All That Remains
Chapter 1 : A broken promise
The first thing Ben felt was panic when the fire escape platform jerked abruptly beneath him. The sound of screeching bending metal foretelling his in a fightened urgency his legs launched him toward the flat brick wall in front of him. He hadn't aimed high enough. Ben clawed at the wall grabbing at nothing but the rough flat surface. Still suspended, he screamed as he registered his fate and that he was not going to make it.
"Ben!" He somehow managed to hear his name over his own yells and the wind whistling in his ears as he started to travel down, unable to save himself. Then suddenly he felt a hand grab into the fabric of his jacket, then another. One more hand snagged his wrist in mid flail and suddenly his body slammed back against the wall. He yelped and continued to struggle. Moments later the balcony crashed into the concrete below with a shattering racket.
"Holy shit are you okay?"
"Ben reach up! Grab the ledge!"
The teen's mind was still in a flurry of panic and for a few horrifying seconds it seemed like the group above would lose hold of him, but with their combined strength Ben managed to latch his fingers into the drainpipe and pulled the top half of his body over the edge.
The flashing rush of adrenaline and fear didn't take long to effect the boy. He sat down breathing shuddering breaths with his head down between his knees, waiting for his pulse to stop kicking his eardrums just enough to hear the voices of his fellow survivors fussing over the near fatal incident. Kenny carefully leaned over the edge to see the twisted metal balcony below them.
"Shit, I didn't realize that thing was so close to breaking." The sound they'd made would surely attract walkers, but for the moment the alleyway remained quiet.
"Yeah, kid you're lucky you jumped in time, sort of, and that we managed to catch you." Christa knelt by the boy, putting a hand on his still heaving shoulders. "Are you alright?"
With one final exhale Ben nodded and felt strong enough to push himself up on one knee.
"Yeah, yeah I'm fine." He looked up at the others, still having to struggle with words between gasps.
"T-thanks, you guys saved me." His eyes rested on Kenny who had his arms crossed, shaking his head as if pitying a poor animal.
"Well one things for sure, we have to watch where we put our feet while we're up here. This town hasn't had people living in it for ages, so a lot of things are probably dilapidated to shit by this point," he sighed. "We were lucky this time." Kenny left it at that and turned away from Ben and Christa, scanning the horizon for the clearest and safest possible path to the Marsh hotel. Ben stood up feeling the usual cloud of dejection hovering over his head. Watching the back of Kenny's head before letting his eyes rest on his feet. Never a master of his emotions it was not too hard for other people to pick up on his feelings, unless of course they were used to it and chose to ignore it.
"That was a close call, are you sure you're okay?"
Ben's head snapped over towards Lee. Yeah Lee, ' the cool guy' as Ben sometimes called him in his mind or 'the second person he didn't want to piss off' with Kenny and his raging temper shining true in first place. For the longest Ben always felt his place in the group was fragile at best leaning generously toward completely unwarranted. And that was probably the sad truth. Things had happened in the past. Things he caused which set in motion the further destruction of lives which were already in shambles. Kenny was a clear example but there were others. They just weren't around anymore. The group he had traveled with for so long had changed so much, only a few of its original members remained.
Ben himself was a grade A pariah who should have been tossed out months ago. Yet here he was and by some miracle still breathing. Somehow he felt like he had Lee and Clementine to thank for that.
What gutted Ben more was the fact that the course of events were completely against the man yet at that moment Lee cared enough to ask if he was okay. Okay? Of course he was okay, at least he wasn't bitten.
"Yeah I'm fine, seriously!" Ben tried his best to sound optimistic and smiled, trying to ignore the fact that the smile felt hollow on his face. "I...just need to be more careful, but I'm ready to keep going, we can't slow down."
His words were more sincere than his smile at least. The truth of his words made him feel just a little bit stronger.
"You hit the wall pretty hard, and your nose is bleeding, does it feel broken?" Omid asked with an eyebrow raised in concern. Ben felt the ache radiating from the center of his face but it probably wasn't as bad as it looked. Absently he wiped his white sleeve along his nose, leaving a long red trail behind. He winced, just touching his nose stung, maybe he had broken it.
"It doesn't matter, not like I can do anything for it anyway. Let's just keep going."
And so the small group continued its journey along the rooftops of the zombie infested city.
That day ended a week ago. Ben was still alive much to his astonishment. Along with Omid and Christa, three humans managed to leave Savannah and the massive horde behind. Though it seemed their mission had failed. After the devastating loss of Kenny, Lee got separated from the remaining survivors and as far as they knew had been lost in the sea of the undead in the streets below. Crammed between their building and the hotel like a mass of listless piranha waiting on the river bottom for their next meal to drop in. There was no place left to go, the mansion had been over run and the boat was gone. There was only the train station and whatever lay beyond. Lee told them to go there and wait so they did, clinging to his word and dogged determination to rescue the little girl.
It wasn't an easy request to fulfill in the slightest, considering the fact that the sudden influx of undead came from the relative direction of the station, at that moment, a supposed minor question from Vernon made all the bit of sense in their world. The train. The train they rode to Savannah, the horde had followed the fucking train.
"Damn are those things still coming?" Christa wondered aloud as they cautiously approached the abandoned rail yard.
Omid scratched an annoying itch somewhere on the back of his head. "Considering the stampede we encountered yesturday I'm not surprised.." From his vantage point at the top of the main building it was overwhelming the numbers below. More than the hospital, more than the main street in front of the hotel. The undead had the train surrounded, not that it was a reasonable option for protection, not against so many.
