Jane awoke to a surprise. She saw Tom looking over her, cuddling their newborn son, and he read her amazement on her emaciated face. With a free hand, he signaled for quiet and pointed to the baby, and then he leaned closer.
“You’re not dreaming. You’re awake, you’re safe, and you’re in the cave with the woman that Ken talked about.”
Jane, still stunned and groggy, didn’t answer. Tom handed her a warm, cooked fish.
“Eat. You need it.” Tom said, “You’ve been out for days. I’ll explain what happened.”
Jane, still coming around, took the fish and nibbled at it.
“Ken sent me to this place, where the cave women dwell, when we failed to get the book I wanted out of the library and had to flee the city. The women here tell me that they are adopted daughters of the spirit of the Mississippi River, which is apparently the thing that found you and brought you here.”
Feeling some strength return to her flesh, Jane bit deeply into the fish.
“Ken figured out what happened, more or less, to the farm. Last I heard, he’s still in the city seeking some way to get to Sally and get out again.”
The baby cooed.
“No matter what, Jane, we’re leaving this place. We can’t go north, and we don’t have the means to go east or west anymore- not for long. Once we know, one way or the other, what’s become of Ken and Sally we’re fleeing from here and going as far from that city as possible.”
Jane looked up from her meal, shocked anew.
“You’ve seen what’s in that city, Jane. We didn’t survive all these years because we’re better than the zeds. We survived because that monster in the city—that “necromancer” Ken talked about—didn’t think we were worth his time!”
Jane put down her fish. “Do you know?”
Tom nodded. “The women told me. One of them heard you talking in your sleep, going on about the attack on the farm, and that’s how I figured that what Ken deduced was right. The world’s gone even crazier than we thought, Jane, and I don’t know what the hell to do anymore- other than get as far from it all as we can.”
Jane slipped her arms around her husband.
“It’s out of our hands now, Jane. It’s all out of our hands, and all up to Ken.”
“Funny, isn’t it?” Jane said, “It seems that the world’s pushing normal people like us out.”
Tom, resigned, embraced his wife and sighed wistfully.
“What about Sally?” Jane said.
“If she’s still alive after all this—if Ken can get her back—then she’s his wife. She’s far better off with him than us now. Ken’s part of this insane world and Sally’s got to go with the future no matter how insane it is. You and I will be busy enough keeping ourselves and the baby going.”
“Why not stay here?”
“I doubt that this place will remain safe much longer, for us or anyone else, especially if Ken succeeds. For some reason, that monster wants Sally, and that means that he’ll come this way sooner or later. We’d better be gone well before that happens.”
* * * * *
Ken, certain that he and Sally were indeed alone, took a moment to inspect the girl as he sundered her bonds- he saw a couple of draw-cuts that had since sealed.
“These!” Ken said, poking the wounds, “What happened?”
“One of them cut me, and then held something up to me right on the cuts, before sealing them. He tasted the blood, and then sprinkled it over the zeds- like some kind of blessing or something. The zeds settled down and then they tied me to the stake.”
Ken cast about, seeking something to use as a cover for Sally, but none could be had.
“Damn!” Ken said, “That makes it clear now. We have to move, now!”
Sally tried to object, but Ken cut her off before she said a word and pointed to the river.
“We reach the river, we’re safe. We don’t, we fail.”
Sally again opened her mouth, and got cut off.
“I don’t know exactly why, but he wants you- alive. He’s used you to set a trap, and it’s about to spring. We run, now!’
Before Sally could stall things further, Ken threw her over his shoulder, broke into a run and made for the river. Distantly, they heard the clamor of a horde of screaming zeds approach. Ken ran, banishing fatigue and strain from his limbs through his own mutant qualities to keep up a sprint-like pace. Sally, looking behind them, saw an uncountable number of corpse-soldiers surge into view like an onrushing flood coming from behind. Ravenous and unyielding, the undead reflection of her own living would-be savior, she screamed and clutched for the only thing still adorning her body: the ring that Ken lent to her, still hanging on a string about her neck.
Moments later, Ken smirked with a wicked satisfaction. A new scent banished the omnipresent stench of death and decay that saturated his senses, swelling up from the very girl current over his shoulder and screaming wildly. The sweet scent, to his senses a mix of lilacs and roses in bloom, made Ken certain that Sally had somehow tapped into a power greater than herself. Soon the scent put him into a near-frenzy, and only through his intense focus on the moment did this explosion of supernatural power not throw him into a rage-filled killing haze. His entire body pushed to its limits, fueled by Sally’s sudden surge of supernatural power, Ken led the horde on a chase that Sally could not believe.
The Necromancer watched, viewing the chase simultaneously through the eyes of many of his drone-like minions, and he directed the horde. He wielded the wave-like hordes as if a painter brushes across a canvas. With each stroke, he meant to cut off Ken and force him to stand and fight, and with each stroke he cut closer and closer to that goal.
After some initial efforts, the Necromancer noticed that when his minions nearly closed the gap and made contact with Ken and Sally there would be some mishap that disrupted his momentum just enough to keep his quarry ahead of his minions.
The shade of John Dee appeared beside the Necromancer. “Master, the girl has some sorcery at her command.”
The Necromancer nodded. “Indeed.”
Just then, as Ken ran over a crumbling bridge covering what once was a rail yard, the bridge collapsed into dust beneath his feet. Ken and Sally fell to the rocky ground below, with Ken ensuring that he—and not Sally—took the brunt of the impact. They landed harshly, but in an inexplicable bit of good fortune they landed in a deep hole filled with stagnant water. By the time the pair climbed out, however, the horde surrounded them.
Ken knew that the river was near; were it not for the din of the horde, he would hear its waters. As Sally glommed onto him, trying as she might to shield herself from the undead and ravenous horde, Ken bent down and whispered into her ear.
“Call to the river, girl. Call to it if you want to live. I will hold them.”
Sally collapsed into a fetal ball, terrified. Ken drew the cleaver-like blades and stood over her.
“Call, damn you!” Ken said, “Or shall I sell my life for nothing?”
The minions came upon them, and Ken whirled into motion. The haze took him, and Ken lost all track of time and space. Conscious thought now suppressed, Ken whirled into motion; without pause he crushed bones and hacked flesh, severed limbs and smashed skulls. Still energized, still frenzied, Ken’s endurance astounded the Necromancer- his mutant nature pushed him well outside mortal limits.
As the blood, bone, rotted flesh and vile viscera spilled around her Sally closed her eyes and clutched that ring as if it was a magical talisman- and in her hands, it was. She chanted the very call demanded of her over and over, unwittingly using it to transform her terror into focused will, and as she did Ken against felt the girl’s supernatural power swell, building up towards a massive outpouring of power.
Ken supped unthinkingly at the power beneath his feet, using it to fuel his flesh and keep it going beyond the limits of his endurance. Already nicked, cut, bruised, sliced and otherwise covered in small wounds all over both arms as at about his chest and back, and then about his legs and then his shoulders and neck- Ken sustained such a series of wounds that would take him down ordinarily, had he not been seized by the fury of such otherworldly menace and power suffusing his senses such that he can’t suppress the urge to slaughter and devour.
“Mississippi River, hear my call and take us away!” Sally said, now screaming.
The spirit answered. The river surged over its banks and flooded the city, sweeping away the debris and dead in its path, and crashed about Ken and Sally. When the waters receded, they were gone.
The Necromancer sighed. “Time is on my side, girl. Sooner or later, you shall serve me.”
Mississippi swept Ken and Sally downriver, away from the Necromancer’s domain, and for now from his power- and as a result, the stalker of the dead became the father of a nation: the Sons of Ken.