The Turned – Chapter 6

Jameson walked alongside Lincoln’s carriage most of the way. The caravan didn’t need to move much faster than walking speed, and he found that he had no problem keeping up.  Even walking all day didn’t seem to tire him out.  He made a mental note to ask Marlena about that; perhaps it was one of the ‘benefits’ of being infected.

Immune, he reminded himself.  To him, this was not so much of an infection.  It had made him more aware of other people around him, had made him need less sleep than usual, and, of course, it had the effect of making the Turned ignore him.  That one thing had made his life so much less complicated, at least the survival part.  Not so bad of an infection, he thought again.

Not so much, but still.  He wouldn’t- couldn’t- allow himself physical contact with anyone, lest he accidentally infect them.  That would have been unbearable to him; to inflict his mother’s fate on someone else was something he refused to imagine.  But seeing the families interacting, even just a mother’s gentle touch as a child ran past, made him sigh.

Marlena came riding back toward the caravan, and she turned her horse to keep pace beside Lincoln.  The old gypsy smiled as she approached, but as he picked up on her expression his eyes darkened a little.  He scanned the road ahead of them, then looked back to her.

“What is it?”

“The road ahead is blocked by a deadfall,” she said.  “It looks like it’s been there for a while, but I can’t tell if it was natural or man-made.  There’s a side road, and I was able to follow it around the deadfall and back to the main road.”

Lincoln’s face turned into a cynical grimace.  “So either a trail has been long blazed around the deadfall, or there’s a trap waiting for us up ahead.”

She nodded.  Jameson merely watched and listened- this had been his primary activity as of late.  He didn’t know nearly enough about this way of life, and decided he’d better pick it up as quickly as he could.  Whatever happened, these events could prove to be a worthwhile lesson.

“Well, there’s not much choice, I don’t think,” he said.  “Ride back and make sure Grunnel is in his armor.  He probably is, but make sure.  After that, I’ll want you at the front of the train.”  She nodded, then turned her horse and rode at a trot back toward the other carriages.

Lincoln turned back around, to look down at Jameson.  “I fear we may be in for a fight, Jameson.  There are plenty of bandits out in the wild, though how they survive the night without a village to hide out in, I’ll never know.  I’m afraid that I can’t guarantee your safety out here.”

Jameson shrugged.  “I’m safer here than I was in that wooden cage,” he observed.  “Besides, I may be able to put up a better fight now that I’m…”

He didn’t finish his sentence, but Lincoln caught his meaning, and nodded.  “That you might.  There’s a few things you should be aware of before-hand, and not all of them are warnings.

“First, most people out in the world won’t have much mercy or sympathy for someone who is immune.  They often see people like you and Marlena the same as the Turned, and will treat you as such.  So don’t trust surrendering quietly to keep you alive.

“That’s the bad news.  The good news is that you might be able to sense people as they approach.  Because of this, I want you to walk alongside the Jennings’ carriage.  You won’t be quite at the end, but if someone is planning something for the last couple carriages, they’ll be approaching at about that point.  So listen to your instincts, and if you think we need to be alerted, tell Kevin to warn me.  He’ll know how.”

Jameson nodded, then slowed his pace until he was about even with the Jennings.  Kevin, the grandfather, was driving the team of horses, with his youngest grand-daughter, Sienna, next to him.  The two smiled at Jameson, and he smiled back.  Sienna was a beautiful little girl, eight years old, if he remembered correctly.  He hadn’t had time for more than a formal introduction to everyone in the troupe, but the Jennings had been very kind to him.  It seemed to Jameson that Kevin had a long friendship with Lincoln, and the two had a great understanding of each other.  He also thought he saw a similar relationship between Kevin’s son, David, and the younger Jacob McCandles.

