The Believers- Prelude

She paid little attention to direction.  Some part of her knew approximately where she was, but only in an abstract way.  She knew she’d be able to find her way back once she cared enough to try.  But there was no reason to return at the moment, not even the need for shelter later in the day.  She’d make it back eventually.  Just not now.  Perhaps not tonight.

The sheer volume of information her mind was trying to process had her completely overwhelmed.  Mentally, it should have been simple, but emotionally, she simply could not function right.  She couldn’t sit still, couldn’t take any sort of decisive action.  She really couldn’t do anything but walk, and give her mind time to recover.  She’d never been this detached, this far off-balance, and she prayed for it to stop.

She was surprised to find herself on a road.  She’d been following it for some time, but had only just noticed.  The trees on either side spread their branches over her head, but the track was traveled often enough that the undergrowth had given up trying to grow there.  She looked up into the trees, and at the sun beyond them, trying to take some comfort in nature.  For the first time she could remember, it didn’t work.  The sun bit into her eyes, and she turned her head back to the road before her.

She reached a place in the forest road that reminded her of a picture she’d seen somewhere; a giant arched gate, perhaps standing before a castle from another time.  But the arch before her now was the intertwined branches of two ancient oak trees, grown together and outward, marking the place where the road left the forest.  On the other side was an open field, gently rolling land that had recently been tilled.  She stepped out of the forest, into the sun, and felt its heat on her immediately.  Behind the hills, she knew a village was set in the midst of the farmland.  She continued walking, mindlessly following the road, until she heard voices off to her left.  She turned toward the source, then crested a hill on the edge of the tilled field.  There was a small buffer zone between the tilled soil and the first of the trees- maybe 6 meters, far enough that on a sunless day, the Turned wouldn’t be able to reach out toward the men and women working the field.  Today was sunny, and the sun shown into the feet of the forest on this side, instead of casting it’s shadows outward.  The young couple that lay in the tall grass had no fear of being attacked by the dead that lingered in the forest.

They didn’t see her for a long moment.  The girl- 16 years, perhaps younger- wrinkled her nose at some unexplained scent.  Her companion looked at her, an unspoken question on his face, until he, too, caught the smell.  They turned to look back, and noticed their visitor looking down at them.

They weren’t caught undressed, but for a moment they acted like it, scrambling to their feet to face the hill.  They didn’t know her, of course, and since they knew everyone in their village, they presumed her to be a traveler.  The sun had been up long enough that they didn’t think it strange.

“Need help finding the village?” the boy asked, a nervous grin on his face.  The girl could not stop giggling.  Their visitor moved toward them, slowly.

“Yes,” she replied.  “Which way?”

The couple began to get nervous as she got closer.  Before long, she was not much farther away than arm’s length.  The boy pointed toward the village.

“The road is right there, but you can cut across the fields easily enough-“  He cut off his own words when she leaped towards the two.

It was impossible to contain.  She’d felt it rising within her as she approached, and now she couldn’t stop it from happening any longer.  Their cheeks were so flushed, their eyes so bright with vitality, their skin beckoning in a way she had never experienced.  The smell of them, so alive, drove her to embrace him, biting into the side of his neck to taste him.  The flesh broke, and the blood that poured onto her tongue filled her senses to overloading.  She looked past him, to where the girl had jumped backward in time to avoid her.  The girl was screaming, but she couldn’t hear it- her mind was flooded with the boy’s taste, his smell, as she bit down again, this time tearing loose a piece of the flesh there.  He was crying out, too, but calling to the girl to run- to get away.

The life he carried was all she knew.  He was surrendering it to her, drop of blood by drop, one mouthful of flesh at a time.  He moaned now, losing consciousness as he lost blood, still trying to push her away, but even at full strength he could not have won.

