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Issue 15 - NoisettesEdit
The two of them moved, with Liam taking the lead, and Julius following closely. The walkers trickled down in each block they passed by. Liam kept a straight path, only turning left twice. Julius continued to stay quiet, even if Liam tried to spark a conversation.
“Haven’t you asked yourself... if I’m to be trusted?” he asks. The question seems to get Julius’s attention, as he stops looking away and turns to him. He looks, waiting for any further words.
“Well… are you?” Julius replies. Liam’s mouth shapes into a semi-smirk. “Aha! I knew I’d get you to talk.” Julius rolls his eyes, and resumes looking at the distance in front of them.
“Well, for starters… I probably would’ve drugged you by now. Or… my posse would’ve come and ambushed us.” Liam turns to the gutters and alleys they pass by. Only a single walker was present in one of them.
Liam makes a left on the nearest turn, and starts speeding up his walking. “Sometimes I ask if we’re the last ‘good’ people in the world…” he says, looking at the street sign standing in the same sidewalk they were in. The names “Noisette” and “Lavender” were displayed crisscrossing each other.
“… but then I keep forgetting the city’s pretty big. So I’m sure it’s not just us.” He notices Julius looking at him. “I mean… I found you. You were willing to help.” Liam turns around, and starts walking backwards, looking at Julius.
The surroundings consisting of tall, concrete buildings start to shorten, and gain more color. Some of them, consisting of triangular roofs, were squeezed in together, while others were separated by wide gutters.
Liam stops in the middle, in front of a tall, ruby-colored rectangular building. Short rows of shrubs stood in each side of the railed gate. Liam stands in front of it, while Julius stood beside him, away from the gate’s view.
An old woman suddenly walks into view, looking at Liam first, then glancing Julius. She looked extremely bored for some reason.
“He’s cool,” Liam tells her, glancing Julius once. The old woman then unlocks the gate, and pulls it toward her.
Julius enters shyly, as he follows Liam in front of him. The old woman watched him as she held the vertical rails of the gate, looking as if she was a prison inmate. Her eyebrows were slightly pulled down to her eyes.
“That’s Barb,” Liam tells Julius, looking at the old woman, as she closes the gate. Julius waits to get her attention.
“Julius,” he tells her, laying out his right hand. The old woman pauses, looks at the hand, and nods. Now she looks relaxed and a bit surprised, opposite from the weary look she had earlier.
The ground they stood in was decently large, fully walled by a thick, cement half-wall. A few oversized plastic toys were scattered on the grass area, near an old set of an outdoor table and chairs. There was a lack of trash lying around, as opposed to the street just outside of the gate.
Two large trash bins, blue in color, rested a few feet near the stairs toward the entrance of the building.
“C’mon, you’re gonna want to meet the rest,” Liam says, getting Julius’s attention. They both climb up the stairs, while the old woman, Barb, sits on one of the white, rusted chairs.
The only light source inside came from the clear glass doors of the entrance; everything else was off. A brown wooden door with a mat below stood on the left side of Julius, while a bare wall with a large bulletin board stood in the right. Liam continued to walk down in between them until a tall set of stairs came into view, diagonally leading up to the right-hand corner of the room. It was protected by a large wall of railing.
The stairs area seemed to be lit by the large set of windows on the wall it rested on. Still, it wasn’t enough to brighten it.
Liam walks up to the stairs, expecting Julius to follow. The stairs were divided in two, as they both change the opposite direction climbing the second set.
As they arrived on the second floor, a handful of windows lit the semi-narrow hall in front of them. At least three doors stood on the opposite side of the walls, with the middle one being semi-open.
Just outside of the door, a pile of clothes with blood spattered on them rested. Liam walked closer, with Julius just following him.
Julius stops halfway toward the middle door, as a woman emerges out of it, struggling to pull a limp corpse by the arms. Liam goes to aid her, grabbing the corpse’s feet and resting it against the bloodied pile. They both then rest for a bit, until Liam tells her a few words that Julius couldn’t make out from the distance. The woman has his attention as Liam points behind him.
