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Tara Schantz (NPC)

A videographer with a few tricks up her sleeve.

0 · 734 views · located in Season 3

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

Description

Portrayed by: Anna Paquin

Profession: TV Camerawoman / Traffic Videographer

Age: 34

Gender: F

Height/Weight: 5'9 / 140 lbs.

Hair/Eyes: Light Brown / Brown

Nationality/Ethnicity: American

Tattoos/Scars: Four-leaf clover on her left foot

Clothing/Outfit: Jeans, white t-shirt, black jacket, black combat boots

Image

MBTI type: ISFJ (Introverted Sensing Feeling Judge)

Traits:

3 Strengths:

Jill of All Trades - Schantz has held a lot of interesting jobs over the years, and has come across all kinds of situations where she's needed to employ different kinds of skills. She can bake a cake just as easily as fix a broken truck's transmission.

Fast - Schantz is a decent athlete, preferring to learn about the world kinesthetically. She played field hockey and softball in high school, which made her powerful in addition to being quick.

Good Eye - Preferring to work rooftop shoots and traffic video, Schantz has excellent eyesight and can spot things from a long distance away.
 

3 Weaknesses

Panicky - Schantz has a tendency to get panicked easily. She'll spring into action, no problem, but not without a bubble-over of emotions to go with it.

Temperamental - One of the reasons she's been relegated to the roof is because she doesn't like being around a lot of people. She deals better on a one-on-one basis, becoming close to people individually. Otherwise, she frustrated easily and is prone to copping an attitude or yelling at someone who happened to annoy her a little too much.

Poor Planner - Don't ask Schantz to be in charge. Just tell her what to do.


Personality:
Schantz is a lone wolf who has respect for just a few people, such as a few of her fellow photographers and the reporters with whom she might work on the roof or in traffic with. She's easygoing and chatty in small groups, but withdraws and becomes anxious in large groups. It's a wonder that she lives in Los Angeles.

Fears:
Crowds, control, sitting still for too long

Aspirations:
Obtain civilian pilot's license, move to Nebraska to be closer to family

Dominant Emotion:
Bored

Demeanor:
Withdrawn in crowds, easygoing in small groups or one-on-one

Quirks/Oddities:
Hates anything perceived as "too feminine," doesn't drink coffee, vegetarian

Skills/Proficiencies:
Filming aerial video, athletic, training in vehicle mechanics/maintenance, thrill-seeker / brave

History:
- Born in Kansas to a large farming family
- Accepts a track scholarship to UCLA just before graduating from high school; performs well
- Works various odd jobs through college to pay rent and save money, mostly as a mechanic
- Becomes a certified skydiving instructor in SoCal right after graduating in 2002
- In 2009, accepts position as a traffic reporter at radio affiliate at WEND-TV; switches to videography at WEND-TV a year later

So begins...

Tara Schantz (NPC)'s Story

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Dyomie Thornes Character Portrait: Natasha Dean
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Dyomie Thornes



Dyomie along an empty road by herself, she had gotten up early that morning wanting to do some scavenging of her own, without the vulture eyes of the group. She had wandered decently far from the entrance to the metro, but the group had almost exhausted their resources that were found around where they were 'holed up', in the most literal sense of the phrase. A week had gone past and since then the cut on Dyomie's leg had almost all but healed. Not that it was ever serious, but Marie was insistent that she not walk on it and kept it clean while it healed up, which was probably for the best.

As of right now Dyomie hadn't found that much, a few road trip snacks and some water bottles, along with some soap. She wasn't that interested in grabbing the soap, but Jessica had started cleaning clothes for them and said that if anybody found soap to bring it back. She was honestly just glad somebody else took up that job. Over the last week or so Dyomie, though not really starting to trust others, had started to make some connections with others in the group; Jack and she had formed an unusual friendship, one that held quite a bit of flirting and her calling him 'Superman'. She found out, by ease dropping and the like, that he was a bit of a criminal himself, though nothing as major as herself. She had been hesitant at letting him in on her secret, but if he told someone she could always return the favor or injure him and run. There was also Schantz, or as Dyomie called her 'Ren girl', they weren't too close, but held a mutual respect for one another. Finally there was Natasha, the cop a.k.a 'Blondie', she still held no trust in this woman because after all they met when she was going to arrest her, but over the week she had proven herself a bit. She had kept the secret of them hiding their guns well and so far she had done nothing to prove that she was going to hurt Marie. In other words, Natasha held the the highest status in Dyomie's books compared to the other strangers.

