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Issue 16 - EnrichmentEdit

Julius gives her a puzzled look. “Rescued?” he asks. The first thing that came to his mind was how impossible it’d be.

Ree nods. “Me and Duane planned it before he left… just for precaution.” She looks to the rest of the people in the table, getting their confirmations through their looks. “He’s got a vehicle of some sort stored… anything, really, that’ll get us out of the city.”

Julius thought Ree was mad; was she really just signing everyone’s life away here? Does she know what the military is planning to do to them? He wanted to object to her idea, but that’ll mean shattering their only hope.

Ree, Patrick, and Barb shared a hopeful look with each other. Evee was indifferent, as she was in her own little world. Liam showed some signs of dejection, looking down on his plate.

“How sure are you that this’ll work? That… he’ll respond?” Julius asks, as his best form of disagreement. Ree pauses for a second. “He promised me. He was eager, and… so was I. That’s why we had the discussion in the first place.”

“Hmmm… how soon do you think we’ll find his frequency?” Patrick adds, making Ree turn to him. “We’ll start now,” she responds. “After dinner.” She spreads her look to the rest of the table. “If nobody else will, I’ll keep an eye on it twenty-four seven. Just to be sure.” Barbara and Patrick shoot her a semi-concerned look. “Don’t worry hun,” Patrick says. “I’ll take shifts with you.”

Barbara resumes looking at her plate. “Well, not me. I’ll be sleepin’.” Ree and Patrick look at each other with interest, agreeing with their plan. Julius could see how certain she was about this, so much so that he started thinking about his own view of the military…

They shot and killed Alice, and a bunch of other people before that. They were willing to kill anything that’s not them…

But what if it was just that particular blockade? What if it was just their response to that situation? “But they killed you…” he said to himself. “… because of the crowd of people behind you…”

The way Ree seemed so convinced that this’ll work made him doubt himself. She made it seem like this was a sure thing. The comfort of knowing that they had an escape made Julius feel a little settled. He was starting to feel like he wasn’t alone anymore.

“You in, Julius?” Ree asks, snapping him out of his own thoughts. She, along with Patrick, was looking at him for an answer.

“Yeah. I’ll—I’ll check on it with you guys,” he replies. “If the time comes,” he thought,” I’ll be there to warn you.”

Dinner subsides with Patrick and Ree discussing the arrangement for the radio. Liam didn’t seem to take part, only until he was asked to bring the radio out. As dinner ended, Liam vanished into Ree’s apartment, carrying his single-strapped bag. Patrick, eager to help, sent Barbara and Evee on dish duty. He, along with Julius and Ree, follow Liam into her apartment shortly after.

Liam places the radio on the dining table, as per request by Ree. He takes out a small rectangular gadget with it, along with a semi-long wire. Ree vanishes for a second, rushing to her room. She returns with a ripped piece of paper in her hand, glancing over it as she moved. Patrick and Julius stare at the radio with curiosity, as Liam tries to figure out how to set it up.

Being unsuccessful, Liam resorts to inserting the wire between the radio itself, and a jack on small gadget. It had two knobs on it, yellow and red in color. “Let me see…” Ree interrupts, fidgeting the knobs on the radio. “Told me not to turn it on until I got the channel…”

As Ree makes herself unreachable for a few moments, Julius starts to wonder a few things. “Why was the radio in a gym?” he asked, hoping to get an answer from anyone. Patrick was fixated on Ree, who was concentrating on the radio.

“Some sort of ‘secret’ thing,” Liam replies. Julius looks to him for more answers, but it seemed like that was all he could offer.

“We’re not actually supposed to have this,” Ree replies, taking her eyes off the radio for a second. “That’s why he had to put it in a… ‘normal’ location.” She returns, exchanging glances between the small gadget and the paper, which she held side by side. “I was actually supposed to get it sooner, but I… didn’t prioritize enough so I forgot. That, and we got pushed back by the…” she pauses for a second, continuing to turn the knobs. “… you know.”

