Like Dying Embers
She drew another tally mark on the wall. 61 days, she thought dully, staring blankly at the wall. She sighed before heading to the bathroom.
Carrie brushed her hair, staring in the mirror at her reflection. She still had some water—cold water, as there was no heater—so she wasn’t completely dirty. She had her designated bi-weekly shower two days before, leaving her hair at least somewhat shiny and not smelly. Her face was hallow from lack of food, seeing as she carefully rationed and never dug into her suitcase supply. She was quickly running out again, unfortunately, and hadn’t eaten a proper meal since dinner two days ago; she’d had a granola bar or two, but staying in the apartment kept her energy up. The bags under her eyes looked like bruises from the nightmares waking her up at night, but she was rather well rested, since she did have a comforting bed.
She’d lived in the apartment for almost three months now, and she was barely holding on to her sanity. The last of her phone battery had died a week ago, so no longer could she turn it on to stare at the pictures of Merle she had saved. She never forgot his face, and he often plagued her nightmares. Carrie had accepted that either the Dixon brothers were never coming for her, or they were gone. She hated to think that way, but it was the only way she could think. Putting herself on auto-pilot helped her live—forced her to survive.
Carrie filled up that morning on the remaining bread and butter she had, as well as canned peaches. She only had a few cans left, and she needed to make a run. She’d gotten skilled at running through the streets quickly and quietly, although she’d had a few close calls. Her philosophy was to fill up with all she could and hole up again. She’d only been out three times, but she used her few strengths to her advantage.
She laced up her now beat-up Nike shoes, tugging up her running shorts, which were now coming loose from the weight loss. Her hair was tied up in a bun to prevent as much hair from being a hassle as possible. She grabbed her backpack and baseball bat that were by the window before heading down the fire escape.
She quickly climbed down to the last landing before taking a view of the alley. It only had a few geeks, easy enough to take out. She jumped down on top of the garbage can, catching their attention. She grabbed her bat and swung it like a golf club at the first head to come near her, quickly doing the same with the other three dead; like clockwork. She jumped off the garbage can, the strengthened muscles of her legs easily taking the fall before she took off sprinting down the alley.
She exercised frequently in the apartment, lifting any heavy object she could with her arms and legs. She practiced with her bat as swinging, making sure she was effective. The exercise got rid of her pent-up energy from being stowed away in the building, as well as built the strength she needed. If she had imagined four months ago she would have picked up exercising and trade her dangerously high heels for running shoes, she would have laughed. But now, she only wished she had been stronger much sooner.
The route was easy as she quickly made her way alley through alley, zipping up and down the streets. The store of the day was a pharmacy, in which she wanted to check for cosmetics as well as extra food. She was running out of feminine products, which was something she did not want to be without. Due to change in nourishment and routine, she had missed or had irregular periods for the past few months, but she never wanted to be unprepared.
Knock on tha’ window, Merle’s voice told her in her head. He often spoke to her when she was doing something dangerous like this. It was his voice and the memory of his that kept her going and kept her smart.
She knocked on the window and prepped her bat, glancing around the street at the few dead who were wandering. Some streets were more clear than others; luckily, this was one of them.
A geek slammed against the window, followed by another. It was Daryl this time who spoke in her head, Be ready to kill.
Carrie opened the pharmacy door with a hard kick after an initial push. After entering forcefully, she took a hard swing with force that a professional baseball player would. The head of the geek twisted around, and she quickly hit the other. Both fell to the ground, and in two upward swings, the bat had caved their heads in.
She wasted no time in scoping the raided store. Luckily, some of the products she was looking for were there; more soap, wet-wipes, tampons and pads. She opened her backpack and swiped everything she thought would be useful inside, although it wasn’t much. She shook her bag. Only a third full. She grabbed some candy that had been left, smiling at the bag of sour gummy worms that were discarded on the floor. Broken bottles and other things were everywhere, but she couldn’t help the temptation of grabbing a bottle of wine that had rolled under the counter.
