Three Suburban Kids
Among the surprise, the tiredness, and the uncertainty, Shane was the first to react.
He touched the contours of his gun with the tips of his fingers, stroking it slowly, before taking a deep breath and propping the door open with one push. He jumped out of the car, creating a cloud of dust around him as he landed, and rested his body against the side of the vehicle, carefully glancing at the figures standing a few feet away from him. He stood there for a while, his head tilting backwards a little like he was trying to measure their worth. They were a strange bunch. The blond girl was the only one with enough guts to look back at him. She was tall and sturdy, and the skin of her chest and cheeks was sunburned. She was accompanied by two more people. A boy, who looked like a sack of bones and was covered in mud head-to-toe, and another tiny-ass girl who was messing around with her hair, making knots at the end of her ponytail. They were young, suburban-looking kids. Maybe in their early twenties. With slashed pants and shirts. Tired eyes. Solemn aspects. No hope.
His eyes moved quickly. Their hands: empty. Weapons: none, unless concealed. Which he knew was impossible; he could recognize amateurs, and those three gave him the impression of being no more than three lost puppies. He kept looking. No visible bite marks. No signs of sickness. Nothing.
He rubbed the side of his face with annoyance.
He slammed the car door shut.
"Looking good there, huh?" he yelled cynically, finally deciding to take relaxed, overly-confident steps towards them, the palm of his hand resting comfortably on top of his holster. They didn't move. Shane didn't care. "What's in the car?"
What he was referring by "car" was an old, seventies' Vista Cruiser that stood next to the kids. The vehicle looked like it had been used for at least six generations; it had a rusty chassis, faded color, a missing window. Its doors were wide open, and the trunk was surrounded by hanging pieces of fabric, probably to keep mosquitoes away. Like its owner, whoever that was, it was a miracle it had made it for so long.
He saw them reluctant to answer, so he kept pushing. "Any guns? Food?"
He paused, eyebrows high. A drop of sweat slid down his face.
"Anything?" he demanded. Even the blonde decided to look away. "No?"
The boy plastered with mud shuffled in his place a little before glancing up at the cop, wide-eyed. He shook his head side to side in a really fast manner, and went back to staring at his shoes. Shane smiled incredulous.
"Well, ain't that great." He chuckled, still with a sincerely surprised look, and put his left hand in front of his eyebrows, trying to cover his eyes from the intense midday sun "Now tell me this, will ya? How in hell did you three manage to–?
Shane glanced back at the sound of Rick's voice. He saw his partner walking to his side from the car, police hat high on his head, firm expression on face. "What's going on here?"
Shane turned his back at the soon-to-be walker diner.
"These three," He pointed at them with his head "No weapons, no food, probably no gas also. Don't seem to be bitten, but there's no telling." He faced the teenagers again "Any of you bitten?"
The blond girl hurried to answer: "No! Oh, no. No. We are not."
She stressed the No's so much that even she became too aware of them. She hushed immediately after, her face somewhat showing regret for her frantic, almost desperate, answer. She gave the boy a sideways look, concern in her eyes, and bit her lip.
"Huh... Well, glad to know one of ya does have a voice," Shane smiled and rotated back to face Rick, his face instantly becoming more ominous. "You see that? Three fucking kids... Things just keep gettin' better, don't they?"
Rick stared at them, the sun illuminating the ends of his eyelashes, as he placed his hands on his hips.
"What you thinking?"
"What I'm thinking..." Shane looked back at the three dirty silhouettes and cleaned away the sweat from his hairline with his forearm before continuing. "I'm thinking that, the second the rest of the group sees them, they are gonna open their arms to them, give them our food, give them our weapons, and offer them gas for that relic there. They are gonna become another burden; another mouth to feed. One that we do not need," he reminded his friend in a low, persuasive tone. But Rick's eyes were still fixed on them, contemplating the situation. Shane kept going.
"Rick, listen here, bud: We can't do this. We don't have a place to stay. There's no camp anymore, no CDC... Let's just get some gas from this car here before everyone starts to worry and get back, okay?"