Christa leaned over to her boyfriend, squinting her eyes nearly closed to block out dust. It was nearly impossible to discern much of anything down in the yard living or dead.
"We can't leave, not yet. Let's give it a little while."
Ben who had remained in the back most of the time finally decided to glance over as well. His face visibly blanched at what he saw and he turned away to sit down next to an air conditioning unit.
"Sure, lets just wait a little while. We'll be able to see Lee and Clementine from here just fine." The hours crawled painfully slow as they watched and waited. But as the sun finally dipped under the horizon it quickly became impossible to see anything. Ben felt as if he had lost his sense of hearing completely the droning was so loud. He looked out over the city, in the direction of the bell towers. Or at least what he assumed were the bell towers. No electricity meant no light, covering the entire area in a thick blanket of darkness, coupled with the rising moans of the walkers, their smell so foul he could almost taste it in his mouth. He couldn't see Christa or Omid on the roof with him, he couldn't hear them either, it was like he was truly alone. The last man on earth. He would spend an eternity on that roof waiting for something that would surely never come. Hey curled up on his side next to the air unit feeling subdued, his nerves slowly dissolving. That noise would never end!
Ben hadn't realized he had fallen asleep until he opened his eyes near sunrise.
"Hey look who's awake."
Ben immediately recognized Omid's voice.
"Rise and shine sleeping beauty."
With a little more effort than he was used to, Ben pulled himself to a sitting position.
"Shit. Did I fall asleep?" he asked blearily wiping his eyes.
"It's only been about five hours since we got here," said Omid "Maybe six, but still no sign of Lee."
"At least the walkers seem to be thinning out down there." said Christa. But the morning light was still dim. The sun wasn't high enough to provide reliable light, still leaving large crevices of darkness throughout the city. But the moaning had lessened a decent margin, at least Ben could hear Christa and Omid a lot clearer than the previous night when they first arrived.
For a few minutes they discussed what they would do once Lee returned with the little girl. Or more like 'if' he returned. There was no guarantee. At that point all three of them knew that they both may already be dead.
"This sucks, seriously." Ben moaned. Another disturbingly quiet hour passed them by with no sign of a living human for miles.
"I should have gone with him."
"Woah are you serious, kid?" Omid's glance was incredulous.
"He only had one arm! I mean come on,obviously I was the only person who could have gone with him," He sighed breaking eye contact. That familiar feeling was bubbling in his chest again. Familiar but still just as painful as before.
"What do you mean?" asked Christa.
Ben remained tensely silent, returning to his familiar posture, slightly slouched, hands tucked in his varsity pockets, his eyes darted around as if trying to pin point his own rationale to keep himself steady.
"Like I said before, Lee was trapped on the other side of the street, we watched him jump down into that massive group of walkers, he only has one arm, we just- I just...I promised myself I would help get Clementine back no matter what. But look at me, just standing on some fucking roof miles away and who knows what may have happened by now." He closed his eyes for a second, not wanting to remember how Christa used that hacksaw, Lee's screams, but the visions were still quite fresh.
"What if... what if cutting Lee's arm off didn't change anything?" He lifted his gaze back to the couple, searching their faces to see if they understood him.
"That sign broke as soon as Lee made it across, there was no other way to get over." Christa answered sternly. Her initially quiet voice rose in pitch with every word.
"I know how you feel. Trust me I do, but there was nothing any one of us could have done and Lee had his mind made up since the beginning! What could you have possibly done to help?"
Ben took a step backwards taken aback. "I-I dunno... Something."
"And what about the two of us? Don't you think we wanted to do something? You think we were just okay with letting Lee go on alone?" Christa continued to bristle despite herself.
"Hey, calm down, Chris..." her boyfriend tried to soothe.
"At least you both have each other!" Ben raised his voice to match Christa's. "Lee put himself through hell for Clementine and Kenny did everything he could for his family."
Omid and Christa both noticed him flinch. " But what do I have? If there's anything, I shouldn't waste my time holding out hope. I just feel like I let her down again."
Omid could only shake his head in astonishment. "Dude, you need to stop talking like that."
Christa had about enough. "You could blame yourself all day but that won't make our situation any better, Ben." she said. "I say we try to keep some faith and wait just a little longer. Whatever happens after that we'll rethink our plan."
The three survivors remained on the roof till midday, the sun was at its highest and beaming down on top of them, of course the walkers weren't affected.
"I don't think this is going to turn out good. If they haven't made it out by now..."
Ben could tell where this was going and wanted to stop Omid's trail of thought.
"We can't give up on them yet! Just think about how long it would take for them to walk down the street let alone walk ten miles to the train yard. They're probably having to go really slow."
Hope wasn't enough to keep them on the roof of that building. Hunger, thirst, and the heat of the sun eventually forced their hand. A second day had gone by with no sign of Lee or Clementine. If supplies were handy they could spare at least one more day but with only the clothes on their back, another day without food or water would land them squarely in possible starvation territory. At the very least they needed water, and at times Ben noticed Christa lay a hand gently across her abdomen. Omid would lean in close to whisper something comforting and the distressed look on her face lessened a little. But Ben knew that she was pregnant and in that case the stakes had risen considerably.
It was obvious Christa didn't want her child to die but it certainly would if they didn't find food. A decision had to be made, maybe it was up to him to make it.