As they walked, Dyomie slipped on a loose piece of rubble, slamming into a car. The engine flap was open. Though Dyomie herself was nothing like Ren girl she still knew enough to know when a car would be easy to fix, by someone else. This car wasn't one of those cars. The engine was far beyond repair, but it did give her an idea. She looked down the street, there were plenty of abandoned cars among here and there must be some that Ren girl could fix up for everyone. You could say that Dyomie was getting a bit cabin-feverish with staying in the metro, it wasn't safe to stay in the city anymore and now everyone who was hurt were starting to heal up. They could get out of here.

She pulled herself up when her walkie-talkie started making noises. It hadn't been her idea to share the wave-length with Natasha and her lover boy, that wavelength had just been for her and Marie alone, but Natasha was so insistent that Marie crumbled under.

"Hey, Dyomie, I need you to come back to the over turned car, help me keep watch," it was Blondie.

"Yeah, I'm comin', it'll just take a little while. I'm in the city right now scrounging up supplies. I'll be back in a few," Dyomie said into the walkie. She began her trek back to the metro, her leg still slightly hurting but nothing unbearable. As she walked she passed a couple pockets with a few straggling walkers. With her skill of sneaking around and with her being by herself at the moment, it wasn't hard to get past these pockets without being noticed. Even the few times she had been noticed by the walkers she was close enough to a fence, or something of the like, that she could just climb over easily. The trek back was pretty uneventful and fairly routine.
__________________________________________

Dyomie came back, her bag pretty empty, but with some extra supplies. Dyomie saw Jack up ahead with a small group, they must be going on a supplies run themselves. Dyomie waved to them in order to signal that she wasn't a walker.

"Where are you guys off to, Superman?" Dyomie asked Jack. His nickname came by when she first saw his tattoos and his ability to ignore pain. Honestly she knew it wasn't that creative, but her nicknames weren't supposed to be creative, it was just something that she did on the fly so she called people whatever first came to her mind.

"Just to get some supplies sweetheart," Jack answered back, sending a wink her way.

Dyomie's hand flew to her heart dramatically, "Sweetheart? Why I do believe that the budding roses of romance are startin' to bloom," She said in a stereotypical Southern bell accent.

"Well I'm certain we can start something," Jack said. She could feel Nathan's steady gaze on them, he was one in the group that Dyomie could live without. He didn't do a whole lot except bitch about Jack and judge her, as far as she could tell anway.

Dyomie just smiled and flipped Jack off at his comment, "Ren girl, when you get back I want to talk to you, I'll be on watch," she said to Schantz as she passed by. When Dyomie got inside she started to walk towards her and Marie's make-shift 'room', if you could even call it that. A quick drop off for her bag, before heading back towards the flipped over train car. On the way there she ran into a George, a bit of a smaller man, but anyone who could help would be great.

"Hey Watson, I'm going to need your help later today moving some cars to the entrance. I was thinking we could fix them up and get out of here if you want to help, what do you say?" Dyomie asked, crossing her arms and slumping to one hip. His nickname was more because he looked like the character Watson from the BBC show Sherlock, a show that Marie forced her to watch many times.

"Is that a command?" George asked incredulously, "Besides my name is George not Watson."

"You tell me if that was a command or not," Dyomie said, at this point she knew that George was an irritable drunk, but cars weren't going to move themselves and she knew she wouldn't be able to do it by herself.

"Bring it up with the group later, I'm too tired of this shit," he said walking away. Dyomie clicked her tongue a little before turning and heading to the watch point.

She saw Natasha before the cop saw her, as was her way with cops in the past, "Hey Blondie!" Dyomie called to her, climbing up onto the the overturned train, "Any fun news while I was out? What do you want to talk about?" Dyomie sat on the edge of the train, her scoped rifle that she had brought with her from her apartment laying across her lap.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC) Character Portrait:
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Steve kicked aside the destroyed lampshade next to the small red Honda. "Think there's some fuel in here?" he called out to Nathan and Schantz.

Schantz popped over with the red gas can she'd found a little earlier, and connected the garden hose and with a quick breath started to siphon some of the fuel from the tank. "This'll be good to take back," she said quietly, shielding her eyes and nose from the quick burst of gas vapors in the air.

Nathan kept an eye on the road before them, looking for a few of the landmarks around to identify the way to the ammunition shop. "We'll have enough to be on the road to a better place soon," he observed out loud.

"If we can only agree on where to go," Schantz cracked as she continued to work on getting fuel into the can. "No one can agree on anything, though, so... yeah."

"Harper's trying to talk to people," Steve pointed out, also keeping watch on the street. "She's trying to get people to come to a consensus."

