This is Issue #54 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Eternally Grateful. This is the final issue of Volume 9.
Issue 54 - Eternally GratefulEdit
Everyone sits around a table in one of the building’s former office rooms. There’s food strewn around, uneaten. Robbie holds his hands out, and Adam and Chloe, who sit on either side of him, hold his hands. Everyone else locks hands around the table. Time to say grace.
“Dear Lord,” Robbie starts. His voice is low and serious. “We cannot thank you enough. We are safe, and we are fed, and you have given us more than we could have asked for in these hard times. I know there are others out there not as fortunate, and those devils roam outside, but the fact that you’ve chosen to bless us...we are eternally grateful.
"God is Good, God is great. Let us thank him for our food. By his hands, we are fed. Give us Lord our daily bread. Amen.” Robbie ends the prayer, and everyone opens their eyes. This is one of the parts of their day that they love: being together and grateful with the other members of their weird, apocalyptic family.
They eat and chat for awhile, until Adam asks: "So, who's going next?"
It's been around a week since their trip to Cole's apartment. About time for another run.
"Guess it's my turn," Finn says.
"Same here," says Billie.
Adam quickly looks at Hannah, but then turns to Chloe. "Chloe?"
Chloe and Hannah share a look across the table. "Maybe Hannah should go this time?" Chloe says. "I mean, she hasn't really had a chance to leave much."
"I think I'm ready for it," Hannah agrees.
There's an uncomfortable silence, until Cole speaks up: "She's not really...in the best state to head out."
Hannah scoffs loudly. "I don't think you can tell me what 'state' I'm in or not in, whatever that means."
"It just means that...I don't..." He sighs; he wants to say it, that her hand limits her ability, and that she only got her drinking under control a few weeks ago, but doesn't want to hurt her feelings at all.
"Okay, guys. Look," Hannah says. "I have one hand. I know this. We all know this. It's an unarguable fact." She waves her bandaged stump in the air to prove her point. "Yes, what happened is kind of uncomfortable to talk about, I agree, but it's a fact.
"I'm not in a wheelchair, and I'm not insane. I'm fully capable of leaving this building for a few hours to go grab some things."
"Plus, Hannah with one hand is way better with her gun than I am with two," Chloe adds, and Hannah smiles at her. Thanks.
Cole shrugs. "Okay. If that's what you want, then...then okay.”
Later that night, Cole enters the room he and Hannah share and finds her putting her hair into a ponytail, after changing into a comfortable pair of pajamas. The silence is heavy as he changes as well, and then lies down on the mattress next to her, pulling the covers over his lower body. She has her backed turned to him, but he props himself up on his elbow and prods her with his finger. "You're not sleeping," he says matter-of-factly.
She removes her gaze from the wall across from her and turns to him with a sigh. "Oh, how did you know?" she replies sarcastically.
"You should talk to me."
"About how you're feeling, maybe. How've you been without the booze?"
"About as good as you'd think."
"Okay. Alright, this wall or whatever you're trying to build against me isn't working. And it hasn't worked for the past two months or however long we've been here." He sighs and makes his tone a little gentler. "I just want to help you. Because seeing you like this, it isn’t...I can’t see you like this.”
“So, you’re making this about you? And how all of the shit that happened to me is affecting you?” Her voice is cold, piercing.
“Hannah, you know that’s not what I meant. It is about you, I know that, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt me, and everyone else, to see you...not being you.” He lies on his back and rubs his eyes before starting again. “When I found you drunk out of your Goddamned mind that night...I don’t even know; I can’t describe it." His mind flutters back to that night, the shock of seeing her nearly blacked-out drunk, vulgar and violent. Then his gaze shifted to the pills on the nightstand...Thinking of what she could have done if he wasn't there makes his stomach churn.
"It was terrible," he continues. "It wasn’t you; it was this...broken person that I hate seeing. But then I’ll get glimpses of the real you, like when I brought you the pictures or something, and those moments are great. They’re amazing. But then you’ll fall right back into that...that hole. And one day you, might just fall too deep, and I’m scared you’ll...hurt yourself or--”
“I’m not suicidal. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then why’d you have the pills?”
“I wasn’t going to do it. Look. The alcohol, everything... It helps me forget. Just for a little while. But it helps. And then...it all comes back. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s hard and I’m trying, Cole. I am.”
“I know you are. How long’s it been since you drank? 2 weeks?” She nods.
Her voice comes out frail: “But it’s so hard. Do you even know how bad it’s been since I stopped?”
“No, I don’t; and that’s why I want you to talk to me about this stuff.”
