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Issue 29 - StrickenEdit
“She… she was awesome.” He turns back to the front road, which seemed to look the same, staying silent for a few seconds.
“Well…” he sighs. “Where do I start?...” He taps the steering wheel with his index finger.
Nina stood as still as him, as his sudden enigmatic demeanor affected her too. She looks to the on-going road in front of her, similarly to him.
“She has long, brown hair. Crazy eyes… I mean—you just can’t stop looking at it. You really gotta look at her straight to … just see it.”
“Eyes?” Nina glances at him weirdly. “You’re one of those guys?”
“No—no I’m serious—” Julius looks at her while she snickers. “—I mean her irises are different colors. Blue and yellow. No joke.” She halts her laugh, and looks to him. “Blue, and… yellow?”
“Yeah.” Julius nods and looks back at the road. “I mean, her eyes alone are beautiful… and her hair. Her face… and…”
“Oh-kay, jeez, she’s beautiful, I get it.” Again, Nina scoffs at him, though she was starting to sense something.
“Okay… there’s that. She’s…” Julius lets his right hand move away from the steering wheel, getting ready to gesture. “… she’s pretty smart. Very lazy, but smart… she’d get A’s on one class, D’s or C’s on the other. I can’t predict it myself—anyway, and she’s… she’s funny. Jokes here and there—and she teases me a lot—”
A smirk starts to form in Nina’s face. He was rambling, but she can really see the energy in him. This seemed to be something he really liked to talk about.
“… also a bit avant-garde, like you. You’d probably get along with her because of that. And she can’t cook, but she can learn—…”
His volume trails off in her ears, as she tries to recall the girl she saw on that photo… it was only the side of her face, barely paying attention. She swore the poor lighting created by the flash made her hair look red.
“… talked for hours. On the phone, in school. I have friends, and they’re guys, but she’s the only one—the only person I can talk to…” Now she wanted to see her actual photo.
“… really well. Because she’s willing to stop what she’s doing and hear you out. I don’t know about listening, but… I guess she just…” Julius stops for a second as if he came to a realization. “… wants to show you that she cares.” He pauses at the road, unblinking, like he was daydreaming.
“When you leave the room, you just… know that she cares, no matter what.
And you know she won’t turn your back on you because…”
All the times he kissed her flashes through her mind. “She loves you. It’s like all the badness in your day, week… it all just jumps out the window when you see her. And you know she’s going to stay by your side, no matter what—because she’s like that. She’ll choose you over anything. And…”
The sudden change in Julius’s tone made it seem to her like he was reciting a poem.
“Oh… sorry. I kind of… went off the…”
“Heh. It’s okay.” The poet in Julius vanishes as it was soon replaced by a simple smirk. “It was funny seeing you all romantic-y and stuff…”
Julius shyly gives her a smirked glance. “Haha. Right.”
“It’s fine. Now… where did you guys meet?”
“Oh. High school.”
“Oh, wait… so… she’s—she’s your first girlfriend?” It was as if Nina missed this. High school sweethearts are always too good to be true.
“Yeah,” Julius replies, nodding.
“So this is all infatuation …? You guys are… still together—”
“Well… not exactly. We broke up, never saw each other again for three years, then she… turned up again about a month ago, of all the days—” Nina assumes it’s his birthday or something.
“She said she wanted to see me again. Seeing her was like… everything, just snapping back into place. Like, What I left in high school just came back, you know?”
She was impressed; so they were high school sweethearts, after all.
“We stuck together for a while…” The brightness in his face started to vanish, in almost an instant.
“But w-we… got separated eventually. I saw her eyes—the most terrifying they’ve ever been—and I felt her hand, escaping my grasp… I just—I lost her then and there.” This detail was something Nina didn’t want to hear. The transition was just too instant.
“Then I… came back to that place. Where I lost her.” She felt like she didn’t need to know where the place was. “And I found her… her wallet. With a map piece. It felt like—it was like finding a case full of millions of dollars…
…but now I can’t even tell if this is a sign. It’s been a month. It’s hard letting her go. I’m just… just pretending I broke up with her again. I don’t want to know if I’ll get her back—if you leave a small window of hope it just—it hurts. So I just want to see this place for myself.” The car was slowing down a bit. Julius looked more down than she will ever see.
