The Shadow of Crawford
The sun hung stealthily overhead, disguised by the numerous clouds surrounding the blazing ball of fire. Savannah lay in a grey haze, all of the buildings swarmed with dead windows, and tinted bricks. The streets lay, as always, barren and dry. She clutched the axe tightly between her fingers as she gazed at her final conquest. Her last sweep through the west side of the city proved fruitless, finding only two cans of beans and a useless sea of dust. Savannah was running dry, and soon enough she'd have to leave the city behind and find fresh loot in the countryside.
Despite all of the hiking and mountain-climbing trips she used to do before the apocalypse, she didn't want to leave her hometown behind. It was strange, even for a loner like herself, to be so attached to a single city after all of the shit that's happened; but her life was here. This was the city where she was born, where she had a family. From that day her father gave her the axe to the day Crawford took her sister from her.
Yet, at the same time, she was just as ready to jet out of this city, it was Hell on Earth. Everywhere you turned, geeks roamed and crowded the dead streets. She wasn't even sure if anyone else was alive out there; death was the only thing living now. A chill rushed down her body like a cold sickness, as these were the hands she used to sustain her sister's life. The memories flooded her mind as the white, cold walls surrounded her again, the man she despised with all her heart filling her vision.
"Listen, as fun as this was, I have to put a stop to this little arrangement. This is the last I can give you."
"Oberson had someone down here yesterday taking inventory, he's really cracking down. I just can't risk it."
"We had a deal!"
"Yes, we HAD a deal. We don't anymore."
"My sister needs this medicine! Without it, she'll die! Or she'll start showing symptoms and they'll take her away! I can't let that happen."
"I'm sorry, Molly. I've done all I can, but I have to look out for myself here."
"Yeah… that's the Crawford way, isn't it?"
She zipped her orange hoodie up further as the November wind chilled the air, pushing the agonizing memory away as she covered her face with a white surgical mask. She looked out over the rooftop, gazing over the seamless stream of abandoned cars flowing down the dead street edges. She hovered, motionless as she skimmed the streetlights that burned no more, each standing like an ended life; starting with a flash, only to end in a cold, cruel instant, like the burnt out wick of a candle. That prick could still be out there, in Crawford. She couldn't let them find her. No. Not after what she did. The gap between the apartment building she stood on and the neighboring church seemed to only grow further apart the closer she came to the edge, each step only showing more of the leap's true potential, rising until abruptly, nothing. She gasped while she stared down below, a dark cave where the geeks roamed aimlessly, searching for their next meal; whether that meal would be her or someone else, that was for her to decide.
She let out a puff of air before sizing up the jump, her beloved ice-pick still clutched in her hand. "Piece of cake," she muttered as she took several steps back, "Alright, Molly" she breathed, "Go!"
Without a countdown, she sprinted towards the edge as fast as her legs would carry her, pushing off the ground as the world spun around her, replaced by the sheer ecstasy of being suspended in the air. As soon as the joyful rush of adrenaline had filled her veins, immense fear pulsed like a heart-stopping injection. Hilda in hand, she raised her wench, watching in horror as the edge flew by, her eyes popping as a dark wall of bricks came rushing into full view. Her eyes squinted as she accepted her fate, axe held high. As she closed her eyes for the last time, her ice-pick scraped against the roof of the church, screeching the beloved ring until giving a thunderous click, simultaneously latching onto the edge, sending her freefall in midair to a breath-stealing halt as she saw herself barely hanging on. She gripped her axe tighter as she took in the view; 300 feet in the air, a dead city enveloping her; this is exactly how heaven must be. If only Hilda was here. Shaking her head, she swung her body perpendicular to the edge, bringing her right arm over her head to grip the concrete rooftop, pulling herself up. She crawled away from the edge before catching her breath, sending an exasperated "fuck" to the ledge as the image of Hilda missing the mark, sending her plunging into the geeks below, played in her mind. She watched the deserted windows zoom by in rapid succession, glancing only to see a dark cavern of gravel and geeks only to….. Nothing. She made it, barely.
She pushed down on the savior axe to stabilize herself as she got to her feet, scanning the rooftop for the large bell tower that stood above the city like a vulture scanning for its prey, only to send it's shrieking roar, embellishing fear among those lost in the streets below. Barely thirty minutes ago, she had done the same exact thing, which led to her first failed sweep of the day. She looked above the tower, holding her free hand above her eyes to catch a glimpse of the sun's obscured position; standing in limbo between the east and west, right above her head beneath an array of clouds, giving a faint warmth to the dead city below, but too concealed to fire its burning wrath to those like her outdoors. Judging by her calculations, it was probably past noon now, so she had to pick up the pace if she was to finish by nightfall.
She pressed her open palm against the bricks, embracing the cold, rough terrain scratching the tip of her skin. She gazed up at her opponent: leaping edge, climbing, leaping another edge. Every step was routine; every leap, another victory. Without thinking, she pounced, throwing her right hook into the air and giving the gravel a satisfying crunch and screech. She pulled herself up, pressing her feet into the walls as she tugged on the axe, hoisting herself onto the ledge. She jumped, latched, and hoisted; again and again, until she reached the last jump. Like the many times before, she leaped (scratched, latched, and hoisted) and pulled herself up until she was standing on the precipice, the bell tower towering over the city directly to her left. The wind had picked up here, this high above sea level, brushing her chopped blonde hair above her eyes. There were easier ways to reach the tower, but this was certainly the most fun, and that's what really mattered to Molly. If anyone asked her why would she do insane shit like this, she would immediately admit that she was an adrenaline-junkie. There's no other way to describe it; the feeling of being on the tightrope between life and death, one action deciding her fate, it was exhilerating.
