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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (33 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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Linda smiled and returned her attention to the campfire and the large skillet full of potato wedges.

"You're getting around better," Leah said.

"Better than a corpse you mean? Sure, but not by much." He sipped his coffee and he could instantly feel his nerve endings come alive. He wanted this to be the worst moment in his life, that he could stoop no lower. Sleeping in the back of a truck, held captive by his crazy brother. Recovering from a near-fatal infection and emergency surgery performed by an unsanctioned doctor in the backwoods in the middle of nowhere. He wanted to believe this was his low point, but all he could think was this may very well be the best moment of his remaining life. Silent morning contemplation. Leah nearby. Leah, with her effusive charm and warm heart. The heat of the morning campfire chasing away the chill.

"I know just what you're thinking," Leah said.

He looked up from his coffee mug. "Really? I sure hope not."

"You're thinking you want a big plate of breakfast but you don't want to be pushy."

"You…" He paused. He could so easily crush her right now if he voiced his true feelings. "You are so totally right."

"I thought so."

Linda handed Leah a plate, and then ladled it high with potato wedges and pancakes.

"We don't have much as far as condiments," Leah said.

"Don't worry about it." Jason accepted the plate she held out for him. "This is just what I need."

As Jason devoured his breakfast, the zipper for the yellow tent pulled wide and Mike crawled out. As he worked his stiff back into a somewhat straight line, Kat scampered out from inside the tent. It only took her a second or two to notice Jason, and then she made a beeline for him. As if reading her feline mind, Jason set his coffee and food aside before the goofy cat jumped up, fully expecting him to catch her. She landed lightly on his lap and meowed.

Jason laughed, and he didn't care that it hurt. He didn't think he'd missed her, but his emotions suddenly came to the surface. When there had been no one else, when he nearly succumbed to madness, Kat had been there for him.

"There you are," he said, getting choked up. "And where have you been, Miss Kattywampus?" He hugged her and stroked the full length of her back, and she immediately responded by leaning into him.

"I guess we took a detour on our way to St. Louis," Mike said.

"Yeah, I suppose almost dying counts as a detour."

"It's been nice meeting you. If I find anything resembling something hopeful out St. Louis way, I'll make sure to come back and let you know."

"What are you talking about?"

"Me and Aunt Cora, we're leaving after breakfast."

"Why would you do that?" Jason said, but had a feeling he already knew the answer.

"Marcus doesn't think we'd be welcome on the island. Said the others wouldn't understand taking in the feeble. Said it's for the best."

"So, just like that, he's chasing you off?"

Mike looked away, and when Jason tried to seek clarity from anyone else, no one would meet his gaze, even Leah.

"Can I get you and your aunt some breakfast?" Linda asked.

"Please," Mike said. "We have a long drive ahead of us."

"This isn't over. I'll talk to him. This isn't right." The more Jason thought about it the more it angered him.

"It's okay, Jason, really. Don't trouble yourself," Mike said. Linda handed him a mess plate laden with potatoes and then started loading up another serving for when Cora woke up.

"No, it's not okay."

"Good thinking, Linda," a voice called out from the distance. "Send them off on a full stomach. We're not animals, after all."

Everyone watched Marcus approaching from the river. Delaney walked at his side, as always, slightly off his left shoulder.

"You can't send them away," Jason said.

Only Jason looked Marcus in the eye. "But I have to. It's for their own good. After two minutes on the island, they would know something isn't quite right with Cora. And do you know what they do to people exhibiting those kinds of frailties, brother?"

"Educate me."

"They send them down the river. Take that however you may, but it's never a happy ending."

"And you think with those kinds of people that this is a good place for you to take us?"

"I don't see how we have a choice. You're too weak to travel. We need to resupply, and as it stands, our overall group is weak. There's no way we could survive as constituted."

"And what if I say no?"

"Jason, Jason, Jason. It's like you don't even know me." Marcus kneeled down next to Leah. He curled a lock of her hair around his index finger and twirled it. "What leverage do you think I'd be willing to exert to convince you?"

 

2.

