding. After all, how healthy can one be whose soul has been seared? What soundness of mind can there be in those unwilling to work to end the slow, agonizing, deaths of their children. Society has never been so unhealthy.
Humanity had managed to lay aside its humanness. Whatever the cause—political affiliation, religion, social philosophy, etc.—didn’t matter in the end. Humanity had lost itself, and he was left to do the only humane thing left.
Other men joined him in corralling as many of the infected into a single sobbing cluster of suffering. Malformed and twisted though they were, their fear was unmistakable. He wished there were more he could do, some greater kindness he could offer, but instead gave them the only thing he could give; mercy.
At once, streams of fire spewed out over the children. Night after night the same torment, their pitched screams shattering parts of his souls like glass. He wondered how much of his soul even remained intact.