Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Pond.
Lauren follows Kelsey through snow-covered trees, the chill air making the turn of the month into December unmistakeable. “We’re getting close” Kelsey says, reassuring the accompanying woman that the walk shouldn’t take much longer. Leading the way so as to give Lauren pre-made footprints to occupy, Kelsey snaps overhanging branches and kicks through uneven terrain, her destination finally appearing through the trees.
“Tah dah!” Kelsey declares, her hands stretched out, positioned as if she were presenting the newest vehicle in a name brand chain. “It’s-” Lauren begins, looking at the empty field of white, only a small pond presenting anything different, “-It’s a lake.” Placing her bag against a rock, Kelsey agrees, removing two fishing rods from within and handing one off to Lauren.
“You’re great at the hunting and gathering thing, but I’m going to make you a much better fisherman” Kelsey explains, wrapping Lauren’s glove-covered fingers around the handle. “You want me to fish?” Lauren replies, curious, her heart set on knowing something deeper, “I thought you said a few days back ‘I don’t like fishing with anyone, they ruin my me-time’?”
“Yup, that’s a perfect imitation of my voice” Kelsey replies, taking the piss out of the question, “if we flip the ‘m’ in ‘me time’, it becomes ‘we time’. I’m trying to figure out how that works.” Ending any chance at follow-ups, Kelsey leads Lauren towards a bridge in the middle of the water. “The pond’s not that big, so we only wanna pull back a little” Kelsey explains, her line loose as the rod gently eases past the side of her head, “then you cast it” she concludes, bucking the rod forward.
Trying to mimic Kelsey, Lauren pulls the rod back, bucking it just as Kelsey did without avail, the line still restrained to the head of the rod, the handle jolting up, hitting Lauren in the face. “Ow!” Lauren amusingly says aloud, she and Kelsey both laughing at such display, “I don’t think I’m doing the fisherman thing right.”
Setting her pole down, Kelsey walks over to Lauren and guides her, hands wrapping over Lauren’s arms, fingers interlaced with the inexperienced rookie, casting the reel out. “There, just like that” Kelsey mutters, her chin pressed against Lauren’s shoulder, her front against Lauren’s back. Forgetting to pull away, Kelsey and Lauren look towards each other, their position prompting them to turn in awkward directions.
“Ehem, anyway-” Kelsey says, cutting the unexpected encounter short, backing away and returning to her reel, “now we wait for the bobber to duck below the water, and we’ll have a fish.”
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. The Bridge.
“If we used the top of the cars, we could bypass the dead” Tori suggests, standing on a hilltop with the rest of her group, eyes falling upon a long bridge littered with abandoned cars and more of the dead. “There’s still too many out there” Mark replies, hesitant to buy into the idea of making it across unscathed, “we’ll all have to be perfect. No fuck-ups.”
Turning towards Brent, the man adjusts the bag on his back, squeezing tightly upon the straps. “We’ve made it this far, we’ll be fine” Kelsey reassures, Tori nodding along, looking back to the wreckage-strewn bridge. “We’ll make it” Kelsey says, her long coat and hair flailing in the frosty winds, eyes set upon Lauren, their hands locking together, no fear shown in either.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. The Rooftops.
“Stairwell!” Brent exclaims, shoving his way through a bundle of the dead, eyes set on a door near the elevators. The end of his crowbar jamming into the door, Brent prys at the door, its rustic locks giving enough to show weakness, the man’s foot slamming into the center of the door, finally getting it to budge. Immediately grazed by rotten fingertips, Brent turns back to kick another corpse away, the claw of his weapon digging into the decrepit skull with ease.
Undead pouring out of the stairwell he’d just opened, Brent goes clueless, his realization only dawning at the behest of a pair of teeth sinking into his back. “Ah, you fuck!” Brent exclaims, pulling away from his would-be fate-decider, laying into it with his iron tool. “Brent!” Lauren exclaims from farther within the room, the man raising his voice, guiding those with him to his spot.
The first to emerge from the horde, Tori eyes the stairwell immediately, the hatchet she carries aiding Brent’s crowbar in clearing the way. Toppling a bookshelf over a few members of the decaying crowd, Kelsey clears a path for herself and Lauren, the pair reuniting with their group, helping to lead the way forward. The undead crowd quickly losing numbers, Tori seizes the chance to advance upwards, entering the concrete tomb first.
Wielding a heavy flashlight, Tori swings at everything that moves, those following behind her keeping her path lit. Staring down two corpses, Lauren swings at the first, its body stumbling over the bannister to the ground seven stories below, the woman’s weapon still imbedded in its skull. “I’m disarmed!” Tori shouts, backing away from the oncoming second zombie.
“Cover your ears!” Kelsey shouts, firing a round towards the dead, its brain matter splattering against the wall as it topples over, laid out on the stairs. Taking the lead, Lauren charges forward, grabbing Brent’s crowbar on the way up. Clearing the path now ahead, Lauren pushes the foursome to the top of the stairwell, the end of her weapon digging into the jammed metal fire exit.
“It’s frozen shut, give me a sec!” Lauren shouts, slamming her weapon into the doorframe, Kelsey and Brent both without a weapon, staring down the oncoming swarm of corpses closing in. “Lauren, hurry up the pace, please!” Kelsey exclaims, trying to remain calm on the matter, her panic breaking through the well-manufactured guise of tranquility she’s adorned.
Calling for Brent’s assistance, Lauren jams the crowbar in a gap, letting it rest there before making room for Brent. With another swift kick, the crowbar pierces through the crevasse, metal shards from the lock colliding with the ground, their exit route now open. Hurrying out, Lauren and Tori stay behind, slamming the door shut on their way out, fitting the tool they’d used to earn their freedom into the bottom of the door, holding it shut.
“Okay, what now?” Kelsey asks, aware of how shortened the group is on time. Walking towards one side of the top level, Brent glances towards the nearest building, a nearby rooftop two-levels below them being their safest route. His finger pointing towards the overturned eighteen wheeler that prompted them to require their current alternate route, Brent makes his conclusion.
“We can make it down there next, and then hop on top of that apartment complex across the alley” Brent explains, “from there, we climb down and get back on th-”
“Brent?” Kelsey interrupts, the worry she carries in her voice noticeable. “What?” the large man asks, his fellow survivors all looking at him in concern. “Your back” Lauren replies, watching his head glance over his shoulder, looking towards where Tori’s finger points, “it’s bleeding.” His jacket tied around his waist, all that Brent wears on his upper body is a white t-shirt, the bright red bloodstain on his shoulder easily noticeable, even to him.
Reaching to his waist, Brent pulls the shirt over his head, a grunt emerging from Tori’s disbelief, the woman shaking her head, both Lauren and Kelsey sharing a reluctant face. “Fuck” Brent mutters to himself, pulling his skin back, allowing his eyes to fall upon the teeth marks he wears. “You’re bit” Kelsey mutters, the obvious finally stated aloud. Glaring back at his group, Brent bites into his lip, eyes lifting towards the skies, dissatisfied with his fate.
= Rise: Remastered is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 Media from the start of Season 1 onwards =
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Escape.
Void of the living, Jersey City’s streets are covered with snow, the dead struggling to move around, their deteriorated flesh and weak bones practically turning to rustic metal. The concrete jungle that surrounds reaching into the heavens, all the dead can hope for is a meal to walk into their arms, their feet helplessly dragging through the snow, making imperfect lines in the fluffy winter mix.
“Down, turn right in five blocks!” Jack exclaims, bursting through a backdoor with a sack draped over his back, Tyler, Reggie and Shauna kicking up snow in their path, the time to depart being now. Easily navigating the corpse-filled streets, the survivors swipe at heads when the need to is had. “Hold up!” Jack exclaims, turning one corner in particular that forces him to slow to a screeching halt.
“Where the hell do we go now!?” Reggie exclaims, staring at the bottom of an overturned eighteen wheeler, the likes of which having cut off entire roads. The clumped-together horde still slow enough to buy the group time, Jack takes his surroundings into consideration. Whilst navigating the street, an odd door catches his sight, the path before it shoveled away, almost as if the door had been opened within the most recent snowfall.
Trudging through the slushy mix, Jack pounds his fist at the door, calling out for anyone that can hear his voice. “Please, they’re slow but they’re still hungry!” Jack proclaims, calling out to no one, the rest of his group looking on, puzzled. “I know you’re in there, I know you can hear me” Jack explains, his voice lowering, appearing much more personal whilst the rest of his group takes the fight to the dead.
“Please, you can save our lives” Jack explains, his index finger bent, its knuckle tapping upon the metal door, the rest of his group calling out for Jack to make a decision. “Please” Jack mutters, his voice lower in tone than it has been at any prior point, his request left to anyone, if they’re on the other side, to answer. A few moments of silence ensuing, Jack lets out a sigh, his head shaking in disappointment, the firearm on his hip being removed, aim taken at the oncoming dead.
His finger grazing the trigger, Jack’s attention is stolen by the door opening, an older man in a puffy jacket calling for the survivors to hurry inside. Leading his people through the door, Jack enters last, helping the long, gray-haired, thick-bearded man keep the door shut. Finally with the chance to catch his breath, the reprieve doesn’t last long, a few mechanical noises piercing through the breathy-quiet.
Swallowing a wad of spit, Jack turns around, the older man holding a gun to his head, his apparent wife, a younger man and his pregnant wife all doing the same. “Can we help you?” Jack asks softly, slowly lifting his hands into the air, his firearm held by the grip, its barrel pointed at the ceiling. Grabbing Jack’s gun, the older man snarls at him, speaking out of half of his mouth, “I guess we’ll see” the man replies, not wasting time with his introduction.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. The Narrow Path.
“Everyone, careful” Jack calls back, hand pressed against the back-most train car, guiding his feet atop a slim platform, “we rest when we’re halfway through.” The distance between the train to his left and the railing-less edge of the bridge to his right the length of his shoulders, Jack starts the journey, Tyler following closely behind, Shauna just behind Tyler, and Reggie in the back.
Made out of metal, the platform Jack leads his group over begins to creek beneath their weight. Gusts of wind whipping through their ears, their fairly-high place above the glacial waters below begins feeling more like a planet’s length away, the platform they stand upon becoming more like a tightrope between two skyscrapers. “We’re getting closer, just-” Jack explains, his foot extending out towards a crooked piece of metal, tripping the man up mid-sentence.
Hushing himself, Jack reaches out to break his fall, bouncing off the grating before tumbling over the edge. “I’m good! I’m good!” Jack exclaims as his feet disappear over the edge, dangling over the icy waters as he clutches towards metal pegs for dear life. Hanging at a straight angle, Jack glances up, looking at his fellow survivors through gaps in the structure, the pegs he holds onto reaching the length of the bridge, supporting the platform above like a deadly set of monkey bars.
“I can make it to the other side, just keep moving!” Jack orders, swinging his feet onto the pegs, pulling himself along the bridge's underbelly, using the bars as a capsized ladder. “We can pull-” Tyler exclaims, his suggestion stopped by the sound of gunfire, the bullets hitting nothing close, only sounding near. “Were those for-?” Shauna asks, the gunshots firing off again, this time colliding with the side of the boxcar they stand next to.
“Look for cover!” Jack frenzied orders, continuing his push further along the bridge whilst his group scrambles above. Whilst Tyler ducks into the gangway connection, Reggie and Shauna climb do the same, forcing themselves to the tops of the cars the moment an additional set of footsteps emerge from hiding. Stopping his march below, Jack listens to the footsteps pass him above, the intent of the person they belong to holding horrible intentions.
Pausing, the person above undoes a chain and lock, fiddling with different mechanisms before sliding one of the train cars open, a hissing noise emerging from within. “It’s a horde!” Tyler shouts, prompting the couple behind him to pull themselves higher, the car emptying a group of dead onto the occupied platform.
Watching the shadow of the man pass him again, Jack begins assuming they’d been purposefully allowed to pass, their final push towards the New World Order blocked off by a saboteur.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. The Final Push.
“We can’t start thinking like that” Jack replies, looking at Tyler out of the corner of his eye. “We need to know what we do if things go south” Tyler replies, a rifle carried on his chest and a concerned frown on his face, “we can’t just wander around out here if that’s what it comes down to.”
“That’s not what it will come down to” Jack replies, the man to his left stopping, both Shauna and Reggie following Tyler’s lead. “And how do you know that?” Tyler questions, watching Jack slowly roll to a stop, the man having walked ahead of the rest. “I don’t have to know anything” Jack replies, turning back towards his group, an unamused glare shared with those behind him, “we pushed this far on empty hope and never questioned it, we don’t need to start now.”
Understanding of his group’s growing concerns, Jack comes down to their worried level. “I get it. We’ve been fighting this whole way, and now we’re finally here. It’s jarring” Jack explains, returning to the trio and putting his hand on Tyler’s shoulder, “but we made it. If nothing else, we pushed this far, and we fucking made it. Now let’s get our goddamn reward.”
Bestilling confidence within his friends, Jack eases his last motivational point into the nick of time, the final word in his statement made as gunfire erupts in the distance. Looking the way they intend to go, the survivors recognize the presence of life where the New World Order should be, their eyes widening. Assured of its existence, the group runs down the length of the dirt road, their sights set on long-awaited salvation.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Truckstop.
“Can anyone hear me?” Bill asks, his voice tired and soft, his healing wounds tended to by Janice. Wincing at the alcoholic disinfectant, Bill musters through the rest of his cleaning, arms and legs showing scars, but returning to their closest, most realistic normal. “I bet you didn’t expect your first brush with death to come from almost getting hit by an airplane” Janice remarks, earning a laugh from Bill, which quickly becomes a wince with another touch of the booze-soaked rag.
“My first brush with death wasn’t the plane. It wasn’t even the car crash” Bill replies, sitting at a desk, pushing the microphone towards the wall in front of him. “My family’s got a history of cancer, a long, long history of it” Bill replies, graciously accepting the rest of the liquor, a neat swig poured down the hatch, “ironically enough, my first brush with death was being born.”
