A prequel to my story, 'The Last Part'.
The foam mattress beneath him was the most comfortable that he'd ever laid on - its cushioned top moulded against his back snugly and he stared up at the support bars that held up the bunk above him. He was alone in the room that had been set up for four and he glanced around the space, his eyes searching through the shadows to inspect its furniture and artwork again. The woman who owned the house was nice enough; she'd given him roast beef for dinner and a pair of pyjamas to wear to bed. The fabric was scratchy and stiff against his skin like they'd been worn and washed many times and the collar felt like it was trying to suffocate him - he was used to sleeping naked.
Giving up on sleep he sat up with a heavy huff and pushed the Star Wars quilt off him. The sheets were stiff too…
Ain't she never heard o' fabric softener?
Twisting sideways, he lowered his head over the side of the bed to peer underneath it. He swept the shadows with his eyes before shifting and rolling out from the bottom bunk. The carpet felt new under his feet and he curled his toes into it before crossing over to the window that she had opened before leaving him alone. His palm rested against the mesh of the screen and it occurred to him that it was odd no one had put their fist through it yet, like the ones at his house - his old house, he corrected. There wasn't anything left of it now besides a pile of ash, charcoal and melted plastic.
He wondered briefly if they had found her yet or if she was just ashes too. Did they have funerals for people who could fit in an ashtray?
The backyard of the house was quiet and still. An old, tired oak tree lumbered in the far corner and stretched up towards the starry sky, like it was yawning. His thoughts drifted to the dusty pictures of his mother that his grandma kept on her mantel. In them his mother was a long-legged teenager, draped over the thick black rubber of a tire swing, her arms wrapped around the thick rope. He smiled as he imagined her face, tilted upwards as her laughter exposed a string of white teeth with a small gap between the front ones.
Coming back to the present he squinted at the night-filled yard, his eyes imploring the dark to reveal a swing like the one in the photos.
Just a shitty borin' good fer nothin' tree.
He pushed away from the windowsill and circled the room, his hands gripping his hair in tight clumps as his heart raced so fast and hard in his chest that he was sure it would break right through his ribs.
Weren't no swing and she weren't never comin' back.
Anger tore through his grief and his mind screamed the words that he couldn't because his throat was so tight that he could barely breathe. Hands fumbled and pulled at the fabric of his shirt until he'd broken or dislodged all the buttons and he stood there gasping for breath, rage licking through him. Still in the throws of his silent tantrum he stalked forward and swung at the screen with a clenched fist, popping it out of place. It landed somewhere in the shadowy yard.
The door opened behind him and a stout silhouette appeared, wrapped in a housecoat. He froze in place, his heart hammering loud enough that he was sure she would hear it. He raised his arms, flinching away from an assault that did not come and he slid down the wall, his knees drawn to his chest.
When she came to him her hand did not connect with him in anger or violence, but instead settled on his shoulder so lightly that he could barely feel it through his disheveled shirt. He knew her touch was intended to be comforting but he flicked it away with a swipe of his hand.
She rose and looked at him, her expression hidden by shadow, and then slipped from the room, drawing the door closed behind her. Leaving him alone.
The prison loomed in the distance, hunkered down on the landscape - a broken fortress, unapologetic for how it had failed them. Daryl stood on the train tracks, one foot propped up against a rail while the other rested on the wooden crossbar. The breached prison yard was busy as the people from Woodbury packed up supplies into large canvas-backed military vehicles. He could hear their voices carrying across the distance and he bristled at their chattering and laughter.
It had been four days since the prison had fallen and he had yet to see any sign of his group. Alone was not a new sensation for him, he had spent much of his life that way. He did better on his own anyway - the thought came to him with an indignant air that deflated quickly. He'd grown accustomed to having the others around and it felt odd to him to be alone again, even more foreign that he actually gave a shit.
The baby in his arms shifted in her sleep and he looked down at her - well, not completely alone.
