Don't Die, Will
"Dad!" Himari hugged her father.
"David!" Exclaimed Lucas.
David saw his daughter in their arms. He was naturally shocked. He ran to her and grabbed her.
"J-Jul! Jul!" He shook her, "What happened to you?"
Then he saw her wounded area and froze.
"We gotta move!" Olivia shouted, "Get in the jeep! Everyone!"
"Who did this?" David said with a low voice.
"David, we need to move fast! I'll tell you everything on the way!"
They got into the jeep before the rest of the deads could come out. Ren turned the jeep and headed for south as the others told him to, with Marco following them with Buck.
With full speed, after riding for around 40 minutes, Rust came to Nolan's sight. He stopped the horse. He couldn't believe his eyes. Even standing a bit far from home, he could see that Rust had fallen. The gate was broken down. He could hear the sound of cannibals clearly. Few cannibals were roaming around. From the look, he was sure that everyone inside was dead.
How long? How long has it been? I-is everyone dead? No, some of them should have already escaped. Olivia, Emma, Manny, Marco, Ruby...they e-escaped, didn't they?
He carefully entered the forest beside the road to keep out of sight and slowly approached Rust without making much noise. He came in front of the gate, but kept hidden into the bushes of the forest. He got down the horse and tried to look through the entrance.
This place...is totally overrun. The dead bodies, all around the ground. It's all because of me. Because I couldn't do my job properly, innocent people died.
He closed his eyes tightly.
I killed them.
He kept his eyes closed for few minutes. Then opened again. He inhaled and exhaled deeply. Let it out all.
Depends on how much I know Grace, she wouldn't be able to handle these situations properly. So, I am assuming Olivia was in charge. If it's Olivia, she must've had a plan to escape if things went wrong, which it did. So...
He looked at the north.
They didn't go north. 'Cause if they did, I would've seen them obviously. So, it's not north. Entering the forest wouldn't be a wise choice either. They wouldn't be able to see what's coming in this dark. Too risky to travel. So, that leaves with one option.
He turned his head looked the other way, to the south.
South. The obvious choice, closest route the cities and towns. Though it's still risky. But better than forests when it's night time. They must've went along the road.
There might be still some people inside, trapped. But with all these cannibals roaming around, I'm not planning to get inside.
Something caught his eyes.
Tire tracks? We don't have any vehicles. So where did this come from? Judging from its pattern, it's also headed south.
He got up the horse and started to move slowly to the south through the forest following the road.
"Keep moving," said Synthia to Brad and Diana.
They were both tied up with ropes, moving ahead of Synthia and Katie. They'd been going through the forest to the south after escaping.
Since Synthia and Katie were the one to watch over Brad and Diana, after the gate fell, it was their responsibility to take them to the other side safely. When they reached the other side, all of a sudden, Brad and Diana started running away. Synthia and Katie chased them down. Before knowing anything, they were deep into the forest. When they almost got back to the road, they saw a jeep and Marco riding a horse to the south. And that was why they were also heading south.
It had been a few minutes since then. Suddenly, Diana turned her head behind.
"I'm thirsty. Can I have water?" she said with a tired face.
Katie took out a water bottle from her bag and let her drink few sips.
"Why are still being watched over?" Bran said as if he was really annoyed by it, "It's over. Your wall has fallen. Leave us."
"No," Synthia replied with a straight face.
"Why? What will you get from holding us?"
"You'll be freed only and only if the leader says so."
"Where is your leader, huh?"
"Tch," his gestures showed his annoyance.
Just walking a few more steps silently, they heard something coming behind them. Synthia and Katie pushed Brad and Diana behind a bush and took cover. They looked carefully, someone was coming riding a horse.
Someone from Rust? Thought Katie.
It was also dark so they couldn't see the person properly. The person riding the horse passed them without noticing them at first. Then they stopped. The person turned around his horse and faced the bush.
"Come out," said the person.
That voice... Katie recognized it.
"Nolan, is that you?" Katie came out the bushes along the others.
"Nolan, you're alive!"
"Synthia, is that you?"
After that, they had a whole conversation about what happened in the Rust before and after the cannibals got to them. Nolan also shared the part of his story. Though he intentionally left out how Arthur ruined the plan.
"Where are you headed?" Asked Synthia.
"Oh? Did you also see the jeep?"
"Jeep?" Nolan suddenly remembered about the tire tracks, "I saw some tire tracks earlier."
"We saw the jeep. It was heading south."
"How long has it been since you saw it?"
"Um, roughly 10 minutes?"
"10 minutes, huh." Nolan looked at the south, "We should keep moving then. We'll catch up to them if we get lucky."
"On foot?" Synthia and Katie asked at the same time.
The jeep was moving at an average speed. Ren was the one to drive it. He looked behind through the rear mirror. David was sitting still with her daughter's head on his lap. After Olivia shared the story with them, everyone went silent.
