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Lori called to no one in particular while searching the campground. I tapped her on the shoulder and she whirled around, nearly smacking me in the face with her long dark brown locks. Her alarmed eyes fixed on me as I held my hands up in surrender.
“Jesus, you scared me.”
Calming down with a hand on her chest, she gave me a mildly amused, tired look. I gave an apologetic smile, awaiting her reason for needing me.
“Will you go find Amy? She’s been gone for awhile now.”
Stiffening straight up, I saluted Lori as if she were a general issuing orders. She chuckled, shaking her head at me and I put on a stuffy air marching towards the forest like a soldier. Refusing to let any giggles or head shakes from the others in camp make me break character until I reached the treeline I then sped up to a light jog to go fulfill my mission.
Trekking through the forest in search of sunshine blonde isn’t as easy as it sounds. Thankfully Amy is easy to spot at a distance, but I’m still at odds on whether or not that’s a good thing. Ten minutes passed before I finally found her picking what looks like mushrooms. I came up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder. She didn’t even turn halfway before I clapped my hand over her mouth, foreseeing the scream that my hand muffled. I smiled and she scowled at me - a look I’m not unaccustomed to receiving. I removed my hand and that scowl was replaced with a polite smile.
“Time to go back?”, Amy assumed. I nodded, holding my hand out.
Accepting my hand, she pulled herself to her feet, bringing a red bucket of mushrooms hanging from her wrist with her. Once she was up she dusted the dirt off her hands as I glanced around our surroundings to make sure we won’t be snuck up on. I did a double take on a glint through the trees and froze. Carefully tilting my head, I found it again but it’s blinking like it’s moving. So it's alive… in a manner of speaking.
“Are you coming?”
I glanced at Amy over my shoulder and shook my head, returning my narrowing eyes to the object of interest.
“Okay, well… see you back at camp.”
I listened to the leaves crunching as she went off on her way and the glint stopped. I watched it and carefully started towards it, half crouched and keeping my steps light and quiet until I caught up close enough to see it’s humanoid. A person? A walker is more likely, but I’ve never seen one so far outside the city, much less up here before. I crept closer, sliding a knife out of the sheath strapped to my leg, keeping nimble and silent as I came up behind it. When I saw the familiar crossbow, my shoulders relaxed. I suppressed a sigh, lowering my knife and tapped the man’s shoulder. Daryl whipped around, crossbow first, and I barely stopped the heavy weaponry with my hand before he hit me in the stomach with it. He glowered at me as he lowered his prized hunting instrument.
“How the Hell do ya do that?”
Ah, the usual bitter tone never ceases to amaze. At least his volume is lower when hunting. Movement over his shoulder caught my attention and a smile pulled across my lips.
“What’re you smilin' at?”
Geez, is it a crime to smile? I put my hand on his shoulder, and he flinched but let me turn him around. I pointed through the trees to a deer, minding its own business less than 20 yards from us. He immediately snapped back into hunting mode, raising his crossbow and motioned for me to follow. I flipped my knife around in my hand and kept an eye out for other things while he focused on the deer. I guess I’ll be joining him on this hunt. It’s unusual for him to allow it though. Normally he doesn’t want me or anyone else anywhere near him, much less following him. Something must be on his mind; or maybe it’s just the fact Merle isn’t here.
I swear this deer could outrun a cheetah. We’ve been tracking it for hours. It’s already getting hard to see, and it’s gonna be dark before long. Daryl managed to get a bolt in it a while ago when we caught a break, but it’s still going. It's gotta be losing blood, so it shouldn't be this hard to catch! I’m starting to think we’ll be lucky if we’re able to catch up to it by tomorrow.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been out here much longer than I planned. I was only supposed to find Amy. I hope the others back at camp don’t try to look for me again. That was a disaster. I had to personally go find everyone who had gotten themselves lost trying to find me. I still feel bad for Morales. How unlucky do you have to be to find Merle and Daryl instead of me? At least I showed up before Merle’s racist insults caused too much damage. Honestly, sometimes I feel like a babysitter, or a referee; defusing situations with a whistle before things get out of hand.
A branch caught my jacket sleeve, and I made the mistake of jerking it free. The twig whipped across my hand with a sharp snap. It didn’t hurt so much as it scared me, but I looked at Daryl to make sure the sound didn’t just ruin the hunt, and thankfully he didn’t even notice. I quietly blew air out of my mouth, puffing my cheeks up. Anyway, we’ve already gotten more than a few squirrels who had the misfortune to scurry across our path, during this hunt.
An involuntary shiver wisped up my spine. I hate squirrel. It tastes like burnt cabbage and has the texture of tough stale jerky, and no one can convince me otherwise. Normally I wouldn’t mind that so much but the smell… great grave robbers! The first time I smelled this critter cooking, I almost threw up. And I still couldn’t keep the contents of my stomach choked down without coughing.
Daryl let out a frustrated sigh, stopping to look around at the surrounding forest instead of at the deer tracks for the first time in almost an hour. I stopped next to him with a questioning glance and he rolled his shoulders back, stretching the stiff muscle. I’m no stranger to that focused hunch and the knots it creates under your shoulder blades.
