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Althea Brown

A tough-as-nails survivor with no time for pity. (NPC)

0 · 201 views · located in Season 3

a character in “The Walking Dead: Online”, as played by Fear of a Female Planet

Description

Template # NPC

 Portrayed by: Chyna Layne

 Profession: Legal courier

 Age: 24

 Gender: F

 Height/Weight: 5'10" / 160lbs.

 Hair/Eyes: Brown/ Brown

 Nationality/Ethnicity: African-American

 Tattoos/Scars: n/a

 Clothing/Outfit: Blue t-shirt, blue jeans, tennis shoes

Image

Traits:

MBTI type: INTJ (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Judge)


3 Strengths:

Hard Worker - Raised in a household where education and God were valued above all others things has made
Independent and Confident - Althea is very secure in herself and doesn't find the need to satisfy others' expectations or demands if they're not the ones that she places on herself
Open-minded - Althea is always up for learning new things, even if they challenge her way of thinking, as long as they're logical and make sense

3 Weaknesses

Cold & Arrogant - Due to having a bit of a chip on her shoulder from the relentless teasing she underwent as a child about her grades and her height, she's developed a superiority complex meant to protect herself from being hurt; this can make her appear very snobbish and stand-offish on first impressions
Insensitive - While doggedly determined to do a thorough job and to get to the bottom of a situation at hand, her inclination toward being rational can come off as being cold-hearted
Competitive - Having an older brother who's a doctor and a sister who's a nurse in the Navy and getting groomed for medical school has set the bar high, and this has an impact on how she works with others at times

Personality:

 Fears:

- Not having enough money to fill the gas tank, failure

 Aspirations:

- Become a prosecutor for the City of Los Angeles, set up a scholarship fund for children from her neighborhood

 Dominant Emotion:

- Proud and Determined

 Demeanor:

- Althea is a tough young woman who is determined to live up to her parents' high expectations and to succeed in the world today. She's incredibly confident and prizes her ability to be rational and thoughtful over being impulsive or emotional. She's dedicated to success at all costs and to keeping her sense of self intact. She can be incredibly difficult to get to know, as she doesn't require friends for social validation in the slightest, preferring to connect on intellectual levels with others.

 Quirks/Oddities:

- Health nut, loves coffee, loves to swim


 Skills/Proficiencies:

- Legal mind, athletic, TBA


Equipment:

 TBA

History:

 Grew up in Compton; parents remained together and insisted that the children devote themselves to their studies and to look ahead to the future and develop a path of success
 Family are active church-goers; Althea is the only person in the family who pushes back on it, and feels a little bit of a rift between her rational mind and her family's perception of faith
 Endures relentless teasing over her height and good grades; makes it a point to avoid boys and feels that she is far "better" than others
 Excels as a fierce scholar athlete in school
 Receives full-ride scholarship to Stanford, graduates with highest honors on the pre-law track
 Returns home after graduation to help sick mother, as the home requires more than one income to sustain; takes on a job as a legal courier to help pay the bills and save up for graduate school
 In February 2014, receives notice that she's been accepted to Stanford's law program and is slated to start in the Fall of 2014

So begins...

Althea Brown's Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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...

The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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On the morning of Day 7, Stevie slowly opened her heavy eyes to find that Thomas had already awakened and gotten out of bed. Immediately, the hangover painfully hazing her brain took priority. She stumbled blindly upward and rummaged through a dresser drawer, pulling out a black t-shirt that fit long, just above her knees. She shuffled clumsily to the bathroom and washed her face, almost feeling sick at the mere smell of soap. She quickly brushed her hair, put on her glasses, and took one rueful look in the mirror before walking out the bedroom door.

She staggered through the hall and down the stairs, and wandered down into the kitchen. Thomas was already there, staring out of one of the large bay windows, looking like he may have been in similar shape. His rifle stood balanced up against the door not far away. "Good morning," he managed politely, pulling a stool out from beside the island table in the center of the kitchen and offering it to her.

She opened the refrigerator door and unenthusiastically pulled out a container of orange juice and a package of sliced bread. "I'll get back to you on that," she said, shocked to hear her voice still slurring a little. Woops.

He laughed a little and pointed to the toaster. "You might want that, right?"

Stevie climbed upon the stool Thomas had offered, folded her arms on the cold marble surface of the table, and put her face down. "Suddenly toast and anything toast-related or food-related sounds... just horrible," her voice muffled out.

"Seriously? I was counting on you making breakfast," he said sternly. Stevie glanced up and stared at him until he finally smiled. "Joke. It was a joke."

She laughed and held her head in her hands to brace against the pressure it pushed on her skull. "Did I get that right? You told a joke!" she exclaimed, smiling appreciatively. "For a while there I was wondering if you even had a sense of humor."

Thomas shook his head. "Nope, nothing is funny to me," he went on, still joking. "Not a single thing. I was born without a personality."

"But your personality is your best quality!" she snickered comfortably, circling the cap off of the container of juice.

He crossed to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of cranberry juice, poured some of it into a glass, and offered it to her in place of the orange juice. "I'd drink this instead."

She took the glass and wordlessly drank it down quickly. "Well, so today I learned you're funny," she said after a moment, a lilt of flirtatious teasing in her voice. "Two days ago I learned that you're a terrible piano player. And yesterday I learned all kinds of other things."

He pulled up a stool close to her and sipped a tall glass of water, rubbing his face tiredly. "Yesterday I learned that you and tequila are not a good match," he teased back with a straight face. "And I heard you like to sing. And that it sounds horrible."

Stevie laughed good-naturedly and grabbed a banana from the bowl in the middle of the table, peeled it, and offered half to him. "I just learned that you're a jerk," she said with a wry smile, leaning over to bump his arm with her shoulder. She really did like him. She didn't even mind that he called her "Stephanie" instead of her nickname. She had briefly wondered if his actions on Day 3 were far too extreme, but after all was said and done, she had to admit that he might have been right after all. He had been such a tremendous help to her this whole time, even going with her into an abandoned pharmacy in the city to successfully find any bottles of Ciprofloxacin and Levofloxacin to help knock out the last of the kidney infection that had crept up so quickly at the start of Day 2. The alcohol intake of the last few days wasn't the most constructive thing to do while taking antibiotics, but at this point it didn't really matter. Especially not when they were on watch together the previous night.

He shrugged and gestured outside. "You up for a walk? I need to go see how it's going out there. I could use some company," he added with a smile.

Stevie looked down at her long black shirt and pointed to her knees. "I look like shit," she blurted out.

"Well, no one out there is going to care," he stated matter-of-factly, "and I don't think you do. Let's go."

# # #

Considering how the first four of these nine days had gone, most of the remaining were actually pretty great.

The end of Day 2 surreally bled into Day 3. Stevie followed close behind the four, traipsing quietly through the night. They all took cover from the bombing by hiding in a ditch off of the highway. She was so deliriously tired that it almost felt like she lost any sensation in her feet and legs as she bounded ahead, through trees and on streets alike. No one stopped for a single moment, or said a single word. They just kept pressing onward.

Day 3 was a mess. One awful firefight caused them to lose Bishop but they then brought another young woman into the group. Unfortunately, those who caused Bishop's death also caused her a great deal of humiliation in all kinds of degrading fashions. She was reluctantly relieved when Stevie convinced her to come travel with them, even if she didn't say much at all, not even her name, for days.

By midday on Day 4, they'd picked up more people: one couple, Alejandro and Maria, who only spoke Spanish, one middle-aged chiropractor, Lisa, and a college student, Jordan. By the end of Day 4, their reasoning to head up into the hills for higher ground stood for a far better outcome than they'd anticipated when they'd happened upon the open iron gate of a massive, ostentatious estate. A few walkers wandered around the grounds, and were easily dispatched once the nine rushed in and locked the gate behind them. The door to the home was shut but unlocked; the owners must have hastily departed in vain effort to seek safer shelter.

It was likely that no person in the group had ever been in a place like this. The mansion looked like something out of a movie set--large enough to have actual wings to retreat to, a stainless modern kitchen, a tennis court, spellbinding windows overlooking the canyon, an obscene number of vehicles parked in an echoey garage, and solar panels to keep the electricity on--even the pool filter.

The situation was more than just comical--it was terrific.

Everyone was too tired to explore the home further as they all simply took their own respective rooms and crashed for hours and hours. Walkers crowded at the iron fence, trailing the group's scent but thankfully unable to work their way through.

By the middle of Day 5, most people were up and about, and treated the house very carefully, as though they were guests visiting the home just temporarily. They determined that it would be beneficial to keep watch from the flat roof above. It wasn't until Clarkson found the extensive collection of wine and just about any spirit anyone could dare to name--just in time for the evening--that they finally relaxed.

Carpe diem. The party was killer.

On Day 6, after post-celebration hangovers had subsided, the group decided to divvy up assignments to keep watch. Thomas and Stevie were tasked with the first night shift.

The next few days were fairly relaxed as everyone began to explore the sprawling house. The food pantry was well-stocked and put to good use. Golf balls were smacked off of the rooftop while daytime watch was going on, but only if there was a cigar cindering nearby. Stevie took it upon herself during moments alone to go through the record collection. Of course. While she still had her phone loaded with plenty of music she so dearly loved, it nearly grieved her to switch it on out of habit and be reminded of a previous life that was now required to seem distant, or even non-existent. Clunky records were a lot of fun to work with. She ended up dragging the record player and a stack of albums with her to the bedroom she'd picked to sleep in. It was a nice indulgence.

Stevie was also delighted in her exploration of the home to discover a closet with fencing equipment--a foil, an épée, and even a saber were lined upward with a few mesh masks. Between socializing with the others, spending a considerable amount of time with Thomas, and checking on the still-nameless young woman they had liberated from that awful encounter a few days prior, there wasn't much time to goof off with practicing. She loved fencing, but loved music even more. She still brought the three weapons into her room and hid them under the bed, just in case there was any kind of problem in the house.

# # #

The congestion of walkers clawing at the iron-wrought fence was ominous as they screeched and roared, forcing their hands through the bars but pitifully not making any headway on crossing through onto the massive lawn. Luckily, the horrid smell hadn't permeated much farther so that the house would be disturbed by it.

Thomas and Stevie wandered a few yards away from the gate and stared ahead, standing side by side. He carried his rifle warily while she folded one arm across her chest and chewed the knuckle of her other hand, tilting her head as she examined the poor souls on the other side. "Have you ever been to the zoo," she started thoughtfully, still gazing ahead, "and wanted to see the lions do something really, really interesting, but were disappointed when you figured out that all they do is sleep, sleep, and sleep just a little more?"

Thomas blinked. "I'm sure that everyone in the entire world has been in that tragic position at some point in their life," he answered. "Why?"

She gestured ahead with both arms and grinned a little. "Behold. Our lions."

His expression didn't change. "Those are the ugliest lions I have ever seen." He continued onward.

Stevie laughed through her nose as they proceeded, walking twice as fast to keep up with the far-taller Thomas. "Terrence is on watch tonight, right?" she asked, looking up at the roof.

"I think that's what everyone decided," he answered as he noticed a particularly small child walker working its way through a set of bars, its head, shoulders, and arms beginning to slip through. He waved for Stevie to stay put and sauntered off in its direction and stood in place for a few moments to size up the situation before effortlessly bashing the butt of his rifle against the front of its skull, caving it in gorily. The walker went limp, stuck in the bars.

Stevie winced while watching. She knew it was the right thing to do, but it didn't make it any less difficult to watch. Not to mention that that creature had once been a child.

Thomas must have seen the look on her face. "Better him than us," he said somewhat tersely as he continued on.

"No, no, I know," she said as she caught up with him, worried that she might have accidentally put him on the defensive. "It's just still weird that anyone has to do that."

"It's not, though," he responded, still a little sharp, stepping ahead. "You know what they can do."

She pursed her lip for just a moment and hung back, collecting her composure. He likely hadn't at all intended on reminding her of what had happened on the beach, but it still came to mind after he'd said that. "You're right," she said quickly, not wanting to say anything else for a few moments as they kept treading to survey the fence. She'd wanted very badly to conceal the fact that she was far more sensitive than she really wanted to be, but knew that she had just failed in that. She trailed behind him just slightly, studying the plush green grass under her bare feet in an attempt to distract herself.

The remark made her think of Dean, one of the last things she'd wanted to think about, particularly after spending a lot more time getting better acquainted with Thomas. She didn't feel like outwardly sharing her darker and sadder thoughts on the entire situation, not even with him, not wishing to burden others. It felt much better to make light of it all and share good moments with others. She already did plenty of dwelling on more somber subjects inside of her own mind just fine on her own. In fact, even before the whole ordeal she tended to not share many of her inward thoughts with very many people at all, preferring to instead discuss far more pleasant subjects to cover up any potential perception of her even having any difficulties whatsoever.

Thomas must have seen the next expression on her face before he looked over his shoulder at her, and stopped walking. "I'm sorry," he stated simply after the long pause.

Stevie shook her head. "No, please don't be," she replied. "You're doing the right thing." She glanced along the fence, eyeing the determined walkers reaching out and snapping their jaws from the other side. Truth be told, the only thing that had ever stood between her and them was, in fact, Thomas. She then turned her attention back to him, looking directly into his eyes. She managed a genuine smile. "You've always done the right thing." It was easy to forgive him for the accidental offense.

She watched his expression soften just slightly as he reached out a long arm and draped it around her shoulder. She wasn't much for public displays of affection, but it didn't seem that he necessarily was, either. That was all right. Especially right now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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"Are you all right??"

Stevie blinked and nodded fervently, taking Clarkson's hand and pulling herself up on her feet. "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she uttered quickly, nodding to him, her nerves on fire. She cast a diagonal glance in horror at Bishop, splayed out fatally on the ground. She fought back an expression of shock but still balked in his direction. He'd been alive moments before.

"I need your help!" Holloway called to Stevie. She looked up and snapped back into the moment, watching the scene as both he and Thomas, and now Clarkson joining them, had rifles trained on the group gathered, ignoring their shouts as they sat up on their knees, corralled together. He tilted his head in the direction of the RV.

Stevie nodded, unsure of what to expect as she quickly skittered around the large vehicle and stopped in her tracks when she came upon a young black woman, half-naked and crumpled into a shivering mess. Her heart sunk. She instantly knew what had transpired by the look of the torn clothing. She carefully knelt down on the ground about three feet away, not wanting to scare her by coming too close.

"Hey," Stevie said gently. "I'm..." She forced her eyes to not well up with tears. "I'm... I'm here to help you. Let's get you to a safe place."

The girl edged up on her elbows just slightly, uncovering her face and looking at Stevie with blank eyes. Stevie's stomach twisted at the sight of her right eye, almost swollen shut, and a split lip. Her throat had dark marks circled around it, and her bare arms were burned with what must have been rope marks, along with her ankles.

Stevie blinked just momentarily. Clearly, the woman wasn't going to talk; if she was, she would have said something by now. She noticed a white shirt nearby and handed it to her, hoping to help her restore a little bit of lost dignity.

The woman took it carefully, eyeing Stevie with a degree of suspicion before adjusting her pants and rising to her knees. Stevie stood and offered a hand wordlessly. The woman took it, and then cringed with pain as she attempted to stand up. Stevie quickly rushed to steady herself beneath one shoulder. The woman was very tall, almost a foot taller than Stevie herself.

Holloway turned around the corner and nodded to Stevie. "You good?" he asked the two.

"Yeah, we're all right," Stevie answered carefully. "We've got to get her to—"

"We'll deal with that," he politely broke in. "For now, I want you both to go sit in that car," he instructed, gesturing behind them. "Just in case walkers come around."

Stevie nodded and ushered the zoned-out woman toward the Subaru wagon, opened the back gate, and popped down the backseat to give more than enough room for the two to sit. The noise that had been made would surely attract some of the wandering undead in the area. Sure enough, as she shut the gate behind them, she spotted a few in the distance lurching in their general direction.

"Duck down," Stevie whispered to the young woman. They flattened themselves on the floor and kept very Stevie glanced over at the woman, who stared up at the ceiling, focusing on the dark overhead lamp. Her breathing was shallow and shocked and beads of sweat formed around her temples. Clearly, she was not planning on talking anytime soon.

A series of blasts pealed out harshly through the air, just slightly muffled through the metal and glass walls of the vehicle, coming from the direction of the RV. Stevie stopped counting after hearing six, instead joining the poor girl in staring straight upwards.

She quickly recounted in her head what the girl would need. Under normal circumstances, she'd have to be rushed to a hospital and given the option to speak with authorities as she obtained medical treatment. But as both any kind of authorities or hospitals were not at all likely to be in any shape to perform as necessary in these kinds of situations, a shower and a visit to a pharmacy would have to make do instead. Despite her own religious beliefs and standard she'd set for herself, Stevie knew that it was up to her to ensure that the poor girl would have every option available to her to fix any undesirable situation that may have come as a result of those last terrible days.

A couple of gunshots rang out not far from the wagon. The gate opened at their feet, and there stood Holloway, holding the door up, standing aside to give the two women enough room to get out. "We gotta hurry," he asserted carefully, looking over his shoulder to make sure nothing was coming toward them. "Those biters are going to come along pretty soon. Can you two move?"

The girl nodded to Holloway and slowly pulled herself out of the vehicle, Stevie following behind her to give her a bit of space. The girl started out ahead, moving as quickly as she could, which was still far faster than Stevie had expected.

Holloway looked over at Stevie. "She all right?"

Stevie shrugged her shoulders quickly. "Not saying a word," she responded, looking ahead at the girl to make sure that nothing was sneaking up on her. "We need to get to a pharmacy and she needs to clean up."

He nodded. "Yeah, I'll talk to Tom about that."

Stevie shook her head. "Oh, don't worry, I can do that if you need me to."

He shook his head back at her and looked back toward the RV. "I know you're trying to help, but you don't want to talk to him right now." Another gunshot was fired. He looked back toward Stevie. "Trust me. Let me do it."

# # #


The antibiotics were helping. Stevie didn't feel quite so horrible as she woke up, still clad in her red t-shirt, on Day 5. She sat up and looked around the room, wondering for just a moment if it had all been a nightmare.

The clock next to her blinked the time. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:13. 7:14. When she'd drifted off it had read 12:58. She hadn't slept for too long at all. She reflected on the last few days as she got up and headed into the bathroom attached to the bedroom and tested the water. Perfect. She found a towel, undressed, and stood for a very long time under the water. She was a mess. The quick cold shower she'd had after the incident in the medical unit, when Thomas had looked her over for bites, was the last time she'd had any real opportunity to clean up.

After exiting, she brushed and dried her hair, pulled her clothes back on, and quietly made her way down the stairs. The house was beautiful. She hadn't taken a great look around the previous night when Thomas, Clarkson, and Holloway checked the house before allowing everyone else to follow inside.

Stevie heard a noise, and froze in place instinctively. She tiptoed quietly toward the direction it came from, and discovered that the chiropractor was in the kitchen. The oven light was on and she stood over the sink with the water running, slicing fruit and placing it in a bowl, obviously feeling more at home than she did.

"Good morning!" the lady chirped, her thick accent adding a funny nasal quality to her voice. "Guess I'm not the only early bird here! Want a worm?" She offered Stevie an orange.

Stevie smiled and slowly walked in. "Thanks!" She started to peel the fruit after she accepted it. "What's in the oven?"

"There was all this flour and so I decided to make muffins," the woman responded. She placed the small paring knife beside the sink, quickly ran her hands under the faucet, patted them dry on a towel, and offered her hand to Stevie. "I'm Lisa. So nice to meet you, doll. Grab a knife and help me out."

Stevie nodded and grabbed another knife from a nearby drawer. Lisa reminded her a high school friend's mom, instantly making her feel at home. "I'm Stephanie, but you can call me Stevie."

Lisa placed a small bowl of uncut fruit in front of Stevie. "Nice to meet you, Stef," she responded. "And now we're strangers making a fruit salad. How do you like that?"

Stevie smiled and munched on an orange wedge. "This is the best orange I've ever tasted," she remarked as she started on cutting up a grapefruit.

"Well, the fruit's going to go bad, so we might as well do something with it, right?"

The two exchanged stories about their first few days after the infection. Lisa, Jordan, and Alejandro and Maria had been stuck in the chiropractic clinic for a few days; Jordan was a patient of Lisa's, and Alejandro and Maria had come into the clinic absolutely terrified just before Lisa and Jordan had decided to lock the place up. Lisa talked about how her two children, 20-year old twins, were in college in Connecticut and how she was worried for their safety, but knew that she would be able to figure out their fate "after all this shit blows over." Stevie just listened quietly, not having the heart to share her thoughts on that as she hulled strawberries.

The oven alarm bleeped repeatedly. "Ahh, there they are!" Lisa announced, pulling a pair of mitts on her hands and extracting a pan with a dozen heat-bronzed muffins. "Now no one has any excuse to not eat anything. My boy would wander around the kitchen constantly complaining there wasn't anything to eat!" she added bittersweetly. "So, hopefully everyone gets a chance to enjoy something, here."

Stevie smiled. "Thanks, Lisa, that was awesome of you!" she cheerfully remarked.

Lisa nodded. "Yeah, yeah... You're welcome," she accepted with a half-smile and an eyeroll. "You might want to take one to your friend. You know, the tall girl. What's her name?"

Stevie shook her head as she took a knife to scrape around a muffin to place onto a small plate, onto which she added a few spoonfuls of fruit. "I have no idea."

"What? Really?" Lisa inquired.

"She's been pretty quiet," Stevie said, finding a small fork and holding it under the plate. "I'll go take it to her."

Lisa smiled. "Come back soon, I'm about to get some coffee made, too."

Stevie offered a happy grin in return and stepped back up the stairs, heading to the bedroom door that she saw the tall girl head into. She gently rapped on the door. No answer. She waited several moments after a sense of potential dread filled her mind, then took it upon herself to quietly twist the doorknob open. The girl was out cold, breathing heavily, sleeping curled up on her side. Stevie tiptoed in and rested the plate on the bedside table not far from her face and silently shuffled back out.

