*I want to thank anyone reading this story. Your feedback and positive response has been wonderful. I can't believe this is the final chapter. It makes me kind of sad that this is the end. Quick note: Someone asked about a dog killing a walker from the last chapter. I should have reworked that passage a little better. In this story, the dog has never actually seen a walker killed due to her limited contact with humans, so she doesn't know that dogs can't kill them. I wanted to have her attempt to kill the one in the office before Glenn came to assist her but I was afraid it would make too much noise and the men downstairs would have heard the ruckus. So I should have explained it a little better, I'm sorry about that. Anyway, happy reading and thank you again! Please feel free to comment or pm me with any ideas or questions. I hope this will be a fitting end for our canine heroine.
This morning everyone from camp broke into groups. Dale, Carol, Sophia and Carl stayed at camp to pack up. The rest of us went to go find Rick. T-Dog told everyone where he and Rick split, so Shane assigned each team an area to search. "Everyone stay close enough so that if another team needs you it won't be too far of a distance to travel. Try not to fire your guns but please do if you get into a real pinch," said Shane, nervously tugging on the chain around his neck. Daryl accompanied Glenn while T-Dog paired with Andrea. I went with Shane and Lori.
I could sense their uneasiness as we searched the woods. Shane carried his gun raised as if he would fire at any moment. I kept my nose to the ground and tried my hardest to distinguish a scent even remotely close to Rick's. I felt as if I was the one leading them so I increased my pace when I caught a faint smell. The three of us moved towards the sunrise. I sneezed from the fine, dry dirt on the forest floor. It was difficult to keep the original thread of that first scent. I hoped it would grow stronger or dissipate so that I could move on to another path.
As we arrived at a small crevasse, I caught a lead. I found a piece of Rick's t-shirt lying on the ground near the base of a large tree. I sniffed wildly around the tree as Lori picked up the swatch of material with shaking hands. "This was the shirt he was wearing," she said gravely. "It looks like it was torn off."
I could feel Lori and Shane's hearts begin to pound. My own had been throbbing in my ears since the night before. The two of them looked at me somberly. I pressed my body against Lori's in an attempt to comfort her but it was of no use. To be honest I began to feel discouraged as well. The swatch of fabric was an excellent find, however, Rick's scent trail had dropped off completely. I couldn't understand why I couldn't track him with my nose. Something was wrong. It was as if he had left the area entirely. But why would he do that? My mind raced.
I listened to the water of the nearby creek and thought back to the ducks. I had so much fun that day with Rick, Carl and Daryl. They were so proud of me when I tracked the ducks with my eyes and then swam to their small bodies to retrieve them. Rick gave me pats and kisses and told everyone what a good hunter I was. I would miss sitting with him by the fire and hearing his soft, soothing voice. I had searched so long to find my new owner and he was gone in an instant. My stomach churned as I thought of my boy Jacob. I lost him in only a moment too. Just when I thought I'd never get to enjoy another minute with Rick again I suddenly remembered. The ducks! Yes, that was it!
I gave a high-pitched whine and began to sprint back towards the creek. Lori and Shane called behind me. I had to slow down so I wouldn't lose them. It was so difficult to keep myself from running as fast as my legs would take me. We ran along the edge of the creek until the water began to get much deeper. We had not come down this way before.
As we ran, that weak scent of Rick's came back. It did not get stronger but I would take anything I could get at that point. Just as the land along the water formed a sharp turn, I stopped short, causing Lori and Shane to nearly trip over me. I backed up and growled, letting Lori and Shane know the other stench that mingled with Rick's fragrance. It was monsters, and by the strength of the odor that hit my nose, it was a large number of them.
I climbed a hill to get a better vantage point. Lori and Shane followed me without words as a small boat dock came into view. The scent was still there. Rick was still alive. He had to be.
Shane scanned the area and suddenly grabbed Lori's arm. "Lori, look! He exclaimed. "Do you see? Under the dock. It's him!"
