Allison started to follow the others outside to see what was going on when she heard Carol's voice behind her.
"Here, hand her over if you're going outside," she said, reaching out for Judith. The baby was squiggling and reaching out her tiny hands and grasping with her fingers as if she was enjoying the sudden chaos. Carol clutched Judith tightly in her arms and lingered cautiously at the back of the group as they exited.
"What the…" Maggie muttered as Allison and the others stared anxiously into the dusk searching for Daryl's motorcycle. Instead some sort of military truck was leading the small string of vehicles that were approaching.
"That's the Woodbury bus," Merle called out, "but looks like Rick behind the wheel." He began pushing the gate open and Carl stepped forward to help him. As the truck pulled in, Allison now saw that Daryl was driving and that the motorcycle was stowed in the back, along with piles of…stuff. She couldn't tell what all was stacked in the truck bed, but before she could inquire Rick parked the bus and exited.
"What's going on?" Carl asked his father.
"You OK?" Allison rushed up to Daryl when he slid out of the driver's door of the truck.
"Yeah," he gave her shoulders a quick squeeze and then nodded to Merle. "Help me unload this stuff."
"They're joining us," Rick answered Carl as people began stepping out of the bus. Allison vaguely heard Rick explaining to Carl and Hershel something about the Governor shooting and killing most of his own people. She was about to grab a bundle of bedding from the back of Daryl's truck when she spied Michonne slowly alighting from the pick-up truck parked behind the bus. Her gaze was cast downward and her face was grim.
"Everything all right?" Allison walked up to her cautiously. "Can I help you…with anything?" As Michonne walked closer, Allison thought she saw tears in her eyes.
Michonne looked past her and shook her head slightly. "Gettin' dark now, I'll help dig in the morning," she murmured and continued walking toward the prison building. Confused, Allison went to the back of the pick-up to see what needed to be brought inside. She stopped short when she saw the telltale long bundle, wrapped in a blanket and sticking out just slightly over the tailgate.
"Andrea," a voice said softly behind her. She turned in surprise; she hadn't heard Rick walk up behind her. "I'll get Glenn to help me bring her inside for tonight. We'll have a… a service tomorrow." He paused, closed his eyes and swallowed hard. He opened his eyes after a moment and continued, "Can you get Beth and Maggie and go help Daryl unload the truck? We brought back as much bedding and food as we could carry in a hurry…"
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ ‡
Hershel was inside directing operations by the time Allison walked in with her first armful of sheets and afghans. "For now folks will have to double or triple-up in these cells for the night," he pronounced. "Make up beds on the floor if necessary. Tomorrow morning we'll pass out the mops and buckets and they can help to clean up D Block enough for everyone to settle in there."
A giant of a man came inside carrying a large plastic storage bin. "Where does this go, Hershel? It's mainly canned goods and some other food."
"Kitchen's that way," Hershel pointed. He'd introduced the man to Allison earlier as Tyreese, and she then remembered that he and his sister had been at the prison previously, although she hadn't formally met them at the time. That seemed so long ago, that chaotic time… Rick had been behaving erratically, irrationally; Daryl had gone off with Merle and she didn't know whether she'd ever see him again… She shook her head and tried to get the mental pictures of those dark days out of her mind.
"Work'll go much faster if you actually do something besides stand there," Merle growled at her as he passed by lugging a large sack over his shoulder.
"Yeah, boss, I'm a-shakin' it, boss," she drawled sarcastically before returning outside to tote that barge and lift that bale.
The following two hours were pretty much chaos and confusion. This group of new people – mainly senior citizens and young kids – uprooted suddenly, being shown the bathroom area, the kitchen, the cells, all the while complaining about "this isn't like it was at Woodbury". It took some time for everyone to settle down enough for a woman named Karen to detail for them what she'd seen – that the Governor had personally shot and killed all of the people who'd gone on the prison mission. Some seemed skeptical at first, until she described hiding beneath the body of George Curtis, trying her hardest not to breathe so that the Governor wouldn't discover her. As she named the Woodbury residents she saw lying dead in the field beside the road when she took refuge in the bus, the others slowly seemed to absorb the gravity of the situation. That the leader they'd looked up to all this time was actually a madman and that it was not safe to remain in Woodbury.