 

The morning fog had burned away by the time Mike and Cora sat inside Uncle Vince's Ford '40. The rest of the group was conveniently avoiding the departing truck by breaking down the campsite. Jason carried Kat in his arms as he approached the truck, alone.

When Mike saw him he turned the ignition key and the truck started with a rumble.

"I'm sorry about this," Jason said.

"If you didn't come across Aunt Cora's farm, we'd probably still be back there, our food running low, with no truck to get us the heck out of there."

"But you wouldn't be sent off alone. Not like this."

"Are you sure you can't come along to the zoo?" Cora said from the passenger seat.

"No, I'm afraid not, Cora," Jason said. "Turns out my little brother needs looking after."

"Well, that's awful nice of you keeping an eye on family. After the zoo Vinny and I are getting ice cream sundaes at Glitterman's. Have you heard of it?"

"No, ma'am, I haven't."

"I tell you, if you ever get out to St. Louis, make sure you stop. They have forty-three flavors of ice cream. Can you believe it? Forty-three! And they have a whole counter with toppings. Sprinkles, hot fudge, pistachios, you name it."

"That sounds great. Like heaven." Seeing how oblivious she was and how morose Mike had become, he felt like he was consigning them to a horrible fate. "Can you do me a favor, though?"

"Sure, anything." Her green eyes gleamed.

"Can you take Kat with you?"

"Oh, Jason, we couldn't do that to you," Mike said.

"I think she might be better off staying away from the island, too. I don't know what to expect there, and I know that Cora would be happy to look after her. Am I right, Cora?"

"Oh, please, let me hold that sweet kitty!" Cora held out her arms, and when Jason lifted Kat to the window, she hesitated before leaping onto the seat and then the old lady's lap. Cora let out a whoop of joy that brought a sad smile to Jason's face.

"You sure about that?" Mike asked.

"It's probably for the best, all things considered. Plus, it'll give her something to focus on."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Mike said, seeing how happy his aunt was. He cleared his throat and then extended his hand.

Jason shook it firmly. "I wish it wasn't like this."

"I know. But it is what it is. And we pretty much have to accept the world as is, right?"

"You two be careful."

"We will. You too. Keep an eye on Leah. She's a keeper."

Jason released his grip, patted the truck's flank, and took a step back. Mike waved good-bye as he drove the truck in a small circle until the truck's tires found a rough clearing that approximated a road. The tires kicked up dust, and the smell of gasoline filled the air; both mundane details had become rare occurrences in so short a time.

He walked back to the group, trying not to admit to himself that he was an emotional wreck about letting Kat go with Mike and Cora.

"Are you okay?" Leah touched the back of his hand, barely brushing her fingertips against his skin.

He took her hand in his and squeezed. "I'll have to be."

Since he was still so weak, the gear from his pack had been divided among everyone else. He felt like protesting, but there was no way he could carry much more than his own weight.

Everyone was carrying their different burdens as they pushed through the pine boughs to a narrow strip of rocky shoreline. A rusted single-column trellis bridge, which looked like a remnant from the 1800s, spanned the river to the island at its center. No road, trail, or path led to the bridge. The woods grew to the edge of the water, and it appeared that the bridge had been set there at random, centuries ago, and left to nature. The river was much wider on the far side of the island, suitable for large ships to pass by.

"It looks like soldiers wearing tri-corner hats and carrying muskets should be guarding the front gate," Eldon said.

Marcus chuckled. "You're in the ballpark."

"It looks like a castle," Linda said.

"It's a frontier fort built by our French counterparts in the early 1700s."

"The Arkadium had French members?" Jason asked, dumbfounded. "In the 1700s?"

"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said?" Marcus said. "Yes, the Arkadium set up roots in France, and Iran, and Taiwan, and Australia, and just about everywhere else in the world. We have existed for millennia, remember? From the dawn of modern man, since the Great Genesis, when our Lord and Savior bestowed upon man the ability to use logic and reason."

"I guess, well, I just never knew…"

"How could you? How could anyone suspect?" Eldon said in amazement.

