A perfect halo
Of gold hair and lightning
Sets you off against
The planet's last dance
Brandon hadn't amounted to much in life, and his death had been rather unextraordinary. He had, by some foolish draw of luck, been bitten when helping secure a rather volatile – and injured – survivor from near Senoia. It had been in the confusion of the attack that he had slipped away knowing his fate was sealed – he had been too cowardly to end it himself.
He had fled, taking an abandoned car on the highway and driving into the night. It was then that he had stumbled on the herd, disbelieving of the vast ocean of shadows that shifted and waved before him. It was only as his headlights swam across their eyes that he had realized just what he was looking at – and he had turned to flee once more.
They had followed the flare of lights, one thought and one thought alone driving them on and on - hunger. By the time the sun had come and gone again, the herd numbered somewhere in the hundreds. Inevitably, Brandon had succumbed to his injuries, and still the herd stared ahead, unaware that they followed a man long dead.
They would have wandered still had it not been by some twist of fate that a man was killed. They would have gone on forever, had a boy not drawn and shot a pistol to protect his father.
But the sky lit up with a crack, and their eyes and mouths and minds turned with it.
The gun shot echoes like a thousand voices.
We're right here. Come and get us.
A deep silence follows thereafter, and neither Cal nor Daryl can find their voices or their feet. They are frozen.
Daryl's sentiment echoes in the room – something wasn't right, and it began with Shane and Rick. Cal could still remember the freshness of their bruises, the turmoil in their eyes. Their argument had taken a violent turn, but was it so deeply rooted that it would end so violently?
The lingering silence of the gunshot's shock gives her her answer.
Daryl doesn't say anything. He turns and runs, and Cal follows him closely. They weave through the house, clutching their weapons in hand. When they come to the front door Daryl comes to a grinding halt – Cal runs into his back with a soft breathe.
"Fuck," Daryl hisses, and Cal follows his gaze out the window. From the treeline there pours a wave of stumbling, ambling, groaning shadows – each and every one jerking and clicking and snapping as they drift through the dark. With surmounting horror and dread, both Cal and Daryl realize they head for the farm – towards the blazing beacon of the Greene's home.
There is no time for discussion, if they wait any longer the walkers would be upon them. "That many will tear the house apart," Cal whispers.
Cal pulls at Daryl, her insistent grip tugging him into the gut of the house, towards the kitchen. It's there that they find a back door leading off into the dark wood. For a moment they hesitate, Cal's fingers coiled about the door handle in a white-knuckled grip.
The question is evident in her eyes – a challenge.
Daryl nods, and Cal pushes the door open.
It's a short run from the house to the treeline, and they move silently across the grasses and into the underbrush. They don't look back, but slip along shadowy game trails. The moon, despite her fullness, is no ally in the wood, and it is only when Cal stumbles over a root that Daryl has the opportunity to look back.
In the field behind them is a dark and rippling wave – an ocean pouring out from the far treeline, and crashing like the growing tide against and around the farm house they had only just been in. It was unalike anything he had ever seen. The herd on the highway was nothing in comparison.
Daryl's fingers coil tightly about Cal's bicep, and he pulls her to her feet with a soft grunt. She doesn't protest; she doesn't turn and look back. They push into the trees, running as quickly as they can through the dark forest with its uneven footing. Once or twice Cal stumbles, though her lips remain firmly closed and she suffers in silence.
They leap over the fence, wincing as they burst out from the safety of the treeline to rush across the open field. Cal matches Daryl in speed, though less familiar with running over uneven footing, she lags behind after a few missteps.
Behind them they hear a crack – a loud splintering sound that forces them to keep going.
"The fence," Daryl explains, and Cal feels her blood run cold when another crack echoes into the night.
She can already imagine them spilling across the field.
"What's going on?" They hear a cry come from the house, and both of them rush until they're spilling into the light of the porch.
"What's going on?" Someone repeats.
"We heard a gunshot," Andrea says.
"Where are Rick and Shane?"
"Did you see Carl?" Lori cries.
"We have to go," Cal breathes.
"Did you see Carl?!" Lori hisses.
"We have to go!" Cal snaps, silencing the murmurs of confusion. "They're coming - walkers."
