Shock. That's what he felt searing through him as he stared at the dog. The same dog who'd come to the house. Same dog Beth had left a bowl of food out for. Same dog he'd tried to call back just to see her smile. It watched him, tongue lolling to one side, it's one eye fixed on him. He heard Beth again, her voice traveling in the breeze that chilled him. You said there was a dog. Her smile, that childish intrigue in her tone, it began to break him and he looked away from the dog, eyes burning. The stupid creature just kept watching, panting, keeping him company and yet only making him feel more alone. He swore at himself, angry at his weakness, angry at the pain he felt flooding into him from the memories of times long lost. Damn dog didn't help. It followed him, lying it's head on his lap, waiting for attention. He fought the urge to push it away, send it running, letting his hand rest nervously on it head. It seemed to like that. It's body relaxed and his eye closed as Daryl slowly scratched behind it's ears. He knew too well how to treat a dog. He'd played with enough growing up, been attacked by a few on the road with Merle, but they had basic needs and he could relate.
"You out here look in' for her too?" He asked he creature, it's ears pricking up to his voice. Daryl sighed. Was he really so desperate for company that he was talking to a one eyed dog. Usually this kinda scenario was brought on by drinking but as he sadly noted, he hadn't had a drop of alcohol since that moonshine enriched stay at the shack with Beth.
The whole thing was crazy to him. Just when he was sure he'd have to suffer alone here was the dog Beth had wanted to see so much. If he was anything like that chicken shit priest he'd believe Saint Beth had sent the good creature to ease his sorrow. Religion and superstitions were comfort for the weak minded and Daryl couldn't let himself fall prey to stupid beliefs. Too many people relied on him. Instead of praying, he pulled out the cigarettes he'd stashed in his pocket, lighting one up, taking a long draw on it, blowing the smoke out with a pained sigh. There was something else in his pocket. He drew it out, rolling his eyes. Damn cassette tape, the artist name unknown to him. The dog seemed interested in it so he let him have it, it's teeth clinking against the cheap plastic. Music didn't mean much to him anymore.
A soft breeze rusted the fallen leaves that covered the Forrest floor, the dogs head lifting, smelling something from the south. Daryl glanced behind him, wondering what the creature had caught scent of. Wouldn't be a walker. No groans. Maybe just some squirrel. Then, without warning, the dog howled and Daryl jumped, startled, cursing as it howled again. The sound was mournful, sad. Like he was calling for someone who couldn't hear him. Hell, that feeling was all to familiar for Daryl. He patted the dogs head, getting up.
"Come on, full stomach will help."
The dog didn't seem to hear him, focused on the shadows behind him. He barked, pulling at Daryl's trouser leg, bounding into the shadows, a white spectre dancing amongst the trees. It wanted to be followed. Daryl began to walk away but the dog ran around his legs, almost causing him to trip. Frustrated, he shooed it away, walking back to camp, the dogs howls making him feel uneasy.
Poor mutt probably missed whoever took care of him. There's a certain love between a dog and it's owner, the care and love you give a pet makes it dependant on that person. He frowned. People used to call him Merle's dog. Running after him, looking to him for guidance and affection. Wasn't Daryl's fault he didn't have anyone else who gave a shit about him. One good thing about this world, weren't many people to judge who you were. Age, race, background, nothing mattered. In the old would, a guy like him would be avoided by every member of his group. Except maybe Beth. At the farm she' been wary of him but only because he was a different guy back then. Easily aggravated, ill mannered... First time they ever spoke she'd come in after he got shot, offering to get him something to eat. He'd glared at her and warned her to get out. Even then, scared and nervous as she was, she gave him a sharp look and marched out.
At the house, she must have seen him change. He hoped so. He hoped she'd understood by the way he looked at her that he didn't change on his own. It was because of her. There'd been something in that look they shared at the table, something he didn't understand and yet knew too well. Maybe that's why he missed her so much. Maybe because they almost had something. Something he'd never even considered before. Something he still didn't understand. Something he'd never have. It was more than just a feeling, it was deeper, deep enough to make her being gone more painful than anything he'd ever felt before. When he couldn't find Sophia, then failed Carol when he opened that barn door to see her dead... That hurt. When Merle stared at him with empty, soulless eyes, reaching out to tear him apart... That hurt even more. When Beth was seconds away from being back beside him, when that bullet shot through her... It didn't hurt him. It destroyed him. He wouldn't let anyone carry her because she was his burden to hold.