Patrick was now assisting her, trying to figure out the mystery between the knobs. Liam looks at them for a few more seconds, then retires near the couch. Julius was the only one left watching them.

“No, it’s supposed to be four…” Patrick says, as he gets sucked in to the radio. “Turn that, and I turn this…” Ree follows.

“Julius,” Liam calls from behind the couch, was leaning above the headrest. “Hmm?” he replies.

“I gotta do a supply run tomorrow. I know you’ve only been here for half a day… but, I mean, it’ll really speed things up and…” Julius was aware of what he was asking. As much as he wanted to spend time getting to know everyone else, he felt that it was his obligation to help Liam. “Yeah, sure,” he responds, nodding. Julius smirks at him, glad to hear his agreement.

“Now, you’re not gonna go walker-ballistic on me like last time, will you?” he asks. Julius recalls how careless he felt, attacking crowds out of spite. He felt nothing but rage that time. Now that he’s had a little bit of time to rest, in a calmer environment, his rage dwindled. “I’ll be more careful,” he responds.

“Good,” Liam says. He stands up from the couch, and starts walking toward the half-opened door. “I’ll wake you up early tomorrow. For now, just get some sleep.” He nods off Julius, then looks to Ree and Patrick. “You guys got everything you need?” he asks. By now, Ree was pressing the buttons on the radio itself. “Nothing else,” Ree responds in a half-tone. Liam starts walking back to his room.

“Oh wait, Liam—“ Patrick interrupts. “Make more room for produce. Vegetables like parsley, cabbage, carrots—as long as they’re fresh! Oh, and potatoes. Spices! Spices too—“

“Alright Pat—“ Liam replies. “Make room, alright? I can make do with just vegetables. Oh, and soup mix—“ Patrick stops, not noticing Liam had vanished. “He’ll remember,” Ree assures him.

Julius started feeling his eyes weigh down, as he laid still in the couch. The light from the dining room, coupled by Ree and Patrick fidgeting with the radio, were the only things that kept him awake. “Hear anything?” Ree asks. They all lay silent for a moment.

A faint, almost mute static noise was starting to sound off from the radio. “I think you got it,” Patrick whispers. They pause for a few seconds, looking at each other. “Yeah….” Ree replies, her tone hushed.

They continue to pause, until Pat asks “So… who’ll keep watch?” Ree admires the static for a bit, holding back an answer. “This is good enough for now,” she replies. The way their volumes were kept low almost made Julius sleep, but the static kept him slightly interested.

Patrick started coming into view, as he crept toward the front door. “Night Julius,” he says, as the couch he laid on was parallel to the door. Julius, extremely tired, could only nod him off.

With a little less noise, Julius started to let his eyes rest. “Hey,” Ree whispers, from above the couch’s headrest. Julius wakes up for a second. She was paused, scanning him.

“You want any blankets?” she asks. Julius, still wearing his jacket, felt warm enough; he shakes his head. “Alright.” Ree turns back to the radio one last time. “Don’t make too many loud noises. We’re only supposed to respond until Duane does.” She pauses for confirmation. Julius nods. “Great.” She nods back, then turns off the light, and vanishes.

Julius felt scared in the dark for a second, mostly because he felt out of place, sleeping in an apartment he has never been to before. The way the furniture looked in the dark didn’t seem to help, either. But as his eyes grew more and more heavy, his fright started giving in to tiredness.

“And while you’re waiting for the world to change…”

Julius felt the softness of her hand; he made sure this time that he wouldn’t lose his grip. He kept looking behind him, waiting for the right moment…

There were too many people to see what was behind them, but he was sure the soldiers were nearing. He sped up his running, hoping Alice wouldn’t mind. “Gotta run faster… faster…” he muttered.

He passed by the people in front of him, at a speed he wasn’t aware of.

“Don’t upset the rhythm…”

Something stung his stomach; he wanted to pause and check, but he would be wasting time. The pain was too intense, but it didn’t stop him from moving. “Almost there…” he muttered.

