The Old Man
(A/N) Well, while Pioneers is hot in the planning stage of more than 30 chapters (!), I felt like doing something a bit different as a side piece. Those few who read my fics probably know how reliable I am with updating (E.g: Less reliable than a Plumbers estimate), but what the heck? :P
This fic covers the story of Charles "Chuck" Burton (No, Burton isn't his official last name) at the start of the outbreak, and what he went through before meeting Lee and his group.
WARNING: A bit of blood and a bit of swearing! D:
Chuck had to admit, he wasn't having a good day so far. To start, he was developing a rather nasty rash on his back thanks to the roughness of the train cabin he'd called home since back when his hair was still a warm chestnut, and his jaw spotless and clean shaven. No matter how long you spend on the trains, you never got used to the lack of a mattress under your back. Chuck thought about scavenging around the local dump for something softer than the stained and damp cardboard he ate, read and slept upon, but he just couldn't be arsed. To be honest, he couldn't be bothered to do his daily round across the track. He couldn't be bothered to grab another trolley deserted by its owner. He couldn't be bothered to filch from the bins at the station for half-eaten chocolate bars and discarded pizza boxes. That always brought a smirk to his dirt coated face: People threw away these things like they had no more use, but to him it was all he had. After all, no one ever seemed to realise just how much of the cheese from a pizza stuck to the box.
"Come on", he thought, "You had a day off yesterday, get moving". His heart begged his mind to reconsider, but for once the liquor-fogged mind of Charles "Chuck" Burton emerged victorious. Heaving himself from the ground with a grunt of discomfort, Chuck purposefully searched through his stock of random goods and forced them into the many pockets of his tattered trousers. Well, the ones that didn't have holes in the bottom anyway. In the end, he retrieved a couple of thick jumper sleeves that could probably pass as scarves, and a battered copy of H. G. Wells "The Time Machine". To be honest, Chuck never read much H. G. Wells, he preferred historical biographies and astronomy books... He had preferred them once. The search for a trolley in the ditch to the side of the track didn't take long. Chuck had always wondered why the things always respawned there like weeds. Perhaps it was a new fair attraction popular in the trolley community? "View the Amazing Hobo!" he thought, imaging himself smoking a cigar and wearing a battered top hat upon his greasy hair, with trolleys and shopping baskets sitting side by side in astonishment, of course looking the same as they do when they are happy or sad.
Haha, real funny...
The Station opened up to a poorer chunk of the city. To the left was a Pawn Shop, the right a Charity Shop. Chuck made this trek weekly, and always went to the right. It was something of a nervous itch he had, having spent his best days wallowing his sorrows in the glass. He felt he needed to give something back to society to prove himself to whoever reigned up above, so that's what he did: Every now and then, he'd collect the highest quality junk he had stowed away in his cabin and haul them to the shop. During the earlier days he sold them to the Pawn Shop to make a couple of dimes spending money for booze, but recently he'd started to avoid the drink after those... Memories... Emerged once more. Holding the door open for a mother and her hyperactive child, Chuck forced the trolley over a bump amidst the stares and whispers of the "Normal" people of America, and continued to the counter. Gretel was at the counter, a nice lady about his age that reminded him of his mother, with her hair in a bun and arms that could make a boxer blush. It was the usual banter: How was your day? Donations lowering? Weather's nice? It was among these robotic words exchanged with zero thought or acknowledgement that Chuck noticed something on display: A guitar.
Chuck had never had much skill in music, not after an incident when he was six where he sneezed and lost half a clarinet up his nose, but the days in the cabin were long and boring. Whenever he felt too tired or depressed to leave the relative protection of the metal container he called home, all he could do was daydream, sleep or try and re-read the same book he'd been reading since back when his mouth still bore crystal white and straight teeth. "A man should never enjoy sleep, for it holds them back from working like a man must" was something his father enjoyed saying back in the day, and Chuck wanted to cling onto the views of his closest friend. Almost too shy to speak up, Chuck quickly mumbled a question.
"How much's the Guitar, Gretel?" Her face beamed so greatly that Chuck considered hiding under the counter and shielding his eyes from the might. Coughing dryly and violently, probably due to the stench of the man in front of her, she replied.
"$30, it's missing a couple of strings and it's chipped all over the place. Still, it's functional." Chuck patted down his coat pockets, disrupting the spiders nestled for warmth in some: Nothing. He searched his socks for his emergency $1: Gone, must've been in his other pair of maggoty shoes. And eventually, after searching every part of his body, Chuck discovered that he had absolutely nothing in cash to trade for the instrument. After awkwardly dismissing the topic, Chuck took the now empty trolley and wheeled it out of the door. He didn't look back.
He arrived back at the train cabin at around 11 pm according to the one-armed watch he found a few weeks back. Having returned the trolley to the local shopping centre, earning not even a thanks from the owners, he had walked around the city for hours. He hadn't realised how much time he spent wandering, but eventually he managed to find a mobile phone next to a bench and a half full packet of crisps in the bins adjacent to the Pawn Shop. Jackpot, he grinned. He'd certainly be returning the phone to the Lost Property counter at the Station in due time, but for now he had something else in mind: A meal.
