Chapter 4: Left Behind
It was about ten in the morning when the group came across a small town several miles away from Savannah. The morning felt damp and humid since last night's rain but that was hardly a worry, there were no walkers in sight which these days made any day seem like a good day. They shadowed one of the main streets until they found a small office building with it's front door unlocked. Everything else they passed had either been boarded up or visibly broken into and vandalized, and while those were easier to enter, it was no good to shelter in a building a walker could easily step into.
They sat down in the back room and unfolded the road atlas to get a better sense of direction. Christa squinted her eyes in concentration mulling over the unfolded map.
"It looks like the Interstate is just ahead of us." She said after a long studying glance.
"We need a car, we can definitely find one around here." Said Omid.
"Plenty of cars and plenty of walkers." Christa quipped.
"It might be too risky." Ben added.
"Risky maybe but it's crazy to try and do anything without transportation. We'll just have to take that risk Besides we're in the suburbs, so hopefully things will be a little more quiet."
Christa nodded in acceptance. "You're right. Let's find a car and maybe we can hit that grocery store we passed on the way here."
They advanced into the small town. As they passed several businesses and parking lots they saw only one gas station and an unfortunately low number of cars. Most of which looked unsuitable for their needs. Either that or completely wrecked in some form or fashion, usually horribly mangled against street polls or other cars. Eventually they made their way towards the residentials, finding the streets eerily silent.
"These houses might be a good place to look for supplies."
Ben thought about it and remembered the neighborhood in Savannah. How easy it was for the walkers to break in. The terror of being trapped in that attic. These homes looked smaller but he didn't want to risk being trapped again no matter how quiet it seemed.
"If nothing else there might be a good car in a garage. We can at least check those out." He offered. Checking out garages wasn't exactly like stepping into the house. Omid and Christa agreed. Everything was still but they remained alert. Checking the garages was easy enough. The town was old and so were the houses so most of them could be opened from the outside manually without trouble. But there wasn't much to find, most of them were empty or full of useless junk.
"There's gotta be at least one good car..." Omid mused to himself, trying to not be frustrated. Hours of walking and nothing to show so far except for the dull pain in his leg steadily returning, it wouldn't be long before it became a distraction. He had to keep hoping their luck would change eventually. Hopefully soon.
"Hey Come check this out!" He heard Ben across the street and ran to meet him, Christa followed shortly. They peered into a low lit garage to see Ben standing beside what had to be the start of their changed luck.
"It's only a two door." Ben said, gesturing toward the compact SUV. Colored gray, close to black but not quite with a thin white stripe running along its side. "But look at all of the space it has in the back. We can get just about anything we need to fit back here." Ben felt optimistic as he continued to examine the old Ford Bronco. Off to the side Omid let out a short whistle, obviously impressed.
"Alright let me take a look at her." He said stepping forward. Outwardly the vehicle looked well maintained but what really mattered were its insides. He would have to pop the hood. If only the keys were still-
"Oh and here are the keys!" Ben waved them up triumphantly. "They were just hanging on the wall over there." Ben could tell from Omid's expression that he wanted nothing more than to give the car a thorough inspection and easily flicked the keys over to the man.
"Hahah, good job my man." Omid opened the door and went to work.
"So you like working with cars?" Ben asked. He was curious since he also had an interest but never had anyone around who really wanted to 'talk cars'.
"I'm something of a gearhead, I guess." Omid admitted while inspecting the undercarriage for any damage or possible leakage points. "Some of my earlier jobs was fixing old cars with some buddies I knew in college. It was a pretty good deal."
"I bet! How does it look down there?"
"So far so good. We can look at the engine together."
There really wasn't such a thing as a 'new' Ford Bronco seeing as the model ended somewhere in the late 90's. But whoever used to own the car, God rest his soul, had gone through great lengths to keep it in great condition. It had obviously been driven as there was several thousand miles on the dash meter but the engine seemed to be in good shape, the tires were new and there may have been some upholstery replacement at some point. Clearly someone's pride and joy. And probably their life saver.
"I'm pretty sure this is our ticket out of here." Omid said after finishing his inspection.
"What about gas?" Christa asked from the garage door. She had given herself the duty of keeping watch.
It was probably his tenth glance at the fuel gauge. "Looks like we've got a good half a tank already. We'll get more gas off of all the wrecks we saw in the street. I have a feeling there won't be much left at that station we passed. But siphoning should be easy."
