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Issue 25 - Mr. Burrough's FinestEdit
Nina continues to scan her guitar, as Julius gathers a few shirts he found in some of the racks. He was hoping to form a makeshift bed he could sleep on, but an awake Nina seems to be distracting him.
She stands up from her position and approaches the glass entrance, peering right through it.
“Aren’t you gonna sleep?” Julius asks; something about Nina made him feel a bit uneasy, rest-wise.
She continues to peer on the outside, her left hand holding her guitar, while her right was pressed against the glass. “No,” she bluntly replies.
She was far too antsy to go to bed. That, and she is chronically a bad sleeper; she only normally sleeps in the morning, or never at all. She felt that she needed to look for that car. Not for that girl named Alice, but to just fulfill something for once…
She needs to find a key, and all will be well. But just the thought of searching for it already gave her doubts; she knows how hard it is to start a car nowadays.
She usually has to find a house, with a car parked somewhere on it. She has to break in, and search for a key; they’re usually found in bunches.
She has to separate the car keys, then use them… and hope it starts. If the engine doesn’t give in, it could either be the car not working, or it’s out of gas. People these days are desperate for gas; everybody seems to be siphoning them. That, and she doesn’t know a thing or two about getting gas, and…
“Hey—get back inside,” Julius mutters from right behind her. Nina hadn’t realized that she was standing outside, scanning through the parked cars in this street.
“Oh, sorry,” she replies. There was mist coming out of her mouth.
“It’s getting cold…” Julius wraps his jacket tightly around him and slips back inside. Nina glances the cars one more time, and follows him.
“What’s the deal?” Julius was looking at Nina, cozily lying down in a makeshift bed of shirts and jeans. “We got a long day ahead tomorrow. We need to rest.”
Nina was still peering through the glass, though she was at a seated position this time. Meredith was strapped to her back, its elegantly embroidered strap strewn across her chest.
“It’s just that I… really want to look for this car,” she replies, glancing him once. There were numerous cars for them to pick, but she just knows she won’t find any of its keys.
Julius lays silent for a moment, then sighs. He pulls himself up, and assumes a sitting position like her.
“Alright… you’re really bothering me. And clearly, you want to look for this car.” He looks around to find the backpack and bat he put away, in the dark. “… I guess we’ll get there sooner if we find it.”
Nina wanted to tell him that she wasn’t the time of her sleep, but he might find it weird. She waits for him to strap his backpack on and stands right up. “Sorry,” she mutters, almost inaudibly.
She straps her own bag and walks toward the entrance. Julius manages to find his bat and walks toward her. “Alright, let’s do this… out in the cold.” Nina silently opens the door. “In the night…” he follows, the volume of his voice gradually lowering. “Where we might get attacked…”
“I get your point,” Nina replies, holding the door open for him to exit. “If we get attacked, I got…” She brings her bag to her front, unzips it open, and digs through it with her left hand. “Th….this.” She takes out a small pistol, with something dangling just below the handle. It was too dark for Julius to see it in detail.
“Oh, yeah? You know how to use that thing?” They start walking on the sidewalk, with Julius leading the way.
“Weeell…” She’s only had it since the apocalypse started. It was her form of preparation, even though she was against firearms in general. She figured that it was her best and only defense against other gun wielders. “I’ve killed two biters. One of them took a single bullet to the head. So…”
She thinks about the amount of bullets she still has left; she hasn't the time to check. She examines the gun in her hand one last time and stuffs it back into her bag; while at it, she tries to feel the amount of bullets with her fingers. “If we could just be silent about it, I guess…” She shifts her eyes to Julius’s bat, then to the back of his head. “Can you defend with that bat?”
He scans his own bat for a brief second. “Yeah, pretty decent,” he replies.
They aimlessly search for the car they were going to use, taking their walk to a couple of blocks. Julius stuffs his hands onto the pockets of his jacket, while Nina eagerly peeks in through the passenger window of every car she approaches. She usually takes a few seconds in between, squeezing her face in as close to the window as possible to have a better view. As usual, she doesn’t find what she’s looking for.
