The City of the Dead
The streets moved to the ominous drone of their pulse as the group stepped into Savannah territory. Their feet roared over the abundant asphalt as the nine survivors scanned for any signs of movement. The scene remained in a perfect black and white frame as they became the moving picture, trotting the gravel and eyeing the buildings around them, weapons in arms as the army of noise invaded the city.
Dominic's pulse pounded in his ears as his breaths became uneven and heavy, his shoulder piercing his body with every step, and legs pressuring him to move forward. The chill November air breathed past his neck, sending uncondescending chills down his spine. As he glanced around at his comrades, the same, lifeless face burned on all of their faces, and the empty fear resided in their eyes. With every new step, the eerie atmosphere inched under his skin, crawling like a disease to manifest itself into his limbs, urging like a command to turn around and crawl away from the city; never to return. He didn't like it, in fact, he hated it. His only desire was to run and get out the hell out of the city as quickly as they had come. Yet, Kenny marched on down the road, with only one purpose left for him to live for: finding a damn boat, and getting them the hell out of there. Lee followed the Floridian, his eyes darting between Carley, whom stared blankly at the ground next to him, and Clementine, who stared directly at her radio, which now resided on Lee's belt. Chuck held a shovel in his hand with ease, possibly the only one not haunted by the sight; the silent roads didn't intimidate him, rather it edged him forward, to whatever destination laid ahead. Christa and Omid followed shortly behind, the shorter man grunting as his leg flared in pain and collapsed against an abandoned car, moaning as Christa hoisted him up. Trailing behind everyone else was Dominic and Ben, both too preoccupied with their thoughts to admire the foreboding street before them.
The roads seemed to stretch on for eternity; rotten building after rotten building. Houses and forgotten businesses surpassed the sidewalks; each bearing their own horrific story. Decay was etched on every door frame, some highlighted in blood, while others had the words "infected inside" spraypainted on them. To their left, stood a large church, its bell tower just as silent as the rest of the city, the glorified temple standing on the western edge of town. To their right, cookie-cutter homes sat abandoned and decayed. Litter and debris blew across the street like tumbleweeds while carcasses of cars stripped bare sat creaking in the wind, the leftover metal rotting from overexposed days in drenching weather, but now cold and rough for any passerby to feel. Willow trees hung their leaves over the road like vines, growing longer with each passing week with no gardener to trim them, only adding on to the emptiness of this godforsaken place. Savannah truly was the city of the dead, not a single creature stirring in the post-apocalyptic tranquility of the moment.
Dearly missing her beloved radio, as it jumbled on the older man's belt loop. Clementine looked up at Lee, her voice shaking as she asked with her best puppy-dog eyes, "Can't I just hold it?"
Dominic's eyes shot up from his inner thoughts to the two in an instant as Lee gave her a concerned look, his voice hesitant. "Not now, Clementine. Maybe later, okay?" Lee and Carley exchanged worried glances before returning them to the dark road ahead.
Clementine's eyes fell to the pavement once more with that, the air in her lungs rushing out in defeat. "Okay."
The strange voice from the radio echoed in Lee's brain, repeating the same words over and over like a record player stuck on the same note. "Can't wait for you to get to Savannah, Clementine. I've got your parents right here, and you be sure to find me, whether Lee and Dominic want you to or not." Something about that voice sent a shiver down his spine as he took another step. The voice was soft, but something sinister lied behind that tone, something Lee couldn't quite put his finger on. He desperately wanted to ask Dominic about it, but with so many around who didn't know the secret, he simply couldn't. Instead, he peered at the boy, who scratched softly at his thin brown beard, deep in his own thoughts. He then peered at Omid, who limped alongside his girlfriend. The taller women wrapped her arm around him to keep him steady.
"How's Omid?" He inquired, his voice barely a whisper as Christa gazed back at him, a wave of sadness washing over her.
"His leg's pretty bad," She mumbled as her eyes fell to Omid's bandaged leg, crimson red patches staining the white paper, different tones etched across the morbid canvas.
Omid turned to look at both of them, grunting in defiance, "I'm fine."
"You're not fine, you need to rest," Christa shot back to her boyfriend before turning back to Lee and Carley, "He needs to rest."
A frown etched it's way across Lee's face as the situation dawned on him. On one front, he had an injured man who desperately needed rest, and on the other, a broken man who wouldn't stop for anything until he found a boat. He just didn't know what to do.
Carley spoke first, "We'll find somewhere to rest soon; we're too exposed out here." Her eyes scanned the open road, searching for a safe house, or potential dangers; Lee couldn't pinpoint which.
"Kenny, how much farther to the riverfront?" He asked to the man's back.
Kenny shrugged, not looking back at his friend. "Should be just a few more blocks up ahead."
"And there'll be boats there?" Christa inquired. She shook her head as she said it, but kept moving as hope was the only thing keeping them going anymore, so all she could do was have faith that one might remain.
"There sure as hell better be," Lee muttered, barely hearing Dominic's faint whisper of "there won't be" behind him.
"There'll be boats," Kenny insisted, his eyes dead centered and target locked to the empty street ahead. "Have to be…" he whispered, fighting to convince himself just as much as the group behind him. "Have to be..."
"It's going to be okay," Ben pitched in, half to the depressed boy next to him and half to the group at large. "Kenny knows what he's doing."
"If Kenny knew what he was doing, we wouldn't be in this damn city in the first place," Dominic muttered to Ben, his words low enough to not carry to the baseball-capped man in the lead.
