“This was not the plan!” John shouts, pacing from one side of his office to the other, his hand wrapped over his forehead, settling the headache that quickly consumes him. “Well it’s the only plan we had the chance to execute!” Bill shouts back, both Emilio and Jess remaining silent amidst the ordeal, allowing their respective significant others to argue amongst themselves.
“Charlotte was surrounded by her militia the entire night, this was the best we could do” Bill explains, crossing his arms as he takes a seat atop John’s desk. “You fail to see the point, Bill. We’ve stolen her brother!” John exclaims, holding his hands towards an unconscious Tom, tied in rope and laid across his couch, “there’s no way she doesn’t show up to our front gates raising hell!”
Walking to the window with his hands on his hips, John allows Bill to continue his explanation, trying to calm himself back to a civil tone. “It was either this plan, or it was nothing. I know we don’t have the manpower to fend off another attack, but it was our only option” Bill explains, looking to the compound’s leader, his front bathed in the light of a new dawn, “as long as we’ve got Tom here, there’s hope we can negotiate our way out of this mess.”
Squeezing his eyes shut, John lets out a deep breath and turns back to those he shares the room with, suddenly changing the subject. “What’s the news on the tower collapse?” John inquires, a quick glance around the room showing the changed expression on Emilio’s face. “Uh, the- the tower, it brought down one-fifth of the wall” Emilio replies, the displeasure John takes in that knowledge becoming palpable, “we’ve got fourteen confirmed dead, and we presume there will be more.”
Strolling back to the wooden workspace Bill occupies a corner of, John retakes his seat and crosses one leg over the other. “Surely we’re not done talking about Charlotte’s impending arrival, are we?” Bill wonders aloud, the change in discussion having caught him by surprise. “What’s the point of talking about it anymore? You’ve already said all you needed to” John replies, “we either make a deal to give her brother back and go on with our day, or she kills us all.”
Out of frustration, Bill slams his fist on the desk as he gets up, walking for the door as John calls out. “What the hell is wrong with you now!?” John exclaims, instantly bringing Bill back to the conversation. “You’re a fucking mess!” Bill shouts, both his husband and Jess looking towards him, reacting with surprise, “when the going gets tough, you throw a pity party and tell us all to fuck off! Grow a fucking pair of balls and lead this compound without someone having to tell you!”
“What the hell do you think I’m trying to do!?” John immediately shouts back, the veins in his neck popping with rage, “we put together a plan to keep Charlotte from knocking on our door, and you called an audible that’s gonna result in exactly-fucking-that!” Looking to the floor with his hands by his side, Bill licks the desert-like dryness from his lips, following John’s earlier lead in trying to calm himself down.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s better than if we had just done nothing” Bill explains, staring back at the compound’s leader, “Charlotte was coming to our door one way or another, now we have leverage that we didn’t before.” Sucking on his teeth, John gives Bill a silent nod before looking back towards the window, thinking of how to respond.
“John, I hope you understand that, in saying this, I’m not trying to hurt you, or discourage you, or whatever-” Bill explains, responding to himself on John’s behalf, “but if you keep worrying over every little detail, you’re gonna get everyone here killed.” Leaving the office, Bill discards the calls of his name his husband exclaims, both John and Jess left to themselves.
“I don’t think he-” Jess begins to say, her words brushed off as worthless. “He meant it” John cuts the woman off to say, the dejected look on his face prompting his wife to seat herself on the opposite side of the table. “We’re not in a good spot. Charlotte’s gonna be riding up to our gates any minute now looking for her brother, and we’re severely under-manned” John explains, his eyes scanning one side of the desk to the other, “when I go out there, if I fuck anything up, we’ll all die.”
“You won’t fuck anything up” Jess replies, trying to speak optimism into her husband regardless of whether she truly believes what she states. “You can’t be sure of that. The compound is falling apart, I mean it’s literally falling apart” John explains, a wave of self-reflection coming over him, a haunting visual put across his face.
“I’ve done nothing but fuck up since I started sitting at this desk” John explains, his hand balled into a fist, resting upon his armrest. Opening his mouth to continue, a distant horn begins to blare in the distance, cutting the married couples’ conversation short. “Where is Johnathan Callis?” a familiar, vengeful voice proclaims, calling the compound towards her attention.
“Here we go” John mutters to himself, leaving his desk to enter his wife’s embrace, her arms wrapping tightly around his body, “keep an eye on the brother. I’m not sure how long he’ll be out for.” Her lips pressing to his cheek, John lets the kiss play out before departing, his presence suddenly called for once more. “Wait!” Jess calls out, watching her husband spin back towards her.
“I know you don’t need it, but I’ll give you my advice anyway” Jess explains, stepping back into her husband’s reach. “If Charlotte’s power, or her control, comes from being in charge of the conversation, don’t let her” Jess whispers, her hands caressing both sides of John’s face, “as long as you force her to follow your lead, the pillar she stands atop will get weaker.”
With a smile, John returns his wife’s kiss, this time pressing his lips to Jess’ own before pulling away, his eyes set on the stairs to the ground level. Watching her husband walk off into the still-dark hallway, Jess waits for his figure to disappear, her eyes setting back upon the desk. Rounding the fierce corners, Jess opens a drawer and allows her hand to rummage within, emerging with her fingers wrapped around a once hidden, yet familiar, handheld explosive.
“Where is John Callis!?” Charlotte orders a quickly-gathered crowd to answer, her voice resonating from within a megaphone. “I don’t want to start going around-” Charlotte continues, the sight of John stepping through the accumulated gathering having silenced her. “It’s about damn time you showed up, Cowboy” Charlotte remarks, somewhat humored by the man’s appearance, “when I gave you that nickname, I did not anticipate you turning my compound into the wild west as such.”
Graciously accepting the megaphone Emilio hands to him, John speaks into the receiver, matching Charlotte’s tone. “This compound does not belong to you” John replies, keeping his retort short, and brief. “As far as I’m concerned, you didn’t build these walls” Charlotte replies, laughing at the towerless skyline, “it seems like you sure as hell took ‘em down though!”
Remaining silent, John stares at Charlotte as if to insinuate she explain her presence, a gesture the woman picks up instantly. “Listen, I’ll give you credit. You got the jump on us before we could. Well done” Charlotte explains, her point yet to be made, “but now you have something, or rather, someone that I’d like back.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right” John replies, his strong, confident posture foreign to what Charlotte has been accustomed to. “Okay, well I’ll cut to the chase then” Charlotte replies, bending one knee outwards, digging the toe of her boot into the dirt, “last night, my brother was abducted from an undisclosed bunker a few, short miles away from this compound. He was taken by the people presiding over the lives of every soul in this community.”
Calming himself with a deep, long breath, John allows Charlotte to continue, granting her the position she wishes to stake claim to. “I’m going to give your leader two choices, partially because I don’t care which he chooses, but mainly because I’m tired of getting hit by his goddamn bullets” Charlotte explains, locking eyes with John, “either he’ll return my brother and turn himself in for the actions he’s taken against my authority, or I’ll gun down every man, woman, and child in this camp.”
Turning the crowd against John, Charlotte plays her hand, a smile on her face at the unchanged expression the man wears. “Cowboy, you have until the sun sets to make your decision, and if it’s not made by then, I’ll make it for you” Charlotte explains, one hand stretching out to the side, “have I made myself clear?”
His arms hung at his sides, John continues to stare at Charlotte, unmoved for a few moments before his hand lifts the megaphone back towards his lips. “No” John replies, his answer simple, and brief, his feet remaining firm in the ground he’s stood at since the confrontation began. “What did you say?” Charlotte replies calmly, her face souring at the man’s disobedience, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you understand what’s-”
“My answer is ‘no’” John replies, cutting the woman off to an unimpressed response, Charlotte’s face tensing with anger as John finally steps towards her. “Charlotte, you have mistaken yourself. I don’t think you understand what this is” John remarks, his words carried with a calm, effortless stride, “as of this moment, my wife has a knife to your brother’s throat. Your only chance of getting him back is through me. So let me make myself clear, you are not in control.”
Stunned silent, Charlotte’s lip hangs open just slightly, a chill running down her spine as the conversation turns towards a path she prefers to stray from. “You will not-” Charlotte begins to jab back, uncertain of what to say, and soon relieved of such responsibility. Snatching the megaphone from Charlotte’s hand, John hurls the device across the camp and stares the woman in the eyes, her shocked expression revealing the truth behind Jess’ advice.
“You will speak when I give you permission to speak” John explains, lifting his hand to Charlotte’s chin, closing the woman’s mouth for her, “until then, you will keep your mouth shut.” Unable to hold back their amusement, Bill and Emilio part from the sea of civilians, soon joined by Janice and Meghan, who follow the married couples’ lead. Backed by his closest allies, John makes his own point clear, Charlotte still powerless to stop him.
“If you make any wrong move towards me, or my family, or my friends, or my compound- your brother will die” John explains, “you fail to follow the instructions I’m going to give you- your brother will die.” Throwing his hand to the air, Bill motions for his militia to approach from their posts, a small fleet of armed militants soon gathering behind John, illustrating the shift in control John’s put into effect.
“You’re going to call a plane out, and in it will be half of every crop you have” John explains, the woman looking away with a snicker. “How am I supposed to get a plane to land here!?” Charlotte shouts, her voice rendered weak by comparison, “every goddamn building in this camp is built on the fucking tarmac!”
“You’re going to make it work. I don’t care how, you’re just going to make it work” John replies, “when that plane is close enough, I’ll give you Tom and the two of you will leave. If you ever show your faces again, the two of you will die.” Hanging her head, Charlotte fights to contain every ounce of hatred she has over this conversation, the way John talks down to her bringing her blood to a boil.
“Now, as I said before, you will speak when I give you permission” John reiterates, Charlotte’s eyes lifting back towards the man, “with that said, have I made myself clear?” Calmly rotating the receiver towards Charlotte’s lips, John keeps his eyes locked onto Charlotte’s own, his face void of emotion as he waits for the woman’s answer. “Yes” Charlotte says after an excruciating silence, finally putting a smile on John’s face.
“That’s fucking bullshit!” a man roars from the crowd, displeased with the events that have transpired. “You shouldn’t be in charge!” a lady screams at John, the disruptions only breeding further frustration over the community, two sides forming to scream at the other. “Everyone! Hey, everybody, quiet down!” John shouts towards his community, their cooperation proving non-existent as the screaming matches persist without relent.
“Would you look at that?” Charlotte remarks, drawing John’s attention back in her direction, the confident smile she frequently wears having returned once more, “you’re definitely in control.” His face now sprouting the snickered expression Charlotte had recently worn, John walks away without another word, returning home to leave Charlotte to her obligations.
= 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 =
“Reggie” Jack whispers, his skin darkened with smoke from having stayed beside his friend through the night. “Reggie, it’s been nine hours” Jack mutters, again answered with utter silence, “I think you should get back in case-”
“In case what? In case she turns?” Reggie quickly snaps back, disguising the pain in his face with a veil of anger, “why should I do that? Why should I get to live, and she should have to die?” No response good enough to answer Reggie with properly, Jack stays quiet, resting his hands on his knees as he looks to the dirt. Consumed by a building anger, Reggie pushes himself up and reaches for his gun, aiming between Jack’s eyes in a sudden burst of frustration.
“Jesus f-!” Jack shouts, his hands thrown into the air as he joins Reggie in standing, unsure how to react. “Why do I get to live, Jack!?” Reggie asks through gritted teeth, tip-toeing the line between grief and a mental breakdown, “she warned us! She warned me! We stayed here when she was right!”
“Reggie, put the fucking gun down” Jack angrily replies, his eyes veering away from the man across from him at all costs, Jack’s intentions set on giving Reggie little reason to cross unspoken lines. “Or what? You’re gonna save me from pulling the trigger!?” Reggie says through uncontrollable laughter, “you’re gonna try to s-?”
Before he can finish his thought, Reggie’s paranoid delivery is interrupted by a faint groan, both he and the man his gun is aimed towards pausing to look towards Shauna. Her eyes a sharp white, Shauna’s arms reach towards her boyfriend, her speech replaced with hiss-infused groans. “Fuck” Jack whispers beneath his breath, his friend’s murderous rage replaced with an instant wave of grief, one that brings him to his knees.
“Reggie, I-” Jack begins to speak, stopping himself amidst a loss for words, a silence coming over the pair until Reggie stands back to his feet. “I don’t know what to say” Jack mutters, watching his friend wipe tears from his face, a broken smile appearing on his mouth. “Me neither” Reggie replies with a whimper, his gun lingering by his side.
Continuing to stare at Shauna’s reanimated corpse, Reggie remains silent, not another word leaving his mouth. “Reggie?” Jack calls, slowly stepping closer to his friend, his hand extended towards Reggie’s side, “let me do-” Cutting Jack off, Reggie lifts his gun towards Shauna’s head and pulls the trigger, staining the debris with blood before Jack’s kind gesture can even be offered.
Caught by surprise, Jack tries to gather his thoughts, the words remaining elusive enough evade Jack again. “I don’t-” Jack struggles to begin, falling silent when Reggie lifts the gun from his side once more, this time taking aim at his own head, rendering words obsolete. Lunging forward on instinct, Jack pushes the gun away from Reggie’s head just as the trigger is pulled, sending a round into the blank distance.
Wrestling on the ground, Jack disarms Reggie once more, biting his friend’s fingers until the gun falls from his grip, safely tucked into Jack’s own. “What the fuck is wrong with-!?” Jack begins to shout, looking back at Reggie one second too late, the split-moment glance he takes at the man spent watching a rebar pipe catch him between the eyes. Cursing beneath his breath, Jack rolls on the ground in pain whilst Reggie escapes, climbing over the debris and leaving through the fractured wall.
“Reggie, get back here!” Jack shouts, finally regaining his composure well enough to follow his friend’s path through the rubble. Returning to the ground beyond the New World Order’s boarders, Jack looks around for the man’s frame, his attention eventually taken by the revving motor of a nearby parked truck. “Reggie!” Jack shouts, firing his gun into the air to stop his friend to no avail.
Slamming the door shut behind himself, Reggie puts his foot to the floor and speeds through the thick grass, kicking dirt up on his way to the nearest road. Taking a second shot, Jack fires a bullet through the rear-view window to equal use, the broken glass doing nothing to stop Reggie from his impulsive escape. All other options having run dry, Jack tosses Reggie’s gun into the grass and takes off after the man on foot, refusing to let the man he’d sworn to look after vanish into the sunrise.
“If it’ll take two hours to stock the plane, I give it eight hours tops before that plane touches down here” Bill explains, capping a marker amidst the conclusion of his whiteboard calculations, “that gives us, roughly, until sunset to work out a plan.”
Watching Bill from behind his desk, John leans against his folded arm, his finger pressing into his cheek. “What plan?” John replies, his wife, his daughter, his sister in law, Emilio, Lauren, Alicia, Franklin, Cameron, Salem, Troy, Katie, Janice, and Tyler immediately looking to him.
“What do you mean?” Bill replies, resting the marker back upon the tray he’d taken it from, his back leant against the wall. “You said we have until sunset to work out a plan” John replies, his free hand thrown to his side, his shoulders lifting into a shrug, “what plan are you talking about?”
“The plan of how to deal with Charlotte” Bill replies, his words resonating slowly, left to flutter in the air as if John had no prior recollection of it, “the one you wanted to kidnap Charlotte for?” Uncrossing his legs, John takes his hand from the armrest and locks it with his opposite, his elbow pressing into the leather-bound cushion beside him. “We don’t need that anymore” John replies, his head resting upon the back of his chair, “we’re giving her Tom, and she’s leaving us alone.”
His once hopeful face dropping into a worried glare, Bill joins those witnessing the meeting in a surprised reaction. “You’re not serious, right?” Emilio replies, pulling away from the couch he once sunk comfortably into. “Did you not hear the agreement?” John wonders aloud, playing dumb despite carrying the posture of a man confidently betraying prior ideals, “we give her the brother, she gives us the compound. That’s the only ‘get rid of Charlotte’ plan we need.”
Rolling his eyes, Emilio falls back into the couch, his face turning towards the sky as Jess attempts to argue an opposing view to that of her husband’s own. “John, there’s no way, none whatsoever, that Charlotte is going to give this place up. Kidnapped brother or not” Jess replies, slouching forward with her eyes kept sternly upon her husband, “she took a bullet, multiple times for this place. You betrayed her trust, and she still spent the last year planning a counter attack.”
“Jess, don’t even worry about her morals” Bill interrupts, his words directed at the man he’s called to follow the instruction of, “Charlotte is a bona-fide sociopath. She’s not the kind of person you trust to take at her word.” Looking to his coupled hands, John listens to the rest of the room, nearly all of whom argue against his plan, doing so freely with little argument from John.
“Even the risk itself is a danger” Alicia explains, her voice coming across with more composure than the rest, “there’s a chance, one way or another, she’ll go back on her word. If she does, we won’t be able to fight her off.” Glancing up at Alicia amidst the woman’s retort in a way he’d yet to do with the rest of his opposition, John cuts an additional argument from Cameron short, his eyes setting in on brunette across the room.
“Are you on drugs right now?” John questions with a smile, the dilated pupils Alicia carries now putting her state of mind into question. “No, I’m hung over. Why?” Alicia replies, her calm tone twisting into one more representative of her unamused expression. “No, he’s hung over” John replies, pointing to Franklin, the oversized sunglasses not only standing out, but giving his lack of sobriety away.
“Correct, he is equally hung over as I am” Alicia replies, crossing one leg over the other, “I’ve done enough in life to warrant holding my liquor well.” His eyes squinting, John slowly nods to himself, mirroring Alicia’s reactions by kicking his crossing his own leg again. “Sober or not, I’ve made a fair point” Alicia explains, her thin jacket falling from her shoulders as her arms cross, “I don’t think going overboard with liquor should invalidate that.”
“You’re right, you have made a fair point. And in addition, your lack of sobriety should not invalidate it” John replies, leaving his chair to seat himself atop his desk, arms folded in his lap, “and yet, being high does.” Letting out a sigh, Alicia digs into her jacket pocket and hurls an orange bottle into John’s awaiting hands, explaining herself as he pours its contents into the palm of his hand.
“A woman gave them to me back in Concord last year” Alicia explains, Franklin’s eyes squinting behind his glasses, “it’s a poor duplicate of fentanyl. Not worth the cutter they used to split the tabs.” Using his index finger to count the pills, John’s face begins to sport a surprised look. “A thirty pill capacity bottle with thirty pills inside” John replies, his original assumption now disproven, “okay, I take my accusation back. Your point is no longer invalidated.”
Screwing the cap back atop the bottle, John returns the pills to their original owner before retaking his seat behind the desk. “Why do you have them?” Salem asks the woman beside her, a disappointed look taking over Alicia’s face. “Some woman gave them to me while I was out on a walk” Alicia replies, letting out another sigh, “she saw my leg was giving me pain, and probably tried to use it as an excuse to get me hooked.”
“How did you know it was a rip off?” Franklin replies, finally turning to look his girlfriend in the eyes, though remaining hidden behind the monolithic shades. “I used to be an addict, Frank” Alicia replies with a smirk, her hair shaking with her head, “I know what the good shit is supposed to look like.”
“Neither of those questions are the right ones” John suddenly interjects, his hands folded in his lap once more, eyes placed upon the outspoken brunette. “How, Ms. Alicia Haven, do we go about discarding of Charlotte without another ounce of bloodshed?” John wonders aloud, locking eyes with the woman in preparation for her answer. “We don’t” Alicia replies, quickly solidifying her stance to John’s appreciation, “there’s no getting rid of the problem without escalation.”
Uncoupling his hands to point his finger towards Alicia, John recites her conclusion. “There is no getting rid of the problem without escalation” John replies, clapping his hands together four times, “and that, that right there, is the reason we have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt.”
“Bullshit!” Bill shouts from across the room, clearly irritated by John’s contradictory positions. “At first you want to kidnap Charlotte, wipe her crew out, and put her down. Or ‘nullify the situation’ if you want the civil way of looking at it” Bill explains, irate in his response, “and now, you’re suddenly fine with trusting her to walk out that door, take our only piece of leverage, and never come back.”
“Yes, I am” John replies with little argument, leaving Bill to throw his hands into the air, rendered speechless. “I’m not going to risk everyone in this camp falling victim to crossfire” John replies, his voice finally suggesting his dislike for the situation. “Why do you care?” Troy retorts, his arms crossed and his demeanor calm, legitimately curious to the answer, “half of the people here hate you, and the other half only care to tolerate you because there’s food involved.”
“I served in Afghanistan, Troy. I’m not designed to care whether or not people like me, or the decisions that I’m forced to make” John replies, lowering his voice to respond to Troy’s concerns, “they haven’t started killing each other in a fit of rage yet. As long as that stays the case, they’re still salvageable.”
Letting silence fill the air, John leaves the floor open to counter arguments, no secondary voice rising to speak. “Have the arguments run their course?” John finally speaks up, starting the clock on alternative strategies, “if so, let’s start getting people into position.”
“What if we got the jump on the soldiers first?” Salem replies, “sneak up from behind them, take out the militia, leave Charlotte for last.” His head shaking and his arms crossing, John refuses the plan. “We don’t know how she’s got people laid out. She could have snipers in hiding, she could have backups stationed elsewhere. There are too many variables” John replies, unable to say another word before Janice cuts in.
“We’ve been going on hunts for their compounds for the last couple of months” Janice explains, her hands tucked into her pockets, “if she’s got backups, that’s where they’ll be hidden.” Refusing the idea once more, John shakes his head. “No one’s to leave this compound for any reason” John replies, against the woman’s plan enough to physically wave it off, “we need that plane to get here. If she grabs any of you, that plane is off the table, and the trade becomes ‘person for person’.”
“What if we demanded she just call off the rest of her soldiers” Tyler proposes, again finding little traction with John. “She’d know there’d be a better chance of her getting Tom back with gunfire than reason at that point” John replies, shaking his head again, “with these conditions, she at least has the soldiers as a security blanket. She’s playing nice for the moment, if we push her out of her comfort zone, she’ll resort to taking him by force.”
Falling silent again, the room comes under John’s control again, his prior offer expiring quickly. “Once we adjourn, that’s it. No going back” John explains, standing from his chair to look towards everyone he shares the room with, “this is the last call for counter arguments.” Glancing between each other, John’s group remains quiet, the decision having been made.
“Alright” John replies, sliding his chair back into his desk as he makes his way for the exit, “meeting adjourned.”
The breath having been taken from his lungs, Jack’s run has come to steady as a speed walk, still following the flattened grass that’s broken through the unattended, heavily cracked asphalt. The sunset turning the beads of sweat running down his face orange, Jack follows the tire-pressed backroads like a man possessed, refusing to ease on his run until a sound begins to emanate from within the bushes, shuffling through fallen leaves and overgrown branches.
Fighting to catch his breath, Jack stares at the treeline intensely, unsheathing a knife from the pouch on his hip. “Who’s the pervert watching me, huh? Show yourself!” Jack declares, readying himself for a fight, the blade in his hand made visible for all to see. “Oh, come on shy-guy!” Jack exclaims with a laugh, the blistering tension he builds up only assisting in the rise of his aggression, “don’t just enjoy the show, put yourself in-”
His call for company fading into silence, Jack watches six men linger from within their hiding, cloaked with jackets covered in undead gore, all wielding their own blades. “Well, this is a surprise” Jack whispers to himself, slowly taking steps backwards, the hybrid, living dead that approach him beginning to sprawl out, trying to surround the retreating survivor.
“What’s the point of this?” Jack asks calmly, tossing his knapsack to the ground, “if you want my shit, there it is.” Without an answer, the hybrids continue to approach Jack, matching the pace of his steady retreat. “Put your hands up and come with us willingly” one of the cloaked survivors orders, his knife held by his hip. “Why would I do that?” Jack replies, continuing to back away from his pursuers.
“Because we don’t need to hurt you” the first man replies, his placid voice finding a way to be more intimidating than if he were to yell. Glancing behind himself, Jack’s eyes widened at the distant sight of a gray truck parked on the side of the road, the coastline resting just ahead of it. “Don’t make us hurt you” the stalker calls out, watching Jack’s face turn back towards him, “none of us need that.”
With a scowl, Jack begins to slow his retreat, putting both hands into the air with a friendly smile. “Alright” Jack remarks, finally coming to a stop, “come and get me.” Throwing his hand forward, Jack hurls his blade into the first man’s throat, its dagger hitting the hybrid with enough force to throw him to the ground. His move made, Jack takes off running, his second wind hitting him just as the living dead begin to give him chase.
Feeling the air whip past his face with every step, Jack scurries towards the car, shattering the glass window by leaping into the vehicle’s side, unable to slow himself naturally. Bouncing with enough force to take himself to the ground, Jack climbs to his feet and dives behind the steering wheel. “Stop!” the hybrids exclaim as Jack turns the key in the ignition, revving the engine loudly before slamming his foot to the gas, turning the vehicle back towards his chasers.
The door too malformed to shut properly, Jack grabs onto it’s handle and holds it outwards, using the metal frame as a battering ram. Mowing down the first two hybrids, Jack veers past the third and outright misses the remaining two. Stomping on the brakes, Jack skids the back tires across the ground and takes aim at the hybrids that remain, preparing himself for round two.
Mowing down the first two once more, Jack steadies his path towards the final hunter, who remains standing in the way, daring Jack to hit him. The engine roaring, Jack speeds towards the final survivor, who huddles close to the ground in preparation for launch, using Jack’s intent to kill as a tool for himself. Pressing the pedal to the floor, Jack watches the cloaked figure spring to his feet and dash towards the vehicle, welcoming the contact.
Leaping from the ground, the hybrid launches himself towards the truck and hurdles into a ball, turning himself into a projectile. No room left for error, the hybrid voluntarily slams through the windshield, destroying the truck’s interior and hitting Jack with his foot mid-dive. Unable to control the truck, Jack falls into the steering wheel, leading the truck into an open field it inevitably finds rest in.
His nose gushing blood, Jack presses his hands to his face as he falls from the vehicle, crashing into the dirt. Wincing in pain, Jack struggles to his knees, beginning to crawl back to where he’d found the truck. “Reggie!” Jack exclaims, the truck’s running motor growing distant the closer he staggers towards the coast. “Reggie!” Jack shouts once more, paying no mind to the vehicle he leaves in the distance.
“Re-!” Jack pauses, finally reaching the docks to find it stained with blood, a long, red trail leading over the wooden planks and into the water. “Reggie!” Jack shouts towards the waves, his hands coupling over his mouth. “Reggie!” Jack shouts once more, quietly waiting for an answer until the approaching sounds of footsteps hurriedly inches nearer.
“Reggie?” Jack turns back to exclaim, the hope that had come over him depleting instantly. The lone hybrid’s body weight crashing into his chest, Jack’s feet are swept from solid ground as he vanishes beneath the waves of the Newark Bay, floating freely within the unstable current. Fighting the waves in return to the surface, Jack peers his head through the water as he paddles towards the docks, a light tug at his leg keeping him from swimming to safety.
Reaching through the waves, Jack wraps his hands around the survivor’s head, air bubbles emerging from beneath the depths as the hybrid is refused the chance to resurface. “Give up you freaky bastard!” Jack shouts, paddling his way to the wooden platform until his back presses comfortably against its supports, guaranteeing him an escape.
“Give the fuck up!” Jack screams, slamming the man’s skull into the wooden pillar he rests against, sentencing his assailant to a watery death. Laying in repeated punches, Jack continues to submerge the man beneath the waves, the struggle he senses beneath him dissipating as fast as the air bubbles cease. Quickly pulling himself out of the water, Jack lays against the sun-kissed dock gasping for air, the pain in his ribs returning as his adrenaline drops.
Glancing to the waves, Jack stares at the muck-covered coat reemerge, the body its worn atop lifelessly floating out to sea, following the waves towards its watery grave.
A crowd regathering at the front of the compound, all eyes, foreign and domestic, wait for the arrival of John and his allies. “Mrs Walters, it’s sundown” a soldier remarks, his voice a low, unremarkable tone. “I have eyes, soldier” Charlotte replies, peering at the guard from over her shoulder. “Yes, my apologies, ma’am” the unimportant strongman replies, only further irritating the woman before him.
“Ma’am?” Charlotte replies, her lip curled and her voice carrying a disgusted inflection. “Again, my apolog-” the soldier replies, hanging his head until a bullet rips through it, Charlotte’s trigger finger suddenly taken towards her own defense. “My name is Charlotte. Use it” Charlotte orders her fleet, the revolver in her hand falling to her side, “I don’t care how many of you I need to put down to prove a point, so don’t give me a reason to start keeping count.”
“Yes, Charlotte” the soldiers reply in unison, clearing the air just as John arrives, squeezing through the gathered crowd empty handed. “Where’s my brother?” Charlotte calls out, her weapon resting by her side. “Where’s my plane?” John answers with a question of his own, his hand resting on the grip of his holstered weapon. Unamused, Charlotte takes herself out of the conversation by retrieving her radio, a simple call through the receiver setting the night in motion.
“How far out are you?” Charlotte calls into the handheld, returning her firearm to its home upon her hip. “I’m just over New York City, coming in for landing within the next ten” the pilot replies, calm as the day is long, “you’ve got a secondary landing point lit, correct?”
“Yes, we’ve hooked a string of lights to the compound’s electrical grid” Charlotte replies, staring across the grounds and towards John, “you’ll land north of the compound facing east.” Lowering the radio from her mouth, Charlotte waits for the pilot's response as eagerly as John does. “Copy that” the pilot replies, the final loose thread of the evening now tightened into place.
“For insurance purposes” John exclaims, holding his hand out to take the radio from his once superior. “Show me my brother, then I’ll give you the radio” Charlotte replies, grasping hold of the communicator tightly. Giving himself a nod, John looks back through the crowd, his hand stretched into the air, calling for his militia’s support. “Let me out of these fucking handcuffs!” Tom shouts, trying to fight the aggressive handling that Bill and Emilio lead him with.
“There’s the piece of crap, now throw me the radio” John replies swiftly, his hand reaching out again. Equally as cautious as John, Charlotte considers her options for a moment, recognizing the lack of control she has over the situation. “No, we’ll trade at the same time” Charlotte decides, refusing to relent any more than she already has, “I trust you just as much as you trust me. You get the radio when I get my brother.”
Their calm demeanors used to hide their hidden feelings of worry, Charlotte and John continue the standoff in an eerie silence, the tension that grows within each pause driving the compound mad. “Before you try anything, let me make one thing clear” John replies, taking his final opportunity to clear misconceptions, “if you come back, I will kill you. If you try anything right now, I have my fair share of snipers to act instantly. And if you don’t agree to those terms, this ends horribly.”
Her nostrils flaring, Charlotte bobs her head once, silently giving the man her word. “Whenever you’re ready, John” Emilio remarks, his hand resting upon his own holstered weapon. Letting out a quiet sigh, John takes three steps forward, one hand wrapped around the back of Tom’s collar, the other grasping onto the handcuffs behind Tom’s back, his fingers wrapping around the chain between the two metal restraints.
Holding the bottom of the radio, Charlotte matches John’s steps, extending the device for John to take. “I wish you could have cooperated like this before we got here, Cowboy” Charlotte mutters just loud enough for John to hear, “this camp would have fared much better.” Shaking his head, John keeps his eyes intently upon the woman ahead.
“The compound would have, but the people are a different story” John replies, earning a well-hidden, barely-noticed laugh from the compound’s creator. “That’s where you’re wrong. People are all kinds of different stories” Charlotte replies, biting into her dry bottom lip, “that’s what makes them so dangerous.”
“It works both ways, Charlotte. Their stories may make them dangerous, but it’s about how you handle them that speaks to who you are” John replies, crunching dirt beneath the weight of his boot, “we could cooperate with each other on plenty, that I’m sure of... But how do we handle them? Well, we can’t see eye-to-eye there.”
“No, of course not” Charlotte replies, a genuine, yet disheartened smile appearing upon the woman’s face, “but which one of us was right?” Stopping in his tracks, John takes his eyes towards the woman ahead, watching her match his stop. “What are you doing?” Charlotte wonders aloud, looking at John with great curiosity, the expression he holds inspiring neither fear, nor confidence.
“It’s not about which one of us is right, it never has been” John replies, Charlotte’s smile fading to a concealed grin, “I chose the people, you chose paradise.” Her hands wrapping around her hips, Charlotte indulges John’s conversation, staring him in the face with every counterpoint. “That’s my point, you fucking idiot!” Charlotte shouts, the veins popping out of her neck as her hand punches the air, “the goal wasn’t to choose between them, it was to make them no different from each other!”
Holding himself back, John lets Charlotte vent in frustration, partially out of a wish not to escalate matters, but largely due to finding truth within her aggressive shouts. “People are fragile. People are as instinctive as the dead, they’re just more complex about it” Charlotte explains, her finger raised towards the gathered crowd, “these people gathered to watch this out of curiosity just as quickly as the dead would gather to chase after a decent-sized meal.”
Huddled together, the compound’s residents look to each other for a response, their immediate reaction only proving Charlotte’s point. “I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again. You don’t have to like how I lead my people, but you can’t deny that it works” Charlotte explains, her hands reaching out to basque in her proof, “and now, you can’t even say you’re able to do better.”
“Yes, I can” John replies, his calm voice burying the deep passion within his response. “Yes, you brought the old world into the new one, and you got people to play along. And yeah, your approach worked a hell of a lot better than mine” John explains, his acceptance surprising Charlotte. “It’ll take time, probably an amount of time I can only hope to have, but the day will come” John explains, a tear lingering on his eyelid, “this compound, and these people, are salvageable.”
Her eyes drifting towards the heavens as a long, extended breath leaves her lungs, Charlotte shakes her head in refusal, again breaking a smile. “You can’t salvage something unless it’s already broken, John” Charlotte replies in a whisper, her disappointment immeasurable, “and when something’s broken, you’re left with two choices. Replace it, or throw it away.”
“No, you’re wrong. There’s a third choice” John replies, vehemently stood by his mark, “there’s always a third choice.” Stomping her foot to the ground, Charlotte steps forward, breaking out into a yell as her finger swings downward. “There is no third choice, John! It’’s not life, death, or you. It’s one, or it’s the fucking other!” Charlotte barks, spit flying from her mouth with every other word, “you took people and you turned them into broken toys!”
Her eye twitching, Charlotte’s frustration only continues to boil, every word acting like a hook, it’s jagged edge digging further into his flesh on its way to his heart. “I created paradise, I filled it with the best toys money can buy and you fucking ruined it!” Charlotte screams, her voice growing deeper until suddenly falling back to a whisper, “then you- you took over. You took paradise, my paradise, and you filled it with broken toys.”
Seething, Charlotte’s whisper continues, those gathered at every turn only watching with paranoid minds. “You didn’t use my perfect toys to fix your broken ones, you just broke them all” Charlotte’s whisper falling to a growl, a pause chilling the air as her conclusion is reached, “SO STOP BREAKING ALL MY FUCKING TOYS!”
His stomach turning, John remains frozen behind Tom, his eyes finally falling from Charlotte’s, following the rest of his face in its fall towards the loose dirt. “They’re salvageable, John” Bill remarks from afar, offering the only support he can to ensure the trade goes off without a hitch. Looking to the husbands across from him, John flashes his armed support an approving nod, remaining silent as he resumes his walk.
“Don’t do the deal!” a woman shouts from the crowd, Charlotte’s resuming steps depleting the quiet hope she’d held for the woman to save the compound she calls home. “If you leave us, we’ll never make it!” the woman pleads, pulling her young daughter from the crowd and into her arms. “Then do something about it” Charlotte replies, not intending to lose sleep over the fate of those within these unstable walls, “a house isn’t industru-”
“I recognize you!” a middle aged gentleman, shouts through a grey beard, pushing his way through the bunched-together citizens, “you stole my fucking apples!” Rolling her eyes, the mother brushes the man’s confrontation aside. “What’re you gonna do about it?” the woman replies, guiding the young girl behind her, “you gonna hit a woman?”
“Nah, I’m gonna shoot a bitch!” the man immediately shouts, pulling a gun from behind his back, firing two rounds into the woman’s chest, and a third into her face. Without another word, the man stands over the woman’s body for less than a second, his moment to marvel at his work taken as the compound’s militia put four rounds into his back, killing him instantly.
“Everyone stop!” Emilio orders through the megaphone, unable to calm the hysteria-ridden crowd, “this is not how we do things!” His eyes widened at the young girl sobbing over two dead bodies, John’s surroundings disappear, the screams, cries and words spoken all around him muffled into dense, unintelligible sounds.
“John!?” Bill repeatedly calls out, still standing beside his militia, unsure how to react to the situation at hand. “John, what’s your call?” Bill questions, the compound still enraptured in fearful screams. “John, snap the fuck out of it!” Bill shouts, John’s grasp on Tom’s restraints only tightening, his ears slowly fixating on the specifics, his name growing more clear each second.
“John, make a fucking decision!” Bill shouts, finally breaking through the distraught leader. Gazing towards Bill, John’s widened eyes remain worn, the tear finally leaving his eye, the expression alone enough for Bill to realize what John’s intention has turned to. “John, don’t” Bill orders in a stern voice, walking towards the man with his hand extended.
Unholstering his weapon, John shakes his head towards Bill, embracing the chaos around him as the final nail in his leadership’s coffin. Putting the barrel of the weapon to the base of Tom’s skull, John remarks in defeat, “they’re not salvageable.” Without second thought, John pulls the trigger, firing a bullet through the top of Tom’s skull, spraying his brains into the air without concern.
“NO!” Charlotte roars, her finger inching towards the trigger of her firearm as it raises towards John, taking aim between his eyes. Pulling the pin, Jess launches her grenade through the air, watching its shell vanish into the crowd of bodies lined behind Charlotte. Their faces dragging through the dirt, John and Emilio watch a fireball emerge from behind Charlotte’s back, her men roasting alive whilst others bleed out from their wounds.
Unable to open fire, Charlotte loses control of her gun, its grip falling from her hands as the explosion throws her forward, dragging her across the ground to a slow, sudden stop. His eyes widening again, John braces against the heat as he reaches for his gun, watching Charlotte intently as he barks orders to Bill. “Get everyone into trucks and wait at the front!” John shouts, pushing Emilio’s arms away as he takes off after Charlotte.
Dusting herself off, Charlotte scrambles for her gun and turns towards John a mere second too late, his larger frame wrapping around her arms, tackling her back to the ground. Trying to squirm, Charlotte’s attempts to escape fall flat, her arms finding themselves pinned beneath John’s knees, looking the man in the eyes without any chance of defence.
Putting his barrel to the bridge of Charlotte’s nose, John returns the woman’s eye contact as his finger inches over the trigger. “Go ahead, Cowboy” Charlotte orders with a whisper, hiding the true fear her impending fate leaves within her, “I’m not gonna stop you.” Closing her eyes, Charlotte waits for John’s move, huffing in a deep breath as she makes peace with her demise.
Caught by surprise, John just stares into the woman’s peaceful face, the fire’s orange glow reflecting off her soft skin. “What are you waiting for?” Charlotte whispers peacefully, the tear she’d tried to hold back forcing its way down her cheek, “do it.” His breaths calming, John’s grip on the weapon begins to lessen, watching Charlotte’s eyes slowly reopen.
His head shaking, John pulls the weapon from Charlotte’s face, letting it fall to his side to the woman’s surprise. “No” John replies, reaching into his pockets for a pair of handcuffs, “not this time.” Pushing Charlotte onto her stomach, John restrains the woman’s hands and pulls her from the ground. “What are you doing?” Charlotte asks, following the lead John takes her through.
“Honestly?” John struggles to reply, looking the woman in the eyes, “I don’t know yet.”
“Where’s Jack and Reggie?” Tyler calls out, climbing into the back of an old-school pickup truck. “I haven’t seen them since this morning” Janice replies, joining Salem and Katie in hurling her rifle into the backseat. “And John?” Jess replies, joining the rifles in the backseat, her daughter held tightly within her arms. “He told us to get everyone together” Bill replies, climbing into the front seat as two figures emerge from the flurry of gunshots hidden within the smoke and debris.
“What the fuck is he doing?” Emilio whispers to himself, watching John lead an uncooperative Charlotte towards the truck, dumping her in the bed. “Why is she here?” Janice calls out in great anger, her question left unanswered. “John, answer the fucking question!” Janice exclaims, pulling John towards her. “Sit the fuck down, Janice!” John screams, his face red with anger.
Attempting to speak, John’s ears latch onto a distant buzzing above, helping to drown out the war between sides within the New World Order’s walls. “No one touches her” John directs, hopping off the truck bed and returning to the compound's walls, refusing to acknowledge the countless questions his friends throw at him.
“Get the fuck off me!” citizens scream, running for cover whilst others launch attacks, consumed by blood lust their conditions have finally become suited for. Retrieving his gun, John fires at armed citizens taking their shot at him, the shards of glass and numerous shanks no match for the slug to the face John’s trigger finger delivers. Leaving countless bodies in his wake, John reaches the maintenance shed and vanishes within, now operating on pure instinct.
Letting the sound of gunfire cement itself within the back of his mind, John peels open the circuit breaker and flips the central switch, killing power to the compound and the makeshift landing spot just beyond the borders. Powering every switch off, John returns the central switch to its natural state, keeping the compound in dark isolation. “Charlotte, where the hell’s that landing strip?” the pilot calls through the radio, earning John’s attention.
Raising the receiver to his lips, John rests his finger upon a single switch, staring at it with an emotional overload. “Charlotte, we need that landing strip now!” the pilot exclaims, still earning no response. Glancing at the door he entered through, John watches civilians butcher each other in the street, not a care in the world for anyone other than themselves. “Yeah” John finally replies in a frail pain, his finger guiding the switch to its place, “you’re all good.”
Letting the radio fall to the ground, John walks calmly through the shed door, entering a dark compound engulfed in sparse flames. Hearing the plane near its descent, John looks back towards his community, a final glance at what he’d let fall through his hands. Walking through the gates without remorse, John returns to the truck with no emotion, hopping into the truck bed and patting the cab’s roof.
“Let’s move” John orders, giving Bill the greenlight to put his foot to the pedal, taking the truck away from their home. “What did you do?” Charlotte worriedly asks, keeping her eyes to the compound. With a sigh, John begins to lean against the cabin, his eyes returning to the walls as well, “I gave the pilots a new route.”
The New World Order forced into darkness, only a long, ever-stretching line of runway lights illuminate the streets, turning the compound and everything built atop it into just another tarmac. Coming over the treeline, the pilots lower their landing gear at the worst possible time, their front wheels left to slam through the lip of the multi-story, concrete wall, fatally wounding the multi-ton aircraft.
“There it goes” John whispers amidst his silent company, all watching in horror as the plane disappears beneath the wall. Leveling buildings and shacks, splattering people into lines of bloody waste, painting the remnants of life a horrifying red, the plane bursts into a ball of flames and devastates all that surrounds it, leaving little more than a mushroom cloud for those in the distance to see.
== Rise: Remastered ==
Season 2 Premiere
His moccasins shuffling against the hardwood floor, Emilio trails through the hallways and enters the ground-level kitchen. Sat below the crystal-adorned chandelier, John holds his head in his hands, elbows pressed against the kitchen table. Hearing the man’s footsteps, John peeks his head out from behind his fingers, eyes taking a moment to adjust to the light.
“Good morning” John quips, head returning to his hands. “It’s two in the morning” Emilio replies, a quick glance at the microwave confirming that claim, “why are you awake?” Allowing his hands to fall back to the table, John takes a moment to think of an answer, the leaky faucet a few feet away from him allowing pitters of water to fall upon the thin metal sheeting.
“Can I just ‘everything’ and convince you to drop the question?” John asks, his eyes red and puffy, the whites bloodshot. With a grin, Emilio gives the man a nod and walks past him, preparing himself the bland, near-tasteless coffee the New World Order has settled for. “Want some?” Emilio asks, gesturing towards the french press, a shrug returned by the patriarch of the household.
“Sure” John exhaustedly replies, his mind rattled with countless thoughts, none of which allowing him the chance to close his eyes. “How many nights in a row?” Emilio asks, alluding to the man’s poor sleep schedule, the discovery of John wide awake in the early hours of the morning having become more than commonplace. “Tonight is the fourth” John replies, his eyes falling to the hands he’s now let couple together on the table, “tomorrow night will surely be the fifth.”
Throwing a kettle on the stove, Emilio stammers over to the table, taking the seat across from John and looking at him. “Is this how you plan on spending your morning?” John wonders aloud, the smirk appearing through Emilio’s chapped lips. “It’s how I plan on spending my time until the kettle starts whistling, yes” Emilio replies, hiding a chuckle as John’s head falls to the table.
“This can’t be down to just the insomnia” Emilio mutters aloud, John’s head peering up with his coupled hands, “there’s something else keeping you awake through the night. There’s something on your mind.” His eyes rolling, John slinks back into his chair, hands dragged off the edge of the table, falling into his lap with a thud. “I’m in charge of a city in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, Emilio” John replies, leaning forward with an animated glare, “everything keeps me up at night.”
Pushing himself out of his chair, John’s body aches as he throws his hands out, stretching towards the sky, feeling his body ripping at itself from within. “You’re one of the most confusing people I’ve ever tried to read-” Emilio remarks, watching John twist the handle on the kitchen sink, a rush of water leaving the leaky spout, “-and that’s coming from a politician.”
“What can I say?” John humorously replies, turning around with his hands by his sides, shoulders lifted to the sides of his face, “I’m needlessly complicated and hopelessly abnormal.” Scooping the water into his hands, John runs the cool waves over his face, calming his mind whilst restarting it all the same. “You’re like two different people” Emilio responds, John’s washing efforts halting immediately, the conclusion Emilio’s reached having been made before.
“Let me guess? One is the family man, the other is the tough soldier guy?” John asks, the squinted eyes Emilio answers by suggesting the conclusion. “I’ve heard that once or twice” John replies, twisting the faucet and turning away from the sink, preparing to return to the table. “So you agree?” Emilio questions, John thinking over his answer before offering it.
“I can understand where it originates from, sure” John returns, lowering himself into his seat before stopping suddenly, his ears focusing on the room’s sounds, or rather, the lack of sound. “That’s not what I asked, and-” Emilio begins to say, his words falling aside when John’s hand extends through the air, stopping in front of Emilio’s face. “The faucet” John remarks, eyes pulling towards the sink, the leaky sink having magically fixed itself.
“It’s not leaking, so what?” Emilio replies, unable to see the importance John finds. “It’s always leaking” John replies, leaving his seat once more, returning to the kitchen counter. Finally beginning to whistle, the kettle takes the attention away from the faucet momentarily. “The faucet wouldn’t stop leaking unless it was disconnected from the main source-” John replies to himself, making room for Emilio to tend to the kettle, “-and if the main source is shut down, that means-”
Their eyes darting towards the front door, Emilio and John listen to the attention-calling pounds at their front door, a fist bashing against the front door, begging for a response. Rushing through the main foyer and yanking the front entrance open, John encounters one of his panicked militants waiting for him, flames tearing through the air a few hundred yards beyond him.
“Someone torched the crops!” the young militant shouts, Emilio and John finding the hairs on their arms stood tall with those four words. Leaving the whistling kettle on the stovetop, Emilio and John race through the yards, families and other civilians standing on lawns and in public spaces, all eyes set on the uncontrollable blaze. “What the hell happened!?” John exclaims, demanding answers the young man leading him simply does not have.
Finally arriving at the local crop yield, John and Emilio are forced to watch helplessly, every last strand of food they had prepared being rendered to ash, the blaze reaching ridiculous heights, the food fueling the fire completely lost. Unable to truly fathom just what he’s seeing, John backs away slowly, retreating through the compound in an effort to keep from his rage spilling over the edge.
Returning to the front gates, John stands alone staring at the massive border wall, hands having lowered from his head to his hips. In a moment of shock, John begins to take interest in the eerily silent air, not a soul to be heard beyond the front gates. Confused, John walks towards a nearby ladder, scaling each rung until he reaches the catwalk atop, a quick glance over the edge doing nothing to satisfy his paranoia.
Below, not a soul waits for entry, the world beyond the front gates having seemingly vanished without a trace, little more than trash left behind to suggest the presence of a gathered crowd in the first place. His eyes wandering over every inch of the vacated sight before him, John’s head finally stumbles over the very tip of the hill, one figure stood exactly where he’d recalled them standing before.
Armed with a flashlight, the figure above raises her hand into the air, the glowing bulb waving from one shoulder to another, taking on the appearance of a hand waving. Ominously, the bulb continues waving as the figure backs away, disappearing with the curious person above into the downed bramble. Unable to think straight, the only thought that seeps through John’s mind is fear. Flames still filling the air just behind him, John watches on, unable to look away from the figure’s hilltop.
= 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 =
A knock emanating from behind her door, Salem pays little mind to those on the other side, redressing her bed as she would any other morning. “Come in” Salem replies, her pillow falling into its case, gently placed at the head of the bed. Looking back, Salem notices Neville stood in her doorway, the man’s presence not having been expected. “Kicking me out or something?” Salem jokes, walking around the foot of her bed, removing a few hygiene products from her bag.
“Not at all” Neville replies, hands dangling by his sides, eyes inspecting the room. “Then why are you here?” Salem replies, folding a stick of deodorant in a plain white sock, her hair tucked away in a ponytail, her view of the compound’s leader unobstructed. “I’m just checking in” Neville replies, given an unmoved nod back from the woman, “it’s not often you find introverts traveling with more than just themselves.”
Not wishing to open herself to Neville’s line of questions, Salem puts her metaphorical wall up, answering with generic responses. “Well, thanks for checking in” Salem replies, her arms crossed at her chest, “I’m doing fine.” Smiling at the woman, Neville walks further into the room, the floor boards creaking beneath the weight of his rubber boots. “You don’t like me” Neville remarks, reading into the woman’s body language, “it’s either that, or you don’t like anyone.”
With a sigh, Salem looks away and scratches at the back of her head. “So what? You gonna try to fix me?” Salem replies, curious to the man’s motives, not wishing to take him at his word. With a chuckle, Neville shakes his head, lips puckered. “No, not at all” Neville replies, his eyes holding back deeper thoughts, ones he leaves unspoken.
Contorting his lips into a grin, Neville’s expression takes on an unnecessarily eerie position, the woman across from him beginning to grow resilient. “I’ve been chosen to lead this camp for a very good reason, and I just want to make sure there’s no one trying to- oh I don’t know, threaten that?” Neville remarks, Salem’s facial expression changing.
“And you think I’m trying to threaten that?” Salem replies, her question coming off with a defensive tick to it, the suggestion immediately put down half-heartedly. “Oh no! No, no, no” Neville replies, tucking his thumbs into his pockets, the remaining four fingers grazing against the denim of his jeans, “as a matter of fact, I don’t really know you. I don’t think anything.”
His smile returning, Neville approaches Salem, the refusal to budge that the woman presents ensures each second brings his face closer to the woman’s own. “If you don’t leave my room, you won’t be thinking anything ever again” Salem returns, showing her hand, willing to kill the man in the place he stands if necessary. “That’s a funny response-” Neville replies, continuing to approach the woman, unphased by her concrete exterior, “-especially since this is my room, and I let you stay in it.”
The heat of the man’s breath running over her face, Salem stares up at Neville’s taller frame, the distance between them practically non-existent. Aware of the man’s reluctance to view her as any serious threat, Salem feels the pressure to gain the ground Neville had stolen from her back. Her hands thrown in front of her, Salem’s attempt at shoving Neville away backfires, the man catching both of her arms before her fingers can even graze him, the momentum clearly in Neville’s favor.