The grocery store sat in a small shopping center just across the street, sitting dark and alone at the end of a large parking lot. Ben sucked in a large breath of air through his teeth, trying to psych himself up for the task but Omid stepped up first. The doors weren't sliding but regular glass push doors. He pushed on the handle only slightly and was pleased to find out it wasn't locked.
"Looks like we're in business." He said.
"I'd like to know if this place has a back door first.." Ben said. The last thing he wanted was to go in with only one way out.
Omid nodded at the boy's sensible request. "Good point, shouldn't take long."
A quick walk around revealed a ramp that lead to both a door to the back of the store and a large rolling door for trucks. Ben stepped up the four concrete steps and pushed down on the latch. He wasn't surprised when the door opened slightly. "Hey this door is unlocked. Maybe it'd be safer to go through the back."
Omid shrugged "Yeah probably. Be careful though, I'm right behind you."
For a moment Ben felt stupid for having set himself up as the point man but didn't feel comfortable to back down. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath, mentally preparing himself for whatever might be inside, then slowly he pushed down on the latch again and pushed in.
To be greeted with a smell so bad he nearly reeled backwards into Omid. He pushed in and looked to his right. In front of him laid the rotting remains of a man in a bloody apron, probably one of the stocker boys that for one reason or another didn't get away in time. His back was against the gray cement wall, his stomach ripped open revealing all of his intestine or at least what was left of it. Sploshed around his body was bile and whatever half digested food that had been inside the man before the zombies had their meal. Dry blood bloomed out from the bottom half of the stocker boy's head in a sloppy radial design against the wall behind him.
It took about two and a half seconds for Ben to take it in and realize that he couldn't stomach it. He spun around and almost ran into Omid on his way down the steps. He didn't stop until he reached a dumpster sitting against the side of the building. He probably would have thrown up if had any food in him but after over two days of no food there was nothing for him to eject.
"What's going on?" asked Christa looking over at Ben dry heaving next to a dumpster.
"Ugh definitely nothing good." Omid said, smelling the horror before seeing it. Steadily he walked into the back room to get his own view of the gruesome sight. Christa quietly came up behind him, saw the body and turned away.
Outside, Ben finally managed to get his roiling stomach under control and miserably made his way back back into the room, turning his head away, not wanting to look directly at the body. He also felt more alert, there was another small room directly in front of him. The door was closed but a dead body on the floor meant the things that ate him were obviously still shambling about.
Probably in store where they needed to be.
"Hey look at this." Ben heard Omid say.
"W-what is it?" he asked without turning his head. Omid knelt down very reluctantly. Picking up a small semi-automatic pistol.
"Lets see here…" A quick examination showed the gun was empty.
"Nothing. Just our luck, ey babe?"
Christa shrugged lightly and smirked. Of course right under food, bullets for their handguns was the highest priority. But before she could wonder out loud if the store had a hunting section a startling crash from the front of the store startled the both of them, reminding them of the business ahead.
"We should get this over with. I'll go get Ben." Christa said as she went to the back entrance to fetch the teen who had finally recovered.
Omid surveyed the immediate area.
"Okay, we go in, kill all the walkers, grab everything we can carry and get the hell out of here, alright?"
They pushed into the store. Unfortunately they didn't have a layout of the place but most franchises tend to have uniform floor plans anyway and this was a Wal-Mart. They sprinted toward the grocery side of the store, keeping alert and checking their corners along the way. Half way in and not a sound, maybe the place was deserted.
Just from the smell Ben could tell that the dairy and produce had long since gone bad though the smell was nothing compared to the dead man in the backroom. They made it to the canned goods section and were met, unfortunately, by three undead shoppers, cutting them off from the aisle.
"I think hear more of them." Ben whispered, his ears picking up sounds in all directions. He could see two walkers struggling through the small sea of clothing racks and there may have been one just on the other side of the isle. He definitely heard something falling off the shelf and shattering after the moaning started. Ben's question was answered. The place was definitely not deserted.
Two of the canned goods walkers came in range, arms outstretched. Omid swung his wrench into the head of the one nearest, it's body slapped into onto the shelf, dislodging the cans and tumbling them over. The walker went with them in a stumbling crash. As Christa and Omid dealt with the walkers in front of them, Ben was left at the mouth of the aisle facing his own problem. The two walkers from the clothing section had finally made it through the racks and were slowly shuffling toward the teen. Their disgusting bloody teeth exposed in a hungry sneer.
"Don't let us get pinned in!" Ben heard Omid yell out from behind him. Everything was hastening to a pace he felt he couldn't handle and the moaning rang in his ears like a death siren.
