Struggle at the Docks
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"Dad, you said you'd teach me how to survive." Carl whines as Rick demonstrates how to classify between poison ivy and regular leaves.
"I am, Carl. Now remember, three leaves means let them be-" Rick is cut off by his son.
"This isn't survival. Faster ways to kill walkers-that's survival." Carl says with a pout. "Telling the difference between poison ivy and regular vine leaves is pointless."
"Yeah? How do you think Daryl survives being in the woods as if it's nothing for long periods of time?" Rick asks his son.
"He's been in them since he's been my age?" Carl answers unsure.
Carl coughed. Rick was slightly worried since Carl just recovered from a bad cold. Maybe taking his son out wasn't such a good idea.
"Well, yes that's part of it, but also because he knows what he's doing. He can decipher between edible berries and deadly ones. Believe me, son, the more you know about what is safe to walk in, the smoother the runs go. If you get sick from ivy then that means Glenn will have to go out and find medicine for the rash. That's completely unneeded if it can be avoided. So yes, this isn't just for your survival, but for everyone else's." Rick finished by pulling out his hunting knife. "Now help me gather up some wood. It's about time for lunch."
Carl nodded and went on the search for wood. His dad wanted to spend time with Carl since they haven't gotten to do that in a while. If not the walkers then it's Judith or someone else. Usually by this age, Carl should be learning how to fix cars and understand the rules of football as if it were law. But since those are the least important things now, Rick can teach Carl the basics of survival. Plus, Rick just wants to know what all is going on with Carl. Nothing negative by that, he just wants to know how Carl is holding up.
It didn't take Carl long to gather up a huge bundle of firewood. The boy beamed with such pride when he saw his dad's face.
"Good job, Carl." Rick praised Carl with a pat on Carl's shoulder.
Carl dropped the wood near the clear area that Rick made for the fire. Rick and Carl set up the twigs and wood so the fire could grow smoothly without much hindrance.
"There's a lake that I spotted earlier. It shouldn't be too far from here. Let's go catch us some fish." Rick smiled and grabbed a long stick that he turned into a spear while Carl was away.
"Nah, I'm not exactly the patient type. I'll have a fire by the time you come back." Carl declined his dad's offer. Rick frowns with a disappointed look.
"No, you're coming." Rick states patting Carl on the back.
Carl sighs with defeat and follows after his father.
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After what felt like hours, the two boys made it back to the camp and took a quick breather. The two were half soaked with sweat and red in the face. It wasn't the best idea to spend quality 'father-son' time on a very humid day.
Carl pulled out his knife and a rock from his pants pocket.
"Why do you randomly have a rock?" Rick asked.
"When we went to the lake, it was around shore. I thought it looked kind of cool, so I took it." Carl shrugged.
Rick was watching Carl struggle with the stone. Carl's skin was covered with mosquito bites and dirt. Every once in a while, Carl would swat at the pesky bugs, that would only stay away for a few seconds.
"This is taking so long." Rick teased Carl.
"Shut up and just wait a second, okay?" Carl growled through irritation. The heat was making him more irritable. "It's not like it's going to be easy to start the fire." Carl's voice died down and he mutters, "It's never going to be easy for us."
"Well for starters, the stone is damp." Rick was growing more amused.
Carl stopped moving and examined the rock. Rick's statement was true. The rock was a dark shade and faintly sparkled in the sunlight. Red was creeping its way onto Carl's face. He threw the rock on the ground.
"I know of a quicker solution to starting a fire." Rick said reaching into the pockets of his ragged jeans.
"What? A lighter or perhaps some matches?" Carl said sarcastically. Carl secretly hoped that Rick had something to make this moment easier for them.
"You got part of it right." Rick shook his head with a grin. He couldn't help but be amused by his son's annoyed face. It's like walkers don't exist anymore. Right now, Rick is with his son. Right now, Carl is acting like a kid whose about to throw a tantrum for not being told the surprise. "I believe, some gum wrappers and double 'A' batteries, is the answer I'm looking for." Rick pulled his hand out of his pockets and revealed two sticks of gum and batteries.