Allison gratefully returned to her cell later that evening after everyone seemed settled in – or temporarily, at least. She stretched her arms overhead and yawned and then pulled her regular sleeping attire – sweatpants and a tank top – out of the stack of folded clothes that was a mixture of hers and Daryl's clean garments. What they could really use, she thought to herself, was some sort of dresser or cabinet with drawers in which to keep their clothes. It was odd how sometimes these little reminders of the Old Life struck you; who knew that one day you'd miss something as simple as having a separate drawer for socks and underwear and one for shirts and sweats. "Maybe now that we have more trucks and manpower we can scavenge some furniture stores…" she sleepily thought to herself as she unbuckled her holster belt.
"Don't get undressed yet," Daryl's voice from the doorway startled her.
"Why? What's up?"
"Rick's called a meeting, wants to discuss somethin'," he said.
"What's up?" she repeated. Even after all this time, being called to an audience with Rick reminded her of being summoned to the principal's office.
"Won't know 'til we get there," Daryl shrugged.
She followed him to the kitchen area and took a seat. Hershel was there, which was no big surprise, but Merle and Tyreese were also in attendance. Allison wondered what the topic of the meeting might be that such a motley group had been invited.
"Hershel, Merle and I have been talking," Rick began, "and we're thinking that it would be worthwhile to make a return trip to Woodbury to get more supplies. From the little I saw, the place was stocked with a lot of useful stuff, more than we could carry last night. And Merle knows the place pretty well – "
" – there's generators, solar panels - a power grid," Merle interrupted. "We could rig up this place with some lights."
"Only if someone knows how to wire it all up and connect it," Daryl remarked.
"That old black guy – " Merle seemed to pause slightly and sneak a glance at Tyreese, as if he was actually concerned about his phraseology for a change – "Jacobson. The guy with suspenders and that newsboy cap… He's a retired electrician. Used to go on and on all the time about graduating from Tuskegee… Anyway, he was the guy who helped to wire up Woodbury."
"Merle also says that Woodbury had something along the lines of a hospital ward," Hershel spoke up. "There could be some useful medications and tools in there."
"A hospital ward?" Allison was curious. "Why? Did you have a doctor there?"
"Dr. Stevens," Merle replied. "I didn't see her get off the bus, so I'm assuming she was one of those mowed down by the Governor that Karen was talkin' about."
"All of which brings me to my point," Rick interjected. "Based on what I saw, and what Merle says, Hershel and I think a trip to Woodbury is in order to collect anything useful. We've got the big trucks now and the bus to haul heavy equipment and furniture. But we'd need to do this pretty quick, like early tomorrow, in case the Governor is planning a return visit. From what Karen told me, he's either on his own now or with just a few people. So…" he finally got to the point of the meeting, "I'm thinking that we need to get in there and gather everything that's useful, load it into our vehicles and get out as quickly as possible. We also need someone to keep watch in case the Governor does show up."
There were murmurs of agreement from the rest of the group.
"Tyreese," Rick addressed the man, "You've spent some time in Woodbury, so I'm thinking that you know a little bit about the layout of the place? And, to be honest, you've got some muscle and we're going to need help carrying large pieces…" His voice trailed off questioningly.
"I'm willing to do anything I can to contribute," Tyreese replied earnestly.
"We all appreciate that," Rick nodded. "Allison, I would like you to go along so you can see what all is in the hospital area and decide what you could use here – medicines, instruments, whatever you call them. There might be equipment that needs to be dismantled before we transport it and you can supervise that."
"Of course," Allison readily agreed.
"So…" Rick was assessing the team and the plan out loud, "We've got Merle, Daryl, Tyreese and me to take care of the hauling and loading of stuff into the trucks. But we need at least one person to keep watch on top of that big gate at the entrance." He paused and gazed downward as he shuffled his feet nervously. "Glenn and Maggie are both excellent shots, but I hate to ask either one of them to come along, based on what happened to them there…before…"
"What about my sister?" Tyreese spoke up. "Sasha is very good with a gun, and she's worked guard duty on that wall before."