Sienna played with a small piece of paper while she rode.  Her hair and eyes were the same light brown color- her mothers, Jameson had observed upon meeting them all- and her green dress suited her well.  Jameson watched as she folded and refolded her paper, then unfolded part of it, over and over.  She paused for a moment, looking closely at her work, then turned another folded corner outward.  She turned it around in her hand, then smiled, and held it up for Jameson to see.  “Watch,” she said, smiling at him.  He nodded.  He felt his expression change to surprise as she lifted the folded paper to her lips and gently blew into one corner.  The folded paper inflated with her breath, forming a near-perfect cube.  She held it out for him to take.  He moved slowly to take it from her, aware that her grandfather was now watching him intently.  He turned the small box around in his hands, but the folds were too complex for him to figure out.  He shook his head, then set it back on the bench beside her.

“I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said.  “Where did you learn that?”

“From a book,” she replied, matter-of-factly.  “We have a couple books about this kind of thing- folding flat paper into different shapes.  I’m the only one who can make this one, though.  I’ll make a horse for you later.”

He smiled.  “I’d like to see that.”

“My mom and dad say that you can learn anything you want, if you can find a book about it, and books have been made about almost everything,” she said.  “Right, grandpa?”

He looked down, proudly.  “That’s right,” he looked over at Jameson, and winked.

“Marlena brings us the best books,” she continued talking.  Jameson noticed that she spoke more clearly than almost anyone he’d met of that age.  “She goes into ancient cities to find them for us.  She says there’s buildings that are full of books – buildings that the ancients built only to hold books.”

Jameson’s eyebrows rose.  “I’ve never been into an ancient city.”

“Marlena will take you,” she replied.  “I’m sure you could help her find stuff in those cities.”

“Sienna,” Kevin said, with a hint of warning in his voice.  Jameson had correctly guessed that the adults of the train had talked to their kids about the new traveler with them.

“It’s ok,” he said.  “There’s really no escaping it now.  And it makes no sense to pretend otherwise, right?”  It was at that point that he felt the presence, and it was hard to understand what it was.  Something inside him was quite simply pointing toward someone’s location, about fifty feet off the right side of the path.  There were four of them, and a moment later he could feel two more on the other side.

“Kevin?  Lincoln asked me to warn you if I noticed someone off the trail, watching us.  He said you’d know how to warn him.”

Kevin looked at him, with a hint of fear in his eyes that was quickly replaced by resolve.  “That I do, young man, and thank you.”  He put the leather reigns into his left hand, raised the fingers of his right hand to his mouth, and gave off what sounded to Jameson a shrill bird-call.  It rose in pitch, then fell, but carried up and down the caravan.

A moment later, Jameson felt those people approaching the caravan, suddenly joined by many more who had been just a little farther from the road.  The old man’s warning had gotten their attention, apparently.  They were on horseback, he soon realized, and a moment later they’d crashed through the brush at the side of the road.  Jameson dashed to the back of the Jennings’ carriage, and climbed the small ladder to its roof.  He was no good on the ground.  Sienna ran past him, scuttling down the hatch to the inside.  As he looked ahead at the train, he saw most of the children doing the same.  This was something they’d had to prepare for, and something they’d done more than once.  Kevin had picked up an axe from behind him, and was defending himself against one of the attackers.

From where he stood, Jameson had a decent overview of the fight.  The attackers looked like they outnumbered the adults, but they hadn’t killed or even wounded anyone yet.  They were fairly clumsy, it seemed- they were good enough with the swords they wielded to keep from being hurt, but they were unable to strike a solid blow themselves.  He noticed this up and down the train, until his eyes met Grunnel.  They were certainly fighting him differently.

Possibly because he had already knocked two from their horses, wounding one of them badly as he did.  There were five horsemen around him now, trying to keep his huge axe busy but not trying too hard to strike him.  Then, Jameson saw why; two of the horsemen were charging down the road behind him, each of them with one of the girls from the caravan in front of them.  One of the attackers whistled, and then they all disengaged, galloping back into the woods and disappearing.  As one went past the Jennings’ carriage, Jameson leapt off and knocked him from his horse.  He had landed with his elbow on the man’s chest, and the fall had knocked the wind out of his prey.  Jameson climbed off him as Grunnel approached, and as the man regained his breath, the huge axe came to rest on the man’s Adam’s apple.  He looked much smaller with Grunnel standing over him.