Stevie made her way back down the stairs and reunited with Lisa. "Hey!" the older woman exclaimed loudly, pointing outside of the large bay window. "See that pool?!"

Sure enough, there was a large pool not far at all from the door, situated on a patio made from red and white textured tiles. A cabinet full of towels, a barbecue grill, and a canopy over a table and chairs made the scene look inviting so early in the morning.

Stevie laughed. "Too bad we don't have swimsuits, huh?" she said as she plucked a muffin from the pan and cut it in half, offering Lisa a piece.

"Who said you needed one!" Lisa half-joked before taking a bite. Stevie laughed out loud, nearly choking on her breakfast. "Just kidding. Let's not offend the neighbors, huh?"

Stevie smiled and shook her head. "Yeah, let's not," she said. "I wonder who this house belongs to."

"Well, whoever they are, I'm feeling pretty grateful," Lisa added, packing items into the dishwasher. "I'm thinking sandwiches for lunch. There's a big chest freezer in that walk-in pantry. If everyone likes barbecue, then there's more than enough to keep everyone fed. What do you think?"

Stevie instantly admired the fast-talking lady who seemed to love being busy. "I think that's great." She looked down at her torn dress. "I'm thinking about doing some laundry."

"Already on it!" Lisa chirped. "Just grab a towel and go hang out in your room and I'll bring your clothes to you."

"But I can help you—"

"Nah, I need something to do," Lisa interrupted. "Besides, you still look a little sick, like you were when you showed up. Get that immune system back up. Go rest a few more hours, then you can help if you're feeling up to it. Stick your clothes outside the door and I'll grab it."

Stevie never allowed anyone to do her laundry for her, but Lisa sure sounded like she could have used a distraction. She nodded and stood up. "Thank you," she said as she went back up the steps to her bedroom, feeling relieved at the prospect of resting to feel better.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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The array of shelves containing a variety of medications was daunting as Thomas and Stevie stood at the entrance to examine the scene. Boxes were scattered here and there about their feet, possibly the sign of a rush after staff members may have hastily departed for safer locations.

The others were next door in the clinic, talking to the chiropractor they'd spotted through the window, who'd turned out to be relieved to see others and welcomed everyone inside. When Stevie had asked about the possibility of finding a pharmacy, she pointed her in the right direction. Thomas had offered to come with her; those were the first words that he'd had spoken to her since Bishop was killed.

Stevie nervously turned and looked up at Thomas, unsure of exactly how to talk to him after what had transpired. "So... we're looking for a few things," she spelled out politely, "a few things for her, definitely. And I need antibiotics."

"Still not feeling too good?" he asked, walking through the door and scanning the shelves from where he stood, obviously looking for any movement.

Stevie shook her head as she pulled the door shut behind her. "Yeah, still feeling a little green," she said, not wanting to make communication complicated.

He nodded and beckoned for her to follow him, training his pistol at an angle toward the ground. "Yeah, you're actually looking a little white," he observed. "You need something to eat and then some sleep. We'll make sure you get that. We don't need you getting slowed down or lost. I don't think we'd be able to live with that."

Stevie was pleasantly surprised as she grabbed a small plastic basket normally reserved for the pharmacists to use in collecting orders, and trailed him quietly, eyeing the shelves as she went.

"What are you looking for?" he asked as he continued forward, along reading the names on the various boxes and containers. "Maybe I can help you."

Stevie declined to mention that she was going to need Plan B for the girl traveling with them, next door in the clinic. There were some things that still ought to be kept private. "Well, I'm going to need Levofloxacin, or Ciprofloxacin," she opted to rattle off instead.

"Lev-what?" he said back, stopping in his tracks. "You're going to have to write those down for me."

Stevie looked down and noticed a pen in the basket, but no paper. She gestured for Thomas to hold out his left arm, pulled his sleeve back, and quickly scrawled the names out on him. "Sorry," she said as she spelled the letters out, "but this way you won't drop your list, right?" She smiled before she blinked and took the pen back.

He looked just slightly amused as he nodded and continued onward, leaving Stevie just around the section containing emergency contraception. It didn't take her long to collect a few packs of Plan B, and decided to add a few extra packs of regular birth control, not far off at all. Antibiotics probably killed off what was already in her system, but as her bag that contained her medication was not in her possession, now seemed like the best time to grab something that seemed normal to do, if merely out of habit for the sake of assurance. Couldn't hurt, she reflected even as she looked down the aisleway at Thomas. Couldn't hurt at all.

"Think we should take anything extra?" she called out. "I mean, this place has got bandages, medicine, anything we need, just in case."

"Whatever you think we should have, go ahead and grab it," he responded. "As long as you can carry it." He stepped ahead a few paces and started to grab assorted boxes. "Found them. How many do you want?"

Pick up what you can, in case it happens again, please?" Stevie answered, setting about obtaining first aid supplies as she'd mentioned. "If I get sick I'd rather be miserable and taking something and moving than miserable and not taking something and not moving."

"We'll stop somewhere," Thomas said solidly. "We were talking earlier and we think that's the right thing to do. Especially now that we've found all these other people, we should take a rest."

Stevie hid her relief. "I think that's a good idea," she uttered brightly, piling what she'd gathered into a canvas bag she'd found on the floor. "We could use some time to get our feet back underneath us."

Thomas nodded, then turned back toward her. "We'll be somewhere by the time the night's over," he assured dryly, carrying the two medications he'd hunted down for her and placing them in her hands.

Stevie smiled as she accepted the boxes, and extracted a tablet out from one of them to take a few moments from then, then slid them into the bag. "Everyone can get a chance to come back to Earth, maybe?" she stated rhetorically.

He looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "That's one way to say it." He started toward the door. "Ready to go?"

# # #


"Seriously?" Holloway said as he stood beside Lisa, Stevie, and Alejandro. All four gaped down into the freezer's contents, which had begun to brown foully, compounded by the insulated heat.

"Oh, Jesus, the freezer isn't on," Lisa gasped, clasping one side of the white box to look over and check on the cord. Curiously, it was still plugged in. "Oh, shit."

Alejandro flickered the light switch. Nothing. "Plomos?" he asked, indicating the possibility of there being a fusebox outage.

Stevie nodded. "This place is solar-powered," she noted out loud, "and if we can't fix the power, life will get pretty rough around here." The large house enjoyed the added bonuses of air conditioning, food storage, a security system, and more via electricity. But, as the group had discussed before, those niceties weren't nearly as important as having a safe location close to food and water... neither of which were within an easy vicinity of the house.

"It was fine when we got here," Lisa insisted. "How could this have happened so fast?"

Stevie shook her head. "No idea, but we've got to make a decision," she quietly mused as she folded one arm across her chest and covered her mouth with her other hand. "We might have to go."

Several minutes later, Clarkson happened upon the four in the pantry. "So this is where all you—" He stopped himself at the smell of the rotten meat. "Oh, now that's foul, just foul. What happened here?"

"Freezer's out, might be this part of the electrical wiring in the house," Holloway summarized quickly. "There was about a month's supply in there, easily."

"Oh, cripes," Clarkson uttered with deliberately withheld expression. He scratched the back of his head and looked toward Stevie and Lisa. "You got any ideas?"

"Stef thinks we might have to leave," Lisa recounted. "I kind of agree. It's not going to be easy for us to replace the food here. And we've only got enough canned food for another two weeks, if that. Something tells me it wasn't nine people who lived here before we came along."

Clarkson nodded. "I'll go find Tom," he said resignedly as he stepped out of the pantry.

Immediately, Lisa set about gathering flour and other dried ingredients. "We're going to have to get these things ready to go," she said quickly. "Can we get things like this hauled out to the counter to pack? No milk products; those'll spoil fast." She looked to Alejandro, trying to muster up her Spanish. "Towels? Blankets? Blancos?" she tried quickly. He nodded and went to find Maria to start retrieving what they could find around the house.

Jordan popped his head through the door after Alejandro left. "Is something wrong?" he inquired.

"The freezer's dead," Holloway said, "I better go let them know what happened." He shuffled past Jordan and went to find Thomas and Clarkson.

"Jordan, be a pal and run to the garage and round up every toolkit you can find," Lisa zapped quickly. "Leave them on the floor in the same spot and we'll load everything up. After that, go get soap from the bathrooms and whatever band-aids or first aid you can find. Stef? We're going to get kitchen knives, gardening tools, and whatever other sharp things we can find."

"I'll help you with that, but real quick," Stevie answered as she walked hastily toward the kitchen, "I'll go check with them to see what they think."

# # #

“49… 50… 51… 52…” Blackthorne was counting under his breath as he hammered out push-ups on the edge of the pool deck. His body was rigidly straight and he was naked from the waist up, the morning air cool on his skin.

He heard feet approaching and he could tell from their regular and evenly paced strides that they were the steps of another soldier, probably Clarkson since he could hear the man chewing on something. He had an annoying habit of chewing with his mouth open.

“You eat… like a… cow…” Said Blackthorne between push-ups, nose almost touching the tiled pool deck with each movement.

“And ye luck very sexy with nay shirt on laddie buck.” Came the accented drawl as the other soldier sat next to him on a lawn chair, putting his feet up on Blackthorne's back. “Come on boy, keep that back straight.”

Blackthorne continued, a slight smile on his face as he did so. He could feel the other man's boots on his spine and determined that, despite the extra weight, he was going to finish off one hundred push-ups for the morning.

“So, freezer's out, foods gone bad an’ yer bird is tryin ta figure out woot ta do.” The Brit said calmly as he cracked a soft drink he had brought from the house. “If you d’nay have a soft spot fer the lass ah’d say we ought ta bug out.”

Blackthorne halted his next push-up and finally looked at the Britisher who offered him a toothy grin, toasted him with the Pepsi he had before taking a swing.

“My bird?” Blackthorne said with a raised eye brow.

“Aye, bird. Y’know, missus, toppa, chicky, fuck buddy, broad, piece o’ass, senorita…”

“I get it.” Blackthorne interrupted the flow of slang terms. He shook his head and then returned to the push-ups with a grunt.

“My my, would you look at this.” Holloway's voice broke over them as the big man strode up, sitting himself in another lawn chair that groaned under his bulk. “Imperalist Brit with his boots on the back of a poor colonial labourer.”

Blackthorne didn’t bother responding, finishing off the last dozen push-ups and then elbowing Clarkson’s boots off of him and sitting up. He picked up one of the fluffy pool towels that he had brought out and wiped the sweat from his brow.

“I assume you are also here because of the freezer?” He said with a glance at Holloway. The big man nodded.

“Out, spoilt and smells like British cooking.” Clarkson sniffed indignantly but didn’t bother responding.

“Fuck.” It was wall Blackthorne could think to say as he thought over the implications. There was a long silence as he shifted to another lawn chair, turning it so that the three of them could still see each other. “We seem to have a situation.”

They nodded and Clarkson spoke first as Blackthorne knew he would. The Britisher was quick on his feet whereas Holloway rarely spoke unless he felt he had something worthwhile to add.

“I suppose we’re stuck with 'em?” He glanced meaningfully towards the house.

Blackthorne nodded and Holloway offered him a big grin.

“Tom ain’t 'stuck' with anyone. Stevie seems to be rather sweet on him. No sense leaving a woman when you might be some of the last people on earth.”

“Course ‘e gets all the bleedin women…” Clarkson muttered dramatically. “Tell me Tom, ‘ow is it we can be in tha middle o’tha worst disaster in ‘uman ‘istory an you find a pretty bird in a beach shack?”

“Some guys have all the luck,” Blackthorne replied with a grin, then, raising his voice. “Speak of the devil!”

Stevie had been walking toward them from the house and now she stopped short a dozen paces away at the words and gave the three of them a hard look.

“Excuse me?”

“Nothin lass, woot's on yer mind?” Clarkson said as he tipped her a wink and was rewarded with a red flush on her cheeks.

“I, um, came to talk to you guys about the food situation," she said, walking slowly over to them and standing awkwardly next to Blackthorne as she spoke. He seemed to sense her emotions and sat up, swinging his long legs to the ground, making space for her on the end of his lawn chair so she could sit.

“It seems we have none.” Blackthorne said bluntly and she nodded. “I suspect that would mean you think we should move elsewhere?”

She nodded again but didn’t speak though it was plain she wanted to. He reached out and gave her knee a squeeze. “What’s on your mind? Got a plan?”

“I do, actually,” she said with a small smile and the soldiers leaned in as she began to outline it.

# # #

Several minutes later, all nine stood in the kitchen, deliberating over the fate of the group. It didn't take long for them to acknowledge the house's unfortunate position high up in the canyon, away from any supply base. Those iron bars weren't going to stay up forever, either. It would only be with an ample supply of fuel that they would be able to stay there... a supply that wasn't all that great in the house itself.

Everyone agreed to spend the evening packing up a few vehicles. In the morning, they'd set off to move along to a safer location outside of the city. Thomas, Stevie, and the quiet girl would lead the group; Holloway, Alejandro, and Maria would be in the second vehicle; Clarkson, Lisa, and Jordan would bring up the rear. Whatever anyone could find of use that would be light and easy to pack in a vehicle, they'd find; tools, blankets and linens, first aid, knives, hygiene items, and canned goods were placed into boxes. By 11, everything was packed up, mostly in leftover banker boxes from an office inside the house. Even the alcohol.

No one slept well that night.

On Day 9, no later than 7, Thomas, Holloway, and Clarkson cleared walkers from the gate to make a quick escape. At no later than 8, the nine were heading back on the road once again.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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Stevie shut the back gate of the Mazda, thankful that the keys to a couple of fuel-efficient SUVs stored in the massive garage had been easy to find. Easily the largest vehicle was the not-so-efficient pickup truck that would come second in the three-vehicle file.

She criss-crossed Thomas as she walked from the garage into the house and through the kitchen. "Hi," she chirped quickly, looking up at him as she stopped in the middle of the tiled floor. "I'm on my way to go get her." She stood a little bit closer to him, but not too close.

He nodded and pointed back to the garage. "Make sure she hurries," he insisted. "I'll need you to drive through when we get that gate open."

She smiled and nodded back. "Don't worry, I already woke her up this morning. I don't think she'll take too long." She looked both ways, and reached out and lightly touched his hand as she started to walk off. "See you soon," she spoke somewhat shyly before continuing her trip up the steps.

As she jogged past the doors and navigated through the couple of hallways leading to the room purposely chosen by its occupant to be as far away from anybody else in the house as possible, Stevie reflected on the past several days and tried to imagine where the quiet girl might come from when being told to leave. She mostly interacted with her by either dropping meals outside her door and picking up empty plates, or on the rare occasion that she saw her in the kitchen when nobody else was in there. No one had said anything about having any conversation with the young woman at all.

Stevie rapped on the door. It opened immediately. The tall woman's face peered down at her from behind the crack in the door. The facial swelling had gone down considerably, and only traces of her bruises were left. She kept changing the bandages that Stevie left at the door, as well. At least she was taking care of herself.

"Hey," Stevie spoke quietly, keeping her hands down by her sides, "we're all packed up. Are you ready to go?" The woman nodded. "Do you need a few minutes?" She fervently shook her head, slinging a backpack along the inside of her elbow. Along the way to the house she had grabbed different clothes from a store with a broken window, picking up a pair of flared workout pants, a light running t-shirt, and a jacket.

She strode out ahead of Stevie, leaving her behind in a matter of seconds. Stevie spun around quickly to catch up. Before descending the stairs down to the ground level, Stevie stopped and darted toward the room that she, and occasionally Thomas, had occupied for the last few days. "I almost forgot!" she remarked as she twisted the doorknob and dove under the bed to retrieve the three fencing weapons. She pulled them out and held them at her side, receiving a slightly confused glance from the quiet girl as they both trekked down toward the garage.

Lisa smiled at the two as they walked in. "Hey, sweetheart!" she said kindly, trying her best to be encouraging. The girl faintly smiled back. The others greeted her similarly as she wound her way through the cars, following Stevie. She climbed into the back seat, shutting the door behind her.

"Is she all right?"

Stevie turned her head and met Thomas' eyes. He stopped on his way out to the fence to clear more walkers in preparation for the departure. "Yeah, she came right with me," she reported.

He looked at the three blades in her hand and tilted his head perplexedly. "What are you doing with those?" he asked.

Stevie smiled and held all three up by their handles. "Because they're kind of sharp," she answered simply. "This boring one is the foil. This one with the pistol grip is an epée, and this one is a saber." He blinked. "I used to fence competitively. I love this stuff."

Someone called out Thomas' name, causing him to look over. He glanced back at Stevie and handed her the car's keys. "Okay, just get behind the wheel and follow our lead," he instructed. "When we're ready I'll get in and we'll be on the way out."

She smiled and nodded. "You got it," she responded quickly. He took off outside, and she looked back at the others. Alejandro and Maria stood next to the pickup, checking the windows and the stability of its truckbed cover. Lisa and Jordan leaned against their Toyota, both waving ahead at Stevie and giving a thumbs-up. She smiled back at them and signaled, then turned to open the driver's door, got inside, and buckled herself in.

She watched as the three expertly took on the gate walkers. They'd spent much of the morning clearing them out from a distance, guiding them away from the section containing the vehicles' entrance in order to prevent having to pile up too many bodies from the pathway.

She looked over her shoulder at the girl sitting in the backseat, who stared ahead at her soundlessly, making very direct eye contact. Stevie smiled and looked back to the front. At least she was with them.

The three waved at Stevie as they pulled open the gate. She accelerated cautiously and slowly drove ahead, allowing the other two to follow close behind. Quickly and efficiently, they dragged the iron bars back across the open space, then hustled into their vehicles and rode down the hill, away from the massive house and the safe haven it had provided for all of them.

# # #

Stevie held onto the steering wheel as they proceeded ahead out of the hills, swerving around the occasional breezing trash heap and ambling walker. Thomas held the map in front of his face and tracked street names to signs outside the window, and calmly pointed her in the right direction to head westbound, intending to decide shortly if they'd travel along the coastline or through the Central Valley.

The three remained silent for about five minutes, keeping their eyes peeled along the roadway for potential problems.

An unfamiliar voice spoke quietly above the hum of the engine. "Head into Hollywood."

Stevie nearly jumped. "Oh!" she exclaimed. The young woman finally talked. But what was she saying? "What do you mean?"

"The smoke in the sky?" She pointed outside the window, off to the north and the west. "That's a forest fire. No doubt about it. You'll have to go east."

"Are you sure?" Thomas asked, not skipping a beat. "Not buildings on fire after the bombing?"

"Sorry, but our view back at the house didn't face northwest, it faced southwest," she countered a little brusquely, "and I remember what the sky looked like from fires before."

The vehicle wound around the hill and, sure enough, the sight of black smoke was enough to demonstrate the danger of heading either north or west.

"Hollywood, it is," Thomas sighed. He looked to his left at Stevie. "Mind putting your signal on so we can talk to the others?"

Stevie nodded and flipped on the turn signal, summoning the other two vehicles to pull over on the inclined road downward.

"See that fire?" Clarkson said quietly after the group huddled together, everyone keeping their eyes peeled for any threats.

"Yep," Thomas answered. "We're heading down into Hollywood. Probably be able to go east."

Alejandro nodded and spoke up, relating to Thomas that his cousin worked at an ammunition shop not far from the metro station off of Hollywood and Vine. He'd often bragged about there being a massive ammo stash stored beneath the floorboards near the cash register. Maybe this was a good time to find out if he'd been bluffing or not.

Thomas shared the story with the group, who decided that it might be worth a look on the way out of town. They were extremely low on ammo as it was.

Alejandro's vehicle moved to the front to guide the way. The pickup stayed in the middle and the Mazda trailed last.

"You trusted me," the young woman observed aloud to Thomas and Stevie after a few moments on the road again.

"You're the local," Thomas quipped as he studied the map again. "And you even ended up being right."

She nodded and stared ahead through the windshield. "Thanks," she said, almost as though the word wasn't one she used often. "I'm Althea. You're Stevie. And you're the sergeant. At least, that's what everyone called you when I heard people talk."

Stevie smiled and wished that she could better see the girl's face than from just the occasional glance at the rearview mirror. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

Althea scoffed a little. "I dunno," she said, a little creak in her voice. "I'm still working on that. Let's talk about something else."

"All right. Well, what do you do?" Stevie asked. She was desperate to learn something about this person and find some way to connect with her. Althea had been such a subject of intrigue for several days due to her unwavering silence.

"I'm a legal courier," Althea answered. "At least, I was. Am I still one? I don't know. But I used to take court documents from law firms downtown to the courthouse. Rode my bike and everything." She blinked ahead at Thomas. "I can tell what he does. What about you?"

Stevie shrugged. "I guess I used to be a writer," she said. "But I was working on a political campaign last week."

Althea perked her ears up inquisitively. "Oh, what race?"

"Oh, Washington State," Stevie specified. "Nothing in California."

Althea nodded. "Well, I guess it doesn't matter now," she said coolly, gesturing out the window. "Not like any of those people have any control over what's going on."

Stevie was somewhat struck by the observation. She'd pondered that very concept but hadn't thought of it that way. Nothing was really out there to assure order of any kind. "You're right," she said. She exchanged a quick glance with Thomas and then turned to keep her eyes on the road.

Alejandro's truck slowly wove through the streets toward their destination. Finally, the brake lights came on and the three vehicles parked on an empty street. Thomas, Clarkson, and Holloway filed out, ensured that the interior of the store was free of walkers, and posted themselves outside to keep an eye out for any trouble.

Alejandro beelined for the cash register and successfully located the loose floorboard beneath. Before anyone could ask what he was doing, he asked for the others to come help pull the contents of the secret compartment up out of the ground.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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The atmosphere was way more relaxed in the ammo store. Nathan, Holloway, and Clarkson hauled heavy cases filled with the found ammunition out the door and into the backseat of the Mazda, parked not far from the entrance.

Steve stood with Lisa, Stevie, and Thomas, tracing along a roadway on their map of the city. "We're less than twelve blocks away from the entrance to the station," he commented, tapping his finger a few times trailing from the store to their destination.

