The Turned – Chapter 2

Jameson entered the blacksmith’s shop from behind the furnace. The building only had one wall on the North side, with the rest of the roof supported by posts, and most of the tools and work stations were set up to face South.  The light from the sun was one of the most important tools.  The floor bricks were still clean, having been swept of forge-scale the evening before.  Hammers, tongs, and hardies hung from racks built into the sides of benches, some swaying as the breeze toyed with them.

Aster’s image still burned in the back of his head.  He could see her as she had been the morning before.  Singing while she did her field work.  Dancing  in the square after lunch, while her mother and two of the other women of the village played music.   But he could also see her from the other side of the fence, and saw her burn when Trojan put his flame weapon to her.  He shook the thoughts from his mind as he moved past the tools and benches, intent on focusing his anger and frustration upon sheet steel.

Zachary was already there, working over the larger shear, cutting a fairly large sheet of flat steel into odd-looking shapes.  His cuts were getting cleaner, Jameson noticed.  Learning the basics of the large shear were easy, but handling it well, cutting cleanly and minimizing the waste was an art form.  Zack also had already lit the forge, Jameson noticed with a grin.  It was almost ready for work.  The younger boy finished the last cut on his current piece, and it fell free of the rest of the sheet, clattering on the other pieces in the small pile.

Beside the shear, leaning against one of the wood columns, were three more sheets of steel.  Jameson smiled.  They had lots of work ahead of them.

The shapes Zachary was cutting would look senseless to most people, but Jameson identified them instantly.  Without a word, he donned a pair of leather gloves, picked up the two pieces on top, then moved to a nearby workbench.  He plucked a file from the benchtop, spun it around in his hand, and began smoothing the sharp edges the shear always left as it cut.  These pieces he was most familiar with- they were to become elbows.  And sure enough, amongst the clutter on the main workbench was a set of notes- the sizes of the pieces.  Chanra’s handwriting was more clear than usual.  That meant that she’d left this for Jameson and Zack to work on until she returned.  Her notes to herself were nearly impossible for anyone else to read.

He scanned the notes for a moment, then looked back at Zachary and his pile of odd steel plates.  Most of the pieces were there- two pieces that would become the chest and back; long, slender pieces that would cover the forearms; the large plates that would protect the thighs, and the connecting plates for the knee joints.  The pieces Zachary was working on currently would become shoulder plates.

Zachary continued his work.  He was 14 years old, small and wiry, but had picked up on hammer-work quickly enough.  He was also happy to work with Jameson and their master, Chanra.  Zachary’s father was an old fighter, and had credited his survival to his armor many times over.  Zachary grew up waiting and hoping for the chance to work in this shop, and it showed.  No matter how menial the task, and no matter how many times they had him sweep the floors or oil the tools, he worked as if he was saving a life every time he came, and had a smile on his face the whole time.  Most of the young adults who tried their hand in the shop ended up never coming back after their first day.

Jameson picked a hammer out of the rack, and started his first pass on the elbow-blank.  After he’d finished, the once-smooth piece of steel looked horrible, dented and distorted, but that’s how they always started out.  He set the piece into the coal fire, then started on the other elbow.  He hadn’t quite mastered Chanra’s skill at working two pieces at the same time; one would sit in the fire until it reached its working heat while she worked the other.  Jameson, however, would have to set his pieces farther out from the core of the fire.  He’d only melted one piece, but it had made waste that they couldn’t afford.

“Hope you boys are comfortable,” a gravelly voice called from the corner of the shop.  “I’ve talked to Terrence and Gerhard, and you both have been excused from your normal work for time being.  I need you both here, sun-up to sun-down until we get these done.”

Zachary looked surprised, but Jameson had guessed something like this would happen.  “Four sheets of steel.  We must have traded a lot for it.”

