This began as a one-shot, but has since decided it wants to tell a larger story. So this is now the first chapter of a longer work, called The Book of Judith. Enjoy!
Please check out my tumblr, under the user name "Praxid," for sketches, essays, and general musings about The Walking Dead.
She Was Used to Travel:
She was used to travel. It was how they lived.
So Judith was used to the minor inconveniences and delays that came with any long journey.
The two of them were on their bike, moving fast over the highway. At the swell of a hill, Daryl had to brake hard. There was something in the way.
Fallen trees—two big ones, down over the whole road. That was bad. But what was worse, there were people there. A big group—stopped on the other side of those fallen trunks. They'd been coming in from the other direction.
She and Daryl didn't see those people until they'd already rode up. The strangers had parked their trucks along the roadside, and were trying to figure out how to move those trees out of their way.
When Daryl first parked their bike, Judith was a little scared of those strangers. Her hand went to her holster, by long habit. She kept it there while Daryl stepped ahead of her. Announced their presence to the others. Talked to their leader, a bit, between the tree branches.
And then he turned, and nodded to her. It was safe.
So her curiosity started to overpower her fear, then. Judith rushed up to Daryl's side—wanted to look around. She could already tell that the strangers' group was pretty big—and she could hear children's voices.
She peered over the branches in the road, straining to see where the kids were. Wanted to know how many kids there were. How old they might be. She hadn't played with anyone her own age in weeks and weeks.
Finally, Daryl told her to climb over the trunks. He was going to the other side to help move them out of the way. And he wanted her to follow him, so he could keep his eye on her.
She waited where Daryl told her to wait, while he helped the others work on the trees. Sat along the curbside. Played with the fringed ends of her scarf, a moment.
One of their friends knitted it for her—long ago when there was more than just the two of them left alive. She was almost too young to remember that friend. But she'd been beautiful, and kind.
Judith burrowed into her jacket. It was late fall, and the air was getting cold again. Over the next few weeks, she'd start seeing frost on their bike when they got up in the mornings.
Judith watched Daryl looking those fallen trees over. The strangers were with him, talking about what they were going to do to clear the road.
She decided to take this quiet moment to check out the works on her weapon. Daryl always taught her to be prepared. Her gun belonged to her brother, once. Before he died. She remembered him a little better than most of the others.
He'd been tall, by the end. And kind.
She counted out her bullets, one by one. Sat them upright on the asphalt, in a row. Only ten left. She'd need to ask Daryl to stop and get more. Needed to the first moment they found somewhere they could scavenge.
It was getting harder and harder to find things like that. Sometimes she worried about what would happen when all the old storefronts were completely empty.
She touched one of those bullets, upright on the asphalt. Then another. Started to play with them. Pretended they were people. Dolls.
Judith had a doll, once, but she'd long since left it behind in some safehouse. When the walkers were surrounding the place, and they had to run—fast. She could remember its yellow dress.
And a shadow fell over her in the late afternoon light. Judith looked up. It was one of the little boys. He looked to be about ten years old—just like her.
"Hi," he said.
She'd hoped there was someone to play with in that group of strangers. But now that he was standing in front of her, she felt uncertain. She looked up at the boy warily, a moment. Didn't know what to say.
But Daryl wouldn't have stopped the bike—wouldn't be helping the strangers move those trees if he didn't think it was safe.
"Hi," she said.
And he sat down next to her. Looked at her bullets, laid out in a row. In the distance, the adults were talking about those fallen trees. Someone started one of the engines—one of the big trucks the boy's people were using. You needed big vehicles like that, now, to drive anywhere. To get over the potholes. Or you needed something small, like their motorcycle, so you could go around them.
She could hear Daryl talking to that group. He started hacking at one of the branches with the machete he carried on his belt. Clearing the log so it'd be easier to push at it with the trucks.
The boy was rifling through his bag while she watched Daryl. And he pulled out his own supply of bullets. Laid them in a row along the pavement beside hers. He had more than she did. Seventeen.
They were the same caliber as Judith's. .22s. That boy and her—they were both still pretty little, and they couldn't handle much more power than that.
"What kinda gun you got?" he asked.
She took it out of her holster, again, and showed it to him. He looked it over.