Gripping Hilda, she reached behind and securely slid the axe into its laced sheath on her backpack. She felt her weight shift slightly, only returning to equilibrium a moment after. Extending her arms, she crossed the gabled roof, only taking minute glances at the pesty geeks below. When she reached the bell tower, she grabbed the last ledge and climbed up and over the wooden fence surrounding it, using the stripped poles as leverage to sweep herself inside the church walls, and beside the glorious bell.
Once inside, the deep, darkened drone sounds (or lack thereof) of life escaped her, and was replaced by the non-adrenaline inducing silence of claustrophobia. She stared at her prize, admiring the almost perfect cone of metal before her. She traced her fingers over the aged cracks, drifting them over the tips of the bell just inside the metal wall of invincibility. Escaping her gaze, she looked directly to her left, finding the lever almost immediately. Without a second thought, she yanked the metal bar several times, signaling the deafening bells to awaken the sleeping city once more. With her job done, she swished back over the wooden fence, and hopped back down a few layers of gravel, only to make a less risky leap of faith onto a parallel rooftop. Without looking back, she sprinted across and jumped back onto the apartment she started from. Her new target was the riverfront; she knew the boats there were all trashed, and left for decay, but who knew what else might remain?
When the outbreak started, while the pile of bodies were being mounted, she looked out of the corner of her eyes as her sister and her were being hustled behind the walls, hundreds of people gathered around the riverfront. Only so many survived long enough to grasp the smallest of sails, and not without a serious consequence. As she kept a firm grasp onto her sister as the guard was about to shut the doors, she saw a small child on the riverfront, trying to stay close to her father. With all of the commotion and fighting for the boats and their own lives, the little girl's father finally grasped a boat, and hopped aboard before abandoning her own daughter to the insane crowd. In horror, Molly watched as she cried out for her father to return, before being knocked into the river, unable to swim.
"Let's go…" A familiar voice dragged her back to the current situation as she squeezed her sister's hand. She stepped past the barrier, the smell of the dead filling her nostrils instantly fading as the living sealed themselves off from the dead.
"HURRY!" A man on a loudspeaker shouted over the chaos. Molly turned just in time to witness a horde of undead filling the intersection behind her, devouring anyone left at the riverfront. People were torn away from their one hope of escape, some taking it down with them as they were eaten alive.
"Molly, come on! We need to go…!" An angelic voice tore her away from the scene. She clung to her fourteen year old sister with her life, shoving past the insane pack of people that fought her, and her safety.
"Damn geeks." Someone in the crowd shouted ahead, someone with a police uniform guiding her to a nearby housing facility.
"WATCH IT!" Molly cursed as the person behind her, an older man no more than forty with a beer and balding hair, pushed her from the back, shoving her and Hilda into the people in front of them.
"Molly, where is Daddy going?" Hilda whimpered, gripping her sister's hand as she tip-toed along, staring dead eyed at the back of her father's head, chasing after him and dragging Molly forward.
"Take my hand H," Molly hushed her sister, pulling her along as she tried to stay close to their father.
"Molly, Hilda, look at me." They gazed up at their father as he pushed through the crowd, "We're gonna be fine, okay? We're gonna be fine!" He shouted as he moved through the crowd, trying to make an opening for his children.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" A voice shouted from behind the crowd. Everyone stopped, nobody moved. They all turned as the eerie creaking of the gate latched itself, and the final bodies were piled on top of the barricade. Molly stood on her heels, watching as the crowd of people behind her slowly became a barricade to herself, only getting a small glimpse of the other side. She watched as a woman rushed through the street in the other direction, directly into the clutches of another walker. She screamed as the walker clawed at her arm, blood seeping out of the fresh wound. The woman screamed as the walker tore at the wound like gift from the Heavens..
"No, please Ed, stop!" she screamed, pushing against the undead's face; her final mistake. The walker roared before biting the woman's neck, ripping out her vocal cords. Her screams were subsided as nothing but wet, gurgling noise erupted from her throat, dark, heavy crimson flowing down the woman's shirt. Her body went limp as it collapsed to the ground, motionless. The walker kneeled down, continuing to feast on the flesh, forcing Molly to look away in horror.
"Molly let's-" Hilda whimpered, pulling Molly closer, but her sister's voice was merely a whisper in the storm, drowned out in the sea of noise clouding her brain. Her eyes went back to the horrific scene, vomit rising in her chest as the walker pulled out the woman's entrails chewing on the organs and tossing flesh covered bones to the cement. Before she could even blink, the scene disappeared completely. The walls have fallen down; the barricade was finished.
"Hello everyone, my name is Crawford Oberson. Some of you may know me for my various and extraordinary achievements, others may know me simply as 'neighbor', or 'friend'. But today, I am your mayor. From now on, we will stand as ONE community. Who we used to be no longer matters! Outside those walls lies death, but inside them, we will find salvation!" A voice shouted over the crowd. Molly turned to see another man, maybe the same man, with a megaphone standing on top of a car. "Welcome to Crawford, ladies and gentlemen. Now, before we get started-"
Gunshots flew through the crowd, as the flame was ignited, chaos ensued. Molly gripped her sister's hand as she pushed forward, clasping at her dad's shirt.
"DAD HURRY, WE HAVE TO GO!" Molly shouted. She stopped, dead in her tracks, the noise and chaos around her fell into a silent, distant abyss as her blood ran cold, fear and adrenaline replacing the sweet fluid in her veins as she pulled her sister into her arms, shielding her face from what lay before them. Their father fell to the ground, motionless, blood seeping out of the back of his head.
"DAD!" Hilda screeched, finally fighting Molly off of her. She crawled to him and patted his arm as if suddenly expecting him to flash his signature smile at her again. "Dad, please… no! You can't be dead! You can't be!"