Chanra nodded.  “Six sacks of grain, and six barrels of wine.  But it’s worth it.”  She was a plain woman, almost average in height, build, and looks, but she had a strong presence.  Her voice was much of it- working over a coal forge for most of her life had ground her voice down to a husky growl, and it was un-nerving at first to hear it come out of her mouth.  She was a proud woman, and swinging hammers had made her as strong as any of the trained fighters.  Her hair was tied behind her head to keep it out of the way, a long, shimmering dark-gold tail.  “We’ve got four full suits to make, and the council wants them done and fitted as early as we can.  Elisa is already starting on the arming clothes.  And for these four, I’ll be observing you two working on them more than doing the work itself.  Zack, you’ll be doing the articulations on three of them.  You’re ready to learn how.”

Zack whooped, then returned to his cutting.  Jameson exchanged his elbow-plate for the one in the fire, placed the new one over the anvil’s horn, and selected a different hammer.  “That’s what Thomas was doing here yesterday, wasn’t it?”  Thomas hadn’t come back to the armor shop since his try-out for apprentice; it had worn him out completely.

“That’s right, Jameson,” she replied.  “How long have you been waiting to make your brother’s armor?”  She caught herself just a little too late.

Jameson turned his head down, and concentrated on his hammer-work.  Since their mother had died in an attack by the Turned, he had hoped Thomas would abandon his training to be one of the village defenders.  When Thomas had refused, Jameson had thrown himself into learning armor-craft.  At least his brother would be well-protected when he completed his training.  The two brothers had dealt with their mother’s death in different ways, but they shared a strong drive at their respective choices.

During most of their time in the shop, the three armourers spent most of their time doing repairs.  They were more often needed elsewhere in the village, tending fields or making minor repairs to fences or tools, so their time under the armoury roof was erratic.  Their trade for steel made things different.  Four new kits, four new warriors.  This is good news, Jameson thought, even if Thomas is one of them.  Even if Jameson never wanted to wear armor like this, having four more fighters would make everyone sleep better, and would ease the burden on the older fighters.  A couple of them were getting close to the age where they would not be able to fight any longer.  And while they might be able to get a few of the old pieces to fit a younger fighter, it was hit-and-miss, and steel didn’t last forever, either.

It was the harvest from four years earlier that had bought them all this steel.  Jameson exchanged his workpieces, setting one in the fire and pulling the other out for another pass of hammering, letting his mind wander.  He remembered the smiles, handshakes and hugs as people collected the enormous grapes.  They had known then that the good harvest would reward them if they were patient.  He had tasted a few, and they had been very sweet.  The wine from those grapes had taken four years to be ready to trade, and now here it was.  The leader of the gypsy clan had tasted the wine, and had dropped his trade price for the steel from 8 barrels to 6- the wine was that good.

Jameson exchanged his pieces again- the one in his hand had cooled enough for one pass, and the one in the fire was hot enough to work.  Zachary finished cutting the last of the pieces for this suit, then dug out the plate for the chest.  He picked up a heavy hammer with a leather face, then set the plate over a tree-stump that had a depression carved into it.  His strikes weren’t as precise as Jameson’s were, but for starting that particular piece, precision wasn’t quite as important.  Zachary would get the rough curves into the steel, and Jameson would refine them later on.  And while Jameson or Chanra could complete the articulated joints in a fraction of the time it would take to teach Zack how to make them work, the younger boy was indeed ready to take the next step.

*****

Thomas looked along the line of right forearm, to where the gauntlet’s cuff overlapped the wrist.  The hinges were all straight, the closures tight, and aside from some refitting to the back-plate, it had all fit perfectly the first time.  He looked at his younger brother, smiling through the screen of the helmet’s face.  The two of them had their rivalries, like any brothers did, but in matters like this, all other things were set aside.  This suit had extra decoration put into it, like the subtle ridges running down the forearms, spiraling around as they approached the wrist.  Chanra hadn’t objected to Jameson spending a little extra time on it.

Their father stood before the four newly-armed fighters, smiling at all of them in the afternoon sunlight.  The other councilors stood on either side of him, and most of the villagers stood in a ring around them all, watching the small ceremony.  While Jameson’s father was not the senior member of the council, they let him speak for them because his son was amongst those being honored.

“Congratulations, all of you.  We are all very proud of you for finishing your training.”  The gathered crowd applauded, and the councilors stepped forward to shake the hands of the fighters.  Jameson slapped his brother’s back, much harder than he would have hit someone unarmed, but the steel plate and the padded arming clothes kept Thomas from feeling more than a tap.