"There's no more room in the Mazda except for the front two seats," Lisa remarked.

"Althea can ride with you and Tara," Stevie said. "Let Jordan, Alejandro, and Maria stick around in the truck. I'll drive the Mazda."

"Your guys can come walk with us," Thomas said to the calm gray-haired man. "But you'll have to switch your shotgun out. We put bayonets on to make things quieter."

"Yep, I'll take Tara's tool," Steve agreed. "Smart."

"We'll walk along with the vehicles to provide cover in case something goes wrong," Thomas continued. "I'll walk ahead with Stephanie. Who's coming with us?"

Steve gestured toward Schantz. "Actually, I'll send her up with you," he suggested. "She'll be able to talk to whoever's on watch to get you guys inside. And showing them all that ammo will be your golden ticket to joining us. If you guys want to."

"We'll see," Thomas asserted. "Half yours, half ours. We don't know if we're going to stay."

Steve shrugged. "Well, the invitation still stands," he said politely. "Seems like you guys have had a good handle on taking care of yourselves."

Stevie decided to herself that it might not be a great idea to tell them how they'd all spent the last couple of days, in light of how exhausted and tired that Schantz and Nathan had looked as opposed to when she'd seen them a week prior. Maybe they'd have to explain where they'd gotten the supplies... if the discussion came up at all.

"So, we've got Terrence, Steve, Nathan walking with the other two vehicles," Stevie pointed out. "Spencer's driving, right?"

"Yeah, gotta keep the weight balanced in that truck," Thomas answered. "It's kind of hazardous as it is right now. We'll figure it out."

"Okay," Lisa said, gesturing toward the others gathering around. They'd finished loading the ammunition and were ready to depart once again. The first vehicle would ride about a mile ahead, and the others would follow at a moderate pace.

# # #

As though on cue, Schantz caught a loose rock toward the end of the short trip over. She toppled down and smashed face-first on the ground, trying not to let out a loud yelp as she went. She gritted her teeth and pushed herself back up on her feet, limping ahead, her nose gushing with blood.

Thomas heard her hit the ground. He shot her an inquisitive look. She just glanced back and shrugged, pointing ahead with her finger repeatedly instead of shouting out loud. Her nose was gushing awfully fast. The car's engine and the sound of tires peeling forward on the road were enough to possibly attract walkers. Anything else could draw in a swarm quickly... and considering the fresh bleeding new on the ground, their chances of being targeted went up sharply.

Schantz hobbled onward, leading them through the quiet streets that were getting warmer and warmer under the late morning sun. Finally, she pointed ahead. "See that outcropping?" she called restrainedly across the car's hood to Thomas, leaning forward and allowing her nose to drain out onto the ground, "that's where our lookout spot is."

She started to wave her arms to signal the watch, thinking they were home free. Unfortunately, she suddenly felt very dizzy and passed out, heading back toward the ground yet again.

Stevie stopped the car, and watched Thomas grit his teeth then wind behind the moving vehicle to help Schantz up off of the ground. She spotted a figure making a run for them, right from the landmark that Schantz had pointed to just seconds before. Thomas held up a hand to Stevie from the rear-facing mirror by her window. She parked the vehicle as he went to go help Schantz up on her feet.

Suddenly, a stranger turned the corner from the entryway to a building off to Stevie's left, immediately pointing his gun at her. She held her hands up and carefully exited.

"Whoa!" Stevie belted out. "I'm not armed!"

"I don't believe that," he whisked out sharply, walking her along to stand in the front of the vehicle. "What did you do to our people?! I just saw one of ours go down."

Stevie shook her head while she stood in place. "No, we're not—"

"Don't say a word!" the man sparked back, continuing to maintain his aim on her.

Stevie's face drained of color as she stared ahead at what looked like a half-crazed man holding his gun a little too tightly. The pupils of his eyes were constricted dangerously. She wondered if he really had it in him, in that half-second where she absorbed his expression. Better to not test it.

"What are you doing?" Thomas asked, his rifle up high and aiming at the man's head as he circled from behind the SUV. Schantz propped herself weakly against the side of car, wobbling on shaky legs. "Drop your weapon."

He opened his mouth to say something, but instead caught sight of the pickup truck moving along as it turned the corner of the block less than a mile away, cruising along at a moderate pace. He stood there, his eyes doing a study of the moving vehicle. Thomas lunged forward quickly in an attempt to subdue the distracted gunman.

The man's hands clicked back to life, his fingers closing around the trigger. The barrel of the gun corresponded with his vision and took aim at the truck, letting loose a barrage of fire, emptying his supply of rounds before he was tackled.

The sound of metal piercing through metal and glass broke through the air, followed by the high-pitched shriek of rubber tires sliding on the hot road. The heavy bed of the truck whirled to direct itself into the side of another truck, then rolled over onto the passenger side.

Stevie panicked and ran to try to push Thomas off of the smaller man. "We have to help them!" she exclaimed nervously. Thomas ignored her. She jumped backwards as she watched him knock the man's face for the next ten or fifteen seconds, almost three or four times, before he blacked out. And he kept going. Stevie let out a frustrated yelp and once again grabbed at him, hanging on even when he tried to shoo her away. She pulled him in the direction of the truck. "Tom, Spencer is in the truck. Jordan, and Alejandro and Maria, all four of them are in there. They can die, Tom, we need to go now!"

Her voice picked up in pace and volume. She was, for the first time in over four days, afraid. It bled into her voice, despite trying so hard for so long to pretend to others that she wasn't at all afraid. She'd been lucky for those days, and knew that at some point that luck would have to run out. But the possibility of things going terribly wrong was very real. One snag could lead to another problem, and create another, like a snowball rolling down a mountain. Stevie wondered if she'd barely begun to scratch the surface of imagining how life was going to turn out.

In Stevie's mind, it was an eternity before Thomas finally stopped and turned to look back at her for just a moment, and then the overturned truck. He looked back at the Mazda and pointed to Schantz. "Get inside and lock the doors!" he barked at her. She nodded and made her way inside. He grabbed his rifle. "I need you to stay calm for them, come on," he said to Stevie, looking her directly in the eyes as he pointed ahead and made a beeline for the truck.

Stevie started to dart after him. It wasn't easy to leave a man lying in the street like that, but there were four people in that overturned truck. The Toyota was within view, as were Holloway and Nathan running alongside it. Seeing those two made it easier to stay behind to keep watch on Schantz and the unknown unconscious man. She ran back to the front of the vehicle to rummage for her Ruger. Thomas would have help in getting the others out of the vehicle; he'd end up understanding why she stayed back.

A voice from behind stopped her in her tracks. "Don't move."

# # #

Dizzy. That awful taste of iron. Headache.

Clarkson's vision finally focused. He noticed the ground above his head and the sky in the lower portion of the window. Was he on his side? From that dull weight he felt on the right corner of his temple, that had to have been it...

He brushed the glass off of his uniform and looked around dazedly. The truck's hood smoked ominously. It seemed like the flatbed cover stayed put, but there was no telling what condition the supplies were in.

He looked over his shoulder and to his right. The Mexican guy sitting next to him was motionless, as was his wife, and the college kid, who also had a bullet in his head. Clarkson blinked and tried to maintain control over his breathing. His ribs stung.

He wondered what had happened. Suddenly a tire blew and sent the truck zooming off with its heavy weighted back-end taking control. The next thing he knew, here he was... maybe the bullet explained it? But who would have shot at them?

He let out a slight gasp as Maria's eyes flickered open and stared at him. "Hola," he said quietly. "Como—" He stopped himself. Those weren't her eyes. Those weren't her eyes at all.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Natasha Dean Character Portrait: Dyomie Thornes Character Portrait: Phillip Wilson (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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= George Remington =
% Jessica Abbott %


There had been hazy nights before. Mornings where he still woke up in a drunken stupor. But whatever this was transcended all past transgressions. George rolled to one side, clutching his swollen face in agony. He gazed at his bloodied palms through watery and swollen eyes, the rest of his surroundings catching up to him in a blur. The sting of the cold stone subway platform still clung to his skin, even as he righted himself -- dust falling off of him like somebody shaking out and old rug.

His vision focused more and more with each slow blink of the eyes. But nothing around him made any more sense still. Two blurry figures stood atop an overturned Metro train, firing careful shots into undead stragglers running rampant across the platform -- pouring into the tunnel from the streets above. Dead bodies fell limply to the ground as bullets found their targets time and time again.

George struggled to his feet, wobbling a bit as he regained his balance. He felt around his body with his hands, trying to assess what kind of bodily harm he had succumbed to -- but honestly, his entire body ached.

A stranger's face ran past in a blur, offering him nothing but a passing glance as the woman hopped the tracks, disappearing behind the train. George rubbed his eyes, trying to get his mind back into focus, but everything was just a daze.

"That's him right there!" a familiar voice called out from behind him. He spun around, nearly losing his step -- but Jessica caught him by the arm before he had a chance to fall. "Help me get him out of here," she shouted to the blonde haired woman next to her. The wide-eyed woman grabbed George's other arm and started ushering him across the tracks as Natasha and Dyomie emptied their clips into the wave of walkers rushing into the tunnel.

Schantz limped close behind the rest as they retreated toward the commons. "C'mon, you two!" she shouted to the girls on the train as she hobbled across the tracks. "This place is done for!"

Natasha cast a sideways glance at Dyomie who just kept firing away. She shrugged back at Schantz. "Go on! We'll hold the fort!" she called back with a wave. Schantz knew it was bullshit, but she wasn't in a position to argue. They might be suicidal, but at least they had guns.


* * *


"Over this way," Althea shouted -- waving the beam of her flashlight back and forth at them. The hail of gunfire drummed in the background, further down the halls behind them. Jessica and Lisa pulled George's limp frame through the doorway and rolled him onto the ground -- unconscious once more. Schantz followed last, closing the door behind her as she braced herself against the frame weakly.

Rafiq came rushing up from the small crowd. "What-- is that all of you?" he asked, worriedly. "Who are these people?" Lisa and Althea looked at the group of strangers surrounding them, not a familiar face in sight -- save for Tara's.

"Oh, Rafiq!" Jessica cried out, pulling him in tightly for a hug. "We were so worried about you and Molly... we thought--" She looked around the crowd, her spirits fading fast as she realized whose face was missing. She looked back at him, crushed. "Oh, Rafiq..." she said, sadly.

"What happened to George?" Lillian asked, kneeling down to inspect him.

Tara looked at Jessica and the others. "It's a, uh-- long story, kid."

"What about the rest? Marie just left to go find her sister and Natasha! They're still out there!" Phillip protested.

Tara cut him off, sharply. "All our friends are out there. If they aren't here now, they ain't comin'. You didn't see what we saw." She wiped some of the blood from her nose with the back of her sleeve with a sniffle and went to sit down.

"We're not just leaving them out there," Phillip demanded, moving for the door. Jessica reached for him as he forced his way out the door, but it was too late.

"We can't keep spitting up like this!" Wayne shouted. "We have to stay together. We're stronger that way."

Rafiq nodded, shutting the door behind Phillip. "He's right. We can't keep running off like this. If this is who we have, then we have to leave before more of those walkers get down here."

Jessica chimed in, rolling up her sleeves. "Where did you pack my blueprints?" she asked, walking over to a nearby table. Rafiq ran over to a roughly organized pile of bags and backpacks and fished one out of the back. He unzipped it, puling out several blue sheets and laying them out flat. Jessica squinted her eyes, tracing her finger across familiar angles and notations. "This room here... that's us," she began. "Since the main entrance is full of walkers, that means Platforms A and B are completely compromised. But-- the service tunnels should lead us back to the street." She bit her lip as she roamed further down the blueprint. "It would let us out right on Santa Monica boulevard."

"You think that's far enough away from all this?" Wayne asked, unsuredly.

"We have to hope so," Jessica replied, brushing her hair out of her face. "We can leave out the back as soon as we're ready."

"And the others?" Annabelle asked, somberly. "Phillip is right. They might need our help."

"We're no good to them here," Tara mumbled. "We've got the kids... injured... sick..." she gestured at Annabelle, "old."

"And not enough weapons either," Rafiq admitted, trying to help reason. He reached into his pocket and fished out the note he had been working on. "Look, I started writing a note... for whoever comes in here after us. We'll write down directions and leave it here on the table under the lamp for them to find."

Tara shrugged. "It's the least we can do, I guess."

"Let's get to it then, folks. Grab what you can," Rafiq said, rubbing his hands together. "And somebody wake George up..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

0.00 INK

#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi

---

They took another corner.

The group walked through the corridors in near grim silence. Only Jessica would occasionally order them to stop so she could look at the blueprints. She and Rafiq were leading them, both holding a flashlight to light the way. The bombing had disrupted the power in this area of the tunnel system. The lights were not completely gone, but flashed faintly in and out of existence. It made the entire atmosphere eerie.

Rafiq tried to walk at a brisk pace, so they could reach Santa Monica Boulevard before the horde of walkers potentially could. Still, he couldn’t walk too fast. This wasn’t a group of athletes he was with. Wayne was still feeling ill, Schantz and George were injured. Sam and Lily were children and Annabelle a grandmother. Apart from Jessica, the only ones who still seemed capable were the two new woman, Lisa and Althea, but Rafiq didn’t know them or what they were made off. On top of that, most of them had a backpack with them, burdening them even further. It was a necessary evil though. They needed the backpacks, for there might not be time in the near future to scavenge for food.

They took another corner.

His own back was sore and he felt emotionally drained, but Rafiq tried not to show it to the rest. Without ever meaning too, he had become the leader of this band of misfits. Niobe, Harper, Jack, Dyomie and James, people who would all be a better fit them him, were not here. Part of him wanted George to take over, but the man was not thinking clearly at the moment and besides, he seemed to be distracted more and more of late anyway. At least there was Jessica, who shared the responsibility with him.

“Is everything alright, dear?” Annabelle’s voice suddenly came from behind.

Rafiq and Jessica turned around to see what was going on. Wayne had sat down on the floor, his backpack clutched in his right hand. The children took the opportunity to sit down as well.

“Just dizzy,” Wayne said, “need to stop walking for a sec.”

“What’s wrong with him?”
Asked the dark-coloured woman, Althea. Her question seemed genuine.

“The flu,” Wayne responded, “or something. Nothing to worry about, I can assure you.” He flashed his white pearly smile at the woman, clearly in an attempt to charm her. Althea looked away uncomfortably. The warning look Lisa gave him made him shrunk back.

“We can’t stay here for long Wayne,” Rafiq said, knowing that another walk was the last thing Wayne’s body needed, but also knowing that they had no choice.

“It’s not far, anyway,” Jessica said, pointing at something on her map, not entirely realizing that Wayne couldn’t see it. “Me and Rafiq can scout ahead and see if Santa Monica is clear.”

“Can I come with you?” Sam looked at his mother, the fear in his eyes betraying his calm demeanor.

“Honey, I -“

“I can go,” Lisa dropped her bag on the ground and stepped forward, “you stay here with you son.”

Jessica mouthed a silent ‘thank you’ to Lisa and showed her and Rafiq how to get to the Metro Station. Suddenly George was standing next to them as well. “I’m coming too.”

Lisa looked him over and said, “No, you’re not.”

“Excuse me? Who made you boss!”

“Nobody did. In the state you’re in, you’ll just be a liability. “ She exchanged a knowing glance with Althea, “Among reasons.”

“Like I care what you think. Come on, Rafiq, let’s go.”

Rafiq turned and looked at his old partner. “No George. Lisa is right, we’ll be faster with just the two of us.”

He braced himself for George’s reaction, expecting it not to be pleasant, but instead the old man just stared at him, flabbergasted. Jessica laid a hand on his shoulders and pulled him back. He followed her and took a sip from his water bottle. Rafiq had the feeling it did not contain water.

He and Lisa found the door towards the subway station easily enough. Rafiq opened it carefully while holding the hunting knife in his other hand. Lisa had raised her gun.

The station was empty, save for one walker who for some unknown reason was cuffed to a railing. The creature wore a police uniform and his gun was still in its holster. Rafiq walked up to it, stabbed it through the earlobe and took out the gun. He gave it to Lisa, who checked it.

“Still fully loaded. Did not fire a bullet once.”

“You would expect a gun to see more use these days.”

“Who knows. A free gun is a free gun.”


They went over to the escalator, which surprisingly was still working. Red spots of blood were coming and going as the steps went up and down. Rafiq stepped on one of the clean ones and rode upwards. For one moment, he allowed himself to feel the rush he always had when he got on an escalator. The things had always fascinated him. He remembered days as a child where he would ride them a couple of times in a row while his mother did some shopping. For that one moment, he could almost feel normal again.

As he and Lisa got to the surface, they stepped off the escalator and into the afternoon sunlight. The immediate vicinity was clear of walkers, though there were some in the distance they had to be careful of. It was not entirely clear whether they had been spotted or not. To their left was a row of food shops, a gas station the their right.

“If some of these cars work, maybe we can fill them up here,” Lisa suggested. The streets were filled with cars, apparently abandoned in a hurry.

“Maybe. But I do not wish to leave. The other group could be coming right after us.”


He pointed towards a building opposite the street. It was a bit taller than the surrounding buildings and the roof would give a good vantage point. It turned out to be a spa centre, specializing in skin care. Yet, as they walked up to it, they saw something else.

A large message was painted on one of the windows, reading ‘Carry, I took Stella to my parents. Please come!’ Underneath the message were the bodies of a man and a young girl, both shot in the head and chewed on by walkers. “Ow God,” Lisa stammered.

Rafiq passed the scene and peered through the windows of the spa. The place was dark, but as far as he could tell, there was no walker activity inside. Still, the place looked large. He rather had a bunch of other people with him to clear it out.

“The area is safe enough. Let’s go back,”
he said. Lisa agreed.

As they made their way back, something Lisa had said bugged him.

“What did you mean about George, when you said: among reasons?”


Lisa looked at him, as if she was trying to assess his character. George had looked at him the same way a week before, but something told him Lisa would not appreciate the comparison.

“I don’t find this George very trustworthy,”
she said.

“That’s not all though.”

“No, it’s not.”


They were silent for a while and Rafiq began to think she no longer wanted to talk about it. Then she said: “He shot at us. Or at least, I think he did.”

Rafiq felt like he should feel shocked. The fact that he wasn’t was even worse.

“Shot at you?”


“Yeah, but like I said, I’m not sure. I was in another car, some distance away and everything was very chaotic. But before all hell broke loose, I thought I heard a shot. Look, he may have aimed at a walker, I don’t know. But something seems off about him.”

Rafiq knew better then to defend George. He hoped it wasn’t true, but he hadn’t been there.

They turned the last corner of where they had left the group.

What they found was downright bizarre. Two people were holding down another person on the floor, who was resisting heavily. A fourth person was slumped against the wall.

The scene was dark and it was hard to tell who was who.

It was Lily who spotted them first.

“Something happened,” she said matter-of-factually.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt

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% Jessica Abbott %

"STOP IT! You're killing him!" Annabelle shouted from behind the pile of tussling bodies. Wayne laid another one into Henry as him and George struggled to hold him down. Tara sat back, slumped against the stone wall -- trying to catch his breath. Her right cheek sported a brand new shiner, courtesy of the enraged stranger. Althea and Lisa knelt at her side, making sure she was alright.

"Get off me! the man spat, kicking his feet out wildly. George rolled off of him, too exhausted to continue wrestling with the man. Wayne stood up, begrudingly. Taking a few steps back with his fists still balled up.

The man wiped the blood from his lip and spit on the ground, sitting up just barely. He rose to his feet and made like he was going to charge Wayne again.

"Don't do anything stupid, man..." Wayne pleaded. Henry looked around the room at the others, panting heavily in his drunken stupor. The world had fallen to shit outside and here they were, a bunch of people fighting each other. He took a step towards Wayne.

*CLICK*

"Lillian!" Jessica shouted out. The girl was pointing a pistol right at the man's head. Jessica quickly snatched it from the girl's grip, shooing her away from the men. "Where did you get this?" she demanded, holding the girl by the arm.

Lillian shook her hand off. "Seriously? There are guns lying around literally everywhere..." she said sarcastically.

Jessica couldn't believe what she was hearing. She looked at Rafiq who shook his head in dismay, shrugging his shoulders.

"Enough of this!" Jessica shouted. "Rafiq tell me you found something?"

He nodded his head, happy to be able to deliver good news for a change. "We found a spa... it looks sturdy enough to be able to house the lot of us. And it's close. Only a few blocks south of here."

Jessica nodded. "Good... take everyone up there," she requested, grabbing him by the shoulder. She turned to the others. "George, Tara... stay behind with me. I'm gonna need help with our new friend."

"What about me?" Wayne asked in protest.

"Rafiq's gonna need your help getting everyone up there safely," Jessica replied.

Everyone began to disperse slowly as Rafiq took Wayne, Lisa, Althea, Annabelle, Samuel, and Lillian to the surface. The girls helped Tara up before heading after the rest of the group. They slowly made their way down the dark corridor towards the service exit Rafiq had found. Once they were gone, George took the gun from Jessica's hands and turned to the menace who had shown up on their doorstep, looking at him one drunkard to another through blurried eyes.

"Better start talking, mate."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi

---

Their small group made it back to the surface without any incident. As expected, none of the walkers had come any closer. The children had a bit of fun with the escalators, before they all stepped into the sunlight.

Wayne stood there, grinning like a child. “God, I forgot how good the sun felt . This is exactly what the doctor ordered.” It was true. He already seemed much better than before. Rafiq couldn’t help noticing how handsome Wayne could be and smiled despite himself.

“What is that?” Althea pointed at something in the far distance. Some sort of weird cloud had formed in the distance, just visible above some of the lower rooftops.

Rafiq dismissed it, “Just some strange weather.”

“That’s not caused by weather,” Annabelle said barely audible. She looked nervously at the children, then back at Rafiq. “That’s caused by something nuclear.”

“Nuclear?” Asked Lisa, “Did they bomb another city?”