"USE OF WEAPONS IN CRAWFORD WILL BE STRICTLY REGULATED. GUARDS, ARREST THEM!" Oberson shouted, his elite guard marching into action.
Molly's knees went numb, sending her onto the cold asphalt, her cheeks meeting the warm fluid on the gravel. She sat up, her vision blurry at the horrific sight of her father. She looked in his hands to see the climbing axe, glistening on the pavement. She reached out, a shockwave pulsing through her palms as she removed the handle from his still warm hand, limp to her shaking fingers.
"I love you, dad." She whispered as she stood up, embracing her sister as a guard directed them to the high school. She struggled to breathe as the guard's hand gripped her wrist, pulling her forward like a dog on a leash.
"Daddy…" A tearful moan echoed through her skull as her vision went to a blur, and warm, soft tears streaked her face.
"Get a move on, missy," The guard growled as he shoved Hilda and Molly forward, sending them face-first into the wave of survivors headed for the same building. The pushing pursued, and the fighting remained.
"DAD!" Molly shouted one more time. She knew he was gone, along with her innocence and her sanity, but she couldn't leave him, not there, in the crowd of demons. She turned and bit the guards wrists, kicking him in the leg before elbowing him with her free hand. She ran, only seeing the body laying on the ground. Something grabbed her, pulling her onward towards the high school. She turned, ready to strike, only to be met with a warm, painful slap.
"Enough, BITCH." The man shouted, dragging her into the building. She glanced, one last time, to see another guard grasping the body, carrying it toward the barricade.
"Molly…" Hilda's cracked voice called out from behind her, only solidifying their dire situation.
"Listen to me, H," Molly grabbed her as they were pulled out of the sea of chaos, "I swear to any God that might exist in this fucked up world, I'm going to protect you, do you understand? We're all we got, sis. Sisters stick together, and have each others' backs." She swallowed the lump in her throat as she stared into her little sister's face, tears pouring down their cheeks. "Dad's dead. We can't go back for him. We've gotta move on if we're gonna survive." She embraced her sister once more, tightening her grip as if hanging on to her soul, permanently planting it beside her, for her to protect, forever.
She shook her head, a tear dripping down her face as the memory filed back into her subconscious; where it slept a painful slumber, ready to wake her at night. She would sleep, the scene playing again and again like a haunted record player; striking the same, dreadful tune. She would wake up, petrified; scared to close her eyes, knowing her father's cold corpse lay behind her eyelashes, or only the crimson color surrounding the woman's body. As the nightmares drifted away, depression welcomed her painful embrace. Molly would cry, as she lay awake, her sister's voice crying out in the darkness, or memories of her dad's smile would paint itself along every God-forsaken wall in the room she lay trapped in; welcome to Hell.
God, I miss you both so fucking much.
She glanced around the rooftop, escaping the trance she was in. As she approached the edge of the roof, she gazed down at the lonesome barricade again. The bodies stacked in awkward positions, the bones piercing through the broken skin, unbalancing body parts, and releasing the horrible odor associated with rotten flesh. This was the closest she's been to Crawford in weeks, and the sight of the dead barricade still disgusted her. Her father, sister, and all her friends: gone. Everyone she knew in Crawford were now laid to rest on the barricade, every memory now another fold on the growing mound. As she inched closer to the edge, the wall became more visible; instead of a wall, establishing the territory between Crawford and Savannah, it now lay as a pile of bodies, the wasteland for any non-survivors. If she needed any proof of how inhuman Crawford had become, this was it. She tightened the grip on Hilda, anguish flowing through her veins. Molly closed her eyes as she imagined the devils that ruled here, each one of their blood staining Hilda, sweet revenge served on her bloody platter. Yet, in her heart, she knew this day would never come; there was no way in hell she was going back in there. Instead, she grasped the axe as she stepped onto the edge, turning herself around as she prepared for her final leap of faith. Using the axe as a stronghold, she lept down, clinging to the wall like a spider of death before her feet found the ground.
The street stood abandoned, with dust trailing the wind. Above, grey clouds swarmed, threatening for a thunderstorm. The buildings matched in perfect sync with the theme; structures built with grey, rotting wood, odd and eerie. She dashed across the street, tearing past the riverfront, dotted with dead trees and extinguished light poles; both rotten and dead. She hurried into a small kiosk; the shelves were covered in webs, and the red and white paint that hung above as a mini-shelter peeling down onto the sidewalk. She stood, sifting through books and other useless junk as voices on the horizon drifted toward her. She listened, slowly identifying three different voices, their muttering very distinct. One sounded very low, and rough; an older man. The second voice sounded lighter, like a younger man. The third voice had a southern accent, each drawl piercing her ear like stinging bees.
"Fucking great." She muttered to herself as footsteps echoed into the silent street, headed in her direction. She knelt down behind the kiosk, rummaging a random cabinet as she listened to the footsteps inching closer and closer. Several brief seconds passed as she grasped Hilda and pressed her axe close to her chest. The voices suddenly got lower, as if they were whispering. Footsteps echoed all around her, every sound sounded like thunder, ready for the lightning to strike her heart. She exhaled, her decision to strike racing through her skull as the wood on the other side of her back creaked, signaling whoever was stalking her was stupid enough to lean against the kiosk desk, allowing her enough time to slip out, and strike.
She jumped over the kiosk, a creaking sensation piercing the air as she confronted her opponent. The man wore a torn black hoodie and jeans, with short, messy brown hair and a thin beard with a pair of black glasses resting on the rim of his large nose. He didn't even have a weapon out. Fucking idiot. As the man turned around to face her, she raised Hilda and kicked him in the gut, knocking him to the ground. A pained grunt reached her ears as the stranger grasped his stomach and stared back up at her before yelling out "Stop! I'm friendly!"