“Zachary tells me that you did most of the hammerwork.” He smiled.  “The knees fit very well.”

“I had to rebuild them- the first try didn’t turn out right,” Jameson replied.  “But these went together exactly the way they’re supposed to.  And the chest isn’t all that hard- getting the back to fit it right was harder.”

Their father put an arm around each of them.  “Your mother would be proud of you today.  Of both of you.”

Terrence approached just then, shaking the father’s hand and then the older son’s.  He smiled at Jameson, saying, “Hope you enjoyed making these as much as you said you did.  If we’re lucky, we’ll have more kits for you to make in a month or two when the next traders come through.  The eating grapes will be harvested by then, perhaps enough for another sheet of steel for you.”

“The fences need to be replaced first, Terrence, and we need at least one new plow-blade,” Father reminded the trainer gently.

Terrence nodded, and smiled.  “Having four new defenders around is making us all excited.”  After a pause, the trainer clapped Thomas on the shoulder.  “You’re on the first watch tonight, so don’t take your armor off if you can help it.”

“Are you kidding, sir?” Thomas almost laughed.  “I’ll wear this all evening if you’ll let me!”

As the others continued talking, Jameson felt the need to be away, to be alone.  It happened often enough that no one thought it odd for him to walk away, toward the East gate and out into the fields.

There were wooden fences 20 meters from the wire fence, angular barricades with their points facing the village.  When the Turned came, they would walk straight toward the living people- whether by sense of smell, or some other sense, no one was sure.  What they did know was that the Turned would trample the crops if they came over them.  The sheer number of dead footsteps would be enough to destroy whatever the villagers planted.  So, facing the trees, they’d built a series of wedge-shaped fences, to channel the Turned around the crops.  There were 11 wide, dirt lanes radiating outward from the village where nothing would grow.  They’d also built similar fences on the inside face of the patches of crops, because after gathering around the fences, the Turned would leave the same way once the sun came up, and would trample things on their way out.  It seemed an odd solution to Jameson, but it did work.  The Turned would beat their hands against the steel wire fences around the village, but the simple wooden beams only channeled them, and took relatively little damage.  Jameson walked down one of these lanes now, not directly toward the road, but not far from it, either.

As he walked, he looked toward the tree-line near the road.   His mind would occasionally wander that direction, wondering what the rest of the world was like, wondering what was really out there.

But then his mind snapped him back to reality.  The Turned were what was out there.  Anything farther than a day’s travel was a death sentence.  Unless you knew precisely where you were going, and were absolutely sure you could get there before nightfall, you didn’t leave the village.  And even then, the place you’re going to might have been over-run the night before.  Or it might be destroyed the night after you arrive.  The look in his mother’s eyes returned to him – the look that third morning when her emotion was starting to leave her, and she had just enough control to give herself over to an execution.  That memory was plenty enough to stifle his wanderlust.  He had wandered about half of the way through the fields, and stopped now to look at the setting sun.

He had another hour or so before it would be dark enough for the Turned to begin moving.  Perhaps, somewhere, under the trees, they already were, but they would not yet venture out into the open, not yet.  The fields were a very effective buffer between the forest and the village.  The first rank of oak and maple trees should have been beautiful; such tall, ancient trees, with a canopy more than ten times his height.  But they looked to him like heralds of an invading army.  He’d often watched the Turned come out from the trees, from the West, where the shade from the trees protected them earlier in the evening than on the East side of the village.  He was facing East now, and the sun pushed the shade of the trees away from him and the village.  He fancied that he could see something moving between the trees, but while his sense of danger was alerted by the movement, he knew he had time to make it back.  He could sprint the mile back to the village in eight minutes, and they’d never keep up that pace.  Especially facing the sun.