Annabelle sighed, in a way that indicated she did not want it to be true, but knowing it was so. “Yes. And they must have used something more heavy this time.”

“Is it safe? With the whole radiation thing I mean.”

“Mostly, I think. The wind could be problematic. I think it’s better we stay someplace inside, for the time being.” Annabelle looked at the children again, but they were hardly bothered by the news. With all the stuff that has been happening lately, this did not seem to matter much to them anymore.

Rafiq gestured towards the spa he and Lisa had scouted out earlier. “Right, then I suggest we go in there. It has not been cleared yet, so be careful.”

As they went over to their new safe house, they all saw the scene of the man and the child with the message for Carry. None of them said anything, but it felt to Rafiq that all of them became somewhat quieter than before.

He stopped by the door and everyone took out a weapon, even the children, who both had a knife of their own. “I’m not going to ask where you got those,” Rafiq said to them and then opened the door. The lobby was empty. Posters and signs with all sort of health and beauty tips were everywhere, promising the woman (for some reason, all of them were directed towards woman) a clean and clear skin, a youthful look or the perfect getaway from the husband and children.

“Alright, we better clean this place up.”

They split up in groups. Rafiq and Althea went one way, Wayne and Lisa the other. Annabelle, Sam and Lily stayed behind to watch the entrance.

Most of the rooms were sparsely filled, mostly containing one or two beds or lounging chairs with a cabinet that contained all sorts of skin products. Althea got particular excited over finding a special crème for her skin, stating that it was developed for black woman only. There were also locker rooms, a small swimming pool, a sauna and a ‘meditation room’, which was decorated with rocks and plants. The place was nice, if not a bit clinical, assuming all the facilities were still working. Good news was that there were no walkers, or even dead bodies, to be found.

They got back to the entrance, but Wayne and Lisa had not gotten back yet. Annabelle had sat behind the reception desk, but Lily and Sam were both still guarding the door, holding up their weapons in all seriousness.

“They won’t give the knives back to me,” Annabelle said with a disapproving tone, “and honestly, I don’t know anymore if that is a good or a bad thing.”

“They’re not yours, right?” Althea asked.

Annabelle laughed at that, “You’re sweet, but we both know I’m way too old to be their mother. And no, I’m not their grandmother either.”

At that moment, Lisa and Wayne got back from upstairs. Wayne was covered in blood and guts, but where Lisa looked annoyed, he for some reason appeared quite happy.

“You had an encounter?” Rafiq asked as he went up to them.

“Yes,” Lisa said, “two of them. There were some other bodies as well, but they were already truly dead.”

“One of them came really close to me,” Wayne said conversationally, as if he just not had a brush with death, “but wonderful Lisa here took them out.” He winked at her. She rolled her eyes and walked away.

Wayne turned his attention back on Rafiq. “You want to see?”

“No, I believe you.”

“No, I think you really want to SEE.” Wayne put emphasis on his last word, which made Rafiq curious. What could be so important about a couple of dead walkers? He followed Wayne back up the stairs. There were more rooms here, some reserved for spa treatments, but towards the back there were rooms strictly meant for personnel. Wayne opened a door that had a sign on it: ‘Meeting room’.

There were five bodies in the room. Two were still seated, heads resting on the table. Both of them were woman and it appeared they had been shot. A third one was over by the window, slumped down and his leg in a strange angle. The last two were closer towards the door and it was clear these were the two walkers Lisa and Wayne had taken down. Not only did they have fresh wounds, if you could call them such, but they both had that weird sickly greyish look all walkers had. None of the other bodies had the same colouring. Apparently they had never turned.

On the table were a couple of suitcases. One of them was open, stuffed with a large amount of cash.

Rafiq whistled. “That’s a lot of money. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much in one place.”

Wayne laughed at that. “I know, right. There is easily a couple of grand in there.” He took out a couple of stacks and threw them in the air. “Of course, not worth jack shit anymore.”

“Indeed. So, is that what you wanted to show me? Suitcases filled with useless cash?”


Wayne checked the door, but none of the others had followed them. “Not exactly,” he replied mysteriously, “Lisa thinks there is only money here, but I peeked inside one of the other suitcases.”

As he said that, he unclasped another one. It did not contain any money, but small bags. Filled with white powder.

Rafiq swallowed. “Cocaine.”

Wayne’s eyes sparkled. “Isn’t it great.” He opened another suitcase, which to Wayne’s delight was filled with cocaine as well.

“I wouldn’t call it great,” Rafiq said, “I don’t use that stuff.”

“Neither do I, man,” Wayne responded defensively. He opened the fourth and last suitcase. That one contained more money. “But think about it. Money isn’t worth anything anymore, but this,” he held up one of the bags, “this could be pure gold.”

“You want us to start a drugs operation?”


“Not especially, but there will be people out there who would want this stuff. Desperate people. And desperate people are willing to trade a lot for this.”

“Desperate people might do more than just trade,” Rafiq said uncertainly. He had always tried to stay away from drugs. Being near this large an amount made him uncomfortable.

Wayne unconsciously scratched the back of his neck and had an expression that said 'I don't get why you're not on board'. “Come on buddy, don’t be like that. I’m not saying we should advertise ourselves to every crack head and crook out there, but there will come a time when we need to make a trade. I’m sure of that. Don’t you?”

“I suppose.”

“Then this could be our perfect bargaining chip.”


Rafiq looked on as Wayne closed the suitcases. Part of him knew that they should use every resource they could find. But another part of him wanted to throw all the stuff away. It felt all wrong.

“And what if I were to give you a kiss?”

“Excuse me?”
Rafiq felt himself turning red. Did Wayne notice him looking?

Wayne laughed with that bright smile of his. “Come on, I’m just joking. Didn’t know you were such a homophobe.”

“I’m... I’m not.”

“Alright then. Just help me hide these, would you.”

Rafiq grunted something in agreement. Maybe be he was just being too cautious. It was not like there was still police around to arrest him again.

Shortly after, he helped Wayne to hide the two suitcases in one of the other rooms.

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt

0.00 INK

...

The setting changes from season-1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt

0.00 INK

% Jessica Abbott %


Tara's hand balled up into a tight fist as she narrowed her eyes.

@#! SMACK !#@

But it was George that threw the punch. His already swollen hand collided with Henry's stomach with a sickening thud, doubling the man over onto his hands and knees. He wretched onto the ground in his drunkenness as the girls jumped back in surprise.

"Listen here, you fool..." George snapped at the man, "We've been in these tunnels for over a week, and the last thing we need is some drooling drunkard telling us our affairs."

The man struggled to his feet, pointlessly pulling at his already wrinkled and dirtied shirt in an attempt to straighten it. He glared at George. "And yet you still let a drooling drunkard lead your people?" he said with a laugh.

Jessica stepped forward. "He is not our leader," she muttered, jabbing a finger at George.

"But you're right... this is all his fault." Tara added.

George spun around to face the accusatory women. "Whose side are you on?" he barked at them, waving the gun around non-threateningly as he gestured.

"The side that lives, George." Tara replied, crossing over to Jessica. She turned back to the two men behind her. "I get that you were trying to protect us George, I do. But this is a result of your actions. Our friends are scattered outside... who knows where? You saw what happened the last time we encountered strangers. Do we really have to attack every person we come across now? Is that who we are? Are we that scared?"

Tara's words rang out inside the cold stone foundation of the tunnel corridor. They weren't rhetorical questions by any means, but the weight of them silenced the four of them while they attended to their own thoughts. Who knew who anybody was these days. You slept and fought next to strangers, people with no names, no histories.

George shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Tara..."

"Save it," she said, sullenly. "I just want to go and find my friends. Can we do that?"

Jessica nodded, placing a hand on the girl's shoulder. "Of course we can."

"What about him?" George queried, looking at the new stranger. The man leaned back against the wall with his hands on his knees, spitting the remnants of the foul taste in his mouth onto the ground.

Jessica cinched her backpack tighter around her shoulders. "He already heard where we're going. There's nothing we can do stop him from following us..."

"Yes, there is." George answered, firmly.

"Nothing we will do," Jessica replied, correcting herself. She looked at Henry, looking him up and down. "Don't go that way," she advised to him, gesturing towards the way they. came from. With that, her and Tara set off quickly up the stairwell towards the street exit to the spa.

George watched them begin to go, and started to follow -- turning back to take one last look at what could possibly be the only man who truly understood George amongst all these other people... the group whose trust he had deservedly lost. Henry held George's stare as he cleared his throat, spitting another glob of red phlegm onto the ground -- and then disappeared from sight as George slipped past the corner.


* * *


Lillian kicked at a crushed soda can on the ground, ricocheting it against the receptionist's desk next to her. It skittered across the floor to a stop near a bunch of other littered trash and rubbish. She wished she were back in the tunnels. It smelled weird in the spa -- some amalgamation of lotions, oils, and incense. Lily scrunched her nose as she pushed through a door into one of the next rooms. Lisa popped out from behind the open doors of a wooden cabinet and beamed uncertainly at the girl.

"Oh... hi, sweetie. What are you up to?" she said, taking towels and stacking them in her arms.

Lillian kicked at the floor, sighing. "Nothing. It's boring in here," she complained. She jumped up on the counter next to her and started to re-tie a shoelace that had come undone.

Lisa managed to smile at the girl's childlike angst. She couldn't even begin to imagine what it must be like to be a kid at a time like this. Not quite old or strong enough to contribute, but smart enough to not be left completely in the dark. She didn't know which was better -- protecting them from the truth or protecting them from this world. Perhaps one would lead to the other. "I'm sorry, honey." Lisa said, placing the towels on the table behind her. "At least we're safe here though, right? That's a good thing."

"We're not safe here..." Lily replied, blunty. "There's no food, there's walkers everywhere outside, weird people attacking us... and we don't have any weapons! Stupid Jessica took my gun!"

Lisa furrowed her brow, closing the cabinet and crossing over to the girl. "That wasn't your gun," Lisa said softly.

"It wasn't hers either," Lillian replied, snarkily.

Lisa crossed her arms. "Lily, it's dangerous to be around weapons you don't know how to use. You could have hurt that man back there. You don't ever point a gun at a person unless you intend to kill them..."

"That is what I intended to do."

"I'm serious," Lisa said, her tone changing.

Lillian tied the knot on her shoe tight and hopped off the counter to face the woman. "So am I. That man hit Tara. And he was about to hit somebody else too until I stopped him." Lisa frowned at the truth behind Lily's tirade, not knowing what to say to the girl. "Calvin told me to look after everyone, so that's what I'm doing. Nobody else is..."

"Who's Calvin? Lisa asked.

"My friend..."

Lisa raised an eyebrow. "And where is he now?"

Lily looked away -- a clearly sensitive subject. "The bad guys took him away and we couldn't stop them -- cause they had guns..." She brushed past Lisa, childishly pushing over her neat stack of towels on the table as she walked by. The woman watched the girl disappear through the door into the back of the spa. Althea walked in behind Lisa looking refreshed.

"Found some tubs with water still in them. I think it's safe enough to use to clean up a bit. Wouldn't drink it though..." she said, rubbing her hair dry. She looked at Lisa who had tears in her eyes. "What's wrong? I thought I heard loud voices in here..."

Lisa rubbed her eyes. "Oh, nothing. It was just Lillian." She sniffled lightly "Said she pulled the gun on that guy cause her imaginary friend Calvin told her to..." she continued, laughing slightly.


* * *


Jessica pushed the door open slightly, peeking out onto Santa Monica boulevard to see if it was still as clear as Rafiq had promised. Several walkers straggled about, heading north to join the dense group already collecting around the main metro entrance. She looked past a few abandoned cars at what looked like their destination, nestled between two taller buildings on the far side of the street. She shut the door, turning back to George and Tara.

"I think if we go quick and stay low, we can make it across."

George scoffed. "You think?"

Jessica shot a look at him. "Is anything certain anymore?" It was enough to shut him up. Tara pulled her hunting knife from out of her bag and slung it back over her shoulder. Jessica looked at George who was checking the clip in his pistol. "No guns," she warned. George rolled his eyes and stuffed it back into his waistband, standing to turn and kick a piece loose from a network of pipes against the wall next to them. The metal bar clattered against the ground loudly as George bent down to pick it up. The three of them looked at one another, silently psyching themselves up for what lay ahead.

"On three?" Tara said, quietly.

Jessica looked past her shoulder. "How about four?" she asked, gesturing behind them. George and Tara turned around to see the last person they expected to find...

Henry. In all his drunken glory.

He nodded to them, saying nothing. And they nodded back.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

0.00 INK

#, as written by Zephon
Bethany Whitfield

---

His lips were on hers. His mouth was as passionate as ever, just as intense as their first kiss. Romance novels often described how a man’s tongue would explore a woman, but Diego was far beyond that point. He was on familiar ground and loved every second of it. She could tell.

Bethany let it go on for a while, feeling the same intense longing to touch him. It had been three days now since the last time they had sex, and even that one had been quick and inside some dirty room. Diego grabbed her behind more firmly and pressed her closer against his body. She could feel his heat. She could feel him. All of him.

Yet, she had to break it off for now. It would have to wait. She turned her head away from him and checked the alley again.

“I think it’s gone,” she said to her husband, “we can go on.”

Diego was slightly out of breath, which she knew was just an act, and leaned with one hand against the wall. “A pity,” he said, “I could have used a couple more minutes.”

“I know you do, dear.” She responded with a last kiss on his mouth and moved into the alley. Diego picked up his metal baseball bat and followed her.

They moved through the streets like cats, staying to one side and always keep an eye on their back. It had been just the two of them since it all happened and so far it was working. Both still alive, reasonably well fed and without any injuries. The only real problem had been the fire, destroying everything they had, including the suitcases. Bethany felt like cursing again. They had enough cocaine to last Diego a long time, he didn’t use that much after all, but then some idiot had decided to burn a pack of walkers by setting their building on fire. It had destroyed everything, including their apartment. She had a suspicion that the arsonist had died in his own fire, but didn’t really care either way.

Part of her wanted to leave all this drugs business behind, but she knew that Diego would sooner or later need some of it. Without it, he could go into withdrawal and they could not use that right now. Rehab would have to wait until they found a place that was safe and secure.

So now they were on their way back to the spa, retrieving the final two suitcases they had been unable to carry a few days back. If they were still there. Gonzales could have picked them up by now, but it was more likely he was dead. So many people were these days.

“Watch out,” Diego hissed and she was pulled backwards. In front of her eyes, she could see a rotten hand clawing out, just where her head had been a second ago. It had come from her right side, so she hadn't heard it coming. Bethany felt a mixture of shock and excitement well up in her. Adrenaline pumping, she watched on as Diego took his bat and bashed the walker’s head in. The first swing made it stagger, the second made its eye and nose explode, the third got through the skull and into the brain. Another walker appeared and without thinking, she took the bat from Diego’s hand. Swinging with all her might, she bashed its head against the wall, crushing it between bat and stone. It completely tore open, blood, flesh and brain spattering everywhere.

“One swing,” said Diego, impressed.

Bethany wiped the bat clean on the clothes of the walker the best she could before handing it back to her husband. She gave him a playful peck on the cheek.

“You know me. Always going full throttle.”


---

They didn’t move fast nor with any apparent purpose, so the effect was not immediately apparent, but it appeared to Rafiq that the number of walkers in the street was slowly increasing. It made him feel uncomfortable. He hoped the others would show up soon. If they had to move again, he wasn’t sure they would ever be able to find each other. He particularly missed Carl, Niobe and Marie and hoped they would come back soon.

George was looking through the binoculars, not saying a word the whole time. That suited Rafiq just fine. Jessica and Tara had vouched for the new guy from the tunnels, Henry, but George was still angry about it. That was probably the main reason why he had been volunteered to take the first watch on the roof. Rafiq had felt it was best to join him up there.

Although he knew it probably wasn’t the best timing, Rafiq had then told him what had happened to Molly. He had expect some loud angry cursing, or even a slap in the face, but instead George had just stared at him. For a while it looked like the message didn’t even come through, but then tears filled in the eyes of the older men.

“I miss Charlie,” was the only thing he had said.

Rafiq hadn’t known how to respond to that.

So they had just sat there, on the rooftop, looking at the walkers on the street and the entrance to the metro station. Hoping that some familiar faces would show soon.

“Someone is coming,” George suddenly said.

Rafiq perked up and looked the metro station. There was nobody there.

“Where?” He asked, “I can’t see anybody.”

George pointed a way to the left. Near the gas station were two figures, a man and a woman. Rafiq didn’t recognize them, but they were clearly still human. Probably stragglers looking for a safe place.

“They are heading straight for this place,” George said. He took out his gun. Alarmed, Rafiq stepped in front of George. “There is no need for that,” he said, “there are just two of them. I’ll see what they want. You,” he gently lowered the gun in George’s hand, “you stay here and watch for the others.”

Rafiq quickly got off the roof and rushed down the stairs. Thankfully, the building was not too large and he got to the main lobby before the couple did. Jessica, Sam, Annabelle, Althea and the new guy Henry were still there. They all tensed as Rafiq rushed into the room.

“Someone is coming,” as he said it he could see some of them reach for a weapon. “Just two,” he added quickly, “they are probably just looking for a place to hide.”

Just a few seconds later, the couple stepped in. The man was fit, handsome and looked to be from somewhere in South America. The woman was older, but still exceptionally beautiful. Even Rafiq could tell. She was the kind of person that would attract all the attention the moment she stepped into a room.

The woman looked at them with some confusion, then composed herself. The man raised his baseball bat, which was red with blood.

“What are you doing in my spa?” She asked without any apparent concern that she was outnumbered.

---

When the people did not respond, Bethany bopped her head sideways.

“Well? Are you going to answer me?”

A young man stepped forward, deliberately standing in front of the child in the room, blocking the boy from her view. Clever, she thought to herself. Protecting the weakest member of your group from the unknown.

“We’re sorry,” the Arabic man said, “I didn’t know this was your spa. We were just looking for a place to wait for our friends.”

“And you thought the best way to do that was to break into my business.”

The man, who was about the same age as Diego, turned slightly red. “Yes, no, well...”

“She’s just messing with you,” Diego laughed. Bethany couldn’t help but smile.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “you’re welcome to the place. I doubt we’ll ever open it again. I’m just here to pick up some stuff.”

“What stuff?” Another man asked, much older than the other one. He was also a bit ruffed up for some reason.

“None of your business stuff,” Diego said to him, raising his tone with a hint of threat. Bethany briefly touched his hand as a warning.

“You’re Bethany Whitfield?” an elderly and somewhat overweight lady asked. Bethany nodded, asking with her eyes how she knew that. The woman picked up on it. “I saw your name on one of the rooms. I thought it was a beautiful name. My name is Annabelle.”

Bethany didn’t really know if the compliment was sincere or not, but she took it all the same. “How nice of you to say, Annabelle. This is my husband, Diego.” Diego nodded in response. Out of politeness, the others introduced themselves as well. It was funny to Bethany how civility hadn’t completely died out yet. The only one who didn't introduce herself was a dark-skinned woman, who was sitting in the waiting area and seemed to be observing the situation.

She turned her attention back on the younger man, Rafiq, who looked like the one in charge, although Bethany didn’t really know why.

“Look, we won’t bother you long. Just need some of my personal belongings. Hope that isn’t a problem?”

Rafiq shook his head. “Can’t see why not.”

With that, she and Diego made their way up the stairs. To her annoyance, Rafiq followed them.

“We know the way, thank you,”
she said with all the authority she had.

“There are other people in the building,” Rafiq answered, with more backbone in his tone then Bethany had expected out of him, “No need to alarm them with your presence.”

Bethany looked at Diego, who shrugged in a ‘what-are-you-going-to-do’ way.

They got to the meeting room where they had left the suitcases and stopped. Rafiq’s eyes got larger and said, “You want to go in there?”

“Yes,” Diego said, “what we want is in here.”

“But... uh... there are dead bodies in there.”

“Dead bodies?” Bethany exchanged looks with Diego, who looked just as confused as her. What was this Rafiq talking about? There hadn’t been anyone here when they left. Bethany opened the door and looked inside. There were indeed five bodies in the room.

“Wait,” Bethany said to Diego, “is that Gonzales? And that Kimberly and Thea? What were they...” She didn’t understand what had happened. Gonzales, maybe, but why were Kimberly and Thea back here? Although it probably didn’t really matter anymore why, it made her feel uneasy all the same.

Then she looked at the table properly. Diego noticed at the same time. They walked towards it and both opened a suitcase. It were the ones filled with money. Useless.

“Where are the other two?” Diego asked.

Bethany looked at the door where Rafiq was standing. He looked back.

“What two?” He asked, “this was how we found it.”

Liar, Bethany thought to herself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown

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"Taralynn Schantz?"

The sudden voice interrupted her focus on the ground. Her hollow eyes looked up at the police officer as she sat on the examination table, dressed in a flimsy white paper gown. She had nothing left in her stomach. The feeling of sitting still was at once relaxing and jarring. The brief periods of isolation weren't bad. The crowding of people had been much worse. She didn't remember much about the exam; she more remembered staring off at the framed picture of a cornfield. "KANSAS PRIDE" was emblazoned in big capital letters across the top of the huge photograph. At the moment, she wasn't sure if it was supposed to even mean anything.

She blinked at the police officer and looked out the window. The blizzard was still swarming outside, painting the street below white. "Miss Schantz, are you able to help answer a few questions?" he drawled warmly as he set a cup of tea on a metal nightstand next to her. She turned her head back to him and nodded, then wrinkled her nose slightly as a sneezing sensation burned into it. Her nose was broken in three places, and hurt worse than anything she'd ever been through before. "Good. We'll need your cooperation to find out who did this to you."

The middle-aged, blue-uniformed man with the puffy face removed his hat and turned a chair backwards, straddling it and facing Tara while sitting. She cleared her throat and stretched her neck. "I already told you who did it," she answered back, her thick, twangy accent syrupy on top of her high-pitched voice. Her brown eyes were wide with sudden frustration. "I must have answered that question about ten times already. When are you letting me go home? I asked to see my parents three hours ago, already."