“Take it easy, Bill” Janice advises, leaving the well-lit room all to the heavily-scraped man. “How’s he holding up?” Meghan asks, crossing paths with Janice on her way towards the showers. “I’m pretty sure he’s healing, he looks fine and all” Janice replies, placing the potent rag in Meghan’s arms, “throw that in the wash for me.”
Rolling her eyes, Meghan ventures through the halls, all lit in large part to the solar panels atop the roof. Discarding the rag in a nearby laundry bag, Meghan twists the nozzle on the showerhead and replaces her dirty clothes for a towel. Having forgotten to bring soap, Meghan ventures the way she came, stopping at Bill’s room.
“Bill, do you-?” Meghan begins, pausing herself at Bill’s hurried sight, the man’s eagerness only suggesting one thing. “Yes, I’m here. Can you hear me?” Bill replies, pausing for a moment, his foot tapping against the floor in anticipation. “Yes, we can hear you” the feminine voice on the other end replies, a wide-eyed smile coming upon Bill’s face.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Decisions.
“I’m good” Bill assures Meghan, brushing off her help with a gracious appreciation. “Are you sure?” Meghan replies, watching the man struggle to continue walking without struggling for his breath, each individual pocket of air noticeable, the frigid temperatures allowing spurts of air to be visible with every gasp.
“Yeah, I’m fine” Bill replies, his mind made up, his choice certain, “I need to be.” Giving in, Meghan’s concerns begin falling elsewhere, the mid-January winter making it impossible to walk much further. “We’ve already crossed back into Connecticut, Jan!” Meghan calls out, the woman a fair distance ahead finally stopping, her reluctance to turn around obvious, “we need to find somewhere to spend the night.”
Annoyed, Janice does as necessary, shaking her head as she adjusts course, taking Meghan and Bill towards a rundown pub. A small fire built in the pizza oven of the building's small kitchen, Bill catches sleep whilst Meghan approaches Janice, the woman’s cold exterior masking greater pain. “We should have gone with Cam and Heather” Janice murmurs to herself, purposefully quieted whilst intended for Meghan’s ears, “we should have. We should have gone with Cam and Heather.”
Frustrated, cold and lacking in sleep, Meghan’s better instinct to keep herself quiet goes ignored, her mouth opening despite her best intentions to keep it shut. “Are you gonna beat yourself up over every fucking decision we’ve ever made?” Meghan replies, the disgusted look she gets from Janice answering her question. “I guess not” Meghan replies to herself, snapping a small twig in half before throwing it in the fire, watching Janice turn towards her, arms crossed.
“Why? Does it bother you?” Janice replies, snickering at the woman’s gall, a gesture that fails to phase Meghan. “Yeah, it’s kinda pointless” Meghan replies, speaking little more than truth through her aggravated tone, “you’re gonna get yourself killed thinking about the past. We all made the worst decision available at some point, the point isn’t to dwell on it.”
Shaking her head, almost laughing at herself, Janice walks away, pushing through the kitchen door as Meghan follows. “You don’t care, do you?” Meghan calls out, her voice carried throughout the hallowed halls she navigates. “No I don’t, Meghan” Janice replies, walking through the front door, not looking back at the woman for a moment.
“What about Bill and I!?” Meghan calls out, their voices rising now that they’re outside, the reasons to hush now silenced, the snow falling over their heads as they stand in the middle of the road. “I understand that you want the New World Order, I really do” Meghan explains, Janice angrily turning back, looking at Meghan from the other side of the street, her feet dug into the snow, “but if we keep moving at this rate, we’re all going to freeze to death.”
Lip quivering, nose shriveling, Janice looks off at the distance, shaking her head as tears freeze on her cheek. “I don’t care about that stupid fucking camp, Meghan. You know that” Janice replies angrily, trying to keep herself contained, “stop lecturing me.” A puff of air leaving her mouth as she laughs at herself, Meghan begins shaking her head, displeased with Janice’s response.
“You may not have much care for life anymore, but I do” Meghan replies, walking towards Janice with her hands tucked in her pockets, “and I know I don’t wanna die chasing some bitch through the snow.” Squinting towards the woman, Janice remains standing where she last stepped, nodding to Meghan. “Who’s chasing who through the snow in your analogy, Meg?” Janice replies, the answer not clear at first, “am I chasing Charlotte, or are you chasing me?”
Her shoulders shrugging, Meghan illustrates her lack of care to the answer, “does it really matter? Hell, just take your pick, it applies all the same.” Fist clenched, Janice and Meghan prepare themselves for what they know is coming. Discarding her knife, Meghan lets Janice toss her rifle into the snow, their persons now completely disarmed. “I think you need this as much as I do” Janice remarks, the woman across her not refusing, Meghan’s smile giving the answer.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Ambush.
“I’ve got it under control, my friend” a man replies, speaking with a thick Russian accent into a hand radio, driving down a previously-cleared road. “I will send a message-” Nico says, a loud popping sound and the sudden lack of control he has over his car silencing him. “Argh, ah fu-” Nico grunts, the left half of his car leaving the ground, the vehicle skidding across the asphalt before tipping over, grinding to a stop somewhere further down the street.
Suffering minor wounds, Nico unbuckles his seatbelt and crawls through the window, its glass lining the snow-touched streets. The screeching metal bringing the slow, unconcerning dead out from the woods, Nico pulls himself up and removes his gun. A single shot fired, Nico moans in pain as blood spews from his knee, his firearm falling into the snow, creating an imprint.
“No, please!” Nico exclaims, looking to his side to find multiple people, one with a large gun aimed in his direction, approaching with one concern. Firing off at the dead, Janice provides Meghan and Bill cover fire, the woman retrieving the gun whilst Bill hits him over the head with a rock. Dazed to their liking, Nico barely feels the rubber cable binding his hands together, his ears ringing even as he’s lifted to his feet.
“You move, I’ll make the next shot kill you” Bill warns, leading the uniformed militant through a snowy field, a dimly-lit barn in the distance calling their names. Trying to fight free, Nico struggles with Bill, throwing his legs towards him without care. Aggravated, Bill pushes Nico onto the ground and spreads his legs, the rock he carries in his hand hurled towards the hostage’s testicles.
The wind knocked out of him and his lower body numb, Nico’s hands became a handle for Bill, the man now dragging his victim’s body through the barn doors. “Nice touch, B” Meghan remarks, having herself a chuckle when Bill takes a bow, Janice’s first thought being to increase the restraints. Pulling Nico to his feet, Janice ties the weak arms of their prey to the wooden columns beside each sty.
“Hey, fucktard?” Janice exclaims, snapping her fingers in front of Nico’s dizzy eyes, “can you hear me?” Opting to play nice, Nico responds in kind, preferring not to see what insult is bound together with injury. “I’m gonna ask you some questions, you either answer them, or you’re dinner to the dead. Got it?” Janice explains, the breakdown leaving Nico no choice but to oblige.
“You work for the New World Order, right?” Janice asks, the worried nod Nico gives back affording the woman her answer. “Do you know who Charlotte is?” Janice proceeds to ask, Nico’s eyes turning to Meghan and Bill, who stand by and watch. “Hey, I’m talking to you” Janice exclaims, snapping her fingers in Nico’s face again. Answered with a nod, Janice lets the smile appear on her face, the night only beginning in her eyes, “excellent” she replies with.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Withdrawal.
Her hands folded atop her chest, Salem lay wrapped in her sleeping bag, the snow falling above quickly melted by the fire she resides next to. The rustling of Franklin’s bag a few feet away earning her brief attention, Salem allows her mind to run on autopilot. Thinking over the next few days worth of planning, Salem loses herself in thought, veering off into aimless consideration until her hand is forced, her ears drawn to the leaves rustling a few yards away from her.
At best, the rustling leaves are the result of tomorrow morning’s breakfast, at worst, they’re a result of a predator. Slinking out of her bag, Salem reaches for her rifle and crawls over to the man nearest to her, a finger placed over her lips once she finds the whites of his eyes. Her approach on Alicia’s bag following, an empty nudge presents a strange finding, Salem’s hands pushing down on an unoccupied lump of space, the woman nowhere to be found.
Whispering into the darkness, Salem calls for Alicia, her name rolling through the spaces in her teeth. “Where is she?” Franklin whispers, waiting for Salem’s answer, which never comes. “Salem, where is-?” Franklin asks again, ignored for a second time as the woman walks off, stomping through the snow with her rifle in hand. “Alicia!” Salem continues to whisper, her hand being forced the longer a response is refused.
Turning a flashlight onto a low setting, Salem peers through the barren trees, a dark wall of black in the distance regardless of direction. His finger pointed at the ground, Franklin points Salem towards a set of footprints, the line of booted imprints beginning near the absent woman’s bag. Following her trail, Salem and Franklin walk for nearly a mile through the frozen ground below them, the farther they walk, the louder the sounds of running water appear.
“Frank, I know this is going to sound ridiculous-” Salem whispers, looking at the man with a confident stare, “-but you should go back to camp, pack everything up, and get the car ready to leave.” Returning Salem’s expected reaction, Franklin refuses. “This is a scene straight out of a horror movie, I’m not splitting up!” the man responds, the answer not sitting well with the armed survivor.
“Franklin, if shit goes south, we’re not gonna have time to pack shit and run” Salem explains, the demands she makes not of her preferred choice, but one she knows is necessary. “If I find Alicia, and we’re safe and sound, we work from there” Salem explains, trying to convince the single-armed man to depart, “but if I don’t, and shit gets bad, we need to be ready to move.”
Frustrated, Franklin obliges, aware of the woman’s ability to look after herself. “If you find her, don’t kill her” Franklin replies, laying forth his one request. “If she’s not one of the dead, I’ll have no reason to” Salem replies, giving Franklin her word. Returning to the camp, Franklin leaves Salem to her own vices, the woman returning to her retracing of the available footprints.
“Hello?” a voice mutters in the distance, the presence spooking Salem at first, the woman quickly freezing where she last walked. “Alicia, is that you?” Salem calls out, her voice now raised, calling out into the darkness, both hoping for and dreading an answer. “Yeah” the woman replies, her voice more recognizable the second time around, prompting Salem to begin running forward, following the footsteps the rest of the way.
“Alicia!?” Salem confusedly exclaims, dashing up to the side of the woman, her question-inducing appearance leaving Salem speechless. Sickly red circles around her eyes, Alicia sweats profusely despite her short-sleeved shirt, the onset of winter easily mistakable for the middle of summer. “My flashlight died” Alicia mutters, clearly confused herself, exhaustion written over her face and carried in her slurred words.
Found sat in the snow, arms wrapped around her legs, a depressed look on her face. “I didn’t know how to get back” Alicia continues, her arms cold to the touch, a dead body likely hosting more warmth than Alicia does in that moment. “I didn’t know how- I- I-” Alicia begins to weep, turning to Salem with tears freezing to her cheeks, the other woman wrapping a coat around her chilled, sweaty friend, “-I thought I was gonna die.”
Wrapping her arms around the woman, Salem rubs the sides of Alicia’s arms, trying desperately to warm her. “Frank!” Salem screams into the distance hoping the man hadn’t walked too far out of reach. “It’s alright, we’re gonna get you back to camp” Salem whispers, making room for Alicia to lean her head against Salem’s chest, the lone wolf of a woman now having become Alicia’s source of care, a position she doesn’t question, her only concern being Alicia’s well-being.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Cast Iron.
“Take it easy, man” Alicia says calmly, her hands held up, a packet of dry food held in the air. “What are you doing here?” an older woman asks, her hands gripping at a shotgun aimed to Alicia’s back, the woman having been caught on her way out. “Looking for food, trying to survive. The same as you, I suppose” Alicia remarks, waiting for the silence to pass, her face wearing a look strangely resembling a calmness.
“Turn around” the woman demands, Alicia left no other option but to do as told, her slow spin allowing her a better look at the woman’s face. “What’s your name?” Alicia’s asked, the question bringing a smile over her face. “I haven’t been asked that in a long time” Alicia says, her teeth shown to the unamused weapon-holder. “Alicia” the woman replies, her smile turning into a puckered frown, “if you want your food back, take it. I’ll find something else.”
Cards shown, Alicia leaves the woman to think amongst herself, the shotgun lowered after a few, brief seconds. “I’m Bethanne” the woman replies, inspecting Alicia’s person, her young face, long hair and less winter-suited clothes striking Bethanne as odd. “You’re young” Bethanne remarks, the response’s Alicia prefers to answer with not coming from a friendly place.
“Thanks” Alicia settles on, graciously tossing the packet of food in her hand to Bethanne’s feet, “I’ll leave you to your dinner.” Turning her back to the older woman, Alicia begins to approach the door, her hand nearly caressing the handle before Bethanne calls out. “Wait” Bethanne mutters, Alicia’s head turning over her shoulder, eyes falling back on the self-disarmed lady, “we can share” Bethanne adds, glancing at a portable stovetop.
“Where do you come from?” Bethanne asks, stirring a fork inside the packaged meal, the minutes that have passed allowing the pair to settle in for the time. “Connecticut. Old Saybrook, specifically” Alicia replies, blowing on the contents of her meal packet, cooling it off. “And you?” the younger woman asks, the semi-transparent packaging allowing Alicia to watch the clumps inside Bethanne’s packet vigorously broken up, the food fitted to the woman’s liking.
“Maine” Bethanne answers, removing a clump of tuna from the pack, the piping metal fork sliding into her mouth without a second thought. “Why are you going south?” Alicia wonders aloud, her direction having taken her the opposite direction. “I’ve got family in Atlanta” Bethanne replies, feverishly digging into her packet, “besides, I can’t stay in Concord anymore.”