“That was a stupid idea” Neville declares, pointing out the obvious as he continues staring into the woman’s eyes, his sadistic grin still worn proudly. “Am I interrupting something?” Franklin wonders aloud, stood in the doorway watching over the duo, both Neville and Salem glancing back at him with different expressions. “No, of course not!” Neville says gleefully, gently relinquishing Salem’s arm’s from his grip.
Subtly approaching Neville, Franklin hears the man’s explanation out, Salem backing away to allow Franklin the space to confront the man. “I just wanted to talk to Salem about going on a run with one of the retrieval teams, that’s all” Neville explains, the dynamic having changed, his moderate height, corporate ‘young white-guy with big dreams’ charm outmatched by Franklin’s suave, six-foot-six, well-spoken ‘black-man with a chip on his shoulder’ allure.
“Well that’s a relief” Franklin jokes, a smile emerging from behind his patchy beard, his hand patting Neville on the side of the arm, “I was just going to ask you about the same thing.” Glancing over at Salem, Franklin notices the look the woman gives their visitor, able to understand it resoundingly clear. “As a matter of fact, maybe Salem and I can go together?” Franklin offers, Neville looking away with the expression of a man who’d just been bested.
“I’d love to, but unfortunately, I’m not a big believer in sending cripples out to be munched on” Neville replies, the confidence in his voice having weaned. “Oh, don’t you worry, friend” Franklin replies, lifting his cast-iron nub-cap into the air, resting it firmly upon Neville’s shoulder. A disgusted look on his face, Neville looks Franklin in the eyes, allowing the man to finish his thought. “Let me assure you” Franklin explains, rocking Neville’s shoulder, “I can handle myself just fine.”
His once cocky smile having subsided, an unflattered grin now worn, Neville gives Franklin a nod. “Very well, then” Neville replies, dropping his shoulder to remove it from Franklin’s touch, “meet Cameron and Heather at the front gates in forty minutes.” Clearly wanting to leave the room as fast as possible, Neville takes his opportunity to walk around Franklin, exiting the room with a quick stride, his feet carrying him away without hesitance.
“Thanks” Salem mutters, clearly disinterested in the man’s introduction. “Not a problem” Franklin replies, eyes still placed upon the door, watching Neville round the corner at the end of the hallway, “as a matter of fact, it was my pleasure.”
“Thirty-four bottles of beer on the wall, thirty-four bottles of beer” Reggie muses, his back laid upon the cold, concrete ground, feet kicked up atop a wooden shelf. “Take one down, pass it around. thirty-three bottles of beer on the wall” Shauna returns, standing with her feet firmly pressed against the ground, arms crossed on the same wooden shelves, forehead resting against the edge, the corner leaving a line in her skin.
“Thirty-three bottles of beer on the wall, thirty-three bottles of beer” Tyler continues, hands scraped by the concrete floor, arms shaking as he does push-ups, sweat dripping from his face. “Take one down, pass it around. Thirty-two bottles of beer on the wall” Jack furthers, sitting in the corner with his arm draped over a bent knee, his other leg crossed below his body, head resting against the metal bars of their shared prison cell.
Suddenly bathed in light, the pitch-black darkness cast into oblivion, the foursome direct their attention to the front of the cellar, a shadowy figure emerging from the heaven-like light. “Have we made it out of hell?” Jack wonders aloud, the first to speak up, all of his fellow inmates drained of life enough to remain brutally quiet. “Not exactly” Jess’ voice remarks, every survivor locked away returning to their prior activities, leaving Jack as the only one willing to speak.
Dragging a chair along the ground, Jess takes a seat directly on the other side of the prison bars, one leg crossed over the other. “Well if this is our entertainment hour, I think the other inmates are a little shy of the outdoors” Jack quips, Jess’ head tilt serving to illustrate her disappointment. “I’m sorry” Jess remarks, the eye roll she earns from Jack only making her feel worse.
“Wow, your apology really helps change the fact that we’re locked in prison” Jack replies, pulling himself away from his corner, walking away from the woman. “What did you expect us to do!?” Jess shouts, tensions already escalating, her words spoken to Jack’s back, “you tried to kill the woman in charge of this entire compound!”
His fist slamming into the wooden shelving, Jack spins around in anger, his finger raised towards Jess. “That bitch tried to murder us in cold fucking blood!” Jack spouts off, his spit flying through the air, feet carrying him towards the cell bars, hands wrapping around the thick, steel rungs. His voice calming to a whisper, Jack pokes his face through the bars, looking into Jessica’s eyes.
“What we did, it wasn’t murder” Jack explains, his eyebrows narrowed, his anger directed towards the woman on the other side of the bars, “we were getting even.” Pulling her head away, Jess takes in Jack’s words, her mind racing with thousands of smaller thoughts. “I know you understand that somewhere, it’s hidden inside you somewhere deep down” Jack explains, redirecting the tone of his anger, his head pulling away from the bars, “if you wanted to, you could unlock this cage right now.”
Her head veering away from Jack, Jess goes quiet, each huff that leaves her mouth growing quiet. A defeated grin, Jack nods his head, turning away from the woman once more, speaking over his shoulder. “Of course you won’t” Jack remarks, disgusted with the same woman that lays awake each night, always reminding herself of the suffering that exists within these limestone walls.
“I can’t” Jess replies, nearly jumping the moment Jack juts back, his voice returning to a yell instantly. “Yes, you can!” Jack retorts, the veins in his neck popping, the one in his forehead doing the same, “you’ll convince yourself that you can’t, but you can.” His arm stretching through the steel bars, Jack extends his finger towards Jess, holding the woman as responsible as the men that dragged him within these chambers to begin with.
“It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t” Jack explains, speaking to the woman through walls of contempt, disgusted at the sight of his former boss, “and further than that, you come down here every day and sit on the other side of these bars. You torment us every fucking day, and you walk around wondering why none of us can stand the sight of you anymore.”
A tear falling down the length of her face, Jess stares back at the sunlit doors she entered through, fighting the urge to walk away. “Would you like me to go?” Jess replies, finally looking Jack in the eyes again, the man’s posture changing, her voice breaking. Glancing at the exit, Jack goes silent, his head shaking after a few seconds. Dropping himself back in the corner he’d sat within upon Jess’ arrival, Jack speaks up, looking towards Jess with a wounded smile.
“You never told us how you got here” Jack replies, the woman’s eyes falling, her expression changing. “You said your family got here before you did, so clearly you didn’t make it back to them immediately” Jack explains, the woman slowly returning to her seat, a distressed look on her face. “The four of us knew there was something different about you the moment we got here” Jack explains, Tyler, Reggie and Shauna all glancing up at the notion, “what happened to you out there?”
Her head hung, Jess sits in silence for a moment, wet strands of hair falling over her recently-washed face. Coupling her hands in her lap, Jess collects her thoughts as the rest of Jack’s group joins the man at the cell. Reggie and Shauna leaning against the cell whilst Tyler leans against a nearby wall, the prisoners await Jess’ answer patiently. Giving herself a nod, Jess peers back at those within the cell, her eyes meeting them through her hair, her story ready to be told.
Rejoining with Salem, Franklin tightens the cap on his amputated arm as he approaches the front gates. “Did you find Alicia?” Franklin wonders aloud, the sand beneath his boot crunching with each step. “No, she’s not in her room” Salem replies, eyes falling upon Neville, who stands near a tiny campsite, a smile stretching from one ear to another. “Well, leaving her alone in this camp with Neville wasn’t exactly high on my list of hoped-for outcomes” Franklin remarks, obviously disgruntled.
“She’s a big girl, she’ll be able to handle herself” Salem says, concluding the brief conversation as they approach their escorts. “Heather and Cameron?” Franklin calls out, the pair they wait for throwing luggage into their helicopter. “That would be us” Heather replies, her helmet held at her hip, “I assume that makes you two-?”
“Salem and Franklin, yup” Salem interjects, the emotionless look she gives Heather earning her little brownie points. “Okay then” Heather replies, tossing her new duo a pair of helmets, “you two ever been in a helicopter before?” Climbing atop the helicopter pad, Salem pulls herself into the backseat and straps herself in effortlessly, “once or twice” she remarks with a grin, looking back at Franklin.
With a laugh, Franklin cautiously climbs onto the pad himself, struggling to buckle himself into his seat. Letting the man fight with the restraints for a moment, Salem steps in and straps the man in as if he were a child on his way to soccer practice. “Thanks, mom” Franklin jokes, a menacing glare given by Salem, who shakes her head slowly. His hands held up in a humorous sign of surrender, Franklin prepares himself for the flight ahead.
“Where are we?” Franklin asks immediately upon landing, less than an hour having passed since they’d left Concord. “Boston” Heather remarks, her helmet removed, seatbelt unbuckled. “What are we doing in Boston?” Franklin replies, his persistent wondering beginning to rub Heather the wrong way. “Is asking questions a hobby for you?” Heather retorts, her peckish tone subsiding with Franklin’s response, “when I’m flown to another city on a suicide mission, yeah, it is.”
Shaking her head, Heather disembarks the aircraft, her sneakers tapping against the decaying rooftop she and Cameron had decided on landing upon. “A cargo plane lost a few crates while flying out of Concord” Heather explains, helping Franklin out of the metal bird, “we’re the ones getting sent out to look for them.”
Paying little mind to the discussion shared amongst her peers, Salem’s each step causing more reason for concern, the damp tiles below oozing dirty water with every touch of her foot. “I think we should find somewhere else to park” Salem mutters aloud, drawing Franklin and Heather out of their prior conversation. “Why?” Heather asks, watching the foggy liquid seep from below the ceiling tiles, a squishing sound presenting the true damage of winter, a season they’ve made it to the final days of.
“Hmph” Heather remarks, the splashing sounds emanating from Cameron’s own steps are enough to convince Heather of the risks, “it looks like we better find that crate fast, then.” Staring at the woman with a bitter scowl, Salem takes offense at the disregarding of her concerns, an immediate dislike taken in her fellow compound residents. “Are you sure you wanna hold off on that?” Franklin questions, earning Heather’s ire, “it’s not just Salem and I that get stu-”
“I’m sure about my decision, and it’s not changing” Heather quickly snaps back, glancing at the man over her shoulder. “Just help us look for the damn thing” Cameron remarks from the helicopter, his sleek, green helmet carried at his hip, “if you’re really that scared of the roof, you’ll shut up and keep your eyes peeled.” Demanding, yet hard to argue with, Cameron’s suggestion sparks a hurry within Salem, her jean-covered legs speed-walking around the ledge.
“Found it” Salem quickly remarks, the spot she stands upon less durable than any other she’d walked along thus far. “She did” Cameron shouts back, walking directly beside the woman, the floor below them pushing in further. “Great” Heather replies, still standing beside Franklin, gloves sliding over her hands, “the two of you can go down and attach it to the cargo hook while Cam and I steer the bird.”
Chuckling to herself, Salem earns the remaining survivor’s attention, an unamused glare given back by the co-pilots. “Am I missing the joke somewhere?” Heather asks, her rubber boots stood firmly atop the soaked tiles, hands placed on her hips. “You didn’t honestly think we were gonna fall for that, did you?” Salem asks, Heather’s frustration mounting whilst Cameron’s slowly builds, “it’s not happening. We’ll go down there, but only one of us will. One of you two are going down there, too.”
Her eyes rolling, Heather responds with her eyes pointed at the sky. “Two people need to fly the plane, you s-” the female pilot explains, stopped by the impact of a small leather pouch against her chest. Confused, Heather looks to the ground, a brown wallet left at her feet. Compelled, Heather reaches towards the ground, her thumb sliding into the leather-bound crevasse, peeling the sack open.
“Two people will fly the plane” Salem muses from ahead, both arms hanging by her side as Heather begins to look up, “but the pilots will be Cameron and myself.” Her tongue pressed against the corner of her mouth, Heather takes another look at the centerfold of the wallet, Salem’s pilot’s license staring back at her again. With a nod, Heather accepts the woman’s conditions, closing the leather pack and tossing it back to its rightful owner.
With a sigh, Heather glances towards Franklin, the man looking at Salem with confusion. “I thought you said-” Franklin begins, a quick gesture from Salem telling him to stop. “We’ll talk about it when we get back to the compound” Salem replies, her eyes returning to Heather. “I guess it’s you and me, handicap” Heather remarks, flashing Franklin a smile.
Slamming the sole of his foot against the very last burning flame, John’s chest juts out with each huff, eyes unable to pull themselves away from the sea of blackened crops. Hand shaking rapidly, John loses time staring aimlessly, eyes stumbling upon Emilio, the man’s rake falling from his hands. In disbelief, Emilio sluggishly walks through the charred plants, kicking up ash with each drag of his foot.
Stopping at a wall made of sheet metal, Emilio’s head hangs, a visible anger building deep within the man’s core. “‘Em” John mutters, his words soft and impossible to hear from across the field, the shaking in his hand worsening the longer he stands there, standing alone in the field like a deer in headlights. Letting out a yell, Emilio takes his hand and forces it forward, repeatedly punching at the makeshift wall, loud echoes ringing throughout the burnt field.
‘Emilio!” John shouts, his voice still not loud enough to grab the man’s attention, Emilio’s fist bleeding heavier with each strike he makes, his rage dulling the pain of each swing. Snapping out of his trance, John marches across the field, brunt leaves crunching beneath his feet, hand rattling viciously by his side. “Emilio!” John shouts, throwing the man to the ground without a second thought, the wall stained a deep, crimson red.
“Who the fuck did this!?” Emilio exclaims the moment he lands on the ground, pushing himself back to his feet. “Calm down” John remarks, his voice dulled to a hush, appearing more calm than he truly is. “Calm down?, Calm down?, I’m not gonna calm down!” Emilio says through his dying voice, “we just lost everything! How are you gonna stand there and tell me to calm down!?”
“Because we know who did it” John says sternly, watching Emilio’s mouth contort to form a response, the silence that replaces it equally resonant. “Who?” Emilio asks in a calm tone, the question bringing a squint over John’s eyes, his teeth sinking into his lip.
“Jerome!” John calls out, his skin covered in black ash as if he’d just gotten off work as a chimney sweep. “John!” Jerome exclaims, climbing down from the wall to meet the man below, “we’ve already got a search under way. We’re going door to door-” As John’s shaky hand raises, Jerome quiets. “What do you know about the people on the outside of the wall? Where did they go?” John asks, a lack of confidence returned in the look Jerome gives back.
“We’re still not sure, boss” Jerome replies, unable to offer anything more than that. Little room to work with, John turns to look at Emilio, the pain in his hand finally starting to appear. Racing his arms behind Jerome and Emilio, John pulls the men close and looks towards the hill just in front of them. “I’ve seen someone at the top of that hill every night for the last few weeks” John explains, looking back at Jerome, “I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that they’re the ones behind the fire.”
“How would that even work?” Jerome wonders aloud, a few loose strings being left unmentioned. “How would they have gotten inside?” Jerome inquires, reaching for every shred of doubt that presents itself. “More than that, why are you only just telling me now?” Emilio interjects, looking at John with a disappointed glance, “you could’ve said something earlier.”
“I know that, I know” John replies, trying to ease Emilio’s betrayed feelings before they encompass him, “I just didn’t think to say anything because I didn’t know what to make of it.” Stopping the line of questions instantly, Jerome raises his original question again, determined to find an answer. “How would they have gotten inside?” Jerome questions, the loose thread keeping the entire piece from coming together, “why do you think they’re even after this place at all?”
“Because they waved at me” John quickly answers, the clicking sound Emilio makes with his mouth accompanied by an eye roll. “Believe it as much or as little as you wish, I don’t care” John explains, stubbornly fighting to get those beside him on the same line of thought, “but right after they showed up, the crowd got smaller and smaller until it was completely gone. That’s not a coincidence.”
“Sure it is” Emilio immediately argues, pulling away from John’s reach to look the man in the eyes, “we haven’t let any of them in and summer’s coming in. They probably gave up and went off to take advantage of the warm weather before it was too late.” Shaking his head, John refuses Emilio’s conclusion, Jerome’s addition only further weakening his defense.
“Not to mention, you couldn’t get those people to work with you” Jerome explains, John’s head hanging as the odds bet against him, “I don’t think the most charismatic man in the world could’ve gotten them together.” Crossing his arms, John thinks quietly, both Emilio and Jerome waiting to be convinced otherwise. “They could if there was something they could all benefit from” John responds, glancing back up at the men.
“If that person, whoever they are, or if someone else laid a plan out that everyone could get on board with, they’d be able to get on the same page” John explains, a confident look emerging on his face, “a plan like, burning our food and forcing us to leave so they could take over?” Less hesitant to believe John, the obvious flaws still remain, Jerome’s third attempt at asking his original question made.
“How would they have gotten inside?” Jerome questions, the silent few seconds it takes John to think of an answer allowing a nearby set of people to interject. “Maybe they’re already inside” Troy mutters from afar, all eyes directing themselves towards the young man and Katie. “You’re saying they already snuck in?” John replies, earning a laugh out of the man. “No, I’m saying they’ve been in here since the start” Troy replies, hands tucked in his back pockets, “they’ve got an inside-man.”
“How do you know this?” John asks instinctively, the man that approaches him holding his hands up. “Don’t get your pitchforks just yet, it’s just a theory” Troy replies, a grin plastered atop his face, “but if John’s assumptions are true, having a man on the inside would make the ‘forced evacuation’ idea possible.”
Sharing stares between each other, John, Emilio and Jerome silently consider the plot amongst themselves, Emilio’s voice the first to speak up. “If they had someone on the inside, why wouldn’t they just open the door in the middle of the night and kill us while we sleep?” the former politician wonders aloud, “seriously, if they had a man on the inside, there’d be much more efficient ways of taking over than starving us out!”
“Well, there’s only one way to figure that out now, isn’t there?” Katie replies, matching the smile Troy wears, “send us out there, we’ll wait for your mystery waver and ask them ourselves.” With a laugh, John takes the suggestion as a joke, a few seconds of laughter passing before the truth becomes clear. “Wait, you’re serious about this?” John replies, a surprised look on his face, “of course not, are you fuckin’ crazy?”
“No, but we are more than able to handle ourselves” Troy replies, his arms crossed at his chest whilst Katie’s rest in her side pockets, “and if they are to blame for the fire, I’m sure you’ll want to meet with them.” Shaking his head, John attempts to refuse the offer, his attempt pushed aside by Emilio, who introduces a new line of questions. “If they had a man on the inside, how can we be sure it isn't the two of you?” Emilio asks, the shrug Troy gives suggesting he has nothing to hide.
“You can’t be any more sure that we’re not the inside-men than we can be that the three of you aren’t” Troy replies, the reluctance applying both ways, “any of you are more than welcomed to come along, though.” Keeping Emilio from pushing past what he’s authorized to do, John pushes back into the dialogue, adamantly refusing to give Troy and Katie his approval.
“I know there’s at least one other person with them up there, and we have no idea how dangerous they are” John explains, considering himself the only person with a cool head present. “I’m not letting the two of you wander out looking to put faces to names” John explains, a disappointed shake of Emilio’s head returned, “especially not when you’ve already proven to be fairly important to this community.”
“John, you’re the one that came up with this idea” Emilio explains, looking at the man with a curious glare, “they’re definitely able to look after themselves. If you’re as convinced of this idea as you seem to be, this is your best chance to get a clear answer.” Trying to convince himself to refuse, John’s tremor begins to return, the mounting pressure from those around him to give the greenlight finally swaying his opinion.
“Fine, you go out an hour after the sun sets” John replies, hands on his hips, eyes held towards the ground, his dislike of the plan more than clear. “We’ll go get ready” Katie replies, turning around to return to their shared home. Staying behind for a few seconds, Troy looks at John, locking eyes with the man after a few seconds. “Thank you” Troy says with his lips, nodding at John before turning to join Katie, the knots in John’s stomach making him feel sick.
“You gonna jump, or what?” Salem remarks, arms crossed as she watches Heather, the woman sitting on the lip of the rooftop, mustering up the courage to jump. “We’re two stories high and I’m crash landing on a car” Heather replies, unmoved by the woman’s lack of patience, “give me a damn break.” Rolling her eyes, Salem sits atop the concrete lip, her judgment of Heather kept to herself.
Pressing her hands against the frigid stone, Heather swings her feet out, pushing herself over the edge and curling into a ball. Watching the woman descend, Salem plays spectator to Franklin’s future, Heather falling for what feels like hours before slamming into the vehicle’s roof below. Shattering every bit of intact glass, Heather’s moment to compose herself grows shorter, the car alarm blaring through the streets, hundreds of the dead now beckoning towards one direction.
“Did she make it?” Cameron asks, a subtle concern reflected in his voice. “She’s fine” Salem calls back, watching the woman emerge from the wreckage below, climbing over jagged bits of metal and glass. Patting himself on the chest with his cast-iron peg, Franklin slides over the concrete lip and prepares to descend, only one thought in his mind holding him back.
“Salem?” Franklin calls back, locking eyes with the woman from half the rooftop away. “If I don’t make it back, look after Alicia, please” Franklin replies, the request obviously surprising Salem, who returns a nod. “Of course” Salem replies, her tone matching her curiosity over the odd plea. “Thanks” Franklin says with a close-lipped smile, a momentary glance back at the ground preceding his push-off, Salem’s eyes following him until he falls beyond sight.
Crashing into the hood, Franklin’s weight indirectly kills the alarm, his body bouncing off the thin layer of metal, left to slide onto the asphalt below. “Argh, son of a bitch!” Franklin blurts out, his body sore in every place. “Get up, dude!” Heather shouts, pulling the man up by his good arm. Following Heather’s lead, Franklin swings his iron cap at everything that moves, skulls cracking like egg shells, falling into the melted slush along the ground.
“Hook!” Franklin exclaims to the heavens, watching the rooftop. Emerging from beyond the lip, Salem’s frame rushes to the edge, a bright-yellow cable hurled over the edge, falling a few feet shy of the corpse-surrounded man. His nub now used as a mallet, Franklin swings through the crowd, bodies falling in every direction he ventures through.
“Where do we go when they hook the crate up?” Salem hurriedly asks, climbing into Heather’s seat. “What do you mean?” Cameron replies, a few swipes of his finger starting up the blades. “They can’t get back up here, so where are we picking them up?” Salem clarifies, a confusing look given back to her, a laugh leaving Salem’s co-pilot. “We’re not picking them up” Cameron replies, another flipped switch preparing the helicopter for ascent, “they’re climbing up.”
Before she can reply, the ground below the chopper begins to sink, the sounds of metal convulsing prompting Cameron to take the vehicle up. “Pull back on the yoke!” Cameron shouts, wrapping Salem’s fingers around the steering function, forcing her arm against her own chest. Leaving the rooftop, Cameron and Salem ascend a few feet, watching the roof cave in below them seconds later, a massive warehouse filled with the undead exposed to the elements above.
“Close call” Cameron mutters with a laugh, steering the plane towards their remaining survivors, the blades creating a windstorm below. Pressing down on a yellow button, Cameron unhooks the rope ladder, watching the rubbery vines plummet to the ground below.
“It’s good!” Heather calls out, Franklin guarding her every direction, freeing her time to inspect the crate, “hand me one of the hooks!” Very little room to work with, Heather and Franklin fasten the crate into it’s carriage, fending off the horde around them as best as they can. Catching the ladder on it’s way down, Heather begins her climb, a curiosity coming over the one-armed man.
“How the fuck am I supposed to climb this thing!?” Franklin questions, his concerns ignored as Heather continues her climb, paying no attention to the man below. With no other choice, Franklin pulls himself onto the ladder, his shortened arm wrapping around the side of the support column, the other gradually pulling himself up further, one rung at a time.
“Where’s Franklin?” Salem asks, watching Heather pull herself back into the cabin, the man she’d left with having yet to return. “He’s climbing” Heather says, huffing for the breaths that have evaded her. Glancing back through her window, Salem watches the man struggle to make progress, the air vehicle ascending higher into the air with each half mile, the man below still clinging to the ladder as the ground grows farther away.
“We have to land!” Salem exclaims, the helicopter traveling faster, whipping through the air. “We don’t have daylight to burn, he’ll be able to hang on with no problem!” Cameron replies, guaranteeing the man’s safety. “He has one arm!” Salem exclaims, a fair counter argument being made. “It doesn’t look like that’s stopping him” Salem calls back from the cabin, directing Salem’s eyes back towards the ladder, Franklin’s will overcoming the velocity, his slow ascent continuing.
Dragging himself up each rung, Franklin pushes himself towards the cabin, wrapping his iron cap around the final rung, his hand extended. Sat in the cabin, one hand holding onto a restraint, Heather watches Franklin struggle, ignoring the hand he extends towards her. “Heather!” Franklin shouts, noticing this refusal, calling out her name as to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Again, the woman refuses to take his hand, the look on his face insisting he has little time left to hang on. “Heather, take my fuckin’ hand!” Franklin exclaims again, ingesting the cold stare Heather gives him, coming to grasp with the woman’s true intentions. Growling at herself, Heather fights against her wishes, lunging forward to pull the man into the cabin, her feet pressing against the sides of the bird for support.
Finally pulling the man’s two hundred and forty pound frame into the cabin, Heather slams the doors shut and collapses onto the ground, catching her winded breaths. “Fucking hell, you’re heavy” Heather mutters aloud, looking at the ceiling. Turning her head, Heather locks eyes with Franklin, the man equally drained of energy, though his disgust speaks volumes.
Accepting the man’s disgust, Heather pulls herself back into her seat and straps in for the rest of the ride, disgusted with herself the same way Franklin is.
“The dead were everywhere” Jess recollects, eyes trailing off into the cellar’s dark caverns. “I rummaged through empty cars and overturned corner stores for food. I hid under cars at night to sleep, and I rarely did that” the woman continues, flowing, blonde locks running over her hunched-over shoulders. “I made excuses for myself whenever I did something I knew was wrong” Jess explains further, her mind wandering to specifically dark thoughts, “I did what was necessary to survive.”
“Sounds like you had it real tough” Tyler sarcastically replies, scowling back at Jess, the woman’s response being to look away in shame. “Sorry” Jess mutters back, locking eyes with the burn-covered prisoner, feeling the uncomfortable tension tighten in her chest. “Keep going” Reggie interjects, too invested in deciphering the unspoken early days of Jessica’s time beyond the New World Order’s walls.
“It was uneventful for a few days. I’d go out, I’d pick stuff up, I’d go back to a little house, move onto the next day” Jess replies, sucking on the corner of her lip, “it was just a rinse-wash-repeat ordeal.” Her foot anxiously tapping against the floor, Jess’ heart begins to race, her steady breathing quickening into a frenzy. “After a couple of days, and I hadn’t seen anyone since that first night, I started to feel watched” the woman explains, shaking her head, “I was being followed.”
“Stop the tapping” Jack remarks, diverting Jess from her train of thought, a curious look given back, her head nudging forward. “You’re foot, you’re tapping your foot” Jack replies, assuming Jess had been confused by the original question, “stop tapping your foot.” Apologizing, Jess sets her second foot over the first, keeping the pinned boot at bay.
“Uh, yeah- I was being followed” Jess stammers, finding her way back to the original story, the gap brought on by Jack’s request easing the lingering stiffness in her hands, the dark path she’d been walking along now slightly beginning to brighten. “I’d heard about a settlement a few miles away, so I started walking there” Jess explains, playing with the wedding ring on her left hand, “after, I don’t know, maybe an hour? I started hearing what I can only imagine were cars getting shoved aside.”
“The dead were pushing the cars?” Shauna interrupts, provoking a yell from Jack before Jess has the chance to respond. “Will everyone shut the hell up and let her talk, please?” Jack raises to the room, still dissatisfied with Jess, but eager to hear what she has to say. Nodding in Jack’s direction, Jess moves on, the darkest reaches of her mind beginning to catch up to her.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but it was one of Charlotte’s convoys. They fitted vans with these big battering rams on the hood, like snow plows have” Jess explains, her elbows pressing into her thighs. “I didn’t know that they were looking for anyone, let alone looking for me, so I just reverted to my best instincts” Jess explains, hair falling over her soft face, “common sense would suggest that a line of vans, all fitted perfectly to survive an apocalypse, wouldn’t have good intentions.”
“Did you make it to the camp or not?” Shauna cuts in, defying Jack’s request whilst showing restraint. “I- I did” Jess replies, struggling to answer, her restless eyes not speaking well off her discovery. “They were all dead” Jess replies, her self-deprecating smile fading, replaced with a frown, “must’ve been thirty people there or so, the whole camp, just gone.”
“Was it Charlotte’s people?” Tyler asks from afar, the second onslaught of questions prompting Jack to surrender his position of power, leaving Jess in control of the narrative. “I don’t know, but I’ve got no reason to believe it wasn’t” Jess answers, further confusing Shauna. “If you think Charlotte’s people did this, why would you stay here?” the only woman behind bars replies, looking Jess in the eyes, “you know who she is, why would you fight for her?”
“I’m not fighting for her” Jess quickly snaps back, her former secretary shouting out another question. “This is her camp, as long as you live here, you fight for her” Shauna retorts, watching Jessica’s head hang, “how do you justify that?” Quick to make an attempt at answering, Jessica falls silent, looking at the woman with her mouth agape, silence leaving her parted lips.
“I- I don’t-” Jessica mumbles as the room falls silent, those behind the bars waitting for the woman’s answer, her inability to do so drawing an unintended intrigue. With a sigh, Jessica’s shoulders drop, her eyes fall to the floor whilst her hands lift, swiping the long, blonde locks back over her shoulders. Lips puckered, Jessica shakes her head in revulsion at herself, left foot pressing harder against the right foot.
“I don’t justify that” Jessica replies, tunneling into the deeper reaches of her mind, borrowing into acceptance. “I just don’t think about it” Jessica further acknowledges, the look of disappointment shared amongst the prisoners sticking into the back of the blonde woman’s mind, “I ignore it, and eventually it stops being a problem.”
Already quiet enough for a falling pin to resonate like a grenade, the cell churns with disgust, those who’d once worked beneath Jessica now believing themselves to be of a higher, moral standard. “I’m really glad you get to sleep at night, then” Shauna says with disdain, pulling her arms through the cell and walking into the lightless background, swiftly vanishing beneath the shadowy cover of her limestone purgatory.
Lowering her head again, Jess listens to Reggie’s footsteps part from the cell, softly fading into the background, Tyler’s footsteps doing the same, leaving only one prisoner in Jessica’s graces. “You don’t sleep at all, do you?” Jack remarks, earning Jessica’s attention, the woman’s head turning towards him. “No, I don’t” Jess replies in a faint tone, her mouth beginning to dry, “I hear John get out of bed a few minutes after I get in, and then I look at the ceiling until the sun comes up.”
“Why do you stay here?” Jack wonders aloud, possible answers floating in his head, none of them answers he can imagine leaving Jess’ own mouth. “Amy” Jess replies, little hesitation given to that answer, the name leaving her lips near-instantly, “John is in charge, I know we have what we need to survive. I can provide her with a life. I can provide her a future. I can’t do that out there, in that mess outside.”
With a nod, Jack looks away, thinking quietly to himself for a moment, the look on his face insinuating the silent build up of a rebuttal. “You’re sacrificing your own sanity to give the girl a life” Jack says to himself, digesting the answer for what it’s worth, only looking back to Jess when he’d found his conclusion, “how noble” he says sarcastically, leaving his new seat to join the rest of his group, entering the guise of darkness, leaving Jess to herself in the cellar.
Cautiously stepping out of the helicopter, Salem watches Cameron exit his seat, the empty, fire-damaged factory in the middle of an empty field offering plenty of reason for concern. “Where are we?” Franklin inquires, refusing to disembark the aircraft before Heather, following the woman onto the charred ground. “Help us empty the create first, ask questions later” Heather is quick to reply, having spoken little about the site before, and intending to keep that going.
Pulling smaller boxes from within the crate, Heather begins for the building’s charred remnants, the three people that follow all dragging their own crate along the burnt ground, just as she does. Ash kicked into the air, Heather pulls her arm over her mouth to combat the floating debris, eyes set on a door at the back of the building. “Anyone gonna tell us where we are?” Franklin struggles to mutter, every other breath bringing him into a coughing fit.
“No, stop talking” Cameron blurts out, his crate lowering to the ground once he catches up to his co-pilot, assisting her in unlocking the pristine door. Glancing at each other, Salem and Franklin quietly prepare themselves for whatever lies within the compartment, unable to trust the people they’ve journeyed with. Grunting, Cameron and Heather tear the metal sheets open, the doors parting to reveal a staircase, built from concrete and leading into the building’s pitch black underbelly.
Knowing how little they’re trusted, Heather and Cameron venture into the unknown first, leaving Franklin and Salem to follow their lead. “Eyes peeled” Salem swiftly whispers, following Franklin through the doors, descending into uncertainty with each step. Reaching the bottom, Franklin and Salem are met with a burst of light, the revving motor of a nearby generator illuminating the large basement from one end to the other, mountains of these wooden crates lining the concrete floor.
“Holy shit” Salem mutters, her worries falling for a short moment, in awe of the countless rounds of ammunition, heavy weaponry, and basic supplies stockpiled. “Is all of this from the crates?” Salem asks, her wonder returning to the prior tension upon the pilot’s failure to answer. “Most of it” Heather replies, obviously hiding some truth, standing next to one mountain of boxes, right beside Cameron.
“There must be years worth of goods here” Franklin replies, yet to break from the wonder this sheer magnitude of goods presents. “Does Neville know about this?” Franklin asks, walking deeper into the basement, prompting Salem to walk after him. “Not exactly” Heather replies from afar, watching Salem pass her to catch her friend, the opportunity the pilots had been waiting for finally presenting itself.
“Oh, you’re hiding this stuff from him” Franklin remarks, looking around like a child in a candy store, “smart move, we don’t trust him either” he blurts out, only then spun around by Salem’s hand. “Dude!” Salem mutters, turning the man back towards the entrance, their eyes instantly locking onto the pilots, both aiming pistols at the New World Order’s newest inhabitants.
Instinctively reaching for her hip, Salem’s fingers graze her firearm as Franklin raises his hands, her efforts thwarted upon Heather’s demand. “Hands up, Salem!” the woman exclaims, weapon held firmly in her palm, watching Salem’s arms rise. “Nice job, handicap” Salem mutters, her only words to Franklin shared, attention redirected towards the pilots.
“Was this why you were gonna let Franklin hang out on that ladder? Why do you want Frank and I to set up the ladder?” Salem inquires, every second without a gunshot providing more hope for a decent outcome. “Why kill us?” Salem wonders aloud, refusing to reach for her weapon, intrigued by the hesitancy the pilots show to pull the trigger, “what good does it do?”
“I don’t know” Heather replies, pulling the hammer on her revolver, eyes moving over to Franklin, “repeat what you just said, nubby.” Confused, Salem looks at Franklin, who shares her lack of understanding, a moment passing before Franklin repeats his claim. “I asked if Neville knew about this place” Franklin replies, his course quickly adjusted.
“No, what you said after” Heather specifies, both Salem and Franklin beginning to understand the situation. “I said, ‘smart move, we don’t trust him, either’” Franklin replies, a less hostile glare given from the pilots, who share a few glances to each other. “He threatened me just before we left” Salem interjects, finding common ground with the weapon-holders, “Franklin saw the whole thing, came in to stop it, that’s why we got added to your crew.”
Thinking to herself, Heather considers the options at their disposal, her train of thought broken when Salem speaks up. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it?” Salem wonders aloud, watching Heather’s eyes make contact with her own, “you’re worried we’re gonna snitch.” Swallowing her spit, Heather nods, the situation resoundingly clear.
“Well, I’m glad we’re on the same page then” Franklin replies, taking the rest of the lead in diffusing the confrontation. “If you’re defying Neville, and if you’re being extra careful about it, we’re more than happy to help” Franklin explains, bartering with his life, “and if you’re planning on leaving the place, we’re more than happy to help make that possible.”
“Fuck that” Salem mutters aloud, not satisfied with an escape plan, “we’ll help you kill the bastard if you want, it makes no difference to us.” Conflicted, the pilots weigh the options on the table, each survivor only needing to fire one bullet for their worries to be put aside for good. “You’ll need help” Franklin remarks, noticing the sway in the pilot’s eyes, capitalizing on the advantage it brings, “you’ll need man-power, you’ll need allies, you’ll need strength. We’ll be that.”
Their intention to pull the trigger lessening, Heather speaks up, eyes on Franklin’s more defiance-happy partner. “Why did he say he wanted to talk to you?” Heather asks, testing Salem on her story, “Neville, what was his reason?” With a chuckle, Salem lightens the mood, “he wanted to check in on me” Salem explains, shaking her head with a smile, “he wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to ‘threaten his leadership’.”
A grin coming along her face, Heather gives the woman a nod, her weapon lowering back to her side, Cameron’s weapon following suit all the same. “Not a word of this, any of this” Heather explains, laying the ground rules out well, “there’s a compound out in New York, same name, some soldier running the place below Charlotte. We’re flying Neville out for a meeting with the man in a few days.”
“That’s where you’re running off to?” Franklin interjects, “won’t he know to look for you there?” Shrugging, Heather shows her lack of care over such an idea, her mind set elsewhere. “It doesn’t matter, the other leader doesn’t really fit Charlotte’s mold-” Heather replies, returning her weapon to the holster on her thigh, “-that must mean he’s good.”
“Can we tag along?” Salem asks, cautious not to step on the toes that had nearly put a bullet between her eyes, “we might head out there if things get rough out here. It’d be useful to check it out ahead of time.” Giving a look towards Cameron, Heather comes to a decision in her head, her expression silently giving Cameron a head’s up.
“In return for almost killing you, I’ll do what I can to get you on board” Heather replies, eyes sliding onto Franklin, “and while I’m at it, sorry for almost letting you die.” With a laugh, Franklin nods to the woman, pleased to still be alive. “No hard feelings, I suppose” the large man replies, following the pilots back to the charred building above, helping carry the remainder of the crates to their well-hidden, concrete confines.
The floor creaking beneath the weight of her boots, Jess steps through the front door, a long stare shot at the other end of the home. “Long day?” John wonders aloud, sat with Amy in the adjacent living room, a rubber doll of a horse grasped in his hand. “Yeah” Jess replies, surprised to hear the man’s voice, rounding the bannister to occupy the open seat beside her husband.
“The employees giving you a tough time?” John asks, having expected the perplexed look Jess answers him with. “You always walk into the tavern around lunch time, at least, that’s what Emilio says” John replies, hearing the breathy laugh Jess lets slip, “so either I’m terrible enough at being a husband to turn you into a day-drinker, or you’re making use of the cellar your employees are conveniently locked up in.”
Curling up beside John, Jess rests her head on the man’s shoulder, the time they get to spend together, just as a couple, becoming more limited as the days pass. “They think that, because we’re staying here, propping up Charlotte’s orders, we’re fighting for her” Jess replies, the look on John’s face not changing.
“Technically, we are” John replies, sitting on the floor, his back resting against the couch, “as much as I don’t like thinking about it, if we’re not fighting her, we’re fighting on her behalf.” Admitting this in a strangely content tone, John’s ease to accept such claims as truth becomes a target, one Jess focuses on feverishly. “No, we’re not” Jess replies, her husband’s face turning towards her own, “we know who she is, we’re just waiting for the best opportunity to take her out.”
Looking away, John refuses to answer his wife, the turned look on Jessica’s face speaking to her confusion. “That’s what we’re doing, right?” Jess asks, her husband’s expression odd and out of place to what she’d been under the assumption of. “John?” the woman calls her husband’s name, his guilty look turning back towards her, eyes locked.
“I don’t know” John replies, watching his wife’s confusion twist into annoyance, a bitter scowl given back to him. “What do you mean, ‘I don’t know’?” Jess replies, her head having left his shoulder, their daughter mindlessly playing with her rubber figures a few feet away. “Jess, someone torched every last bit of food we had ready for the summer” John replies, their plans now in flux, “we’re under attack from one side, and if we don’t get help, we’ll be under attack from each other.”
Her head shaking in disapproval, Jess places her hands over her eyes, her frustration boiling. “Jess, this isn’t what I wanted either, but there has yet to be a worse time to dispose of Charlotte than right now” John explains, trying to convince his wife to see the compound through his view, “we’re gonna starve through the summer, wage war with- I don’t even know who! The last thing we need to do is bite the literal hand that feeds us.”
Too frustrated to respond, Jess pulls herself away from John, wandering down a hallway with her husband following closely behind. “I hate the bitch as much as you do, maybe more” John explains, sharing the woman’s frustration and forcing himself to persevere through it, “but taking on Charlotte right now guarantees this entire compound falls like a ton of bricks, and we’re all right back on the road!”
Turning back sharply, Jess raises her voice an octave, a guttural yell thrown back at John. “I know!” Jess exclaims, unhappy with having to accept the stakes at hand, but strong enough to understand the necessity of doing so, “just because I get it, doesn’t mean I have to like it anymore than you do.”
Pulling back, Jess continues to walk away, her husband left standing between two bedrooms in the narrow hallway, bathed in the moonlight that pierces the old-fashioned glass windows. “Please don’t do this” John remarks, watching his wife slow ahead, eventually stopping between a set of bedrooms herself. The moonlight momentarily turning her blonde locks a brilliant white, Jess turns around to face her husband, a disappointed look on her face.
“Do what?” Jess asks, the way she asks the question insinuating a want to hear the answer, but not a need. “Don’t walk away” John replies, sharing the woman’s disappointment in the reflection of his own voice. Slowly moving one foot in front of the other, John shortens the distance between himself and his love at the end of the light-soaked hall.
“I’m trying, Jess” John explains, his arms dangling by his sides. “Everything used to be simple” John mutters, the pain in his voice presenting a second side to his rugged, family-man facade. “You went out to work, I looked after Amy, you’d come home, we’d have dinner and go to bed” John recalls, a simpler time having allowed for comfort that no longer exists, “and now, I’m in charge of some of the last people to walk this planet. If I’m being honest, I still don’t know how it happened so fast.”
His chest visibly growing heavy, John’s eyes fall into sorrow, bringing to light the darkest reaches of his fears. “I’m worried I’m gonna crumble under the pressure” John explains, holding back a single tear, “I’m worried I’m gonna let this place fall. I’m worried I’m gonna lose the two of you.” Her hand quickly finding the side of the man’s face, Jess locks eyes with her husband, following his tear down the length of his cheek.
“You’re not gonna lose us” Jess replies, the broken smile John looks at whilst portraying the differences in their expectations. “I’m a veteran of the army, and I’m a father, and a husband, for my family” John replies, holding his hand over Jess’ own, his head shaking, “I’ve never been both at the same time.”
Gently pulling her hand away, John wraps his fingers within Jessica’s own, his eyes looking deeply into hers. “The only thing that kept me going when bullets flew, was knowing you and Amy were back at home, safe and sound” John says, biting into his lip, “I was lost when you were out there, and if bullets start flying again, I’m not sure you’ll be safe and sound, and that kills me.”
“John, you need to stop expecting the worst out of this” Jessica explains, trying to anchor her husband’s fears, watching him veer harshly away from hope. “You’re convincing yourself that the only end to all of this is bloodshed, and you can’t do that” Jess explains, already aware of her husband’s refusal to accept what she says as truth.
Taking her hands steadily within his, John pecks his wife on the lips, trying to disarm the rising worries for the moment. “I’m not okay, Jess” John whispers, his forehead placed against his wife’s, Jess’ breath running down the collar of the man’s shirt. “I bought a fedora trying to starve off crippling fear, I’ve tried to play peacemaker with a woman who’s content with maintaining order” John explains, “and every other time I’ve tried to lead, I’ve made things worse.”
“No, you haven’t” Jess replies, not believing her statement to be true or false, but speaking it in desperate hopes her husband will blindly believe it. “I tried working with the mob, and they’ve shot at us, invaded us, and are trying to starve us out” John explains, yet to even cut close to the bone of the issue, “I sucker-punched Emilio because he tried to give me hope, I cooperated with Charlotte when she tried to take that hope away. I’m tired, I’m a mess, and I’m spiraling out of control.”
Pulling in a deep breath, John pulls himself to a hush, slowly letting the air leave his lungs, the sensation of his hand begging to shake beginning to fade into the background. “I don’t know what happened to you out there, and I don’t need to ask because it doesn’t really matter” John explains, his wife having stopped speaking, only wishing to be the ear to his explanation, “I’m broken, somewhere down there, you’re broken too. We are dysfunctional, and that’s-”
“Mr and Mrs Callis!” a masculine voice calls out, his fist pounding against the door. Their moment shattered, John turns back, looking at the door while his wife looks at him, tears running down her face. Following John back into the living room, Jess looks at Jerome the moment the door opens. “What’s wrong?” John asks, his wife standing beside him as Emilio quietly walks through the same hallway John and Jess had, looking as if he heard something he wasn’t supposed to.
“Nothing’s wrong, but there’s survivors outside the gate” Jerome replies, refusing to call attention to the odd manner in which Emilio and the Callis’ greet him. “The crowd came back?” John replies, quickly brought up to speed. “No, just a couple of people” Jerome replies, their presence alone not the reason for his visit, “they say they know you.”
“Who? Jess?” John replies, following Jerome’s eyes towards his wife, his assumptions debunked. “No” Jerome replies, shaking his head feverishly, “all of you.”
“Open the gates!” Jerome calls out, two of his subordinates pulling down on the reinforced gate-system, John, Jessica, and Emilio all standing by, watching the large, metal doors part. “If this is a trap, be ready to-” John remarks, stopping his orders instantly, the picture he and his fellow survivors are greeted by enough to take the words right out of him.
“Oh my god-” Jess mutters beneath her breath, the two armed figures standing at the front of the vehicle instantly appearing familiar, “Oh my god!” With a smile on her face, Meghan lowers the weapon at her stomach, tossing it to the floor and meeting her sister halfway. “Oh my god!” Jess remarks again, embracing Meghan as Janice’s smile spreads across her face, the woman joining the sisters’ reunion.
Catching up to his wife, John greets Meghan and Janice, the sound of Amy’s voice from afar only serving to make the reunion sweeter. “Aunt Meghan!” Amy shrieks, running like an olympian sprinter through the gates, jumping into her aunt's arms with glee. “Ain’t hope great, John?” Emilio enthusiastically calls out, playfully mocking the man.
“I get it, you win!” John sarcastically mutters back, sharing a smile with the man until Emilio’s head turns away, his smile fading into a look of awe. The sudden end to the jokes bringing a silent wonder over the reunited grouping, the Callis’, Meghan, and Janice turn towards Emilio, their eyes following the man’s own. “Em?” Bill emerges from the backseat muttering, having prepared himself in the event of a firefight.
“B-” Emilio remarks, unable to say the man’s name, his emotions sent into a frenzy. Speechless, Emilio begins walking forward, his calm pace soon breaking out into a run, wrapping his arms around Bill as tears stream effortlessly down his face. “Oh my god” Emilio mutters beneath his breath, kissing his partner as the reunited Callis’ watch on, unable to hold back their own smiles.
The words taken out of him, John watches Emilio and Bill’s reunion, a smile breaking through his lips, the sight moving him to another tear. “Yeah, Emilio” John whispers below his breath, nodding towards the man, a look of acceptance worn proudly upon his face, “you win.”
== Rise: Remastered ==
Venturing through the New World Order, Salem and Franklin speak amongst themselves, passing the time it takes them to meet with their friendly pilots. “You never did tell me why you lied” Franklin points out, raising the question out of the blue, “you said you were a software engineer. Why’d you lie?”
Their stroll, a casual, slow walk through the community’s green, Salem finds plenty of time to explain herself, the honest truth easier to admit than she had anticipated. “I didn’t want you and Alicia to get me to fly out to some distant country” Salem replies, humoring the large man beside her, “I may be crazy, but I’m not that fond of flying off to an island paradise and riding out the rest of our days in peace.”
“You’re talking crazy now” Franklin jokes, not yet convinced in Salem’s reply. “I’m serious. Being a pilot is the only thing I’ve lied to the two of you about” Salem replies, continuing to match the man’s pace, “I never really had a place in the world before all of this. If I’m being honest, I kind of like things the way they are now.” Glancing at Salem with a smile, Franklin does a double take, his grin fading upon the second look.
“You’re serious?” Franklin replies, lured further into belief, “you like all of this?” An ashamed, yet proud look on her face, Salem looks to Franklin and nods, both of her hands tucked in her pockets. “Yeah, I do” Salem replies, the man’s head shaking, his mind baffled by such an idea. “Some people don’t fit into a box like the rest, Frank” Salem explains, aware of how little she can sway Franklin’s opinion, “with the world the way it is, those boxes don’t exist anymore.”
With a shrug, Franklin distances himself from the conversation, a question raised by Salem pulling him right back in. “If we’re asking about things we’ve asked in the past, I guess that makes it my turn” Salem explains, looking at Franklin with a mischievous grin, “on our first run with Cam and Heather, just before you left the roof, you asked me to take care of Alicia.”
“Is there something wrong with wanting someone to look out for a friend?” Franklin asks, confused. “Not at all” Salem is quick to reply, her smile having disappeared for a second, only to quickly return, “but in that moment, it seemed like something more.” Head tilted, Franklin peers at Salem, his lips puckered. “I think you might be reading too far into things” Franklin replies, jutting his elbow out, playfully nudging Salem on the arm.
“We’re not heading out today” Heather exclaims the moment Salem and Franklin enter her view, raising curiosity over the pair. “What?” Salem immediately replies, her hands having left her pockets, thrown out at each side, “what changed?” Walking around the length of their aircraft, Cameron holds a folded piece of paper out for Salem to take. “That’s what changed” Cameron replies, allowing the letter to change hands.
“To all neighboring sites, the New York compound has been placed in temporary control of Charlotte Walters” Salem reads aloud, only one line left unspoken, “due to increasing tension, all flights to and from New World Order compounds are hereby suspended until further notice.” Rolling his eyes, Franklin slowly walks away from the group while Salem asks further questions, unable to understand the gravity of the situation.
“I thought Charlotte was in control of the Nova Scotia camp” Salem explains, her assumptions confirmed. “She’s supposed to be, but it seems like the dude she put in charge of the New York one fell out of favor” Heather replies, walking away to allow Cameron to finish her response, “which means we’ve got no chance of running off to it now.”
“This is unbelievable” Franklin mutters from afar, their escape crumbling right before their eyes. “So, what if we go to the camp in Nova Scotia instead?” Salem suggests, the threat of remaining in Concord growing with each passing day. “Won’t work” Heather replies, slamming the cabin door of their helicopter shut, “if anyone’s taking Charlotte’s place up there, it’d be her husband.”
Taking a seat on the curb, Franklin allows the rest of the group to talk amongst themselves, his hands folded at his chin, countless thoughts racing through his mind. “Fascinating” a man exclaims from a few yards away, noticing Franklin’s body language and the worried chatter amongst Salem and the pilots, “it’s almost like the world got flipped upside down for the four of you, isn’t it?”
Their eyes trailing across the lot, Salem, Franklin, and the pilots find Neville strolling up to their launch pad, his hands interlocked behind his back, his thin suit jacket flowing in the early-morning breeze. “Why do you say that?” Heather asks, taking charge. “Well, she’s holding Charlotte’s decree from New York” Neville first answers, pointing out the letter still firmly in Salem’s grasp, “and, I’m not sure why you’re getting ready to take flight. I haven’t given you clearance.”
“We’re not getting ready to take flight” Heather quickly corrects, keeping ahead of Neville for as long as she can, “the chopper requires attention after every flight. We neglected that attention last week.” An obviously skeptical nod given by the compound’s suited leader, Heather watches Neville back away, both hands held in surrender. “Admitting negligence takes balls, so I’ll give you a pass for your honesty” Neville replies, the unamused look on his face returning.
