Daryl leaned against his police cruiser in the predawn calm. Sleep was a rare commodity for him these days, and today was no exception. He looked out over the property of his new home. The old farm house’s dormer windows jutted from the roof like big eyes keeping watch over the extensive vegetable fields. Situated a little closer to the crops was a smaller, more modern looking house which had obviously been a later addition.
When Daryl had arrived at this place, there were already two tents in the yard. Jacob, the man who lived here with his siblings, was allowing strangers to take refuge on their isolated and zombie free land and he eagerly accepted the help of a police officer. He’d always remember that night, the night his life changed forever. He remembered taking his wife’s niece into the car, covered in blood and nearly catatonic. She brought her trembling hands close to her face while they were driving through the night and slowly drew a long breath in through her nose, smelling the blood. Her movements were jerky and unsteady. She licked her hands and popped a finger into her mouth, gnawing at the flesh with her teeth.
His daughter’s scream echoed in his head as he remembered her trapped in the back seat with his niece. His partner in training had tried to protect the girl that night. Looking down at the German shepherd who was now seated at his side, the carefree dog showed no signs of how aggressively he defended the girl at the time but Daryl could still see those bared teeth, still hear the protective growls.
Lost in his memories, remembering the gun shots, the blood, all the things that reminded him of how he’d failed - he barely heard a faint sound from behind. Without looking he said, “You’re ready sooner than I thought.”
“I, uh... I was too excited,” Corrigan said and Daryl laughed as he tousled the young teen’s hair.
Craning his neck to look at the house Daryl asked, “Where do you think your sister and that no-good husband of hers are at?”
“Don’t call him that!” Corrigan said, staring up at him with anger in his dull emerald eyes. “Max is a good guy, you just don’t know him.”
“Okay, okay. Calm yourself.” Daryl and Corrigan walked towards a red pickup truck at the other end of the long gravel driveway. There were already four bikes sitting in the bed.
“Why are we bringing bikes?” Corrigan asked, “I mean, we got my truck. Couldn’t we just drive?”
“The roads in the city are probably backed up. Your truck would never get through.”
“Man,” Corrigan said as he looked at Daryl with admiration. “You think of everything!”
Daryl winked at the kid and said, “These bikes will be much more manoeuvrable, as well as fast enough to stay ahead of the zombies.”
“Oh. I guess I just don’t know what to expect.”
“You’re gonna see some shocking things,” Daryl said. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“I’m ready! We need these supplies, so I gotta do my part, right? Whatever’s out there, I can handle it.”
Daryl smiled down at the teen. “I think you’re braver than Jacob gives you credit for.”
Corrigan beamed and blushed at the compliment from the stalwart police officer.
“Are we ready?” Another man joined them, holding his hunting rifle over his shoulder as he approached the truck. A woman with a natural sort of look walked silently at his side, their hands clasped together with interlocked fingers.
Corrigan bounced on his toes with excitement as he waved to the new comers.
“Eden, Max.” Daryl hadn’t known Max long, but he already didn’t like him. “Nice of you to finally join us. We’re just about ready to go. Are you guys armed?”
“Armed?” Corrigan said, crestfallen. “If you can call this a weapon,” he lifted a length of metal pipe into the air, the frown on his face growing deeper.
“Will we really need to hurt anyone?” Eden asked.
“It’s okay, I’ll watch your back,” Max wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. Daryl noticed Corrigan gulp and look away, tightening his grip on the pipe.
“That’s a sweet sentiment,” Daryl said, “but I don’t think it’s safe to go in unarmed. I promised Jacob you guys would all be okay and I’m going to keep that promise.”
Eden put her hand on Max’s face. “I trust him. He’s protected me before, he’ll do it again.”
“I just think--”
“Blah, blah.” Max waved Daryl off. “You sound just like Jacob, or rather--his new lapdog. Loosen up, man! You don’t wanna be as stiff as that guy.”
Daryl shook his head and turned away from Max, choosing not to entertain the inevitable argument that would ensue if he pushed the topic. “Well, let’s go then.”
Corrigan’s excitement returned and he climbed into the driver’s seat before anyone else could move.
“Come on!” he called out the window. “You heard the man! Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” The final ‘go’ was long and drawn out, the mark of impatience and immaturity that came with youth.