Swallowing panic, he swung the bat as hard as he could. And he missed. The bat hit the walker in the shoulder with a snap, either broken or dislocated. But it wasn't enough to stop it from coming and there was still the one behind it…and where did those two other ones come from?
"I think they know where we are!" he said, trying his best to keep the fear out of his voice. Another swing, he hit the walker in the nose and it fell back. He pushed aiming for the head of the second walker using the narrow aisle to his advantage. At least they couldn't swarm him all at once.
Yet despite his effort the two remaining were getting too close. They aggressively closed the distance as if angry with Ben for killing the two before them.
"Fuck! Ben get down!" Ben heard Christa this time and he acted on reflex. He ducked just as a heavy can of peaches flew over his head like a missile, striking the first zombie in the face. The thing stumbled and fell onto the shelves just in time for several more cans to fly and hit its two friends as well.
"Get em while they're down!"
Ben went to work. He stood up and took his bat to task, making sure the damage was permanent.
"Whew that was close." Christa sighed in relief. They had taken care of the three in front just in time.
He looked over at her with a shaky yet appreciative smile. "Ye-yeah. It was. Thanks."
Omid hefted his axe with a grin. "No problem."
"Actually yeah we still do have a problem." Christa chimed in. Ben saw her shoveling cans into a nearby cart and started doing the same.
"There's still more of them around, we can't stay here long." Christa said. But Omid didn't agree.
"No way, this place is a gold mine. We have to kill every walker so we can have a better run of the place!"
"Are you crazy...?" Christa was irritated and anxious but didn't want to devolve into an argumentative state of mind. Not now. "Whatever...Let's get what we need and get out."
"Sweet, let's see…" Omid pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it to reveal hastily scribbled notes, the words GROCERY LIST written in heavily at the top.
"When did you have time to write that?" Ben asked.
"Doesn't matter, here," Omid tore the paper down the center and gave the bottom half to Ben. "Your half."
"Huh? You want me to go get this stuff on my own?"
"No no we stick together, just stay on the lookout."
Ben glanced at his list trying to mentally locate each item's possible location in the store.
Books/Magazines (Backwoods Quarterly and Backpacker preferred)
As far as he was concerned matches could wait. First came food. A lot of food, and a can opener if they could hazard a look to find one. Luckily a few were being sold as a special sale item nearby. A few more items on the list were easy enough to obtain while quietly stalking the store, making sure to deal with any walker they came across. Ben neared the electronics and found the books and magazines sitting nearby. The rest of the store had been completely messed over, including the electronics area which had to have been looted before they arrived. But the books were all still there, neatly stacked and in place. Ben wondered how many looters ever got a chance to plug their televisions in as he inspected the shelves. People, Journal, Good House, Delicious, some fitness magazines…
It felt strange after so many months on the road and on the run with nothing more than a Bible and the occasional graffiti message on walls. That he'd find himself browsing for magazines in a store. Though this was no casual browse he couldn't help but lock eyes with each and every face on the covers. They all looked…happy. Confident and vibrant in their fame. Celebrities and Out of Nowhere success stories who had lives full of nothing but promise. Where were they now? Truth be told Ben didn't want to dwell on it. He grabbed a few outdoors themed magazines and some books that may or may not prove to be an interesting read, and moved on.
Next came medical supplies - not without meeting up with a few more ghouls along the way. They were easy enough to dispatch, using the shopping carts as a sort of battering ram made the task much easier. Finally they made it to the large blue and white "PHARMACY" sign hanging above the smaller shorter isles dedicated to all sorts of medicinal needs and the small enclosed area where over the counter prescriptions were held.
'Get anything that looks useful' was their only frame of reference as the small group urgently began pulling boxes and bottles from the shelf and into the shopping carts. Pain medication, first aid kits, bandages, alcohol, vitamins, and even sleeping pills, nothing seemed unnecessary.
"What about the back?" Ben asked after they finished pulling out as many pill boxes as they thought they could carry out of the store. "There could be better stuff in there."
Christa's previous constraint seemed to have lessened. "It's locked up but we can probably break it." she said.
"Yeah but I got a bad feeling there will be an alarm." Omid on the other hand was cautious..
"We need medicine, Omid. I don't think for a second that your leg is fully healed. We need this." His girlfriend huffed. "Besides, the walkers already know we're here anyway." She walked over to the customer service window, axe in hand.
"Christa-Christa, wait!" Without further argument her axe crashed into the shutter blinds covering the customer service window. It bent and fell backwards after three strong hits. She slid through the small opening and went to the door.
"Christa!" Omid hissed.