Her quick scope lasted all but five minutes before she was sprinting out and quickly dodging geeks. She made her way back through an alley, her steps and turns practiced and calculated. She was going to search a small apartment complex for food, hoping there would be some extra cans. As she was going to turn a corner, a soft noise above caused her to stop and look up. No fucking way, she thought to herself, her mind snapping out of survival mode as her eyes widened in shock.
A helicopter was flying in the distance. It made her stop and stare, eyes wide. She quickly changed her route, following towards it, quickly running and trying to keep up. It had to have come from somewhere, maybe there actually was a Safe Zone, maybe—
Carrie stopped as she rounded a last corner. About two blocks down was a giant horde, all chasing after a man and a horse, who was quickly shooting at the dead; the gunshots attracting more of them to his position. She was so surprised at seeing another alive person that for a second, she felt useless. A moan snapped her out, and she quickly disposed of the geek that tried to sneak up on her. Her eyes quickly turned back to the man, crouching from her hidden spot down the block. The horse went down as he climbed into an abandoned tank.
There was no way he could make it out, she thought. He was trapped.
She faced an internal dilemma. Did she try to help him, or use the distraction to gather more supplies and get back to the safety of her apartment. She almost felt sick as she had to make the first moral decision since the outbreak started, and honestly debated leaving the man to die. She could make it out, and be safe.
But then what? she thought. Return to the apartment alone? Live for the rest of your life alone? With one man there may be other people. Maybe she could get back to normal, having other human contact. She clutched her baseball bat tightly, trying to make a decision.
The tank hatch opened again, the man jumping out and bashing one of the dead with a metal pipe. He took off running toward Carrie’s direction, but about a block too early he had turned. Carrie stood then and quickly made her choice, sprinting after him. She was faster than she ever had been, her heart pounding and face red as she took down after him.
“Wait!” she called as loud as she dared, rounding the same corner. She went down the alley, seeing now two forms that were going to climb a ladder. The dead were chasing after them fast from the opposite side of the alley that she had come. “Hey, hey!” she said as loud as she dared, waving her left arm, the right arm swinging her bat as the dead came around. “Shit!” she said, taking off around the corner quickly, ducking and swinging as dead came her way. They were coming down quickly. She rounded the corner and ducked off, running to the alleyway opposite of the building. There were plenty of geeks, but Carrie was fast.
She took off, ducking and noticing another set of stairs that led into the building. She quickly made her way up, hoping to catch the men, wherever they were going. She was determined, and she figured out why in that moment: she didn’t want to be alone anymore.
As she headed up, the two burst out the door, one speaking on a walkie-talkie. They seemed surprised to see her, stopping for a minute in shock. “Who the hell are you?” the Asian one questioned, before looking over her shoulder. She looked and saw four geeks in the alley behind her.
“Just trying to survive like you. I saw you and—“ She was interrupted by a door opening behind them. She whipped around and saw two figures in riot gear and bats run out, taking care of the geeks.
“Come on!” the Asian man yelled again, grabbing her arm and getting her going in the run towards the door. Her heart was in her ears at the feel of human contact, something that had grown so unfamiliar.
There was silence before the Latino man spoke again,” Hey T-Dog, can you check that CB again, try and contact the others?” Carrie’s head perked up a bit; there were more of them? She had thought she had been the last of those alive, and to hear there were more made her heart race.
“Others, the refugee center?” the sheriff asked.
Carrie shook her head, answering before the others. “Atlanta was bombed, I was holed up in an apartment when it happened. If there was one, it’s gone now,” she said.
T-Dog, the dark-skinned man was called, wasn’t getting a signal. “Maybe the roof?” A gunshot went off, causing them all to look up.
“Oh God, was that Dixon?” Andrea said, before they took off towards the back. Carrie froze in place before her mind came back to her.
“Dixon? Did you say Dixon?!” Carrie said. Nobody answered her. “Hey! Did you say Dixon?!” she demanded again, chasing after them all. Gunshots continued to go off as they headed upward, up stairs. She assumed quickly they were going towards the roof of the building.