“Shine like the morning sun…”

They stopped by the time they reached the street outside of the gutter. “Gotta keep moving…” he urged, his stomach starting to wear him down. He saw Alice beside him, pulling up his arm and folding it around her shoulder.

“We have to stop!” she exclaimed. Julius looks at her, sensing the urgency in her face. She pulls him toward a building, and sets him against the wall.

“You’re hit…” she whispered, looking at his stomach with worried eyes. Julius couldn’t bear the sight of it.

He looks down below; his stomach had two holes, nearly obstructed by the gush of blood. He looks to his surroundings. The streets were empty, and clean. The gray sky was overtaken by the large sun shining upon them.

“I’ll be okay…” he told Alice, sweat pouring from his head. She looked at him as tears fell from her eyes.

“I got the world at my feet…”

The pain started to vanish, as the sun started expanding in the sky. “I’m done,” he muttered. Alice embraces him closely, her head resting on his shoulder. “No, no you’re not…” she whispered, shuddering. The pain in his stomach started to vanish. Alice pulled away from her embrace, looking at him in plain view.

Her stomach was red with blood, slowly expanding in the fabric of her shirt. He looks down to see his own wound, only to find it completely gone.

I’m sorry,” she muttered. The blue and yellow irises in her eyes started to intensify in color. “Alice!” he shouted, but he was unable to move. The colors in her eyes slowly liquefy, until they were nothing but gray. “Sorry…” she said, her voice fading into echoes.

He couldn’t sleep anymore. He decided to wake up, and get a head-start on preparing for the supply run. He went to the bathroom, opened the sink, and splashed his face with water a few times, all the while staring at the mirror. He wanted to forget that dream…

He wipes the wetness in his face, then starts unpacking the contents of his backpack. As he was placing the numerous packed items and clothes, he noticed the pair of gloves Liam handed to him in the gym. Was he giving the gloves to him? Did Liam want to hold on to them bad had no room? He stretched his arms and back a few times, then carries the contents of his backpack over to the sofa, so that he doesn’t make much of a mess in the bathroom. He throws in the half-bottle of vitamin water and the pair of gloves in his now-empty backpack.

As he was zipping up his backpack, he notices the buttons of radio lighting up, acting as the only light source. The static seemed to have gotten quieter.

Julius straps his light backpack, then quietly walks out of the room. The floor’s lights were on, brightly illuminating the narrow hall and making Julius a little more comfortable; he was expecting that he’d sit out in the dark, all by himself.

He looked around him to notice that the two only windows in the floor were boarded up. Judging from how well it was covered, no light would enter and escape from it. He sinks down the floor, placing himself on the wall in between Ree’s apartment door and Liam’s.

As he was expecting to be solitary for a while, he hears the door to his right creak slowly. He sees Liam emerging from it, carrying the bag he had from when they first saw each other. “I can’t promise anything, Pat,” he whispered, his head turned toward the entrance.

“Any veggies you can get fresh. Hell, packaged salads would do,” Pat replies, in a similar, though slightly louder volume. He glances down below him and sees Julius, much to his surprise. He looks back to Pat. “He’s awake.” Patrick sticks his head out from the entrance. “Good morning early-bird,” he whispers. Julius nods.

“Like I said, I can’t promise much,” Liam says, as Julius stands up. Patrick, still sticking his head out, looks to Julius. “Vegetables, packaged soup mix, spices!” he whispers, in quick succession. “Goodbye Pat,” Liam urges. Patrick silently closes the door in front of them.

“Sorry about him,” Liam tells Julius, in a quiet volume, as they both walk down the stairs. “It all pays off, though. He makes really good food.” They enter the second floor, which was starting to become visible thanks to the dusk’s light outside.

The walk from the second floor to the first seemed to pass by; in no time, Julius and Liam found themselves in the front gate. Liam peeks in between the gate’s bars, looking left and right.

“One on the right, two on the left,” he says, placing his right hand below his waist. Julius notices the leather sheathe for his machete, something he missed when he first met him.