He rarely came across something he deemed a true "Meal", having lived off unfinished snacks primarily during his life on the tracks. This packet of crisps was coated by a liberal amount of cheese crumbs, generally well sealed due to its placement under an egg box in the bin, and was actually his favourite type: Unsalted Plain. His father had always queried why he enjoyed the plain flavour, but he had always found the simple taste much more appealing than the exotic rainbow of other flavours. Pocketing the separate sachet of salt that came with this brand in his inside pocket of valuables, he practically tore off his gloves with his yellowing teeth and dug in. He made sure to savour each crisp, fondling and cradling each one roughly with his tongue like a teenage boy during their first snog. Swinging his neck to gaze outside the slightly ajar door of his cabin, Chuck noted the starless night. The sky was dominated by the moon as usual, the stars rarely being visible this close to the city. It had been like this back with his wife and daughter in Georgia, every night of every day, even that night...
Chuck bit his tongue, the copper of blood mixing with the potato slop in his mouth. "Thank god I didn't put salt on" he chuckled, suppressing his previous thoughts instantaneously and calmly like he had been doing since his clothes and shoes were those of an accomplished man. He reached under his cardboard bedding, once more noting that he should hunt through the dumps again for a mattress, and got a firm hold on the thin book he had been with since the very start of this whole ordeal of homelessness: "I am Legend" by Richard Matheson. The book had been a trusty companion of his since the early days, its pages providing an interesting read and a useful fuel for camp-fires and oil drum pits. The years had gone by, and what remained of the "book" was the near pristine condition cover and a single page. It detailed Chuck's favourite scene from the novel, where the protagonist debates with himself over how life has changed, and how to him his circumstances have changed from extraordinary to normal.
"The return of corpses had become trivial in import. How quickly one accepts the incredible if only one sees it."
It always made him laugh. Not a giggle, but a hearty laugh of joy. He never knew why, but this quote summed up what he thought of his own situation. He never thought he could make it, do all of these disgusting things to survive, but his own actions had become trivial to the point that he'd casually dive into a pile of garbage for food, while long ago he would slowly pick away with finger and thumb. Alas, a single page of a novel read constantly throughout one's life gets boring after a while, and Chuck felt himself itching for a drink, a pang he'd been suppressing for the past fortnight. "Go on, you deserve a break: Whiskey in your chest pocket." His heart whispered, to which his brain groaned in response "Take a walk, buddy. The beer's for emergencies only". Emergency was certainly a broad term, but his brain had a point. Not knowing if it was talking to his heart or him, Chuck slid his gloves back on, shrugged his shoulders to gather up his jacket and departed from the cabin.
It was a nice feeling having his heart agree with his mind for once.
He kept walking down the tracks with the intention to return the phone: The Station was open 24/7, and it seemed logical to give the phone back when it wasn't busy. To be honest, he didn't like the stares of disgust the public gave him during his daily rounds. He wanted to yell back at them, grab them all by the scruff of their pure and clean clothes and ask them if they wanted to learn what his life was like. Hearing these children whine about not getting the sweet they wanted, or their parents not investing in the latest game console always angered him, but his wife had always said to "Give them a chance, and hope that they will one day get better". She said she was just like that when she was a young girl, but he had never believed her. Chuck recalled her name like someone searching their cupboards to find their favourite toys from years prior: Antheia.
He had always called her "Artie", or "Dear", or "My love", and never had much of a talent with remembering names. She certainly didn't like that, but she wasn't the type of lady who worried about it. Their child was like that too, the cheeky little scamp with her-
"Cradle your memories, because when you go they go too" Chuck thought, hands tightening in his pockets to suppress the thoughts, the images, and their faces once more. He didn't want to have a breakdown again, and those memories were frighteningly close to the one thing he could never confront.
At last he reached the Station, his mind quickly changing gear to plan his move. Simple, he'll just waltz over the counter, explain where he found the phone, tip the hat and go back to the train. The Station floor was surprisingly empty today, no drunken party goers littering the concrete floor. The place looked messier too, a couple of bins toppled over and a window smashed, but he took nothing of it: It was the city after all. He walked over to the counter to find it unattended.
"Hey? Hello? Anyone in there?" He couldn't hear anything, but the lights were on, and a steaming hot coffee sat next to a small computer for the Property Officer to type returns into. Leaning to try and see if anyone was around the corner, Chuck quickly swiped the mug and downed the piping hot contents. With the gut of iron a diet of junk makes, the pain was easily ignored and replaced with the pleasure of drinking something warm for a change. Checking that the computer didn't have any drops on it out of politeness rather than consideration, he put the mug back and called out once more.
"Hello? Officer?" Suddenly he heard something.
A loud thud.
A thud that sounded like that of a thirty year old male slamming against the floor.
With the muffled scream that followed, Chuck instantly ran back, grabbed one of the fallen bins, and swung it at the glass dividing him from the Property Office like a club. After a couple of swings, it shattered, and Chuck vaulted in.
"I'm coming, hold on!" He yelled, turning around a corner in the Station to find a gruesome sight.
A man, blonde hair and lightly stubbled with a ruffled uniform on, lay face down on the floor whimpering. By his leg was a woman, large armed and in her 50s. Her skin a sickly green, and her eyes a pale white. She bore large knife-sharp teeth that were sunk into the juicy leg of the man, predator catching her prey. The man didn't resist, tears in his eyes as he held back screams of agony.
The woman was the Charity Shop owner. It was Gretel.
Her eyes darted upwards and spotted Chuck, and satisfied that her current prey wasn't going to run, she painfully crawled over towards him, staring at his neck. Chuck looked to the left: A lamp. He tore it out of its socket with one heave, and brought it down on the beast's skull.
(A/N) So whadda think? Should I continue? :P