The Turned – Prelude
Darren looked back over his shoulder, trying hard to control his breathing. Rick and Sandra were done for, and going back would only get him killed- well, killed faster. He’d already been killed, and he knew it. It would just be a while before his body figured it out. He pulled up his sleeve, looking again at the bite. It was swelling fast, his body desperately trying to fight off whatever the Infection was made of. It would be no use in the end. But he had more important things to worry about now. He had to get to a village, somewhere, or his knowledge of the ancient building’s location would be lost.
He pulled loose the tethers on his horse, mounted, and turned her back toward Carter’s Hill. He knew he’d never make it, but at a fast enough pace he could make it to one of the nearby villages. His horse had been resting most of the day, and there was no reason she couldn’t make the gallop. But he had to make it before dusk- even if he climbed a tree and hid there from the Turned all night, they’d eat his horse. And without a horse, he’d never make it back before the Infection had turned him.
At least, I’d like to have my horse to myself when I turn, he chuckled darkly to himself.
She kept a good pace, responding well to his urging to run, and he went over the events of the morning in his mind. Six people had been at the building, and now four were dead. And he’d be dead soon enough. Trent and Marvin had turned faster than he had ever seen, and while Rick and Sandra had been right behind Darren when he ordered them to run, the snakes had bitten them, and slowed them down enough for the human-Turned to catch them. At least Marion had left early. He’d make it to Carter’s Hill, give an early report, and someone would come looking for the rest of the team. Maybe they’d find him, maybe not.
In retrospect, he thought, a snake makes a good host for the Infection as far as spreading to other hosts, but they aren’t good at eating… the physiology of a snake makes it hard to eat anything it can’t swallow whole. In the case of humans, the little beasts wouldn’t get much of a meal out of them. But as far as spreading… Darren shivered, remembering the first bite Trent had suffered. There had been four bites total, and Darren could almost watch the Infection spread across his skin. Normally a surface wound would make a person into one of the Turned in two or three days. Trent had turned in less than a minute, and Marvin had been only a little slower. The thing that was most odd was how the snakes ignored the flame weapons the team had brought. The only explanation Darren could think of was that the scales gave them just enough protection to get close enough to spring and strike. He’d have to make sure his report noted that, or the next team would suffer the same fate.
None of this really mattered, he decided, as his trail left the light forest and spilled onto an open road. It was such a pleasant day, he thought. He’d been so focused when they’d rode in that morning that he hadn’t realized how beautiful the land was around him. Now, his condemned eyes couldn’t soak in enough. The prairie stretched out on one side of him, perhaps a kilometer or so before meeting another tree line. On his other side, giant oaks and maples towered over the road, their branches almost reaching far enough to shade it from the sun. Flowers of every color imaginable strove for his attention, along both sides of the road. The prairie itself was dominated by flowers with yellow and blue petals, so thick they threatened to overwhelm the green. He wondered if he would miss color, once he was condemned to the dark. He spurred his horse to keep her pace, but his eyes drew in as much of the color as he could.
When the road split, he turned away from Carter’s Hill, toward the village he knew he could reach before nightfall. Hopefully he’d have enough time to write a letter to his daughter. And hopefully, she’d find it when she came looking for it.
The villagers would cage him when he arrived, he was certain. No big deal. He’d ask them to do it, and maybe they’d take him more seriously. Might as well be up front about it. There was no way he’d hide the wound on his arm, and he was probably looking very pale from the experience.
The fingers on his bitten arm began to feel numb when the village perimeter fence came into view. The sun was setting, and they’d be closing the gate soon, but for now he knew he had made it. His mount began to slow, sensing that her run was almost over, and he gave her another kick to keep the pace. She complied.
He’d ask them to burn him when he’d completed his letter. He didn’t want to live through the Turning. He knew they wouldn’t argue with him.