"What's with you and hating this-" Ben's question stopped cold as the previously silent church bells rang with fierce intensity, echoing into the sleeping city like a dinner bell.
"What the hell…?!" Ben gasped, him and everyone else stopping cold as the group's eyes shot up towards the church.
"Maybe this city's not so dead after all…" Christa muttered under her breath.
"Keep moving," Kenny barked, turning around to the frozen group behind him. "No one's ringing that bell, it's automatic, on a timer."
Lee checked his watch, his eyebrow raising in response. "What kind of church bell goes off at twenty past the hour?" His eyes returned to the church roof once more, just in time to see a hooded silhouette disappear beneath the peak and onto the opposite side. He glared back at the group, pointing his finger straight at the bell tower. "Someone's up there!"
"A-are you sure?" Ben stuttered as he examined the church roof carefully. "I don't see anything."
"I know what I saw!" Lee insisted, turning toward the group, "I'm telling you, there's someone up in that bell tower! Someone alive!"
"I saw it too," Dominic muttered, everyone's attention now on the breaking boy, "Someone in a hoodie, light frame, like a girl."
Before anyone else could respond, the busted radio roared to life again, static flaring and disappearing within an instant. Everyone stood still as all eyes rested upon the little radio on Lee's belt.
"If I were you, I'd get out of the street. Now." The voice rang clear as day: harsh, angry, hateful even.
"I thought you said that thing didn't work!" Christa shouted at Lee, nearly dropping Omid in her shock. Lee's eyes widened as the stranger's words sunk in.
He didn't answer. Without hesitating, he pushed down the transmit button and spat out, "Who the hell is this?!"
The only answer received was a head full of static. "Hello? Hello?! I said answer me!"
Next to him, Clementine's eyes fell to the pavement. Her secret was now out in the open, ready to be torn apart by the group. The air grew still as they frantically checked the streets: doors, intersections, windows, rooftops, and all. They searched everywhere for any potential danger coming towards them, but nothing came. When the coast seemed clear, Omid broke the silence.
"What the hell was that? Is someone trying to fuck with us?"
"Sounded more like a warning…" Ben spoke, fear racing as his voice quivered, his body shaking as the fear slid down his spine.
"Guys, we should get going, this isn't going to end well…" Dominic whispered from behind Lee and Ben, barely visible to the rest of the group.
"Dominic's right, we should get out of here!" Carley yelled to the group, "Those bells are going to-"
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls…" Chuck stated flatly, interrupting Carley and staring directly at the oncoming storm.
"What're you yammerin' on about?" Kenny spat at the older man, his eyes bulging out of the sockets as the storm came into view.
"It tolls for thee…"
They stood, hundreds of them, walking towards them like moths to a flame. Everyone stared, frozen as the fear paralyzed them. They watched the walkers pour into the intersection. Their moans echoed like demons, speeding towards them like a train, and the nine survivors were onboarding passengers to Hell. Dominic did the only thing he could in Hell, screaming out to his dumbfounded group, "EVERYBODY RUN!"
No one needed to be told twice. They immediately turned on heel, sprinting back the way they came, only to be paralyzed once more as more walkers poured onto the street, blocking their only way out. They were trapped.
"Shit," Lee gasped, his eyes darting in between the group and the walkers, "Anyone see an opening?!"
"In here!" Dominic's voice rang out as he pulled open a large black gate. The group ran in without question, the young man pulling the gate closed behind them as quickly as he could. Several walkers pushed themselves against the gate, their hunger for flesh driving them forward.
"Everyone get back!" Dominic shouted as he pulled out his pistol. His crosshairs met with the walker in the center. The walker's jaw hung by a thin thread of flesh, flapping violently as it smashed against the gate. Only one eye had its pupil, which glared at him, as white as snow. Its clothes were tattered and falling off, revealing parts that Dominic never wanted to see on a reanimated corpse. It was once a girl. It was beyond revolting.
Footsteps echoed off the brick walls as four others joined Dominic. Lee and Kenny appeared beside him, guns in arms. To his left, Chuck and Carley opened fire into the ravenous herd. Kenny continued staring at the walkers, shooting for heads while he shouted back to the rest of the group, his voice a mere whisper through the chaos. "Someone find us a way out of here! We'll hold these bastards off."
The backyard suddenly burst into life as everyone searched for a way out, embedded in a perimeter of faint hope behind the metal fence. An alleyway lay just beyond the fence at the far edge of the property, running in between several of the cookie-cutter homes in the neighborhood. The house reigning over the yard was locked up tight; boards covered every inch of the dusty windows, and the back door was locked. As Omid scanned the home, he noticed only one way to escape; through the alley.
"The door's locked, we're trapped!" Ben shouted over the madness, falling back closer to the house, his fully loaded gun quivering in his palms.
"Omid," Christa cried to her boyfriend, turning to him with a look of desperation, "Now's the time for one of your 'brilliant' ideas…"
"I think I've got one, babe."
As the chaotic war raged, a loud metallic crack pierced the air. Everyone turned to watch in horror as dozens of walkers crawled through the gate, slowly crowding the thin strip of yard left. Without hesitation, Dominic fired the first shot, right into the center of the hideous walker's forehead. Like an order given by a general to his soldiers, everyone followed suit, downing five other walkers before they heard Omid's shout from against the fence.
"THERE'S AN ALLEY JUST BEYOND THE FENCE, IT'S THE ONLY WAY OUT!"