“Not so brave now, eh?” Grunnel asked, his voice a rumble.  The bandit was dressed in leather clothes, some parts of it made from what were undoubtedly small animals that he and his friends had hunted.  Leon Richards knelt down next to the man, and laid a heavy back-handed swat on the bridge of his nose.  Blood spattered the man’s face.  The sight of it gave Jameson a most uncomfortable feeling, almost a craving, in the pit of his stomach, but he shook it off.

“My daughter!  Where are they going with my daughter?” Leon shouted.  The man was too terrified to answer.

The rest of the troupe had soon gathered around the man.  Lincoln pressed through them.  “Get him up,” he said, and Leon and Kevin grabbed the man’s arms and pinned him against the back of the carriage.  “Who did they take?”

“Andi Richards, and Julia Jennings,” Jameson answered.  He heard Kim Jennings, the mother of the young girl, gasp from the crowd.  Kevin’s face turned red with anger.

Lincoln was furious, and Jameson was slightly afraid, even though the older man’s wrath wasn’t directed at him.  The gypsy got right into the bandit’s face, and growled at him, “The only thing between you and my large friend here is me.  And I’ll step aside right now if you don’t tell us exactly where your friends are going.”

The bandit shook his head.  “You’ll kill me whether I talk or not.  And if you don’t, they will.”  He tilted his head toward where his companions had rode off.

“You’re wrong,” Marlena said, moving through the crowd.  “If you talk, we’ll let you go.  You won’t go back to them, because they’ll know you talked- at least they will by the end of the night.”

She drew closer to him, lowering her face so that her eyes were visible over the top edges of her glasses, and the bandit turned white, then slightly green.  “We won’t kill you if you don’t talk, either… what we’ll do is much, much worse.”

“Marlena,” Lincoln whispered, almost warningly, but Jameson could tell it was an act.  If the troupe acted outraged and disgusted by what Marlena suggested, it would frighten the bandit that much more.

Marlena drew a small knife from her belt, and made a display of slowly running her tongue along the flat of the blade, right down to its tip.  The bandit was petrified by this point, and shivering when she began to trace the blade around his throat.

“We don’t have much time,” she whispered.  “The two they took were young women, and I can guess what your friends have in store for them.  This caravan is a family, and I don’t take well to my family being kidnapped and raped.  Julia is only fifteen, you know.  She’s pretty young for making babies.  But if you and your friends don’t care, then why should we care about you?”

“W-w-w-once I talk, I’m useless to you.” A wet stain appeared at the bandit’s crotch.

The knife point remained at the man’s throat, but Marlena moved closer.  Her lips brushed his neck, and Jameson could barely hear her whisper, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been this close to a man.  Being infected does that.”

His teeth chattered, he was shaking so hard.  Marlena continued whispering to him.

“We don’t need to kill you, you know.  If you tell us where your friends are going, we’ll tie you up in the horse carriage for the night, and drop you off at the next village we come across.  If you don’t,” she put her lips right next to his ear, and licked its outside edge- which made the man wet himself again and turn from green to grey.  Her voice turned into a menacing growl.  “If you don’t, we’ll tie you up to one of the trees here before I infect you.  The only thing I could imagine worse than being one of the Turned, would be to starve to death as one of the Turned.  I’ve heard it takes them decades.  Do you think you’d feel it the whole time?  Would you be aware of it?  No one really knows.”

That was when he broke.  “All right, all right – a mile or so to the west is a building the Ancients built.  That’s where we hide at night.  Off this road, there’s a path that leads to it.”

Lincoln spoke up again.  “You built that deadfall back there to force travelers into a trap here?”

The bandit nodded.  “Not many people come through here without us letting them.  Sometimes we just take a tax, and let people pass through.  But Naiden decided it was time to catch us a couple of women.”

Marlena shook her head.  “Kidnapping them off the road?”

“My daughter is only fifteen!” Kim shouted at him. Her husband, David, was holding her back- barely.

