The Turned – Chapter 1

“Breach!  Breach!”

Jameson threw the old quilt off of his bed, and was opening his bedroom door before it hit the bare wooden floorboards.  He hadn’t even looked out through the small window to see what was happening.  The warning call had been enough.  He saw Thomas’s door open a moment later, but the older brother’s room was closer to the stairs.  Jameson gave his elder just enough time to get to the stairs first.  Both boys bounded down the stairs, two at a time, and exploded out through the door three seconds later.

“Breach!  Breach!” It was Terrence shouting, Jameson knew.  It made him feel a little better to know the senior defender of the village was sounding the alarm, instead of responding to it.  It helped him focus.

Once off of the porch, the two of them split up.  Thomas’s job would be to back up the armored defenders at the fence, to help those with flame weapons keep the fires burning and the fuel tanks filled.  He headed directly toward the shouting, toward the fence where the breach would be.

Jameson was only 16 years old.  He wouldn’t be asked – or expected – to back up the fighters for another year or two.  His job was to get other defenders suited up to fight.  Getting a full suit of steel plate armor on was impossible for someone to do single-handedly.  Two people could get a defender into their armor in about 5 minutes if they knew what they were doing.  But in five minutes, the Turned could overwhelm the defenders and flame weapons teams at the breach, swarm in through the opened fences, and infect half the village.  They would most often have four people working to assemble an armored suit onto a fighter.

He dashed barefooted across the scraggly grass between two rough-log houses and passed another, heading for the house that his defender lived in.  Trojan had one of the few two-story houses in the village – Jameson’s was another – and it was easy to spot.  He passed the blacksmith shop, where he spent most of his non-fieldwork time, and was climbing the short stair onto Trojan’s porch within three minutes of climbing out of bed.

His friend Randall was right behind him as he entered the main room of the house.  Trojan stood in the middle of the room, fiddling with the buckles of the cuirass.  The chest and back plates were curved just enough to make it hard for him to see the buckles at the bottom.    He’d lit more than a dozen pillar candles, some on stands and some on shelves hanging from the walls.  The dancing firelight made the armor plates seem to glow.  The old man slept in his padded arming clothes almost every night, and he was one of the first to respond to every alarm.  Mounted on the walls were various pieces of his armor, ready and waiting to be lifted from their hangers and fitted onto the defender’s arms.  Jameson immediately finished work on the buckles that Trojan couldn’t see to tighten properly, and Randall crossed the room to retrieve the first arm harness.  He handed this to Jameson, and the two began their part of a well-drilled arming process.

“Where’s Daniel and Aster?” Jameson asked as he finished buckling.  He looked toward the door, craning his neck to look for the other half of their arming team.  They should be here by now, he thought.

“Don’t know,” Trojan said.  “Let’s just do what we can.”

Jameson nodded, returning his attention to the buckles.  He finished with the arm harness just as Randall set the spaulder over the defender’s shoulder.  Jameson smirked a little, then twisted to lift one of the leg harnesses from its hanger.  Jameson had spent four years working as an armor-smith’s apprentice, giving him the edge over the rest of the village’s teens in getting defenders ready to fight.  Four buckles secured the leg harness in place, and one more around the heel secured the sabatons over Trojan’s heavy boot.  At that point, Jameson was done with his normal arming job, and moved on to take up the slack from their missing team-mates.

Terrence appeared in the door.  He was sweating hard from exertion, but his helmet was in his hand, and his armor was clean.  That meant that the inner fence was still holding.  “You can slow down a little, boys, it’s an outer breach,” he said, confirming Jameson’s guess.  The drill-master looked up at the older fighter.  “I want you out there, in case they break the inner fence, but it’s holding good.  I don’t think they’ll get through.”

Trojan nodded, then turned his attention back to the two teens.  Terrence twisted to look behind him – it looked uncomfortable because of the armor – then returned his gaze to the room.  “Daniel and Aster?” he asked.  Trojan shrugged.  Terrence left the room, grumbling.  Jameson handed the second leg harness to Randall, then slipped the second sabaton over Trojan’s left boot.  With that buckle in place, the old man was ready to fight.  He stalked toward the door, slipped the large axe from its leather stirrups beside the front door, and pounded down the front stairs.

The two teens took a moment to steady their nerves, having completed their main task.  Jameson went to the kitchen for the water pitcher, taking a large drink without bothering to get a cup.  He handed the pitcher to Randall, who did the same.

“I hope Aster and Daniel don’t get in too much trouble,” Randall said.

Jameson shrugged.  “It’s the first time Daniel’s been late.  Aster is the one who’ll get it worst.  How many times is this now?”

“Four, I think.”

“She’s gotta learn somehow.”  She was only 13, but they needed her help.  Maybe not this night, this alarm, but if the Turned had breached both fences, Trojan couldn’t have gotten armed fast enough.  Jameson shot Randall a sly grin.  “You ducked out on a couple alarms when you were her age.”

“Yeah.  You’re the only kid I know that hasn’t ever skipped one.”  Randall paused for a moment, concentrating on his task.  “I think it takes losing someone before a kid really gets it through their head, and you were way ahead of the rest of us there.”

