The Turned – Chapter 3

When he awoke, the first thing he heard was pounding. At first, he thought it was a headache, but it wasn’t accompanied by pain.  It was disjointed, chaotic, and without any rhythm… even a headache would have followed the rhythm of his pulse.  No, he recognized it now – it was the sound of thousands of fists pounding against wooden doors, walls, and window-shutters.  He’d heard it before when the Turned had broken through the fences and tried to break into the homes.

His eyes snapped open.  The Turned! He was laying on his own bed, and it was still dark out, but the sky was lighter in the east.  The sun would rise soon.  He held up his arm, looking at his wrist, where the dead woman had gripped him, but the fabric of his sleeve was unmarked.  He slid it upward, fearfully, but there wasn’t a scratch anywhere that he could find.

Thomas was next to him.  “We looked, believe me.  You’d have a nice burn mark if there had been any scratches.”

Jameson let his head back down on the bed, and turned to look at his brother.  “You came for me.”

Thomas nodded, and smiled weakly.  There was something else in his eyes, but Jameson couldn’t place it.  His face was pale, and his hand trembled when he laid it on Jameson’s shoulder.

Voices began to rise in the next room.  “Damn it, he deserves a chance!”  That was Father, in the next room.

The reply was from Terrence.  “Talbot, you know what will happen better than most people here.  You’ve seen it, right in front of your face, where most people have only heard stories.”  A long pause.  “We’ll know by morning, one way or the other, and all I’m saying is that we shouldn’t put it off any more than we have to.”

“You’re already talking like you’ve made your decision.” His father growled.

“It’s not a decision that any of us can make,” Amelia said, gently but firmly.  “It’s out of our hands now.  Either it got into him, or it didn’t.  But he deserves to know, too.”

Footsteps were approaching down the hall.  Jameson could feel the door opening before he saw it.  He sat up, and as he did, he glanced in the mirror he had hung on the wall next to the small, wooden wardrobe he and his brother had built.  In the candle-light, he could just see the stains from the blood that had crossed his face.  It had gone right across both eyes.  They had wiped away as much as they could, but the stain was still there on the surface.

Oh, my God, did it get into my eyes?!

Amelia was looking down at him, and Terrence was beside her.  Father edged past the two of them, and sat on the edge of the bed, taking Jameson’s hand and squeezing it tightly.  Behind them stood Imam Jeremiah and Father Bartholomew, the two priests of the village.  The Imam looked at Jameson, his eyes alight with pride for the young man who had almost given his life.  Father Bartholomew, whom Jameson had listened to once a week for his whole life, stood quietly with his palms together and his fingertips touching his lips, as he often looked when he prayed.

“My son… my brave son…” Father whispered.

Terrence knelt down beside Jameson, and looked into his eyes.  They were steely for a moment, giving Jameson the penetrating look that came with training defenders.  But then the look seemed to melt into sadness.  He shook his head slowly.

“Jameson, that was the most incredible act of selfless goddamned courage I have ever witnessed in my life.”  He chuckled.  “You know, when Thomas said he was going out after you, almost everyone in the house wanted to go with him.  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen my wife put on a flame-tank that fast.”

“They’re safe?  Everyone who came after me?”  Jameson whispered.

Terrence nodded.  “We used up all four of the fuel tanks that came out for you, plus one or two more clearing out around your front door, but everyone came back.”

Jameson nodded.  “It would have been better to leave me out there than to lose people bringing me back,” he said.

“You would worry about them, wouldn’t you?”  Terrence started chuckling uncontrollably.  Father’s eyes watered, and he moved to wipe them with the back of his hand, but Terrence caught it in his own.  “Not without washing, Talbot.  We have to be extremely careful around him.”

Jameson’s last question was answered.  “It got in my eyes, didn’t it?”

Father’s face turned to the floor.  Amelia looked upward and away, toward the window.  Terrence only nodded.

“We got it off your skin in time, we think, but some of it had gotten in your eyes before you closed them.”  Father looked up, glaring at the trainer, who returned his own steely gaze.  “If he’s adult enough to risk himself for us the way he did, he’s adult enough to know.  We owe it to him.”