The heat of her body in his arms still burnt and he glanced at the dog, recognising it's desperate need to run home. Suddenly, he was angry. Angry for remembering Beth and reliving the pain. Angry at the dog for dragging back the images of the house and the ghost of her voice. He grabbed a rock and threw it, just missing it's face, yelling, "Go on! Get! She ain't here no more! She's gone, your too late!"
The second rock hit it's mark, striking the dogs leg. It whimpered, running. He watched it disappear, till all that remains where the shadows of the trees and a few silver streams of moonlight.
Guilt. All he felt was guilt. He slumped against the tree behind him, eyes opening to find the night was fading, early rays of sunlight steaming across the horizon. His leg ached, he moved moved it shivering as he noticed he'd been resting it in the river... He was here. By the river. No sign of the dog. No sign of anything. He'd fallen asleep at this tree. Daryl yawned groaning as he felt his head ache. He reached for the cigarettes in his pocket confused when he felt something missing. The tape. The tape was gone.
Maybe he hadn't been dreaming. He cursed and rose up, hurrying back to the RV, unwilling to think about what had passed that night. All those memories, all those emotions how angry he was how he treated the dog she wanted to see so much...
He spun round, heart racing, hearing her voice. Beth's voice. He ran in the direction of its caller, tripping over roots and weeds, racing toward... Michonne. She seemed concerned when her eyes met his.
"We were worried you'd got lost... Alexandria have made contact. We need to leave, now."
Driving into Johnson City was a fools decision, but Morgan didn't have much choice. Going around the town would have cost them a days travel and winter was falling fast. He was sure there would be snow in the next few weeks. They had to be fast or finding Rick would be impossible. Dawn agreed to his suprise. They woke early, Snow still missing. She had spoken up and admitting they couldn't afford to waste time. For someone so young he admired how strong she was. It helped when he was forced to make risky decisions like this. At least he could rely on her being as calm and steady as he was.
"Main Street is up this way," she murmured, pointing to a road with houses either side. He'd planned on them staying in one of them for the night but after the explosion he was keen to get past this town swiftly. The area seemed desolate, no walkers in sight, a few bodies on the sidewalk warning of recent visitors. Not till they neared Main Street did they notice the car blocking the way. It was almost too obvious a trap. Morgan knew he had no choice but to move it. If it was a trap there was no going back. Dawn read his mind but seemed less convinced of foul play.
"Something's burning up ahead... There should be a row of shops there..." She sprinted past the car where a fire was burning low, the absence of shops visible over the jeep parked across the road making him question what had happend here. The sound of a door opening forcing him to look right, calling Dawn's name to no avail. She was running ahead, past the car. He cursed, grabbing his knife, running after her. He darted glances left and right, unnerved but how desolate a place it was. The explosion yesterday would have brought attention to this small town from every direction,and yet this town was the most desolate he had ever come across. When he found her, she was standing, watching the fire with wide eyes. Her mind was burning with images of a fire she had lit, with a shadowy figure by her side. Burn it down.
"We should burn it down," she whispered, walking forward, unaware of the confused glance Morgan had passed her way. Rubble and metal beams lay to her right. Smoking as though some great dragon were asleep beneath the rubble. Gravestones of what had been destroyed. Metal shards were everywhere burnt black. Pieces of a metal warehouse most likely. She looked past the burnt shops to the fire still burning. A smell hit her and she gagged. Cooked flesh. A mound of bodies lay in charred pieces around the fire. Faces too deformed by fire to let her recognise who they might have been. She held a hand to her mouth, muffling a cry. What if they were her group? What if they were dead and she'd watched from afar as they lost their lives in an explosion shed been miles away from? What if... No. No, she could see clearly now. The bodies were unarmed, most were moving, undead. No she knew they weren't her group, in her heart, in her gut, she knew.
Some were closer to her, a few snarling as they slowly burnt, eyes melted down, teeth barred as they bit the air. Training her knife over one of them, she pierced through its eye socket, soft flesh absorbing her knife. She did the same for most of the ones still moving. They weren't living people, but they had been once. Rebecca had shown her kindness, she gave the dead a better ending, remembering they were once people. Dawn wanted to show that same mercy.
Morgan warned her away but she kept going, fear pumping through her blood. She prayed her friends weren't among the dead. Her toe hit a bundle of boxes, all burnt, save for one which emerged from the ash as she lifted it. JC Sparklers. She recognised the name.
