/ Four Months Later /
As the cicadas sing beneath the spring heat of solar noon, life in Cumberland goes on, existing as it has since the town’s inception. Neighbours greeting each other in their front yards, united under the same unique privilege, and visibly pleased to do so. Wheeling their trash bins onto the side of the street, gathering at the bus stop to ride public transit to work, and walking their dogs in quiet forest paths, Cumberland’s residents experience their Tuesday for what it is- another Tuesday.
“Morning, Sal!” Emilio exclaims, sharing a wave with the familiar face as the man runs a lawn mower over his lawn, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts. “Morning, Em’!” Sal replies, his front yard not leaving much to offer, though its clean, attended-to appearance weighs high on the man’s list of priorities, “getting started on the summer body?”
His sleeveless, grey shirt drenched in sweat along its sides and collar, Emilio gives the question a laugh. “I would have preferred to work on a beach body, but we haven’t invaded the coast yet” Emilio replies, the comfort of a well-made pair of runners aiding him in his run, “I’m not keeping my hopes up on that one.”
“Maybe we’ll get there someday!” Sal replies, letting the brief conversation end with a wave, “take it easy, Em’!” Corroborating the sentiment, Emilio ends his run with a return to his hillside home, where he descends his grass-covered lawn in an approach of the front door.
Catching his breath, Emilio trots into the kitchen, no sound louder than his quake-inducing footsteps as he reaches for the refrigerator. “Hello to you, too” Salem greets, watching Emilio emerge from the cold box with a drink in hand. “What’s up?” Emilio replies, chugging half of his beverage before panning around the room, “I thought Alicia didn’t work on Tuesdays?”
“She’s at the store” Salem replies, sitting on the couch with her eyes glued to a television the room’s length away. “And you’re watching football?” Emilio replies, looking toward the same screen with surprise. “We have tickets to a game tonight- I’m trying to learn” Salem replies, her voice lacking the anticipated enthusiasm. “Have you learned anything?” Emilio replies, lowering Salem’s legs off the coffee table before taking the seat beside her.
“I’ve learned that there are Tiger Cats in Hamilton, and that I don’t know what the fuck an Argonaut is” Salem replies, watching the blue jersey-sporting quarterback sail a pass fifteen yards over his receiver’s head, “but it seems they both suck at football.” Amused, Emilio sinks into the couch, prepared to spend the afternoon watching reruns of football games until the sun goes down before a knock lures him toward the front door.
“Hi!” Emilio greets, surprised to find another familiar face at his answer. “Hey!” Annie replies, taking instant recognition of the sweat covering his body, “I see the heat’s treated you well.” Friendly, Emilio leans against the doorframe. “Yes, I’ve been given the curse of sweating after physical activities” the man replies, quickly retreating to the obvious question, “is there something I can help you with?”
“Yeah, I was wondering if I could use your phone?” Annie replies, squinting her eyes as if ashamed to ask the question. “Of course!” Emilio replies, stepping aside to grant the woman entry, “is everything alright?”
“Yeah, I’m just an idiot sometimes” the woman replies, taking the phone off its wall-mounted receiver, “I usually bike from work and then go on my run, but I started my run from the school and forgot I still had to bring my bike back.” Nodding, Emilio watches the woman dial the buttons as he leans into the kitchen’s island, watching her head press against the phone.
“My husband and I are hosting a bonfire and I was supposed to pick up firewood” the woman explains, waiting for the man to answer on the other line, “now I’m gonna be late, and I don’t want him to worry.” Returning to the living room, Emilio leaves Annie to make her phone call in peace, the curious look Salem stares at their guest with easily noticed.
“What’s with the look?” Emilio whispers, his question recognised with little more than a passing glance, the woman continuing to stare intently at Annie. Quiet, Salem watches the woman make her call, the look Annie’s given completely unnoticed by the bike-bound woman. “Yeah, I love you too” Annie replies, sharing her departing words with the man responsible for the ring on her finger, “bye.”
With that, her phone call ends, allowing her to turn back to Emilio with appreciation. “Thank you, I really appreciate it” Annie replies, politely following Emilio’s lead the way she arrived. “Not a problem” the man responds, opening the front door with grace as Annie steps through, only to stop her departure by glancing back. “Hey, maybe you and your friends can stop by if you’re free?” Annie offers, watching a hint of reluctance begin to peer out from Emilio’s smile.