“You’ve already answered me,” Jameson said.  “All of you.”  He took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.  The fact of what had happened was settling itself around his shoulders; it was an almost tangible weight.  “The animals are safe?”

“They haven’t broken the barn doors yet,” Terrence replied, nodding.  “You know, you may not have thought you had what it takes to be a fighter, but I think you’ve proven beyond a doubt that you do.  Strength and skill aren’t near as important as the will to keep your neighbors safe.  We’d have had to last the winter with no meat if it wasn’t for you.”

“I don’t know if I could do it again,” Jameson whispered.  Then he laid back down, and closed his eyes.  Exhaustion was washing over him, coming in waves, and he couldn’t keep his eyes open.  He felt his father’s touch on his shoulder again, then gave over to sleep.  He could barely hear the others leaving the room, but he could tell Father and Thomas stayed with him.

*****

He knew he was dreaming, because his mother was with him, too. She was holding him tight, the two of them sitting on something soft and comfortable that he couldn’t see.  It was dark, shadowy, but there was enough light for him to see her clearly.  She set her face beside his, and whispered to him things he couldn’t quite understand, as if she was speaking a different language.  All he could understand was the tone of her voice, trying to calm him, telling him everything would be all right, comforting him the way a mother does when their child is frightened or in danger.  He turned his head to look at her face, and she was perfect and beautiful and alive, except that her eyes were bloodshot and scarlet.  The expression was gentle and loving.  She pulled him closer.  He embraced her back, not wondering why her eyes didn’t frighten him.

He awoke with the sun in his eyes.  It hit him suddenly, as if the sun had just risen high enough to stream in his windows.  He moved to close the shutter, and sleep a little longer, but when he turned to swing his feet over the edge of his bed, he realized that he wasn’t in his bed.  His mattress was there, to be sure, but it was on the ground, and he was outside.

He tried to force his eyes open, but the light hurt far too much.  He blinked hard, then looked away from the light and finally his eyes began to stay open.

He was in the cage, in the center of town.  They’d moved him while he slept.  His skin went cold suddenly- had he become one of the Turned already?  No, they’d have destroyed him by now.  His mother had lasted three days from a scratch – how long would he have?

Thomas was there, dressed again in his armor.  He had one of the chairs from the kitchen, and looked as though he had just fought the dead as Jameson was waking.  His helmet rested on the ground by his feet.  His eyes were dark, his hair tangled and matted, and his axe lay across his lap.  Their eyes met, and Thomas smiled weakly.

“You put me here while I slept,” Jameson said, darkly.

Thomas nodded.  “The council was split on the issue, but you spoke in your sleep, and tossed and thrashed so violently you nearly broke Father’s nose.  They decided this morning.  Terrence thought that either Father or I should be the first people you see.”

Jameson chuckled, but without humor.  “He’d want to make sure that I knew my family stood behind his decision.”  There was just enough room in the cage to stand up.  “Why didn’t you just burn me while I slept?  You might as well have.”

Thomas’s eyes dropped to the ground.  “We have to be sure, Jame.  You’re my brother, and your armor has saved my life already.  But if you’re infected, and you Turn, we have to protect ourselves.  You know this.”

Jameson nodded, glumly.  He looked across the open space at the center of the village, to where Terrence was running more of his students through their drills.  Not far away, two of the village council were talking with one of the gypsies, looking at holes in the fence.  “That was an impressive rescue you guys did for me, you know.  I had figured myself done for when I saw the flame weapons light up.”

“It wasn’t hard to convince people to help, not after the stunt you pulled.”

“Do you have a drill for that sort of thing?  A rescue like that?” Jameson pointed to the practicing students.

Thomas looked over his shoulder, then back.  “No, but if I know Amelia, she’s planning one right now.  Next time it’ll be much more organized.”

Jameson didn’t respond- how could he?  No one was sure the rescue had been successful.  If it had, he wouldn’t be in a cage.  He leaned against the thick wooden poles.  “The gypsies fought with us last night, didn’t they?”

Thomas nodded, then followed Jameson’s eyes to the old trader.  “They helped us with the intruders, yes.  They usually do, when they can, when there’s a need.  Most of the time, there’s no reason – they just hole up in their wagons, like we do behind our fences.”

