Hey guys! This is my second Walking Dead story, and I worked hard on it, so I hope you enjoy!
HUGE Shout out to my Beta Reader, Carrot Top. She is an amazing writer, and she helped me to make this so much better. Check out her stories, they're amazing!
Disclaimer: I own nothing except for my original characters.
Life was good before the world went to shit. Adrianne Byrne had the perfect family and the perfect life with a loving husband, Adam Byrne, and two sons. She could never imagine a better family picture; it was everything she could ever ask for.
As a successful medical epidemiologist, she worked hard at the CDC to find cures and vaccines for Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and infectious disease, specializing in viral and bacterial infections. As a part of her work, she conducted clinical trials, and she was rewarded with a promotion as the head of the epidemiology department for her dedication. Her determination and hard work won her success, but she never gloated about it. She was humble, without a single cell of pride in her blood.
Adrianne's sons, William, who was thirteen, and Nicholas, who was six, were the best things to ever happen to her. They loved soccer, always playing in the backyard and practicing their moves on the field. As a soccer–loving family, they went through soccer balls like any ordinary person went through shoes. Almost everyday after dinner they would rush out to their soccer field in the backyard and play an intense game of two–on–two. Sometimes, if they were lucky, friends would be over, which led to an even bigger, more sophisticated game.
All of that was gone now—there was no time to play soccer anymore, but if there was, everyone would be on alert for military or the infected, which made the game less competitive, and in Adrianne's opinion, less appealing.
The military swept through and dropped bombs on the city, flushing out the buildings with grenades, tear gas, and machine guns, showing no mercy on any medical personnel that crossed their path for fearing they were infected. They protected the CDC at all costs, surrounding the sacred building and keeping it armed so no one could get in. It horrified Adrianne when she would look out the enormous glass walls and witness such a bloody massacre and armed guards surrounding her once peaceful workplace. It turned into a war zone.
Her expertise, combined with her team of pathologists, fellow epidemiologists, and medical researchers, won her a large role in searching for the cure. She was at the podium often, addressing the nervous, terrified citizens, trying her best to keep an open and optimistic mind. It was her job to spread and produce optimism, even if that didn't exist in her head.
Eventually, half of the population was wiped out and most of Adrianne's fellow epidemiologists had swallowed a bullet without letting anyone convince them to keep trying. After the lead pathologist had fallen ill with the unknown disease, her husband, Dr. Edwin Jenner, had told Adrianne to go home and save her family. She knew that the military would go straight to her home and kill them on sight, since she was in contact with the virus itself—all of her friends and coworkers had been killed before they could get within feet of their house; they didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to their families.
The first name that popped into Adrianne's mind when trying to think of a safe place to go to was her Uncle Hershel, whom she had an extremely close relationship with. He was like a father to her more than her real father was; Adrianne's father was always coming home drunk and angry, just like his father before him. Hershel had a spaceous, secluded farm, far away from any people, making it the safest place to be. Adrianne and her family were welcomed with open arms there, and with a few of the upstairs bedrooms cleaned out, they were living a safe and quiet life.
Her step-aunt Annette had gotten infected after only a few weeks of Adrianne living there. No matter how much Adrianne tried to convince her uncle, he would not believe that there was no cure and he stuck her undead body into the barn that was once used for horses. Every time Hershel saw one of the people he called 'sick', he would not allow any of them to put it out of it's misery—instead, he let the undead call their barn home.
Hershel's family friends, Patricia and her husband, Otis, moved in with them after Hershel invited them to stay, thinking the more medically trained people on the property, the better. Patricia and Otis became close to their family, so close that they were considered one of them—Otis was a joyous man to be around, always playing his guitar and sharing laughs to lighten the mood that was always darkened when they thought about what was outside of this farm; Patricia was delicate, her frame looking even smaller when she stood beside Otis. She was caring and deeply respectful to Hershel, Adrianne and Adrianne's family.
Soon, however, the house became so crowded that they basically tripping over each other. Supplies became an immediate necessity, with groups going out almost every day just for basic things like medical supplies, food, gasoline, and ammo for the only gun that was allowed in Hershel's home, which belonged to Otis.
Adrianne's cousin Maggie was always on a run, whether it was with her sister Beth, Otis, Patricia, or Adrianne herself; Adam didn't go often, as he was in charge of chopping wood, caring for the horses, and hunting with Otis.
