Strangers In The Woods
Three months after taking the motor inn...
Coming from Texas, Dominic was used to the scorching sun, but summer in Georgia was something different entirely, and he's never been so drenched in sweat in all of his life. Every nook and cranny of his body was covered in it, and the stench had long since faded from his nostrils as he acclimated to it. The only real thing that separated the summer heat from the ones he experienced growing up is that the electricity had been out since the night they took the motel. No air conditioning, no ice cubes: nothing. Just one scorching hot day after the other. If there was a hell, this had to be it. Now, it was almost October, as much as he could tell by the changing colors of the leaves, and his miraculous ability to possibly step outside and not be met with a wave of super-heated air. It was definitely a welcome change.
Dominic was glad that one of the first things they did after going into town for the first time was raid one of the department stores. Walking around barefoot, in nothing but a T-Shirt and pajamas got old extremely quickly, and the tarmac of the roads felt like they burnt his feet to a crisp. During one of these raids, he grabbed a plain gray shirt, and white tank top, with a pair of blue jeans along with a pair of basketball shorts, for when he was on guard duty and the odds of getting bit in the leg was significantly low. Sometimes he would feel like he was sweating to death from the heat, but there was only so much he could do to keep cool.
Sometimes he forgot he was in a universe that he didn't belong in. It felt ridiculous that he was already going native after only three months, but it's true. Sometimes he forgot that he knew every single thing that was going to happen. It usually came back to him after a long talk with Lee or Clementine, whom he had gotten to know better since they took the motel. The game never really did justice the amount of free time you have in the apocalypse, and the time you spend getting to know the survivors in your group.
He didn't really spend much time around Katjaa and Duck, and the only time he ever really talked to the kid was when he and the boy were with Clementine, sharing stories and making the best of the situation. Carley didn't talk much to Dominic, except about Lee, which Dominic saw coming given how she knew what Lee had done, and was slowly beginning to like the man whom she at first feared would be a danger to the group. Kenny was probably the only one besides Clem and Lee who ever talked to him on a regular basis. They would talk for what felt like hours sometimes, about life before, about the situation at the motel, and about the future. Dom never really liked it when they talked about the past or the future, as he hated lying to Kenny about what was to come. It was slowly eating away at him, like a plague. But the Floridian really grew on Dominic; he did have a temper, but he was loyal to the very end. He was beginning to regret having Clementine kill him in the game. Dominic and Lilly never really talked unless it was about the motel, and during weekly meetings with all the adult survivors to plan out skirmishes into the town or go over supply counts.
That left the newcomer. Referred to by some as the "Savior", well, probably only by Dominic, but he had come right when the group needed him most. About two and a half months, a man named Mark came across the motel group, with enough food to last them all for months. For Lilly, the only reason she even let him into the group was because of the food, but everyone liked him pretty much immediately. He had a sense of humor, so he fit in immediately with Clem and Dominic's group. He's the only one Lilly has yet to yell at, and coming from Lilly, that's almost a miracle. Now, the food was running low again, and Lilly rationed what was left. Sometimes people even had to go through the night without eating, this was a new kind of hell that Dominic was not used to. Three months pass and he had already lost a lot of weight, not only from the lack of a surplus of food, but from runs into the town as well. If he wasn't so damn hungry all the time, he probably would feel proud to be skinnier again.
Dominic peered down at his watch, watching the seconds go by. It was about half past three, and he was dead tired. Often, he would find himself either standing guard atop the RV with the rifle he had only recently gotten used to using, or going out into the town on scavenger runs with Lee or Kenny, sometimes both. Today he was on guard duty again, and it was possibly one of the most boring jobs inthe world. Just sitting there, staring out at the road or into the treeline; hoping and waiting for something to move; for something to shoot. Some days it wasn't that bad; you'd get the occasional walker come from the town down to the motel, often which would require using a little more stealthy approach. He would pull out the black hilted, eight-inch knife given to him by Mark out of it's holster attached to the belt loop of his pants and head out beyond the dumpsters they used as gates, and stab the walker right in the head, no fuss. After he killed the walker, he would carry it off into the woods. Other times, a whole group of them show up, and the only safe way to kill them was to use the rifle.