"Well, some of us know what the right answer is," Nathan quipped sullenly. He tossed his golf club back and forth from one hand to the other. "Some of us actually know where the safe places in the city are."

"Everyone's got a lot of considerations to make," Steve countered mildly. "And everyone has to compromise and agree. Everyone has to win somehow. You know how that works."

Nathan laughed and rolled his eyes slightly. "Much progress it's made for us, that approach," he whistled, grinning at Steve. "I know you know how bullshit that really sounds."

Steve laughed back. "Yeah, it's not easy, is it?" he said. "Still gotta try."

Nathan peered ahead. "We're not far, you guys," he called out to the others, pointing ahead. "Let's get going. We'll find it in there."

Schantz capped the red can and gripped its handle as she walked ahead, slinging the spiky garden tool over her shoulder. Steve offered to take the can but she politely refused, simply shaking her head and continuing forward. Nathan led them to the storefront of an ammo shop with opaque black windows. Just the day before he'd come into the building and found that the place was mostly cleaned out, except for a stash under the floorboards by the cash register. He was too rushed to count, but he did estimate that there was over 500 rounds of ammunition that could be dug out from that hiding spot. Of what calibers and sizes they were, he had no idea... he just knew that those things would be useful.

Not that he wanted to be the one holding a gun. He detested guns. The mere thought of them reminded him of a story he was told as a kid about someone's son who accidentally shot himself in his home. It always depressed him a little. In the present, though, Nathan knew that having firearms really wasn't a bad thing considering the situation... but he still preferred to not have to handle such a thing if he didn't absolutely have to.

The three were stopped dead in their tracks when they heard a voice ring out. "Hold up, don't move!"

Steve instinctively focused the shotgun on a uniformed man kneeling behind a sportscar.

"Put down your weapons!" called out another voice.

The three stopped in their tracks. Schantz' face went white as she set the gas can and the garden tool down at her feet and her hands behind her head. Steve placed the shotgun in front of him on the ground and stood back up, raising his hands at elbow-level. Nathan stubbornly held onto the golf club, until he saw two more heads pop up from around the store with accompanying rifles. He gulped back his panic and obligingly set the club down on the ground.

"Into the building!" a third voice called, this one in a British accent, markedly different from the other two. "Hands up!"

The three gunmen approached the three scavengers and scooted them toward the door to the store. Schantz studied their faces, and then finally let out a relieved sigh. "Hey! I know you!" she said to the tallest one, the surprise in her voice evident. "I gave you Stephanie's wallet and phone!"

Nathan stared ahead, and his eyes widened. Schantz was right. "Holy shit, it IS you!" he confirmed.

"Shh, shh, voices down, you'll draw the walkers in," the black soldier broke in quickly. "We'll get your weapons in a few. Sergeant, do you know these people?"

They were ushered into the door, where five non-uniformed people were huddled behind a glass counter, digging the ammo stash from the floor near the cash register. A familiar-looking figure popped up--the girl with the glasses and the brown hair from the frigate.

Schantz let out another surprised gasp. "Oh my God!" she exclaimed. "It's you!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Nathan McDonald (NPC) Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Steve Hilpin (NPC)
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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: Thomas Blackthorne Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Carl Dupree (NPC) Character Portrait: Niobe Kajja
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+ Niobe Kajja +


Niobe hung upside down by her legs, squeezing out vertical crunches on the walkway above Carl. She breathed out a growing sequence of numbers, never once faltering in her execution. The past week had been many things for many people, but for her -- it had just been frustrating. Before any of this had happened she had no one but herself to look after, and suddenly she found herself becoming more integrated and more indebted to a group of people who had been complete strangers a mere week ago. As she grunted her 99th crunch, she stopped for a brief moment... letting her arms dangle towards the landing below. Her stomach growled as she took in the inverted vista of the city, admiring it for what it was now: a half-broken wasteland full of the hungry living and the hungry dead. She clasped her hands behind her head for one final crunch, hitting a 90 degree angle with total precision.

Niobe reached up and unhooked her legs, freeing them from the metal beam that had supported her for so long. She gently lowered herself to the platform below and dropped to her feet. Using the hem of her shirt, she wiped her face clear of sweat, taking extra time to clean out her eyes and ears. Carl sat with his legs crossed on top of a wooden crate nearby, his satellite phone held close to his ear as he manipulated the controls with his other hand.

"I think this thing is running out of batteries," he said, shaking the phone. He adjusted the glasses on his nose and looked over at Niobe. She was damp with sweat from head to toe and probably looked like she had just sprinted 5 miles. "Hey," Carl called out excitedly, "you did it!" He put the phone in his lap so he could clap his hands together, half-ironically.