There’s a tightness in her chest that's almost suffocating. She can’t talk about it, not with him. But he looks at her, imploring with his eyes. He just wants to help, to be there for her, and she knows this. But he doesn’t understand. Everything--the abuse, the rape, the massacre, her parents--it’s all too difficult to recollect. She can feel herself crumbling just at the thought of it all. So she says: “I just want to go to bed.” Although she knows all of her distress will reappear in her dreams, if she can sleep.
Hannah turns onto her side, once again looking at the wall and facing her back towards him. He scoots toward her warily and wraps his arm around her. This small gesture makes the heartache hit her full force. And she realizes how inconsiderate she’s being, disregarding his feelings through all of this. She couldn’t ask for anyone more supportive, or caring, and she just...blows him off.
She turns, facing him again, searching his eyes for a little while. They show his obvious pain, and she feels responsible. She grabs onto the front of his shirt and pulls him closer, gives him a long kiss. Cole feels this flutter in his heart, and it’s amazing. An amazing feeling he hasn’t experienced lately, a feeling reminiscent of when he was 19 and first met Hannah, the outgoing, charismatic girl he fell in love with in just a few weeks, instead of the fractured shell of her past self she’s been as of late.
She breaks from the kiss and instead lies her head on his shoulder. They fall asleep in silence. This time, the nightmares decide not to haunt her.
That next week, Finn, Hannah, and Billie walk down a deserted street on their supply run, peeking into any stores and checking if the doors are locked. Everything seems to be empty or boarded up and impossible to enter without making a ruckus. "Hey, Hannah," Finn says as he looks into a store window.
"Your little speech was pretty awesome, I must say. "
"Oh. Thanks. Me and Chloe kind of worked on it beforehand."
"Doesn't make it any less awesome." He kicks a rock into the street. "God, this is so boring."
"Then mind doing me a favor?" Billie says, interrupting his complaints.
"Let me and Hannah have some space? You know, girl talk."
"Ick. Okay." He falls a few meters behind, out of earshot.
"What's up?" Hannah asks.
Billie fiddles with the star pendant on a necklace Finn gave her for her birthday a few weeks ago. “Just wanted to say I know it’s been hard for you and everything. And that you’re trying to...to get back on your feet again. I think this is a good start for you, y’know? Okay, I guess I’m trying to say that I respect how far you’ve come from everything and it’s...everyone’s really enjoying seeing you becoming the old Hannah again. It’s good.”
"Hasn’t been the best of days but I’m...I’m trying. Thank you. I really appreciate that."
Billie gives her a friendly smile and they continue on walking.
They finally see a store that's not boarded up: a little convenience store called Wilson and Son's. The glass door is already shattered, and they carefully step into the store. On their left is a counter with bulletproof glass covering where a clerk would stand. All around the store are knocked over shelves, and covering the back wall are empty refrigerators and freezers.
"I guess just check under the shelves, see what you find," Finn says. They assist each other in lifting the shelves, searching for some spare morsels that may have been left behind while the place was looted. There's not much, but there are a few precious cans of beans that Billie snatches up quickly and stuffs into her pack.
"Done?" Finn asks after searching for a few more minutes. Hannah and Billie nod their heads, and they do one more quick overview of the store before walking toward the door. But Hannah stops suddenly, and Finn and Billie do the same.
"Hear it?" Hannah asks.
"...No," Finn says.
There it is: the steady groaning of an infected and the sound of a limb being dragged across the cement. A few seconds later, it comes into view, walking down the sidewalk and passing in front of the doorway. It stops and turns its head toward the three of them. Hannah doesn't hesitate; she pulls a small knife from its sheath and approaches the infected calmly as it shambles toward her. One quick stab to the head and it's dead.
She peeks out the door to see if any other infected were following it. What she sees is so weird she thinks she's hallucinating. It's...a dog. A big, black German shepherd is about fifty feet from where the dead infected lies. A few seconds ago, he was going for his prey; but now someone's taken it from him. "Holy. Shit," Hannah whispers.
"What?" Billie asks.
"There is a fucking dog out here."
Finn laughs as he walks to the doorway. "No fucking way. I think you might---yeah, that's a dog. What the hell?"
Billie peeks her head out as well. The dog begins to walk toward them, seemingly calm and decently fed. "Why is it coming towards us? What do we do?" Billie asks.
"I don't know," Hannah says. "But watch out. There's no way an animal could be alive right now with no person with it. There has to be someone close by."
"Aw, he's kind of cute," Finn says. "C'mere, boy." He crouches down and the dog picks up speed as he walks toward him. It wears a happy expression, as if the world hasn't phased him at all, which it probably hasn't. "What're you doin' out here? Where's your owner?" He scratches it behind the ears.