The three of us peered under the dock and saw two hands holding on tightly to one of the sturdy legs of the structure. Rick was gently floating under the protective cover of the wooden dock. Only his head and hands were higher than the water. Above him, on the land just near the dock, were at least a dozen monsters. They milled around and sniffed the air, groaning and rasping. Their soulless eyes scanned both air and land. They knew Rick was close by yet they couldn't quite find him. Since his body was fully submerged in the water, it was much harder to detect his scent, just as it was when I was locating the ducks in the water.
Shane looked down at me with wide eyes. "Girl, how in the world did you…? Oh never mind. We need to get down to him and I mean yesterday," said Shane.
Lori held on to a tree nearby. "How? We can't call to him. I think he might be injured too."
"What makes you say that?" asked Shane.
"He could easily swim across the water and to the other side to dry land, but he hasn't. He's so close to camp. If he was healthy, he'd have outrun these things and come back a long time ago."
Shane got on one knee and thought. "Do you know if walkers can swim?"
Lori shook her head. "No. I mean I've never seen them do it, but it doesn't mean they can't. Why?"
"If we swam to him and dragged him across to this side, we could get him back. If he's injured I could carry him," said Shane. "That is if the walkers can't swim. If they can…I don't know. I mean this water could be shallow enough to run through as well. We haven't had rain in awhile. But I say we cross that bridge when we get there. We have to be as quiet as humanly or…" He looked down at me. "We just have to be extremely quiet."
I stood between them and watched their exchange. Whatever they decided, I was certainly up for it. I didn't care what I'd be expected to do as long as it helped to save Rick.
"Okay," she said, nodding. "Let's go for it."
"We leave the guns," said Shane. "We can't risk dropping and losing them. Plus, we're gonna need to keep our shoes and clothes on if we're gonna make a fast getaway so we don't need anything additional weighing us down."
They each placed their guns at the top of the hill and we entered the water behind the cover of some overgrown bushes. The three of us submerged ourselves and moved as quietly as we could through the liquid, our bodies covered to our necks. This would help to mask our scent. Now all we had to hope for was that the monsters wouldn't see our heads bobbing along the surface.
"My feet are still touching the ground," whispered Shane. "That makes me feel a little better."
The water was too deep for my feet to reach the ground, but I wasn't nervous. I was a very good swimmer so I did not think we'd have any trouble making an escape.
As we got closer to Rick it became very clear that he was feeling poorly. He shivered in the water and he looked terribly weak and exhausted. He stiffened when he first turned and saw us, probably thinking we were monsters. When he saw that it was only us a look of relief washed over his face. We got under the dock undetected. I wanted to howl and dance and make a scene when I got close to him but I had to keep quiet for fear of the beasts just above us. Rick smiled despite his physical state. "Man I'm glad to see you guys," he said. I gave him a kiss on his nose before moving out of the way for Lori.
"Baby," whispered Lori, tears rolling down her face. She held his face in her hands. "We were so worried about you. Where are you hurt?"
Rick spoke through chattering teeth. "I think one of my legs is broken. I lost my footing yesterday when T-Dog and I were ambushed. I tried to crawl into an old ranger tower but the wood was rotted. It gave way and I fell a pretty good distance."
"Oh man," said Shane. "How long have you been in the water?"
"Since last night right after sunset. It was quite a scene just getting down here. But once I got under the dock they just started milling around like they couldn't locate me. I don't think they can smell the living if we're in the water. It seems like they can't anyway. I don't know. But this was the best hiding place I could find under the circumstances," said Rick.
"God, man you could catch your death just by sittin' in this water too long, let alone the walkers," said Shane, shaking his head. "Look I'm gonna have you hold onto me, okay? We're gonna swim you out of here to the other side of the water. We just need to move slowly and not make a peep."
"That shouldn't be a problem for me in my current condition," Rick said, laughing weakly.
Just then a monster trudged onto the dock. We could hear its clumsy footfalls above us. The wood creaked under the weight. I could see the reflection of its face in the water below. It was a large, hideously mangled male. We all stayed silent as the creature peered at its reflection in the water. At first it looked puzzled at the mirror image. It leaned further down and I became nervous. I felt Shane grab my collar and pull me against his chest. He was breathing rapidly.
