The longest chapter I have written for this story. 4,204 words in all.
I rolled over, feeling the muscles in my shoulder tighten as they pulled in awkward directions. The hard floor made it no better, and my head was starting to hurt. Ellis and Chip were curled against my back. Chip's head on my hip.
After the Tank the Survivors had piled inside, deciding the building with the giant hole in the wall was safer than the open air. People volunteered for watch, and right now Bill and Louis sat against the wall a few feet away from the Tank-made hole. Louis was dozing just slightly, while Bill sat awake and stared and the wall opposite him. He glanced my way, noticing the two kids sleeping over me, and with a smirk he gave me a thumbs up.
"Shut up." I mouthed, turning my head to look for the others. We had for the most part split into groups for the night. I had originally been sleeping beside Rochelle, but now Ellis and Chip were curled up against me, and Rochelle was sleeping shoulder to shoulder with Francis.
I slid from beneath the two people and sat up, looking around. It was early morning, and already I was only counting eight, when I should have been counting nine. Ellis felt the shift underneath his head and lifted his eyes groggily to stare at me.
"Nick? What ya doin'?" He really didn't sound overly interested, and simply pulled Chip closer.
"Have you seen Coach?" I whispered, thumping his arm as he closed his eyes and seemed to fall back asleep. He really hadn't heard the question, since he just groaned in sleepy protest.
"I'm tryin' ta sleep ya ass." He waved me away, but Chip had now lifted his head and was scanning the groups of people for the man. I asked Ellis again, making sure he heard it.
"Uh-uh." Flat. Blank. Sleepy. Dead. That's how he sounded.
I stood quietly, getting a soft cooing sound from Chip's young throat.
"No don't worry I'm not going to far." He was unaware of the fight Coach and I had, but he was aware that I was going outside. With a "Don't be stupid." snort, he laid his head back down on Ellis' arm.
Bill watched me leave, all to aware of who I was going to find, but he made no attempt to stop me.
"Get eaten." He said quietly and gruffly.
"Not until you bite me." I snapped back, feeling the tension rise.
The rubble the Tank had thrown around looked more of a mess in the light than in the dark, and the Tank's body was still smoking, the once pink flesh now a coal black. The truck still sizzled. The rising sun made its burned-black surface almost brown.
I retraced my path to the bridge where Chip had helped me, the Smoker's body lay in a heap on the ground. It's rope like tongue twisted into several knots. Chip's claws had scored across it's face, making it nearly unrecognizable.
I looked at the water, the land on the other side of the bay was a light gray from the mist that had settled over it. It was almost pretty. I could see the figure of Coach standing, staring at the same thing. Once I looked past it, I could see that the bridge had been blown in the middle, collapsing into the water and splitting off the two stretches of land. Pieces of steel and chucks of cars jutted out of the water like shattered bones through skin.
"You're saying I'm going to leave?"
"What?" Coach sounded completely uninterested in what I had to say to him any more, and this side of Coach pissed me off.
"You say I'll leave, and then you come out here all by yourself with no one to watch your ass." If I was a cat I would have been bordering a hiss. It was a childish argument to bring up this way, but it was childish the minute he had said anything.
"Shuddup Nicolas." His voice still sounded flat and uninterested.
"Just sayin' the truth asshole." I turned to leave, aware of his eyes burning into my head. His footsteps began to follow mine after a moment. I could see Chip sitting on the "Security" walls. Watching us for any danger to approach. I had never seen a Hunter so visible. Usually you don't see them until they're in the air, but this kid had a green shirt and was standing in broad daylight.
He made a noise between a purr and growl as we passed, sounding near the words of "Keep quiet."
Nick waved something of a solute as he passed and disappeared into the cafeteria. Coach stopped to glance up at me, stiff faced, and disappeared too. Bill looked out at me to make sure I was still there, than sat back against the wall. I positioned myself against the wall of the watch-box, looking out at the water. Bodies were scattered around where they had fallen. The Tank was scorched. The Smoker was torn in pieces. The bridge was gone. The military was gone. Bill and Coach were going to chew into Rutledge the moment the man woke up.
Everything was a mess, and I almost felt as if I wanted to clean it up. I knew I couldn't, but it was a calming thought. The water didn't care. The sun didn't care. Looking at both was like looking at how things had been. It wasn't cold. It wasn't hot. It wasn't overly humid. If it wasn't for the mess, this would be enjoyable. But this was as good as it would get at this point.
"Pup." Ellis thumped the wall behind me, calling me down. "Francis is about tah kill Ru'ledge. Though' ya might want tah see it." The edge of sleepiness was still there, even though is face looked awake. I rolled over the side of the wall and landed on two feet.
