I lifted my head, trying to pinpoint an out of place sound. It was rhythmic, steady… Footsteps.
I turned to the west, toward the sound and froze. They weren't stumbling, or dragging, they were sure and even, quiet but, I could still tell they were there. And close.
I furrowed my brow. The dead shuffled more than they walked. Either this was a corpse in good shape or-
Suddenly an arrow imbedded itself in my shoulder, spinning me to the left, the propulsion causing me to fall to the ground. I touched the arrow with my right hand and felt warm, sticky liquid. I pulled my hand away and saw the red substance on my fingertips.
The air started to reek of copper. Suddenly a shadow fell over me and I looked up. A man had a crossbow aimed at me, a few feet from my head.
"Say somethin'." He growled.
I opened my mouth but no sound came out. He slowly lowered his crossbow. He took a step toward me and I stopped breathing.
"I'm gunna pull it out." He gestured toward the arrow. He kneeled down slowly next to me and put a hand on my shoulder. I flinched. He looked at my face and I stared back, blankly. His eyes travelled down to my waist.
"Take off yer belt." He said, nodding to my waist.
I cocked my head to the side.
He sighed and reached down and undid my belt clasp. I watched his hands work. I was feeling light headed. Eventually he had my belt in his hands and he was pulling it around my shoulder, above the arrow. He tightened it, watching my face for a reaction. I gave him none, just looked back at him. He put one hand on my shoulder and grasped the arrow tightly. He yanked hard, and then I forgot.
She was breathing softly. Her wound had stopped bleeding so much; I used the sleeve of my shirt as a bandage. I thought she was a walker, she was covered in blood and dirt, her hair was tangled and had sticks in it. But her eyes… They weren't bloodshot, they were huge and green.
She twitched on the ground; I took my hand and felt her forehead. It was warm to the touch but not feverish. The others were a little over a half mile away, Hershel could take better care of her.
In a flash she was no longer laying on the ground and there was something cold and metal against my neck. The girl was crouched next to me, holding me at knife point. She panted and surveyed her surroundings, confused.
"Ya' passed out," I said simply.
She whipped her head around to look at me and the knife was pressed harder to my throat. She glanced down at her shoulder, where the arrow had pierced her, then she looked at my one sleeveless arm and smirked.
There was a soft moan to our right and suddenly the metal was gone from my neck and a walker fell to the ground. I stood, grabbing my crossbow, assessing the situation. I walked toward the walker and saw a knife handle sticking out of its eye socket. I pulled the knife free and looked at the girl.
She was still crouched on the ground but looked less scared. I held the knife up, "Did ya' throw this?"
She nodded, Yes.
"Can't ya' talk?" She shook her head. No.
"Why not?" I asked.
She smacked the side of her forehead with the palm of her hand and shrugged.
I didn't know what that meant but grunted and set the knife down at her feet. She grabbed it and wiped it on the pant leg of her jeans before putting if in what seemed to be a duct tape leg holster with several other knives.
"Follow me." I said, starting to walk back toward the temporary camp.
The girl glanced around the woods and shifted her weight from one foot to the other. I turned back around.
"We got a doctor, he can help ya." I said.
She bit down on her dirty lip, thinking. Then she shrugged and immediately winced, grabbing her shoulder and opening her mouth, but not crying out. I took a step toward her but she shook her head and motioned for me to go.
We walked in complete silence, it was mostly his choice. Usually when I met up with groups of people, it took a few awkward, mimed conversations before they gave up on communicating with me. But even if I was able to speak, I'm pretty sure this guy wouldn't have talked, anyway.
Eventually we came to the edge of the woods and the remains of a crumbling, stone house. About a dozen people in dirty clothes with sad, defeated expression were scattered around. A woman with short gray hair noticed my companion walking out of the woods and called out to him.
"Did you find any food?" She asked.
He shook his head, "Nah. The woods're pretty empty, walker's prob'ly been pickin' off animals."
The woman looked crestfallen, then saw me and gasped, "Daryl!"
The group grabbed various weapons, and started walking towards me. I took a step back towards the woods and the man who shot me, Daryl presumably, put his hands up in front of him.
"She ain't a walker. I shot her in the shoulder. She can't talk."
The group lowered their weapons and an elderly man stepped forward, wringing his hands.
"Miss, I'm Hershel, let me take a look at that wound." He said.
I glanced at Daryl who nodded toward the Hershel. I closed the distance between Hershel and I and turned my head to the right, so he could better see my shoulder.
"I, uh, pulled the arrow out. She passed out and the bleeding slowed. Walkin' probably started it up again." Daryl said, looking at the ground while addressing Hershel.
The rest of the people had paired off into groups and started whispering. I heard snippets of conversations and words like "safe", "dangerous", "farm", "Randall" and "food". Hershel pulled part of the cloth away from my wound and I took a sharp breath. He let it go and stepped back.
"He did an okay job, Miss; don't try to move it too much. I don't have any antiseptic or bandages so that'll have to make do."
I put my hands together and bowed at Hershel, Thank you.
I glanced around, the group, unsure what to do with myself or where to go. A twig snapped behind me, in the woods and I spun around and crouched in one fluid motion. My knife was at the ready in my hand and I held my breath, waiting for something to come toward me. A boy of about 12 walked out of the woods and I straightened up and holstered my knife. He saw me and his eyes got wide.
"Dad!" He yelled and started pulling a gun out of the waistband of his pants.
"It's alright, Carl, she's not a walker. Where were you? Didn't I tell you to stay close?" One of the men walked over to the boy, scolding him and leading him by the arm, away from me.
"I was looking for food, Dad." Carl said.
Daryl perked up, "I'm gunna go back out there and hunt again." He loaded an arrow into his crossbow and started walking toward a road. Being the only person I knew and doing something I was skilled at, I followed him.
When I stepped onto pavement he turned around, "No, go back ta' camp."
I shook my head, No.
"I ain't askin'. Yer' hurt, go back ta' camp."
I shrugged my shoulders and winced but didn't turn around.
"Can ya' even hunt?" He asked.
I nodded, Yes.
"Like what?" His lip curled, making him look amused and not angry, for once.
I sighed and made antlers on my head with my hands. Then I motioned long ears and wiggled my nose. Then I mimed a long, fluffy tail and stuck my front teeth out. Deer, rabbits, squirrel.
"We'll see." Daryl turned around and walked into the woods on the other side of the road. I followed, blushing slightly from my animal pantomime. I wished, for the millionth time, that I was able to talk again and regretted running haphazardly into that tree.
The hunting trip was a bust. The woods were eerily empty. The girl was pretty quick and light on her feet. She was quiet, for a woman, though it was probably 'cause she couldn't talk.
"Did you hunt everything out of these woods?" I asked, over my shoulder.
I waited for her to answer and then remembered she couldn't talk and turned around, slowing my pace. She was blushing and shook her head. I stopped walking.
"Where'd ya come from?" I asked. She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a brown leather wallet. She opened it and handed it to me. On the right side, behind a plastic protector was her driver's license.
Reed Hall, 208
105 Hooper St.
Athens GA 30609-7700
I handed the wallet back to her and glanced at her face. She was blonde in her license picture, with bright white teeth and freckles. Now every inch of her was covered in dirt and blood. Her hair was tangled and dark brown at the roots with leaves and twigs throughout. Her cheeks had dried dots of mud mixed with her freckles. There was a cut across her right cheekbone, about 2 inches; blood had dried, dripping from the gash.
She put her hands in the front pockets her jeans and shifted awkwardly under my gaze. I ran my hand through my hair, turned around and continued walking. I was surprised someone that had looked like her had survived.