“But—” There was some shaking in his voice. A faint blemish could be seen in the bridge of his nose. “She’ll always be there. In my mind. And the wallet, too.”
And that’s when Nina saw how inseparable he was to her. To this girl named Alice. The way he looked blankly at the road, with a hint of anguish, weighed her down a bit.
“You know, I bet she’s waiting for us. In the building.” This made Julius turn to her.
“Yeah. I bet she’s—she’s there. I bet there’ll be a sign for you there, or something. Like… ‘Julius, I’m in here, come kiss me’ or something.” A smirk cracks in Julius’s face.
“She’ll be there, I promise.” And yet, she still couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t reassure him.
After what seemed like hours of driving, Nina made Julius take the nearest exit. The view of the ocean was long left behind them; it’s been replaced by tall trees, mountain landscapes, and distant concrete buildings.
“Wait, wait,” Nina warns. He was forced to make a sudden brake as a field of abandoned cars came into view. “How the hell are we gonna drive through that…?”
There wasn’t any clear way for them to pass through; all of the cars, with its fallen items on the cement, made a clear path impossible. Julius exits the car to have a much closer look.
Nina looks to him, as his head scans through the rows upon rows of vehicles. “It’s possible,” he says, sliding back into the car seat. He carelessly reverses the car and edges to the left direction, slipping into two other cars without trouble.
Julius’s speed was at a comfortable twenty-five miles, carefully trekking the small pathway provided for them. To their sides, the dusty windows of each abandoned car pass by their own. Nina didn’t find it too difficult at first, even getting a quick glance of each car’s items. But once she saw a mark of blood against the glass on one of them, a fretful feeling crept up her chest.
“How long do you think this stretches to…?” she asks, her heart’s beat getting louder. Julius, concentrated on driving carefully, takes some time to respond. “I—I don’t know. Hopefully not too long—” The car starts to shake, as it passes through a dropped suitcase of dirtied clothes. Nina suddenly found an appreciation for being inside the car.
“Why did they leave…?” There was virtually no one else in the graveyard they were passing through. Only the empty husks to each of their sides, entailing some kind of dreary, or perhaps terrifying past. Then, she remembers the news broadcasts, where it would show cars stretching for miles, trying to run from something. One that came to her mind was Wyoming…
Julius takes an abrupt brake as he stumbles upon an open spot, in the seemingly-eternal maze of cars. Another car, placed to its side, its front impacted on the tailgate of yet another car, was visible to their right. Nina’s heart almost drops upon seeing a dried puddle of red on the ground.
Julius tries to scan for yet another path, squinting his eyes. Nina was almost awe-struck at the crash site, and… two moving shadows to her left. “Julius—” She taps him on the shoulder and points to her window.
One walker was sitting against another car, its missing right leg completely visible. It flails its arms toward the car, then pulls itself forward. The other walker, standing idly right next to it, follows it.
Nina found it difficult to shake her sudden feeling of terror. Her heart starts to beat rapidly, and her hands shake uncontrollably. Julius glances them once, opens the car door, and stands up to do a quick scan.
“Hurry up—please—” Nina mutters. Julius sees the walkers for a brief second and ducks down to sit in his seat. He steers to the left, driving toward yet another open path.
He looks to Nina, who was scanning her two gloved hands, evidently shaking in front of her. “You alright?” he asks.
She shoots her head to him, her fear visible in her eyes. “Y-yeah, I’m just—” She doesn’t know what it was. Perhaps it was her thinking too deeply on what happened to the owners of these cars. She rubs her forehead firmly, cursing this maze of cars for not ending sooner.
“I think the traffic’s gonna end soon—” Julius says, seeing a clear path some distance ahead of them. Nina, thinking that it was soon going to be over, looks to her passenger window again. She sees a pair of eyes look through her in one of the windows. It was too quick to judge, but she knew they were the usual gray, and lifeless eyes she has grown accustomed to. But it was looking straight at her…
Was it a child? A person? Someone, once living, now dead, stuck in a car? The thought hits her mind like a brick. She looks back behind her to search for the car it was in, but there was too many. Some tears start to fall from her eyes.