When they became short handed, Adam offered to go on a supply run with Maggie and Adrianne to the food market that was only a few miles away—little did any of them know, there would be a group of hungry, bloodthirsty meatbags waiting for them inside the store. The two girls narrowly escaped, but when Adrianne turned around to grab Adam's arm, he wasn't there. The undead were drowning her vision and when she finally found Adam, he was too busy trying to fight them off to get back to them. She refused to leave without him, but he screamed for the girls to run and never look back. All Adrianne could do was run away, but only because of Maggie yanking on her arm to make her run faster and snap out of it.
Adrianne didn't speak for days after her husband died, not even to her kids. The bloodcurdling cries as Adam was being pushed farther and farther away from them would not erase from her memory. They were there forever, even though she tried everything to run away from her past. Every time she saw her sons, all she could see was Adam's face— those two boys were the only things that were keeping her alive now though, no matter how much it killed her to look into their eyes.
Chapter One: Winding Down
"Adrianne, come help with dinner," Maggie called from the kitchen. The sudden noise made Adrianne jump, snapping her out of her daydream. Her thumb was stuck in the book she was in the middle of reading, which was now sitting on her chest.
She clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth and stretched her neck, slipping the little piece of blue construction paper snuggly into the book, then set it on the nightstand. Throwing her legs over the side of the bed, she stretched out every cramp that tightened the muscles in her shoulders and thighs, several pops and cracks loosening her joints even more. Wearily, she rubbed her face with one hand as she shuffled down the stairs, wishing she could sleep for once instead of day dreaming about the good times.
"Sorry. I, uh, was tired," She explained in a small voice as she reached the spacey kitchen. Maggie was at the kitchen island, slicing and dicing the fresh vegetables from the garden, while already cooking something that made Adrianne's empty stomach rumble with hunger.
"No, it's fine, you got down here just in time. Here," she said, handing Adrianne a basket of potatoes. "Slice those."
Adrianne's nose crinkled as she made an annoyed noise, but without any further complaints, she dragged the basket to the sink to begin washing off the dry dirt that clung to the potatoes. "Where's Otis?" She asked, noticing that there was no laughing and guitar playing going on.
"He's out huntin'. Said he saw a buck wanderin' around and thought venison sounded good for dinner tomorrow," Maggie explained, holding the cutting board above a pot to slide in the vegetables with a sweep of the knife. She then tucked a piece of her short, brown hair behind her ear as she set the board back on the island, gathering a handful of basil from a plastic bag in front of her.
"Mm, that sounds delicious. Hadn't had venison in a long time," Adrianne groaned, her mouth watering from just imagining the meat in the pan, sizzling and releasing its aroma into the atmosphere.
"Well, don't be countin' on it. He probably won't even find it tonight," Maggie chuckled, throwing Adrianne a bright, white smile as she chopped the herbs.
"Maggie, stop bein' such a pessimist. Otis is the best tracker in Georgia. He'll get 'em," Adrianne snorted, skinning the potatoes into the sink, careful not to slice her thumb. After cutting the potatoes into even squares, she filled a pan with water, set it on the black coils on the stove, and with no patience, she dumped the pale vegetables into the salty water.
"Mom?" Will called from the porch. She glanced out the living room window, searching for the boy, and patted Maggie's back as she left the kitchen to meet Will outside. She felt Maggie's curious gaze on her as she made her exit out of the house, knowing that her cousin was happy that she was beginning to talk and come out of the darkness.
"What's up?" Adrianne asked, her eyebrows stitching together as she sat down on the steps next to Will.
"Can I ask you something?" He asked, staring down at the white wooden planks below them, his hands clasped together in his lap.
"Yeah, sure," She said, wrapping her arm around his shoulders and gazing at his face, studying it for clues on how he was feeling.
He looked up at her, his light brown hair falling just above his big, green eyes. "How long until we are all. . .dead?" He peeped, his voice soft, struggling to find the right words.
Adrianne dropped her gaze in guilt. "I dunno," She whispered, swallowing hard, not wanting to lie, nor tell him that there was a high chance that they wouldn't get out of this—a tear escaped Will's eye, falling onto his entangled fingers. She pulled him closer and kissed the top of his head. "It's alright. We'll be fine. We got this far, right? Don't you worry," She crooned, rubbing his upper-arm while also attempting to keep her own hopes up.
"Yeah. But Hershel thinks those things are people. He won't let us kill 'em if they come here," He argued, the fear growing in his voice.
"Sh–h, don't over think it," She told him, changing the subject, "I have to go make dinner, kiddo." She pushed herself up, patting his shoulder and watching as the tears disappeared from his eyes. "I'm sure there is someone else out there," she said as she walked back into the house to help Maggie in the kitchen. Her shoulders slumped at the thought of her son doubting his survival, hers, and the entire world's.