“Why not?” Alicia replies, the amused glance she gets from the older woman making her feel blind to something she should otherwise know. “The New World Order’s taken over Concord. It’s a middle-man to their other compounds now” Bethanne replies, looking at the lost expression on Alicia’s face with suspicion. “You lost over something, young one?” Bethanne asks, the woman across from her unsure of a response, “you look like you just took the red pill.”
“What’s this New World Order about?” Alicia replies, the packet and her fork now dangling from between her fingers. “You just slide out of a rock?” Bethanne replies with a laugh, the head tilt from Alicia suggesting something similar. “Wait, you really don’t know about them?” Bethanne follows, noticing the honest confusion Alicia wears, “I’ll be damned. That’s a first.”
Wiping the grease from her face, Bethanne sets her meal pack against her shotgun, both hands waving through the air, illustrating her point. “There’s a bunch of camps, they’re fucking everywhere” Bethanne explains, only speaking from what she could gather, “from what I can tell, they’re at their strongest along the east coast. Five camps, five cities, one authority. Nova Scotia, August, Newark, Dover, Virginia Beach.”
“Slow down, you said they’re everywhere” Alicia replies, citing the one piece that doesn’t line up. “Yeah, they’ve got camps all over the states. But, if anyone’s being honest, the chick in charge only pays close attention to those five” the woman explains, watching Alicia’s face scrunch with every new detail.
“Anyway, there’s one woman that mainly runs the Nova Scotia plant, it’s an oil refinery” Bethanne explains, Alicia’s attention hooked, “she visits the others, makes sure they’re functioning, then dips.” Little else to tell, Bethanne leaves Alicia with that, her knowledge having run dry. “That’s it?” Alicia mutters, Bethanne’s hands thrown out, the wealth of information dried there.
“Like I said, I can’t go back to Concord. They came in, took over downtown, demanded cooperation or exile” Bethanne admits, her time inside having lasted two days, “I had family in Atlanta, figured I didn’t need them running my life.” Taking her meal back into her hands, Bethanne returns to dinner, her eyes set on the younger woman. “So what brought you here?” Bethanne replies, her story having been strung together in fragmented bits.
Another bite taken out of her packet, Alicia begins to think about the question, the answer belonging to it not clear cut. “I was split up from my group at the start, we went north, just kept moving from there” Alicia replies, unsure of what led her to the station, “I’ve just kept moving from there. I haven’t really found a reason to stop.”
“You have friends?” Bethanne replies, that small detail sticking out like a gardner’s green thumb. “Just another chick and a dude with one-armed. I didn’t know them before everything went down” Alicia replies, promising they have no ill intentions, “if you need a ride, I’m sure they’d be happy to bring you along.” Cautious, Bethanne continues the conversation, her guard lifting slightly, trusting that the woman means as she says.
“But saying ‘nothing brings me here’ feels like a cop-out, even if it’s true” Alicia replies, her eyes falling, the topic pulled down by disparaging thoughts, “I guess we’re just looking for something permanent, but I’m not even really sure of that.” Picking at her meal, Bethanne grows more interested in the woman’s story, Alicia’s appearance not matching her conscience.
“You don’t seem happy about that” Bethanne remarks, Alicia’s eyes meeting hers for a moment, her head quickly falling back to her dinner, “are you happy about that?” Her shoulders shrugging, Alicia puckers her lips, forming a frown. “I don’t really know how to feel about that” Alicia responds, her uncertain answers speaking largely of who she is, “I don’t really know if direction has ever been a big deal to me.”
Feeling like a counselor, Bethanne plays into her temporary position, her questions now digging deeper into Alicia’s past. “What did you do before hell froze over?” Bethanne wonders, a momentary relief brought over the younger lady, questions returning to topics with easier answers. “I was studying to be a social worker” Alicia replies, the recollection bringing a smile on her face, “I wanted to help people get over addictions, which is a little ironic.”
“We all have addictions, don’t get too hard on yourself” Bethanne replies, already sure of where the conversation was heading, her focus placed on getting over the hump. “We all have something we run back to when things get hard” Bethanne explains, “the only difference between them is what society does and doesn’t accept. If you’ve got an addiction to crack, you’re a burden to society. If you’ve got an addiction to social media? You’re human. It makes no sense.”
Comforted, Alicia lets a smile break through her mouth, an appreciative look given back as she raises her fork to her lips. “Where’s your fami-” Bethanne asks, the sound of a ringing bell emanating from close by, alerting her of the front door being opened. “No, no, no!” a bearded man exclaims, his gun raised towards Bethanne, “hand away from the shotty.”
Her life threatened, Bethanne moves her hand back, four more men and two women following the man inside, all armed with enough firepower to take the small building easily. “I thought you said your group was small, Alicia” Bethanne angrily groans, a judgmental glare given back to the woman across. “This is not my group” Alicia replies, watching Bethanne’s expression shift, realizing the complications this encounter entails.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Choice.
“Do you guys know what the definition of ‘insanity’ is?” Alicia mutters aloud, unaware of the eye roll she gets from Salem. “Enlighten us, snowfoot” Salem replies, her eyes placed on the snow-covered road ahead, cautious with every touch of the gas pedal. “It’s doing the same thing, over and over again, expecting a different result each time” Alicia explains from the backseat, Salem not understanding the point she’s trying to make, Franklin staying out of this in the passenger’s seat.
“Where are we driving?” Alicia replies, changing the conversation whilst keeping its roots intact, her question open to an answer. “On the road, somewhere in Massachusetts, while it’s snowing” Salem replies, fully aware of what Alicia wants to know, fully insistent on leaving the proper answer aside. “When are we going to stop?” Alicia replies, looking into the rear-view mirror, finally catching the unamused look that comes with Salem’s audible sigh.
“Why does it matter, Alicia?” Salem responds, the issues she assumes the woman must have not been clear, “we have a warm car, plenty of gas, and shelter from the dead. Why do we need to stop?” Returning Salem’s inquiry with silence, Alicia folds her hands in her lap, looking out at the road out of her window. “Thanks for seeing my side” Salem sarcastically remarks, her full attention returning to the road.
A strong dislike taken to Salem’s dismissal, Alicia interjects her voice within the silence out of defiance, challenging Salem’s patience. “We can’t keep running forever, that’s why” Alicia remarks, well aware of the annoyance Salem takes to the discussion, “the longer we drive, the further we get to nowhere.” Licking her lips, Salem takes in a deep breath, the air escaping her lungs in a heavy rush, the conversation beginning again.
“We can keep running as long as the tank is full, as long as that remains the case, we’ve got protection, transportation, and warmth” Salem replies, peering at Alicia through the rear-view mirror, “is that good enough for you?” Staying silent again, Alicia lets Salem believe the conversation has been put to bed, her intentions existing elsewhere.
“No” Alicia replies after a minute, her purposeful attempt at further aggravating Salem proving successful, the woman stomping on the brakes instantly, bringing the drive to a halt. “If that’s not good enough for you, I more than welcome you to fuck off” Salem replies, her hand pressing against the back of Franklin’s seat, allowing her to peer into the backseat.
“Is that what you would like, Salem?” Alicia replies, a snickering look given back to the woman. “I’d like you to stop being a pain in my ass!” Salem frustratedly shouts, watching Alicia’s acceptance persist, the woman nodding back as she exits the vehicle, slamming the truck door behind her. “Fine, fuck her. Whatever!” Salem exclaims, pulling back into the driver’s seat and driving back onto the road.
“Stop the car” Franklin calmly mutters, his order refused immediately, Salem’s decisions made up in the heat of the moment. “No” Salem replies, continuing to pull onto the road, her foot only hitting the breaks when Franklin slams a heavy prosthetic into the dashboard. “Stop the fucking car, Salem” Franklin demands louder, finally getting his way, putting the vehicle into park for the exiting driver.
Leaving his seat, Franklin follows after Salem, who walks after Alicia, calling out for the woman’s attention. “What the fuck is your problem, junkie!?” Salem exclaims, purposefully trying to dig below Alicia’s skin. “I’m tired of going nowhere, what’s yours!?” Alicia shouts back, her arms thrown at her sides. “Stop shouting, you’re gonna bring in the dead!” Franklin yells, ending the heat of the discussion there, his voice taking on a deep, end-of-his-rope tone.
“The two of you need to put your shit aside before it gets us all killed” Franklin explains, both Salem and Alicia silently staring at each other, still wanting to yell. “She needs to learn to be a part of a group first” Alicia replies, turning her attention away from Franklin and back towards Salem, who looks to the skies with her head shaking. “Ever since day one, you’ve been looking at us like baggage” Alicia explains, watching Salem’s eyes look into her own, “that’s never changed.”
Laughing off the aggravation, Salem crosses her arms and thinks quietly to herself for a moment, answering Alicia’s claims. “I could’ve left your ass for dead in the woods, but I didn’t” Salem explains, her list of examples not stopping there, “I didn’t sneak out in the middle of the night, I didn’t hang back and let your ass get shot up at that gas station, I wouldn’t have ditched you just now even if I really wanted to. What more do you want from me!?”
“I want us to be your choice, not your circumstance!” Alicia shouts back, immediately silencing Salem, the woman ducking her head down out of shame, “I want us to be a team, not the people you got stuck with when all hell broke loose!” The passion in her pleas clearly getting at Salem, Alicia makes her position clear, no longer caring about the tears streaming down her face or the anger she blames the world for.
“How- How, how the fuck do I do that!?” Salem replies, taking a moment to gather herself, “I’ve been on my own for nine goddamn years. How do I magically just be perfectly okay with this like you?” Met with a question lacking a reasonable answer, Alicia stays quiet, allowing Salem to continue unimpeded.
“I was paired with you two at the start because of circumstance, the people I ran into Frank with were due to circumstance” Salem explains, “if I had my say, I’d be here alone, I’d be making due alone. I’d keep to myself because I fucking chose to.” Her empathetic look given to Salem, Alicia lets the woman air her grievances, Salem’s voice breaking, bringing her to terms with who she is.
“I don’t like it anymore than you, but that changes nothing” Salem explains, standing in one spot as Alicia approaches her, “I don’t know how to not be alone.” Wrapping her arms around Salem the moment her sentence concludes, Alicia whispers apologies, the same ‘I’m sorry’ repeatedly, a gesture Salem doesn’t refuse, her arms still hanging at her sides, eyes still pointed at Alicia’s former position, mind unsure of how to respond.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. Warning Signs.
“Let us in!” countless souls beyond the New World Order’s walls exclaim, desperate for sanctuary they’d been told once resided here. “Like I said, they’re built to last, but the more pile ups we have, the further my confidence meter falls” a guard explains, walking along the base of the questioned structure with John. “I appreciate you talking with me” John concludes, shaking the man’s hand and parting ways.
His soldiers forced to overlook the mob outside through vantage points scattered along the interior, John’s tremor persists, his attention given to easing it as Emilio approaches. “Hey John, do you have a-?” Emilio stops, noticing the falling confidence John walks with, “-what’s wrong?” Shaking his head, John makes a failed attempt to suggest the opposite, his friend, the former politician, quickly calling his bluff.
“I just have a bad feeling about the people outside” John replies, passing off the inhospitable actions of those on the other side as less than bothersome. “What did you need to talk about?” John changes course, desperate to talk about anything else. “Have you heard from Bill recently? Emilio replies, earning the same answer he’d been getting since the first time he’d asked.
“No, still nothing” John replies, time beginning to wear Emilio’s optimism down, his hope maintained as a way to balance the difference. “Listen, I’m not gonna be a downer, because-” John starts explaining, a frantic screaming from the distance stealing his attention away. “The back wall! The back wall!” a guard shouts, calling John’s name in hopes of being pointed in the right direction.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Trojan Horse.
Fist tapping at a strong, oakwood door, a militant requests access from those on the other side. “Come in” John calls out, the militant entering the room to find the man sitting behind his desk, sifting through sheets of papers, all filled to their brim with names. “You asked to see me, sir?” the large man replies, John’s hand motioning towards the chair in front of him. “Please, have a seat” John replies, setting aside his documents in favor of the impending conversation.
“Your nametag” John points out, his first impression taken by the shiny piece of metal on the man’s left pec, “your name is ‘Jerome Levit’, so why does your nametag read ‘David Cassius’?” A guilty look on his face, Jerome tries to avoid eye contact, a gesture John discards quickly. “My eyes aren’t on the floor, place them here” John interrupts, two fingers pointed towards his eyes, “as you were saying.”
“I sort of lost my name tag, sir” Jerome replies, the puzzled look John gives back appropriate to the situation in his own eyes. “What do you mean, sort of?” John replies, hands folded on his desk, “you either lost them or you didn’t. Pick one.”
“I lost it, sir” Jerome corrects, the nod he receives from John settling the discussion. Clearing his throat, John pushes himself out of his desk and walks up to his window, the vantage point he has allowing him to see right over the wall. “Would you describe your fellow militants as, I don’t know, responsible?” John asks, speaking to the view despite his words being meant for the man’s ears.
“Most of the time” Jerome replies, his eyes stolen by the man’s frame, the moonlight draped over John’s back. “You grew up in Harlem, correct? How did you end up working for Charlotte?” John questions, continuing to look out the window. “She scouted me while I was in R.O.T.C, sir” Jerome replies, his answer already knowledge to John. Backing away from the window, John occupies the seat beside Jerome, dropping the tough guy routine in favor of something more personal.
“Your father died in battle three years ago, correct?” John asks, watching Jerome’s posture sink slightly. “Yes, sir” Jerome replies, keeping emotions to a minimum, just as he was trained. “It says on your background report that your father’s death made you want to join the military” John explains, “you wanted to serve your country as your father had?”
“Correct, sir” Jerome replies, John’s head nodding as his answer is given, his hand reaching deep into his pocket, emerging with a single American flag pendant. “Do you know what this is?” John asks, the obvious being pointed out, focus placed on appearance until such is inevitably replaced by sentiment. “Correct, it is an American flag” John replies, carefully spinning it between his thumb and index knuckle, “however, it is more than that. It’s special.”