"Ain't anyone back here." She said. "I'm going to get this door open!"
After a short pause Ben and Omid heard her utter something in a triumphant tone and the pharmacy door swung open. "Hurry up!" was all she said before disappearing into the white room. Ben and Omid followed, closing the door behind them. There was no alarm but the sound of the grating being broken was surely enough to acclimatize the walkers to their position.
There was no time to lose.
Several plastic bags full of pills in the pickup area were the first to be taken. And just about anything left on the shelves. Ben's heart raced as he inspected each shelf. No time to read or understand the long nonsensical names on the bottles, basically anything with the term "antibiotic" was tossed into bags. Ben thought he heard movement and turned to look. Sure enough a walker was trying to squeeze through the small customer service window the same way Christa had but with far less grace. The teen gulped and slowly went over. "Uh, be right back guys." He muttered quietly, receiving no response from the other two who were too busy pulling off the shelves to hear him.
The walker was halfway inside the room. Its front half hovering over the floor with arms stretched out, probing for something tasty to grab onto. Ben gripped his bat and whacked it several times in the head until it stopped moving and noticed with a sigh of relief that none of its buddies had arrived yet.
Behind him, Ben heard Omid and Christa exiting the back room. He turned to see them laden with shoulder bags full of pills, sprays, alcohol, bandages, and just about anything that would fit.
"Alright I think we have just about everything we can possibly lift." said Christa. "Let's get the hell out of here before we overstay our welcome."
Out of the pharmacy and back to their carts, thankfully no walkers had gotten to investigate.
"Come on! Back the way we came!" It sounded like everything from the front of the store was filtering down towards them. If there were no walkers blocking the back exit they'd be lucky.
Of course there was no such luck. The three were halted somewhere between seasonal and domestics. A sward of undead blocked the exit, oozing out of several different sections at once to pool directly in front of them.
"Go around them, quick!"
They made a hard left, ducking into the apparel section with the walkers in pursuit. At least the dead couldn't easily navigate the racks, but the carts also slowed their progress. Heavy with supplies as they were. Ben began to think that maybe they were trying to run with too much. Dodging and weaving through jerseys, t-shirts, and jeans he felt something cling to his ankle. He fell to the floor with a yelp and felt a strong tugging on his shoe. Twisting around he saw a walker hidden under the clothing clawing at his tennis shoe, trying to bring it up to her mouth for a big nasty bite.
"No!" He shook his leg desperately, bringing down his other foot, stomping the hand of the walker until its fingers snapped. He got up just when another one was in range to snap. His bag of medicine the only thing between him and rotted teeth sinking into his back. It shoved Ben forward, nearly knocking him down again. Its fingers dug into the bag pulling, clenching, and scratching to reach around toward him. The sheer volume of stuff stuffed into it actually kept the walker at bay, that is until the bag ripped.
"Where are you?" Ben heard Omid shout out somewhere ahead of him, obscured by the sea of clothes and metal racks. He leaned against the overstuffed bag and pushed into it, knocking the walker backwards and into a few more that were trying to catch up. 'Don't leave me behind' he thought. 'Please'
"Shit, shit shit shit. This is too much!" He grabbed his cart again and started running as fast as he could.
Space to run suddenly became cramped, several walkers rushed in from the side, Christa in their sights.
"Chris! Your right!" Omid saw walkers advance on his girlfriend. She stopped just in time and moved out of their reach on the other side of the cart. They plowed into it with enough of them to push the cart off two of its wheels.
Distracted by Christa, they failed to notice Omid's wrench furiously bludgeoning them to the ground.
Both he and Christa pushed the burdened cart to the exit. With Christa in the clear, Omid ran back for Ben who was now cut off by a row of walkers.
"Ben! Leave it, lets go! There's too many!" Ben was more than happy to leave the cart. The walkers were closing in, without it he sidestepped them and make a mad dash for the exit. Empty handed but alive.
Out the back and to the car. It took exactly thirty seconds to shovel everything into the back of the Bronco with barely enough room for Ben to squeeze himself inside. Through the parking lot, down the street, and back inside the office building where it was empty, dark, and safe.
Omid made sure that something heavy was pushed in front of the doors. They weren't able to find the keys so there was no way to lock the doors. "Well...that could have gone a lot better."
"No kidding." Christa said catching her breath but for the most part the buzzing adrenaline kept her elated. She smiled a little despite herself. "We got out with something. I can't believe we really pulled that off."
One cart full of supplies and two bags of medicine. They had wanted more but after the close call, getting out with no casualties made their acquired bounty more than a fair trade off.
