This is Issue #67 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled DJs and Fingerpaint. This is the first issue of Volume 12.
Issue 67 - DJs and FingerpaintEdit
As news of Charlotte, Porter, and James’s deaths rages throughout the Hyatt, the overall mood in the hotel is infected with solemnity. People speak in hushed tones, pitying the families of the dead. Having only been there a short time, Cole feels distanced from it all.
He’s sunken into a large recliner in the lobby, looking up from his book every once in a while to see Wrigley running around some kids and fetching toys for them. The dog’s made quite an impression here; most haven’t seen an animal in months, and Wrig’s definitely a hit with the kids.
Adam descends the escalator wearing a pair of earbuds attached to an out of date iPod. Over the music, he hears Cole call his name and makes his way over to him.
“I need to talk to you,” Cole says, slamming his book shut and standing up.
“About?” Adam responds.
“Not here.” Cole whistles for Wrigley; the dog rushes to his side almost immediately. He apologizes to the kids, his excuse being it’s about time for Wrigley to go outside. The three exit out the back doors to the large, wide open lot. Besides a few kids playing catch, they’re alone.
“You look...stressed,” Adam observes.
“There’s some shit going on,” Cole begins. “I don’t know what, but it’s weird.”
“You’re gonna have to elaborate.”
Cole delves into his story, hastily describing what he heard through Alexander’s door last week. Marsh’s apparent anxiety, Alexander’s stubbornness and hostile tone before the interview. Everything. “They kept mentioning this Roxie woman. Marsh thinks she’s a threat, Alexander said everything’s fine. He said we’ve got some kinds of ‘relations’ with her but...I-I don’t know. This is all so weird.”
“She’s dangerous?” Adam inquires.
“That’s the thing; I don’t know. Marsh seemed pretty adamant that she was bad news.”
“That’s the last thing we fucking need. We just got here a few weeks ago.”
“Right?” Cole sighs and scratches his head, wondering why he was unfortunately chosen to be burdened with all of this information. “And they’re keeping it hidden from everyone, which is the shadiest part...Ah, I dunno. Don’t want any more bad shit happening. Just want you, Billie, Devon, Chloe, Robbie...everyone to be safe.”
“Oh, Cole, you care about my safety?” Adam replies with mock endearment.
“Fuck off,” Cole answers with a smirk.
“Speak of the devil...” They turn to see the back door fling open and Marsh stomping towards them with a pistol in each hand.
“You two,” he barks. “Cole and Adam, right?” He doesn’t wait for an answer and impatiently shoves the guns in their hands. “Alexander’s decided that, due to your past experience and recent events, you’re to head out later with Duke. Bring that dog with you, too.”
“But we’re--” Cole begins.
“You’re going, and that’s it. Meet with Duke in the studio.”
Cole trots towards the escalator, trying to decipher the location of Cash Benton’s studio, when someone brusquely grabs his arm. It’s Joe, who--oddly, given the death of Charlotte--is smiling, his eyes even crinkling at the sides.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Michael?” Joe says with a laugh. “You’re practically sprinting through the place! Like you’ve had too many of those...those--What are they called?--those three or four hour energy things!”
Michael? But then Cole remembers the conversation on the day of Charlotte’s death and the somber mention of his other grandchild. Cole’s heart aches a little for this man, knowing in just a few seconds that bright sparkle in his eyes will have disappeared when the actuality of Michael’s death manifests itself in his mind once again.
“Look, Joe, I-I’m not--”
“Joe?! You’re even calling me Joe now? No more calling me ‘grandpop?’ Is that how old you’ve gotten? You’re breaking my heart here, Mike!”
“Joe...I’m not Michael. I’m Cole. Cole Pruitt.”
“Cole..” Then there’s that flash of recognition--it lasts for only an instant--and the light is gone.
“Of course you’re Cole!” Joe exclaims. “What was I thinking? My...my eyes playing tricks on me and all that jazz. Getting old, you know?” He gives Cole a discouraged pat on the shoulder, then glances at his watch. “Oh, geez, I always forget we have lunch at this time. She’s probably waiti--” He realizes his mistake and clears his throat immediately, reality catching up with him once again. “You just get on with your day, son. I don’t want to hold you here. My crazy will just rub off on you,” Joe says, and begins to walk away.
Cole doesn’t know what to say, so he just blurts out the next thing that comes to his mind, leading Joe to turn around: “I never got to meet Charlotte, but I can just tell, with you being her grandfather and everything, she was a great girl. I’m sorry--about everything.”
A small, grateful smile forms on Joe’s lips, but his eyes still betray the sadness he’s trying to hide. “She--Charlotte would have liked you. You’ve both got that natural, caring spirit in your body...just radiates off of you.” He removes his glasses and dabs the moist area around his eyes with a handkerchief. “You’re a good young man, Cole. I’ll see you around.”
Lienne sits in a large playroom, where about a dozen kids sit on a green-and-red colored carpet, looking up at her with expectant faces. "Elephant!" a young girl yells.
"No, an oink!" a boy similar in age suggests.
"That's called a pig, idiot. Be a T-Rex!"
"Elephant, pig, T-Rex...what is this? Can I be a cute animal or something, like a dog? Or a chinchilla?" Lienne says.
"Pig, pig, pig!" the little boy shouts, starting a roaring chant amongst the five year olds.
Lienne shrugs, seemingly disappointed, but a smile engulfs her face. "Come on, Terry. You've got first dibs."