Hiding his tremor-inflicted hand from Jerome, John continues to twirl the pendant before his eyes, taking the time to warm up to his prior service at war. “I was held captive in Ghowr for too long of a time to accurately track” John explains, Jerome’s eyes placed on the pendant, only leaving when the first name John recalls instantly rings a bell, “when I was saved, I looked at the man who had cut me out of my restraints and decided to read his name tag. ‘Marvin Levit’.”
Speechless, Jerome continues to hear John out, every word sticking in the back of his mind like transparent tape to paper. “He must’ve gotten caught on my uniform or something, but what I know is that, while waiting to be returned home, I found this in my pocket” John explains, smiling at the small flag before extending it to Jerome, “I think this belongs to you.”
Accepting his father’s pendant, Jerome struggles to think of a response. “You can cry, I won’t think less of you” John explains, fully aware of the gesture’s importance. “Jerome, I don’t want to make you feel like you have to pick and choose, but if you’re going to serve this compound, you need to understand what’s important.”
Handing Jerome a new name tag, the ‘Levit’ last name slightly larger than Jerome’s first name, John finds his way to the original point. “You signed up not to fight for your country, but to fight for what’s right” John explains, wishing for little more than Jerome’s full understanding of such truth, “something is going to happen someday, I don’t know when, and I don’t know what. But when that happens, don’t fight for the New World Order, don’t fight for me, fight for what’s right.”
“Do you think it worked?” Emilio replies, walking with John through the town’s center, his earlier encounter failing to leave his head. “I’m not sure, but I’d like to think it did” John explains, his mind set on taking his time with setting everything in motion, “we get one shot at an overthrow, we need perfection, not efficiency.”
Finishing his thought, John’s mind travels elsewhere, his eyes falling upon his soldiers, a small group of five lining up at the front gates. “What the fuck is going on!?” John calls out, the man stationed at the front gate calling out. “We’re letting Charlotte in!” the man calls out, yanking on the chains to open the compound’s entrance. “Didn’t she just leave three weeks ago?” Emilio blurts out, aware of the ‘surprise visit’ that was promised, only to have assumed it to be further out.
“Let’s just be on our best behaviour and get her the fuck out” John replies, hands placed on his hips, watching his soldiers venture out into the sea of humanity, parting the crowd in biblical fashion. Quickly jetting through the front gates, the heavily-damaged convoy van stops at the entrance, remaining windows rolling down without a departure.
Without the words to describe the picture, John and Emilio feel a chill run down their spine, something about the van just sitting there, engine running, no interest in dropping people off all feeling odd. Though falling pointless, a gun extends out of the vehicle, a single shot put through the head of the gate operator, the chains left unattended.
“Intruders!” John exclaims, the van’s back tires kicking up dirt, driving into the main grounds, running over anyone in the way. “Go look after Jess and Amy!” John exclaims, joining his fellow militants in making a dash towards the entrance, the less fortunate outside now rushing in, their intentions fully set on taking the compound over.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Familiar Faces.
“No, I don’t have confidence” John replies, turning away from his wife, eyes set on the booze counter at the back of the room. “Then why are we here?” Jess responds, sitting on the floor with her daughter, giant plastic blocks held in her hands. “Because you thought it was a good idea” John replies, mid-pour on a glass of scotch. “Of course I did, I wasn’t expecting this place to get ransacked!” Jess replies, taking a breath to calm herself, John doing the same.
“Our problem isn’t the compound, our problem is the scavengers outside” John replies, his statement holding plenty of truth. “If we didn’t have to worry about them, this place would be utopia” John explains, the obvious wrench in such a plan still present, “that, however, requires a lot of self-sufficiency, and a lot less Charlotte.”
Downing the rest of his glass, John presses his back to the wall and reconsiders his position, quietly asking himself questions he finds irredeemable. “Is there room for good in this world anymore?” John wonders aloud, the vocalization of this question putting concern on his wife’s face. “Play with your blocks, okay honey?” Jess whispers into Amy’s ear, climbing to her feet and walking up to her husband, each side of the man’s face taken into her hands.
“Please don’t think like that” Jess replies, the man’s teeth sinking into his bottom lip, his wife’s eyes showing worry. “Answer the question” John replies, brushing off Jess’ plea as it repeats, asking his original question once more. “Is there room for good in this world anymore, answer the question.”
Not wasting a moment, Jess responds with a less than favorable answer. “I don’t know, John” Jess replies, quick to use those specific words, repeating them when the man fails to reply. “I honestly don’t know, John” Jess finishes, her hands running down the sides of her husband’s face as he turns away. “John, come back” Jess mutters, watching the man walk off, leaving through the front door.
“Everything okay?” Emilio asks, entering the room to the sound of the door shutting. “Watch over Amy, please” Jess replies, chasing after John.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Pond.
“Where’d you learn to fish?” Lauren wonders aloud, her elbow pressed to the cold wooden bannister, eyes set on the bob just floating along the water. “My dad” Kelsey replies, her eyes also following the bright red orb floating over the surface, a warm smile practically melting the cold frost around her, “he taught me when I was little.”
“Must’ve been nice” Lauren replies, half of her mind paid to the words leaving Kelsey’s mouth, the other half silently begging for the red and white ball to fall below the surface. “It was” Kelsey replies, having taken a seat upon a bench originally belonging to a picnic table, “we’d go out on the water every weekend when I was done with homework.”
Handle pressed between her legs, Kelsey leans against the railing, using it to support her back, both arms resting against the snow-covered, wooden top. “I remember one time, I was probably, like, thirteen?” Kelsey recalls, her eyes wandering around the snow-covered treeline, “my mom got promoted at her job, and to celebrate, we all went out on the lake and tried to teach her how to fish.”
Gently resting the back of her head against the bannister, Kelsey dreams back to that day in her childhood, Lauren’s eyes drifting away from her bobber, falling onto the woman. “She didn’t understand what the point was. She thought it was stupid to purposefully go fishing when you could just buy fish at the store” Kelsey explains, her voice softening, “but she agreed because she knew I liked it.”
“So fishing was like a reward?” Lauren replies, watching the woman’s dark brown eyes stare back at her, head turning away from the world, focusing on Lauren. “Not always” Kelsey replies, voice still soft, still carrying the same recollected joy, face slightly formed to content, “sometimes it was an ‘I’m sorry’, sometimes it was a ‘thank you’, sometimes it was an ‘I’ll see you later’. It was anything it needed to be.”
Calm, feeling safe in a way she hadn’t since the world fell apart, Kelsey begins wishing for herself, dreams of better days returning. “There was one day when I came home from school, it was a half day and my father didn’t know” Kelsey explains, a pain coming over her briefly, quickly vanishing as she continues, “he was packing boxes. He seemed upset, not awfully upset, but kinda upset.”
Moving aside to make room for Lauren, Kelsey rubs her hands together to keep warmth, their eyes returning to the water. “He brought me out to the lake and we fished until the sun went down” Kelsey explains, nodding to herself during a pause, a long breath leaving her lungs, “that’s when I learned what ‘divorce’ was.”
Looking back to Kelsey, Lauren notices the unphased arch of Kelsey’s lips, the woman having long accepted the complications of her past. “I’m sorry” Lauren feels the need to reply, Kelsey looking back to her with a shrug. “It’s fine. It’s been fifteen years, I moved on a while ago” Kelsey replies, a light wind throwing her own warm breath back at her.
“Where is he now?” Lauren asks, her legs extended, one foot crossed over the other. “I don’t know” Kelsey replies, visibly curious, as if she’d asked herself that many times before, “my mom won custody of me, and then she stopped letting me see him.” Annoyed by this fact, Lauren voices her disapproval, something Kelsey understands far too well. “That’s fucked up” Lauren remarks, a nod from Kelsey suggesting an agreement.
“Yeah, it is. And if I’m being honest, there will always be part of me that resents her for it” Kelsey replies, another puckered-lip shrug given back, “but she’s my mom, so what am I gonna do about it?” Retiring to the lost cause, Lauren’s mind drifts elsewhere, her investment in Kelsey’s fishing expertise only growing. “So, that was the last time you fished?” Lauren asks, quickly earning a shake of the woman’s head.
“God no. But it was the last time I fished with him” Kelsey replies, her foot tapping along to non-existent rhythms, “mom got the house, so I still lived on the water. My weekends belonged to the fish.” A partial smile beginning, Lauren’s face soon retorts, additional questions bubbling up inside her head. “So now you fish to, what? Escape?” Lauren replies, the suggestion something sitting well with Kelsey.
“I guess you could look at it that way, yeah” Kelsey replies, a grin emerging, “but there’s obvious importance to it, now. This place is also lovely to look at. And I hadn’t fished with anyone else since that day, so make of that jumbled mess what you will.” Eyes squinting, Lauren looks at Kelsey, her head tilting to her shoulder. “Wait. Does that mean-?” Lauren begins, interrupted by the woman, who finishes the question for her.
“Are you the first person I’ve fished with in fifteen years?” Kelsey replies, a cheery expression embellished, “yup.” With a giggle, Kelsey turns back to the pond, looking out at the water until her attention is called for again. “What makes me so special?” Lauren replies, the question raised just as Kelsey’s bob dips below the water, little air bubbles emerging from below. “Who said you were special?” Kelsey replies humorously, leaving her seat to reel her catch in.
“I’m gonna need your help here, special one” Kelsey jokes, her foot placed upon the wooden railing, “this is a big one.” Unsure of what to do, Lauren awkwardly maneuvers around the woman, fumbling her hands around Kelsey’s arms. “Just put both hands around my hips and keep me from falling over, you goof” Kelsey jokes, struggling to pull her reel in, whatever bites at the end of the line seeming to put up one hell of a fight.
“Almost got it, here we go!” Kelsey exclaims, laughing aloud as her line emerges from below the surface, a small minnow hanging from the end of the line. “What the-?” Lauren gasps, watching Kelsey take glee in the display, a moment passing before she catches onto the joke. Hands placed at her hips, “very funny” Lauren remarks, walking back the way she arrived, returning to the cabin.
“Oh come on!” Kelsey remarks, Lauren’s own laughter visible as she turns, walking backwards whilst her eyes are kept upon Kelsey. “Don’t be a buzzkill, get back here a-” Kelsey calls back, stopped by the sound of snapping below her, a brief second passing. Suddenly breaking through the splintered wood, Kelsey’s foot snaps off one piece of the railing, her body weight taking her into the rest of the bannister, which snaps beneath her body weight, letting her plunge into the chilly waters.
Calling out the woman’s name, Lauren watches Kelsey’s body disappear below the surface, a quiet coming over for a moment before the woman bursts back through. “Fuck, it’s cold!” Kelsey shrieks, both scrambling to the shoreline and laughing at herself. Reaching through the remaining bannister, Lauren takes Kelsey’s hand and guides her back to land, what the small body of water lacks in size, it more than makes up for in temperature.
“My bones are ice” Kelsey mutters to herself, shivering as she’s ripped from the water, the snow having never felt more warm than in that moment. “We gotta get you back to the house!” Lauren exclaims, lifting a heavily-soaked Kelsey into her arms, trying to walk on her behalf with no progress. “I can’t, I can’t. Sit me down for a sec” Kelsey explains, needing a moment to gather herself before the rest of her body will cooperate.
Tripping over a tree root protruding from the ground, yet hidden below the snow, Lauren topples over, taking Kelsey to the embrace of the wintry mix below. “Kelsey, you’re gonna get hypothermia if we don’t get you back right now” Lauren remarks, looking into the woman’s eyes, her thoughts pausing for a moment. Her trance-like state not lasting long, Lauren makes the second effort, pushing herself up before carrying the frostbitten woman in her arms.
“Do I call you ‘my hero’ now?” Kelsey jokes, her sopping clothes abandoned in a pile on the floor, her nude body wrapped in blankets and other sources of warmth. “I don’t care what you call me” Lauren replies, sitting beside the woman atop a couch near the fireplace, both women greeted by the heat of the fireplace and the moment.
“I’m just glad you’re safe” Lauren concludes, losing herself in the woman’s eyes once again, Kelsey more than aware of this, as she has been to each other time. “Why hesitate?” Kelsey asks aloud, Lauren unsure what she means, slowly coming along. “If you’re going to make a move, you should” Kelsey remarks, lifting her hand from below her blanket, the tips of her fingers grazing the side of Lauren’s face, her soft skin warm to the touch, “who knows how long we’ll have?”
Lip quivering, Lauren processes the woman’s words, forcing herself to act on instinct and give in. With a lean, Lauren presses her lips to Kelsey’s own, keeping them there for a few seconds before pulling back, her eyes melting with Kelsey’s own. “Do it again” Kelsey replies, her hand sliding down to Lauren’s neck as the woman obliges, choosing to take what her time affords her, giving into her instinct.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. The Bridge.
Leading by example, Tori approaches a rundown truck, propelling herself off the running boards and climbing into the truck bed, an army of the dead separated by the length of the truck bed. “One at a time, never get on a car someone else is still on” Tori warns, steadying her feet, the weight of the dead putting a noticeable shake on the car. Easing her breaths, Tori climbs atop the cabin, sliding down the windshield cautiously, keeping her distance from the dead, having a narrow window to do so.
A sideways vehicle just beyond the hood, Tori makes her first jump, her feet graciously squeaking along the top, a moment taken to steady herself right after. “Next man up!” Tori calls, her attention given fully to her next approach. “I don’t care who goes next as long as I’m last” Mark proclaims, his obvious dislike for this plan made evidently clear. Taking this as his call to action, Brent clasps his backpack straps together and climbs atop the truck, quickly preparing himself.
The addition of a second person thinning everyone’s individual attention, Tori and Brent find noticeably less resistance, their task a little easier. “I’ve got nothing around me” Tori calls out, her next attempt less certain than her previous, eyes scanning the area before peaking interest. “It’s time to be ballsy!” Tori exclaims, turning to the lesser-populated group of the dead, a steady breath taken as she leaps over their heads.
