Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stalker-Part 2

Unbeknownst to his captors, the outsider regained consciousness shortly after they shackled him to the pillar that holds him. He observed surreptitiously his captors as they stripped naked and got into the baths prepared for them; the woman, girl and boy-children stood out by comparison and thus attracted his attention. The older woman quickly revealed by behavior who she was and how she stood amongst this survivor community; that, in turn, quickly revealed to him how the girl and children related to the men. Within moments, like a wolf amongst a strange pack, the outsider analyzed and deduced the relations of the people living here. He knew, therefore, that none of the men here had what he smelled from miles away some days ago; seconds later, he caught that scent again—the scent of that which was not ordinary—and followed it to its source: Sally, the budding woman. He knew, and smiled.

Not long thereafter, Tom—whom the outsider now knew to be the leader—approached him. The outsider sensed that Tom expected him to be awake, if not lively, so it suited the outsider to play that role for now. Tom, wearing welding gloves, gripped the outsider by the jaw and pulled his face up to meet Tom in the eye. Tom brushed aside the dirt and grue smearing the outsider’s face as he examined what manner of man, if the outsider were such, he beheld.

“My brother led the party of men that subdued you and brought you here.” Tom said, “He said that they came upon you as you ate the flesh from the corpse of a butchered zed.”

By his eyes, the outsider signaled understanding.

“Good. I hoped that you weren’t deaf, or unfamiliar with English.” Tom said, releasing his grip, “Now, I would like to know by what name you go by.”

The outsider paused a moment, and then said, “Call me ‘Ken’; it’s a suitable name.”

Tom looked at him with a jaundiced eye. “It’ll do.”

Ken softened his countenance, smiling at Tom. He glanced beyond Tom, noticing that the other men now stood—at some distance—around watching their conversation. Tom quickly moved his gaze toward the farmhouse, but the setting sun spoiled his view; all he knew for certain is that those inside only feigned disinterest.

“Now, Ken, I would like you to explain yourself.” Tom said, now noticing the men nearby.

Ken now fixed his eyes on Tom. “Be specific.”

“Who are you, what are you, and why are you here?”

Ken saw that the men didn’t regard him kindly, but that Tom wasn’t so quick to judge.

“I am Ken, a man, and once—before—I was like you. “

“Are you alone?”

“Yes.” Ken said, “So far as I know, I am the only one of my kind.”

“What’s with the hunting, killing and eating of zeds?”

“The fires changed me. I can still eat and drink like I used to, but I don’t get much—if anything—out of it. I have to kill zeds, or things like zeds, to actually feed myself.“

“You’re a mutant.” Tom said, “As I’ve got reliable testimony to your eating habits, I am inclined to believe you, but that doesn’t explain what brought you to my land.”

At last, Ken got what he sought- a crack to squeeze through. This, plus the way that the men behaved earlier—and now, as he sees some of them react poorly to Tom’s ownership claim—provided Ken with what he needed to get at what he wanted: Sally.

“I’ve stalked more than just zeds.” Ken said, “Not all unnatural things are walking corpses.”

“Go on.”

“There are people that can wield powers like they came from a superhero comic book.” Ken said, raising his voice just enough to be heard by the men, “They have a different scent to them than zeds, or those bitten by them.”

“Like you?”

“I can’t say. I’ve never met another like me, but I’ve met others. I caught such a scent days ago on the wind, and I tracked that scent here- to one of you that live here.”

* * * * *

Sally watched her father interrogate the outsider from within the farmhouse. Her mother, with the boys helping, finished cooking dinner for everyone. Her uncle went outside to get the men together and begin setting up the tables; Uncle Rick told the men that she got to work right away on drawing the water for doing the dishes after dinner, which was close enough to the truth. She kept her eyes fixed on the interrogation going on outside, unable to hear but nonetheless picking up the gist of things.

Just then, her eyes locked on to the outsider’s gaze. She gasped and dropped the bucket that she had in hand. Her mother immediately came over, grabbing Sally by the shoulder, and without thought Sally turned away from the window and took her mother’s hand.

“I met his gaze, Mom.” she said, “I saw him, he saw me, and I felt like he burned into my soul with those eyes.”