Rick took a gulp of his own saliva. He shifted his legs, glanced around the dirt road, around the tall trees that offered no shadows at that time of the day, and around the old tire tracks that were stamped on the route's dry mud, and then looked straight into Shane's dark eyes, troubled.
"They are too young..."
"Probably in their twenties," Shane corrected, trying to ease his friend's worries and get them away from that place as soon as possible. They could find gas somewhere else.
"If Lori sees them–"
"She doesn't need to see them. Look... I'll give them a few cans of whatever's left in the trunk and we leave them alone, does that sound good to you?" He placed a comforting, yet impatient, hand on Rick's shoulder "They made it this far. They'll be just fine."
He definitely didn't believe his own lie, but it would have to do. He patted Rick's shoulder and showed him a light smile. Next, before his friend's mind started thinking again, he trotted all the way back to the car, opened the trunk's door swiftly, took two warm cans of green pea soup and an empty gas container, and went back to Rick's side. He handed him the red container.
"Here you go," He showed his partner the soup cans "And these are for them."
Rick nodded, understandingly, and headed with an agile pace to the white van parked in the middle of that desolated suburbia's road. Shane watched him leave before exhaling an exhausted puff of air. He faced the kids again just to find them staring at him with unsure looks. He locked a "good cop" smile on his lips and got closer to them.
It really was too bad, he thought as he wandered at a safe but proximate distance from them. The girls were good-looking women, and the boy had a geeky aura to him. Those types of characteristics almost didn't exist anymore. Had they been under other circumstances, they might have gotten luckier. He blinked a few times to ease the pain the sun was causing in his eyes, and that was enough to get rid of the thought.
Four steps later, he was standing in front of them with confidence, the blazing sunbeams bathing him. He shook the cans in his hands to catch the three's full attention – a strategy that worked perfectly,– and rose his eyebrows.
"Who of y'all will tell me your names?"
The blonde (of course,) was quick to open her mouth, but the shaky boy spoke first. His voice was stronger than Shane had expected.
"I'm Eric. These are Donna and Jackie." He slightly pointed at the girls with his long index finger "We are from Wisconsin. Point Place. We...We are just... Look, man, is there–? What's goin–?"
"Hey. Eric? I'm the one asking the questions here, okay?" Shane used an authoritarian but calm tone. Unlike he expected, Eric shut his mouth at once, making no attempts of continuing or fighting back. Noticing that he was not a menace, Shane glanced down at the lukewarm green-colored cans in his hands, and cleaned his own sweat from his face again. It was too fucking hot. Then, he leaned down and placed the cans on the lane, just in front of his boots "Well, Eric, Donna, Jackie. Let me tell ya, you are in luck. Two cans of food. Great deal for a starving stomach, huh?"
None of them answered.
A bird started singing. A Mockingbird.
"Now, when I leave, you are free to have them. But I don't wanna see you getting crafty here, alright? If I do, I will shoot you down. All of you." He tapped his gun with the palm of his hand. He smiled again just as he heard Rick calling him from the car and gestured them a quick goodbye. "The best to you, fellas."
Shane turned around and started walking to the car. Rick was sitting behind the wheel already, the car offering a cooling place and a shadow. Finally. He couldn't wait to get into the conditioned vehicle and away from that boiler, check on the group, and get the gas delivered. They had been away for too long, and it was too dangerous. Anything could had happened already. They couldn't afford staying in Atlanta any longer.
"Wait. You are leaving us?"
It was a high-pitched, demanding voice yelling from behind his back. Shane turned his head around, intrigued, to find the short girl looking at him with eyes wide open and a look that did not conceal her indignation. "Oh, no. You can't just leave us."
Her tone resembled that of a threat. And she looked like she intended so, specially with her arms positioned strongly on her waist and her eyes looking at him so intensely that it seemed like they were trying to poke holes into his brain. Before he could create a good comeback, the blond girl had side-slapped the short girl's arm.
"Jackie!" she grumbled.
"Ow! Donna! Watch it!" Jackie answered back, annoyed, with a kick to her friend's shins.