“Where are you going!?” Kelsey calls out, watching Tori rush through a crowd of the dead, wailing on anything in her way. Without a word, Tori dashes towards a bright red sports car, sliding onto its hood and setting herself again, leaping onto a nearby van before taking a break. “What the fuck was that, Tori!?” Mark shouts, drawing more attention to his group, the woman peering her head over the edge of the van to respond.
“Like we said, perfection” Tori exclaims, standing to her feet whilst calling out for her group, significant progress made, “we don’t have an easy path, we’ve gotta make due with what we’ve got!” Her point clear, Tori leaves the rest of the group to think amongst themselves, the chain of command quickly breaking down, everyone now looking for a worthy route.
Following Tori’s footsteps, Brent skips over the nearby car and throws himself into the pit, fending off the dead just as Tori had, his success less notable. Forced to redirect himself, Brent shakes off the countless arms reaching for him, his attention now set on the side of the bridge. “The ladder, run for the ladder!” Lauren exclaims, her eyes set on the set of rungs along the abutments, the pegs forming a makeshift ladder Brent is all too happy to seek salvation in.
The only way out of the dead’s reach being to climb up, Brent discovers his new predicament, the waiting hands of the dead just below him leaving him now room to turn back. “Brent, stay up there!” Lauren exclaims, running to the opposite side of the bridge, throwing her body over the roof of a nearby Cadillac. The dead with their back towards her, Lauren lunges herself at the closest corpse, shoving it into the rest like a bowling pin, their attention now taken by her.
“Lauren, what the hell are you doing!?” Kelsey exclaims, watching her girlfriend fight through the dead, maintaining her distance despite becoming the center of attention. “We can fight our way through!” Lauren shouts, swinging at anything that moves with a pocket shovel, the grooves carving deep gashes in every zombified skull standing in her way. Seeing her opportunity, Tori takes the distraction for what it’s worth, climbing down from the van and brandishing her hatchet.
“Sway them!” Mark mutters aloud, his racing mind having stumbled upon their solution. “If you gather the dead to one side, you can use the empty path to get across!” the man shouts, scanning the area for his own route. Making as much noise as she can, Kelsey draws the dead towards her, battling for attention with the persistent car alarm.
His path clearing, Brent climbs back to ground level and makes a break for the other side of the bridge, his crowbar coming down on anything that moves in front of him. Biding her time, Kelsey waits for the perfect opportunity to reroute, dashing to the other side of the bridge, taking Lauren and Brent’s newly-cleared route. Keeping out of sight, Mark lets the dead follow after Kelsey, allowing the path to clear before hurrying along the opposite side.
Leading the pack, Tori slashes at anything ahead, intending to clear the path ahead before her eyes are taken elsewhere. “Get down!” Tori exclaims, throwing herself into the side of a minivan the moment gunshots ring out, her force prompting another alarm to begin buzzing. “Head of the bridge, ducking by a big chunk of concrete to the left!” Brent calls out, another bullet firing off in his direction, the situation now becoming dire.
“I don’t have much time to work with, guys!” Tori calls out, the dead now focused on the mixture of gunfire and the blaring alarms, their sights upon her. “Same problem!” Mark exclaims, the dead previously following Kelsey all now locking onto him. Limited rounds to spare, Tori fires back at the shooter, two warning shots failing to ward them off, her window closing.
His anxiety levels peaking, Mark forces himself into action, dashing out of cover and into the waiting arms of the horde, swinging at whatever moves. “Mark, duck!” Brent exclaims, watching the barrel of the enemy rifle take aim at the exposed man, the lightbulb in Lauren’s head flashing. Removing herself from cover, Lauren takes aim at the figure across the bridge, her shot lined up as the enemy begins firing again, one pull of the trigger dealing massive damage.
“They’re hit!” Lauren exclaims, the declaration giving Tori enough reason to make a dash towards the opposing gunfire. “So is Mark!” Kelsey horrifically exclaims, Brent and Lauren turning to find what Kelsey does, a shocked Mark cupping his neck and he hesitantly pulls away from the oncoming horde. Turning towards those watching on, Mark’s shirt quickly stains red, the blood oozing from his jugular like spilled milk, his eyes widened, perfection tarnished.
Stumbling backwards, Mark desperately clings to life as he tries resiliently to escape the dead’s reach, his momentum taking him over the edge of the bridge, sending him cratering to the icy waters below. Furious and stunned, Lauren and Kelsey watch on, quickly having to be guided to safety by Brent, who himself deals with the vision replaying in his head.
“Take what you want, just leave me-!” the woman responsible for the loss of life pleads, her words cut off by Tori’s gunfire, a single bullet ripping through her skull. Turning back, Tori notices Mark’s presence lost, eying the group of dead glancing over the edge Mark had fallen over, the dots connecting in her head. “Come on” Tori says with a defeated sigh, stealing the gunwoman’s bag from her corpse, their lives still counting on moving forward, “we’re burning daylight” she says, upset.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. The Rooftops.
“There’s gotta be thousands” Kelsey mutters, peering through the blinds at the neighboring street, the slow undead still bountiful in size. “We can’t camp out in here” Brent whispers, the night having fallen over their trail, “too many broken windows, no way to light a fire, nothing.” Considering their options quietly, only one outcome prevails, Brent’s bite making their efforts a race against the clock.
“I say we risk it” Kelsey remarks, eyes finding her out of the moonlit foyer they occupy. “We split into two groups, lessen the bodies to grab at” Kelsey explains, her idea sound in logic thus far, “we regroup at the mall downtown, take it’s rear entrance onto the next street, figure out how to address Brent’s bite when we get there.”
“That’s a good plan” Tori replies, her eyes spotting out the tall frame of Brent from the rest. “I’ll take Brent, we’ll go towards the overpass” Tori explains, leaving Kelsey and Lauren to group together, “we make noise, draw the group in two directions, cut the horde in half like before.” In agreement, the group nods to each other and takes a second to catch their breath, a cool rush of air hitting them in the face the moment Kelsey shoves the door in.
“Hey, you undead fucks!” Kelsey exclaims, running off to the left with Lauren whilst Tori and Brent veer right, slamming pans against lamp posts, drawing the dead. “Take a left at the overpass, we’ll run three blocks worth down the side road and pop out on main street!” Brent exclaims, leading the charge, hurling his crowbar at everything that walks.
Making their first turn, the rest of the journey becomes a straight shot, the ease of navigation made up for by the sheer size of the frozen undead in their path. “Oh shit, that wasn’t what I was expecting” Brent mutters to himself, he and Tori now stood at a stop, caught in the intersection, their original plan failing. Forced to adjust, Tori pulls Brent down an alleyway, the hole to squeeze through the present just long enough for them to enter unscathed.
Their progress impeded by another wall of the dead, Brent and Tori begin to realize how surrounded they truly are, with very little in the way for error. “Fuck it, stay behind me!” Brent exclaims, handing his backpack off to Tori. “What are you doing?” Tori calls out, watching Brent sprint into the dead, his crowbar crushing the skulls of the countless dead all around him.
“I’m already dead anyway, I might as well use that to my advantage!” Brent exclaims, his arms and upper body scratched at and lunged for, his end goal having become a suicide mission. “Get behind me!” Brent exclaims again, Tori nearly falling too far behind. “Let’s go!” Brent shouts, picking up the pace, his arms spread outwards. Using his body weight, Brent barrels through the dead, his arms and torso being littered with scratches and bites, the path cleared for Tori.
“Back on the side road!” Brent exclaims, nursing his wounds, some barely visible, others fairly deep and aggravating. Taking the crowbar from Brent’s hands, Tori takes the lead, swinging at the straggling bodies as they emerge from the concrete jungle, the horde they approach attracted immediately. “Through the burger shop!” Brent suddenly shouts, running past Tori pushing aside every undead corpse in his way, the front windows across the street calling out for him.
Lunging himself off the curb, Brent shatters the artsy display into bits and pieces, the vacant restaurant offering brief safety for the moment. “Brent, you’ve gotta stop trying to get yourself killed!” Tori shouts, climbing through the wreckage as the brute of a man cleans himself off.
“Tori, I’m already dead. As far as I’m concerned, my only job is getting you through this alive” Brent remarks, brushing off the statement as nothing, whilst Tori thinks it over continuously, Brent’s words sticking with her. “Come on, through the back and into the alley!” Brent directs, breaking the woman out of her statue-esque pose, their attention turning to the rear exit.
With a deep breath, the pair push through the rear entry and tear through the undead, pushing through the second road and venturing down a final alley. Taking his crowbar back, Brent continues to attack the dead, downing his would-be killers with precision, the tide turning when he fails to finish off one in particular. Merely toppling the corpse, Brent moves on as if he’d taken care of it, a violent tug at his leg below making it clear that he hadn’t.
Both rotten hands gripped around his ankle, the prematurely discarded zombie sinks its teeth into the man’s muscular calves, the sharp pain sending a shriek out of the large body. Falling to the side, Brent takes out Tori on his way down, his large upper body jamming the woman’s knee against a neighboring concrete wall. Finishing the undead with one final blow, Brent pulls Tori to her feet, both survivors now nursing a fairly hindering progress.
Spilling out onto the main road, Tori begins to notice Brent’s weight carried more by her than the other way around, this realization handicapping them as they spill onto the main road. “We’re almost there!” Brent gasps, a few yards separating them from two separate hordes, one trailing behind them, one approaching in front of them. “We’ve just gotta get past this last bunch!” Brent exclaims, trying to stand on his own two feet, quickly finding his efforts fruitless.
“How many rounds you got?” Brent questions, trying to catch his breath, the woman glancing into her clip, only three bullets left at her disposal. “That’s not gonna be enough” Brent mutters to himself, preparing himself for a final push. “We’ve gotta set of bushes at that end” Tori says to herself, speaking as if Brent weren’t beside her, brushing off his presence as non-existent, “and we’ve got a car right here.”
“What are you going on about?” Brent asks, finally standing on the weight of one leg, his severed one bent back, rendered useless. “I’m thinking” the woman replies, making sure she can place weight on her bad knee before looking back at Brent. “Thank you” Tori whispers, firing her gun at Brent’s final good knee, the man’s body slamming into the frozen ground below, the woman firing one final shot at a car window nearby, the alarms blaring into the night sky.
“What the fuck, Tori!?” Brent exclaims, watching the woman pry the crowbar out of his hands before dashing across the street. “I’m sorry!” Tori exclaims, hobbling towards a set of bushes before diving into the shrubbery, leaving Brent immobile in the street, a sitting duck to his impending death. “Fuck you, Tori!” Brent shouts with vigorous rage, desperately trying to crawl away from the dead, their slow pace still faster than the length Brent can crawl.
“Fuck you, you bitch!” Brent shouts again, the woman watching from behind the snowy plantlife, the dead beginning to tear into his helpless body, devouring him alive. “Rot in hell!” Brent exclaims as the teeth sink into him, every other sound that follows rendered into wails and cries, his desperate voice pleading for mercy until the very last moments.
“No, please!” Brent shouts, trying to push the countless bodies away, the man disappearing below the undead mass, his voice carrying for a few moments longer. “Please, have-” Brent exclaims, shrieking in veiled noises, fighting for every last second on this earth, “pleeeaass!” Brent’s final words are, his life fading the moment his voice stops, the bellowing groans replacing his frail existence, the lone car alarm singing to Tori from afar, the flashing lights illuminating the horde.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Escape.
“I think this is a bit unnecessary” Jack remarks, his knees resting on the tiled floor, the cold touch noticeable through his damp slacks. “I think it’s perfectly reasonable” the older man replies, watching his daughter’s husband slap cuffs on Jack’s wrists, “we saved your life, you shouldn’t be complaining.” Conceding, Jack drops the subject, his mind already set on a second question.
“What’s your plan here?” Jack inquires, noticing the irritated look on the man’s face, the cards he intends to play kept close to his chest. “What do you mean by that?” the older man replies, his hands patting each side of the four survivors. “You have us cuffed, you have the dead outside, the ball is in your court” Jack replies, looking the man in the face, the scowl he gets in return sticking well at the back of his head, “what’re you going to do with us?”
Refusing to answer, the older man pats him down and walks away, his daughter’s husband left to watch over them. Taking the group’s secrecy and restraints into consideration, Jack’s mind begins leaping from one conclusion to the next, shuffling by until one end point sticks out from the rest. “You’re stuck in here” Jack mutters to himself, the words just loud enough to be heard by those around him.
“You’re keeping your distance so you don’t get attached” Jack explains, glancing back at the wife’s husband, who holds a handgun by his side, ready to fire if needed. “You waited to let us in because you were making a plan” Jack continues, earning the ire of the man standing over him. “Keep your mouth shut” the man orders, his warnings falling upon deaf ears, Jack considering himself dead, either by the hands of the other group, or by the teeth of the dead.
“You wanted to use us as bait” Jack continues, the eye roll the man behind him replies with noticeable, “you just wanted us to cooperate. It’s less difficult that way.” Looking towards the front of the store, Reggie, Tyler and Shauna notice the rest of the other survivors talking amongst themselves, pointing to different directions, appearing as if an escape was in the works.
Beginning to notice the compliance of Jack’s fellow survivors slipping through his fingers, his need to act kicking in. “I told you to shut your mouth” the husband exclaims, holding his gun to the back of Jack’s head, this display earning his family’s attention. “What’s going on back there!?” the older man shouts, taking charge of the situation, returning to the back of the store.
“This guy won’t stop the crazy talk” the husband replies, Jack’s head turning back towards the father and son-in-law, a half-smile appearing through his lips. “Tell me I’m wrong then” Jack replies, looking at both men, trying to find the gall within either of them to be upfront and honest. “What are we gonna do with this guy?” the husband asks, looking to his father in law for the answer.