His eyes picked out some more movement, this time in the underbrush.  Something was pushing branches aside, but he could barely see it at this range.  Something large, almost like the carriages that the Gypsies used, but not quite; it was boxier, and instead of the bright mix of colors the gypsies favored, it was painted a dark green.  Instead of being made cheerful and easy to spot, it was almost as if these travelers had wanted their carriages to be difficult to see from a distance.  It was being pulled by a team of oxen, he thought, but then they stopped.  Another 2 of the box-carriages pulled through the forest on either side of the first, and stopped alongside.  Drivers hopped down from their perches, and began working the harnesses of the oxen loose, and side-doors slid open as passengers disembarked, helping to move the animals into the box on the right.  They moved so quickly and efficiently, Jameson thought, watching them.  They had to have practiced this or something, like a play.

No, he thought, watching as they finished their tasks in record time.  That was closer to the practices I’ve seen Thomas and the others perform. Like fighters rehearsing their defenses- like a practiced drill. Some of the passengers climbed back into the first carriage, but a group of 7 of them had gone to the third carriage, on the left, and were pulling poles out of the side doors.  Now each one of them carried one, and they were sprinting straight toward Jameson and the village.

His danger sense was screaming at him now, to run.  His mind hesitated, knowing that if he ran back to the village now, he needed to know what to tell them.  He’d never seen people like this – travelers like gypsies, but setting their carriages this close to a village without coming in to trade?  And cutting it awful close to sunset, too, even if they did come from the East.  They held their poles before them as they ran, black poles as long as these men were tall, and now Jameson could see a long, thin, shining blade on the leading end of each.

He turned, and ran.  They had spread between two of the lanes around one field of corn, and he had a good head start on them, but even so he could almost feel them gaining on him.  His heart had started pounding as he had turned toward home, and now it felt as if it would explode out of his chest.  By the time he had been spotted by anyone near the gate, his lungs were on fire, but he didn’t care.  Those people that were coming meant to attack.  There was no other explanation.

He had heard stories of people who would attack villages like his, bandits who would take what they could rather than do the honest work of farming for themselves, or maybe men and women who just enjoyed hurting people.  But there were also whispers of people who would help the Turned- who would attack a village’s defenses and then retreat, letting the infected corpses in to tear the community apart.

It was Terrence’s wife, Amelia, who saw him first.  She had acted like a surrogate mother for him for many years, and knew from the look on his face that something was wrong.  She called over her shoulder to her husband, then came out through the gate to meet him.  Her close-cropped blond hair caught the sunset behind her, seeming to glow on its own.

“What’s wrong, child?”

He couldn’t breathe enough to speak.  “People… coming… from the forest… I saw them… stop carriages… out there,” he panted, pointing toward the forest.  The intruders weren’t visible yet- the land rose and fell unevenly around the village, and would keep them hidden at first- but he knew they wouldn’t be long.

Terrence had appeared, as had Father and Thomas and a few others.  Terrence stooped before him, and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Calm down, boy, and speak clearly,”

Amelia’s eyes scanned the woods, then narrowed slightly.  “I don’t think we have time for that, Terr.”   She pointed.  “I see five people coming, carrying weapons that have no use against the Turned.”

He looked to where she pointed, then spun.  “To arms!  Everyone who has a weapon, get it now.  If you’re out of armor, don’t bother to suit up – there’s no time now.”

“There’s… seven…” Jameson panted, his breath beginning to return.  “They have poles… with blades… on the end… like spears…”

Terrence straightened.  His eyes met his wife’s, and the two nodded in understanding.  She turned to Thomas, and when she spoke her voice was the commanding sort that Jameson heard her use during training drills.  “Thomas, go get the other graduates, and meet me outside the walls right away.”  The new fighter nodded, and turned to dash back into the village.  Terrence had already gone inside, and Jameson could hear him shouting for flame weapons.  He met his father’s eyes, and saw the same fearful confusion he felt.  His father put a hand on Amelia’s arm.

“What is wrong?  If people are attacking us, can’t we just close the gate and fight from behind our defenses, like we do with the Turned?”

She shook her head.  “This is different, Talbot.  They intend to attack the fence, not us.”

His eyes widened in shock.  “But who would do that, other than…” Then his eyes opened wider.

“Who is it, father?” Jameson asked.  His answer was to be turned by his shoulders, and almost carried back in through the gate.

“I think they call themselves the Believers,” his father replied, “and they want to let the Turned into our village.”