"Now that sounds like a plan!" Dominic cheered as he fired once more into the approaching horde before turning back and running straight for the metal fence. Lee and Kenny continued to shoot while Carley and Chuck took turns sprinting out of the fray. Christa helped her injured boyfriend over the fence before hopping over herself. Dominic and Ben scooped up Clementine, helping her climb over as Christa caught her on the other side. Chuck tossed his guitar over to Dominic before scaling the fence himself, reaching his hand out for Dominic to toss it back once he landed on the other side. Carley continued to fire into the approaching herd, her back against the fence.
"Ben, hop over, we'll help Lee and Kenny!" Dominic ordered the younger boy who nodded uneasily and jumped up onto the fence, as if eager to leave the danger zone behind.
Lee and Kenny joined Carley beside the fence, backs pressed as they held their weapons straight and fired into the approaching herd. The rotting flesh devoured their noses as each walker inched closer, destroying the gap between man and corpse. As each dreaded second passed, the shots roared, and feets scrambled. As Kenny pulled the trigger, the pistol merely clicked, with the walkers still standing.. Desperately, he repeatedly pulled the trigger, but the undead just kept coming; he was out of ammo. "Fuck! Come on Lee!"
Dominic and Carley raised their pistols and fired into the horde once more while Kenny scrambled over.
"Lee!" Carley shouted over the gunfire, "We have to go, now!"
Lee fired two more shots into the walker horde before turning back to Carley and Dominic. They hopped over together, a sense of deja vu washing over the two men before they were greeted by the shaken group below.
"Shit, that was close…" Omid gasped, leaning against another fence opposite the way they came.
"Damn right, " Kenny muttered, panting. "Let's get moving."
As the undead moans grew louder in the backyard they were once in, the group escaped down the new alley; rocks strolled through the path as their feets kicked the dirt, brushing the air they stomped through. Surrounding them was the black metal barricade, scorching hot as Clementine bumped into the fiery metal, letting out a groan of pain. Dominic let out a silent curse as rocks buried themselves into his shoe, for what felt like the millionth time in his life. As the group reached the tail end of the alley, they hopped into another backyard. This one thankfully devoid of the foul creatures. A red, wooden dog house stood in the corner next to the metal fence they had climbed over. The once lush green grass that sprouted within the property, now lay a barren wasteland. On the opposite end was a two-story brick house, the windows also barred and sealed. It's the same house from the game… Dominic found himself thinking as he carefully examined the home; a stone porch sat before the home, with bushes resting against the brown bricks. He ran to the door, ready to simply get away from the roaring moans of the walkers nearby. The door was locked of course, but he found the automated pet door instantly.
Behind him, he could hear Omid and Christa speaking in mere whispers. "You okay, honey?"
"Yeah..." Omid took in a deep breath, the pain from running on his injured leg ebbing away, "Yeah, I'm fine."
Well, that a plus. Dominic thought, realizing what he's done.. Chuck hadn't died in the sewers of Savannah, he was here: alive and well. He changed everything by leading them into that backyard, and saved Omid from falling on his leg and opening his wound. Dominic couldn't help but smile, the events unfolding before him as he stared into the glass. He somehow managed to save two people in one moment. Things are finally looking up.
"Are they gone?" Clementine's raspy voice rang out from where she sat down against the brick fence.
"Don't worry, sweet pea," Lee soothed as he sat down next to her, his breathing finally slowing to a controllable pace. "They're gone."
"They're still out on the street though," Carley muttered, resting her back against the warm bricks as her eyes took in the backyard around her. "We should lay low for a bit; wait for them to pass."
"Well," Dominic added, Carley's words forcing him to speak up, "The door's locked, but…" He smiled as he prepared his next statement, "There is a pet door here, one of us could slip inside and unlock the door."
Kenny laughed, "Well lookie here, looks like good ole Dom's back."
"I never left," Dominic returned flatly.
They shared a moment of laughter before Lee joined Dominic at the door, pushing against the tiny slip of metal. He frowned as it remained shut. "It's locked."
"Locked?" Kenny scoffed, hardly believing his ears, "Who the hell ever heard of a locked doggie door?"
"I have," Omid chipped in from where he and his girlfriend sat. "My neighbor had one just like that. It's radio-controlled, the dog wears a collar with a chip in it so the door only opens when the dog gets close to it."
Kenny found himself laughing once more. "Well shit, every day's a school day."
"Alright, so… where's the dog?" Ben asked. Lee and Dominic exchanged glances before turning back to the rotting dog house, and the plastic cross stuck into the ground right next to it.
"I… think we found it," Dominic muttered, gulping down the lump in his throat before turning to Chuck.
"Hey Chuck," Dominic called out to the older man, who merely grunted his acknowledgement. "Mind if I borrow your shovel real quick?"
"Just bring it back in one piece," He spoke smugly before tossing the shovel to Dominic, who barely caught it in his hands.
God, this is gonna suck. He swallowed the lump that returned in his throat as he approached the poor dog's grave. The morbid thoughts ran wild as he realized he was disturbing a creature's peace just to get its collar, but it had to be done. He stared down at the grave below him, but didn't see a deceased dog inside, rather he saw the bodies of everyone he's lost so far, and those yet to come. He blinked as the bodies were smeared with the image of Lee's death, searing his brain. His grip on the shovel tightened as he blinked away their bodies, replacing it with the dirt that actually laid there. He couldn't handle it; he must have been shaking, since the next thing he knew, Lee's hand was on his shoulder.