The monsters pale grey hand reached for itself in the water below. My interactions with the creatures had taught me that they had terrible balance. This particular being was no different. It fell headfirst into the water. Not sure what to do next, we all stayed still and watched in horror. It bobbed there for a few moments, squinting against the sun's reflection off the water.
Apparently the clamor made by the first creature drew the interest of the rest of them because they all came ambling onto the dock or towards the waters edge. Lori, Shane and Rick exchanged terrified looks. If the creature that fell into the water noticed us, it could create a very tenuous situation indeed.
The thing floated for a few moments, oddly silent and reflective. Well, as reflective as a monster could be, I suppose. Even the beasts above our heads and at the waters edge ceased all motion and sound. To a casual observer this scenario could have appeared peaceful and serene. However, the knot in my stomach told me it was a calm before a storm.
As the creature floated, it looked at the water, which replicated the image of anything that was above it. The monster saw the trees and the birds up above in the dark water and peered at the surface as if it were watching a television show. Its bloodshot eyes drank in all of the sights...the images of the monsters at the waters edge and on the dock, white puffy clouds…two men, a woman and a dog…
The beast blinked and raised its eyes to meet Rick's. For a tense moment, nothing and no one made a movement. However that moment was short lived. The monster roared and lunged forward at us. Shane let go of me and grabbed Rick. He began to swim out from under the dock. I followed, keeping a close eye on the creature in the water. It did not swim, but it moved remarkably well now that he knew food was just a short distance away. It sliced through the water on long legs, screeching at us. We got a quarter of the way across when we heard Lori scream. A monster from up above on the dock had grabbed her by her hair. Its spiderlike fingers yanked at the long brown stands and soon Lori's body was coming out of the water. Her legs kicked madly as she tried to get free.
Shane let go of Rick, who used his good leg to try to stay afloat. I swam near him and circled his body. Shane ran back, grabbed his knife from his thigh and quickly cut Lori's hair free. She dropped back in the water and they began to swim towards us. The large creature that first fell into the water was now moving quickly towards Rick and me. I swam from Rick and began to swim around the creature, hoping to divert its attention from Rick, Shane and Lori. It reached at me with massive hands. I snarled at it and watched as Shane and Lori got back to Rick and began pulling him to the other side of the water.
"No!" screamed Rick hoarsely. "No girl! Come to us!" he cried. I tried to swim towards him but the large monster was too close to me. In addition, the other beasts were now either running or falling into the water from the dock. I knew Shane, Rick and Lori could make it safely across as long as I kept the monster at bay.
"Take Rick," Shane commanded to Lori. He then moved back towards me as fast as he could. The large monster got a hold of my collar and began to pull me towards it. My air became restricted as I saw the creatures jaws just a foot from my face. I bared my own jaws, but it was of no use. Just when I thought I'd be this things meal, I felt it suddenly release its grip upon my collar. Shane had snuck up from behind it and plunged a knife under its chin into its head. Its large body went limp and sunk down into the water.
"Come girl!" he roared. We propelled forward in the water. The monsters behind were gaining on us, but we had just enough time to get to the shore. I shook my wet body wildly as Shane and Lori each draped one of Rick arms over their shoulders and began to pull him up the hill. They were halfway up when Lori lost her footing on some leaves and fell back, slamming her head on a jagged rock.
"Oh my God! Lori!" exclaimed Rick, falling to the ground and attempting to crawl towards her. Shane rushed to her side and touched her head. He pulled a bloody hand away and looked as if he'd be sick.
"Shane," said Rick, breathing rapidly. "They've reached the other side. They're on land."
We turned to see the monsters approaching us. Shane's breathing was staggered. "Rick, I need you to do your best here. I'll carry Lori. Just hold on to me for balance. We need to get out of here." He lifted an unconscious Lori into his arms and draped her over his shoulder. Rick struggled to get up and moaned when he finally reached a standing position. We all began to climb the hill. Rick used his arms to pull himself up the best that he could but in his weakened state it was not fast enough. As I watched the beasts get closer, I knew that I had to create a diversion.