"Oh great, let me guess, another lesson?" Carl asked crossing his arms over his chest.
"Yahtzee. Now watch closely, but don't get too close." Rick cautioned his son.
Rick settled near the pile of twigs and sticks. He unwrapped one of the pieces of gum and threw the gum on the ground. Rick could tell that Carl wanted the gum.
"It'd dehydrate you. Does more hurt than good on hot days like today. Now pay attention. Remember to always use gum wrappers with a metallic side, otherwise this won't work." Rick said.
Rick cut off a narrow strip of the gum wrapper. Then, he proceeded in folding the wrapper in half once. Rick cut off a sliver from the side of the wrap so it took a triangular shape. When Rick unfolded the gum wrapper, it kind of had an hourglass shape to it.
"Now place one end of the wrapper on the negative side of the battery and the other on the positive side. Make sure it's the metallic part of the wrapper that's touching the battery. Just wait a little bit and..." Rick timed it just right. A flame appeared and set the sticks on fire. Carl's eyes went wide. The boy's fascination with the simple trick enkindled nostalgia for Rick. Carl looked so innocent, and Rick almost forgot about what Carl's had to do since the apocalypse began. Almost.
"Woah!" Carl finally spoke. Maybe this seemed like magic?
Rick smiled. Finally, Carl was impressed! Rick put that down as a win.
Carl and Rick took turns tossing sticks into the fire. After a few minutes, they were able to gradually work the flames into a steady campfire.
Carl grabbed the fish and began to prepare it when several twigs snapped. The two men's heads looked in the direction of the sound. All was quiet. Rick and Carl knew all too well what was coming, regardless of the silence. Right now, it's the calm before the storm.
As instincts foretold, several walkers emerged from the shadows of trees. Rick was slightly concerned. The walkers looked newer. Their flesh wasn't rotting away, and there's less blood on them than the usual walkers. This probably meant that their skulls are sturdier and not as easy to penetrate.
"Dad." Carl whispers to Rick. Carl grabs his hunting knife and readies himself.
"I know." Rick touches the back of Carl's neck briefly so he can soothe his son. Fighting walkers with a body that's already exhausted and on the verge of heat stroke is not the best situation to be in. As a fatherly instinct, Rick took a side step in font of Carl. "A camp must've been overrun recently." Rick reaches for his knife and also prepares to attack. "These will be slightly harder to put down but not impossibly hard."
The first walker limps toward Rick, who in turn pierces the monster's head. Rick stabs the walker a few times to be sure that it won't move again. He looks over to see Carl putting down his third walker. Carl studies the difference in body count and smirks at his dad.
"Getting rusty there, pops." Carl jokes and goes to claim his fourth.
"Yeah?" Rick shoves the walker away from him and charges at the next one. "You should've seen me in Atlanta." Rick slashes the walker's face.
The two take down walker after walker but the numbers aren't showing any signs of diminishing. It was becoming clear to Rick that they were now facing a newly forming herd of walkers and needed to get away. Rick whistles to Carl and they both run.
Carl stumbled over his feet but kept running behind his dad. Rick didn't know where to go and hide. Alexandria was in the opposite direction. Rick didn't know how much more exertion Carl's body could take.
It didn't take long for the walkers to catch up. The walkers got in between Rick and his son, splitting them up. Rick counted a dozen walkers around him and maybe a little less than that around Carl. Rick quickly took action and weaved around the trees so the group of walkers were broken up and easier to take care of. The maneuvering and timing of Rick's attacks were going smoothly, but Rick could hear Carl shouting. Carl screaming could mean many things. Rick prayed to God that at the very least it wasn't from being bitten. Rick switched into overdrive and swung his blade around, killing whatever got in his way from reaching his boy. Rick left behind a walker or two and dashed back to the trail where he left Carl. He made it just in time to see Carl bolting towards the direction of the lake.