"We can always try again." said Omid. The couple noticed Ben flinch visibly at the idea. "Hey we killed more than just a few of those awful things in there. So we'll have less to deal with on the second run. But before then we should try planning a little better."
For the first time in days Ben was able to eat till he was satisfied...at least partially. Even that was more than the usual. He fell asleep with a stomach full of vienna sausages and spam. A peaceful dreamless sleep, the nightmares didn't haunt him.
The next morning didn't skip a beat. Before they could even hope to get anywhere more supplies were needed. The local hardware store was a blessing. Glass had to be broken in order to get inside but the place turned out to be completely empty. Christa stood guard outside near the car while Ben and Omid had a run of the place. Fuel cans, tubing, hammer and nails, a coil of rope, a crowbar and a few other items that they thought might be useful. Including a small battery charger kit, which Omid was really happy to find. Two hours later they turned onto the interstate heading north. Their urgently active and high spirited nature lessened as they drove, the lack of activity and movement leaving them with nothing to do except watch the scenery and reflect on the past. On the dead they left behind.
There wasn't much to talk about. Nothing much to say. On the move again with a destination in mind. The countryside where hopefully fewer of the undead had managed to wander.
"Ellis, you sure this is the right place?"
The young man shifted out of the blue racing car and reached in for his shotgun. Then he turned and put a hand up to his eyes, scanning the large area ahead of him.
"Sure as rain, Ro! Back about a year ago I had a look around the place out of curiosity. Even took some pictures with the address scribbled on the back for an occasion such as this." With the end of his shot gun he pointed toward the woods where he described the location of a run down farmhouse that sat about a mile off the interstate, nestled quiet and to itself in a big patch of forest stretched wide and far and followed the road for miles upon miles.
"For an occasion like this? Seriously?" the woman sighed. "I mean I know you're a little odd but I didn't think you'd be..."
"All I see are a bunch of trees." Another man in a white suit stood up from the back seat, one pistol on his belt and an uzi in hand. He squinted at the forest, nothing but a wall of damn trees. It was difficult to see anything past the outer edge. With concentration he thought he saw a path but definitely no house.
" I don't see anything. You sure this is a good idea, Ellis?" he asked.
The younger man sighed with an air of patience. As if he understood the ignorance of his companion and somehow pitied him. " Well we gotta walk a bit but I know the way." When he got no response he frowned. "Aw come on, Nick, don't you trust me?"
Nick raised an eyebrow but his overall expression remained static. "Would you really be all that surprised if I said 'no'?"
"It would devastate me." Ellis said as an obvious joke and turned to look over the roof of the car seeking the approval of a large man in a purple jersey that fit smuggly around his middle. "Ain't I right, Coach? I know you believe me at least."
"The only thing I believe is that this car guzzles down gas like its got holes in the tank, things almost empty." he said.
"Yeah almost empty just like our guns are almost out of bullets! And I know were to get fresh ones!" Ellis turned around and started to walk into the woods. "Fine fine if ya don't want to come in then just wait here, I'll be right back with the goods before you miss me."
"Quick, Rochelle." Nick whispered to the only woman in the group of four who sat in the back seat with an axe across her lap and two bags strapped over her shoulder. "Lets get the hell out of here while we have a chance!" Rochelle smirked and leaned over front seat on the drivers side.
"I don't think that's possible, Nick."
Rochelle pointed at the ignition. "Kid took the keys."
"Like you really believe Ellis would give anyone else the ability to drive this car?" said Coach and smiled. It was as good a time as any to stretch his legs and unlike Nick, he trusted Ellis for some strange reason. Maybe it was a Georgia thing. He grabbed his shotgun and started down the same path as the young mechanic in the yellow shirt.
"No point in sitting on our asses, lets get a move on."
Clementine rolled a little on the old mattress. The light from a window fell on her face, just enough to wake her up. She sat up groggily and rubbed her eyes, for the first few seconds everything seemed unfamiliar before the last few days and nights rolled back into place in her memory. She and Molly had found an old house. Well more accurately, Molly had found it, known about it in advance and decided it would be safe to sleep on their first night on the road.
It sat a long way from the road at the end of a winding drive way that passed into a thick patch of woods behind which the house was hidden. Nobody would come within miles of this place. That was Molly's hope but she diligently checked the perimeter just in case. No plans for an extended stay so no reason to try and rig up any sort of alarm system. They both checked every nook and cranny of the interior.
Not one human, not a single walker. Just one big empty lonely farmhouse.