Julius starts walking toward them, with the woman doing the same. She became more visible in view as they got closer.
Her short, black hair was tied up in a small knot. A black headband pulled the rest of her scalp back. She wore a black and white sweatshirt with sleeves folded up, a pair of jeans, and leather boots. Her hands were covered by two rubber gloves, slightly red from the blood.
“You helped Liam?” she asked, some impatience in her voice. Julius couldn’t see her face fully because of the poor lighting. He nods, noticing the woman’s tone. She turns her head around to glance Liam once, then looks back.
“Ree,” she says, laying her right hand out. Julius was discouraged to shake it, because of the red wetness that formed her palm. “Oh.” She takes her hand back and pulls the gloves out hastily, doing the same for her other hand. She lays her right hand back out, and Julius shakes it.
“J-Julius,” he mutters, shaking her hand with a loose grip. They then pause, looking at each other for a second.
“Well… we—we live just above. Liam’s room is the door second to the first—“
“Don’t have room,” Liam interrupts, as he was busy with the pile. “Pat took the living room.” It is at this time that Julius notices the pile had a bunch of corpses.
The woman glances him, then continues to pause for a few more seconds. “Hmm… alright.” She scans Julius, noticing his backpack, and the metal bat he clutched. “You… mind helping us out a bit? Sooner we get this done the better.”
Julius didn’t know how to respond; he wasn’t expecting to be put to work right away by a person he barely knows. But then he realizes that this is how paying jobs usually start as. He unstraps his backpack, then rests it against the wall to his left. He places his bat just right next to it.
The woman, Ree, waits patiently, then returns to the room she came out, with Julius following her. They pass by Liam, who was surveying the pile. Julius could only glance it, as the smell was already overwhelming.
The room they entered on had much better lighting than the hall; the sun rays outside made everything inside it shine yellow in color. A small blood trail leading to the outside was present on the wooden floors.
“Pat,” Ree echoed, scanning the room. Julius stood still next to the kitchen area to his right.
He heard a loud “Hm?” coming out to his far left. It was followed by a “Help me carry this!”, to which Ree responds, vanishing into view. Julius felt a little confused, as she forgot to assign a task for him.
He looks to the dark hallway outside of him, seeing Liam's back, still looking at the pile. Shortly after, he hears footsteps creaking to his front.
Ree emerges, cradling a medium-sized child in her hands. The visible skin in its arms was gray. The head was covered by an embroidered towel.
“Couldn’t stomach it,” Ree says, looking at Julius as she walks out of view. He hadn’t noticed the middle-aged man standing in the living room, hands on his waist.
“You must be… Julius?” he says. His short hair was neatly trimmed, and graying. Julius nods in response, looking awkward standing beside the kitchen.
“I’m Patrick, by the way.” He smiles, the tone in his voice worry-free. “Doesn’t sound like a Latino name, does it?" His expression changes into a curious one.
“If you prefer, you can call me Alfonso. My last name. Fits with my skin tone and black hair. Although… the way my eyes brighten, you can kind of say I’m half-white—“
“Pat,” both Liam and Ree say at the same time, interrupting him. “Oh, right,” he replies, walking toward the opened door. Julius does the same.
All of four of them dropped the corpses off a burnt out pile just across the street. Considering each of the corpses’ weights, the trek felt quite distant.
Julius didn’t bother counting, and for that matter, looking at each corpse they carried. He was aided by Patrick, or Pat, as he was called. The old woman, Barb, didn’t help them, as she was too busy watering the plant life on the outside. She would constantly vanish out of view each and every time Julius and them emerged, carrying a corpse.
The task seemed to lengthen up until the middle of the afternoon. After Liam and Ree hauled in the last corpse, they stood there, partly to take a break, and to realize the amount dead in the apartment. The pile stood at least in length of Julius’s waist.
“Hard part’s over,” Ree says, as she catches her breath. She looks at the gate to see Barb emerging from it, a red plastic canister of gas on one hand, and a box of matches on the other. Ree walks closer to her to take the items.