They were inside now, near the square where the whole village had celebrated barely an hour before.  People ran about in an orderly panic.  A few of the fighters had retrieved their weapons, and headed out through the gates to join Amelia and Thomas outside.  Some were hastily donning the fuel tanks for flame weapons.  The visiting Gypsies were locking themselves into their housing-carriages already.  A few of the stronger gypsies had armed themselves, and approached the gates to join in the defense.  One of them was a veritable giant of a man who had seemed to be in his armor all the time.  While it had seemed silly before-hand, it certainly was fortunate now.  Jameson turned to face his father.  “Why would they do that to us?”

“We’d have to ask them,” his father said.  His face was pale.  “But in the meantime, you go home and you stay there until someone comes to get you.  Keep a watch out through the windows, but if you see the Turned coming into the village, you know what to do.”

Jameson nodded, shaking now.  The sun was almost at the horizon now, and seemed to be hastening.  It was as if the whole world was moving against them.  He turned and dashed to their house, leaped over the three stairs up to the porch and nearly exploded through the door.  He grabbed the water-pitchers from the kitchen, taking them upstairs to his bedroom, then went back to put the pull-cord for the stairs in its place.  If the wall was breached, and the Turned got into the lower level of the house, he’d need to pull the stairs up in a hurry.

He looked out through the window in his Father’s bedroom.  He had a much better view than he would from downstairs.  The seven people he had seen – five men, two women, he could see now – were within twenty meters of the wall now.  They were all dressed in black, all had very long hair, and were all standing precisely the same way, arrayed in a line facing the defenders.  His earlier guess about a military drill was confirmed.  They held their poles in front of them, with the blades mostly pointing downward but the curve angling upward.  Amelia and Terrence had gathered maybe 25 people out in front of the wall, but only a few of them were in armor.  The woman in the middle of the attacking formation shouted something that Jameson couldn’t quite hear, and the two on each end darted left and right, circling around the village and forcing the defenders to split up.  After a moment, two more split off to the sides, and the defenders had to divide again.  Terrence was shouting orders at people, giving assignments as he circled the wall to keep up with one of the attackers.

Three more people exited the gates- these were carrying flame weapons.  That seemed to change the situation for the attackers, Jameson thought, because the woman shouted another command, and suddenly the three that were still with her charged forward, toward the defenders and the wall, each swinging their pole in a smooth arc upward as they went.  Amelia had to jump sideways to avoid being sliced, and one of the fighters beside her wasn’t so lucky.  A young man with a flame weapon fired a blast right at that attacker as the pole-weapon came toward him.  It set his upper body alight immediately, but he survived long enough for one of the other fighters to finish him with a swing of their axe.  He fell, and didn’t get back up.

The leader sidestepped Amelia’s axe-swing, driving the iron ring at the base of her pole into the flame carrier’s jaw.  He fell backward against the fence, and before he could regain his balance, the woman spun around completely, swinging her weapon wide and fast.  The blade on the end of her weapon killed him instantly.  Amelia took advantage of her strike, sinking her axe into the back of the attacker’s shoulder.  The eyes that turned back toward Amelia were peaceful somehow – not angry, not vengeful, but… sympathetic.  Jameson almost thought that attacker felt pity for Amelia, instead of the hatred that would drive a person to try to kill another.

“It is the Creator’s will!” the woman shouted.  “The plague is his vengeance!  Submit to your fates, and end your suffering!”

Amelia answered with another strike, this one fatal.  But she realized her mistake a moment later.  The third of the group had just struck down one of Thomas’ training mates, using his pole-weapon to peel the armor away.  The chest-plate that would last for years against the battering of the Turned was rent open like tattered cotton cloth.  Then he straightened, turned back toward the fence, and leaped into the air.  It was an impossibly high jump, Jameson thought, and the way he swung his pole down, then behind him, then up over his head, was as if to chop some magnificent log in half.  He came down right before the dead flame carrier.  But he wasn’t swinging for any of the fighters.

His weapon came down right at the top of the fence, and sliced neatly through every wire until it hit the ground.  Then he dashed forward, pushing the torn fence aside, and cleaved the inner fence open the same way.  Now, inside the village, he was surrounded, but it seemed he had achieved his goal.  He raced around the inside of the fence-line, with Amelia and four others chasing him, slashing his weapon through the fence in long, diagonal cuts as he went.  Amelia stopped him before he could hit the outer fence again.