“Listen, I don’t want the four of you falling out of line. That’s all” Neville explains, putting the ‘honest-man’ facade up once more, “let’s all just work together. Live in harmony, yes?” Smiling at Heather and Salem, Neville’s grin drops when the sands scrape against asphalt beneath Franklin’s feet, the man standing from his place on the curb. “Is that a threat?” Franklin asks, watching Neville spin slowly towards him, a content expression on his face.
“Not at all” Neville replies, refusing to step any closer to Franklin than he already is, preferring to speak to him from ten yards away, “I’m just making it clear that the leaders chosen for the New World Order are people with- Oh, how do I put this kindly? A sixth sense for the truth.” Nodding his head, Franklin conceals a laugh beneath his breath, slowly stepping forward, watching the enthusiasm on Neville’s face fade with each vanishing inch between them.
“You’re a really small man, Neville” Franklin explains, his voice lowering with his posture, the friendly face most are used to devolving into an intimidating scowl. “I love how you can stare down at Salem and Heather, but when I come around, you tense up” Franklin explains, the extra eight inches he has on Concord’s leader casting a shadow over Neville’s face, “I think you should be a lot more considerate of who you try to look down on.”
Obviously unflattered by the manner in which Franklin speaks to him, Neville adjusts his tie and licks his chops, looking Franklin in the eye once his thoughts have found their way to him. “I’d suggest you watch what you say to me” Neville replies, the look on Franklin's face unchanged, “you are big and tough, that much you are already aware of. But what you don’t realize is that you and I are the same person.”
Interested, Franklin remains quiet, a tickled smile coming over his face, allowing Neville to continue. “The power that you have in your build, and in your stature, is the same power I have in the snap of a finger” Neville explains, giving Franklin his warning, “and if my finger snaps, anything could happen… Accidents included.”
Nodding, Franklin gives Neville a few inches of space to breath, trying to seem considerate. “Are you telling me that, maybe, I could have an accident?” Franklin asks, concluding his point amidst Neville’s failure to respond, “because, I don’t think that would be popular with someone like Alicia. Do you?”
Becoming amused again, Neville shrugs with a returned smile, his eyebrows lifting with the rest of his face. “I don’t know” Neville replies, taking it upon himself to step up to Franklin, surprisingly choosing to close the distance by choice, “who’s to say Alicia can’t have an accident, too?”
His amusement incinerated instantly, Franklin’s angry scowl returns once more, the snarl he gives Neville conceding defeat to Concord’s leader. Having regained power, Neville gingerly pats Franklin on the shoulder twice. “The four of you have a lovely day” Neville calls out, returning to his daily activities with newfound confidence, a bitter Franklin left to watch him walk away in silence, Salem and the pilots watching on with scowls of their own.
= 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 =
“Make room!” Tom shouts, ordering Jack and his group further into the cavernous abyss of the tavern cellar. Their countless months of captivity having dulled their effort to resist instruction, Jack’s group does as told, making room for the imprisoned member of John’s inner circle. “You don’t look familiar” Shauna mutters from afar, her new inmates staring at her briefly on her way into confinement.
“We’re in charge of the camp” a disgruntled Meghan grunts, the response drawing amusement from their de facto prison guard. “Not anymore” Tom replies, slamming the metal bars shut, an old-fashioned key turning in the locks to cement the change in government. “You’re a war criminal, same as your longer-imprisoned friends” Tom replies, his following statement inciting a spark of care in Jack’s group, “now that Charlotte has her way, the lot of you will be dealt with.”
“Hey, we served our time!” Jack shouts, his face pressed between the bars he sits beside, both hands grasping at either rung. “Haha, no. You served their time” Tom replies, turning back once he reaches the stairwell towards the exit, a gleeful face put on, “now you’ll serve Charlotte’s time.”
Climbing the stairs, Tom slams the cellar door shut, entrenching the cells, along with the compiled group, in total darkness. “So, you’re the one that kept us locked up for the last year, huh?” Jack muses, quickly corrected by the new woman in the group’s ranks. “It’s been five months, and that wasn’t exactly our call” Meghan replies, her argument doing little to sway Jack’s opinion.
“Whose call was it exactly?” Shauna asks on Jack’s behalf, the new prisoner taking a few minutes to adjust to the complete darkness. “If we could let you out, we would have done so” Meghan replies, “the call wasn’t ours to make.” With a groan, Jack retakes his position in the conversation, starting from where he left off. “Again, I’ll ask” Jack frustratedly remarks, “who made the call to keep us here?”
“Charlotte wanted you all to remain here until further notice” Meghan replies, prompting Jack to throw his hands up in defeat. “How long are you assholes gonna keep that up?” Jack sharply cuts in, confusing his new inmate. “What do you mean by that?” Meghan replies, unable to see the man, but perfectly able to distinguish his laugh from the rest of his cell mates.
“The lot of you could have done whatever you wanted since day one, don’t even pretend like that’s not the case!” Jack replies, his sentence finished by a distant Shauna. “Even if you wanted to play nice, you could have let us out and hurried us back in whenever she showed up” Shauna explains, the logistics of such a plan partially flawed, “you chose to keep us in. Blaming it on Charlotte is just a way of wiping your own hands of any blame.”
“You’re wrong. We played nice with Charlotte, part of that involved keeping the four of you in here” Meghan replies, the sarcastic rebuttal she gets from Jack bringing a silence upon her. “And where did that get you?” Jack wonders aloud, rendering the woman speechless. “Nowhere of note, obviously” Meghan eventually mutters, her response cited as incorrect in Shauna’s eyes.
“Not at all, it definitely got you somewhere of note” the woman replies, her arms crossed in the darkness, “that place just so happened to be right here.” Closing her mouth, Meghan takes a seat in the only opening she can feel for, preparing herself for what is next to come.
“You’re gonna be real miserable for a while, John” the tending doctor says aloud, glancing at the armed patrol officer standing in the doorway every other second. “I’m not gonna have a while at this rate” John groans, immediate consideration taken from the doctor. “Don’t speak, I don’t want you aggravating your injuries” the doctor replies, a towel placed to the newly sutured jawline, trying to stop the returned bleeding.
“Is he able to talk to Charlotte yet, Doctor?” the unconcerned guard asks. “My name is Doctor Ringwald, it’s embroidered on my coat” the experienced medic replies, feeling the radiating aggravation coming from the intense stare-ridden guard. “Dr. Ringwald” the guard grunts through his teeth, “when will he be ready to speak to Charlotte?”
One hand on his head as the other trails to his hip, Ringwald considers the man’s physical state. “If he’s going to make a full recovery, we’re looking at-” Ringwald begins, only to be interrupted instantly. “We don’t care about a full recovery, that won’t be necessary” the guard replies, implying the fate that soon awaits the wounded deposed leader, “is he able to speak now?”
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ringwald thinks for a moment, walking to John’s side when all things are considered. “John, are you able to speak?” Ringwald asks, lowering his head towards John’s mouth as if he were listening for a whisper. “I know you can hear me, pretend I’m not speaking to you” Ringwald whispers, concealing his true intentions from the overlooking guard, “if you’ve got a plan hatched, now is the time to use it.”
Letting a few seconds pass, Ringwald moves from John’s face, staring him in the eyes as if he were waiting for a response. His cheek recently stitched, John defiantly stretches his mouth open, wincing in pain as he tears his wounds and pops every fresh stitch. “John, what the hell!?” Ringwald exclaims, reaching for the towel again, returning it to the side of the man’s mouth.
“Alright, screw this. He’s obviously not complying!” the guard exclaims in aggravation, reaching out to drag the man from his hospital bed. “You can’t, he literally cannot talk now!” Ringwald shouts, throwing himself on top of John to prevent his removal. “Old man, you better get the hell off!” the guard exclaims, his orders falling on deaf ears.
“Let me fix him up, and you can bring your boss here instead!” Ringwald exclaims, trying to find the optimal solution in a sea of chaos. “You don’t make the calls” the over-angerred patrolman shouts, pushing the doctor away from John. Blaming Ringwald in a rage, the guard wraps his hand around the doctor’s throat, pushing him into the corner of the room and squeezing tightly.
“He’s either ready now, or he’s not ready now!” the guard screams, pulling the man from the corner only to slam him back seconds later, this time harder than before, “-either way, you’re done wasting time on-”
The vigorous shouts from the guard suddenly twisting into blood-choking gargles, a horrified doctor looks into the guard’s shocked face, the white’s of the guards eyes wrapping around his pupils. Letting go of the doctor’s throat, the guard stumbles around and looks into John’s eyes, reaching for the scalpel the broken-teethed gunshot-survivor had plunged deep into the side of his neck.
“I’ll take that” John painfully mutters, removing the gun from the guard’s holster, watching Charlotte’s soldier take the final step past death’s doorstep, hunching over on the ground. “Jesus, John-” Ringwald remarks, losing himself in the man’s eyes, half of his face practically hanging by threads of popped stitching, “-what the hell kind of adrenaline are you on!?”
Surprised at the borderline inhuman resilience shown, Ringwald remains tucked in the corner as John walks off, dragging himself through the medical room and back into the wider compound without another word.
“I hope you still know which side you play for” Tori explains, strolling through the woods with Lauren and the rest of their fleet, “I get it, you have history, but it’s about us now.” Not wanting to say another word, Lauren remains quiet, allowing Tori to continue to speak without rebuttal. “That place has protection, it has food, it has water, it has whatever we could ask for” Tori explains, continuing to be given the silent treatment, “we can’t trust them to look after us.”
Stopping her walk, Tori watches Lauren continue onwards, the rest of the fleet stopping with Tori. “Are you hearing me?” Tori, tired of the silence, calls out, prompting Lauren to stop farther ahead. “Lauren, I’m sorry you’re caught between sides right now, but we need you fighting with us” Tori explains, a second passing before her emotional walls fall momentarily, “I need you fighting with-”
“What happened to Kelsey?” Lauren suddenly interposes, cutting Tori off instantly, twisting the conversation elsewhere. “What?” Tori replies, unsure she heard the question correctly. “What happened to Kelsey?” Lauren asks again, finally turning around to look Tori in the eyes. “Did we not establish this months ago?” Tori replies, Lauren quickly breaking eye contact, “it may not have been written in stone, but ain’t what we got good enou-?”
“I went back” Lauren says, again cutting Tori off, this time to a look of shock. “Wh- What?” Tori replies, unable to imagine how such a journey could have been possible, “when did you-?” Interrupted for a third time, Tori pulls back in surprise at Lauren’s response. “In the first few days, when you were collecting all the outsiders” Lauren replies, pulling a bracelet from her pocket, “I found this about a mile out from where you knocked me out.”
“That could be anyone’s” Tori replies, an uncomfortable laugh given to the accessory’s appearance. “It could be, but I know it’s hers” Lauren replies, the melancholy spirits in her voice bringing a depressing tone over the sudden conversation, “you don’t have someone’s arm wrapped around you every night and not know what they wear on their arm.”
Her pose changed, now placing her hands upon her hips, Tori looks at Lauren with an odd look, curiosity building. “What are you implying, Lauren?” Tori asks, genuinely invested in the conclusion her girlfriend has come to. “I’m implying nothing. It’s just interesting as to why you’re so confident that she’s dead” Lauren replies, taking another quick glance at the bracelet, her tone taking an unsettlingly youthful reflection, “just as interesting as you carrying me all this way by yourself.”
Growing annoyed, Tori pulls away from her fleet, stepping up close to her girlfriend. “Lauren, we are this close to taking control of the compound” Tori explains, her fingertips a hair-length apart, “if you’re not going to help us get the rest of the way, stay back and stay out of the way.” Her ultimatum heard, Lauren backs away from Tori, creating separation until the moment a set of headlights flash before her eyes.
Looking out, Lauren watches a car similar to the one she had seen Jessica’s friends nearby on her way from the cabin, her eyes shooting open instantly. Looking at Tori, Lauren watches her girlfriend’s eyes widen, one finger stretching into the air. “Lauren, don’t” Tori whispers, watching the woman increase her steps away as her order is verbalized, “Lauren, stay here!”
Refusing to give into the demands placed on her, Lauren charges away from her group, kicking up fallen leaves on her way through the trees. Her hands waving above her head as she meets the side of the street, Lauren watches the vehicle slow, familiar faces looking at her. “Charlotte’s at your compound, she’s taken over!” Lauren warns, the undivided attention of those in the car given fully to her.
“How do you know this?” Jess inquires, the gasping breaths of Lauren offering her little information than what’s asked. “I- I just do” Lauren replies, every passenger, other than Troy, dropping further into confusion. “There is an inside man” Troy remarks, cutting into the strange, unexpected warning with tension to offer. “They’ve got an inside man feeding them information” Troy replies, the ashamed expression on Lauren’s face confirming his suspicions.
“I’m sorry” Lauren replies, backing away from the car and dashing off into the woods, not to be seen again. “I’m glad we wasted nine hours fixing that flat tire” Janice remarks, her sarcasm falling flat. “What the hell do we do now?” Troy asks, bringing the conversation back to something useful. The group looking to her for direction, Jess remains silent, thinking to herself.
“We help take it back” Jess suddenly replies, shifting the car into drive once more, returning to their original path before deviating a mile and a half later, a dirt road taken around the former airport site. Wheels kicking up dirt as she slams on the brakes, Jess exits the car and begins charging at the outer wall, the change in leadership having focused the militant’s attention elsewhere.
“What the hell are you doing!?” Troy whispers, watching Janice tap against the meshy, tarp-like exterior of the outer wall. “We cut a hole out of the border and replaced it with tarp” Jess replies, watching two militants pull the cloth-like cover in, allowing Janice to sneak through. “In case something goes wrong, and we can’t use the front gates, this is our emergency exit-” Jess replies, stopping halfway through the gap, “-or, I guess in this instance, emergency entrance.”
Giving into unreasonable hopes, Troy and Katie follow Jess through the laughable gap in the wall, two panicked militants greeting them on their way in. “We were warned about Charlotte” Jess explains, quickly asking about what she’s yet to make sense of, “give me a rundown.” Exhausted, the militants look to each other to start, almost as if nothing is in order any longer.
“Meghan got locked up with your employees, Emilio and Bill were sent to hide with Amy just after you left” the young soldier explains, “and John… Well… Ffuucckk”
“You saying ‘fuck’ tells me nothing about John” Jess points out, the expression both soldiers give her saying more than words can. “What’s going on with John?” Jess asks, her assumption being that something bad happened, the specifics of which yet to be understood. “Charlotte shot him” one militant quickly replies, suddenly blurting out the answer, “she shot him in the face. I think he’s dead. I don’t know.”
Jaw dropped, Jess becomes too flustered to speak, her silence bringing a moment of clarity over Katie. “Alright fuck it, we deal with one thing at a time” Katie explains, spinning Jess around. “Jess is gonna go looking for John, Janice will go after Emilio and Bill” Katie explains, her sights set on Troy, “you and I will figure out how to rip Meghan and the rest from their solitary confinement.”
Her hands finding the sides of Jessica’s shoulders, Katie speaks confidence into the woman. “The guy doesn’t know what’s going on with your husband, if he’s not dead, he’s out there somewhere” Katie explains, the ‘deer-in-headlights’ look on Jess’ face soon fading, “you need to go find him. Okay?”
Shaking her worries off, Jess gives the woman a nod, a last glance at the rest of the group taken. “Does everyone understand what they’re doing?” Katie asks, the immediate circle all giving their own signs of affirmation. “Has anyone heard from Jerome?” Katie turns to ask the militants. “We’ve been looking for him since last night” the older-appearing soldier replies, giving a shrug, “no one’s heard from him.”
Without another word, Katie leads Troy by the arm, wandering off into the New World Order’s war-torn depths. Her spell finally wearing off, Jess departs for the medical ward, expecting her husband’s presence, albeit dead or alive. The last to leave, Janice wanders out as well, suddenly stopping once a brief thought enters her mind. “Emilio and Bill can handle themselves” Janice whispers to herself, nodding as she turns back to the coupled militants.
“You two are on our side, right?” Janice wonders aloud, the confused glare both soldiers give to each other illustrates such a point. “Of course!” the younger soldier replies, visibly lost, “we wouldn’t have let you in if we weren’t.” Both hands held up, Janice discourages any suggestion of conflict. “I’m just asking. I just wanted to know if the two of you would be fine with what I’m about to ask” Janice responds, letting her hands fall back to her sides, “where is Charlotte right now?”
“Out on a run?” Salem asks, standing next to the table Alicia is seated at, noting the woman’s tolerant posture. “No, I’m enjoying the last days of summer” Alicia remarks, her grudge against Salem carrying into the next day, “have you resorted to following me now?” Setting her keys and wallet down on the picnic table, Salem occupies the opposite seat to that of Alicia, trying to lure the woman into a conversation.
“We fucked up leaving you in the dust, we know that” Salem explains, talking to the back of Alicia’s head, the woman not paying Salem any mind, “how long will it be before you forgive us?” Watching people walk along the path in front of her, Alicia remains silent, allowing Salem to sit with her own thoughts. Shaking her head, Salem joins her fingers together atop the table, the sides of her hands gently pressing down on the retouched oak wood.
“Is the ‘silent treatment’ supposed to be teaching me something?” Salem asks, her head leant to one side, the sunny skies prompting her to squint. “It’s supposed to get you to go away” Alicia replies, her back pressing against the table’s side, both elbows arched atop the wooden surface, one leg thrown over the other. “I don’t think that’s going to happen” Salem replies, the answer leaving Alicia’s lips to smack.
“I guess I’ll leave then” Alicia replies, uncrossing her legs and throwing herself forward. “Alicia, will you just-” Salem begins, not budging from her seat until a few seconds later, the confident stride Alicia walks away with fading, the woman’s hand instantly reaching for her leg. “Are you alright!?” Salem calls out, pulling away from her seat and hurrying to her friend’s side, Alicia’s waving arms pushing her away.
“I’m fine! Leave me alone” Alicia assures, badly limping towards the trail as Salem follows closely behind. The pain soaring up the length of her leg, Alicia’s limp grows worse, her muscles continue to numb until her entire limb shuts down, forcing her to collapse onto her side. “She’s okay, she’s fine!” Salem calls out to the passers-by, rushing to the woman’s side, “she’s got a bum leg. It acts up sometimes!”
“Why are you trying to help me?” Alicia grunts, trying to push Salem away again, her attempts falling flat this time around, the pain only worsening. “Because you’re my friend” Salem replies, pulling Alicia’s pant leg as far to her hip as she can, her thumbs digging into the indents in Alicia’s muscle, “and because I didn’t for five months. If anything, I owe you.”
Reluctantly giving into Salem’s help, Alicia rolls her eyes, both elbows digging into the soft, green grass. “I’m not going with the two of you” Alicia replies after a few seconds pass, “if the two of you want to fly out to New York, I won’t stop you. But I’m also not going with you.” Looking at Alicia’s face, Salem continues to quell the pain as best as she can, the tense grunts Alicia gives off implying the pain remains present.
“You don’t even need to think about that. That’s actually sort of why I’ve been looking for you” Salem explains, returning her attention to Alicia’s leg. “The woman from Nova Scotia took over the New York camp” Salem explains, a hushed tone reflected in her voice, sounding like admittance of defeat, “that’s the only camp we know of that’s safe from her eye, so we’re still stuck here.”
The sour look in Salem’s eyes noticed, Alicia becomes less hostile, gently sitting up and relieving Salem of her leg-oriented duties. “Is it really that bad here?” Alicia asks, the bitter attitude she held minutes prior having disappeared. “The compound isn’t bad at all. The people aren’t bad either” Salem replies, the positives ending abruptly, “the problem is, and always has been, Neville.”
Rolling her eyes with less sass than usual, Alicia goes quiet, thinking silently to herself. “I know you like him, I know you have this image of him already. I get it” Salem explains, taking a seat in the grass beside Alicia, “but in my eyes, he’ll never be anything different to the man I met four months ago.”
Letting out a sigh, Alicia remains quiet, leaving Salem to her own thoughts once more. “I’ve been thinking a lot recently. I’ve been thinking about you, I’ve been thinking about Franklin” Salem explains, Alicia’s head turning towards her, “I’ve been thinking about how angry I should be.” Confused, Alicia pulls her head back, allowing Salem to speak freely.
“That one night, when we got into a fight and you stormed out of the car, you said you wanted me to be with the two of you by choice” Salem explains, “and now that I’ve chosen you, you want nothing to do with me.” Slowly turning her head away, Alicia looks off into the distance, allowing Salem to continue uninterrupted.
“I’ve been, without fail, trying to make things right between you and I” Salem explains, Alicia’s head turning towards her again, “I’ve tried to make things right with you than I did with my own brother. And I don’t know how I should feel about this ‘cold shoulder’ routine.” Clearly upset, Salem wraps her arms around her shins, looking out into the distance that had just recently peaked Alicia’s interest.
“I lied about being a ‘software engineer’, but everything else was the truth” Salem explains, her eyes still on the tree-covered picture in front of her, “and that includes how sorry I am.” Her concealed anger being subdued further, Salem finally looks back at Alicia, shaking her head with a smile. “You felt lost for a long time, I see that, and I’m sorry” Salem explains, pushing herself up and beginning to walk away, “if you don’t care, tell me so I can stop feeling like shit for it.”
Brushing the grass off of her jean-clad thighs, Salem walks away, returning the way she came. “Hey, Salem?” Alicia calls aloud, watching the woman roll to a stop, looking over her shoulder, “how’s Frank?” Her hopeful spirits falling a fair bit, Salem gives the woman the answer she wants to hear. “He’s doing fine” Salem replies, giving her legs one last brush, “if there’s something else you’d like to know, you can ask him yourself.”
Watching Salem walk away, Alicia follows the woman’s figure until she falls out of view behind a collection of bushes. Alone just as she had begun her day, Alicia looks off at the forest just beyond the compound’s border wall again, the sun that stands above the treeline finally breaking through the trees, submerging her in sunlight.
“Thanks, again” Katie whispers to the bartender, an appreciative smile dawning upon her face. With a glance across the bar, Katie winks at Troy and begins walking the length of the counter, one hat sticking out from the rest. “Hey handsome” Katie greets, a specially-uniformed troop of Charlotte’s flashing her a smile, his fingers still wrapped around the lager-filled dimple mug he’s in the midst of putting down.
“Aren’t you a beaut?” the man enticingly replies, watching in silence as Katie directs her fellow civilian out of the stool beside her target. “What’s your name, girlie?” the man inquires, taking the woman’s hand to his lips, a gentle peck placed on the back of her hand. “I was born a ‘Katherine’, but you can call me ‘Kat’” the woman replies, doubling down on the flirtation, returning the question.
“What’s your name?” Katie asks, the arched lip given by the troop presenting his interest. “Well, I was born a ‘Davo’” the man replies, dropping his voice an octave, “but you can call me at any time of the night.” A girly laugh returned, Katie attempts to take the conversation further, running her fingers up the man’s arm, nearly reaching his neck when her wrist is taken into the grasp of a second man.
“Today’s not the day to go bar-shopping, honey” Tom remarks, slowly returning the woman’s arm to her own person, only letting it rest at her side. “C’mon, Tom! She’s just looking for a little bit of fun” Davo replies, the half-pint he’s downed proving its effects, his words slurred just slightly. “And as I’ve just said, today’s not the day to be looking for fun” Tom replies, turning away from Katie before staring at her again, “have I made my point clear?”
“Sure thing, sir. I’m so sor-” Katie replies, stopping herself just as the rest of the bar does, watching with Davo and Tom as the tavern doors swing open. “Johnny’s in the building!” Troy exclaims, stumbling over to one table in particular, reaching out in front of one large man and casually stealing his pint. “Who’s ready for the night of a lifetime!?” Troy exclaims, the bar having fallen totally silent, every eye centrally focused on him.
“Your bender’s over, buddy!” Tom calmly calls out, his unamused expression turned towards the public disturbance. “Huh?” Troy replies, leaning towards the man from half the tavern away, nearly falling over a barstool. “I’m not on a bender, man!” Troy replies, standing up straight and throwing his hands out with a smile, speaking as if he were high, “I’m just havin’ a good time!”
“Yeah, well, the good time’s over” Tom replies, stepping away from Katie to put a stop to the obscenities. “Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do!?” Troy replies, still playing up the drunk act. “It doesn’t matter who I am” Tom replies, finally stepping far enough, “I’m not going to let you-” Before he can finish his sentence, Troy throws his arm forward, dousing Tom in nearly a full pint of beer, escalating the situation well-past the point of no return.
Lunging forward, Troy punches Tom in the face, forcing Davo to step in the moment Tom hits the floor. “You want some, too!?” Troy shouts at Davo, watching Katie remove the keys from the troop’s belt loop on his way to intervene. Throwing a punch, Troy whiffs and gives Davo the opening to send him crashing to the floor, one uppercut laying Troy into a nearby table, his jaw aching as his body falls back, landing on the floor with a heavy thud.
Dashing through the back door, Katie unlocks the cellar doors, pulling the metal sheets open. Grabbing a flashlight, Katie steps into the darkness, closing the doors on her way inside. “Who’s there!?” one of many voices call out, theirs just the first to speak out. “Probably not the people you’re expecting” Katie replies, rushing through the dungeon-esque cellar, racing towards the collective voices.
Finding the five survivors in the back of the dungeon, Katie fumbles around with her keys, unsure of which is the correct one. “Give me those!” Meghan exclaims, snatching the ring from Katie’s fingers, her eyes glancing over each old-fashioned key. “Do you remember which one is which!?” Jack eagerly questions, the suspense that builds being brought on by the clattering keys.
“It’s this one!” Meghan shouts, reaching through the bars and fitting the metal piece into the slot, one twist rolling the mechanisms with a satisfying ring. Pushing the cell doors open, Meghan earns the freedom of herself and those she was locked in with, earning a collective gasp from Jack’s group. “Go up through the tavern side” Katie orders, hurrying in the opposite direction, “get back to John and Jess’ house, I’ll meet you there when it’s safe!”
Doing as told, Jack’s group follows Meghan towards the tavern, leaving Katie in the dungeon on her own, climbing the stairs towards the outside world and waiting for her opportunity. As the tavern entrance opens on the other side of the dungeon, Katie listens to the disgruntled voices of Tom and Davo near her side of the yard. “Stupid drunks and their bullshit!” Tom angrily grunts, dragging Troy towards the cellar by the arm, “let’s get this fuck in the cells with the rest of them.”
Letting the voices grow closer, Katie turns off her flashlight, taking it by the head and readying herself. “Did you leave this thing open when you fed them?” Tom curiously says, hunched close behind the metal blockade, Katie bursting through the entrance before he can get an answer. Lunging out the moment light floods in from Tom’s unsealing of the cellar, Katie cracks the lead troop over the head with the flashlight, letting a dazed Troy fall from the man’s grasp.
Her attention turned to Davo, Katie throws one punch at the man’s genitals, dropping him like a sack of bricks. Throwing the second door open, Katie exposes the long, deep stairwell to the sweat-inducing sun. Taking Davo by the shoulders, Katie hurls the man down the cement steps head-first, pain-filled grunts carried through the length of the drop, only silencing when his body collides with the ground below.
Lunging at Tom again, Katie misses her second shot, earning two punches for her troubles, one to the stomach, the other to the face. Caught by surprise, Tom backs away from a glazed-over Troy and his flashlight-wielding accomplice, assuming his prisoners to have already been released. “You fucks re gonna pay” Tom grunts as he leaves, rounding the corner to return to the greater population, his intentions set in stone.
“We need to get moving, Troy” Katie grunts, throwing the man’s arm over her shoulder, leading him away from the scene. “I almost had them” Troy jokes in his subconscious-stuper, earning a chuckle for his efforts. After a few minutes of trailing through backyards, the pair come to a sudden stop as the air fills with noise. Beginning to blare throughout the compound, an alarm begins to sound, implying the commencement of an attack.
“That sounds like trouble” Troy remarks, struggling to take the situation as seriously as he should. “Yeah, and that’s why we need to hurry up” Katie replies, pushing Troy faster as a small lodge, void of any obvious inhabitants, catches her eye.
Removing a painting from the wall dividing her kitchen and living room, Charlotte pulls the nail that held it from the wall, looking at its smooth, pointing edge with a smirk. Tossing the jagged, metal piece into a random corner of the house, Charlotte removes a small dab of white putty from a can, gently placing it against the hole. Her hands on her hips, Charlotte admires her work, nodding to herself as an alarm begins to blare from afar, her attention immediately taking towards it.
Worry beginning to emerge within her, Charlotte starts walking towards her front door, unconcerned with the chills running down her spine. Her take over having only taken place mere hours ago, the simple notion of a large-scale fight already breaking out only allows her worry to fester, the pace she takes towards the door slowing with every step.
Suddenly startled, Charlotte leaps back, watching her door cave in, snapping from it’s wooden frame. Watching the door stop just a few inches from where it once was, Charlotte waits for the cause to emerge, one gently push giving her an answer. Shoving the door the remaining feet open, Janice steps through the shattered frame, locking eyes with the woman she's searched for so greatly.
Staring at each other, neither Janice, nor Charlotte attempt to make the first move, the meeting only truly starting the moment Charlotte asks the first question. “Do I know you?” Charlotte inquires, curious to the woman’s reasons for kicking her door in. “I don’t know” Janice replies, letting the strap of her rifle run down the length of her arm, finally coming to a stop within her hand, “but I’ve waited for this for a long time.”
“I see” Charlotte immediately responds, not moving from the spot Janice had found her in, eyes redirected to Janice’s rifle, “are you going to shoot me now?” With a laugh, Janice looks Charlotte in the eyes, her head shaking. “No” Janice responds, throwing the gun across the room, letting it come to a rest wherever it happens to, “I want you to suffer first.”
Finally seeking her moment, Janice steps forward, quickly closing the distance between herself and the woman she’s been so eager to meet. Letting Janice close in, Charlotte takes a cup of coffee from her kitchen table and throws it in Janice’s face, the scalding-hot drink unable to keep the woman from her anger-fueled thirst for revenge. Instinctively moving towards the back, Charlotte takes to the kitchen, retrieving a pistol from one of the drawers.
Aiming her weapon mid-spin, Charlotte turns to find Janice inches away, her arm held out to block the gun from moving any closer. Grunting, Janice bashes the crown of her head against Charlotte’s, yanking the firearm from Charlotte’s hand while the compound’s new leader topples over. Distracted by the blood running down her face, Charlotte soon notices Janice once more, looking up to find the woman standing over her, eyes glued to the pistol she’d let slip from her grasp.
“This would be too easy” Janice remarks, tossing the weapon into another random corner of the room, watching Charlotte drag herself across the kitchen floor. “Listen, you must have mistaken me for someone else” Charlotte remarks, her hand held out towards Janice, watching the woman close in once more, “I’m sure we can-” Interrupting herself, Charlotte throws her foot out, using the distraction to take Janice’s leg out from under her.
Joined on the ground, Charlotte begins throwing fists, eventually driving Janice onto her back. Now holding the advantage, Charlotte climbs atop her murderous challenger, raining one shot after another upon her, refusing to stop until the whites of Janice’s eyes are presented to her. Absorbing every punch, Janice finally manages to block one, using the opening to grab each side of Charlotte’s head, and force the woman’s skull through the window of her own oven.
Her nose broken, lip busted and eye bruised, Janice begins to lose her adrenaline, the pain beginning to set in for what it truly is. Reaching for the counter, Janice pulls herself up, draining every ounce of her strength to make it back to her feet. Collecting herself, the woman turns to the ground, watching Charlotte pull herself away from the machine she’d just broken through, slumping over on the ground, blood pouring from her head profusely.
Bloodied herself, Janice lets out a smile, reaching for Charlotte’s ankles as the woman tries to drag herself into one of the lower cabinets. “You’re not gonna get-” Janice begins to declare, not concerning herself with the wounds she’d been inflicted with. Suddenly hit with an entirely new pain, Janice crashes backwards, covering her eyes from the bug spray Charlotte had managed to pull from beneath the sink, returning the fight to an even playing field.
“Fucking bitch!” Charlotte screams, spitting in Janice’s direction as the woman punches wildly, completely blinded by Charlotte’s counterattack. Throwing the spray across the room, Charlotte wipes at her eyes as the blood begins to mix with her sweat, stinging to her cornea’s touch. Looking across the room, Charlotte spots her gun lying in the middle of the living room, her immediate thoughts circulating around the weapon.
The moment her intentions begin to settle, a flurry of car horns begin to resonate throughout the air, the voice that calls out her name putting plans on hold. Watching Janice, still blinded by the spray, approach the back of her dining room, Charlotte takes matters into her own hands. Just as Janice had done to enter her home, Charlotte takes her boot to Janice’s back, pushing the woman through the glass of her sliding patio door, leaving her to whatever help comes her way.
Called to other matters, Charlotte returns to her living room, retrieving her firearm from the floor and returning it to her hip. Stepping through the opening that used to be her front door, Charlotte moves on, allowing Janice to grimace in pain on the stone patio, her realization of killing Charlotte falling unfulfilled.
“Why are you calling for a lockdown?” a bemused soldier asks into his two-way radio, strolling through hallways, peeking his head through doors, and digging his nose where it does not belong. “The prisoners have escaped and Tom wants everyone accounted for” the second man replies, frantic in his speech, “what the hell is going on?”
“If I knew, I’d tell you” the house-snooping soldier replies, taking a photo of the Callis family into his hands, reading the faces of each member, “but since I don’t, you’re gonna have to figure it out yourself.” Powering his radio down, the soldier returns to his trailing of the floors, inspecting each room yet again, order as in place as it was the last time he had roamed the halls.
Taking another brief glance at the photo, the soldier loses interest and discards the picture, allowing the glass frame to shatter as he tosses it aside. “Any scumbags in here?” the soldier calls out, treating his duties as a joke, “I wouldn’t fuck around if I were you.” Continuing to talk to himself, the man grows tired of his aimless wandering, resorting to speaking towards dead silence, airing his grievances.
“I’m Lawrence, I’m a trained fighter, and the broad I work for thinks this is the perfect job for me” the man explains, laughing at the idea, “just when you think comedy’s died out, you get shuffled with this shit.” Every step making him more restless, Lawrence removes a baton from his side, swinging it in front of himself as he walks. “Come out, come out, wherever you are” Lawrence jokes, beginning to swing for the drywall, “let’s have ourselves a-”
Before he can finish his thought, a muffled cry catches his ear a few rooms away, his attention directed onwards. “Who was that?” Lawrence inquires, now beginning to speak to the source of the cries, aware that he’s no longer as isolated as he once thought, “show yourself now, or you’ll make things harder on yourselves.”
Heavy boots thudding against the floorboards, Lawrence closes in on the room he’s certain the sounds came from, a smile emerging from behind his lips as he removes his gun and a pair of handcuffs from his hip. “I’ll be honest, I’m not much in the mood to have to kill anyone. Charlotte doesn’t really want that, either” Lawrence explains, turning into the children-friendly room at the end of the hall, “if you just show yourself, I’ll cuff you and take you into the dungeon.”
The room neat and tidy, Lawrence decides to have himself a seat on the bed, his eyes peering towards the newly-painted closet doors. “I can’t guarantee that the broad will take too kindly to you, but you’ve got more of a chance with her than you do with me” Lawrence explains, resting his gun on his lap, his opposite hand shaking the metal cuffs, “she’ll probably look at your surrender as noble and figure out a way to put you to work.”
Leaving the room to its silent ways, Lawrence awaits a response, the only sounds coming from the ticking hands on his wrist watch. “Okay” a calm voice suddenly breaks through the quiet air, the words emanating from behind the same closet door that had amassed Lawrence’s attention. Slowly sliding the wooden panels open, Bill emerges from within the confines, alone with his hands held high in surrender.
“Gimme the right hand” Lawrence remarks, motioning for Bill to step forward. Cooperating with the demands, Bill reaches his hand out, feeling the handcuff’s cold, metal ring wrap around his wrist, the other acting as a leash for Lawrence to guide him with. Spotting a radiator at the back of the room, Lawrence attaches the other cuff to the metal framing, entrapping Bill within the corner of the room.
“What are you going to do now?” Bill asks, a calm, accepting tone reflected in his words. “I don’t know yet” Lawrence replies, looking over Bill with inspectful eyes, “I’m not really sure what to say.” Perplexed, Bill shakes his head, admitting his curiosity over the reason behind Lawrence’s reply. “What do you mean? You caught me, you took me into custody, now we’re here” Bill replies, watching Lawrence holster both of his weapons, “what’s confusing about that?”
“Nothing confusing about that” Lawrence replies, placing his hands against his hips, inspecting Bill further, “but I don’t take you for the ‘cry like a little girl’ type.” Looking away, Bill considers his options, eventually returning his gaze to the man above him, offering a shrug. “I don’t know what to tell you” Bill remarks, watching the man above him nod, “I was scared.”
Letting out a sigh, Lawrence silently shakes his head, a second glance at the rest of the room implying a different thought. “If I was a gambling man, I would assume you aren’t alone in here” Lawrence declares, the dropping of Bill’s face suggesting to the soldier that his assumptions are accurate, “and if I was putting money on this, I’d say your friends are-”
The sounds of chattering glass coming from the level below interrupting his train of thought, Lawrence goes quiet, removing his firearm from its holster. Glass crunching beneath the weight of someone as of yet unknown, Lawrence remains still, fearful for what awaits him one staircase away. “Charlooootttttteeee!” a guttural cry beckons, Lawrence’s eyes instantly widening, his hands beginning to shake.
One level below, a grizzly figure pushes himself off the floor, standing tall in the middle of the living room. “Charloooottttttteeee!” the man calls out again, the bullet-made tear in the side of his face ripping with each declaration, “This is my house!” Huffing for every breath, John listens to the footsteps on the floor above, every light in his home powered off, leaving the massive home to be bathed in the light of the fading sun, which just begins to set upon the New World Order.
A devilish smile coming over his face, John walks for the staircase, reaching out for the bannister with a steady hand, his eyes flaring with anger. Ascending each step, John watches Lawrence slowly come into view, the soldier left at the back of the hallway, waiting for John to appear fully. “I’m genuinely sorry that I have to do this” Lawrence explains, raising his weapon into the air, finger gently grazing the trigger.
Not ceasing his approach, John puts one foot in front of the other, stepping closer into Lawrence’s aim, offering the man a clean shot. Squeezing upon the trigger, Lawrence’s shot is sent off course in the final second, his weapon flying from his grasp as Emilio emerges from his cover, dashing from Amy’s room to tackle Lawrence across the hallway, shattering the door to the opposite bedroom.
“You stupid fuck!” Lawrence exclaims, kicking Emilio off him as he attempts to climb back to solid ground. Dodging a swinging right hand, Lawrence takes a jab at the side of Emilio’s head, dazing the man before pushing him away, John’s entrance presenting a new danger. “Come on, scarface” Lawrence mocks, squaring up as John inches closer, unphased by the man’s efforts.
Refusing to take the man in a bar-style fight, John drops to his knees and wraps his arms around Lawrence’s legs, taking him away from his preferred stance. Gaining control, John starts laying jabs into the grounded foe, a few fair punches placed in the time it takes for Lawrence to match John’s dirty tactics. Reaching up, Lawrence grabs at the hole in John’s face, tightening his grasp as he yanks at the bloody skin, tearing John’s cheek apart until his control is returned.
The pain too much to bear, John collapses to the side, the flesh from the corner of his mouth to the back of his jaw now torn in half, exposing an entire half of his mouth. Kicking himself away, Lawrence grabs at anything to pull himself up with, tides turning once more the moment he reaches his feet. Groggy, Emilio swings at Lawrence with the man’s own baton, each swipe ducked away from, failing to connect in the slightest.
Eventually catching one of the swings, Lawrence takes Emilio’s pre-occupation for what it’s worth, laying in another set of punches, this time directly to the bridge of Emilio’s nose. Prying the weapon from Emilio’s hands, Lawrence back-hands the valiant survivor with the weapon, sending Emilio crashing through the swing doors in the back of the room, falling upon the second-story balcony.
“Lawrence, don’t!” Bill shouts from the next room over, unable to free himself from the position the soldier has left him in. A brief moment passing as Lawrence weighs his options, the soldier glances back at Bill and smiles, indicating his intentions. Squeezing through the doors, Lawrence takes his baton to the wires that connect the platform to the greater home, slashing at the hinges until they finally give out.
Leaping back into the bedroom, Lawrence allows the platform to snap away from it’s supports, freeing itself from the home and taking Emilio with it, crashing into the ground two stories below. Admiring his work, Lawrence watches Emilio’s body crash with the balcony, pleased with what he finds until his ears are called for once more. “Amy, get back under the bed!” Bill shouts from the other room, calling for the little girl’s attention once her shrieks catch Lawrence’s interest for a second time.
“There you are” Lawrence mutters to himself, snapping free from his pleased gaze to attend to greater matters. “No” John grunts, crawling towards Lawrence in an attempt to impede his progress, his efforts only earning him a kick to the side of the face, Lawrence’s patience having worn thin. “Let’s go” Lawrence declares, taking Amy by the arm and dragging her from the room, kicking and screaming as her stubby legs scrape against the wooden boards.
Reaching the staircase, Lawrence pays no mind to the fight he’d just taken part in, his sights now settle in on ripping Amy from John’s guardianship. “Get back here!” a sudden shouts emerges from deeper in the hallway, quickly closing in on the pre-occupied soldier. Letting Amy’s hand drop from his possession, Lawrence watches John rush at him with blazing speed, the hallway too narrow for the impending outcome to be avoided.
Running at such great speed, John sweeps Lawrence from his feet, a tackle hard enough to miss every stair on the way to the floor, leaving both men to crash into the ground with a violent impact. Shelves toppling over, furniture momentarily bouncing off the floor completely, and multiple windows shattering from the men’s collective force, John and Lawrence topple onto the ground in heaps, breaking ribs, knocking the wind out of each other, and groaning in pain.
“Daddy!” Amy cries from the top step, her voice too soft to earn her father’s attention, his desperate gasps for air too loud to hear his daughter over. “You stupid fuck” Lawrence grunts, fighting through his injuries to turn onto his side, watching the man struggle to breathe with a smile. Wincing in pain, Lawrence fights back to a standing position, limping over to the grave-conditioned patriarch.
Refusing to die lying in pain, John pushes his body backwards, dragging himself away from the large figure in front of him. “Just die already” Lawrence mutters, looking John in the eyes as he stands over him, watching the man struggle to survive until a gunshot pierces through the home. “Arrgh!” Lawrence exclaims, instantly grabbing at his back while his knees weaken, a shooting pain tearing through his body.
Just as shocked as the man above him, John feels the immediate burst of energy course through him, the vulnerable position Lawrence has been rendered to affording him the chance to end the conflict permanently. With a grunt, John crawls to his feet, watching Lawrence stumble away, trying to create distance at the sight of this second wind.
“Wait, don’t!” Lawrence remarks, holding a hand out towards John, watching the threatened father lunge at him. Hands wrapped around Lawrence’s throat, John pushes the soldier against a wall, squeezing with an invigorated anger. “Please, don’t!” the soldier desperately hisses, the air leaving his lungs more with each second. His rage yet to be satisfied, John lifts his thumbs away from the man’s throat, running them along Lawrence’s face, tracing his smooth skin upwards.
“Please!” Lawrence exclaims like a gust of air, feeling John’s thumbs glide past his cheekbones and stop over his eyelids. Submitting to the man’s choke, Lawrence begins scratching at John’s face, feeling the man’s thumbs push further into his eyes. “You’re gonna die, you piece of shit!” John screams, pulling his hands away from Lawrence’s throat and moving them to each side of his head, pushing his thumbs in further.
“PLEASE!” Lawrence shouts, his pleas soon turning into blood-curdling screams, his death imminent. With a final push, John digs his thumbs into Lawrence’s orbital bone, blood spewing from the slots the soldier’s eyes used to occupy, only letting up once John is assured with Lawrence’s grizzly demise. With a moist, sickening squish, John removes his thumbs from the holes in Lawrence’s face, slowly stumbling away from the corpse.
Gasping for air once again, John turns away from the body, looking to the front door. “You- You’re-” Jess stutters, the smoking gun held in a hand at her side. “John, what ha-” Jess further struggles, watching her husband’s stumble worsen, “John?” His lips turning blue, John looks his wife in the eyes, struggling to speak through each wretched gasp. “Jess” John whispers, smiling to the woman as he collapses, his wife and daughter immediately rushing to his aid.
“That couldn’t have possibly gone worse for you” Charlotte explains, stumbling through her words while she nurses her wounds. Taking a seat in the dirt, Charlotte crosses her legs and looks into the eyes of each captured prisoner, Jack’s group, Meghan, the youthful pair responsible for their freedom, and a similarly-wounded Janice, all on their knees, hands cuffed behind their backs.
“I’m honestly curious to know” the woman explains, her blonde hair dyed red from the blood that pours from her cuts. “The five of you didn’t get far at all” Charlotte explains, looking Jack, Tyler, Reggie, Shauna and Meghan in the eyes, “you got mobbed the moment you stepped into that tavern.” Looking away, Jack shakes his head, unable to maintain eye contact with the woman despite her demands for it.
“You have something to say, hotshot?” Charlotte inquires, looking in Jack’s direction, taking offense to the glare her returns towards her. After a few answer-less seconds, Charlotte orders Jack to his feet, a command the man stubbornly refuses to meet. “Fine. Tom, get him on his feet” Charlotte explains, dusting herself off while her brother struggles to pull the man up.
“Don’t push your luck, kid” Tom whispers into Jack’s ear, the disgusted look Jack gives showing no implication that he’d be interested in following order. Losing herself in the anger cast within Jack’s eyes, Charlotte begins to laugh beneath her breath, giving the man a nod. “You’re a really angry guy, Jack” Charlotte comes to the conclusion of, pleased with her findings.
Taking aim at Jack’s head, Charlotte points the barrel of her gun between the man’s eyes, his lack of reaction peaking Charlotte’s interest. “If I were to squeeze this trigger right now, it would all be over for you” Charlotte calmly remarks, the rising tension proving of no use, Jack’s exterior remains fully intact. “Are you afraid of death, Jack?” Charlotte proceeds to ask, each question she raises earning no response, that outcome remaining unchanged.
Looking away, Charlotte reads the faces of the remaining group, crowds of innocent bystanders beginning to crowd around the scene, waiting for fate to play its hand. “I’m not going to get through to you like this, am I?” Charlotte wonders aloud, taking the silence Jack gives her as a fair enough answer. Pulling her weapon out of Jack’s face, Charlotte turns her aim towards Tyler, Jack’s expression subtly shifting with this change.
“Don’t think I didn’t notice that!” Charlotte warns, further pushing the barrel against Tyler’s head, still giving Jack a full smile. Silent, Charlotte pulls her weapon away from Tyler’s head, remaining silent as she returns her weapon to her holster. “I think you’d make for a great soldier” Charlotte explains, returning to Jack, his long-sleeved, black shirt soaked in sweat.
“I think you can make a good life for yourself here, don’t you?” Charlotte wonders again, keeping her weapon in its holster, “does a good life, free of fear from the outside world, sound good to you?” Getting up close to the man, Charlotte locks eyes with Jack, watching his face drift off to the side, lips gradually coming to pucker. Offering a faint nod, Jack turns back to Charlotte, smiling at the woman as he hurls a wad of spit into her eye.
Speechless, Charlotte slowly runs her hand down the side of her face, wiping her skin of the defiant sight. “That’s funny” Charlotte muses to herself, laughing to herself as she retakes her firearm, lashing Jack across the face with it, her eyes following his fall to the ground. “Stubborn cunt” Charlotte whispers to herself, glancing out at the ring of people surrounding the ordeal.
“Examples need to be made in order for rules to be set” Charlotte explains, her words directed to the captive audience. “I put these walls up for you to live behind, I provided you food to eat, and I provided you guards to protect your safety” Charlotte explains, confident in her remarks, “and over the last near-year, the people in charge of this compound have been allowing all of those benefits to be threatened by outsiders, all of which want what you have.”
Raising her gun to Janice’s head, Charlotte prepares to make the first example of many, strongly believing in her actions. “These people have been unappreciative of that protection, and they have sacrificed those protections for all of you in the process” Charlotte explains, “if anyone has an objection to these traitors being rightfully punished for their crimes, speak up or forever hold your peace.”
Her soldiers as silent as the rest of the frustrated crowd, Charlotte’s answer of silence allows her the clearance she requires. “Alright then” Charlotte replies, turning to look Janice in the eyes, the restrained woman glaring at her with an immense hatred. “Duck!” a voice exclaims, emanating from beyond the collective crowd. “Who -?” Charlotte calls out, silenced by a single bullet ripping into her chest from afar, a sudden onslaught catching Charlotte’s forces by surprise.
As his sister bleeds out, Tom takes Charlotte by the shoulders and drags her to their escape vehicles, joining a select few survivors in the backseat of a luxury town car. “Run to cover” a familiar voice calls out to Janice, stopping to untie her restraints. “Who-?” Janice remarks, turning around the moment her ties have been undone to find Lauren’s face looking into hers.
“You changed your mind?” Janice asks in astonishment, an uncertain shrug returned. “Not entirely” Lauren replies, her head bobbing from one side to another, “just go around, get everyone situated, and get a place set up for the wounded.” Short of time, Lauren hurries to Meghan, the shocked expression on the woman’s face making up for her speechless self.
“We’ve got a lot to catch up on, but I need you to go help Janice for now” Lauren explains, sharing a brief hug with her friend before tending to those still in capture. Watching these events unfold from atop her cliffside-perch, Tori folds her arms with a disgruntled look. “Why did you tell her about the back entrance?” Tori wonders aloud, turning to the man that shares the space usually reserved by Lauren, looking into Jerome’s similarly-disgruntled eyes.
“You said Jess told you about Charlotte. About how you’d never be able to beat her alone” Jerome explains, displeased with his response, “she’s right. Charlotte’s an entirely different beast to conquer.” Fuming, Tori speaks slowly, making her point until Jerome cuts her off. “This was not supposed to be Lauren’s call” Tori explains, again looking at Jerome.
“I know, it wasn’t supposed to be” Jerome explains, an apologetic tone taken to his words, “but it was the right call.” Disappointed, Tori nods to the man, acknowledging that she was wrong. “You’re losing her” Jerome suddenly quips, following a few seconds of silence with a rather disheartening opinion, “if she’s not with you one-hundred percent of the way, she’s not with you at all.”
“I know, Jerome” Tori replies, looking back to the battlefield below, unsatisfied with the man’s insistence on continuing the conversation. “If she’s not with you, she’s a liability” Jerome explains, drawing a sigh from Tori’s shallow breaths, “she’ll have to be dealt with.” Watching her girlfriend from afar, Tori nibbles at her lip, nodding towards Jerome again. “I’ll take care of it” Tori replies, whispering to herself a few seconds after Jerome steps away, “I have to.”
== Rise: Remastered ==
Season 2 Finale
“How’d you find this place?” John asks, his shoulder carrying the weight of a handcuffed Charlotte, who purposefully drags her feet along the ground to make leading her difficult. “Just cruising” Jack replies, the next to step through the front door, his heavy boots tapping against the wooden floorboards. “Why’d you keep her around?” Jack cuts in, throwing Charlotte’s second arm over his own shoulder, helping to alleviate the load John carries.
“For selfish reasons” John replies, resting the woman beside the stone-crafted chimney near the back of the room, dust lifting into the air amidst Charlotte’s seating. “Hold your weapon on her” John orders of Jack as they’re joined within the home, Jess and Amy the next to enter. “Where’s the bedroom?” Jess wonders aloud, Jack’s hand waving her towards the depths of the building.