"Yeah, that's what they all say!" She growled as she pushed Hilda against his neck.
"Hey! Let go of him!" Another voice rang out. She swung Hilda through the air, using the hook to trip this new threat to the ground, the cringing sound of skin and bone connecting with stone resounding through the air.
As she regained her balance from taking out this new threat, an older African-American man, the hooded stranger bounced back onto his feet and grasped her by the arm. He ripped Hilda out of her clutch and threw it into the road, using his leg to trip and knock her to the ground. Using her hand as leverage, she avoided a skull to stone concussion. As she fell to the earth, she maintained balance with her foot, pouncing back up into a fighting position and punching him in the gut, the air audibly escaping the man's lungs. Quickly recovering from her blow, he quickly pinned her down with his knees against her lungs, holding her arms away from her body, metaphorically disarming her. They panted heavily, each catching their breath as they stared at each other, the tension in the air rising with every passing second. The younger man stared at her, seizing the right amount of air before merely grunting out in sarcastic greeting, "So… come here often?"
"Shut up," she growled back.
They continued to stare at each other as a tiny voice yelped from behind them. "Dominic!" This one sounded different; a fourth voice. A shrill, high pitch echo off the walls. Is that a kid…?
"Clem, we told you to stay with Ben!" The younger man pinning her down shouted back. She took advantage of the moment and freed her legs before swiftly kicking 'Dominic' in the balls in rapid succession. He yelped in pain as she grasped her ice pick and reversed their position, axe at the ready and one stranger down, seconds from death.
"No!" The voice shouted again, immensely closer. "Don't hurt him!"
Something about that voice made her forget about the younger man under her scythe, blood seconds away from pouring down his neck. An image of Hilda on that horrific day raced to her conscience as she turned around to look at the little girl now standing in front of her and Dominic. She couldn't of been older than eight or nine, wearing a red hoodie with 'Brooklyn' stenciled in a white font on it, the material obviously worn with age, with little patches missing on the word. A cap covered her black hair, two tiny chopped ponytails sticking out on each side of her head, tiny bits of dirt and debris sticking to individual strands. This idiot has a kid with him. That means that he…
"You're not from Crawford…" The words escaped her mouth as she stared down at the boy she had pinned to the concrete.
"No, I'm not. Can you please let go of me now?" Dominic gasped out in pain, clutching his private areas as if she would strike them again, a look of fear etched into his eyes. She slowly retreated, her axe poised for any potential strike. The African-American's gun was raised from where he sat on his butt, staring directly at her forehead. They calmly lowered their weapons, taking a step back (or scoot back, in this man's case) from each other as they watched the other cautiously. She lowered Hilda as the African-American placed his pistol back into its holster. Dominic crawled back against the kiosk before pulling himself up, regaining his balance as pain shot through his private areas, forcing him to clutch the wooden plank for support. They all stared, the tension in the air slowly dying away.
She removed her hood, revealing her short blonde hair, and pulled off the surgical mask, a look of disdain etched across her face. These strangers attacked her, but they weren't from Crawford, so hiding her identity didn't really matter anymore. Everything went quiet, the air sending a cool breeze over them as they stood, a three-way tie, until more footsteps echoed behind her. No way these pricks are smart enough to ambush me.
"NO KENNY, DON'T!" The older man's voice rang out as Molly whirled around and swept another man off his feet. As the man hit the ground, his gun resounded with a loud BANG, sending a shockwave into the dead city. Molly kicked the gun away before the man could reach it, raising her axe to kill the idiot in one swift blow.
"NO! HE'S WITH US!" Dominic shouted to Molly, her debilitating kick still forcing light squeaks from him as he grabbed her arm again.
"Let go of me!" She snapped at him as he backed away, releasing her. She gazed around, waiting for the inevitable geek to stumble around the corner, yet it didn't come. When everything remained quiet, she spoke up. "Who the hell are you people?" Her heart pounded in her chest as she awaited another attacker, simultaneously watching all of these men as she looked for a way to run. These fuckin' pricks got another thing coming if they think they can corner me so easily.
"Everyone just calm down!" the African-American man insisted, his eyes going in between the furious redneck and the younger man, inevitably resting on the blonde assassin.
"I'll calm down once she tells me who the fuck she is!" The redneck spat as Dominic shot venom back at him just as loudly, two very distinct accents playing in par: southern, and northern.
"Maybe you should ask her that instead of fucking sticking a gun in her face, Kenny! Some fucking plan that was!"
She glared at the redneck, "Back off, asshole. The name's Molly."
"Molly, I'm Lee," the older man stated in a calmer tone, pointing out each newcomer to the woman. "This is Kenny, Clementine, and Dominic. We're not looking for any trouble."
Clementine smiled and waved at the newcomer as she let out a happy greeting of "Hi." Molly gazed at her briefly before returning her attention to Lee and Dominic.
"You guys really aren't from Crawford, are you?" She concluded.
"I don't even know what that is," Lee muttered.
"Everything beyond that barricade," she pointed back towards the pile of dead bodies blocking the street behind them. Lee and Dominic exchanged several glances, as if conveying some telepathic message, before turning back to her.
"What the hell happened here?" Lee asked, his voice exasperated.
"You sure you wanna know?" Molly shot back, her eyes changing from annoyance to sadness. Lee simply nodded. "When everything started going to shit, some people got together and sealed off that whole neighborhood. Folks willing to do anything to stay alive, and stop the dead from getting in. I try to avoid 'em."
"Why?" Kenny asked, genuinely curious.
She glared at him before muttering, "Let's just say they have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who won't, or can't, live by their rules."
"So how'd you know we weren't them?" Kenny added.
"Because there are no children in Crawford… not anymore."