"Carl!" Rick called out for his son. What on earth was his boy thinking?
Rick took down the few walkers that didn't follow Carl. Before the last walker's body hit the ground, Rick was already sprinting to the lake. There were walkers' bodies lying everywhere. If not pierced in the head then they were smashed open. Rick couldn't help but cringe at the brutality his son used to kill the walkers. "Carl!"
Rick kept calling for his son, but he never got an answer back. Rick was sure he was alerting every walker nearby but that was the least of his concern right now. After countless minutes of shouting and horrible scenarios playing in Rick's mind, Rick found his boy fending off a walker. The two were out on the docks that stretched out pretty far into the lake. Carl's back was to the water and was inching closer every time the walker snapped its teeth at the boy.
"Carl!" Rick shouted while running towards the two. Rick had to be careful not to toss the dock around or else Carl would end up in the water with the walker. That was something Rick only wanted see in nightmares.
"Dad, I got this!" Carl shouted back to his father. "I got-" The walker tackled Carl. The air in Carl's chest was forced out. "Oof."
The two bodies hit the water and the water enveloped them like a blanket.
"Carl?" Rick was in shock and only looked at where his son and the walker had fallen. There was splashing.
Carl struggled to stay afloat while wrestling with the walker. The thing kept grabbing at Carl's neck but Carl would push the walker away. Carl managed to get a good hold on the monster and tried to bash its head in on the docks. Carl wasn't having any luck.
Rick was about to tell Carl to use his knife, but saw the blade lying on the dock. Rick went to grab it. The whole time, Rick never took his eyes off of Carl. His heart almost stopped a few times when Carl went under for a brief moment.
"Wait a minute. What the hell am I doing?" Rick asked himself before pulling out his gun. Rick fired once and the walker's movements stopped.
"I said I had it!" Carl whined.
"You did say that." Rick agreed putting his gun back into the holster. "But you didn't have it."
"Seriously? If you would've given me a few more minutes, then-"Carl was really going to argue about this.
The walker's body was slowly sinking. It's face was head down in the water. Red and black was surrounding Carl.
"A few minutes? Carl, I wouldn't have given you a few seconds. All it takes is a bite, Carl. A single nibble and it's game over. Your life isn't going to be gambled like that. Not while I'm here." Rick said.
"Yeah, well-" Carl's voice was replaced with gagging and splashing.
The walker's limbs were tangled up with Carl's and were pulling his son under. Panic flooded Rick's body as Carl's struggles began to get weaker. Carl's head kept going under water and he come back up to the surface hack and panting.
"CARL!" Rick raced over the dock. Carl's body disappeared again, but this time Carl didn't resurface. Rick pulled his shirt off, and dove into the water after his son. The water was murky and Rick could barely see anything. The blood from the walker's body weaved around the water like mist. Rick could only hope that he wasn't infected along with Carl. The father had to rely more on his sense of touch than sight because Rick could barely see his own hand. Rick's lungs began to burn from the lack of oxygen. He stayed under a little bit longer until he was forced to go up to get air. A few seconds later, he went back down to find Carl.
Rick imagined his son's smiling face and the look of fascination in his eyes from earlier today. How could that image drastically change into a frightened and dying one? Rick can't afford to lose his boy. Not now. Not ever. It's supposed to be him that dies first. Rick isn't supposed to bury Carl!
Rick struggles to find Carl but is slowly losing hope. It's been four minutes since Carl went under. The kid isn't used to holding his breathe this long. Rick went up for air and was about to go back under until he saw a body slowly crawl onto the shore of the lake. The body had dark hair sticking to its face and the clothing was drenched thoroughly. But the thing that caught Rick's eye was the police hat clutched in the boy's hands.
"Carl!" Rick calls out in a hoarse voice. Rick began swimming back to the shore but saw a stray walker pop out of the forest. "Carl, quick!"