At gunpoint, Charlotte’s handcuff is unlocked, her right hand kept restrained whilst the left cuff wraps itself around a thick, iron pipe. “You can lower the gun” John remarks, backing away from Charlotte to tend to other matters, stopping himself suddenly. “Jack” John remarks, turning back to find the gun still raised in Jack’s hand, the man tempted to pull the trigger at that moment.
“I told you to lower the gun” John repeats, watching Jack’s arm shake, trembling for a few moments before finally pulling away, the barrel aimed at the floor. “Thank you” John whispers to Jack as the man passes him by, grazing John’s shoulder with his own. “She shouldn’t be alive right now” Jack whispers back, watching Meghan step through the front door, her eyes instantly falling upon the tense pair, “if she causes anymore harm to anyone here, I’ll kill you myself, John.”
Stepping away from the group’s leader, Jack returns to the front yard, helping to tend to those still unloading their respective trucks. “What was that about?” Meghan calls to John, waiting for a few seconds to pass after Jack’s exit before starting conversation. “It was about me” Charlotte replies from afar, earning an unflattering look from the group’s leader.
“Hmph, I’m not surprised” Meghan replies, stepping aside for Lauren to enter the home without a word, her bags tossed into the same corner she slumps into, waiting for the day to pass. “Something wrong, Lauren?” Meghan wonders aloud, standing beside the front door. “Nope” Lauren replies, her hand draped over a bent knee, the eyes of all in attendance firmly upon her presence, “just waiting for something interesting to happen.”
“That makes two of us” Janice replies, the next to enter, her belongings tossed into the same corner as Lauren’s. Pushing Lauren’s bags to the side, Janice clears a space on the floor and takes a seat within it, too close for Lauren’s comfort. “Does anyone know of the jokes about a bunch of urinals to choose from, and one asshole chooses the one urinal of many right beside someone else?” Lauren inquires, turning to look Janice in the eyes, “why have you chosen to be that asshole?”
Turning to Lauren with an annoying smile, Janice offers the woman her answer. “I’m waiting for something interesting to happen” Janice replies, the eyeroll Lauren responds with felt around the room. “Oh, how this reminds me of home” Troy remarks casually, stepping through the entry with Katie following closely behind. “It’s stuffy, cramped, and produces anxiety when more than two people occupy the inside” Katie follows, a loud, humorous breath filling her lungs for the group to hear, “just like home, indeed.”
“If Lauren and Janice are waiting for something interesting to happen, I don’t think they’ll have to wait for long” Meghan replies, watching Alicia and Franklin enter the home next, “care to explain why Charlotte is here, John?” His body turned towards their prisoner with his head hung, John lets out a sigh at the prevalence of such question. “Because I’m in charge, and I decided she was coming along” John replies, looking over his shoulder at Meghan, “do you have a problem with that?”
“Yeah, I do” Janice replies, the humorous tone she’d taken with Lauren now dissipating as she looks at John, “I’m pretty sure you know why.” Sliding his tongue over his bottom lip, John nods to himself as he turns to Janice, kneeling beside her and lowering his voice. “Then I would suggest, from a place of understanding, you keep that opinion to yourself” John replies, holding back none of the punches sent forward, “because, as previously stated, I’m in charge.”
Snarling at the man, Janice leans forward, her face growing closer to John’s own. “I’d like to have confidence in that, John” Janice replies, her voice lowering to a whisper, “but thus far, I’m not so inspired by your decision-making.” His blank expression twisting into a smile, John unholsters a knife from his hip and holds the blade’s edge upon Janice’s cheek.
“Either you’ll find that confidence, or you’re not to be welcomed in this group” John replies, gently gliding the blade down Janice’s cheek, “my decisions are final. If you don’t like them, I don’t care.” Looking at the reflective, stainless steel blade sliding down her cheek, Janice locks eyes with the man above her. “I think there ought to be a third option” Janice replies, pushing her cheek upon the knife’s blade, intentionally letting it break the skin, “we could fight for it.”
Letting out a laugh, John shakes his head in refusal, allowing himself to come down from the humorous remark. “No, Janice. That’s not going to happen” John replies, slicing the woman’s cheek as he removes the blade, its edge stained with the smallest hint of Janice’s blood, “and if you have even the slightest thought of trying to force change upon that, I will kill you.”
Letting the blood run down the side of her face, Janice watches John step away, returning to his domineering position over Charlotte, her dissatisfaction subsiding. “What was that about?” Emilio wonders, having entered the home mid-confrontation, its ending serving to surprise them. “Civil disagreement” John replies without hesitation, his eyes still stuck to Charlotte, the woman appearing like a spider web, John’s focus a mere fly caught within its silk imprisonment.
“That certainly didn’t look civil” Emilio replies, moving aside for Salem to enter the home, a laugh coming from within her. “Come on, ‘Emmy. You’ve spent how long chasing paper trails beyond those walls?” Salem replies, stepping backwards to the bedrooms with her arms extended, “you’re telling me you don’t know what civil looks like nowadays?”
“I guess I just hadn’t seen John’s version of ‘civil’” Emilio replies, the disappointment in his tone left to resonate with Charlotte’s warden. “Can we address the elephant in the room?” Jess wonders, Amy held within her arms as she trails from the bedrooms, “what happened to the plan?”
“Yeah, I’d like to know that, too” Charlotte replies, helping to force the metaphorical walls to close in on John, “why did you murder my brother, destroy my compound, and render half of everything I own into ash?” His head tilted downwards, John scowls at Charlotte, peering at her through tight eyelids. “I don’t answer to you, Charlotte” John replies, intending to end the conversation there.
“But you do answer to me” Jess replies, her voice carrying a subtle discontent within it. His teeth sinking into his lips as if they were thin slices of pie, John turns to his wife slowly, an unamused glare returned to her. “Why is it important?” John responds, his question answered elsewhere. “Because the answer to that question is the reason for why we don’t have a home anymore” Heather replies, stepping through the front door to interrupt the conversation, “it’s pretty fucking important.”
Placing his hands to his hips, John looks to an empty corner of the room, thinking of his answer. “Like I told you all in the office, just after I gave Charlotte the demands. I thought the people were salvageable” John replies, turning back to Charlotte as his answer lingers within a hushed crowd, “and I was proven wrong.”
“So you turn everything to rubble?” Charlotte replies, dissatisfied with the man’s answer, “you made such a mess of my compound that you decided ‘if I can’t lead it, no one can’? Where the hell is the sense in that?” Keeping his anger at bay, John closes his eyes and clenches his teeth, allowing Charlotte to continue speaking. “You’re too ashamed to admit that you failed to lead” Charlotte digs deeper, “because of that ego of yours, everyone here is homeless, hungry, and in danger.”
“You act like the dead are superhuman, or could run at thirty miles per hour” Lauren mocks, hiding a laugh. “The dead are the dead. The majority of you have too little experience with the outside for your own good” Charlotte replies with a smirk on her face, “that was the whole plan. As long as the wall kept the dead out, the people inside remained oblivious. Helpless to the dead, and subservient to those that made the rules.”
Turning back to John, Charlotte continues to wear her cocky expression proudly, her words sinking claws deeper into John’s heart. “Congrats, John. You managed to turn the most obedient little pussycats into the least-tameable lions” Charlotte explains, watching the man’s eyes peel open, returning their attention to her, “that’s a whole new level of fuckup.”
Returning his knife to the pouch he’d retrieved it from, John turns his hand towards the gun on his hip, allowing it to linger by his side, the visual immediately pulling Charlotte to silence. “I want to be understood universally” John proclaims, watching Tyler and Cameron enter the home, “I am in charge. I call the shots, I make the rules. Not you, not your parents, not your loved ones, just me.”
Silently keeping their eyes upon John, the group patiently awaits for the man’s point to be made. “I’ve failed before, but it will not happen again” John explains, his weapon used as a laser pointer, its barrel aiming at every corner of the home. “My choices will not be popular, but they will be followed. I will not always be agreeable, but you will agree with me regardless” John explains, returning his weapon to his holster, “get used to that, or find something better out there.”
Letting his orders sit well within the reaches of everyone’s minds, John turns back to Charlotte once satisfied with the response, his focus cemented upon the woman. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty” John explains, tracing imaginary lines of the ground with his finger, “let’s find some reason in this world, shall we, Charlotte?”
= 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 =
“You’re oddly melancholic today” Jack calls out, stepping through the front door with his hands in his jacket pockets, his eyes coming upon a statue-esque Lauren, who stands in the middle of the yard with her eyes in the distance. “I’m always oddly melancholic” Lauren replies, her stare directed at the treeline, it’s unimportant, lack of unusual appeal making it an interesting source to funnel attention towards, “it’s somewhat of a personality trait for me.”
Strolling up to Lauren’s side, Jack shares the woman’s gaze at the natural presentation before her, a gesture that confuses the woman. “Why are you here?” Lauren asks, not caring to spare feelings for the sake of a question. “I could ask you the same question” Jack replies, setting his feet in the space next to Lauren, “those trees don’t seem like they’re going anywhere, so I don’t know why they need a babysitter.”
Letting a laugh break free beneath his breath, Jack falls silent amidst Lauren’s lack of a reaction, his joke falling flat. “Yeah, why are you standing here?” Jack asks again, this time with less intention of humoring the woman. “I wanted to look at the trees” Lauren replies, still having yet to look at the man face-to-face, her blonde hair gently carried by oncoming winds.
“I didn’t take you for someone who liked watching nature” Jack replies, his statement immediately earning a response. “Would you have taken anyone in that house as someone that missed hearing planes and cars in the street? Or someone that missed rude, obnoxious assholes telling people off in restaurants?” Lauren wonders aloud, her voice calm, yet judgmental, “a lot of things change when the world you knew disappears.”
Pressing his tongue to the corner of his mouth, Jack feels the moisture leave his lips. “I’ll be back soon enough!” Janice calls into the home, stepping through the front door with a small knapsack carried over her shoulder. “Where are you going?” Jack wonders aloud, looking back to watch the woman leave. “There’s a depot about a mile down the road” Janice replies, her rifle carried in hand, “I can’t stand being in the same room as Charlotte, so I’m gonna figure out what’s useful down there.”
“Care for a second set of hands?” Jack asks, watching Janice’s stroll slow to a stop. “I don’t want anyone slowing me down” Janice replies, watching Jack’s hands shoot towards the sky, a smile worn on his face. “I’ll keep up with you, just take the lead” Jack replies, the conflicted expression on Janice’s face soon turning into a smile. “As long as you keep up” Janice replies, starting to lead the walk before Lauren’s voice calls out.
“Do you need a third set of hands?” Lauren wonders aloud, both Janice and Jack looking back at her, surprised to hear her offer. “I don’t see why I wouldn’t” Janice replies, the answer good enough to convince Lauren to start walking, her arms crossed as she follows suit.
“Who were you going to put in my place?” John asks, cutting into the silence between himself and his former superior, Charlotte’s face looking at him with confusion. “Hm?” Charlotte hums, her head bobbing outwards slightly, illustrating her misunderstanding of the question. “You said, way back when, that I wasn’t your first choice to lead the New World Order” John replies, sitting on the floor with one leg laid against the hardwood tiles, his other knee standing up, “who was your first choice?”
Crinkling her nose at John, Charlotte turns her head away, refusing to answer the man’s question. “That’s interesting” John replies, earning Charlotte’s attention with the quip, the woman having anticipated frustration, not discovery. “What’s interesting?” Charlotte asks, her face largely aimed towards the chimney, only a slight turn allowing her eyes to set on John.
“You’re never one to give up the opportunity to hear yourself talk, especially when the information isn’t worth the breath it takes to offer” John replies, a smile on his face, “it’s someone you don’t want me to know about.” Her frustration building, Charlotte turns her face away from the man in hopes of her anger subsiding, the man’s persistent efforts to rip a question from the deepest chambers of Charlotte’s heart only helping to further her burning hatred.
“John, stop talking” Charlotte replies, her warning coming off more like a plea, the vulnerability she takes such measures to hide away now starting to present themselves. “Why? Are you gonna shoot me?” John remarks, remorseless in his efforts to pick on the woman, Charlotte’s face turning sour and hurt, the tears she seems to be near the verge of shedding remaining kept upon her eyelid.
“Please, stop talking” Charlotte replies, her voice softened, her pleas made more clear. “You can’t fault me for wanting to know, Charlotte” John replies, gently tapping the point of his knife upon the hardwood floor, “Neville was a close friend of yours, Tom was your brother, and I can only assume the people in Dover and-”
“Aaarrgghh!” Charlotte interrupts in a searing scream, balling her restrained hand into a fist and slamming her thumb into the side of the brick fireplace. Pausing, John stops tapping his knife upon the ground, his fist wrapping around the scales and preparing for a fight. “As I was saying-” John continues, pretending the scream hadn’t cut him off, “-I’m sure every leader had a special bond to you. I can’t even imagine who that would've been in New York.”
“John, I’m going to warn you one last time-” Charlotte interjects, preparing her own declaration before getting cut off once more. “Why bother?” John wonders aloud, Charlotte falling silent as her head turns towards her captor, his eyebrow raised, “you’ve already broken free.” Her nostrils flaring as the remaining residents stare on at their leader with confusion, Charlotte utilizes her mangled knuckle to slip free from the metal cuff, leaping into immediate recapture.
“No, no, no. That’s not how this is gonna work” John whispers, dodging Charlotte’s lunge by wrapping his arms around her neck, the point of his knife resting on the side of her face. “How’d you know?” Charlotte grunts, each heavy breath blowing the hair in front of her face outwards.
“I thought about the same thing while I was in Afghanistan” John replies, a breathy laugh leaving his lungs, “cuffs are 6.5 inches wide, hands are just about 7.2 inches. If you want to escape, figure out how to shave down those point-seven inches.” Her eyes rolling, Charlotte refuses to attempt another escape, the group that stands before her blocking the only viable exit. “For the love of god, why are you all just standing there!?” John calls out to the group, “someone get me some rope!”
“How’s your sister doing?” Troy asks aloud, noticing Meghan exit through the home’s rear-exit, the components of his firearm all laid out individually upon a wooden crate. “She’s- she’s fine, why?” Meghan replies, the question catching her by surprise. “I was just wondering” Troy replies, running a clean rag over the barrel as his shoulders shrug, “she’s seemed a little preoccupied recently.”
“Preoccupied?” Meghan replies with interest, the shrug in Troy’s shoulders persisting. “Yeah, preoccupied. Like she’s got something on her mind and can’t say what it is” Troy replies, unsure how to better describe his assumption, “either she’s afraid to say what it is, or she doesn’t know how to describe what it is.”
Giving the man a nod, Meghan offers a half-hearted smile. “I’ll let her know” Meghan replies, visibly anxious for the conversation to end. “How are you doing?” Troy wonders aloud as Meghan turns to leave, his words hitting her ear just as her hand reaches for the backdoor. “I’m doing fine, why?” Meghan replies, watching Troy’s expression turn into one of amusement.
“What’s with this ‘why’ stuff?” Troy answers with a question, setting the barrel down as he reaches for the grip, “can’t I check on people without having an ulterior motive?” Letting a sigh leave beneath her breath, Meghan turns back to the yard, stepping up to Troy’s crate-crafted desk. “You could, if that person wasn’t me” Meghan replies, now watching Troy’s eyes roll, his head lowering back to the spare parts of his handgun.
“Okay, so let me get this right” Troy quickly retorts, letting the grip rest in his cloth as his attention turns fully to the conversation at hand, “I can ask anyone in here how they’re holding up, but I can’t ask you how things are going because we hooked up a couple of times, ended it there, and now my interest is less genuine?”
“I never said it was less genuine” Meghan replies, her thought quickly interrupted. “Then what is it supposed to be?” Troy replies, his arms thrown outwards, “because it sounds like you’re saying I can’t ask you how things are just the same way as I can everyone else.” Her head tilting to the side, Meghan certifies Troy’s conclusion. “If that’s what you’re saying, then yes, you’re right” Troy replies, his voice falling softer, “that doesn’t make my interest any less genuine.”
Taciturn, Meghan hangs her head without a response, digesting Troy’s view. “It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship we have, because it’s not going to change what I want for you” Troy explains, locking eyes with Meghan as Katie walks through the backdoor, “since this world isn’t getting any better, I want what’s best for you. I want you to be happy, and that’s not changing.”
Giving Troy a smile, Meghan watches Katie descend the short steps to the ground, leaving the younger woman to take the conversation where she pleases. “I’ll leave the two of you to it” Meghan says aloud, returning to the home as Katie stands in her place, curious about the interaction. “Please tell me you didn’t fuck her” Katie asks after a few moments of silence, finally turning to look her foster brother in the face, his expression bringing an eyeroll from the young woman.
“Do men ever think with something other than their penis?” Katie wonders aloud, both hands placed at her hips. “Well, we seem to have two brains- One above the eyes, and one below the belt” Troy replies, his focus set back on cleaning his firearm, “I’m pretty sure we only have enough blood for one of them at a time.”
“Did your failed attempt at escape strip you of the ability to speak?” John wonders aloud, tapping the point of his knife against the ground once more. Her hands bound by rope, its second end tied around a pipe across the room, Charlotte remains quiet, sitting where she was originally positioned with her eyes set on the window across from her. “What is there left to say, John?” Charlotte replies, refusing to look the man in the eyes out of defiance, the last bit she has the ability to give.
“I want to know everything I’ve been left in the dark from” John replies, his stare directed at Charlotte solely, “I’ve known of your compound, your rules, your morals- And yet, I don’t know you.” No longer caring to hide her true emotions, Charlotte lets out an emphatic laugh, the entire room void of life, the rest of John’s group having gone off to their own routines.
“And there in-lies one of your greatest short-comings, John” Charlotte replies, repositioning herself to sit against the fireplace, her head resting against the cold, red brick, “you care too much about who people are, and too little about what people do.” His hand draped over his upright knee, John continues to tap his knife against the ground, his eyes pressed harshly against the woman’s unamused frame.
“Explain what the difference is” John replies, again earning an eye roll, the woman’s expression doing little to change his approach. “Sure thing. Let’s start with an example” Charlotte replies, putting on a vaguely positive attitude, her voice lifting with feigned enthusiasm, “how about we start with you, the leader of a compound reduced to rubble, overthrowing me in favor of bringing in outsiders, mixing them in with the rest of my population, and sending the entire lot into an uproar?”
Unaware of the smile John gives her, Charlotte remains staring at the cloudy skies beyond the glass frame. “How does that work for you?” Charlotte wonders aloud, her tone intended to mock John, the question instead responded to differently. “Sure, let’s start with that” John replies, intrigued by the proposition, his genuine interest surprising Charlotte enough to earn a look from her, “you’ve failed to get me to understand your reasoning before, let’s see if this will be any different.”
Sniffling at the idea, Charlotte waits for a moment, unsure whether or not John is serious. Letting seconds pass, Charlotte begins to consider John’s offer, inevitably finding it too entertaining to let pass. “Fine, let me start by asking you a question” Charlotte explains, sliding her entire body around, now face-to-face with John, “why did you put a bullet through my brother’s head? Why did you send the plane into the New World Order? After everything you preached, why do any of it?”
Clearing his throat, John lets the blade glide across the ground, a muffled grazing emerging from the floorboards. “Because I’ve come to realize the people weren’t salvageable” John replies, watching Charlotte’s face fill with anger, “and with the-” Getting the best of her, Charlotte’s anger interrupts John’s explanation, his mellow voice offset by her eruptive yell.
“They didn’t need to be salvageable because they weren’t broken!” Charlotte exclaims, leaving John in silence. Trying to control her anger, Charlotte huffs for breath, the room left open for her to continue. “Were they hungry? Yes. Were they tired? Yes. Were they scared? Yes. Were they all of those things and more? Yes” Charlotte pinpoints, raising her coupled hands to point fingers at John, “but were they broken? No. They were just left to fight for their livelihoods because of you.”
His own face covered with disgust, John hands his head, trying to keep the expression away from Charlotte’s eyes, unable to wipe it from his own face. “But you realize that already, don’t you?” Charlotte wonders aloud, letting a few seconds pass before John answers. “You’re evil” John whispers, his head still hung out of shame. With a smile, Charlotte shakes her head, letting it gently fall to the bricks beside her.
“No, I’m just a bitch. But you can keep convincing yourself of that all you wish” Charlotte explains, pulling her legs to her chest, “use me as a scapegoat, that’s fine. But it’s you that failed those people, not me.” Closing his eyes, John lets Charlotte’s point sink in, the knot that turns in his stomach running out of intestine to tie. “You killed Tyler” John replies, drawing a laugh from deep within Charlotte’s core, “you tried to kill me, you nearly murdered everyone I care about!”
“Yeah, I did. And the only thing I regret is that Tom made a spectacle out of it rather than getting the damn job done!” Charlotte shouts, “and as for Tyler? Yeah, I murdered the kid in cold-fucking-blood.” Taking her head from the chimney, Charlotte returns her glare to John as thunder emerges from within the dark clouds.
“Is that all you’re going to run with? I killed a kid and almost killed you and your friends?” Charlotte wonders aloud, egging John on, “because I’m keeping a list, so if that’s all that makes me evil, go ahead and let me know.” Biting his lip, John keeps his head down, allowing the thoughts to bounce from one side of his head to the other.
“You left the people outside those walls to freeze to death. They grew bitter and waged war because of it” John replies, his head still sunk towards the ground, “there’s another.” Her coupled hands lifting back to her chest, Charlotte waves her fingers at John, gesturing for him to keep the laundry-list coming. “You put a value on human life, you stripped them of their rights, you played god deciding who got to live and die” John explains, running low on reasons, “what more do I need to say!?”
Shaking her head, Charlotte fights to answer John’s question with one response. “Gosh, I don’t fucking know John!” Charlotte replies, her enthusiasm now genuine in a way it hadn’t been before, “how about something you’re not equally guilty for?” Letting out a stammered sigh, John’s blade returns to the pouch on his side, its tracing along the floor put to an end.
“Let’s start from the bottom. I did play god with who got to live and die. But, is that not what you’re doing with me as we speak?” Charlotte wonders, watching John’s head sink further. “How about stripping them of their rights? What government body is around to enforce those?” Charlotte wonders, continuing to dig, “as for putting a value on human life, go ahead and wave your red, white and blue, Cowboy! If that’s evil, then you spent years fighting in Afghanistan on behalf of evil.”
“Sure, you definitely didn’t let those people freeze to death. As a matter of fact, you took them in and nurtured them back to health!” Charlotte says warmly, her tone dropping as the statement progresses, “go ahead, Cowboy. Tell me how that worked out.” Letting Charlotte continue, John shakes the head he continues to hang. “Let’s get to my favorite part now. Let’s talk about the kid I killed, and all the other people I killed” Charlotte explains, snickering at John with a pause.
“You see, you say that two days ago, and I’ve got no argument” Charlotte explains, a smile worn, “but it’s extra-fucking-hypocritical now.” Taking herself to her feet, Charlotte walks away from the chimney, staring down at john as she approaches him, speaking from above. “Do you know how many kiddos were born during the time I led the New York compound?” Charlotte wonders aloud, watching John’s head shake in refusal, “the last record I saw said ‘one hundred and seven’.”
Lowering herself to the ground, Charlotte crosses her legs and looks at the top of John’s head, his hand resting on the knife at his side for protection. “Look at me” Charlotte orders, lifting her coupled hands towards the man’s chin to pull his face towards her own, his eyes red and wet with tears, “how many of those kids, all one hundred and seven, do you think made it out before the plane went down?”
Licking his lips, John continues to let the tears fall from his face, a heartbroken expression worn. “How many of them do you think fell victim to that undead invasion I’ve heard you mention so frequently? Or those attacks from the outsiders you were so kind to let in?” Charlotte continues, watching John’s lips tremble, “how many of those kids did you kill? How many of their parents, their friends, their teachers, their loved ones, the whole lot- How many of them did you kill?”
Sucking in a deep breath, John lets every ounce of air suddenly burst from his lungs, the horror he pushes upon himself immeasurable in its torture. “And there in-lies the difference, the real difference between you and I” Charlotte explains as the first raindrops begin to tap upon the ground beyond their shared walls, “I don’t think I’m evil, I just hope to be right. Whereas, you are never right, but you desperately think you’re not evil.”
Looking back to the window, Charlotte returns to her seat beside the fireplace and latches her eyes onto the pouring rain, John’s sights soon setting on the storm outside as well. “Good rain truly does know the best time to fall, doesn’t it?” Charlotte asks softly, resting against the chimney with a faint smile.
“Nothing more than the same” Lauren exclaims, sifting through shelves of lumber and other various constructive materials, “wood planks, wood boards, wood posts, and bubble gum.” Taking a loose roll of gum into her possession, Lauren inspects it for a moment as Jack steps beside her, gently taking the roll from her hands. “Thank you” Jack says comically, walking away with the sugar-clumped choking hazard.
“It may not be anything we can carry through the city, but it’ll sure help fix up that fence” Janice remarks, sifting through different assortments of Alder Wood. “We’d only need that if the house was a long-term plan” Jack replies, snapping a mouthful of gum from the roll as he strolls through the aisle, nothing of note catching his eye. “We don’t know it isn’t” Lauren replies, following Jack leisurely through the aisle, “John just destroyed our home, what makes you think he has a plan?”
“I’m not condoning his actions, don’t get me wrong” Jack explains, calling back to the woman he can feel trailing behind him, “but what does him having a plan have to do with our living situation?” Reaching the end cap, Jack turns towards a set of aisles opposite Janice’s direction. “If he’s got no plan, it’s not long until he suggests hunkering down in the house” Lauren replies, acknowledging the man’s limitations as she reaches the end cap, “we’ll be slaving over that fence in no time.”
“That is, unless, we find something better” Jack is quick to respond, hearing Lauren’s footsteps take after his own, following his walkway like a lost puppy. “And where do you think we’re going to find that?” Lauren remarks, her eyes traveling from one side of the depot to the other, “because if you’re thinking of this place, I’m not so confident your head is in the right place.”
“Why not?” Janice asks from afar, still sifting through different selections of boards, “it may be big, but it’s easy to defend. These massive walls could prove just as viable as the New World Order’s borders. Plenty of materials at our disposal for use.” Turning down the paint aisle, Jack’s voice grows louder, leading those behind him both to his whereabouts and his perspective.
“The difference between this place and the New World Order is plenty clear” Jack replies, lifting a bucket of red paint from its store shelf, “one offered us the ability to make food, retain shelter, and enjoy the safety of an army. Whereas, with this warehouse, we’d be lucky to find a way up to the roof.”
“I don’t see how an inaccessible roof makes this warehouse any less of a shelter” Lauren remarks, turning down Jack’s aisle, continuing to follow his path much to Jack’s amusement. “Where would we find the room to build a garden, or harvest crops?” Janice replies from afar, inspecting another wooden board, “pests, the dead, or even other people would be a threat if we were to build it ground-level.”
“That doesn’t even take into account that we don’t have an army anymore” Jack replies, carrying the big can of red paint with him as he departs the aisle, “yes, it’s a good thing the dead are mostly too rotten to keep up with our speed, but they’re still not going anywhere.” Following Jack’s path, Lauren remains nipping at the man’s heels, following him through the central endcap and back into Janice’s wing of the store.
“The dead are dumber than most animals, especially most of the ones that hunt” Lauren replies, her shoes purposefully tapping against the concrete ground louder than before, “if people killed predators with traps, don’t you think we can do the same with the dead?” Watching Jack pass the opposite end of her aisle, Janice shakes her head. “We’re here shopping for stuff to finish the fence with” Janice remarks, watching the man flash a smile towards her, “isn’t that what we’re doing?”
“Do you really want to share a small, single-family house with a kid and seventeen grown adults?” Lauren replies, not paying Janice any mind as she passes the same aisle, continuing to follow Jack. “It’s not my favorite situation, if that’s what you’re asking. But it’s the world we live in, you’ve got to take what-” Janice replies, turning her focus back to the selection of wood before pausing, her mind thinking back to the number Lauren arrived at, “wait, there are sixteen adults in the house.”
“Go ahead, count in your head, I’ll wait” Lauren shouts out, silently following Jack through the store, aware that he knows of her stalking. Reciting the sixteen survivors she shares floorspace with, Janice finishes with the first family. “Jessica, John, and Amy” Janice concludes, five fingers held out on one hand, and the opposite presenting only one, “I counted right, that’s sixteen!”
“You’re forgetting about Charlotte” Lauren nonchalantly replies from afar, watching Jack stop and look at her with a confused look, one Lauren can only assume Janice holds to an equal measure. “If you mean for the next few hours before we gut her, then sure, I forgot about Charlotte” Janice replies, earning a laugh from afar. “John kept her from being gunned down or splattered via a crashed plane” Lauren calls out from afar, finally catching up to Jack, “do you really think he’s killing her now?”
Reaching into Jack’s hand, Lauren retrieves her wad of gum, her front teeth sinking into the roll with pleasure. “Thank you” Lauren says to the man, stepping past him to resume her original trail, Janice’s appearance at the end of the spacious, near-gigantic set of shelves. “What are you implying?” Janice wonders, slowly stepping further into the aisle, intent on confronting the suggestion Lauren had just made.
“She’s leaving that house alive no matter what you do” Lauren replies, her demeanor unchanged from its previous status just moments ago, “John won’t bring himself to kill someone equally as cruel as him.”
“John’s not cruel” Jack replies, earning Lauren’s attention as much as Janice does. “Well, Charlotte’s people don’t think she’s cruel, so who are we to say she is?” Lauren replies, mocking Jack’s response, “at the end of the day, it’s down to what John thinks of himself. And the man never stops asking questions, so how long will it be before Charlotte convinces the man they aren’t too dissimilar?”
“John was doing the right thing, he-” Janice replies, quickly interrupted by the only woman speaking from a bipartisan viewpoint. “-he was fighting for what he believed in, yeah yeah yeah” Lauren replies, rolling her eyes in mockery, “what the fuck do you think that counts for anymore? What does that change? The New World Order isn’t being rebuilt, Charlotte is no less the manipulator she was when we first met her, and the world isn’t healing just because we fight honorably.”
Letting out a sigh, Lauren begins rolling past Janice before thinking better of herself, still with air in need of clearing. “The bottom line is, Charlotte put the walls up, and John tore them down” Lauren explains, both Jack and Janice stood beside each other, their disbelief looks slowly turning into cautioned, worried expressions, “how long do you think it’ll be before all those lives, all taken by John, are thrown right back in his face?”
Her hand guiding itself to her forehead, Janice struggles to convince herself against Lauren’s accuracy, her mind racing over the pictures the woman has burned into her memory. “The thing about John is that he’s not someone to stab a person in the back, he prefers to do it upfront. He’s yet to take that swing on Charlotte, and he’s had plenty of time” Lauren explains, finally prepared to leave, “and if push comes to shove, I’m sure they’ll welcome you to Sheol with open arms.”
The pair squinting, Jack and Janice are stripped from their fears, their minds thrown into curiosity. “What the fuck is Sheol?” Jack calls out, the first to break from Janice’s side, jogging after the woman who’d followed his every step not too long ago. “That city I saw during the invasion” Lauren replies, continuing to walk as if she’d not just hammered into the pair’s greatest fear.
“When the dead breached the walls, during Jerome’s attempt at a takeover, I got drunk and went to throw myself off the control tower” Lauren explains, blowing a bubblegum-bubble mid-sentence, “I saw a big patch of light show up, then disappear, and it convinced me not to die. I don’t know why, so don’t ask me, but I’m assuming it’s Sheol.”
“You’ve yet to explain what the fuck Sheol is” Janice replies, following a few feet behind Jack. “Katie came back from one of her stakeouts talking about a voice recorder she found, like, a year ago” Lauren replies, loudly chewing the same wad of gum, “she mentioned a city, called it Sheol, and I put two-and-two together.”
“And you didn’t think to say anything?” Jack replies, matching Lauren’s stride as he reaches her, staring into her unconcerned face. “Why bother? What’s the point in giving John another city to take over and ruin?” Lauren replies, her shoulders shrugging as she steps through the depot’s entrance, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like the guy, but he’s his own worst enemy. It takes a fool not to see that.”
Stopping in the doorway as Lauren walks off, Jack and Janice are left to their own devices, their minds left to simmer anxiously, their breaths steady, persistent, yet mortified and lost.
“Knock knock” Meghan gently proclaims, her knuckles tapping against the cedar door frame as a request for entry. “Come in” Jess replies, an old shirt held to her chest, one sleeve folded across from the other. “Well, that’s not how the joke is supposed to go” Meghan says facetiously, watching her sister dart from one side of the room to the other, hastily resting clothes into the abundance of cardboard boxes sprawled across the king-sized bed.
“Sorry, I wasn’t expecting a joke” Jess replies, her voice reflected with the preoccupation of a woman desperate to force her wandering mind into fitting a centralized task. “I see that. It looks more like you’re expecting a sudden laundry day” Meghan apprehensively replies, glancing into the clothing within every single box, “what exactly is this all for?”
“Are clothes no longer a necessity?” Jess replies almost acerbically, her eyebrows raised at her sister’s suggestion. “If we’re speaking in a legal manner, technically, no they’re not” Meghan replies, her sister’s focus returning solely to the box-filling, “but even if they're a necessity, why are you stealing these clothes?”
Throwing a child’s t-shirt into a box filled with clothing of equal size, Jess answers mid-fold, continuing to sort every shirt, shoe, and pair of pants adequately. “We may need the drawers as storage space for something else, there’s a start” Jess replies, a ruined pair of shoes thrown into a random corner of the living space, “and since we lost everything at the New World Order, I figured there’d be no need to go hunting for clothes if we already have plenty at our disposal here.”
Puckering her lips together, Meghan nods at Jess, silently expressing her acceptance of the answer. “But that’s not why you’re here, Meg” Jess continues, her past experience at the forefront of the New World Order allowing her a passing eye for examining people’s true intentions. “I can’t begin to assume what you’ve come here for, but it wasn’t to criticize me for doing laundry like some pitiful housewife” Jess explains, turning to look her sister in the face, “so go ahead, spit it out.”
Hesitating as she looks Jess in the eyes, Meghan runs over her approach silently, letting a few seconds evade her before speaking out. “I think something’s off about you” Meghan replies, both of Jess’ hands sliding into her side pockets, quiet enough to her a pin fall, “before the hurricane, you were happy. Everything was falling into place, and for the last couple of days, you’ve been distant. You’ve been cold, and you’ve been quiet.”
Her eyes falling away from Meghan, Jess maintains her silence, allowing her sister to continue hashing out the concerns she’d kept in. “It reminds me of when John was AWOL. His jaw was a wreck, his mind was a wreck, and so were you” Meghan explains, her sister’s eyes still taken towards the bedroom’s depths, “you delegated. You wanted to be the leader as much as John did, but somehow hated it more. You went off into your own world, and the last few days have been like déjà vu.”
Pulling her bottom lip between her teeth, Jess turns around, her feet carrying her to the other side of the room. “This is what I’m referring to. I’m not trying to criticize you, or tell you to do better, or defend yourself, or whatever else I could” Meghan explains, watching her sister stop at the window, peering through the blinds at the woodlands. “I don’t need you to change” Meghan explains, meeting Jess at the back of the room, her hand placed on the woman’s shoulder, “just talk to me.”
Planting her hands against the windowsill, Jess face is shadowed by the separated splinters of light, watching the rain dot the glass. Her head shaking, Jess sinks into the churning pit in her stomach, letting the sick worries consume her, the pride she is engulfed by too great on its own for her to acknowledge the truth. “I don’t know who my husband is” Jess replies in a whisper, her face cold, the nerves in her hands fighting the urge to ball her fingers into a fist.
“That’s not true” Meghan replies, her thumb caressing the woman’s shoulder. “No, it is. I mean, go ahead and look at him yourself, and tell me if you see the same man you saw on my wedding day” Jess replies, looking Meghan in the eyes, “tell me if that’s the same man you saw after our honeymoon, after Amy was born, after the first year, or the first two years. Hell, look at the man in the next room, and tell me if that’s even the same man you saw right before this world went to hell.”
Letting a smile emerge, Meghan offers a warm laugh, her head shaking. “Of course he’s not the same man he once was, none of us are” Meghan replies, the look of refusal on Jess’ face prompting Meghan to leave her response unfinished. “It’s different with John. The rest of us do what we need to in order to survive, but he- He’s not like the rest of us” Jess replies, a defeated look on her face, “he’s seen war, and torture, and everything. If any of us shouldn’t have changed, it would have been John.”
“Jess, we’ve all had to change. John included” Meghan replies, unable to offer Jess the relief she terribly craves. “He didn’t have to change like this” Jess replies, veins popping from her neck from the force she drains her lungs of air with, “he didn’t change his perception, or his morals. He changed himself.”
Her lips parting without words to speak with, Meghan’s jaw closes, allowing Jess the chance to continue speaking. “I’m losing my husband. I’m losing Amy’s father. The man I’m getting in return is a soldier, and a shell of the one he used to be” Jess remarks, the expression on Meghan’s face sinking just as her heart does. “My husband, he- he- he- he murdered those people” Jess says in a hush, her face souring, “just like that. No remorse, no second thoughts. Just death for the sake of it.”
Hanging her head, Meghan lets Jess’ opinion sit with her, feeling her lungs lose their capacity for air with each second that passes. “I’m sure he had his reasons, Jess” Meghan replies, still stubborn in her refusal to give up on her leader, the man she clings to for guidance as much as anyone else.
“His reasons don’t matter, his actions do” Jess replies, a blood vessel bursting her eyes, leaving a small, red dot to the side of her pupil, “and he chose to kill those people. One moment, one choice, and hundreds dead.” Swallowing the spit built in her mouth, Jess takes in a deep breath, letting it sit before releasing it with a gust.
“My husband took control of the New World Order for them, and then murdered them without a care” Jess explains, her head tilting, expression changing, “what else would he do?” The look on her face matching the suspicious curiosity on her sister’s Meghan pulls her head back, eyes worriedly looking into Jess’ own. “What are you implying, Jessica?” Meghan responds, her hands still cradling her sister’s arms, “because if you’re suggesting what I think you are, I encourage you not to.”
“Why wouldn’t I think he’s as capable of killing me, or any of the rest of us, if the situation called for it?” Jess immediately replies, not encouraging reluctance of any sort, “he killed them no problem, why not you? Why not me? Why not Amy?” Her sour expression turning into disgust, Meghan shakes her head vehemently. “No! You’re his wife, Amy is his daughter!” Meghan replies, her voice raising from a whisper ever-so briefly, “why would you even think that!?”
“Why would I not?” Jess replies, pulling her shoulders from Meghan’s reach, her face tense, hands as restless as the rest of her body.
“John is two people, either my husband or the soldier. Since the world ended, he’s been forced to be both at once, and he hasn’t been good at it” Jess concludes, her nostrils flaring, “every day that passes with him being both, I lose the husband and the soldier” Jess explains, moving a box aside to sit on the bed, “he’s becoming someone I fall asleep having nightmares about.”
Standing over her sister, Meghan crouches low to the ground, both hands resting upon her sister’s knees. “John is not the monster you’re worried he’s becoming” Meghan explains, re-locking her eyes with Jess’, “he would never hurt you, he would never hurt Amy, he would never hurt us. That’s not John.” Pushing her lips together, Jess shakes her head. “I’m sorry, Meg” Jess whispers, laying her hands atop her sister’s own, “I don’t think I believe that anymore.”
“You’ve still yet to tell me who the other person was” John says aloud, now sat across from Charlotte, his back to the wall whilst hers presses against the chimney, their fronts facing each other. “Why do you care so much?” Charlotte wonders aloud, both survivor’s wearing groggy voices, tired from the secretion of violence the world has left to fester around them.
“Curiosity is the greatest weakness of man” John replies, his eyes taken to the woman, Charlotte’s eyes, meanwhile, are taken towards the window, “that’s why.” A sarcastic smile worn proudly, Charlotte shakes her head. “If curiosity is that powerful, I’ll leave the answer a mystery” Charlotte replies, a passing glance taken at John, “once you kill me, I’ll leave you something to be haunted by forever.”
Letting out a sigh, John directs his attention to the ceiling, the thunder that roars in the distance keeping him entertained through fits of silence. “Why is affecting me so important to you?” John inquires, his head still taken to the sky, “speaking of my evil deeds, trying to prove everything I did, or everything I believed in wrong, leaving me haunted with questions never to be answered” John explains, finally earning Charlotte’s eyesight wholly, “why do you care so much about that?”
With a smile, Charlotte pushes herself back against the bricks, entertaining John’s question. “When I was in the hospital, a good couple of years ago, I passed a lot of my time reading” Charlotte explains, her hand draped over a bent knee much like John’s own, “and there was a quote from a book that I liked, one that stuck with me for a long time.”
Clearing her throat, Charlotte stares at the ground, her finger running over the smooth, concrete beneath her. “There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function, the second is when the body is consigned to the grave” Charlotte recites, a smile on her face, “the third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time.”
Nodding at the woman’s response, John retreats to his mind’s own thoughts. “You can kill me today, tomorrow, or whenever else” Charlotte explains, her hands held out in a mockery show of surrender, “but you, and the rest of your group, will be speaking of my name long after I’m gone.” Tilting his head back, John lets time pass, listening to the thunder roar.
“Oh look, she’s still here!” Lauren exclaims, the first to step through the door, her teeth gnawing into the same wad of bubblegum, “what a surprise!” Followed closely by her depot-mates, Lauren takes her previous seat in the corner, Janice’s back resting against the wall as Jack steps further towards the conversation-enraptured pair.
“What are we gonna do with her?” Jack wonders aloud, wasting no time to find the point of his confrontation. His eyes taking to Jack, John pulls himself up from his seat without a rush, leaning from one side to another, stretching to alleviate his spent muscles. “I haven’t decided” John replies, drawing Jack’s ire as quickly as he draws Janice’s. “What the fuck do you mean you haven’t decided?” Janice replies, her hands folded in her lap.
“I haven’t decided, it means exactly what it’s supposed to” John replies, beginning to walk past Jack. Returning from outside, the group reunited in the living room, a call from Troy clearing the overwhelming aura of tension. “What’s for dinner?” Troy calls aloud, finding John out of the corner of his eye the moment awkward silence greets him. “I’m going out to scavenge something up, it depends on what I find” John replies, not thinking much of his answer.
“You’re leaving without sorting out the issue we’ve got tied up in the corner of the room?” Jack replies snarkily, aggravated at the man’s lack of care. “You don’t have to like me, but I still do have a name” Charlotte remarks from afar. “Shut up, bitch” Janice barks from the other side of the room, too enthralled with anger to handle the sound of Charlotte’s voice.
“Yes, as I said, I haven’t made a decision” John replies, patting Jack on the shoulder. “What kind of bullshit answer is that?” Jack replies, pulling his shoulder away from John. “After everything she’d done, how is this a hard decision!?” Jack exclaims, both arms held outwards, “she’s either a fucking psychopath, or she’s got a real hatred for people named ‘Tyler’.”
Hanging his head, John lets out a sigh, leaving a moment to pass before giving his response. “It’s a hard decision to make, so I’m taking my time” John explains, again patting Jack on the shoulder, this time more sternly, almost as if trying to give Jack a warning. “Oh, you’re taking your time, that’s great!” Jack exclaims, retrieving the pistol on his left hip, his aim pointed at their tormenter, “if it’s so goddamn hard, I’ll make it for you!”
Refusing to leave room for mistakes, John unsheathes the knife from his side and takes its point to Jack’s throat, pressing on the gunman’s jugular just enough to remind Jack of his vulnerability in that moment. “I said I’m taking my time” John whispers, his soft tone taking it’s time, emanating from his diaphragm like molasses settles, the gravel-like reflection he wields expertly prominent.
Holding his left hand across his chest, John places his palm beneath the aimed weapon. “Gimme the gun, Jack” John orders smoothly, willing to wait as long as necessary for the man’s disarmament. With a scowl, Jack lowers his weapon into John’s possession, surrendering his defense reluctantly. “Now, I’m going to head out for an hour or so, and I’m going to think about my decision while I do” John explains, his blade still held to Jack’s throat.
“Now, if Charlotte is dead by the time I get back here, I’ll kill every last one of you” John remarks, his threat made permanent. Catching John by surprise, Jack knocks the blade from John’s hand, letting it fall into a dark corner of the room as he lunges towards the group’s leader. “We wouldn’t even let you take the first shot!” Jack shouts, hurling his arm at John with confidence, his own self-belief vanishing the moment John ducks his swing, taking the superior position.
His hands wrapped around Jack’s throat, John sweeps the man’s leg from beneath him, throwing Jack to the ground. Reaching into his back pocket, John retrieves a grenade and bites down on the pin, letting it sit between his teeth as he pulls it from the explosive. “Would you like to put a bet on that?” John wonders aloud, staring down at Jack with wide eyes, a frenzied smile on his face, “because I really like my odds there.”
“John, please” Jess calls from afar, her husband’s eyes trailing towards her, clinging onto her sight, “don’t.” Calming himself, John lets the situation settle, returning the pin to its place within the cylindrical bomb. Regaining his composure, John takes himself from atop Jack, pulling the man up by the hand, putting their differences aside. “Alright, fuck it. I know you’re mad and I don’t blame you” John explains, struggling to put the leadership role he’d grown accustomed to aside.
Glancing around the room, John feels their fears from afar, the anxious staring and paranoid tension palpable. “We can’t become the people we’re on the verge of turning into” John explains, looking out at the gathered assortment of survivors, all having done whatever has been deemed necessary. “People turn into monsters, and when we start deciding who lives and dies, we turn into those monsters” John explains, tormented by the thought, “it takes time to decide if that price is worth it.”
Shaking his head, John tosses his knife to the ground, the firearm he retrieves from behind his back left to join his blade. “I made a terrible choice today. A choice I’ll live with, be tormented with, and be haunted by for the rest of my life” John remarks, watching Jack pull away, rejoining the huddled masses.
“I don’t like it anymore than you do, but if we’re gonna kill Charlotte out of revenge, we’re just as bad for different reasons” John explains, “if she’s to die, we need to find a better reason.” Dissatisfied, Janice hangs her head out of shame, whilst Jack’s eyes close, trying to accept John’s reasoning.
“I changed at the New World Order today. I’m not the man I was yesterday, and I never will be again” John confesses, even Charlotte’s attention left upon him, “I never wish this feeling on any of you.” His eyes finding Janice, John’s words take towards her.
“Killing Charlotte will never bring your son back, Janice” John explains, watching the white’s of her eyes fall over him, “losing Tyler left a hole in your stomach that you’ve filled by blaming Charlotte. Taking her out won’t fill that hole, it’ll only leave it impossible to ever fill again.”
His focus pointed to Jack as Tyler standing in the background, just beside Troy. “And Jack, I don’t even think Tyler himself hates Charlotte as much as you do” John explains, an assumption Jack holds little argument against. “Reggie is gone, Shauna is gone, and Tyler’s buddied up to Troy more than he has with you as far as I’m aware” John finds, again, his discovery impressively accurate, “you’re alone, and it leaves you boiling with anger. Charlotte’s not the cause, she’s the escape for it.”
Peering around the room, John’s group looks to him with accepting eyes, looking to him with trust, hoping for guidance for the first time he can remember.
“If we’re going to be monsters, we need to let it be for a valid, unarguable reason” John explains, a chill running over his body as the rain begins to fall harder, “I know what it feels like to look at yourself differently in the mirror. I killed my decency for a poor, inexcusable reason, and I’ll never forgive myself for that. None of you should experience that.”
Biting his lip, John lets out a warm smile, pleased with the conclusion his mind has succumbed to. “I am not your leader anymore” John says with a smile, a proud joy in his voice, “but I will still lead you. I can only hope the path I lead you down is better than the first one I chose to take.” Letting free a sigh, John strolls over to the front door, removing a black raincoat from a nearby hook.
“I’m going off to find food, and I plead with you to leave Charlotte alive by the time I come back” John explains, throwing the cover over himself. “This is our family now. You and I, the rest you see around you” John explains to those around him, a hopeful look in his eye as he looks at Charlotte. “When I come back, I want something worth keeping you alive for, Charlotte” John explains, hoping to deliver the woman a say in her own fate.
Closing the door on his way out, John embraces the elements, leaving the home shrouded in silence, a tense, quiet questioning delivered through strange looks. Her eyes turning towards the corner of the room, Janice watches Lauren respond to John’s explanation with a shrug, no less confident in her prediction than when she made it.
Descending the front stairs, John listens to the raindrops tap at the hood he throws over his heavy-haired, thick-bearded head. Lifting an axe from where it rested against the home, John wraps his hands around the handle and plays with the weight.. “Let’s get to work” John mutters to himself, letting the weapon fall to his side as he embraces the storm, stepping through the incomplete front gates as he takes to the road, moving forward.
== Rise: Remastered ==
“I’m glad you called” Neville remarks, his hands buried deep into his pockets, his shy head hung towards the ground, “I thought your friends might have scared you off.” Keeping pace with the man’s charming pace, a curious Alicia wonders of the intentions behind the man’s worries. “Why would you be worried about that?” the woman asks, reversing roles with the man as she jumps ahead of him, amusing the man as she holds the door for him, “is there any truth to what they’re saying?”
“That would depend on the language they used” Neville playfully responds, ducking through the door first. “Would you care to elaborate?” the man wonders aloud, folding his hands by his lap, waiting to be seated in the fancy restaurant they’ve seeked an evening in. “Salem said you’d threatened her, about a month after we first got here” Alicia replies, her question answered by the man’s shamed frown, his head taking to the ground and nodding, “so it’s true?”
Looking back towards Alicia, Neville puckers his lips and continues nodding. “If I’ve learned anything during my time in charge, it’s that people who don’t work well with others are always the first to screw something up” Neville explains, not shying away from a blunt response, “I’ve seen it before, I don’t want to see it happen again. There isn’t any room for error like that anymore.”
Slightly disconcerted by the man’s confession, Alicia glances away, her eyes wandering off to the wider spaces of the building as a waiter arrives to seat them. Lead to their table, the pair sink into soft cushioned booths, their hardwood table reflective enough to return the couple’s reflection to them. “Listen, there are ugly sides to my job, and having to judge people by only what I can see of them is one of those sides” Neville explains, “it’s better you know that now than later.”
“Okay” Alicia quickly replies, her hands having yet to leave the table in reach of their menus, which sit at the end of the table, waiting for their touch, “what are they, then?” Attempting to speak, the man falls silent, letting his glossy menu return to the table.
“I make calls that cost people their lives, and I make calls that earn people their safety” Neville explains, not a shred of remorse in his explanation, “I was selected to lead this camp, to be god for the people inside. That’s the ugly side.” Her palms pressed against the table, leaving her handprint in the reflective sheen, Alicia looks deep into Neville’s eyes, unable to find any lack of sincerity behind what he says.
“If you can’t handle that, I understand. Being associated with me, even loosely, weighs heavy on a conscience” Neville explains, worried over Alicia’s response, “but if you can accept me for who I am, and for what I do, take a menu and find something you like.” Sitting back in her seat, Alicia continues to look into Neville’s eyes, her head tilting as a smile breaks through her lips. “I already have” Alicia replies before reaching for a menu, her choice made.
“I’m glad” Neville replies, unable to hold back a smile of his own as his eyes take to the menu. “Can I start the two of you with drinks?” a waitress asks, obviously enthused to be serving the guests sat in her booth. “I’ll have a Sangria” Alicia replies first, the menu gently lowering to the table as Neville’s pager begins to sound. “And I’ll have the finest bottle of wine you’ve got in the cellar” Neville orders, removing the pager from his waistband.