After a long, stressful hunt, Otis had returned empty handed. The dark had become a major obstacle, making it too dangerous and much too difficult to track a deer, even with his level of skill. It was a bummer; they were all hoping to give their hankering for fresh venison a rest, but they would have to put up with it for a few days longer—Otis tried to convince them that he was hot on its trail, but because he had to stop, he had to re-track it again tomorrow.
The dinner table was unusually quiet that night, but only because they were all equally exhausted after the long days work; Adrianne, on the other hand, was just worn out because she hasn't slept very much in the last few weeks.
"Jimmy, why don't you eat somethin'?" Adrianne asked Beth's boyfriend. She never approved of him, believing he was reckless, dumb and a liar. He always lied to get what he wanted, making him manipulative in his own way, but Adrianne never said anything since Beth loved him. For what reason, she sure as hell didn't know. But being nice to him was the only way to keep the peace, and if Adrianne wanted to live here, she had to respect everyone else there.
"I'm not really hungry," he answered passively, avoiding every eye that was turned in his direction by staring down at his untouched plate. He just there in between Beth and Maggie, leaning back in the chair with his hands on his lap.
"Whatcha hidin', boy?" Hershel demanded, staring him down, knowing that he was biting his tongue to keep quiet.
"Nothin', I'm just really tired. If you'd excuse me," he rushed as he bolted up from his seat and sped off up the stairs.
Adrianne chewed her beans slowly, her eyes flickering up and following Jimmy. Beth jumped up from the table, clearly to follow him and bring him back."Where you goin'?" Maggie asked, grabbing her arm. Beth guiltily sat back down and glanced between everyone, reading their faces and realizing that they were expecting an explanation from her.
"Jimmy told me that one of the sick people attacked him while he was out in the woods choppin' down a tree earlier," she said in a quiet voice. "He said that he was pinned so he had to kill him."
Hershel's eyes fell as every muscle in his body went still. Everyone's eyes were now on Hershel, examining his face. "He killed him?" he croaked, his eyes still closed, not wanting to believe it.
"He said he's sorry, he couldn't help it! He didn't wanna die, Daddy," Beth exclaimed with an insisting expression, defending him Jimmy all she could.
"No, it's fine. Just make sure he doesn't go out there alone, again," he commanded, his eyelids slowly opening to focus his attention on the young girl. He seemed to be fine, but Adrianne knew that he was furious thinking that Jimmy had murdered someone he thought was an innocent man, whom he believed was savable.
Adrianne laid in her bed that night, staring at the slowly darkening ceiling as the sun sunk further below the horizon. With her blankets pulled up to her nose she listened to the hushed movements of Otis below, keeping watch for the night; even though Hershel didn't want to admit that those people were dead and helpless, they could all agree that it was best to have a night watchman so they could sleep easy. Adrianne had a feeling that Hershel was starting to understand and accept the fact that they were gone, but she just couldn't find a way to convince him to kill them—again—instead of throw them into the barn.
She gently closed her eyes, hoping to fall asleep, but she just couldn't do it, as she missed the feeling of Adam's warm body lying next to hers and keeping her safe. She never wanted to kiss him so bad in her life, with the exception of when she'd had a crush on him in high school.
She threw the heavy, white covers off of her body, tiptoeing on the wooden floor out of the room and towards the bathroom that neighbored her sons' room. She poked the corner of the mirror, popping it open, and rummaged through the medicine cabinet in search of something to help her sleep. Her hand grazed across a bottle of NyQuil, which she snatched out quickly, and spun the bottle in search of the expiration date. She cursed under her breath when the little black writing read June, twenty-eighth, two-thousand seven. Deciding to just ignore the date, she poured some into the little clear plastic cover, hoping that it would work a little bit—it tasted ghastly, but she had no choice, since Hershel no longer had alcohol in the house.
The floor was cold against her bare feet as she stepped lightly down the hallway to enter her completely darkened room. She stepped up to the window, peeled back a curtain to gaze at the bright, starry night sky that was brightened due to the lack of lights on Earth.
Allowing the curtain to fall back into place, she turned around slowly and collapsed onto her bed when she realized how tired she really was. Combined with her exhaustion, the heat wouldn't allow her to slip under the think blankets, and so instead stayed she on her stomach, falling into a deep, welcoming sleep.