“Yeah, pops” Jack mocks, daring the two men to prove him right, even if it means paying the price of his life, “what are we gonna do with me?” With a snarl, the older man considers his choices for a moment, his eyes traveling back to the front of the store, a decision made quietly. Taking Jack by the cuffs, the older man pulls Jack to his feet and leads him away, their legs carrying them to the front of the store.
“True colors, I see” Jack remarks, his heart beating, the handcuffs pairing his wrists by his lap making this act a death sentence. “I guess this was bound to happen eventually” Jack remarks, still lead towards the front door, a sudden display of humanity suddenly emerging. “We can’t do this, dad” the pregnant daughter remarks, her concerns brushed aside, her father telling her to move out of the way.
“Dad, we can find another way” the daughter replies, her arms crossed, feet firmly planted on the ground, refusing her dad passage. “Sweetheart, we need to get you to the New World Order” the man replies, still failing to find a give within her stance. “We can figure something else out!” the lady replies, steadfast in her position, “we’re not those kinds of people!”
“We have to be!” the man angrily shouts, raising his voice for the first time, the woman visibly affected by it. “This isn't a book club, sweetie. This is survival of the fittest” the man remarks, a few straggling corpses beyond the front doors now looking in through the windows, begging for the chance to get a hold of the survivors inside.
“We do this so we can get you help. We do this because we have to” the man continues, his daughter still opposed to the idea, but clearly being worn down. “We don’t have to do this” the woman replies, her softened tone matched by her father. “Yes, we do” the man replies, his wife walking up to their daughter, inaudible whispers spoken into her ear, finally convincing the daughter to stand down.
Sheepishly walking away from the doors, the young woman clears the path, a disgruntled look worn upon Jack’s face, his fate sealed. “Do the bidding” the older man orders his daughter’s husband, the man walking up to the glass and tapping along. “Fresh meat, come get it!” the younger man shouts, drawing the horde closer.
“Let him go!” Shauna exclaims from afar, Reggie and Tyler having slipped their handcuffed wrists over the heads of the two women. “You make any poor moves, we’ll snap their necks” Reggie remarks, the threat laid down. “We’ll fucking shoot you down, don’t think otherwise!” the older man declares, her and his son in law raising their firearms towards the enemy.
“You were gonna use us as bait, we’re already dead to you” Shauna remarks, hidden behind Reggie, Tyler and their captives, “you’ve got no leverage.” No words left to exchange, the standoff ensues, groans and guttural cries from the dead beyond the glass vantage points the only thing surrounding the air. “Where would you go without us?” the older man remarks, neither group able to run beyond the boundaries of the building, “your only hope is that we- AaaHh!-”
Yanking the hunting knife out of the older man’s holster, Jack drives the blade into the man’s side, the sudden piercing causing his finger to pull the trigger, a shotgun blast obliterating his daughter’s skull. Collapsing, the older man clutches at his wounds, the knife remaining in Jack’s hand, screams filling the room whilst the husband looks on in shock.
Unable to process what had just happened, the husband looks on in shock, his wife’s body lifelessly colliding with the ground. Without another move, the husband’s throat gushes blood, a swipe with the knife in Jack’s hand slitting his throat. Only coming to an understanding of what’s happening after the fact, the husband drops his weapon, his body weakly falling to his knees as his hands wrap around his neck, failing to stop the bleeding.
Her family wiped out in the span of seconds, the mother looks to Jack, her husband’s blood on his hands, her son in law’s blood on his chest. Stood there, hands still cuffed, blade still dripping blood, Jack looks back to the mother, her inhuman shrieking a sign of things to come. “You alright, Jack?” Shauna calls out, Reggie quickly pulling his handcuffs away from the headless daughter, his wrists only sporting a few minor cuts.
“Jack?” Shauna calls again, the man having failed to answer her the first time, his eyes stoically pressed to the mother’s. “Yeah” Jack replies in a breathy tone, reaching down to pull the keys off the father’s waistband, “I’m fine.” Freed of his restraints, Jack takes his knife to the older man’s skull, putting an end to his life as he had with his younger counterpart.
Freeing his group of their restraints, Jack keeps his own within grasp, kneeling beside the mother and keeping his eyes upon her. “Your daughter didn’t deserve what happened to her” Jack whispers, the shocked woman only able to stare back, her heart racing too quickly for her mind to think coherently. “Your husband, however, he did. So did the other guy-” Jack concludes, slapping one cuff over the woman’s wrist, attaching it to a low-placed pipe, “-and so do you.”
Reversing the roles, Jack orders the rest of his group to strip the bodies of valuables, a few weapons, bullets, and other equipment carried in tow. Standing over the mother, her son in law’s pistol in his hands, Jack makes his parting words effortlessly clear. “You didn’t have to be those people, you chose to be” Jack explains, aiming his weapon at the window and pulling the trigger, allowing the horde to spill in, “and now we choose to be, too.”
Their equipment in tow, Jack and his group return to the back of the building, the older woman’s pleas for safety only now emerging, those with the power in no hurry to come to her rescue. “Just another second” Jack says, stopping with his hand on the doorknob, delaying their escape purposefully, “if we’re doing this, we have to stomach it.”
Forcing themselves to take in the woman’s helpless cries, the survivors watch every second of the dead’s approach, their hungered growls closing in further. Shrieks emerging, the group watches the dead tear into the woman, her deafening hollers firmly sticking to their conscience. “Now” jack finally utters, pulling the door and leading the escape, their return to the midwinter coming at a cost.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. The Narrow Path.
“Stay off my bridge!” the pistol-wielding, middle-aged man exclaims, firing at Reggie and Shauna randomly, hoping for one bullet to finally make contact. Pausing briefly with each gunshot, Reggie and Shauna attempt to walk along the top of the sloped train cars, each sudden move threatening to roll them straight off the bridge.
“Both sides are swarmed!” Tyler shouts, his only safety residing in the gangway connection, his height keeping him from climbing higher. “Hold on, Ty!” Reggie shouts, picking up the pace of his run, no longer stopping at random gunfire. “Grab my hand!” Reggie shouts, throwing himself against the sloped cabin, his hand reaching into the open slot.
The cabin below her feet shaking with each step she takes, Shauna becomes increasingly unstable, her body jolting with each gunshot fired near her. Still maintaining her position, Shauna prepares to jump the gap between two cars, a last moment hesitation proving costly. Yelping out in pain, Shauna crashes into the side of one box car, falling straight into the gap below, her reaction indicating a massive problem.
“Go get Shauna!” Tyler exclaims, ordering Reggie to back away, his mind having been made up. Picking a side, Tyler stands between the looming undead and Shauna’s position, buying Reggie time to retreat.
Finally halfway up the bridge, Jack pulls himself to the surface and glances back at his group, his attention only stolen by the rippling gunshots just over his head. Ascending a ladder, Jack sneaks up to the shooter, an angry frown worn on Jack’s face. Unsheathing the hunting knife from his belt, Jack catches the ear of the middle aged wanderer, who jumps back at Jack’s sight, his gun falling from his hands, crashing into the icy waters below.
Out of moves and cornered, the older man throws his hands up in a sign of surrender, a gesture that does nothing to help him. With force, Jack plunges the knife into the man’s sternum, keeping it lodged within for a moment before cutting up, gutting the man where he stands. Choking on blood as his own organs spill onto the platform below, the middle aged man looks into the eyes of his killer in fear.
Throwing the man over the bannister, Jack lets his victim join his gun below the water’s surface, attention immediately returned to his people.
Keeping himself close to the train, Tyler throws each corpse that closes in over the edge, unknowingly approaching the same twisted metal that nearly spelled disaster for Jack earlier. “Do what you’ve got to, Reg!” Tyler shouts, continuing to hurl each corpse in his path to the river below, the line of zombies nearly disposed of. “I’m trying Ty, she’s fucked up!” Reggie exclaims, the woman’s knee badly wounded, a deep gash and additional swelling making it impossible to walk.
Reaching out for the final corpse, Tyler jumps back the moment a blade plunges through the front of its face, the back of his foot caught on the earlier wreckage. Disposing of the final corpse himself, Jack catches Tyler’s hand mid-fall, saving him from a troubling fall. “Can we get some help back here!?” Reggie shouts, the neighboring side of the bridge still infested with the dead.
“Get her leg up!” Jack exclaims, ripping a piece of his flannel shirt off, tightly knotting it along the woman’s thigh. “The two of you cover me, I’ll carry her” Jack orders, pulling the woman’s arm over her shoulder, carrying her like a bag on his back, their destination lying at the end of the bridge.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. The Final Push.
“Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!” a jumbled group of survivors exclaims, cheering into the night sky, aimlessly firing bullets into the air, trying to capture the attention of those inside. “This is going to boil down to a gunfight” Shauna remarks, her leg supported by a makeshift cast, the rest of her group in agreement. “Keep your distance” Jack replies, his orders given to everyone, “if this gets ugly, we’re not getting caught in the crossfire.”
Backing away, the group begins to join those at the back of the mob, taking on the dead drawn to the sparse gunfire. “Do we wait for them to let us in?” Reggie wonders aloud, the next step having never been less clear. “Like I said before, if they don’t let us in, they don’t let us-” Jack replies, the heavy metal gate opening before he can finish his statement, the mob beyond the front walls having finally brought upon the forces from inside.
“Hold your fire!” an unreasonably familiar voice declares, Jack’s ear drawn towards the commanding officer, failing to pin a face to the words. “Who is that?” Jack finally chooses to ask his group, the remaining survivors all failing to recognize it as well. “What do we-” Tyler finally asks, stopping himself when Jack silently disobeys his own orders, pushing through the crowd in search of the front of the line, his group’s hand forced to follow after him.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Truckstop.
“Are we really going home again, mommy?” Tyler wonders aloud, Janice’s arms wrapping around him, holding the boy tightly by her side. “Hopefully, honey” Janice replies, smiling down to the boy, her honest expression of concern returning when she glances back at the oncoming trucks, “hopefully.”
Pulling into the open lot, a fleet of trucks and vans stop in the snowy ground, many armed men and women emerging from within, stopping a few yards away from the miniscule group of survivors. “Which one of you is Charlotte?” Meghan calls out, her question receiving no answer, prompting her attempt to ask it again. “Which one of-?” Meghan asks, a random white man at the front of the group interrupts, asking a question of his own.
“Are you the leader?” the man calls out, his eyes set upon Meghan, who stands a short distance away from her peers. “Are you going to answer my question? Meghan replies, finally getting her answer. “Nope” the man responds, immediately presenting the power dynamic, their guns, their number, their conversation, all of it under their control.
“I’ll ask again, don’t make me ask for a third” the man calls out, his warnings issued, “are you the leader?” Keeping herself from getting out of line, Meghan looks back to her group. “We don’t have a leader” Meghan replies, still standing a few feet away from the rest of her people. Dissatisfied, the man subdues a disapproving look, opening his mouth to speak before a woman gets the drop on the conversation first.
“You’re not a very good group if you don’t have a leader, then” Charlotte replies, casually hiking out from the back of the group, confidently strolling up to the forefront of her forces. “I think we’ve done pretty well so far” Meghan replies, a shrug being given back by the distant woman, both hands in her pockets. “Yeah, you’ve stayed alive if that’s what you mean by ‘pretty well’” Charlotte replies, her shoulders shuffling the cold away, “but have you been thriving?”
Looking to the building they’ve briefly called home, Meghan gives herself a nod. “We’ve got a truckstop. That’s not bad” Meghan replies, speaking with an unamused, stoic tone. “You’re funny” Charlotte replies, taking honest humor out of the woman’s presentation. “Leaderless groups never fare very well” Charlotte explains, her presence the way that it is giving her point credence, “democracy can only work so well. You need one mind making calls, not multiple.”
“Why is that?” Meghan replies, overhearing a giggle emerge from Charlotte. “I’ll answer your question with my own” Charlotte replies, taking her seat at the game table Meghan wishes to occupy, “let’s say you and mumsy over there have two different plans in mind, which plan do you go with?”
“Whichever one Bill chooses” Meghan replies, another laugh emerging from Charlotte. “And if Bill’s dead?” Charlotte replies, the ominous statement carrying more trouble than it otherwise should. “Then we pick the better plan” Meghan replies, each answer only bringing out more of a laugh from the blonde woman across the lot. “And if you both think your own plan is better?” Charlotte replies, finally interrupting Meghan just as she goes to answer.
“And there you see why you need a leader!” Charlotte exclaims, her hair whipping in the bitter cold winds, “in the time it takes you to make a choice, a leader will have shit already getting done!” Laughing off the discussion as pointless, Charlotte breaks away from her militants and begins to approach Meghan. “I’m gonna pretend you’re the leader, because your stance already suggests it” Charlotte explains, pointing out Meghan’s distance from her people.
“If you four are doing ‘pretty well’, why are you calling out to us?” Charlotte replies, her fingers snapping in Meghan’s face as the woman attempts to look back. “I’m not asking them, girly. I’m asking you” Charlotte explains, taking another few steps closer, getting in Meghan’s face, expecting an answer, “why are you calling out to us?”
Keeping her eyes on Charlotte, Meghan gives a vague, unsatisfying answer. “We wanted to know who else was out here” Meghan replies, an obvious disinterest in Meghan’s response taken by Charlotte. “Really?” Charlotte replies, a snobbish tone taken, “you called us out here to make friends?”
Her chin lifting, Meghan bites at her bottom lip, returning Charlotte’s shrug back to her. “Is that a problem?” Meghan replies, Charlotte’s lips slowly parting, giving Meghan a smile back. “That itself isn’t much of a problem” Charlotte replies, a suddenly chipper tone quickly appearing, her follow-up returning to normal, “the lie, however, that is.”
Close enough for the heat from her breath to warm Meghan’s face, Charlotte asks her question again, this time wanting a genuine answer. “Why did you call us out here?” Charlotte asks again, toying around with the woman, purposefully closing the distance, stripping away comfort. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have an answer” Meghan replies, noticing the head-tilt Charlotte holds, “the truth is, I don’t think we were truly expecting an answer.”