The bandit got enough courage to smile.  “By the time she’s twenty, she’ll know just what to do,” he said.  He realized too late how big of a mistake that statement had been.  A second later, Marlena had driven her knee into his stomach, almost hard enough to break a rib.  He dropped like a forgotten doll, rolling onto his back and fighting to catch his breath.

Then she dragged him to his feet, roughly.  “You’re coming with me, dog shit.  And you’re going to tell me everything about this ancient building on the way there.”

Terror returned to his face.  “I can’t go back there now!  It’ll be dark before we got back!”

“You said it was a mile?” she replied.  “That’s not too far to walk.”

“You’ve got horses,” he argued, but Marlena shook her head.

“They’d get eaten by the Turned before we got back here.  We’ll walk.”

“But it’ll be dusk soon!”

“Which means we’d better get going,” Marlena said, putting her knife dangerously close to his skin again.  Jameson began to wonder how long the blade would be infectious under the sunlight.  Apparently the bandit hadn’t thought of that.  She shared another of her looks with Lincoln, who nodded.  He turned to the others, and started giving orders.

“Let’s get ready to spend the night right here.  Pair the carriages up as best we can- we have room to turn them around where we need to.  We’ve got plenty of time, but let’s get to it.”

Marlena fashioned a leash for the bandit out of a strip of leather, fastened it around his neck, and then marched him down the road toward where his friends had disappeared.  As she passed Jameson, she said, “I want you to stay up watching for us.  If we come back before morning, we’ll need help getting those girls safely inside.”  He nodded.

*****

Kevin Jennings shared the first watch with Jameson, staying up long after dark.  Since he was the only one who could wade in among the Turned, he had to be up there, but some of the others took it in turns to sit up with him.  The sky was clear, and the moon gave them plenty of light to see by.  They talked, looking down at the swarm of the Turned around them, and occasionally off in the distance.  The carriage they stood on was the Richards family’s, and if they stood they could just see over the tops of some of the trees.  The moon gave them decent visibility.  Kevin was helping fill in some of the troupe’s history for Jameson, who had already shared his story.  He had to speak rather loudly over the pounding on the wooden walls of the carriages, but this he did easily – this was a regular thing for him.

“Now, Leon and his family, you could say they sort of have this world figured out,” Kevin said, with a bit of a smile on his face.  “Their philosophy is to enjoy what slices of life they’re given, which isn’t all that bad when you consider the kind of threat we’re under.”  He waved a hand down at the Turned.  “When you know you have a good chance of not surviving any particular night, it’s not a bad thing to have fun in the meantime.  They’re a little odd sometimes, but they’re good people.”

“Leon and Billie, I have noticed, they, uh…” Jameson didn’t quite know how to say it.  Kevin merely smirked, and nodded.

“They have a different understanding of the word ‘married’?  Yeah, it struck me as odd at first, but in the end, they both agree to the situation, they don’t hide it from each other, and they really are in love.  Either one of them would lay down their lives for the other, or their kids, without a second thought.  That’s happened once or twice, too.  But physical love, for them, is just a way of enjoying themselves.  And they often choose to enjoy it with other people.”  Kevin smiled.

“And their kids?  I remember the warning Lincoln gave to Dennis the day after I joined you.  What was that about?”

Kevin snickered to himself.  “It’s nothing too bad, really.  He’s a young man, and he feels the same things all young men do, I’m sure; he just expresses it differently.  Or perhaps, more often.  And with more young women.  He’s a bit of a charmer, and at that particular village, I guess he’s broken a few hearts too many- or angered a few too many fathers.  The council warned us the last time we’d left that we needed to keep him ‘under control’.”  He chuckled again.  “Andi is a good girl, too, even if she shows no sign of settling down.  She may find someone she can spend the rest of her life with, or she may just travel with us to the end of her days, playing with men here and there where she finds them.”  He shrugged.  “I don’t think that sort of thing is right for me, or my family, but it’s not a terrible life to lead, either.  It bothers me a little that Melanie is starting to, uh, express herself at her age, but again…”  He shrugged again.  “It’s not really my place to say anything about it.”