This news shifted the air, tension breaking through everyone in different directions. Lee's eyes went wide as shock ran through his spine. Dominic gazed at the barricade, his eyes unwavering, as if this news didn't impede him at all. Kenny looked just as shocked as Lee, while Clementine merely stared at them all in confusion.
"What do you mean, no children? Why not?" Lee gasped, his voice merely a whisper.
"They killed them all," Dominic muttered, the truth already dawning on the man.
"No children, no elderly, no one with an advanced medical condition… basically no one who might be a burden on the community. Crawford's all about the survival of the fittest. That's how they survived, while the rest of the world went to shit around them." Molly muttered, glancing once more at the hellish barricade, the smell suddenly reaching them.
Kenny gasped in shock. "Jesus Christ…"
"Well, just the opposite, when you think about it." Molly whispered.
"People like that don't deserve to live," Dominic seethed as he stared up at the human barricade, "I'm sure not all of these were walkers when they put them there."
"Probably not," Molly whispered, images of her father and sister searing her brain; the blood surrounding them making her skin run cold. She gazed at the younger man next to her, eying him as he stared at the barricade, his face unmoving. He couldn't have been older than nineteen or twenty, probably a year younger than her. Something about him didn't fit right, like a puzzle piece being squeezed into the wrong puzzle altogether. He gazed around, unmoved by the society he lived in; a lonely outsider, who's seen this all before. He moved, each step unwavering, as if he wasn't afraid of what might come next, whether it be a bullet, or an axe, or something completely unseen. Fear didn't rest behind his eyes, or on his face. Utter defiance filled the empty gap left behind instead; he was refusing to believe something. She stared at the teenager, noticing his words pierced the world, cutting the edge off of every shitty action someone has left him, replacing it with whatever the fuck he wanted it to be. She admired that about him, not giving into this shitty world they now lived in.
"But still… children? Jesus." Lee gasped from the opposite side, forcing Molly out of her thoughts.
"Why? Why slaughter children?" Kenny whispered, laying his face in his hands..
Molly shrugged, her eyes scanning the barricade as she spoke, "No one stays in Crawford unless they can pull their own weight. Otherwise you're just another mouth to feed, another drain on their precious resources."
"What does that mean, pull their own weight?" Clementine asked aloud, her eyes darting between Dominic and Lee for an answer.
"It just means being able to help out," Lee stated, patting the little girl's shoulder, a smile etching on his face. "Like you do all the time."
Kenny sighed, "Doesn't sound like any kinda way to live to me."
"Couldn't agree more," Molly muttered, staring towards the ground as her sister's face floated through her mind.
Lee shot a look in her direction, his eyebrows raising with curiosity. "How do you know all of this?"
"Everyone in Savannah knew," she lied, her eyes glancing between her onlookers. "What was going on inside Crawford got passed around like a ghost story, except this one was true." She held her breath, waiting as the fib seeped into their mind.
Her onlookers glanced between each other, as if each had a telepathic connection to decide if she was telling the truth. After what seemed like eternity, the group shrugged, accepting her lie as if it was the truth; score.
She scanned the crowd, each looking at her with a blank stare on their face, except Dominic. He stared at her, his face full of suspicion, only to settle into a position of sympathy, etching into his eyes. God, this kid is freaking me out. He's gotta know something. Maybe he is from Crawford?
After a heavy silence, the group turned on their heels, walking back towards the kiosk. Lee gazed down at Clementine, curiosity burning in his throat. "Clem, what the hell are you doing here? How'd you get out of the house?"
Clementine stared up at Lee, her eyes tiny orbs softening as if praying for Lee's forgiveness. "Omid's bandages needed changing, so Christa, Carley, and Ben took him upstairs while Chuck went to find some bandages... I didn't just want to sit around there, I wanted to come help."
Lee sighed, rubbing his face with his hands as he scorned. "I told you we didn't need any help."
"If it wasn't for her, your friend here would probably have an axe in his face," Molly retorted, looking in Dominic's direction.
"Says you," Dominic deadpanned.
"So," Lee interrupted, trying to diffuse the tension between the two, "It's been you ringing those bells all over town?"
"Yeah," she replied simply, looking in his direction.
"I knew it, Lee!" Kenny spat, his voice raising as he pointed at the young woman, his eyes suddenly fueled with rage. "I knew she was the one who's been following us, fucking with us!"
"Get that finger out of my face, grampa, before I jam it straight up your ass," she seethed, turning on the redneck and reaching for Hilda. As he lowered his hand, she continued, gently letting go of the axe handle. "I haven't been following you. I don't even know who the hell you people are!"
"Calm down, Kenny. The voice on the radio was a guy, remember?" Lee offered, hoping to diffuse the situation for the millionth time.
"Yeah, well," Kenny sputtered, trying to find the words. "Whoever you are, ringing those bells this morning nearly got us all killed, raised the dead all around us!" Kenny continued to rant to Molly.
"That's the idea, genius!" She spat back, anger shifting in her voice. "It's how I get around. I ring a bell in one neighborhood to attract the local geeks toward it, buys me some time to scavenge the areas they cleared out." She shuffled her feet, waiting for any moment when the redneck may lose it, and preparing to defend herself when the time came.
Kenny roared in laughter, the anger dying away for a moment. "Geeks? Is that what you call 'em?" He continued to laugh, nearly forgetting about how she almost killed them for nothing more than sneaking up on her moments ago.
"Yeah," she muttered, her voice lowering as her face noticeably grew warmer with embarrassment. "You know, like at the carnival? They'll eat anything, alive or dead."
"That's pretty smart with the bells," Lee complimented, neutralizing the conversation as the table tipped and turned, the hairs raising on his skin with each shift in the power struggle.