She followed behind them all as they made it up, the others already yelling at the man who's back was to them, shooting with a sniper rifle at the ground below. She froze in the doorway, eyes wide. She recognized that vest, and although the hair was gone…
The man turned laugh, jumping off his vantage point. “You ‘aught ta’ be more polite to a man with a gun!” he said, cackling. Carrie felt like she stopped breathing as she saw his face, all of the warmth draining. She felt light-headed; her ears were ringing and she couldn’t make out the noise. She felt frozen in place, like she was going to fall over and pass out or scream all at the same time.
It was Merle.
Merle was alive, her mind was singing, her brain not making any sense of the fight going on in front of her. Merle was alive. It was like a mantra going off in her head. He was alive, her Merle was alive.
“—I’ll tell ya the day ‘Mr.Yo,’ that’ll be tha’ day when I take orders from a nigger.”
Merle’s words and the sudden fight between him and T-Dog beginning to fight snapped her out of her daze. She could believe what he said, but also couldn’t Merle was an idiot, but he wasn’t that crass. Something was off about the way he was behaving, something—
He moved away from her, but she knew it wasn't because of her push. He was looking at her in shock, as if she had grown a second head. "What suga? Why you pushin'-"
"You're high as a fucking kite! I'm fucking leaving!" Carrie yelled at him, trying to push past him. His hand wrapped around her arm and yanked her back with force. She yelped in pain and looked up at his eyes. They were not Merle's eyes, they were stony and hard, and dangerous. They were not the shining orbs that danced like blue wildfires, mischief and hunger lying behind them. No, these eyes were that of a snake ready to strike. She knew she had to get away.
She pulled away again but his grip on her arm tightened. She whimpered, tears springing to her eyes, "Merle, you're hurting me."
"You can't just leave! Ya came here, ya gonna stay here," he hissed at her.
Still, Carrie stood her ground and shook her head, yanking her arm out of his grasp. "I'm leaving, you can call me when you aren't fucking high, or I ain't seeing you ever again." She did not want this man, she wanted the one away from the drugs. In all the time she was with him, she did not ever see the crack or was never near him if he did have it. She was loose, but drugs she did not tolerate.
"You ain't leavin'!" he shouted in her face.
"I'm leaving! You're a fucking crackhead and I ain't dealing with you yellin' and screamin' at me. I'm leavin' and-" she was cut off by her head smacking to the left and the air being knocked out of her. Her cheek throbbed in pain. She looked at him in shock, and his own eyes were wide as well. He had slapped her.
She quickly started forward, dropping her bat as the fight picked up. T-Dog’s face hit a pipe on the ground as Merle started beating on T-Dog, who was lying on the ground. “Merle!” she cried out. “Merle, stop it!”
He stopped, fist in mid-air. He looked up quickly, his eyes catching hers. He seemed to freeze as he stared at her, eyes wide. It seemed like time had all but stilled. She saw his mouth move, but the ringing was back. He dropped T-Dog’s shirt, and everybody was looking between them. He quickly stood, walking towards her. Her feet started of their own accord, her brain not keep up with her actions. She felt like she was running as his figure approached, and she slammed herself into him. She didn’t realize she was crying until she heard a loud sob as her hearing came back, only to realize that the guttural noises of crying were coming from her.
“You’re alive, oh my God, you’re alive,” she said, grasping onto the back of his head as his arms swooped under hers, his fingers tangling under her ponytail.
“Took too much, I’m fucking hallucinating. I’m tripping bad,” he said to himself, running his hands all over her body as if he couldn’t believe it.
She pulled back, looking into his blue eyes with her green ones, tears spilling out of them. She choked back another sob. “We’re going to talk about the reason you think you’re having this trip later, but you aren’t hallucinating. Merle, it’s me, it’s Carrie,” she said to him, clutching tightly on his muscled arms. His touch was burning her everywhere as he regarded her up and down, taking her in. Before she could think, he had wrapped her up in a hard kiss, his mouth greedily moving against her. She was shocked for a second, but before she could kiss him back, he was pulled away from her.
“Wha’ tha fuck!” he yelled as the sheriff pinned him to the ground.