“If we don’t find one in the next five minutes I’m running back to the store,” Julius complains. The mist coming out of his breath made him hate the cold even more. “For once I had a soft bed waiting for me…”
“I’ll find it, don’t worry…” Nina replies, glancing him once. “I’ll drive you back there if I have to.”
But their search takes another five minutes, with almost no visible progress. Nina has started trying to check the door of every car by pulling it to see if it’s locked. Julius looks behind him to retrace his steps back to the building, hoping to go back; the cold, coupled by the distance they’ve traveled, further discouraged him from returning.
“Alright— ” he says to Nina, his tone somewhat frozen. “We’re just gonna have to look for a new place to stay. C’mon.” He gestures her to stop looking for the car with his right hand. “We’re done—I want to go to bed, and—”
“Wait. Wait wait…” Nina interjects. “Just a bit more. Let’s go check…” She scans around for a second and points to the distance ahead of her; Julius squints at the direction and sees nothing but darkness. “Over there. You see it?”
“No.” By this point, Julius has tried to stuff his face inside his jacket by pulling the collar up half-way to his face; it didn’t seem to stay, though.
“It’s a big mansion. The…. ‘something’ estate. I forget. But let’s go see if it’s got a car.” It was pretty much her last hope; she’s been hearing a lot about this estate, since it was the big talk in this district. She wants to take this chance to check on it; there’s bound to be a usable car in there, if the owners decided to leave it.
“Alright… but we’re staying there,” Julius replies. “Better be a bed in there…” he mutters.
Walking there seemed to take forever to Julius. Nina was ahead of him the whole time, having lesser trouble than him judging from how she walked. He had no idea how this girl could have this much energy.
He hasn’t seen this estate before. It was the richest house he’s ever stepped foot on, even though he’s been traveling all over the place. Compared to his old house, it was three times bigger.
There was a single lamp post that provided the brightest light in this estate. There were even small outdoor lights that guided the cement path toward the door. Its wide driveway had a jet-black four-seater car parked on it. Nina goes through her usual car-searching ritual, and finds it locked.
“Let’s look for the key inside,” she tells Julius. She walks over to the cement pathway, leading her to the house’s double front doors. She carefully approaches it and slowly opens the knob, as if she was sneaking in. “Just open it, will you?” Julius groans. Nina gives him a look and pushes the door open.
It was too dark for them to carefully see the details of the inside. All they know is that the room lacked the proper amount of furniture, judging from how spacious it was; there were some coffee tables here and there, at least two paintings, and a single comforter. Other than that, it was all made up of bare walls and corners.
But the most redeeming feature was how normal and clean it looked. Julius almost didn’t notice it. Nina, on the other hand, didn’t seem to care.
“Dibs on the sofa,” he whispers to her, setting his eyes on the lone comforter a distance away from him. “Yeah, yeah,” she replies back, setting her eyes on the dining area enveloped in darkness. They both go their separate ways, with Julius walking to his front.
He lazily approaches the comforter, and throws himself onto it. He sinks as he feels the soft cushion tightly hugging his arms; this was the best bed he’s had since he left the apartment.
He tries to maintain his eyes open, looking at the sight at least five feet in front of him; an expensive-looking fireplace, almost as tall as he is. Above it, some pictures he can’t seem to see from this view.
His eyes weigh him down for a second. “Wonder if…” he yawns, “… she’ll find those keys…”
Nina found herself in the middle of the kitchen, slightly illuminated by the light of the lamp posts seeping through the blinds-covered windows. She finally sees a small, wooden rack of keys, located next to the expensive-looking wooden cabinets. She grabs a handful and places them near the window, to have a much better view.