Offering Meghan the benefit of the doubt, Charlotte removes a gun from her hip, aiming the barrel of the gun towards Bill, her eyes remaining fixated on Meghan, practically piercing her soul. “I’ll assume that was why you looked for a radio, but that doesn’t answer my actual question” Charlotte explains, her finger gently grazing the trigger, “when we answered, you led us to you. You didn’t think to ask questions, you didn’t want supplies, you asked us to come here. Why?”
Her demeanor unchanged, Meghan recognizes what Charlotte wants to hear, the gun aimed at Bill no longer serving as a threat, her understanding superseding all conflicts. “We wanted more” Meghan replies, the head tilt Charlotte takes leading her to the right answer, “we’re tired of being miserable. We don’t want to survive anymore, we want to live.”
Digesting Meghan’s answer, Charlotte remains standing there, silently thinking to herself, the gun wavering in the air. “That’s a better answer, Meghan” Charlotte replies, smiling at Bill, the gun still wavering in the air, “why couldn’t you have said that sooner?” Confused, Meghan looks at Charlotte for a moment, opening her mouth to speak. “Wha-?” Meghan responds, watching Charlotte’s weapon turn, her finger squeezing the trigger, a bullet leaving the chamber.
Grabbing their ears the moment the weapon is fired, Bill and Meghan take cover, waiting for the air to settle before directing their attention elsewhere. “That’s how a leader operates, Meghan” Charlotte declares, turning away from the group, returning to the welcome of her own, “I’m afraid I can’t save those that learn that lesson too late.”
Her mind gone unpaid to Charlotte’s words, Meghan’s stare follows Bill’s, their eyes fallen upon Janice’s hunched over body, their thoughts racing. “Janice!” Bill exclaims, crawling through the thin layer of snow, reaching out for the woman immediately. Packing into their cars, Charlotte’s militants drive off, pulling back onto the road as Meghan’s group tries to tend to the injured.
“Janice, Janice!” Bill shouts, shaking the woman to noticeable resistance, only bringing on confusion. “Janice, are you-?” Bill asks, the woman’s head lifting, a pool of blood staining the snow beside her. “Meghan, get towels!” Bill exclaims, removing his shirt as he leaps over the woman, pressing the clean white top on the older woman’s side. “Meghan, hurry up!” Bill shouts, the woman still laid on the ground, staring at Janice’s crumpled heap in awe.
Coming back to earth, Meghan does as ordered, hurrying into the building insearch of aid. “Janice, can you hear me? Janice!?” Bill exclaims, shaking the woman, who stares awestruck at the ground, very much alive, though unresponsive. “Janice, answer me!” Bill continues to exclaim, failing in his effort of getting the woman’s attention.
“Meghan, towels!” Bill shouts the moment the woman emerges from within the storefront, his hand reaching out for her. “Oh my god!” Meghan exclaims, stopping fast enough to fall, the towels falling from her hands as they cover her mouth. “Meghan, the to-!” Bill exclaims again, stopping himself the moment he looks to his hands, very little blood of any sort on his palms.
More confused than he was before, Bill glances back towards Janice, the woman slowly removing herself from the ground even more, finally allowing the man to piece the picture together. “Janice?” Bill asks as the woman pulls up enough, his eyes falling towards the ground, where the true sight-stealer captures the man. “Tyler” Bill mutters beneath his breath, the glassy, lifeless eyes of the young boy staring towards the heavens, a bullet wound in his chest.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Decisions.
“You’re turn” Janice growls, blood running from her nose, her lips cut and face a bright red. Snarling at the woman, Meghan drags herself up, pulling herself out of the snow as Bill emerges from the pub. “What the hell are you idiots doing!?” Bill exclaims, pushing himself forward, shoving Janice and Meghan back to the ground, their exhaustion making such action a viable way of restraining them.
“We’re supposed to be a group!” Bill calls out, both women looking up at him, the blood running from their beaten faces. “We’re gonna get nowhere if you two are insistent on killing each other!” Bill shouts, drawing the frail, lingering undead towards him. “I’m not gonna let her talk to me like she gets it” Janice grunts, turning to her side, crawling towards Meghan, “I lost my son. She’ll never relate!”
Taking matters into his own hands, Bill pulls Janice to her feet, looking her in the eyes before decking her with a straight right hand. Dropping to the ground, Janice catches her bearings for a moment, the shot enough to draw the violent thoughts out of her head for the moment. “The two of you need to get it the hell together!” Bill exclaims, catching Meghan mid-leap, the woman having tried to capitalize on Bill’’s work.
Laying an uppercut into the woman, Bill lets Meghan fall to the snow as well, both women now rattled enough to forget the infighting. Waiting for the air to clear, Bill watches Janice stumble back to her feet, a moment passing before Meghan does the same. “Janice, Meghan didn’t kill your son, a bitch with a god complex did” Bill explains, the truth hitting the awestruck mother like a ton of bricks, “if you’re gonna take it out on anyone, save it for the person that deserves it.”
Looking at Meghan, Bill throws his hands out, puzzled. “And what the hell is your problem?” Bill asks the woman, no answer given. “I blame myself” Meghan suddenly proclaims, Bill’s turn towards Janice stopped, his eyes back upon her. “What?” Bill replies, Meghan left to catch her breath, repeating herself. “If I played nice, Tyler wouldn’t be dead” Meghan replies, her conscience constantly eaten by the blame that consumes her.
“If Charlotte wasn’t a prick, Tyler wouldn’t be dead. This isn’t your fault!” Bill exclaims, Meghan’s tilted head suggesting a different view. “You don’t believe that, do you?” Bill asks, turning back to Janice, her refusal to immediately answer giving Bill enough reason to redirect. “The two of your are fucking idiots!” Bill exclaims, astonished at the lack of self-awareness either have.
“If neither of you can see how wrong you are, I don’t think-” Bill says, stopped mid-sentence by Janice, who gasps for air. “I don’t blame her for what happened to Tyler” Janice exclaims, leant against an abandoned vehicle, “it would be easier to blame her, but I don’t. I only blame one person.”
Dragging himself closer to Janice, Bill kicks snow in his path, finally bringing himself to the woman’s side. “We’re going to find Charlotte” Bill reassures the woman, Janice’s head falling, Meghan’s limping-self following not too far behind. “We know where she is, or at least where she’s going to be” Meghan explains, toppling to her knees, mind still set on Janice, “you’re going to get your shot. All you’ve gotta do is make sure your aim is right.”
Trying to convince herself to believe in that, Janice feels her cold skin grazed by Bill’s warm hand, this time not in the form of a punch. “You’re going to get your revenge” Bill explains, the woman’s face looking into his, the honesty he speaks with recognizable. “We need to do this right” Meghan explains, her point stated clearly, “rushing into things will just get us killed. We need to be on the same page.”
Accepting her group’s point, Janice nods her head, the cramps in her neck present, visually taking their toll. “Let’s get you back to warmth, though” Bill mutters, he and Meghan taking help to lead Janice back to the bar, their differences set aside for now.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Ambush.
“How many times do I have to say it, she’s not here!” Nico exclaims, the heels of his boots dragging along the dirty floor, legs constantly shuffling. A knife in hand, Janice kneels to the ground, Nico’s restless feet kicking himself as far away from the woman as he can manage, every little inch counting.
“Why are you people doing this?” Nico asks, viewing his captors as inhumane heathens, “if you wanna get in, you’re better off waiting for entry than you are doing this!” Attempting to ask a question, Meghan finds Janice’s hand extended towards her, all five fingers firmly placed together, her palm presented. “Hold on, Meg” Janice mutters, slowly lowering her hand, her own question asked first, “what is it you think we’re doing?”
The tip of her dagger falling towards the ground, Janice backs away, giving the man room to breath. “You’re - you’re trying to use me as a hostage” Nico replies, his eyes darting back and forth, shared between the three survivors, “that’s- I mean, that’s what you’re doing, right?” Sucking on her lip, Janice looks back to Meghan, the same look shared back.
“Do you soldier-people get nabbed very often?” Janice replies, the conversation taking a strange turn, no one truly knowing where it’s meant to go. “Maybe, I don’t know” Nico replies, still trying to maintain his distance, “why have you taken me if not to trade me?” Unsure of her own response, Janice drops from her knees, taking a seat on the ground beside Nico, the man still desperately trying to stay away.
“What can you tell us about Charlotte?” Meghan asks, the man giving a shrug. “I don’t know her very much” Nico replies, understanding his original assumption to have been disproven. “She’s got a family. Her brother, her husband, her kid” Nico remarks, the final mention catching Janice’s attention, the woman interrupting immediately. “She has a kid?” Janice asks, looking away from the man, staring off at a random corner.
“Yeah, she’s got a kid” Nico replies, both meghan and Bill glancing towards Janice, already aware of where the woman’s mind is heading. “What’s wrong with her?” Nico questions the distant survivors, a minute of silent consideration on Janice’s part leaving Nico in the dark. “She’s thinking of getting even” Bill remarks, leant against a post in the corner, his eyes joining the rest of the group’s, all attention paid to Janice.
“An eye for an eye” Janice mutters, her words concealed beneath her breath, a gasp of air taking her back to the moment, head turning back to Nico. “Where does her family live?” Janice asks, the man’s face riddling with disappointment, the concerns for his safety coming back. “I don’t know” Nico replies, Janice’s teeth sucking on her inner gums, the knife’s handle taken back into her fingertips.
“Where does her family live, Nico?” Janice replies, slowly lifting the blade back towards the helpless man, his distressed attempts to break free of his restraints coming on again. “I don’t know, no one ever sees them!” Nico shouts, the woman now pulling away from his face, her knife taken to his hands, the only part of his body he can’t move an inch. “Where does her family live, Nico” Janice replies, his responses having turned into pleas, “you really need to tell me.”
“They don’t live in any of the camps!” Nico exclaims, filling what he doesn’t know with what he does, “if they’re still alive, they’re kept somewhere private!” The lack of direction frustrating her, Janice takes the very tip of her blade to the side of the man’s hand, pressure gradually added before Meghan’s exclamation puts a stop to things. “Janice, ease up” Meghan calls out, the woman stubbornly keeping her blade to the man’s flesh, looking him in the eyes for a few extra seconds.
“Aren’t you lucky?” Janice mocks, backing away from the prisoner, leaving her space open for Meghan to occupy. “Please, don’t kill me” Nico mutters, Meghan’s hand waving for him to quiet down, the woman lowering herself to a seat beside the man. “Do you know what Charlotte’s travel pattern is?” Meghan questions, Nico’s head shaking in refusal.
“I just want to go home” Nico replies, the fear beginning to truly settle in. “I understand that, and we’re trying to get you back home” Meghan replies, patting the man’s knee, making herself seem friendly. “You don’t understand, she won’t trade with you” Nico explains, still failing to fully understand what’s happening. “She’ll kill me on the spot! No questions asked!” Nico exclaims, the strategy of trading his life for sanctuary practically sentencing him to death.
“Listen, Nico. I need you to understand me, okay? Tell me something about Charlotte I don’t already know” Meghan requests, extending a branch of safety the man’s way. “I don’t know” Nico blurts out, the woman’s head falling, his answer not one she hoped to hear. “I don’t know anything, I’m sorry” Nico says again, pleading for mercy, a gesture Meghan seemingly attempts to offer him.
“Nico, it’s okay” Meghan remarks, calming the man’s hysteria as best as she can. Reaching for the shiv on her hip, Meghan’s friendly mask slips, a burst of adrenaline coursing through Nico’s veins. Desperate for freedom, Nico throws himself forward, restraints snapping under the pressure, allowing the man to run free. “Nico, wait-!” Meghan exclaims, reaching out for the man until a gunshot rings out, the gun Bill had aimed at his hip firing a round through their prisoner’s stomach.
Falling to his knees, Nico gasps for air, a second bullet quickly put through the back of his head, Bill having done the deed neither Meghan, nor Janice could. “I didn’t wanna use up ammo for this!” Meghan exclaims, blaming Bill for the attraction of the surrounding undead. “Well, tie a better fucking knot next time” Bill quips back, leaning down to strip Nico of his uniform, both Janice and Meghan emerging from the barn, buying Bill time away from the incoming corpses.
The gear in hand, Bill takes his own fight to the dead, leading the women back towards the road, their plans set in motion.
Nine weeks into the outbreak. The Withdrawal.
“I was burning up, I just went out for a walk” Alicia replies, both Salem and Franklin worriedly sitting around her, their arms wrapped around the woman’s back, blankets piled onto her. “You went on a mile-long walk?” Franklin replies, a baffled expression on his face. “No, she went on a mile-long withdrawal” Salem interrupts, the woman’s bloodshot eyes and trembling hands leading Salem to a conclusion, her heat-flash amidst a cold winter showing Salem her destination.
“You’re out of pills, aren’t you?” Salem inquires, momentarily aggravated at the woman’s display of self-medication, her anger alleviated slightly once Alicia corrects her. “I’m not out of pills” Alicia replies, her voice still trembling as much as her hands are, “I’m out of patience.” Awaiting further explanation, Saleem and Franklin stare at Alicia, the woman’s inner thoughts spilling out.
“I practiced judo in my junior year, and I fucked up my leg going up for a takedown” Alicia explains, keeping her explanation brief, “I kept competing on it until I couldn’t anymore. I went to the doctor, they fixed the damaged ligaments, they said everything would be fine.” Removing a half-full bottle of pills from her pocket, Alicia stares at the label, John Callis’ name written on the bottle.
