Noah was screaming in the bloody aftermath of Felicia’s violent show. Daryl watched his wife with a growing pit of dread sucking at his gut. That was the mother of his child, the love of his life but now? As Corrigan finished channelling Felicia’s message, he slumped forward against Daryl. The man got off the bike, careful to keep Corrigan up right, and moved to sit behind him so he could keep an arm around his limp body as the engine revved and they sped away from the scene.
“Hey!” Lila called out after them but Daryl didn’t pay attention. If that beast who was his wife would let them leave as long as they didn’t get in her way, he wasn’t planning on it.
Corrigan seemed to wake up shortly into their ride, but Daryl noticed that he acted as though he was still unconscious. Perhaps he was weak, or embarrassed. Daryl stopped the bike in a part of the city where very few people lived, even before the end of the world. He couldn’t tell if half of the uninhabited, collapsing houses were the aftermath of a brutal battle with the undead or the collapsing economy.
“Where are we?” Corrigan asked, finally opening his eyes as the bike came to a stop. “Why did we leave the others?”
“Forget the others.” Daryl brushed off the kid’s concerns as he inspected one boarded up door after another. He noticed a spray painted tag that was scrawled across the front of one particularly dumpy house and turned to Corrigan. “Stay here,” he said, “and stay on the lookout. There’s no telling when more zombies will show up.”
Corrigan climbed off the bike as Daryl kicked out its stand and jogged toward the house. Daryl readied his assault rifle as he nudged the door to the house, but it was locked. “Damn,” he whispered to himself.
He bent low under the windows, holding the gun tight but still aimed straight forward. Staying close to the building, he found his way to the back and discovered a privacy wall. Or at least, a rotting slab of plywood held up by a few shoddy planks of wood that separated the backyard from a neighbouring gas station. Where the wall met the house, there was a small deck with a door into the second floor and Daryl wondered if it was unlocked. Careful to pick his footing, he slung his weapon over his shoulder and stepped up onto the sparse wooden frame. The wall swayed under his weight but still he edged upward, careful not to place his foot through any of the especially rotten portions of the old wall. He made it to the deck and tried the rusty doorknob. It was stiff but not locked and he slipped into the house, readying his gun once again.
Darkness and dust hung in the air inside the dingy house. Several dirty mattresses littered the floor and Daryl chose not to think about what they’d been used for. He slipped quietly into the hallway and listened, waiting for any sign of life --or lack thereof. While checking each room on the second floor he knew he’d find similar mattresses and expected the piles of trash, but he wasn’t prepared for the lack of bodies. This place must have been full of people when the outbreak happened, it always was. Either everyone got out - which was unlikely - or someone was still living here and had cleaned up, the bodies at least. He moved rapidly down the creaky stairs and scanned the first floor. All of the windows had been boarded up so the place was dim and smelled like a dump.
There was a small door in the kitchen that led to a basement with dirt walls. The muzzle of his gun reached out and gently eased the door open. He saw flickering candlelight and took a deep breath of stale air before inching down the stairs.
“Come on guys, it’s cool! Everything’s cool! Man, just, I dunno, I’ll get you more food okay, don’t worry.” A woman’s voice came from the basement and she was clearly panicking about something.
Daryl hurried downstairs and hid behind a large tarp-covered crate. He’d driven past this house in the past, the people who operated it were known to come to his town to sell drugs and... recruit young girls, but here in the city they had a bigger operation and this was just one of their smaller supply houses. Everyone on the force knew that Ruben lived here and that he dealt in trafficking drugs, weapons, and people. He was slippery though, and whoever he worked for had him very well protected. Daryl didn’t recognize the voice in the basement but it was probably one of Ruben’s girls. He moved from one crate to another and peeked around the edge to see if he could get a better view. Candles lit the basement, and Daryl spotted a sickly thin woman sitting on the floor in a corner. Her arms were wrapped around her legs as she rocked back and forth, her tightly curled hair swung in greasy tendrils with the motion.
“I dunno what to do when you get like that. What do you want from me?” She begged and Daryl heard metal clanking across the dirt floor. With as much stealth as he could muster, he slipped behind another crate and tried to see what was making the metallic noise. Several dim shadows overlapped one another, each cast by a different flickering candle, and he couldn’t quite decide who she was talking to.
Daryl held his breath and lifted himself off the ground, only risking a quick glance over the top of the crate. He gasped and stood up, aiming his gun at the zombies who were chained up across from the woman. There were three of them, and each had an iron cuff around its neck, wrists and ankles that attached them to the wall and floor.