“That from our car?” Liam asks, as Ree gets closer to the pile, opening the canister. She glances him once, then looks back at the canister. “Don’t worry. Me and Pat siphoned it from some of the cars on the other block. We didn’t even fill it up.”
She scatters the contents over the pile, adding the smell of petrol over the stench of rot. She looks behind her once as she finishes up.
“Might want to step back,” she says, pulling the collar of her sweatshirt over her nose. The three of them walk back into the street, shortly followed by Ree, both her hands on the box of matches. She stands in between Pat and Julius, then strikes a match in a single attempt.
“Sorry neighbors.” She throws the match at the pile, quickly igniting it. All four of them wince in unison as a bright flare emerges from the pile, its strong warmth forcing them to step back a little further. They watch as the pile slowly disintegrates into a char of black, eating away from the top.
Barb watches just behind them, and quietly exits back into the gate. “Gonna have to wait this out,” Liam says, his voice slightly louder than the burning sound, as Julius stood beside him. “Once they’re ashes, we sweep them up into a bin!”
They all stand in front of the burning pile, watching as it slowly shrinks into blackness. Eventually, Julius, Pat, and Ree sat on the sidewalk, while Liam chose to stand, walking back and forth.
Julius could only imagine what Ree thought, as she was burning her own neighbors. Then, he thought: “Is this how the military deals with corpses?” He imagines them carrying Alice’s lifeless body, throwing it on a grimly-colored pile of bodies, and igniting it. He rubbed his face with his palm, as the dark thought slowly ate away his brain. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he told himself.
“I know, it’s hard to get used to,” Patrick tells him. Julius snaps out of his misery. “But nowadays, you’re only given such a short time to adapt to it.” He looks at Julius, slightly concerned, then looks back at the pile. “Just watch me. In a few seconds, I gotta go make dinner. Will that pile of burning bodies influence me in making it disgusting? No, sir. I wouldn’t let that force me to make a mediocre dinner.” A smile starts forming in his face.
“You get affected, you affect those around you. Think about it.” He pats his back, then stands up, looking at Ree. “Getting started on dinner,” he says to her. He opens the gate, and walks inside.
Julius, unable to see the burning pile the same way, stands up from his seat and enters the gate. He looks back once, seeing Ree and Liam still focused on the pile.
He takes a moment and pauses in front of the table. He sits on the chair nearest to him.
“Hey you,” a distant voice says. He looks around and sees no one, until a figure in front of him comes into view. It was Barb, holding a trowel on her gardening glove hand.
“My plants don’t take well to sadness.” She approaches Julius, who was starting to feel a bit embarrassed. By now, he starts noticing why this outer area seemed so clean; the plants, consisting mostly of shrubs, were properly trimmed. He wipes off the grief in his face in response to her impatient look.
“Come with me.” She starts walking away, expecting Julius to follow. As he trailed behind her, the shrubs started to have flowers in them. They stop in front of a flower-filled bush, a cement wall just right behind it.
Barb pauses, exchanging glances between him and the flowers below her left. “They started growing yesterday, since the super left. Damn good for nothin’…” Julius couldn’t tell if she was serious; did she really want the building’s owner dead? Was he part of the corpses they were burning just now?
He wanted to question her, but the fact that they barely knew each other, coupled by her old age made him hesitate. He slightly leans in to have a better view.
The way the petals were arranged made it seem like the flower had a thousand of them. The cream-pink tint sealed perfectly. There were only two of them completely budded; the rest were still closed up, red in color.
“I figured I’d plant them for our street’s name. Beautiful, aren’t they?” Her voice was calmer this time, as opposed to the one he heard from before. But it all changes back when she says “Super said there were too many plants. But he already couldn’t do much once the rest started growing.”
What was Barb’s plan in showing him the plants? The way Julius saw it, she was concentrated with them. Perhaps she wanted to spread her concentration with him, so that he himself can be distracted. “Evee would love these,” she says, again reverting to her calm tone.