“Let's camp here tonight. Pick it back up in the mornin’.” He pulled the improvised squirrel lanyard over his head and tossed it on the ground next to a tree.
I nodded in agreement, looking up to the fading light from the sky. The leftover baby blue became darker by the minute, and the orange hue of the clouds faded to a darker grey, giving the clouds a silver lining. That’s a hard thing to find these days, at least the metaphorical one is. That looks a little stormy actually. I’m not a weather forecasting machine, but it looks like we’re gonna be in for a little rough weather soon. Hopefully, it’ll blow over us and just provide a break from the sun for a while.
Looking around, I started collecting small to largish sticks. After a few minutes, we had a small fire set up and Daryl was lighting it while I placed a ring of larger rocks around the outside to hide as much of the glow as possible. I don’t think it’ll get too cold tonight so we don’t need a big fire, I’m more concerned about how visible the light will be.
We sat in silence —well, he sat, I laid on the ground so I could entertain my hobby of watching the sky. The stars have just started peeking out from behind the thin layer of clouds, the beginning of twilight; the best time in my opinion. Neither light nor completely dark. It never fails to put me at ease.
“Can you talk?”
My eyebrows furrowed and I looked up — no doubt getting leaves in my hair — and stared at the upside down hunter. At first it sounded like a stupid question, of course I can talk, but after a moment it was actually me that made the stupid assumption of everyone being able to speak, so I just nodded.
“Why don't ya?”
I shrugged, fingering the locket around my neck, the metal cold on my skin but feels quite nice after hours of hiking under the sun in the Georgia heat, made worse by not being able to take my jacket off unless I wanted to be eaten alive by bugs.
“What did you do?”
The space between Daryl’s eyes scrunched and I followed his line of sight to the Band-Aid on my wrist. Oh, I thought he was talking about the cut from that whippy little twig earlier. I pointed to the tree he was sitting against and watched him look over his shoulder before nodding. He returned his eyes to the faint glow of the small fire as it crackled grumpily. This is why I like Daryl. He gets what I mean, even though I haven’t said anything. Neither of us really do much talking to be fair but obviously he speaks more than I do, not by much but still.
The most I speak is maybe… once a month? Usually to give a one word answer like my name (Evelyn Rider), or how old I am (31). I've been taciturn for as long as I can remember, even longer than I’ve known a word for it. It’s just who I am.
Sometimes speaking up is unavoidable, but you’d be surprised how often you can get away with it once it’s established that you aren’t a talker. It’s not like I’m mute, and it’s not that I have an aversion to talking, I’m just… quiet. I prefer not to speak. Just don’t have a lot to say, I guess. Although Daryl’s brother speaks enough for all three of us. Merle Dixon’s mouth is like a train full of screaming children. That guy couldn’t shut up to save his life. Not that he ever has or will ever try.
“What're ya thinkin’ bout?”
I looked up again, for half a second I thought I’d gotten my hair in the fire and flinched but thankfully it was just a passing moment of paranoia. I blinked for several seconds, without an answer. I don't think I've ever seen him interested in talking to someone else. Especially to me. I won’t exactly answer, and he knows that.
Finally realizing I’ve been staring without the slightest idea of how to explain so I just pointed up at the stars. A small grunt was all the reply I got as he looked up and it was silent for another few minutes before the fire crackled and Daryl grunted again, decisively.
“I’ll take watch. You should get some sleep.”
I nodded and rolled onto my stomach, pulling a troublesome stick out from under my back and looked at it for a brief moment. I tested the twigs durability on the ground before using it to draw in the dirt next to the fire. Even though it’s only embers, the warmth radiated over my face and provided just enough light to vaguely see what I’m doing.
I don’t know when I drifted off, but I woke up when something poked me. A stubborn groan vibrated my throat and I rolled onto my side, burying my nose in the crook of my elbow. Another sharp jab and my eyelids flipped open, ready to throw Glenn the most life-threatening glare I’m capable of producing, but my forming glare slacked into utter confusion as soon as I fixed my eyes on a dimly glinting knife. It’s Daryl’s knife and he was poking me in the shoulder with my dirt-art stick.
“Yer turn to take watch.”
My inner complaints faded as I sat up yawning and cracked my neck stretching my shoulders. Sleeping on the ground is never comfortable, but I suppose once you get used to it, you can always adjust back.
We traded spots, and slowly I became more and more aware, while Daryl became less, like we’re trading some sort of wakefulness hall pass. A hall pass is used in most American schools to excuse a student from class. The pass lets teachers and staff know that the student had permission to leave and isn't just skipping class. Only a few minutes passed and my attention already started to wander. I’ve never had a very good attention span but even less so when boredom strikes.
I pulled one of my knives from its sheath on my thigh and picked up a larger stick, mindlessly started carving abstract swirls and patterns, not even caring about how it’ll impact the sharpness. I can always sharpen it later.