Bill tipped his green military hat as we approached the Tank-made hole. Many more people were up by now. No one was talking. Rochelle and Nick were against the back wall with Coach standing a few feet away. Rochelle looked agitated and smacked Nick's hand twice. Zoey was pinching her nose as Francis was talking to her, standing against the wall at the side of the hall. Louis was talking to a stranger.
The door at the opposite end of the hall slammed open, Rutledge came yelling through, jabbing a finger at one of his men. His dark hair plastered to his face by sweat and aggression. "I'll shoot every one of you for letting this happen! Do you know how-"
Francis rounded the corner, standing in front of him. "Good morning." He said politely with a hint of venom. Rutledge narrowed his eyes, glancing at Zoey and than back to the Biker standing in his way. Before a word could escape his mouth, Francis grabbed the front of his collar, slamming him into the wall. Rutledge's Soldiers, made no move to protect the man. Their patience and loyalty running thin.
I would have given him a chance had it been Louis or maybe Nick. But Francis would kill him with a snap of his hand. "You know what I hate? Everything. You know what I hate a lot? Cops. You want to know what you are? Pretty damn close to a cop if nothing more. You lied and nearly killed us all. You had better start explaining before we kill you deader than that Tank." His voice remained a threatening calm. He was nearly lifting Rutledge of the floor. Francis was Francis, and he was about to kill this man.
"I t-told you everything I know! The Military's gone and we have no weapons.!" His voice had risen a few octaves and he was pushing back against Francis' chest.
"No, nope. The Military is right here, and we have weapons. If you weren't so busy worrying about yourself, maybe you'd see we are better at surviving that you are."
"It's not my fault this happened." Rutledge nearly growled, his tightened shirt choking him.
"But it is your fault the Tank wasn't handled better. It's your fault you didn't tell us what was going on. It's your fault our friend was almost put down like a dog all because you were paranoid!" I flinched as Nick moved from the wall and stood closer to me. The Conman's sharp tongue was enough to make Rutledge tense. Francis shoved him into the wall again, this time Bill stepped in and broke Francis' grip on the man's collar before his neck snapped.
Coach and Rochelle had mixed in with the crowd of people gathering around the hall. The Retriever was anxious, glancing from me to the men arguing. Jaidon and the Raven haired woman did not have the friendly expression I had known them to have. They knew about this and they had been caught.
Francis, backed up but still stood tall, intimidating the man. "We leaving Fancy-suit?"
"Yeah." Nick added dryly, waving me and Ellis outside.
"L-leaving?" Jaidon called out, looking at his boss to make us stop. "You can't leave!"
"Why not?" Nick growled. His voice had changed since I had met him. It had become somewhat softer. Now I could hear the grumpy, pessimist side of him coming back now that he was faced with people he despised.
Our large group of nine moved swiftly to the door, leaving the people behind to wonder how we could leave them now.
"B-because we need to protect one-another!" Jaidon was the only to speak out, but several people had gathered to watch. Rutledge didn't say a word.
"Oh, we are protecting each other. We're just not protecting you." Nick's voice hissed.
"We protect our own, Jaidon. Your lies made that more clear." Bill dismissed him as we walked out the hole in the wall, leaving Jaidon with a hopeless expression on his face.
"Wait! Wait! You can't just leave us!" He ran after us, looking too me to buy him some time. But this was not the Doctor I knew. This was the Doctor that had set me up to die. For the first time in awhile, the taste of hatred was lifted into my throat and boiled in my chest, coming out as a threatening growl.
"We didn't just rewind, Jaidon." Louis was the one to speak now. The mostly quiet guy shut Francis up before he could make another threat. "That explosion was pretty big. Yeah, we took care of that horde, but every Zombie within radius to see that explosion, and the hear all the noise, is coming. We've startled Witches, blown things up, startles Tanks, talked too loud. Every time some sized horde came. Our answer is still no."
The growl in my throat was building, seeing Jaidon's body language. Ellis picked me up, wrapping his arms around me like he would loose me again if I stayed away too long. Jaidon watched us leave, the Retriever standing behind him at the hole. With a solid bark it turned back inside, leaving Jaidon alone.
I had been that lonely once, but now I had this family. And we weren't loosing anyone because these people slipped. Ellis finally lowered me, the gravel and rubble dug uncomfortably at my palms, but once we got close enough to the houses I would be jumping to avoid it. The craters the bombs had created varied in size and depth. Some not deep at all, others were enough to break a leg if you jumped. Ellis took one look and smacked Nick's arm.