Niobe offered an elaborate bow in return, smiling as she walked over to him. "No luck?" She asked, jumping up onto the crate beside him. Carl scooted over to make room and handed her the phone.

"Nothing," he said somberly. He grabbed the pair of binoculars from next to him and gazed out West towards the Capitol Records building, or at least what was left of it. The last time they were there, the leader of their group had told them to contact them around noon in one week. There had happened to be too much wreckage to between them to make any physical contact in the last week, not to mention things their own group were dealing with. It wasn't until they had scaled the building they were on now, that they discovered the true extent of the damage. Half of the circular white Capitol Records tower had caved into itself, exposing the interior floors level-by-level as if someone had cut a slice out of a multi-layered cake. They hadn't heard a single peep on the frequency they had agreed to meet on over the last hour either.

Niobe sighed, setting the phone back down on the crate. She hopped down, rubbing the crooks of her knees where the soreness from her impromptu workout session was beginning to set in. "So what do we do? Go back?"

Carl shook his head, draping the binoculars around his neck. "I'm gonna stay up here 'til tonight I think, he replied. "I'm the only one who knows how to use the phone, and I'm not of much use on runs or back at camp. Might as well see if I can pick up anyone else on a different frequency, and who knows... maybe one of the Capitols will call?"

Niobe admired his unabashed optimism, something she wished she could at least fake. "I'll run back to camp and get you some food then," she offered, grabbing her bag off the ground and slinging it around her shoulder.

Carl smiled at her. "Oh, sweet! I'm freakin' starving. Luckily I've got games programmed into the phone to pass the time," he said with a chuckle.

Niobe patted him on the shoulder as she passed, shaking her head. "I'll be back soon." She climbed down the ladder onto the outside patio of the apartment complex they were on top of and carefully crawled through the broken window of a bachelor suite's living room. She brushed the loose glass off of her and headed for the stairwell.


* * *


Carl's thumbs danced across the screen of the phone in a flurry as he bit his lip in absolute concentration amidst his pursuit of crushing candies. He finished the level, doing a little dance in celebration of his new high score. He took another bite of the candy bar he had been smuggling in his pocket the entire way, half-melted, but better than anything he'd tasted in the past few days. He had snagged it when him and Niobe first entered the suite and were checking it for walkers or people. It felt wrong not to share, but in his mind he justified it with the fact that Niobe wanted to stay in shape and didn't need to be eating candy bars.

He wiped the remnants of chocolatey fingers on his pants and grabbed the binoculars to do some more sight-seeing. The Capitol building was still lifeless, its ravaged interior dark and empty. He wondered what must have happened to the Silas Quinn and the other people living there. They may have had time to escape having discovered early on the intentions of the military's bombings.

His gaze fell a few boulevards across city streets and parking structures and suddenly a few moving blurs flashed across his lens. He swung the binoculars after them, compensating for their movement and quickly made out the three separate vehicles driving in a distanced line through Hollywood boulevard. They maneuvered around the wreckage and debris-filled streets, dodging stray walkers as they cruised eastbound. The thought never even crossed his mind that they were heading towards the metro tunnel.

"And where do you think you guys are going?" he said out loud to himself. He reached down and took another quick bite of his candy bar struggling to keep the binoculars focused on his targets, but his eyes fell upon something else. Something worse.

"What... the... fuck...?"


* * *


Niobe shadowed a small gaggle of walkers, hugging the outsides of parked cars as she attempted to to stealthily move down the sidewalk. They gurgled and dragged their feet clumsily as they traipsed down the middle of the street. There seemed to be a larger amount of them out this afternoon... moreso than usual. She ducked behind a bus stop partition and readied her gun just in case things decided to sour along the way. As if someone had read the thoughts in her mind, a string of automatic fire sounded off in the distance, its shots echoing all across the tall buildings surrounding her. The surrounding walkers turned towards the sound, beginning to shamble that direction as if of one mind. Niobe watched until she had an opening and stayed as low as she could as she ran towards the disturbance... and towards her people.


* * *


Minutes later, Niobe found herself showing up fashionably late to a total clusterfuck. Her eyes followed the rifle-bearing muscle man as he sprinted towards the catastrophe down the street -- an overturned car. Others ran towards it from even further away. Small blurs in the distance. Smoke from the car wreckage rose in a steady cloud above as a small fire undoubtedly burned from within. She crept around to the other corner of the brick wall she was using as cover to get a better look at the woman closest to her. The brunette with glasses quickly trotted over to one of their vehicles and opened its door, rummaging through its insides.