She doesn’t know how much she grabs, until she had a clear view of it; there were at least ten different keys. Some of them looked like car keys, others house keys… “How many keys do you keep? Jeez…” she mutters to herself; she doesn’t have a clear picture of the house’s owner. She was leaning toward a young, entrepreneurial man, judging from how modern the house was. He has a trophy wife, and a few neglected kids…
She separates the keys into two piles, placing the car keys on the left and the miscellaneous ones to the right. After a few seconds, she comes down to about four car keys.
“Hmph…” She looks to each key with both her hands. At least two of them were duplicates. So there were three different ones...
“Yo Nina,” Julius suddenly calls from behind her, almost making her jump. “What?” she calls back with a loud whisper.
“Check this out.” Nina gazes at him, then walks toward him. She stops halfway, almost forgetting to grab the keys; she scoops them out onto her right hand and walks back to Julius.
They both go back to the living room, where the comforter was. Nina looks around it. “Yeah… so?” She can’t see anything different.
“Are you blind?” he grumbles. She doesn’t see anything new, other than the extremely good lighting…
“The lights are on!” Julius exclaims. She gives him a quizzical look. “Are you sleep walking? You sure you didn’t turn them on by yourself?...”
“No! It just… came on. I was already asleep and it woke me up. It just… it came on.” The lights were completely bright, as if they were powered by multiple mag lights. It certainly was the brightest light Julius has ever seen in the past … month.
“Who the hell would turn it on? I mean… what if it’s got a timer, or something…?” They both look around the room in confusion.
“Holy shit, lookie this Vinnie. Two people…” A middle-aged, sleek, brown-haired man was looking through a set of monitors. Two unknown people are standing on the living room, dumbfounded by the light he had just remotely switched on.
The man named Vinnie appears beside him, holding onto a tan-colored mug. “Ho-ly shit…” He points to the girl with his index finger, with no regard for making contact with the monitor glass. “…and lookie that one. It’s a girl.” His voice was rough, and more lower-pitched than the man next to him. He had darkish hair, with two visible gray spots on his sideburns. He wore a business-casual suit almost similar to the man, though in different colors.
“Go tell the boss first. Then we talk to ‘em.” The man stands up from his desk chair and opens the door behind them. “Oh, by the way Rick,” Vinnie calls, getting his attention. He raises his mug. “Yer coffee sucks.”
The man named Rick gives him a smirk. “Fuck you, Vin. Like y’can do better...” Vinnie chuckles, while Rick walks away, shaking his head.
“Lucky fuckin’ day…” Vinnie mutters, rubbing his five-o-clock shadow.
Rick knocks on a tall, brown door softly, then pauses for a response.
“It’s open,” a muffled voice says from the other side. Vinnie quietly opens the door, leaving a slight opening for him to slip his head through. “Uh… y’gotta see this,” he says, nervously.
He was looking at a man sitting on an intricately carved chair, turned toward a wide window covered by a velvet ruby curtain.
“See what…?” he replies impatiently. His voice has a sting of contempt that is easily catchable. “Can’t you see I’m still disappointed in you two?”
Rick scratches his head. “We got a… a few visitors. I think you’ll really like one of ‘em.”
“Oh?” There was a tone of disinterest on his voice. “What could you have possibly found now that will peak my interest …?”
“It’s a young woman, sir,” Rick replies. The man behind the chair pauses; he maintains the wine glass he was visibly holding, and stands up from his chair.
He wore an elegant, ruby-colored robe that almost matched the fabric of the curtain. His hair was slowly consumed by gray. His face speaks of old age, one that is regal, and sophisticated. He looked at Rick with disappointment.
“Young woman…?” he mutters. “Paint… paint me a word picture, Richard.”
“Well…” Rick takes a few seconds to recall what he saw on the poor display of the monitors, and to pass him off for calling him his real name. “She—she’s kinda young. Blonde hair, white skin. Uh, slim and…”
The man puts down the wine glass on the table behind him and walks closer to Rick. “Like her, but… but new…?”