"Hey, hey Nick? Can Chip shove ya down one uh these? Ya know, for old-times sake?"
"Shut up." Nick growled, glancing at me to make sure I didn't really take Ellis' words to heart. I skipped to catch up with Coach and Bill. Both men walked in silence. I was very short compared to them, and my neck was craned back at a ninety degree angle to look at Coach from my four-legged position on the ground. He glanced down, furrowing his brow.
"What?" His deep voice bordering quiet. "You got a real big stare goin' on there boy." The comment toward my wide eyes made me blink, looking back at Nick some ways behind with Ellis. I slowed to walk beside the blue-shirted man. None of us had gotten our jackets back if we had had one. And Nick, Zoey, Bill, and Francis really looked weird with their under shirts rather than their coats. Whatever Nick had been doing before this must have required that suit.
I looked at him with the same stare, trying to decipher his expression. It took one look for him to narrow his eyes and bump Ellis' elbow. "I think your kid's broke."
Ellis looked at me, than chuckled. "Naw. He just knows you two had been fighten'." I narrowed my eyes, looking back and forth from Coach and Nick, deciding that's what must have had them both stiffened when they had come back that morning.
The noise that left my throat was something between a hiccup and cough. Intending to be "Oh."
"God. Chip needs a haircut." Zoey looked over her shoulder. "If only we had some-"
"Shh!" Louis placed a hand on her shoulder, pointing toward the closest crater. I bounded over, looking over the jagged edge. The Jockey inside let out an excited scream as I became visible. I returned it with a small howl, not intending to make him aware of the people behind me, which he probably was any way. The crater wall was to high and tight-packed for him to grab hold and force himself up. His skin burned and peeling like a horrible sun-burn.
"Well damn. I kinda feel bad for the thing." Bill bent down as the Jockey made another attempt to reach it's long arms far enough to get up. His fingers and wrists were bloody and broken. His visible, thin spine was scraped and bruised. His toes were all but gone from his attempt to claw.
"I wish we had a gun." Coach held my shoulder, noticing how close I was to falling in. I was nearly tempted to jump in and shove him out. He was a Zombie but he was stuck. Stuck in the sun and beating himself to death. Of course I knew I couldn't. Jockeys were tricky and fast, no matter what physical condition, and no guns would make him easy to kill. Seeing such a Zombie like this was pitiful knowing how deadly they can be.
"We had better go." Louis began to walk on, the Jockey squealed in an irritated excitement, scratching and tugging at the earth wall to try and reach him.
As we walked farther away, the Jockey began to scream, knowing we were there but clearly out of it's reach. The Louisianan sun beat down on us, and I knew it wouldn't be much longer before the Infected baked to death. I could look back and barely see the blue dot that was the Military base, and I wondered if what Nick said would be true. I knew other Zombies had seen and heard everything last night. But that didn't mean their attention spans wouldn't allow them to forget what they were walking for half-way.
We had no water, even though the water from the bay could be heated over a fire to make it drinkable. But we had no means of making a fire, and food was could make a pretty good joke.
Building walls were still standing, half collapsed and burned. New Orleans was unrecognizable. Another jet skimmed the sky farther up ahead, circling the shoreline across the water.
"They're covering up a retreat." Nick mumbled, watching the bomber jet fly farther and farther away.
"I really thought we were making good time." Rochelle looked around at the dead city, and decided she had been way off.
"The Echo safe haven was gone weeks ago. It didn't seem like the Military was sending any help. They must have cut evacuations short." Zoey glanced back at the bridge that had collapsed, cutting off the two stretches of land.
The rubble was beginning to dig into my hands. The heat making my palms burn like I was stepping on a beaches hot sand with no shoes. I was almost glad I no longer had my jacket, although it had been somewhat of a security blanket. Ellis tugged his hat onto my head, keeping the sun off my face.
The Military base was now no longer visible, only gray land stretched in three of the four directions. It was now noon, so the sun wasn't even at it's peak. With no shelter, our travel slowed and the nine of us began to spread into a long line.
My hands began to ache and sting, small drops of blood spearing the rocks and wood panels I stepped over. The hot ground and dirt made the stinging intensify. I didn't want to make it noticeable, but I couldn't help but lift each of my appendages in turn to give them relief.
"You look like a dog with boots on..." Francis grabbed my waist and lifted me up, looking at my hands and deciding the blood wasn't much to deal with. "Kiddo over here is bleeding."
I squirmed in grasp, feeling the muscles in my back tighten painfully. Ellis still had his Mechanic Cover-all wrapped around his waist. They hadn't made him take it off since he was wearing them as pants. He ripped off part of the sleeves and wrapped them around my hands. Francis finally put me down, and I had to twist my back to make myself loose again.