I ran back down the hill and into the crush of monsters. For the first time in months I barked. I barked so loud and so much that my throat became sore. I circled and danced and barked and growled until all of those monsters had me in their sights. I heard Rick scream for me. I looked up and was relieved to see that he had made it to the top of the hill. With the din of rasping creatures all around me, I couldn't make out what he was saying, but he had tears in his eyes and his arms were reaching for me. Shane looked back at me and I saw an expression of sadness on his face. We exchanged a knowing look. I knew then that this was not only my last moment seeing Shane, Lori and my precious friend Rick, but it would also be my last moments of this earth.
In a last ditch effort for my sake, Shane grabbed his rifle at the top of the hill where he'd left it and he fired off three shots. The beasts all stopped and looked up, some making movements towards the hill. I pitched back and dodged two of them then rounded a turn in front of them all. Rick was still screaming for me when Shane grabbed him and pulled him away from the hill's edge.
I got an idea to run back in to the water to swim to the other side, but that plan was scrapped once I realized that I'd never make it to the waters edge without being grabbed. I tried to dodge three that were approaching from my left but it only made one of them trip and fall forward right on top of me. I howled in pain as it landed on my hip. I used all the strength in my front legs to pull myself out from under the creature. Once I was free, I tried again to circle around, but the pain in my left leg and hip was too intense. I hobbled back near the hill but lost my footing. I clawed and scratched at dry leaves and dirt before falling back to the bottom of the hill, right at the feet of the beasts. Two females reached for my fur and began to yank at it. I cried out, the pain unbearable. The fight within me began to subside. I was exhausted and injured. However, I knew that I helped to save Rick and Shane and Lori, and perhaps the rest of my new family at camp. I had only been with them for one week, but it was the best week of my entire life. As I succumbed to my destiny, I suddenly felt thick, coagulated blood splatter in my face.
Perhaps it was the noise from the monsters or my impending doom but I did not hear gunshots. I simply watched as two, then three and then four beasts' heads were ripped open by bullets, including the two that were holding me. I shakily stood up and looked to my left. I saw Daryl and Glenn each firing their guns in my direction. Daryl temporarily lowered his gun and bellowed, "Come on girl! Come to us!" before raising the weapon again. Their efforts had created a clear path for me and I overcame any pain I was feeling and ran to them as fast as I could. I made it twenty yards before my hip gave out and I stumbled to the ground.
Daryl sprinted to me and lifted me into his arms. Glenn fired off two more shots before catching up to us. Daryl and Glenn ran along the water line until they saw an appropriate area to turn off towards camp without the monsters seeing us. They trudged through some heavy brush and Glenn expressed some concerns that we might be lost. "No worries," said Daryl calmly. "We almost there, I'm sure of it." He looked down at me. "You know, for being underfed, you're still pretty heavy little girl," he joked.
The three of us rejoiced as we saw camp through the trees. Carl, Sophia and Andrea ran to us, all with tears in their eyes. Shane thought she was dead for sure," Andrea said, breathless.
"Glenn and I heard gunfire and ran towards the sound. Found her just in time. She was 'bout to be something's lunch," said Daryl softly. "How is everyone else? Rick?" he asked.
"Shane brought him back here. His leg is broken. Lori hit her head and got knocked out. Rick was so exhausted, that he's barely conscious too. He was real upset about the dog, though. Just beside himself, you know?" said Andrea. I felt Daryl and Glenn relax when they heard of Rick's safety.
Daryl carried me to the RV and asked Glenn for a couple bottles of water. He took me over to a quiet area and put on some gloves so he could wash the monster blood off my face. I wasn't keen on getting wet again, but it did feel nice to get the film of the blood off of my fur. I lay on my side, resting my hip. Daryl, Glenn and Andrea examined me. "I don't think it's broken," said Daryl, gently holding my leg and running his hands across my hip. "But she'll need to stay off it for awhile."
Shane emerged from the RV with Dale trailing behind him. "Are you sure you didn't swallow any of that water or get it in your eyes?" he asked. "No cuts on your body or anything right? I just need to be sure, Shane. The blood from the walker you killed was in that water."
Shane shook his head. "No. I'm clear, I promise." He looked over and saw me lying on the ground next to Daryl. His eyes widened. "Girl?" he asked, jaw agape. "How did you…? Oh, never mind!" he said, coming to me. He knelt down and reached his hand to me. "She's hurt?" Shane asked.
