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TWDG: Young and Young at Heart

By J. Gray Dingler

Horror / Drama

All That Remains

Clementine tightened her grip on the gun, desperately trying to stop her hands from shaking. She watched in terror as the distant figures silhouetted in the morning sun grew bigger with every passing second. They were both moving too fast to be walkers. They were living people, and they were hurrying towards her. The small girl reluctantly put her finger on the trigger, prepared to squeeze it just like Lee had taught her. She hated the idea of shooting someone, but tried to ready herself to do it again if she had to.

"Clementine?" called a woman's voice.

"Christa?" answered Clementine.

"Clementine!" shouted a man's voice.

"Omid!" exclaimed Clementine.

There was no doubt in her mind now; Clem started racing towards the pair as fast as her legs would carry her. The couple came into focus as they reached the bottom of the hill, causing her to run even harder. She probably ran faster than she had ever run in her entire life, as if the couple would cease to exist if she didn't reach them soon.

Clementine could see their faces now. Excited and scared at the same time, much like her. Just as she closed the distance, Clem dropped her gun and threw out her arms in an attempt to hug the duo. She stumbled and instead grabbed onto one of Christa's legs by mistake. It did little to change Clem's intentions, who started squeezing that leg for dear life as she looked up at the woman and her boyfriend.

"Clementine! Thank God!" exclaimed Christa. "Are you okay?"

"No," whimpered Clem as she clung to Christa's leg.

"What happened?" Omid knelt down next to the traumatized girl and placed his hand on her shoulder. "That guy on the radio. Did he…" Omid pulled back his hand and noticed it was covered in blood. "The hell? Why are you covered in—are you hurt?"

"I'm not hurt," she sobbed. "I'm just… I'm just…"

"It's okay Clem." Christa gently pried Clementine off and then knelt down to speak with her face to face. "You don't have to say any more. We understand."

"Yeah, it'd be pretty messed up if you were okay after what's happened actually," commented a sympathetic Omid. "So, feel free to not act okay all you want."

"Lee told me to meet you by the train, but—"

"It was swarmed," finished Christa. "We saw it too."

"It was like zombiepalooza had come to town on the rails," added Omid. "So we just started moving in the opposite direction."

"Figuring if you were still alive, you'd think to do the same," added Christa. "We had no idea where to start looking, so we just started walking and…"

"We're just really glad we found you," summarized Omid.

"Me too." Clementine looked around, searching for more familiar faces. "Where's Ben?" she asked, trying not to snivel. "And Kenny?" Christa and Omid briefly exchanged glances before turning back to the despondent nine-year-old.

"Clementine, they…" Christa struggled to find the words as she saw the horror grip the girl's face, realizing what had happened without Christa even needing to say it. "It's… it's just us Clem."

"Oh," said Clem in a resigned tone, as if she had expected this.

"And… I'm guessing it's just you?" Clementine nodded softly. "What about the man on the radio? Did he—"

"He's dead," announced Clem. "Just like Lee. And my parents. And…" she trailed off, choked with despair.

"I'm so sorry Clem." Christa gently placed her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"It's all gone," she whispered in a sad voice. "Everything." The pair gazed at the heart broken nine-year-old, unable to speak for a moment.

"Actually," spoke Omid, breaking the silence. "We did manage to salvage one thing before we left Savannah." Omid removed something from his back. "Purple with yellow and pink flowers looks better on you than it does on me." Clementine looked at her old backpack for a moment before taking it without a word. She unzipped the top and then removed something from her hoodie's pocket. The girl took out a handheld radio covered in flower stickers and carefully placed it inside the pack.

"And you should hold onto this." Christa handed the gun Clem dropped back to her. The small girl put her backpack on, then grasped the gun in her hand. "We should get moving. Hopefully we can find somewhere safe to rest before nightfall."

"But if you feel like you need to stop, just say so," assured Omid.

"I… I just want to go," pleaded Clem.

"All right. But if you need anything. Just—"

"I just want to go," she repeated. "I just want to go."

"Okay," said Christa, not wanting to push the matter any further. "Let's go." Clementine started walking, and then just kept walking for what seemed like hours. She could occasionally hear Omid and Christa talking, sometimes to her, but Clem just couldn't make out the words. Her mind felt clouded and she could only focus on moving forward, following Omid and Christa's lead. Occasionally they'd stop, telling her some kind of warning she couldn't entirely hear, then they'd start moving again. Clementine kept marching ahead as if she was in a trance, unaware of her surroundings.

Sometime before sunset the trio found an abandoned gas station to take refuge in. After clearing the inside, Omid motioned for Clem to join the couple inside. There were some canned goods and a few other items strewn across the floor. Christa was busy collecting anything useful while Omid worked on opening some of the cans. He offered the first to Clem, apologizing for the complete lack of eating utensils.

Clementine hadn't even noticed she was hungry until Omid had offered her that can. And even now, it seemed so unimportant to her that it was merely instinct that motivated her to eat instead of any actual desire to. She just scooped handfuls of food out of the can and into her mouth out of habit, barely tasting it. At some point, Christa had set a bottle of water next to Clem. Just like whatever she was eating, the girl instinctively drank the water, not deriving any actual comfort from doing so.