"Doesn't take much to outsmart the dead, or this guy," she pointed at Dominic, who merely grunted his acknowledgement before inwardly laughing at her comment. "They're a bunch of dumbasses. Just gotta move fast, get in and out before they start to wander back again." She stood tall, her ignorance showing before letting out a deep sigh, "Look, I'm gonna ask you people again: you're not from Crawford, so who the hell are you? What are you doing here?" She glared at the strangers before her, anger rising as they spoke the bullshit they told. What the hell are these dumbasses planning?
"Just trying to survive, same as you," Dominic shrugged before he pointed at Kenny. "He's looking for a boat."
"Don't think I haven't noticed you shittin' on my plan kid. It's the only way we're gonna survive!" Kenny growled, shifting his anguish to the younger man. "We're gettin' that boat and gettin' the hell out of here, whether you like it or not."
"Yeah, good luck with that," Molly muttered. "Anyone with a boat took it out of here as soon as people started eating each other. Any that got left behind, Crawford stripped 'em for parts, or they were destroyed in the chaos. Cars too."
Kenny shook his head in defiance, rejecting this piece of information. "There's gotta be somethin'."
"If there was, do you think I'd still be here?" Molly spat, shoving a finger to her chest. "I've been over every inch of this city, this whole place is picked clean."
Kenny kicked a piece of trash across the brick road before storming away, his temper reaching a boiling point. "Goddamnit! Fuck!"
"Hey! Moron! You wanna keep your voice down?!" Molly hissed to the redneck, her breaths uneven as her temper raised alongside his.
Kenny stared off into the ruined boats below before all the air in his lungs rushed out in defeat, common sense returning to him like an old friend, before whispering under his breath. "Shit."
"Since you're not getting on any boat, I'd advise you folks to go back to where you came from, before-" Her words stopped abruptly as the moans of geeks pierced the air, at least ten stumbling around the corner. She sighed. "Great, just great."
They all stared into the road, watching in fear as the walkers headed in their direction. Clementine grasped onto Lee, clinging to him for protection. The three men raised their pistols as the dead stumbled closer.
"Isn't that the-" Kenny mumbled, his eyes widening with every new walker coming into focus.
"...the way we came" Lee muttered, confirming how fucked they all were.
"Fuck! Gunshot must've brought 'em back," Kenny deadpanned, focusing his barrel on the first walker he saw. The walker limped down the street, already halfway to the kiosk. The groans grew louder, filling their ears with dread as the inevitable lay before them.
"Yeah, who's fault is that Kenny?" Dominic shot back, glancing at the redneck before returning his gaze at the horde before them.
Kenny's eyes narrowed as he glared at the boy, "You're really gettin' on my nerves, Dominic."
"Well maybe if you stop being an asshole-"
"Can you two please just kiss and make up so we can get the fuck out of here?!" Molly growled, already plotting her escape; a nearby alleyway catching her eye in the mist of panic.
They both glared at her as Clementine's voice cut through the tension. "Isn't there another way back to the house?" She looked around the busy street, as if a yellow brick road would appear to lead them to safety.
"Molly, is there-?" Lee started, turning back to look at the younger woman for answers, but she was already gone.
Fuck it, if these idiots want to just stand there: let them. Molly's morbid thoughts ran wild as she tore away from the frozen spectators. She inhaled as she dashed through the street, turning off into an alleyway behind the dumbasses. I'm not dying for a bunch of strangers. She reached behind her, pulling out Hilda as she rushed at the brick wall, leaping into the air. Using the axe, she hooked onto a railing, pulling herself up into a fire escape. Behind her she heard distant shouts below, wafting in from the street she just escaped. "Hey! You're just going to leave us here?!"
"Sorry, I must've missed the part of our conversation where you become my problem!" Molly shouted back, preparing for another jump, higher than before.
"Come on! I thought what we had was special!" Dominic shouted, a tone of sarcasm dripping from the fake sadness in his voice.
"You're not really helping your case kid," Molly retorted as she turned away from the strangers to hop for the next fire escape, but stopped dead in her tracks as Clementine's voice screamed from below. "Don't leave us here! Please?!"
Damn it. Goddamnit Molly. She looked down at the metal plank she stood on, Hilda's tiny voice echoing in her mind.
"Don't leave me! Molly!"
A tear threatened to break as she turned around, staring at the little girl with pigtails below. "Fine! Come on, make it fast!" She crouched down and reached out her hand as Kenny and Lee held the little girl up for her to grab. She caught her, pulling the girl up onto the metal plank beside her. The moans grew louder as the undead swarmed into the alleyway, leaving not much time left. She breathed, reaching out again and pulling Kenny up. With the clock slowly ticking, she returned for the sarcastic Dominic, who reached out for Lee.
"Come on!" He shouted to the man below.
"Lee, come on!" Clementine's tiny voice screeched alongside him.
Lee jumped, suspended in the air for a fraction of a second before his hand clutched Dominic's. The younger man gasped out in pain as he tried pulling Lee onto the platform. "God damn it, Lee. You're fucking heavy!" He winced in agony as he gripped the older man's hand tighter, attempting to lifting the man up. He screamed, pulling harder as gravity came into play. With every tug on the man, he only lowered, his fingers slipping with every jolt.
"Just pull!" Lee shouted, swinging his free arm to find a grappling point, but to no avail.
Dominic screamed again, his shoulder aching like a burning fire, a warm liquid seeping through his hoodie. He pulled, one last time, only missing, causing Lee to slip out of Dominic's fingers as the younger man grasped at his shoulder, blood dripping down his white undershirt.
"Fuck!" Dominic gasped, trying to ride out the immense pain as he reached for Lee again, but it was no use; he couldn't lift him. Kenny brushed past the injured man, reaching for his fallen comrade. Lee reached for his hand, but the walkers were closing in, and they were out of time.
