Warning – you need to set your language to Merle mode. I apologise for what may very well be almost incomprehensible unless you say it out loud – I do think I went a bit hard on Merle's speech but I ain't changing now!
She did let him go and waited until he got dressed. He had a stinking headache and once she made him tell her that she had winced a little guiltily and given him a cold compress to place against his head. She also put some antiseptic on his ankle, and found him something to eat, started the fire back up and then retreated back to one of the logs that sat around the campfire and sat down with an expectant air.
He sighed. "Whadya want ta know?"
"Tell me about the camp," she replied. "The one you were at before you met me – the one that Robbie and Terence came from."
He blinked, that wasn't the question that he'd been expecting.
"It was about half a day out of Atlanta that I ran into them," he started. "I was feverish and me van had run out of fuel. T'ere was about fifteen of 'em, t'ey came past me wit' all t'ese hot rodded cars – t'ey'd just cleaned out an old people's home and taken all t'eir drugs. Killed ev'ryone t'ere," he added dully. "Not that I knew t'at t'en. Tha last car – it stopped and out got Robbie. He looked at me, with that hoity toighty look – ya know the one, yep – tha's it," he snorted as she glared at him. "and he says 'Terence – I think this one might be handy'." His voice took on a bit of a snarl, but she didn't interrupt, watching him carefully with her hand buried in Dog's coat.
"T'ey took me back, patched me up – t'ey 'ad tha good meds from their raid. It was a couple o' days b'fore Terence came around, he gave me a gun and told me we was goin' 'unting. It wasn't game we was 'unting," he said coldly. He paused. "We brought back 'bout fifteen of 'em, teenagers, woman, some kids. None of tha men – t'ose t'at fought back were killed, t'ose t'at didn't, well t'ey was killed as well. I was 'aving ... issues at tha time – I didn't care, fuck, maybe I wouldna even if I 'ad been right." He shrugged, he wasn't here to make apologies. "Tha woman were thrown into tha camp, given 'duties' which included cookin' and cleanin' and ... ot'er t'ings in exchange for food."
Marion winced but still she held silent.
"I did some odd jobs for 'em – got tha cars t'ey'd stolen workin' prop'ly, went out wit' some o' 'em and stole some more. I never went out gat'ering again – t'at's wha' t'ey called it – 'gat'ering'. See most o' tha camp was men, come from t'is oil company t'at 'ad evacuated t'em to Atlanta where t'eys meant ta meet their families. Atlanta was overrun by tha time t'ey got t'ere, so t'ey set up camp at t'is industrial estate. 'ad 'eaps o' food – but Robbie, he was a smart mot'erfucker. He didnna give anyt'ing away – ya 'ad to 'ave somet'ing ta trade for everyt'ing. I could fix tha cars, plus I could teach 'is men 'ow ta shoot, I never went 'ungry – had heaps of booze ta drink too. I reckon t'at's why Samantha came ta me."
He had her full attention now. Dog nudged her hand and she shook herself, stroking his fur.
"I gave 'er food and sent 'er on 'er way. Robbie dinna like t'at," he shook his head. "'e made 'er work double tha next day – for 'im. T'en 'e cam ta me – ta find out wha' was wrong wit' me t'at I wouldn't take advantage of a sweet piece like Samantha," he snorted. "'e t'ought perhaps I was queer – 'e tried it on me. Ya saw 'ow t'at turned out."
She swallowed as his eyes found her again. "So you think that the camp was better off without those men?"
"Hell yes," he nodded. "T'ere were ot'ers t'ere t'at dinna like 'ow it was set up. Men as used ta 'ave wives and kids and couldna deal wit' 'ow Robbie was using t'em. But none o' t'em 'ad that balls ta stand up ta 'im. Wit' 'im gone, wit' Terence gone – t'ey woulda 'ad a chance."
"Tell me about Daryl."
"Darylina?" he snorted. "'e's me kid brot'er – t'ere's not'ing ta tell."