As she was eating, Christa and Omid would occasionally speak to Clementine. Asking how she was, if she needed anything, and what happened before they found her. But their questions just passed through the young girl, her mind in such a haze that she wasn't even processing what they were saying. Realizing the futility of speaking to Clem at this time, the couple divided their attention between watching her and surveying their surroundings.

Clementine could see them moving throughout the store, occasionally trading places so that at least one of them could sit with her, but she wasn't looking at them. To Clem, everything just seemed to blur together as one unremarkable image that never seemed to come into focus. Eventually, she managed to focus on Christa and Omid long enough to see they were prompting her to follow them now.

They led the girl to the bathrooms and explained to her that they had fixed one up to be her room for the night. Clem pushed open the door and noticed a crude bed sat in the middle of the room, built out of folded cardboard boxes and cut up foam drink holders. Christa's jacket served as a blanket and a couple of bags of likely stale caramel corn were set out like pillows. There were a few candles lit on opposite corners of the room as well as some containers of food and water stacked against the back wall.

"It's not exactly the roomiest of accommodations, but you can't beat the price," shrugged Omid, trying to force himself to smile.

"Omid and I are going to take turns keeping watch tonight," informed Christa. "You just get some sleep sweetie."

"Yeah, been a helluva couple of days," added Omid in a more concerned tone.

"And if you need anything, you can just ask us. You know that Clem." Clem nodded weakly at Christa, then shuffled into the room without a word. The door closed behind her, leaving Clementine somewhere dark and quiet. She instinctively sat down on the primitive bed, then just remained there for a moment, unsure what to do next.

After a few minutes of peace, Clem's senses started coming back to her. She suddenly realized her right-hand hurt. She had been holding her gun all day, not even bothering to set it down while eating. She placed it on the ground, then started rubbing her swollen knuckles.

The next thing Clem became aware of was a horrid smell. The blood-soaked hoodie she was wearing had festered in the midway sun. She threw her backpack off then pulled the rancid piece of fabric over her head as fast as she could. The smell nearly made Clem sick, but looking at the garment made her angry. Just seeing the lettering on the front was more than she could stand. Clementine threw the filthy thing aside as hard as she could, sending it flying into a corner. She never wanted to look at it again.

Clementine's attention turned to her backpack next. She slowly unzipped it and reached inside, retrieving the handheld radio her mother had given her. She flipped it over and pried open the back. Clem hastily yanked the batteries out of the device and threw them against the wall, landing them right on top of the discarded hoodie.

She couldn't quite bear to throw away the radio itself though. She had no intentions of ever using it again, but she still wanted to keep it. She put the battery compartment back on and set it down, noticing the stickers on it as she did so. Ben had found her those stickers. She had remembered how happy it made her to use those to decorate her radio, to mark it as distinctly hers. It had been only a few days and yet it already felt like so long ago.

Her eyes wandered back to her gun. It had been Lee's gun before. And it was the same one he used when he taught her how to shoot. And before that it had been Carley's gun. The same one she used to save Lee from the walker in the drugstore. It was also the same gun used to shoot both Carley and Lee. Remembering that, Clem reached for her pigtails and pulled on the hair scrunchies Lilly had given her. The girl looked at them for a moment, then tossed them in a pile with the gun and the radio.

She reached into her backpack again and pulled out of a piece of paper this time. It was her crude crayon drawing of Kenny, Katjaa and Duck. Clem could barely look at the picture of the boy and his family without crying. She immediately set it aside and grabbed the other drawing in her backpack. This drawing was of Lee, and this time Clementine couldn't look away. She tried stifling her own cries as her eyes began to tear up. The face of the man who had cared for her for so long was still fresh in Clem's mind, before and after she killed him.

Barely able to contain herself, Clementine set the drawing down, whimpering to herself in the dark. The small pile of items at her feet was all she had left of almost everyone she had ever known. The memories of them still fresh in her mind, as was the realization that they were all gone now. Clem finally couldn't stand it anymore and turned away.

She rolled over onto her makeshift bed, hoping she could just forget about the world for a short time. She arranged the bagged caramel corn to rest her head on and pulled Christa's jacket over her body. She was about to close her eyes, when she spotted her hat. She hadn't even realized it wasn't on her head anymore. It must have been knocked off when she removed the hoodie.

Clementine reached out for it, her hand trembling the entire way. She carefully picked it up off the ground and brought it to her face. It was just an ordinary baseball cap, but her father had given it to her the day before he left with her mother to go to Savannah, calling it an early birthday gift. And after losing it, Lee had brought it back to her, before she left Savannah, without him. The horrid memory of their demises still fresh in her mind, she found she couldn't hold it in anymore.

Clementine clutched her cap to her chest as tears gushed out of her eyes and onto the ground. She started bawling so hard and so loud for so long she could barely breathe. Her entire body seemed to quiver in agony as she sobbed uncontrollably. And anytime she felt like she was ready to stop, the image of someone else she had lost would flash into her mind, starting the entire miserable cycle all over, until Clementine was so exhausted she finally just passed out.

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1. All That Remains
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