The policeman waved a hand calmly. "Now, now, Miss Schantz, they are on their way," he said with an almost comfortable sense of confidence and trust. "What happened to you, Miss, well... it's a serious crime. And I'm sorry none of our female officers are on duty to talk to you about this." He broke his gaze with Tara to reach into his pocket and pull out a small notebook. "Now, tell me what happened again?"

Tara sighed and kept staring ahead, not skipping a beat. "I have said it so many times," she started icily, "but earlier tonight I was planning on going to Tish Smith's house. She's my co-captain on the softball team. It was going to be just a small party, but, well, suddenly it wasn't small anymore." She shrugged and fidgeted with her fingernails, then looked back up at the calm officer. "But I had a little to drink and I decided I didn't want to drive home. It was so snowy out. Josh French offered me a ride back, so I took it, but..." she trailed off and pursed her lip shut.

The man furrowed his graying eyebrows and nodded. "Josh French is the person who did this to you?" he asked concernedly.

She nodded, and looked the man in his eyes. Her shock and confusion must have been apparent—she could see his eyes flicker just briefly with what must have been his own shock. She knew her face was a mess; the doctor told her she had not only the broken nose, but also a shattered cheekbone. "Yes, it was him," she emphasized curtly.

The man nodded, and let out a long breath through his nose. He slowly straightened his spine, darting his eyes down to his notepad to jot down a couple of quick scribbles on the paper. He then sighed satisfactorily and placed the pen into his shirt tab and the notepad in his back pocket as he stood. "Miss, I think you may have him confused for someone else," he said matter-of-factly, his warm tone doused in an extra coating of sweetness. "We don't have any evidence that points to him. Plus, his mom and dad say he was home with them. We talked to them, after your first interview."

Tara's jaw popped down just slightly, leaving her mouth just barely agape in surprise. "No, I know it's him," she insisted quietly, picking up her hands shakily and wringing them. "He plays baseball and I play softball. We've known each other for years. I know Josh, it was Josh." Her voice picked up nervously.

He frowned sympathetically. "Oh, you poor thing," he said sorrowfully, reaching forward to gently touch the back of his hand to her forehead, "you seem a little confused right now. I'll have to get the nurse to help you. I'm so sorry to disturb you, but I have all I need. I won't put you through any more trouble, young lady. I'm so sorry."

Tara felt her stomach twist in knots. She clamped her mouth shut and shook her head as he pulled his hand back. "No, no, I'm fine," she corrected, her voice quickening, "but that's--"

The officer opened the door and nodded to the two people who rushed through, crowding her immediately. He nodded as he placed his hat back on his head and made his exit quietly. But Tara couldn't even focus on her parents as she noticed the last name shining off of the chest of his uniform as he departed—"French."

# # #

"So, are you girls local?" Lisa asked, breaking the quiet as Althea watched her dab at Tara's nose with a cotton ball. Tara held still, not wishing to move out of place to risk her sore nose getting bumped. Lisa pursed her lips, continuing to stare straight at Tara's face. "I haven't been here very long."

Althea tilted her head at the two women as she crossed her arms and leaned in the doorway of the small spa room. "I'm from here," she said quietly. Lisa looked over her shoulder at the tall woman and smiled. She looked delighted to see her finally open her mouth to speak. Althea paused, staring back at Lisa, then took a breath and continued. "Just up the road at Compton. I went to Stanford then came home when my mama got sick. I'm supposed to be going back this fall." She turned to look down the hallway and out of the front windows of the building. "Not sure if that's going to happen now."

Lisa smiled weakly at the sound of the grim observation, then turned back to continue to work with Tara's nose. "How about you, sweetheart?" she chirped, "you don't sound like you got much of an accent." Tara shut her eyes and winced as she felt her nose sting. Lisa pulled her hands back and frowned. "Oh, oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do that!"

Tara shook her head gently and tented her hands around her nose, her eyes misting up reflexively. "It's fine, it's fine," she said tiredly. She leaned back and stretched her neck briefly, then faced the other two women again. "I've been here, oh... Damn. Sixteen years, I guess. That's weird. I came after I graduated from high school in '98. I had a track scholarship to UCLA. And I just kinda stuck around. It was so different."

"What about before that?" Althea asked quickly. "That's a little bit of an accent you got, there. Almost like Texas."

Tara gritted her teeth and paused for a long second. "Oh, Central Valley, up north," she said casually. "Mom and Dad are teachers. They moved here from further east. Y'know." She nodded and started to fidget with her scarf, playing with the frayed ends absent-mindedly for several seconds, then glanced to Lisa. "You never said where you come from."

Lisa laughed as she took a seat next to Tara on the long vinyl-covered table in the middle of the room. "Brooklyn!" she said cheerfully, raising her hands by her face and grinning from ear to ear. "I have a set of twins. In college."

Tara smiled. "No way, you don't look like you've got kids past five," she blurted out. "You're kidding."

Lisa beamed. "Nope. Their mother went to night school to be a chiropractor and now they're off at Yale. I'm so proud of them." She sighed and slid off of the table and began to check out the drawers, stocked full of towels, waxing pellets, cleansers, and more. "I've always wondered what they keep in these drawers."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt

0.00 INK

- The Spa -

"Somebody needs to do something," Annabelle demanded, her face flushed red with seriousness. She stood adjacent Jessica and George outside the arch to the main hallway, talking in hushed tones. Rafiq and Wayne had just been dragged away to God knows where by the spa's owners. The couple's vague threats and accusations were unsettling to say the least, but it was possible that they weren't entirely without merit. What did they really know about each other, after all?

"You wanna borrow my gun?" George offered, mockingly. "What are we supposed to do? We're their guests. Besides, if Wayne and Rafiq were poking their heads where they shouldn't have-- then that's on them..."

"My, my... aren't you the diplomatic one," Tara muttered under her breath as slipped into the room behind George and the others. Lisa and Althea flanked behind her, likely the ones responsible for the shoddy patch job on Tara's nose and face. They had done the best with what they had, but the poor girl had taken a punch and some pavement during the hasty retreat from the tunnels, and the evidence was still quiet evident. The girl had certainly seen better days, but -- then again -- who hadn't? Just because they were in a spa didn't mean they were on vacation. They widened their circle to allow the others to step into the conversation with the rest of them, though there faces betrayed their obvious eagerness to know what was going on.

Lisa pulled her sleeves down around her arms, rubbing them to warm herself against the creeping cold. "We passed, uhh-- is it Radeef?" she asked them, timidly.

"Rafiq," Jessica corrected, a bit coldly. These newcomers had barely been with them for half a day and they had already made themselves at home. Though that seemed to be the trend these days. Nobody knew a damned thing about each other anymore. Instead, a person was defined by what they could do or what they might do.

Lisa nodded emphatically with a broad smile. "Yeah! Him and that Wayne guy and that odd pair who are claiming to own this place..." she listed them all off on her fingers, as if it were too many people to keep track of.

"They do own it," George said, trying to return them back to their original train of thought. "There's pictures of them all over the back offices." The others looked around at each other, accepting the news whether they wanted to or not. "That's why I'm saying-- unless we want to be back out on the streets, we have to play by their rules. That's the only way. I think we've made enough trouble for one day."

Tara couldn't believe her ears. "We?"

George's gaze bobbled to the floor. "You know what I--"

"What? You... what? What did you do today, George? "

"I-I just meant that--" he stuttered aloud.

"You shot a bunch of innocent people and broke the group up." Everyone's eyes darted to Tara in all her bluntness. But it wasn't an uncontrollable outburst -- it was a statement of fact. At least it was for Tara. The truth therein was arguable, depending on who you asked. Tara jabbed her finger into his chest with each name she rattled off. "Harper... Nathan... Steve... they're gone. Because of you, George."

"James..." Annabelle added quietly.

Tara nodded. "I saw Niobe and Carl too, but I don't think they made it into the tunnel before--" Her voice cut out as she suddenly found herself unable to find a word that could describe what had happened. It was too many things to too many people. The group was in pieces now -- and like a shattered mirror, she wasn't quite sure how to put them back together again.

"I was trying to help you," George reasoned, weakly. "You were all bloodied up, being c-carted through town by these strangers-- the likes of w-which I've never seen. Heavily armed and all..." Everyone's eyes rested on the poor English pilot as he pleaded his case, somberly. None of them wanted to relive those moments. He looked Tara dead in her swollen eye. "You looked like you were in a bad way and I tried to save you. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat. That's what we're here for, right? To help each other? Strength in numbers and all that..."

"To be honest," Tara began, "I don't know what you're here for." She turned her back to him and stalked off down the hallway, anxious to distance herself from the rest as she went to go cool off. The groups attention wandered back to George, who shifted uncomfortably.

"I'll, uhh--" George cleared his throat, tugging at his collar. "I'll go back out on watch, I guess... since when is preoccupied and all. " He rasped, a bit shakily. He stepped away, taking to the staircase in the other direction. The others watched him go and looked at one another awkwardly, unsure of what to do.

"I wish we could have all seen it through his eyes," Lisa bemoaned. "For clarity's sake, I mean. We've all made mistakes--"

Jessica scoffed, zipping her jacket up as the cold became too much for her as well. "No," she began, "Tara's right. He's got some things to atone for still. But he'll be OK. She sounded pretty convinced, despite the facts.

"I just hate seeing people hurting is all," Lisa said, craning her neck back towards their makeshift circle of beds, scattered across the tile haphazardly. "Hey-- where's your boy?" she chimed suddenly, turning to Jessica. The single mother spun around and spotted her son's empty sleeping bag as panic instantly gripped her heart.

She wished she knew the answer.

* * *


The gallon of orange juice crashed against the ground, splintering open as its liquidy sweet contents seeped all over the grocery store's polished tile. Lillian hopped back, reflexively -- managing to almost save her shoes from the inevitable splatter. Orange splotches stained the once clean fabric-- something to serve as an unfortunate future reminder of her past clumsiness.

"Shit!" her babysitter, Amber, exclaimed from beside her. The fright had nearly caused her to drop the handfuls of different colored lipsticks she had in her hands. "Lillian-- damnit..."

"You're not supposed to say that word," Lillian threatened, digging her foot into the ground around the spill as a store clerk shuffled into sight behind her. Amber caught his eye and gestured down at the mess.

"I'm really sorry, sir--" she shrugged, "kids... y'know?" The scraggly-haired clerk rolled his eyes and pushed past them through the rubber doors into the storage room to grab a mop.

"Must be great to be a kid and have everyone clean up after you," Amber groaned as she retook her cart and continued down the aisle. Lillian jogged up and leapt onto the side of its frame as her babysitter struggled to keep it rolling straight. "Get off you little brat," she snapped at her. Lillian dropped down with a childish scowl, falling in line behind the even brattier girl.

"You're a hot girl. Like you ever have to do anything..." Lily snapped back, sassily.

Amber tossed the lipsticks into the cart, screeching it to a halt. "What did you say to me?" she asked -- lividly.

Lillian started skipping away. "Sorry-- I don't like to repeat myself."

She turned the corner and danced across a row of televisions and plasma in the electronics department, all blaring the same channel at different volumes. She stopped for a second, lured by the digital cacophony washing over her as she stood complacently -- her eyes darting from screen to screen. A man with white hair uttered the same words no matter which television she watched. A few other nearby shoppers noticed the screens as well, reading the subtitles as they appeared on the screen:

'--Detailed reports are varied at best, describing the affliction as some sort of rapid mutation reminiscent of existing familiar viral strains. Police are establishing quarantine zones and escalating activity in some of the greater metropolitan areas as confirmed reports are corroborated across the seaboard.--'

The reporter covered her ears against a background of departing helicopters and masses of people moving quickly in every direction. Lily slowly peeled away from the screen and scanned the checkstands for Amber, unable to see through the maze of legs and bodies beginning to hurriedly move across the floor. The newscaster continued chattering behind her.

'--Meanwhile, similar reports are surfacing out of Beijing, Paris, and London confirming the reports that the virus has in fact spread transcontinentally--'

The televisions soon faded out behind her as well, becoming nothing more than a distant muffle as she wandered towards the store's entrance, the most likely place she thought she might find her missing babysitter. Lily peeked down the aisles as she wandered past them, searching for any sign of her teenage handler. She passed one of the checkout kiosks where an irate black man seemed to be in the middle of chewing out the cashier over some sort of nonsense. The girl over the counter listened to him aptly, her nervous expression nearly comical as she smiled and nodded over and over apologetically.

"I don't care what your store's policy is, it's just 12 items. What difference does it make?" the man protested, irately.

"I'm sorry, sir--" the girl blurted out. "It's just that the store's policy says--"

"Do you know who I am?" the man continued, grabbing a Wired magazine from behind him and slapping it down on a counter. "That is who I am."

The girl barely looked down at the publication in front of her. "I understand that, sir-- I just--"

Lillian's little legs passed the squabbling adults, rounding the corner of the last set of shelves until their voices faded away too. In truth, she didn't actually want to find Amber. The girl smelled like lip gloss all the time and was generally unpleasant to be around -- a typical text-crazy firecracker like most girls her age. She was, however, Lily's ride home. That counted for something at least. Lily ducked under a passing cart with rolled rugs draped across it, its handler oblivious to how close they had come to clocking the small girl in the head.

Lily ran her hands over her head, flattening her hair back down as the cart rolled through the mechanized doors leading out to the parking lot outside. Rows of cars filled the parking lot as raucous car horns squawked back and forth at one another -- dozens of anxious drivers all stuck in an unfortunate gridlock.

The doors slid closed again with a clunk, bringing Lily's attention back to the checkstands behind her. By some miracle, Amber's pitifully cliched Uggs came marching through the end of the hair products aisle. Lily felt the relief wash over her, thankful that she wouldn't be appearing on the side of a milk carton anytime soon. She had apparently doubled back to the hair products and make-up section to grab a few things, and Lily stupidly realized that was the most obvious place to have looked for her.

Girls were so predictable sometimes.

Lily waved her arm at Amber, squeezing past a couple loading their cart with some firewood to try and get her attention-- and the babysitter's eyes flashed her direction. A blinding white light silhouetted Lily against the floor in front of her. She looked up to see Amber shielding her face with one hand-- falling backwards onto the tile. A figure leapt across her peripheral, grabbing Lily by the arm and pulling her into the nearest checkstand. The older man, her savior, hit the ground with barely any grace at all, rolling across the tile long with her-- his cowboy hat toppling off his head onto the floor. Amber reached her arm out towards Lily from across the aisle just as a blinding white light splashed over her shrieking visage -- the sound of a revving engine drowned out by the glass it had shattered... right as it crashed through the storefront.

"LILY-- LOOK OUT!!!"



* * *



"Look-out..." Sam called down to her, perched atop a stack of boxes. He held a hammer in one hand-- the other holding tightly onto the windowsill next to him. The grated screen of an air vent hung slightly above him, it's metal plating winding its course across the ceiling from wall to wall. "Y'know, like-- you keep watch and make sure no adults walk in here..."

Lily scrunched her nose, hopping off the table and wandering towards the door. "Sounds boring," she groaned. She peeked out the door into the hallway, lowering the beam of her flashlight so it wouldn't spill outiside. "What are you even doing?" she asked with a hint of annoyance. She didn't know why she hadn't asked earlier when he was stacking up the cardboard boxes.

Sam began loosening some of the screws on the screen with the corner of the hammer's blade. "There's something going on with those two people from the spa," he began in a hushed tone.

"What'd they do?" Lily asked-- attempting to hide her obviously peaked interest. She closed the door again behind her and walked over towards Sam and his boxes.

"They didn't do anything," he replied, smirkingly. "I think Rafiq and Wayne took something from them..."

A mystery. Just what they needed. "Bullshit," Lily said, mockingly.

"I'm telling you, it's true. This vent runs along this wall into the hallway and through all the rooms here," he explained, excitedly. "They're in the big room with the table-- next door. I wanna hear what they're saying,"

"That's a dumb idea," Lily challenged, "you're gonna get caught..." She realized she was mostly just saying that because she hadn't thought of the idea herself.

Sam turned back to finish prying the screws out. "Only if I don't have a look-out..."

Lily tried to contain a smile as she walked back over to the door to post up outside. She looked back over her shoulder at the young boy, his tongue hanging half-say out of his mouth as he carefully worked a screw out of its place with extreme concentration. She pushed the door open just enough to look through the crack-- when suddenly the whole door was yanked open. Lily lost her grip on the handle and fell forward onto her hands and knees. Henry jumped back-- also not expecting to have run into anyone in the dark. His flashlight clattered against the round, skipping out of reach.

And then it happened.

The sound of tumbling boxes -- bursting from their foundation and spilling across the floor -- followed by a loud crack. Henry hurried over to the flashlight, kicking it as he reached to picked it up. He swung it into focus over Lily as she struggled back to her feet. She held her hand out in front of her, blocking the light from her eyes.

"A-Are you OK?" he stammered. She could smell the liquor on his breath even from where she stood. She didn't answer -- instead whirling around and darting back into the room. Without her flashlight, she realized quickly that she couldn't quite see where she was going. But what she felt was unmistakeable. "Hey-- Where are you going?" Henry stepped into the room, scanning it with the light. It danced across the fallen boxes on the floor, illuminating the red sheen of the pool of blood at Lily's feet. Her hands shook by her side as the beam finally came to rest on Sam's motionless legs, splayed out next to one of the massage tables-- its metal edge still rich with the boy's dripping blood. Lily stared at the spreading pool of liquid as it seeped around the toes of her shoes-- covering up the stains left by the orange juice all those days before.

Henry hiccuped, moving a few steps closer. His eyes too fell upon the horrible scene laid before them. "Mother of God..."

Thunderous footsteps came rumbling down the hallway outside, signaling the approach of the others. It was then that Lily realized that she was still the look-out. She kneeled down beside Sam, the warm blood soaking into the threads of her skirt. She had to warn him.

"They're coming, Sam--" she whimpered. "Just hold on... they're coming."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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#, as written by Zephon
Bethany Whitfield


The sound of the crashing boxes was still ringing in her ears. The unexpected sound put her and the other three – Diego, Rafiq and Wayne – on immediate high alert. Had they missed something? Was there still a walker about? They all ran out of the room and turned a corner. From the sound of it, Bethany figured it came from the storeroom in the back.

She had been the first one out of the room and had thus gained a bit of a head start on the others. She first saw the man (what was his name again?) standing unsteadily on his feet, looking at something on the floor. She then noticed the girl, who was...

“Oh Christ...” Bethany muttered under her breath. There was a lot of blood. Too much blood.

The girl was gently tucking the boy’s hand. “Sam,” she said in a whisper, “be okay. Please, be okay.”

Bethany quickly glanced at the drunk while stepping past him, his face had gone completely pale, and then crouched down beside the girl. It was difficult to see in the shine of the flashlight, but she thought Sam was still breathing. Bethany took hold of his wrist and felt for a pulse. She wasn’t quite sure what a good rhythm was supposed to be in a situation like this, but at least she felt something. He was still alive. She tried to release Lily’s grip on the boy, but the girl was resisting.

“Come sweetie,” Bethany said compassionately. She had not much experience with children, but that didn’t really matter right now. It was basic human decency at work.

“I... I won’t leave him alone,” Lily responded. “I can’t.”

“We need to make room. I’m sure somebody here knows what to do and they will need room.”

“Will he be alright?”


Bethany knew that lying would get them nowhere. “I honestly don’t know.”

At that moment, the lights came on. Diego must have found the light switch, Bethany thought, but she didn’t look up to check. The scene in front of her was now in clear view and it was gruesome. Sam had fallen down from the stack of boxes and first hit one of the massage tables before crash landing on the floor. His left leg was at an unnatural angle, twisted at the knee and already starting to get swollen. Sam had fallen on the back of his head. A large pool of blood was forming at the boy’s head, mixing with another smaller pool coming from either his back or shoulder; it was hard to tell. Bethany wasn’t sure, but she thought she could even make out some bone fragments mixed in with the blood. The boy appeared to be unconscious. Small mercy.

The others from downstairs had heard the commotion as well and had come up to the room. It was like all hell breaking loose.

“What has happened?”
“What was that sound?”
“Is it a walker?”
“SAAAAAAM!!!!”
“OW GOD!”
“FUCK!”
“IS IT A WALKER?!”
“NO, NO WALKER!”
“SAAAAM!!! SAAAAM!!!”
“LET ME THROUGH!”
“PLEASE! HELP HIM!”
“Ow God...”
“WHAT HAPPENED?”
“He.. he fell...”
“HOW?!”


The mother and one of the other woman had knelt down near Sam. Bethany had moved Lily away from the body, but already lost the girl to the clutches of somebody else. The brunette clearly knew what she was doing, first checking the broken boy’s chest, then went on to listen at the mouth and nose for breath and felt the cheeks for respiration. She said something to the mother, but Bethany couldn’t hear what with everybody trying to get into the room. They all wanted see what was going on. To do something. But it was only getting crowded. It was not helping.

“ALRIGHT! EVERYBODY OUT!” Bethany shouted at the top of her lungs. That got everybody’s attention. The situation was so severe that everybody immediately knew what she wanted and they backed away from the room. Before closing it, she locked eyes with Diego.

“Get the first aid kit,” she said, “there should be one in my office.”

He nodded and as he sprinted away, she closed the door and turned her attention on the woman doctor (at least Bethany hoped she was a doctor). The mother was muttering at her son’s side and clearly in a state of shock.

“What can I do?”

The doc looked up and her eyes sent a chill through Bethany’s spine.

It was one that said ‘there is nothing we can do’.

Yet, there was also an understanding between the two women, two complete strangers, that they had to do something. For the mother’s sake, if for nothing else.

“Help me stop the bleeding first.”

---

Rafiq Chedidi


The silence in the hallway was deafening. The blood. The shock. The fact that it concerns a young boy. The strange realization that accidents still happen, even with bloodthirsty zombies creeping around everywhere. Rafiq’s hand was shaking uncontrollably. He clenched his hand in an attempt to control it, but it only seemed to help slightly. He felt so helpless. Once again, he was completely helpless. Molly...