Niobe knew it was her best chance at making a run for the metro tunnel while no eyes were on her and their group was distracted. There was no way she was going to intervene and make all of their problems her problems. That was the last thing the group needed. They had vehicles. They'd be fine. They'd survive.

She told herself all of this in her own head. Justifying her intentions to leave them alone.

And then she saw him.

Sprawled across the street, face down in his own blood. Her heart was gripped with sudden panic and fear, as she stopped dead in her tracks, gazing down at George's body. Had the man with the rifle shot him? Was he dead? He wasn't moving... She changed course for the woman and the car, denying all her previous instincts as her defensive nature kicked into gear. She raised her pistol at the woman's exposed back and gritted her teeth. "Don't move," she growled, readily intending to plant a bullet in the girl if she made a sudden move. The woman was smart enough to stay still until told. "Now get out... slowly."

Carl suddenly called out to Niobe as he rushed up from behind, "Don't! Niobe, NO!" She swung her gun around on Carl, stopping him dead in his tracks. He threw his arms up as he recoiled. Sweat had drenched his shirt, and he panted loudly as he tried to regain his breath. His eyes flashed towards George's motionless body on the ground. G-George...? What happened to h--"

"Carl?" Niobe asked, interrupting him.

He turned back to her, shaken up... rattled. "W-We have to go," he ordered, pulling her by the arm. "They're coming!"

Niobe yanked her arm free of his grasp. "What are you talking about, Carl? Who's coming?"

Carl stared her straight in the eyes. "The walkers... all of the walkers."

Behind them, Stevie slowly drew her ruger out from the waistband beneath her shirt. Schantz's face was pressed against the window of her vehicle nearby as she watched the spectacle play out before her eyes. She banged on the glass, fumbling weakly for the handle of the door to get out and intervene -- knowing she was the only one who could see what was about happen. As she opened to the door to get out, the full weight of a walker's body slammed against the door, pinning her leg in it sharply. She let out a short scream as she struggled to try and get back inside the car, but a second walker's hand was already blocking the frame. They clawed and thrashed at the car door trying desperately to get to her as she fought them back.

They weren't coming. They were already here.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Harper Hopkins Character Portrait: Stephanie "Stevie" Darden Character Portrait: Jack Cavanagh (NPC) Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC)
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Stevie wheeled around once she heard Schantz' uncharacteristic scream of panic, and lunged into the car through the driver's seat. She shelved her handgun near the pedals and shoved her arms underneath Schantz' armpits in an attempt to drag her across the console and remove her from the reach of the walkers.

"Quick, help us!" Stevie called back to the two who showed up. "Take the gun!"

The pretty black woman and the curly-headed man with the glasses sprang into action; she rotated about the car to distract a few of the walkers from the window, while he snagged the Ruger and followed suit. Stevie pulled Schantz into the driver's seat, Schantz kicking her legs frenziedly, narrowly escaping a series of bites and scratches. Schantz yanked a utility knife from her jacket and held it up tepidly, still weak. Stevie grabbed the knife from her hands from behind and then pulled the driver door shut, cramming a protesting Schantz uncomfortably into the seat as she scrambled feet-first over the console. As she slid into the passenger's side, she slammed her feet against the door, knocking the three gathered walkers back a few feet.

Stevie noticed that the other two had easily taken care of the walkers they'd drawn away, and had looped around to the back of the vehicle to grab the unconscious sandy-haired man off of the ground. She let one of the walkers that had reeled back come closer to the open passenger door as she flicked open a blade on the knife, and sank it into its forehead with a fast jab to stab through its skull.

One of the other walkers had resorted to crawling on its hands and knees back toward the door, and raised one hand to grip the door itself, and before Stevie knew it, had taken a hold of her right foot with its other hand. She let out a desperate shout, cuing herself to stab the knife ahead, but as she let the blade run downward, it sank its teeth into the yellow leather. She let out a loud scream as she drove the knife into the biter's skull. "Help!" she shouted as she kicked her foot. The walker's teeth stubbornly held fast onto the boot.

The black woman whirled around within view of the door and drove the Mazda's antenna, which she'd wrenched off of the hood just moments before, into the eye of the other walker hovering nearby and pulled Stevie from the seat. The other stranger set the unconscious man into the spot Stevie had just occupied and slammed the door behind them. Schantz cast a concerned glance out the window, but knew better than to try to get out again after getting her leg battered by the door.

The pressure that the walker's teeth had dispersed onto the boot was miserably painful. Stevie held back a scream and dug the knife into the walker's skull again in an attempt to loosen its trapping jaw. No luck.