Allison saw Rick glance first at Hershel, then Daryl. Hershel replied, "If she's agreeable, I think that's a fine idea." Daryl apparently placed his trust with the veterinarian's opinion, because he gave Rick a very slight affirmative nod in response.
At sunrise the next morning the group stood near the vehicles getting last minute instructions from Rick. "Merle knows the way to Woodbury and he's driven that M35 truck before, so he'll take that. I'll follow behind in the Ram."
"Lemme go check it out, see how much fuel it's got," Merle mumbled, walking over to the front of the military truck and climbing up into the driver's seat.
"Allison," Rick motioned with his head for her to follow him a few steps away. "Would you mind riding with Merle? You seem to manage to keep him….well, I hate to phrase it this way, but he just seems to… behave better around you. We need everyone to focus on the task at hand while we're on this run - no arguments or fistfights."
Allison understood what Rick was hinting at. Merle had been "behaving" better of late; he'd actually learned to stop casually tossing ethnic slurs around, at least when Glenn or Michonne were within earshot. And he'd finally stopped using "bitch" as a synonym for female. But a lifetime of offensive behavior could not be unlearned overnight, and Merle still possessed a short fuse and a sharp tongue. He didn't hesitate to loudly and colorfully voice his dissent when he disagreed with an opinion or course of action. Especially when it came to his brother. It seemed to Allison that sometimes Merle seemed almost jealous of his younger brother – of the way Rick and Hershel regularly consulted Daryl for his opinion and advice. The elder Dixon frequently picked on his younger brother for no other reason other than to remind him that ol' Merle had raised him and was bigger than him and could still kick his ass.
"Sure, I'll ride with him, no problem," Allison told Rick. Merle had had fun teasing her at every opportunity since he'd first arrived at the prison, but he had never been actually cruel to her for some reason. She'd presumed that Daryl had warned him against such behavior. But ever since he'd been shot and she had treated him, Merle had been actually nice to her on occasion. He still poked fun at her, and made sure to mock her when she started sounding too (in his opinion) pompous, but it seemed like there was now an invisible line that he wouldn't cross when it came to Allison. She couldn't help but suppose that it was probably due to some sense of gratitude or obligation he felt for her nursing him back to health - a not uncommon reaction in many patients. If that was the case, though, the feeling would eventually wear off. Time will tell, she thought to herself as she opened the passenger door of the truck and was about to hoist herself inside.
"Got room for me?" Sasha's voice startled her. "Rick said I should ride with you two, and he'll take Tyreese and Daryl with him."
"Sure," Allison smiled, "grab a shoehorn and squeeze in."
A few minutes later and both trucks were on the road. They rode in silence at first, then Sasha made an attempt at conversation.
"That's a beautiful ring," she commented, glancing at Allison's left hand.
"Thank you," Allison replied with a serene smile, extending her fingers out slightly to admire the bauble herself. Every time she looked at it she was reminded of Daryl and her heart picked up pace a bit.
"To be honest, I don't know much about you two, other than your names," Sasha continued. "I remember seeing you," she quickly glanced at Allison, "in the room that day when Rick made us leave… But there were a lot of people there…"
"And vice versa," Allison replied. "I know your name, and I've gathered that you're Tyreese's sister, but that's about it." She hesitated before continuing, since Merle's previous brutality played a large part in the whole tumultuous situation that had been going on when Sasha and her group initially arrived at the prison. "That was a very…difficult and confusing time. Rick had just lost his wife, and he had a new baby to worry about… Anyway, Merle – " she pointed quickly at their driver with her thumb, "is Daryl's older brother. Daryl is the guy with the crossbow and the motorcycle…and my fiancé."
"Y'all seem like a close-knit group," Sasha commented. "How long have you been together?"
"Different times for different people, but overall quite a while… I met up with Rick and Daryl and Glenn and T-Dog back in Atlanta um…geez, I don't know how long ago now. Over a year, I think. We eventually ended up on Hershel's farm, that's where we met Maggie and Beth and Patricia and… Anyway, it's been a long time and we've been all over the place, and we've lost some very dear friends along the way." She paused and sighed. "I guess it's the same for you, and pretty much everyone else who's made it this long."
