Sadie was an unexpected pleasure in Arthur's plight.
She, until then was a feeble widow in his eyes, one he assumed would depart from the gang after finding the nearest town. She never did and in that moment he was regretful for the few times he wished she had. Trudging down the familiar route to Cumberland Forest, talk was trite at first, but quickly eased as the ride continued. Charles was his common quite self, while Sadie recalled her previous life as a conformed housewife and the more she spoke, the less convinced Arthur was meant for that role. She was progressive woman. Eager too. She was much more gaily, riding unladylike on a horse with a rifle attached to her side, even during an apocalypse than she ever was assisting Pearson with dinner.
"Does Dutch seem alright to you two?" she finally asked.
They were in the heart of the forest now, where silence was common and the air thick with the stench of musk and rot. Roots peeked out from the ground like a network of narrow, black streams, leaving each movement from the horses more gradual than the last. The trees sprawling limbs stretched out, entwining with each other, and blotted out the sun. Yet, to their little fortune, not an undead lurked.
"No," murmured Arthur. He knew he wasn't. None of them were, then or now. "But, with all we've been through, I don't expect any of us to be the same."
"I mean, that man who put that blanket over my shoulders after finding me that night...I don't see them as the same." She spoke as if it was year ago, not months. "You all see him as some powerful leader, but the fact he won't even come for half of you, I don't know if that's the leader you want in this."
Regret came from agreement
"And wasn't he eager to get Shaun from Blackwater months back?" she pressed.
Arthur limply shrugged. "Well, yeah, but that was different."
"You know it's not," she retorted.
"She's right, Arthur," agreed Charles. "He says we're family. We may not know much about it, but we at least know that means sticking together."
He drew in a shallow breath, leading him into a tirade of coughing. The odor was worsening.
"No. I know. Hosea...he's….he's always kept Dutch on the right path. Usually." Arthur fell silent at the sound of croaking lurking near. In unison, him and the others provided their horses with a fleet kick, bringing them to a gallop. "I just worry if we don't find Hosea, we're not going to find our old Dutch either."
"We'll fine them. We have to," reassured Sadie.
Dreary silence returned.
Arthur once indulged in quiet rides. Now, he detested them.
The night sky was advancing overhead. Time had ran on with riding and conversation they had failed to notice how close they had grew to the outskirts of Fort Wallace. He advised Sadie to wait on her horse while he and Charles dismounted. He was coming to realize she was not one for listening.
A swish against distance leaves was growing close.
Sadie was hasty with acquiring her rifle, while Arthur lite his lantern.
"You hear that?" she inquired.
"Yeah. Get ready, but don't –"
The figure, now an outline in the shadows, reached out towards them. Though Sadie stared, she never truly saw who it was. What it was. She was strickened by uncertainty that had dragged her mind into a blur. As she twitched and fidgeted, her finger fastened onto the trigger. From the panic a shot was fired. Even in her trembles, Sadie's aim managed accurate. The figure tumbled out of sight, wailing, and moaning to the sudden course of pain.
The sound of its murmured cursing was a welcoming, familiar memory to Arthur.
"Hosea!" he called.
Hosea's dubious voice ripped through the dark.
Lifting the lantern higher, Hosea fell into sight. He was pallid, dirt and blood freckling his face and his eyes hallow. Between his fingers, a crimson liquid were flowing out, coursing down his arms and raining onto his shoes.
"Hosea! Hosea, goddamn!" breathed Arthur. "You didn't get bit, did you?"
"Some part of me wishes I had been," admitted Hosea with a heavy sigh.
Arthur summoned Charles, who had drift off but responded instantly to the call. With the strength of both assisting his side, Hosea was quickly hoisted to his feet. A quenched mouth and blood oozing from his shoulder left him leaning on Arthur.
"There's a house up ahead," directed Charles. "Seems okay."
"Okay, grab the horses. I got him. Sadie -"
"Hosea, I'm so sorry," she consoled.
Hosea was more content by the idea of being found than he was by minor wound. "Don't apologize, dear. I take another bullet if it meant getting out of here."
Six Point Cabin stood in isolation, just above a meandering hill. There were rumors O'Driscolls use to lodge there, making Arthur ponder if they were still wandering the Heartlands - surviving just like him and the rest were – or their existence had died just like everything else.
The building scent of rotting, saturated wood, along with decomposition rushed over them as they hauled open the doors to the cellar. Below them a sea of black swirled in their eyes. Arthur volunteered to go first, leaving Charles to assist Hosea.
Steadily he conquered each step with a creak. Reaching the floor, the smell had yet adjusted in his nose. His eyes had yet to fix to the darkness. Those distractions left his reflect slow. Had the O'Driscolls not been morbid enough to bind their victims - ones they had abandoned during the outbreak – certainly, one would have pounced upon Arthur in their undead state, leading him to his end.