The other woman pointed to the sidewalk and began to drag the deadweighted walker toward it. "This way, now!" she cracked sharply. Stevie hobbled her good foot over and obeyed the woman's command to stretch her leg out. "You've been bit?!" she asked hastily.

Stevie set her foot with the attached walker down on the sidewalk's edge as the man in the glasses directed Schantz to try to drive the remaining blocks to the metro station for help. "Hey, hey, you can't take that!" Stevie shouted.

"It's not far, and we'll get together from there!" he responded.

The woman smashed her foot down on the walker's jaw, just so that it would loosen Stevie's foot, but not without excising another pinch. It almost felt like her foot was very quickly run over by a large truck. Stevie shut her eyes and fought back another shout of pain.

She kicked off the walker as the woman looked down at the boot to inspect the bite. Curiously, there was no blood; just a set of incisor indentations and two embedded teeth. But no blood. The leather boots had been the right choice, after all, when she'd picked them out to wear nine mornings ago. The woman looked up briefly at Stevie and nodded. "Can you walk?"

Stevie nodded as she only slightly winced in pain. "Yep," she said, then saw the Nissan cruising up out of the corner of her eye. Lisa was plastered against a window with a white face, looking back at the wrecked truck, while Althea very calmly drove ahead. "Hey!" she called to the man, "wave them in, they're with us!" He nodded and pointed ahead for them to follow the Mazda, then looked to the couple of walkers that came upon them after the several they'd just dispatched.

Just then, several gunshots rang out, mowing down four of the dozen or so walkers who'd just come into view.

# # #

Harper followed Laura, one of the women from the Hollywood sign who'd opted to accompany them a week earlier, to the largest common area of the station, carrying her vest and helmet with her. "What's going on?" she asked as she walked in.

James gestured toward the wall, where the few guns that the group possessed were propped up along with items such as a few golf clubs, Nathan's metal bat, and a few garden tools. "Take your pick, kid, I know you can shoot," he scratchily instructed. "Jack says he's heard gunshots and our three ain't back yet. Got a hunch that this has got something to do with it."

Harper knew she wasn't strong enough at the moment to handle a bat, choosing instead to grab the scoped hunting rifle. "You sure about that?" she asked somewhat skeptically.

Jessica popped her head in, panting heavily. "There's a car coming," she managed between breaths, "Tara. George. Not going good. People out there. Better go!" she insisted.

Harper followed James and Laura down the long tunnelway to the exit of the station according to Jessica's instructions. They met Jack at the top of the stairs, who motioned for them to follow closely behind.

"The hell's going on out here?" James growled raspily.

"A crashed truck down the way there," Jack responded as the Mazda drove up, "and we've got two coming in."

The Mazda slowly wheeled its way closer, followed by the Nissan. Not far behind was Jessica, who stepped out to assist Schantz in getting out of the car. The Nissan also parked; a tall black woman exited and immediately ran to the Mazda to help extract George from the seat and drag him to safety. A smaller woman with shorter blonde-brown hair exited to help, both following Jessica's lead.

"They're fine," James barked sharply as the group ogled the scene, then turned their attention the other scene in the street. "Carl and Niobe, see 'em? Let's go!"

They made a run for it down the street. At one point Harper climbed into the bed of an abandoned truck and decided to peel off the walkers closing in on what turned out to be a small trio.

"Just like shooting deer," she murmured, hoping to assure herself as she concentrated on landing shots with the assistance of the scope. She let off about four shots before climbing down from the truck bed to join them.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC)
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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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC)
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#, 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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC)
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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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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Henry stares at the form of his father hunched over, dead from the looks of it. A large wound smack dab in the center of his forehead. Still dripping blood and showing fragments of bone. Henry doubles over, retching at the sight. He's got a strong stomach but the sight of his own fathers head split open just doesn't sit well in any situation. It takes him a moment to notice the blood covering his mouth, still dripping in globs down the front of his shirt. Then he hears the sound of crying and peers around the door to the other side of the room where he see's Elissa. She's cowering in one of the corners, cradling her arm left arm with her right and holding in her left hand what looks to be a chairs leg - where she got it he isn't sure as there's n broken chairs in the room with them.

"What the hell did you do!" Henry screams suddenly, eyes wild and brimming with emotion. He stalks over to her in three quick strides, glowering down at her . "What did you do!"

Elissa startles and looks up at that moment. She's still sobbing, fat tears rolling down her chubby cheeks and leaving streaks of makeup behind. She shakes visibly, and Henry can see that she's holding some sort of bite wound on her arm. Probably from his father in self defense. "H-Henry it isn't what you think!" She sobs loudly, drawing her knee's up to her chest. "His heart monitor stopped, there was something wrong with him, he....he was different." she rubs her arms, chills running through her body. "He attacked me...He wouldn't stop! I didn't mean to hit him so hard!" Henry runs a hand through his hair, listening to her blubbering.

