The New Daryl

XX

The zombies closed in around them, moaning with hunger. They were coming from the forest, from out across the field in front of the barn; it was like they were converging on the house from everywhere in the whole county. There was no time to think, and nowhere to escape; they needed to get inside, and fast. Herschel and the others on the porch recognized this and darted inside, while Daryl motioned with his crossbow for Merle to follow him. His brother shot a vicious look at Morgan and Duane as he passed them, and they took up the rear behind Daryl, closing the front door behind them.

"They'll be on us any second," said Daryl. "We gotta close everything up and board the windows. Grab his gun," he told Rick, motioning for the pistol still tucked in his brother's pants. Rick pulled it awkwardly out. "Go tie him up so he can't cause any trouble."

"Some family loyalty you got," said Merle.

"Things have changed, big brother."

Daryl looked around the room. Carol and her daughter were now reunited, and the sight brought a smile to his face, just for a moment. But this was no time to celebrate an unexpected turn of events, seeing as they were all about to be zombie chow if they didn't get a move on. Herschel announced he had some boards down in the basement and left with several members of his family, whom Daryl didn't even recognize; apparently they had hung out in the farm house ever since he got here without actually saying anything. What a weird family. And there was Rick, off tying up his brother, with Andrea helping. Lori was probably in the bedroom with her son.

But where in the world were Shane and Dale? And where was Glenn and Maggie? This was just about the worst time for anybody to go missing. They were definitely short on people – and guns.

Herschel came back up from the basement with the boards and passed them out to everyone. One of his sons had hammers and nails; Daryl grabbed some and began to hammer a board into place across a window beside the front door. Glancing out, he could see the zombies approaching. The first of them was already on the front porch, its teeth gnashing as it caught sight of him on the other side of the glass. Many more lurched through the darkness behind it. Things were not looking good.

"Where the hell is everybody?" he asked no one in particular.

"Maggie and Glenn disappeared after dinner," said Rick as he returned from tying Merle up. "Probably off to have sex in private."

Herschel shot him an irritated look.

"Er, I mean, probably to go do something productive around the farm? Don't make us leave!"

"Ain't nobody leavin' now," said Daryl as he finished nailing his board into place. The zombie on the porch pushed against the window, its milky eyes staring into the room, its hands searching for an entrance, confused by the glass. Alone, it couldn't get through. But once it had some friends pushing with it, Daryl didn't think those windows could last forever. He began to think this was a bad idea; maybe they'd be safe in here temporarily, but they couldn't board up everything in the house. Not unless Herschel had a whole hardware store down in his basement. The best idea might have been to make a break for it and give up the house before they were surrounded, but it was too late for that.

The house was beginning to ring with the sound of hammering and shuffling as people went to and fro with boards in their hands, but even among the racket, Daryl could hear the increasing moans coming from the zombies outside. They knew they had prey trapped inside the house. They could hear, they could smell – and it they got in, they could eat. He nailed a few more boards to his window, trying to ignore the unsettling sight of rotting faces pressed against the pane, spreading filth over it in a blurry mess as they their undead desires spurred them inexorably forth. The sound of hammering was broken for a moment by a loud shatter that came from the living room.

"Help!"

Daryl raced into the other room and found Lori against a window, struggling to free herself from a pair of arms trying to pull her through. Daryl rushed forward and smacked at one of the arms with the claw end of his hammer, pulling away a chunk of stinking flesh. The zombie howled in anger and pulled back, letting Lori free. "The couch," said Daryl. "Try to set it up against the window!"

They had barely started trying to hole themselves up, but Daryl knew it was already too late. They weren't going to hold back any zombies from this window with a couch, and they just didn't have enough people to block the other entrances fast enough. He could already hear the zombies pounding against the walls, their cries rising to howls as they grew angry at their inability to get through and claw their food to pieces.

"This isn't going to work," said Herschel. "We can't board anything up in time. There's only one option."

"What's that?" asked Daryl.

"We need to negotiate with them!"

Daryl gaped as Herschel ran to the front door of the house, which had not been boarded up. Before he could yell at the old man to stop, he flung open the door as everyone watched in horror. Several zombies had been clawing at the door to get in; they stood gaping in surprise now that it was opened for them.

"I know there must be something in there," Herschel told them, "something human, something left over from your lives. If you have anything in you that remembers, if you have any humanity left at all, please, just stop for one moment and listen to-"

The first zombie bit deeply into Herschel's shoulder, sending a spray of blood spattering against the wall beside the door. Herschel screamed in agony as a second one knocked the door open farther and sank its teeth into Herschel's arm, causing him to stumble back in pain. All three of them collapsed to the ground in a twisted heap, while a couple more zombies stumbled through the door and into the house, noticing more human treats waiting to be eaten inside. Rick took aim and shot one of them through the head with the gun he had taken from Merle. The other one was coming at Daryl with surprising speed, at least before he skewered its eye with a crossbow bolt.