Deep in thought, he jumped slightly as he heard the familiar clank of a seat being set down next to him, and looked over to see Clementine crawling into it. She rarely came up here to be with him when he was on guard duty, but he always appreciated it when she did, since it gave him someone to talk to.
"Hey," He greeted, laying the gun in his lap, "Got tired of hanging out with Duck?"
"He talks too much," She replied bluntly, smiling her eight year old smile.
Dominic laughed softly and added, "And I don't?"
"But you like to tell stories, and they're always so fun to listen to," she looked down at her feet as she wiggled her toes.
"Well, I thank you for keeping me company. Otherwise I'd just sit here, lost in my own thoughts all day. Until something interesting finally happened," He laughed again before continuing, "I've never really been that good at just sitting down and doing nothing for hours on end. I'd simply die of boredom!"
They sat there for a few moments in silence, listening to the rustle of the leaves in the wind, and the sound of someone hammering nails into a piece of wood below. It seemed so peaceful. About an hour before, Lee, Kenny, and Mark went out hunting for animals: deers, rabbits, anything they could eat, and they haven't been back yet. So that left Clem and Dominic sitting atop the RV, Duck with Katjaa, helping her with moving supplies into the motel, Lilly in her room (or Headquarters), and then there was Larry, Lilly's dad, who did nothing but snap at anyone who crosses him and worked on the barricade. He especially didn't like Lee, which Dominic saw coming.
After what felt like an eternity of peaceful silence, Clementine finally spoke up, "You never told me what you did before all of this."
"I didn't? Hmm..." Dominic thought it over, considering how he could word this without giving away any information about being from another universe, "Well, before I ended up here, I was a Pharmacy Technician. It's a rather boring job, you probably wouldn't like to hear about it."
Clem thought it over, trying to figure out the job title he had told her, "So what did you do?"
"Oh, lots of things, dispensed prescriptions for patients, counted them, sold them on the registers. Learned a lot about medicine working that job," He replied, looking down at the ground as he thought back to the friends he made working that job, "My friend Josh worked there with me. I persuaded my manager to hire him, he and I have been best friends for years, and I thought it would be cool to work together."
"Sounds fun," She replied, "Well, more fun that being in school all the time."
"It was, I guess. Although, my high school years were some of the best in my life."
"GET THE GATES OPEN! WE GOT WOUNDED!" The sudden cry had Clem and Dom on their feet, looking out beyond the fence, where Lee and Kenny appeared from the brush. Mark appeared next, carrying a man in a blue letterman jacket (who was missing a foot, to their disgust), with the help of a younger boy wearing the same jacket.
"Clem, get Lilly!" With the order given, they sprung into action, swiftly climbing down the ladder from the RV, Dominic heading for the dumpster-gate, and Clem heading inside the motel. With as much force as he could muster, he pushed open the gate, letting Lee's group in.
"Who the hell are these people?" Lilly's voice came from behind them as they propped the injured man into the bed of an abandoned truck they had in the motor inn, everyone seemed to be speaking at once, trying to figure out the situation.
"Lee, are you okay?!" Clem's voice pierced through the barrage of voices.
"Get him into the truck, I'll see what I can do," Katjaa told Mark and Ben.
"Kat! Can you fix him?" Kenny asked his wife, who stumbled for a response.
"Jesus, Ken. I… I-."
"LEE!" Lilly's voice roared over everyone else's, all heads turned to look at her, "What the hell?! You can't just be bringing new people here! What are you thinking?!"
"We couldn't just leave them there," Lee rebutted, wide eyed, "I thought we could save his life! I'm the one who took his leg, that makes me responsible."
"Well that was a stupid thing to do!" Larry spat at Lee, who glared back at the older man.
"We are not responsible for every struggling survivor we come across! We have to focus on our group! Right here, right now!" Lilly shouted at Lee, getting closer with every booming word.
"Well, hang on!" Carley interjected, getting in between Lee and Lilly, "We haven't even talked to these people yet! Maybe they can be helpful!"
"Come on, Lilly. These are people! People trying to survive just like us. We've gotta stick together to survive!" Mark threw in, earning him an angry look from the de facto leader.
Everyone went silent for a moment, before Lilly spat in a low, dominant tone, "The only reason you're here is because you had food. Enough for all of us. But that food is almost gone, we've got maybe a week's worth left," She turned towards the younger stranger and yelled again, "And I don't suppose you guys are carrying any groceries, are you?!"