Carl turned his head towards his father and was slow to figure out what Rick was talking about. The walker jumped Carl and pinned Carl to the ground. Rick was so close to the shore now. He scrambled to his son's side. Carl shoved the thing off of him and slammed a stick into its skull. Carl rolled onto his back and panted. Clearly the boy was exhausted. He was exhausted before the walkers showed up.
Rick dropped to his knees and examined his son for any injuries. Nothing seemed too out of place. A few scrapes here and there. Some fabric ripped. Rick's eyes pinpointed the bruises around Carl's neck. The bruises were shaped like fingers.
"Carl, your neck." Rick whispered. He faintly brushed his fingers against Carl's neck. The boy winced. "Sorry."
"The walker, it...tried to get me...held on...hurts." Carl was panting. It was as if he couldn't get enough oxygen. Carl kept coughing and wheezing. Some water would come out of Carl's mouth.
"Well, it's okay now. I'm here. Your dad's here." Rick tried to comfort his son the best way he could.
"I'm not a kid." Carl muttered through slitted eyes. He swatted Rick's hand away.
"Sure you are. You may have done things that make you a man, but your age still makes you a kid-MY kid. I'll always look after you whether you want me to or not." Rick said.
The man stood up and quickly went to retrieve his shirt from the dock. On his way back, Rick tried to take off Carl's shirt. Rick was going to put his shirt on Carl so Carl wouldn't get sick later. Rick tried to get Carl's shirt off without touching Carl's neck too much, but the pressure of the shirt on his neck still made Carl wince. Rick rubbed small circles in his boy's back.
"Dad-tired." Carl slurred his words.
"Not yet, Carl. I still have to examine you." Rick said. Carl was struggling to breathe. When he started to cough, tears streamed down his face from the pain. "I'm here, son."
"I was so close to giving up." Carl's voice was gravelly. Rick could see the faint bruising marks around Carl's throat grow darker. The walker must've clung onto Carl tighter than Rick thought. Dammit.
"Well I'm glad you didn't. I was searching for you relentlessly. I thought you were still where you went under. You don't have any idea as to how relieved I was to see you make it back to shore." Rick says carding his fingers through his son's hair.
"I thought we were going to die." Carl whispers. Tears were falling down his cheeks again. "I thought the herd chased you off. I thought I was alone again like back then."
"Back then?" Rick asked confused.
"After the prison's downfall, you were beaten so badly. You wouldn't wake up. When you did, I thought you came back as a walker." Carl explained through a rough voice.
"We are still very much alive. And I intend to keep it that way no matter how much it costs." Rick promised with a small grin. "And don't you ever-ever believe that I would leave you behind on your own. They don't get winded. I do. I needed to take them on one at a time."
"So I left you behind then?" Carl looked down.
"Hey." Rick tried to get Carl's attention. "Hey! That's not on you. You did what you had to do to survive, and I'm proud of you. You thought it through and you acted."
"Look at the shape I'm in." Carl croaked.
"I am." Rick answered.
There was a silence between them. They just stared at each other. The moment wasn't awkward. Rick and Carl were continuing their conversation with their eyes and slight gestures. Carl's wheezing broke the silence.
"We need to take you to a doctor." Rick carefully scooped his son into his arms. "Let's go."
Carl wasn't just wheezing now, he started shivering harshly. Rick could see the bruises stand out more vividly against Carl's paling skin. Rick put his forehead on Carl's. Carl's skin is scorching hot.
"You're burning up!" Rick gasped. "We need to take you to Maggie!" Rick jogged into the woods and tucked Carl's head under his chin. "I've gotcha, buddy. Just don't go to sleep yet."
"Maggie? Isn't she busy with Dianna?" Carl mumbled but buried his face into Rick's collar bone.
"You're right, but I don't think she'd be too busy for you." Rick said ducking under a branch.
"I'm so sleepy." Carl murmured like a five year old. That couldn't be a good sign.