"Fall back!" said Daryl. "We can shut the doors to the kitchen and try to get out the back way! Maybe there ain't as many waiting for us behind the house!"

One of Herschel's family members tried to pry the zombies off his dying father, only go get dragged down with him as yet another zombie stumbled in through the front door. Daryl had no idea who that kid was, but either way, he was dead as a doornail now. He turned over a couple of tables to block off a hallway as they left the front of the house and headed back towards the kitchen. They stopped at the bedroom where Carl and Sophia had been staying. "Sophia," said Carol, "come with us! We have to-"

Sophia appeared in the bedroom doorway, facing into the room with her back to them. She backed out slowly. Carl was in the room. For a moment, he looked alright – he had been bedridden earlier, but maybe he was feeling better. But something in his eyes, something in his shuffling walk, let Daryl know he wasn't better at all. He raised his crossbow as the boy stepped out into the hallway.

"No!" screamed Lori. She threw herself against him, but it sent both of them to the ground.

It was enough time for Carl to bite his mother on the neck as she tried to stand again. She screamed in pain. Rick pulled his son away, but the wound was obviously fatal. Daryl tried to aim the crossbow again, but Rick was in the way, struggling with his son – trying to hold him back but not hurt him at the same time. The sound of moans reached them from down the hall, and Daryl turned to see more zombies flooding in from the front of the house. His overturned tables had done nothing to slow them. He barely managed to stumble over Lori, still writhing on the ground and holding her neck, when the first of the zombies got to them. Rick shot one through the head while Carol and her daughter rushed back into the kitchen along with Morgan's son. Morgan himself held back in the hallway.

"Come on, Rick!" he shouted. "Let 'em go!"

Carl knocked Rick back with surprising strength and turned back to attack his mother on the floor. The other zombies managed to push inwards, and Rick wasted another couple of bullets firing at them and missing. "You don't understand!" he screamed as Daryl and Morgan pulled him back from the zombies, which fell on Lori. "She's my wife!"

"Hey, I had to shoot my damn wife in the head," said Morgan. "Well, okay, I chickened out, but the point is, woman's a zombie. Gotta accept things as they come, Rick! Now let's go!"

His wife had been struggling against the zombies as they pulled her back, but she gave her husband a look and nodded resolutely, no longer trying to escape. She knew she was doomed, and Rick knew it too. He took aim and fired. Lori fell back into the mass of zombies pressing down the hall. As Rick stood in shock, Morgan dragged him away, towards the kitchen.

Daryl barely managed to slip through the kitchen door and slam it shut before the zombies were on him. Even as he locked it, he could hear them clawing and pounding at the other side. There were too many of them out front, and if they were all pouring through the house now, they didn't have long before they broke into the kitchen, too. They'd have to go out the back door. He turned back to everyone else in the kitchen, and noticed them looking at an empty chair. A length of rope lay on the floor around it.

Andrea gave a nervous shrug. "Guess he got free," she said.

They didn't have time to think about where Merle might have gone. It was time to flee. Daryl was heading for the kitchen's back door when it flew open. He raised his crossbow again, cursing at the sight of just one bolt left over, but it wasn't a zombie that came in; it was Shane.

"Shane!" said Rick. "Where've you been?"

"I was, uh – well, I was out at the barn, checkin' things out. Where's Lori?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I had an affair with her while we thought you were dead – I'm here to take her away."

"Well, she's dead, bud. That train's passed."

"Dammit!"

Shane was breathing heavily. Daryl noticed he had some kind of wound in his side; he was holding his hand to it, slumping in pain a little. "What happened there?" he asked.

"Nothin'. Just ran into a bullet, that's all."

A rumbling sound came from outside the kitchen's back door. It grew louder, and Shane backed away nervously – just in time to avoid getting run over as Dale's camper smashed through the side of the wall, sending the doorway flying into the room, along with a chunks of plaster and shattered wood. The ceiling buckled due to the sudden loss of support. Daryl flung his arms up over his head, expecting to be crushed, but the camper seemed to be holding it up at least for the moment.

As the dust cleared, swirling through the kitchen in the glare of the camper's headlights, Dale jumped out of the driver's side door with an assault rifle in his hand. Several zombies were approaching from out in the back yard; Dale mowed them down in a spray of gunfire before turning into the house and giving Shane a look that could cut glass. "Shane tried to kill me," he said. "And he killed Otis, too!"

