It had finally happened.
She lost it.
She was cuckoo for Coco Puffs.
She knew, because walkers don't talk, and she'd just heard him as clear as day. He asked who she was.
She kept the sword raised but stepped no further- this stranger did the same. This pale, dark-haired stranger with the bright yellow eyes and the smell of death. His thick, short beard was caked with blood. He was covered in dirt and grime. This had to be a walker, a well-fed walker. But she couldn't strike him down. The voice was too real.
They stared at one another for a while, neither daring to talk or move. Perhaps he was in a trance, this one. Maybe he was blind? So she was silent and poised to strike should he make a move. But he didn't. He was still, completely still. Not even really breathing, yet if she didn't know better, she's swear he was looking into her eyes.
Her arms flinched when he opened his mouth again, his voice so raw and quiet she could barely make out the sound.
"Who are you?"
Frida stepped back, her sword still in the air.
"Did you just speak to me?" She asked cautiously.
The figure let out a small, strangled cough.
"I asked you who you were." He asked again slowly.
Chills- either of joy or shear terror- began to take hold of her body. There was no doubt he was a walker. The yellow eyes never lie- yet he was speaking. A talking walker.
"I'm Frida. Who are you?"
"Jim." He whispered harshly. "My name is Jim."
Frida watched him for another moment, unsure of how to proceed. As she lowered her sword he took a step closer. She reflexively stepped back, clutching her sword, still unsure.
Jim froze in his tracks, holding out his hand in defense.
"I understand your worry." He said hoarsely, pointing to his eyes. "But I don't bite."
"Then what ARE you?" she asked, her voice trembling.
Jim dropped his hand and looked at the ground, searching for words. He shrugged. "I guess I'm thirsty."
Frida instinctively grabbed her water bottle from her side and unscrewed the lid, holding it out to him, her hand shaking. He reached out to take it, but stopped mid-way.
"Is this yours?" He asked quietly.
"Of course it's mine. Take it." She urged. Walker or not, he was company. Somebody to help. Crazy or not, she was in need of someone else, so she put the water bottle in his startlingly cold hand.
He didn't move.
"I don't want to infect you."
Frida froze for a moment. He was a walker- should she be helping a walker?
"Waterfall." She prompted.
He held the bottle up and let some trickle down into his open mouth- he had surprisingly white teeth, she noticed.
After he had downed half the bottle, he carefully screwed the lid back on and handed it back to her.
"Are you hungry?" She was a little afraid of the answer.
"I'm starving." He answered, sitting down indian-style in the grass. Frida grabbed a can of beans from her satchel and pulled the tab open for him. She handed it out to him, and again, he hesitated.
"You need it." He said sternly, his eyes fixed on the can. His voice was much fuller, now that he'd had some water.
"Don't you?" Frida asked, intrigued.
"No. I'd sure like it, though."He said lowly.
"Then eat it. I've got more."
Jim took the can and studied it for a moment.
"You wouldn't happen to have a spoon, would you?"
Frida let out a giggle. She'd never even thought of it, really.
"No. I don't you'll have to go natural on this one."
A weak smile crossed his face.
"I'm good at that one." And he tipped the can to his mouth.
He wolfed in down in record time, still managing not to get a bean on his shirt.
Frida watched this fascinating creature eating the beans- so polite, yet undoubtedly dead. Part of her was delighted to have found him- the other was terrified.
Jim finished and set the can down in the grass. He wiped his mouth off with his sleeve.
"Where did you find those?" He asked.
"Gas station down the way. There's plenty more where that came from."
Jim sat still, ponderous. The guy was either really twisted or truly considerate.. She couldn't tell which.
"Take me there."
Frida snorted. "How?" She jerked her thumb towards the tiny moped and wagon. "I'm not exactly driving a four seater, you know."
"Take me in the wagon, and I'll make it worth your while, Frida." He said quietly. "I know a lot that can help you out."
Frida thought for a moment- could this be as good as it seemed? Could she trust him... it? Could he be the answer to the loneliness she'd been feeling? There were pros and cons on both sides, but to her the choice was easy.
"I'll take you." She said finally after a minute's silence. "Under one condition."
Jim leaned forward, the waning sunlight reflecting into his yellow irises. "What?"
"You tell me what happened to you, and what you are." She said sternly, trying not to show her anxiety.
"Tell me everything I should know about you."
Jim sat scraping some of the dried chunks of blood from his beard absent mindedly.
"Before all this I was a mechanic in the suburbs of Atlanta, so if you take me with you, we'll probably be able to hotwire a good car in no time rather than driving around this old..." He glanced over at the bike. "... thing. And I'd keep it running, too. I-"
"I don't want an audition tape, Jim. I just want to know who you are." Frida cut him off.
Jim took a deep breath, restarting.