Loud rummaging downstairs caused Adrianne to wake with a sudden jolt—she was still in the position she had fallen asleep in, and she pushed herself up with the adrenaline rush that came with the awakening jolt. Adrianne dressed quickly, in a pair of grey jeans that had a hole just above the knee, and a purple flannel shirt that she buttoned on the way down the stairs, where Nick was sitting at the bottom.
"Hey, buddy, whatcha doin'?" she asked, sitting down next to him for a brief moment just to slide on her socks and cowboy boots. He was holding Otis's guitar like a sacred gem that must never be taken out of his hands.
"Otis said he's gonna teach me guitar when he gets back from huntin' today," he explained excitedly, a smile plastered to his face as he contorted his fingers to figure out a cord.
"Well you're learnin' from the best, kid. Be happy he offered," she teased as she kissed his cheek and patted the top of his head. She called Will down from his room, and he ran down the stairs and stood next to Nick. "Stay in here, boys, okay? Will, make sure Nick stays in here. I'm gonna go help Patricia with the garden," she called, and as an almost immediate response, they nodded and agreed to behave.
"Don't worry, mom, I got it," he said, confidently, slightly puffing out his chest like he was the leader.
"Good," she chuckled, the grin not leaving her face when she made her way out the door, glancing out in the kitchen to see Hershel gathering pots and pans from the floor. In her head, she chuckled at how much of a klutz Hershel was.
The grass was beginning to get hard to walk through, causing anyone to walk through it to struggle, giving Adrianne the idea to get the trimmers and cut through it. The air was heavy with moisture, making it difficult to do hard labor because it was so hard to breathe. Adrianne wiped sweat from her brow with her shoulder as she reached the garden, finding Patricia tugging at the weeds around the tall plants with her gloved hands.
"Hey, mind if I join you?" Adrianne called, standing out of Patricia's way by keeping her feet out of the freshly tossed dirt.
Patricia jumped, glanced at Adrianne, then stumbled to her feet, swooping down and heaving a giant pile of uprooted weeds into the wheelbarrow that was next to her. "Would you mind pickin' the tomatoes?" she asked, handing Adrianne a bushel basket from the stack next to the wheelbarrow and before dabbing the side of her face with her short sleeve. "And maybe some peppers, too," she added, picking up the handles of the wheelbarrow and began pushing it away before Adrianne could answer. She didn't bother asking, since Patricia had important things to do, and she was never joyous when it came down to chores.
"No problem," Adrianne mumbled with a little sass—she dropped the basket onto the dirt next to the newly-weeded tomato plants and began pulling the ripened tomatoes from the plant. "How long was I sleepin'?" she questioned once Patricia came back, pushing the now empty wheelbarrow.
"Quite awhile. But I s'pose you needed it, you haven't slept much these past few days," Patricia answered from behind her.
"Well, it sure did feel nice. Hope I didn't miss out on my chores 'cause of it," she responded while she took a big step to her right after all the redness was gone from the first plant, then lazily picked at the next one.
"No, you need it, you do it. We can handle things," she replied, reassuring Adrianne and making her feel better.
Once the straw basket was full to the brim of the plump red fruit, she grabbed the wire handles and stumbled out of the garden, stepping and hopping over the plants and weed piles Patricia produced. Adrianne was excited; it was plenty to make some of her mother's stewed tomatoes, the best she's ever had and the best Hershel has ever had. She gave her the recipe just before she died of pneumonia when Adrianne was only seventeen, leaving Adrianne to be with her drunken, and eventually abusive, father.
Adrianne hauled the basket back into the house, stumbling and struggling up the steps because of the heavy basket that felt like it was about fifty pounds. She dropped it onto the floor in front of the sink and switched on the cold water. She gathered her long, dark brown hair into her hands and wrapped a hair tie snugly into it, holding it in a tight bun. She dumped some of the tomatoes into the sink and searched for the cleaning brush, tucking away the escaped strands of hair behind her ear—each clean tomato was set on the white granite counter next to the sink when she was done with it, ready to be cooked and eaten.
It seemed so late in the day; she knew she had slept a long time, which caused her to move slow, even though she was so energized. Hershel was in the backyard, and Adrianne watched him as he saddled a tall, white and grey horse that was named Silver Bullet. He was Adrianne's horse. Maggie walked up to him and grabbed the reins from his hands, setting her foot in the stirrup and swinging her leg over Bullet. She wasn't taking her own horse, the brown one, which confused Adrianne and made her curious, so she continued watching their movements.
Hershel told Maggie something as the horse began to walk away, and she shook her head in response with a pouty look on her face. She rode the horse into his stall and leapt down, lacing him up before storming out, noticeably angry with her father.