"That was my brother's," she said, "And before that, I was using my mama's gun. Cause it was really, really little. No kickback."
"Yeah," the boy said, "My dad says I can start using his Bushmaster when we find somewhere safe for a while. He'll take me huntin' and we'll get in some target practice."
Judith holstered her gun. Thought of the small arsenal stored on their bike. Most of it, Daryl wouldn't let her use, yet.
"I really wanna use the .357 magnum we got," she said, "It's a Python. But I'm not big enough."
The boy just nodded. And he pushed one of his bullets over on its side. Started doing that with every other bullet—made a pattern. So Judith took hers, and laid them end to end in a circle nearby. While she did it, she asked him a question. Didn't look up.
"You see any walkers around?"
"Nah," he said, "Not for a week or so. There was one in the street where we was drivin', but its legs didn't work right no more and it couldn't come for us."
She nodded. It was no surprise. But the boy's people were coming from the way she and Daryl were going. She wanted to know if there was anything they should be ready for.
They drifted into silence. Played with the bullets. Finally, he spoke up again.
"You never said what kinda gun you got. What is it?"
Judith was confused. She already showed it to him. The make was engraved on the side of the handle. So she pulled it—showed it to him, again. Pointed at the lettering.
"It's a Winchester. See? Says it right there."
"… you know how to read?"
She looked at him, surprised.
"… don't you?"
His face was blank. No. He didn't.
It was Daryl who taught her to read. They'd sit with a flashlight in their tent, before bed, and he'd go over books with her. And sometimes he'd let her stop at some old library, and they'd root through what was left there. He'd let her take whatever she wanted, and then they'd read it, together.
One day, she found her own name in one of those dusty, old books. That book said her name belonged to a warrior. One from the Bible.
When she asked Daryl what a Bible was, he told her it was a book of stories—stories people used to believe were true.
And she wished that one story was true, at least. It said that Judith defended her whole nation by killing an evil king. Cut his head clean off.
And this Judith liked that story. She liked it a lot.
She'd already saved Daryl's life twice. The most recent time, it was such a close call it gave her nightmares for a while afterwards.
It wasn't walkers, that time—those were getting rarer and weaker by the year. It was people. Two men—armed to the teeth. They'd almost shot him while he defended their supplies. And Daryl never gave up. He was prepared to fight to the death for what was theirs.
She was, too.
And Judith was still very little. Light on her feet. Daryl had long since taught her to move silently in the woods. So she snuck up behind those two men—quietly—and shot them each in the back of the skull.
She'd asked Daryl for a higher caliber weapon, after that. Wanted something more powerful. Wanted that Python, really. But Daryl said no. Said she wasn't big enough, yet.
She was waiting and waiting to get big enough.
It seemed like it would take forever to grow up.
There was a shift in the noise on the road. In the conversation the adults were having. They'd gotten part of the path clear, now. Enough to get the trucks through. And she and the boy both knew they wouldn't just hang around once they could move on.
It was time to go.
She looked at the boy. At his green eyes and freckled face. She wouldn't see him again. Maybe he'd die, looking for that safe place he told her about. The one where his dad hoped to take him hunting.
And the boy started gathering his bullets. Putting them back in his bag. Then he paused. Reached out, and pressed four of them into her hand.
She stiffened. She'd been taught to make her own way, and she wasn't used to strangers touching her.
"C'mon," he said, "Take 'em. I got more than you."
He pulled away. Tucked his hands into his coat pockets. The air misted with his breath.
"Thanks," she said. Packed up her own stuff. Loaded her weapon with his bullets, and holstered it.
And in that moment, Daryl snapped his fingers in their direction. She sensed it, and looked up. His brown hair was shot through with grey, now. His scraggly beard was much the same.
"Hey," the boy said, "Your dad wants you."
She looked at the boy, blankly.
"That's not my dad."
She didn't really understand why he'd even say something like that. It was obvious who that was. Daryl had always been there. Had existed forever. It seemed like everyone should know him as a universal fact of life.
And Daryl caught her eyes. Called out to her.
"Yo, Judy! We're burnin' daylight!"
And Judith ran to him. Climbed behind him on their bike, and they rode away.