Chapter 14 - Fishing
"Scout? Are you awake?"
I pulled my cheek away from the carpet and rolled to my back. I could barely make out the outline of Clementine's silhouette in the pitch darkness of the living room. She laid on the couch, me beside her on the floor, one hand resting on the crest of her baseball cap. "Yes."
"How's your shoulder?"
I exhaled deeply, folding my hands upon my stomach. "Could be worse. How's your arm?"
"Could be worse," she echoed, and I knew she was grateful to feed off of my nonchalance. Hell, I was surprised I could be so nonchalant. My head was swimming. The possibility of a new, safe haven was enticing, but the shadow of these peoples' fear still ate at me. The man called Carver had become like an enigma, a hazy silhouette in the darkness. I realized I knew not why I should fear him – after all, whatever shit these folks were in was none of mine – and so my fear had mostly subsided into macabre fascination. My stomach churned, turning buried secrets over in my chest and making me heavy and sick inside.
"Clem?" I whispered, wanting to tell her something. Anything. Receiving no reply other than soft, unlabored breathing. I sighed, rolling back to my side and letting sleep drag me down.
The next morning, Pete got us up bright and early. He woke Clem first and I was up like a shot when I heard her voice, surprised that despite fitful sleep I rested a full night. Couldn't remember the last time that happened. The cabin was quiet as we took our leave through the back door, a rifle slung over Pete's shoulder, Clem still clutching her bandaged arm and mine still in a sling. Not sure what help I could be on a fishing expedition but I didn't much relish the idea of separating from Clem for any length of time.
Outside betrayed none of the foggy, rainy horror of the previous night. The sun was cresting over the pines and cast a sweet warmth over the woods. Birds sang to spite the brave, shitty new world we all lived in. The dirt was soft beneath my trainers, but I had no thoughts about running now. For some reason, I was at peace.
"So how you holdin' up?" Pete opened the conversation, his voice pleasant and gravelly. "Heard you got an earful from Rebecca last night. Once she gets goin' there's no bringing her back." He sounded pretty cheery about it. The guy was hard to phase. I decided to let Clem answer.
"What's her problem?" Clem scowled, making me grin into my collar.
"Ehhh... she's got a lot on her mind lately," he comforted, looking over his shoulder at us and stepping lithely over an old hunk of front door laid as a bridge over a stream. The path must have been part of Pete's daily ritual: he followed it with the ease of one well-traveled and unafraid. "Bringing a baby into a world like this..." Clem skipped forward to catch up. I huffed, following suit and stepping up to Pete's opposite side.
"How far are these fish traps?" she asked. I was pleased, at least, to hear some suspicion in her voice. She didn't yet trust this lot, either.
"It ain't much further," Pete assured, smiling at Clem, then at me. But I wasn't looking at Pete. I was looking at his gun. He noticed. "Anyone teach you two how to shoot? And by that I mean taught proper. Any idiot with a finger can shoot."
I thought of Nick. Nick was an idiot with a finger. Though he couldn't shoot for shit. Thank goodness.
"My friend Lee taught me," Clem answered humbly, looking curiously at me. I swallowed, remembering that I hadn't told Clem much about my life. Not really.
"That's good. How about you, Scout?"
Just remember, if you're gonna point a gun at somebody, you gotta already be at terms with that person ceasing to exist, because when you point a gun at somebody, you're telling them that their life is yours.
Startled, I caught my breath and nodded to answer Pete's question. I didn't like guns. But yes, I could use one.
We approached a bent section of barbed wire fencing and stepped through. "Nick was about your age when I first took him hunting. Came across this beautiful thirteen-point buck, just standing there on the ridgeline. Boy takes the rifle," Pete raised his own and rested it against his shoulder, "he lines up the shot just like I taught him, and then I hear him start whining." He sighed, lowering the gun and looking at us. "He turns to me and he says, 'I can't do it. I can't shoot it, Uncle Pete. Please don't make me shoot it.'"
I looked at Clem. The old sadness that only I recognized in her crawled back into her features, but instead of carving out a niche there it fled, almost as quickly as it had come, replaced with a shy shrug of her shoulders and a soft smile for Pete. He smiled, too, and there was something so genuine about it I almost forgot about my problems with this place.
"Hey!" someone shouted. Speak of the devil. We turned back toward the path. Nick ran up, out of breath, sweater rumpled and hair askew beneath his trucker hat. "Why didn't you wait?"
"You want us standing around while you piss on a tree?" Pete scolded. "You know where the river is, boy."
I raised a brow. Pete's sudden change of demeanor whenever Nick was around tended to assure me he was at least in control of the kid, but Nick was still a loose cannon. I didn't even like him standing this close to me, let alone this close to me with a rifle in his hands.