"Let me do it," Lee whispered to him softly, realizing the boy in front of him had seen enough dead things in his life so far, he didn't want to add a dead dog to the list.
"Okay, okay," Dominic whispered as he was brought back to the real world, handing Lee the shovel, "I just…"
"It's okay," Lee patted the boy on the back, "Go sit down with Clem and Carley, and let me handle things for a while."
The boy begrudgingly nodded, his frame slumped over as thoughts invaded his mind. The ground distorted with every step. What the hell is wrong with you? Get a grip, Dominic, you're falling apart. He shook his head as he stepped closer to the edge, his breath quivering as he tried to focus on the tiny figure ahead. You can't save people like this. He plopped down next to Clementine, her eyes instantly gazing up at him in concern as she saw his hands shaking violently. He swayed as the leap below frayed into an altered state of mind, drifting him over into a false embrace. How can I save my friends if I can't even save myself? He fell.
The grave didn't just taunt Dominic, however; Lee stared down at the black mound of dirt, disgusted with himself, almost sure it included flesh inside the moist waste. It was one thing to kill the dead, but another to dig up an innocent animal for its collar. He lifted the shovel, ready to thrust it into the dirt when Omid's voice cut through the air. "Hey, be careful. Digging up dead things isn't what it used to be, know what I mean?"
"Yeah," Lee mumbled, shuddering at this new revelation. "I hear you."
He thrusted the shovel into the earth. As Clementine, Ben, Carley, and Kenny approached the grave, each adult gazed down with apprehension, while Clementine gazed at Lee with curiosity, muttering to her protector as she avoided eye contact with the hole growing deeper into the earth. "What's buried down there?"
"It's a dog," Dominic whispered from his seat on the ground, his eyes averted from the grave, instead concentrated on the green blades of grass below him, each blade a reminiscence of a lost cause, to which he plucked from its root, dropping it back onto the soil, where he destined them to shrivel and die, just like his past.
Silence fell as Clementine's eyes drifted to the grave once more, now recognizing the outline of the bones jutting out of the dirt. Before she could realize what the bones were from, Christa wrapped her arm around the little girl and led her away. "Clementine, honey, come sit with me and Omid, let Lee work."
Lee continued to thrust the shovel into the grave until the rotten corpse of the dog was fully unearthed. They all took a step back as the unspeakable smell escaped its long prison, forcing the group to cover their noses in disgust as its wrath surrounded them.
Inside the grave, the corpse had eroded, leaving only the skeletal remain. It couldn't had been dead for too many years, for the bones seemed to still be intact. The remains of the pooch had been infested with the earthly matters of worms, which slithered to safety as Lee kicked away the final specks of dirt. The collar hung loosely around its neck, the black leather visibly weathered, with a metal piece glued to the side, dirt sticking on random spaces.
"Oh God," Ben gasped, choking on the contaminated oxygen. "Oh, that smell."
Ignoring Ben's outburst, and the tears welling in his eyes from holding his breath, Lee reached out and grabbed the corpse by the collar, fiddling with the latch. "Eugh, I can't get it off!" He reached out with his other hand to unlace the latch, but stopped short as the corpse's head fell off and rolled down into the hole below. If he wasn't retching before, he was now.
"Okay, that is not cool!" was Ben's response.
Christa openly vomited onto the ground, receiving shocked faces from the group in response, and an "Are you okay?" from Clementine.
"I'm fine, honey, it's just the smell," Christa spluttered while holding back another surge of vomit.
"Are you sure you-" Omid started before Christa cut him off with, "I said I'm fine, okay?"
"That's the sickest thing I have ever seen," Carley managed to gasp out.
"You can say that again," Chuck grumbled, covering his nose.
While everyone else stared at the dog in disgust, Dominic covered his nose and fixed his sight on the grass. He dare not turn around. Why can't you look? It's just a fucking dog. He felt weak for staying, but he didn't want to join Christa in the Vomit Club.
"Alright," Lee managed to gasp out between gags of oxygen and vomit slowly creeping up his lungs. "Let's get this door open."
Everyone crowded around the white door as Lee stumbled out of the grave and held out the collar in his hands, whispering to himself, "Here goes nothin'..."
As he waved the collar in front of the pet door, the locking mechanism roared to life, a green LED light flashing as the thing unlocked. Kenny roared in triumph from behind him, "Yes! Goddamn!"
"You know," Dominic muttered as he approached them, staring blankly at the green light. "I don't understand how that thing even has power."
"Maybe it's on a backup battery?" Omid suggested, shrugging when the younger boy gave him a quizzical look.
"A battery that lasts for three months? Hardly." While Omid formulated his response, Lee fell to his knees and peeked inside.
"You see anything in there?" Ben asked from over Lee's shoulder.
"No," Lee stated, pulling his head back out. "Looks like it's been empty a while."
Everyone's head swiveled around as the moans of the walkers on the street grew louder, like a riot closing in; they were getting closer. Christa turned back to Lee, whispering "Whatever you're gonna do, do it fast…"
"Okay, lemme see if I can reach up in there…" Lee answered as he turned back to the door.
Carley placed her hand on his shoulder, attracting his attention."Be careful."
Lee smiled and nodded in understanding before reaching his hand in for the door handle, but felt nothing but dust and wood.. There was no way he could reach it at his size. "Uugh… it's no good, I can't get it." He muttered as he stared back at the group.