“A lot of people around here really want to get to know you all better- I mean, more than just a brief ‘how’re you doing?’ during your runs” Annie explains, slowly chipping away at Emilio’s disinclination. “I don’t want to pressure you. Just, if you’re interested, it’s on Meadowlark Lane. Just look for the big fire, you won’t be able to miss it” Annie explains, her friendly expression making it difficult to deny her offer.
“Maybe” Emilio replies, earning a shrug from the woman as she retreats up the hills. “We light the fire at sundown!” Annie warns, resuming her run as if it were never on pause. As the woman sprints away, Emilio retreats inside, closing the door before turning around, finding Salem standing a few feet back with the same inquisitive look on her face.
“Can I help you?” Emilio inquires, watching Salem’s hands sink into her pockets as she turns back, answering the question while reclaiming her seat on the couch. “I thought you had a thing for penises” Salem replies, displaying the most humour she’s mustered since arriving in the settlement. “The penis I had a thing for died a few years ago” Emilio replies, standing under the arch between the kitchen and living room, “now I only have a thing for chilli cheese dogs and bacon fries.”
With a chuckle, Salem unmutes the television and returns to her spectating, a gesture that bemuses Emilio. “Wait. That’s- that’s it?” Emilio wonders aloud, watching the woman’s eyes take back to him, “you think I turned straight and want to fuck our married, vagina-wielding neighbour?”
“You could have used a pairing other than ‘vagina-wielding’, but- no, that’s not it” Salem replies, lowering the television’s volume a few decibels, “she’s just- I don’t know- innocent.” Confused, Emilio rests his hand against the wall. “You say that like she’s a children’s cartoon” the man replies, almost earning another laugh, “she’s nice, sure. She’s very polite too, I’ll give you that. But I don’t really know what you’re trying to get at.”
“I’m not getting at anything” Salem replies, again kicking her feet atop the coffee table, “I’m saying she’s innocent, or pure, or whatever. She’s just untouched by everything beyond Cumberland.” Rolling his eyes, Emilio slides a kitchen stool across the ground, occupying the seat. “I thought the whole point of going to Cumberland was to forget about the zombies” Emilio replies, watching Salem’s head shake as she looks back to the game.
“The zombies aren’t as much of a threat as they used to be, but the people sure are” Salem retorts, watching the wrong idea cement itself in Emilio’s head. “You think her decency is threatening?” the man asks, only further frustrating the woman. “I’m not saying anything about her other than ‘she’s innocent’, it’s not her I’m referring to” Salem replies, “I’m telling you not to forget that we’re still trying to get to Nova Scotia. We can’t forget that people can still be dangerous.”
“Okay, give me a little more than that” Emilio replies, calmly responding to the statement, “I think you’re being a little more vague than you think you are.” Taking a deep breath, Salem restates her thoughts as requested. “I’m reminding you that people will still do what’s necessary if it means cutting in line to get into Nova Scotia” Salem remarks, again muting the television, “they may not kill you to get it, but they can sabotage you if it makes them look better. Selfishness doesn’t die.”
“So, you want me to tread lightly?” Emilio clarifies, his answer good enough to satisfy Salem. “Sure, that’d be good” the woman responds, unable to find a better conclusion than the one offered. “I’m gonna get in the shower” Emilio remarks, returning the stool to its place in the island as he departs. The television unmuted for the second time, Salem returns to her viewing, visibly disappointed at the result of the conversation.
= Rise is created by Zachary Serra, all rights to the series belong to Zachary Serra and the entity of Pacer1 from the start of Season 3 onwards =
“Why do you bother with those?” Lauren inquires, watching her coworker remove the I.D card from the pocket of a recently-deceased. “Out of respect” the woman replies, laying the card on the ground, where it joins a small pile of others, “we can’t bury their bodies anymore, so we might as well bury their card.”
With a shrug, Lauren hoists a corpse of her own onto a gurney, its padding stripped to just the metal platform a seat used to sit upon. “I used to know a few people that did the same thing” Lauren remarks, driving a small knife through the side of the corpse’s skull. “You used to know people?” the other woman responds sarcastically, “you, of all people, knew other people?”
Unamused, Lauren glances up at the woman with a frown. “Yes, Grace, I used to know people” Lauren replies, raising her middle finger at the woman before leading her gurney into a large, semi-lit tunnel. “Well, go on” Grace retorts, following with her own gurney closely behind.