“What’s going on here?” Daryl demanded and the zombies slowly turned to look at him. The woman bounced to her feet, struggling to stay balanced. Her eyes widened when she noticed Daryl’s gun, and she screamed.
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” She begged. She was wearing a tank top that was too short to cover her long torso and jeans that were so tight they could have been her flesh. “Please, don’t kill Ruby.”
Daryl turned and noticed that one of the zombies was a large, bald-headed man with a gut that nearly touched his knees. It had long ago chewed off the lips from its mouth and he could see its gums as it gnashed its teeth toward him. Daryl couldn’t help but feel like Ruben had gotten what was coming to him. It was poetic justice that “Ruby” was now chained with the very devices he used to traffic people, and whatever other horrible reasons he used them for that Daryl wasn’t ready to contemplate.
“Lady, he’s already dead,” Daryl said. He peered down barrel of his gun and the woman threw herself through the air, colliding with Daryl’s ribs. They both hit the ground with a spray of bullets that punctured a diagonal line of black oozing wounds in Ruben’s gut. The zombie didn’t even notice as it shuffled in a stationary fashion in Daryl’s general direction.
“I won’t let you hurt him!” the woman said but Daryl easily tossed her aside.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” He demanded, getting to his feet and standing over the woman, aiming his gun at her head.
“I don’t care what you do to me! Just don’t kill Ruby. I can’t let you kill my Ruby bear.” The woman started scratching her left arm and Daryl noticed the scars of repeated IV drug use.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
The woman was silent for a moment. “I’m Sugar.”
“Sugar?” Daryl repeated her name. “What’s your real name?”
“You gotta problem with my name?” She spat and Daryl pressed the gun into her chest. She gasped and tried to back away but Daryl pushed her to the ground.
“You wanna see what it’s like when I’ve got a problem with you?” he said through gritted teeth and he heard the door to the basement open with a bang.
“Daryl?” Corrigan called out as he pounded down the stairs.
Daryl sighed, removing the gun from Sugar’s chest and turning to look at the kid. “I told you to wait with the bike.”
“I... I just heard gunshots.” Corrigan looked at Sugar on the ground, then noticed the chained up zombies. “What the hell is going on down here?” He stepped closer to the zombies and they put their arms down. They turned their heads towards the teen and snapped their jaws absentmindedly.
“Why won’t you people stop askin me that?” Sugar stood and brushed dirt off her jeans. “I mean, you come breakin into my house and you got the nerve to ask me what’s goin on?”
“Corrigan, why would you ever think it’s a good idea to come running toward the gunshots?” Daryl asked. “You run away from gunshots. Away!”
Corrigan didn’t respond, more interested in the zombie zoo. As he came close to them, the overweight zombie stopped chomping its teeth. It just stared with dead eyes and a slack jaw. Daryl looked on in awe as Corrigan stood in front of the zombies, seemingly commanding whatever focus they possessed. He thought he saw Corrigan’s body ripple and twitch. Then, the teen put a hand to his head and stumbled backwards.
The kid scampered up the stairs and Daryl chased after him, finally catching him on the front stoop.
“What’s wrong with me?” Corrigan asked, his eyes watery.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I can barely remember what’s happened over the last two days because I keep blacking out, which is weird enough, but to top it off every time I wake up you’ve shot someone, or we’re fleeing the scene of a terrible massacre. Then... Just now, down there.”
“Well... I don’t know. It was like they were standing at attention, waiting for something. Orders maybe? And there was this voice, man, that voice.” Daryl could see Corrigan shaking now.
“I’m sure you’re fine. You’ve just been going through a hard time is all.”
“It’s more than that! You didn’t feel it. They were looking through me! Like they saw something inside me that you can’t, that I can’t! But I know it’s there. You must know too, otherwise you wouldn’t have left Noah and Lila like that.”
There was a moment of weighty silence between the two of them and Daryl shook his head again. “Okay, Corrigan,” he said, “you’re right. Something is happening to you, but it’s not what happened to Felicia. She was bitten, exposed to whatever it is that’s turning people into crazy monsters. You weren’t exposed, you’re fine.”
Corrigan looked at Daryl and blinked. Tears rolled down his dirty cheeks and he looked as if some terrible secret was eating away at him.
“Corrigan, you weren’t exposed, were you?” When there was no answer Daryl felt his heart sink.