David wasn't thinking of anything other than about his children's life. They didn't know about Will's whereabouts and Julia was at the edge of her life. David looked at his daughter with a pale face. He patted her head slowly.
Olivia looked back to see if Marco was okay. He was following them.
The jeep was going along the empty road. The moon seemed to come of the clouds. That helped them a bit to see the road clearly. Both side of the road were covered with forest. Ren had to be extra careful. He had to keep his eyes on both sides of the road.
Lucas pulled up his side of windshield since the breeze was cold. He was sitting behind David. So he couldn't see his face. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his left shoulder. He turned left. From Manny's gesture, he could tell that he was telling him to hang in there. Lucas nodded to him and turned his head to the window.
Suddenly, Ren pushed the break. They all came forward a bit.
"What's the matter?" asked David.
Ren didn't have to answer that question. Everyone's eyes were at the front automatically. They saw something was coming from the left side of the road, from the forest. It was dark, but the moonlight helped them a bit to see.
Two persons came out of the forest. From their body structure and with the help of the moonlight, it wasn't hard enough for the survivors to identify those persons.
"Where is my mom?" The first thing Arthur asked when he couldn't find his mother among them.
They parked the jeep where it was. A few steps from there, they made a fire to warm themselves and put a camp. They all sat down around the fire. Julia was laid down on the ground. Will, David and Lucas were sitting next to her, waiting for her to gain consciousness. Olivia was sitting a bit far away from them. Emma was sitting next to her following with Juan, Manny and Ruby. Ren was sitting on the other side with his daughter. Marco was patting Buck. And Arthur was standing there impatiently.
"I asked where is my mom?!"
Nobody spoke. Everyone was staring at the fire, the fire was making sounds of woods burning. With having no response, Arthur seemed annoyed.
"Grace is dead," Olivia said staring at the burning fire.
"Your mom, is dead."
"Bullshit!" shouted Arthur, "How would you know that?!"
"Because, I saw her body."
"When we were still defending the place," she said with no emotions, "When things were getting out of hand. We decided to retreat. When I was backing up, I tripped over something and fell on the ground. I turned to see what it was that I tripped over. Then I saw."
She looked at him with a straight face, "I saw Grace."
Arthur wasn't ready to hear that. He looked at everyone to see if she was telling the truth. But none of them looked him back.
"What happened to Jack? And Rodriguez?" asked Emma.
"Rodriguez is...dead," answered Ren, "And Jack..."
"Jack didn't come with us," David talked instead, "Turns out, Arnold sent men to kill Jack and Rodriguez. We happened to locate them. They were hiding in one of the places which was marked in the map. Rodriguez died fighting. We took out his men. But there were more to come. We couldn't fight them alone. Jack..."
David put his hand on Julia's head, "He left behind, so that we can escape. He sacrificed himself."
Arthur almost fell on the ground. But he manage to control himself somehow.
"Tell us what happened in the north?" asked Olivia to Arthur, "How did you end up here? And where is Nolan?"
Arthur went deeper into the forest ignoring the question.
"When we reached there, the place was crawling with deads," spoke Will, "It was more in number than we assumed. But nevertheless, we carried on with the plan as Nolan instructed."
He looked at the way where Arthur went, "But, the mission was a failure. We couldn't distract them with only three people. We were surrounded by them. Arthur and I...we fell into the river nearby. The stream was strong and it brought us to the south."
"And Nolan," said Olivia, "Is he alive?"
Will shook his head, "I don't know."
As the fire was slowly dying, Ren threw some more woods into it. In no time, the fire regained its life.
"You said Nolan told you to carry the mission anyway," Emma said while looking at the fire, "Even after knowing that the number of the cannibals increased?"
"Nolan is the smartest person I know. He has a strong sense of observing critical situations. When he says it's fine to carry a mission. It means it's safe, as long as one sticks to his plan. You said he didn't stop the mission," Emma looked Will, "So, it should've been fine, shouldn't it?"
"it's fine," said Olivia, "If he is alive, he'll catch up to us."
"But, what if he isn't?" Emma asked hesitantly.
"I need some air," Olivia stood up and moved way.
Marco was patting Buck a bit far away from the camp.
"Hey," Olivia approached.
"I know," He looked at his cloths, "Need to take a shower soon. But its freezing."
"Yeah, winter is coming."
Olivia put her hand on Buck and rubbed it.
"Thanks for saving Buck."
"Ah no need," He said, "You always go around saying 'Buck this' and 'Buck that', so I had to save him, you know."
"No, I don't!"
"You do," Marco laughed.
"But really, thanks," She smiled at him, "I was only thinking about myself when it all happened. I totally forgot about him though he is the most precious thing to me. I am so ashamed of myself. I don't deserve him."