"Oww! That hurt!" Donna counterattacked by pulling her hair, causing Jackie to bite her forearm in order to free herself. Donna punched her side to retaliate. Jackie scratched her face. Donna stepped on her feet, and Jackie sank her fingers in between her ribs. Donna twisted her wrist. Jackie pushed her face away with an open palm. Soon, the two girls were wrestling on the ground, dry dirt floating up around them, little ferocious comments being exchanged, twitchy Eric not being brave enough to put himself in the line of fire. Unable to figure out what to do in such situation –Enjoy the cat-fight? Kill them all? Separate them?– Shane took his gun off its holster.
"Hey! HEY!" he started, his police training suddenly kicking in. He remembered that ending brawls had always been one of his favorite things to do. It was just too damn entertaining. "You two get away from each other now, you hear me?"
They didn't hear him, mainly because they were too preoccupied ripping the skin out of each others' bodies, so they kept fighting. Shane heard Rick's boots running to him from behind. He had jumped out of the car, alarmed. His gun was now pointed at the two girls as well, eyes watching them carefully.
"Hey!" Shane repeated, moving into the middle of combat and getting a firm hold of Donna's arm "Stop it! You stop this now!"
But it was too late. Donna didn't discriminate with her punches, and Shane found this out the rough way; one elbow to the stomach, that's what he got. The blonde's blow was stronger that he had imagined, with weight behind it and everything. It was so good that, even with his healthy six pack, he felt it piercing through his organs and made him hunch forward defensively. The attack allowed Donna to liberate herself and jump down on Jackie again as if she was a dog infested with rabies. They were mad. Not at each other anymore, but they were still angry, and frustrated, and nervous, and they had each other to let out all the feelings that made them cry at night and that made them panic during the days. To Shane, it looked more like a release, like a type of sacred physical mantras, that, as long as it continued, was the only thing that really mattered. He had been there before. He knew the feeling too well. He had to stop it.
And words clearly weren't working.
It only took one shot to the sky to make their eyes go wide and their bodies stop contorting uncontrollably on top of the other. The few thirsty birds that were in the trees flew away frightened, and soon the only one making a sound was him, letting his loaded gun face the ground. He walked to Donna and grabbed her shoulder.
She had ceased battling instantly at the sight of the black weapon, which, as she noticed, was too close to her head for comfort. The tiny girl was, however, still acting viciously, and she used the opportunity to bite Donna's arm once again. Rick took care of that by grabbing Jackie's torso and forcefully pulling her away. She squealed and struggled, but gave up once Rick lifted her and sat her down on the road like she was a small child getting grounded. Both of them seemed exhausted, their breathing shaky and accelerated, their pupils showing a killing intent, their hair twisted in the most complicated clusters.
They looked like shit.
Shane suppressed a chuckle at the sight.
"What in the world do you two think you are doing?" It was Rick who reacted first, his voice completely serious. "For God's sake... Was it the food, Shane? What happened here?"
"You were going to leave us!" Jackie complained in defense, still out of breath. "You can't leave. We'll die!"
"Jackie, I don't think– " Eric, who had maintained himself away from the fight, finally spoke. Jackie stopped him in mid-sentence with one fierce expression.
"Look," Jackie pulled a piece of hair out of her mouth and removed some dust from her yellow dress "All I'm saying is that we want to live. But we can't do that by ourselves anymore. We are hungry, and those things...They just– Ugh! We need help. And you know that!"
She had the biggest damned blue eyes, the kind that made sure you were looking back and paying attention to her. And they worked too well. Rick lowered his gun.
"Besides, you are cops!" Jackie continued, the sweat of her forehead making her black long hair stick to the sides of her face. "It's your duty to help us!"
"Jackie, shut up, will you?" Donna spat on the ground and glared at her. Underneath Shane's hand, he could feel her heart pounding throughout her body. "They don't want us!"
"Oh, but they will, Donna. They will."
"No. No they won't. They will get sick of your squeaky voice in two minutes and shoot us all to death. Do you want that? 'Cause they will do it."
It sounded like a plausible situation, Shane thought. He loosened the grip on her shoulder.