Ben gazed down at the pet door before stating, "Here, let me try. I think I can-"
Before anyone could do anything, Clementine pushed past the adults and crawled into the pet door, leaving a smug Dominic and a wild-eyed Lee staring at the pet door in silence. "Clem! Are you okay? Say something!" Lee hissed.
"Don't worry, she's got it," Dominic muttered, staring down at the door with a smile stretching across his face.
One suspenseful second later, the door opened, revealing a bright-faced Clementine, cheering, "ta-da!"
"What the hell-" Lee started before Dominic cut him off with "Good job, Clem!"
"Yeah, way to go!" Ben cheered.
"I did good, right?" Clementine asked, her eyes wavering as she gazed up at Lee.
Lee sighed, realizing he was in the minority on this one, "Yes, you did. You did good." He gazed at Dominic, giving the boy a questioning stare before returning to Clementine.
Her smile grew wider as she hugged him tightly, only letting go once Omid hissed out, "Can we maybe have this conversation inside? My leg's starting to hurt like hell."
Kenny raised his pistol and peered inside, "Looks okay from here, everybody in."
Christa rushed Omid to the couch directly across from the back door, while Lee and Kenny lingered close to the door. The house was a two story, with the kitchen dominating the back half of the home. A stove stood beside the door, with a counter and fridge beside it, its usual hum long gone. Vanilla tile encircled the kitchen, with little windows placed over the counter. With no walls or doors separating the rooms, the living room stood just off to the side, a big loveseat standing in the middle. A fireplace without a fire a few feet away. A portrait of a couple stood above the fireplace, its color long gone, but cobwebs decorating its frame. Two wooden doors stood shut on either side of the fireplace, and a large window reflected out into the streets adjacent to the door.
Straight across from the kitchen was a stretch of hallway leading to the foyer, green and white stripes decorated the walls as abandoned dust covered it like a filmy layer of remorse. On the other end of the foyer stood a door, unopened for months, with a flight of stairs just around the corner, leading to the top floor.
Omid rested his head on a pillow, extending his injured leg as if it was broken with an invisible cast. Kenny, Lee, and Christa stood in a circle within the kitchen, the radio already becoming the prime target of conversation. Ben stood, isolated, watching the streets, mouth agape as countless walkers stumbled by, unmoved by their sudden presence. Dominic stood beside Ben, his eyes examining every piece of furniture like a hawk. Clementine laid her head down on the opposite loveseat, gazing at the rest of the group as Chuck strummed softly on his guitar beside her.
"So, when were you going to tell us about the radio?" Christa snapped at Kenny and Lee once everyone made themselves at home within the brick walls.
Kenny scoffed, "Tell you what?"
"That it's working! That there's someone else on the other end of that thing!" She pointed vigorously at the piece of metal hanging off of Lee's belt loop, causing Clementine to look down at the loveseat she laid on, a worried look draping down her face. "You didn't think that might be worth sharing with the rest of us?!"
"I was going to tell you," Lee countered, crossing his arms and giving this new group member no quarter. "Kenny and I only found out yesterday."
"So both of you were keeping it from the rest of us? Great." She sighed, shaking her head at Lee. "And you didn't even tell Dominic? I thought you trusted him?"
"I do trust-" Lee started before Kenny cut him off, "Who gives a shit about the damn radio? I'm more worried about whoever it was out there ringing that bell and bringing the dead down on top of us!" Kenny's eyes narrowed as his mind raced, building conspiracies in his head. "It's like they didn't want us to make it to the river!"
"What makes you think it's not the same person? Whoever was on the radio was close enough to see us in the street, and we didn't see anyone else other than the guy in the bell tower," Christa argued.
"Because that doesn't make a lick of damn sense!" Kenny spat, having heard enough of this damn woman's pestering. "Why would they bring out the dead like that and then try to warn us about it? And didn't Dominic say the bellringer looked like a girl?"
They all turned on heel when the boy in question's voice spoke behind them. "I did, yeah."
"Jesus Dominic," Lee shouted, surprised by the boy's presence, "how long have you been there?"
"Seriously, you're like a fucking ninja sometimes," Kenny muttered as his eyes grew wider.
"I've had practice" was all that Dominic said as he leaned against the archway, waiting patiently for them to continue their conversation.
"Well," Lee began, getting back on track. "I don't know who it was. All I know is, they're no friend of ours."
"Damn right," Kenny agreed. "I'm telling you, they don't want us getting to the river. Maybe they want those boats all to themselves… well, we'll see about that."
"What makes you think the bellringer isn't friendly?" Dominic chimed in before anyone else could speak. "They could simply be using the bells to lure walkers away from places they want to search."
"That sounds like a clever idea," Lee muttered, staring at the boy questionably. "But he or she put our lives at risk to do it. Not exactly friendly in my book."
"Either way, we're gonna get to those boats before anyone can do anything about it," Kenny seethed, slamming his fist on the countertop. "I'm not letting some fuckin' bell-ringer fuck this for all of us!"
"I'm not going back out there anytime soon," Christa shouted as her arms instantly crossed against her chest. "Omid needs to rest."
"Christa's right, we should rest up a bit before moving on, we've had a hell of a ride getting here," Lee said, invoking angry glares from Kenny.
"And who know's what this place might have. We're low on food, meds, fuck, about everything really," Dominic added, siding with his best friend.