Jameson raced to his bedroom, looking out in time to see Terrence finish off another of the attackers.  He had prevented any holes on that side, the north side of the village, and killed both of the attackers there.  He had shouted orders at the other nearby fighters, then raced back to where Amelia stood.

Jameson moved again.  From Thomas’s window, he could see his brother and two others who had taken down one of the attackers on the southern side.  There was only one left, and he had leaped up on top of one of the posts.  He swung his pole-weapon down at the defenders that surrounded him, on both sides of the fence, and deftly avoided their own attempts to strike him.  He had knocked down one of the fighters, cutting his shoulder badly, and had swung his weapon through the top-half of the fence on both sides of him.  But now he saw that he was the last.  He also saw what his companions had accomplished, and smiled as he dodged the swings from below.  Terrence and Amelia had arrived below him now, as had a few people with flame weapons.  The attacker smiled at them, and shouted, “Give in to His will!”, then leaped across the short distance to the inner fence, cleaving another hole before landing and being hit by flame from three directions.  Jameson didn’t hear the man cry out at all, and it terrified him- the attacker merely sank to his knees, accepting his fate and peacefully burning to death.

The fight was over, but the damage was done.  The sun had touched the horizon now, and to the West, the Turned were starting to shamble out of the forest toward the village.  There were now four gaping holes in the fences, and the Turned would find them easily enough.  Jameson and his family had one of the 5 two-story homes in the city, so he knew there would be people clambering up the stairs in just a few minutes.  He had the water-pitchers, and his father had a store of emergency food- enough to keep everyone fairly comfortable through the night.  They could rebuild in the morning.  People were now opening windows, doors, and sunroofs, so that the morning sun would leave no places in the village for the Turned to hide.  As long as the Turned weren’t able to climb up the sides of their houses, they would be safe.  No one had ever seen the Turned climb, but that was a chance no one wanted to take.  The houses had strong shutters, and Jameson closed those of his father’s and brother’s rooms.

From his own bedroom window, Jameson had many times watched as the Turned slowly marched out of the forest toward the village, but tonight it was much more frightening.  Tonight, there was no doubt they’d be inside the fences.  He stopped beside his window, and watched as the first few came through the fields and approached the fence.  Mindless as they were, they would bounce against the first section of fence they encountered, and then work their way along it until they found a breach.  Eventually they would come right inside, through everyone’s house, and eat every scrap of meat they could find.  That wasn’t so bad, as long as the livestock-

The livestock! His mind screamed.  They had been herding the animals back into the barns when those people had appeared!  He ran down the stairs to find his brother and father coming in the front door.  He went out onto the porch, holding open the door for their friends and neighbors who were assigned to use the upstairs as a hiding place, but his eyes trained on the two barns, halfway across the village.  The doors were almost shut, but just ajar enough for him to know the Turned could get inside.  The normal evening routine had been disrupted, and whoever had been responsible for locking the doors had forgotten in the rush.  If their horses were killed, it would be a great inconvenience to them, but they had time enough to buy enough new horses to plow the fields the following spring.  On the other hand, if their cattle, sheep and pigs were eaten tonight, the village would be without meat for at least a year – it would take months before a gypsy clan with livestock would return, and even then they’d need to husband the animals before they had enough to butcher and eat.

Those doors had to be locked.

“Father, the barns are unlocked!” Jameson shouted, then he leaped over the porch rail and dashed to the barns, even faster than he had run back to the village.

Thomas was behind him, but even without his armor the elder brother couldn’t have kept up.  Jameson knew what depended on the barns being locked, and no one was thinking of it but him.  Almost everyone else was indoors now, on the second floor of their houses or their neighbors’ houses, closing shutters and sitting on beds and floorboards, preparing themselves for the awful pounding they would have to listen to all night.  Jameson’s heart was fighting on his side this time, working harder and faster to pump blood to his legs as he charged forward, as if it knew on its own that his village depended on him.  He could hear his brother screaming his name, but it was more distant from him than just across the village.

