Slow Turn



Scene Title Slow Turn
Synopsis Hailey receives a lesson in why the Safe Zone is referred to as the Safe Zone.
Date February 21, 2018

Ruins of the Bronx

The ruins outside New York’s Safe Zone bear a passing resemblance to the ecosystem of the Galapagos Islands; there are many niches, and each one requires its own unique set of skills for survival. Some scavengers rely on brute strength and blunt cutting tools to wrest open rusted doors, or explosives to clear the rubble. Others use their smaller size to their advantage, navigating partially collapsed buildings with the lightness of a rabbit moving through the tunnels of its warren.

Snow gathers in the empty streets of the Bronx and blankets the burned out husks of forgotten cars parked on their curbs. The weight of it has caved in the weakest roofs, which have been sagging from neglect for years — and that’s bad for business. People like Hailey Gerken need these buildings to stand intact for as long as possible and protect the treasures hidden inside. Meltwater rusts metal and disintegrates paper. Items like abandoned cash and jewelry are approaching their expiration date in many of these old, dilapidated places.

Her haul has been decent today: two wedding bands lifted from a pair of corpses intertwined in a parking garage, eighty-five dollars in cash, and a statuette of a monkey carved from green jade. It even looks a little like Jim.

That’s where the good news ends.

The bad news is that she hasn’t been able to shake the impression that she’s being followed.

Her nervousness at the feeling radiates to Jim, who like a monkey, uses in a more visible way. While she steps lightly and skirts walls like a mouse looking for escape, he is bounding and jumping for heights that a normal human wouldn’t be able to reach. His behaviour is calling attention to him, and Hailey can’t help but feel a bit helpless at the fact. Jim does what Jim does, she can’t stop him.

The items are kept for safekeeping in a small bag that’s been stitched together from feed bag remnants leftover at the zoo. The plastic weave isn’t really tight and if the sun were shining, a few of the items inside would glint. So she holds it a bit closer to her body and makes for the place she left her horse.

She doesn’t quite get that far. Up ahead, an old military truck with patchy canvas stretched across its back compartment pulls into view and blocks the street. If she turns around, she’ll see an identical vehicle rumbling up to cut off the most obvious avenue of escape behind her. And while the trucks look like they belong to the United States government at first glance, closer inspection reveals pops of bright graffiti spray-painted onto the doors and dented hoods. One mural depicts a nuclear blast, mid-eruption, and is accompanied by the words MIDTOWN MAN in thick black lettering. Another looks like it might be a phoenix, which could be construed as good news, except—

Hailey does not recognize any of the men who climb out of the trucks. They wear no uniforms, only a mismatched amalgamations of soiled denim and wool, leather, and other glossier synthetic fabrics that rustle when they move.

There are five of them in total, two emerging from the truck in front of her and three from the truck behind. She sees an assault rifle hanging off a shoulder and the telltale shape of a shorter (but no less deadly) weapon beneath someone’s duster.

“Is that a fucking monkey?” one of them asks.

Panic sets in almost immediately. Hailey ducks behind a garbage can and closes her eyes, trying to will Jim to do the same. He’s a monkey, though, and until real danger presents itself, he just doesn’t listen. What he does is climb along an old power line from one roof to another and then perch on its ledge like a gargoyle. From there, he screams at the men below.

Hailey’s fear for Jim’s safety and to a lesser degree, her own, seeps out. It causes panic in the rats that scavenge along with her and she can sense two carnivores somewhere. She concentrates as she shrinks lower into the pile of refuse she’s hidden behind. There’s a distinct lack of Dayton that she can sense, which in itself is a good thing. One less friend to have to worry about.

What the men can see, are rats, not many, fleeing along the curbsides to the safety of gutters.

One of the men raises his rifle and points it at Jim on the rooftop, taking aim. Before he can pull the trigger, a larger, brouder-shouldered scavenger to his right places a hand on the weapon’s barrel and pushes it back down again. From what Hailey knows about animal behaviour and how it translates to the relationships between human beings, it’s a fair assumption that he’s the leader.

“Easy,” he tells the man with the raised rifle. “Someone’ll hear.”

Gunshots are loud, after all, and they aren’t alone in this snow-covered labyrinth. There are always others.