“I met a few kids, I think they were eighteen or nineteen at the time? Anyway, it was around the first few months after everything went to shit, and they were in the same camp as me” Lauren explains, met with the silence of a captivated audience, “whenever they’d kill one of the dead, they’d bury their I.D and move on.”
“I’m listening” Grace interjects, watching Lauren look back at her, “that’s it- that’s the story” she replies over her shoulder. “You’re not a very good story teller” Grace jokes, continuing to follow Lauren down the long stretch of tunnel, its lights beginning to flicker the deeper they venture within it. “What happened to them?” Grace eventually inquires, spending a few seconds with nothing more than the squeaky wheels to keep them entertained, “the kids with the I.D’s?”
The question prompting her to hide a slight discomfort, Lauren opts to answer honestly. “One of them was shot some time ago” Lauren replies, her tone slightly changed, something Grace fails to pick up on, “he didn’t make it.” Tilting her head to the side, Grace asks the obvious follow-up. “And what about the other one?” the woman questions, reaching a large, industrial-sized door at the tunnel’s conclusion, “did they die too?”
Pressing her fist against one of two buttons, Lauren makes room for the door to open, parting from the centre. “She left the group I was in shortly before I came here” Lauren replies, watching a large, menacingly dark fire pit appear through the large panels, “I just hope she’s doing well for herself.”
Not thinking twice of the woman’s response, Grace accepts the tale for what it is and returns to her duties, dumping the corpse down a small ramp, and watching it slide into the incinerator. “Was there more people in-?” Grace begins to ask, interrupted by Lauren as the second corpse is disposed of. “Let’s change the topic” Lauren replies, preparing to return the way she arrived, “is he still an asshole?”
“He’s not an asshole” Grace replies, responding as if she doubts herself, and giving Lauren little reason to believe her. “He’s a narcissistic clown that justifies looking down on people with the figure on his paycheck” Lauren doubles down, raising her eyebrow in Grace’s direction, “does letting you live with him rent free really cancel that out?”
“I’d be worse off without him” Grace replies, quick to combat her own doubt with defence, “our job isn’t exactly much more than ‘thankless’, Lauren.” Continuing to walk back to the corpse’s they leave remaining, the sound of childish joy catches Lauren’s ear, bringing her both concern and annoyance. Leaving her gurney aside, Lauren takes to the end of the tunnel, watching the artificial light give way for more natural alternatives, the field she enters bringing her the sight she expected.
“Roddy! Randy!” Lauren exclaims angrily, watching two children wrestle in the open space, “I thought I told you not to come out here anymore!” Pulling apart to see Lauren approach them, the boys scamper off, running through the woods as Grace catches up. “How do you become less of a ‘people person’ the more I get to know you?” Grace wonders, watching Lauren from the tunnel’s entrance.
“Because I keep meeting people” Lauren sarcastically responds, turning back to the tunnel with a shrug.
“I’m gonna grab something to eat, do you want anything?” Angela asks, forced to shout over the sounds of gathered marching bands in order for Salem to hear her. “I’d like to know why I decided to buy tickets to a sport I know nothing about” Salem jokingly replies, soon gratefully declining the woman’s offer, “I’m good over here. I’ll catch up with you later.”
As Angela departs, Salem begins to climb around the cheerful residents prepared for a night of organised violence, looking for a spot on the bench large enough to seat two. Climbing up one step at a time, Salem continues failing to find room, each new row somehow packed more than the row that came before it. Eventually, the woman reaches the highest stand available, her struggle to find room to sit becoming apparent.
“I take it you know nothing about sports” Jade calls out, stood near the entrance to a small, yet considerably spacious press box. “I know how to play pool and darts” Salem soon replies, taking a look at the field in the same moment as the ball is sent flying through the air on an opening kickoff. “We’ve got some room in here” Jade politely assures, leaving her statement open-ended, alluding to Salem being allowed to join her.
“That solves one problem” Salem finally replies, the accepted offer putting a grin on Jade’s face. “The first rule of going to a football game with bleachers is to get there a half-hour early” Jade explains, stepping aside to let Salem enter, only Jade’s brothers and a pair of cameramen occupying the room. Hesitant to say much, Salem sits in a chair and stares out the window, her sights kept to the play on the field.