Slowly, one by one, they turn to look out across the field to the horde drifting towards them. It isn't hard to discern the shadowy mass for what it is – the rattling moans and cracked growls are enough. They spill out from the woods in every direction, moving as one endless horde towards their home.
"I haven't seen this many since Atlanta," Glenn says.
"We have to go," Cal whispers.
It is as those words leave her mouth that the barn erupts in flames, belching fire from its belly and crackling with the cries of the undead trapped within. The barn echos with the shots of a pistol – the telltale flash of gunfire drawing the group's cries of dismay. Jimmy is the first to react, spilling from the porch and rushing for the RV, screaming that someone is on top of the barn.
The distinct roar of a Magnum cracking in the night forces a cry from Lori. "Rick! Carl!"
The RV sputters as Jimmy tries to start it, the telltale crack and cough of the motor causing several earsplitting cackles to rise up from the oncoming horde. The old vehicle comes to life just in time, its headlights spilling across the snarling faces and outstretched hands of the first walkers. Even from the house, over the tumult of the herd's cries, Jimmy's yell of distress and fear ring clear.
Jimmy throws the RV into drive, running over several of the walkers with a slurping crunch.
Someone on the porch lets out a cry as several of the undead ignore the fleeing RV, their mouths clicking as they consider the people standing on the porch. Chaos erupts – people fly in every direction, rushing into the house for belongings, or towards the vehicles parked in the drive.
"Carl!" Lori shouts, her panic evident in her eyes as the barn roars in its fiery death. She watches in panic as the RV bounces across the field, lurching across the uneven terrain – whether walker or dirt - as Jimmy races for the barn and the two figures waving frantically for help.
"He'll be fine, Lori!" Cal hisses, grabbing Lori's hand and dragging her towards a truck. The other woman rips her hand from Cal's iron grip and attempts to run, but T-Dog is there curling her into his arms.
"Go!" He snaps, dragging a kicking Lori towards a truck. "I got her!"
The first crack of a shotgun makes everyone hesitate. The walkers are upon them, spilling across what had once been camp, and reaching greedily for the farmhouse. Hershel stands a few yards from the house, cracking shot after shot from his shotgun, stopping just long enough to reload.
Cries of terror alight the night. Cal ignores them, rushing from the porch – hesitating when she nearly runs into a wave of walkers coming around behind the farmhouse. Someone shrieks off to her left, and Cal turns with wide eyes to watch as Patricia, having only just stepped from the backdoor of the house, is swallowed beneath a horde of reaching hands. Beth shrieks from her side, her hand reaching out as if to save the older woman. When Patricia's grip goes limp Beth turns to flee, but a hand coils in her hair and drags her down.
Cal blinks, her mouth going dry as she watches both women disappearing under a pile of squirming bodies.
One moment they had been there – alive and breathing – and the next they had not.
Something collapses on her from behind, and she pitches forward under a body. Somehow in the fall she twists, her eyes widening as a pair of teeth snap down on her arm. The layers of duct tape wrapped around her forearm stop the walker from piercing her skin, but the blinding pressure of its unrelenting jaws bearing down on her nearly makes her yell in pain. The walker's hands reach for her stomach; its jaw squeezing and ripping at her arm.
She tries to kick it. She tries to thrash and push it away. She can feel its fingers scrabbling across her torso, pulling at her shirt, trying to dig into the soft skin of her belly. She was in the city long enough to know that their teeth weren't their only weapons – she had seen what they could do in those first few days. The cold truth of her impending death rears before her, and Cal lets out a quiet snarl.
Forget what you have to lose, and fight like hell.
Somehow, she manages to wrestle her knife free from beneath the weight of her attacker. She stabs awkwardly at the walker's head, rage building in a soft snarl as she misses again and again. Her snarl turns to a muted yell of pain when it begins to shake its head, shaking her arm in its mouth as if to break her limb. The pain is blinding, and by some luck she manages to thrust her knife into its temple.
It slumps forward against her, mouth still pressed against her aching arm. For a long moment she lays beneath its, listening as the world dissolves into terror and hunger.
She knows she doesn't have long. She pushes the walker from her and stands, eyes wide and wild. The initial group of walkers that had spilled from behind the house are preoccupied only a few feet away, ripping and tearing into what had once been Beth and Patricia.