"Eric, tell her!" she pleaded, now facing the boy. "Rule number one, remember? We are gonna be just fine. And you, let me go!"
She pulled herself out of Shane's grasp and ran crookedly to Jackie, leaning next to the siting figure of her friend while checking on her condition. Jackie nodded briefly, signaling she was okay, but kept looking at Rick, her eyes digging into his.
Donna grabbed the girl's arm and pulled her up. They were both trembling when standing, their bodies carrying a mixture of adrenaline and fear, but they still managed to seem collected. Donna's face was red like fire.
"We are good now, so if you are done here, just leave us alone, will you?.. But thanks for the food." She said rapidly after, glancing down at the marks on her body and frowning. Shane didn't need to hear the instruction twice.
"You heard them. Let's go" he told Rick, hurrying his pace to the car. He was content: Even they wanted to be left alone. There really was nothing there to care for anymore. It was for that reason that he became appalled when he saw his partner doing nothing but stand on the road, his back slightly hunched. "Rick, let's go."
Rick turned to see Shane, his mouth already open to begin his 'please reconsider' spiel, but his eyes stopped somewhere in the distance, farther away than they should.
Whatever he was looking at, Eric had seen it too.
"Shit. Neimoidians!" He hurried to the girls side, grabbing Donna's hand and dragging her down the road. Rick and Shane's guns redirected themselves to the group of walkers in the distance almost immediately. There were about thirteen of them. Too many to shoot if they wanted to make the best use of their remaining ammo. Far enough to lose them if they started driving away in that same second. They could hear them groaning already, a path of dripping blood trailing behind them. Their stench, in that horrid, sticky weather, was too easy to smell. "We gotta get out of here!"
"Eric, the Cruiser broke!" Donna reminded him before giving the cops an unconscious, desperate look. Jackie lifted her arms high in the air, probably in her best imitation of an angry Italian grandmother.
"See? This is what I've been talking about!" She pointed an accusing finger at the walkers with irritation "Those freaks! They just keep coming!"
The walkers were fast. Shane shot one of them just in between its gray rotting eyes, the sound of the blast making the two girls jump back. Eric kept pushing Donna past the motionless cars.
"Jackie, move away!" He screamed.
"Do it! Now!" Rick concurred. Jackie shook her head rapidly and did as ordered. They heard another gunshot; the Sheriff had taken a fat, blood-puking chef down.
"Let's go! Let's go!" Too close. They were too close. Shane started to run backwards, Rick following him closely. "Get in the car!"
"We need to take them!" Rick shouted. A blast echoed and a blood-covered nurse fell on the dirt, red liquid jumping from her body in every direction. Shane's sweat was falling on his eyes, blinding him. "WE NEED TO TAKE THEM!"
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
The food. The gas. The group. Everything could get ruined. More people meant more danger. More chances of failure. More mistakes. And Lori. And Carl... But those fucking walkers kept running to them, their eyelid-less faces and corrupted bodies gravitating to where they were standing. The food, the gas, the safety, the group, the cars, the weapons, the water. All at risk.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
He looked back. The terrified teenagers had heard. They nodded and jumped into the silver car in a frenzy, hands moving quickly and carelessly, doors slamming. He followed them inside, gun still pointed, the cold air of the vehicle receiving him. He turned the car's key as Rick shot another walker. The motor roared under his seat. Shane closed his door just after shooting a fucking fast hipster chick that was missing the side of her face. Rick dived into the passenger seat. "Go! Go! Go!"
Shane pounded the speed pedal as he saw a walker kick one of the green soup cans, which rotated to the side of the road and disappeared into the tall grasses under the trees. Fucking walkers. The crumbly dirt underneath them gave the automobile no traction. Fucking car. They were closer.
"GO!" Donna shrieked, hitting the back of his seat. Shane changed the transmission in one agitated motion. The motor moaned painfully and the car was propelled forward, pushing them all against the seats' cushions with a velocity that blew their breath out of their lungs. Jackie screamed. Rick's face looked distorted by the force. Shane squeezed the driving wheel harder, finally taking control. They managed to leave the place as the walkers placed their pruny-looking hands on the back windshield, burgundy finger stains now planted on the car's clear window, a cloud of fine dust hiding them in the distance.