“-Or, she’ll have the finest bottle of wine you’ve got in the back” Neville disappointsly groans, wiping his brow with his hand, “I’ve got urgent company at the gates.” Let down, Alicia’s eyes fall, graciously accepting Neville’s apology. “I’m so sorry, when they say ‘urgent’, it’s not something I can argue with” Neville explains, throwing a set of meal vouchers the waitress’ way.
“Whatever she’ll have is on me” Neville explains to the waitress, climbing from the booth. “Meet me at my place later, okay?” Alicia requests, her plea bringing a smile over Neville’s face. “I will” Neville replies, placing a kiss on the woman’s cheek as he makes for the exit. “So, the Sangria and the bottle of wine?” the waitress asks Alicia, the tip of her pen pressed against her notepad.
“Actually, is there any way I can get your best bottle of tequila, instead?” Alicia replies, tacking on an additional request before the waitress departs, “and make that an order to go, please?” Sinking back into her booth, Alicia lets out a sigh, her disappointment clear. Exiting the restaurant, Neville pulls his gloves over his hands, stepping over a mound of snow at the bottom of the stairs.
Turning to return the way he came, a familiar face stands out across the street, their figure leaning against a stop sign with their hands in their pockets. Finding Neville’s sights having fallen on her, Salem removes her hand from her pocket and waves at the departing leader, his attention desperately needed elsewhere. Looking at Alicia as Neville walks off, Salem stares at the woman in disappointment, her head hung as she walks the opposite direction of Neville, leaving Alicia to her night.
= 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 =
“How’s he holding up?” Emilio asks, startling Jess while she emerges from her bedroom, closing the door up until the man’s surprise appearance. “Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you” Emilio mutters, following the woman through the quiet, dimly-lit hallway. “He got shot in the face, how do you think he’s holding up?” Jess replies, entering her husband’s office to the faint tune of an aggravated crowd, all calling for John’s resignation.
“He got shot in the face four months ago” Emilio replies, only helping to fuel Jess’ frustration further. “Is that supposed to change the fact that he took a bullet to the face, or was there a deadline I missed somewhere along the way?” Jess replies, silencing Emilio as Troy and Katie near close. “He knows there’s a lot of shit going on, but there’s not much he can do about it without the ability to speak” Jess explains, slamming a pile of folders atop the desk, “now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Welcomed into the room upon their knock, Troy and Katie enter the secluded confines, the young woman holding a folded piece of paper between her fingers. “Can I help you two with something?” Jess wonders aloud, watching the creased note leave Katie’s hands, finding land before Jess’ hands. “One of the kids that came in with Tori found this lying in the dirt” Katie explains as the folds are undone, revealing their contents to Jessica’s eyes, “look at the signature.”
“Charlotte Walters” Jess reads aloud, the signature nearly the only thing she can comfortably understand, “what’s the rest of this?” Letting Troy take over the conversation, Katie takes a seat in the corner, throwing an oversized coat over her shoulders. “We’re pretty sure it’s an over-simplified map of the area” Troy explains, the familiarly-named roadways and recognizable landmarks lending his assumption credibility, “it’s filled with markings. I can only imagine they point out something.”
Quickly losing herself in trying to decipher the markings, Jess returns her attention to the young pair standing patiently before her. “What is it that you want me to do?” Jess inquires, watching the duo nervously glance back at each other. “We want your permission to leave the compound” Troy explains, quickly explaining his request, “Charlotte may be dead, but we don’t know anything about her goons’ motivations. If these places can leave us vulnerable, it’s best if we check them out.”
“I’m sorry, but we’ve got those scavengers living inside the walls with us, and the two of you are some of the best hands we’ve got-” Jess replies, noticing the disappointment build, “-I can’t justify that. I’m sorry.” His head hung, Troy gives into the woman’s request, taking the paper back while Katie tries to argue her own point. “The last thing you need with the scavengers is to have a second crew to look out for” Katie explains, unable to get Jess to budge, “we need to-”
“Charlotte is dead, and the rest of her community is weakened without her” Jess sharply rebukes, returning the note to Troy’s possession, “I’m sorry, but again, my answer is ‘no’.” Closing her eyes, Katie swallows her pride and leaves the room without another word just as Troy does, following Katie’s lead, not wanting to turn an already tense-situation sour.
“They have a good point, Jess” Emilio remarks, his presence having fallen from the woman’s mind, his response prompting Jess to roll her eyes. “I’m well aware of that, Emilio” Jess is quick to respond, her attention turned back to the man she’d left abruptly, “but as I said, everything in this camp is on thin ice and they’re two of my best hands. I can’t afford to let them go, not right now.”
“Okay, I see your point. Send someone else, then” Emilio replies, listening to Jess sigh as she tends to the headache coming on, “their point is still valid. The last thing we need right now is for Charlotte’s people to attack.”
“No” Jess replies, her answer again coming right at the end of Emilio’s statement, not even considering his suggestion, “Charlotte’s dead, and there’s a reason her people haven’t shown up in four months.” Losing patience, Emilio sinks lower in his seat, his fingers squeezing atop the carved armrests to each of his sides. “What if they have something of value there?” Emilio wonders aloud, not even earning a physical response from the woman this time.
“Something of value like what?” Jess replies with her head down, face planted in her inner elbow. “Food, or weapons, or supplies” Emilio responds, earning Jess’ attention back, “there’s a reason those places are mapped, and if they’re not bunkers to lay low in, they’re places with something important enough to map out.”
“I agree, and in a better situation, I wouldn’t hesitate at saying ‘yes’” Jess explains, her finger pressing into the hardwood table, “but I can’t afford to send anyone with two working hands outside of the walls. I just can’t.” Relenting, Emilio lets out his own sigh as his eyes wander across the room, finding the window John often frequented, its transparency now offering the unimpeded view of a disgruntled public, fed up with the leadership of a community they call home.
“I know you can hear them from here” Jess remarks, noticing where Emilio's eyes had taken towards, the same window having captured her attention many nights before, “do you really think I can afford to lose anyone with that outside my window?” His lips puckered, Emilio listens to the cries of a populous so scorned by their governing body, their calls for death and vengeance striking deep within the caverns of his heart.
“Send me” Emilio suddenly remarks, a confused glare given back by the desk-seated woman. With a laugh, Jess shakes her head in definitive refusal. “Either you haven’t been listening to me, or you are just uniquely disturbed” Jess replies, removing a bag of tea from a nearby cup of boiled water, “as I just said, I’m not sending anyone outside of these walls. And considering you’re the closest ally John and I have, the ‘no’ goes double for you.”
“Come on, Jess. The only fight I’ve ever been in left me plummeting to earth on top of a patio, and even in that fight, John had more of a hand in it than I did” Emilio explains, “you have other confidants, and you’ve got plenty more experienced men than me.” Beguiled, Jess leans back in her chair, still shaking her head in refusal.
“For a start, you getting your man-loving ass kicked does not inspire confidence” Jess jokes, clearer points still to come, “but even with that, you literally have not been outside these walls in over a year. The world outside is nothing like what it was in the first days.” His head hung, Emilio begins to question whether or not anything he could say would change the woman’s mind, an internal dilemma Jessica notices instantly.
“Look, I’m gonna level with you. I don’t think we want to know what that map truly points to, but since the three of you believe it’s worth checking out, I’m biting the bullet and trusting you” Jess explains, the truth still unable to change the answer, “but everything’s a mess right now. Even though I trust you, I can’t justify letting any of you walk, even temporarily.”
Accepting the woman’s stance, Emilio looks deeper into Jess’ eyes, their attention given only to each other, allowing Emilio to point out an interesting observation. “There’s something you’re not telling me” Emilio remarks, a feigned look of confusion appearing on Jess face briefly, her eyes falling soon after. “You’re worried about something” Emilio specifies, Jess’ defeated look only strengthening the longer he speaks, “something other than the mob, or Lauren’s group.”
Biting her lip, Jess folds her arms atop her husband’s desk, leaning in as her eyes remain steadily aimed towards Emilio’s own. “I don’t think Charlotte’s dead” Jess suddenly confesses, surprising the man on the opposite end of the hand-crafted, elegantly-designed desk, “I have no proof, and no reason to believe that if I’m being honest with myself. But I have a hunch, and throughout my life, when I have a hunch, it usually tends to be for a reason.”
Sinking further into his seat, Emilio covers his mouth with his hand, his fingers pressing into his cheek as he pulls his lips away, his face having become tense. “She got shot in the chest” Emilio replies, first attempting to change Jess’ mind before recognizing how little such a use it, no amount of reasoning capable of changing the woman’s better instincts.
“So, as you can see, there’s a really good reason behind my wanting to give the three of you the benefit of the doubt” Jess explains, speaking to Emilio’s hung head, “but, hopefully this is the last time I’ll have to say it. I can’t justify putting you, or the two of them, or anyone else out there.”
Licking his lip, Emilio’s hands fall back to the armrests, propping himself out of the seat before he walks for the door, gently closing it behind himself on his way out. Alone once more, Jess slams her fist against the hardwood, her eyes traveling back to the crowd-observing window, letting the chants for answers, resignations and revenge linger in the back of her mind, suppressing any optimism in favor of defeat.
“Mom! This old man stole my apple!” a girl calls out to her parent, finger raised at a disheveled man a few feet away. “What?” the man replies, mystified by the claims as the juices run down his chin, “this is my apple!” Angrily rushing to her daughter’s side, the mother begins to scold the man, her voice purposefully raised with the intent of earning the guards’ attention. “Give my daughter her apple back!” the enraged mother barks, escalating the scene until Lauren and Jerome approach.
“Ma’am, this is my apple. I bought it, I own it, it’s mine” the man replies, his beard grayed and hair knotted. “Sir, give the kid her apple back” Lauren orders, the demand only serving to bewilder the man accused. “I didn’t take the fuckin’ apple!” the man shouts, his arms outstretched in response, a defense Lauren refuses to buy. “Sir, I don’t want to have to tell you again” Lauren replies, removing the firearm from her hip, “give the kid her apple.”
Wide-eyed, the man stares harshly at the well-armed woman, his face bunching with anger. “Fine” the older man replies, defiantly tossing the apple to the kid, his sour face maintained. “Nice job, hun” the mother whispers to her child as they depart the scene, taking turns biting into the sparse piece of fruit. “Will that be all?” the old man begrudgingly quips towards Lauren, who shakes her head. “Dirty fuckin’ bitch” the man mutters, leaving a dissatisfied face on Lauren as he leaves.
“You handled that well” Jerome sarcastically remarks, strolling up to the woman’s side as he watches the two parties depart. “Is there a point you’re trying to get at?” Lauren asks, turning to face the militant, who stands before her in awkward silence. “Not that I know of, why?” Jerome replies, answered by a set of rolling eyes, watching Lauren turn around and walk away.
“You really seem to think you’ve got things under control” Jerome exclaims, pulling Lauren back into the conversation, her departing stroll slowing to a halt before she turns around. “I’m not in charge, there’s not much I can keep ‘under control’” Lauren replies, her hands resting comfortably at her sides, “but if we’re talking about ‘maintaining order’ then yeah, I think I’m doing well enough.”
Smiling, Jerome begins shaking his head, refusing to buy into the composed picture Lauren attempts to paint into his head. “But the thing is, I sort of have to keep order myself, don’t I?” Lauren explains, matching Jerome’s sarcastic disrespect with her own, “someone’s gotta pick up where other people slack off.”
A hurt chuckle leaving beneath his breath, Jerome looks away with a nod, his thumbs wrapped around his belt loops. “Is that what you think I’m doing?” Jerome wonders aloud, a confident smirk worn on his face, “slacking off?” Looking down, Lauren allows Jerome to go on the tangent she expects of him, only a few seconds having to pass before said tangent is beckoned.
“You should be grateful for what I did. Had it not been for me, you’d still be out there sleeping in leaves and eating dead squirrels” Jerome explains, his smile returning, “you should thank the big, tough military man for saving your ass. Got that?”
Slowly turning to leave, Lauren offers her departing words. “You were chosen to give your life for this camp, and instead turned on it for something that benefitted you more” Lauren explains, Jerome’s face now souring, “so you say ‘big, tough military man’, and I say ‘where?’ Got that?” Walking off, a few seconds pass before Lauren is called back towards Jerome, the man offering his own last-minute advice.
“Tori misses you” Jerome remarks, the woman’s back turned towards him, her head easily able to be seen hanging, “you should talk to her soon.” Licking her lips, Lauren continues to walk on, a passing “thanks for the tip” given back to the man on her way out.
“I see they never truly got the stains out” Tyler remarks, pointing out the ever-present blood stains in the corner of Dr. Ringwald’s office. “Wh-? Oh! No, they never got to it in time” Ringwald replies, confused by the man’s presence, “why are you here, Tyler? We don’t need to tend to your wounds anymore.”
“No, no. I know that” Tyler replies, lifting a clear, plastic jar filled with dental instruments, “I was wondering if you had anything you needed help with?” His head tilted to one side, Ringwald looks to Tyler with a curious expression, “I’m afraid I don’t follow.” Setting the jar down, Tyler takes a seat near the back of the man’s workspace, occupying a chair squeezed between tables near the corner.
“I want to work for you” Tyler replies, cutting to the point with little more hesitation than he’d approached with. “Why would you want to do that?” Ringwald wonders aloud, leaning his hip against the small desk most of his records lay upon, scattered with little care. “I always wanted to do more in life than maintain a warehouse” Tyler replies, a quick glance taken at the window beside him, an empty lot all that greets him, “I figured you wouldn’t require a degree or anything of the sort.”
Still lost for a reason, Ringwald replies. “Sure, I can understand that, but why a doctor?” Ringwald wonders aloud, crossing his arms at his chest, “why not a guard? Or a farmer?” Thinking to himself for a moment, Tyler comes up with nothing suitable for the question. “I don’t know” Tyler replies, his eyes finally returning to the doctor he seeks employment from, “it was the first thing that came to mind.”
Before getting a chance to reply, Ringwald is greeted by further company, both Troy and Katie entering his work. “Hey Ringo, we need our arms cast-over” Troy exclaims with enthusiasm as his thrill-seeking friend leaps atop the examination table. “That’s funny, It doesn’t seem like either of you have two broken arms” Ringwald replies, a suspicious look on his face.
“If we had two broken arms, we wouldn’t be sneaking out of the camp, would we?” Katie answers, finding no reason to lie. “You’re what?” Ringwald replies in the tone of a disappointed parent. “We found something important, we asked Jess for permission to check it out, and she refused” Troy replies, climbing atop one of the tables beside Tyler, “but we’re not letting Jess get in the way of her own best interests. So, there you have it.”
“I’m sure she had a good reason” Ringwald replies, defying the uselessness of trying to convince the pair to think twice. “It doesn’t matter, her decision was the wrong one” Katie replies, holding both of her arms out in preparation for the casting, “we asked for permission, and that led nowhere. Now, we’ll ask for forgiveness instead.”
Letting out a sigh, Ringwald caves to the valiant survivors’ request, retrieving a tray of hot water and a box of plaster wraps. “Why do you need casts to leave?” Tyler wonders to the pair, the dots not connecting. “We don’t need casts to leave, but we’re better off with them than we are without” Katie replies, her point finished by Troy, “if you’ve got casts on your arms, the dead can’t get their teeth through. It’s like wearing a suit of armor, the dead have to get through it to get to you.”
Letting the conversation end there, Tyler goes quiet, watching Ringwald prepare the water, studying the man’s habits as each strip of plaster is applied.
Tapping her knuckles against an apartment door in a rhythm, Salem waits for an answer from within, only a few seconds passing before Franklin’s face meets her own. “Welcome back to the land of the living” Franklin remarks, pulling the door further open, allowing Salem to enter the cold, dimly-lit room. “We need to find better torches” Salem comments, her heavy coat, gloves, and winter boots kept on while she makes herself at home.
“We’re not here to live permanently” Heather replies, sitting atop two moving boxes fashioned like a chair, “we hide out here until we have our escape plan.” Hidden in the corner, Cameron strikes a match and takes it to a dry cigarette, the flame catching the attention of those he shares the apartment with. “Can’t you do that outside?” Heather wonders aloud, exhaustion carried with her words. “We live in a shoebox” Cameron replies, spewing smoke towards the nearest window, “this is nothing.”
Rolling her eyes, Heather accepts the man’s position, her mind already resting upon greater concerns. “How was your walk, Salem?” Heather asks, a sneaking suspicion hidden within her question, one easily noticed by the coat-adorned woman. “It was fine, why?” Salem replies, noticing the hint of distrust behind the woman’s curiosity. Shaking her head, Heather looks to her hands, rubbing them together for warmth whilst refusing to answer Salem.
“Why do you ask?” Salem wonders for a second time, earning an answer from the other woman this second time around. “Because I’m sure you didn’t go on as much of a walk as much as you were sightseeing” Heather replies, one leg crossing over the other as she sinks further back in her makeshift chair. “If you’re trying to call me out for spying on Alicia, don’t be vague about it” Salem replies, looking down at Heather with her arms crossed.
A smug look on her face, Heather considers the offer Salem has given her, thinking it over for a brief moment. “Cameron” Heather calls out, extending her hand towards the man, who rests his cigarette between the woman’s fingers. A drag taken from the tobacco stick, Heather allows the smoke to sit within her lungs, a relieving exhale letting a cloud slowly stretch towards Salem, wrapping around her body once it advances across the room.
“Alright Salem, I won't’ be vague” Heather replies, returning the stick to Cameron as she walks towards the other woman, a confident look on her face, “What’d you get from this walk that you didn’t get last night?” Her irritation only growing, Salem hangs her head, unable to hold eye contact with the woman across from her. “Come on, you wanted me to be less vague, so here I am” Heather replies, tensions quickly rising, “answer the damn question.”
Biting her lip, Salem’s eyes glance towards Franklin, who stands in the corner of the room, just watching the interaction take place. With a sigh, Salem wipes the hair from her face and returns her glare to the other woman, Heather’s patience obvious. “Nothing worth talking about” Salem replies, turning away to leave the room, a quick glance shared with Franklin in the midst of her spin, “that’s all you need to know.”
Attempting to leave, Salem reaches for the doorknob, unlocking the deadbolt before squeezing the brass peg, her intention to leave dropping the moment Heather speaks up once more. “When will you learn how people work?” Heather wonders aloud, stopping Salem in her tracks, the question allowing a harbored resentment to permeate through the room, “no matter what the situation is, now matter how dire, people grow apart. That’s just how life works.”
Five fingers soon turning to four, Salem’s hand gradually falls from the doorknob, the woman turning back to the room the moment her final finger falls away. “When will I learn how people work?” Salem replies, a disgusted look on her face, “do you know how long I pushed people away?”
“I shouldn’t have said that” Heather replies, falling silent once Salem snaps back at her, allowing the woman to vent. “Do you know what I felt the moment everything went to shit? The moment everyone figured out what I’d known for weeks by that point?” Salem wonders aloud, continuing to inch closer towards Heather, closing the gap between them, “I felt euphoric. Not because we finally saw eye-to-eye, but because they were screwed, and I was the only one with answers.”
Allowing Salem to continue unopposed, Heather rests her hands by her side, looking into Salem’s eyes even after she’d nearly come forehead-to-forehead with the woman. “Had it not been for Alicia stepping in the way, I would’ve put a bullet in this man’s head the moment everything kicked off” Salem explains, pointing her finger towards Franklin’s tall frame, “so just as he owes her for saving his life, I owe her for helping me understand mine.”
Looking on, Cameron and Franklin watch the interaction come to a head, one question from Salem’s lips bringing the entire conversation close. “So, should I try and help a friend, or would you rather I voluntarily let her spend the rest of her life with the same man we’re plotting a grand escape from?” Salem questions, the ball left in Heather’s court. :Yeah, of course” Heather says with an apologetic inflection, retaking her seat atop the cardboard chair, “do what you’ve got to do.”
With a nod, Salem pulls away, returning to the door and twisting the knob, a sudden thought popping into her head as she does so. “Frank, can I talk to you for a second?” Salem wonders aloud, surprising the man that’d made great efforts to stay away from the previous conversation. “Sure” Franklin replies, leaving his corner and following Salem through the door.
“What’s going on?” Franklin finally asks, following Salem up a ladder to the highest part of the roof. “Alicia, who else?” Salem replies, her legs dangling over the ledge she sits atop. “Is something wrong?” Franklin replies, sharing the seat beside his friend, looking out at the quiet, cozy town locked away from the harsh reality of the outside world. “Other than the fact that she’s dating a sociopath? Not really” Salem answers, earning a frown.
“So, she’s still seeing him?” Franklin wonders, the disappointment in his voice already obvious. Answering with a nod, Salem continues to look outwards, a feeling of peace having taken her completely. “I brought you up here to see this” Salem explains, the conversation turning back to lighter subjects, this one being the overhead view of the town, “it’s pretty, isn’t it?”
“It’s a sight to behold, that’s for sure” Franklin replies, a calm wave rolling over him, allowing the tension in his shoulders to disappear, his breaths coming lighter than before. “When we first crammed into that oversized pig pen downstairs, I’d find myself coming up here more after every day” Salem explains, unable to hold back a partial smile from her face, “I never said anything because I liked how pure it felt. Like it was the one place in the world I knew about, and no one else did.”
A hushed laugh coming from within his lungs, Franklin shakes his head with a smile, humored by the woman’s reasoning. “I know” Salem replies without a response to answer, already aware of what’s brought such laughter out of Franklin, “I’ve still got a long way to go.” Patting the woman on the shoulder, Franklin continues to take appreciation over the aerial view, his mind finding itself wrapped around one lingering question.
“So, is that why you brought me up here?” Franklin replies, a brief chuckle interrupting his question, “to help yourself start playing nicely with others?” Her glove-covered hands rubbing her legs, Salem shakes her head. “No, not really” the woman replies, a less eager tint in her voice. “Alicia’s at that nice restaurant downtown. She’s on a date- or, was on a date with Neville” Salem explains, this information only bringing Franklin down to her unhappy level.
“Well, thank you for looking out for me” Franklin replies, taking Salem’s silence as the end of her point, something confusing that prompts the woman to look towards him. “I wasn’t finished, you dope” the woman explains, keeping Franklin from continuing to voice his unnecessary appreciation. “When I left, Neville had just walked out in a rush, and Alicia was left sitting in a booth. She looked disappointed” Salem explains, patting Franklin on the thigh, “go check on her. Make sure she’s okay.”
“Why me?” Franklin replies, his oversight bringing a smirk on Salem’s face. “Well, for one, I’m not the one with an insatiable crush on the girl” Salem replies in a sarcastic tone, easing back into her usual, melancholy cadence, “besides, I think she’d rather see you than me.” Looking Salem in the face, Franklin returns the woman’s approval, patting Salem on the shoulder before walking away, leaving the woman to enjoy her scenic view amidst the cool fall air.
Hunched over at her husband’s desk, Jess struggles to maintain a positive attitude whilst looking over inventory sheets, the diminishing supply of food only accelerated by the addition of Tori’s people. Grimacing, Jess glances at the window, the curtain she’s closed on the mob doing nothing to drown their shouts for justice, each yell only pushing her closer to her limits.
“Answer us now! Answer us now!” the crowd begins to shout, prompting Jess to drop the loose-paper documents to the desk, her attention fully set on the sounds emanating below. Anxiety growing, Jess focuses on the sounds her foot makes tapping rapidly upon the old, worn-down hardwood floors. Her hand caressing her head, Jess spends minutes reading over reports three times over, not paying enough attention the first two times to recall what she’d read.
“We want freedom! We want freedom!” the people begin shouting, the chant’s change immediately pulling Jess’ attention back towards the window, her eyes widening as they find the silk, blue curtains. Her tapping only increasing in its speed, Jess pays her attention to her breathing, again failing to understand the documents she’d begun investing her time into, her mind continuing to pull itself back towards the depraved audience gathered at her front step.
“Feed us! Feed us! Feed us!” the crowd continues to chant, the change instantly pulling Jess’ attention back, her hand slamming against the desk in anger. Forcing her breaths back into line, Jess lets the papers fall from her grasp, both hands now wrapping themselves around the woman’s forehead as she begins to sweat, her wrath drowning out everything other than the chants.
“Die, Callis, Die! Die, Callis, Die!” the crowd starts chanting, their words now the only thing that Jess can hear, each chant dragging itself through Jess’ mind like a set of nails upon a chalkboard. Trembling with rage, Jess’ boiling point reaches its climax, any hope of her composure returning now lost. Retrieving a grenade from one of the drawers, Jess leaves her seat and charges at the window, throwing the curtain to the side and forcing the aperture open.
As if she were in a dream, the world goes numb, her nauseating fury consuming every last action she takes. Removing the pin, Jess pulls her arm back, eyes kept upon the gathered sea of unknowing protesters until the moment her wrist finds itself within a tight, firm grasp. Glancing back, Jess looks at her husband, the side of his face heavily scarred from the bullet’s exit wound and his jaw held in place with two factory-grade screws.
Finally able to hear her own breath, Jess stares at her husband in surprise, his hand trapping her grenade-wielding hand in place. “Put, the pin, back” John grunts, his remaining teeth unable to separate, forcing him to speak through unimaginable pain. Jarred from her enraged, near-criminal act, Jess returns the pin to her explosive and places it into John’s hand, the man walking off to return it to where it belongs, hidden far within his desk.
“Those are the first words you’ve said to me in months” Jess mutters in disbelief, watching the man stand over his desk, looking at it in silence for a brief few seconds before leaving. Chased after by his wife, John walks for his bedroom, hand reaching for the doorknob before stopping mere inches away from it. “John, please talk to me” Jess pleads, stopping with the man as his eyes take towards something else, gliding across the hallway towards a set of splintered, wooden stairs.
“John, please say something” Jess begs, teary up at her husband’s empty expression, no joy or sadness in his face, only a look towards the nearest stairwell. “John, I’m-” Jess begins to plead, interrupted by her husband’s departure, his feet carrying him towards the creak-abundant staircase. Remaining silent for the rest of the walk, Jess follows her husband up the winding stairwell, ascending to the highest point of the home, and pausing to watch her husband walk on.
Hidden behind two-way glass, John looks out at the massive crowd of spectators, disappointed at the sheer number of people cheering for his resignation. “Emilio thinks there’s about half the compound out there” Jess says from afar, unable to see John’s eyes pressing together, the sight only worsened as far as he’s concerned. “In fairness, they’re not mad at you” Jess continues, stepping up to her husband’s side, “they’re mad at the food situation, and at the outsider situation. My doings.”
A tear rolling down the side of his face, John continues to stare blankly at the crowd below, his lips parting to speak briefly. “You did what I would have done” John grunts, turning to find the relieved expression on his wife’s face, “they’re mad at me if they’re mad at you.” Looking back at the concentrated mass of humanity below, the married couple look on in silence, allowing minutes to pass before John finally speaks again, chills sent down his own spine.
“I can’t help them, can I?” John grunts, his chest expanding with every breath. “I-” Jess replies, looking down at the crowd below, an instant doubt creeping in the moment her eyes fall upon them, her instincts answering on her behalf. “I don’t think so” Jess answers, comforted in the knowledge of her honesty. The air, silent once again, grows calm, remaining so as John pulls away from the bell tower, returning to the spiral steps at the back of the room.
“Wait, what is that?” Jess calls out, curious to the ease in which her husband accepted his short-comings, taking it as a display of forfeiture, “you’re just giving up?” Looking back, John takes the first step downwards, his hand latching onto the bannister as he turns to his wife. “No” John grunts, a disheartened look on his once expressionless face, “I’m just trying something new.”
His departing statement made, John descends below floor level, returning to his office as Jess stays behind, watching her husband depart whilst listening to the furious crowd chant for her husband’s dismissal.
“I was told you wanted to talk to me” Lauren remarks, catching her girlfriend by surprise. “I’m glad Jerome got you the message” Tori replies, a relieved tone in her voice, “I wanted to-”
“Did you kill Kelsey?” Lauren asks immediately, not taking interest in what Tori has to say otherwise, interrupting the woman to bring her only question to the forefront. “Lauren, why does-?” Tori replies, refusing to answer the question until Lauren forces her, drawing her gun and taking aim at Tori’s head, silencing the woman instantly.
“I don’t want bullshit, I don’t want you dancing around the truth either. I want the truth for once” Lauren explains, the gun bringing Tori to a complete hush. “The distance between here and the apartments was too much to carry me, and our stuff, all this way” Lauren explains, sobbing as she builds her case, “she didn’t just disappear, Victoria. Now tell me the truth.”
Licking her bottom lip, Tori looks away from Lauren, a guilty look given as her eyes trail away. “Lauren, I-” Tori softly begins to reply, interrupted once again by Lauren’s enraged shouts. “Answer the fucking question, Tori!” Lauren challenges, pulling the hammer back and resting her finger on the trigger, locking eyes with Tori. With a defeated sigh, Tori tilts her head and looks away, her mind wandering elsewhere before she finally opens her mouth to speak.
“She was bit” Tori replies, her head hanging before she can ever lock eyes with Lauren again, a pit quickly forming in her stomach. “Wh- what?” Lauren replies with a whimper, her jaw trembling as tears begin to roll from the lids of her eyes. “No, I don’t believe you” Lauren decides, shaking her head as she makes up her mind. “Why? You said it yourself, I couldn’t have carried you this whole way” Tori replies, slowly leaving her chair, her hand held towards Lauren, “I didn’t know then.”
“You’re lying” Lauren replies, less confident in her beliefs than she was before, her trigger-finger shaky. “I’m not. I was trying to protect you from the truth. I still am, as a matter of fact” Tori replies, continuing her cautious approach, “I didn’t think you’d be able to handle it.” Biting her lip, Lauren takes three steps back, taking back the distance she’d allowed Tori to close within. “Why would you think that?” Lauren replies, bringing a worried smile over Tori’s face.
“You’re holding a gun to my head, Lore” Tori replies, her shoulders shrugging, “do I really need further explanation?” Biting her bottom lip, Lauren shakes her head without words, steadying her hand. “Don’t come any closer” Lauren suddenly gasps, watching Tori’s foot lift to take another step, paranoia setting into Lauren’s deepest instincts. “Lower the gun and I won’t have to” Tori retorts, her foot lowered back to its initial place.
“I- I can’t” Lauren responds, keeping the weapon exactly level, her eyes locking with Tori’s. “If you don’t lower the gun, I’m going to have to take another step” Tori replies, presenting every shred of patience she has to offer. “Like I said, I’ll shoot you” Lauren replies, keeping her weapon aimed at Tori’s head, her whimpers turning into open weeping, “I don’t want to shoot you.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” Tori replies, her tone raised from her previous whisper, taking on a more charming expression, “you wanted to shoot me a minute ago, so this is a step up.” Her eyes kept locked onto Lauren’s, Tori challenges her girlfriend’s willingness to shoot, gambling with her life in hopes of hitting big. Lifting her foot from the floor, Tori takes another step forward, her foot touching the ground to relief.
“Please, stop” Lauren replies, already having failed to live up to her previous threats, the leverage she once had quickly subsiding. “I’m not going to hurt you, I’m not going to stab you, I’m not going to threaten you” Tori explains, taking another step forward to the same life-preserving result, “I’m going to hug you.”
With another slow set of steps, Tori gently rests her hand atop Lauren’s gun, pushing it back to Lauren’s hip with prudence. “Tori-” Lauren sobs, falling into her girlfriend’s arms the moment her gun begins resting upon her side once more. “Don’t talk, it’s alright” Tori whispers, her arms wrapping around the distraught woman as Lauren’s chin tucks into the small of her neck.
Enough hours having passed for the sky to turn dark, Tori lays upon a poorly-stuffed mattress with Lauren at her side, well-indoctrinated into her deepest sleep. A tear rolling down her eye, Tori gently pulls away from her girlfriend, only her head and one arm not tucked beneath the comforter. Holding her sobs back, Tori walks to the entrance of their tent and buttons the folds shut, enclosing the couple within the warm confines of their cloth-covered heaven.
Letting a loud gust of air leave her lungs, Tori wipes the tears from her face and puts on a blank expression, trying to force herself towards a clear headspace. Turning back towards her girlfriend, Tori shakes off the nerves building up within her and begins returning to bed, removing a hand from her pocket, fingers clenched around the handle of a carving knife.
Climbing atop the mattress, Tori positions herself over Lauren, knees pressing into the mattress on each side of the woman. Struggling to follow through with her plan, Tori looks up, whispering to herself words of encouragement. “It’s for your own good” Tori whispers repeatedly, raising her hand to the sky, the blade she caresses pointed towards Lauren’s neck. “She’ll never have to see it coming” Tori whispers, unable to bring her own hand down, “it’s mercy more than murder.”
Her teeth sinking into her lip, Tori hands tremble above her head, unable to bring themselves forward. “Ffuucckk” Tori whispers, her hands dropping limply to her sides, the knife still carried within her grasp. “I can’t do it” Tori whispers to herself, tears rolling down her face once more, acknowledging the weakness she’s been forced to accept, “I can’t-”
Startled into silence, Tori braces for cover the moment a single gunshot rings out, her arms covering the sides of her head as she leans forward. “Lauren!” Tori shouts, her eyes having closed on instinct, “wake u-” Stopping short of her demands, Tori opens her eyes to find Lauren staring back at her, eyes wide open with tears building in her eyes. In disbelief, Tori lets her arms fall from her head, another look given to the woman below her.
“What are you-?” Tori attempts to continue her earlier question, her eyes lowering further from the woman, a small hole, blackened around the edges, having ripped through the comforter. “I- I don’t- What the f-?” Tori stutters, confused over the woman’s hesitance to respond until the white comforter starts to stain red. Looking further down from the burnt hole, Tori follows the blood trail up to herself, finally catching a glimpse at her white tank top, now covered in crimson.
“Lauren...” Tori mutters, wrapping her hands over the bullet wound in her stomach, the knife she once carried falling off the bed and onto the floor. The pain setting in, Tori desperately clings to every breath as she topples to the side, coming to rest beside her murderer. Throwing the cover off of herself, Lauren kneels before her dying girlfriend, holding the side of Tori’s face in her hands.
“I didn’t want this to happen” Lauren tearfully remarks as Tori chokes on the blood pooling in her mouth, “I didn’t want to shoot you.” Hoping to buy herself time, Tori tries to turn onto her side unsuccessfully, her girlfriend’s hands pressing her shoulders back to the mattress, refusing to allow Tori to leave the tent alive. “I’m not going to let you hurt the people I love...” Lauren remarks, watching the life leave Tori’s eyes, “...not again.”
Her breaths diminishing, Tori struggles to break free, convulsing beneath Lauren’s weight as she slips away. “Goodbye” Lauren whispers, pushing Tori’s eyelids shut until her thrashing ceases, her body all that remains of what she once was, her life called to annals of history. Her life secured for the moment, Lauren backs away from her girlfriend’s body, undoing the buttons on the tent and vanishing into the larger compound, the tent’s entrance, much like her girlfriend’s body, left to the open.
“You must really love walking this path” Franklin calls out, his hands folded in his lap while he watches Alicia drunkenly fall into a park bench. “Are you stalking me or something?” Alicia rambles, placing a near-empty bottle of wine on the ground, unable to sit upright. “Not as much as Salem is, apparently” Franklin replies, gently taking the seat beside his inebriated friend, “but she’s told me you walk this path a lot, so when you weren’t at the restaurant, I took a gamble.”
Nodding, Alicia begins laughing to herself, no joke having been said, nothing funny having left Franklin’s mouth, just the incessant laughter of a woman mid-stupor. “You’re funny, Frank” Alicia quips, her comment pulling a chuckle from her well-intentioned friend, “hey, wait! How’d you know I was at a restaurant?”
Aware of how little the woman can comprehend what he says, Franklin cuts his responses into smaller words, talking to the woman as if she were a child too humored by anything serious. “Salem saw you with Neville” Franklin replies, the woman nodding slowly, as if she’d only just understood what was happening, “she told me to check on you.”
Patting the man on the leg, Alicia flashes Franklin a smile, “Well, I’m all good, Frankie” Alicia stutters, failing to pull herself up. “Careful there, ‘Miss Hannigan’” Franklin jokes, catching Alicia before she has the chance to fall on her face, his hands wrapping around her hips. “Wait, why did Salem send you?” Alicia probes, turning to face the man who still holds her by the waist, the pair now facing each other.
“Why wouldn’t she?” Franklin replies, using the woman’s intoxication as an easy way of avoiding the conversation. “I may be drunk, but I’m no stupid person” Alicia replies, her finger raised towards Franklin’s face, aware enough to provoke an answer, “she could have gotten me herself. Why did she choose you?”
With a laugh, Franklin shakes his head, the smile that emerges from behind his lips impossible to ignore. “It’s nothing, it’s honestly nothing” Franklin consistently replies, interrupted each time by the woman within his reach, begging the man for an answer. “Why did she send you?” Alicia continues to ask until Franklin falls silent, his smile having disappeared as his head bows.
“It’s-” Franklin begins to reply, swallowing his pride and offering an answer as his chin is pushed upwards, Alicia’s hand bringing the man’s eyes closer to her own. Losing himself in Alicia’s eyes, Franklin eases his grip on the woman’s waist as her hands rest upon his chest, the cold, winter air silent. “It’s because of you” Franklin replies, finally giving the woman her answer, “it’s because of how I feel about-”
Leaning in, Alicia interjects the man’s answer with a kiss, her lips locking together with Franklin’s for a short, few seconds. “I can’t” Franklin suddenly replies, pulling away from the woman, who in the midst of her intemperance, understands the man’s reasoning. “If this is something you want tomorrow, when all the booze is out of your system, I won’t pull away” Franklin explains, earning a heartfelt smile from the woman cradled in his arms, “but until then, I don’t-”
“It’s fine” Alicia replies, cutting Franklin’s unwarranted explanation short, “when tomorrow comes, it’s whatever will be.” With a nod, Franklin pecks Alicia on the cheek before reaching for the bottle of wine, one cold hand wrapped around the rim whilst the other pulls Alicia close to his side.
“Thanks for letting me in, Courtney” Franklin greets the receptionist, climbing down the last step in his return from Alicia’s apartment, “she should be alright for tonight.” Walking through the vestibule, Franklin returns the building’s copy of Alicia’s key to the young blonde woman behind the front desk, a gracious smile on his face. “Thanks for bringing her back, Franklin” Courtney replies, tucking the key back into a wall-mounted compartment behind her, “you’re one of the good ones.”
“I appreciate that-” Franklin begins to reply, already halfway through the front door before a pair of brass knuckles batters the right side of his face. Toppling over to the sound of ruckus laughter, Franklin tries to regain himself, fighting through his daze to understand what’s just happened. “How’s it been, Franklin?” a familiar voice inquires, standing over the man’s body to watch his eyes dart from one side of the road to another, only noticing the figure above him after a few seconds.
“I see you’re finally without your backup, big guy” Neville remarks, brass knuckles covering four of the five fingers on his right hand, “that was the wrong move, if you ask me.” Trying to climb back to his feet, Franklin’s side takes another brass-weighted strike, a groan piercing through Franklin’s lips. “You don’t question leadership around here, Frankie!” Neville shouts, punching Franklin in the face again, this time inflicting a deep gash over the man’s right eye.
“I’ve done nothing to you!” Franklin shouts after a few moments, seething in pain, his hands wrapped around his ribs. “I can see what you mean, Neville” a feminine voice calls from afar, two men following closely behind her, “he’s certainly a brick-fucking-building.” Gazing over at the woman, Franklin tries to identify the blonde hair and slim frame to no avail, his pain only worsening.
“That’s what I’ve been telling you!” Neville replies, still standing over Franklin’s battered frame, “Mr. New York is nothing compared to this clown.” Still wincing, Franklin crawls to a seat, his eyes continuing to study the woman he’s unreasonably familiar with. “Mr. New York?” Franklin wonders aloud, the humorous banter between his assailants pausing upon his inquiry, “who are you talking about?”
“It doesn’t matter” Neville replies, stepping forward to deliver another strike, his efforts thwarted upon the woman’s command. “Stand down, Neville” the woman orders, waiting for seconds to pass before the man musters up the will to do as told, stepping back to rejoin her fleet of militants. “Why do you care?” the woman wonders, kneeling beside the man’s seated figure, her eyes staring directly into Franklin’s own, “do you know someone named Mr. New York?”
Sitting upright, Franklin continues to grab at his ribs, looking the woman in the face as he shakes his head. “No, but I’ve heard of a compound in New York. I heard it was taken over recently” Franklin replies, maintaining the eye contact this woman has silently insisted upon, “and I’ve also heard about this collection of camps. They all seem to be led by a blonde woman, who all the camp leaders answer to from what I know.”
Looking back to Neville, Franklin musters a smile in the corner of his mouth, a chuckle leaving him. “As far as superiors go, there aren’t many I can imagine Neville here, having to answer to” Franklin explains through struggling-breaths, a smile emerging from behind his lips as he looks back to the woman beside him, “but he sure seemed to listen to you pretty well.”
Turning his head, Franklin spits a wad of blood out of his mouth, extending his free hand to the woman. “I’m Franklin Carter” the man introduces himself, the amused woman reaching up to lock her hands with Franklin’s own, “Charlotte Walters. The pleasure’s all mine.” Stepping away from the man, Charlotte once more barks orders to Neville, orders the compound’s leader doesn’t view favorably.
“You are not to touch this man again, do you understand?” Charlotte explains, using the proceeding silence to voice her observation, “brawn and brains is too good of a combination to be beating like a school bully.” Gritting his teeth, Neville looks to Charlotte and quietly nods in her direction, glaring intently at his pleased victim. “Yeah, Neville” Franklin replies, giving the man a wink, “don’t touch me again.”
Amused, Charlotte chuckles as she walks away, leading Neville and her bodyguards back to where they came. Bursting through the front doors, Courtney helps pull Franklin to his feet, flabbergasted at the sights she’d just witnessed. “What the hell was that!?” Courtney wonders aloud, her question bringing a smile over Franklin’s face. “That!?” Franklin asks with a pain-inducing laugh, “that was our ticket out of here.”
Loathing the reflection he finds staring at him through the bathroom mirror, John’s lip curls in disgust, his eyes fixating on the two horrid screws at each side of his mouth. Carrying a pair of pliers, John’s trembling hand begins to excessively tap the metal head against the underbelly of his porcelain sink, allowing his hostility to fester. Lifting the pliers, John fits the open tongs over one screw head, his ears catching onto the faint chants from afar, the residents stoking their hatred.
Taking the tool’s handle into both hands, John lets a gust of air rush from his lungs before pulling back, the screw’s ridged, winding body ripping through his flesh with immense pain. Concealing his screams as best as he can, John tugs at the stumpy insert until it falls from his face, staining his perfectly white stink a horrifying shade of red.
Wasting no time, John lifts the pliers to the other side of his face, grabbing the second screw with the tongs. “Damnit” John mutters to himself, noticing his shake-happy hand in the last possible moment, his muscles still as a statue, not a move out of place. Pushing his cares aside, John rips at the second screw as he had the first, letting it dance around the porcelain bowl beneath him as the first had, clattering against the blood-stained walls before coming to a rest.
Taking in one heavy breath at a time, John hunches over the sink to watch his blood drip from his chin, his wife’s disappointed shout from afar catching his ear. “Goddamnit! I explicitly told them not to!” Jess proclaims, her voice muffled behind John’s locked bathroom door. Slowly looking back to the mirror, John looks to his reflection with less vigor, watching two, long lines of blood run from each side of his face, trailing down his neck and staining the collar of his grey shirt.
His mind racing, John leaves the bathroom and enters his bedroom, his eyes set on one drawer in particular. Reaching into the compartment, John takes a pistol into his hands, fingers squeezing the grip while he inspects the weapon, mustering the will to take ownership of it again. Biting into his lip, John turns back to the hallway, his feet carrying him through the narrow corridors and down the stairs, a sight both Jess and Dr. Ringwald watch in surprise at the bottom.
“Oh my god, what happened to your face!?” Ringwald wonders instinctively, taking poorly to the blood running down John’s chin. Pulling Ringwald’s hand out, John places his bloody screws into the man’s palm, gorily returning them to their rightful owner. “John, why did you-?” Ringwald begins to ask, the blood-soaked palm John stretches towards the doctor’s face bringing the man to a silence.
“If I don’t have a mouth, I can’t scream” John responds, his statement brief. “What were you groaning over a minute ago?” John turns to ask his wife, Jess’ concern somewhat blinding her reaction. “Wh-? Oh! Dr. Ringwald told me Katie and Troy found a map Charlotte left behind and decided to go inspect some places on it despite the fact that I explicitly told them not to” Jess replies, her husband’s eyes trailing off towards the front door.
“Why’d you tell them not to?” John replies, still in visible pain each time he needs to speak. “Can’t you hear the people on the other side of this door?” Jess retorts, a despair-ridden chuckle interrupting her response, “we need all the hands we can get inside these walls.” A breath leaving his nostrils, John lets out a smile, the toothless side of his face presenting itself to his wife and his doctor.
“Not after this, we won’t” John remarks, stepping forward to open the front door, exposing the inside of his home to the midnight sky for the first time in months. “Die, Callis, Die!” the crowd chants at first, their depleting chants quickly falling silent upon the man’s appearance, the radio silence they had received for months only encouraging a total silence.
Two lines of free-flowing blood progressively staining his shirt, John looks out at the mass gathering, intensely staring at the front line with a menacing posture. “Can I borrow that?” John turns to ask a nearby guard, noticing the bullhorn carried in the militant’s hand. Giving John a nod, the militant places the loudspeaker into John’s possession, the crowd now silent enough to hear a whisper from miles away.
“You may not believe me, but I’ve heard you” John declares, speaking to the captive audience, their ears in his sole possession. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to speak to you, how much I’ve wanted to address everything you’ve asked” John explains, eyes glazing over the many before him, “how much I’ve wanted to finish the job I started, and do right by this community in ways Charlotte never could.”
Taking his left hand, John swipes at the cavity left in the side of his face, staining the tip of his fingers with blood before holding it towards the audience. “For the last four months, my jaw has been held together by screws. I had no mouth, and I was desperate to scream” John continues, his head hanging upon further recollection, “but somewhere along the way, I stopped caring. I couldn’t think for you, but only for what I’d failed to do. My care depleted, and hate consumed me.”
Falling silent, John thinks to himself in silence, not a soul daring to interrupt him whilst the bullhorn remains within his reach. “I fought Charlotte to save this compound from her influence” John explains, looking back to the sea, “she gave you a wall, and in return, she took your civility.” Looking at him with confusion, the crowd begins to fall from John’s train of thought, looking up at the man, just as they imagine themselves to be viewed through his lens.
“I’ve welcomed those from the outside within our walls, and instantly, you banished them to tents in the barest corner of the community” John explains, his words showing a scathing hatred for those beneath him, “you viewed yourselves, not as equals, but as superiors. You want privilege, not promises.”
Growing disheartened, a few members of the crowd begin to boo, the jeers only provoking further disapproving sounds to emerge, middle fingers and vulgar shouts prevailing. Hiding a smile, John recognizes the response to only act as validity to his statement, welcoming the collective jeers before brandishing his firearm. “You will be silent!” John screams through the bullhorn, firing a round into the heavens to a collective scream, the mob falling silent instantly.
Basking in the reaction, John lowers his weapon, holding it gracefully by his side as he returns the bullhorn to his lips. “This. This is the feverish degree that you will all go to get what you want, to take what you crave” John explains, allowing the bullhorn to bob within his still-steady hand, “you don’t hate me because I’ve stolen what you are, you hate me because I don’t bend to your every will. You hate me because I hate what you are, and you can’t bear to be anything but right.”
The anxious disgust that pervades through the crowd left without a funnel, John continues his declaration uninterrupted. “Wanting me gone is not noble, you’re not changing the world for the better, you’re trying to mold it into your image. A selfish, greedy, vile illustration of humanity at its worst, humanity at its most evil” the man confesses, allowing the smile hidden behind his lips to present itself to the world, “I won’t have it.”
Expressing his command over those at his feet, John seats himself at the very top step, his gun resting on his thigh whilst his bullhorn-wielding arm plants its elbow at his hip. “One thing you’ve failed to realize is how feeble you all are, how incapable you are of understanding how the world works” John continues, pointing his finger towards the distance, “you haven’t lived beyond these walls. You are just as you were before everything feels like a ton of bricks.”
Laughing into the bullhorn, John shakes his head in disapproval, illustrating his superiority over the rest of the compound. “You think like someone who believes they have a voice. You get together, call for answers from me, and fail to see how weak you truly are” John continues, only allowing the hatred he’s looked at with to fester, “your protests change nothing, your protests do nothing. In the old world, leaders had to pretend to care about you. But now? I don’t give a fuck about you.”
Raising his weapon, John aims blindly into the crowd, watching people stumble over each other in hopes of finding cover, unsure whether or not the man would pull the trigger. “This is a new world now, and threatening my family, threatening my loved ones, or trying to strong-arm your way into selfish demands will not be tolerated” John concludes, lowering the gun back to his lap.
“If nothing else is, let me make this abundantly clear” John finishes, standing to his feet, keeping the gun to his lap, and looking down at those collected before him, “I don’t answer to you, you answer to me.” Returning the bullhorn to its rightful owner, John turns away from the awestruck crowd and returns to his home, slamming the door shut behind him. “New plan” John callously remarks to his wife and his doctor, “it’s time to catch these people up to speed.”
“Back to your homes, people!” the bullhorn-wielding militant commands, separating the crowd with an ease they’d not had in months. “I’m pleased with this result” Jerome remarks from afar, sneaking his way back to the outsiders’ tents, his dark clothing helping him find cover from the dark sky above. After a few minutes, the tents remain quiet, the grounds surrounding them remaining peaceful and undisturbed.
“GrrAaarrggghhh” a growl soon emerges from within the quiet night, gusts of wind causing the cloths from various tents to flap in the breeze, only making the growling wails more distinct. Parting the beige-colored curtains, a glassy-eyed Tori emerges from her tent, her skin pale and her blood dried. Hearing the faint call of a woman in the distance, the zombified figure stumbles through the cold, grassless dirt, dragging herself back into town, wandering to where life can be found.
== Rise: Remastered ==
/ 697 days after the start of the outbreak - 268 days after the New World Order’s Invasion /
Coffee in his hand, John strolls past his bedroom on his way to the office, a light pair of sweatpants worn to accompany his ‘U.S Army’ sweatshirt. Pushing the door open, John finds his wife already occupying his chair, the temples to a pair of reading glasses sitting comfortably over her ears. “You have no idea how good it was to see you asleep by the time I got out of bed” Jess remarks with a smile, holding her chin up as John leans in for a kiss, joining her on the work-side of the desk.
“When people don’t call for your head and can stuff their faces with food freely, there’s little reason to lose sleep” John replies, lovingly rubbing the woman’s shoulder as their daughter enters the room. “Can I have coffee?” Amy asks, her question not only coming from nowhere, but leaving her mother without a response. “John, answer for me” Jess says, looking to her husband, who visibly wishes to remain distant from the conversation.
“Not a problem” the man sarcastically responds, holding his mug-holding hand towards his daughter, not making an effort to restrict access, “here you go, Ames.” John’s hand pulling back the moment Jess’ smacks his chest, the compound’s leader backs away from the desk, leaving the conflict of opinion to his wife once more. “No, Amy. You cannot have coffee” Jess replies, pulling her daughter onto her lap, no intention of leaving the chair she’s claimed for the morning.
“Are those the inventory reports?” John looks to the desk, half-heartedly making an attempt at changing the conversation. “It is” Jess replies, taking the stapled set of papers from the desk and resting them in John’s hand, “our crop yield was less kind than we had been anticipating.” Rolling his eyes, John hides his disapproving head shake. “I just got everyone in line again, too” John mutters to himself, lowering the papers to his side, “at least they won’t be starving.”