It wasn’t working. Now, more than ever, Julius remembered Alice. How he often got her flowers. How she found them “cliché for a relationship”.
“Just get me chocolates,” she would say.
“Well, welcome home.”
Liam and Ree waited until it was late afternoon; by then, the intense fire waned into nothing but a mix of ashes, and embers. Liam had to stay a little longer, since he had to disperse a few walkers that have wandered in the street. He reassured Ree that it was nothing to worry about.
Ree, on the meantime, decided it was time to move Julius in. “Nothing much,” she says, resting his backpack against the brown sofa in the middle. “You take the couch.”
The room had an old-school feeling, mostly given by the posters of old blues musicians, 70’s furniture, and the dark-brown carpet. “Evee?” Ree echoes, as she vanishes into Julius’s view. She continues to call her name once more, her voice slowly fading.
Julius sits down on the couch, looking around the room then eventually resting his eyes on the television set in front of him. It was placed on its own shelf, columns of books on one side, and a few picture frames on the other. He wanted to see the pictures closer, but he felt rude doing so.
“Julius,” she calls, hearing her voice on his right side. He turns to look, and sees a little girl, about stomach-length to Ree. She had the emotional look kids would typically have when they first meet a stranger.
“This is Evee,” Ree says, her hands resting on the little girl’s shoulders. She approaches slowly, and lays her left hand out in front of her. All Julius could muster was a smirk, as he grabs her hand and shakes it. “I’m Julius,” he says, trying to rid of the grief in his voice.
“Evee,” she responds hoarsely, and quietly. She turns around, and vanishes out of view. “She’s naturally shy,” Ree says, looking to her left, then walking toward the back of where Julius sat in. He hadn’t noticed the small kitchen slash dining room behind him. “We’re gonna eat soon,” Ree says, slightly booming her voice.
Julius was surprised to hear running water once Ree opens the faucet. She glances him once, noticing his curiosity. “We’re still waiting for it to get turned off. You’re free to use it as much as you can, by the way.” He pauses for a moment, deciding if he should take a shower now. But knowing that he’s a guest, he resorts to just washing his face.
“Bathroom’s the first door to your left,” Ree says, seeing Julius standing up. They were both looking at the doorless entrance from which Evee came out of earlier.
He shortly finds the small hall, consisting of one door to his left, another a few feet in front of him, and one more to his right. The door in front of him was slightly opened. Julius walks toward the left door, and opens it.
“Use it as much as you can.” As he was entering the bathroom, Ree hands him a peach-colored towel. “Thanks,” he mutters in reply. Ree nods. “Make it quick. Supper’s coming soon.”
Julius closes the door behind him, and turns on the lights. He leans in to the mirror in front of him, having a closer look in his face. Aside for his disheveled appearance, Julius didn’t notice any facial hair forming. He disregarded his face, and turned on the shower’s knob.
He wished not to wait for hot water, mostly not to push his luck. He plunged right in to the cold water, feeling chilly at first, but quickly getting used to it. He tried to blank his mind as much as he could, so as to not recall any memories that would continue to haunt him.
He ended his shower quickly, as the thoughts crept up on him. He changed to the clothes he had on his backpack, trying to distract himself from their origin, until he eventually gave in.
These clothes were what he wore when he spent time with Alice. She held on to them for years, not bothering to get rid of them. Was it because she hasn’t let go of him all those years? Was she waiting for him all that time?
Then he relives their break-up, then their chance meeting nights ago, how he spent time in her house, like old times. How he held her closely when the front of her house was burned. How she looked at him as they conversed in the blockade, about her hesitation in staying. How she was waiting, sitting on the sofa, for her turn in the bathroom. How she’s getting along with Ree at this very moment.
The three knocks on the door wake him up from his stupor. “Dinner’s ready,” Ree says, her voice muffled. “Just go to the second door in this floor. Drop your clothes on the hamper in Liam’s living room.”