"Oh, thank God! We heard the gun shots, and we thought that... Oh. Come here."
The skinny woman planted a kiss on Rick's lips and hugged him, pressing her face against his shoulder like she was unsure of how long he would stay there before suddenly transforming into air, or dust, or something. Shane was received with a friendly tap on the back by an old man with a flowery Hawaiian shirt. In the distance, sitting by a white RV, there was a little girl playing with a doll, a young Asian guy continuously turning his hat inside-out, and a lady with short hair looking over a boy who was now running in their direction with a smile in his face, his short brown hair flapping over his forehead, his arms extended in front of him ready to meet Rick's waist.
Jackie saw them all from inside the car, her eyes wide open, and her curiosity and amazement so attracted to the image that the tip of her nose was smashed against the car's window. Behind her, Donna and Eric were squished together, trying to look pass her hair and into the astonishing scene. Eric gave a high-pitched gasp when he was finally able to move Jackie's ponytail away and reveal the sight. Donna parted her lips in a daze, equally taken aback: "Oh, my God."
She slapped Jackie's head to the side and made herself some space next to her. Luckily, Jackie was too mesmerized to care.
"There are kids... You see that?" she turned to Eric, and then Jackie, and then Eric again before kissing the side of his mud-covered face and going back to the scene happening in front of her. The group was reunited now, the Asian, the lady, the skinny woman, the old man, the two small kids, Rick, and Shane. They were smiling, and touching each other, and interchanging water, and information, and laughs. They seemed like some kind of team. Like a group of people who understood whatever there was to understand. For a second there, she tried really hard to stop the one tear that was forming in her right eye from falling. "Kids. And normal people. It's unbelievable."
Eric placed a supporting hand on her shoulder and she immediately leaned into his torso, feeling more comfortable than she had felt in months. In that cool car, with so many normal humans around her, and Eric's warmth surrounding her, she finally gave herself the chance to relax her body and drop her guard, eyes closed and a soft smile stretching her face in places she did not quite remember. She allowed herself to solely pay attention to the touch of her boyfriend's fingers while they stroke the side of her neck and then the tips of her hair. Of course, she also heard Jackie groaning with annoyance.
"Oh, please. Get a room." Jackie rolled her eyes, retaining a light smile. Donna responded with a mocking roll of eyes, and then laughed. Eric's attention was, once again, fixed on what was going outside.
"Um... Should we try to get out of here or something?" he started tentatively "I mean, they all seem pretty unaware that they have three people trapped inside a car."
"Yeah, seriously. Donna, start pounding on the window."
"But it is bad manners to treat guests this way!"
"Oh! Wait!" Eric stopped the girls "They are looking over here."
It was true. All their faces were now looking at them, their expressions resembling that of Shane's when he first noticed them. It wasn't a very welcoming one. Eric gulped.
"...They don't look too thrilled?"
"Hush." Donna ordered. Rick's lips were moving as he walked towards them and the car. They stayed in complete silence, trying to hear anything that came out of his mouth, but it wasn't working. He was probably speaking really softly. Whatever was happening out there, the blank faces of the group did not bring hope to any of them. Rick's hand was now on the door's handle. There was a "pluck" sound, and a breeze of hot air stormed into the back seat.
"They are Eric, Donna, and Jackie." They heard Rick pronounce their names in a thick southern accent. Eric started to fidget when he saw all those eyes fixed on them. Donna stood still. Jackie smiled like she was part of a teeth-whitening commercial. Rick bent over the door to see them. His eyes looked small and firm beneath his hat, yet they became a bit warmer as he studied their contradictory reactions. "I know the car's cool, but you may want to meet everybody."
Donna exhaled again and closed her eyes. This time around, a clear tear rolled down her cheek.
They were safe.
Being a fan of both The Walking Dead and That 70's Show, I had to give this a try! I really hope you liked this chapter, and please tell me what you thought of it and if there is anything that I should change to make it better :)
Thank you so much for reading!