“Do those black clouds mean it’s gonna rain?” Amy interposes, drawing her parent’s attention to the curtain-drawn window. “It looks like it” John replies, peering through the window and to the dirt trails below, sparse raindrops pelting the ground. “Go get your rain boots on, Amy” John says with a smile, his daughter eagerly rushing back to her room to the joy of her parents.
“You’re gonna track mud all over the house again” Jess groans in a joking manner, her head falling into her hand. “We’re some of the lucky few that get to have a life” John replies, his lips pressing against his wife’s forehead, “muddy floors or no muddy floors, we’re gonna live our lives.” Pulling away, John walks for the door to leave, carrying himself halfway across the room before another man enters, approaching the couple with an odd look on his face.
Cloaked beneath a larger green jacket and gray jeans, standing in a pair of heavy military boots and sprouting a thick, slightly-grayed beard, Emilio places his rifle against the wall and takes a seat without a word. Knowing his wife, much like himself, has very little clue on what to say, John returns to the desk and occupies the seat beside Emilio, staring at the man in hopes he’ll speak first.
“We’ve got trouble” Emilio remarks, immediately concerning the people he’s surrounded by. “I know it’s ironic to ask in the middle of an apocalypse, but I’ll do so anyway” John replies, leaning his arms upon the wooden restings to his side, “why are we in trouble?” Shaking his head, Emilio corrects him. “We’re not in trouble, we have trouble” Emilio replies, unfolding a recreation of the map Troy and Katie had found, “this isn’t a stock-post:
His finger placed on a ring forty miles from their compound, Emilio continues his point. “Every other location has been stocked with something. Weapons, food, medicine- something of use” Emilio explains, finally reaching the point of concern, “this location has people.” Their eyes tracing back to Emilio, the couple only grow increasingly confused.
“Which people? Survivors or New World Order-people?” Jess breaks the silence to ask, Emilio’s face turning towards her. “It’s New World Order people. Not ours, theirs” Emilio replies, silencing doubt immediately, “they’ve got fleets of town cars and black vans, a ton of supplies, and plenty of guns.”
His head falling into his hands, John struggles to make peace with the information he’s been given whilst his wife’s mind floats elsewhere. “Do they look like they’re preparing for another-?” Jess begins, the answer to her question not one that John wishes to hear. “Where are you going?” Jess wonders aloud, watching her husband take a light coat from a nearby set of hooks, preparing to leave.
“They wouldn’t be here, however many miles away from their closest compound, if they weren’t looking to take it back” John replies, forcing his arms through the jacket’s sleeves, “if this is the last day I have without blood needing to be shed, I’m going to enjoy it.” Walking through the door, Jess calls back out for her husband. “Where do you plan on going?” Jess questions, John’s answer coming with a pure smile.
“As I said, this day will be enjoyed” John replies, fixing his collar, “our daughter doesn’t get to have the life she deserves. So if she wants to jump in some puddles, I’ll see to it that she gets to jump in some motherfucking puddles.” Without another word, John shuts the door behind himself, leaving Emilio and Jess to consider the immediate future amongst themselves.
= 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 =
“A pint of hops, please” Jack remarks, taking up a seat at the barside as bland, soulless blues rock pipes through the loudspeaker. Sliding a voucher across the counter, Jack accepts his drink, keeping his appreciative face on as he nods to the bartender, watching her walk off before his face returns to its dissatisfied state. “You look like you’re exactly who this bar caters to” a woman quips, walking from a table near the back of the building, a half-empty pint in her own hand.
Glancing back, Jack watches the woman approach, her face seeming familiar, though her name escapes him. “I’m sorry, do I know you?” Jack replies, watching her pull the wooden stool beside him from the counter, setting herself atop it as she answers. “Probably not” the woman replies, setting her drink on the counter and extending her hand, “I’m Salem.”
Accepting the woman’s handshake, Jack says not another word, intending to let the woman say her peace and leave undisturbed. Coupling his hands together, Jack stares forward, keeping his eyes on the collection of bottles behind the counter while he waits for Salem to speak, taking a few sips from his glass in complete silence, minutes passing without a word from the company that joined him.
“Is there anything I can do for you, Salem?” Jack finally caves, starting the conversation after nearly ten minutes of silence. “By the looks of you, probably not” Salem jokes, earning a chuckle from the man at the counter, another swig taken from her foamy glass. “Okay, why did you go out of your way to sit next to me?” Jack replies, challenging Salem’s motives out of his own genuine curiosity.
“Because, under different circumstances, I probably wouldn’t” Salem replies, turning to Jack with a downcast expression, “I would have sat alone for the entire day.” Confused, Jack takes another sip from his glass, the foam effortlessly sticking to his upper lip. “What is that supposed to mean?” Jack replies, now pursuing the conversation out of honest interest.
“I used to hate being around people. I never wanted friends, and I was always afraid of having to care about someone other than myself” Salem explains, both of her hands wrapped around her pint. “And then, I met people. People that I didn’t want to care about, but ended up caring about anyway” Salem explains, still wearing her smile proudly, “it still scares the shit out of me, but I don’t like being alone as much as I used to.”
With a nod, Jack considers Salem’s words, piecing them together to make sense. “So, you sitting next to me isn’t about me looking like a lonely drunk” Jack concludes, “it’s about you coping with, well, you?” Raising her glass from the counter, Salem sprouts a smirk at the man, answering him sarcastically. “Why can’t it be both?” Salem replies, drawing another laugh from the man beside her, Jack’s glass once more rising to his foam-covered lips.
Climbing from his seat, Jack pats Salem on the shoulder as he carries his drink to the bar’s exit. “I’ve got somewhere I need to be, but I appreciate your gesture” Jack replies, walking off without another word. Not putting up a fight, Salem turns back to her drink and stares at herself in the bar’s reflection, the rest of the tavern remaining empty while she sits front and center, alone in the vacant tavern.
“Storm clouds are getting closer” Katie calls out, a dark gray hoodie covering her head, her hands wrapped around the straps to a knapsack over her shoulders, “we should find cover.” Trailing closely behind, Troy leads Janice and Tyler through thick overgrowth and bramble, snapping overhanging branches on his way through fallen leaves. “We should find something sturdy” Troy replies, one hand grasping at the straps on his chest, “I don’t like the look of those clouds.”
Trekking through the woods, a large structure covered in greenery eventually catches the eye of the young pack-leaders. “I think that should hold up nicely” Troy proclaims, standing a few yards away from the base of an abandoned, wood-built hotel left to rot in the elements. Stretching near fifty yards, the hotel dominates the tree-covered grounds, moss attacking its exterior whilst father time devours its insides slowly.
“Hello!?” Troy calls into the fragile building, waiting in the doorway for an answer, only being met with the whipping sounds of winds breaking through already shattered windows. Taking the first steps inside, Troy senses the weakened floorboards struggling beneath his steps, though not enough to cause concern. “Keep it slow on the stained parts” Troy warns, stepping further into the building, avoiding the patches of mold growing throughout the rooms.
“Are you sure there isn’t another abandoned building in the woods we can camp out at instead?” Tyler wonders from the back, the sheer size of the building combined with its weakened state worrying him. “I don’t think that question really requires an answer, Ty” Troy replies, shining his flashlight down rows of hallways, all stained from water damage, all lined with rooms either sealed behind closed doors, left to the elements through open doors, or boarded off completely.
“As cliche as it may sound, we should split up. We’ll cover more ground” Troy explains, noticing the disinterested look on Tyler’s face, “the place isn’t too big to lose ourselves in. Shout if you need someone, we should be able to hear you.” Beginning to walk down her own corridor without a word, Katie ventures off into the depths of the building, her light falling further from the eyes of her group just as she does.
Holding a pistol to her side, Katie proceeds down the stuffy corridor, her shoes pressing down on the soaked floorboards with enough pressure to create a squishing sound. “If you’re in here, for whatever reason you’ve chosen to do that, I don’t mean you any harm” Katie warns those that perhaps lurk in the shadows, hoping to draw out any stragglers from undead hordes in the process, “but if you try to fuck with me, I’ll kill you. It’s as simple as that.”
The only response coming from the moist boards beneath her feet, Katie proceeds forward, tapping her flashlight against closed doors, whilst pressing her foot to the slightly-opened door of others. Covering decent ground, Katie’s eyes suddenly catch sight of a bloody handprint on a random door frame, its accompanying door closed entirely, its doorknob covered in equally dry blood.
Tapping her light against the door, Katie waits for a response. “Hello?” Katie calls out, waving her flashlight at the bottom of the door, “are you hurt in there?” Again responded to with silence, Katie moves to open the door, the little pressure she applies to the door enough to break the doorframe, it’s rusted locks snapping through the rotting wood. With a gentle push, Katie pushes the door in, shining her light on two dead bodies, each by the other’s side.
Stepping forward, Katie looks closer, their bodies largely having rotten away, presenting their skeleton for those to see. “This is an execution” Katie whispers, her light catching the very top of the bodies’ skulls, one woman and one man, both dressed in style from the nineties, both with a bullet hole in their heads.
Holstering her weapon, Katie kicks the bodies onto their stomachs before reaching into the man’s back pocket, his wallet finding its way into Katie’s possession. “Bob Holton” Katie reads the name on the man’s identification card aloud, searching the room for a brief moment, ultimately finding the woman’s purse discarded beneath rubble. “Suzanne Holton” Katie reads the woman’s name from her own identification, a somber tone in her voice.
“Organ donors, both born in 1961, both from New York” Katie says aloud, comparing the cards with a saddened look. “Neither of you deserved this” Katie remarks, tucking their cards into her own back pocket before returning to the hallway, her eye placed back onto the bloody handprint. Though faded and barely noticeable, Katie watches the blood smear lead away from the handprint, leading further down the corridor, into the dark, cramped walkway.
Commencing her routine once more, Katie continues to venture through the hallway, her light suddenly catching something that reflects it back into her eyes. Gathering herself, Katie shines the light back towards the reflectant, stepping closer to the end of the hallway. “Why go up there?” Katie whispers to herself, following bloody handprints up the length of a ladder, its silver rungs leading multiple stories high to the rooftop above.
“Time to get myself killed” Katie jokes, putting her flashlight between her teeth as she climbs the first few rungs, ascending the impressively sturdy ladder. Opening a hatch at the peak of her ascent, Katie peers out at the rooftop, her eyes latching onto one figure in particular, a groggy corpse slumped over on the ground. The metal door squealing as she opens it, Katie steps onto the building’s slates, bracing for the heavy rain that begins falling over her.
“Aaarrgghh” the corpse begins to groan, locking his eyes onto the woman that joins him. “Come on, buddy” Katie mocks, closing the hatch behind herself. Taking to the woman’s request, the zombie climbs to its feet and begins stumbling forward, a tape recorder falling from its lap as its arms reach out towards Katie, its mouth open to present its teeth, which it hopes to dig into the young woman’s flesh.
Backing herself up to the edge of the roof, Katie lets the walker continue to approach, returning her flashlight to her pocket and leaving her gun in its holster. Waiting for the perfect moment, Katie forces her cast-covered forearm into the corpse’s mouth, keeping her distance from its hands as she removes the firearm from its boot. Shoving the corpse back to the ground, Katie removes the weapon’s magazine and spills the bullets onto the water-covered roof.
“You’re two bullets short, amigo” Katie says to the stumbling corpse, her head shaking as she looks to him, having counted the brass casings on the ground, “not what I was hoping for.” Removing her own weapon, Katie sinks her cast into the corpse’s mouth again, this time raising the barrel of her firearm to the undead’s rotting skull, her trigger finger relenting at the last moment.
“On second thought, you don’t deserve mercy” Katie whispers to the sack of bones, switching positions with the corpse and pushing him over the edge, her weapon holstered once more. Reaching for the hatch, Katie pulls on the metal panel to re-enter the building, exposing the ladder to the elements once more before catching a glimpse of something the corpse had left behind.
Reaching to the flat, water-accumulating rooftop, Katie retrieves a bloody voice recorded from where the undead body last occupied. Nodding to herself, Katie returns the way she came, sinking back into the building as the hatch closes back up.
Answering the knocking at his door, Franklin laughs in surprise at his friend’s appearance. “‘Em, I say this from a place of love and care” Franklin warns Emilio, laughing before he can even start his following point, “you look like total garbage.” Removing the hood from his head, Emilio flashes Franklin a smile before letting himself in. “Hey, Emilio” Alicia greets, her body covered by nothing more than a towel as she strides into the living room, dabbing at her hair with another towel.
“Hello, naked woman” Emilio jokes, throwing himself into one of the couple’s chairs and sinking into its cushiony embrace. “I’m definitely no expert, but it looks like something’s on your mind” Franklin remarks, taking a seat on the couch nearby. “I’m no expert either, but it seems like you’re conflicted” Alicia interjects, leaning her shoulder against the wall separating her bedroom from the larger living space, “almost like there’s something you don’t want to ask us.”
His hands folded in his lap, Emilio’s head hangs freely, his eyes tracing the patterns on the rug below his coupled hands. “I know the two of you don’t like talking about Concord, but I have to bring it up” Emilio replies, ripping the bandage from the harsh cut he’d inflicted the conversation with. “If you’re gonna bring it up, it better be for a good reason” Franklin replies, taking the iron cap from his amputation.
“I think you’ll find it is” Emilio replies, looking at the couple positioned before him, looking at him with a great disinterest in the route the conversation has taken. “When you were in Concord, did they ever talk about checkpoints, or stock homes?” Emilio asks, elaborating upon the confused look the couple returns to him, “y’know, places they’d hide a surplus of guns and ammo that they’d stock up at if they were too far away from their home compound?”
Sharing a glance at each other, the couple silently delivers Emilio his answer, raising his hopes briefly before forcing them back to ground level. “It’s not one of Charlotte’s, if that’s what you’re asking” Alicia replies, watching Emilio’s face fall again, “but we only know of one, and it’s nowhere near here.” The knot in his stomach beginning to twist onto itself, Emilio’s head falls into his hands, his palms wiping at the fatigue that’s set in over his face.
“What’s going on?” Franklin cuts into the discussion, aware of how distressing the expression of defeat on Emilio’s face is made out to be. “I think Charlotte’s planning another attack” Emilio replies, having taken a few seconds to consider what information he’s willing to offer, “I don’t know when, and I don’t know how. But I’m absolutely sure I found an unmapped bunker, and I’m convinced the militants of another compound are stocking up for war there.”
Now sharing the man’s defeated expression, Franklin and Alicia look to each other for a response, one neither survivor can come up with in the moment. “I’m holding out hope that they’re just setting up camp there temporarily, but somewhere in my gut, I know this is going to happen” Emilio explains, disappointedly shaking his head at himself, “no matter what, we have to start training the militia we’ve got for war now.”
Getting up to leave without another word, Emilio is called back by his one-armed running mate. “Was that it?” Franklin exclaims, surprised at how sudden his friend gets up to leave. “Is there something else to tell me?” Emilio replies, his hands placing themselves upon his hips as he stands in the doorway, uncharacteristically famished for optimism. Leaving his seat, Franklin steps up to his friend, resting his hand on Emilio’s shoulder.
“You have every right to be, so please don’t take this as me telling you to be happier or anything” Franklin warns, “but you seem irritated, like you’re holding something back.” Taking in a deep breath through his nose, Emilio shakes his head in refusal, putting on the most feigned smile Franklin had ever seen. “Just mad, that’s all” Emilio replies, patting Franklin on the shoulder as he turns to leave, disappearing behind the closed door.
“What the hell do we do now?” Alicia replies, crossing her bare arms across her chest as her wet hair falls over her shoulders. “I’m not sure” Franklin replies, the thought of war doing little to sway him. “You’re not so sure?” Alicia replies, almost mocking the response for how pointless it is, “I killed the man that Charlotte left in charge of Concord. If you think she’s mad at John for reassuming control of New York, how the fuck do you think she views us?”
Strolling into the kitchen without concern, Franklin reaches into an ice box and removes a chilled bottle of wine, taking two glasses from a nearby cabinet before setting them atop the counter. “What are you doing?” Alicia asks, her previous question having been left unanswered this entire time, watching her boyfriend pour red wine into small cups with a smile on his face, “we’re possibly on the verge of being executed by a lunatic, and you’re having a wine night?”
Screwing the top back onto the bottle, Franklin returns the vintage drink to its cold storage box, his fingers placed at the base of the second glass. “We left Concord with a power vacuum, made it through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and most of New York, and still might be gunned down by a lunatic” Franklin replies, his fingers pushing the second glass towards his near-nude girlfriend, “if that bitch is gonna come at us scorned, it doesn’t matter what we do.”
Looking to the wine, then to her boyfriend, then back to the wine again, Alicia’s mind reaches for a litany of different conclusions, only one managing to peak her interest. “Fuck it” Alicia remarks, throwing her towel across the room and taking her place at the counter, nakedly drinking a cold glass of wine bringing a strange comfort to an otherwise miserable circumstance.
The wind continuing to violently thrash around the abandoned hotel building through the gaping wounds that broken windows have turned once-viewfinders into, Troy embarks upon his journey down the dismal conditions the soggy walkway provides. “Word to the wise, if you try to scare me, it will end with your death” Troy calls into the darkness, his foot kicking every closed door with brunt force, exposing its withered interior to the damp walkway beyond its front.
Continuing down the long, seemingly endless corridor, Troy exposes each room to his view, clearing everything his feet can bring entry to. “I’m not kidding you when I say this, if you’re hiding because you wish not to die, just say so” Troy exclaims, putting his foot to yet another door, meeting the same baron emptiness he’d grown accustomed to, “my friend and I have seen plenty of you. She sticks to her word just as I do, if you wish for safety, say so and you’ll have it.”
Shattering an already-splintered door with his heel, Troy pushes his way into another suite, this one more empty than the rest, exposed wiring having been stripped clean. “If you’re ransacking the place, you can say so too” Troy calls out, squeezing through the shattered door to return to the walkway, “we’re only in here to ride out the storm. We have no intention of staying past then.”
Preparing to force his boot through another door, Troy’s flashlight reflects off a small nailhead closeby, its jagged point driven through a wooden board, one of many quartering off an entire room. Glancing down the remaining unchecked stretch of corridor, Troy peers back at the room sectioned-off from undesired eyes, no less than intrigued. “Are these wooden boards your doing?” Troy calls out, hoping for an answer deep down, “I won’t go in if you don’t want me to.”
Stepping back to prepare himself for another kick, Troy has a change of heart, his mind still wandering to the potential life hiding within the shadows, begging not to be discovered. “I know I sound like I’m trying to lure you out. Believe me, I get that” Troy exclaims, easing his prepared kick, “I’m serious about what I said, though. If whatever is behind this door is something you don’t wish for me to say, tell me now. This is the last chance I’m going to give you.”
Waiting for a response, all Troy hears are the violent rips beating the side of the building with relentless intent. “Alright, then” Troy finally exclaims, letting a gust of wind leave his lungs as he steps forward, his foot lifting just off the ground before a growl from within catches his ear. Lowering his foot back to the slushy ground, Troy places his ear against the relatively fresh wooden planks, the haunting growls from within sounding terribly odd for an undead corpse.
Backing from the quartered-off room, Troy lays in a heavy kick, splintering four of the near-dozen planks sealing off the room. Pushing the fragmented boards from their place, Troy peers into the room with the aid of his flashlight, its ceiling having caved in, crushing a reanimated corpse beneath the weight of its decrepit, steel beams.
Confused, Troy pulls himself back, shining his light to the bottom boards, affording himself the chance to notice the inverted screws used closer to the ground, insinuating they’d been boarded up from the inside. “Well that was smart” Troy whispers to himself, a gentle kick at the fresh planks cutting off his thought, “hammer these boards into place, crawl through an opening you leave yourself at the bottom, then hammer those off, too.”
With a nod, Troy shines his light through the broken wood once more, the corpse’s lower jaw having been completely shattered beneath the beam, bringing its groans to the haunting bellows they now emanate as. Forcing his boot through the remaining boards, Troy pulls himself into the devastated room, his eye kept on the once young-looking man beneath the collapsed infrastructure.
Running his flashlight over the length of the downed beam, Troy pieces together the scene with fair ease, a disappointed laugh leaving his lungs to cope with the irony the scene leads him to believe. “I’m gonna guess you stripped the wires from the other room, came here, boarded yourself in, and tried to hang yourself” Troy says to the undead body, the tied wiring still wrapped around the beam, “it seems that, even in your time of need, you still thought not to hurt others.”
Letting out a sigh, Troy drops to a knee beside the man, reaching into his back pocket to remove his wallet, the identification card placed in the transparent pouch. “Elvin Webb, born 15th of August, 1995” Troy reads aloud, quickly unholstering his fixed-blade knife, a frown worn on his face, “you deserve mercy, you honorable soul.” Burying his blade in the body’s eye socket, Troy slowly pulls his blade free and closes the corpse’s eyelids.
“Rest easily” Troy whispers, leaving his knee as he backs out of the room, returning to his duty with a brief, yet respectful set of departing words, “I’m sorry you had to die alone. I’m glad I could be here to bid you adieu.” Tucking the identification card into his back pocket, Troy returns to his sweep, leaving the lonesome straggler to rest.
Her father’s hand wrapped around her own, Amy leaps from the ground as far into the air as she can, her feet pressing together as she crashes into a large puddle below her, splashing her father. “That was a good one, Ames” John laughs, letting the little girl’s hand fall from his grasp as she runs off in search of another small body of water. “Do you remember when I used to take Amy to the park every afternoon?” Meghan wonders aloud, following John unbeknownst to him.
“Yeah, I do” John replies, putting his curiosity aside for the moment, not wishing to leave Meghan without an answer to her question, “is stalking a habit of yours, now?” Her hands tucked into her pockets, Meghan fights the growing winds to stand beside John, walking with the man as he continues to spectate his daughter’s puddle-dwelling activities.
“Jess can’t shut up about how happy you’ve made her recently” Meghan replies, taking the conversation where she wishes it to go, “I can’t remember the last time that was the case.” Taking his daughter’s hand, John offers Amy stability as she leaps into the air again, her feet colliding with the water below. “That’s another good one, Amy!” John proclaims, offering words of approval just as the sky above begins to flash with lightning, roaring thunder emerging from behind the dark clouds.
“The most recent time I can remember her feeling that happy was after I came home from Afghanistan” John replies, tucking a hand into his pocket, “as long as I was alive, there was a smile on her face.” Again interrupted by the howling winds and shattering thunder, John and Meghan look towards Amy with silence, the young girl paying no mind to the disruptions, instead remaining steadfast in her efforts to put every puddle in its place.
“Have you ever wondered what your life would have been if you didn’t meet Jess?” Meghan asks, the question bringing a smile over John’s face for different reasons than assumed. “Where are all these questions coming from, Meg?” John replies, unable to hold his curiosity back, “it’s like you forgot to ask these questions before I married your sister, and they’ve all suddenly come back to you in this one conversation.”
Humored, Meghan waits for the thunder to pass before explaining herself. “Back when you were bed-ridden, I hadn’t ever seen Jess that distraught in my life” Meghan explains, her voice dropping a few decibels, “I was worried she’ll never find something to take happiness in again, let alone pass the days with a persistent smile.”
Hanging his head, John glides his hand over the scarring in his jaw, nodding to both himself and his sister in law. “Yeah, I know” John replies, a disheartened look on his rested face, his eyes taking to the woman beside him. “I’m really, really glad she’s got something to be happy about again. Something that, especially in this world, makes the day seem less miserable” Meghan replies, stopping her walk by turning to John, speaking just as the storm worsens, “it brings me great relief.”
Falling with a heavier force than before, the rain drops begin to pelt the three survivors below, the trees that surround them now being pushed by the powerful gusts of wind. His hand covering the hat on his head, John stares at his immediate surroundings, watching shop-front signs sway violently, panels over the windows of small homes slamming into the cider-built sides.
“Amy, come on. We should get back to the house” John calls out, the sour look on his daughter’s face bringing a physical pain over him once he sees it staring back at him. “But- the puddles!” Amy replies, bringing a frown over Meghan’s face. “I’m sorry, honey. This storm is just getting to be a bit much” John replies, taking his offspring into his arms, “when the storm is over, we’ll come back out and jump in even bigger puddles, okay?”
Nodding in silence, Amy rests her head on her father’s shoulder, watching the rain fall harder with each passing minute, her father and aunt hurrying their return to the home.
His jacket zipped up, his hands in his pockets and his head covered by the hood, Jack walks through open roads, bracing against the heavy winds crashing into his front. Turning to his right purely on instinct, a modest, out-of-the-way diner peaks Jack’s interest, its exterior as unimposing as any other building he’s crossed thus far. Seeking shelter away from the middle of the street, Jack averts course, his stroll leading him up the steps of the distant restaurant.
Immediately upon entering the diner, the rubber soles of Jack’s shoes begin to squeak on the tiled ground, the air filled with the sound of water running from the man’s jacket. As he gathers his thoughts, and the water that runs off his body hits the floor with less frequency, the air begins to grow still, and the faint tremble of another soul he shares the building with begins to catch his ear.
Slowly turning to look across the room, Jack finds an old man, likely well into his sixties, holding a knife in his quivering hand, a worry having consumed him the moment Jack entered the building. “Are you scared?” Jack asks calmly, pulling the hood off to show his face to the man, both hands then lifting to each side of his head, “you don’t have to be.”
Shaking, the old man rubs at his throat, his tongue licking at his dry lips, “do you have any water?” he asks Jack, his voice raspy and frail. Reaching into his jacket pocket, Jack removes a bottle of water and rests it upon the floor, gently pushing it forward to let it roll across the room, eventually finding its way to the old man’s feet. Seemingly putting his worries aside, the man places his knife in one of the booths nearby, scrambling to unscrew the lid and drink every last drop.
The old man’s shoulder specifically catching his eye, Jack takes one glance at the retro-era theme lining the walls and every other inch of the building, feeling strangely at peace. “How long have you been bitten?” Jack asks aloud, his eyes still traveling the decor-laiden walls as the heavy question is left as unpacked as a simple ‘how was your day?’ would be. Pulling his lips from the bottle, the old man glances at his bite, a worried look on his face.
“Why do you ask?” the man replies, paying no mind to the snapping winds just beyond the dusty windows. “Well, we’re both clearly in here hoping to ride out the storm. I’m not so sure how long it’ll last” Jack replies, sliding into a seat the diners-length away from his roommate, “I’d like to know whether or not I should be expected to serve as your dinner before the night’s end.”
Screwing the cap back onto the bottle, the man just stands where Jack had found him, staring at the man beneath the soaked cloak. “Last evening” the old man replies, disheartened by his admittance as he turns his focus to the window, “I don’t want to bore you. It’s a long story.” Looking back to the old man, Jack holds his hand towards the unoccupied booth across from him, “I’ve got plenty of time.”
Pleasantly surprised by Jack’s good-hearted nature, the older man chooses to trust his new, and likely final visitor, left with little other choice. “I’m Jack. Jack O’Rourke” the young survivor introduces himself, extending his hand. “Harold” the older gentleman replies, shaking Jack’s hand with a subtle grace as he slides into the booth, returning the water bottle to the tabletop, “Harold Lee.”
As lightning darts from the gloomy sky, John and his family reside in their living room, waiting for the storm to pass as Emilio and Bill enter through the front door. “Is it any worse than it was an hour ago?” John asks first, both Emilio and Bill walking into the foyer with not an inch of dry skin on their bodies. “Not at all” Emilio replies, shuffling his hands through his hair, shedding water like a wet dog shaking itself dry, “I think it’s only going to get worse.”
“We may have to entertain the thought that this is a hurricane” Meghan says from afar, her elbow pressed against the couch’s armrest, “these aren’t normal winds, this isn’t normal rain. There’s no reason to think this is a normal storm.” With a well-veiled groan, John folds his arms as he peers through a window, coming to accept the growing intensity the weather has taken.
“I think we should start planning for anything that could come after the storm” Bill suddenly proclaims, sinking into a chair, wet clothes and all, “something Charlotte-related.” Catching John’s attention, Bill watches the compound’s leader sit in another chair across the room, his arms resting at his sides. “I’m sorry, what’s going on with Charlotte?” Meghan interrupts, leaving the conversation once Jess leans in, offering a brief rundown with a whisper.
“If this storm starts getting out of hand, there’s a chance Charlotte’s troops will pay us a little visit” Bill explains, a sour look on his face, “assume we’ve taken a decent enough hit to jump on us while we’re weak.” Letting out a sigh, John wipes at his brow, considering the choices he believes the compound has left. “The walls have stayed up for two years now, we should be fine as far as those are concerned” John explains, his mind taken elsewhere, “but the clean-up could take forever.”
Biting his lip, John suddenly pulls himself out of the chair and begins climbing the staircase, venturing down the hall towards his office. “John, what are you doing?” Emilio calls out, his husband following closely behind. “If Charlotte’s going to choose now to attack, we have to be ready to defend ourselves” John replies, intending to finish his explanation before Bill cuts him off.
“Wait up!” Bill exclaims, both John and Emilio stopping mid-walk to turn back, looking at the confidence in Bill’s expression, “I think I have an idea.” Both confused, Emilio resorts to staring at his husband with the same uncertain expression, whilst John looks on with innate fascination.
“If we get rid of Charlotte, we might be able to create just enough of a power vacuum that her entire militia falls apart” Bill explains, instinctively noticing the pleased look on John’s face, “then, we pick their bones.” His tense posture relenting, John presses his hands against the walls on each side of himself, looking at the motivated drive Bill has to pursue this plan.
“We’ve literally shot that woman in the chest and she lived” John explains, struggling to consider another attempt as anything other than futile, “if bullets haven’t worked, how the hell do we kill her this time?” Shaking his head, Bill matches John’s stance, his hands pressing to either wall beside him, his face conforming to the same look as John’s own. “When did I say we killed her?” Bill replies, the momentary confusion John holds quickly turning to a smile, “I simply said we get rid of her.”
Jolted with confidence, John bursts into his office and takes the seat behind the desk, reaching into one of the many drawers to retrieve a hand-drawn map. “So she’s here, we’re here, and the distance between us is seven miles” John mutters to himself, lightly tracing over the paper with pencil, “at your normal speed, through this terrain, with the weapons you’ll need to get this done- you’re looking at an hour-and-a-half long walk, during what’s probably a hurricane.”
“I understand” Bill explains, meeting no resistance from his husband, who carries full faith within the man he’d ushered his vows to. “I’ll take three men, we’ll start walking now, get back before sundown” Bill explains, his arms crossing once John’s head begins to hang, already aware of the answer he’s bound to receive, “let her soldiers fall to shambles, keep her subdued in here, then take measures from there.”
“Alright” John replies, wasting little time to extend his hand outwards, “get back safely.”
“How’d the two of you meet?” Tyler wonders aloud to Troy, the tarps they’d placed over the windows continuing to flap under the pressure of the winds. “We were foster siblings” Troy replies, taking over a preoccupied Katie, who stares obsessively at the tape recorder in her lap, “our foster mother wanted teens. I got in the system in 2014, Katie was the same in 2015.”
“So you became friends” Janice assumes, quickly corrected. “Not really. We lived across a hallway from each other, and we kind of kept to ourselves” Troy explains, one hand draped over his bent knee, his back resting against a clean panel of wood, “we did jobs the system had us sign up for. When it came to working in groups, we teamed up. We didn’t know anyone else, so we just stuck with the most familiar face.”
A small fire burning atop the concrete floor, Troy’s face lights with a deep orange, the heat hitting him in the face enough to comfort him. “I used to have a pet snake. Yeah, I named him ‘Laurie’. He was my best friend for a while. He brought me comfort” Troy explains, shaking his head as another twig leaves his hand, stoking the fire, “he died in my sleep one night, and a part of me just felt really empty.”
“So, the two of you talked about it and became actual friends?” Janice attempts to assume once more, again corrected. “No. I stole a two-four and stayed in my room all day” Troy replies, a smirk spreading from one ear to the other, “we became friends when we missed our bus, walked down to the peer, and I saved her from accidentally falling in.”
Suddenly chucking from afar, hidden within the darker confines of the building, Katie continues to configure her recorder, the night beginning to come over as the storm slowly settles. “That is the least-honest story I’ve ever heard told” Katie replies with little to no emotion, “we were walking on the pier when I mentioned taking swimming classes in middle school, so Troy said ‘oh yeah?’ and threw me off the peer.”
Overcome with laughter, Troy nearly hunches over as the breath escapes him, every survivor, including Katie herself, laughing at the tale of misfortune. “Okay, maybe I fabricated a little bit” Troy confesses, finishing his thought as Katie gets up to return to the campfire, “but from there, we’d hang out on the weekends, shoot guns and stab beer cans with other friends, and just live our lives while we could.”
Her hand smacking Troy over the back of the head, Katie takes a seat in the small circle, the shorts she wears allowing her bare legs to be grazed by the warmth of the flame. “I think I’ve-” Katie begins to say, interrupting herself with the push of a button, a voice briefly emerging through the radio in her hands. “Okay, I should correct myself” Katie begins again, peering up to those around her with a happy look, “I definitely got it to work.”
The group quieting, Janice and Tyler lean in to listen to the voice through the small speakers, their intent focus dulling out the dying winds beyond their tarp coverings.
/ 268 days prior /
“Is this thing-? Yup- Okay, it’s recording” the voice on the speaker mutters, learning how to operate the machine he now depends on to tell his story. “I- I killed someone- I killed two someones” the man confesses, taking a brief pause to wet his chapped lips, “I came up to the roof to get a breath of fresh air, but now I’m locked out up here. I can’t jump four stories without breaking my legs, and I haven’t seen anyone in weeks.”
Weak, Shawn crawls into the rooftops corner and leans against the concrete lip, the dawn of night having come over yet again. “I’ve been out of water for over twenty four hours, and I can feel myself getting slower” Shawn explains, a faint siren blaring in the distance, “if you hear those loud noises, I’m pretty sure they’re coming from that compound Tony was curious about. I don’t know what they mean, but I know they’d be quieter from here if they were coming from Sheol.”
Struggling to breath, the man’s eyes are surrounded by dark circles, even more prevalent now worn over his pale face. “I made it so close. I’m so sorry I couldn't get back home” the man begins to whimper, forcing his emotions to remain at bay, “I got to see the city light up from here, just one more time. I wish I could say goodbye in person, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Letting out a sigh, the man begins to lose consciousness, letting out bleak whimpers before the recording cuts off, seemingly stopped in the man’s final moments of life.
/ 268 days later /
“That is depressingly haunting” Janice mutters beneath her breath, latching onto the least interesting factor of the audio. “I’m sorry, did he say a city lit up?” Tyler interjects, at a strong loss for words, “I mean, who is Tony? What the fuck is Sheol? How do they-?” Not having stopped the audio, Katie’s recorder interrupts Tyler mid-sentence, the wailing sounds of undead groaning persevering through the metal box.
Pausing again, the groaning stops, only returning after another few seconds before stopping again. Repeating for another eleven times, the tape continues before inevitably running out of space, leaving the group in a confused silence. “Was that a zombie?” Troy asks in complete shock, his finger raised towards the small, square container in Katie’s hand.
“Well, I don’t think the guy came back to life just to groan into his microphone” Janice snarky replies, her feet stretched towards the open flame. “No, I get that, but that was a zombie” Troy replies, pushing himself into a state of shock, “the zombie unpaused the recording?” Without an answer, the rest of the group falls silent, unable to say anything without sounding mentally disturbed.
Beneath the cloudy night, Troy and his group disembark the rundown building, still starved for more clarity deep within their unspoken core. “Hold up” Troy calls out, joining Katie in removing the identifications from their pockets, the tip of their shoes carving out a dent in the ground, one they fill in with dirt after laying the ID’s to rest. “What’s that for?” Janice inquires, twirling the rifle in her hands as if it were a staff.
“When we find bodies, we try to figure out how they died” Troy explains, covering the laminated cars with the dirt they’d kicked up, “if they’ve reanimated, we put them down and give them mercy. Then we bury their ID’s, or something personal to them, and leave them to rest.” Nodding, Janice points out an approaching corpse nearby, “what about them?” the woman asks, both Troy and Katie turning back to Shawn’s reanimated body, multiple broken bones piercing the flesh.
“He doesn’t deserve mercy” Katie replies, removing the gun from her holster and stepping towards Shawn, “but I think he’s suffered his punishment already.” Pulling the trigger, Katie lets Shawn’s body crumble to the ground, folding up in a mangled ball as she walks away. “Let him live in his purgatory” Katie replies, throwing a bag over her shoulder as she walks ahead of the group, “our job here is done.”
“I don’t understand, why come all this way from Florida?” Jack inquires, the storm just beginning to die down as the sun disappears behind the horizon, consuming the world in growing darkness. “Because I made a promise to my wife” Harold replies, reaching into his wallet for a photograph of the married couple, a happy duo in their wedding attire plastered in a vintage, grainy scheme.
“When everything went down, people started trying to flee. Now, we did too, but we didn’t have the speed a lot of these people have” Harold explains, his smile fading, “she must have gotten scratched while we were scrambling for our car. She didn’t last much longer after that.” His voice starting to lose its pitch, Harold sits back in his booth, his eyes depressingly staring at the window, the rain still too-heavy for him to walk through.
“Our phone was disconnected from the main line not long before people started going crazy” Harold explains, his wife’s wedding ring held in his hand, “we couldn’t reach our daughter.” Folding his hands atop the table, Jack allows Harold to continue speaking uninterrupted. “While she was going, she asked me to go up to New York” Harold explains, a tear leaving his eye as he pulls the wedding ring close to his heart, “so, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two years.”
Feeling the sensation leave his fingers, Harold glances back to the window, watching the rain continue to beat upon the ground with great force, the thunder continuing to roar. “I got so close” Harold whispers in defeat, allowing a sigh to part ways with his lungs, “if it weren’t for this storm, I’d be at her home right now. I’d get to die surrounded by family, one way or another.”
Taking his own eyes to the storm, Jack watches the rain ripple across the asphalt just beyond the storefront, a switch flipping in his head. “How far out is that house you’re looking for?” Jack wonders aloud, keeping his eyes on the window as Harold answers. “About a twenty minute walk, I suppose” the old man replies, Jack’s weight shifting out of the booth immediately upon this answer.
“We don’t need to abide by the laws of mother nature anymore” Jack replies, extending his hand out to the elderly gentleman, “let’s cover those last twenty minutes.” Looking at Jack in astonishment, Harold takes a moment before he can accept the man’s offer, the years since civility was common making Jack’s gesture unrecognizably obscure.
“Come on, almost there” Jack grunts, leading Harold through the rain just as it begins to let up, carrying the man up an incline. Finally arriving at the sought-after home, Harold and Jack find the interior completely dark, an unfinished fence left to the elements in the front yard, its foundation set just a few yards away from a four-way stop.
Gently opening the screen door, Jack forces his foot through the locked inner base, exposing the interior to the world outside for the first time in ages. Coughing as he leads Harold through the door, Jack swipes his hand over an abandoned couch, cleaning it of dust before setting Harold atop it, finally allowing him relief. Catching his breath, Jack cleans off an end table and sits atop it, looking at the dying old man across from him with a somber look on his face.
“You’re home” Jack whispers, earning a childish laugh from the man, who tries to hold a coughing fit back unsuccessfully. “I am, and that’s thanks to you” Harold replies, earning his own laugh from Jack. Falling silent, Harold gazes around the room, everything left exactly as he once remembered it, the only difference being the gathered dust that clouds every picture frame left standing.
“I’m sorry we didn’t find your family” Jack cuts through the thick sorrow, Harold’s shaking head suggesting no such blame. “I never honestly expected her to be here by the time I made it. She’s far too smart for that” Harold replies, holding back the tears of the mystery remaining over her fate, “still, it was worth taking the chance.” Coupling his hands together, Jack’s head begins to hang, his own disappointment recognized immediately.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad over the last few years. It’s frightening to know how quickly people are willing to turn back to what they evolved from” Harold explains, his head shaking, “I was worried the good was lost, or had died out.” Shedding a single tear, Jack slowly looks back towards Harold, the man’s breaths growing harder to come by. “I’m going to die tonight, but I’ll do so knowing my worries were for nothing” Harold explains, proud to do so, “there’s still good left after all.”
Holding his hand out, Harold rests his palm on Jack’s knee, his wife’s wedding ring tucked warmly between the two. “If this world, and its people are to get better- if they are to heal, people like yourself wont be a rarity, you’ll be a necessity” Harold remarks, the fight to push on finally leaving his ill body, “make this world a good one, won’t you?”
Sniffling, Jack places his hand over Harold’s, looking the man in the eyes as he answers. “I will” Jack replies, watching the final ounce of life leave them, the last breath escaping the old man’s lungs as he comes to his permanent rest, “I will.”
Shoveling dirt upon Harold’s grave, Jack scoops the last pile of mud into the hole and rests the decrepit shovel against the back patio where he’d found it. Two twigs tied together to form a cross, Jack fits both Harold’s wedding ring, as well as his wife’s, over each end of the makeshift crucifix, letting it sit at the head of the grave.
The rain having stopped, Jack ventures through the house once more, this time on his way back home. A gust of air leaving his nose, Jack stops in the middle of the living room, his flashlight shining down a small hall, where an open bedroom door resides. His muddy boots stepping over the blue carpet, Jack enters the master bedroom, his eyes taking a quick scan before stumbling upon a shelf at the back of the room.
With ease, Jack gathers the largest photobook from one of the middle platforms and begins flipping through the plastic-covered pages. Before long, Jack’s eyes are taken to a line of writing, one that brings a smile over his face. “Lilith “Lily” Lee-Martie” Jack reads aloud, removing the woman’s wedding photo from he binder and tucking it within his back pocket, pleased with his findings.
Stepping out of the woodworks, Jack returns to the road of the New World Order, his hands placed into the air before he turns the corner. “Jack O’Rourke, residence is 23 Maple-” Jack exclaims, turning towards the front gates expecting guards to hold him at gunpoint requesting his identification. “Wha-?” Jack whispers to himself, the permanently-parted front gates left without any oversight, a curious emptiness to the sky felt within his bones.
Dashing from within the greater compound, John scurries away from rising flames with a flashlight in his hand, brushing the concerned calls from Jack aside as he bolts towards a maintenance shed. “Where are the guards, John!?” Jack exclaims, following the man into the shack and up to the circuit breaker, killing power to the entire compound.
“That’s not the most important problem right now, Jack” John shouts in a frenzy, pushing past the man to rush back to the increasingly high flames. Following John back into the larger compound area, Jack’s eyes are taken by the sights above, or otherwise lack thereof. The control tower that once pierced the heavens above now lay on its side, collapsed to the west, its destructive fall having crushed a large chunk of the towering, near-unbelievable walls.
“The storm must have caused a mudslide, the entire thing fell off its foundation” Jess calls out to Jack, throwing buckets of water over the lifting flames, “now quit asking questions and help someone!” Before Jess can return to the aid herself, another set of voices call out from afar, rushing into the compound with a captive man over their shoulders.
Rushing off to aid Emilio, Bill and two other soldiers, John and Jess vanish into the night, leaving Jack to stare at the wreckage in a trance. Every sound, scream and plea for help drowned beneath the sound of dull buzzing, Jack’s eyes finally return him to reality, his sights leading him around the skewed shrapnel, fragmented concrete and shattered glass.
“Reggie!” Jack shouts, climbing over debris to reach the man, his sights falling upon a much more grim sight once he grows closer. “Reg-” Jack shouts himself again, falling silent upon seeing Shauna’s body crushed beneath rubble, her lifeless eyes staring towards the sky, her hands tucked in Reggie’s own. “She was right” Reggie remarks, muttering in a disturbed tone as his head glides up towards Jack, his stare cold, and hostile, “we’ll all get killed here.”
== Rise: Remastered ==
“I want what you’re saying to make sense” Charlotte remarks, her voice emanating from within an office-style telephone, “you’ve been without new crops for four months, how exactly have you managed to keep everyone fed?” Bags under his eyes, John glances towards his wife, the woman sat on the opposite end of his desk, everyone the couple can trust surrounding the room, listening into the conversation without a word of their own.
“We’ve been rationing everything we have, and we’ve been pulling up some crops that have only started sprouting recently” John replies, aware of how poor that sounds, “we’ve cut down to one meal a day, it wasn’t easy at first, but it seems like everyone’s gotten used to it.” A few seconds of silence coming in from the other end, Charlotte considers the man’s explanation, letting it sink in for a short moment.
“And that’s the story you’re sticking with?” Charlotte replies, the man she’d elected as leader of the compound pausing for a moment. “Yes” John replies, his hands supporting his head, elbows pressed against the fine wood of his desk. “Why won’t you agree to trade?” Charlotte asks after a sigh, John’s eyes rolling.
“Charlotte, I’ve already told you this” John cuts back, lashing out at the woman for a brief second, reeling the anger back in, “if you don’t want the crowd in, fine. But I’m not executing them.” The sound of her lips puckering on the other end, Charlotte grows increasingly irritated. “The last I checked, they were willing to tear down walls to get inside the gates” Charlotte explains, using the invasion as a support for her point, “it seems like, if you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you.”
“I welcome them to try, we have trained militants” John remarks, immediately countered. “No, you have teenagers and twenty-somethings that thought they looked good in combat boots and camo” Charlotte replies, openly acknowledging her lack of training. “If you don’t trust they can handle themselves, why bother giving them weapons?” John argues back, earning a laugh.
“If they don’t hold the damn guns, who the hell will?” Charlotte asks, the silence on the other end helping to prove her point. “As I’ve made clear before, you don’t have to like the way I lead” Charlotte explains, returning to the grit of their earlier conversation, “but with that wall still up, and the people being fed properly before you let the crops wither away, you’ve got all the proof to see that I know what I’m doing.”
Not responding, John leaves the floor open for discussion, the woman on the other end jumping at the silence instantly. “Take the goddamn deal, please” Charlotte mutters, earning an enraged John’s shouts of refusal. “I’m not executing people for a food shipment!” John shouts, the veins in his neck popping out, his bloodshot eyes widened for the moment it takes him to scream.
Aggravated, Charlotte shuffles out of her seat on the other end. “Fine” the woman remarks, ending the phone call immediately. Leaning back in his seat, John aims his head towards the ceiling, taking the moment to regain his composure. “She sounds delightful” Troy mutters from the doorway, his prior absence bringing upon an instant attention-stealing presence.
“Any luck this time?” Jess turns around to ask, taking a piece of paper from Troy’s hand as another conversation starts up in the background between John, Janice, and Meghan. “How can you be sure this is going to work?” Janice wonders aloud, her thoughts directed towards the man behind the desk. “They wanted entry before, I’m sure they’d still be fine with entry now” John remarks, referring to the crowd that once lined the New World Order’s gates.
“You don’t even know they exist” Meghan replies, the theory of a hidden army waiting to take over instantly becoming a reality at that moment. “Yes we do” Jess replies, reading the words scribbled on the paper Troy had exchanged with her. “They wouldn’t tell me their names, but there was a blonde girl and a brunette” Troy replies, his hands stuffed into his pockets, “it sounds like the brunette’s the one calling the shots.”
“She’s asking for a meeting tomorrow evening” Jess mutters aloud, stretching her arm across the table, the note finding its way to John’s hands. “Please tell me they want it in here” Emilio whispers to himself, both hands crossing fingers. “No, they want it done in a shack a few miles out” Troy replies, easing any need for worry with his following explanation, “they’re fine with however many guards you bring with you. They don’t intend on attacking.”
“They want a genuine negotiation” John whispers to himself, a confident expression worn on his face. “This is good” the man whispers again, folding the note up and returning it to Troy, “if we can convince them to join forces, we’ll be able to take Charlotte out and send her line of command into shambles.”
The intention of the meeting subsiding, the survivors depart, leaving the room to tend to their remaining matters. On her way out, Janice feels her arm tug back, gently held in John’s grasp. “You’re going to get your shot” John explains, looking the woman in the eyes, the promise made, “just be patient, let’s wait for the right moment.” With a nod, Janice takes her arm back and leaves the room, only Jess remaining in her husband’s presence.
“We’re nearing the fall, we’ll be back in winter soon enough” John remarks, stepping up to a window, looking down at the front grounds of his residence, a mass of citizens calling his name. “We’ll be set with food for the winter, they’ll be able to hold out for a little while longer” Jess replies, walking beside her husband, the angry residents below unaware of their presence, “we just have to make sure we do so, too.”
Kissing his wife, John leaves the office, Jess’ eyes following the man on his way out, his exiting the room allowing her focus to return to the protestors below. “We need food! We need food!” the crowd exclaims, rotating their chants with, “John must resign! John must resign!” Worried, Jess closes the blinds, her eyes unable to look away under their own power. Collecting herself, Jess departs the room, closing the door on her way out, the day just beginning.
= 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 =
Having walked through the poorly lit, concrete-formed corridor just beyond the front door, Salem stops at a particular apartment block, the entrance open to the public, door propped open with an old shoe. Curious, Salem steps inside, the interior more than familiar to her, an uncertainty having overcome her.
The living room lit by only one lamp, stuffed away in the corner of the room, Salem continues further, a knot tying itself tighter in her stomach. Walking through the arch that leads into the kitchen, Salem continues to find little of note, the room tidy and perfect. One room left to inspect, Salem’s eyes take to the bedroom, a faint white light breaking through the narrow opening between the door and its frame, any possible presence in this apartment lying beyond the slender, wooden frame.
Her open palm resting against the firearm on her hip, Salem sneaks forward, each individual floorboard remaining silent, cooperating with her cautious approach. Her hand extending, Salem gently guides the door open, finding the back of a woman staring into a mirror. “The gun’s a bit much, Salem” Alicia remarks, turning away from Salem’s reflection in the mirror, raising her eyes to the real deal, “but I appreciate the protection.”
Rolling her eyes, Salem allows her guard to drop, hand leaving her weapon to direct itself towards the living room. “You left the front door wide open, can you blame me for fearing the worst?” Salem replies, a few seconds passing before her mind notices the confusion. “Wait, why is your front door wide open?”
Pulling her hair out of the collar of her jacket, Alicia walks over to her bed, fumbling through an array of bracelets and necklaces. “I’m going on a date” Alicia replies, instantly sparking Salem’s curiosity. “You’re going on a date?” Salem replies, her mind failing to fully grasp such a conclusion.
“Yes, I’m going on a date” Alicia responds, casually dropping this news as if it weren’t a big deal, “you and Franklin are going off on another mission, so at least I have something to do while you’re gone.” With a laugh, Salem tucks her thumbs behind her waistband, a smile on her face. “You say that like you’re a single mother left behind after her kids move off to college” Salem jokes, helping the woman select her accessories for the evening, “is it really that lonely?”
“Have you forgotten that we’re in the middle of a zombie apocalypse?” Alicia replies, her freshly-curled hair shuffled over her shoulder, “it’s always that lonely.” Amused, Salem changes the conversation, running a bracelet onto Alicia’s arm, sliding it up to others already worn. “Do you like it here?” Salem asks, the question having yet to come up in the five months they’ve been calling Concord home.
“It’s nice, yeah” Alicia replies, her first answer brief, a more convoluted response forming in her head. “I think it’s nice to feel like we’re back to normal again” Alicia replies, that answer sitting both well and horribly in Salem’s mind, “it’s nice to not be afraid of everything for once.” Looking aimlessly at the woman, Salem fails to respond, her intense stare breaking suddenly.
