The girl on was in a coffin. The big oak one set in the mourning room. Slender and pale, hair spread out like a crown, a few red strands tainting the perfect gold. Skin pale, face scarred, and her clothes were muddied and stained with blood. Jess sat by her side, wiping the dirt away from the sleeping girls hands, carefully avoiding the small cuts and bruises that covered her palms and wrist. If she knew how to play, she might have sat at the piano and played a song for the sleeping girl. Something soft and soothing like her mom played a long time ago. Her mom was talking to the man from outside. They'd come in and looked in on the sleeping girl, then the man asked how she was and her mom had left the room. Jess wasn't stupid. She knew when grown ups were hiding things.
"I'll be back in a second, don't worry," she gave the sleeping girls hand a squeeze as she tiptoed to the door and pressed her ear to the gap. Her mom was in. The hallway, close to the door, voice strained, "I have no idea how much damage there is but... But she's alive. It's a miracle. I mean, it's happend before, maybe the shit was angled so it missed most of the brain, maybe it only grazed her skull. The shock of bullet sent her body into a coma and her pulse was weak..."
The man cut her off, "how soon till she wakes?"
Rebecca sighed and Jess frowned. She didn't want the girl to be like the others, preserved and buried in the yard. Daddy and Billy from school and Harry the mailman, they were all buried out there, with lots of other dead people Jess didn't know.
"I have no idea. She's strong, she's made some reactions. Could be a day or a month... Your welcome to stay, if you need..."
"No, no. I need to go and meet with her group. I'll tell them to come back..."
Rebecca spoke up, voice firmer, "I can't risk having another person to feed and look out for. Besides, the girl needs someone here to help her figure out who she is."
Silence. Jess rolled her eyes, frustrated. She hoped maybe the man and girl could stay. He seems nice, he gave her a sweet and was nice to her mom. When the girl woke up, maybe she could see her drawings and read the books her mom had found for her. There were footsteps, and her mom headed toward the door, forcing her to ran back to the coffin, patting the wet cloth to the girls brow. Jess peered down at the girls face, startled when she saw her eyes flutter open for a moment, bright blue like the sky in summer, fixing on her before closing again.
Rebecca peered round the doorway, "bed Jess, come on."
"No, but mom..."
Her mother shook her head, pointing upstairs, "now, Jess. Please."
She bit her lip and obeyed, kissing her moms cheek, giving Morgan a smile as she hurried upstairs, rushing into the bathroom where she washed the mud from her hands. The taps didn't work anymore, but her mom always got water from the river spring. It was in the metal basin, warmed by the heat of the day. Jess washed her face and brushed her teeth, brushing her short brown hair a few times, murmuring a song her mom always sang when she was working.
"My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be..."
Jess smiled, thinking about the girl with the gold hair, knowing shed like that song. It wouldn't be long now till she woke up, she had opened her eyes, she was alive, sleepy and hurt but alive. Someone bad had shot her but she was here, alive. Maybe she was an angel. Jess' grandma used to say angels walk among man and come to those in need. The girl downstairs had come back to life, she'd fix everything. Maybe she could bring her daddy back too, and Mr Johnson, and Billy her best friend, and...
Snow barked and Jess jumped, laughing as the dog sat on the edge of her bed, waiting for her to slide beneath the covers before he rested his head on her legs, staring at her with his brown eye. Poor Snow needed help. Maybe the girl could help him get a new eye. When that horrible walking corpse grabbed him it cut his face and her mom had to take it out. Poor Snow howled and his fur was all stained with blood, but now he lay here, happy. He'd brought the man here. Maybe he knew that the girl was special.
"It's a secret, Snow, but the sleeping girl is an angel. She is. She's gonna make it all okay. You wait and see."
Morgan let Rebecca serve him a plate of beans and dry crackers. He didn't want her to go out of the way for him but she seemed happy to help, and had glared at him when he offered to hunt in exchange for a bed for the night.
"I'm not like the others out there... I help people because it's what good people do, I don't want anything in return."