Liam silently pushes the gate open, but was unable to stop the rusty creaking. He sighs, as the walkers became aware of their presence. Liam runs toward the left, leaving Julius the single walker to his right.

He carefully approaches the walker, then swings his bat to the right with both his hands, forcing it to stagger to its knees. Julius then shoves it to the ground, and starts battering its head, though in a slow rhythm, so as to save his energy.

Once he forced the walker’s forehead open, he looks to Liam to see if he had any trouble. As expected, Liam disposed of the two quickly, already close to finishing as he looked. Julius approaches him, as he pulls out a cloth from his pocket. He wipes his blade with it, then notices Julius. “Here,” he says, throwing the cloth to him. Julius wipes his own bat with the bloodied side of the cloth.

Liam looked at a distance as Julius hands him the cloth. “Good to go?” he asks. Julius nods.

They both go the right direction of their apartment, jogging. “Small plaza a few blocks from here,” Liam says. Julius, who rarely visits these parts, recalls a plaza near here, though he’s not sure if it’s the same one. As they make a left, the path toward them was starting to become a little more familiar to him.

The row of buildings continues, though they were becoming smaller by the size. The numerous bay trees planted in each building made this area seem unique. As they pass by a fenced kid’s park, an area with a small parking lot was coming into view, just on the other side. Julius and Liam skip over the street, jogging on a sidewalk with single-floor houses. There were more trees this time, most likely serving as the block’s shade when the sun comes up.

The plaza was indeed small, as Liam said; at least only ten cars could park inside it. They both revert to walking, Liam walking directly to the small convenience store placed in the middle. “You sure there’re vegetables in here?” Julius asks, thinking about Patrick’s request. Liam glances him. “Small for a market, isn’t it? Let’s hope there’s some left,” Liam replies.

The inside of the store was dark; there were barely any lights on. Liam left the door open so that the outside can shed some light inside it.

“You got room in there, right?” Liam asks, regarding Julius’s backpack. He nods in response.

“Fill it up with as much stuff as you can. Leave a bit of room for Pat’s request.” They both separate, Julius going to the right, and Liam to the left. He rushes toward the packaged foods section, and finds it nearly empty. Some of the items were heavily trashed, leaving bits of crushed chip pieces and trail mix on the ground. They didn’t look well mixing in with the dried gore.

Julius takes any packaged food he comes across, varying from Doritos chips to a few bars of Milky Way. The shelves he emptied accounted for half of his bag space. He moves on to the other sections, hoping to find the spices Patrick was asking for.

As he was approaching the aisle, he was forced to cover his nose; the stench of rot was much too overwhelming. As he approached the spice rack, he saw a mutilated body sitting against the shelves opposite to it. The way it was maimed discouraged him from looking at it any further.

Much to his surprise, the spice rack was barely raided. He scanned through them quickly, picking out the spices that stood out for him. “Oregano… basil… paprika…”After picking the three, he scanned for three more and threw them on his backpack.

“How’s it going there?” Liam echoed. He wasn’t so far, judging from where Julius heard it. “Off to look for veggies,” he replied; he was already at the small produce section, looking at the small and limited selection. The crate of oranges and lemons had blood splattered on them. Some, most notably the egg plants and tomatoes, had the same treatment.

He grabs a plastic bag, then starts stuffing in a single bell pepper, two clean tomatoes, and a roll of cabbage. For good measure, he adds two stalks of parsley.

He takes a moment to make proper room in his backpack, so as to not damage it. “No room,” he called out. After a few seconds, there was no response.

“Liam?” he called, starting to walk toward the entrance. “Present,” he replied, seeing him walk up to the entrance. Aside from his swollen bag, he carried a plastic bag in his right hand, its top tied to a knot. They both walk out of the store at the same time.

“So… um, where to next?” Julius asks. He felt a little ashamed not carrying a bag with him.

“You ever been to the Redwood Children's Enrichment Center?” Liam asks. Julius looks at him, confused. "Uh, nope?"

"Well it's a day care," Liam replies.

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