“No, stop!” Carrie yelled, diving to Merle’s side as the man started to handcuff him. “Please, he doesn’t know what he’s doing right now! I can calm him down!” she pleaded, trying to stop him. Merle was trying to get a good swing in, and Carrie yelled at him,” Merle! Stop! Please, just stop for two seconds and think!” Merle looked at her, breathing heaving. Tensions were high on the rooftop—just as she assumed Merle to be. She had dealt with him high before, and she new that aggravating him just made him worse. “Just breathe, baby. Just sit back, okay?” She knew everybody was staring at them in shock, not sure what to make of the scene, but Merle glanced around before looking at her in the eyes. He took a deep breath and settled instantly, not taking his eyes off her.
“You know him?” the dark-skinned woman questioned, skeptically, almost as if she didn’t believe the scene that had just gone down.
Carrie nodded, scooting closer as the sheriff backed off. She placed a delicate hand on Merle’s face, who was still staring at her with an expression she couldn’t read. “I more than know him,” she said softly, trying to memorize every detail of his face. “I’m his girl,” she said, choking back more tears. She looked to the rest of the group. “I know he probably hasn’t been nice at all, but he’s probably thought I’ve been dead—I’ve been here since shit hit the fan. I apologize for him, and he will too once he winds down.”
“Doesn’t change the fact that this druggie shooting is probably attracting walkers for miles!” T-Dog yelled, a hand at his wounded head.
Carrie winced. “I know, and I’m sorry, but—I’ll keep him in line, he’ll be cooperative. Right Merle?” she turned her attention away from the angry stares and back to him. She gave her a hard stare before nodding once.
She looked back to the sheriff. “If you wouldn’t mind uncuffing the hand you got, he’ll stay calm as long as I’m here.”
The sheriff thought for a minute, before nodding. “I’ll be taking his weapons. You’ll have to protect him,” he said.
Carrie nodded, but Merle spoke up. “Hey man, you can’t take my weapons!”
“He can and he will Merle! Now if you give a shit about me, you’ll shut the hell up and stay quiet while we try and figure out a way out of this place,” she hissed at him. She grabbed her backpack, taking out her lone bottle of water. “Now drink up, you’ve got a lot of fucking explaining to do once we’re out of this mess. Enjoy your wind-down while you can,” she said, shoving the bottle to him, now feeling pissed off. She was floored to see him, to know he was alive, but she had no patience for him right now. Dead were walking around, and he had the balls to go on a scavenging mission high as a kite.
She stood up to help scout the roof, when Merle spoke again, a cocky smirk on his face. “Hey suga’, glad tha’ you’re alive,” he said. She knew he would be more genuine after the high waved off, but at hearing his voice speak to her like that, she calmed a bit, giving him a small, genuine smile that hadn’t graced her lips since the beginning. “Glad you’re alive too, Merle.”
She joined T-Dog against the wall, who was fiddling with the radio. “Sorry about him, really. I know he’s probably been such an ass, but he’s probably lost his marbles some,” she apologized.
T-Dog gave her an unsure look, still probably pissed. Carrie didn’t take it to heart, knowing that she would have felt the same. Merle was a lot to deal with, especially since he’d probably been high since the start of this shit. “Ain’t your fault, I guess,” he said grumpily, trying to get signal for the walkie-talkie. “Fuckin’ racist,” he said under his breath. Carrie grimaced, knowing that now her connection with Merle probably didn’t paint her in a positive light.
“Again, I’ll make sure he apologizes. You’ll be having the last laugh when he’s detoxing the next few weeks,” she assured him, almost earning a smile from the man. She glanced over at Merle, who was eyeing the sheriff with disdain. “Listen, is there—“ she started, only to be cut off.
“Hey, suga’, whatcha say we get outta here, bump some uglies like good ole’ times?” Merle said.
She glared at him hard. “I swear to god Merle, I’m gonna make you wish that I wasn’t alive, if you don’t shut your trap and drink that water!” she threatened. He rolled his eyes and leaned back, drinking more of the water she had given him.