“I suppose they need us alive if they’re to trade with us,” Jameson said, his tone darker than he’d meant it to be.  Thomas only nodded.  “Well, it looks like there’ll be more trading for the fence.  That clan was planning to head out yesterday- it’s lucky for us that they stayed.”

Jameson’s eyes wandered about the village.  Everyone was going about the business of cleaning the village grounds, as if he and his brother weren’t there, out in plain sight.  Of course, no one really came very close to the cage unless they had business with it, even when it was empty.

“Where is Father?” Jameson asked at last.

“He’s with the rest of the council.”  Thomas paused, then took a deep breath.  “They had all voted to put you here, Father included.”

Jameson smirked, again without humor.  “That doesn’t surprise me.  I feel like a criminal, like I’m waiting to be executed or something.”  He looked at his brother.  Thomas’ eyes held an apology, but they also held fear.  Jameson was infected now, and soon he’d be one of the things he and his friends trained to destroy.

“Father is different now, Jame.  He’s going to be different around you.”  Thomas took a deep breath.  “It was hard on him when Mother died, you know that.  I don’t know if he could survive watching you turn the way she did.  Throughout the night, he stayed by your side, but seeing you tossing in your sleep and hearing what you were saying, it changed him.  And now, he’s acting like…” Thomas’ voice trailed off.  He took a deep breath.

Jameson nodded.  “He’s mourning me, isn’t he?”

The old gypsy crossed the square, looking into the cage with a mixture of sympathy and curiosity.  He stopped just after passing, looking the younger brother in the eye.  The old man’s face was weathered, strong, and his green eyes sparkled.  His clothes were for travelling- tough clothes, but colored in playful browns and greens.  His hair was dark, mingled with grey.  He stood there, looking, for a long time, then turned his head toward his carriages and called out to one of his travelling companions.  A younger man, dressed similarly to the elder man who’d called him, broke away from the gypsies at work preparing the carriages, and jogged over.  The two spoke quietly for a moment, then the younger man circled the cage to stand on the opposite side.  He made no sound, and when he was directly opposite his elder, he stopped.  Jameson stared back at him – again, the young gypsy’s eyes were curious.  This man was only a little older than Thomas.

“Young man,” the older gypsy said.  Jameson turned back and faced him.  “Can you tell me what colors my shirt has?”

Jameson looked at his brother, not knowing what to think.  He looked back at the gypsy, then said, “Green and brown leaves over grey.”

The old gypsy looked back to his companion, across the cage.  “Jacob, would you ask Marlena to join me here?”  The young man nodded, turned, and jogged back to the carriages.  When Jameson looked back to the elder gypsy, Terrence had strode over.

“Thanks again for your help last night, Lincoln.  We appreciate you risking your own skins to help us fight.”

The old gypsy gave Terrence a wry look.  “You know we’ll fight for you whenever we can, Terrence.”  He smiled, and put an arm around the trainer’s shoulders.  “And we’ve got plenty of fence-wire for you.  Didn’t expect we’d be trading with you for it, but fate has a way of sneaking up on us, doesn’t it?”

Terrence nodded, but his eyes were on Jameson.  “Yes, it does.”

“Speaking of which, you’re not going to just burn him, are you?”

Terrence looked over to the older man, surprised.  He seemed uncomfortable talking about it in front of Jameson- his eyes darted back between the two brothers and the gypsy.  “Well, no, not right now, but if he’s infected, and he turns-“

“Terrence, do yourself a favor and wait until he begins to ACT like the dead before you treat him like he’s one of them.”

That confused the three of them even more.  Terrence smirked a little, as if there was an inside joke being revealed.  “Lincoln, we’ve always listened to your advice, but in a case like this, there’s really nothing to be decided or talked about.  Either he’s infected, or he’s not.”

Lincoln cocked his head slightly.  “You’re sure there’s no middle ground?”  That only confused Jameson even more.

