“Corrigan, were you bitten?” Daryl asked, pulling at the boy’s shirt to see if he could find a mark.
“No!” Corrigan pushed Daryl’s hands away and sighed. “I wasn’t bitten.”
“Then you’re fine.”
“Daryl, I... Max... right before he turned.” Corrigan struggled for words and his breathing got heavier.
“What happened?” Daryl asked.
“I just... I think he may have ‘exposed’ me.”
Daryl stared at Corrigan for a moment and felt a sense of dawning rush over him. Daryl reached a hand out to rub the kid’s back. Corrigan pulled away and wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.
“How long... I mean how long had he been, you know, exposing you?”
“I don’t know,” Corrigan said with a shrug, “fifteen, twenty minutes? Not that it’s any of your business.”
“No.” Daryl shook his head. “No, no, ew, no, I mean how long had it been going on for?”
“Oh,” Corrigan said, “Three years, maybe a little longer. I was a kid, I never wanted to. It all started so slowly, then before I knew it...”
Daryl’s stomach churned, he could imagine Max in his slimy glory grooming an even younger Corrigan than the one who sat in front of him now. He put a hand firmly on Corrigan’s back and said, “What about Eden? Does she know?”
“Yes. She did-” Corrigan gulped.
Daryl remembered the misfortune of the tower and changed the subject. “Well, if you can be exposed that way - and I’m not saying for sure that you can be - then, maybe something similar to what happened to Felicia is happening to you.”
Corrigan turned to look at him with clenching fists. “You should kill me.”
“What?” Daryl raised his voice in shock.
“Do it.” Corrigan stood up and held his arms out in the air. “Shoot me! Right here and now.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Daryl stood and turned away from him. “I’m not gonna shoot you.”
“I’m not being ridiculous! You’ve got to kill me now before I... Before I turn into a monster.”
“You won’t turn into a monster.”
“You don’t know that!” Corrigan moved to Daryl’s side and pulled him around by the elbow. “Any minute now I could turn into a hideous beast and summon an army of undead zombies to tear you to shreds for the fun of it. Kill me now ’cause I could never do that to you.”
Daryl looked into Corrigan’s eyes, feeling an invisible connection between them. Perhaps it was all the time he spent saving Corrigan’s life, perhaps it was the promise he’d made to Jacob, and then later to Eden - whatever the reason, Daryl couldn’t imagine hurting the kid.
“Maybe you’re right,” Daryl said, “and if the time comes, I’ll kill you. Until then, I promised your brother and sister I’d keep you safe and that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Corrigan’s green eyes welled with tears again and he shook his head. “Then it’ll be too late. You’ve seen what Felicia can do. You won’t be able to kill me if I turn.”
“Corrigan, whatever is happening, you seem to be in control of it. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every moment Felicia is awake she’s hunting us down.”
“Then I’ll do it myself!” he said as he drew his pistol. Calm for the first time in over a week, Daryl gently placed his hand on Corrigan’s and pressed the weapon aside.
“Don’t,” the cop said. “If you wanna die, I promise I’ll grant your wish – but only when and if you become a threat. Not before, and not like this. Do you think Eden would have wanted you to give up on yourself? Trust me, we’ll figure it out.”
“Uh, excuse me.” Sugar stuck her head out the door and looked at them. In the faint, natural light of the outside Daryl could see she was much younger than he had originally assumed. Probably not much older than Corrigan. “Just how did you two get my Ruby’s door open? I know for a fact I locked it.”
Daryl looked at the door and remembered his attempt to open it. Sugar was right, it had been locked. He inspected the outer knob and it was crumpled, the wood around it cracked.
“Uh-” Corrigan held his hands in the air. “I, uh, don’t know my own strength?”
Sugar looked at the door knob and then at Corrigan. “You some sorta freak or something?”
“Watch it,” Daryl pointed his gun at her.
“Hey!” she stomped her foot. “You two came barging into my house, you shot up my basement and worst of all you riled up my Ruby bear! Now just what the hell do you want?”
“Guns,” Daryl said, pushing past Sugar into the house. “I know Ruby bear has his fair share.”
“What!?” She shook her head, chasing after Daryl.
“Don’t worry. I won’t kill Ruben, if only so he can put you out of your misery whenever he manages to get free. I just want to get some guns and we’ll be on our way.”
“You think I’m gonna give you Ruby’s stuff? He’d kill me!”
“He’ll kill you the second he gets a chance whether you give me his guns or not,” Daryl said as he ducked into the basement. He grabbed a crowbar that hung from the wall and started prying open crates, not stopping until he found the one he was looking for. He noticed that Ruben and the other zombies were much more active now, grunting and groaning, reaching their hands out toward the stairs and pulling at their chains.
“What’s gotten into them?” he muttered.
“I told you Ruby got all riled up about that kid. He does it every once in a while, the first two or three times it seemed like it was for no reason. This time that kid of yours set him off.”