She glared at him.
He sighed. "'e was an accident – 'ad ta be. T'ere was no way Mama ever wanted ta bring anot'er kid into tha hell t'at was our home. Pa was a mean son o' a bitch at tha best o' times – but when 'e was drunk, 'e used ta beat tha living shit out o' her or," he swallowed and looked in any direction but at her, "'e'd rape her." He paused. "Not t'at I knew t'is when I was a kid – I put it toget'er when I was older. I t'ought everyone's pa yelled at their mama, who smacked 'er a bit when she burnt tha dinner or dinna fold tha towels tha right way." He shrugged. "But Daryl was born and it was like she 'ad t'is shield 'round her. Not'ing he'd say or do would touch her because she had t'is little perfect baby," he said it without a trace of bitterness because she'd always managed to include him in her happiness. "I was about 8 I reckon when 'e was born. 'e was a smart kid, dinna take him long ta work out not to cry 'round Pa, walked too fuckin' early. Always 'ad t'is fascination wit' tha woods – we lost 'im one day, only time I reckon I saw Pa give a shit – he was only 2 and a 'alf. I found 'im – he'd walked out tha back, t'rough tha fence into tha trees. He was just sitting on tha ground, watching the leaves move 'round in tha wind. Pa beat up Momma pretty good tha night," he added reflectively.
"'e'd been at school a week when she disappeared. I don't know whether she left – I reckon she tried, she told me ta look after him and I did – I did me best anyway. I protected him as best as I could from Pa, I taught him ta be tough, 'ow ta be a man," he ended almost savagely.
She gave him a look and he sighed. "'e was too good for us – for Pa and me. 'e 'ad somet'in' special did Daryl – he had her. On the outside 'e was Dixon, 'ad his eyes, same as me, not all t'at much ta look at – but inside, 'e was somet'in' special. 'e 'ad t'is art teacher, she loved him and tried real 'ard I reckon ta git 'im somewhere. She got him into music lessons – 'e learnt ta play tha guitar, 'e doesn't 'ave a bad voice eit'er. His first pay cheque he bought a guitar. I t'ink I smashed it a week later," he frowned with remembrance. "She taught 'im 'ow to draw – just with a lead or charcoal, he did t'is one of Mama – it was a bit vague, 'e'd done it from memory, but it was her. Pa went off 'is rocker when 'e found it – ripped it up, broke all Daryl's stuff and beat 'im around tha 'ead a bit."
"'e 'as t'is 'abit of chewing his fingers," he mused. "Started when he was a baby – he'd never 'ave one o' t'ose dummy t'ings – he'd just mung on t'ose fingers. Now it's a nervous 'abit – whenever 'e's stressed, 'e'll stick his t'umb in t'ere and almost tear into it – is a wonder t'at he 'as any fucking fingers left."
"Pa used ta lock 'im up in tha shed. Not for any reason – just got over 'aving 'im in tha house, grab 'im and drag 'im in t'ere. 'e's got a bit of claustrophobia from it."
"'e's got two t'ings of Mama's – her wedding ring which I found t'at day on tha kitchen dresser. I reckon I shoved it in tha back of a drawer to 'ide it from Pa – Daryl musta found it years later. He's also got 'er locket – a small tarnished silver t'ing with a pitcha me and 'im as kids in it. Don't know 'ow 'e kept t'at away from Pa, would 'ave bin wort' somet'in' in its day. 'e didn't know I knew 'e 'ad 'em – 'e 'id 'em from me."
"Never play poker wit' 'im – 'e's a fuckin' card shark," Merle grinned slightly in memory. "I 'member tha time he and I played strip poker wit' little May Turner and her best friend Jane White – lit'le prick never even lost a sock but tha t'ree of us ended up starkus." Good times.