Sasha recognized some of the names that Allison had mentioned – Glenn, Rick, Hershel. She didn't ask about the names she didn't know, because of the way Allison's face clouded over when she mentioned T-Dog, she automatically assumed those unknowns were friends who had been lost. It was a very sad reality of the current way of life – how you could distinguish those dearly departed who had Died By Walker simply by a facial expression or vocal intonation.
"Yeah," Sasha agreed. "Tyreese and I started out with a much bigger group back in Florida, and by the time we'd made it to your prison, there were just five of us, and Donna had gotten bitten right when we found the place..."
"Jesus," Merle's barely audible interjection and his sudden foot on the brake interrupted Sasha's statement. The two women leaned forward to see what had caught the man's attention. The tableau visible through the windshield resembled some sort of Full Metal Jacket Vietnam killing field scene. Bodies scattered everywhere, on the pavement and in the grass along the roadside.
Rick pulled up behind their vehicle and he and Daryl and Tyreese exited to survey the scene. Merle hopped down from the driver's seat and stood silently for a moment. Rick seemed uncertain as to why Merle had stopped and he gestured for the others to fall into formation behind him. Weapons drawn, the group weaved in between the multitude of corpses. Merle paused beside one body and wordlessly retrieved the revolver holstered on its belt. The others fell into step likewise, collecting knives and guns. But when they were through, Merle's announcement indicated that this had not been strictly a weapon-collecting maneuver.
"I don't see Brownie or Shump anywhere," he said.
"What? Who?" Rick asked, confused.
"Martinez and Shumpert. Two of the Governor's main strong-arms, enforcers. That means the Governor ain't alone, wherever he is; he's got at least two of his loyal soldiers with him."
"That's good to know," Rick sighed. He peered through the driver's side window of the Ford Excursion parked on the shoulder of the road. "Keys are in the ignition," he announced. "We can use this." The van was outfitted with a battering ram, searchlights and a winch.
They regrouped and set off for Woodbury once again with Merle in the lead, Rick and Tyreese following behind him and Daryl bringing up the rear in their nearly acquired van. When they finally arrived at the compound Allison was momentarily in awe. All those buildings inside a man-made wall, it was like a little city. But then when Rick started giving orders as to who would go where and collect what, she realized that as cozy as this enclave looked, it was no longer safe.
"Hospital stuff is in here," Merle barked over his shoulder as he led her to a room in some building (the place was so big she couldn't keep track of where exactly they were). She followed him inside and saw at first glance a couple of exam tables, several IV stands, and a variety of implements on a rolling tray table.
"Lots of good stuff here," Allison announced appreciatively and then proceeded to inspect the room more closely. Bags were found and instruments were collected and packed. "This Dr. Stevens," Allison asked Merle when she encountered one particular tray of instruments, "what was her specialty?"
"What do you mean?" Merle grunted as he helped Tyreese fold one of the examination tables down into a compact shape for moving.
"I mean was she an OB-GYN?"
"An obie what?"
"An obstetrician or a gynecologist. A doctor that delivers babies or examines a woman's 'lady parts'."
"Hell if I know. She was just a doctor. What the hell does it matter?" He held one end of the table as Tyreese walked backwards through the door holding the other end.
"No particular matter," Allison muttered quietly as he left the room. Since he apparently didn't know much about Dr. Stevens (whose body he had identified by the roadside earlier), nor about gynecology, he certainly wouldn't understand any questioning about the tools she had found laid out in one of the trays. A speculum and a uterine curette, to be specific. Yes, they would definitely be of help in a pinch if anyone at the prison ended up pregnant, but Allison couldn't help but wonder as she collected them why such implements were in this bare-bones makeshift emergency room to begin with.
Several hours later the vehicles were filled to overflowing with everything from bedding to solar panels to wiring to light bulbs to generators to hospital supplies. "This is a good haul," Rick commented as they prepared to leave, "but there is still enough left here to fill up all these vehicles at least one more time."
"Once we get unloaded at the prison, we can make another run tomorrow or maybe the day after," Daryl told Rick. "There's plenty of people at the prison that can start putting this stuff in place – stringing the wires and hooking up the light bulbs while the generators get set up."
"Lots of work to keep everyone busy," Tyreese agreed. "If they managed to set it all up at Woodbury, we can certainly do it at the prison if we all help."