And then, in the span of a moment, everything became clear to her.  Where she was, how she’d walked there, even the name of the village she was near.  Her attack on the boy was suddenly, painfully clear, and the knowledge of what she was doing washed over her emotions.  For a moment she wailed a denial, but she knew it was useless.  She wouldn’t be able to stop herself from continuing to kill him, continuing to eat him, not now.  She’d stepped across the threshold, and there was no going back.  She bent her head close to his face, looking into the terrified eyes.  He began to whisper, to plead for her to stop, but he saw her bloodshot eyes, and he had to know that even if she did stop, he was already doomed.  Whatever it was that had made her into what she’d become, it was now coursing through what remained of his blood, infecting his own tissue.  She felt a tear leave her eye, find it’s way down to the tip of her nose, then leap downward to fall on his cheek.

“It’s not your fault,” she said, not knowing what else to say.  But soon the words flowed out of her, she didn’t know where from.  She didn’t have much time to comfort his soul before it left the body, but she did the best she could.  “Your pain, your fear, the daily dread of death is leaving you.  Where you go now, there will be no pain.  Those who gave birth to you, they are the ones who caused your suffering, and they will be with you soon.  They will answer for bringing you into a world of so much pain and fear.”

The eyes faded, the breathing stopped, and the head tipped slightly away from her.  She could see it happen, could almost note the precise moment that life left the body.  She’d watched people die before- had caused it enough times herself- but this was the first time she experienced it so fully.  Again, the horror of what she’d done engulfed her, and she wept for what seemed like hours.

When she opened her eyes, looking down at him, the full knowledge of what she’d become had planted itself in her mind and taken root.  This was the Creator’s choice for me, she thought, remembering the first night, remembering fighting the Turned with her bare hands, daring them to bite or scratch her, which, of course, they had.  It had been a test, chosen for her, and she’d been strong enough to come through alive.  She’d passed that test by her own choice, and she could not allow herself to shrink from the Creator’s plan for her now.  She wiped her eyes.  Perhaps she wouldn’t be pleased with the task she’d been given, but she would carry it out.

If she chose to leave the boy there, she knew he would stand, perhaps that night, and join the rest of the Turned looking for living flesh to devour.  She didn’t know whether his soul would remain to endure that endless torment, but she didn’t want to take the chance.  If there was any flesh left, it would carry the infection, and try to re-animate.  She would have to eat it all.

She could hear voices approaching- shouts of many people, doubtlessly alerted by the girl that she’d almost forgotten.  She gripped the boy’s ankle, and dragged him into the forest.  They wouldn’t follow her very far into the shadows there, afraid of being attacked themselves.

*****

Many kilometers away, an ancient door was once again pulled open.  A figure crept inside, quietly, despite the knowledge that she was the only one there.  She looked around, her eyes rapidly adjusting to the darkness.  The cool shade was easier on her eyes, as well as her skin.  She saw the opened crates in the middle of the floor, and moved towards them.  Movement near her feet caught her eye, and she knelt down, smiling, to look at the only other creatures in the building… small snakes that had been infected.  She wondered briefly if the snakes were as dead as the Turned, but they didn’t look decayed or rotted.  Perhaps they were Immune, the way she was.  At first glance, they appeared completely normal, but… she could detect the infection in them.  She could almost smell it.

She rose again, passing by the opened crate in the middle of the floor.  She knew what had been inside, and knew everything useful was gone.  But against one wall was a shelf full of small boxes, and emblazoned on the front of each box- and again on the top, she saw as she got closer- was the universal sign for danger.  A skull.  The meaning was as primitive and primal as any other that humankind had devised; mess up with this stuff, and you’re dead.

There was only one booklet nearby, and its title confused her at first.  She had to spend some time reading before she realized what it was she had found.  Her mouth spread into a wicked smile as the value of these boxes and their contents became clear.  The previous discovery made in this place had world-altering potential.  What she carried out with her this time would make a far more powerful change.

One Response to “The Believers- Prelude”

  1. My guess? exPLOsives…….mmmmwahahahahhahahhah

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