Fireworks. Fireworks her father bought every fourth of July. Fireworks Maggie always insisted she light, exploding into the star filled sky. Jimmy was there sometimes, trying to scare her with firecrackers. Her mom would hurry over and complain they were scaring the horses. Her dad would wink at her and lead them out to the field, lighting a few more. Part of her wished she could just go home.
Tears filled her eyes but she wiped them away, pushing the box of sparklers into her jacket pocket. With a small sigh, she said goodbye to the days she could enjoy life with her family, turning back to Morgan with fire in her eyes, "we need to go. There's nothing left for us here."
He stared around, nodding, hurrying over to the car, pushing it aside. As she rushed over to help, she noticed a walker a little way up the road. The road they would soon be taking. The road out of town. In it's head was an arrow. Green tipped, so familiar and yet she couldn't remember why. It seemed to beckon her over, crying out for her to retrieve it. Carefully, she pulled it out of the walker, blood dripping from it's pointed end, her fingers softly caressing the cool metal. Someone let her use one of these once. Shot from a...
Beth looked to the way ahead, frowning, chest constricted as though something had taken hold oh her, pulling her forward, pulling her back to them. What did it mean. Who did they mean... She knew who. It was the person who evaded her memory and yet never left her. The shadowy figure without a face who was at Rebecca's house, who took care of her, who meant so much...The fire, the arrow... Who had been there with her...
"Beth! Get in!"
Morgan had pulled up behind her, waiting, a nervous look in his deep brown eyes. Dawn was suddenly aware of a low rumble from afar, the street lights turning on one by one. Unable to move, she looked at him. A single word left her lips,
They were on the road again, and rick was relieved to be out of the danger... For now. Getting back to his son and daughter had been the cure for his momentary fear and holding onto them was what urged him forward. Douglas seemed all to aware of how eager he was to get going, never letting the radio slip from his grasp trying to get an answer to his message for help. After a night of nothing but static, Rick began to prepare for the worst, ready to accept they were on their own. He began to become aware of his group. Maggie, pale and listless was with Glenn who looked like a man without a years sleep. Carol was with Tyrese, treating his burns, while Sasha slept. Abraham was studying he map again, alone, ignoring Eugene and the others as they rested in their beds. Daryl was missing, but Rick knew all too well he needed time alone. Hell, he was lucky Daryl hadn't lost sight of everything the way he had when Lori died... Rick wasn't even sure why, but he had a feeling the time Daryl and Beth had spent alone hadn't been uneventful. She meant more to him than he could understand and seeing him hold her, crying, broken... Rick thought he might be looking in a mirror. When the sun began to rise, and a radio message came in, Rick began to care less for Alexandria and more for the possibility of Daryl leaving.
"Douglas... Sending a unit...meet at checkpoint alpha...sundown..." The transmission cut off and Douglas tried to get it back. Failing. Slamming the desk with his fist, taking a deep breath before glancing at Rick.
"Dale city. Town of communities... It was out first safe zone till we lost it to the dead... We better start off, good two days ride," he pointed to the map, a pin stuck into the town, the idea of a sanctuary giving Rick the energy to push on. He turned to Michonne who lingered beside him, studying the map with a thoughtful expression.
"I need to find Daryl..."
Rick started but she nodded, moving to go, voice low and she spoke to him, "we should trust him... I've heard about Dale... It fell to the dead but there were survivors."
Rick gave her an appreciative look, facing Douglas who seemed relieved and weary, "You get some sleep."
He seemed wary, uneasy, "I don't feel like being let behind so I'll stay up."
Rick shook his head, placing a hand don't he mans shoulder, "I ain't in the habit of believing strangers much either... But if were being saved, then I owe you a lot. Till then, rest up."
Douglas agreed with a shrug, too tired to argue, the smell of smoke still with him as he collapsed on the spare bed, ignoring the conversations of those around him, thinking of his family. He swore he'd never cheat again. Swore he'd kiss Regina like she meant something, maybe ease up on his son. These people might be a little wild but he appreciated how they looked out for each other. He admired the bond between them. Most of all, he looked to Rick and his kids and saw a type of love he never knew. All those years feeling lost and hopeless, maybe all he needed was to love his family. If he ever saw them again.
The RV engine began, and they were moving. Douglas closed his eyes, dreaming of his wife.