"Lies!"

Shane aimed the gun at Dale before he could raise his assault rifle. Both Daryl and Rick took aim at Shane with their own weapons, although Rick was a little slower on the draw. "Shane," he said, "what are you doing?"

"Don't listen to that old man! He just got from the barn, and you know what? Herschel ain't got no relatives holed up in there, he's just growing a bunch of marijuana plants. Dale's hopped up on weed!"

"That may be true," said Dale, "but you're still a murderer."

"You're a liar! You tried to kill me first, and I didn't kill Otis, either. He just couldn't keep-"

Shane stopped talking and took a step back as a zombie stepped through the collapsed section of the wall beside the camper. Dale was nearly caught in its grasp before he jumped aside himself, and Daryl was about to shoot it with his last crossbow bolt when he noticed it wasn't just any zombie. And boy, was that awkward for Shane.

"Otis?"

The zombie groaned at Shane's question, but it was definitely Otis. And not just because it was pretty fat.

"There you go!" said Dale. "Look right there. Bullet hole in the leg!"

"Okay, fine, so I killed Otis! He was slowing me down, just like the rest of you've been doing. Dawdlin' here at this stupid farm run by a guy who thinks killing zombies is a bad idea, a guy who wants to take our guns away? Wasting time searching for a girl we know is dead when we need to get to the army base?"

"I'm not dead," said Sophia.

"Oh, my bad. I didn't notice-"

Shane had spoken too long. Zombie Otis knocked him down with its sheer weight. He screamed as the zombie bit into his flesh while everyone watched in horror. Daryl didn't really have any pressing need to save the guy, seeing as he was acting pretty unhinged, and there was no way even two of them were going to pry a zombie the size of Otis off of him. More concerning was the fact that he could see several more zombies outside the back of the house, beyond the hole in the wall punched by Dale's camper.

"Help me!"

Daryl whirled around to see the zombies had burst through the kitchen door and grabbed Andrea, who held her hands out in terror. Daryl grabbed one of them, trying to pull him back while Morgan grabbed the other, but it was too late. Undead arms wrapped around her body and pulled Andrea through the door frame. He barely managed to pull back before the zombies pulled him in too, and Andrea disappeared screaming into a mass of stinking flesh.

He drew back, turning over the kitchen table as one last momentary barrier against the zombies forcing their way into the kitchen, and almost tripped on Otis, who was still feeding on Shane as he died. The zombies breaking into the kitchen had distracted them all, and there was no saving Shane now. More zombies drew closer from outside, and hungry wails filled the air. It was time to say goodbye to Herschel's house of horrors.

Daryl quickly pried the gun from Shane's dead hand and used it to shoot Otis, giving him some final peace, before they all piled into the camper. It backed out of the broken wall and let the roof come crashing down into the kitchen as Dale brought it around, knocking over a couple of zombies with a crunchy squish in the process. They were about to head around the house and start towards the highway when they saw two more figures in the darkness just beyond the headlights. Dale was just about to hit the gas when Daryl stopped him.

"Hold on," he said. "They're waving their hands."

Dale peered more closely. "Well, I'll be damned. It's Glenn and Maggie!"

They stopped and opened the door, letting the two of them on before the zombies closed in. By this time, the undead seemed to be crawling all over the farm – Dary wondered where they had all come from. Maybe it was another herd, like on the highway, or maybe they had been drawn in while following Morgan, Duane, and his brother Merle. Either way, there was definitely no way they could stay anymore. "Where's everybody else?" asked Glenn as he looked around the inside of the camper.

"They're all dead," said Daryl. "Where were you two?"

"Having sex," said Glenn. "We didn't realize anybody was in trouble until just now."

Daryl rolled his eyes and took the passenger seat beside Dale. As the camper rumbled on, running over another zombie with a faint jolt, he frowned at the thought of hitting the highway. He had the feeling he was forgetting about something. After a moment, he realized what it was.

"Hey, Dale," he asked, "was Shane right about the barn?"

Dale nodded enthusiastically.

"Mind if we stop by?"

XX

The road passed by underneath, its double yellow lines pointing them on to parts unknown. Up ahead, the dawn sun broke through the tree line and cast its soft orange light over the landscape. Maybe they would always be like this. Outcasts without a home, always running with no finish line in sight. It was saddening, but at the same time, Daryl knew what was truly important was that they had escaped from the carnage of Herschel's farm. They were all there to see another day. They had survived. And that was one thing he was good at.

It was also important that they had grabbed a bunch of weed from the barn.