"Anyway," Pete softened, turning back to us and resuming our walk. "I grabbed the gun out of his hands before the big buck runs off when bang! The gun fires. Boy nearly gut-shot me! And of course, the buck gets away." I couldn't tell which Pete was more disappointed about.
Nick's fury was palpable. "What are you going and telling them this shit for?" he interrupted.
"'Cause you almost blew their faces off yesterday!" Pete chortled. "Seems relevant. Trying to let them know it's nothing personal with you." I liked Pete.
"Why you always giving me a hard time?"
"Because you're always giving everyone else a hard time!"
"I apologized already," Nick defended. "They accepted it."
"Okay, well, I didn't know that," Pete rescinded.
"You're always trying to embarrass me."
"You're doing a good enough job of that on your own!"
Nick shook his head and pushed past Pete, bumping him on the shoulder.
"Leaving us again," Pete chided.
"I know where the fuckin' river is," Nick shot back, disappearing down the path. Pete watched him go, looking forlorn. Clem and I exchanged awkwardly silent glances, then stared at Pete.
"So anyway, I found that buck later that season." I could have laughed in my awe of this man and how easy it was for him to flip that switch; to go from a heady confrontation with his armed nephew to telling two stranger kids a never-ending story about that same idiot. "Shot it right through the neck. Brought it up to my sister's figurin' she'd want to freeze some of the meat. Nick didn't speak to me for weeks." Pete sighed. "Sometimes you gotta play a role."
I considered this, and suddenly Pete had more of my attention.
"Even if it means people you love hate you for it," he finished.
"He doesn't hate you," Clem comforted. I shook my head lightly. She was sold.
"Nick's father wasn't there much, and he was a piece of shit when he was. So it fell to me to keep him in line, raise him right. Meant I couldn't just be nice Uncle Pete."
We didn't have much time to dwell on that point before Nick started yelling. We hurried down the path toward the river. Nick was at the edge of the treeline, rifle up at his waist, moving slow.
"Nick!" Pete shouted, rushing to his side. "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph..."
I swallowed. Just before us on the bank laid the body of a man, his left arm caked in a pool of fresh red blood, legs splayed out like a shot animal. Clem nudged me. To the right, down amidst the cattails, two more bodies lay contorted. A fourth was propped against a boulder. Pete pushed past us and leaned over the first, prodding him with the business end of his rifle. I scanned the horizon.
"Full of holes," he remarked edgily.
"Who do you think did this?" Clem stepped forward.
"Not sure yet. But it ain't your average gang of thugs, that much I know."
Nick shook his head. "Think about it, you're Carver, what do you do?"
A chill ran down my spine. I had been slowly, steadily working on turning that fear/fascination into fascination/resolute acceptance of the enigma Carver, and now Nick had made him once again very real.
"Who's Carver?" I demanded fruitlessly, stepping in front of Clem. Nick and Pete stared at each other.
"Check those guys there," Pete ordered, changing the subject. I tensed, looking over my shoulder at Clementine. She seemed apologetic, maybe thinking I was right and we should have left, but we were stuck now. "Be careful!" Pete called after Nick. "Some of 'em might still be moving. Clem, Scout, see if you can find anything else."
"Like what?" I retorted.
"Something that can tell us who did this."
I shook my head, stepping away from Pete and up to the nearest body, Clem at my side. I didn't argue with Pete because despite my apprehension I was curious, and I would have made the same call. Always better to be sure there's nothing useful around. I still needed a knife. Clem knelt down while I scanned the treeline. Not even crows around now. These guys hadn't been here very long.
"This one's shot, too," Clem offered, trying to be helpful. I leaned over the body, unzipping his sweatshirt and checking his pockets. Nothing.
"Through the head?" Pete asked.
"Yeah," she replied. I stared at the wound. Perfect shot, right between the eyebrows and a little low on the forehead.
"Check the rest. And look for ammo. We're runnin' low."
I could appreciate Pete's utilitarian attitude in the face of imminent danger, but I still didn't like anything about this. Still, Clem and I straightened up, intent on doing what we could.
"There are more out there," she gestured to the opposite bank of the river.
"This wasn't no rinky-dink pissing match," Pete mused, standing.
"What was it, then?" Nick pressed.
"FUBAR," Pete muttered, heading for the sandbar in the middle of the river. I squinted against the brightening sun.
"Where are you going?" Nick demanded, desperation creeping into his voice. "We need to get the fuck out of here."
"Gotta check the rest."
"What? Why?" I stared at Nick, then at Pete, both towering over us.
"Calm down and think about it, son!"
"Calm down!? We gotta get outta here now!"
"Jesus Christ," Pete turned back toward us, waist deep in the water. "Get a hold of yourself."
"Nick's right," Clem spoke up, "this doesn't look good." And God forbid Nick be the voice of reason but I was having trouble picking a side here. Still, Pete had done more to least attempt earning my trust, so I looked to him.
