Playing With Fire

Chapter Seventeen


Merle, that damn son of a bitch, hadn’t strayed me wrong with his advice. In fact, it was almost like the Governor had been expecting me. Didn’t argue about letting me come, instead just agreeing how useful it would be to have a paramedic on hand should anything happen. I didn’t even have to bat my eyelashes or anything, not that it was something I had planned on trying.

The sun was beaming down on me pretty hard as I made my way towards the wall, beads of sweat sliding down the back of my neck. I thought about the cool, dimly lit library and what a great place it would be to hide out on a day this sweltering. I wasn’t about to back down on a chance to get outside the walls, though, regardless of the dangers I knew we were going to be facing. I just hoped my short time in Woodbury hadn’t made me rusty. I patted the pistol holstered to my thigh reassuringly, before doing the same to the long hunting knife on my other side.

“Come to see us off, Harlow?” Martinez hollered at me as I approached the small group of men waiting outside the wall. His white teeth shone brightly against the tanned color of his skin. Merle, who had been slouching up against a parked truck, perked up at the sound of my name. Our eyes met and I nodded once in his direction.

"Actually, Harlow’s gonna be join’ us this afternoon.” The familiar deep, southern tones of the Governor met my ears as he appeared around the side of the truck. I watched with a smirk as Martinez’s eyes grew wide and his grin fell. He stared at me hard before spitting at the ground near my feet. I perked an eyebrow, but didn’t say a word.

“Hope you can keep up with the boys.” He finally grunted, slinging his rifle over his shoulder.

“Don’t think I’ll have any problems with that.” I answered coolly. He shook his head before pulling open the truck door and disappearing inside. I rolled my eyes at his retreating back.

“No need for hostilities here, men. After our little mishap the other day with Richardson, Harlow and I both agreed it would be useful to have someone with medical experience on hand…should we have any more accidents.” The Governor announced to the rest of the group, who had all remained silent during my exchange with Martinez. I studied the Governor, not liking the way the word ‘accident’ rolled off his tongue, sounding more like a warning than anything. “Anyone who has a problem with that, feel free to stay behind.”

I looked around the group with my hands on my hips, waiting for someone else to dispute. Merle caught my eye again and gave me a smirk. I ignored him, satisfied when no one else had a complaint about my coming along.

“Harlow and Merle, why don’t you ride with me and Crowley. The rest of ya’ can hop in with Martinez.” The Governor announced after a short moment. The group began breaking off and I followed behind the Governor to a jeep that had been parked on the other side of Martinez’s truck. I remembered it well from the day the Governor had saved Merle and I, bringing us to Woodbury. The Governor pulled open the door for me and offered me a hand as I climbed up inside. I didn’t like the idea of touching him, but wasn’t about to do anything to ruin my chances of getting to go outside. Merle climbed up in the seat next to me, our elbows brushing.

“How ya’ doin’, sugar?” He grinned at me. He looked happier than a kid in a candy store, and I really couldn’t blame him. If he felt anything like I did, I was starting to get a little stir crazy been shut up in town for the last couple of weeks.

I humored him and gave him a half smile. “Pretty damn good, Dixon.”

He let out a chuckle. “That’s mah’ girl.”

I wrinkled my nose, but didn’t say anything. I sure as hell wasn’t Merle Dixon’s girl, or his anything for that matter. There was the sudden sound of the engine starting up and the jeep jolted forward. The giant gates that kept Woodbury tucked away safe and sound were slowly being pulled open just enough to let our small parade of trucks and cars through. As soon as we were on the other side I glanced over my shoulder to see them being shut tightly behind us.

I turned back around, leaning back against my seat and taking in a deep breath. I was outside of Woodbury. Maybe only briefly, but damn it felt good to be driving down a paved road, flashes of trees and houses whipping past as we drove further and further away from the town. I snuck a glance at Merle to see he was still grinning stupidly, looking absolutely thrilled to be back out here in the danger zone.

“There a town a couple miles down that hasn’t been hit too hard by scavengers.” The Governor suddenly said, turning in his seat to speak to us. “We’ll head there to pick up a few supplies. Just gotta make a quick stop first.”

I nodded, pursing my lips together and wondering what exactly he meant by a “quick stop” and where that might be and why. I kept my mouth shut tight, though, knowing better than to ask too many questions that weren’t any of my business to begin with. We drove the rest of the way in silence and eventually the wooded forest on either side of us gave way to open fields, dotted with run down barns and old rusted silos. We took a sudden turn onto a worn out dirt road that I would have missed being there completely had we not veered onto it.

We drove down the bumpy stretch of road for just a short while before slowing to a stop. I looked around, feeling a little puzzled. There was nothing even out here. Just field for miles and miles and miles. What could the Governor possibly want out here in the middle of nowhere?

“This’ll just take a second. Feel free to hop on out and come take a look.” The Governor called over his shoulder as he and Crowley climbed out of the jeep. I followed after them, Merle right behind me. Martinez’s truck was pulled up next to us, he and the other men already outside of it and all gathered around what looked like a giant square hole in the ground. I felt my stomach tighten and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the familiar moans and groans of the dead filled my ears. I tentatively made my way over to the gaping hole, my hand automatically on the handle of my hunting knife.

“I’ll be damned…Jesus Christ.” I heard Merle muttered. He had reached the hole before me and was peering down into it with an unreadable expression on his weathered face.