"If y'all want to waste your time with this damn place, be my guest. I'm gonna go find us a boat!" Kenny snapped as he turned around, ready to storm off outside.
"Not if you don't want your face chewed off," Carley muttered from where she was listening in from the living room, "The streets are still crawling with walkers."
"You had to fuckin' bring that up, didn't you," Kenny sighed before kicking the back door with his foot, leaving a decent crack in the finish. "Fine, suit yourselves. But I'm not gonna wait around too long for someone else to grab up those boats, that's our ticket out of here."
Dominic laughed before whispering to Lee, "At least he isn't suicidal."
"Dominic?" Lee muttered angrily to the boy.
"For once, shut up."
"If you insist," Dominic deadpanned.
They strolled into the living room to see Omid relaxing on the antique couch. Christa instantly took the seat next to him. Clementine sat on the opposite couch with Chuck, who continued to play a light tune on his guitar. Carley, Lee, and Dominic examined the room closely, trying to find anything useful. The room felt empty without a TV, making it seem like it didn't really have a purpose in Dominic's eyes. Once they were finished checking the two closets on either side of the fireplace, Ben's voice carried to them.
"Place seems secure at least." He stuttered, turning away from the glass windows.
"I'll feel better when we know that for sure," Christa deadpanned, turning her attention to Lee and Dominic, "We need to check the whole house."
"Alright, fine," Kenny muttered, pushing himself off the wall he had been leaning on and turning to Ben and Carley, "We'll take the upstairs. Lee…" He turned back to his friend. "You and Dominic check down here, make sure you check every door, understand?"
Lee nodded. "Okay."
As Kenny, Carley, and Ben strolled off and headed upstairs, Dominic shot Lee a humourous glare. "You know, for leader, you sure do get bossed around a lot."
"Well, it never was official," Lee shrugged.
"Can I help?" Clementine asked as she sprinted over to them, as if randomly appearing out of nowhere. "What if there's another locked door?" Her eyes beamed at the older gentlemen.
Lee laughed and patted her cap, "I think you've been helpful enough for one day, kiddo. Why don't you just see if Christa and Omid need anything, okay?"
Her smile instantly fell into a frown of defeat, her voice barely a whisper. "Okay."
As she stomped away, Dominic shrugged, "I would've watched over her."
"She shouldn't be put in unnecessary danger," Lee lectured softly, "even if there's nothing to worry about."
"Yeah, I get that." He muttered.
With the two living room closets secure, that only left one room for Dominic and Lee to check. Strolling towards the front door of the house, they approached the last room. Dominic silently prepared himself as Lee reached out and opened the door, a broom falling down straight towards him.
"JESUS!" Lee gasped before turning on his giggling friend, "Damn it, Dom. You knew that was goin' to happen, didn't you?"
"OH MY GOD!" More fits of laughter escaped the boy's lips as he gasped for air, "THAT'S EVEN FUNNIER IN PERSON!"
Lee scoffed and play punched Dominic in the arm, who fake-rubbed it gingerly. "Asshole," Lee muttered.
Dominic calmed down almost instantly as Lee's eyes bore into him. "Sorry, couldn't help myself." The younger boy mused.
After a few intense seconds of staring had passed, Dominic rubbed his shoulder awkwardly. Lee sighed and whispered to him, "Listen, we need to talk, about the radio."
"Yes, I knew about the Stranger," Dominic deadpanned, his voice lowering so it wouldn't carry into the living room.
"And you just let her talk to him?" Lee accused, his eyes narrowed as he pointed a finger at the boy.
"I told her not to," Dominic shrugged, "But you know how kids can be, especially when someone says they'll help them find their parents."
"Did you not think of just taking the radio away from her? Or the batteries?" His voice melted into venomous poison as it seeped into Dominic.
"Honestly Lee, no. I didn't. I regret not telling her the full truth about the Stranger, but I don't think she'd want to hear it, neither do you. This is the reason why I didn't want to enter the city in the first place. I told her he was lying to her and he'd only be a danger to the group; I didn't want to become the 'villain' by taking her batteries." Dominic sighed, holding his head. "I fucked up, I know. I've had a string of fuck ups recently, starting all the way back at the farm." Dominic frown perked up into a sly smirk when his next question formed in his mind, "What about you? Why didn't you tell me about the radio, anyway? Or how we're going after Clem's parents?"
"I assumed you knew about it anyway," Lee deadpanned before registering the boy's second question, "Wait... how the hell did you know about that?" His tone switched gears from lecturing to interrogations as this question filled his head.
"Ah," was all Lee could mutter in response. "Are you going to complain to me now about how we should've stayed out of Savannah, or how we should've sent the train back in reverse to lure away that herd?"
"Nope," Dominic replied simply, "You've already made your decisions clear."
Lee sighed for what felt like the millionth time as another pin struck his heart. Recently, it seemed like him and Dominic weren't seeing eye-to-eye anymore. The boy always wanted to do the opposite of what he knew they had to do, and when Lee refused, Dominic seemed to pout (or fall apart, Lee didn't really know which.) He could hardly remember the times when Dominic was always on his side, months ago. Now, all they could ever talk about was what they should've done differently, or everything the boy was hiding. It was all starting to strain Lee's nerves.
They soon returned to the cozy living room, plopping down on the couches as their feet ached with pain. "Well," Lee started when Christa approached them, "the place ain't got much. We should be okay here for a while, at least until it quiets down outside, or a wild broom attacks us." He gave Dominic an annoyed glance before looking back at Christa.