"This place was once called Fort Chevalier," Marcus said. "Or, as the Arkadium have called it in secret for centuries—Sanctuary Island. It has hidden in plain sight over the years, pretending to be a military outpost, and then a nature preserve and historic site. Over the years the French Arkadium transferred guardianship of the island to their English brethren, before it finally came under control of the United States army. Around 1900 the military decommissioned the site, and for over fifty years, it pretended to be an abandoned location."

"Until it became an official historic site?" Jason asked.

"So you are listening! Very good."

"What is the purpose of the island?

The fort at the center of the island was imposing, even at this distance. The sandstone block walls stood a good fifteen feet high. Ramparts lined the top of the walls—ideal locations to fire weapons while concealed. Sentry boxes overlooked the corners of the fort.

"How are your ribs?" Leah asked.

"Good enough to get me across the river. I hope." Jason felt someone staring at him. He glanced back behind Leah and saw Delaney a stride behind her. A wicked gleam was in her eye. She had her hand on the hilt of her knife.

They paused collectively at the lip of the bridge. No one moved, waiting on Marcus.

Eventually, Jason said, "Is there a problem?"

"This is going to get tricky." Marcus checked the safety on his AR-15 and then unclipped the leather strap securing his knife in its sheath. "Sanctuary isn't given lightly."

"I don't get it."

"We're going to have to fight our way across."

"We don't have the manpower to take the whole island."

"We don't have to take the whole island. We just have to get across."

"And once we do that, however the hell you expect us to do that, what then?"

"Then… we rest. Have lunch. Attend evening prayers."

"But—"

"But nothing, brother. Remember, leverage?"

Marcus nodded at Delaney and she unsheathed her knife and stepped closer to Leah.

Leah looked shocked more than scared.

"You don't have to… just, please, don't."

"This is for your own good and the good of all humanity," Marcus said, and looked so fully convinced of it. "I hope in time you'll understand that."

"Ready your weapons." Everyone did as they were told, checking magazines and flipping off their safeties. He turned to Hector. "I need you at my side. Things are going to get… hairy."

"Whatever you need, you know that."

"Good man."

Marcus and Hector stepped onto the bridge. Jason and Leah, followed, with Delaney their shadow. Mandy, Eldon and Linda brought up the rear. Of the trio, only Eldon carried any weapons, and he did so reluctantly.

Worn wooden planks lined the bridge. The water was high, only a few feet below the span. Jason wondered if the destruction of the Concord River Dam had anything to do with it.

Marcus looked down the sights of his AR-15 as he scanned the front of the fort for any sign of movement. At the midpoint of the bridge, there was a loud metallic sound and then the twin doors opened wide enough for someone to step out.

"That's far enough, Marcus!" a voice called out from an open window above the doorway. The man was thin and had a narrow face and swept back silver hair. He had an animated quality that reminded Jason of a car salesman.

Marcus held his hand up and everyone stopped in their tracks.

"Who is that?" Jason asked. "Is this what you were talking about?"

"That is Adam, the leader of the Arkadium, the man who saved my life two years ago."

"You know you can't just cross over to the island without earning it."

"We seek sanctuary," Marcus shouted.

"You know the rules, brother. Sanctuary must be earned."

A number of men stepped through the open door. They were all fit and strong. They carried heavy-headed clubs and though they wore a hodgepodge of jeans and t-shirts of different persuasions, they all wore identical leather padding over their chests.

 

 

Chapter 28

 

 

 

"We can't force our way through that, Marcus," Jason pleaded. "Look at us!"

Everyone in the group seemed to feel how Jason did, but no one else was brave enough to speak up.

"They've sent out one man for each of us." Marcus ignored Jason. A few of the men were slapping their clubs against their palms, anxious for the battle to begin. "That's how it's always been. No rifles. No guns. Just strength on strength."

"This is crazy. They're going to slaughter us." Jason took hold of Leah's hand, but before they could make a run for it, Delaney pulled her away from him and wrapped an arm around Leah's forehead, forcing her neck to the side to expose her throat.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
10.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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