Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chapter 18a: The Mandolin

Part III

"“Men, the children of God, share a common trait as the beast of the field. It is their ‘fight of flight’ instinct, the difference between being a predator or becoming prey.

~From Shantazar’s treatise on human behavior

For almost an hour Shanai had been looking over the edge of the counter, watching as people stumbled back and forth in front of the bakery window. Her nose slowly became immune to the enticing aroma of fresh baked bread until she hardly noticed the smell though her stomach still grumbled from time to time. The streets almost seemed like a busy city night, except for the blank stares and the lurching movements of the citizens. They searched for her as she watched in hiding, like a rabbit cornered in its burrow. She needed to get out there and find her brother, make sure nothing had happened to him. Of coarse, knowing Marchas, he's probably already outside the city walls guzzling down ale and telling the tale of his grand escape. She almost smiled at the thought, but deep down she knew better. Marchas wasn't going anywhere without his little sister.

"You're gonna have to do it." Ash whispered.

For the entire hour he had been sitting on the floor, staring at the wall and rubbing his bite. He had moved very little and said nothing.

She looked down at his pale face. Beads of sweat coated his forehead. "Do what?"

He looked up at her with bloodshot eyes and held up his bloody arm. "Off me. I ain't gonna be around much longer and when I come back I...I'm gonna be just like them. Don't want to be like them. You got to kill me before that can happen."

Grabbing his hand, she pushed his arm back down. "Don't talk about that. You aren't going to die from a single bite. We'll get out of here. Get you some help."

His brows arched and his mouth turned to a sneer. She didn't buy her own pep talk so how could she expect him to.

"You don't know what you're talking about. You haven't seen them, haven't seen people return once they die." He grabbed her arm with his bitten one. "If you don't agree to do it then I won't go any further with you."

She opened her mouth to protest, but he continued on. "I mean it. In here I can't get out and hurt anyone when I change, but if I go with you and you don't kill me when the time comes then I won't only be a danger to you, but to everyone in the city. I can't let that..."

He stopped and turned his head to the shop door, listening.

Following his lead she turned and listened too. Music. Mandolin music. One of Marchas' favorite tunes floated down the street on plucked strings. A fast paced dancing jig that, when accompanied by song, spoke of adventure, ale, women, and riches. A grin spread across her face. That crazy bastard!

Ash leaned back against the counter. "Well, it looks like your brother is doing all right, but if he doesn't stop playing he's gonna draw every undead in the city to himself."

Already the dead were picking up on the sound, shuffling across the front window by the droves, stumbling toward the music.

"Well, I give your brother points for having guts, but not so many in the brains department."

She smiled down at Ash. "Yeah, that's my brother. Always thinking with his..."

The music stopped and fear for her brother grabbed the back of her neck with icy fingers.

She breathed a sigh of relief when Marchas' voice echoed through the streets. "Shanai. Don't yell back, but I'm guessing you are still around here somewhere and thinkin' I've finally lost my mind. You might be right, but I got a plan. I'm gonna play this mandolin for a little longer, maybe go through some more of my favorite tunes, a naughty limerick or two, and then I'm gonna tell you to run. When I do go get your ass headed for the West gate as fast as you can. Don't stop for me. You get outside the gate and keep going till it's safe. If I don't meet up with you right away then head to the Baron Milchev’s town and I will meet you there. Stay safe, sis."

The music resumed with a racy dancing jig.

Ash looked over the counter and shook his head. "Your brother's definitely not paddling with both oars, but he's got guts. I'll give him that"

Watching the dead lumber across the window she smiled. "He never was all that good with paddles. I just hope he doesn't get himself killed with this plan of his."

The dead began to crowd the streets as they headed in the direction of the sound, hundreds of them lumbering in front of the bakery, a stream of flesh moving north, bumping into one another and falling to the ground in their quest for the player of the music.

Ash scratched his cheek and eased around the counter. "This plan might just work. They are starting to thin out, headed for wherever he is holed up. He's drawing them like flies to a carcass."

She cringed at his choice of words, but continued watching the last of the undead as they began to trickle past the backery. Without looking at Ash, Shanai replied, "I just hope he isn't getting himself cornered."

Ash wiped sweat from his brow and walked to the door as the last of the undead stumbled past the window. Shanai noticed his unsteady steps, telling herself that it was because of the long sit and not anything else.

A new song began, one that Marchas added his deep voice too. A song entitled Running with Sin, A fast song about a wild girl who lives life for the moment, always running from the law. A song that Shanai could certainly relate to, but she guessed Marchas had chosen it to let her know that the time to flee was close.

As soon as the song ended Marchas screamed in the distance. "Move your ass, sis! I'll see you on the other side of the gate."

Ash cracked the door opened and looked outside, then waved her to him.

Doing as her brother said she ran, grabbing Ash's clammy hand as she passed through the door.

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