Daryl thought about how many times Felicia had been in the city, howling and commanding the undead. Then he looked back toward the stairs and thought of the way the zombies looked at Corrigan.
“Look,” Sugar said, “you can have some guns, that’s fine, just... just take me with you.”
“Come on, please! You gotta take me with you, I’m dyin’ in this house by myself.”
Daryl looked down at Sugar. She was sickly thin and he couldn’t decide if it was drugs or lack of food. Or both. “I got no time for junkies.”
“No way, man!” Sugar shook her head vigorously, her curls bouncing with the movement. “I’m clean, been clean since all this went down.” She gestured to the zombies.
“Oh yeah? That long, eh? That’s great.” Daryl scrunched his face into a look of mock pride then clapped a hand against Sugar’s shoulder and turned to pry open another crate. “Keep up the good work. Here. Alone. Without me.” He grinned as he found several large black bags and opened one to see he’d found what he was looking for.
“Come on, man, you know I can’t find any junk out there anyway.”
“No offense, but we really don’t have room for you. We’ve only got the one bike and there’s barely enough space for two of us once we figure out a way to strap these guns to it.”
Sugar perked up and her eyes bulged as she said, “We can take Ruby’s car!”
“There’s no way we could drive out of the city, the streets are packed.”
Shaking her head, she said, “There’s a clear path to the next block and you can git to the highway by cuttin’ through backyards. Ruby pulled it off once when the pigs were after us.”
“Sounds like more effort than this pig is willing to exert for you.”
“You’re a cop?” Sugar cocked her head and started nervously rubbing her thighs.
“We’ll do it,” Corrigan called from the top of the stairs. The zombies stopped moaning at the sound of his voice and Sugar watched them in amazement. “We’ll take you with us.”
“There’s no way we’re doing that,” Daryl grabbed two bags and headed toward the stairs, looking up at Corrigan.
“Yes, there is. We can’t just leave her to die.”
Daryl stared up at the kid, then looked over at Sugar. He sighed and motioned for her to grab some ammo. “At least this way we can bring more stuff, but you gotta make yourself useful! Where’s Ruben’s car?”
“In the garage!” Sugar hopped up and down and moved to grab a heavy bag of illegal weapons. She turned to zombie Ruben and blew him a kiss. “Bye baby, you know I love you.”
Daryl couldn’t help but question the honesty with which Sugar had said she loved Ruben. She was probably just under some drug induced hysteria, led to believe she loved the man when really she loved the high. When she led the way into the garage Daryl was shocked by Ruben’s car. It was a huge SUV, with a shining chrome grill on the front. Gaudy, pearlescent purple paint covered the vehicle and orange flames streaked across the front quarter panels.
“There’s no way we’re driving this.” Daryl shook his head.
“Oh, come on!” Corrigan smiled half-heartedly, “It looks like it’ll be fun.”
Daryl sighed and tossed the bags into the back of the huge beast of a vehicle. He noticed that the inside was upholstered with white and black zebra striped fabric. There was a disco ball hanging from the ceiling and the overhead dome light was purple.
“Yeah. Fun.” He began to regret taking on Sugar, but Corrigan’s eagerness to help was a sign of morality still lingering in the boy. If Corrigan was able to retain his humanity, perhaps there was still something to be done about Felicia? Daryl couldn’t help but hope that his wife could be returned to him and somewhere inside Corrigan was the answer Daryl needed to bring her back.
“Where are we going?” Corrigan asked as Daryl pulled out of the garage. “Daryl, I said where are we going?”
“I don’t know, okay?” Daryl finally said.
“Well, we need to have a plan. We got a ride and an open road, but aren’t you the one who was telling me how scarce gas is lately? Driving around like this is not gonna get us far.”
“Guys?” Sugar’s voice was quiet and small.
“Well then why aren’t we talking about this? We need to have some sort of idea where we’re going, don’t we?”
“Guys?” Sugar repeated.
“Yeah, we do. Any suggestions?” Daryl snapped. “How about we go back to the farm, where everything is ash and rubble? Or maybe we can head back to the tower? Oh wait, that’s rubble too!”
“Trust me, you don’t have to remind me of that.”
“Hey, guys!” Sugar’s voice was getting louder now.
“We need to find a place to sleep, something to eat.” Corrigan was looking worried now. “We’re gonna die if we just drive aimlessly!”
“GUYS!” Sugar finally yelled and the others turned to look at her.
“What!?” they both yelled back as she gazed out her window.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Corrigan and Daryl turned to look up out of the windshield and were stunned into silence. Daryl slammed on the breaks and watched in awe. The sky had been obscured by thick clouds for days, but now they looked heavier and emitted a strange red glow. He spotted flashes of lightning in their midst and swore loudly.
“What is that thing?” Corrigan asked.
Daryl shook his head “Let’s not stick around and find out,” he said as he hit the gas again, eyes intent on the road.