“Animal telepaths,” the man with the rifle mutters in a low, gravelly voice gone rough with disdain. “Should kill this one and get it over with.”

The leader shakes his shaggy head. “You can come out,” he calls to Hailey. “No one’s gonna hurt you. Just wanna talk.”

The little bag is tucked into the trash, just in case the shaggy man is lying. Hailey doesn’t rise up from the garbage right away though, she can feel the carnivores coming closer and she can feel their hunger. It makes her feel a bit better, though gun trumps dog every time. She looks to the truck behind her and then to the truck in front, she blocked from both. Taking a deep breath, she finally rises up and places her hands in the air at shoulder height.

She’s slow to step out into the street. One of them was going to shoot her. Her gaze flits to Jim, who begins a rapid climb down the gutter, loping toward Hailey. “What do you want to talk about?” she ventures, managing as brave a voice as she possibly can. If she dies, Lance can’t have her stuff. Not that he would know anyway. Jim jumps up onto her back, hanging there like a living backpack. He’s stopped screaming at the men, but he doesn’t take his eyes off of them.

“Take a slow turn around,” the leader says, making a twirling gesture in the air with his pointer finger. “Three hundred sixty degrees. Let’s have a look at you.”

Maybe he wants to check her for weapons they might not have caught with a cursory glance. Maybe he just wants to see her spin. The others keep their weapons trained on her, mindful of both the monkey and the rats shimmying their ways into cracks and crevices. They have an inkling of what her ability might be based on the company she keeps, but — presumably — with no ability-detector among them, it’s smart of them to be cautious.

“Your ID card, too,” comes next. “Pull it out.”

She makes a slow turn, as instructed. She keeps her head down to the ground, staring at the broken concrete underfoot. Jim is staring at the guns, also mindful. She can feel his wariness, it’s just strangers though, not the fear she’s experiencing. She’s got it under control though, scaring him will just lead to him getting hurt.

“I— “ she stops after that first word and then slowly reaches into her pocket to fumble around. She doesn’t have an ID, the old DoEA one was kept by her guardians when she left. When she left, she didn’t go to the Safe Zone.

“I don’t have an ID card,” she says, her voice stronger now. The rats have fled, the dogs are still approaching slowly, Jim is somewhere between comfort and liability. “I have money.”

The words I don’t have an ID card give the leader pause. His hand goes to the walkie-talkie he keeps clipped to his hip. He nods to the man beside him, who takes it as his cue to move toward Hailey as the group of three behind her advance on her back.

She’s outnumbered and outgunned. “This is Brady,” he says into the walkie-talkie, holding it to his mouth. “Tell the Puddy Tat we’re bringing one in. Eighteen, maybe. No identification. Ability looks like some sorta animal affinity. Class-C’s my best guess. She’s cute.

Jim Run

It’s a silent command. She pours all of her fear into the monkey, hoping that it runs far and runs fast. That same fright is projected into two feral dogs that come up behind the three men. Their hunger, combined with Hailey’s terror, and Jim’s screams as he makes for a broken window, make for a fantastic diversion.

If Hailey could move.

But it all feels like a nightmare, the kind where it feels like you’re running through water to get anywhere. When she runs in the opposite direction as Jim, she doesn’t feel as fast. This is going to hurt. What she needs is to get to Dayton, to get home. To get into the safety of her cage that’s protected by a pack of wolves. Home to the zoo.

Canine teeth find purchase on an arm and a leg. The scavengers’ clothes provide them plenty of protection against the elements, but do little against jaws with roughly three hundred and twenty pounds of bite pressure.

Someone is screaming. Blood splashes dark red on gritty gray snow and gravel.

Hailey hears the wet snarls of the two dogs she called to her aid, followed by the sharp crack of a gunshot. Maybe she expects to see one of her rescuers drop, but that’s not what happens.

The world tilts sideways and the street comes up to meet her. She doesn’t realize she’s falling until she hits the ground, thrown down by the force of the bullet that’s now embedded in her shoulder. Two more shots follow; the snarling comes to an abrupt stop.

Even though her vision is swimming, she can make out the shape of the leader’s feet approaching her where she lies. He crouches beside her and places a hand on her wounded shoulder, turning her over to assess the damage. “Hold her,” he instructs someone that Hailey cannot see, and strong arms haul her off the icy pavement in a chokehold.