"Nooo! Lee!" Clementine screamed, reaching her tiny fingers out in desperation.
"Lee, just run! Get the fuck out of there!" Dominic barked out, still clutching his oozing wound.
Molly watched as Lee stood, pondering his next move. He ran, pushing a dumpster out of his way, only to be met with more walkers stumbling toward him, blocking his only escape. He stood, glancing as walkers surrounded him on all sides. Their moans like a haunting invitation to Hell, piercing his ears with their mantra. The sudden smell of death invaded his nostrils, sending him into a sudden panic. There was nowhere left to go, except down.
"C'mon Lee, get your ass outta there!" Kenny shouted.
Lee looked at his feet, noticing a manhole in the pavement. He crouched down, trying to pull the cover with his bare hands. "Gah! Can't get it open!" He seethed.
"Here!" Molly threw down Hilda, the axe landing with a clank at his feet, "Use that to pry it open!"
He grabbed the axe and stuck it into the small crack between the cover and the side, sticking the sharp end into a hole in the grate and pulling the thing off the lid. He stood up, leaning away as rotten flesh filled his vision. They crawled, grabbing at his jeans, shirt, and arms. Without hesitation, he held his breath and jumped down into the manhole, grabbing onto the ladder as quickly as he could, disappearing from sight.
"LEEEEE!"Clementine screamed out for the man as Molly and Dominic pulled her away from the scene.
"He's going to be fine, Clem! Let's just get out of here!" Dominic snapped as he grabbed her hand, pulling her along as they climbed the staircase to the roof.
"We're fucked, we're fucking fucked," Kenny shouted into the air, running up the stairs. "We've got no fuckin' boat, and now we've lost Lee."
"He's fine Kenny!" Dominic shouted back, his eyes glaring at the older man before finding Molly's in front of him.
"You don't know that!" Kenny retorted, glaring at the kid.
"Well, I know a lot more than you do," he muttered under his breath.
"Will you two just shut the fuck up and tell me where we're going?" Molly growled, an awkward silence falling down in her wake as they reached the roof.
"Okay," Dominic mumbled as he walked towards the edge of the roof, "The house is this way."
Everything became a blur after her last conversation with Dr. Logan. She couldn't believe it; he ended the fucking deal! If she didn't get that medicine for her sister, she was going to start showing symptoms. It was only diabetes, but it was enough for Oberson to either kill Hilda, or banish them both. She couldn't take the risk, she wasn't going to let her sister die. An hour after her 'deal', she burst into their apartment, packing up their belongings before Hilda could even mutter a groggy greeting.
"Molly?" Hilda mumbled, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as she gazed up at her sister. "What…. are you doing?"
"Pack your things, we're leaving," Molly deadpanned, stuffing the black backpack in her small hands with clothes and food.
"What's going on?" She yawned, sitting up from her spot on the couch.
"We don't have time to discuss this," Molly snapped, her impatient eyes darting to her sleepy sister before immediately falling to the ground in guilt, "I'm sorry."
Hilda gazed at her while she finished packing the backpack, "Did you get the medicine?"
"Yeah," Molly sighed, tossing the package to her sister, "This is the… last we're getting."
"What? Why?!" Her sister shot back, looking at the package as if it was now an insult.
"Fucking bastard cut us off," Molly muttered. "Which is why we need to leave."
"We can't survive out there!" She deadpanned, glaring at her older sister.
"You can't survive in here!"
They stared at each other, the situation weighing down on them as silence erupted in the tiny apartment. This was a no-win scenario: whatever they did, meant death. Molly, however, preferred to go down fighting than to succumb to Oberson's maniacal laws.
"I'll… fine," Hilda mumbled as she finally forced herself off of the couch.
"Just grab what you need, we can't carry everything," Molly lectured as she slipped on the backpack, turning to grasp her climbing axe that she had hanging on the wall above their fireplace.
"I know, mother," Hilda deadpanned before disappearing into her bedroom. She rushed to her dresser, pulling out clothes by bulk and shoving them into the backpack Molly gave her. As she reached for her last pair of jeans, her eyes darted to a frame on the tip of the drawer; a family portrait. Molly, dad, and herself, together, on one of their little climbing trips in Nepal.
"God, I miss you so much, dad..." She whispered as she reached for the picture, before shoving it into the backpack.
"You ready yet?" Molly shouted from the other room.
"Almost ready!" She shouted back, rushing to her bedside table, grabbing the knife that sat on top. She flicked it, revealing the silver blade directed towards the ceiling, ready to fight for her life. She sighed, remaining calm as she folded it back down, placing it in her jeans.
"Ready!" She pursed as she left her bedroom, meeting Molly by the front door of the apartment.
"Follow me, don't speak unless I say so, got it?" Molly hissed, using Hilda's swift nod as signal to leave. She placed her hand gently on the knob, turning it silently as she peeked through a tiny slit, axe firmly in hand. Molly glanced around, nobody stood in the halls. All they had to do was slip out.
"Come on." She hissed, walking into the hallway with her sister in tow. The apartment stood in the center of a busy street, their room on the second floor. The walls bore a brownish hue, with a metal railing guiding the stairs. They shifted down the railing, not making a single sound as they came to a fire exit. Raising her index finger to her lips, she opened the door.
A seemingly dead street lay before them, a ghastly mist hanging in the air. The trees stood, barren of leaves, and the ground abundant in rich, dried soil. The buildings stood tall, staring down at the civilians below with their evil glares; each with its own haunted theme of beautiful patterns and an overlay of death and abandonment. The streets themselves buzzed with busy souls, each with a perfect body, and a perfect mind. The street, instead, buzzed with the Crawford norms, each a conformist to the strict ways of their society.