"I left when I was seventeen – got inta tha Marines. Did alright for a bit – then got sent to Quantico. Used ta send money 'ome for 'im when I could – don't know whet'er he got any of it or whet'er Pa drank it. When I got out I went 'ome 'cassionally, spend a couple o' weeks t'ere getting pissed wit' me mates, seeing ta tha women in tha local watering hole. 'e'd come in, sit in tha corner and watch with t'at fuckin' 'unter's glare t'at 'e has. I'd get 'im a woman every now and again and 'e'd take 'em– only reason I knew 'e wasn't queer. We'd git back into tha 'ouse as tha sun was comin' up – 'e'd 'ave a quick shower and 'ead off ta work. I'd only 'ang 'round a couple o' weeks – t'en I'd 'ead off somewhere. 'e stayed t'ere – right ta tha end – in tha fuckin' little shit piece o' a house. Buried Pa when tha drink finally killed 'im off, settled whatever debts 'e 'ad around."
"I 'adn't spoken ta 'im for a good ten years when tha apocalypse hit. Was tha fuckin' same as ever t'ough." He paused. "Maybe a bit more like me."
She waited for a while. "Why are you so sure that he's alive?"
Merle brought himself back to the present. "Daryl?" He snorted. "Only a Dixon can kill a Dixon sugartits. 'e's alive somewhere – prob'ly wit' tha same group somew'ere." She still wasn't satisfied. "Me brother can 'unt woman. I mean hunt. 'e used ta live in tha woods when he was a kid, 'e got lost one of tha times I was in juvie – 8 days or somet'ing when 'e was only 9. Got 'imself back home alright – Pa hadn't missed 'im. I 'ad ta be real careful when I rang ya see not ta make 'im t'ink I was after Daryl. Ya only got one phone call a week – it cost me a mont's wort' of desserts ta make t'at last phone call, didn't know what I was goin' ta do if 'e didn't answer tha phone t'at night" he ended with half a smile. "Daryl's a survivor. 'e ain't got no social skills, me and Pa fixed t'at in 'im, but he can look after 'imself and anyone else 'e chooses to."
"And you miss him?"
He grimaced. "'e's me brot'er. 'e's blood, 'e's kin." He looked up and found her eyes on him steadily. "Yes fuck it woman, I miss 'im alright. We went t'rough a lot of shit together – I abandoned 'im and left 'im wit' Pa all t'ose years ago and yet, when tha world went ta pieces, he still let me in, he came wit' me. 'e 'ad my back. And t'en I let 'im down – again."
"Your hand?" she prompted and he nodded first, then looked up sharply.
"It was no industrial accident Merle," she said with a slight smile. "What happened?"
It was as if in slow motion that he watched it fly, the key, as it sailed up and in a gentle arc from the nigga's hand right into the centre of the drainage pipe. Nothing but net. He screamed out at him then, yelling, pleading, but he was panicked now, yelling out himself. He looked back at him, Merle met his eyes, pleading for his life, not to be left there. But the door slammed shut and he was left there.
He pulled and pulled at the chain, at the pipe, at anything and everything. Nothing moved an inch. He was still buzzing, he hallucinated in the sun – going back to the time when he had reached his limit with the Corp. Then he had turned to God – he had pleaded, he had threatened and then he had spat on Him. The geeks arrived later that afternoon, drawn perhaps up the stairs by his noise, his need to hear someone talking to him, even it was himself. He was coming down from the buzz, cold horror settling in as the night came over. He was cold and he huddled up into a ball.
The night had been one of the longest of his life. The noises from the door had faded slightly with the night – they hadn't been able to see him, although every now and again a burst of breeze had sent his scent their way and the howls of hunger had started up again. Now that dawn had managed to creep over the top of the building they could see him again and their noise had started up again. He looked down at the hacksaw – it had taken him most of the previous day to snag it with his belt, cursing and swearing all the time – at Officer Friendly whoever the fuck he was, at the nigga for getting him into the situation to start with, at the chink for being a chink, at tha pansy Daryl for not being there yet, at God for his life. He'd tried it against the handcuffs for hours, falling asleep from sheer exhaustion before snapping awake and sawing away again.