Marco looked at her, "You know, when the cannibals broke the gate, I ran away. I was hiding inside a house, looking outside through the window. I was scared. My limbs weren't moving. I was never been so terrified in my life. In that moment, something crossed my mind. You know what it was?"
"A thought of escaping," He pulled his hand away from Buck, "I wanted to escape, leaving everyone behind, just to save myself."
"Then I saw you, fighting like your life was depending on it, well it was," He paused, "When you decided to retreat, the herd was following your way. I took advantage of the situation. I waited for the herd to get cleared from the gate. Then I went to get a horse. I saw Buck, it reminded me of you. Since I was planning to escape, I thought, 'Might as well as save a friend too'."
He smiled, "You see, you shouldn't blame yourself. Even if you did forget about Buck. You were saving lives back there. And look at me, a pathetic loser who was only thinking about his own life. Maybe because of saving so many lives you got Buck back. Think it that way, huh?"
She smiled too, "I guess so."
Marco looked at the sky. Following his eyes, Olivia also looked up. They could barely see the sky through the trees.
"Do you...think Nolan is..."
"He is okay," he said, "He should be."
"I hope so t-"
The bushes near them suddenly started to move. Both of them backed away a bit. Just in a moment, someone came out.
"Oh, did I scare you?" the person said.
"You sleepy, kid?" David asked Will.
"Huh?" he yawned, "No, I am not."
"You were dozing."
"It's just...it's been a long day," he said rubbing his eyes, "I'm tired, that's it."
"We all are." David said looking at Julia.
As the night approached, it seemed as if the intensity of winter was increasing. David took off his jacket and laid it on Julia.
"Look at her," David smiled, "Sleeping so peacefully."
Will looked at her sister. All of a sudden, he felt a twist inside him. He began to repent. He thought, if he was Julia's place in the discussion room, then maybe Ethan might'd shot him instead of her.
If I had to save her like that, I wouldn't hesitate, he thought.
"That kid," David interrupted his thoughts, "Ethan, was it?"
"He was a friend of yours? From school?"
"A classmate," Will corrected his father. He hid the fact that he never had any 'friend'.
"He's going to pay for what he has done," David said clenching his jaw.
Will could see a hint of hatred in his father.
"Look at her," David changed the subject after a small pause, "She is so big now."
"I remember when she was born. Gave your mother a hard time," He laughed but it disappeared as quickly.
"I miss mom," the words came out of his mouth unintentionally.
At first, David didn't say anything. Which made Will feel a bit embarrassed.
"Me too, kid," David said quietly.
Suddenly, they all heard something from the bushes. Olivia and Marco came out along with some people.
"I hope I'm not interrupting," said Nolan.
"Nolan!" Emma nearly jumped and hugged him tighly.
"Ah, it still hurts," he looked at his stomach.
"Oh, sorry," Emma said, "I'm just happy that you're alive."
"Nolan!" same reaction from Manny and the others.
"Synthia and Katie! You guys are alive too!"
"Ain't dying so easily," Katie smiled.
"These guys," Ruby looked at Bran and Diana.
Will caught Nolan's eyes.
"Will! You're okay!"
"He didn't want to be with us," said David, "I thing you'll find him there," he pointed the way Arthur went with his eyes.
"David," said Nolan, "So, the car was yours."
He looked around, "Jack?"
Ren kept the story short. Nolan seemed a bit upset after hearing it.
"And Grace?" he asked and looked Olivia.
He understood from her silence.
"How did you survive?" asked Manny, "We heard the story and thought you were...you know."
Nolan looked at Will. Their eyes met. Will shook his head lightly. Nolan understood the gesture.
Good, you didn't tell them the 'truth'. Or else, it would've been difficult to maintain things with Arthur and the others. The fact that Arthur screwed over the plan and cost many lives, they won't take it lightly of this.
"So what happened?" asked Emma.
Nolan started the story from the scratch. And throughout the story, he kept his eyes on Will to see his reactions. So that both of their stories were on the same line. He kept out the actual reason behind the failure of the mission.
"When I was lying there, on the ground, I thought I was done for," he continued, "then before passing out, I heard a paint gunshot. It came from the south."
"It was probably the shot that Nia fired," Olivia said.
"Yeah, they broke free and took Grace hostage."
"Is that how she..."
"No," Olivia shook her head, "She died fighting afterwards."
Things got quiet for a bit. But Nolan broke the silence.
"If it weren't for that gunshot, I wouldn't be standing here. As soon as they heard the sound, they all walked away that way ignoring me," he added, "Turns out, the cannibals are likely to be really sensitive to the sound of gunshot."
"That's new," said Juan.
With a pause, Nolan started speaking with a guilty voice.
"I'm sorry," he said, "It's my fault. I know I'm not in the place to ask for forgiveness. Many people died because of me. Only if I hadn't give the orders, it could've been different."
Everyone looked at each other but didn't say a word.