"Could you not smoke that in the front?" asked Dale.

Daryl coughed out a cloud of marijuana smoke. "Hey, I thought you liked this stuff."

"Not if there's so much smoke that I can't see the road."

"Sorry, dude."

He put out the cigarette in the extendable ash tray. Another really important thing, Daryl thought as he leaned over Dale's shoulder and stared at the fuel gauge, was to find some gas for this big-ass monster they'd been driving everywhere since they left Atlanta. They passed a sign that listed a gas station coming up in the next few miles, and there weren't many wrecks or abandoned cars slowing them down on the highway, thank God. Another benefit of having fewer survivors, as bad as that was to think about, was that everybody could fit in one vehicle, at least for now. Although it was a little cramped in here.

"Hey, I gotta pee," said Glenn. "Can we stop soon?"

Daryl pointed to the gas station coming up on their right. "There you go," he said. "Make it fast."

"Thanks for saving me, mister," said Sophia as she tugged on his shirt.

"Uh, no problem, little girl. Next time, try not to run off into the forest for no reason."

"You got it!"

Carol thanked him too, for what seemed like the fortieth time since last night. Technically he hadn't even saved her - Merle had been the one to bring her back to the house, even if it was just as a hostage so he could kill somebody else, and Merle having one arm was what gave her the opportunity to get away from him. But Daryl didn't mind. At least he hadn't at first. He had even enjoyed it, seeing as he and Dale were being treated kind of like the heroes of the hour – but now it was starting to get old. Maybe he didn't like stupid people like Rick and Shane calling all the shots before, but he wasn't an attention hog, either.

They pulled into the station and stopped by one of the pumps. Daryl wondered how much Dale got charged for gas in this thing back when people still had to pay for gas. Even if you were retired and driving around the country with your wife, it seemed like a hell of a way to waste money. Of course, about the only money he and Merle ever got was from moonshine selling operations, the occasional robberies, and the even more occasional honest day's work.

Dale started filling the camper up with gas as Daryl looked around, making sure there were no zombies ready to strike. The windows of the station's convenience store were shattered, much of the shelves inside looted, although he could still see a surprising amount of merchandise left. People must have been looting in a hurry. Dale seemed to be getting some gas, too. They were getting lucky at this station. If their luck could just hold out-

"Didn't think you'd leave me, little brother."

Daryl whirled around to find Merle, standing with a gun pointed right at him. His jaw dropped in confusion for a moment, wondering where his brother had come from, before he realized he must have been clinging to the top of the camper. Hiding there, getting on when Dale drove it through the side of the house to rescue everyone.

"Don't do anything stupid, Merle."

Morgan and Duane had just gotten out of the camper to have a walk around and stretch their legs. Merle grabbed Duane by the neck, snaking his stumpy arm around – obviously he had learned from his mistakes with Sophia last night. His good hand held the gun, which he aimed at Morgan, forcing everyone to stay back. Glenn and Maggie, once again, were nowhere to be seen. Dale had dropped his gas nozzle, but the sound caught Merle's attention, and he motioned for Dale to join Morgan in his line of sight before he could grab any guns from the camper. Daryl had his crossbow at the ready, but with Morgan's son in the way, there was no clear shot.

"I ought to kill you right now," said Merle. "It'd do you a favor. If dad could see what you are now-"

"Dad's dead," said Daryl. "And he was a lazy jackass. Move on."

"Don't you talk to me like that! I'm the one who knows best, or did you forget everything already? You and me, little brother, we were always a team. You and me were always lookin' out for each other. And you let these people leave me for dead so I gotta cut my own hand off?"

"We ain't a team, Merle," said Daryl. "We never were. You were never lookin' out for me."

"You got some nerve, boy!"

Daryl shifted the crossbow to aim better as Merle shifted his grip on Duane. It was his way of telling his brother this was the end of the line. He knew it now; he was a changed man, for sure. Maybe he had missed his brother at first, but he had only been missing the familiar, the past that he knew. Now that he had some perspective, he knew it wasn't a good past. Merle had never loved him. He was always his big brother's punching bag. He could see things clearly now, that was for sure. Maybe the end of the world had a way of doing that to people.

"You're choosin' these people over me?" said Merle. "People you don't even know. Who are these folks to you?"

Daryl looked at Morgan and Dale, pressed against the camper as Merle kept a gun on them. He thought about Glenn and Maggie, probably off having a quickie in the station convenience store, oblivious to anything going on around them. He thought about Carol and Sophia – there was Carol, with the other two pressed against the camper, although Sophia was missing again. Probably lost in that forest over there, Daryl thought with a sigh.