The geeks frothed at the mouth, pushing harder and harder at the door which banged ominously under their pressure. They were coming. It was only a matter of time. He looked at the hacksaw, at the cuffs which it hadn't been able to make a dent in. The roar of the geeks faded into the background behind his breathing and pumping of his blood. He grabbed his belt in his teeth and yanked it tight. He placed the blade on the skin and using all the force he could muster, he dragged the blade back.
The pain was excruciating and a yell burst from his throat. The howls from behind the door intensified, but he didn't look up. Come on ya pussy – do it. Put ya purse down and the next cut was even more painful and he yelled again, tears welling in his eyes. The next cut hit the bone and he screamed until he thought his lungs would burst. Another cut through the bone, a third and then he was past the bone and into flesh again. His arm was a mass of pain now, he couldn't hear anything but his ragged breathing and the rush of blood in his ears. The handcuff made a ting against the pipe and he fell forward as the blade broke through. There was blood all around him, and was still dripping from the stump of his arm. Need to stop the bleeding he thought dully, looking at his hand on the floor in front of him. Git up you dummy – ya don't want to die of blood loss. He stood up, swaying slightly. He looked up at the stairs, the geeks pushing up against the door, and then looked around. There was another door over the edge of the building – but he would need a weapon. He looked on the ground where the tools had fallen and scattered and stepped over the pipe. The geeks howled as his bloody scent got closer to them and he sneered at them "Ya dumb ass geeks – ya ain't get any of ol' Merle today." He bent over and picked up the wrench, taking one last look at the door and stumbling away.
He weaved through the offices like a drunken man, holding his hand up against his chest. He spotted a rag and grabbed it, twisting it around his stump. He moaned with the pain and staggered, leaning against the wall for a moment. He heard the groans and straightened up, snarling as he saw a figure shambling towards him. He took three steps, slamming the wrench once, twice, three times into its head. Another groan sounded nearby and he whirled, hammering on its skull with the wrench even after it had hit the ground. He moaned, shuddering and the wrench dropped out of his hand. Had to stop the bleeding.
The stove took an age to light – he had to press down the gas with his stump while pushing at the ignition with his free hand. It fired up with a whoosh and he looked around. He staggered over to the bench and picked up the metal iron press, and placed it over the flame. He counted to 100 to keep his mind awake, and then reached over for the iron. He took a deep breath "Come on ya pussy!" he yelled and pushed the iron against his stump.
He woke on the floor, his arm a mass of agony, but not bleeding anymore. The sun was well and truly up, he could see through the window and he sniffed hard, wiping his face against his sleeve. Dixons don't cry ya pussy he snarled at himself, forcing himself to his feet. He took a few steps forward and peered out the grotty window – stairs. He turned his head away and elbowed the window sharply, then again, protecting his only hand with a bunched up towel as he cleared a space big enough for him to crawl through. It was a tight fit, but he managed it and he paused up or down. It was an easy decision – he'd had enough of rooftops. So he made his way down, trying to keep as quiet as he could.
There were geeks in the streets, he could see them – he could hear them. The stairs brought him into some kind of service alley and he turned, even in the city his unerring sense of direction guided him and he knew the way back to camp – back where he had some discussions to carry out with a nigga, a chink, a bitch, a taco vender and fuckin' Officer Friendly.
It took him a couple of hours, weaving backwards and forwards through the alley, sometimes going into buildings, sometimes having to take geeks out – but he made it the railway yards. And he stopped maybe there was a God he thought or maybe the devil looks after its own suggested another voice. He shrugged "Whatever" it was still a vehicle. A stupid, box of a vehicle, but one that would get him back to camp quicker than walking. He walked to the door and looked in, ready to reach in to pop the hood and he breathed a whistle. The keys were in it. "Dummy," he said of the unknown driver. He pulled himself in and reached forward with his right arm – he stared for a full three seconds at the bloody mess that used to be his hand. "Fuck," he swore and reached over with his left to turn the key. The van started up reliably enough and he slammed it into reverse, trundling back along the lines until he could turn it around.