"No. DON'T go to sleep, Carl!" Rick shouted. Rick ran through the forest and ignored the fish and dying fire. He trotted back to Alexandria at record speeds.
"Take me to Pete." Carl requested. Carl almost fell out of Rick's grasp when he coughed harshly. Every time Carl stopped coughing, he'd look at his hands. Each time this ritual happened, Rick prayed to God that blood wouldn't be in his palms. Carl's fit stopped with a huge gasp for air.
"I'd rather die before letting him touch you with his foul hands." Rick growled. Just the thought of Pete looking at Carl got his blood boiling.
"He has more experience with these things. Maggie only knows so much. Please, Pete has the proper equipment for this." Carl pleaded. Rick's son was panting. His breath had a whistle-like sound to it from his injured throat. Carl's eyes were blood shot.
Rick knew that Carl was right. As much as he wished Carl wasn't, he was. Rick gritted his teeth and cursed at the sky. Beside the fact that Rick doesn't want Pete anywhere near his family, Pete probably wants nothing to do with Rick. Hell, Pete would probably let Carl suffer than to help him. But for Carl's sake, Rick is willing to put his pride to the side if it means saving Carl's life.
"Da...d." Carl's face was getting paler with his cheeks red from the fever. "I'm so…..old. I…an't…..eathe. ….m…scared…addy…"
"Hold on, Carl!" Rick grunted. "We're almost there. Stay with me."
"Mom's gonna…worry…..she….lways….oes." Carl's eyes with half open.
"Lori? What are you talking about, Carl?" Rick asked. Rick's forehead wrinkled with concern.
"…om…..she's waiting for us….at the…rison…" Carl's eyes stared at into Rick's but Carl wasn't really seeing his dad.
"Carl!" Rick is terrified. His son is delusional-isn't completely lucid. Carl is talking like Lori is still alive-as if we were still living at the prison. The exhaustion must be really getting to Carl, and the heat isn't making it any better.
"Lo...ou..." Carl's voice was dying off. He sounded so tired and far away.
"If that's supposed to be a goodbye, then you can save it! We're not much further!" Rick was going full throttle. He could just see the entrance to the small community. That's when Rick's heart stopped. Carl's body went limp in Rick's arms. "Carl?"
Rick kept pacing but looked down at his boy. Carl's eyes were closed and his lips had a faint tinge of blue to them. Rick could feel Carl's heart beat but it was faint. Rick noticed how shallow Carl's breathing was.
"Help!" Rick cried out. A walker nearby heard him and growled. "Oh shut up!" Rick pulled out his gun and fired. He doesn't have time to be quiet. "Somebody help! Help my boy!"
The doors opened and Sasha was there with wide eyes.
"Rick, what happened?!" Sasha asked letting Rick into the place. She quickly closed it once Rick was inside.
"We were ambushed by walkers. Carl and I got separated. He ended up falling into a lake and struggled with the walker. I thought I'd lost him but he swam to the shore. Turns out he was injured worse than I thought. His neck is wounded and Carl has a fever. He is having to struggle to breathe! Now he's unconscious!" Rick was panicked.
Sasha nodded while eyeing Carl's motionless appearance.
"Where do we go?" Sasha asked as the two sprinted down the road.
"Pete." Rick answered. Rick hugged Carl closer to him. He kissed the top of Carl's head as a means to comfort him.
"Gotcha." Sasha replied.
The two made it to Pete's clinic. Sasha rang the bell impatiently. By now a huge group of people were gathering around outside to figure out what the commotion was about. Pete answered the front desk not expecting to see Rick holding his injured son.
"What happened?!" Pete asked walking around the table to examine the child. He was checking Carl's heartbeat.
"Walkers. Carl wasn't bit but got choked pretty bad. Almost drowned. He just went unconscious. Can't breathe. Help me! Help my boy!" Rick pleaded. A flashback to when Carl was shot played in Rick's head.