“Errr—y-yeah, sir, new. But there’s a guy with—”
“You must arrange it, Richard. Make her presentable; give her a bath, a beautiful dress...” He pauses, looking at Rick, then turns around. “And bring her to me.” He rubs his chin for a moment, looking away again. “You two might be able to redeem yourself after all…” He gives Rick a half-hearted look, and gestures his hand to send him off. “Go. Go now.”
Rick instantly turns around and exits the door, quietly closing it behind him. “For god’s sake you old fuck, it’s Rick!” he mutters silently, as he walks away.
“What do you think? There’re ghosts in here?” Nina and Julius were discussing the possibility of the lights coming on; she was pacing the carpet while Julius struggles to keep awake, due to the comforter he’s sitting on.
“I don’t—I don’t know…” Julius rubs his forehead.
“I’m telling you, it’s probably just the timer going off. The owner probably left it open or…” They’re haunting the place. It was a weird realization, but Nina just felt it; the owner’s haunting the place…
“… or they’re haunting it—” Julius responds, the energy gone from his voice.
“Yes, yes they are—” Nina almost instantly says; she knew Julius felt it too. That, or it was his lack of interest. “I mean, nowadays there’s bound to be more—”
Nina stops talking, and freezes. Julius suddenly widens his eyes open and shoots his head up.
“How y’all doin’ this fine evening?”
Two men were suddenly in the same room as them; judging from where they stood, they came in through the kitchen. One had a slick, brown hair while the other looked older. Both had silenced pistols on their hands, and suits.
“Name’s Vinnie,” the older man says, walking closer to them. He extends his non-pistol hand up, toward Nina, who seems to be the closest; in response, she just looks at him in astonishment.
“That man there’s Rick.” He gestures to the younger man behind him; he was looking at both of them with a serious look, both his hands crossed together below his waist.
“Now, I know y’all are gonna freak, but… we don’t got a lot of time.” The man named Vinnie transfers his look between Julius and Nina; Julius wasn’t dipped into his seat anymore.
“I got a man upstairs. He’s the owner o’ this house.” He focuses on Nina. “He really wants to see ya…” He casually points the nozzle of his silenced pistol to her.
“Now, I know it’s all so hard to believe, but—yeah. We been watchin’ ya guys since y’came down here. My good friend Rick here…” He glances him once to acknowledge him. “…turned the light on to have a better view.
“Now if you just come with me, young lady…” He gestures Nina to come with him. She gives Julius a confused look, and then transfers it to Vinnie.
“Well? C’mon now. Le’s go.” Nina doesn’t budge. Julius stands up from his chair. “I think we’d—we’re gonna go—“ he nervously says.
“No, no… sit, sit.” Vinnie had a friendly smile on his face as he gestures him to stay on his seat. The gun on his hand didn’t help.
“Well. C’mon lady. Y’can’t keep us waiting.” He impatiently looks at Nina, as she was starting to tremble.
“C’mon. C'mon now...” Somehow, he was starting to become more and more persuasive. The way he gestured Nina to follow him made them both think that he wouldn’t hesitate to shoot them.
Nina looks at Julius, the fear in her eyes evident. Rick suddenly walks past behind her.
“No freakin’ way… y’have a guitar?” He points to Meredith, who was resting against the wall, then turns to Nina, an impressed look on his face. “You play this thing?” he asks. She nods, hesitantly.
“Wow! Can y’believe that…” He shares his impression with Vinnie, who also takes a closer look at the guitar. “That’s cool. Grab that guitar and let’s head on up.”
Vinnie leads Nina to the stairs, leaving Julius in the hands of Rick. They both disappear into the darkness of the kitchen, walking toward a spot Nina didn’t seem to notice when she was there.
The stair set was separated in half; judging from the amount of steps, the second floor had a considerable height. They both arrive in a well-lit hall, with white walls and a few hung paintings on each side.
They both walk past a few doors until they reach the near-end of the hall; Vinnie leads Nina to a room to their left.
They enter a poorly-lit, large-sized room, with velvet red carpets and a huge mirror. Below it was a sophisticated dressing table, with numerous boxes on it left in-tact. There were even a few displays of photo frames that she couldn’t see in detail from here.