Everyone was standing with their back to the wall, having made room for Diego when he went to look for the first aid kid. Annabelle was standing to Rafiq’s left, holding Lily in her arms and stroking her hair. Although the girl’s cheeks were still wet with tears, she was no longer crying. Her focus had hardened again, just like it had been before the accident. The girl had only allowed herself to act like the child she was for the shortest of times.

It was her that broke the silence.

“What will happen now?”


“I’m sure Lisa will be able to patch him up again, darling,” Annebelle said soothingly.

“Don’t lie to me,” Lily responded with indignation, trying to wrestle free from Annabelle’s embrace, “I know it’s bad. I know he will die.”

“You don’t know that. It’s in God’s hand.”


“Like he cares anymore,”
the girl said, breaking free from the hold.

Rafiq crouched down beside her, looking her straight in the eyes and hoping that his voice was the same way as if he was speaking to an adult. “What happened in there, Lily?”

“Sam fell.”

“Yes, but how?”

“Because...” the girl thought for a moment, as if she had to decide whether a lie would be in her best interest. It took a couple of seconds and everyone in the room was looking at her, but Lily did not seem to notice. Or she didn’t care.

“Him happened. The drunk one.”
She pointed straight at Henry, who for a moment did not seem to realize what was happening, before standing up a little more straight and holding up his hands.

“Now, hold on a minute...” he said. Lily did not seem to care and went on.

“Sam and I were, uhm, playing with the boxes. Building a tower, that sort of thing. Then he came in and scared us. Like... like it was a joke.”

“That’s sick!” Wayne exclaimed.

“Wowowowow! That’s not how it happened!” Henry jumped forward, but was knocked back again, because just at that moment Diego came by with the first aid kit. It made Henry fall back to the wall and falling down.

“Sorry dude,” Diego murmured, before rushing to the storage room, not realizing the situation he just disturbed.

Lily looked at the man on the floor defiantly. “That is how it happened! You scared us and now Sam is dying!”

Henry’s eyes opened wide, confused and angry. “You’re lying! You lying bitch!”

“You say what?!” One of the woman said shocked.

Henry tried to crawl towards Lily, but George and Wayne stopped him in his tracks by holding him down by the shoulders.

“Now, calm down!”

The man was wroth and drunk and did not hear what George was saying. He appeared to become more dangerous by the second. “She’s lying! She’s lying!”

“He’s drunk.”
“He completely lost it.”
“We can’t have him around the kids.”
“SHE’S LYING!”
“We can’t have him around us.”
“What should we do with him?”
“We should lock him up?”
“She’s lying.”
“And then what?”
“We can’t just lock somebody up.”
“Then what would you have us do?”
“Shit, I don’t know.”
“She’s.. lying...”


Rafiq’s head was racing. The instant Henry had lost control, he knew what had to happen. It didn’t even matter much if it happened the way Lily said it happened. Nobody really knew Henry and the man was clearly unstable. Potentially dangerous. Too dangerous to keep around. Rafiq knew it had to be said.

“We kick him out.”

Everyone, including Henry, looked at Rafiq.

“But that’s dangerous. With the nuclear fallout. The walkers.”

Rafiq knew that. It may be a death sentence for the man. But they didn’t know him and he was threatening the group. He was threatening Rafiq’s group. Rafiq was no longer going to put any of his friends in danger. No longer. Not anymore.

The Rafiq of old would not have done this. But the world had changed and so had he.

“We kick him out. I know it’s hard, but it’s our only option. We have to think of ourselves.”

Some people nodded, others stared blankly at the floor. Rafiq locked eyes with George, who nodded in understanding, but appeared to not be fully behind it at the same time. You are our drunk George, Rafiq thought, you are part of the group. It is not the same.

The drunk man saw what was happening, having lost his fight upon realizing that his entire standing with the group had dissipated within mere minutes. Rafiq couldn’t help but feel some pity for the man. But instead of changing his mind, he steeled his heart. It had to happen.

"Anyone objecting?”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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- The Spa -


Lily watched as all the adults yelled over one another. Random limbs webbing together in efforts to hold Henry and herself back from one another like some back alley brawl taking place in the hallway.

"You guys! YOU GUYS!" a voice boomed out above the nonsense. The limbs ceased flailing, and the group parted to reveal a bleary-eyed Jessica standing outside the doorway to the storeroom. Everyone traded ashamed looks, straightening their shirts and sleeves and dusting themselves off from the ground. All eyes were on her now. Bethany crept out just behind her, also curious what was happening,

"Do we really need to be doing this? Right this very second?" she asked, tiredly.

Rafiq spoke up first. "We're sorry, Jessica... we were just--"

"I don't care," she said, quite honestly. "Just-- please..." She closed her eyes and rubbed her temples, gesturing towards Annabelle. "Annie, I thought he might want to see you. You'd make a happy sight when he wakes up," Jessica said-- her exhaustion evident in her drawling speech.

Annabelle put her hand over her heart. "Oh, bless my heart. Of course, honey. We should say a prayer for him anyways. She steered Lily over towards Althea by her shoulders. "Why don't you stay with Althea here, darlin'-- just while I--"

Lily squirmed out of Annabelle's hands and straightened her shirt, raising her eyebrows at Annabelle in an 'are you serious?' kind of glare. As much of a kid as she still might be, she hating being corralled like an animal. She turned and stalked down the hallway-- away from all the noisy adults. "Don't worry," Althea assured her, "I'll keep an eye on her." She turned and jogged down the hall, catching up with the small girl just as the two of them slipped out of sight around the corner. Annabelle breathed a heavy sigh and turned to join Jessica, watching the others as they all waited patiently to continue their argument. Bethany held the door open for Jessica who took the handle and closed it behind herself and Annabelle, leaving them all with a knowing look as she too disappeared.

Rafiq looked back to the group and more specifically -- at Henry. The drunk leaned carefully against a tall metal rack -- smart enough not to have made any further movements during the distraction. George and Wayne lingered close-by, in case his drunken bender did eventually will him to do something stupid. Tara stood close behind Rafiq -- keeping a safe distance from the man who had already hit her one time too many for one day.

A melodic voice suddenly broke through the tense silence -- an observer, from the outside. "You guys are quite the HBO drama, aren't you?"

Wayne glowered at Bethany -- her lithe frame leaning against a metal sink fixed to the wall. "Hey, Sunshine-- I'd keep quiet about things you know nothing about."

Bethany cocked an eyebrow at his cutting response, before rolling her eyes and looking around at all the strangers surrounding her. They somehow still didn't understand. "I think we already established that since you are guests in my spa... I can do whatever I want. So why don't you back off, Chris Tucker?"

George did his best to stifle a laugh. Wayne ignored him, rapidly changing the subject. "So what are we doing with boozy over here?" he posited, jerking his thumb at Henry.

Tara pushed past Rafiq. "You heard the man. He goes."

"N-Now just you wait a minute--" Henry blubbered, "you're gonna believe a bratty little shit's fairy tale story over my word?"

"Over the slurred word of a drunk? Yes." Tara said, bristling as the man stepped nearer, her fists already clenched. She didn't realize how badly she actually wanted this.

"The truth is, none of us know who you are -- and people are more dangerous than walkers anyways. I think we've all realized that now. It'll be best if you just go." Rafiq tried to make the cruel words sound somewhat polite. But there was no way to send someone to their possible death nicely.

"Someone going somewhere?" a voice asked from behind them. Diego stood in the doorway, shutting it behind him. He rubbed the blood from his hands with a towel before stuffing it into his back pocket.

"Henry's taking a trip," Tara replied, cooly.

Diego nodded, clearing his throat. He stepped over towards them and fished something out of his pocket. "Then you think you can bring back any of the stuff on this list?" He held out the torn piece of paper to Henry, who reached for it -- but Tara snatched it from his hand first.

"What is this?" she demanded, scanning it with her eyes.

"Stuff Lisa says she'll need. Stuff for the kid," Diego answered with a solemn tone.

Tara ended up asking the question on all of their minds. "Where are we supposed to get all of this?" She shook her head as her eyes trailed down the list. The handwriting was hurriedly and messily scrawled, some of the words long and disorienting -- even at first glance.

Bethany crossed her arms. "There's a hospital not too far away from here," she offered, dryly. It seemed the most obvious choice... which was the problem.

Rafiq waved his hands in front of him. "No way they'd still have anything left worth taking. It's been over a week..." Bethany shrugged and looked down at her feet.

"Got a better idea, friend?" Diego asked.

"I do," Henry called out, wiping his hair back from his face.

Tara turned to him, threateningly. "I don't care what you have to say,"

"Then plug your ears." He straightened himself upright, tugging down at his shirt -- looking around at the others in the hallway through his blackened eyes. "My father... died today." The room grew uncomfortable, as one-by-one they exchanged quick glances with each other. "It's not a big deal... I knew it was coming. Kind've softened the blow for all the rest of this actually now that I think about it." A half-hiccup-half-burp barely escaped his mouth -- deftly blocked his balled fist. "But there's a medical clinic in this plaza that we used to take him to -- about three stores that way." Henry raised his arm to point between George and Tara's heads to the wall behind them. They looked at one another first and then behind them, as did everyone else.

"Through there?" Diego asked, walking up to the wall and running his hands across the cool worn drywall. He looked over his shoulder at Henry, who nodded gruffly. "They're all adjacent walls. That's not a problem. I can get through there," he said through a wry smile.

"That way we wouldn't have to go outside..." Rafiq said, thinking aloud.

"Anyone able to confirm this bullshit?" Wayne called out from the sidelines, gesturing at the drunk in the corner.

Henry glanced at him with one raised eyebrow. "Why is everyone so damn hostile? I'm trying to help you here!"

"I think what Wayne's trying to say is: what's in it for you?" Tara explained.

Henry rolled his eyes, rubbing his hand over his face. "Look, you wanna kick me out? Fine. At least give me a chance out there. There'll be gear in the clinic to help me to get far far away from all y'all." Their plain silent expressions looked back at him. "You at least owe me that much..."

Rafiq looked from one face to another, searching for any idea of how the group felt about all this. It was the most humane option on the table, unfortunately. He didn't like the idea of following this stranger on some expedition to retrieve supplies that may not even exist though. But what other option did they have?

"I guess that's the plan then," Rafiq sighed, reluctant to accept it for what it was.

Diego tagged Wayne on the shoulder. "We'll need tools to cut through this drywall. Come with me." The two of them went to the door of the storage room and quietly opened it, stepping inside. Tara pushed past Rafiq with her tongue in her cheek as George watched her stalk off.

"I'll go round up some of our masks we use for the water treatments. Might help keep whatever's in the air out there out of, well-- you." Her bobbed with each step as she headed the other direction, back towards the front offices and steam rooms.

George looked over and met Rafiq's weighted glance. "You made the right call, Rafiq."

He shrugged. "Somebody had to."

Henry leaned back against the wall, slumping down to sit on the ground. "Thanks, kid."

"I didn't do it for you," Rafiq replied, coldly. He rubbed his arm, glancing over his shoulder at the door to the storage room -- knowing full well that every second wasted was a second closer to losing another member of the group.

"Let's go round up the rest of what gear we have," he offered to George. The Englander nodded, and sprung into step beside Rafiq, who had stopped in front of Henry. He looked down at him on the floor. "We're your chaperones. Let's go."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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"You're not telling the truth."

Lily spun around to find the source of where the unfamiliar voice spoke up from. Althea had done a fine enough job of staying under the radar during the past several hours. But now she drew her spine up to her full, formidable height, folding her arms across her chest and staring at the young blonde girl with not a single slip of warmth in her dark eyes. She stepped forward and looked down at her.

"Tell me what you were building with those boxes," she interrogated smoothly, her eyes continuing to bore directly into Lily's.

Her eyes blinked wide just for a moment before she opened her mouth. "I dunno, a town or some shit," she blurted out fast, her eyes darting to her left.

"You just said it was a tower," Althea retorted back, tilting her head. "And what are you doing, walking around on a ton of cardboard boxes? You're old enough to know you can't stand on one of those. Don't you know that's dangerous?"

"I-"

"-and that guy? Seriously? He's not in any state of mind to pull himself together, much less jump out and say 'boo.'" She jolted her head in the direction of the room Henry was still in and narrowed her eyes. "What's the matter, girl? Too scared of some slow guy saying 'boo'? Of course not. And that's why I don't believe a word you're saying about why your pal is bleeding all over the floor in that room. What happened, Lily?"

Lily glowered back. The two stared at each other almost fatally. Finally, Althea lifted up a finger, pointing it into the air frustratedly and gritting her teeth intensely. "You might get your way this time, girl, but next time you won't be as lucky." She paused. "Next time, you think of you getting shoved out there, kid. Just unlucky. All the bad things people do? They always come back around."


# # #


Lisa was silent as she internally counted Sam's faint pulse, staring intently at her watch. It was important to keep the atmosphere calm. "He's got pretty low blood pressure," she reported softly as Jessica re-entered the room. The woman pulled off her jacket and tennis shoes, bundling the shoes up inside the garment and handing it to Jessica. "Here, set it under him," Lisa instructed gently as she carefully lifted Sam's shoulders and head upward, "this oughta help get the blood flow to his heart. That's what we need right now."

Diego popped his head back through the door frame with Annabelle not far behind. He looked down at Lisa and nodded triumphantly. "Looks like we're going to get him some help," he reported, eyeing the pool of blood on the floor just briefly. His face flashed an unseemly shade of white before he swallowed and then looked back at Lisa. "Good news, right?"

"Yes, Diego, that's terrific news," Lisa responded calmly as she still watched Sam's shallow breathing, not allowing her voice to raise to its normal relatively high decibel range but instead keeping it at a respectable whisper in order to keep things calm for the boy. She glanced up at Diego with an apologetic expression. "Look, I hate to ask this, I know how bad it is... but I'm wondering if maybe we could get some more towels to soak up his bleeding. And to clean up the floor." She looked over at Jessica. "After we get him in a safe place I'll take care of that and you stay with him."

Diego looked down on the floor, eyes scanning about as though trying to survey the area. "Where do you think we should put him?" he asked. "This is no place for a kid with a busted-" He stopped his sentence as Jessica's eyes flashed. "... who needs help. We've got plenty of beds. You know, for clients when they come in." Annabelle's face peeked from around Diego's arms, which were folded nervously across his chest as he pressed a knuckle against his cheek anxiously.

"Perfect," Lisa answered with restrained enthusiasm, still trying to keep her voice low. She looked down at Sam, then bolted her eyes back at Diego. "Maybe we can carry him to one of those beds. Can you and a few talented gents carry him in a robe if we put him on it?"

Diego blinked vacantly. "I'm not following."

Lisa pursed her lip. She wasn't thinking of the right word. She lifted her arms up as though pinching the corners of a large sheet. "You know, put him on a robe, and get a few people to carry him by holding up the corners?"

"That might be a little dangerous," Annabelle offered, her eyebrows knitting together with concern. "Is there anything else we can use to transport him?"

"Anything with wheels?" Lisa added, "because if not, the robe is our best bet. It may not be ideal but we don't exactly have a gurney here."

"I can grab a few bedsheets," Diego spoke aloud as he set out down the hallway, leaving the three women silently staring down at Sam for several long, uncomfortable seconds.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Samuel Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Annabelle Mae McCallister (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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= George Remington =

George sifted through the shelf with both hands, his flashlight gripped in his teeth. Rolling around behind a bag of dry food was a familiar can of dog chow, which he grabbed -- rolling its metal frame around in his fingers to display the logo. A yellow lab grinned toothily on the cover, traces of green fields behind him with his tongue lolling out. A happy dog. A familiar dog. George chewed his lip, blinking vacantly as his mind wandered. That was, until he felt Rafiq's stare from out of the corner of his eye. The young man wiped the sweat off of his forehead with his sleeve and leaned his crowbar against the doorframe with a heavy sigh.

"Diego's working on the next wall now. It'll be your go once he needs a break. Henry's on watch out front to make sure we don't draw any walkers." Rafiq rattled all the info off breathlessly, continuing to sop up the beading sweat on his cheeks and forehead. His eyes eventually fell onto George's hands.

George held the can of dog food up. "For when he comes back,'" he said as he reached into his backpack, swinging it around his shoulder and stuffing the can inside. "I sure hope she's been feeding him..."

Rafiq scratched at the stubble forming around his chin. "I'm sure they're both fine, George. Sarah--"

"--is already dead," George finished quite bluntly, cutting him off. The man straightened up, zipping the bag closed and slipping his arms back through. He shook his head, running a hand the length of his face as he looked up at the ceiling, chuckling softly. His sad, hollowed eyes finally fell upon Rafiq. "We all are..."

Rafiq grimaced. "W-Why would you say something like that?" He quipped, bridling with anger. Was it possible the man was still drunk?

"Because it's true," George replied, tiredly -- as if just now admitting it to himself. "Niobe told me everything-- from what she found out from our neighbors... whatever they call themselves. The Capitols?"

Rafiq's eyes narrowed, trying to comprehend what George was saying. It was all too much to take in at once. He inched a few steps closer, aware suddenly that he was being let in on a secret nobody else knew about. George continued, lowering his voice to a hushed tone.

"I've only taken her at her word since then. Never even seen these Capitol people-- but then Henry confirmed it when he told me about his father. About how he passed in the hospital..." George shook his head again, as if he was hearing it all over again. "He came back, Rafiq. No bite. Nothing. And he still came back..."

Rafiq's eyes widened at the thought. "S-So we're all... infected?" He stammered, still searching for the right answer. A different answer. Anything else.

George simply nodded. There wasn't anything left to say. Except one thing. "When we let Henry go... I plan on leaving with him."

Rafiq wasn't sure if someone needed to pinch him or what. It seemed like his whole world was suddenly being turned upside down. He had always shared a certain kinship with the man, ever since he had sort of forced Rafiq into some sort of post-apocalyptic apprenticeship-- but it seemed like he was suddenly confiding alot in him-- despite how much they'd grown apart since George's unravelling. "What are you talking about? You're seriously going to leave right when one of us needs our help?"

George shrugged. "What? You need me to protect you? You think any of those people want me with a gun in my hands after what happened? Nothing I do will help. There's no going back for me. You saw what I did..."

"Actually, I didn't. I have no idea what you did, and I don't care. I know what kind of man you are, George. At your best and at your worst. And we need you."

George sighed. "You're just one man. The others-- they won't be so willing to forgive. The best thing for everyone is if I just go."

Rafiq slammed his fist against the flyer-laden cement column next to him, random pieces of paper falling to the ground. "Damnit! You heard Jessica-- back in the tunnels. We can't keep splitting up like this! We're too few already..."

"I'm sorry, Rafiq... I am. But there still have to be consequences... even in this fucked up world, where nothing seems to be going right-- it leaves alot more room for the wrong."

A stiff silence deafened the room with nothing other than the occasional clinking of Diego's sledgehammer echoing from outside the door. The two of them just stared at each other, leaving the rest unsaid. George slung his backpack off his shoulder again and tossed it near the door, walking past Rafiq and grabbing his crowbar on the way out. "Guess I should help pick up the pace, eh? Life's too short."

"Sam's sure will be," Rafiq jabbed over his shoulder. "Don't do this, George..."

But the man was already gone.


* * *


% Jessica Abbott %


"This has been the longest day of my life..." Jessica sighed by the candlelight as she gently stroked Sam's hair. His brown locks fell back over the gauzed wound with each pass, a sharp contrast against the dirtied white linen. Annabelle leaned against the metal rack behind her, a blanket pulled across her lap-- her eyes heavy with sleep. "Hard to believe that this morning I was doing laundry and trying to figure out if
I should have beans or canned fruit for lunch. The day escalated quite nicely, if I don't say so myself."


"Today tested us all, my dear--" Annabelle bemoaned. "I'm just not certain if we passed or not..."

It was the first attempt at humor that Annabelle had made since Jessica had known her-- and it made her genuinely laugh out loud, which she promptly stifled with a snort. Something about the dryness and seriousness of the delivery was just too much. The sweet old woman didn't have a drop of darkness within her. Not so much as one bad bone-- not that she had seen yet. It was a quality sorely needed and horribly undervalued these days.

Annabelle smiled sweetly. "It's so heartwarming to see you in good spirits, dear..." she continued. "Nobody could have ever guessed that something awful would happen like this. You can't blame yourself for it."

Jessica adjusted her legs, setting Sam's head gently on the makeshift pillow beneath it. "We've done what we can for him..." She pulled another of the blankets over herself, making sure her son was properly coated as well. Her eyes lingered on his chest, heaving gently with each shallow breath. There was no way to tell his father, her ex-husband, what had happened. If he was even alive to care. She somehow felt guilty about that, like it was some kind of secret she desperately needed to share -- if not to him, then to the others... Harper, Carl... they'd all come to know Sam in their own ways too. His death would go quietly. Unnoticed. Unavoidable. She sighed. "I had to fight his father so much to get Sam for his birthday last week-- that day when everything happened." Annabelle looked up from her spot on the floor, her brow furrowing. "He demanded half of the day with his son. So, I told him that I would get the first half of the day... those were my terms. Jessica ran her hand through Sam's hair again. "He could have been with his father that morning, and I would have no clue if he was alive or dead right now. Annabelle reached over and rubbed Jessica's arm as the two looked at one another, smiling through their tears. "At least this way I'll know..."

Annabelle returned her hand to grasp Sam's, mumbling a prayer under her breath. "At least if he goes he'll have gone peacefully and not to some walker..." Annabelle breathed. "God forbid if it came to that."


* * *


$$$ Lillian Strong $$$


TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP.

Lillian's shoes clattered alongside the store as she full-on sprinted towards the storage room, where Sam's ailing body lied along with some of the others -- her sneakers skidding across the pet store tile as she rounded a corner of shelves. The noise at the other end of the shop of the men tearing down the wall all but masked her frantic footsteps.