The brown-haired boy gulped and stuttered, his thoughts couldn't come fast enough as the fear took over, "Um… no."
Rolling his eyes, Mark walked away, "Fine. You guys fight it out, then. Welcome to the family, kid."
Dominic stayed out of the argument for the most part, but he decided to finally speak up as Clementine pulled the boy away to look at her drawings, "I'm with Lee on this one, they couldn't of just left them in the woods. Without their help, that man would be dead," He mentally kicked himself as he remembered that the man they saved was going to turn anyway.
"You always side with Lee, Dominic. What is it with you two anyway? Conspiring against me?" Lilly crossed her arms, directing all of her scorn in Dominic's direction.
"Because, like it or not, Lee has been making the best decisions he can make given the circumstances. So lay the fuck off, will you?" He replied, standing his ground; he was not taking her shit this time.
"You know, you like to think you are the leader of this little group, but we can make our own goddamn decisions!" Kenny yelled at Lilly, closing in, so close spit almost landed on her face, "This isn't your own personal dictatorship!"
"Oh, come on! You're being dramatic!" Carley yelled as she stormed off, "Everything always turns into a power struggle between you two. I'm not gonna be a part of that!"
"Hey, I didn't ask to lead this group! Everyone was happy to have me distributing the food when there was enough to go around! But, now that it's running out, suddenly I'm a goddamn Nazi!"
"Kenny's right," Lee interrupted, "Yeah, you're in charge of the food, and the schedules, but you're not in charge of people's lives!"
"Really?!" She huffed, feeling the argument was already swaying out of her favor.
"You weren't there. Lee made a choice, end of story," Kenny spat angrily before walking off.
"Look," Lee added, trying to calm down the conversation, "Once Katjaa patches that guy up, you can kick them out of here… Send 'em out on their own, I couldn't care less. But they at least deserve a fighting chance against the walkers," When she looked unconvinced, he finished, "And for the record, Kenny wanted to leave those people behind!"
"If Kenny would pull his head out of his ass for five seconds, he'd realize that I make these decisions to protect his family! We simply don't have enough food," Lilly strained, trying to bring reason into the argument.
Larry angrily stomped up to Lee, "I don't see any of you stepping up to make the hard decisions! My girl's got more balls than all of you combined!"
"We get it, Larry. Shut up with the fuckin' 'balls' thing already," Dominic replied, crossing his arms. He wasn't going to listen to this old piece of shit insult his friends.
Larry marched over to Dominic, waving his finger like a father scolding a disrespecting son, "You shut the fuck up, boy," His forehead pulsed, as if a blood vessel was about to burst, "I don't need your shit today!" Dominic and Larry stared at each other, like wolves ready to fight to the death. Fists clenched, feet planted.
Lee quickly interjected the two, feeling the hostility rising,"Uh, Dom, let me handle it, go see what Clementine and that kid are up to," Dominic gave Larry one last glare, then walked off, clenching his fists tightly.
He hated how Larry always insulted everyone in the group, especially Lee. He never got along with anyone, and that made much harder to work with, let alone live in the same place as him. That was one of the first times that Dominic had openly got into a fight with the man. His heart was beating so fast it felt like it was going to burst out of his chest. Adrenaline pumping through his system as he considered punching him in the face. Of course, that would be suicide. Larry could tear him to pieces, with all that muscle he had. His bad heart made those conversations difficult, since everyone had to be careful not to provoke him that far.
He looked over to where Clem and the boy were sitting (His name was Ben, if Dominic's memory served him), she was showing him pictures that she drew. There was one of Kenny's family, then there was one of Lee, Clementine, and what Dom assumed to be himself. She looked up at him as he approached. That was when he noticed Clementine's hat was not on her head.
"Hey Clem, where's your hat?" He asked, half knowing the answer.
"I don't know. Can you help me find it?"
"Of course, when did you last see it?" He asked, sitting down next to them. Ben decided he didn't want to stay any longer, and walked off.
"I had it a few days ago," She replied, "But I woke up and it was gone."