“Sure, but don’t you think that’s also a bad thing?” Salem asks, locking eyes with Alicia, the difference in their expressions comparable to the difference between left and right. “I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but protection is great until it’s not there anymore” Salem replies, separating her eyes from Alicia’s own, looking back at the woman’s armwear, “if it falls, and we get too used to being comfortable, how will we handle that?”
Taking a dislike to the conversation, Alicia tolerates the difference in expectation, humoring Salem by following her illustrated thought. “We still know what it was like on the road, that hasn’t changed” Alicia replies, gently pulling her hand away from Salem’s reach, tending to her wardrobe on her own, “and that’s assuming this place takes a turn for the worst. If that, by chance, happens, we’ll get back on the road and pick up where we left off.”
Feeling the woman’s need to create distance between them, Salem eases up on her theory, trying to lighten the mood. “Do you still have your knife?” Salem inquires, the question bouncing off Alicia at first, the evening-bound woman having briefly disassociated herself from the conversation. “Wh- Oh! Yeah, it’s in my nightstand” Alicia remarks, trying to put on a friendly face.
“Alicia?” a familiar voice calls out from the living room, the attention of both women instantly taken with its voice, different expressions worn upon either woman’s face. “Just a second!” Alicia calls back, grabbing a small purse from atop her comforter, leaving the room. “Who is that!?” a much less-enthused Salem asks, following Alicia back towards the front of the apartment.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me” Salem whispers beneath her breath, watching Alicia step into Neville’s arms, the man looking towards Salem mid-embrace with a grin. “Salem, it’s funny to see you again!” Neville quips, his arm wrapped around Alicia’s neck. “You’re going out with him?” Salem asks Alicia, surprised to see the sight in front of her first hand.
“I know, how lucky am I?” Neville answers on the woman’s behalf, visibly overjoyed to push Salem’s buttons as easily as he has. “Alicia, I-” Salem attempts to interject, her efforts proving futile beneath Neville’s eagerness to depart the building. “Our reservation’s growing close, so we should get going” Neville says playfully, stunting every opportunity Salem has to dissuade the woman from leaving with him, “I’ll have her back by midnight, I promise.”
Already eager to split from Salem, Alicia takes Neville at his word, turning towards the door and leaving beside the man, a speechless Salem left where she stands. After a few seconds, a very confused Franklin creeps into sight, entering Alicia’s apartment with his finger raised in the dating-couple’s direction. “Tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing” Franklin asks, finally turning towards Salem.
“I knew we should have told her about Neville” Salem mutters to herself, both hands wrapping around her face. “We need to stop her!” Franklin remarks, instantly attempting to run after the woman. “No!” Salem shouts, ending Franklin’s good intentions, “if we try and stop her now, we’ll look like nutjob conspiracy theorists, and you know Neville would have a field day with that.”
“So we just let her go out on a date with a goddamn sociopath?” Franklin replies, quietly hoping for Salem to refuse such action. “Alicia’s a big girl, she’ll handle herself” Salem replies, earning an immediate eye roll from her fellow field-partner, “besides, you were the one that insisted on not telling the girl!”
“If she hated Neville like us, he’d see us as nothing more than a threat, and he’d get rid of all of us” Franklin argues, the woman no longer receptive to the conversation, “as long as one of us was indifferent to him, he’d leave the two of us alone to save face with her.” Pulling her hands away, Salem extends them outwards, putting an end to the discussion. “I know what you were going for, and it failed” Salem explains, “we’ve got a flight to make, so let’s leave this behind for now.”
Giving into reason, Franklin accepts Salem’s request, taking a moment to gather himself. “You’re right” Franklin says with a sigh, following the woman through the front door, forcing his mind to shift focus, the thought of Alicia refusing to leave the back of his mind, just the same as Salem.
“I’m pretty sure we’re in the clear now” John remarks, entering the massive lot just beyond the boundaries of the front gate, other militants and his closest allies joining him. “Troy, Katie, Janice. The three of you are coming with me” John remarks, the rest left to stay behind. Calling her husband’s name, Jess takes John’s hand, pulling him aside. “You need to mean business out there” Jess reminds the man, “if you don’t bring them on board, we’ve got no shot at bringing Charlotte down.”
“Jess, I already kn-” John begins to reply, pausing whilst his wife lifts his hand towards her own face, his tremors having begun once more. Pulling his fingers through her grasp, John opens and closes a fist, easing the buildup of tension. “I’ll be fine” John replies, cutting his prior argument short, his focus centered upon his wife, “I won’t let this fall through.”
Trying to relax, Jess pushes her concerns aside, giving her husband her nod of approval. “M. Callus!” Jerome shouts, a second militant scurrying in the opposite direction, his message delivered. “What’s going on, Jerome?” John inquires, the look on Jerome’s face one of nervousness. “Mrs Walters is on her way” Jerome replies, bringing a flurry of hushed speculation over the small group, “she’s demanded you be in attendance to greet her.”
“Call her back, tell her we’re fine” John immediately argues back, refusing to let this opportunity pass. “She called on her way out, she’s already left Nova Scotia” Jerome responds, the events already set in motion. “Jerome, I’m not missing this meeting” John replies, his refusal placed towards the wrong person, Jerome’s ability to change matters as abundant as his own.
“I’ll go” Jess replies, speaking out from the rest, turning to her husband, who shakes his head. “Absolutely not” John replies, his rank unable to be pulled. “John, you’ve got no experience out there” Jess replies, her husband shamelessly rolling his eyes at the notion, “I’ll take your group, I’ll meet these guys, and I’ll work something out.” Unable to hold back his laughter, John refuses his wife’s plea again.
“Jess, I’m not letting you take my place!” the man replies, no decent reason behind his refusal, the idea of putting his wife in harm’s way being more than enough to deny her request. “It doesn’t really sound like you have a place, actually” Jess retorts, an unpleasant glare given back to her, “we need this deal to be made, and you clearly can’t make it yourself.”
Allowing a sigh to leave his lips, John looks away, his head hanging low, hands pressed against his jean-covered hips. “John, I will get this deal made” the woman explains, letting a few seconds pass before her husband’s eyes meet hers, his unspoken instincts telling him to stand his ground. “Who, right here, do you trust more than me?” Jess asks, now whispering to her silent husband, his eyes not leaving hers for any amount of time, “whoever it is, send them.”
Gritting his teeth, John looks away, remaining silent as he shakes his head. “No one” John finally answers, his wife pleased with the admission. “I’ll get back here, safe and sound, with another army to fight for our cause” Jess replies, her hand resting upon the man’s arm, his tremors having returned once more. “Please” the woman mutters beneath her breath, running her hand down his forearm, the man’s trembling fingers locked with Jessica’s gentle touch.
His heart beating fast, John fights his every urge to give in until the final second, the metaphorical band-aid tearing away from the skin of its host. “Fine” John whispers below his breath, watching his wife’s smile inch from one side to another. “I’ll be back soon” Jess says with a smile, pecking her husband on the lips before breaking off. “Troy, Katie, Janice” Jessica exclaims, pulling the driver’s side door open, “you’re with me.”
Following their new instructions, the trio enter the car, each vanishing into the lavish interior beneath John’s watchful eye. Wasting no time, Jessica soon drives off, pulling her car through the front gates and taking on the road ahead, John stepping beyond his compound’s borders to watch the vehicle speed off, a dread having come over him.
“She’s going to be fine” Emilio remarks, stepping away from the group alone, paying John words of encouragement. “I know she will, that’s not what I’m worried about” John replies, his eyes holding back the pain of what he believes is soon to come.
“I need you and Bill to go back to the house and look after Amy” John explains, turning to the man, pulling Emilio close to whisper his orders, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this visit. If shit hits the fan, I need you and your husband to get Amy somewhere safe.” Pulling away, Emilio gives John a concerned look, silently ingesting what he’s being ordered to do. “Can I count on you to do that?” John asks, waiting for Emilio’s response.
Quietly nodding his head, Emilio pulls away, returning to the inner walls of the compound, his boyfriend’s face easily spotted from within the crowd. Taking in a deep breath, John returns to the New World Order, turning towards the gates the moment he re-enters the lot. Overcome with worry, John watches the massive gates slowly close upon him, the outside world shut away, no turning back from what is to come.
Answering the taps at her door, Alicia finds Salem and Franklin standing in the hallway, patiently awaiting her answer. “Good morning” Salem enthusiastically greets, a half-hearted smile earned from Alicia, who steps aside to allow the pair entry. “We brought you donuts” Franklin mutters, carrying a cardboard box of sweets through the front door, “I mean, they’re the closest thing we could find to donuts, but I’m sure they’ll taste just fine.”
Standing in her living room, Alicia spins towards her group, a quick glance telling her what their intentions are. “Franklin’s uncomfortable being here, and you’re dying to tell me something” Alicia replies to Salem, giving the woman a shrug, “am I right, or am I wrong?”
Her hands coupled behind her back, Salem takes a backseat to Franklin, the man taking the chance to lead the conversation. “We just wanted to talk to you” Franklin replies, a saddened tone carried through his words, “we’ve been pretty distant from each other since we got here.” Taking a seat on her couch, Alicia throws a jab at the couple standing before her. “The two of you haven’t been distant from each other, have you?” Alicia replies, “just me.”
Obviously disappointed in that statement, Alicia keeps quiet, allowing the equally-disappointed pair conjure a response amongst themselves. “That’s true” Salem replies, acknowledging her faults, taking the first step to take a seat near Alicia, “but we’re here now, and we want to change that.” Putting her dissatisfaction aside, Alicia nods towards the woman, her subtle jealousy put away.
“Where do you want to start?” Alicia asks, allowing Salem to start as Franklin occupies a third seat nearby. “How was your date last night?” Salem asks, the common ‘chit chat’ leaving a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. “It went well” Alicia replies, a grin coming over her face as her arms fold, “he was nice, and the date was fun.” Biting her lip, Salem awkwardly looks at Alicia without a word, a few seconds pass before she throws a smile on, “that sounds really great.”
“Does it?” Alicia quickly replies, taking immediate notice of how uncomfortable her guests remain. “Sort o-” Salem replies, falling silent when Franklin sharply interrupts, speaking his mind. “No, it doesn’t” Franklin cuts in, his hands folded in his lap, body hunched over. Glancing up at Alicia, Franklin sucks on his lips and shakes his head. “I’m sorry to be the one to say this, but it’s important that I do” Franklin explains, cutting to the chase, “Neville is not a good man.”
Surprised by the ease in which the man comes clean, Alicia turns her attention solely upon her one-armed friend. “What Franklin is trying to say is-” Salem attempts to interrupt, quickly silenced by the apartment-renter. “Salem, stay out of this for a second” Alicia replies, her hand extended towards the other woman, attention quickly returned to Franklin, “why do you say that, Frank?”
Looking at Salem, Franklin finds her indifferent eyes staring back at him, the dialogue left within his control. “He threatened Salem about a month after we got here” Franklin admits, Alicia’s eyes never once leaving him, the pause he follows with left in complete silence, “it was the first time we went out with Heather and Cameron, I walked in and-”
“Stop” Alicia remarks, looking away from the man’s large, hunched-over frame, eyes taken to a blank corner of the room. “Why wouldn’t you tell me this sooner?” Alicia asks after a few seconds, her face tightening into an angry frown, eyes darting back to Franklin. “It was my call” Franklin replies, leaving no blame on the table, “I was worried that, if Neville knew you were aware of what he had done, he’d consider us threats and dispose of all of us.”
Again looking away, Alicia lets Franklin’s confession settle in, her body leaning to the side, arm pressing against the soft armrest. “It wasn’t a problem before, but when you started dating-” Franklin explains, again cut off by Alicia, her eyes having taken elsewhere. Struggling to accept what’s being told to her, Alicia lets another bout of silence come over the room, the turn she’d taken requiring a great deal of digestion.
Biting into the skin on her thumb, Alicia’s eyes begin to water, her glare given back to Salem. “Was this what you wanted to tell me?” Alicia asks, watching Salem’s sorrow-filled eyes shake with the rest of her head. “No, it wasn’t” Salem replies, surprising both of the people she shares the room with, her fingers tapping together as she finds the words to follow with.
“Frank and I have been trying to get a ride to another compound, the one over in New York, for a few months now” Salem explains, a broken smile appearing through her lips, “we finally got permission.” This news not yet impacting her as much as Franklin’s bombshell, Alicia shrugs. “Is that it?” Alicia replies, unable to find the will to respond with fake joy, “you want me to congratulate you or something?”
Eyes falling again, Salem shakes her head, the word ‘no’ taking a few extra seconds to leave her lips. “It’s a little bit more than a two-way trip” Salem replies, locking eyes with Alicia before finishing, “when we land in New York, we’re not coming back.” Squinting, Alicia leans back, confused. “You’re leaving me behind?” Alicia replies, quickly corrected by the man to her side. “No, we want you to come with us” Franklin replies, knuckles pressed to his lips, “we can’t stay here.”
Confused, Alicia thinks back to earlier in the conversation, the dots connecting themselves in due time. “You’re leaving because of what Neville did? Or, what you claim Neville did?” Alicia replies, again leaving the door open for Franklin to correct her.
“We’ve got no reason to lie, if you were close to a less-dangerous leader, it’d be the perfect situation for all of us” Franklin explains, laughing through the unpleasant situation, “but it’s not, and it’s also not safe for us to stay here any longer.” Taking her turn to interject, Salem makes an effort to pad her side, “doesn’t it seem odd that Heather and Cameron feel the same exact way about Neville?” the woman asks, watching Alicia’s eyes lift to her own, “They care who you date!”
Leaving her seat, Alicia walks to her kitchen, Salem staying behind in her seat for a few seconds whilst Franklin rushes to join the departing woman. “Alicia, I’m sor-” Franklin begins, falling silent when Alicia takes a swing at her refrigerator, anger having finally boiled over. “Why couldn’t you two have told me this sooner!?” Alicia shouts, the last four months of distance having separated them taking its tole, “why have you two been so fucking distant!?”
Joining the scene, Salem stands beside Franklin, letting Alicia exhaust her frustrations, the moment having been long-overdue. “I’ve been so fucking sick and tired of being the odd-man out! So fucking pissed at being alone!” Alicia continues, slamming her fist against her marble countertop, “I watch the two of you make buddy-buddy with your getaway drivers through this whole summer, and the moment I take my turn to move on, the two of you come back and rip it to shreds!”
Their heads hung, Salem and Franklin accept their shortcomings, continuing to allow the woman’s frustration to throw itself at them. “Get out” Alicia suddenly mutters, voice largely faint in comparison to the shouts she’d recently spoken through, words carried loud enough for her friend to hear. “Okay” Salem replies, easily giving into Alicia’s request, backing away from Franklin and leaving the apartment.
“Frank, I said ‘get out’” Alicia says again, letting the seconds pass after Salem’s exit, hoping Franklin would take the hint. “No” Franklin whispers, earning an intense glare from the woman, who’s aggravation soars again. “Frank, please get the-” Alicia begins, her soft words cut off by the man’s commanding tone, his stubborn refusal bringing conflicting emotions over her.
“I, even without noticing it, let you feel alone, pretty much since the day we got here” Franklin replies, owning up to his mistakes, “I was wrong to do that, and I won’t let you feel that again.” Unsure how to respond, Alicia looks at Franklin with a blank face, her mind playing tug of war with itself. “Why do you care?” Alicia finally replies, her anger having made room for intrigue, her voice returned to her fragile, yet distinct balance.
“Do I really need a reason to care?” Franklin replies, stepping through the archway and leaning closer, their troubles disappearing in the moment. “I don’t know” Alicia replies, Franklin’s arm reaching around her, hand resting on the small of her back as he pulls her close, their indifferences melting away. At a loss for words, Alicia looks into Franklin’s eyes, his hesitancy to make a move spurring her closer.
In a moment, Alicia puts her hands to Franklin’s face and leans in, losing herself in the long kiss for a few, minute-like seconds. Breaking for air, Alicia gently pushes herself away, regaining her composure long enough to stop any further lust. “I appreciate you trying to be there for me now, but I need to be alone for a little bit” Alicia explains, lost for breath, soft-spoken, “okay?”
Recollecting himself all the same, Franklin nods, backing away from Alicia, his hand sliding out from around her. Without a word, Franklin exits through the archway, closing the front door behind himself on his way out, leaving Alicia to process what had just happened. “Ffffucccckkk” Alicia groans to herself, leaning against the counter and pushing her hair away from her face, her inner thoughts racing.
Parking just off the street, Jess emerges from her vehicle first, her focus pointed in the direction of a weathered, aging log cabin just through the trees. Silently following Jessica’s lead, Troy matches Katie’s steps, a rifle-wielding Janice following close behind. “We still have time to call for reinforcements” Katie calls out, her concerns only deepening. “We’re not calling for backup” Jess replies, sticking to John’s original intent, “we’re showing our hand exactly as it is.”
Not one to argue, Katie retires to Jessica’s command, falling in line. Her every step crunching down on an abundance of leaves, Jessica reaches the cabin, it’s inside mostly barron, stripped of everything other than an old, splinter-ridden table and a few metal chairs. “I’m pretty sure we’re ear-” Jessica explains, suddenly halted from entering the decrepit building, her chest colliding with Janice’s extended hand.
Silently, Janice locks eyes with Jess, slowly turning towards the second entrance at the back of the building. Confused, Jess begins to follow Janice’s lead, the armed woman leading the group behind the cover of maimed wood. “If you’re already here, say so or we’re leaving” Janice exclaims, leant against the shack’s exterior, her weapon readied.
Allowing seconds to pass without an answer, Janice calls out again, one last warning given to their guests. “If you’re here, this is your last chance to say that before we leave” Janice explains, refusing to concede ground, “if you’re not here, that means you’re late and don’t care enough about this to begin with. Either answer, or we’re leaving.”
The sky beginning to darken, Janice takes the proceeding silence for her answer, looking to Jessica to make her decision. “Alright, fine” Jess remarks after a few moments, shrugging at her armed friend, “you had your chance.” Taking the lead of the group once more, Jess breaks away from the shack and returns to her car, Troy, Katie and Janice all following.
“You don’t sound like the leader” a voice mutters aloud, emanating from the hidden pockets of the collection of overgrowth. Stopping, Jess turns around, looking out at the eerie forest now steadily growing darker, each minute that passes entrenching each group further in a sightless entanglement. “How do you know what the leader sounds like?” Jessica asks back, speaking into the unknown, still unable to see through the thick fauna.
“I don’t know what he sounds like” the feminine voice replies from afar, still keeping distance between the opposing group and her own, “but I know it’s a dude, and you do not sound like a dude.” Removing a flashlight from her pocket, Jess takes aim at the sky, stepping out ahead of the rest of her group, providing a clear location for the woman to follow. “I’m the leader’s wife” Jess replies, staring out into the dark beyond, “he was called to more pressing matters just before we left.”
“More pressing matters than us?” the woman replies from afar, challenging the New World Order’s priorities. “Everyone has someone higher up than them, someone they answer to” Jessica replies, her past career offering her an understanding of such a fact, “my husband’s ‘higher up’ came calling at the last minute.”
Remaining silent, the hidden group remains cloaked beneath darkness, refusing to move forward until they find reason to. “We consider this meeting to be very important” Jessica explains, steadily keeping her flashlight held beside her, “I may not have the final say, but we cared enough about this to find a replacement, which is more than other priorities would get.”
Her words again followed by silence, Jess waits for an answer, any words she has to offer already having been shared. “Tell them to make the first move” Janice whispers, standing close behind the de facto leader, “you’ve done plenty to make them comfortable, it’s their turn now.” Nodding, Jess turns back to the forest dwellers, her words breaking the discomforting silence.
“I’m showing you where I am, who I am, and why I’m here” Jessica explains, again letting the unknown group dictate their encounter, “it’s your turn to-” Stopping herself, Jess watches a light break through the darkness, aimed towards the sky just as her own. “Here’s how this is gonna work” the woman shouts from afar, standing confidently beneath the night’s cover.
“You’re going to bring one person with you, I’m going to bring one person with me” the woman explains, not a shred of anxiety in her delivery, “the rest will stay right where they are, and if you make any wrong moves, you’re going to die.” Swallowing the build up of saliva in her mouth, Jessica looks to Janice, giving the woman a nod. “I understand” Jessica calls back, turning towards Troy and Katie with a quiet stare.
“If you need us, we’ll be right here” Troy remarks, patting Jess on the shoulder, joining Katie a few steps back, close to large trees for cover. Peering into the night, Jess watches intently, waiting for the light ahead to budge. “You first” Jess exclaims, a few seconds passing before the woman ahead cooperates, slowly guiding herself towards the cabin. Meeting the woman’s pace, Jess and Janice begin to shuffle towards the cabin, their eyes never once leaving the light ahead.
Their collective pace quickening, Jess and Janice soon step through the splintering doorway, entering the domain their guests have chosen, feet scuffling the concrete floor. “Have any better light?” Jess inquires, barely able to make the outline of the woman’s face, their flashlights failing to serve adequately. Striking a match, the flashlight-wielding woman’s ‘plus-one’ begins circling the room, lighting a number of lanterns, slowly embracing the cold interior with a flame’s warm embrace.
“Do you have a name?” Jess asks, she and Janice paying no mind to the lantern-lighting friend. “I’m Victoria, but you’ll call me ‘Tori’” the woman replies, glancing towards her friend. “That’s Lauren, you’ll call her that” Tori furthers, pointing her guests towards her friend, Lauren’s attention placed elsewhere. “What about you?” Tori asks, nothing appearing to be out of place yet.
“I’m Jessica, this is Janice” the woman replies, the familiarity of her voice earning Lauren’s instant attention. “Callis?” Lauren replies, turning sharply towards the women, a second glance at the torch-striking woman bringing a look of awe over themselves. The room finally bright enough to put faces into perspective, Jess looks back with confusion, put off by the mention of heer unspoken marital name.
“How do you know my name?” Jess turns around to ask, confused at first, Lauren’s face striking her as familiar. “You’re Jessic-” Lauren begins, stopping herself when Janice jumps from her seat, instantly putting a name to a face. “Lauren!?” Janice exclaims, watching Lauren’s face contort into equal shock. “Janice!” Lauren shouts, her widened eyes presenting an inexplicable joy, welcoming the hug Janice greets her with, neither able to find the right words to say in that moment.
“You two know each other?” Tori asks, the reunion throwing her for a surprise. “I’m pretty sure she’s my sister’s friend” Jess replies, less confused than Tori, but equally blindsided. “What the fuck happened?” Janice asks as she breaks the embrace, “Meghan, Bill and I thought you were dead!” Letting tears leave her eyes, Lauren shakes her head with a smile. “The dead never got through the front doors!” Lauren enthusiastically exclaims, “I stayed behind and waited for you for weeks!”
“You were there the whole time!?” Janice replies, her smile contorting into a wide, parted-lip look of awe. “It’s fine, I get it now” Lauren replies, forgiving the woman for moving on, “but yeah, I’m fine!” Her glee and apologetic sorrow fighting for room, Janice gives into the speechless awe and pulls Lauren in for another hug, taking in the moment for what it’s worth.
Breaking apart after another few seconds, Lauren looks to Jessica and Janice, concerns lying elsewhere. “What about everyone else?” Lauren wonders aloud, looking to Jess for an answer. “Meghan came in with Janice just a few months ago, John’s back at the compound, Amy too” Jess replies, the answer prompting Lauren to look back at Janice. “Well, I’m glad to see Tyler’s got a friend” Lauren jokes, watching Janice’s face slowly fall, the mood quickly dampening.
Yet to read the room at first, a few seconds of the uneasy silence Janice answers with dawns a sudden, worrisome realization. “He, no-” Lauren stutters, turning to Jess, an equally restless frown worn on her face. “Janice, I’m so sorry” Lauren quickly mutters, her hand placed upon the woman’s shoulder. “It’s fine, enough time has passed for me to see clearly again” Janice replies, a glance shared with Jess, “we know who did it, and I’ll get mine soon enough.”
Responding with an apologetic nod, Lauren changes the topic once more, looking to either of her guests for an answer. “And Alicia?” the woman asks, only Janice able to speak to that. “I haven’t seen her since we broke apart” Janice replies, her confident, business-focused expression returning, “she went off with Salem and Emilio’s vice governor or whatever, she’s gone.”
“My condolences and apologies” Tori interjects, quickly losing her place in the discussion, eager to reclaim control of it, “now, before the morning sun comes up, we’ve got other matters to discuss.” Returning to their seats, Janice sits beside Jess whilst Lauren remains at the head of table, quietly standing between both parties. “Lauren” Tori mutters, patting the chair beside herself, “sit down.”
“It’s fine, I’m-” Lauren replies, speaking to reasons that evade Tori in that moment, cut off by her partner in survival. “Take the fucking seat, please” Tori interrupts quickly and eagerly, dragging it further from the table to make room. Noticing the change in Tori’s demeanor, Lauren does as instructed, sharing the seat beside Tori, the discussion finally having begun.
“Your errand boy says you want to make a deal with us” Tori explains, both arms folded upon the table, her attention aimed at Jess, “you want us to help you take over the compound, and in return, you’ll offer us entry. That’s from what I understand.” Sitting back in her seat, Jess folds her hands in her lap, taking the silence as her opening to respond. “Yes” Jessica replies, a confident gleam in her eyes, “together, we’ll be able to take full-”
“That’s not going to work for us” Tori quickly interposes, shutting Jessica’s response down. “I’m sorry?” Jess replies, confused by the woman’s retort, the profound look on Lauren’s face suggesting a similar loss for words. “We gave you the opportunity to share the compound before, you and your husband chose to ignore our offer” Tori explains, one finger pressed against the tabletop, “we’re not interested in helping those who didn’t help us.”
“I’m not sure I understand” Jess replies, both she and Janice equally at a loss for words, “if you didn’t come here to make a deal, why meet with us?” A breathy chuckle concealed beneath her breath, Tori pulls her hand back, folding it in her lap just as Jess does. “We’re here to make a deal, it’s just not your deal” Tori replies, brushing off Lauren’s whispers for her cooperation, “we’re giving you twenty-four hours to evacuate your camp, and if you don’t, we’ll kill all of you.”
Their mouths agape, Jess shares a look with Janice, neither woman truly accepting such an offer as final. “Tori, this isn’t-” Lauren cuts in, her concerns falling on careless ears. “Lauren, I don’t care what we decided on” Tori replies, looking away from Jess, eyes wandering back upon Lauren’s rigid frame, “they’re only making the offer because they can’t take the place over without us.”
Unable to sway the woman, Lauren quietly admits defeat, leaning back in her chair, staring off into the distance without another word. “If they didn’t have this grand plan, they wouldn’t pay any mind to us” Tori continues, her active vendetta spilling into the discussion like a broken bottle of ink, “but now that they need something from us, all of a sudden, they’re willing to move mountains to bring us on board.”
“You’re not wrong” Janice replies, taking charge of the redirection, telling Tori what she wants to hear. “We’ve been hiding behind the ‘Charlotte won’t let us’ argument since day one, but those are just excuses” Janice explains, her explanation intriguing Tori, “if we had our way, we’d have done nothing differently.”
“Janice, what the hell are-?” Jess asks, her arm grazed by Janice’s hand. “It’s fine” Janice replies, easing the anxious build up deep within Jessica’s core, her place at the front of the conversation now indisputable. “There’s one thing you’re not taking into account, Tori. If I’m being honest, it’s a grave oversight” Janice explains, standing from her seat, the palms of her hands pressing against the table, looking down upon the other woman, “if you take over, your war isn’t finished.”
Her eyes pressing together, Tori places her undivided attention in Janice’s possession, eager to hear the woman out. “You might think you can overtake us, and you may be right if we’re being honest” Janice explains, a smile appearing, “but once we’re gone, you’ll have to answer to someone else. Believe me, it doesn’t matter how big and strong you are in soldiers, or how much ammunition you have to spend, your little army is nothing compared to Charlotte’s.”
Standing from her chair, Tori’s eyes level with Janice’s, the staredown they embark upon bringing both Jess and Lauren to their feet as well. “You don’t seem to be very scared about pissing them off” Tori replies, exploiting the faults in Janice’s warning, “if we’re as helpless as we are against this Charlotte and her people, what makes you think that us, together, will stand any better chance?”
Looking at Jess with a smile, Janice allows Jess to conclude her point, not wishing to steal the woman’s thunder. “Because our troops, and our officials, have inside information. How Charlotte’s people function, where they’d attack from” Jess replies, earning Tori’s interest herself, “your numbers, your experience beyond the walls, matched with our forces and our guns, will be real goddamn difficult to overcome.”
Parting her lips as if she were going to speak, Tori becomes quiet, letting the woman’s point sit with her, festering within her conscience. “Neither of us needs to be wiped out” Jess explains, trying to add the final nail into the decision, one that can sway Tori’s decision permanently. “We want full control from Charlotte, you can give us that” Jess concludes, her eyes staring into Tori’s, her points radiating certainty, “you want a place in the compound, we will give you that.”
Biting her lip, Tori continues to think quietly, never once letting her sights fall from Jessica’s face. “We’ve got to start heading back, Tori!” an armed soldier exclaims from afar, the night having finally set in far enough for their group’s liking, “if you’re gonna make a deal, make it now!” Her eyes piercing through Jessica’s optimistic veil, Tori makes her decision, the silence that proceeds it resounding enough for a pin to be heard dropping from miles away.
“No” Tori replies, pulling back from the table, the hope Jess and Janice had just been engulfed within depleting instantly, their raised shoulders lowering in great disappointment. “You had your chance, you made your mistake, you don’t get second chances in this world anymore” Tori replies, tapping Lauren on the arm on her way to the exit, “you have twenty-four hours, leave or die.”
Hanging their heads, Jess and Janice accept their defeat, the position of the headstrong woman unable to be changed. “Let’s go, Lauren” Tori calls, stopping at the door to look back, her partner standing by her seat, an apologetic look given to her once-friends. “Lauren, I said ‘let’s go’” Tori repeats, waiting for Lauren’s response.
“It’s alright” Jess mutters, giving the woman permission to leave the departing survivor, “if you need in, our gates are open to you.” Unable to stand another second of being confined to the cabin, Jess tugs at Janice’s arm, leaving the building as Janice stays behind, sharing a departing word with her recently-reunited friend. “Just keep your head up high, alright?” Janice whispers, rubbing Lauren’s arm as she backs away, rejoining with Jess.
“I don’t want to have to ask a third time” Tori beckons from the doorway, her eyes kept on Lauren. With a nod, Lauren turns back, returning to Tori. “They made their bed long ago, now they’ve got to lie in it” Tori explains, leaning in to kiss the woman. “Not right now” Lauren mutters, backing away from Tori and proceeding to walk ahead, needing space from her girlfriend.
Dressed in her white tank top, worn-down jeans and a pair of rugged sneakers, Alicia embarks on a night-time walk throughout the compound, venturing the length of the border wall. “Good evening, Alicia!” one man pleasantly greets on his walk past the woman, a smile and wave covering the deeply conflicted expression she wears.
“Lovely night, isn’t it?” another person, this time a woman in yellow tights, remarks a few minutes later. “It’s great weather for walking” Alicia replies, again keeping her dissatisfaction at bay. Nearing a food court, Alicia’s leg develops a shooting pain, what feels like numbing jolts of fire traveling from her knee, running along her thigh before resting at her hip. Her walk becoming a hobble, Alicia drags her leg across the gravel, throwing herself into the court’s metal benches.
Wincing in pain, Alicia nurses her aching leg, pressing her thumbs into the muscles, trying to ring out the sores. Steadily ridding of the burning sensation caught deep within her skin, Alicia begins to take in long, deep breaths. “You look like you’re in rough shape” a woman comments from afar, watching Alicia’s glum, uninterested look momentarily turn towards her.
“Thanks for letting me know” Alicia sarcastically muses, moving her focus elsewhere. “I’m just sayin’, you look like you could use some help” the woman remarks, again earning Alicia’s displeasure. “I thanked you, you can move on now” Alicia replies, hoping the woman simply hadn’t gotten the hint at first. Tossing a bag over her shoulder, the woman purposefully reads into the comment differently, walking up to Alicia and occupying the seat beside her.
“Dude, could you please fuck off” Alicia exclaims, her irritation pushed beyond comfort. Pushing herself up, Alicia’s leg begins to tighten once more, the effort she’d put into easing her pain proving to be worth nothing, the soaring aches forcing her back into her recently-vacated seat. “Godda- Ffuucckk!” Alicia grunts in pain, balling her left hand into a fist, slamming it against the bench’s metal top.
“Yeah, you’re in pain” the woman replies, extending her hand outwards, “I’m Talia.” Rolling her eyes, Alicia lets out a breath, her hair blown to one side of her face. “I don’t wanna know your fucking name” Alicia replies, again trying to push herself out of the seat, this time unable to fully stand. “I know you don’t. You seem like a loner” Talia remarks, this time not earning a response, “I see you walk this path every day, and every now and then, you start limping a bit.”
“Yeah, the pain sort of helped me notice my limp. Thanks for the help” Alicia again remarks, still greatly frustrated, “you a doctor or something? You're gonna diagnose me with being an asshole or what?” Watching Talia’s face turn away, looking off into the distance, Alicia’s guilt begins to grow, the aggravation her pain brings on slowly beginning to subside.
“I’m sorry” Alicia mutters after a few, awkward seconds of silence, “you’re right. I’m in pain, it hurts, and I’m not big on having a chit-chat when my leg feels like it’s gonna explode.” As Alicia goes back to soothing her muscles, Talia reaches into her large bag, the rattling sound that her hand emerges with instantly catching Alicia’s attention. “Here” Talia mutters, holding a bottle of pills out for Alicia to take, “it’ll help with the pain, especially when it gets colder, which it will.”
Just staring at the bottle, Alicia goes numb, words fail to leave her lips and her hands remain grasping at her leg. “Seriously, whether you’re inside or outside of these walls, there’s no surviving like that anymore” Talia explains, an emphasis placed on Alicia’s handicap. Shaking the pill bottle again, Talia waits for Alicia to respond, the woman’s pose reminiscent of that of concrete statues, perfectly still, effortlessly unresponsive.
“Um- No, thanks. I shouldn’t-” Alicia finally replies, a chill coming over her, each bead of sweat feeling like an ice-cube trailing down her soft, goosebump-raised neck. “Seriously, you need them” Talia replies, again rattling the bottle, prompting a huff of air to leave Alicia’s lungs, the sound finding Alicia’s ears like music, sweeping over her every desire.
Sinking her teeth into her bottom lip, Alicia lets a second gust of air leave her lungs, this time through her nose. In an instant, Alicia takes her hand from her leg and swipes the bottle from Talia’s hand. Pulling it close, Alicia just looks at the bottle, not once reaching to undo the cap, but instead, just staring deeply at its burnt orange-coloured shape, the massive, white capsules inside visible through the shaded-transparency the bottle offers.
“You know where to find me when you need more” Talia remarks, leaving the bench and walking off as quickly as she had arrived. “Wait, no I don’t!” Alicia calls back, watching the woman spin around, offering a departing reminder. “Just take a walk-” Talia replies, a warm, friendly grin given back towards her new friend, “-you’ll find me.”
With that, Talia tucks her hands in her coat pockets, venturing down the path Alicia had recently finished walking. Looking back to the bottle, Alicia becomes fixated on the sensation that holding it brings, a bygone time of her life flooding back into her mind. Muscles still aching, Alicia tucks the bottle into her pocket, not wanting to tempt herself any further. Massaging the length of her leg, Alicia’s eyes travel into the distance, aimlessly wandering around the compound, passing time.
“She’s here!” Jerome exclaims, dashing from his perch atop the border wall, climbing to the ground with his focus set on the gate. “Give us the call, boss” a second militant calls out, following Jerome to the pulleys, the final orders resting in John’s hands. “Open the gates” John declares, watching the seconds pass by, the heavy metal entrance parting like a sea, Charlotte’s face the first in a surprisingly long line of New World Order forces.
“Welcome back, we didn’t miss you” John greets, the humored smile he gets from Charlotte easing concerns that grow amongst the compound residents, surprise visits largely uncommon. “Do you care to walk or sit down elsewhere today?” John asks, the earlier smile Charlotte had given yet to fade. “We’ll talk right here, actually” Charlotte replies, her arms crossed at her chest, the slow approach from her accompanying fleet of soldiers spelling worry.
“Okay” John replies, chuckling through the uncomfortability, his hand shaking by his side, “what is all of this about?” Dozens of armed soldiers standing beside and behind her, Charlotte remains silent, thinking quietly to herself whilst John fills the air. “You’ve obviously come for something, and the backup you’ve brought is a bit excessive, even for you” John explains, his chin held high, “I’m interested in wh-”
“You’ve allowed crop yields to burn, outsiders to invade, the residents of this compound starve, and have downplayed all of it to me” Charlotte explains, concerns only enlarging, “do you see a problem with that?” Taking in a large breath, John scratches at the back of his neck, nodding towards the woman. “Yeah, I do, actually. I think that’s unfair” John replies, Charlotte immediately taking on a surprised look.
“We’ve regrown the crops, and we’ve gotten the residents used to eating smaller quantities, which will save us food going forward” John explains, “as for the invaders, I have my wife meeting with them, or at least what’s left of them, as we currently speak.” Shaking his head, John throws his hands out, what he’s offered seems reasonable to him.
“If I told you earlier, you would’ve flown armed forces out to deal with the invaders, flown fresh food in to deal with the hunger, the list goes on” John explains, “my point is, the benefits I’ve made possible wouldn’t have come to fruition because of your intervention.” Nodding, Charlotte puckers her lips, taking the man’s response into consideration. “You’re right, you’re absolutely right” Charlotte responds, those surrounding John beginning to stand firm in their composure, “I commend you.”
“I appreciate that” John replies, looking at the discontent that emerges upon Charlotte’s face, unconvinced, “it doesn;t look like that’s all you wanted to talk about.” Lowering her head, Charlotte grazes the dirt with the sole of her boot, her hair shaking with the rest of her head. “No, Cowboy. It’s not” Charlotte replies, glancing back towards the man, her arms still folded at her chest, “even with what you’ve accomplished, you still are meant to answer to me. I need to count on you.”
“You can” John replies, the look Charlotte gives him suggesting otherwise. “Can I, Cowboy?” Charlotte replies, her head tilted to the right, eyes squinted, “why don’t you tell me what your wife is meeting with those scavengers for?” His concern now beginning to fortify, John becomes skeptical of Charlotte’s intentions, something more definitive becoming apparent.
“She’s negotiating for peace” John replies, his answer amusing Charlotte, who laughs at the gesture. “Peace?” Charlotte replies, a wad of spit thrown from her mouth, coming to rest at her feet, “and what exactly is she negotiating with?” A moment passing before he attempts to speak, John is interrupted anyway, Charlotte’s question branching further.
“Or, y’know, just for fun-” Charlotte continues, her following question putting the nail in John’s metaphorical coffin, “what is she negotiating for peace in return for?” His lips parting ever-so slightly, John’s stomach begins to turn into knots, his attempts to play nice with Charlotte finally having vanished, a villainous glare taking over his rugged face.
“I’m done with your fun, Charlotte” John replies in a commanding tone, watching the gleeful look come over the woman’s face, “why don’t you skip the bullshit and ask me what you really want an answer to.” His plan foiled, John waits for the question to leave the woman’s mouth, only a few seconds passing before it does so.
“Are you staging a coup against me, Cowboy?” Charlotte asks, the defeated look on the rest of the camp’s face giving the answer, Charlotte’s desire left to hear it leave John’s lips.
“Yup” John replies, confidently, his shaky hand finally steadying, all cautions thrown aside. “Thank you for your honesty” Charlotte calmly replies, her lips pressed together, hand moving to her hip. Accepting the terms of his confession, John glances at Meghan, muttering an order to her and the rest of his people. “Let them take you!” John orders, ripping the gun from his hip and turning it towards Charlotte, his target's motion just a second quicker than his own.
Without hesitation, Charlotte fires a single round into John’s face, the man’s gun flying from within his grasp as he’s taken from his feet. “Everybody down!” Tom exclaims, his sister’s gunshot the only one planned from the moment of their entry, “don’t be stupid!” Ordering her men to take the rest of John’s conspirators into custody, Charlotte approaches John’s body, a few steps passing before she gets a decent look at the man’s face.
“You’re a tough piece of shit, Cowboy” Charlotte exclaims, locking eyes with the man, having expected to find him dead. “You… have… no idea” John whispers, spitting a pool of blood from his mouth, some loose teeth falling from the bullet hole in the corner of his mouth. “I’ll get my money’s worth next time” Charlotte replies, stepping over the man’s husk, finishing her sentence as she walks away, reholstering her weapon, “I’ll get more than just your cheek and some teeth when I do.”
Still in shock, John lays in the dirt helplessly, his aid surprisingly coming from the same woman responsible for shooting him. “Get him in the medical tent, I want names, and I want them from him” Charlotte orders her brother, taking a final glance at the wounded ex-leader, “and keep a guard on him at all times.” With a nod, Tom does as instructed, leaving Charlotte to return to her home elsewhere in the compound, the unfolding chaos left in the hands of her militants.
== Rise: Remastered ==
Staring at the ceiling above, John endures another restless night, his legs growing tense as the early morning progresses, his hand shaking as it’s always seemed to. Letting out a deep, drawn out sigh, John lifts himself out of bed, the covers once draped over him now tossed onto his wife’s side of the bed. “Don’t leave” Jess whispers, reaching out for her husband’s hand, her wishful grasp taking John by the wrist, “stay with me.”
Looking back, John finds the white’s of his wife’s eyes staring back at him, peering through the shadows that cover the rest of her face. Attempting to respond, John turns to the woman as her hand leaves his wrist, one finger placed upon his lips before he can have the chance to speak, encouraging him not to. “Stay with me” Jess repeats, the hopeful expression she wears proudly only fueling John’s desire to give into her demands.
Falling back into the indent his body had made in the bed, John rests his head atop his pillow once more, his head turning towards his wife as she places her arm over his chest. “Why do you want me to stay?” John whispers, his left hand sliding beneath her resting head, wrapping itself around her back. “Do you really have to ask?” Jess replies, cuddling up to her husband, her chin resting on his peck while her husband’s rests at the top of her head, “just stay.”
Silent for the next few minutes, the couple gets more comfortable, their eyes closing as they take the time to appreciate the moment. “I’m worried that we’re going to fall apart” Jess abruptly confesses, tears beginning to squeeze through her tightly-shut eyelids. “What?” John whispers, his eyelids now fully parted, “what do you mean by that?”
Choking on her words, Jess holds back the tears she has left to shed as she holds her husband closer, the fear of losing what she has right now weighing on her deeply. “You shut down. Everyone, no matter who it was, you just shut them out” Jess explains, kneading her husband’s chest, “I was just like everyone else. You were rigid, and cold. You shut me out like them, and I didn’t know what I did wrong.”
His lip quivering as much as his hand shakes, John pulls his wife closer, his chin pressing down on the woman’s head again. “It’s not you, Jess. I’m the only one that’s ever been in my own way” John replies, his hand running up and down his wife’s shoulder, “I can’t look in the mirror without seeing something I hate. I can’t sleep without playing every wrong move I’ve made like a slideshow in the back of my eyelids. I don’t know who I am without you, or without Amy. You’re my only identity.”
A puff of air leaving her lungs, Jess runs her hand down the length of her husband’s abdomen, her arm reaching over the opposite side of the man’s body. “What you see in the mirror isn’t the truth” Jess replies, pulling away from her husband’s chest, John’s eyes locking with her own, “I’ve only ever admired what you see in the mirror. I’ve never hated it, and I’ve never even thought to. While you see something you hate, I see something I wouldn’t want to live without.”
Biting his lip, a lone tear falls from the man’s eyes, running down the length of his face. Licking his dry lip, John chokes on his words, only able to ask one question before the tears he’d built up begin falling at their own will. “What if the thing you admire, and the thing that I hate, are one in the same?” John replies, finally giving into the buildup he’d allowed his emotions to become, leaving them to fester within the deepest chasms of his conscience.
Ripped from their conversation, the married couple leap out of surprise when a heavy fist begins repeatedly pushing their bedroom door in. “Wake up!” Emilio’s distant voice exclaims, forcing John to leave his wife’s side to answer the door. “What the hell is going on!?” John exclaims, stood in the doorway in only a blue pair of boxers, his hair a disheveled mess. “The dead!” Emilio proclaims, those two words striking fear within John’s heart, “they’ve gotten inside!”
His jaw dropped, John pulls himself from the speechless awe he’d noticed himself enter, reclaiming power over the New World Order. “Find Jerome, tell him to meet us in the dungeons, and tell him to bring his best men” John explains, picking up the white t-shirt he’d left on the ground late the night prior, “I know this is a big ask, but I need you and Bill to sneak out the back and go after Troy and Katie.”
“What? Why?” Emilio replies, John pulling a pair of pants over his legs whilst his naked wife grabs the first shirt and pair of sweatpants she finds in nearby drawers. “Because I’m pretty sure Janice’s tactic is going to be ‘fire at dead people from a tree’, Meghan will go around helping those that need it, and Jack’s circle will slaughter anything that moves” John replies, aggravatedly buttoning a pair of khakis, “if anyone nips this in the bud from the ground, it’s probably Troy and Katie.”
Struggling to respond, Emilio stands in the doorway with a blank expression, struggling to make sense of his orders. “John, I’ve never been outside the walls like that” Emilio replies, a fair amount of fear consuming his mind, something John notices instantly. “I don’t know how to li-” Emilio begins to say, his words fading into nothing once John takes him by the shoulders, explaining everything with unimpeded eye contact.
“Em, we can’t depend on this wall forever. At some point, we all need to figure out how to live beyond this compound for our own good” John explains, placing his pistol in Emilio’s hands, “Bill’s been out there, that’s why I’m sending the two of you.”
“But I don’t even know where they went!” Bill explains, his concerns answered directly once more. Reaching for a nearby, two-way radio, John calls for the resident doctor. “John, it’s three in the morning” Ringwald groans, the stirring from his slumber obvious in the tone of his voice. “Doc, I need to know where Troy and Katie were going before they left the camp” John explains, waiting patiently for the man’s response.
“They said they were following a hike trail to some rundown school, they’re probably northbound about ten klicks out, why?” Ringwald replies, bringing a shrug from John towards Emilio. “Listen, Doc. The dead got inside the compound some how, I need you to get somewhere safe and don’t leave until I tell you” John explains, hearing the shuffled confusion on the other end, “we’ve got one doctor in this camp, and I’m not interested in him getting served medium rare, understand?”
Tossing the radio to his wife, John returns his attention to the man before him. “Bill’s been training with the front line, so I’m sure you’ll see Jerome when you go looking for Bill” John explains, wrapping Emilio’s fingers around the firearm’s grip, “get him, get to Troy and Katie, get back, and let’s clean this mess up, alright?”
Anxiously frowning, Emilio forces himself to nod, accepting the path John has set him on as he walks off. “Why are we going to the dungeons?” Jess inquires, throwing a loose shirt over her bare chest while fitting her feet into a pair of combat boots. “When shit goes wrong, instincts take over. There’s a fair chance I angered someone last night that could use this as an opportunity to take us out” John explains, walking for a bookshelf at the back of the room.
“We need to get somewhere we can control the entry points of. Decide who gets in and who gets out” John explains, pulling the wooden shelving out to reveal a hidden compartment filled with weapons and ammunition. “Why are we meeting Jerome down there? Shouldn’t he be helping the front line?” Jess replies, watching her husband’s head fall, a look of defeat written across his face, “what’s wrong?”
“He should be helping the front line, but I’m pretty sure he won’t” John replies, retrieving two automatic rifles, multiple rounds of ammunition, two knapsacks, and two concealed blades. “You’re being vague, John. What are you trying to get at?” Jess replies, her husband’s head shaking. “The crops being burnt, the way Charlotte knew about the coup, how Lauren knew there was a rear entrance, maybe this invasion” John explains, loading one of the rifles, “it must be Jerome.”
“Wh-?” Jess replies, following the breadcrumb trail to the point John’s attempting to make. “It’s fine, Jess. You couldn’t have known without-” John begins, trying to calm the woman’s self-contempt at first, his efforts quashed immediately. “No, John. It’s not that, it’s-” Jess replies, cut off instantly by the distant sound of air raid sirens, their call breaking through the air for miles, “I gave him control of the front gates.”
Looking to his wife with widened eyes, John’s mouth hangs open, his heart having succumbed to the fear that the approaching dawn brings.
“Get ‘em open!” Jerome shouts, his face illuminated by the distant strobe lights fixed to the sirens, his smile peering through his lips as the massive doors part, revealing the inner sanctum to the outside world. “Cut it!” Jerome calls out below, watching his closest confidants fulfill his commands, taking bolt cutters to the pulley system, ensuring the doors remain open for as long as they stand.
“It’s time, boys!” Jerome shouts proudly, throwing the strap of his assault rifle over his chest, “this has been ours since we got here, and there’s no one to stop us from taking it for ourselves.” Cheering and clapping amongst themselves, Jerome’s militants stare to the peak of the wall, their leader raising his fist into the sky. “We fight for what’s right, tonight!” Jerome exclaims, another loud cheer leaving the lungs of those many feet below, “we take what’s ours, now.”
= 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 =
Her eyes crusted over, Alicia rolls off her stomach and grabs at her head, the headache that comes over her only just drowned out by the fast-approaching nausea that pulls her out of bed. Spitting the taste of sickness into the toilet she’d thrown up in, Alicia drags herself back to the bedroom, her hands taking the curtains and parting them slowly.
Turning away at the first sight of sunlight, Alicia returns to bed, throwing the covers over herself and preparing to drift off into sleep once more. Stretching her hand towards her alarm clock, Alicia’s knuckles push over a smooth glass bottle, causing it to shatter on the hardwood floor. “Fuck” Alicia groans to herself, rolling her eyes as she leaves her bed again, walking to her door to flip a lightswitch.
Her bed splashed with dark red wine, Alicia looks at the maroon puddle gathered beneath a pile of shattered, green glass. “What the fuck was I up to last night?” Alicia whispers to herself, walking to her kitchen to grab a roll of paper towels.
Collecting the glass into a dustpan, Alicia discards the broken bottle and hunches over the kitchen counter, her stomach still turning from the night prior, sweaty strands of loose hair uncomfortably falling over her face. Taking a tray of ice from her ice box, Alicia turns to return to her room, her bed only a few steps away by the time her leg stiffens, a hot, searing pain shooting upwards from her calf, still lingering up to her thigh.
The tray falling from her hand, Alicia collapses on the ground, both hands squeezing her leg as she shrieks beneath her breath, tears falling from her eyes as she crawls to the bathroom. Using the bathroom’s door frame to pull herself up, Alicia throws herself into the porcelain sink, immediately reaching for the medicine cabinet, one transparent, orange bottle with pills left waiting for her.
Twisting the child-proof top, Alicia looks at the cylindrical white tablets inside, reaching two fingers inside before pausing, putting aside the pain to consider her choices. Unable to keep herself from crying, Alicia places the bottle down and takes a seat on the lip of her bathtub, her leg stretched towards the door, unwilling to bend even the slightest amount. Biting her knuckles, Alicia’s eyes wander back towards the uncapped bottle, a desire to give in building deep within her.
Eventually capping the bottle, Alicia tucks the container in her pocket and leaves her bathroom, her intent being to return to her kitchen with the broken tray of ice until her mind wanders elsewhere. Stood in her room, Alicia looks back to her nightstand, her eyes resting on the top-most shelf. Sliding the wooden frame out, Alicia’s sights set on her hunting knife, it’s blade covered in dust from the lack of use, yet still clean enough to reflect Alicia’s image towards herself.