The two girls did not meet this agenda. They huddled, close together as they blended in with the crowds of mindless puppets, all in fear of Big Brother. With her climbing axe at the ready, she judged each puppet for what it's worth: a drone or a guard. Nobody looked twice as they passed the high school, already halfway there. A few steps closer, the barricade came into view, the puppets of patrol watching every corner on the street.
"Shit." Molly breathed, stopping where they stood.
"Wha-" Hilda began, only to be shushed by her big sister. Molly stalked the crowd, huddling close to the street's buildings whenever possible, the gates getting closer with every step. As the sisters moved closer, the atmosphere began to darken. Puppets began to do double-takes as the buzzing turned into whispers, all questioning their reasons for existing. Molly's heart began to race as she hurried, reaching behind her to grasp her little sister's hand when the fatal words echoed behind her.
Molly's eyes darted behind her to see Dr. Logan close behind, guards flanking his shoulders, guns at the ready. The sisters began a head-on sprint for the gates, more guards pouring out of the high school doors. The puppets fled the streets, the city soon turning for a red alert, after the two traitors.
"They stole from us!" The whispers erupted from all around them, picking the ease out of the traitors, causing the scene to worsen as the two girls sprinted faster.
"Stop! You are under arrest!" A shout came from behind them, causing their blood pressure to rise, their breaths now quick waves of panic as sweat poured down their bodies.
"Stop, or you will be fired upon!" Oberson's voice suddenly erupted over the street, causing everything to go still as the girls stood beside the barricade. Moans whistled in their ears as they faced the soldiers, guns raised, lights blinding the two girls.
"YOU'RE GOING TO KILL US ANYWAY, YOU FUCKERS!" Molly screamed, gripping her axe, ready to stand her ground. She slid in front of Hilda, pushing her up in one swift moment.
"Give up the girl, Molly," Oberson shouted as he walked through the fog of flashlights, "and you'll be spared."
"Fat chance," Molly growled, clenching the axe tighter.
"I'm trying to be civil here," He shot back, "give her to me, or you'll die with her."
"FUCK YOU!" The sisters shouted in sync.
The dictator merely scoffed, approaching them fearlessly before adding, "I always liked you Molly, you've got such spirit. Don't let her bring you down."
"There's nothing wrong with me!" Hilda screamed, tears in her eyes as she took a step back towards the undead barricade. "What have I done wrong? I've lived an innocent life, while I watched EVERYONE around me kill each other! Every day I watched people; the sick, the elderly, the diseased, SLAIN. For WHAT? For being ALIVE? It wasn't mine or anyone's choice to be this way, but it's who we are, and we ARE NOT inferior to ANYONE, so why are we being SLAUGHTERED LIKE ANIMALS?"
"BECAUSE YOU ARE A THREAT!" Oberson roared at the girl, "BECAUSE PEOPLE LIKE YOU WILL ONLY BRING US DOWN!"
"TO WHAT? RUIN? DAMNATION? YOU'VE ALREADY ACHIEVED THAT!" She screamed, before turning towards the barricade.
"DON'T YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME!" Oberson shouted to the two girls.
Molly let out a fierce roar, as Hilda released a cry of pain. They climbed, body after burned, destroyed body, the barricade seeming a tower of hope. This was their escape, a run for their lives. They climbed, stepping over the top before jumping, seeing more soldiers on the other side; they were surrounded. Tears streamed down Hilda's cheeks as she took out her knife, the blade shining in the lights of the soldiers. She turned, prepared to jump.
The shots fired. Bullets whizzed past their ears as they attempted to escape, until a blood-curdling scream pierced the air, a loud thud following soon after.
"YOU BASTARDS!" Hilda wailed, looking at her right leg, blood gushing out of the bullet wound. She panted, her vision distorted as pain engulfed her body as she stood, grasping the silhouette of the tower before something grasped her by the hair.
Molly turned around, looking down as she saw her sister, a gun to her head.
"Molly… Please! Don't leave me!" She screamed,.
Molly turned around, the soldiers now gone, only geeks ahead of her downward path. She jumped, landing swiftly on her feet before running, away from Crawford as fast as she could. She failed to catch her breath, only short bursts of wheezes going through her mouth as adrenaline pulsed through her veins, her mind frantic as panic grew in her body, itching for a way out, anything.
"DON'T LEAVE ME! MOLLY!" A shiver sent a shockwave up her spine as the scream erupted, causing her to stop, cold in her escape. She turned around, a lump in her throat choking her oxygen as she stared, starry-eyed.
Molly stood, staring at her sister, knelt down on her knees, with gashes on her lips, and eyes black as blood seeped from her mouth and nose. Guards surrounded her, some with cuts evident on their faces. Oberson stood behind her, his pistol pressed against her skull.
"I warned you!" He shouted. The gun fired, blood staining his face and the surrounding guards. The body fell, limp, onto the pavement, a familiar knife stuck into the back of her spine. Oberson grabbed the body, as if it was a ragdoll, and chunked it onto the barricade. In one quick motion, he grabbed his lighter from his suit pocket and lit it, setting the little girl's body aflame.
Molly fell to her knees, frozen in agonizing suffering. "Oh my god, Hilda." She whispered, tears breaking free and running down her cheeks, dripping onto the axe in her hands.
"Hilda… I'm- I'm so sorry…!" She wailed, looking up at Crawford, only seeing a flame, the destruction of her beautiful sister. The guards and Oberson were gone, having retreated back into the city. Her chest pounded, pain beating with every beat, her broken heart screamed out, louder than any gun could fire. She lay there, crying, every memory compressed into the drips of moisture escaping her body, every laugh muted to eternal silence with every splash, leaving her with nothing; leaving her alone.
"They will fucking pay for this."