Another gypsy was approaching now, apparently summoned by the young man Lincoln had sent.  This one was a young woman, striding confidently the way all gypsies did, her grey and blue skirts dancing about her as she moved.  She was dangerously thin, Jameson thought, whereas most of the gypsies were slightly overweight.  Riding in those carriages most of their lives, instead of working in the fields and building walls against the Turned, didn’t make them soft, but it usually didn’t make them slender, either.  This woman looked as though she worked off every meal she’d ever eaten.  She wore red-tinted glasses over her eyes, and her blond hair was tied into two long braids that trailed down before her shoulders.  Her expression was unreadable as she approached, looking at Lincoln and at the caged younger brother.  When she was about 10 meters away, she paused in her stride, looking pointedly at Jameson, then at the elder gypsy.  A look of understanding passed between them, but nothing was said.

“You said he was infected in the eyes last night, yes?” Lincoln said, turning back to the trainer.  Terrence only nodded.

“I don’t think he’s going to try to eat anyone,” Lincoln said.  “Look closely at his eyes.”  At that, everyone turned to Jameson, making him feel even less human than being in the cage did.

Terrence sighed.  “That’s why we think he’s infected, Lincoln.  They’re already turning scarlet.”

“Exactly.”  Lincoln’s hands folded before him.  “That’s where the infection entered, yes?  But the boy can still see, Terrence.”  He smiled warmly, his eyes dancing at Jameson’s from across the space between them.

“So?” Terrence stepped closer to the cage.

“Terrence, if the infection was killing him, his eyes would be dead already, and he’d be blind.  If he can see, even with the infection that far along in his eyes, that means the infection isn’t killing him.”

By this point, their conversation had gathered more attention.  The two council members that Lincoln had been dealing with near the fence holes had come near enough to hear, and Jameson’s father appeared from behind them.

“What do you mean, it isn’t killing him?  It’s in his eyes, they’ve already changed.”

“Exactly, Talbot,” Lincoln replied.  “That’s exactly what I mean.”

“Father,” Jameson said, moving as close as the cage would allow.  But his father had turned away.

“We need to discuss this elsewhere,” Father said.  He strode away, quickly, not looking back.  The other council members followed him, with Terrence close behind.  Lincoln was the only one whose eyes met with Jameson’s, and they were filled with sadness.  He sighed, deeply, then he turned to follow the group toward the council-house.

“Thomas,” Jameson whispered.  He held his hand through the bars, toward his brother.  Thomas moved toward him, but not close enough to touch.

“Damn it, Thomas, you’ve got your gauntlets on,” Jameson said.  “I couldn’t hurt you, even if I was Turned.”  After a long moment, Thomas did take his brother’s hand in the armored glove, and squeezed it.

“I’m sorry, Jame,” he whispered.  “I should have gotten there sooner.”

Jameson’s eyes widened for a moment, and then he nearly wept.  “You’re not blaming yourself for this!  You’re the reason I’m still alive!”

Thomas took a deep breath, but didn’t reply.

“Yes, Tom, I AM still alive!” Jameson almost growled.  Thomas’s eyes came up then.

Neither of them had taken notice that the woman was still nearby.  She was watching the two of them, curiously, her eyes carrying an unreadable look behind her red-tinted glasses.  She moved closer to the cage now, and spoke softly.

“Don’t worry, Jameson… you’re not going to die.  Not yet, anyway.”

He spun suddenly, then crossed the cage toward her.  “What do you mean?” he asked, suspiciously.

“I mean that sometimes… just sometimes, people are born that aren’t killed by the infection that makes everyone else turn into the walking dead.” Her voice was just loud enough for him to hear.  Thomas was straining to hear from the other side of the cage.  She locked eyes with the older brother for just a moment, silently warning him to stay where he was, then returned her gaze to Jameson.

“They don’t Turn?”

She shook her head.  “They can be infected, sure, but they don’t die.”  She lowered her glasses just enough to reveal her eyes- dark eyes, so bloodshot that they were almost black, and with scarlet irises that looked like they were bleeding.

Jameson staggered backward, almost tripping.  She covered her eyes again, as Thomas came around the cage.  Before he was close enough to hear her, she whispered again.  “We get stronger instead of weaker.  The infection becomes a blessing instead of a curse.”