Jameson nodded.  He looked off into the distance again, the direction they thought Marlena had taken their prisoner.  He squinted, then tapped Kevin’s shoulder.  It shook Kevin for a moment, who jumped, and Jameson found himself shaken by the response.  He apologized, and promised himself he wouldn’t forget such a thing again.  Then he pointed.

“You see that?”

Kevin looked off over the trees.  It took him a moment, but he soon spotted what Jameson had pointed at.  “Yes, I do.”

Somewhere off in the distance, a large fire had started, and its flames were now visible above the treetops.  It seemed to be at the top of a tall hill.  At that distance, they couldn’t tell whether it was trees that were burning, or something else.  Jameson guessed that it was something else.

“Any chance that was started by our ladies?”

Kevin chuckled, darkly.  “Slim chance that it’s anything else.  Grunnel should be armored, but I’ll go get him.  We may need to help Marlena escort them back here.”  He stood, and began picking his way across the tops of carriages, over the outstretched arms of the Turned as they grasped for him.

*****

Sure enough, almost an hour later, Grunnel pointed out an intermittent flame-burst through the trees.  He and Jameson both had flame weapons at the ready.  They gave a taste of fire to the swarm of the Turned around their carriages, then Jameson climbed down into the clearing as the dead fell back, afraid of the fire.  Once down, he could easily keep them from coming closer- they shrank before the flames, and soon Grunnel was beside him.  His armor dimly reflected the light from the fires.  Both were cautious not to let the flames get out of control- a forest fire would be a deathtrap for the whole troupe.

Marlena and Andi both held flamethrowers as well, and Julia ran between them.  They hadn’t needed to burn through the Turned all the way back.  The swarms had concentrated where the people were; at the building they’d just burned, and the carriages they were running toward.  Jameson directed his flame at the few corpses standing between him and the approaching ladies, and a hole formed very quickly.  Julia scampered up the ladder to the roof, and Andi dropped her weapon to follow.  Marlena’s weapon ran out of fuel when she reached the side of the carriage, but at that point it didn’t matter.  Jameson kept the area clear while Grunnel scaled the side, and after he was safely out of reach, he turned off his flame.  He and Marlena could take their time, without wasting precious fuel.

*****

Julia was traumatized. She had only understood about half of what her captors had said to her, and even though they hadn’t had the time they needed to make good on their promises to her, she’d been frightened enough.  The entire troupe was awake now, except for the younger children, and up on the roofs again.  Julia held on to her mother with a grip of iron, and Kim held her back just as tightly.  Leon hugged Andi as she approached him, and their eyes communicated silently.  It was a long moment before Andi spoke.

“I need to change clothes,” she said, her face neutral.  She headed toward the roof hatch of her carriage, and passed by Lincoln.  He caught her shoulder.

“Are you alright?  They didn’t hurt you?”

She shook her head.  “I’ll be ok.  Better it happen to me than Julia.”

Lincoln’s eyes darkened, and his jaw muscles clenched.

She patted his shoulder back.  “Marlena settled up with them.  Have no doubt about that.”

Lincoln and Marlena shared a look.  Jameson was sure there was a confirmation of what Andi had said.

Julia had stopped shaking enough to start telling the story.  Andi had staved them off her, she said, and delayed them long enough for Marlena to get there.

“She told them they had to shower first,” Julia said.  Laughter broke out from every family.

Lincoln, most of all.  “She told them what?”

Julia nodded her head.  “Then they spent a long time trying to get the one shower in their building to work.  By the time any of them had gotten clean, Marlena had found us, and snuck me away.”

“What happened to them?” Kim asked her little girl, Julia didn’t answer.   Kim looked up at Marlena, whose eyes still held some residual anger.  Kim looked back at her daughter, who shook her head.

“I didn’t see.”

All eyes turned to Marlena, but none of them were angry or accusing, Jameson noticed.  Most of all, they were curious.  Marlena looked from one face to another, then shrugged her shoulders.  “I didn’t leave them in there to burn.  I made certain they all got out alive.”

Whether that was the more merciful thing to do or not, Jameson was not sure.