“Almost there—” Their imminent exit, plus Nina’s increasing discomfort, only urged Julius to speed up. But before they could even reach it, a walker limps into their view and gets crushed by the bumpers, leaving a trail of thick blood on their windshields. Nina yelps out of terror. Julius stomps the pedal.
Julius drove a comfortable distance from the traffic before making a complete stop. He checks on the wheels to see if the walker left any remains. Meanwhile, Nina fruitlessly tries to wipe away the gush of blood from the windshield with all the napkins she can hold.
Julius was crouched down to the right side of the car, only seeing more blood and some guts on the front wheel. He stands back up, and notices Nina tearing up as she hastily tries to clean the blood from the window.
“Hey—hey—take it easy—” He attempts to calm her, but she just seemed unapproachable. Instead, he rushes to the driver’s side and turns on the wipers, halting Nina from her wiping. He clicks on the sprinklers, but gets no response.
“D-do you have any water?” she asks, her voice slightly shaking. Julius turns to look at her and instantly goes to the backseat, rummaging through it for a few seconds. He eventually sees a half-emptied bottle of water in the back of the driver’s seat.
He walks over to Nina in a hurry, and hands it to her. “You alright?” he asks. She uncaps the bottle and pours all of the contents over the sticky blood, aiding the wipers from cleaning it. She throws the bottle away and watches the wiper do its job, folding her arms tightly while at it.
“I’m—I’m okay—c-can we just go?” Julius pauses at first, while she rushes to the passenger side and quickly settles in. Julius briskly walks back to the driver’s seat, sits, and fastens his seatbelt.
“You sure you okay?” he continues to ask, seeing Nina wipe the tears from her eyes.
“Yeah—” she hoarsely replies. Julius shrugs, starts the ignition, then closes his door. He stops the windshields from wiping, upon noticing the blood almost completely gone.
He starts the car off slow at first, slowly speeding up.
“It’s just—” Nina sniffs, and wipes a falling tear from her eye. “I mean—I got really scared when w-we were in the traffic area, and…” She can’t shake off the feeling she got when she first saw the walkers.
“… all those empty cars. You know. I-I was just w-wondering what happened to them.” The pair of eyes quickly pop up in her mind, clearer than before.
She sniffs again. “I tend to… I just tend to overthink things, you know.” She wipes yet another falling tear with her index finger. “It’s like I saw them die… or… and those z-zombies… th-they’re just so scary to me for some reason...” She lets out a half-hearted chuckle, then follows it with yet another sniff. “I’m such a wimp.”
Julius faces her, for a second. “It’s okay. I know they can get pretty scary.” Nina glances him back with her reddened eyes, and her blemished-pink nose. “I mean, at least you still have your conscience for that. When I… when I kill those things, I just turn my back and keep on going.”
That was her weakness. She cares too much for everything living. She actually feels more lenient now after ignoring the many deaths she has witnessed in her travels.
“But… yeah, the world is… pretty different now. You gotta just… look beyond some things. Try not to let it get in your… you know, head.” He’s been surviving by himself like this for a while now. He couldn’t count how many corpses he’s seen, how many walkers he’s killed… he’s glad that he’s still a bit sane.
“I guess so,” Nina whispers in reply, looking back at the road, then to her lap. “Oh, stay on the right lane here.”
Julius almost forgot that they were going somewhere. They pass by an overpass bridge with a sign that says “Portola, next exit” in clear letters.
Upon making a curved right turn, they were met with medium-sized buildings, juxtaposed with tall trees. For the most part, the place didn’t look too different from his hometown; trees seemed to be a commodity here.
A few walkers were scattered around the area, wandering aimlessly. They shoot their heads toward the car as soon as it came a few feet closer to them.
“Just—” Nina was looking at the map piece Julius handed to him from earlier; she was trying to piece a possible way for them to get there. “Keep going straight for now—” Julius makes a few ungraceful turns to avoid the walkers, his speed way above the limit.
“Make a left on Dale Plaza,” she follows, noticing the sign two stoplights away. Julius, while at it, tries to admire the surroundings; the place felt so familiar for some reason, but it was mostly because of the similar-looking environment.