What ya doing? he thought. Ya just going to drive back up to the quarry and say – heya guys. Did ya forget something? Did ya miss me?
He snorted. He was going back to camp to rip Officer Friendly's throat out – then he was going to slam that nigger's face into a tree about half a dozen times – and he might just bitch slap the chink because he could. Then he was going to get his bike and Daryl and they were going to leave that circus to look after themselves.
His vision blurred and he blinked a few times. He was coming down off a pretty big hit, plus he'd been using pretty steadily – not too much to make Daryl more than glare at him, but enough to make their fuckin' ho-hum existence a little more fun. He needed something to eat and some sleep – or another hit. Since fuckin' Officer Friendly had thrown his stash off the roof, he'd have to settle for a sleep. He'd get another hit when he got back to his bike. He turned the wheel of the vehicle, finding a garage which he could park it in, pulling down the door and crawling into the rear of the car. He was asleep in minutes.
"I woke up about midday that next day," he continued. "I was ravenous by then and so fuckin' t'irsty. I broke into tha house – found some food, some Coke – some whiskey, and some pills." He took a breath. "I woke up again tha next morning. They was gone by tha time I got back to tha camp," he shrugged. "T'ere was graves everywhere, plus a whole 'eap of burnt geeks. A glitch 'ad come in at night time – it took out more t'an 'alf tha camp, woulda taken more except for four men – came in from tha road and shot 'em up."
He waited – it didn't take her long. "Oh Merle," she sighed, tears still shimmering in her eyes. "Daryl came for you, didn't he? You stole his van? He, and the others, they had to walk back from the city?"
He nodded once.
"I followed them – t'ere was a note ta a Morgan saying t'ey'd gone ta tha CDC. I found one of t'em," he said abstractly. "'is name was Jim, 'e was a mechanic – pretty good wit' tha tools. 'e must 'ave been bitten – 'e'd turned, was wandering tha road like 'e was drunk. I actually slowed down ta pick 'im up – t'en 'e turned ta look at me." He swallowed. "Tha CDC was gone – but t'ere wasn't a note t'is time. I 'ad no fuckin' idea where he'd go from t'ere – so I just turned 'round and drove. T'en I met Robbie – ya know tha rest."
He sniffed. "T'at's it. Ask ya fourth question woman."
She shook her head. "I only have three tonight– I reserve the right to ask it anytime I want."
He blinked, almost not ready to be released from the seat. Then he nodded and stood up. "I'll go and check 'round t'en – ya git some sleep." He bent over to pick up the rifle and almost started to find her right there in front of him.
She stood up on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on his cheek – he was too scared to move. "Thankyou Merle," she whispered.
"For what?" he asked in confusion, keeping his arms tight by his side.
"For telling me all that," she smiled. "I know it was hard for you."
"A deal's a deal," he dismissed, but she wasn't fooled.
She reached forward and grasped one of his fingers off the rifle. "We'll find him Merle. We'll find him."
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OK so there are numerous oblique references here, the destruction at the hospital is based loosely on the deleted scene from S2, I can't remember specifically where I have read about Daryl drawing (I know there have been a few including Sketch by GagaWhitney) but Down in The Willow Garden by Praxid has Daryl's mother drawing, the guitar playing came from "Do you Play Sir?" By JoannieSpn, the shed reference came from Shed by Therm, the wedding ring from Too Late for Hallelujah by ArmedWithMyComputer and the locket from Heaven in Hell by Meggo 929. The Poker playing is from Feels Like Home by ArmedWithMyComputer and Whatever It Takes by untapdtreasure who also introduced the concept of strip poker. These were just things I could work in – I know that I have nothing from Love2Chuck or Jaded79 - two of my very favourite authors!