He pulls his dirty clothes together on one hand, holding the strap of his backpack on the other. He leaves the bathroom, noticing the door in the end of the hall fully opened. He walks toward the living room, stopping briefly to rest his backpack on the sofa. He slips into the already opened front door, finding himself outside of the room.
He notices Evee entering another door, half of her vanishing in a blink. He follows closely, clutching his clothes with one hand. The old-fashioned feeling vanishes, as he enters Liam’s room. It was completely lacking in furniture, giving off a more modern feeling. He notices the white hamper Ree mentioned, placed next to the coffee table in what looked like the living room.
The smell of warm food fills his nose, as he slips his clothes on the already existing pile in the hamper.
Julius was sitting on a round table, Ree on his left side, and Liam on the other. Evee sits right next to Ree, an empty seat beside her. Barb was on Liam’s left side.
Julius chose not to plunge in the conversation Liam and Ree had. The way they seemed serious discouraged him from doing so. Barb, on the other hand, managed to make Evee smile, a feat he thought was impossible. The dinner table was somehow so comforting; the noises of people, their expressions a mix of happiness and seriousness, made Julius feel normal.
“Piping hot! Make way,” Patrick says, as he had a plate on one hand and a bowl on the other. He sets the bowl first on the table, revealing it to be a mixture of corn grains and some kind of green garnish. It was well-received by both Liam and Ree, as they both oohed at the sight of it. The smell rising out of it made Julius even more hungry.
“And…” Patrick sets the plate second, as it gave off a familiar smell. It was fried Spam, cut into small rectangles. Evee’s eyes brighten, while Barb smiles.
The rest of the table was giddy with excitement, as Patrick sits down, grabbing Evee’s and Barb’s hands with his own. “Grace,” he says, looking at Julius, whose hands were grabbed by both Liam and Evee.
“Dear God…” Patrick pauses, his closed eyes indicating deep prayer. “… what the hell are you doing?” Everybody else had their eyes closed, except for Barb, who was squinting at Patrick.
“It’s been day three of praying and you’re still here, killing people. I knew I was right! You must be up there, laughing at your ‘creations’, as they kill each other off—“ Barb nudges him once.
“—we thank you for your food,” she interrupts. Patrick looks at her, accomplished. “And your continued faith in us. We thank you…” she pauses, one of her eyes looking at Patrick. “…for your guiding hands, and may you continue providing for us. Amen.” Liam, Evee, Patrick, and Ree follow with a strong “Amen” in unison.
Julius was slightly astonished; here were four people in front of him, who couldn’t care less about the apocalypse. They sit here, like family, able to enjoy dinner. He was glad for a second, realizing that he hasn’t done anything to dampen their moods. He recalls what Patrick told him…
“You get affected, you affect those around you.” This, coupled by their contagious positivity, somehow kick started his mind. For some reason, he didn’t want to plunge into his depression any more.
“So…” Patrick starts, as he passes around his food. “Julius. What landed you to Liam’s hands?” Liam hands him the bowl of corn.
“I… I was just wandering,” he responds, not hoping to bring up his experience with the blockade.
“Surrounded, you mean,” Liam corrects him. “Surrounded by walkers. I snap this fool out of it and bring him with me. He looked like he wanted to get eaten.” The rest of the table looked at him, worried.
“I was overwhelmed,” he responds, in his defense. “Tired, too.” Liam senses his message, and says “Glad I found him, actually. He wanted to fight walkers. Because of that, we practically slipped through the gym.”
Patrick nodded, while Ree looked at him, a smirk on her face. “You know you helped all of us by getting that radio, right?” Julius gave her a curious look.
“That radio’s an oversized walkie-talkie for Duane!” Patrick adds. Ree turns to her, and nods. “Duane’s my boyfriend. Got drafted a week ago.”
Julius was a little lost; where exactly where they going with this? He put forth this message with his curious expression.
“It’s a bunch of steps… basically, that’s the first one. The second step is to find his frequency, and get a clear signal. Wait a day, probably less… then once he gives us the go-ahead, we go to the extraction point.”
“Extraction point…?” Julius responds. Ree nods.
“We get rescued.”