None of them were people he knew well. None of them were people he had that much in common with. Well, they had one thing in common. They were survivors. And they had each other's backs. That was more than he could say for his older brother.

"They're my family."

Merle's eyes bugged out like he had just seen a zombie doing a tap dance. His grip on Duane shifted, and the boy took the opportunity to try to wrestle himself from his captor's grasp. Merle cursed and tried to keep him hooked in the crook of his arm, but just then, Sophia came running from the other side, where she had been hiding behind a gas pump, and kicked Merle in the shin. He yelled out in pain, his gun firing off into the air. Everyone ducked at the sound. Everyone except Daryl. He had his opportunity. He took aim, and fired.

"You son of a..."

Merle's words trailed off. His eyes twisted comically upwards, trying to see the crossbow shaft sticking out of his forehead. He stumbled a few steps, dropped his gun, and hit the asphalt with a sickening smack. Daryl took a step forward and stared at the body. That was his last bolt. Just then, Glenn and Maggie rushed out of the gas station and joined the group, way more out of breath than they should have been for a few dozen yards.

"What's going on?" asked Glenn.

"My brother was on top of the camper," said Daryl. "He's dead now, though."

"Sorry we missed it," said Glenn. "We were having a quickie in the gas station."

Daryl was expecting Maggie to slap him across the face, but she simply nodded in agreement.

"The RV's all filled up," said Dale. "It's time to go."

They all filed into the camper, and Dale fired it up. There were no zombies in sight – they had been lucky, this time. Very lucky.

Daryl felt a twinge of remorse as the camper pulled out of the station and started down the highway. He had just killed his brother. He remembered those days of traipsing through the forest, hunting down squirrels with wild abandon. The times they would play rope-a-pig, although it was annoying how Daryl always had to play the pig. All the times Merle would ask him if he had any spare change to get more medicine at the clinic for his STD's. Even the times they went to their white power rallies brought a tear to his eye, although 'white power' for Daryl always meant an excuse to get really drunk and fire guns off at logs.

He looked back into the camper. Duane smiled and nodded at him. He'd probably be hearing from Duane's boy about how he was such a hero, too. Daryl smiled back at the boy and his father. Glenn was there, reading some comic book – between the three of them, that was more colored folks than he had ever been around before. And the three of them seemed smarter than most of the white folks he knew. No, it was clear now. Daryl wasn't like his brother. Now that he had some time to think about it, he never really had been. He'd always been living under his brother's shadow, always taking orders and letting himself get bossed around. But there would be no more of that.

"Hey, Dale," said Rick. "Where are we headed?"

"I don't know. I guess we need to talk about that."

Rick nodded. "You know, I think I've had enough of being a leader. If Daryl wants the job, I'm open to it."

Daryl wasn't sure if he did want the job, but then again, he trusted himself in the position more than Rick. Not that Rick was a bad guy; and he felt sorry for him, now that he had lost his wife. He supposed they had all lost loved ones. The three of them stared at the road ahead, thinking about the ones they had left behind.

Daryl never thought he'd turn into a social butterfly during the apocalypse, but now was as good a time as any to try to on for size. He wanted to get to know Morgan and his son, Glenn and Rick. He wanted to get to know Carol, Sophia, Maggie, and Dale. It would be nice to know Maggie in a more personal way, but hey, if she liked Glenn, not much he could do about that. It was a shame about the people who had died at the farm house, but they were mostly the stupid ones anyway. And it wasn't like there was much else to do but socialize. All they had left was each other.

"So, what's next?" asked Dale. "Fort Benning?"

Daryl shook his head. "Man, those military types would kill us in a second. That's what they do in these zombie apocalypses. We gotta stay away from them."

"Maybe you got a point," said Rick.

"Then where are we headed?"

Daryl looked at the road ahead of them and shrugged his shoulders.

"Wherever the road takes us."

XX


Notes: There's the end of the story. Hope you guys enjoyed it, and reviews are appreciated. This is my only Walking Dead story, but I've written for a lot of other shows (Breaking Bad, for instance, and a number of stories for Kim Possible). Check my profile out if you're interested in anything else.

I was actually kind of ambivalent toward this story especially toward the end - I don't think I planned it enough, and I think maybe it's not a great idea to write a story for a show when you have mixed feelings toward the show in the first place. Parts of it do entertain me, though, and if you guys like it, that works for me. Obviously I left a couple of people alive in the story that have died on the show, and killed a couple of people that are alive on the show. I was actually going to kill Dale and Rick in this story but decided to keep them alive on a whim. Even though, as the last episode made clear, Dale REALLY sucks at spotting zombies. :)