I brushed up next to him and looked down to see four walkers clawing at the dirt walls, caked with mud and blood. They were snarling and growling, looking hungry. The one closest to me began reaching upward with its long, bony arms. I took an automatic step backwards, shaking my head.

“What the fuck is this? Why are you trying to catch those things?” I demanded, my tone a little bit harsher than what I had intended. Warranted, though, considering these psychos had a pit full of walkers!

“What else would we be trying do, honey?” Martinez smirked. “We use ‘em to scare off all the bad guys.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. Bad guys…was he aware he fell under that same category?

“Now, now. Back off, Martinez. I think you’re givin’ the young lady the wrong idea.” The Governor sidled over to me and placed a gently hand on my arm. “Ain’t nothin’ for you to worry about. We just keep a few for protection purpose. Anyone tries to break into Woodbury, we let ‘em loose. That’s all.”

“You use these things…like attack dogs?” I asked in disbelief, shaking my head. Hell, it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. These things were the enemy. They weren’t meant to serve as anything other than a royal pain in everyone’ ass. It was hard to believe that anyone could wrap their mind around the idea that they very thing that wanted to kill them was also meant to keep them safe.

The Governor let out a chuckle that send another wave of chills down my spine. “S’pose that’s one way to put it.” He said. He gave my arm a small squeeze before letting go, pulling a walkie talkie out of his coat pocket. “Like I said, ain’t nothin’ for you to worry about about. Alright, Harlow?” He said in a softer voice, though there was an undertone to it I couldn’t quite grasp at. Was it meant to be a warning? A threat? I shook my head, dispersing the thought and reminded myself I didn’t plan on sticking around here forever. “Milton,” The Governor said loudly into the radio. “We got us a few biters. Let’s come on back out here tomorrow afternoon to pick ‘em up.”

I didn’t catch Milton’s response. I looked back at the hole distastefully one last time before shaking my head and storming back off towards the jeep. The more I found out about the Governor and Woodbury, the less I found myself wanting to be there. I ran a hand agitatedly through my pony tail as I reached the jeep.

“Bein’ all pissed off ain’t gonna do ya any good?” Merle’s voice came from behind me. I turned around to see he had followed me back to the parked vehicles.

I rolled my eyes. “So you don’t think it’s fucked up they’re just collecting walkers? That’s not normal!” I hissed at him, careful to keep my voice low in case anyone got too close to overhear.

“Course it’s not normal, woman! Is there anything about this god damn world that’s normal anymore?” Merle shot back, shaking his head.

I crossed my arms over my chest and pursed my lips as I avoided meeting his eyes. He was right of course, which only made me feel more pissed off. I could still feel his gaze on me a long minute later. With a heavy sigh, I finally lifted my eyes to meet his. “I just don’t think this is a place where I want to stay for long.” I whispered to him quietly, shaking my head. “I almost think I’d be better off out here, than stuck behind those walls.”

“Only reason I plan on stickin’ around a little longer is so I can have some help findin’ Daryl. After that, though, I think we both need to high tail it the fuck out of Woodbury.” Merle muttered.

Before I had a chance to say anything back, though, the voices of the others drifted over to us and I looked past Merle to see everyone heading back to the cars. I returned my gaze to Merle only to see his intensely blue gaze still on me. My stomach fumbled for reasons I didn’t know why. “Try to be good the rest of this trip, huh sugar? Won’t do neither of us any good if you get yourself killed today.” With that, he brushed past me and pulled open the jeep door, hopping inside.

I stood outside for a moment longer, wondering what the hell he meant by “we should get out of Woodbury” and “won’t do us any good if you get yourself killed”…Since when had Merle Dixon and I become some sort of ‘we’? There wasn’t time to think about it right then, though. The Governor pulled open the jeep door and nodded at me to climb inside where I settled into the back seat with Merle once again.

“Kinda cozy back here, huh?” He smirked at me, all the seriousness from our conversation just minutes ago completely vanished. I felt his fingers brush the side of my knee and I flicked his hand away.

“Hands to yourself, Dixon.” I growled, my eyes narrowing into slits. He chuckled and said something else, but his words were drowned out the by the engine roaring to life as we began bouncing back down the dirt path and towards the main road.

We traveled down the paved road for maybe twenty minutes longer before the jeep began to slow down again. I peered out the tiny window in the back, but couldn’t see much. “What town is this?” I asked curiously. As the Governor pulled the car to the side of the road I could make out a small, battered looking brick building along a dirty brick street.

“Not sure if it has a name…so small that it’s not even on most maps. We came across it accidentally on our way back to Woodbury during the last raid. Of course we didn’t have time stop, what with Richardson bein’ injured and all that.” The Governor explained, meeting my eyes once in the rearview mirror. I nodded, waiting for him to open the door so I could climb out.

“Alright, everyone gather ‘round for a second.” The Governor said as we all got out of the vehicles and stared curiously around the small, rundown town. It looked like it had been a shit hole even before the end of the world. I wondered if there was even anything here worth trying to salvage. “Let’s keep this quick and clean. No gun shots unless it’s an emergency, no trying to smuggle back anything we don’t need. We’re on the lookout for food, bottled water, medicinal supplies, and batteries. Anything else that you think might be useful, grab it and bring it back here. Let’s try to do this in fifteen minutes.” He gave the orders calmly, the authoritative tone in his voice clear. I glanced at Merle to see him standing at the very back of the group, looking off into the distance and clearly not listening to a damn thing.

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