Cal takes a step back when a bloodied walker looks up at her, its white eyes wide in recognition. It lets out a rattling moan and stands, shaking and jerking as it steps towards her.
Fight like hell.
A hand grabs at her. Cal turns with her knife, a snarl on her lips.
"Fuck girl, it's me," Daryl hisses, putting a bolt into the walker shambling towards them. He grabs her by the arm and drags her after him, ignoring her hiss of pain. Cal follows, eyes wide as she takes in the field before them – shadowed black by the amount of walkers still spilling out from the woods. "Come on!" Daryl grouses.
"The others?" Cal dares to ask, quiet despite the chaos surrounding them.
"Gone or dead," Daryl rasps. "Like us if we don't get moving."
She follows at that, wincing as the sounds of terror becomes nothing more than the cracked groans and cries of the dead. The gunfire ceases, the screams of terror become nothing.
Behind them the herd surges, pulsing in every direction. A few walkers cry out and lope after the pair bee-lining for the black motorcycle parked near the road. Once Daryl has mounted the bike, Cal drapes herself behind him, her fingers coiling into the fabric at his waist. The motor roars to life and they drive, tires throwing dirt and rock into the air.
Only the wisp of a hand snatching at her back tells her of how close they had come.
They drive on to the highway, and it is there that they stop and wait. The car where they had left the message for Sophia is the only thing that makes sense to either of them. Daryl crawls atop the cab, while Cal sits on the hood. For a long while they sit there, waiting to see if anyone else made it.
If anyone else had survived.
Over and over again Cal finds herself back in the chaos, being unable to do anything, and watching as Patricia and Beth succumb to the walkers. She had been close enough to do something – if only she had reached out, if only she had tried. It's a bitter feeling, one that she chides herself for but is unable to stop. Survivor's guilt was something they all had to deal with from now on.
Eventually the ache of her arm brings her to reality, and she looks down at the duct tape that wraps around her arm. The frayed edges of the torn tape makes her blanch, and she shrugs out of her shirt to better look at the damage, praying that in the struggle she hadn't been bitten. Even a scrape of the teeth could be enough.
She hesitates, glancing up at Daryl who looks the other way. The truth of her situation is moments from her, and already she can imagine the consequences of a small slip, a small gash.
One breath. Two.
She tugs the sleeve down and grimaces. A black bruise already crawls along the entirety of her swollen forearm, the skin at the edges fading to purple and blue. She takes a deep breath and runs her hand along her skin, wincing at the sharp pain lancing up her arm. And then she freezes.
Her fingers come away wet and red.
She can feel it building, a panic so real and tenacious that she chokes. She wipes at her arm frantically, choking back the pain of her injury.
Already images of her turning and attacking the rest of the group plague her, leaping in front of her eyes like memories rather than possibilities. She can feel cold metal against her forehead, and smell the oil and grease of a gun. She can imagine what immutable hunger must be like – endless and all encompassing.
She rubs harder and harder, trying to scratch her own fouled skin away.
Hands suddenly coil about her own, and she lets out a gasped snarl as she tries to pull away. The grip is unyielding, and she blinks up at Daryl leaning over her, his eyes narrowed and lips tight as if he's dealing with nothing more than a petulant child. "Damn it, settle Cal!"
She tries to tug her hands away, but he holds firm. Instead of letting her go, he pulls her to his chest and lets her sink against him with a quiet gasp. She doesn't sob, he notices. She sits in silence against him and gasps and hiccups and breathes as if the world is ending. Even her torment is quiet.
He almost hadn't found her she was so damn quiet.
For a long moment they stand there in the grey morning, Cal pressed against Daryl's chest and he clutching her to him. Again she tries to pull from his grip, wanting nothing more than to flee before she starts ripping into them.
She doesn't want to turn.
She doesn't want to become one of them.
"Settle down," Daryl murmurs again.
Eventually she calms down, breathing into his neck. She shakes, but he doesn't know why – not until he pushes her away and looks her in the eye. The guilt there is enough to make him growl, and she twists one of her arms in his hand until he looks down at it in question.
For a moment he forgets to breathe. A daunting thought lingers in his mind: maybe he hadn't found her fast enough.
Black and purple bruises are not his main concern, but rather the bright contrast of her blood. It makes his heart stop, and then his own breath comes out in a rattling gasp. He makes her sit down on the hood of the car and looks at her arm, folding it over in his hand to better look at the swollen skin.