Christa eyebrow raised slightly before nodding in response. She turned back to her injured boyfriend. "Good, thanks." She answered slowly, noticeably surprised by the input.
"Is he okay?" Lee inquired, changing the subject.
"He seems to be doing better," Christa muttered as she examined the bandages wrapped around Omid's leg closely, "He's lucky he didn't trip and fall when we were running away from the walkers. If he had, well, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
When no one replied to her comment, she changed the subject. "I was just asking Clementine if she knows who the man on her radio is." Her tone softened when Clementine's eyes fell to the floor in shame. "It's okay honey, you can tell us. Who is he? What does he want?" She kneeled down, hands on her knees, as she spoke to Clementine.
Lee and Dominic exchanged short glances before the older man kneeled in front of the sitting girl as well. "Go ahead, Clem. It's okay, you're not in any trouble."
"It's just a friend… I- I don't think he wants to hurt us." She stuttered, her eyes going back and forth between Christa and Lee. Dominic bit down on his tongue as she spoke, holding back any information that would give away his foresight to the newcomers.
"What has he been saying to you?" Christa asked, suspicion easing its way into her voice as she blurted out her next question, "What have you been saying to him?"
"I told him…. I was trying to find my parents, and that they were in Savannah… He seems nice; I think he just wants to help me find them." Her eyes darted in between Lee and Dominic, the latter glaring at her, a look of hurt in his eyes. "I-I'm sorry, I-I didn't mean to-"
"It's okay Clem," Dominic reassured her as he realized the look on his face was terrifying her. It wasn't meant to be scary, but obviously it had that effect. Chuck gazed at the group around him, before returning back to strumming on the guitar. Chuck knew there was a story behind Clementine and Dominic's exchange, but he decided to avoid the matter entirely.
"Them strangers is gonna say anything they can to distract you, kid." Chuck intervened, not taking his eyes off of his guitar.
"Okay…" Clementine whined, finding the fault in her ways.
Christa sighed as she continued her investigation. "Clementine honey, trust me, that's not what he wants. He-" Christa's sentence was cut off as Ben's voice carried down to them from the top of the stairs.
"Lee! Lee, you need to get up here now!"
"What's wrong?!" Lee called back as Dominic and him rushed into the foyer, their eyes locked on the teenager rushing down the stairs.
"I'll handle this," Dominic said softly before reaching out for the stairs, only turning around when Lee's hand grabbed his shoulder.
"No, you stay down here and try to get some more information out of Clementine, I'll deal with this."
"I've got it, Dominic." He insisted, letting go of the boy's shoulder. Dominic watched as Lee followed Ben up the stairs before disappearing.
He let out a heavy sigh before returning to the living room, glancing down at Clementine's sitting form beside the couch. He exchanged hard glances with the newcomers before turning back to Clementine, whispering to her flatly, "Hey Clem, let's go check the kitchen for any hidden supplies."
"Okay…" She muttered before pulling herself out of her chair and following him into the kitchen, leaving Chuck to play for the couple. She may only be nine years old, but she wasn't stupid, the instant Dominic turned around to talk to her, she knew exactly what he was going to say.
"How much did you tell that man about me?" He questioned her, turning on his heels and looking in her eyes.
"Not much I-" She stammered, on the verge of tears.
"What did you tell him?" He asked in a hushed whisper.
"I- I- I told him what you told me, about how you know everything…"
Dominic sighed before rubbing his temple, "Clem, I told you not to talk to him, yet you did, behind my back. I even let you keep the radio. Now, it seems like I was just an idiot for doing so." He paced the kitchen as he thought about their next move. "Now, we've got a maniac out there thinking that I'm some kind of time traveler, and will change his plans to foil mine."
"Are you saying that he…"
"Yes, Clem," Dominic muttered as he leaned against the white counter behind him, "I'm saying that he might do something bad now that he knows about me. He's a monster, and won't stop for anything to get to you."
She gazed at her shoes and the stained tiles below before asking her next question. "But why?"
"Because he lost his family, and now he wants to make a new one, by taking you as his daughter. Except he's insane, and has his wife's walker head in a purse."
She noticeably shook at Dominic's words, "That's- that's so scary." She stared at the tiles below her as an unknown woman's head plopped in her mind, and gasped at the thought.
"I'm sorry, Clementine, but you need to know the truth. He's a danger to the entire group. If we don't get rid of him before he gets to you, everything's going to fall apart." He kneeled down in front of her and hugged her as she continued to shake, "I'm not going to let him get to you, or hurt you. But you need to know that if he does, Lee will end up-" He choked on his next words as a gunshot pierced the air from above. Lee had shot the reanimated child in the attic.
"What the hell was that?!" Christa shouted from the living room as everyone returned to the foyer to see Lee carrying down the carcass of a young boy, about the same age as Duck. He was paper thin; his bones visible underneath the grey skin, even his teeth broke through the thin film of skin in front of them. To Dominic, he looked a lot like images of people he'd seen in concentration camps during World War II. In fact, it was worse, haunting his very being. He reached out and grabbed the wall for support as he stared at the lifeless boy in Lee's arms. It was bad enough seeing the dead roam the streets, but worse to see them in such a state, not to mention the twinge of guilt burrowing its way through him as the carcass seemed to change from a strange child to Duck, and back to the child again.