Jameson nodded.  He’d been 12 years old, just old enough to learn how to put armor on a body, when his mother had been infected.  It had been only a scratch – a few centimeters long – but the Turned were toxic right down to their fingernails.  Her eyes were the thing he remembered most – their brilliant green giving way to scarlet as the infection Turned her.  It had taken three days for her to die, and they had burned her on the third morning.

“I’ll go get my house ready while you finish up here,” he said.  “Meet me at the breach when you’re done.  Maybe they’ll let us stay outside for a while tonight.”

Randall nodded, then took the water pitcher back into the kitchen, refilling it from the larger barrel set into the back wall of the house.  Jameson left the house, crossing the village again at an easy jog.  By this point, many of the villagers were awake, going about their alarm-duties and checking to see how serious the situation at the fences was.  The rough-log homes and buildings were mostly lit up now, as candles were lit and moved from one room to another.  A few defenders crossed his path, headed for the shouting off to his right.  They were fairly relaxed, but still moved swiftly.  The word had spread that the breach was only the outer fence, but they still needed the defenders out.  If the inner fence failed, everyone would be in danger.  If that happened, the entire village would be awake all night, huddled in the upper levels of the two-story houses.  If they were very, very lucky.

It was Jameson’s job to prepare for that possibility.  He climbed the porch steps, passing through the half-open front door and heading toward their small kitchen.  He filled two pitchers with water, then carried them up the stairs and set them on a small table in Thomas’s bedroom.  On his next trip he brought up several loaves of bread.  Next he checked the ropes that would raise the stairs.  The pulleys worked smoothly, and it took very little effort for him to raise and lower the stair assembly.  His work complete, he descended the stairs and stepped out onto the porch.

His father was approaching the house, from the direction of the shouting.  Jameson leaped over the porch steps, landing right in front of his father.

“All set, Father,” he said, still catching his breath.  “I’d like to help at the breach.”

“Not much to do but carry water,” Father replied.  “Don’t stay out too long – you’ll be mending the fence in the morning.”

“Yes, sir.”  Jameson jogged past, heading toward the shouting.

The shouting was coming from a small, organized crowd that took up most of the eight-meter-wide space between the inner fence and the nearest building.  Torches on spikes were set into the ground, in a half-circle around the area. The Turned pressed against the last net of steel wire between them and the living flesh, reaching through where they could.  The fence wires bent inward, like a clothesline, but they held.  The wooden posts supporting the fences were sections of whole tree trunks, set into the ground three meters – just as far as they rose above the ground.

A dozen armored defenders stood in a loose semi-circle inside the ring of torches, holding their large axes.  Twice that many people were supporting them, some with flame weapons lit and ready and some just bringing water to the others.  They stood in clusters, keeping their distance from the fence but staying close all the same.  They eyed the Turned warily, looking for patterns in their movements that would suggest a weak point in the fence.  The walking dead had spread out from the breach in the outer fence now, moving whichever direction would take them closest to the living.  They would encircle the inner fence completely if the space between wasn’t divided into compartments.  As it was, there was a three-meter square space filled with dead bodies, and beyond that the great swarm of the Turned continued to press them inward.

Jameson stopped when he smelled them.  He smelled them faintly every night, and had long been used to it, but once he was within ten meters of them, he could really smell them.  Rotting flesh was more or less the same every time, but for some reason he was always surprised by how revolting it was.  Something instinctive, he guessed, made a living person want to get as far away from that smell as possible.  He walked closer, after his initial pause, heading toward Terrence, seeing him talking to Thomas and pointing toward the fences.

Jameson could only see the front rank of the Turned through the fence, but he could also see them through the outer fence.  They surrounded the entire village every night, and he looked out at them often enough, but he rarely saw them up close like this.  Thousands of them, just around their little village of 200 or so living people, in various states of decay and dismemberment.  His eye was drawn to one whose skin was greyish-white, both eye sockets empty and one hand gone, reaching through the inner fence with one hand and the stub of a wrist.  It was old, dead for a long time.  There were several that looked like they’d been Turned for decades.  Jameson could find an example of many ages of the Turned, from decrepit to some that looked as if they’d been killed a week or two ago.  These were the worst, in his opinion.  He could tell by looking at them how each one had died.  The bites on the faces, heads, necks, and arms were easy to see.  The places where the Turned had torn flesh off with what teeth they had left.  The tattered clothes that had been rent aside by the hungriest predators on earth.

He gulped, then crossed the remaining distance to stand next to Thomas.  He caught the middle of the conversation, but it was clear what they discussed.

“… and there, you see?  There’s another spot there.”  Terrence was pointing toward the inner fence, to a few places where the wire had snapped.  “The tension on that wire was too much.  It broke before the rest of the fence had bowed inward enough to pick up the tension.  It’s a little one, though, won’t matter much.  But you’ve got to keep after them to make sure they do it right,” Terrence said, slapping one hand into the other to accent his point.

“Yes, sir,” Thomas replied.  He smiled at his younger brother.  “Jame does it better than any of the other kids.  I’ll have him work on it, show Randall how to get it right.”