"I don't see any bite marks," Daryl mutters after a moment, to which his own relief is met with a bitter laugh. He glances at her.
"He got me through the duct tape," Cal mutters, and Daryl looks at her discarded shirt. He lets her arm fall down and grabs the shirt, twisting the damaged arm in his hands. It doesn't take long to find the torn edges, but he lets out a breath when he realizes it isn't torn enough to have meant tooth to skin contact.
"The pressure must have rubbed you raw," Daryl says. "Ain't no way he got you with his teeth."
Cal lets out a choked sigh, "but what if-"
"No," Daryl interrupts.
Cal starts at his vehemence.
It is that moment that they hear a car approaching, and Daryl reaches over and grabs her long sleeved shirt, tugging it back over her shoulders. She watches him, how gentle he is as he helps her slide her injured arm through the sleeve.
"Daryl? Cal?" The voice belongs to Dale.
Daryl gives her a pointed look as he buttons the sleeve, effectively hiding her injury, before he turns to greet Dale with a nod.
"I thought we were the only ones," Dale gasps, sliding from the green SUV.
Carol crawls out behind him, her eyes wet, but shining at the sight of them. Cal stiffens when Carol embraces her – she awkwardly pats the other woman on the back.
"Are we the only ones so far?" Dale asks, swinging his rifle over his shoulder.
Cal nods, "we've been here for a few minutes."
"Heads up," Daryl calls down from the top of the car, and they all blink towards two more cars trailing towards them.
One by one the rest of the group slinks from their vehicles, joy upon seeing the faces of friends and loved ones evident. Maggie and Glenn rush from their car, both of them lighting up upon seeing Hershel with Rick and Carl. Lori lets out a cry upon finding her family, racing past the truck she had shared with T-Dog to clutch fervently at her son and husband.
"Thought we lost you," T-Dog says, sidling up to Cal with a grin.
It is only as the group celebrates their survival do they realize the fallen. Hershel and Maggie clutch fervently at one another, their eyes scanning familiar faces in search of their own. Hershel meets Cal's eye for a moment, but its enough for him to recognize the look in her eyes – and the soft shake of her head.
The man lets out a cry of disbelief, sinking to his knees. Maggie clutches at him, her own soft sobs echoing in the morning light.
"Andrea?" Rick asks, his eyes falling to the group.
Carol shakes her head. "She... I don't know."
Dale lets out a sound.
"Jimmy?" Maggie asks, her voice hardly a whisper from behind her tears.
Rick looks down at his feet, his expression grim. "He didn't make it."
"Shane?" Lori asks.
The group goes quiet, waiting. Daryl and Cal glance at one another, the truth of the farmhouse between them. Carl looks into his hands. Rick takes a sharp breath and then shakes his head.
One by one they sink down, resting on or against cars. The reality of their situation, of what they had just survived and of whom they'd just lost, a weight few of them are used to carrying. They mourn as well as they can in their new world, wiping at their tears and hoping their quiet sobs don't attract the dead.
"Where do we go?" Maggie asks after a while, her eyes wide as she considers her father's fallen face. "What do we do?"
"We keep moving," Rick grinds out from where he has collapsed against a truck with his son and wife under either arm. "We have to keep moving."
"We need to find somewhere," Dale says, his voice bleak. "Winter isn't far away."
"I know," Rick agrees. "I know."
Afterwards, they collect what they can from the cars around them, taking whatever Cal and Daryl had not taken during their previous trip. They siphon what gas they can find, wincing at just how little the cars have. Eventually Daryl spots a walker in the distance. The group splits into their cars, Rick leading the way through the maze of the highway with his family.
Daryl looks at Cal, at her arm cradled against her chest.
"Best keep an eye on you," he says, holding out a hand.
She blinks at him, and takes it, swinging up behind him on his motorcycle.
They drive for as long as the fuel lasts, the number of cars dwindling as they sputter and fail. Eventually they're crammed together, the seats full as they pile in one by one. Only Cal and Daryl remain attached, the two of them weaving ahead of the group as scouts.
It is late in the evening by the time the last of the cars lose fuel – even Daryl's motorcycle succumbs. The group is forced to move on, walking along the highway on high alert, carrying empty gasoline tanks and praying they'll stumble across any abandoned cars.