He passes by a stoplight, speeding right ahead to the second one. He notices the lack of power on the stop-light, then the leaf-covered road, then the collection of buildings. If not for the walkers, this place would make a nice strolling area.
“Just keep going straight.” As soon as Julius makes a left, they arrive at a straight-lined path ahead of them, with numerous turns, and walkers roaming about. Again, Julius makes numerous avoiding turns that make the ride extremely bumpy; it was hard to get used to it at first, especially since they just came from a smooth, hour-long drive in the freeway.
They reach the end of the path, after barely missing some walkers, and nudging some of them. Julius, lacking some instructions from the navigator, makes a complete stop. Nina attentively scans what she could see inside the car, looking at different directions, and turning back to the map when needed. The walkers they left in the dust were slowly catching up to them.
“Well?” Julius urges, looking through his back mirrors for the approaching walkers.
“Uhm—” The map’s small piece made it hard for her to pinpoint where it exactly was. All she’s relying on is the familiar names of the street, and the possible shape that she was constantly visualizing.
Julius notices something fast moving to his far left; it was still blurry, but it sure wasn’t walking. “C’mon, hurry up,” he says, his eyes fixated on the blob taking form.
“Um… Just… just make a—” Both of their attentions turn to the fast-moving figures, whose shouts became louder as they edged closer. It was much clearer in Julius’s side; they were people, running toward the car, carrying silver-colored objects that shined against the sun.
“Right!” Nina exclaims; Julius quickly turns away and steps on the pedal, almost swerving as he makes a right turn. The screech of the wheels he created was sure to catch even more attention.
“Holy crap—those were people…” Nina exchanges looks between the overhead mirror and the back window. “T-they’ve stopped following, though—” She almost instantly returns to looking at the small map, while Julius, feeling more frantic, continues to drive at a somewhat-hazardous speed.
“That place better take us far—so we don’t get followed…”
“Yeah, I think it’s… it’s kinda far away.” After passing by this street, it was becoming a bit clearer. “Make a left on the next turn.”
Julius slows down his speed, and follows Nina’s directions, feeling more confident now that she looked more comfortable.
Numerous turns later, they end up at a quiet street, with a thick, cement wall stretching on one side, and a tall building on the other. A few walkers were present, though their numbers made them a less serious threat. They both look to the building in question first, admiring it.
“You sure this is it?” Julius asks.
“Heading Way and Denver Street is what I’m seeing,” Nina replies, squinting at the name post to their opposite side.
They scan the building for a few more seconds, then finally decide to exit. Julius walks to the backseat, and takes out his bat. Nina, on the other side, grabs her backpack.
“You got a more… silent weapon than that gun?” Julius asks, as he closes the door. Nina bobs her head into his view, then shakes it. “Just my gun.”
“Ah… well we gotta find you a weapon, just in case. I hope the building isn’t swarmed…” He looks up to the somewhat towering building, then turns to the walkers, who were slowly approaching them.
Nina circles the car, stopping at Julius’s side. She takes out her gun upon noticing the walkers.
Julius casually places his bat on his shoulder and walks to the first walker; he lets out an instant swing to the side of its head, causing it to the fall to the ground.
“Oh, shoot…” He turns around and notices Nina looking at the clip of her gun. “I—I haven’t reloaded yet…” She’s aware of how painstaking it was, placing the bullets individually on the clip. She knew she was forgetting something, but she had to ignore it a car ride ago…
Julius turns back to the walkers, getting ready to swing the head of the second one. He readies his stance, then fiercely swings at the right walker, following it up with a slightly weaker swing for the left one.
“You—gotta find a weapon then—” he exclaims, as he batters the left walker’s head a few times.
Nina, who was in the middle of reloading her gun, sighs; she sloppily places the clip back on her gun, then stores it on her backpack. She turns toward the building’s entrance, hoping to find something, anything, to use as a weapon.
Much to her luck, she finds one near the staircase of the entrance. It was slightly rusty metal bar, resting just near a few drops of blood. The pointy edges made her more willing to nab it.