“Hey, Courtney” Alicia joyfully greets, a large overcoat fitted over her shoulders and a small bag carried at her side, “I’m heading out for the morning.” Off put by the woman’s presence, Courtney gives Alicia a smile and nod, hiding a desire to say more, one Alicia recognizes immediately. “Are you alright?” the resident wonders aloud, the struggle Courtney has to speak at first affording Alicia her answer.
“What’s wrong?” Alicia asks, turning her walk towards the front desk, a few steps taken forward until Courtney pleads for her to stop. “Don’t walk any closer! I don’t want to look like I’m talking to you” Courtney explains, her hands held out as if Alicia were coming after her with a weapon. “Courtney, what’s going on? This isn’t like you at all” Alicia explains, the nervous terror Courtney trembles with beginning to frighten the departing survivor.
“Are you going to see Franklin?” Courtney replies, repeating the question upon Alicia’s attempt to reset the conversation. “Are you seeing Franklin, yes or no!?” Courtney exclaims, dragging her answer from the tenant. “No, that wasn’t my intention” Alicia replies, taking a few short steps backwards. “Well, you should. You should see him right now” Courtney replies, backing into a small office plot, closing the door on her way in, “when you see him, blame Neville.”
Disappearing behind the door, Courtney leaves a dumbfounded Alicia standing in complete astonishment, unable to comprehend the oddity that she’d just watched.
“Where’d Tyler go?” Jack wonders aloud, carrying three pints of beer to a table Reggie and Shauna already occupy. “It’s Tyler, he’s off doing his own thing somewhere” Shauna replies, grabbing at the pint of lager and downing a quarter of it before Jack can even sit down. “I think he’s starting to settle in” Reggie states, watching the foam dissipate at the top of his mug, “it’s not a good sign.”
“Why not?” Jack replies, kicking one leg over the other, a swig taken from his glass. “Reggie doesn’t want to stay here anymore” Shauna replies, setting her glass upon a coaster, “I don’t either.” Surprised, Jack leans towards the table, his eyes fixated on the beer-chugging woman. “Where else do you think we’ll go?” Jack replies, breaking a smile at the thought he’s deemed to be ludicrous, “we spent months trying to get here, and a few months extra in prison. Why would we leave?”
“We don’t belong here, Jack” Reggie quickly replies, still staring at the froth now ducking below the rim of his glass, peering at Jack out of the corner of his eye, “we never have, and that’s not changing.” Recognizing himself as being outnumbered, Jack leans into his chair, digesting the situation before turning it onto its head. “We have food, we have water, we have a place to sleep” Jack explains, both hands placed atop the table he sits at, “we’re not finding any of that out there now.”
“We’ve got a better chance of making it out there than we do in here” Shauna replies, becoming Jack’s central focus. “How do you figure that?” Jack counters, shaking his head at the woman, “we barely survived last winter, and we’re just at the start of another one. Go ahead and tell me that what I’m suggesting is crazier than whatever you’ve got planned.”
“You haven’t suggested anything” Reggie replies, finally pulling his head up, looking Jack in the eyes, “you’re just trying to convince us not to leave.” Taking his hands to the air, Jack slams them back down, his eyes widened. “You’re damn right I’m trying to convince you not to” Jack replies, laughing at the man’s meager expression, “I’m trying to keep you two from committing the most drawn-out form of self-sabotage I’ve ever seen!”
Sharing glances between the couple on either side of himself, Jack begins to notice the unity they’ve taken in their decision, accepting the impossibility of trying to dissuade the two. “What happened to ‘we look out for each other’?” Jack changes course, the humor he took from the outlandish suggestions offered falling into utter despair, “where the hell did that go?”
“We never said you couldn’t come with us” Reggie replies, watching Jack’s face turn towards him, his friend’s eyebrows raised. “You don’t need to. I’m not going with the two of you” Jack replies, standing from his barstool, his beer taken in hand, “I’ve done my part, the two of you can make whatever decisions you want. If your wish is to self-immolate, I’m not striking the match, and I’m not dousing myself in gasoline.”
Stepping away from the table, Jack begins walking for the bar, a stipend in his hand. “Thanks for the drink” Jack offers as his departing words to the woman, reaching for his wallet as he notices a distraught woman at the end of the bar, a near-empty pitcher sat in front of her, “and here’s some extra for the refill that woman over there seems to be in need of.”
Taking himself around the lengthy tavern counter, Jack walks up to the woman’s side unnoticed, the red, puffy eyes she wears suggesting a rougher night than most. “You’re Lauren right?” Jack asks, the woman’s head resting against her folded arm as the bartender fills her second pint, “is this seat taken?” Pulling her head back, Lauren glances at the empty stool, the seat already pulled halfway out from the counter.
“It sure is” the woman replies, kicking her leg onto the seat and returning to her blank, aimless fixation. Rolling his eyes, Jack pushes Lauren’s leg from the seat, sitting beside the unamused bar dweller. “You look like you’ve had a rough night” Jack begins the conversation, his efforts changing little. “I have no idea what could’ve given that away” Lauren remarks in a monotone voice, unphased by the man’s apparent act of selflessness.
Wrapping his hands around the mug, Jack sits in silence, joining the woman in aimless gaze to the backdrop of eighties disco playing through a stereo system in the back of the building. “If you ever wanted to talk about-” Jack begins again, interjecting conversation into the moment again, much to Lauren’s displeasure. “I’ll see you around, dude” Lauren cuts Jack off, taking her glass as she leaves the bar, wandering elsewhere, “thanks for the drink.”
Alone once more, this time in a literal sense, Jack remains at the end of the counter, a deep sigh leaving his lungs as he looks back to his friends, Reggie and Shauna both staring back at him in the same moment. Leaving his glass where it lies, Jack makes for the front doors, his hand reaching towards the front doors as an unfamiliar siren begins to blare through the night sky, stroke lights intently flashing from a radio antenna just above an old control tower.
“What the hell’s going on!?” one frightened patron exclaims, hurrying with the rest of the buzzed, late-night drinkers, the petrified bar owner answering his question from afar. “It’s the breach alarm” the woman replies, her eyes widened, words emanating with little composure, “the dead have gotten inside.”
“Of course they left on the same night the camp gets infiltrated, why am I not surprised!?” Bill exclaims, his heavy combat boots pressing into thin dirt. “That’s beside the point at this rate, the focus is-” Emilio retorts, cutting himself off with a gasp, his quick feet kicking up dirt while he comes to a full stop. “What the hell!?” Bill shouts, watching an incredible horde of the undead haul themselves through the separated metal doors, roaming the compound with nothing to stop them.
“Where are the guards!?” Emilio wonders aloud, struggling to move from his rigid, fear-induced stall. “I can ask the same damn question!” Bill exclaims, pulling his rifle from his shoulder and firing into the rotting cannibals that walk his way. “Bill, you’re not gonna get them all!” Emilio exclaims, throwing his boyfriend’s aim off by tugging at his shoulder, “save yourself the trouble and the ammo. We’ve got to go!”
Backing away from the horde, Bill shakes his head in refusal, an apologetic look in his eye. “Em, something’s off about all of this!” Bill exclaims, refusing to follow Emilio towards the rear exit. “Bill, whatever’s going on, I’m sure Jerome’s got people working on things, so can we just-?” Emilio replies, pulling Bill’s arm once more to lead him away, the resistance his boyfriend responds to him with impeding his progress.
“Em, there’s no one on the wall!” Bill exclaims, his hand waving at the oncoming horde, “if Jerome knew about this, he’d be-” Pausing himself, Bill looks to his boyfriend with a widened-eye silence, the realization suddenly dawning upon him. “He knows about this” Bill mutters beneath his breath, too soft for Emilio to hear.
“The scavengers, Charlotte, the invasion, the crops, it was him!” Bill shouts, puzzling the man beside him. Acting on his instincts, Bill throws his rifle off his torso and shoves it into Emilio’s arms. “You need to go after them yourself, ‘Em” Bill explains, watching the man’s face turn sour, Emilio’s head shaking in refusal. “I can’t go out there alone, are you fucking crazy!?” Emilio shouts, unable to hold the assault rifle properly, “you’re the only one that’s gone out there, that’s why I-!”
“Emilio, if I don’t get to John, this entire camp’s gonna be overrun by sunrise” Bill explains, trying to speak through a calm, collected voice. “I can’t” Emilio whispers, dreading the thought of leaving the compound alone. “‘Em, you’re going to be fine” Bill replies, pulling his boyfriend into a kiss, his forehead resting upon his partner’s, “people are more dangerous than the dead, and we’ve already seen the worst of those.”
Pulling back slowly, Bill flashes Emilio a smile, his pearly-white teeth appearing through his chapped lips. “Go now, before it’s too late” Bill whispers, pulling the rest of the way from the man before charging back into the greater compound area, leaving Emilio to face departure alone.
“Who is it?” a feminine voice calls from the other side of a thin door, refusing to open the divider without an answer. “It’s Alicia” the guest calls back, waiting in the cold, heat-deprived hallway as the residents beyond her view debate whether or not to grant her entry. Noticing Heather’s face immediately upon the door’s opening, Alicia gives the pilot a wave, greeting her with the basic, friendly response any visitor would.
“How’s it going?” Alicia asks, her question left without a response as Heather moves aside, allowing her room to walk in. “Hey, Salem” Alicia greets, finding her friend in the far-off corner of the dainty apartment she’s entered, Salem’s shoulder left cold to Alicia’s greeting. “I was told to check up on Franklin by a rather paranoid receptionist” Alicia jokes, awkwardly rubbing her arms to offset the uncomfortability she can sense her presence causes.
“He’s up on the roof” Salem replies, taking the blade of a small strawberry knife across the edge of a green apple, licking the slides directly from the blade. “Okay” Alicia replies with less enthusiasm, bowing her head as she turns around, leaving as soon as she can manage to. “Do you still feel the way you did when I tried to leave you and Franklin last year?” Salem calls out, stopping Alicia from fully walking through the front door.
Her uncomfortable smile dissipating in favor of a narrow frown, her eyes dropping as she returns to the glorified shoe box apartment. “I’m sure they still are somewhere deep down” Alicia replies, a pleasant tone returned to the conflicted, apple-devouring secret-keeper. “Is that all?” Alicia asks aloud, her head falling to the side, looking at Salem with a half-smile.
“I guess so” Salem replies, shrugging her shoulders with a holier-than-thou attitude, “have fun.” Letting out a sigh, Alicia nods to Salem on her way through the door, a deep knot forming in the pit of her stomach, a pit that tempts her to return Salem’s curiosity. Thinking about her choices briefly, Alicia gives into her desire as the door slowly shuts behind her, turning back and placing her foot between the door and its frame, refusing to allow it to close.
Sensing the ease Heather’s grip on the door takes, Alicia pushes her way back into the studio apartment, her eyes set on Salem. “Which Salem is asking me, though?” Alicia challenges, the question she brings raising Salem’s eyebrow, “is it the person that chose to come back to Franklin and I? Or is it the one that lied about being a soft-ware engineer for god only knows why?”
With a grimace, Salem sets the apple on the counter, the knife rolling from her hand and into the unreasonably small sink beside her. “What else have you lied about, Salem?” Alicia inquires, her previous question not intended to receive an answer, her true intentions set on getting her story straight. “Was that story about your brother real? Or how you met the people you were with before us?” Alicia continues, poking the bear with little care for consequence, “who the fuck even are you?”
Folding her hands behind her back, Salem walks from her half-eaten apple, slowly stepping towards Alicia one foot at a time, her head hung low throughout. “You, as a person, do not line up” Alicia explains, allowing the woman to grow closer, aware of the ease it would take to subdue any outburst, “you don’t make sense, and I know nothing about you. Tell me what you haven’t told me before, and then tell me if it’s that Salem’s asking me about how I feel about her.”
Her forehead now inches away from Alicia’s, Salem’s eyes veer upwards, locking with Alicia’s out of respect, refusing to say anything without looking her in the eye whilst doing so.
“I’m an only child, my mother died giving birth to me, and when everything went to hell, I was a server at a local diner to pay off a chunk of my student loans” Salem replies, staring at the woman across from her with little more than an empty stare, “as for those people I rode with before you, I was sleeping on their couch when this all went down.”
Caught by surprise, Alicia looks at Salem with a profound look of puzzlement on her face, unsure of how to respond. “I didn’t tell you I was a pilot because I didn’t think it was an important piece of information to share” Salem explains, her point concluding with even more questions to be answered than before, “as for the rest of me, my motivations or anything else, I intend for you and everyone else to never find out about.”
Her content look twisting into a puckered-lip frown, Salem maintains the eye contact she holds with Alicia, another shrug given by her shoulders. “Now that we’ve cleared that up, do you have your answer?” Salem finishes, leaving the floor open to Alicia’s answer. “I- I don’t know, what-” Alicia stutters, the words she wishes to use evading her at every turn, leaving her to leave without a response.
“One more thing” Salem calls out, refusing to let Alicia leave as easily as she had entered, closing the space between them once more. “That Salem is not the one that wants to know if you still mean what you said, this one does” Salem explains, aware of how unsure Alicia is to say anything. “The Salem you’ve known since the world stood still is a different Salem to the one that bussed tables, and that’s how I’d like it to be” the woman explains, “that’s how it needs to be.”
“I’m not sure what you mean” Alicia replies, her response questioned immediately. “Yes, you do. Everyone still alive today does, because that’s how this works” Salem replies, a smile worn on her face, “Franklin’s not the politician that’ll say whatever he needs to in order to grab a vote. You’re not the person that answers pain by popping pills and zoning out. We can’t be those people anymore, it’s the weak that are. The same weak that fail to grow, and that’s what gets them killed.”
Stepping closer to Alicia, Salem’s voice falls quieter, their conversation becoming more intimate to fit the moment, their truth spilling out like paint running from an overturned bottle. “I used to hate company, I couldn’t stand anything that took breaths and had opinions” Salem explains, proudly sporting the smile the conversation pulls from her, “I was alone, and now I’m not. And the funniest thing about it, is that I’m okay with that. I like that, and I like who I am now.”
Her arms extended, Salem shakes her head with pride, the weight she’s allowed to fall from her chest making it easier to breathe with relief. “I ask because you asked me to choose you, and to choose Franklin. That night, the two of you weren’t my circumstance, you were my choice” Salem explains, wrapping her arms around Alicia and pulling her into a warm embrace, finishing her point with a whisper into Alicia’s ear, “now it’s your turn to choose us.”
Her arms at her side, Alicia remains unsure how to respond, her chin remaining gently rested on Salem’s shoulder. Reacting to what her heart asks of her, Alicia’s arms lift to Salem’s sides, reciprocating the hug from a genuine place of care.
Climbing the rooftop ladder, Alicia finds Franklin’s figure sitting atop the building’s highest point, his legs dangling over the edge. “Salem told me you were up here” Alicia calls out, climbing each rung with care, “I don’t know how you brace this cold-fuckin’-air, but good on ya’ for it!” Letting out a faint laugh, Franklin pushes over to make room for Alicia to sit beside him, his head fully covered by the heavy coat he wears.
“You’re the third person to know about this place. Apparently the landlord purposefully hid it behind a broken refrigerator and a few microwaves” Franklin jokes as Alicia settles in, brushing up beside him, “welcome to the club.”
“I can tell it’s pretty exclusive” Alicia replies, sharing in the laughter whilst looking out in amazement at the calm streets below, each narrow road leading to a peaceful looking city centre. “If you think hard enough, you can hear the cars honking and the planes flying above” Alicia says, strangely yearning for the days of unencumbered noise. “I’d like to keep my head empty then” Franklin jokes, his hands folded in his lap, head kept away from Alicia’s.
Her hands pressing against the cold, concrete lip of the building’s summit, Alicia admires the view she doesn’t often have the chance to experience. “Do you think things will ever go back to the way they were?” Alicia asks, letting a few silent minutes pass before raising the thought-provoking question, “a world where the dead die off, and we go back to working a nine-to-five for less-than-deserved pay?”
Sucking a whistle-making breath through his teeth, Franklin shakes his head from one side to another, his answer made clear. “Those days are gone, and they’re never coming back” Franklin replies rather than honestly, “those memories seem enviable in hindsight, but that’s all they are now. They’re just memories.”
Pressing her lips together, Alicia thinks about Franklin’s reply, letting what he said sink into her mind unapologetically. “Isn’t that what happens to everything that dies?” Alicia asks, turning her head to the man, staring at the side of his coat’s hood, “they just become memories?” Answering with a silent nod, Franklin remains looking to the town, secretly dreaming of days gone by until Alicia’s warm palm rests atop his folded hands, reality becoming more welcomed than the dreams.
“I don’t want us to become a memory” Alicia confesses, watching Franklin’s head lower towards their collective hands, a smile appearing on her face. “Neither do I” Franklin whispers back, his eyes still kept towards their coupled hands. Her smile fading ever-so slightly, Alicia reaches her free hand towards Franklin’s hood, pulling it from over his head and reaching to the other side of his chin, pulling her face towards her own before her smile fully disappears.
“What-?” Alicia mutters beneath her breath, horrified at the bruises that cover Franklin’s face, his left eye swollen just the same as his nose, his lips cut and two of his teeth broken. “It happened last night” Franklin whispers, his eyes finding anything else to look at other than Alicia. “It was Neville, wasn’t it?” Alicia suddenly remarks, the immediate glance Franklin takes in her direction giving her the answer she’d been looking for.
Holding her anger well, Alicia’s nose crinkles as she gets up to leave, her feet carrying her back to the ladder. “Wait, Alicia!” Franklin shouts, crawling away from the ledge, a nervous look on his face as the woman prepares to depart. “Charlotte, the one that took over that camp in New York we were going to escape to? She’s here in Concord, and very much not in charge of that camp anymore” Franklin explains, swallowing the spit in his mouth, “we’re flying out at sundown.”
Setting her anger aside, Alicia climbs back to the summit and walks into Franklin’s arms, kissing him on the cheek before turning back to the ladder. Smiling on her climb down, Alicia walks off without a word, climbing down the stairwell to the building’s ground floor. Left to his own, Franklin turns back to the ledge, retaking the seat he’d occupied before Alicia had joined him, and looking to the sun overhead with a hopeful look on his face.
“I don’t understand, why are you going below ground?” Meghan contests, taking her hammer to the side of a random corpse’s head as it approaches, “if Jerome, or the dead overwhelm us, there’s no way out.” Spearheading the march, John fires at the dead that walk his grounds, clearing a path to the tavern for his family to follow. “Like I told Jess, we need to control a choke point” John replies, firing another few rounds into the near distance, “they don’t get in without our permission.”
“John, that makes very little sense” Meghan replies, splattering another undead monster’s brains against the pavement before it can grab an unsuspecting woman nearby, “we can have that luxury from the control tower just as easily.” His frustrations peaking as they near their destination, John snaps back with vigor. “Meghan, stop questioning my plan” John exclaims, another few shots rattled off at the undead, “I’m in charge of this, we do as I say.”
Resigning to John’s will, Meghan continues to follow her sister and niece as the family turns a corner, finally arriving at the cellar doors. “Get inside and keep your eyes open!” John commands, following the three survivors into the cellar below, his boots dragging against blood-stained concrete. “There’s a stockpile of weapons in the very last cell” John begins to explain, leading his pack down the length of the middle age-esque cellar.
“Take what you need, and hide what you don’t” John orders, looking down at a ring of keys, only one standing out from the rest, grooved as if it were from another era. “What’s the plan after that?” Meghan replies, watching John’s eyes take to her from over his shoulder. “We wait” John responds, picking out the correct key just as he reaches the metal-framed door.
“After you” John beckons, stepping aside with the door in his hands, allowing himself to enter last. “They’re gone, John” Jess replies, carrying Amy in her arms as they enter the cell first, soon followed by her sister, “Jerome must have gotten to them before-”
“Son of a bitch” Meghan grunts before Jess can finish her thought, turning back just as John shuts the door behind her, locking it from the outside. “What the fuck are you doing, asshole!?” Meghan shouts, reaching through the gaps in the door, not even her outstretched fingers able to get close enough to touch John. “Keeping you safe” John replies, tucking the key ring back onto his belt, “the house isn’t safe, and I’ve already paved over the bar-side door. No one’s getting in here.”
“So you’re locking us in here?” Meghan replies, grasping intently at the metal rungs the cell door is lined with, “what happens if you die out there? You’re gonna keep us from being eaten, but leave us to starve in here?” Speechless, Jess looks to John with confusion, unaware to a point where Meghan snatches her rifle without resistance. “Unlock the door, John” Meghan orders, her raising of the rifle’s barrel in his direction doing little to change his mind.
“You know killing me would only open thousands of bigger problems than we already have” John replies, unphased by the woman’s display. “I’ve prepared for this day before, I haven’t left any stone unturned” John replies, paying no mind to his wife’s whispers of his name, “there’s a key hidden somewhere in your cell, and you clearly have the means to protect yourself from in there.”
Lowering her weapon, Meghan drops the rifle to the ground and takes Amy into her arms, Jess passing her daughter off in hopes of talking sense into her deathwish-harboring husband. “John, please re-think whatever it is you’re about to do” Jess pleads, her requests ignored by the man as he continues to explain his plans. “When I leave, I’ll lock the cellar door. The wood’s frail, it’ll be easy to break when you get free” John explains, finally acknowledging his wife’s pleas.
“Jess, the man I have to dispose of has his hooks buried deep in the one group that maintains order in this place” John explains, aware of the stakes, “if he wins, the last bit of civility in this compound will be permanently lost.” Shaking her head, Jess reaches her hand out, taking her husband’s hand once he offers it to her. “John, I barely made it through last time you left” Jess recalls, the tears running down her face without obstruction, “if you leave, you may not come back this time.”
Keeping the keys away from Jess’ reach, John squeezes his wife’s hand, a tear lingering on his eyelid. “I’ve whined about not wanting to be the leader enough. It’s time to start doing what I told Charlotte to let me do” John replies, the tear rolling down his cheek as he leans in to kiss his wife’s hand, “No more delegating responsibility, and no more excuses. These people are still worth saving, and if Jerome and his insiders are cancerous enough to kill that, I need to cut them out.”
Pulling his hand from his wife’s, John returns to the dungeon’s exit, ignoring his wife’s calls for his return, his eyes now set on the light at the end of the treasonous tunnel. Bolting the wooden door shut, John takes a can of silver spray paint from his coat pocket and sprays over the tavern’s back walls. “Jerome, prove yourself and lead by example” the graffiti reads, “the front wall. Come alone. Settle this like a man. - J.C.”
Walking the path she most frequents, Alicia’s eyes take to the massive wall just below the burning sun, the blue skies just beginning to turn a pale yellow. For the first time since she’d entered Concord, Alicia diverts her usual course, stepping through overgrown grass on her way to the wall.
Climbing out of a deep trench made beneath the wall, Alicia ventures beyond the boarder, her stomach turning at the sensational thrill of unknown perils. From her pocket, Alicia draws her hunting knife, ruffling fallen leaves with her feet and whistling into the silent air. “Show me what I’m missing, rot-bags!” Alicia exclaims, shaking small trees and whistling pleasant tunes to whomever may listen.
Captivated by remote hiss, Alicia’s sights set on her target, the rough outline of a corpse staggering through the woods earning her sole focus. Breaking out into a jog, Alicia dashes towards the zombie, desperate to prove to herself that she’s not gotten comfortable behind borders. “You’re-!” Alicia begins shouting, falling silent when her left leg completely shuts down, forcing her to fall face-first into the autumn leaves.
“No, no no. Not now” Alicia mutters to herself, glancing back at the corpse she’d intended to attack to find a posse of corpses following closely behind. “Shhiitt” Alicia whispers in aggravation, trying to soothe the pain that soars through her leg. Horribly outmatched, Alicia struggles to her feet as the dead close in, standing her ground on a single leg, the pain that courses through her side clearly visible in her face.
“Come on” Alicia grunts, strands of hair falling in her face as time expires, the dead having finally caught up. Jabbing her knife into the first corpse’s eye, Alicia gains separation, leading a lineup of the dead as she limps away. Picking her spots, Alicia crashes herself into a tree and spins behind it, letting the dead follow. Swinging from the side, Alicia takes down the next corpse, letting its body rest in the brown leaves.
Growling at the dead just as they do at her, Alicia hobbles away from the seven corpses that remain, calculating her next move mentally. Limping to a heavy stone in the middle of the ground, Alicia remains coaxing the dead her way. Falling over the stone, the dead make themselves easy work, piling on top of each other until only two remain, not falling for the same trap as the rest.
Glancing back at a steep hill, Alicia begins to roll the dice on her fate, depending on her balance to keep her from toppling over the edge. “Come on, that’s it” Alicia says to the corpses, speaking to them as if they were children, her mouth watering at the chance to prove herself wrong. Side-stepping the first, Alicia lets the corpse topple over in its fight with gravity, twirling and contorting all the way to the ground below.
Lunging at the last corpse, Alicia swings for the fences and comes up short, her blade grazing the zombie’s face as she falls into it, her arm coming down in it’s mouth. With a grunt, Alicia feels the teeth press down on her arm, jolting her from her brush with leg pain. Ripping herself from the corpse’s grasp, Alicia kneels over the body and drives her knife through its weathered, mushy scalp.
Earning her chance to breathe, Alicia stares at the corpse beneath her, refusing to register what had just happened. “Oh, no” Alicia quietly whispers to herself, slowly bringing her arm to her face, her eyes widening the moment she rolls her sleeve. “Nothing?” the woman remarks, unable to hold back a laugh, the corpse’s bite having failed to break through her oversized coat.
Taking a gun from the corpse’s belt loop in the midst of a laughing fit, Alicia checks the magazine as the prior corpse re-emerges from the bottom of the hill. Rolling onto her side, Alicia effortlessly fires a round through the returning undead’s skull, rendering her brush with the new primary inhabitants of this world a thing of her past.
“What the hell are you doing?” a scrawny teenager shouts at Lauren, watching her stare calmly at the setting sun with her pint, the open space around her infested with aimless, undead travelers. “Sight-seeing” Lauren replies, not a care in the world for the happenings around her, something that astonishes the paranoid survivor questioning her. “Are you crazy!? You’ve got to move!” the kid replies, wielding a loose table leg as if it were a baseball bat.
His words doing little to persuade the woman, the teenager takes matters into his own hands, walking up to the woman in hopes of assisting her. “Don’t touch me” Lauren aggravatedly orders, her free left hand removing the pistol from her waist, taking aim between the teenager’s eyes. “What the fuck are you doing!?” The teen shouts, leaping backwards with his hands held in surrender, the furniture leg falling from his hand.
“What I want to” Lauren replies, keeping her weapon aimed as the teen draws the dead near. “I was trying to help you!” The kid explains, a quiver in his legs as the situation rids the last strands of his composure. “I don’t want help” Lauren replies, waiting for the kid to notice the zombie trailing towards him, her gun lowering. “I don’t think you’d be able to survive outside these walls” Lauren muses, unphased by the many other undead catching wind of her presence.
“You’re fucking insane!” the kid shouts, throwing himself to the ground in an attempt to retrieve his weapon. Stepping aside, Lauren waits in the shadows, away from view to watch the kid’s next move, interested in seeing her theory unfold. “Oh god!” the kid shrieks, finally noticing the corpse Lauren had been spectating, backing away towards perceived safety, only to be wrapped within the waiting arms of a second corpse.
“Get off me!” the kid teen shouts with a surprised yelp, hitting the sack of bones in the head with a fragile weapon to little use, the zombie’s teeth sinking into his shoulder with no remorse. Screaming as he rips himself from the corpse’s grasp, the teen stumbles into a larger clump of corpses, unable to squirm his way from harm in this second instance.
Watching the kid disappear below the mass of rotting bodies, Lauren takes the muffled screaming as the answer to her question. “I was right” the woman mutters beneath her breath as she departs, turning her focus back towards her intended destination.
The stairwell she takes the leisure to climb lit in vibrant, colorful lights, Lauren emerges from her ascent into a largely cluttered room high in the air, two militants occupying the room. “Hey, you can’t be up here” one guard calmly remarks, noticing Lauren out of the corner of his eye. Without wasting a second, Lauren fires a round between the first soldier’s eyes, quickly turning to put an additional two in the other man’s stomach.
Tired of the blaring siren just overhead, Lauren fires a round into the light-covered box the first soldier had stood beside, instantly rendering the alarm above silent. The noise no longer able to drown out the misery of those below, Lauren takes in the faint screams from below, the New World Order collapsing beneath her very own feet. “You bitch” a second voice calls from afar, groaning in pain at the two slugs in his abdomen.
Still carrying her pint, Lauren takes another swig as she approaches the second man, stalking the turncoat with an intense stare, treating him like wounded prey. “You can’t stop us” the man groans, crawling to his rifle at a pathetic pace, his eyes taking to the beer-swigging woman. “That’s not my intention” Lauren replies, pressing the bottom of her shoe against the man’s throat, gradually increasing pressure until the man’s groans disappear with a crunch.
Detached from her killings, Lauren moves onto her goal without reaction, no care given for those she’s killed or let die. Downing the rest of her drink, Lauren lets the drink hit bottom before taking her eyes towards one of the many glass panels surrounding her. Glancing at her mug, Lauren takes a look before hurling it against the window, the glass shattering into thousands of pieces, exposing the tower to the hair-whipping winter wind.
Finally breaking a smile, Lauren steps to the tower’s wound, staring out at the miles of dark nothingness, the sun just touching the horizon. Climbing atop the old window’s base, Lauren stares below at the undead wave rolling over her home, the inexperienced civilians they chase never having learned how to defend themselves or what they believe in. Letting her arms fall to her sides, Lauren starts to balance herself on the ledge, any slight movement able to carry her overboard.
Holding her head towards the sky, Lauren takes in a heavy breath, holding it for a few seconds before letting it’s release bring her relief, her arms held out again as she leans forward. Her hands tapping the glass to either side, Lauren’s hands suddenly wrap around the window’s frames in the last second, holding her back from a fatal freefall. Her remaining breath coming out like a gust of wind, Lauren stares back into the lifeless null beyond the compound’s walls, shocked at what she finds.
“You’ve got to be fucking around with me” Lauren mutters, still dangling from the control tower, playing with the phantom of death’s patience, undecided on whether to let go. Fixed on the rolling hills in the near distance, Lauren’s eyes catch a million specs of light appearing at once, stretching from flat land and lifting up the length of the hillside, appearing just as a small town would. “Okay then” Lauren whispers to herself, still holding herself atop the ledge, amused with the sight.
“It looks like you need some help” Janice calls out to Bill, watching the man lead a handful of troops through the cluttered compound grounds. “Do you know where John or Jerome are?” Bill asks, sinking a four-inch blade through a softened zombie skull. “Not at all” Janice replies, smashing her rifle’s mount in the face of another corpse with a smile, “good luck, though.”
Watching Bill roll his eyes, Janice stays back as his group disembarks deeper within the compound, taking on the dead by her lonesome. Going about business as usual, Janice slaughters whatever walks her way, dragging their feet along the coarse dirt, leaving a trail behind. Swinging her weapon with reckless abandon, Janice does so with a smile, taking vehement glee in the mess she leaves behind, duplicating the undead’s trail with one of her own.
Readying for yet another swing, Janice stalls, holding her back swing before letting it fall, uncertain how to react to what she sees. Rather than the worn, ragged, filthy clothing the common, undead roamers wear, this figure stands in a large coat covered in blood and gore, hunched over as if to mimic the dead, but doing so particularly poorly. “What the fuck is that?” Janice asks herself aloud, seemingly catching the rotten sack’s attention, its face slowly revealing itself to her.
“What the-” Janice begins to whisper, locking eyes with the disgusting body that stands before her, its face as alive as her own, the growls that emit from its throat indistinguishable from those of the other dead. Without a second thought, the gore-covered imposter pulls a knife from within his sick-covered coat, charging at Janice the moment he realizes the jig is up.
Thrust into immediate action, Janice swings her rifle at the fraud as intended, watching the stock soar over the assailants head, the deceiver ducking her swing and lunging at her hip. Acting on instinct, Janice side-steps the man’s attempt to plunge his knife into her stomach, watching him dive at the ground having missed his mark. His eyes catching Janice as he springs to his feet, the pretender darts at Janice with his knife still in tow, leaping towards her as she aims her weapon.
Hearing the grifter bellow a shout as his feet leave the ground, Janice squeezes the trigger, firing a bullet through the man’s skull, a gargantuan hole splitting through the back of his head. Stepping back, Janice watches the dirt soil with the cloaked-man’s blood, the bright-pink chunks of brains littering the ground like debris. Before she can collect herself, Janice finds yet another muck-covered figure stumbling a few yards away from her, only now realizing her attention is set on him.
Aware of his exposure, the second man retrieves his own knife and begins darting for the profoundly lost woman. Knowing enough to ready her weapon for another shot, Janice takes aim and pulls the trigger, shocked to find the unresponsive reaction of her weapon, a jam within her rifle making her a sitting duck. The ground the man covers passing quickly, Janice thinks on her feet, remaining frozen until the final possible moment.
Letting her assailant draw close, Janice watches the man’s arm swing forward, ducking his swinging arm at the last second and diving towards the original body. Resetting their stances, Janice matches the second man’s artillery and prepares to play by his rules, stealing the knife from the man she’d killed and planting her feet in the ground. “Fine, I’ll play by your rules’ Janice remarks, blowing the loose hairs out of her face, “but you’re going to come to me.”
Unperturbed by the woman’s remarks, the second fiend slowly steps forward, surveying the woman’s posture, her stance and the way she aims her blade, recognizing her unfamiliarity with his preferred combat. Easing his tense response, the man begins to toy with Janice, loosening his walk and taking short jabs at the woman, never intending to make contact, but rather to treat Janice like the prey he views her to be.
“All yours, dear” the man remarks in a thick, Scottish accent, the knife he wields hanging loosely in his fingers, “either I’ll get ye’, or the dead will.” Aware of her surroundings, Janice finds little room for disagreement, the time she has to make her mark winding down. “Why are you here?” Janice asks, opening discourse with the man hell-bent on killing her, “you don’t look like you belong.”
“Now why would I tell yuh anything, dear?” the man replies, crouching close to the ground, giggling at the sturdy front Janice is forced to put forward, “that would defeat the purpose, yuh see?” Seething, Janice matches the man’s posture, lowering herself to the ground. “If you’re going to kill me, I’d like to know why” the woman remarks, tracing her hand through the dirt, rocking from one side to another.
“It’s nothing personal” the man replies, revealing his multiple broken teeth with a horrifying smile, “it’s just business, yuh hear?” Taking in a deep breath, Janice gives the man a nod, her free hand balling into a fist. “Yeah” Janice replies, letting deep breaths leave her nostrils, “I hear yuh.” Aggravating the man with her poor imitation of his native dialect, Janice uses his minor frustration to fuel his composure-offsetting fire.
Throwing her loose hand forward, Janice pelts the man in the eyes with a palm-full of dirt, blinding him enough to throw him off balance. Her opportunity never better than now, Janice charges forward, swinging her hand towards the man’s face to little use, the blade’s sharp edges running over his forehead and nothing more, her inexperience showing in the attempted head-shot.
Pained by the gash over his head, the man utilizes his window of opportunity, plunging his knife towards Janice’s throat. With a split-second to react, Janice throws her free hand out and catches the blade in her palm, watching the silver tip pierce through the back of her hand and stare her in the eyes. With a shriek, Janice loses her knife in the midst of chaos, now powerless to stop the man from pinning her against a wall, trying to force his knife the rest of the way.
“Word to the wise, dear” the man grunts, pushing the woman’s hand towards her own throat, finishing the fight he started, “you should have gone for the throat.” Feeling the blade’s point graze her skin, Janice lifts her head, the strength to fend her attacker depleting rapidly. Sucking in a final breath, Janice feels a wave of relief come over her as the man’s pressure dissipates, his body collapsing to the ground.
Gasping for air, Janice tears the knife out of her hand and drops to her knees, her hands wrapping around her throat. Thinking to glance up, Janice finds Jack standing above her, looking down at the second imposter, a bloody knife held firmly within his grasp. “It looked like you needed some help” Jack remarks, offering the woman his hand, helping her up.
“You couldn’t have come a second sooner?” Janice jokes, still trying to catch her breath. With a laugh, Jack kicks the body onto its front, exposing the stab wound in the back of the man’s head. “From what I could tell, that gash on his head was your doing” Jack remarks, stealing the second man’s knife and housing it within Janice’s hand, “Most blades are too weak for the skull. Spine, neck, eyes, and brain stem are the go-to’s, think of it as S.N.E.B.S for short.”
Taking off his shirt, Jack hands the top to Janice as she removes her own, ripping it into makeshift bandages to dress her hand with. “Where are your friends?” Janice asks, not caring for the answer, but interested as to why they’re not with him. “Tyler’s off on his own somewhere, and the ‘mister and misses’ are planning their escape, I’d imagine” Jack replies, jabbing a random zombie with his new, very sharp toy, “thank your lucky stars for that.”
Retrieving her rifle, Janice clears the jam and looks forward, finding yet another pale face hiding amongst the horde. “You’re seeing that too, right?” Jack questions, spotting the imposter just as Janice had. “I sure am” Janice replies, visibly nervous after her most recent brush with the living dead. “What the fuck is going on here?” Jack mutters beneath his breath, unsure of how to react to the revelation unfolding before his eyes.
Aided by the metal riot shield he wears on his arm, Jerome pushes through the large gathering of dead around him, tramping over their decayed skin on his way to his ultimate stand. His rifle worn over his shoulder, Jerome wields his knife well, digging it within the fragile skulls he’s visited by, each step covering a great distance, the undead sea he forces his way through slowly parting the further he’s consumed by it.
Finally shattering his way through the mass of bodies, Jerome throws his shield to the side and charges at the wall, only a few stragglers left to block his path. With a few swipes at the dead, Jerome makes a dash for the ladder, climbing it to the very top whilst the horde below follows closely behind. Rolling onto his back the moment he reaches the highest platform, Jerome regains his breath, locking eyes with the starry night sky above as if all were alright in the world.
“Now that you’re here, I hope you can see why I chose this platform” John quips from closeby, looking down into the horde below, their outstretched hands reaching out for him stories below. Startled by John’s presence, Jerome hurries to his feet and pulls his rifle into his grasp, the aim he takes at John affording him the power position.
“It was only when I heard the sirens go off that I realized what you were looking for” John explains, both of his hands folded behind his back. “What is that?” Jerome asks, watching John’s eyes take to him, distancing themselves from the starved arms of the horde below. “Power” John replies, the rest of his body turning to his once trusted soldier, “if you can save the people, however many survive, from this trouble and dispose of the guy they hate- Well, you’d be their savior.”
“You must have me all figured out then” Jerome sarcastically replies, the swivel of John’s head suggesting a belief otherwise. “Not necessarily” John replies, pacing the twenty-foot wide platform with a confused look on his face, “I still haven’t figured out why you thought this was the right thing.”
Laughing John’s question off, Jerome shakes his head and refuses to answer, opening the door for John to elaborate. “When I promoted you, I told you to ‘fight for what you believe is right’. That’s why you’re here right now, that’s why we’re in this predicament” John explains, standing his ground firmly, eyes staring into Jerome’s, “why was this the right thing?”
The compound’s leader showing no defense, not a gun or knife in his grasp, Jerome takes enough comfort to justify giving the man an answer. “We had a good thing going with Charlotte in charge, and you left it to die in a power grab” Jerome replies, snickering at the gall John has to ask such a question, “you got what you wanted, and instantly, everything around you turned to shit.”
“And you think this is the way to fix it? Match one power grab with another? Display your strength by ridding a horde you let in?” John asks, “at least my grab for power was founded on fair principles, you’re no more ready to lead than I am.” Pulling his weapon into the air, Jerome fires a few stray bullets into the sky, keeping John from speaking further.
“You’re no leader” Jerome replies, taking his aim back towards John, “you’re a broken, haunted, tormented, weak man with a family he can’t provide for. You claim leadership on the broken backs of these people. You’re not me.” His intrigued expression fading into a downcast glare, John remains silent, digesting the description Jerome’s granted him.
“You should have never been made leader. Ever since you took over, there hasn’t been much of a difference between here and what’s outside these walls” Jerome explains, deepening the wound, “everyone’s going hungry, everyone’s turning violent, and everyone’s dying.” Taking the verbal attacks, John’s hand begins tremoring, rattling at his side whilst Jerome continues, building the tension to immense levels.
“You had a vision for this camp, and you failed miserably” Jerome furthers, watching John’s eyes trail towards his own, “your vision isn’t malleable, and all you do is make things worse.” His tremor subsiding instantly upon those words, John watches Jerome take proper aim, concluding his piece before the time for discussion ends. “You asked me to do what I thought was right, so now I am” Jerome remarks, pressing his finger to the trigger.
In a split second, John’s steady hand reaches for his own gun and fires a round at Jerome’s weapon, watching the sparks fly as the brass casing is deflected from the rifle. “Son of a bitch!” Jerome exclaims, unable to keep his hold on the weapon, watching it fall from his hands and topple over the lip of the wall, his advantage falling with it. Left with a knife, Jerome looks to John and recognizes the reversal of roles, waiting for the war veteran to make the first move.
“Throw that knife over the edge” John orders, his weapon aimed at Jerome’s head, leaving Jerome very little choice. “If I don’t, what are you gonna do?” Jerome replies, watching the man take a few steps forward, John’s hand steadier than he’d ever known it to be. “I’m going to shoot you, and then I’m going to feed your body to your pets down there” John replies, an eye given to the accumulation of dead below.
“And if I do?” Jerome replies, a knot forming in his stomach upon seeing the emotionless stare John holds on him. Removing a pair of handcuffs from his back pocket, John tosses them to Jerome’s feet, leaving the decision up to him. “You’ll lock yourself in these, and you’ll be put under arrest” John replies, not taking a care to the laughter Jerome reacts to such an option with, “you’ll be put to a fair trial, and executed for your crimes if found guilty.”
Puckering his lips, Jerome nods to himself, dropping to a knee to retrieve the metal handcuffs. “So, you’re saying I either die or I die?” Jerome replies, taking his knife from a pouch on his side and staring at the blood-covered blade. “Well, I’m sure as hell not going to be your example-setter” Jerome replies, throwing the handcuffs in John’s face before lunging at him with the blade in tow.
Ducking the metal cuffs, John attempts to retake his aim, only for his feet to be swept from beneath him before his barrel can point towards anything worth firing. Wrapping his arms around John’s legs, Jerome rips John to the ground and wrestles the gun from his hands, hurling it over the edge of the wall just as his own had done. Now the sole man armed once more, Jerome kneels over John, pinning him down as he drives his knife forward.
Shifting at the last second, John lets the blade sink into the platform just beside his head, missing his eye by mere inches. An opportunity presenting itself, John swipes at his attacker with his elbow, freeing himself from Jerome’s weight as the man falls off of him. Ripping the knife from the ground, John takes over on offense, readying himself for whatever Jerome has to offer next.
“Is this what we’re doing now?” Jerome laughs, the simple fact that he’s still alive being a miracle in and of itself, “fighting for leadership over a bout of fisticuffs?” Spitting over the wall’s lip, John gives Jerome a shrug, letting him proceed as he cares. With a giggle, Jerome lunges at the knife in John’s hand, yet to realize his decision had just cost him the fight he’d undertaken.
Noticing Jerome’s intentions, John tosses the knife across his body, letting the handle leave the gasp of his right hand and fly into the hold of his left. Catching Jerome in his arm, John plunges the knife into Jerome’s back four times, a sharp groan coming from Jerome’s core with each puncture. His hands wrapping around the collar of Jerome’s shirt, John discards the knife into the pit of corpses below, leading Jerome to the edge he once stood at before.
“I gave you the chance” John explains, letting Jerome’s frail body lean over the multi-story drop, the collar he holds within his hands serving as a leash in this moment. Losing blood quickly, Jerome laughs at John’s remark, smiling at the blatant stupidity behind John’s comment. “No, you took it away” Jerome replies, swiping at John’s hand to allow himself to plummet into the undead ocean below, devoured in his final breaths by the same horde he had lead inside.
Stepping upon the governance house’ red brick walkway, Alicia greets the doorman she approaches with a smile. “Good evening, Alicia” the large man says with little emotion, the sun that begins to set in the distance marking the near-completion of his shift. “Good evening, Marcus” the woman replies, patting the man’s shoulder whilst knocking at the front door beside him.
“Enter” Neville replies from beyond the carved wooden frame, his voice muffled by the echo-inducing hallway that stands between his girlfriend and himself. Pushing the pale, professionally-carved door inwards, Alicia takes her first steps atop the black and white porcelain tiles, peering through the wide, marble corridor towards Neville on the other side.
“Oh, it’s you!” Neville says, pleased to find the woman waiting for him, a smile spread across her face. “Yeah, it’s me” Alicia replies, sarcastically rephrasing his greeting as he places his hands on both sides of her face, leaning in to kiss her. “So this is where you live?” Alicia begins the conversation, following the man into the larger home, “it’s a lot bigger than my shoe box.”
“Yeah, I mean- it’s more modest than others” Neville replies, still trying to appear as relatable as he can manage, “you should see Charlotte’s house, I’ve lost count of how many fountains she has outside.” With a laugh, Alicia continues to follow the man through his living room, the furniture lined with elegant stitching, colored either a pearly white or a brooding brown.
“Who’s this Charlotte I keep hearing about?” Alicia inquires, stepping into the granite-finished kitchen, clear of even the slightest smudge, “you talk about her, Salem talks about her. I swear, I know about the city of Charlotte than I do about this woman.” Answering the light-hearted question, Neville peers into his fridge, reaching for anything worth throwing into a pot and eating after a slow cook.
“She’s the one that delegates for lack of a better explanation” Neville replies, a tray of uncooked chicken carried from the refrigerator, laid atop the counter, “runs all the complexes from Nova Scotia.” Her eyebrows raised, Alicia takes a seat at the kitchen island, her elbows pressed to the table to support her head, which rests upon her knuckles. “How many are there?” Alicia proceeds to ask, throwing her coat over her shoulders, resting it on an empty seat.
“Five that I know are hers for sure, there’s another one I’m pretty sure is just a myth” Neville replies, removing a searing pan from one of his cabinets, “the Nova Scotia one, this one, the New York one, the Dover one, and the-” Before he can finish his thought, Alicia cuts his response off, inquiring further over one key element. “I thought she didn’t run the New York one anymore?” Alicia replies, unable to see the suspicious look of worry that consumes Neville’s face.
“Oh yeah? Where did you hear that?” Neville replies, his preparation having stopped, a response Alicia immediately notices. “Well, I know Salem told me she took over that compound a few months ago, and then I heard nothing about it” Alicia replies, phrasing her statement as if she were recalling a story, “but a couple of weeks ago, someone at the centre market told me New York was in pieces without her. I assumed that meant she wasn’t in charge anymore.”
Curling his lip, Neville shakes his head, returning to the fridge for a bell pepper. “Well, I don’t know where they got that information from” Neville replies, hearing the legs of Alicia’s seat drag across the ground as she leaves it, “she’s staying there this weekend from what I’ve heard, so you should probably correct whoever told you that before-”
Taking the peppers from Neville’s hand, Alicia pulls him in for a kiss, slowly returning the colorful vegetables to the fridge and closing the stainless steel door. “I’ll worry about correcting people later” Alicia replies, breaking the kiss with her hands wrapped around the man’s collar, “for right now, this ‘Charlotte’ woman is the furthest thing from my mind.”
Pulling Neville in for another kiss, Alicia uses the affectionate gesture as a way to lead the man towards his bedroom, pulling his shirt off whilst Neville tugs at her blouse. Slamming the door shut on their way inside, Alicia breaks the kiss by turning their positions, her hands pushing the man onto the bed before she begins crawling atop him, straddling his waist.
“I’m heading out sir!” Marcus calls from the front door, hearing no response from the other side. Not paid for any effort past this point, Marcus calls it a night and leaves the front door, strolling down the street to inform the next watchman in line.
“I want to be with you” Alicia whispers, taking Neville’s face in her hands, her blouse hanging by her wrist. “You do?” Neville replies, almost surprised at the woman’s response, the thought of smiling not one that even comes to mind. Silent, Alicia nods back to the man, leaning her face closer towards his. “That’s why I want this to be special” Alicia whispers again, her free hand trailing down his abdomen, wrapping her hands around the outline of his genitals.
“I don’t like boring sex” Alicia remarks, throwing her hair back as her left hand reaches for one of the many pillows atop their expensive-looking mattress. Removing the pillow case, Alicia tosses the cushion to the side, discarding the feather-stuffed cloth as she pulls the sack over the man’s head, letting it sit loosely at the base of his neck. “Is it wrong that I’m into this?” Neville jokes, his voice barely muffled by the cloth over his face.
“Not at all” Alicia seductively replies, undoing both her belt and Neville’s, using them to take the man’s hands to the bed frame, binding them to the wooden posts at the head of the bed. “As a matter of fact” Alicia replies, taking the blanket they’d once laid atop and wrapping it around his legs, rendering him completely immobile, “I think it’s hot.”
Retaking her position around his hips, Alicia undoes her bra and takes it to the man’s throat, the cups resting on either side of his face as the straps are tied around the back of his neck, pressing the case further upon his windpipe. “Can you loosen this thing a little bit?” Neville replies, squirming atop the bed as he begins to sweat, “it’s a bit hot in here, and I can’t breath that well.”
With a laugh straight from suggestive content, Alicia slides her hand behind her back, letting her breasts touch the man’s bare chest as she leans in, her fingers wrapping around Neville’s throat. “That’s the fun part” Alicia whispers, sliding her hand from her back pocket with the hunting knife in her palm, a quick swipe of her finger releasing the blade from it’s inner, metallic chambers, her whispers continuing behind a gleeful smile, “you’re not supposed to.”
Forcing her hand through the air, Alicia drives her dagger through the man’s chest, piercing the man’s flesh right above his heart, a muffled groan emerging from behind the knapsack as she squeezes on his throat. His lower body thrashing whilst his arms tug at the leather restraints, Alicia twists the blade to a bloody result, feeling the last breath leave his lungs as his body goes limp, the smile still worn over her face.
“She’ll be here” Salem calls to the pilots, sitting in the back of the helicopter beside Franklin, hoping for Alicia’s emergence. “I’m sorry, but it’s sunset” Heather replies, shaking her head at the passengers behind her, “I really am sorry, but she knew the departure time.” Looking to the cockpit with a defeated look, giving a nod to those ahead.
“Wait!” Franklin exclaims in a vigorous tone, his hand pointed towards the street nearby just as the aircraft begins to leave the pad. Her hands covered in blood, Alicia emerges from the shadows with a pillowcase swinging behind her back, carrying something unusually heavy. “Well I’ll be damned” Salem mutters to herself, watching their third stooge ascend the steps towards the aircraft and take the empty seat beside Franklin.
“Got room for one more, handsome?” Alicia asks, taking Franklin by the back of the head and pulling him in for a kiss. “I think we can manage” Salem replies, unable to hold her smile back. Closing the helicopter door, Alicia pulls Salem in for a hug from across Franklin’s lap, feeling the ground become lighter as the bird climbs into the sky, leaving Concord in its wake.
“What’s in the bag?” Franklin wonders, glancing inside once the woman unwraps her bra from around it’s opening. “Fuckin’ hell!” Salem shouts with enthusiasm, as pleased with the sight as Franklin appears to be, “way to prove me wrong, hot stuff.” Tying the sack once more, Alicia settles in for the ride, her head resting against Franklin’s shoulder as the group soars through the sky.
“New York, New York” Alicia hums, smiling as she digs her head into the nook of Franklin’s neck.
== Rise: Remastered ==