By the time night falls they're out in the open with no prospects. Daryl finds a small niche – the remains of an old building that offers them some semblance of shelter. Despite their protests, their complaints and fears, the group follows him and Rick into the dark. They settle themselves amongst the old stones green from moisture. The night is chilled by the coming fall, and they huddle together for warmth, and in fear.
Outside of the high walls and into the trees, Cal uses the last of the water to wipe away the blood on her arm, wincing at the clear marks where her skin had been rubbed raw. She cleans it as best she can before tugging her shirt back on, buttoning the sleeve up with a pained hiss.
She starts, turning to find Daryl standing behind her, crossbow in hand. His eyes are soft as he scans her face, looking for any sign of her discomfort – or any signs of the change, she thinks.
"Besides nearly losing my arm," she shrugs. "I'm fine."
Daryl moves up beside her, reaching out with gentle fingers to pinch at the duct tape that had protected her arm. He rolls it between his fingers – she watches with wide eyes and held breath.
"Smart," he says.
"Not smart enough," she mutters.
"You're here, ain't ya?"
Cal shrugs, "it felt pretty close back there."
They go quiet at that, both of them lost to their own nightmares. Cal remembers that hands scrabbling at her belly, and the walker shaking its head like a mad dog. It had been a surreal moment, one where she had felt nothing but anger.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Together they walk back to their makeshift camp. Cal retreats to a corner and settles down. T-Dog looks like he wants to approach her, but she shuts her eyes to feign sleep.
Daryl settles nearby, watching Cal out of the corner of his eye.
For a long while no one speaks, until soft wispy clouds of breath float before their eyes.
"I'm cold," Carl says, cuddling close to his mother with wide eyes.
Rick reaches out and touches his son's head.
"Rick," Lori murmurs, her eyes imploring. "A fire?"
Rick's jaw sets, and he glances at Cal tucked away in a corner – distanced from the group. At Lori's question, Cal's eyebrows noticeably raise in disbelief. Her eyes are still shut, but her dismay is evident. If they were going to survive these next days, they were going to need her.
"I don't think that's a good idea," Rick mutters back.
Lori glowers at him.
Carol sits forward, lips drawn tight. "A small fire isn't going to hurt-"
"You ever hear about light discipline?" Cal says, eyes still shut.
Carol slinks back, her eyes lowered.
"There will be no fire," Rick clarifies.
Lori stares at them both, her brow furrowed. "Rick-"
A sound in the dark of the forest causes everyone to pause. Carl whimpers against his mother's shoulder, fingers clutching at her jacket. Carol whimpers, T-Dog stills. Cal opens one eye and looks out of the shadowed archway of what had once been a door. Daryl stands against the wall, crossbow held at the ready.
"What was that?"
One by one they succumb to panic as they remember the night before, the treachery of a single gunshot calling down upon them the legions of hell. Without vehicles, what hope did they have? Without fuel, food or water, what could they hope for?
"I'm leaving," Maggie announces, standing up. She clutches a gun to her chest – one of the few they have left.
"You ain't going anywhere," Rick says, standing up.
"Then do something," Carol hisses.
Rick's jaw sets, his temper flaring at her accusatory tone. "I am – I'm keeping this group together," he seethes, eyes wild and dark. "I – Shane..."
Cal and Daryl exchange a glance.
"I killed my best friend," Rick breathes. Carl begins to cry into his mother's collar. "He gave me no choice. He drew on me, and-"
Rick hesitates. He wipes his hand across his brow and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I killed my best friend," he repeats. "He drew on me. He drew on me."
Silence is all encompassing. They sit in the dark and they exchange pensive glances. Daryl looks away, jaw tight. Cal shuts her eyes and sits in her own darkness.
"I am doing something, but if you think you can do better, then go ahead." Rick steps aside, motioning to the entrance behind him. "See how long you last. My hands are clean – everything I've done, I've done for this group."
Carol is looking away, eyes to the ground. Maggie digs her palms into her eyes, sniffling as she listens to the quiet words of a man bearing the weight of the world.
"So go. Go if you want, but let's get one thing straight," Rick breathes. "If you're staying, this isn't a democracy anymore."