He checked her over again as she snuggled into his chest, her curled hand resting under her chin. She sighed in contentment and continued to sleep, her chest rising and falling with each steady, confident breath. Dark hair moved in the breeze, fine wisps that barely covered her pink scalp and she flinched in her sleep, her fine brows flicking together as she scowled and then relaxed again.
Daryl knew that he would have to move on soon. There were too many Walkers in the area and the threat of Woodbury still loomed over his head day and night. He needed supplies but he hesitated to go into town in case he had a run-in with the Governor`s army.
Slowly, he lowered himself to the tracks, using one arm to hold the baby and the other to support his weight as he took a seat. Once he was settled he shifted the baby onto his propped up knees and tapped her cheek to wake her.
Fussing her eyes scrunched closed and she arched her back, unhappy with his vexing. She grunted, a low throaty guttural sound that expressed her dissatisfaction.
"Hush, y`hear?" Digging through the bag he pulled out a bottle of premixed formula and sniffed it to make sure it smelled okay. It smelled awful but not spoiled so he pressed the stiff plastic nipple to Judith's lips. When she didn't accept it he tickled her mouth like he has seen Carol do in the past. The trick worked and she latched on and began to suck greedily, her hands reaching up to hold the bottle. Blue eyes watched him intently under heavy lids as she drank. They sat together and watched the sun begin to set on another day and he lowered his chin to block out the sight.
As darkness crept over the prison, the yard slowly emptied out. Slowly, Daryl picked his way down the hill and through the long grass then over the small wooden foot-bridge. He kept his body low to the ground and hugged the shadows, his entire body listening for the sounds of any people.
The guard towers were empty when he checked them. "Cocky son o' bitch," he cursed the Governor. "Huh, Lil' Ass Kicker?"
The baby was limp in his arms, her head lulled into his chest while she slept.
Using the cover of the army vehicles he approached a pile of supplies that had been tossed into the yard. He found mostly useless replaceable things: clothes and personal belongings. Something crunched under his foot and he lifted his boot to find that he had stepped on Judith's pink pacifier. He nudged things to the side until he spotted her yellow diaper bag that had been crammed into the box she had been using for a crib. He shifted the baby onto his shoulder and picked up the make-shift crib.
A door slammed behind him and he ducked down again then backtracked out of the yard. He slipped easily out of the prison vicinity and onto the highway where a mini-coop had been pushed into a ditch at the side of the road where he'd left it. Opening the side door he tossed the box onto the passenger seat and lifted out the diaper bag. Without looking inside it he threw it in the back seat. He glanced back in the box and found the doll he had given her months before when she had been a newborn.
Picking it up he found the thing's dress splattered with blood - probably Carol's. He wondered if she was a Walker now or if they had been decent enough to at least put her down - all of them.
Daryl lowered Judith into the box, his hands cupping the back of her head and her diaper covered bum. He took a moment to fix the blanket over her before tucking her doll into the spot between her and the side of the box. The seatbelt glided easily from its fixture and he stretched it over the box the inserted it into its clasp, securing the baby in place.
With a sigh he glanced back at the deserted highway with a fraction of the hope that he had once had. The hope inside him flickered and them dimmed and he climbed inside the car, settling behind the wheel. He guided the vehicle out of the ditch and accelerated away from the prison, his hand eventually coming to drape over the side of the box. It shifted and he felt soft baby skin touch his hand. Judith fumbled before finally grasping his finger and drawing it into her mouth.
"That shit's dirty, Judith," he pulled his hand back then winced as she began to wail. Looking down from the road he peered at his dirt caked hand for a moment before inserting his fingers into his own mouth to clean them. He wiped them off on his shirt, his eyes fixed on the highway and then returned his hand to her.
We were strangers, Starting out on a journey
Never dreaming, What we'd have to go through
Now here we are, And I'm suddenly standing
At the beginning with you