*****

Svetlana nodded to Dresten, her elder brother of the Order, then sat.  He was here because he had been her superior on several scout missions over the past year, and he had brought her report to the council first.  They had then asked her to come and report directly.  She took a moment to look around the room; she’d only been here once before, and that meeting had been somewhat rushed.  The five members of the council faced her, each sitting on an oversized chair of dark leather.  The smallest man on the council, Cheszalt, had drawn his knees up in front of him, and sitting on the already large chair, he looked as if he was kneeling the mouth of some giant monster.  There was a sixth chair, on one end of their line, which was empty.  Svetlana wondered about that- there were rumors and myths about a sixth member of the council, but she suspected that no one outside this room really knew the truth about it.  And if the council had decided the rest of the Order should know about it, they’d have revealed the secret by now.  Dresten sat in a chair beside her.  The lights here were too low for her to see the colors of the room properly, but in the daytime, light would flood in through the high windows.  This room was near the crest of the Great Rock, and the ceiling was high in here.  It made people sound different when they talked.  After a moment of silence, the oldest of the councilors spoke.

“An intriguing report, Svetlana,” Walthiar said, raspily.  “I believe you did the right thing by returning here directly to deliver it, instead of finishing your posted mission.  We can continue the reconnaissance later- most likely we’ll have someone else visit the remaining villages.”  The other members nodded their agreement, and Svetlana felt a weight rise off her shoulders.  She had debated her decision in her own head all the way back here.

Alexia, who sat next to Walthiar, spoke next.  She was the one councilor that made Svetlana the most nervous.  Her voice just sounded like she would speak a person’s death at any moment.  It was something impossible to identify, but certainly felt by everyone in the Order.  The knowledge that she had been named Champion of the Order three times certainly added to that feeling. “If this is accurate, we should investigate this immediately.  Whatever we may find in this building of the ancients, it could be of tremendous value.  And you say that the man you spoke to had found something in particular?”

Svetlana nodded again, slowly.  “He couldn’t speak clearly enough for me to understand it, but yes.  Something he was excited about.  Enough so that he didn’t give in to despair when he knew he was infected – he traveled for a day, he said, before reaching that village.”

A third member spoke.  This was Qartan, the youngest of the councilors but also the one who had been out in the Wild the most.  He had been a living legend amongst the Order for the success of his assault teams, and his face bore the dark tan of being outside most of his life, as well as the scars of many battles.  He was also the one most likely to ask for Svetlana’s own opinion; he knew the value of the field-people’s instincts.

“What would your advice be, for how the Order should act on this information?” he asked.  “Speak freely.”

Svetlana nodded in his direction.  “Councilors, my instincts told me this was something I should report to you immediately.  Those same instincts tell me that we should locate this place as quickly as we can.”  She leaned forward in her chair, not making eye contact with the councilors for fear of losing her resolve.  “Anything that would be beneficial to the smaller villages that spring up across the land will make the mission of the Order that much more difficult, and slow the Creator’s purpose of eliminating the human race.”

“All things that happen are the will of the Creator, even this development,” Alexia replied, her voice neutral, but still disconcerting.  “This man and his discovery could not exist apart from the Creator’s plans for us all.”

“Of course, madam, but the Creator also planned for us,” Svetlana said, “and our place in his plan has been made clear to us.”  Her eyes still did not rise.  “Perhaps this discovery is meant for us to make use of, to take advantage of.”

In her peripheral vision, she saw the councilors nodding to each other.  Eventually, Walthiar stood, and took a step forward.  “Thank you again for coming, Svetlana.  If your report is finished, we will discuss these developments, and decide our best course.  For now, return to your quarters, revisit your acquaintances here, and get some rest.  Prepare yourself for renewed travel in the near future.  You have been gone from us for a long time, and I would prefer to give you more time here at home.  But you are the most help to the Order when you are out in the world.  We will come to Dresten when we have a new assignment for you.”

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One Response to “The Turned – Chapter 6”

  1. Tumu Newell Says:

    I usually dont like any type of reading on zombies, as I am usually bored to death. Has to be a movie. But Im really impressed, this story is good! Ive been reading myself to sleep with it every night!

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