The fabric stung, but it would guard my palms.
"Man, if we don't find shelter at some point we gonna be sleepin' in the open." Ellis took off his hat and brushed his hair back. The bay was now farther away, since we had begun to walk more inland. It was a simple gray in every direction. The bridge turning into a blurry line.
"Oh, here's a question I didn't ask. Where are we going?" Zoey stopped, finally realizing we were going no where.
"Well. It's apparent the South is gone." Bill removed his hat and put it in his pocket.
Atlanta was gone, and being a bigger city, I knew that most states in that direction were overrun. It had been weeks since anything had been said about the western states, since any new broadcast hadn't lasted very long. Philadelphia was gone, so Northern states, at least in the Southern corner were gone. We were in the lower corner of Louisiana, so getting out of the state to the West would take days.
I didn't even know what direction we're going now.
"The bag my map was in is back at the highway. Unless you all feel like going back there, start watching the sun." Zoey stated.
"The military's gone. So it can't be good anywhere." Louis cut in.
"Than I guess we jus' keep walkin'. N'awlins is where we are now." Coach said. Nick rolled his eyes. "Are we know?"
It now looked to be about two, and the bridge was no longer visible. My hands were now numb, and the strained muscles in my back began twist uncomfortably. We must have been nearing the edge of the city, since the remains of houses and streets became visible. Less craters were slammed into the ground, and blown and burned street signed were scattered around, obviously no where near their streets.
"Lumberton." Nick called out, lifting a large green sign. "Where the hell is Lumberton?"
"Well shit. We're in the corner of Mississippi." Coach pointed down the cracked and abused road that stretched across the ground.
"How do you know that?" Louis asked.
"You live in the South as long as I have, you know where the hell everything is." Coach chuckled. "We really must'ah been walking fast to get this far."
"So walking West is out of the question?" Francis asked, pointing back the way we had come
"Not unless you feel like walking through Louisiana and Texas." Rochelle chuckled.
"No I'm good."
"Well, I think we walked far 'nough today. Might as well fin' somewhere for the night." Coach announced, noticing that the houses were destroyed but walls were in tacked and could provide cover.
I bounded ahead to search for something adequate, ignoring the tightness of my back. Following the road, a deteriorating shopping plaza was still in good condition compared to New Orleans. Several stores still had a portion of the roof left.
I yowled for their attention, leading the way. A few houses and chunks of debris littered the road, and I had to navigate carefully to not step on something sharp. I stepped over the first stores door frame, jumping over a ruined shelf and settled onto the back wall.
"Good eye Chip." Rochelle looked around, brushing off the ground before sitting.
"Man, I wish we had a car right now." Francis complained.
"I think I saw a car dealership down the street Francis. Wanna take a look?" Nick asked sarcastically.
"I hate car dealerships."
By the time night had come, the temperature had lowered a few degrees and the air was comfortable. We had all settled against the back wall, staying out of sight from any Infected that possibly may wonder by. I had my head on Ellis' lap, having woken up at least twice in the two hours I had been trying to sleep.
"Here's an age old one Rochelle, Coke or Pepsi?"
"Coach, Spitters or Jockeys?"
The eight of them had been going back and forth, asking this-over-that questions to pass the time and energy.
"Bill, Francis or Nick?" Zoey asked, receiving a glare from both men that soon turned on Bill.
I yawned, curling my arms against my chest.
We had gotten pretty lucky so far, and it didn't look like it would get much more dangerous unless the military came in. The Country was being demolished and we were smack in the middle. We had no state to turn to and no rescue waiting any longer.
One had turned to two, then two to nine. Atlanta, Savannah, and New Orleans were all gone, and everything in between. We had been split up, left behind, hurt, lied to, and nearly killed. But we were still sitting in a little store, waiting to sleep so we could keep walking in the morning.
I figured as long as we didn't kill each other first, we would last a little longer.
"Hey Ellis, Tanks or Hunters?"
A hand was placed on my head, brushing back the hair that had fallen into my eyes.
So what did you think about the ending? Good? Bad? So-so? Cheesy? Peanut Gallery?
It was hard writting the end of this. ;w;
I got a little too attached to these Fictional characters.
I want to say thank you to all of you that reviewed this story. I enjoyed reading each one and I appreciate the feedback this got. This is the longest story I have finished at 35 chapters, and I want to say sorry for the horribly long wait. I had typed this up completely and then something happened and it didn't save. So this second version isn't the same, but I'm still really happy with it.
I hope you all enjoyed! 3