“What about the sewers?” she heard the sheriff say.
“Glenn, check the alley, you see any manhole covers?” the man she heard be called Morales instructed.
The Asian man—now named Glenn—darted over to the side to glance to the alley. It wasn’t a bad idea; if the alleys were crowded, the sewers definitely shouldn’t be.
“If we can get get to a sewer and get out to a less crowded street, I have a place we can all stay if needed. It ain’t much, but it’s secure,” Carrie offered again, and the sheriff nodded.
The unnamed woman spoke again, saying that there should be a way out. She volunteered to stay up on the roof to watch Merle as the rest went to investigate.
She watched him as they sat there. He looked a bit more tan, although more sunburnt than anything. She could tell her had lost some weight by looking at him, but she knew she had too. She took in every detail, trying to memorize every mark and small wrinkle on his face. Merle moved suddenly, making T-Dog jump, but he just glared as Merle shuffled to lay in the shade of the building beside Carrie. She leaned into him, almost hesitantly, not sure if she still believed she wasn’t dreaming.
“I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe you’re alive,” she whispered, tears threatening to fall again. She’d gone on for so long, thinking he was dead.
“Ya really think I’d be dead, suga’? Nothing can kill Merle but Merle,” he snickered, taking another swig of water.
Carrie nodded slowly, reaching up and wiping her face. “And Daryl?” she asked, almost not wanting to hear the answer.
“Fine too, back at tha’ camp. As soon as we get there, all three of us are headin’ out. Only stayed ‘cus we hoped ya’d be close if… if ya were alive,” he said, swallowing hard. She understood what he had meant, though: they didn’t think she had survived.
“Why don’t we grab my rifle, get outta here?” he said, making T-Dog speak up and glare at the pair of them.
“So what? You can kill us all and take off?” he said nastily.
Carrie agreed, shaking her head. “No Merle. Even if we could, there’s no way out yet. Plus, we ain’t killing nobody. You were outta line and deserved everything you got,” she said strongly.
Merle glared at her, shoving her head off of him. “Ya just gonna let them treat me like tha’? Ya don’t care that the fuckin’ pig was gonna cuff me to tha’ roof?! What side ya on, girl?!”
“I’m on the side of whoever won’t get me killed!” she yelled, shoving his arm back with a glare. “I’m happy you’re alive, and I can’t thank enough of whatever god might be out there who kept me alive to find ya, but that pig is the only reason I found you. If I hadn’t seen him and followed, I’d be back in my hide-out, alone, with no hope that you ever would come to find me!” she snapped, standing up quickly and moving away from him to sit on the pipe.
Merle glared at her and she glared back, not backing down. His eyes were wild, but she kept her stance strong. She’d gone all these months with scarier things trying to take her down than Merle—she was not afraid of his trips any more.
Carrie looked to T-Dog, who was staring at the walkie-talkie, still trying to make it work. “Hey T-Dog?” she asked lightly. He looked up to her and tipped his head, beckoning her to continue. “Tell me about this camp? I’ve been alone a long time—I thought I was the only one still alive.”
She got the run-down of the camp from T-Dog, with Merle’s occasional and obnoxious input. After a good half hour, the others came back up, trying to come up with a plan to draw away the geeks, or walkers as they called them. Carrie listened as they planned out a way to get the trucks, hopefully to start some noise and take the dead towards the building. How to do that was the question.
Carrie shushed Merle when he started to speak, although he had calmed down considerably. He had moved closer to where she had perched, stroking his hair. “I’m fast—I could try running past them to get to the van?” Carrie offered weakly. She didn’t want to risk it, but she wanted to try and make herself useful. Babysitting Merle was only so much of a useful gig.
Rick, as he had been called by Andrea, shook his head. “No, there’s too many of them even if you are fast. You’ll get taken down easily. What else about them attracts them?” he asked, looking for more answers.
“They hear you, see you, smell you—they catch you and eat you,” Morales told him. Had this man really no experience with the dead?
“They can tell us by smell?” Rick questioned.
“Can’t you?” Glenn responded.