Regardless, Morgan placed a handful of gum on the table. He'd had a lot of it since he passed that abandoned candy store outside of the city. Gum, boiled sweets and lollipops. Worthless for surviving but helpful when in company. She didn't argue, just sat opposite him, pushing the beans around on her plate with a plastic spoon. Morgan cleaned his plate in seconds, momentarily embarrassed by his over eagerness. Rebecca just smiled and handed over her plate.
"I don't eat when I worry."
He slowed his spoon and glanced up at her, "You don't need to worry, I won't try nothing..."
She shook her head, biting at her nail, "No, the girl... I gave her a drip, some pain meds, but... She doesn't wake up soon then she may be..."
"Vegetable," he murmured, suddenly unable to eat, leaning back into the chair, surveying the kitchen. A cupboard was open, filled with jars and tins. Peanut butter. Tomato sauce. Tinned fruit. Pickle jars. If anyone knew how much these two had... Well, he was glad they had let him in, but trusting strangers these days was a risk he knew wasn't worth taking.
"She may have lost some memory. It's common, but this surviving this kind of wound is uncommon. She could be missing a lot when she wakes up... Poor girl will be so scared," Rebecca looked into the small oval mirror behind him, at her reflection. Alone in the world with a fragmented set of memories. She could relate. When Mitchell was gone, she lost it for a while. Lost who she was, where she was meant to be. Jess forced her back. What did the girl have to hold onto?
"This day keeps getting better," Morgan grimaced as his hand brushed the open cut to his cheek. Rebecca noticed instantly, walking over to the drawer by the sink, retrieving an alcoholic swab and a bandage.
"Sorry if it sounds like a bad soap opera but I'm honestly as clueless as you are... But at least she has you. Whatever you know, it'll help."
He shrugged, wincing as she patted the open wound, pressing lightly down on his cheek as she applied the bandage. That's when he noticed her hand. A small stump rested where a small finger should have gone. For some reason, it made him sad. He pitied her. Alone out here, abandoned with a daughter who needed constant care, living in hope of rescue, never failing to help a person in need regardless of the risk.
"I'm gonna go check on her. Help yourself to tomato juice."
When she left, he made a mental note to find some way of repaying her for her kindness. He was a hard man, hardened by grief and anger and pain, but there was no ignoring the pure goodness of a woman who wanted to save people. Damn, he hadn't even asked for more than a blanket to sleep on, and shed given him the bedroom downstairs, closest to the sleeping girl.
Washing his plate, he carefully poured a glass of juice and downed it swiftly, wondering just how far away Rick was, and how he'd ever get to him. There was no god, he was sure of that, but something meant to keep him here, to keep watch on the girl. Maybe she was important. Maybe she could help him.
Maybe she was a sign.
He sat back at the table, resting his head in his arms, trying to relax his nerves. It was the ash being somewhere safe. He wasn't accustomed to sitting down, enjoying a meal with another living person, without needing to watch for the dead or to keep a gun in one hand in case some scavengers came hunting for your stuff. Maybe he just wasn't used to being human. After all, it was those still alive who truly were the walking dead.
Rebecca lingered at the coffin a little too long. The girl was peaceful, the bullet scar stitched closed, almost impossible to notice in the dim candlelight. Her pulse was calm, stable. She knew too well the bullet may have taken out enough brain matter to leave her mentally retarded, maybe even brain dead, but hope was a sentiment she refused to abandon belief in.
There was a crucifix above the coffin. Rebecca smiled. How many stories had her mother told her as a child, of the resurrection. Bible stories she barely believed back then, let alone now. Religion was a comfort few could afford. Everyone knew about the church nearby, how it had been boarded up by the preacher, how he hid inside while his congregation were left to the dead. A woman had told her, a woman lying by the road, bitten, lamenting how little she had done with her life, and how little time she had with her child who had died in her arms. Marlene. That was her name. She was buried outside, beside Mitchell.
"Honey, I'm not in the business of making prayers, but I'm gonna pray for you to come back to us... Your family must be missing you."
The girls fingers twitched and Rebecca let out a relieved laugh, eyes tearing up. If she could, save this girl, maybe there was hope. None of her other rescued patients had made it, but maybe this could be one win for her. A living girl alive because of human kindness and hope.
Injecting the girl with a little more pain relief, Rebecca left her to rest, knowing she would need to watch her overnight.