"Like I said, I was a mechanic before this." He said slowly. "Had been all my life. I had a wife- Marsha- whom I loved more than anyone except my kids. I had two of them- two boys. Floyd and Jackson. They were twins, both eight years old. Floyd looked like me, Jackson... he looked like his mother. Bright red hair and deep green eyes. I knew he'd be beating those girls off with a stick when he got to highschool." He laughed. "We weren't wealthy, but we got by, and we were happy. Then it all started, you know. The infection, and Floyd got it at school. He was out at recess and this man just came wandering into the playground towards the kids. The teacher thought he was stoned, so she called the police and started walking towards him when Floyd decided to go introduce himself. I told him not to talk to strangers, right?" Tears began to fill his eyes, his voice cracking. "I told him so many times. But he was too goddamn friendly. He was always too friendly. He walked right up to the man and held out his hand. And the guy... he grabbed him and started tearing at him and biting him. Floyd screamed, and the teacher tried to get him away, but she couldn't do anything. The guy was determined. A passerby, luckily had a gun and good aim- shot the guy right in the head before he did too much damage. Floyd got off with a bite to the leg and a few scratches. We all thought he'd need some therapy and a few days off, but he'd be ok. This was before this stuff was even in the news. We had no idea. No idea." He shook his head.
"So I went and brought him home, talked to him. Set up the counseling appointments like his mom wanted, and took a few days off of work to take care of him. The little guy was doing alright the first day, but the second day he got real sick. He got this fever- the hottest I'd ever seen- all over his body. We brought him to the doctor, he gave him all kinds of pain meds. The boy was a limp noodle the last few days of his life. When we were taking care of him, things started getting really bad on the other side of the country. You started seeing it on the news and learning about the virus. It was awful- but the worst was the night I went back to work. I worked thirds, you know, the graveyard shift. Even in the middle of the Apocalypse, Doug wanted me working. That was the night Floyd died. When he turned Jackson was sleeping, he was the first to go. Marsha woke up to him chewing on her arm. She did what she had to do, but it was too late. He bit her. It tore her apart. She didn't even have the strength to call me. I found out when I got home..." The tears began to stream down his face, his shoulders heaving silently as he held back the sobs. "I'd never imagined a hell worse than coming home to my two dead children. As I was looking at the damage, at my babies and my wife, the hoard came in to the house. They just broke down the door. About a dozen of them, and I dodged out of the house, thinking my wife was right behind me, but when I got outside I couldn't find her, and I heard her scream... I just ran. There was nothing else I could do. I just ran. The only reason I got out was because the dead were eating my family."
Frida felt her own tears coming and fought to hold them back. She could listen to no more. It was just too hard.
"Just tell me how you became the way you are... Whatever you are." She said, trying to keep the shakiness at bay. His story moved her, but she didn't know him yet; it was better to keep up appearances until she was sure.
He took in a slow, shuddering breath, summoning his strength.
"After the fall of Atlanta, I fell in with this group of families, people who'd gotten out. It wasn't the strongest group, but it was community. There was Dale, Lori, Carol and Shane, he was the leader of the group, and other than the Dixons he was really the only qualified hunter. He was cop before all this..."
"Cut to the point, Jim." Frida said sternly.
Jim nodded meagerly, the rays of sundown tinting his pale skin purple. "I had this awful dream one night. Bodies, falling to bits onto the ground. Twelve bodies with nowhere to rest, just laying there, and I had to bury them. I had to. I've had these odd dreams all my life- I never thought they'd mean anything at the time, but then the next day or few days later, they'd come to life in one way or another. Like I have a sixth sense of some sort."
Frida leaned in closer. "Go on."
Jim cleared his throat. "Well, the next morning, I was possessed with this need to dig. I went up on the hilltop and dug twelve holes in the Georgia heat. They had to restrain me because I couldn't stop. I cooled off, but that night another hoard came through- half the men were off on a mission, we weren't prepared. Twelve of them died, and I... heh... I got bit on the side. Infected. The group found out and they tried to take me to the Center for Disease Control, their promised land they spoke of so much. They kept trying to tell me I'd be alright, but I was getting these visions, and weaker and weaker, and I knew I wouldn't make it. Even the bumps in the road were so painful. So I asked to be laid by the side of the road to die in peace. They sat me up against a tree-trunk, handed me a gun and said they're goodbyes and left me to die, like I'd asked them too."
"But you didn't die?" Frida asked cautiously.
"No, I died." Jim replied flatly. "At least, I think I did. I blacked out. Then I came back with my wits about me. Now the walkers want nothing to do with me, and that's all I know."
Jim looked down at his chest and adjusted his holey plaid shirt. "I'm sure I look like hell."
Frida smiled a little. "No." She said gently. "Just like you live there."
They were quiet for a moment, listening to the song of the crickets in the field beside the road. Then they heard the coming footsteps and the moment was gone, and she realized how dreadfully dark it was- and she had no shelter.
"Now take me to the gas station." Jim asserted, rising slowly to his feet.
Frida rose and straddled her moped, pointing to the wagon in the back.
"I don't know how this will work, but we're finding shelter now. We can go to the gas station in the morning."
Jim positioned himself in the wagon, laying on his stomach and grasping the sides.
"No, the station. Keep me near you and you'll have no troubles with a few vagrant walkers. We need a good vehicle."
Frida was just getting ready to kick the engine to life, but froze. "'We'?" She inquired, looking back at him.
"We're stronger in numbers... Uh..."
"Right, Frida. I think we should stick together."
Of course the thought had crossed her mind, but knowing he was that which had taken all she had away, and that he was all that sought to kill her made her hesitate. Was he really all there?
"I'll take you to the station and we'll play it by ear. But one false move and you're as good as dead, do you understand me?"
Jim nodded silently, and with that, Frida kicked the engine to life and began the long crawl back up the highway.