Pete, at first, began to call for help, but then stopped. The man looked at Rick and gave a slight smirk. Rick was in shock.
"Funny how you need my help. I have every reason to just let the boy lie here and die. You ruined my family, so what's to stop me from ruining yours?" Pete said calmly.
Rick only saw red in his vision. He handed Carl over to Sasha and turned to glare at Pete. He took a menacing step towards Pete.
"Violence will definitely not help you, Rick. You beat me down, I can't help Carl. I hold all the cards now." Pete stated.
"He's right, Rick. If you hurt Pete, he won't be able to save Carl." Sasha said.
Rick looked at Carl, he was still breathing but the boy's rasping breath didn't make Rick feel any better. Rick looked back to Pete. Rick's hope was slowly fading along with his collective thoughts. This was Carl. This was his only son.
"Listen, Pete, what happened the other day was just me! None of it was Carl's fault! Please, Pete, you've gotta save him. He's just a boy!" Rick pleaded.
"Please, Pete." Sasha joined in.
Carl's body was raked over by another furious fit. He coughed harshly. It was as if Carl would somehow cough up his bones. Carl would moan in pain. Tears were staining his face. Carl was awake now but he was in so much more pain than before. Carl gave one more cough before falling silent again.
Pete took in a deep breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. If he didn't do something then people will surely shun him from the community. He'll die if he gets thrown out.
"You said you were ambushed by walkers, so you were outside in the heat?" Pete asked. He grabbed his stethoscope and walked around to look at Carl.
The question caught Rick off guard.
"Uh, yes-YES. I took him out to show him a few things to remember if he ever found himself out on his own." Rick began explaining. Pete listened to Carl's heart beat and breathing. "We came back from fishing by the lake and the walkers appeared. We were already exhausted as it was. We got separated when the walkers turned out to be a herd of them. After I took out the monsters that followed me, Carl had already run for the lake. When I found him, Carl was on the dock with the last walker. They both fell in the lake. I shot the walker but the damn thing dragged Carl under with it. Luckily, Carl swam to shore, but now he's in this condition."
Pete nodded and took out a small light. He moved it from side to side in front of Carl's eyes. Pete took notice of Carl's neck.
"The walker was still trying to get Carl." Rick answered Pete's unsaid question.
"I'm not completely sure yet, but I'd say that the bruising around Carl's neck is causing a lack of oxygen to go to the brain. That could be the reason for Carl's lethargy. That being said, we still need to examine him properly." Pete explained. The doctor called in some nurses to take Carl away. "I have one more question, Rick. Was Carl recovering from any illness recently? "
"Like what?" Rick asked.
"Like the flu or maybe a cold?" Pete suggested.
"A cold, yes." Rick nodded.
"Okay." Pete wrote down some things on a nearby clipboard. "I'll let you know what's going to happen with Carl after I'm done with the examination." Pete turned to leave.
"Thank you, Pete. This means a lot to me." Rick thanked.
Pete spun around to face Rick and got close to Rick's face.
"Don't thank me, Rick. Don't think that our circumstances have changed." Pete said in a low voice.
"But you're saving Carl's life." Rick said.
"No, Rick, you forced that on me. If I hadn't, then I would be in an even worse place than I am now. I'm surprised Dianna let me keep my job. I didn't want Carl's blood on my hands, and that is the only reason I'm helping him." Pete walked out of the room.
"Rick? What's going on?" Michonne asked horrified.
"Carl's hurt." Rick answered with a broken voice. He fell into a chair and buried his face in his hands.
"Oh my God." Rick whispered. "Carl."
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That was part one of this story!
I want to give a huge thanks to my beta reader! She's been a good sport with being patient with me and took the time to actually go through and help me figure some things out with my story. So if you get the chance, thank her, reader her stuff, or whatever! Again, a huge thanks to her!
I'd be willing to beta anyone's stories as well. She has opened my eyes to the helpfulness of beta reading so just send me a PM if you'd like me to beta read your stories!