But what had she just overheard? She knew George was a drunk. That much was obvious. But why would he make something like that up? And Rafiq sure seemed to believe him... it really was the end of the world.

And if it is true... then--

She reached the first hole in the wall, the one back to the spa, and clamored over the pile of rubble and drywall on the ground as she pulled herself back through -- putting her thoughts on hold as she found herself suddenly face-to-face with Wayne and Bethany. They both jumped to a start -- weapons at the ready as they laid eyes on Lillian. The girl held up her hands, instinctively -- looking both of them over. Their shocked faces were enough to give away the fact that they had no idea how she had snuck past them earlier.

Wayne's lips sputtered as he tried to find the right response. "B-Th-H-How did-- Lillian! What the hell were you doing in there?"

Bethany cocked to one hip, folding her arms. "How'd she get past us?" she asked with a tone.

Wayne threw his hands in the air. "Don't ask me! We haven't left this spot since we got here." He scratched the back of his head, rolling his eyes. "Or at least one of us hasn't... Tinklebell."

Bethany's nostrils flared as she turned to face him, jabbing a finger in his chest. "Hey, it's not my fault that I have a small bladder."

Wayne scoffed. "You're not even drinking anything. Where is all this liquid coming from? Or are you just scurrying off to enjoy some of that recently reclaimed blow? It'd be pretty rude of you not to share..."

Bethany's eyes became to shallow slits. "Are you serious?" Wayne looked at her. Seriously. "Go fuck yourself." Bethany flipped him the bird over her shoulder as she turned to stalk back down the hallway, not towards the bathroom-- but anywhere other than where Wayne was. She only got a few steps before she stopped and realized the same thing that he did in that moment.

"Uhh-- where'd she go?" Wayne asked with a gulp.


* * *



TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP.

The traction on the spa tile wasn't much better Lillian noticed as she sprinted around yet another corner. The dust caked on the soles of her shoes from the hole in the wall definitely wasn't helping. She slipped slightly, catching onto the wall just barely saving her from a fall and took the brief reprieve to catch her breath. She checked over her shoulder quickly to make sure nobody was too close behind her and set off again, using her arms to help propel her forwards as she tried to slow her fading momentum.

She couldn't be too late. She couldn't be. She was supposed to protect these people.

*WHAM*

Lillian collided face-first into one unlucky person's chest as she blindly rounded the next corner at full speed. She hit the ground hard, finally taking the spill she had so narrowly dodged moments earlier. Althea braced herself on the corner with one hand, rubbing her solar plexus with the other as her face scrunched up in pain.

"Christ, kid--" she managed, her voice hollow from the wind knocked out of her. "Damn near broke my ribs... what are you doing? Get up..." She reached down and pulled Lillian up by the scruff of her jacket, just enough for her concealed pistol to fall to the ground, clattering loudly in the muted silence of the hallway. There was no point hiding it. Althea had already seen it. She knew that. And Lily had already received one blunt lecture too many from the rough-and-tumble broad. If she knew what Lily had just learned-- but there was no time to explain. She would have to understand...

"Please--" Lily pleaded, "I have to--"

She reached down for her gun, but Althea yanked back firmly on the collar of her jacket, pulling both of Lily's arms back at the shoulders. "Again, Lily? What the hell is wrong with you?" the woman scolded. Lily struggled and flailed forwards, trying to free herself from Althea's tight grasp. "You not getting enough attention or something? Cause I think you've caused enough trouble for one day. I thought we took this from you once already?"

"Let me go! Get off me!" Lily protested, irately -- her arms swinging wildly. Althea deftly used her other free hand to avoid the swatting limbs as they washed off of her. The kid was persistent if nothing else. Unfortunately for Althea, she was unpredictable too.

Lillian suddenly dropped to her knees and dove between Althea's legs, pulling her down into herself in a forced somersault as she regrettably held onto the hood of Lillian's coat. She let go in time to save herself from a full face plant as she caught herself on her own two hands -- face down on the floor, but she immediately felt the full weight of Lillian's shoes against her back as the kid scrambled back over the top of her for the gun. Althea grappled for one of Lily's legs, finding a firm grip and pulling back with what strength she could muster -- only until the unwelcomed second leg came around. Althea turned barely in time for the shoe to glance off of her cheek, but her vision had been jarred into a thousand stars as she clutched at her face in pain.

"Are you fucking kidding me!?" Althea blurted, propping herself up on her knees. She dabbed at her cheek with one hand, checking for blood -- but it had only grazed her slightly, to her own relief. She could hear the scrape of the handgun being picked up off the floor, and suddenly Althea tensed. This kid was cracking and was clearly capable of far more than she had anticipated. And now... she was armed. The woman kept her gaze on the floor.

*CLICK*

"That better not be pointed at me..." Althea mumbled, the tenseness evident in her voice.

She heard Lily sniffle before she spoke. The girl was clearly crying, as evident in her voice. "Don't follow me..."

TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP. TIP. TAP.

Althea rose to her feet, wiping the dust off her hands-- and followed.


* * *


% Jessica Abbott %


Lisa pressed two fingers against Sam's neck, holding the pulse in his wrist with her other hand. "His pulse is getting faint..." she warned, setting Sam's arm gently back by his side. Jessica dabbed some of the sweat off of his cheeks with a dry rag, trying to normalize his temperature. Lisa frowned. "If we don't close this wound-- he's just gonna keep bleeding. He can't keep going like this."

Jessica nodded through teary eyes. "They're working as hard they can. They'll be b--"

*SHIK SHIK SHIK*

The metal handle of the door shook violently from the other side -- even more banging accompanying the already abrupt noises. Jessica rose from the floor as Lisa helped Annabelle up -- each of them slowly approaching the front of the storage unit. Annabelle decidedly hung back close to Sam, in case the worst possible scenario lied outside the door on the other side.

"Did we bring any weapons?" Lisa queried, the answer already evident in the tone of her voice. Jessica shook her head, inching closer towards the door -- stepping as lightly as she could.

"Oh, be careful honey--" Annabelle bemoaned, covering her face with her hands. "Don't open the door 'til we know who's out there..."

Jessica turned and put her finger to her lips, quieting them all as she finally reached the doorway. The handle had all but stopped moving -- but then the muffled shouting started. "Those are voices..." she whispered, pressing her ear close to the frame. Neither the voice, nor whomever they were talking to were discernible through the thick metal. There was only one way to find out. Jessica grabbed for the handle and opened it slowly as she took a deep breath. Lillian's frantic shouts poured inside in an instant.

"Get back!" she shouted, with her hand raised in the air. The pistol hung loosely in her grip-- Untrained. Unwavering. Althea, only a mere few steps away, stood silently with her hands raised above her head. Her eyes met Jessica's, who finally laid sight on the girl and the gun. As soon as the door swung wider, the pistol was suddenly pointing at her. Lily's hands shook as her attention was split by the two women suddenly surrounding her. Her eyes began to well with tears as she realized that Jessica was alright.

"J-Jessica..." she stuttered.

"Lillian-- w-what's happened? What's wrong?"

"I thought you guys were--" she wiped at her cheeks with her gun hand, and Althea took a step closer. Lillian's gun was back up in a flash. She struggled to speak through her tears as she stepped countered towards Jessica, trying to get a peak through the doorway. "Sam... is he--"

"He's fine, Honey..." she said, subtly reaching out towards the girl. "Everything is going to be f--."

Annabelle shrieked from behind, causing all of them to jump. Lillian's gun rattled in her grip. "His chest! He's stopped breathing!"

Lisa was over him in a flash, ripping open his shirt and exposing his small chest which had indeed gone silent. She braced her hands together over his ribs, counting and pushing and breathing -- everything synchronized... professional. She pinched his nose and propped open his jaw, blowing air through the passage to bring him back however she could. Again. And again. Jessica, Lillian and reluctantly, Althea-- all stepped closer inside, each as unsure of what to do as the next. Lisa took full advantage of the space, continuing her maneuvers at a rapid pace -- exhausting herself as she tried desperately to save the boy's life.

Althea's booming voice suddenly sounded out from the back of the crowd. "Lily... what the hell are you doing?"

The girl had moved around the circle to face the spectacle, her gun trained on the struggling pair on the ground. Her chest heaved with each heavy breath as Annabelle gasped with shock, backing away. Jessica's eyes narrowed instantly as she keyed in on Lily. "Whatever you're thinking of doing, Lily--"

"This kid has lost her marbles..." Althea said, exhaustedly.

But it was Lily's voice that boomed this time.

"I'M NOT A KID!" she shouted, fiercely. "You all have no clue... no idea...you just think I'm some crazy kid! She sniffed back her tears again and again, keeping her gun trained on the both of them. "H-He's gonna come back, Jessica..."

"Of course he is... that's what Lisa's trying to do. You need to put the gun down..."

"Not like THAT!" she shouted even louder. "If he dies he'll come back-- as one of them..."

Althea had had enough. "What is this girl even talking about? Is somebody gonna do something about this or am I gonna have to?"

Jessica shook her head, trying to comprehend the panicked girl. "What are you--"

Annabelle stepped in from the corner, her face heartbroken at the little girl. "Well you, young girl, can point that thing wherever you like. Someone has to try and save this poor boy..." The old woman struggled to her knees, using the table beside her for support-- positioning herself over Sam. Lillian fought back more tears as she kept the gun firmly in place.

"Annabelle, please--" Jessica began, her voice breaking at the thought of all this. The world had already turned to shit and yet somehow it had managed to get even worse.

"He's just a child!" Annabelle cried from the floor. She picked up where Lisa left off, working his chest and pinching his nose as she leaned down to put some air into his system. And like the miracle they needed, his eyes fluttered open-- his cloudy iris barely visible under the milky ashen orbs where his bright young eyes had once been.

Lily noticed the change almost immediately. "S-Sam...?" she whimpered, her feet inching backwards apprehensively.

*CHOMP*

Sam's teeth suddenly clamped down over Annabelle's lips and chin-- holding on for dear life as she rolled to the side, bringing the boy along with her. Lily fell backwards in shock, skidding to a stop beside the table as the room ignited with panic. Jessica collapsed to her knees with an ear-splitting shriek as Lisa grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back away from the thrashing forms in front of her.

The two bodies struggled with one another on the ground-- Annabelle's muffled screams undercut with the vapid snarling of the newly awakened Sam. Althea motioned towards Lily with her arm. "Give me the gun!" she shouted quickly. But Lily's trembling hands could do nothing but manage to keep her gun poised in front of her.

Jessica saw Lily from her spot on the floor and leapt to her feet, shrugging out of Lisa's grip. "Lily-- don't!" she pleaded, bounding towards her as tears flowed down her cheeks.

"Jessica!" Lisa's voice washed over her ears as Jessica lunged forwards, reaching for the girl's weapon with both arms.

"LILY! Look at me!" But Lily had closed her eyes tight... squeezing the trigger even tighter.


* * *



*BANG!*

Diego's arms halted mid-swing-- sledgehammer poised for another blow at the wall. His neck whipped over his shoulder towards the spa at the sound. Henry stepped back from the front windows, leaning into the aisle the same direction -- a crowbar dangling loosely from his hands. The two looked at each other as George and Rafiq's footsteps came quickly their way. They skidded into the foyer behind Diego, weapons already in hand.

"You guys hear that?" Henry grunted from across the floor.

"The gunshot?" Rafiq asked with wide eyes.

Henry looked back towards the spa, licking his teeth. "The church bells..."

The setting changes from season-2 to Season 3

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Ashley Valentino (NPC) Character Portrait: Gustav Schmidt (NPC) Character Portrait: Brooke Callaway (NPC) Character Portrait: Harold St. James (NPC) Character Portrait: Boondock Brannigan (NPC)

0.00 INK

% Jessica Abbott %


Jessica sifted through the ratty backpack, pulling out a different one of Sam's old t-shirts. It was thin enough for her to tear with her hands, which she did-- starting near the neck in thin strips. Seemed like the best way to turn unwanted memories into needed supplies. Makeshift bandages were every bit as valuable as the next thing. She slouched back against the front kiosk arranging the strips of linen in a neat pile beside her as a dull silence hung in the air. Althea paced near the front door, twiddling a crowbar in her hands-- her face still bearing the recovering scrape printed across her cheek from Lillian's shoe. The brooding woman peered anxiously through the front blinds at the street, eagerly awaiting the others.

Lily scraped at something behind the counter, incessantly. The sound only suddenly becoming audible over Jessica's own shuffling. She set down the remainder of the shredded shirt and stood up, dusting off her knees. She sidled up alongside the counter and leaned over, peering at the girl. Wood shavings lined Lily's legs as she carved at the backside of the kiosk with a small knife.

Jessica chewed her lip, unsure of what to say to the kid. There was so much she wanted to say to the girl, but no real place to start. Things had been quiet for the last few days, while they all hunkered down inside-- waiting out the dangers outside... and in their heads and hearts. It was a big loss for the lot of them... a double blow along with the previous losses from that morning. Delivered with those were the betrayals. Amidst all the chaos surrounding Sam and Annabelle's deaths, Henry broke through the last of the wall in the pet shop-- raiding all of its supplies and fleeing the complex before the dust had settled. Fortunately for the rest, neither Sam nor Annabelle ended up needing the medical supplies. But the group still felt burned. The tag-along alcoholic had been nothing but trouble since the moment they met him. Jessica felt bad for even giving the man a second chance. But hindsight was indeed 20/20. The second betrayal fell a bit closer to home when earlier this very morning, George struck out with naught but a word to anyone. Him, his bag, his gun. She knew why he went... but in the back of her mind she pretended he was going after Henry. That version made her feel less sad.

Lillian continued picking away at the wood, either oblivious or uninterested in Jessica's presence. Perhaps a bit of both. Jessica twiddled her thumbs a bit, picking at the counter with her own nails. She looked down at the girl. "Thank you..." Lily stopped carving for a brief moment-- and then resumed at an even quicker pace. Jessica grinned a little. It was a start. She walked around the counter, pulling an office chair underneath herself as she sat down behind the girl. "I never got to say thank you," Jessica continued. She ran her hands across her face-- trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes. "I don't know... if you've been thinking I'm waiting for some kind of apology... or that I'm going to punish you or something. Which couldn't be further from the truth." Lily propped her head on one arm, staring into her growing masterpiece as she casually carved away. "What you tried to do for us-- what you did do... I don't think you know what that meant to everyone." Jessica let her dangling toes touch the ground, and began to spin herself slowly in the desk chair. "The way it came about? Nobody could have wished for that... but-- we handled it. We survived. We're still here..." Lily finally stopped, rubbing away the faint beads of sweat on her forehead. She looked up at Jessica, timidly. She stopped spinning and reached over to the girl, brushing her golden locks out of her tired face. The poor thing had barley been able to sleep since everything happened. And she hadn't had a shred of normalcy or decency over the last week and half-- being passed around from adult to adult as people were killed off and went missing. It was bad enough she was separated from her parents, and now widowed to her best post-apocalyptic friend. "We are all we have..." she said, matter-of-factly. "That's something to hold onto." Lillian just looked at her, blinking her sad eyes. Jessica leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. "Y'know... this whole last year, I've just had these... things being stripped away from my life. Like I'm losing these layers... first-- my husband... and my house. My son..." She sighed. "The last thing I have is all of you. This. That's all that's keeping me from losing the most important thing: my mind." She looked back at her carving, sniffling a bit. Jessica rolled the chair back to get a better view and saw two large prints... headstones for the dearly departed. "They would have loved these," Jessica chimed, forcing a smile. She squeezed the girl on the shoulder and leaned in close to her ear. "But don't let Bethany see. She'll kill you..." Lily cracked a smile at that. A small victory, and a needed one.

Jessica stood, arching her back as she stretched out the last of the days aches and pains. Althea jumped to a start across the room, swiping up her crowbar as she rushed towards the windows. "That's movement," she announced, spreading the blinds with her fingers. "It's them."

"Help me with the benches," Jessica ordered, springing towards the front doors.

Althea shrugged out of her jacket and threw it to the side, along with her crowbar. "They're coming in hot!" she called out, grabbing one end of the wooden benches to drag away from the doors. Jessica grabbed the other end and the two of them sloppily tossed it to the ground. Lily was already up and behind them, preparing to unbrace the chair from the door. Jessica wiped her hair from her face and nodded to the girl, drawing her knife from her waistband. Lillian yanked the door out from beneath the handles, and she and Althea pushed the doors open to welcome their incoming friends. Several alerted walkers shambled on in the distance as their comrades rushed towards the spa entrance keeping low. Jessica walked towards the door, slowly-- hoping for good news. They needed it now more than ever.

She couldn't take one more tragic start to the day.


# # #



.: The Lost Church :.


Gustav thrust a finger in Val's chest, narrowing his eyes. "It's been three days, for Christ's sake... let the poor girl go."

Ashley shook her head, standing firmly in front of the door to the side room. "She's a liability, Gus-- you know the protocol."

"Protocol?!" Boone shouted from beside her "You fucking robot. Let the girl go-- she didn't do anything."

"And she hasn't said anything either. Until she does, she stays put." Val folded her arms, unmoved by all this nonsense.

Boone laughed, mockingly. "She's in shock, pig."

"HEY!" Val barked, whipping out her baton. "Why don't you cut the shit-talk, chief?"

Boone threw up his hands, middle fingers and all-- storming off in a huff. Gustav sighed, scratching erratically at his beard. "I understand your concerns, but we can't just keep the girl cuffed to a rail in there... she hasn't done anything to deserve this."

"Did you see the same thing I saw in there?" Val asked, heatedly. "That girl had a bite on her the size of my hand. She's a ticking time bomb."

"It's been nearly three whole days and her condition hasn't even worsened," Gustav reasoned.

"I don't know how much worse you can get then a traumatized mute with a red walker tattoo on your shoulder," Val said, rolling her eyes. "We don't know shit about this infection... we can't afford to start making assumptions now. You wouldn't let me throw her onto the street, so this is the situation we're dealing with now. And you don't have to like it."

"We don't even know if it was the priest that bit her? It could have been the dog!" Gus argued.

Val scoffed. "The same dog that was curled up next to her in a pool of the girl's own blood? Doubtful." She brushed him aside, holstering her baton. "Look-- I get that you have the whole beard going on and you want to do the whole Sherlock thing, but I do this for a living. The girl hasn't been entirely truthful with us, and until she decides to cooperate-- we focus on more pressing matters. Or did you forget that our people are missing?"

"She's right," Harry added, joining the two of them outside Sarah's holding. He placed his hands on his hips, obviously as disapproving of the situation as the others. "We need to earn this girl's trust if we're gonna get anything out of her, but that's gonna take time. Duke and them-- we have to find out what happened. That's what matters right now."

"And until I'm sure she isn't going anywhere," Val shrugged. "the girl stays locked up. I'll deal with her when we get back. Gus you're with me. Find Boone, get him a juice box or whatever he needs to calm down and get him ready. The rest will stay here in case they show. Understood?" The two older men silently nodded. "Good. How's Brooke? She need anything?" Val asked, turning her attention to Harry as Gustav stalked off on his task.

The greyed man stuffed his hand into his coat pocket and retrieved a crumpled piece of paper. "She wrote some stuff down," he replied, handing the ball of paper to Val. She began to unfold it, straightening it out. "I can't make sense of most of it. Girl stuff, I imagine."

Val smirked. "We'll try and make a stop if we find good news, OK? Just stay with her and make sure she has everything she needs." Harry nodded and mumbled and headed back off towards Brooke near the vigil. "Thank you," she added as an after-thought. She was trying to be less hard on these people, but they all depended on her to make decisions and keep them heading in a direction... any direction. They needed something to rally around. But more than that...

They needed good news.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi


Wayne and Lisa sat down on the sofa in the room, while Tara paced up and down the room. Rafiq hopped on the reception desk, accidently knocking down a lamp. He put it back in its place again, barely registering that he was doing so. His head was racing by trying to form a plan quickly. With his legs dangling over the edge, he cleaned his hunting knife with the hem of his shirt.

Lily looked at what he was doing. He returned the gaze and shrugged. “Straggler.”

She nodded at that, as if it was the most normal thing in the world. And maybe it was.

The four of them were reluctant to speak, but it was only postponing the inevitable. Althea clearly got annoyed at their silence.

“Well?” She asked with no small amount of irritation.

Rafiq sighed and cocked his head slightly backwards. “The tunnels are a dead end. They’re filled with walkers.”

“And by filled, he means stuffed like tuna in a can,” Wayne added, “I think I counted at least a hundred.”

“Two-hundred,” Tara said.

“That many?” Jessica said in surprise. It was a strange notion that just a few days ago, they had walked through those tunnels themselves. Had they been trapped down there, they would surely all be dead.

Althea looked out of the window, as if to check whether the horde hadn’t followed them. “Did they notice you?”

“Some did,” Lisa said, “but they aren’t very good at climbing over the turnstiles. Only one managed and Rafiq took him out easily enough. Besides, they seemed to be pre-occupied by something deeper down into the tunnels.”

“How so?” That was Bethany, who had appeared with Diego.

“We could hear some sort of noise. Shrill, metallic.” Lisa closed her eyes as she said it, trying to recall what she had heard. “I’m not sure what it was.”

“Maybe it was some poor soul trapped in the tunnels,” Diego suggested.

“Could it have been Dyomie and the others?” Jessica asked.

Rafiq had thought of that as well, but even if it had been Dyomie, Marie, Natasha or Philip, there was no way to reach them. That way was cut off. Besides, the sound had been too machine-like. “I don’t think so,” he said, “it’s most likely something is in the process of breaking down.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tara said, “that way is no longer an option. It means we have to go above ground.”

“Tara is right,” Rafiq said, “we have spoken about this possibility.” Most of them had preferred the tunnel route. It wouldn’t have been without risk, but the chances were better of finding a trace of the others and there would have been less variables to worry about. Still, they had discussed how to go about the streets as well. Bethany and Diego knew the area very well and quickly realized where Tara, Lisa and Althea had seen the others last.