He reached the cattle-barn just as the first of the Turned found an opening in the outer fence.  It was a cinch to lock – someone had foreseen this situation when they designed the doors – and he was on his way to the second before taking a breath.  The horses and cattle were secure.  His legs felt stronger now, his heart harder and more powerful, knowing this had to be done whether he made it through the night or not.  He didn’t stop to reflect on the sense of purpose he had found in himself – he couldn’t see anything but the lock on the other door.  He slammed the dead-bolt into place, then the secondary clip, felt it click hard as it seated itself.  Now it would take a battering ram to break the door open, and while the Turned could push with great force, they weren’t aware enough to pull on something.  The sheep and pigs were safe, and his people wouldn’t starve.

He began his dash toward his own house, but as he started running, the strength left his legs, and the powerful resolve in his heart was replaced by fear.  Now that he knew the animals were protected, there was only his own life to save.  He thought for a moment about changing direction, and going to a friend’s house- Randall’s father had built their new home only a year before- but there were already a few of the Turned near the porch.  Their moldy clothes were in tatters, and they had unhealing wounds from bite marks on almost every exposed surface.  Some had large chunks of flesh torn away, from when they were still being eaten before Turning themselves.  They’d be between him and that house before he got there.  He continued to run toward his own house.  His eyes looked to each side now as he ran – the Turned were swarming the square around the gate, slowly pushing their way through the front doors of a few houses.  But many of them had sensed his own presence, and something told him that his fear was drawing them to him even stronger than his scent.

He was 10 meters from the house when he saw them reach his own porch.  He stopped in his tracks, looking around.  Every house now had at least a few of them near its door.  They leered at him, pointing their heads to him but not their eyes, and staggered toward him like an army of drunks.  In the twilight, he could see clearly enough to pick out the details of some of them- a woman who had been bitten on both arms and the side of her face, a young man who had lost his left arm somewhere, and whose right was almost rotted away, and one whose skin was almost gone completely from the rotting disease that forced his corpse to continue moving.  These were old dead, and had been hungry for a long time.  They wouldn’t leave enough of him to become one of them.

They had him surrounded now, in a rough circle.  The nearest one was 10 meters from him, but they moved slowly inward.  He spun in place, around and around, until all he saw was a sea of dead faces approaching him, eyes staring sightlessly down, or upward- and some without any eyes at all.  He looked toward the house, and saw his father’s bedroom window was open.  Father was leaning out of it, shouting something at him, but he couldn’t hear it.  The panic had over-ridden his hearing, and the only sound he was aware of was the pounding in his chest, as if his heart could still escape the walking dead surrounding him.  The death-stench was suffocating.  He could feel himself losing consciousness from it.

Fires erupted from ahead of him, and he could see over the heads of those closest to him that something was knocking them aside, cutting them down, and burning them as it passed.  The Turned were just out of arms length of him now, but through the circle around him broke his brother, his armor and axe covered in blood from the Turned he had fought through, followed by two others in armor and four people with flame weapons spitting fire to make a clearing.  His heart leaped at the hope that he would live, after having almost given up to despair.  Thomas and his team pressed right into the bodies, kicking and pushing as well as hacking, and when the four with the torches arrived, they blazed a protective circle around them.

And then he felt the grip on his wrist.  He turned to see one of the dead, the woman, her lower half gone but her upper half focused on his own arm.  He pulled his arm away, but she came with him, her severed torso dragging through the dirt, still pulling her own face closer to his arm, close enough to bite.

He heard a whistle through the air, as something passed very close to his ear.  Thomas’ axe had come within centimeters of his own head, and the anger and power  put into the strike had detached both the head and forearm of the thing that held him.  A spray of dead blood hit Jameson’s face and eyes, and he tried to close them in time, but the fright and shock was too much.  Everything went black, and the voices faded away, until there was nothing.

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2 Responses to “The Turned – Chapter 2”

  1. Why didn’t he stay in the barn with the animals?

    • Good question! The locks were all on the outside. I went back and forth on whether they put locks on the inside, and ended up with the thinking that the locks were there only in case both fences failed.

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