“Wanna hear a little fun fact?” Jade offers, sat in the seat directly to Salem’s left, answering with little more than a look. “So, they have a football league up in Nova Scotia, and theirs is much more organised” Jade explains, panning back to the game, “and when the coaches don’t like how a player is performing, they’ll come down here, and they’ll ask for the best players at the positions they need, and immediately take them back to Nova Scotia.”
“I don’t think she knows what that means” Oliver murmurs, folded hands in his lap as he lays back in a recliner. “It doesn’t matter. The point is that this ecosystem runs so deep, it’s embedded in our sports” Jade replies, raising her finger toward the ongoing snap, “these guys aren’t playing for the love of the game- they’re playing for a job.”
“Is that supposed to impress me?” Salem inquires, legitimately uncertain of the answer, “I don’t know what any of that means, so- how am I supposed to react?” Rolling her eyes, Jade looks back to the game, not bothering to answer the question proposed. “Why are you unemployed?” Jade asks, looking back to see how Salem responds to the question. “Because this town won’t hire me as a dead sweeper” Salem responds, “or a cop, or a firefighter, or whatever else you’ve got.”
“Why do you keep applying to jobs that give you a gun?” Jade retorts, taking only that from the response. “Why does your town keep refusing to give me a job that lets me have a gun?” Salem counters, earning both a laugh and a nod from her powerful contemporary. “Maybe it’s within the town’s best interest to keep a loaded firearm off you while we can” Jade half-jokingly replies, pausing for a moment before adding to her claim, “though, maybe it wouldn’t be when you’re outside of town.”
Reading between the lines of Jade’s response, Salem turns toward her slowly, waiting for the woman to continue. “Choosing to invite you here was one of the easiest choices I have ever made- ever” Jade persists, leaning on the short counter to her side, “when I vetted you and your friends, the one consistent I picked up on was that you- not Emilio, Alicia, Lauren, or Angela- but you have been the most reliable, resourceful, and powerful survivor since the moment the world changed.”
Waiting for the punchline, Salem matches Jade’s posture, her arm pressing against the counter as she looks Cumberland’s leader in the face. “Those are the kind of people that are irreplaceable, the kind of people that you don’t want to be on the wrong side of” Jade explains, slowly allowing her smile to reappear, “those are the kinds of people that Nova Scotia likes to see at the front of the line.”
Able to see the conversation’s impending path, Salem turns away, looking back to the game as Jade’s offer settles in, cementing itself within the back of the woman’s mind. “You do want to get into Nova Scotia, don’t you?” Jade questions, unsure of the answer amidst Salem’s reaction. “I don’t know” Salem replies, taking little time to give an answer, “I don’t even know if I want to be here, let alone a place three times as big.”
Puzzled and intrigued, Jade soon comes across a thought, letting a few seconds pass before testing the waters around it. “Is that why you’re pushing to get in emergency services?” the leader replies, waiting for the change in Salem’s expression, “because you’re homesick for the battlegrounds?”
If a change in expression is present, Jade fails to see one, only watching the inquiry bounce off Salem’s shoulders the moment it was asked, unregarded. “I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me” Jade explains, finally getting her change in expression, though not the change she’d hoped for. “Who said I wanted your help?” Salem replies, quick to argue the woman’s statement with a less pleased tone of voice, “who said anything about help? I didn’t.”
Her hand held at her chest, Jade presents a display of surrender, alleviating any hostility before it can get out of hand. “It’s not difficult to see that you’re unhappy” Jade replies, a softer voice than the confident one she’d used to this point, “I have the power to give you something you want, but don’t have. I’m only offering my help, should you choose to want it, in getting you whatever that is.”
Lulled into the considerate mindset she entered the press box with, Salem lowers her own voice. Listening to the distant sound of referee whistles blaring in the night, Salem stares into the dark sky, pondering her thoughts quietly. “I just want to stop feeling like I’m somewhere I don’t belong” Salem finally replies, looking back at Jade, who appears surprisingly understanding of her request.
“It was fine back in Concord, but that was different. We’d been on the road for so long that it was almost like I’d never actually left society. I’d just- I’d just left into the woods for a few months and came back” Salem explains, feeling safe enough to let her guard down. “But it’s different now, y’know?” Salem continues, looking at Jade with worried eyes, “I can’t remember how the world used to work now, but when I think about being on the road, it’s like I’m actually out there again.”