"No it don't," Pete conceded that point, "but one of these folks might still be alive, and they might just be inclined to tell us who did this. We gotta do this now. So we stay, keep searching these."
I followed him across the river, leaping atop a boulder and landing roughly on the other side.
"This a dumb idea," Nick cowered, his rifle nervously skirting the treeline.
"You know, Nick, I don't like this, either, but sooner or later you're gonna have to realize a simple truth."
"What, that you're an asshole?"
"That nobody in this world is ever gonna give a goddamn whether you like something or not! You gotta grow up, son."
Nick shook his head. "Whatever," he mumbled, turning away and pacing off to the far end of his bank. Pete sighed, meeting my eyes for a moment. I felt my respect for him grow, felt the weight on his shoulders and how he was trying his hardest to make something work that maybe just couldn't.
"Come on, Clem, there's one over here," I nodded my head toward the body a few yards away and we paced over. The thing was still flailing, rooted to the ground by what looked like a spear. I thought this an unusual choice of weaponry, but guns and ammo were getting harder to come by these days.
"You two keep a lookout on that treeline. Whoever did this might still be out there."
"At some point you guys are gonna have to trust us," Clem replied in a moment of clarity.
"Hell, I trust you," Pete assured. "Everybody ain't there yet. Give it time. And keep your heads on straight."
"Tell your people to do the same," I put in.
"You always so agreeable?" Pete grinned.
"No," I put in.
Pete chuckled. "Good. You'll fit right in with this outfit." Pete stared down at the moaning walker. "Shot to pieces." Without hesitating he placed his boot on the creature's chest, yanked the spear free, and shoved the tip into the brain. Or whatever was left of the brain. A gray mucus dripped from the wound, but the walker was still. Pete stepped off, and the body seemed to deflate. I wrapped my fingers around the staff, yanking the spear free and turning its point toward the sky. Never used a spear. But I felt less naked now with at least some kind of weapon at my side.
"Dammit," Pete muttered. "More on that side. You two check out these ones. See if there's anything on them that will tell us who they were."
Clem and I split up. I searched through the reeds, looking for footprints, but the water level had risen, then fallen, and the tracks were so blurry and run over that I couldn't tell much other than the obvious: there had been a gunfight, and it had clearly not ended well. It struck me that some of the dead may have been the aggressors, and some the defenders.
"Scout," I heard Clem whisper.
I hurried to her side. She stood near yet another body, this one rolled to his side, away from us. Just out of his reach lay a backpack. A purple backpack. Clem's purple backpack. Slowly she approached it, stepping to the body's other side. I bent my knees and followed, lowering the point of the staff into the thing's face.
Suddenly the man's eyes flickered open and he gave a pained, miserable cough, making both of us gasp. Clem froze, still hovering over her backpack. I racked my brain, and remembered the night we were separated from Christa. His face. My head pounded, recalling the impact of the boulders that had bounced Clem and I down the river like ping-pong balls. His face was familiar. The thugs in the woods. He was one of them.
"Clem-" I started. "He was in the woods. With Christa."
"What happened to her?" Clem spoke. "The woman we were with? Please. Tell me. Tell me!"
"Wa...water..." the man croaked, his eyes already looking like the dead's. He reached weakly for the backpack. A bottle of water hung between the open flaps. Surprising even me, Clem stood, zipping the bag shut and slinging it over her back.
"Augh!" Pete yelled, breaking the silence. Clem and I pivoted, watching him fire a round into the head of a legless walker and buckle at the waist, breathing hard.
"Pete!" Nick yelled, even further from us on the opposite bank.
"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Pete shouted hoarsely. "Just lost my footing." He straightened up. I squinted, but I didn't have to see the wound for my suspicions to be confirmed. Pete confirmed them for us. "Dammit... goddammit!" He was bit.
"Lurkers!" Nick shouted, firing off a round.
"I'm out of ammo!" Pete returned, raising his gun futilely.
"Come this way!"
"Dammit!" Pete swore again. "You get your asses over here, all of you!"
"I'll cover you!" Nick begged again, still firing.
I'll admit, despite that Pete was now a time bomb, I still favored him over Nick, the perpetual loose cannon. But I wasn't surprised when Clem took off for Nick, dashing across the water and joining him on the opposite bank. Trouble was, I had simultaneously turned to run toward Pete, smashing the end of my spear into an oncoming lurker to arrive at his side. I expected Clem to be right there, like always. But when I looked up and saw her on the opposite bank, I considered running back, but Nick was already dragging her away, to an uncertain safety.
We have to go. I barely heard Pete now, barely felt his hand grab my arm and haul me away into the woods.
A/N: Thanks for reading, guys. I got this Episode posted quick because nothing really went on except for introducing you all to Scout's character. The rest was 98% Telltale's material. Episode 2 chapters will be up soon and we'll go more in depth.