Jameson came toward her again, putting his hands on the rough wooden poles.  She smiled at him, a reassuring smile, and said, “Whatever happens, it’ll work out.  Don’t worry.”

*****

It was mid afternoon when the council returned to Jameson’s cage. Thomas had stayed with him the entire day, leaving only to get water for the two of them and food for himself.

“Are you sure you don’t want some?” He’d asked his younger brother, holding out a broken piece of his bread.

“I’m sure,” Jameson replied.  His stomach had emphatically told him that bread was not what he needed.  He was hungry, though – hungrier than he could remember.  But he hadn’t eaten since the night before.

“Thomas, could you… could you bring me some meat?” he eventually asked, afraid of the response.

“Sure could.  Randall’s mother asked if she could bring you anything earlier, she said they didn’t eat all of the ham they’d made for lunch.  I could still bring you some.”  Thomas rose.

“No… wait,” Jameson said.  “Tell her that’s very kind, but no thanks.  I don’t think I want meat that’s been…”  he couldn’t find a way to say it, it sounded so savage to him.  But his stomach was very clear on what it wanted.

“Cooked?” Thomas finished his sentence for him, guardedly.  Jameson only nodded.  The two of them looked at each other for a long moment before Thomas sat back down.  “I think we should wait on that, Jame.  I should at least ask.  I’m sorry.”

When the councilors did return, they were all together.  That alarmed Jameson instantly- if they felt the need for the whole council to discuss his fate, he knew that was a bad sign.  Father led them, with Terrence beside him.  Lincoln, the old gypsy accompanied them.

“This is a mistake, Talbot.” Lincoln’s voice was steely.  Jameson had never heard the gypsies speak like this, nor raise their voice.  They were shrewd traders, certainly, but they were always friendly, always maintained a good relationship.  His demeanor was different now.

“This is our business, Lincoln,” Father replied.  “And he was my son.”

“Was?!” Lincoln spat.  He then turned his head to make certain the entire council heard him.  “If you do this, it is murder.  Our trade bargain for fence wire is off if you go through with this.”

The entire procession stopped at those words.  Everyone turned to stare at the old gypsy, but he didn’t waver even for a moment.

“I won’t have any dealings with people who take part in a murder like this- because that’s what this is,” he continued.  “You all can see the proof, you’re just too scared to admit it.  All you need to do is give him the three days it would normally take for him to change.” He turned to Talbot.  “I remember what you said about your wife, Talbot, and it has clouded your judgment.  You had all better decide quickly,” he again addressed the entire group, “because you don’t have much time left to fix those holes.  And perhaps you should double-check the locks on your barns this evening.”  He looked pointedly at Jameson, and the rest of the crowd followed his gaze.

After a long silence, Lincoln’s expression softened, and he put his hand on Father’s shoulder.  “We’ve been friends for many years, Talbot.  I remember my first visit after he was born.  I’ve told you, he can come with me, and you can absolve yourself of this problem completely.”

Another long silence.  Then Father shook his head.  “Perhaps you should move your caravan outside our fences for the night, Lincoln.  We can make it through the night the same way we did last night.”  He looked back at the council, and a few of the members nodded their support.

Lincoln turned to Terrence.  “You of all people should see how valuable this young man could be to you.”

“How valuable, and how dangerous,” Terrence replied.  “He could decide to bite us at any time.  And from what you said, he could infect people without even meaning to.  How do you know for certain that he isn’t changing?”  Lincoln’s eyes dropped.

Thomas’s eyes met with Terrence.  “He asked for raw meat earlier, sir.”

Lincoln’s face came up, and everyone turned to look at the older brother.

Father took a deep breath.  “That settles it for me.”  He turned to look at the council again.  “What does the council think?”

Most of them nodded their approval, but only one spoke- one of the younger councilors, Maria.  “He’s your son, Talbot.  We’ll support your decision.”

Lincoln shook his head.  “I can’t watch this happen.  I fear that we’ll have to pass your village by the next time we come through here.”  He walked away, angrily, toward his carriages.