"Don't worry, Clem. I'll find it," Dom replied, patting the younger girl on the shoulder. He looked back towards the treeline beyond the fence, feeling as if someone was watching them. He frowned as he began to remember the crazy lady from the woods who had stolen Clementine's hat, and tried to kill Lee and Danny St. John. She was out there, watching them.
That's when he heard Lilly yell to Lee, in a harsh, sarcastic tone, "You know what? If you think I'm doing such a shitty job, then you do it!"
Well, looks like the shit just hit the fan.
"That's all the food we have for today, YOU decide who gets to eat."
Lee looked down at the four items of food Lilly had in her hands in shock, "Lilly…"
"No, I'm serious. Pick up that food, and start handing it out. You see how it feels to not have enough food for everyone."
He hesitantly took the food from Lilly, looking at all of the hungry faces around him. He had four pieces of food for eleven people. How the hell was he going to work this out?
Dominic stood up from where he was sitting next to Clementine, and walked over to where Carley was sitting in a lawn chair, "That is some A-Grade bullshit."
"I know."She replied; a few seconds later, Lee walked up to them, the frown on his face told the whole story.
"Lilly has me handing out the food," He said, crossing his arms.
"We heard. It's complete bullshit that she pins that on you, Lee," Dominic replied, trying to comfort his friend, "But I'd rather have you handling things than her anyway."
"I agree with Dominic on this one, that can't be an easy job," Carley added, she felt that Lilly had gone too far this time, making Lee have to accomplish the difficult (and impossible) task of feeding everyone in the inn.
"It's not. I won't be able to feed everyone," he looked them both in the eyes, hoping that they could give him the advice he needs to get through this, "What should I do?"
"Well, if you wanted to get in good with Lilly, I'd make sure Larry gets some food, even though the guy can be a real dick sometimes." Carley replied, glancing over at Larry and Mark, who were working on the barricade.
"Sometimes?" Dominic laughed sarcastically, "That guy is a constant pain in the ass."
"Anyway," She interrupted, continuing to give Lee her advice, "On the other hand, giving that food to Kenny and his family might make him remember you if he decides to take off in that RV one day."
"What about you two? Y'all need food too," Lee argued.
"We all need food," Carley replied, "I can't tell you what to do, but whatever happens, I know you'll be trying to do the right thing."
"Besides, I'd rather Clem get some food first," Dominic added, "She's more important than me."
"Thanks guys, I appreciate the advice," Lee smiled, then left to give out the food, making sure he gave Clementine some first.
"You know, you could've asked for some food too," Carley said to Dominic as they watched Lee hand out the food.
"I know. It's just, I'd rather Clem get the food, and the others who've gone longer than me. I've learned not to be selfish when it comes to food now. It's a valuable, and rare resource. I gotta think about when to eat now, rather what I'm going to eat," Dominic sighed and patted his slimming belly softly, "Besides, for once I've actually been able to lose some weight."
"You looked okay before, Dom. You don't have to constantly worry about your weight, it isn't something people judge you on anymore."
"I know," He replied, "But ever since, I've been getting better and better at being able to exercise or run. Things that are necessary to survive being chased down by a walker, or by someone," he looked back at Carley, "But thanks."
Lee had given food to Clementine, Duck, Larry, and Kenny. After a few minutes, he came back to the RV and looked up at Lilly, who was sitting in the chair Dominic had been sitting in not thirty minutes ago. She said to him softly, "Not such an easy job, is it?"
He looked over at Dominic and Carley, the latter reassuring Lee, "It's okay. I know you're still watching out for me."
He looked back to Lilly and stated, "I don't envy you. I don't know how you have the strength to do this every day."
She sighed, "I don't have a choice."
A second later, Kenny came up to Lee, thanking him, "Hey, thanks for looking out for me and my family…"
"Yeah, of course," Lee replied. He took care of those he was closest too, and would've given Dominic something if the boy hadn't turned him down.
"Still," Kenny added, "I guess some people aren't gonna be happy with your choices."
Lee frowned, then found himself looking down at the ground. He still felt guilty that he didn't have enough food for everyone, and hated Lilly for putting him in that situation. Kenny walked away as they heard Katjaa calling for them.
"Ken! Lee! Come here, please."
They walked over to Katjaa together. Kenny was the first one to speak, "He didn't make it, did he?"
"He…" She looked down at the ground in sadness, "Lost too much blood."