No one said a word as Lee carried the boy out to the backyard. Dominic followed shortly behind, leaving Clementine at the door frame. For a brief moment, the two men shared a knowing nod before Lee carefully placed the boy into the grave they dug up earlier, right next to the young boy's dog. It seemed fitting to Dominic, man and man's best friend, lying side by side in a single grave. How poetic. Dominic thought to himself. Josh would love this moment…
As Lee grabbed the shovel and slowly buried the bodies underneath the layers of dirt, Dominic gazed around, pistol at the ready. If the Stranger was going to show up again, he would be ready for it. But the man never came. Damn it, Clementine. I could've killed him if you didn't blabber about me. He found himself thinking as Lee finished replacing the dirt in the grave.
After a brief moment of silence, Lee finally whispered to the boy next to him, "Come on, let's get inside before any walkers show up."
"He's supposed to be here, Lee…" Dominic whispered back as he stared out beyond the fence they had jumped over merely twenty minutes before. He glanced around every fence, every corner of the yard, and inside every window; nothing.
Lee stopped and stared at the boy, "What do you mean?"
"He was… supposed to be watching you…" Dominic visibly shook as he finally figured it all out, "He's changed his plans, Lee. Now that he knows about me, he's making sure I can't get to him. He knew that if he was there, I would've killed him."
"Wait, Clementine told him about you?" Lee asked, his mouth agape.
"And now, we're probably going to die," Dominic whispered.
They turned back to the door as Christa's voice carried to them. "What's going on?"
"Nothing, we're just discussing the plan for getting a boat," Lee lied, his voice calm as he patted the boy's back, whispering to him, "Mention this to no one."
Dominic nodded. "Got it." He holstered his pistol as he gripped his knife, continually eying the property.
Her eyes narrowed as she stared at them. "Let's just get inside before-"
Her sentence stopped cold as Kenny stepped outside, holding himself up against the brick walls as he looked at Lee. His eyes were bloodshot, and cheeks soaked as he wiped his face and slumped against the bricks. Lee merely whispered, "Kenny?"
"I'm fine. Just… I'm fine. Sounds like things have cleared up on the road." He croaked, his lips steadily quivering. "We've stuck around here long enough, it's time to get back on track. Time to get down to the river and find ourselves a boat." Kenny muttered before pushing his way past Lee and Dominic, towards the gate.
"We shouldn't leave yet," Dominic insisted before running after Kenny.
"Come on Kenny," Lee added, following both of them, "We only checked the house to make sure it's secure, we didn't really toss the place. Just like Dominic mentioned earlier, we're low on food, water, meds, ammo…" His voice trailed off before he gave it one final try for reason's sake. "We should make sure there's nothing here we can use before we move out."
"You search it if you wanna," Kenny spat at Lee, before turning back towards the gate. "I'm done with this house. We came to this city to find a boat, and that's just what I'm gonna do."
"Maybe it's not such a bad idea to check the place one more-" Ben mumbled, appearing beside Lee, before Kenny cut him off.
"I SAID I'M DONE WITH THIS HOUSE!"
They all stared at him in silence as he caught his breath. Sighing, Lee finally spoke, "We can do both. Ben, you take one last look around the place, grab anything useful, while Kenny, Dominic, and I go down to the river and get us a boat." He eyed Kenny, waiting for another sudden outburst; all seemed peaceful, for once.
"Wait, can't I come?" Clementine's soft voice asked from beside him. "My mom and dad can't be far now, maybe we can look for them on the way to the river."
"Clem, honey…" Lee knelt down and hugged her before saying, "I think it'd be best if you stayed here with Ben. I need you to watch out for Omid and Christa, help them get ready to move out." His eyes pleaded with her, hoping she'd understand.
She frowned and pouted in response, "You said I'm always supposed to stay close to you…"
"I know, it's just this once," He turned to look back at Dominic, who nodded. "Sometimes we all have to put aside what we want for the good of the group. Hey, don't worry. We'll be back before you know it. Okay?"
"Okay," She whispered as her eyes fell to to the stone path below, cold and broken, just as his words felt.
"Daylight's burnin'. Gonna go grab my gear, then we'll head out," Kenny muttered before disappearing into the house, pushing past Carley, who had been listening beside the doorway, while Christa pulled Clementine to her.
"Come on Clem, let's go see if Omid needs anything. He'll need some new bandages soon."
They followed Kenny inside as Dominic and Lee followed shortly behind. They stopped as Ben muttered to them, "So, y'all are just gonna leave me on the bench here?"
"That's not how it is, Ben," Lee deadpanned, staring at the boy, "I need you to stay here and keep an eye on Clementine."
"Don't let her out of your sight," Dominic added, "She's pretty good at sneaking away."
Ben nodded and whispered, "I can do that…" Dominic wasn't sure if he was talking to them or himself.
"Well, just so we're clear," Lee continued staring at Ben, as if testing the boy's resolve. "While we're gone, anything or anyone tries to get inside this house, you shoot 'em. Don't even think twice about it. Understand?" He stared at the kid, trying to get it through his head.
"I got no problem shooting walkers." Ben replied confidently, grasping his pistol in defense.
"Did you hear what I said? Anything or anyone." Ben merely nodded in response, his eyes widening at the thought.
"Yeah. Good," was all that Lee said.
As the younger teenager turned around and headed inside, Dominic and Lee idled outside, alone. "Shit's about to hit the fan, Lee." Dominic whispered.
Lee sighed before turning back toward the gate, staring up at the church that now blocked the skyline. "I know."