*****

Jameson watched the sun set from his cage, and at last Thomas left his side. The next morning, they’d build the pyre that would end Jameson’s life.  Thomas stayed with him until they could see the swarm of the Turned coming through the corn stalks outside the gate.  Jameson felt a buzzing in the back of his head as they approached, like the sound of a distant swarm of bees.  Again, the Turned found the holes in the fences, and again they filled the village square and pounded on the wooden doors of houses.  Many had been left open again, but all the meat that was left to find was already long gone.

Jameson couldn’t believe how rotted they were, how long-dead they looked.  Some of them, he thought, should not have been able to walk, undead or not.  So many were missing limbs, and almost all of them were missing flesh from bite marks that had festered over the weeks, or months, or years, since they’d died.  A couple of them literally had to drag themselves across the ground, having lost a leg- or in one case, lost both.  Most of them pounded on the doors or walls of one house or another.  Some houses were broken into that hadn’t been the night before, and some of the houses had stronger doors that held them out.  No one took any chances, though; everyone was huddled in the upper levels of the houses that had them.  Jameson watched them approach his cage, but they didn’t seem to take much notice of him.  He had expected them to try to batter their way into his cage, but while a few came close – one older woman’s corpse put it’s hands on the poles before wandering away – none even shook the cage’s poles.  He looked up to the windows of his own house, and could see his brother looking back.  A few other faces looked from other windows, but he paid them no attention.  He almost hoped his father would look for him, but there was no sign.

After the twilight had passed, and the moon had started to rise, he heard something clatter somewhere outside the fence.  He couldn’t see what made the noise, but soon he saw a torch being held aloft by someone approaching his cage.  The dead parted before the flame, but it wasn’t held as a weapon.  Soon, Jameson could see that it was the gypsy woman, the one that was infected, the way he was.  She held the torch so that she could see, not because she feared the Turned.  They mostly ignored her, shying away from the light and heat but otherwise giving her no notice at all.

In her right hand she held a small hatchet.  When she reached the cage, she began hacking at the wooden bolt assembly.  Jameson heard Thomas shout something, but couldn’t make it out.  Soon, he saw his Father’s face at the window, as well as many others who crowded to see.  All the windows facing his cage were filled with faces, all showing disbelief at what they saw.  It didn’t take long for her to destroy the bolt, and the cage door swung open.

“They won’t harm us,” she said, tilting her head toward the Turned who swarmed outside.  “Come with us, Jameson.  There’s no need to stay here.”

He left the cage slowly, still not sure he wouldn’t be attacked the moment he set foot outside.  But the Turned continued to wander past.  She headed back toward the carriages, and he made to follow her, but then stopped in his tracks, and spun back around.  Then he slowly walked back to his house.  He looked upward at his father and brother as he approached.  They didn’t speak, mouths hanging open in shock.  The look he returned to them was acidic.  He pushed a few of the Turned out of the way, not fearing to touch them anymore, and pressed his way to the house’s front door.  They continued pounding on it, trying to batter it down, right up to the moment when Jameson turned the latch and opened it for them.  He heard his Father shouting his name, but ignored it.

It was then that Jameson noticed the buzzing beginning to resolve itself into discreet whispers.  There were so many that he couldn’t make many of them out, but occasionally he would hear the whisper of Food break through the noise.  Now that the door was open, and the Turned were swarming inside the house, more and more such whispers became clear.  If there was any meat in the house, stored in cabinets or iceboxes, the Turned would find it.  But most of all, he knew Father and Thomas wouldn’t dare use a flame weapon inside their house.  Now that the Turned were on the lower level, they wouldn’t dare come down.  And clearing the house’s lower level of contaminated blood the Turned would leave behind would take days.

“What have you done?” he heard his father shout as he left the porch.  He saw the gypsy woman watching him from across the square.  She didn’t rush him.  Jameson figured that wherever the gypsies planned on going, they couldn’t move until morning anyway.  The two pressed their way through the Turned, out through the holes in the fences, and then started down the west road toward the Trees.  The boxy carriages were over the hill and amongst the trees, the animals and people safely locked inside.  None of the Turned bothered to follow him, or his guide, as he left the only place he’d ever known.

2 Responses to “The Turned – Chapter 3”

  1. Fantastic read! I am have enjoyed very much so far…. I will write more at the end. Great job.

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