Entering the kitchen, she smiled as she saw Morgan sound asleep, his plate and spoon washed, aswell as all the other dirty dishes. Most would think she was mad to let in a strange man, to put her and her daughter at risk, but he wasn't one of them. Shed known the moment she saw him. The sadness in her eyes, the scars of past haunted his every step. Mitchell had been the same. When he came home and said his parents were gone, that his sister had been bitten and tried to eat him, the sadness just lingered in his every step. Morgan was stronger. He had pushed past the darkness and moved on. Rebecca knew he would leave with the girl, and she felt sad to lose them already. It was comforting, having a mother adult to talk to, and the thought of being alone... No. She'd give him the spare car. Mitchell had fixed cars up for a living and she had three in the garage. There were five petrol canisters left, but she'd give him two. Maybe if he made it to Washington, they'd find help.
Placing a hand on Morgan's shoulder, she gave him a gentle shake. He stirred instantly, alarmed for a moment, before apologising.
She smiled, shaking her head, "You need sleep, come on, I'll show you the room."
He didn't argue, pushing his chair in, aware of her sudden hesitation as they left the room, going down a step into an unlit narrow room. Rebecca sighed, lighting a candle, watching him anxiously. That's when he noticed what lay beside him in an open coffin. A walker, dead, face preserved and almost human, save for the broken jaw and black lips.
"I don't like to think of them as monsters... Their sick people."
He prayed she wasn't the type to keep these things in the vain hope of finding a cure, so he muttered,"Sick people who will rip you apart."
Rebecca frowned and nodded, brushing back her hair with her fingers, "I know... And if I see one I take them out without hesitation. I just don't like leaving them... Like that. When I can, I bring them back, try and make them look like they were, and bury them out there."
Morgan found the concept strange but he was not about to dismiss her beliefs. Go back a year ago, when his wife was roaming the streets, maybe he would have appreciated a woman like Rebecca coming along to give her a merciful burial. His wife was out there somewhere, rotting, a corpse with a skull split open by the husband who once vowed to love her till death did they part. When he looked up at Rebecca, he saw she was uneasy, seeking some sort of opinion from him.
"Your a good woman, Rebecca."
It was all he could manage but she smiled regardless, waving him toward the door behind her, "this is your room. It was the old laundry room but with the lack of electricity, I kinda turned it into a room for Jess to read."
The candle light revealed a room that was alike to the study he had once had in his first house, back when his wife was pregnant with... He nodded. There were drawings pinned to the cream walls, the wooden floor scattered with books that she began to tidy. A low sofa and an array of cushions lay atop of it, the blanket a soft red that called to him. It had been along time since his body had felt the soft caress of a good bed. When he smiled, she noticed how sad a smile it was. The way he looked at the drawings and the large stuffed bear in the corner... She knew he hadn't just lost a partner or a friend. He lost a child.
"I hope you'll be comfortable, Morgan."
Pulling off his jacket, he sat on the bed, giving her a broad smile, "more comfortable than I've been in months."
When she left, he lay down and expected sleep to overtake him swiftly, but the childish aura of the room kept his eyes focused on the drawings. Crayon lines formed the shapes animals and trees and flowers. The papers pinned close to him showed a woman with red hair labelled 'mommy' and a brown haired girl labelled 'me,' standing beneath a man sitting on a cloud. The name read 'daddy.' His eyes watered. His boy drew pictures like that. Pictures where the grass was green and the sky was blue and the cows were yellow because he'd run out of crayons and he'd have to make do. As he got older, he's stopped being a kid, started worrying more about weapons that his comic books. In the end, before she... Before she got him, he wasn't the boy Morgan had raised. The world didn't let you be a child anymore. Jess was lucky to escape the real world but in time, when they had to move on, she'd be in danger. If Rebecca lost her, would she lose herself the way he had? Could she still believe in hope and humanity if the one light left in her light went out?
That was why he stayed, not because he needed the sleeping girl, but because he wanted to help her. Somewhere in Rick's group, there was someone who had lost her, and maybe they had lost the light that helped keep them fighting. It was his duty to help her. Rick had done so much, now it was Morgan's turn to relight the fire of hope.