“Okay, then we take the streets,” Bethany said. She picked up her stuff as if she was ready to leave right then and there.

“You want to leave right now? We just got back!” Wayne said slightly shocked. He had taken off his shoes again and was resting his feet on the coffee table. It was apparent he had hoped for at least a little rest before setting out again.

Bethany turned to him and took on an authoritative composure. “Why not? We have discussed everything already. Everyone knows what to do. The longer we stay here, the smaller the chance we will find your friend. What do you want to do?” She scoffed, “Take a bath?”

“That would be nice,” Wayne joked, but put his shoes back on all the same.

“Bethany is right,” Jessica said, “we have spent enough time here already. This place is… I’m ready to leave.”

Lily had already opened the door and scouted out the near vicinity. “No Crawlies nearby. Now would be a good time.”

Everyone turned their attention towards Rafiq, as if it was his call. Those looks still unnerved him. He jumped down from desk and gestured towards the door in a purposefully dramatic fashion. “That’s decided then. The Fellowship will go to Mordor and destroy the ring.”

He went slightly red as the others just looked at him, either not getting or appreciating the joke. But when Diego walked past him, he gave him a friendly bump on the shoulder.

“Lead on, Frodo.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi


They walked through the streets. Rafiq was leading the pack with Diego. Wayne, Tara and Lily were behind them, followed by Althea and Lisa. Jessica and Bethany brought up the rear. None of them spoke much, as they didn’t want to attract unnecessary attention from the walkers. There were small pockets of undead on the streets here and there, but it appeared that most of them had gone somewhere else. Presumably down into the tunnels. Occasionally one of the walkers would get too close, but they were taken out without too much trouble. As long as you were aware of them and they were on their own, the undead were not that difficult to deal with.

The city was covered in a thin layer of a gray ash-like substance. It made everything look surreal, the abandoned buildings and cars only enhancing the effect. The thought was cliché, but it felt to Rafiq like they were on a movie set. Only know did he understand what those people on the television meant when they said something like that. He said so to Diego, who, quite predictably, grinned at that.

“Not any movie set I’ve ever been to,” he said in a low tone, barely audible.

“Really? You’ve been on a set?”
It occurred to Rafiq that he didn’t really know what Diego did before all of this happened. Bethany was the owner of the spa, but somehow Rafiq couldn’t imagine Diego being much involved.

“You can say that again.”


“So you’re an actor?”

“Yeah, though trust me, I’m not that well known. Not like Beth.”


Surprised, Rafiq quickly behind him at the women in the back. He didn’t recognize Bethany from anything, though he had seen quite a few movies in his lifetime.

“Theatre?” Rafiq inquired.

The comment made Diego laugh out loud, too loud, then abruptly stopped upon realizing where they were. Tara let out a short “sssssst”, while the others looked at the two of them either surprised or annoyed. Everyone became on high alert, scanning the area for any activity. Rafiq could feel himself glowing red while checking the buildings on the opposite street. One heartbeat, two heartbeat. There were a few walkers towards the intersection, but they appeared not to have noticed them.

Then Althea let out a small sound of surprise and they all turned towards her, then at the window she was looking at. Two small heads were peering through the window, looking just as surprised as they were. A girl about seven or eight with a large bow in her hair and a slightly younger boy holding an action figure. A woman appeared behind them, ushering the two away from the window. A door opened and a heavily muscled Latino man came through, thunderous and suspicious. He had a gun in his hand, pointing it directly at them.

“Go away,” he said, “there is no place for you here. Go away.”

Instinctively, Rafiq raised his hands in the air. Some did as he did, while others raised their own weapons instead. It was Lisa who responded first, who just as Rafiq had not taken up her weapon, but was showing him her empty hands. “We’re just passing through,” she said, “we mean no harm.”

The man focused his attention on Lisa, pointing his gun at her. Another man appeared behind him, taller and thinner, but otherwise a spitting image of the first man. Brothers. He carried just as big a gun as the first one and gestured it threateningly at the group.

“Go away then. This place is not for you. Only my family.”

“You have that big of a family?” Lily asked incredulous. Tara placed a hand on Lily’s shoulder and pulled her backwards. “Not helping, kid,” she murmured.

The man eyed the gun Lily was holding suspiciously. “You gave your child a gun?” He directed the question to Tara, probably assuming she was the mother.

“Mind your own fucking business,” Bethany said. Both guns immediately turned towards her. She took a step backwards, but otherwise showed no visible signs of fear.

Rafiq, now having lowered his hands, but still with his open palms towards the two men to not appear threatening, walked in front of Lily and Tara.

“Look, like she said, we mean no harm. We have no intention of bothering you or your family.”

“Right,” Lisa said, relieved that at least somebody else was not trying to escalate the situation, “we’ll be just on our way now.”

The muscled guy studied the both of them, then lowered his gun. His brother didn’t. “Alright then. Move it. And don’t come back or else.”

“Right,” Rafiq said and gestured the others to continue walking. They all did, though some couldn’t help but give the two men an angry look. Rafiq and Lisa waited until everyone had passed them and then closed the ranks. Rafiq turned to give one polite nod, but the men no longer deemed it worthy to notice him. They quickly checked the streets and then slammed the door shut.

“I forgot how paranoid people have become,” Lisa whispered to Rafiq.

“Can’t necessarily blame them.”


They took a turn on the intersection and followed along the blind wall of the building. The people inside had no way to see them. Trying to push what had just transpired from his mind, Rafiq kicked an empty soda can to the side of the street. This made him notice that one of his shoe laces had become undone. He stood still, made sure no walker was nearby and then lowered himself. Upon seeing what he was doing, Lisa politely waited on him.

When he was done, he stood back up again and smiled at her. “Thank you for waiting.”

“No problem,” she said. “Always need someone to have your back, right?”

“Right.”

They continued walking, thinking they had to catch up to the others, but the rest of the group had stood still as well a little further on.

“Ow look, they waited for us as well,” Lisa said with a hint of surprise in her voice.

Rafiq was not so sure about that though, as the others seem to have their attention focussed on something else. They were all staring at the set of apartments behind the building with the gun-happy Latino men and their families. Looking up, Rafiq saw what was going on.“Ow fuck.”

A large column of smoke was coming from the building, darkening the sky right above it. Large flames could be seen through the windows of the upper floor. From this angle it was impossible to tell whether the ground floor was already on fire as well, but everyone could see it was bad.

“That does not look good,”
Wayne mused.

“A fire like that unchecked could affect an entire block of buildings,” Tara said worryingly.

“Do you want to call the fire department then?” Bethany sniped, “we better keep moving.”

“Wait!” Lisa exclaimed, “we have to go back.”

The others turned to her. “Why?” Bethany asked, “if we just take a left here, we’ll be fine.”

Lisa pointed at the building next to the apartments. “Those people. We have to warn them. That fire could creep up on them.”

“So? They’ll figure it out soon enough.”

“Do you want to take that risk?”
Lisa asked.

“But they pointed a gun at us,” Althea said begrudged, “I’m with Bethany on this one.”

“Seriously? But they have children with them!” Lisa was pleading now, looking at the others for support.

“She does have a point,” Wayne said, “we can’t just abandon a couple of kids like that.”

“Can’t we?” Althea responded. “You heard what he said. Those people made it perfectly clear they want nothing to do with us, which is fine with me.”

“You have those children die?” Lisa asked her, shocked.

“Of course not,” Althea said, “but I doubt that will happen. They will realize what is going on soon enough. In the meantime, I’d like us not to have our heads blown off by a couple of trigger-happy men who misunderstand our intentions.”

“Agreed,” Lily chimed in.

“They won’t just shoot us,” Lisa said, “Jess?”

Jessica looked torn and was about to say something when a loud sound came from the burning building. It was as if an entire floor had collapsed, and judging by the increased intensity of the flames on the upper floors, that was completely possible.

“Right, that’s it. I’m going back, alone if I have to.” Lisa said with fierce determination.

She was just about to storm off, but Rafiq placed a hand on her shoulder and stopped her. “Wait, you can’t go back alone.”

“You’re coming with me?” Lisa asked, hope shimmering in her eyes.

Rafiq blinked in surprise. That had not entirely been what he had meant. He had wanted to stop her from running off alone, as that typically did not end well. Though he agreed with Lisa that those people deserved a warning, he also had to think about the safety of the group. If someone got shot…

“You’re kidding. Rafiq, we don’t have time for this.” Bethany said.

“Ow come on darling. Let them go. It will only take two minutes.” Diego said to her as he wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her neck.

Bethany rolled her eyes. “Not you too.”

Althea bristled. “It is not even a matter of time, it is a matter of safety. We have to think about ourselves.”

Lisa pulled away from Rafiq, taking another step back into the street. “Well, are you coming or not?”

Rafiq was unsure on what to do. It was clear that neither Lisa or Althea and Bethany could be persuaded otherwise. He really wanted to help Lisa, but not with the rest of the group just out on the streets like that. They would have to have a safe place first, but that might take too much time, as the fire was quickly spreading. “I…”

“Ow God!” Jessica suddenly exclaimed. They all turned around and saw a group of walkers turning the corner. Burning walkers. The shambling corpses were on fire, presumably coming from inside the building. The bodies had started to blacken, but the flames had not affected them enough to impede their mobility. Whether they had died before or after the fire was unclear.

Though the flames licked their hands, arms and faces, the walkers were oblivious to it.

“We have to move now!” Bethany shouted at them, “there won’t be an opening much longer!”

“No,” Lisa responded, “we have to go back! We can flee that way just as well!”

“Don’t be an idiot!”

“Don’t be so selfish!”

“Rafiq!” “Rafiq”

As the burning bodies stumbled closer towards them, a thousand thoughts went through Rafiq’s mind.

He had only one more second to make a decision.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Bethany Whitfield Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC)

0.00 INK

% Jessica Abbott %


”RAFIQ!” Jessica shouted through the shuffling group of survivors. Burning walkers licked in flames shambling across the blacktop towards them, black smoke trailing their charred figures as they closed in. Rafiq glanced over his shoulder towards where she was pointing and saw Lisa sprinting towards the apartments alone. She had waited long enough with their indecisions.

He spun on his heel to chase after her, almost losing his balance on the pavement in his haste. ”Lisa, WAIT-- c’mon!”

Althea gripped her weapon, taking off after the both of them down the sidewalk as she sighed to herself. ”Keep the street clear!” she shouted back over her shoulder between breaths. ”We might be comin’ back fast...”

Diego gripped his sledgehammer in his hands, angling back into the middle of the street as the walkers closed in around them on both sides. Wayne and Bethany brandished their weapons too as Lily stood back behind the two of them. ”We can’t use our guns… it might spook those people in the apartments. Last thing they need to see is a bunch of people running towards their door with gunfire ringing out,” Bethany advised, dejectedly. She lowered her weapon along with the others, who started swapping them out for whatever knives or melee weapons they had handy. Lily hadn’t brought anything else with her and quickly found herself defenseless.

Tara stowed her pistol and looked around on the ground around her for something to keep the walkers back. She turned and spotted a fallen street sign a few feet back between her and Jessica. ”Just keep them at range. They get a hand on you-- you’ll feel it...” Jessica nodded in agreement. She watched as Tara hoisted the metal pole up into her hands and readied it, facing the creatures.

’HEEEEEEELLLLLLLLPPPPPP!!!!’

The voice rang out from the original burning building-- a hollow shout somewhere deep within. The girls’ heads whipped in its direction. ”Was that--?” Jessica stumbled towards the sound. It had been someone’s voice. Crying out in a panic.

’PLEEEEAAAASE!! DON’T-- NOOOOOO!!!!’

”Jessica!?!” Tara bellowed, prodding one of the zombies in the stomach with the sign and doubling it over as she strained to look over at her. She barely caught sight of Jessica barrelling through the wave of walkers, darting between curtains of black smoke towards the flames. ”JESSICA!!”


# # #


Lily turned back towards the adjacent sidewalk as Diego and Bethany took up positions opposite one another to receive the incoming walkers. Bethany clutched her crowbar between whitened knuckles, bracing herself-- clearly unsure of how to proceed. The first of the clawing creatures groped at her, mindlessly, and she rose the crowbar above her head, waiting for the thing to lunge before crashing it down on its skull and using the heel of her boot to peel it off of her weapon. It splattered onto the pavement-- pieces of its still flaming flesh stuck to her shoe. She quickly stamped out the flames and wiped her foot clean of whatever was still clinging to it. More stragglers hurried past her towards Lily, who was already backed up against a parked car close behind Diego. She pulled down her sleeves and wiped the ash and dirt off the car window with the butt of her hand, revealing its interior. Much to her fortune, a ratty backpack and small machete were visibly stuffed between the seat and center dash console. She cradled her fingers under the handle and pulled up-- to no avail. It was locked. Behind her, the deafening roar of the encroaching walkers grew louder. They were even closer than she realized-- now coming between her and the others. Lily took the first course of action that crossed her mind and dropped to her hands and knees, sliding herself under the bottom of the car towards the other side. The closest walkers tumbled to the ground behind her, grasping and pawing at her untied shoelaces as they traipsed along behind her. She rolled onto her back-- using her hands to pull her along by grabbing onto various dangling engine parts above her while the thick grime caked her blackened fingers and palms. Everything was sticky enough to the point that she regretted the maneuver the instant she had thought of it.

Her face cleared the other side as she struggled out from underneath the car’s frame between the metal and the curb. Several walkers continued reaching blindly towards where Lily had been crawling moments before, hell-bent on getting hold of her. Lily found herself on her hands and knees, facing the passenger door of the vehicle-- hopelessly lunging out for its handle like before. The satisfying click of the door’s mechanism unlocking and propping open was like a godsend. She pulled back with all her might, scuffling forwards into the car and grabbing the bag and blade in one swoop -- carefully checking the back in case any other supplies lied out in the open.

Another low gurgle emanated from the opening to the car behind her. Lily swung around in her seat to see more walkers creeping across the sidewalk towards all the commotion-- drawing dangerously near to the car. She reached over, slamming the door shut with a thud and quickly realized she had trapped herself. Diego, Bethany, and Wayne stood back-to-back in the middle of the intersection with various weapons and tools, herding the growing mob of incendiary walkers. Their hands were full enough with their own situations that there would be know way they’d even notice the catastrophe happening right behind them. The walker’s clawing hands and limbs drew semi-clean streak across the ashen and muddied windows on both sides, deafening her ears with their incessant snarling and thrashing as they threw themselves again and again into the car’s facade. In turn, Lily threw herself into the backseat. It was only then that she noticed what would soon end up being “Plan B”. An equally dirtied sunroof visor hung above her head, casting very little light through it.

She leapt up towards the ceiling, picking at the seam of the window with her small fingers-- but the edge was flush with its plastic lodging.

’The machete…’ she thought, silently.

It was in her hands in an instant and in the sunroof one instant after that. It’s piercing tip slipped finely between the plate of glass and its exterior as Lily delicately inserted it as far as it was willing to go. She pushed firmly against the handle of the blade, wedging the glass open in small movements-- successfully, much to her relief. Patches of ash sifted down from above, clouding her eyes and dusting her hair as she shimmied away at the cover. It loosened enough in its frame to slight another third of the way, enough for her to at least start pushing the supplies out the top-- which she did. More walkers collected behind the others, already pressed against the sides of the car as their arms stretched out towards Lily-- her head and upper body forcing their way up through the opening… but it was too tight of a fit. She curled her fingers between her chest and the glass and pressed her back into the frame of the sunroof, trying to slide it back further-- but their was too much dust blocking the tracking. Her feet fumbled beneath her inside the car, trying to find something with better leverage so she could try and force herself through the rest of the way.

And then it happened.

Her heel fumbled against the emergency brake, disengaging it and causing her foot to slip. She felt it too-- slowly… as the walkers surged against the automobile. The wheels slowly began to roll, crushing the unlucky ones who were still underneath it-- as more and more of the creatures mounted to the rear and grasped at the air around Lily. She suddenly realized the dire nature of the situation as she continued struggling against the glass, a sloping boulevard littered with vacant cars and debris looming into view ahead of her. She thrashed her feet around inside the car trying to find a better foothold and wedged her shoe into the nook of the center dash, pushing up with all her might and slowly freeing her elbow… and then whole right arm. Her palm pressed down into the top of the car as the rest of her squeezed out slowly, but her escape was cut short as she craned her body to stop the bag and blade from sliding off the top of the rapidly accelerating car.

Her eyes caught Wayne’s as she rolled further away down the slanted road, his arm raising to point at her as he mouthed something she couldn’t comprehend. The shock was evident enough in his expression though, and soon he had turned Diego and Bethany’s attention to the spectacle as well. All in one movement, they maneuvered their ways after her-- separately, but together. Their presence was drawing too much attention from surrounding walkers, and they knew it. Too much longer and they wouldn’t be able to traverse the rest of the boulevard towards the other entrance to the metro tunnels. Going by the main streets almost wasn’t an option anymore, what with the volume of walkers being as large as it was. Back alleys and rooftops would always be the safest bet, but not the fastest. And they didn’t have time to waste.

Lily clutched her newly inherited belongings to her chest as the quickening momentum of the car caused her to tumble backwards as well. She slid effortlessly down the filthy windows and over the trunk, colliding with the rough pavement on her backside as she rolled to a stop feet later. She shook her head, trying to unblur her vision as she scrambled around her for her things. Somehow her pistol was still tucked into the back of her pants, but she knew that wasn’t an option. Her whole body stung from the landing-- the familiar burn of road rash pulsing up and down her hands and legs. She used one of them to push her back to her feet as she took a moment to gather her bearings and look for the others.

Wherever they had gone.


# # #


”Jessica! STOP!”

Tara’s voice was faint now-- a bare whisper compared to the roaring of the flames and crackling hiss of the peeling wallpaper and crumbling wood supports. The charred black smoke enveloped the ceiling like thick storm clouds, licking at the corners and edges as the torrential current continued to build. Jessica held the neck of her shirt over her mouth and nose as she barrelled into the open doors of the apartment building and down the hallway. The voice from before was nowhere to be heard. She swung her head to the left and right-- frantically searching the doorways for signs of activity as she plunged ahead into the growing darkness.

’Please! Somebody!’ the voice shrieked out once more. It sounded like it was coming from straight ahead. Jessica waved the smoke out of her face as she passed down the seared facade of the hallway, mindless to the impending dangers all around her. Another door passed by. And another. Her vision was beginning to blur so much already that she thought she saw a white light emanating from the end of the corridor-- but it was no hallucination. The last of the doorframes flashed past her eyes as she swung into view of its inside quarters, seething in flame-- collapsing before her very eyes. Across the way, two blackened bodies laid hand-in-hand in front of a blaring television, its vibrant colors mixing with the reds of the surrounding fire in a randomly pulsating series of flashes. The motionless corpses sprawled idly on the ground in a clear patch past the dining room area of the apartment as a woman on the TV monitor struggled against her assailant screaming out in terror. ’Somebody! PLEASE!!!’ Jessica’s brow furrowed as she closed her eyes against the images of the voices blending with what laid before her eyes-- two souls, burned to death. They survived the end of the world, but they couldn’t survive this.

Her right foot took a step forward without thinking, as if there was anything she could do to save them. Perhaps she was just a bit stunned. Just not as stunned as she became a moment later as Tara hurled her entire frame into Jessica, dropping her to the ground. The two landed with a hollow thud, skidding across the dilapidated carpet that like everything else felt warm to the touch. They tumbled to a stop a few paces past the door and separated, scrambling to their feet breathlessly.

Jessica waved her hair out her face. ”What the hell are you doing?!” she shouted over the roar of the flames. Even opening her mouth to talk was unbearable. The ash in the air stung at the insides of her throat and lungs with each passing breath, no matter what she did.

Tara squared up, as if preparing to charge again. ”No-- what the hell are you doing?” she challenged back, looking her deep in the eyes.

Jessica shrugged her arms, looking around hopelessly. ”I thought I heard s-someone c--”

”You can’t just run off like that,” Tara continued, bellowing out her lungs. ”You keep talking about us all sticking together but then you go off and do something stupid like this? I know you might not feel like you have anything left to live for, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop trying.”

Jessica held her steely gaze from across the doorway, shielding herself from the embers of a cluster of falling beams in an adjacent room as they dusted up in a cloud of ash around them. They both collapsed in a fit of coughs as they fought to cover their mouths with whatever they could. The current of winds already building in the corridor made quick work of the pollutant whisping it s way into the torrent of fanning flames coating the walls and sidings. Jessica took it all in as they struggled back towards the doorway, hand-in-hand. She didn’t even know how they managed to find each other while they were blinded.

”We only get this through this together-- c’mon!!” she shouted out behind her with Jessica in tow.

She hoped they wouldn’t soon join the others as a couple of blackened corpses on the floor. One foot after another, the two of them charged forward-- heads down as they barrelled through the billowing smoke. The winds picked up as they neared the precipice out onto the street, the vacuous black cloud around them funneling out the front entrance an up into the sky. A series of loud crashes sounded behind them as other rooms and supports collapsed into oblivion-- but all that mattered was what was ahead of them.

That was everything.


# # #


”Wayne, can you get to her?” Diego rasped, spinning the sledgehammer around in his hands to deliver a blow to another walker. Its body crumpled into a heap on the ground beside him as the weight of the tool through him off balance and he used its metal head to prop himself up off the ground.

Behind him, Wayne dodged and darted between straggling walkers-- ducking and weaving through their reaching arms as he raced towards where the car had been. He stopped, hitting a thickening wall of the creatures and backpedaled to counter around towards a different root. ”Lily, can you hear me??”

Her voice was faint, but he could hear it-- somewhere amongst the mob. He had to find her before they attracted too much more attention...


#%! CRASH !%#


The deafening crunch of metal on metal made his neck twinge as he flinched. Several of the walkers stumbled to a stop, turning in unison toward the sound of wailing sirens as both of the collided car’s alarms began to blare down the hill aways. The ones further back turned and began to migrate that way, seemingly more interested in the commotion then with Wayne and the others. It was his opportunity to make his move.

Either now or never....