“Jameson knows steel better than the other kids,” Terrence said, clapping an armored hand on Jameson’s shoulder.  “Don’t worry, Jame, they aren’t going to break through tonight.  And if they do… well, I’ll see you at your house, right?”

“Yes, sir,” Jameson replied with a confident smile.  “It’s all set for you if you need it.”  He looked up at Thomas.  “Daniel and Aster didn’t show tonight.  Have you seen either of them?”

Thomas shook his head.  “Skipping out, I guess.”

Terrence looked past the two brothers, his tense expression showing some confusion.  “Perhaps not…”

Daniel ran right up to them, gasping for breath.  He was fourteen, a bit heavyset for his age and height, but a good hand in the fields and not prone to shirking his duties.  The look on his face had Jameson concerned before a single word got through.

“Sir, I’m so sorry I wasn’t helping – I’ve been looking for Aster.  Her mom said I was the last one to see her, and that was this morning in the North bean-field.”  He panted a few times, then continued.  “I’ve been looking since just before dinner, and no one knows where she is.”

Terrence’s mouth pressed into a thin line.  Then he nodded.  “Don’t worry about it, Daniel, your team got Trojan out the door in time.  And the Turned haven’t gotten through this fence just yet.  Where’s Aster’s mother?”

“Coming.  I don’t know where else to look, sir, I just-”

“Calm down.  Go get Aster’s mother, and bring her here.”

Jameson’s eyes had drifted off to the outer fence again, and he walked that way, slowly.  The light from their ground-torches just barely carried across the space, and he looked from one dead face to another.  A young man missing his arm below the elbow and the skin from one side of his face, an older woman whose clothes were almost gone – shredded trousers were all she had left – and her torso was bitten into in six different places, an ancient one that was almost rotted down to the bones, a young girl missing half of her blond hair –

“Oh, no,” Jameson said.  He took another step closer to the fence.  He was away from the breach now, past the compartmented space between the fences that had filled with the Turned when the outer fence broke.  He was near one of the two village gates, and he hung his hands on the wires as he looked closer to see –

By now, the other fighters had followed his gaze.  Thomas stood beside him, squinting into the semi-darkness.  The girl looked about 13, the right age, and wore what was left of a purple sleeveless dress.  The purple was now nearly covered in red blood.  Both arms were missing several chunks of muscle, from the shoulders down to the wrists and hands.  Half of her scalp was gone, and even at that distance Jameson could see her eyes rolling upwards, staring at the skies and at nothing.

He heard Terrence whisper a curse from behind him.  Then he heard a shrill scream from his right, farther down the fence-space.  Everyone looked toward the source at the same moment, and saw Aster’s mother stumbling toward the gate, crying out her daughter’s name.  She was a tall, willowy woman, late in her years, and she held on to the inner fence for a moment before collapsing in a heap.

Three other women broke away from the cluster near the breach, one bringing water.  Terrence followed them, but Jameson could only stare.  He’d known the girl all her life, had played, argued, sang and danced with her and the other children of the village.  She’d stood alongside him to help the defenders on countless nights.  Now she was gone.  Now her body was out there, trying to get in, and would devour him if given the chance.

Trojan came up beside the two brothers, putting an arm around each of them.  The shaft of his axe weighed down on Jameson’s shoulder, but it was comforting to feel it there.  Jameson relaxed his grip on the fence, letting his arms drop to his sides, unable to do anything that would help his friend.  She may have been a shirker, but she didn’t deserve to die.  She hadn’t lived 13 years just to become a lesson to the other children of the village.  He wanted so much to be angry, to find a target for the empty rage he felt, but there was none.

“I’ll go out at dawn,” Trojan said.  “Terrence and Amelia will want to take care of Aster’s mom tonight.  I expect they’ll ask me to take care of the girl.”

Jameson nodded.  As horrible as her loss already was, it would be worse to see her again tomorrow.  And the night after.  To watch her slowly decay, to fall apart, to wither into a skeleton until there was no flesh left for the Infection to animate.  And it would be far worse still to meet her during a breach.  When the sun rose, and the Turned shambled away into the darkest shadowy patches of the forest, Trojan would follow, and burn Aster’s body until nothing was left.

“I’ll go with you,” Jameson said.

5 Responses to “The Turned – Chapter 1”

  1. This is a very provocative beginning! Good environmental description and emotional assessment. You can really see and feel the situation, the fear, the apprensive excitement and the challenge of winning one more time against attack.

    Good job! : )

  2. Very nice work. I stumbled upon this and it sates my thirst for something new, exciting and stephen king like. Great diction and u have a way of pulling the reader into the world uve created. Amazing!! kudos to u!! and may i say, encore!!

  3. elsie clem Says:

    i am a zombie freak lol love the walking dead exct.and so far you have totally grabbed my attention loveing it 🙂

    • Glad you’re enjoying it – I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to write lately, despite a handful of ideas to pursue. While my zombie ideas are more or less complete, there’s a lot there to read. Please pass it along, and thanks again!

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