"God damnit!" Kenny shouted, pounding his fists on the bed of the truck and walked off, throwing a part of the RV he had been working on onto the ground, "I'm getting sick of this shit!"
"Ken, come back! There's nothing-"
"Let him go, Katjaa," Lee interrupted. He understood what Kenny was going through. They did all they could to save that man, and he still died.
"He just needs time. It's been a rough morning."
"That man you brought…" Her voice trailed off, as she looked back at the dead man, "I tried, but he was never going to survive."
"Well, at least he's not our problem anymore," Lee shrugged, feeling a little guilty as the words left him. The power struggle between Kenny and Lilly that was getting worse every day, from short arguments to shouting matches. If this kept up, there was going to be hell to pay.
Katjaa looked over at Ben, who was talking with Dominic, "What about the other kid?"
"I don't know, maybe he could-" Before he could finish his sentence, Katjaa suddenly gets grabbed by the man who they had thought died, "SHIT, KATJAA!"
He tried to pull him off of her, but the man was strong, surprisingly strong. As he pulled, he noticed the man had become a walker. What the fuck? He pulled them apart with all of his might, finally getting the walker off Katjaa, and forcing it back into the truckbed.
Turning around, Lee yelled to Larry and Mark, "The axe! Hurry!"
He screamed as the walker grabbed onto him, turning him around, mouth ready to bite. Lee tried to smash its head into the side of the truck, but it resisted. Larry ran with the axe, yelling, "GET OUT OF THE DAMN WAY!"
Lee pushed the walker back against the window of the truck, but it ducked down as Larry swung, colliding with the metal of the truck, "Damnit! I had it!"
Shit. Lee tried to kick the walker away, but it just kept pulling forward. Finally, he was able to kick it back against the window, and began to crawl back out of the truckbed. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dominic and Carley running towards them. The next thing he saw was the ground as he fell out of the back of the truck, grunting in pain as all the air inside of his lunged were knocked out. The walker fell on top of him. Lee pushed his fingers into its eyes, but it was no use. He wasn't going to get out of this one without a weapon.
That was when Dominic came to his rescue; knife out. He stabbed the walker in the back of the head. The walker fell to the ground, becoming lifeless as blood oozed out of his skull.. With a sigh of relief, he helped Lee push it off of him, and reached out to help the older man to his feet.
Breathing heavily, Lee added, "Thanks."
"You okay?" Carley asked, concern etched across her face.
"Yeah, I'm fine," He breathed, looking back at her.
"Why'd ya bring him here in the first place, asshole?!" Larry roared to Lee, which made everyone glare at him.
"Dad! Calm down!" Lilly tried to say to her father, to no avail. He wasn't done with Lee.
"You're going to get us all killed!" With that, he pushed the axe against Lee, walking off angrily as Lee hesitantly held the axe.
"Why didn't you tell us he was bitten?!" Kenny yelled to Ben, who looked shocked to hear what Kenny was saying.
"What?!" He was flabbergasted at the accusation
"He was bitten and you didn't say a goddamn word!"
"But he wasn't bitten, I swear!" The boy tried to defend himself, but Kenny wasn't having any of it.
"Well your 'not-bitten' friend here came back to life and tried to kill my wife!"
"What?!" He looked shocked for a moment before realizing the situation, "Wait… y'all don't know?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Kenny shouted again, inching closer, fist clenched; he was done with this boy beating around the bush, if he didn't give him a straight answer in the next five seconds, the kid was going to regret it.
After a brief pause, the boy continued, "It's not the bite that does it! You come back no matter how you die. If you don't destroy the brain, that's just what happens. It's gonna happen to all of us…" He stuttered, shaking.
"God help us," Lee gasped. He wasn't normally a very religious man, but in that moment, he really hoped there was something up there protecting them.
"It makes sense," Mark added softly, "In those first few days it spread so fast."
Lilly was the next to speak, "Car accidents, suicides, everything was making more of them."
"When I first saw it happen," Ben continued, his voice lowering as he began to tell his story, "We were all hiding out in a gym and everybody thought we were finally safe. But one of the girls, Jenny Pitcher I think, I guess she couldn't take it. She took some pills. A lot of them."