Jane took her daughter’s head into her hands, and then she looked over to the boys; without a sound, they brought Jane a handkerchief.

“Boys, go get your uncle. Tell him that he’s got to serve dinner tonight, and that you’re helping him. He’ll understand.”

The boys nodded and ran outside. With them out of the way, Jane turned her attention to Sally.

“I know that you watched your father talk to that thing.” Jane said, “What were they talking about?”

Sally, handkerchief in hand, wiped away the nervous sweat on her brow.

“The outsider’s name is ‘Ken’. Ken’s stalked more than just the dead, Mom. He’s stalked, and killed, other monsters out there.”

Jane, concerned, made Sally look up at her.

“What do we do, Mom?”

“We keep this quiet. This ‘Ken’ isn’t stupid; he’s trying to con your father, somehow, and I think that by now he’s noticed that the men don’t get along harmoniously with us. If the men get the idea that you’re not normal, then they’ll use it somehow to their benefit. We can’t afford a fight.”

Just then, Rick and the boys came into the room. Jane looked over at them, pointed to the waiting pots of food and stacks of plates, and waived them back outside. Once gone, she returned her attention to Sally.

“Can Uncle Rick be trusted?”

“It’s best that he be kept out until needed, just like the boys. They don’t need to know what’s going on right now.”

“Can Uncle Rick be trusted?”

“It’s best that he be kept out until needed, just like the boys. They don’t need to know what’s going on right now.”

Sally felt her mother’s anxiety acutely, the unease and uncertainty flowing underneath her speech and movements. Then, just then, Sally sensed a thought not her own: “Are the boys like her? That would explain why they’re so quiet, but still so easy to deal with- for now.” She immediately started sobbing, as her own suspicions suddenly slammed back into her face as confirmed, and then felt again her mother’s anxieties mixed with fear wash over her.

“Get up, dear. I think I ought to take you to your room.”

Sally obliged. Minutes later, lying on her bed upstairs, Sally’s sobbing ebbed just as her mother locked the door upon exiting Sally’s bedroom.

* * * * *

Rick and the boys served the evening meal to the men. As Rick and the boys did their utmost to keep the men’s attention fixed on eating and evening chores, Ken and Tom continued their talk.

Ken, still chained to the pole, took a long and deep breath. After exhaling, he smiled a big grin of satisfaction.

“It’s not common for a prisoner to find mirth in his situation.” Tom said.

Ken chuckled. “Neither is it common for a man to so easily confirm that what he’s come for is so easily at hand.”

Tom’s face betrayed his incomprehension.

I found the one whose scent drew me here. She is inside, and her scent betrays both her youth and her potential.”

Tom’s face instantly changed into a grimace of restrained rage. He stepped forward, into Ken’s face, and punched Ken in the gut- knocking the wind out of the stalker.

“That’s my-“

“-daughter.” Ken said, gasping, “Typical.”

Tom had to pause, as the commotion drew unwanted attention, and Rick needed a moment to distract them.

“All right.” Tom said, “Enough dancing. You’re here and alive because I heard about you, and I need someone to do something for me.”

Ken kept his satisfied smile on his face, for he had finally provoked the response he wanted.

“You need me to guide you someplace?” Ken said, regaining his wind, “Someplace you think I’d have good reason to go?”

Tom gripped Ken by the neck, but Ken wouldn’t stop smiling, so Tom released the grip.

“You need me.” Ken said, “You confessed it. You need me to either find you women for those men, or to somehow bring them to heel, because you won’t give them what they want. What’s the excuse? The men won’t quit you for another community; they don’t know of any, and they’ve got all that they need here already. What pretext do you need to attempt this gamble?”

“We need something from the city, something we need to keep this place going, and we don’t have the numbers needed to do it ourselves. You’ve been there, repeatedly; lots of zeds there, so you must have hit the place a lot- you have to know your way around. I want you to guide a team into the city, help us get what we need, and then cover our exit.”

“I get your daughter in return.”

Ken stared at Tom, who looked at Ken in disbelief.

“That’s the price.”

Tom nodded, agreeing. He had no choice.

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