Letting her hands fall into the warmth of her lap, Jade lowers her own charismatic facade in a moment of genuine compassion. “It may be brutal and violent, but your world has an undeniable allure to it, Salem” Jade replies, not hiding from her own desires, “I’ve never had to live like you, but I still go out of my way to head out there and vet the people Courtney sends to me. I’m the town’s heart, but even I like skipping a few beats- I get it.”
“You don’t get it enough” Salem quickly counters, suppressing a sadness that builds deep within her, “because, when the day ends, you can still come back here and feel like you belong.”
Running through the DVR in a baggy shirt with a bag of crisps, Alicia wastes her evening away with mind numbing entertainment. “Did Lauren get home yet?” Emilio asks, his heavy shoes having gradually tapped on the floor louder as he approached the living room. “She pulled in an hour ago” Alicia replies, impressed at the man’s appearance.
“I was just starting to like the beard” Alicia remarks, looking at the appreciative look on Emilio’s clean-shaven face, the only thing more impressive being his ability to make the outfit of a skin-tight, white t-shirt and jeans look appropriate for a social gathering. “My face was definitely disagreeing with you” Emilio replies, grabbing a jacket off the hanger as he prepares to leave, “are you sure you don’t wanna come?”
“I’m waiting for my doctor to give me a call” Alicia replies, noticing the confusion on her friend’s face. “Yes, the doctor remains open until the late hours now, Em’” Alicia clarifies, quickly reassuring her appreciation, “I am grateful for the offer, though. I hope you have fun.”
Gently nudging his fist against Alicia’s shoulder, Emilio retreats, climbing to street level as he begins the walk toward his destination. Having found his desire to bring a jacket vindicated, Emilio braces against the slight chill in the night as he walks down the street, hands in his pockets as his eyes survey the row of well-kept homes, the fire he looks for found as unmistakably as Annie had led him to believe it would.
“Is this the audition for ‘Little Drummer Boy’ or is that the next house over?” Emilio quips, watching the individual, fireside conversations turn to collective cheering. “You made it!” Annie shouts, the first to leave her seat. “Emilio, this is Ryan- my husband” the woman greets, stepping aside for the two men to shake hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Emilio” Ryan remarks, “I was living in Hartford while you were campaigning. I swear, that win should’ve been yours.”
“Oh, well thank you” Emilio replies, very appreciative of the kind words, “I think I put a lot of effort into it. It’s been so long, though- I can barely even remember it happened now.” Too overcome by the abundance of celebration to worry about how re-entering society would feel, Emilio just moves with the motions. “Annie was telling me that you’d been out there all this time” Ryan comments, “I mean, it’s been three and a half years! What’s that been like?”
“Well, I can’t say it’s been easy. As a matter of fact, it’s changed me considerably” Emilio replies, unafraid to reflect on the life he’s lived, “it took my husband, and my friends, and a piece of me I’ll never get back if I’m being honest. But now, I’m here, and I’m ready to make all of that just another chapter in my life.”
“That’s what people come to Cumberland for. From what I can gather about the outside, the only way to live is to just view this town as another chapter” Ryan replies, shaking the man’s hand again as he moves on to tend over more guests, “I’ve got to run, but I’m sure we’ll talk again tonight.”
Bowing his head, Emilio watches the man depart, left only with Annie by his side. “He seems like a nice guy” Emilio remarks, looking back at the delighted homeowner, “did you get married before or after everything happened?”
“We got engaged before, but we had our wedding a few months after” Annie replies, a champagne-less glass of orange juice held in her hand, “between you and me, we’ve been trying to get pregnant for the last few months.” His eyes widened, Emilio looks at the woman with general niceties. “Starting a little family in Cumberland, are you?” Emilio replies, adding humour to the night’s discussion.
“Well, sort of” Annie replies, a somewhat guilty look appearing on her face, “when you’re pregnant, or you have a kid, the whole family is the first on board the next trip to Nova Scotia.” Understanding the picture a little better, Emilio attempts to respond, only to be guided away by the sound of his name.
“Emilio?” a voice inquires from behind the man, guiding Annie’s guest in their general direction, where they’re met with a look of shock and awe. “What-?” Emilio mutters beneath his breath, turning to find Ameil stood behind him, whilst Heather approaches soon after with Amy by her side, yet to see their once fellow survivor turned neighbour.
“You two know each other?” Annie asks enthusiastically, unaware of their shared history. “You- you-” Emilio stammers, visibly unable to comprehend what he’s seeing, “you’re alive?”
== Rise ==