“Go on, kid,” Vinnie says to Nina, gesturing her to approach the table. “Make y’self look good. Go over t’the bathroom if y’need to. There’s a dressin’ room in there with a huge selection for ya.” He looks to the opening on his left; it led to a small-sized bathroom with the lights turned on.
Nina still couldn’t stop her trembling; she has no idea what this man was talking about. Somehow, though, the thought of getting “ready” was comforting to her. She walks toward the opening to see the bathroom for herself.
“Y-you mean…” she says, the shaking in her voice evident. “I can—I can take a shower?”
Vinnie nods. “Yeah, of course. We got our own water reserve, y’know? Temperature an’ everything.” He walks toward the bathroom opening and enters it. “Go ahead an’ use the shower. I could smell ya from here.”
Nina could never imagine hearing the “S” word ever again; the last time she heard it was probably two days before the apocalypse.
“You mean I could… I could r-really use it?” she asks. Vinnie nods. “‘Course. Harold wouldn’ want ya smellin’ like… garbage mixed with rotten meat.” Nina continues to look at the shower, glancing him once with a scared look.
“Oh, right. You address him as Mister Burrough. Not Harold. He won’t hesitate to shout at ya if y’do…” Nina looks away.
“Now go on kid. Get to showerin’.” He pulls open the shower door for her.
“Aren’t… aren’t you going to leave?” she doubtfully asks. Vinnie raises an eyebrow and smirks.
“Ah, yeah. I’ll be over there.” He points toward the room’s bed. “I gotta be watchin’ ya the whole time. Y’know. Just in case y’try to escape.” Nina didn’t have an intention to until now, since she was far too frightened.
“Now go on little lady.” He walks off toward the bedroom. “Don’t worry,” he says, while walking. “Least I ain’t gonna watch y’undress. I ain’t sick like that.” He scoffs as he vanishes out of sight.
Nina unstraps her boots, then enters the shower room. She sighs, and takes off her wide-necked sweater.
“Might as well shower before I kick that man in the groin…” she mutters. She thinks about untying her headband, but decides against it. “Then again… my hair stinks too.” She unravels her headband, revealing the tie that holds her semi-long, blond hair together.
Rick waits for Julius to gather his things. “Hurry on up,” he urges. “I’ll show ya the door.” He holds Nina’s guitar on one hand, and his gun on the other.
Julius straps his backpack on and grabs his bat, then walks toward Rick. Rick places his pistol hand on Julius's shoulder and sets the guitar against the door’s wall, so that he can open it with his hand.
“No funny business, alright?” he tells Julius, as he motions him to go outside; Julius doesn’t hesitate and exits.
He walks away toward the cement pathway, an uncertain feeling on his chest. They just took Nina hostage, probably for a very long term. He felt so powerless for some reason.
Well, at least he can resume his path. He already knows the important names; Portola, and the street names, Heading and Denver. Then again, he can’t just leave Nina; the way she earned his trust in almost an instant, and her kindly accompanying him to finding Alice…
It would be a stab on the back if he just leaves her. He speeds up his walking, so that he can vanish out of view; and then, he can check on where he can possibly sneak in, and get Nina out—
“Wait, wait,” Rick calls, a distance behind him. He turns around to see him looking at him, standing at the end of the cement path that leads to the driveway. “Come—c’mere…” Rick gestures him to come closer; Julius pauses, and follows him. They both walk back inside the house.
“Look—I know y’gotta save your girlfriend up there—”
“She-she’s not my girlfriend—”
“Pal—acquaintance—whatevah. But I can help ya.” He holsters his pistol on his waist, and points back to the lit living room. “I just gotta take this guitar upstairs.” He points to the comforter. “Go ahead an’ sit over there. I’ll talk to ya once I get back.”
Rick walks toward the dark kitchen, and vanishes. And just then, the night couldn’t get any weirder for Julius.