To Arthur relief, it was only undeads wrestling in their ropes. One dangled from the ceiling, bound by his legs. Its arms, now bare bone beneath melting flesh, reached out towards him with a relentless energy. The other was shackled to the side of the shed, snarling, and spewing discolored liquid from its chapped lips. Arthur was generous, if not inclined, to acquire his revolver and provide an end to their misery.
At Arthur's assurance, Charles emerged from the stairwell with Hosea at his side. Sadie hoovered close.
"What happened to Dutch? And the others?" asked Hosea, as they aided him onto the near table.
Arthur was starting to loath the question.
Charles, noting his resistance, murmured, "He stayed back in Valentine with the other."
A sorrow came over Hosea, one he attempted to conceal.
"But uh, he's fine. They're all fine. It's you and the others we gotta get back there. Especially you," Arthur insisted.
"You know this isn't the first time I've been shot, Arthur," reminded Hosea. "The others, if they're still out there, it's them you need to worry about."
Hosea recalled what had happened those nights ago. Young Lenny had taken lead due to Hosea's injuries. There was pride in his word as he remembered him. When Molly wasn't preening herself, even in potential death her vanity relented, she was bleating about Dutch. Abigail was fretting about Jack, while Strauss fretted about himself. He seemed adamant to avoid the topic of Karen. Javier was his usual low – spoken, docile self. But Uncle, something had shifted. He was ill at the beginning and each mind too occupied by distress had failed to notice the change drawing over him.
"He became one of them…." Breathed Hosea. The memory was still clear. "Most of the women ran. So did Herr Strauss. Javier tried to get them back, but he never came back."
"We'll find them, Hosea," assured Sadie.
"What about the kid?" pressed Arthur.
Hosea fell silent.
John was never a man to determine what right and what was wrong. He was man of survival and survival included both. That was likely Dutch's teachings and honey words influencing him again. But watching the dim speck Valentine became as they rode away – the ideas of Arthur, Charles and Sadie beyond its outskirts and the rest beyond that - John couldn't restrain his doubt. He missed Abigail, always looming behind him. He selfishly missed the alone time he had because Jack was more likely to cling to his her, than him. He cursed himself to even miss Arthur.
He did, though.
An area of unblemished land was just a mile from the road, caught by Dutch's wandering gaze. That was a perfect spot for rest, he assured and the others, having no energy or strength to question, nodded. It was an insipid camp they created for the night, that could never compare to the previous ones they had. No massive fire to assemble around. No lining of tents. No life. Only a few tarps pinned to near tree trunks and several lanterns posted by each bed.
"Dutch," approached John, once the others had descended into sleep, save him, Dutch and Micah. There he was, the only one of them unperturbed by what had all happened and always hoovering at Dutch's side, like a docile dog bound to its master. Though, it was not Micah taking order. "I think, well I'm not sure what to really think, but couldn't we have at least waited for Arthur and Charles and even that Mrs. Adler."
"I wish to tell you differently, son, but waiting for Arthur would have –" Dutch steadily begun.
"Would have gotten us all killed," finished Micah. "Dutch and I both agree, we gotta keep the safety of the others in mind. How I see it, Arthur, the redskin and the widow were just thinking about themselves when they left."
"You feeling okay, Dutch?" inquired John.
Dutch paused. "I'm fine, son."
Micah shifted to John's side and ushered him towards his tent. John was quick to haul him away.
"I know you gotta miss that fine woman, you had. We all had. I do too, scarface. I do too. I'm not one for women," goaded Micah.
"That I believe," he sneered.
Micah slyly laughed. "Especially not the women we got with us. But Abigail; I liked her. She knew how to handle herself, real well."
"Don't talk to me," retorted John.
Both men trudged away the opposite direction, but John, upon reaching his sight, peered back. Jack's meek snoring succumbed his ability to hear Dutch and Micah's continuing conversation. He wanted to indulge in the talk between them as much as he did not.
Glancing back, Jack had just finished readjusting himself on his cot. The sight of the boy made the sorrow supple farther through him. Arthur was right. He needed a mother, especially in this hell. But all he had was a father.
John removed his coat and placed it over him. Time was slow throughout the night and his fear suffocating and yet, never did he sleep.
Yes, I have finally returned (tah, like anyone actually gave a shit!). I'll be honest with you my lovely readers, I was drinking. Also I had writer's block, which you would think the drinking would have cleared that up. I know I found it ironic too! Then all my creativity just died one day (apparently certain meds can do that to you! Crazy). But I sobered up, flushed my pills and created this piece of crap chapter! Yah! So here I am, back on that horse. I hope you guys didn't completely hate this chapter. Review, follow or favorite if you enjoyed! But overall just remember to be safe out there in this crazy world! Don't spit on each other!