Adrianne tore her eyes from the window and ran the white brush over the tomatoes, washing the dirt off and watching as it twirled down into the drain. After she washed the last tomato, she held the wire handle on a hooked finger and propped it onto the porch, where it would be picked up and taken back to the garden tomorrow.
The sun was past its highest point, approaching the horizon steadily, and the shadows were at their shortest. Adrianne sank down on the white, flaking rocking chair and stared out into the empty yellowing field in front of her, watching the grass sway from the cooling breeze.
Maggie sped into the house without even looking at her, and Hershel followed her inside, noticeably pissed off. He was trying to talk to her, urging her to look at her and talk to him. Adrianne's eyebrows stitched to together as she burrowed her face in her hands, knowing she'll hear about it later.
She turned her gaze back out into the field, where she spotted something unusual. It was moving—no, it was three dark objects, and as Adrianne narrowed her eyes and inclined her head slightly, she realized they were coming towards the house.
"Hershel! There's someone out there!" she exclaimed, searching the house for him. She rushed him, gently pushing him so he would understand her urgency and move faster.
Everyone spilled outside, watching a man in a sheriff's uniform, carrying a boy in his arms, and another dark haired man running far behind him with Otis.
"Was he bit?" Hershel called and he staggered down the steps.
"Shot," the man stated, "by your man," he added, his voice shaky. Adrianne assumed that it was his son by the way he was panicked, holding the boy close to his chest, frantically glancing between each of the faces that came out of the house.
"Otis?" Patricia exclaimed as she followed Hershel down the steps, not wanting to believe that Otis would shoot a little boy.
"He said to find Hershel. Is that you? Help me, please help me, my boy!" the man cried, controlling his sobs to keep them at a minimum.
Adrianne rushed inside, hearing everyone scramble in behind her as Hershel started barking orders—when she glanced behind her, she saw her uncle rolling up his sleeves, with Maggie scurrying to get an IV solution and Patricia leading Rick into the downstairs bedroom. She ran upstairs and into her own bedroom, fetching towels that the family stored in her closet, her hands trembling as she rushed to get back down there.
"Mom! What's wrong?" Nick exclaimed from the doorway of his room.
Adrianne stopped, set her hands on his shoulders and leaned down so she was eye-level with him. "Stay in there, okay, buddy? Don't you go down there until I say," she commanded him and ushered him back into his room, where Will was reading a book. "Will, you, too. Stay in here until I say," she told him, and he leapt to his feet, but Adrianne couldn't waste anymore time to lecture them.
She swiftly hurried down the stairs and raced into the room they had taken the injured boy to, then laid the towels in her hands out on the bed around him.
"Is–is he alive?" the man repeated over and over as Adrianne picked up a pillow and shook off the pillow case, handing it to him.
"Put pressure on the wound," Hershel instructed, and though the man was obviously too worried to focus, he cooperated—the room fell silent as Hershel moved his stethoscope to the boy's chest and listened. "I've got a heartbeat," he announced as he pulled the stethoscope back out of his ears, getting to his feet.
The man seemed relieved, though his voice was still shaky when he managed to say that his name was Rick. His face was glistening with sweat and his clothes were covered in the boy's blood, but he didn't seem to notice or care; his badly injured son was to be his only concern. Patricia stepped in to take over Rick's job and keep pressure on the boy's wound, telling Rick himself that he needed to leave.
"C'mon, you can wait out here," Adrianne urged, leading him out of the room with a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"Is he gonna be okay?" Rick asked, still sounding panicky. "Is he…is he gonna…"
"Don't worry, Rick. Your boy is in good hands." Adrianne interrupted in a soothing voice, trying to keep him calm. "We know what we're doin' and we're gonna do everythin' possible, I promise."
Rick nodded slowly and then finally stepped outside. She watched him through the screen door for a second then hurried to the bathroom, rummaging around for the surgical tools that she kept there, already knowing that she would need them, even though Hershel didn't tell her to. On her way back she glanced outside and saw that Rick, who was standing on the porch, had been joined by a man that she didn't recognize—she assumed the stranger was friends with Rick, especially when he began wiping Rick's face with a rag that he pulled out of his pocket.
Adrianne tore her eyes away and rushed back into the room, setting the tray down and preparing to do whatever Hershel needed her to do. What if this was Nick, or Will? Every time she would look at the young boy's face, she would see her son, though she knew that's not who the boy was. She vowed to herself that was going to do everything she could to try to save this boy.