"Her left hip's botherin' her. I'm not sure what happened. We got there just as they were about to rip into her," said Daryl.
Shane's eyes became moist. He looked down at me. "I'm so sorry we had to leave you. I'm so sorry. But you were so brave, you know that?" I licked his hand and draped my paw over his wrist.
"What did she do?" asked Daryl, as everyone gathered around me.
"She saw that we didn't have enough time to get away from the walkers so she ran right back out to 'em and started barking and circling. She took their attentions away from us. She was willing to sacrifice herself for us. I've never seen anything like it. We owe you. You crazy dog. We owe you a lot," said Shane, laying his head against mine.
Dale smiled. "And to think we questioned even having a dog in camp. Can you imagine?"
"We all packed up?" asked Daryl. "Glenn and I took out a half dozen walkers but the rest were right on our tail. Plus the ones that heard all those shots earlier. There's no way we can stay here tonight."
Dale nodded. "Rick and Lori are resting in the RV. I set his leg as best as I could, but we'll have to do something more substantial for him tomorrow. We're ready to go whenever everyone is ready."
Most of the people got into the RV. T-Dog and Carol both drove. Daryl put his motorcycle in the back of the pickup truck and I got into the truck with him and Glenn. I rested my head on Daryl's lap as our convoy rolled along to find another temporary home.
We arrived at a secluded area with lots of tree cover. Daryl laid me on the ground where some sunlight shone through the trees. I was so tired that I slept under the warmth of the sun until it began its descent into the horizon. It was just getting dark when Daryl stirred me awake. "Hey girl. Want to go see Rick?"
I raised my head and wagged my tail. Daryl smiled. I stood and limped to the steps of the RV. Daryl lifted me and carried me to the back. Rick and Lori were lying in the bed. Lori was finally awake and Rick's hurt leg was elevated. He was bundled up in blankets. When he saw me, Rick began to laugh and cry at the same time, and he reached for me. Daryl placed me on the bed and I licked Rick and Lori on their noses.
Rick held me tight and tugged my ears. "You saved us, girl. You know that?"
I did. But that was my job. What kind of dog would I be had I let the monsters get my family? My life had no meaning without any of them anyway.
We ate a quick dinner and we all crowded into the RV to sleep together. It was a tight squeeze but we didn't have enough time to make sure that the area was safe enough to erect tents. Daryl made a spot for me between him and Andrea. He made a joke about how he didn't want Andrea trying to get over the "dog barrier" at him. It made her laugh hysterically but I didn't understand what he meant.
As we all lay in our spots together, everyone talked softly. "I'm trying to remember the name of that song. The one by the Allman Brothers," said Rick. "It's been in my head for two days. The one about the gypsy."
"Melissa," said Daryl.
"Yes, that's it," said Rick. "Melissa. I couldn't think of the name. It makes me think of the dog. You know, because she was like the gypsy in the song, wandering around with no real home to call her own."
"Just like us," said Glenn.
"That's true," said Dale. "Because of this…whatever it is…we'll probably spend a lot of our time drifting from place to place searching for our home. We have no place to grow roots. Not now anyway. We're essentially modern day gypsies."
Everyone got quiet. I could hear crickets singing a chorus outside. It was a soothing sound.
"Gypsy," said Carl. "I think that would make a good name for her."
"Gypsy?" asked Rick.
I lifted my head and looked at him expectantly. Daryl giggled. "Sounds like she kinda likes it. What do ya'll think? Want to name her Gypsy?"
Everyone agreed. "What do you think girl?" asked Rick. "You like your new name?"
I gazed at my owner in his bed and wagged my tail rapidly. Everyone laughed. "Gypsy it is," said Rick smiling.
So I'm drifting off tonight amongst my wonderful family of gypsies. We may be nomads with no real home, but we have each other and that's really all that matters. I hope every dog that's lost out there gets a chance to become part of a family like mine.
Good luck out there, readers. It's a dangerous time we live in. I believe the expression is that it's a "dog eat dog" world. Seems rather funny to call it that now, doesn't it?
Thank you for reading my story. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've had telling it.