"Daryl?! What the hell are you doing?!" I hear, what sounds to be, an old man say.
DARYL? HIS NAME IS DARYL?! I literally have been picked up by the Beverly Hillbillies haven't I?
Mister Asshole himself, who I guess is named Daryl, plops me down on my ass. Hard.
He just looks at me, as if to say,
Would'nt a dropped ya' if ya' had just walked.
It's then that I notice that I'm surrounded not by burly rednecks, but families, moms, dads, kids, and I cock my head to the side, as if looking at the world's biggest mystery.
"Found this one romanin' round the west woods, says she's all by herself out here for five months. Don't believe her though, too plump to be all be herself hunting fer that much food."
Well screw you too I think looking down at my stomach…I hadn't gained weight…had I? NO, of course not! Been portioning my food for quite a while now, barley getting enough to function at times, let alone enough to gain weight. He really is just being a huge dickhole to me. The old man who was talking crouches in front of me and looks me up and down.
"Hi. The name's Dale. Nice to meet you."
I look over at him, astounded that this man had managed to keep his manners with him, even with the world going to shit. I give a small smile offer my hand out to him.
"Rose. Nice to meet you too Dale."
Dale gives me a grin and, grabs my hand, pulling me up off the ground. I dust myself off and stare down Daryl. He stares back, just waiting for me to run.
"Rose, good to know you."
"It's my pleasure Dale, it's a rare thing to see a man with manners since the walkers started appearing. And just so you know, DARYL, I'm not going to run, so quit getting your boxers in a knot and glaring at me like I'm a criminal. Besides, you're the one who shot MY DINNER."
"That turkey ain't had no owner, so it's fair game."
Suddenly a tall, muscular man with soft, brown eyes and a Winchester Model 70 hooked on his shoulder comes over and stands beside Dale. I look up at him, squinting into the sun.
"Well, I'm going to guess by your demeanor that you're the man in charge, right?"
"Yes ma'am, I'm Shane. We're not here to harm you in any way, as long as you don't try and kill us with that bow on your back."
"Right back at you, Mr. Rifle."
He gives a small grin, and then quickly erases it away.
"Mind if we ask you a few questions?"
"Not at all." I say, smiling innocently. Hey, when you've only got yourself and you have to deal with humans, playing the innocent, little girl is sometimes the only thing that keeps you alive and protected. Is it wrong? Maybe. But guess what? It works.
He walks me towards an RV, with Daryl, another redneck, a black man with no hair, and Dale in tow. We all lumber in and I sit down at the table, ready to get this fucking over with so I can get the hell out of here and back to my own camp.
Shane sits down across from me and starts firing off questions, left and right.
"So you're name's Rose? Got any verification for that?"
"Only my class ring that has my name inscribed on the side with my graduation year, 2008. Oh, and my locket. It was my mother's, has all three kids names on it." I say, pulling off my ring and opening the locket to show a picture of my little brother, my little sister, and I with our names on the back to match where we are sitting at in the picture. It seems like that's enough to satisfy Shane, who sits back after looking over my jewelry.
"And not to turn the tables, but I only know you and Dale and Mr. Redneck over there, mind if I get a few names myself?"
"This is T-Dogg," says Shane, pointing to the black man, " and Merle, Daryl's brother," gesturing to the other.
"Good to know, never heard of any of you before but it's nice to make your acquaintance."
"So you got family?"
"HAD a family."
"Well family did pretty well for a few months. Dad was an avid hunter, so plenty of guns and knives at my house. Taught my sister and I to shoot, how to gut an animal, how to make a fire, bunch of survival stuff like that. Every day we'd switch turns going out hunting and fishing, had plenty of venison at first, but the local deer population dried up quick. Still, we were ok on food for a while. Started going after rabbits, turkeys, birds, and the occasional bear. We were out one day scouting out though and a hoard of walkers jumped us. My dad and sister ended up on one side of the hoard and I on the other. I wanted to give my family the chance of getting out, so I started screaming and yelling, pulling the crowd my way, riling them up to chase me. I knew I was good on stamina, I ran track in college. So made them catch my trail, forced a bunch of them to go after me. Circled around for a few hours, made them drop back one by one. Wheezing and exhausted, I made it to camp only to find my entire family was gone. Thought they had up and left, but the more I looked around, the more guns and ammo I found. It was when I found my mother's photo albums that I knew something had gone wrong. She never left those things anywhere. They were the first things packed every time we moved. I searched for hours around the woods, but I knew they had become walkers, or at least a walker's dinner. I mourned and wallowed for a week, barley eating, but I realized that life was going to continue going on and I had to survive. I gathered up as much gear as I could possibly carry on my frame and started trekking south. Made it to Georgia about 2 months ago, been living in these woods for about three weeks."
"What were you before all of this happened?"
I hear a huff from the corner and turn to see Daryl rolling his eyes.
"Something you'd like to add?" I ask coolly.
"I'm callin' bullshit. No way in hell this girl was studyin' at some college. Had to be a scout or somethin', trackin' skills are too damn good for that to be true."