"He just kept coming at me, for gods sake he bit me! And I only....wanted to knock him out." She finally finishes her explanation.

Even if he's angry, he can't deny that he feels a certain sort of relief that the man is finally dead. He would have been content of course to wait for him to pass - after all he wanted to say a proper goodbye, wish his father a good afterlife in hell and shove all the horrible nonsense he grew up with back into the mans face.

He slides down to sit beside her, facing his fathers body still. In his hand he still holds the bottle of Vodka, which he now pops open and brings to his lips. He lets the slow burn engulf him for a moment before offering it over to Elissa...She declines instantly, she stifles another sob. "What are we going to do?" she questions wearily.

Henry knocks his head back against the wall. Lets out a sigh he's been keeping in, and turns to look at her.


"I suggest we find a shovel."




Henry see's red.

These people come down here, beat him up, and then think that hes the one who has stuff to explain. Like hell.

"I have nothing to talk about with you, Mate" Henry mocks and stumbles a step away from the man. His head pounds, an angry tempo mimicking the rapid pace of his heart. Fresh sweat breaks out over his forehead. He winces as a sharp pain rockets up his spine. "Christ, couldn't just have been some of those things, had to be real people." Henry glares at the three strangers, mouth turning down into an ever deepening frown.

"You expect me to be all dandy with a bunch o' you coming down here, probably bringing all those things with you. Beating me up and acting like I'm the one at fault!" his voice rises steadily, to match the anger still coursing through him. He glances at the two of them individually, noticing at last the shiner on the woman's face. 'Oh yeah, I did that.' he barely remembers hitting her though and is slightly mortified that he hit a woman in a first place. Even if he's know for being tough he never really saw himself as being intentionally cruel - she hadn't done a thing to him, didn't even have a chance to defend herself. These facts sat wrong with Henry, in a way that few things managed to do. He isn't known for being kind or courteous but that didn't mean he felt nothing at all.

Knowing full well they probably have trouble following right on their heels he just barely calms down. Still, the lasting effects of alcohol coursing through his veins linger and keep a bit of that anger in place. He looks the woman right in the eyes and sighs, pointing to his own cheek where the mark on hers is. "I don't pride myself on hitting ladies." He's already in pain, and he figures it doesn't much matter what happens now. "Go ahead. He motions to himself, allowing her to get a good hit in if she wants to. Its something he see's as letting her take revenge for herself if she wants to. Whats more pain added on after all?

The setting changes from Season 2 to Season 1

Setting

Characters Present

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

The setting changes from Season 1 to Season 2

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC)
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% 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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC) Character Portrait: Character Portrait: Character Portrait:
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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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown Character Portrait: Lisa Pazzino (NPC)
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- 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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Diego Azevedo (NPC) Character Portrait: Henry Ahlstedt
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#, as written by Zephon
Rafiq Chedidi


“Sssht, be quiet.”

The five men went silent. They had finally pierced through the wall, creating a small gap between the two adjacent buildings. George had crouched down next to it, trying to listen for any form of walker activity on the other side. If there were undead in the shop next to the spa, they had better know before they tore down the wall completely.

It had taken the five of them, Rafiq, George, Henry, Wayne and Diego (who had joined a while later), longer then they had hoped. They had been unable to find quite the proper equipment; most tools they had found were used to hang paintings on a wall, not to break things down. The best they had were a couple of claw hammers. Still, they had managed. Thankfully, the wall had been made of drywall, wood and insulation material. Had it been anything sturdier, they might have been in trouble.

“Do you hear anything?” Wayne asked.

George held up his hand, ordering Wayne to stay silent. The pilot closed his eyes, trying to listen more intently.

After thirty more seconds or so, he finally shook his head. “I don’t hear anything outright. You would expect with the noise we’ve been making that all the walkers in that room had made their way over here. But... there is something in there that’s making a noise. It’s distant, but there.”

Diego shrugged, “It’s probably a bird or something. There is pet store next door.”

Glaring at the Brazilian, George picked up the claw hammer again. “You could have told us that earlier.”

“Sorry dude, didn’t cross my mind.”

Now that Diego mentioned it, Rafiq thought he could indeed hear some type of animal sniffing. It wasn’t a bird, but possibly a hamster or guinea pig. Those poor creatures probably hadn’t eaten for days.