Dominic sat on the ground with his head against the RV, and said softly, "She couldn't handle the pressure. So she killed herself. Not the best way to go…"
"Someone went in the girls' room the next morning and… God…" Ben was still shocked about it, even though it's been so long since Jenny's death. It never left the back of his mind, like a nightmare that never ended.
"Back off!" Everyone turned as they heard Carley's warning. She was aiming her gun at someone just beyond the fence.
Oh shit. Dominic thought to himself as he got back on his feet. Not these assholes…
"Whoa, lady, relax! Me and my brother, we… we just want to know if ya'll can help us out." A voice called from the other side of the fence. Dominic recognized it immediately as Andy St. John.
"I said back off!" Carley yelled again, not wavering.
"Carley…" Lilly for once was the one trying to calm things down.
"Are you armed?" Lee called to the two men, not so sure himself.
"Yeah… for protection," The other man replied, "Dead could be anywhere."
"Bullshit," Dominic whispered under his breath.
"But, uh, I think you've got the upper hand here," Andy added, trying to calm down the group they had just met.
"Why do you need gas?" Carley asked, still aiming her pistol at the two men.
"Our place is protected by an electric fence. Generators provide the electricity," Danny replied.
"Our generators run on gas," Andy added, "Look, we own a dairy farm a few miles up the road. If y'all be willing to lower your guns, we can talk about some kind of trade."
"How are ya'll doing on food? we got plenty at the dairy," Danny continued.
"Don't trust them, guys," Dominic told the group, "There's something off about them."
"Dominic, first you want us to help strangers, now you're sayin' not to trust them? What the hell is wrong with you?" Lilly asked, confused as to why this boy, who seemed to trust everyone he has met so far, but not these two.
Dominic tried to figure out a way to say this without giving away the fact he knew more than he was letting on, "Doesn't it seem a little fishy that two men come out of the woods, out of nowhere, and ask for gas, then says they have 'plenty of food' to trade? I don't trust them. Who knows what kind of food they're talking about. For all we know, they could be cannibals."
"Cannibals? Are you serious?" Mark asked, astonished that the boy would even suggest that, "Why would they be cannibals?"
"Think about it. What's the most abundant meat you can find now? Human meat. If you come across some survivors, you can take them in, and then, eat them."
"That's a load of horsecrap, Dom," Kenny added, hardly believing the boy.
"Lee," Dominic looked to the man he had set out with from the very beginning, "You need to trust me. These guys are bad news."
"I…" Lee hesitated, all eyes on him; stuck between his loyalty to Dominic, and the rest of the group, "I don't know, Dom. What if you're wrong? And they have enough food for all of us?"
"I'm… I'm sorry, Dom. But if they do have food, it's a risk we need to take."
No, no, no, no! Dominic was panicking now, he didn't want Mark to die, or even Larry for that matter, "But…"
"It's settled, Dom. We're going to go." Lee said, finalizing the matter.
"Lee, why don't you and Mark check this place out, see if it's legit?" Lilly asked.
"I'm going with you. I got your back if anything seems fishy," Carley offered, eying Dominic. Lee nodded and looked out to the group outside, oblivious to their earlier conversation.
"So, uh, what are ya'll thinkin'?" Andy asked politely.
Lee thought it over for a few more moments, feeling Dominic's glare behind him, then finally "You've got a deal. We'll bring some gas to your dairy. In exchange, you give us some food to bring back. We'll see how it goes from there."
"Sounds fair. A couple of gallons should power one of our generators for a while."
"Lee, you are making a huge mistake," Dominic stated in an ultimately serious tone, trying to get Lee to call it off.
"We'll talk about this after I get back, Dom. Don't worry, I'm keeping what you said in mind, and I'll be on the lookout for anything suspicious," Lee replied.
"At least take me with you," He was trying so hard to fix this, but it just wasn't working.
"No, stay here, protect the motel, and look after Clementine until I get back."
Dominic sighed, "Fine, okay. Good luck."
Lee nodded, then turned back to Mark and Carley, "Let's go."
With that, they were gone, disappearing into the forest with Andy and Danny St. John. Everyone went back to their posts, except for Dominic, who stood there looking out into the forest. He was so close to preventing Mark and Larry's death, but he couldn't. He realized then that he couldn't change everything. Some people were going to die, it was only a matter of time.
He just wished that it didn't have to be now.