They suddenly hear shouting, and are instantly on guard: "Wrigley! Come on, boy, where'd you go?"
Hannah, Billie, and Finn pull out their guns as a man turns the corner behind them. They spin around, and the man stops in his tracks. His dirty, matted hair hangs long down his shoulders, and his thick black beard is speckled with grey. Wrinkles curl around his eyes. His brown shirt is tattered and covered in sweat, with his jeans in just as bad condition. He sees his dog, Wrigley, behind Hannah, Billie, and Finn. The dog runs toward him, and he gives it a loving hug.
“Oh, Wrigley, boy. How many times I gotta tell you not to run from me?” the man says.
The three watch the man interact with his dog; it seems like he hasn’t noticed them at all, even though they have weapons pointed in his direction. Hannah clears her throat. The man looks up. “Oh,” the man says. “Hi.” He stands slowly, carefully keeping his hands to his sides. “I see you came across my Wrigley. He musta ran after that deadie. Little rascal.” He smiles.
“...Who are you?” Billie asks.
“Oh. Sorry. I’m Frank. I been wandering around the city with Wrigley for a few months now. We come from the Western parts of Kentucky and came up here. People was boasting about 'safe zones' or some shit in the bigger cities. Y’know, like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles...All bullshit, I assume.”
“Yeah, we don’t need to know your life story,” Hannah says.
Frank’s smile fades, like a little kid who just got his toy taken away. He raises his hands defensively. “Sorry. Just bein' friendly."
“Okay,” Finn says. “How about we go our separate ways, alright? Nice meeting you, Frank.”
“No, no, no, wait.” Frank tells Wrigley to sit and takes a few steps towards them. “Look, I’m sorry,” he says to Finn, “but I need help here. I haven’t seen any nice people in so long. Just a week ago I got robbed by some fucks, took all my food, weapons, and they hurt Wrigley. He hasn’t eaten in days, and all I’ve had is a fucking half of a granola bar. I can see it in your eyes; you are good people. If not, you woulda searched me and killed me already.”
Finn sighs. “What are you asking for?”
“I need some nutrition in me, or I’m gonna drop dead soon. And so is my buddy here if he doesn’t get anything in him.”
“I’m not feeding a dog. I’m sorry.”
“Please,” Frank says. His plea is weak and shaky. “If Wrigley dies...” He pauses and takes a breath. “If Wrigley dies, I’ve got nothin’ left. And I’ll probably off myself the day he’s gone. And if I drop before he does, where will he be? He’ll die a slow death, starving with no owner to care for ‘im.” He blinks tears away; just thinking about losing his beloved pet makes him feel physically sick. “Just think about it. Please.”
“Hold on,” Billie says. She turns to Hannah and Finn. “What the hell do we do?”
Finn glances at Frank, who begins to pet Wrigley on his stomach. “We barely found anything today. We can’t give food to this random guy. And a fucking dog. I mean, come on.”
“...This random guy is starving,” Hannah says.
“Everyone’s starving. We need to take care of ourselves first.”
“That’s fair, but you need to ask yourself this,” Billie says. “Can you live knowing that you could’ve helped them, but that you didn’t? That they’re both lying on the side of the road dead because you couldn’t spare a few cans of beans?”
“Don’t try to guilt trip me, Billie. This isn’t a fucking video game where you get points for being the good guy. This is real life right now, and we need to eat,” Finn snaps.
“Four months ago, would you be saying this? You’d jump at the chance to help someone.”
“We’re not living this cushion-y life at the airport anymore, and I’m done with these stupid delusions, that everything is gonna be fine in the end. We fend for ourselves, and we leave it at that.”
“Let me remind you, that we saved your ass at the WalMart. Where would you be if we hadn’t decided to help you?” Billie asks. “You would be dead if Melody hadn’t patched you up. We gladly gave you food and medicine, Finn, and now you don’t want to return that favor to someone else? Look, I’m not saying we have to take him in and care for him like one of our own, but we can spare some food, at least.”
Finn sighs and scratches his head, thinking it over. Hannah adds in, “And look at how cute the dog is. We’ve gotta give him something.”
Finn isn’t amused, but he nods his head. “Fine. Whatever. Frank!”
Frank turns to them, still on his knees playing with Wrigley. Finn pulls out a can of ravioli and a can of beans. Frank’s eyes light up; he happily takes the cans from Finn and puts them in his own pack. “Thank you so much, thank you.” He grabs each of their hands and shakes them vigorously. Eternally grateful.