Now that they had created a hole to the other side, the rest of the work became easier. Using the gap as leverage, the five men were able to pull down large chunks of wall at the same time. At some point, Tara dropped by and watched for a bit, but she didn’t say much, only that she had checked in on Sam and the others and that the boy was still alive. Then she left again.

At last a large piece of wall gave way and the hole became big enough to fit a person through. Rafiq went through first, as he was smaller and more nimble then the rest of them. The pet shop was dark and it smelt musty. The smell of uncared, dying or possibly rotting animals was far from a pleasant one. Rafiq could feel his stomach reflax, but thankfully he kept it down. Wayne, who had followed him through the hole, wasn’t as lucky and ungraciously puked on the floor.

“Urgh, what a stench...”

“Thanks for adding to it,” said Rafiq more sourly than usual, as he had an intense disgust for any type or form of vomiting. He didn’t really know why, but it always made him freak out. Apparently, the end of the world hadn’t changed that.

When Diego came through, he clapped Wayne on the shoulders. “Maybe you should go back to the others and guard the place or something.” Wayne nodded to the man gratefully and slipped back through the wall.

They had been right about the fact that the place was walker-free, unless, as Diego jokingly said “one is hiding in the closet”. Rafiq took a look in one of the cages and thought for a second it was empty, until he saw a small hamster shivering in the corner under a heap of straw. It was a sad thing to see.

“Guess that answers that question,” Henry said, as he stood next to Rafiq, in front of another cage.

“What question?” Rafiq asked.

“Whether animals get affected by this zombie thing too,” Henry responded, pointing at the dead rabbit inside the cage. The creature had empty eyes and a couple of flies were crawling over it. It was clearly dead for a couple of days, but it showed no sign of any undead activity. Rafiq hadn’t really thought about whether animals could become infected as well, but at least it was a good thing they weren’t. Well, at least rabbits aren’t.

George stood near a couple of other cages and had opened one of them. When Rafiq came closer, he could see that the pilot was gently stroking another hamster.

“It’s unfair,” the pilot said in a tone that Rafiq hadn’t heard from the man before.

“I know.” Rafiq needn’t mention Charlie, but he was sure that was who the Brit was thinking about.

“You guys go on with the next wall. If you don’t mind, I’d like to set these little fella’s free. You know, give them some sort of chance. At the least, their deaths would be less cruel.”

Rafiq nodded as he understood. It wasn’t like they needed four people full-time on the wall anyway.

He told Henry and Diego they needed to move on and so they went to the other side of the shop and checked out the best spot to continue. Unfortunately, the shop had used that wall to place the aquariums and terrariums against. All of them were bolted against it and it would take a lot of time to remove them. The only free area was behind a poster behind the counter, but that was awfully close to the front door.

“What if the walkers hear us?” Rafiq asked.

“Do we have another choice,”
Henry said gloomly.

“Maybe we can go outside now and just run...” as Diego said it, he peeked through the blinds, which made him stop his sentence. He turned around and grinned that usual grin of his, “Never mind. It’s still snowing. Or falling. Fallouting? Whatever. Still, can’t see any walkers nearby”

Rafiq sighed, “I guess we just have to hope for the best. You guys get started, I’ll check around the store. Maybe they have some better equipment lying around.”

He walked to the back, where he guessed the storage room was located. On his way, he could see George opening up the bird cages and some of them had already flown out. It was kind of strange to see the man this... human. Everyone had it soft spots, Rafiq supposed.

The storage room was smaller than Rafiq had suspected, but he looked around it thoroughly anyway. There was a lot of feed, a desk with papers and a table the employees had used for their breaks. Some of the coffee cups were still in the sink, unwashed. In the corner was a broom and a...

“I’ll be damned,” Rafiq muttered. He eagerly picked up the sledgehammer. That would come in handy.

Happy at the prospect of doing the work a lot faster, he nearly walked into George, who was dumping out some of the animal feed on the floor. Or at least, he had been, but something had made him stop.

On the floor were three hamsters, tearing the flesh from a fourth one. Rafiq had heard hamsters sometimes cannibalized each other when under great stress or hunger, but... It was like a gruesome miniature version of what they all had been through.

“It’s ironic isn’t it,” George said, “you try to save them and they get hurt anyway.”

Rafiq didn’t know how to respond to that and decided it was better not to.

He left the older man alone with his thoughts.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: George Remington (NPC) Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown
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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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown
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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: Tara Schantz (NPC) Character Portrait: Wayne Williams (NPC) Character Portrait: Rafiq Chedidi Character Portrait: Lillian "Lily" Strong (NPC) Character Portrait: Jessica Abbott (NPC) Character Portrait: Althea Brown
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% 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....