David looked at Nolan.
"Back in Rust, Grace passed her leadership to you," he continued with a little break, "So if you have any punishment for me for my failure, I'll gladly accept it."
David kept staring at him with cold eyes of his. They both kept staring at each other. Until David sighed and looked away.
"Don't become so dramatic, kid." he added, "What's done is done. We only keep moving forward."
He looked at Nolan, "If you're blaming yourself for all of these, stop."
The last one seems like an order. So Nolan nodded to that. He looked Julia. She looked awful. He wanted to ask about his conditions but it might upset the others so he didn't.
Arthur looked behind when he heard some noise.
"Huh, so you're alive," He looked away, "Thought you were a goner."
Arthur was sitting under a tree, a bit far way from the camp. It was dark, the light from the from the fire weren't reaching the spot. But the moonlight covered some of the darkness through the tree branches.
Nolan sat under the tree beside Arthur.
"I was lucky enough to survive this time," he took a leaf from the ground, "Waiting for my luck to run out."
Arthur kept quiet. He kept looking straight ahead.
"I heard about Grace...and Jack."
"So you're here to comfort me then? Fuck off."
"No," Nolan shook his head while looking at the leaf, "You know it's your fault that Grace died."
"And you'll live with it for the rest of your lives."
"I told you to shut up."
"You know, I didn't tell them that it was you who screwed over the plan."
"You know why?"
"It's because, if I tell them what happened, you'll be at danger."
Arthur laughed, "You think I am fucking scared?"
"No, you're not scared. You're just stupid. Because of your stupidity, many people lost their lives. Their bloods are in your hand, Arthur."
"If you're here to piss me off, don't."
Nolan sighed, "you'll never change."
Nolan looked at the sky. His eyes trying to reach the moon surpassing the branches.
"Have you ever thought how it all started?"
"All these," he said, "I always wondered. Where was the start of this? Was it a virus that started it all? Or was it some kind of disease? We'll never know."
"Funny that I'm still alive. If it weren't for the apocalypse, I wouldn't be alive."
Arthur looked at Nolan as he weren't making any sense.
"Dude, shut the fuck up. You're talking too much."
"I am, aren't I?" he blew away the leaf from his hand.
They kept remain at their place for a while without speaking a word. Nolan felt he was cold, really cold. He looked at Arthur. He didn't look like he was freezing. Nolan stood up and moved his legs for the fire. But he froze at his place for a second after hearing some shouting coming from the camp.
"Jul?! Jul!" David shouted when his daughter opened her eyes.
Everyone gathered around her. She was finally regaining her consciousness after several hours.
"Hey, Julia!" Will shouted.
She couldn't open her eyes widely.
"Dad? Will?" her voice was very low for some of them to hear.
"Yes! It's us! Look!" David smiled as tears were falling from his eyes.
"Why...are you crying?" she asked softly as weakly.
"I'm not," he smiled, "I'm not crying. Look, I am smiling, you idiot."
"Why are you smiling?"
"I'm smiling because I'm happy."
Julia tried to smile too, "your beard looks weird. It makes you look so old."
"Yeah? Should I shave it off?"
"No," she said, "I like your beard. Never shave it off. Promise me."
She smiled and closed her eyes.
"Hey! Hey, Jul!" David slapped her lightly, "Open your eyes! Wake up!"
"Julia!" Will cried out.
She opened her eyes again, "W-Will?"
"Yes, it's me!"
"You're crying too?"
"No, I'm not! You're crying, not me."
"Shh, don't move. You're hurt," said David.
"Wh-where's Lucas?" she asked.
"I-I am here." he grabbed one of her hands.
She tried to looked at his hands, "You're hands are shaking."
Lucas didn't say anything. Except, the sound of his crying were all over the place.
"Why is everyone crying?"
She then looked at the others one by one. Some of them she recognised, some of them she didn't.
"Hey, buddy," Olivia sniffed.
"Hi, partner," Emma said with a shaky voice.
"Julia, it's me, Manny!"
"Hey, Julia," said Marco.
"Hey, I doubt you remember me," said Ruby.
Julia's eyes kept searching something among the crowd. She seemed nervous.
"What is it, Jul?" asked her father.
"I...I can't see her."
"Can't see who?"
She looked at David and said the words.
"Where is mom?"
It caught David off guard. He went completely silent. He didn't know what to say. All he could see was Julia was closing her eyes again.
"Oh, I see her now."
"No! Jul! Don't close your eyes!" screamed David shaking her roughly.
"Julia? Julia!" Will was sitting just next to her.
"Jul! Look! I'm here! I'm here for you! Don't close your eyes goddammit!"
He hugged her daughter tightly and burst into tears.
Suddenly, it started snowing. At first, the amount wasn't much. But it kept increasing as the time passed.
Julia was long gone when Nolan reached the camp.
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