She scurries over to it, crouches down, and picks it up. She scans it for a few seconds, partly glad that her hands were gloved. “This’ll do…”
Julius walks over to the entrance, and sees her looking at her new weapon. “Oh, sweet, you found one.” She turns to him, and nods. He looks to the entrance, then does a quick left-and-right turn.
“Shit…” He stops looking upon seeing his right direction; to their far distance, a small crowd of walkers could be seen. “We gotta make this quick, then.” He rushes over the thick, cement stairs, with Nina following suit. They both look at the entrance, then to each other. “You ready?” he asks. She nods, her expression slightly weary.
“Alice?!” As soon as they entered, Julius shouted her name. Nina was looking to her left and right, deciding on where they should go; a conspicuous back-door was to their left, or an opening with a carpet floor sat to their right.
She recalls passing by this building a long time ago; it was some sort of rental building that had a few functions in its day. She hasn’t exactly been inside, until now.
“Alice!” Julius walks over to the opening, echoing her name. The room was dark for the most part, but they could see the fallen debris littering the open ground. Julius quickly notices a window-lit staircase to the other side of it. Nina, scanning the dark room, doesn’t notice Julius hastily walking toward it.
She jogs to catch up, stopping just right behind him. They both make a right as they follow the only lighting in the building. A few specks of blood could be seen against the walls, but Nina didn’t think much of it.
After spiraling in the staircase a bit, they find themselves in a narrow hallway, lit by the open windows. Even more debris could be seen on the floor, consisting of peeled paint, pieces of broken wood, and shattered glass. Some of the windows had completely broken glass, adding to the atmosphere of abandonment.
“Alice,” Julius continues to shout; they walk through the numerous doors to their left side. Nina was starting to become curious of what’s behind them.
“Alice—” Once they reach the end of the hall, they were stopped by a walker that was limping into view; Julius, pausing at first, hesitantly walks toward it, making note of its face. As it approaches, he fleetly takes it down with his bat, causing it to land face down on the floor.
They both step over it, with Nina looking at it just in case it stands back up again.
The hallway leads to an open spot, with an elevator on the left, and another set of stairs to the right. Julius, hoping to use the elevator at first, decides against it once he realizes the lack of electricity. “Let’s go to the stairs,” he says to Nina.
But before they can reach it, the elevator makes a beeping sound, catching their attention. The arrows above it light up, then the doors fold open, pouring out a whole group of walkers.
The walkers' moans fill the floor below them as Julius and Nina rush through the staircase, into the upper floor. They continue to run through yet another hallway, which was noticeably wider than the last one. It had a few rooms inside with no doors and wide-opened windows, providing the only lighting of the floor. Behind those rooms were more walkers, limping and slowly blocking their way.
Julius pushes past any that he could, leaving Nina some room. But as soon as they reach the end, Nina trips up on her front, after she felt something grab her foot. She catches Julius’s attention upon making a thud sound on the floor; he hastily aids her up, giving the walkers behind her more time to catch up. “Go, go!” he urges; Nina runs past behind him while he drives the closest walker away.
She glances her left and right quickly, seeing their next possible escape. “Let’s go!!” she exclaims to him, running toward her right. But she was forced to stop on her tracks when more walkers trickle down from the stair case.
She pauses, as her heart drops, and all sound around her blurs. She couldn’t move her her arms. She was frozen stuck.
“—the hell are you doing?!” Julius shouts at the side of her ear; everything snaps back, as she returns with a rapidly-beating heart, and sweat dripping in her forehead.
The room around them starts to get smaller, and smaller, as the walkers from their front and back close in. Julius rushes toward the staircase walkers and starts swinging at them with full force. “Help me!!” he shouts again.
She runs toward his direction, and stabs the nearest walker she could reach through the head; this provided them with enough room to slip through the staircase, as Julius already knocked down the others.
They both rush through the steps, stopping at the sight in front of them as they reach yet another floor; the walkers seemed to be increasing.
“No—you gotta be kidding me—” Julius sighs; unlike the other floors, this hall was impassable because of all the walkers in it.
“What now?” Nina asks, while she vigilantly watches the staircase behind them; any second now, they’ll make their way up here.
Julius looks left and right, toward the collection of rooms to each side. “Fight our way through,” he reluctantly suggests.