Morgan stopped the car at an abandoned gas station. He didn't have much choice. When they left Johnson City Dawn had fallen asleep almost instantly, murmuring in her sleep, holding her head as though it were hurting her. Deep down he feared she might be bleeding internally, her wound seeming to have healed but he wasn't a doctor. Then, he realised gas was running low. Kyle and Ben had taken a tank and they were suffering for it now. The gas station was a desperate attempt to gain some more miles in the car but Morgan doubted he'd have any luck. As they pulled in, he noticed the lack of interference with the glass of the shop window, the door still closed. The gas station was out the way, and there were no cars around. Morgan considered it possible that it was too out of the way to be looted.
He glanced over at Dawn as she woke, the name she spoke seeming to cause her more confusion than it did to him. Glancing out the window, she frowned.
"We outta gas?"
He nodded, "ain't got much left, used too much fuel on those nights we needed the heat on."
She rubbed her head, looking outside, pulling her jacket closer. Nervous. The girl was nervous, so he did what he knew would work. He gave her a boiled sweet. She laughed and took it, giving him a playful punch, "I'll have no teeth by the time we find the others."
He let out a rumbling laugh, opening the car door, knife in hand. Dawn followed, slowing as she remembered the arrow that was carefully hidden by her feet. Something told her she needed of clean it, so as she got out of the car, she looked at the shop, knowing there might be a cleaning cloth inside. He glanced at Morgan who nodded.
She smiled. He was repeating her words. Hurrying to the shop door, she wiped away the grime, peering in. Empty. She tapped the window. No walkers. Morgan loos over form the petrol metre he was studying, "break the glass, I got your back."
Without hesitation, she found the heaviest item at hand. A brick from the broken wall a little while off. The glass smashed and she turned the handle on the inside, slipping in, shivering. It smeled bad in there. Rotten food and something else. Something was dead in here, she could sense it. A few steps in and she saw it. An old corpse, warped by the summer heat, killed by a bullet from the gun it held. No walkers had been eating from it so she knew she was safe. Grabbing the gun, she slipped it into her jeans, searching the shelves. More tins of food that she cleared into her bag till it was full. The fridges were off and filled with ice cream tubs. Dawn remembered how much she loved ice cream. Vanilla. That was her favourite. Maggie liked chocolate chip. Dad liked blue berry. Sighing, she moved onto the shelf filled with stationary. Nothing was worth taking. Soem string. A comic book. The counter held little. A till full of money lay open but she didn't even consider stealing from it. A cabinet of cigarette boxes were on display. Useless. All she noticed was the box of gum that seemed a good idea. Some beef jerky. A bottle of whiskey. Cleanings rags... Then, on a low shelf, hidden amongst jars of mayonnaise and pickles, she saw something. A small jar labelled pigs feet.
She didn't understand her own impulse to take them, the name making her wrinkle her nose, her hands placing it gingerly into her bag. Something told her she wasn't taking them for herself, or for Morgan.
Closing the bag, she ran out, pulling the gun out, startled when she noticed Morgan crouching low. He urged her to get down, taking her hand, pulling her down behind the car.
"Heard something running over there."
Dawn trained the gun in the direction he pointed, over by two barrels filled with what were weeds now. More footsteps sounded and she got the trigger ready. About to fire as the intruder emerged...
"Snow!" She called out smiling as the creature came bounding toward her, Morgan snatching the gun as the dog leaped up onto Dawn, licking her face, dropping something in front of her. Frowning, she studied it, fingers wet from it's thick coat of saliva.
"Well I'll be damned," Morgan laughed. Dawn was howling a cassette. The label was blurred by its poor choice of carrier but Dawn made out the name birdy. Petting the dog, she went over to Morgan, smiling eagerly as she saw he had filled a tank of gas. Sliding back into the car, helping snow onto the back seat, she slotted the cassette in, holding the arrow carefully as she listen to the first song, leaning back, eyes half closed. The first song played and the voice of its singer forced tears to her eyes, her heart aching as she heard the words.
'How unfair, it's just our love
Found something real that's out of touch
But if you'd searched the whole wide world
Would you dare to let it go?
'Cause what about, what about angels?
They will come, they will go, make us special'
Glancing at the bow, she began to clean it with the rag in her hand, tears falling on it metal tip as she bowed her head and tried to focus on the good. On the light ahead of her. Yet all she could linger on was the absence of memory. The shadowy figure she may never remember. The warmth she felt when she saw that arrow, and the cold that settled when she realised she'd never understand what it meant. Maybe she was too damaged. Too broken. Too far gone to ever come back the same girl shed been. Even her name felt wrong. Dawn. It wasn't who she was. Everything was wrong, everything was misty and hidden. All she knew was that this song was for her, and this arrow was a part of her, and miles away, somewhere, someone was missing her as much as she missed them.