To Hailey, he gently suggests, “Relax.

And she has no other choice. The pressure of the arm clamped down around her throat like a voice plunges her into unconsciousness.

Time passes.

Hailey doesn’t know how much, only that the sky is dark by the time she blearily opens her eyes. The first thing she realizes is that her wrists are bound in front of her with a primitive but effective set of zipties. The second thing is that the tenuous connection to the wildlife in the ruins she calls home is distinctly absent.

She can see the canvas roof of the truck above her and feel the chill of the metal bed below. Things feel— still.

Wherever she is, the vehicle is parked. The sound of a fire crackling in a steel drum outside comes into focus. Then: hazy voices, laughter, someone is straining to listen to WSZR’s late night broadcast beneath the hiss and pop of white noise and general static.

As quietly as she’s able, Hailey makes the attempt to sit up, being very careful of her injured shoulder. What she wouldn’t give for Lance right now, he could quiet the metal underneath her as she shuffles to a seated position. She needs that, because she’s never practiced this much stealth before and the scrape of shoes and knees, and shuffle of her body isn’t exactly the most quiet.

She can’t feel anything and this fact causes her more than just a bit of distress. She’s never been this alone for as long as she can remember. There’s always been someone/thing else there, sharing her feelings. But she’s not dead, not yet. Jim and Dayton are at the forefront of her mind. Dayton can probably take care of himself, he’d know the way home. Jim on the other hand, he’s a scatterbrained little monkey and is just as likely to get lost as he is to find his way.

Hailey becomes aware of a second presence in the back of the truck after she’s sat up through the proximity and warmth of another body rather than an extension of her ability. She smells woodsmoke and damp wool, some sort of botanical soap with a dense whiff of lavender or something like it.

Crouched a few feet away is a girl a few years younger than Hailey, bundled in a dark gray coat that gives her the appearance of an ordinary piece of stone when she wears the hood up, like she does now. One curl of ash-blonde hair hangs in a loose coil at her right temple.

She holds a finger to her lips, requesting silence.


Hailey is caught in an awkward place, where her body isn’t quite upright, nor is it all the way down. So, very slowly, she lays back down being careful to make the least amount of noise as possible. The girl doesn’t have her hands bound which probably means she wasn’t caught like Hailey was.

She stares outside for a moment, straining to capture some other detail besides a steel drum for a clue as to where she might be. The crackle of the radio makes her believe that it’s definitely somewhere far from the city.

Silver flashes like a thin, metallic fish darting through the dark. The girl produces a knife from her pocket and uses it to snap the bonds at Hailey’s wrists and feet. Plastic remnants drop to the bed of the truck with a quiet plink that only she and Hailey can hear.

She turns her head, looking back over her shoulder in the same direction that Hailey is searching with her eyes. “Moonshine,” she whispers, tone conspiratorial and a little wry. “They made it in the bathtub, so they’ll be slow. Don’t worry.”

Don’t worry is a bigger ask than silence, all things considered. The stranger folds her knife shut between her hands. “I like your monkey,” she adds, shifting so Hailey can get a better view of the bigger picture outside. All five men crowd around the fire guttering in the metal drum, engaged in a rowdy conversation with tense, cutting undertones. Hailey thinks she hears the words Staten Island and Pure Earth mentioned in the same sentence, but the sound of her own pulse drubbing in her ears drowns out most of what they’re saying.

“Go around the back of the truck,” she instructs Hailey. “There’s a bridge. Ladder is shaky, but you’re like me.” Lightweight. “Should hold. Climb down, follow the canal. The water will cover your tracks.”

“Thank you,” Hailey whispers. For freeing her, for liking Jim, for directions out of there. Without a glance backward, she snakes out of the truck and slips around to the other side of the truck. From there, she follows the verbal map word for word.

Staten Island

The ladder holds, just like the younger blonde said it would and soon Hailey is sloshing as quietly as she can away from Brady, his men, and their moonshine. She doesn’t stop, not until she can see the sun peeking up over the horizon. Her shoulder stings and she can’t feel a bird or animal anywhere that can help her. A fleeting thought passes through her mind, asking if the lighthouse is still there. Wondering if it’s a safe place to recover from the effects of being negated. But Staten is a big place and she has no idea where she is.

Following the canal is her only choice.

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