“They smell dead, we don’t. It’s pretty distinct,” Andrea added.
Carrie shook her head, giving the cop a questioning look. “You really don’t know what you’re dealing with, huh? These things get one wiff of anything that ain’t dead—they’re on ya like flies on honey.”
Rick looked down again, before saying,” So if we smell like them, then they won’t be able to tell the difference?” Carrie had a bad feeling in her stomach as a plan was devised in no time.
Within twenty minutes, the plan was launched and everybody but Rick and Glenn were on the roof, anxiously waiting. Andrea had the sniper rifle, looking down to the street as she watched the two. Clouds were rolling in, making Carrie glance up nervously. “It’s gonna rain any time now,” she said, worriedly.
“They just gotta be quick—Glenn’s fast. Then, we can all get out of here,” Jacqui said, watching nervously over the side of the roof.
“And—and can I come with you?” she asked hesitantly, still unsure. Merle snorted on the ground next to her legs.
“Carrie, if ya think I’m leavin’ with these assholes without ya, then think again,” he said.
“Still, Merle, they don’t know me, and you’re not exactly being a knight in shining armor right now,” Carrie said, annoyed with his attitude. It’s as if he wasn’t taking any of this shit seriously—they were dead if this plan didn’t hold through.
“Of course you can come,” Morales said, stopping another one of their little spats. “We can’t just leave someone behind to die—that’s not human.” Carrie smiled gratefully at the man, and he gave a small one in return.
It didn’t take but a few minutes for the rain to start coming down. “Get ‘em all the time—it’ll pass quick!” Morales said, looking out to the street with his binoculars. Carrie sat on the ground next to Merle, ducking under his arm as the rain came down. Carrie could hear Rick and Glenn from the street yelling, and Carrie stood up in worry to look. She heard gunshots and saw Rick shooting at them from behind a gate. “Oh my God, they made it!” she said in relief as the rain passed. She was soaked, but they had made it.
“They’re leaving us!” Andrea panicked, and the rest of us began freaking out. Carrie turned to Merle and quickly pulled him up to his feet. A car alarm started going off, and Carrie’s eyes widened as the noise took off, echoing in the city streets.
“—roll up to the front of the store, facing the street. Meet us there and be ready!” Glenn’s voice came over the walkie talkie. Immediately, we all scrambled up.
“Hey, blondie, I wan’ my weapon back!” Merle roared as everyone started to grab their things.
“Merle! This isn’t the time!” Carrie screeched, grabbing her backpack and hoisting it on her shoulders. “We have to go!”
“Grab Dale’s tools!” T-Dog yelled as everyone started scrambling. Merle grabbed the toolbox, picking out a hammer from it.
“Merle, let’s get out alive before you get that stupid look on your face!” Carrie warned him as they all headed out of the building. She grabbed the bat she had dropped earlier in front of the door before heading down.
“Man, I really did not miss ya tellin’ me wha’ ta do suga’!” he yelled back, following behind her as they rushed down the stairs from the roof of the building.
They hurried down just as the geeks broke through the last bit of glass into the building. Carrie went into full survival mode as she grabbed Merle’s hand and pulled him to run beside her. They hurried to open up the loading door, pulling the chain in panic. The door opened enough to seethe back end of the open moving van there, waiting, Rick there holding out his arms. The others started throwing their bags to him as Carrie let go of Merle and jumped up into the back, helping grab the bags being thrown in. Rick headed back up to the driver’s seat and Carrie took on the duty of helping everybody in. “Come on!” she urged, grabbing Andrea’s hand and hoisting her in. The two helped the others in quickly, Morales trying to close the door as the van took off.
Carrie slid as the van turned, slamming into the side, but the door to the van was closed. They were safe, they were getting away.
Everybody took some time to breathe, and it was silent for a good minute as everybody looked around. Merle was the first to break the silence, giving a small laugh. Carrie couldn’t help but smile too, along with the others. They had all made it—made it alive.
“Where’s Glenn?” Andrea asked? Carrie looked to the driving Rick, who just smiled.
“Probably having the time of his life right now,” was all he said.