I stand up and stare Daryl strait in the eyes, at least as much as I can.
"I told you, my dad taught me. As crazy as it sounds, I'm a fast learner; you have to be in this world. Otherwise you die."
I sit down, glaring upwards and turn back towards Shane, who has his head down, waiting for me.
"Daryl, keep it shut for now, got it? How old are you?"
"Turned twenty-two last May. If I've been keeping track of the days right, I should be twenty-three in a few weeks time."
"Where's your camp?"
"Four miles north of here, found a little clearing with just enough room for my tent. And if you don't mind, I would like to go back. No offense, but I'm not a group kind of girl."
Shane sighs and looks over at the rest of them, before looking strait back at me.
"You've made it five months, that's impressive don't get me wrong, but…but you can't make it alone. We don't normally let others into our group, hell we NEVER have let anyone new into the group But you, you're a good hunter, a good tracker; you've got skills we need to live as a group."
I stare back at him, my eyes refusing to waver.
"Listen, I don't do well in groups, last time…last…last time I was in a group I lost everyone and almost everything." I say, tears welling in my eyes, "God dammit…no, listen, I appreciate the offer, but no, I'm sorry, I won't."
I see the rest of them shift uncomfortably before settling back down into silence, staring anywhere, but at me. Except, of course, for Daryl, whose eyes bore right through me when I glance at him. Shane draws in a long breath and lets it out slowly, causing me to turn my attention back at him.
"Well it's too dark now to head back to your camp, night will be here in a few hours time and there is too much danger of walkers getting to you. So how about you wait it out here and you can think about the offer if you'd like. In the morning, if you still want to leave, Daryl and Merle will escort you back to your tent. However, you decide to stay, and those two will go with you to gather your belongings and help you set up here…sound fair enough?"
I think it over for a few seconds before giving a slow nod.
"Ok, deal then. Now we don't have much room to spare, but since Daryl and Merle have a three man tent and only two people, they've got extra space, you can bunk there for the night."
"Ummm…are you serious?" I ask, not realizing that the words are actually leaving my mouth until they do, "OH MY LIVING GOD, that sounded so ungrateful; how dare I say something like that! Forgive me! It's just…HE SHOT MY BIRD! AND THEN PROCEEDED TO DRAG ME HERE AND DROP ME ON MY ASS!"
"Listin' Lil' Miss, I. DIDN'T. SHOOT. YER. DAMNED. BIRD. That turkey was just sittin' in the wide open, ain't no one's name on it, so I took my shot. And fer Christ's sake, ya' didn' HAVE to be dropped on yer ass, but someone wouldn't walk now, would she?"
I feel my temperature rising and take a few seconds to breathe in and out as calmly as I can.
"How. Would. You. Feel. If. Someone. Just. Decided. To. Drag. You. Off? No explanations, no discussion, just someone picked you up and decided to take you with them? I could have been being dragged off to some group rape party or torture chamber for all I knew." I explain through gritted teeth, "Now if you all don't mind, I'll be outside."
With that I get up off the seat and stomp my way outside, where I stumble into, and ultimately knocking over, a small boy.
"Oops, oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to run into you." I say, grabbing his hand and hoisting him up off the ground.
"It's alright, my name's Carl."
The kid says, grinning up at me and sticking out his hand. I give a laugh and shake his hand back.
"I know, I heard Dale talking to you…is it true you can track animals?"
"Yep, I can track just about anything out there, except maybe squirrels, those little buggers climb too many trees."
"That's so cool! I wish I could do stuff like that…"
Carl looks down at the ground and scuffs his feet for a few seconds before looking up at me with these big, doe eyes that just seem to swim with need. I stare down for a second and I swear I see the face of my little brother behind those eyes. I feel my own eyes misting up for a second before I take a breath and calm down. I crouch down and get eye level with him.
"How about I make you a deal, Carl? I stay an extra day or two, teach you how to track? It's not that hard to get the basics, after that it's just honing the skill."
Those big eyes are suddenly alight with life and a grin the size of the Grand Canyon splits the kids freckled face.
"Would you really?! That's awesome! Can I ask you something though?"
"Sure little man, what?"
"Why would you do that for me?"
"You remind me of my little brother, Curtis. I wish I had been given the chance to teach him how to track, so this is my…substitute…you're my substitute little brother Carl."
"Really? I've always wanted an older sibling. All of my friends had older brothers and sisters who would teach them to do cool things like how to skateboard or stuff like that, but I never did."
The kid looks up for a second and flings his arms around my neck, pulling me into a hug. I stay still for a moment, but eventually I wrap my arms around his back and pull him in for a proper bear hug. He pushes away and looks at me.
"No problem." I say before glancing up and seeing Daryl standing in the doorway to the RV.
"Well, looks like I'm needed Carl, see you around?"
I watch the little guy dash off in the direction of a small fire before I stand back up and turn towards Daryl.
"Come on, I'll show ya' the tent."