“Needless to say the pain kept going, I kept visiting the doctor, and every new doctor came up with the same answer” Alicia explains, giving the pills a gentle rattle, “the pain was chronic, they couldn’t fix anything, and I was going to be in pain forever.” Unsure of what to say, Salem glances towards Franklin and nods to the vehicle, “start the car, we’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Almost on command, Alicia pushes herself through the blankets, emerging from beneath a pile of fluff despite Salem’s best advice. Pushing the rifle-wielding woman away, Alicia refuses help, forcing herself to stand upon her own two feet. “You’ve said it before, I’m not counting on you to save my ass now” Alicia remarks, pushing her feet into her snow-covered boots, “I’ll look after myself.”
Nothing more she can do, Salem holds her hands up in surrender, looking over her shoulder as she slowly returns to the car, climbing into the passenger’s seat. Gently shoveling snow upon the fire, its smoky remnants rising into the air, Alicia limps forward, her hand placed on the backseat handle as she stops. “You coming or what?” Salem jokes from the front seat, rolling her window down to ask the question, Alicia pulling away momentarily.
“Yeah, I just gotta do something first” Alicia mutters, backing away from the car, the bottle still in her opposite hand. Looking to the label, Alicia squeezes the orange cylinder tightly, a brief glance at her leg allowing her to make peace with the decision she’s come to. With a grunt, Alicia throws her hand forward, the bottle rattling as it leaves her hand, flying off into the dark night, burying itself in the snow some distance away, her past left to another time.
“I’m good” Alicia calls back, pulling the backdoor open and climbing aboard, her seat taken as the car rides off.
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Cast Iron.
“Just take whatever you want and go” Alicia calmly explains, her attempt at making peace foiled the moment Bethanne opens her mouth. “Fuck that, these asshats aren’t taking my shit” Bethanne remarks, her defiance bringing a shared laughter amongst the armed enemy. “It’s a bunch of tuna and chip bags, Bethanne. There’s nothing in here worth dying for!” Alicia argues, the older woman clearly defining her point.
“It’s not about the shit, Alicia” Bethanne replies, glancing towards the younger woman behind her, “it’s about principle.” Closing her eyes with a sigh, Alicia accepts the woman’s refusal, backing away a few steps to make her stance known. “You don’t just get to come in here and take what’s mine” Bethanne remarks, slowly reaching for her shotgun, intent on being defiant, “you fight for it.”
Their weapons drawn, the enemy group makes their stance known, neither woman’s firepower intimidating them. “You can take that shotgun and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, lady” the stern man at the front of the line explains, his finger placed upon the trigger, “you’re already dead.”
Daring the man to shoot first, Bethanne lowers the barrel of her shotgun towards the man, each inch bringing the first shot closer to fruition. “Duck!” Alicia suddenly shouts, lunging at Bethanne and pulling her to the ground, countless rounds of gunfire spat out from beyond the station, Salem and Franklin riddling bodies with a flurry of bullets. Seconds passing, the dust settles, a few sparse shots fired off in the following moments, splattered blood throughout the room.
Bits of glass covering the floor, dust flying through the air and bodies scattered throughout, Alicia crawls out from beneath Bethanne’s body, bullet wounds littering her back. “Alicia, you alright?” Salem exclaims, nearly tripping over the shattered glass as she kneels towards her friend, the woman looking sorrowfully at Bethanne’s corpse.
“She’s dead” Alicia replies, dozens of bullets having penetrated the woman’s body, her life having been lost the moment triggers were pulled. “Yeah, she is” Salem replies, hairs falling in front of her face, her rifle placed on the ground beside her. “She wasn’t one of the bad ones” Alicia remarks, Salem answering the woman’s claim with silence, a look out of the corner of her eye all that Alicia receives.
Patting Alicia on the back, Salem backs away, unable to understand the grief Alicia feels, leaving her to handle it the way only she can. “Find anything?” Salem asks, turning to Franklin, who stands away from a body, a rounded object carried in his hands. “I think it’s a prosthetic” Franklin replies, slipping the cast iron peg over his amputated nub, a perfect fit.
“Everything’s coming up Frank, huh?” Salem remarks, patting the man on the shoulder as she glances back towards Alicia, a somber look given back towards her. “We’ve gotta go, ‘Licia” Salem calls out, the woman letting out a sigh as she pulls away, picking up a few loose weapons before silently returning to the car. “What did we miss?” Franklin whispers to Salem, the woman as unsure as he is. “I don’t wanna know” Salem replies, following Alicia’s lead.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Choice.
“Going somewhere?” Alicia asks, leant against a tree, watching a bag-carrying Salem walk aimlessly down a snow-covered road. “How long have you been awake?” Salem replies, surprised at the woman’s presence, many questions popping into her head, “how did you even get out of the car without me knowing?”
“Those questions aren’t important” Alicia replies, walking after Salem with a smirk on her face, “but mine is.” Lost for words, Salem tries and fails to make up an excuse, her vulnerability presenting itself again. “Look, I’m not good at good-byes. You’ve got the truck, you’ve got the map, and you’ve got a shit ton of supplies” Salem explains, fastening the strap over her shoulder, “you guys will be fine on your own.”
Backing away, Salem tries to return to her walk, already aware of Alicia’s intent to convince her otherwise. “I meant what I said, don’t think I didn’t” Alicia exclaims, Salem turning back instantly, a shrug returned, “I want you to view us as a choice, not a circumstance.” Biting her lip, Salem’s eyes veer off, the snowy surroundings in her every direction making it very difficult to take her mind out of the conversation.
“I don’t think I can do that, Alicia” Salem replies, regretful of the point made, but aware of the truth within it, “I’ve been on my own for years, I don’t think I can be part of something more anymore. I can’t be part of something more anymore.” Her hands tucked in her pockets, Alicia walks up to Salem, the look she gives the woman suggesting her lack of belief in that answer.
“I think you’re afraid to” Alicia replies, the rolled eyes Salem gives her coming from a woman who’s heard that suggestion before. “I think you’ve spent so long being alone that you don’t know how to not be on your own” Alicia explains, Salem not wanting to believe what Alicia says, but unable to steer herself away from the topic, “I think you’re scared of us. I think you’re scared of losing us.”
Playing Alicia’s game, Salem gives the woman what she wants to hear, answering with something she considers the truth, even if she doesn’t want to think about it. “I’m scared of caring about the two of you” Salem replies, quickly interjecting her opinion where Alicia finishes her own, “I’m scared that I’ll like being around the two of you, then I’ll lose you, and I’ll have to go back on my own.”
Letting out a deep breath, Alicia allows the sting of such a statement to settle, Salem’s guilt obvious in the look on her face. “I’m sorry, but I can’t get comfortable. Not like that, not anymore” Salem explains, Alicia’s head falling, a moment passing in silence before Alicia nods to herself. “You don’t want to” Alicia replies, earning an eye roll from Salem, “as long as we’re circumstantial, you can walk away when things get messy without feeling guilty.”
“You don’t think I feel guilty?” Salem replies, insu;ted by the suggestion, quick to argue it. “I’ve spent the last week’s worth of nights lying awake, trying to talk myself out of this” Salem explains, “I feel guilty, but I do this out of necessity. The two of you will be fine, if I stay, I won’t be.” Eyes squinting, Alicia accepts the woman’s point, arguing with one question.
“Do you really feel guilty?” Alicia asks, a pause originating from Salem, her answer coming seconds later. “Yes, I do” Salem replies, waiting for Alicia to respond. “Well then” Alicia replies, backing away from the woman, returning to the car, “it seems like you’re running away from something you’ve already got.” Stepping forward to argue, Salem falls silent, thinking about the woman’s point, its honesty wrapping around the woman’s mind effortlessly.
“You can stand there until the sun comes up, thinking that your biggest threat is feeling like you’re not alone” Alicia calls out, leaving with parting words, “but your biggest hurdle is yourself, Salem.” Hands still tucked into her pockets, Alicia watches Salem grow farther away, each step creating more distance between them. “You’re scared to choose us because you don’t want to lose us” Alicia explains, her hand pressed to the car’s handle, “but the only one taking us away from you, is you.”
Climbing into the backseat, Alicia closes the door behind herself and stares up at the ceiling, Franklin groggily emerging from his sleep, Salem still standing in the middle of the road ahead. “Please choose us, Please choose us” Alicia mutters under her breath, her confident exterior falling apart, the need to hope kicking in not unlike instincts.
“What’s going on?” Franklin asks, wiping the crust from his eyes as he looks into the backseat, soon noticing their third groupmate’s absence, “where’s Salem?” Letting out a sigh, Alicia opens her mouth to respond, cut off by the driver’s side door opening, Salem climbing into the car and throwing her bag into the backseat. “Where’d you go?” Franklin asks as the woman closes the door, settling herself in for the night.
“Nowhere” Salem replies, a partial smile given, once glance into the rear-view mirror showing a joyful Alicia, the woman looking towards the driver with her hands folded atop her chest. “Where’d you really go?” Alicia whispers, Salem leaning her seat back as Franklin settles back into bed. Hearing the woman’s question, Salem ruffles her pillow and looks the woman in the eyes, a worried expression on Salem’s face, “I made a choice.”
Nine weeks into the outbreak. Warning Signs.
“What the fuck are they doing?” John mutters beneath his breath, a crowd gathering near a wall at the back of the compound, hefty pillars holding up the walls subtly shaking below the pressure of those outside. “They’re trying to get in” one soldier replies, his discovery quickly argued against. “No, they’re not” Emilio calls out from beside John, looking at the man with a concerned glare, “they’re trying to get our attention.”
Thirteen weeks into the outbreak. Trojan Horse.
“Take cover!” soldiers exclaim, pushing civilians behind cover, risking their own lives to do so. “Soldiers, march to the-!” John exclaims, a stray bullet ripping through his shoulder, forcing him off his feet, the adrenaline helping to numb the pain. “All hands at the front gate!” John exclaims, pushing himself off the dirt, retreating with his men towards the town square.
Down the use of one arm, John fires back at the invading mob with resilience, his fire power outmatching their own. “We just need to draw them back!” John declares, multiple soldiers collapsing to the ground, hit with gunfire and left to fall victim to war. Hunched over, running as far back as he can, a second immediate threat begins barreling towards the man, the disguised militant van returning from within the depths of the New World Order, coming back to the front for a second swing.
“Duck and cover!” John proclaims, the vehicle speeding right towards him. Aiming his gun, John is swept from his feet by a much more aggressive weight, shoulder tackled into the grass. Crashing into fauna, John looks back to where he stood, Troy taking aim at the van and firing one shot, the uncontrollable steering of the vehicle that persists making it clear that the shot had connected.
Stepping to the side, Troy avoids falling victim to a hit and run, the van eventually jolting to one side, sweeping itself off its wheels and launching it into the invading mob. “Grenade!” a voice calls out from a nearby balcony, launching an explosive towards the crash site, allowing an explosion to emerge from the front of the compound. “Come on, get up!” Troy exclaims, reaching out for John’s hand, helping the man to his feet.
“Thank you” John says in astonishment, Troy immediately charging back towards the front of the community. “Jess!?” John exclaims, looking towards the balcony, his wife looking on in shock at the damage she’d caused, John’s shock coming from the sight he didn’t know his wife had been capable of. “How did-?” John begins to ask, stopping himself, thinking better of having the conversation amidst their current conflict.
“Katie, help me out here!” Troy exclaims, charging at the mob, bullets sent towards them, the ease at which they’d fallen victim to the New World Order’s forces prompting them to retreat. “Are you alright?” John asks, hurrying to his wife’s side as Troy and Katie close the entrance, those unable to leave with their fellow invaders surrendering to arrest.
“I’m fine, but the compound isn’t” Jess replies, multiple civilians taking advantage of the lessened tensions to put out fires and drag wounded militants to safety. Rushing to aid in her fellow resident’s efforts, Jess leaves her husband to stand atop the balcony alone, looking out at the damage, other soldiers helping Troy and Katie lock the gate down.
Seventeen weeks into the outbreak. Familiar Faces.
“Open the gates!” John declares, marching to the front of the compound with Jess following closely behind. “John, will you fuckin’ listen to me?” Jess asks, the man following a heavy fleet of armed men, the gates slowly rolling open. “No, not right now” John replies, looking his wife in the eyes, “now go back home in case shit gets ugly again.”
“John, stop” Jess exclaims, taking her husband by the hand as gunshots continue to emerge from the other side of the wall, pleading for the acknowledgement of those inside. “Jess, get back inside” John orders, pulling his hand away from the woman, the trembling in his hands stopping with a tight grip. “Hold your fire!” John exclaims, speaking to the people on the other side of the wall the moment the doors open.
Letting the crowd hush down, John takes on the address, giving into the mob’s demands for answers. “If you think I don’t want you in here, you’re dead wrong. I may be in charge of this camp, but I’m not the one that makes those calls” John explains, purposefully shifting blame, “there’s one woman to pin your suffering on, and she’s not even here right now. If you want an entry, you take that up with her.”
Not pleased with the man’s response, the mob continues to demand more, their countless chants all leading to the same demand, safety. “I know you’ve all come a long way for this, and I’m sorry you’re stuck out here” John explains, his wife soon marching through the front gates, approaching her husband’s side. “I want to take you in, I want to give you home, I want to give you help” John explains, ignoring his wife’s attempts to gain his attention, “but I can’t give you what you need.”
The mob calling out demands once more, John begins to accept his lack of progress, his wife trying to pull him back home before things go south. “They’ve been out here for damn near six months, they’re not going to listen to reason” Jess explains, her husband looking out at the angry mob, his face falling. “I know you want to do right, but you just can’t” Jess explains, “at least, not right now.”
The truth acting as a bitter-to-swallow pill, John surrenders, allowing his wife’s arm to guide him back to safety. “Jess!” a voice calls out from the crowd, the exclamation standing out from all others being shouted for, the attention of the New World Order’s leaders captured instantly. “Jack?” Jess mutters beneath her breath, watching Tyler, Reggie and Shauna emerge from within the mass of people to join their leader, a smile shared between both groups.
== Rise: Remastered ==