The boy stands, his wide smile revealing his mouth of missing teeth. He carefully inspects the small tubs of finger paint at Lienne's feet. This might as well be the most important decision of his life. He decides on an ocean-colored paint, because in his mind, the ideal pig is a bright blue.
Lienne laughs as the kids take turns drawing ridiculous squiggles and shapes on her face. She thought they agreed on an animal, but when she looks in the mirror, she's an unrecognizable mess of primary and secondary colors. She couldn't have asked for a better pig.
After thoroughly wiping the colorful gunk off of her face, Lienne finds Tora chatting with a few young girls in the playroom. When she takes a seat next to her, Tora shoos them away.
"That looked like fun," Tora observes.
"It was. Probably wasn't healthy having them put all of that crap on my face but...." Lienne replies with a shrug. "Thinking about working here?"
"I...I told Alexander I was thinking about it, honestly. Don't know if I can though."
"I'm not sure if it's...the best for me. If it'll bring back things I don't want to remember."
"What do you mean?" Lienne asks.
Tora seems hesitant before speaking again; she pulls at her earlobe, brushes hair from out of her face. "I had a little girl. She passed a few years ago, though. Cancer.”
“Holy shit. That’s horrible. I’m sorry,” Lienne says softly. “How old?”
“Seven. I never thought about having kids again. Didn't even consider it. I can't even guess what kind of effect working here will have on me. Don't know if I want to risk it."
"That...makes sense," Lienne replies after a while, taking in this grim revelation. "But, I guess life's all about risks now, y'know? And this could be the most rewarding one you take."
In one of the Hyatt’s medical offices, Chloe kneels in front of a sick blonde girl. She has the stethoscope pressed to the girl's back, listening intently. In the back of the room, head doctor and former pediatrician Griffin Vega observes with a smile. He'd say she’s doing pretty good for a first day.
"Lilly, can you cough for me, please?" Chloe asks. The girl obliges and lets out a weak little cough. "Good." She then goes through all of the other standard procedure, joking with the girl to make her feel a little less nervous. When she's finally finished, Lilly's anxious teeth-chattering from before has turned into a large smile and joyous laugh, although she seems to have a cold.
"Alright, Lilly," Chloe says and takes a seat next to her. "I'm gonna give your mom some medicine for you--"
"Medicine?!" she complains.
"Is it gross?"
"I'm sure it's not that bad. It's even grape flavored. And it'll make you feel better and get rid of that sore throat really fast. Make sure you drink a lot of water, too. Sound good?"
"No," she replies simply.
"Hmm. You know, I have a stash of gummy worms in my room. I can eat them all by myself, then," Chloe teases. "Sour gummy worms."
Lilly has the slightest hunch that she's bluffing, but this is gummy worms they're talking about. She can't take that chance and deny the worms. "Really?"
"I might even want to share, too, if you promise to take your medicine without giving your mom a hard time. Fair?"
Lilly smiles, showing off a mouth with several missing teeth. "Fair."
"Alright," Griffin says. "Looks like we've got a deal going. Let's get you back to your mom, Lilly." He holds his hand out, and she takes it. As he leads her out the door, he turns to Chloe and gives her a thumbs up.
When Griffin returns, he finds Chloe putting away all of her equipment and tools in a noticeably slow manner. "Wow, your first patient seems to like you," he says. "Good work."
"Really?" she responds.
"Yeah. Kids are tough. Stubborn, I have to admit. But that gummy worms tactic was genius."
"Well, I tried. Thanks. She seems to like you too," Chloe adds in.
"Oh, man, she's been in here too many times for me to count. She's a wild little girl. Bruises, scrapes, even a sprained finger once. It was tough at first--she’s pretty damn stubborn, too--so we've gotten to know each other. You though...you’re a natural. Pretty impressive.”
“It’s just always been easy for me. Helping out kids and everything, so it’s not really that impressive,” Chloe says.
“Hell yeah it is. When I first started out with this pediatrician business, I thought every single kid hated me. Then my mom tells me: ‘Mijo, you have to be nicer!’ So I’m nicer...and the kids still don’t want to say a word to me.”
Chloe chuckles at this. “Really? But you’re so--I don’t know--charming? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”
“That’s what I thought! But no, I get complete death stares from everyone.”
“Well, you are a doctor, and kids seem to have a natural loathing for them,” Chloe adds.
“That is true. But I got the hang of it eventually. It all just comes with experience. And a little luck, and you seem to have a bit of both. Good first day.”
“Thanks. I’ll see you later, then, Griffin.” She walks to the door, and he’s about to let her go when another idea comes mind:
“Speaking of luck,” he starts, leaving her hand hovering over the doorknob, “I wasn’t going to ask this, but maybe we can spend some time...out of this cramped room. Together, doing something. If that’s okay.”
“That wasn’t really a question,” she adds. “But yeah, that’s okay with me.”
Cole finally makes it to the studio, only to find Adam beat him there. Alec’s there, too, gawking over Cash Benton’s melodic voice.
"Ah, I just love that one," Cash says into the microphone, his moustache hopping up and down on his upper lip. He wears a sharp beige suit that just exudes class. Next to him sits his fellow host Duke Curry in a more casual T-shirt and dark-colored jeans. "It's the top of the hour, folks, so you know what that means. See you in a few." He starts the familiar pre-recorded message advertising the Regency and turns toward his audience.
"Good, Lord," Alec starts. "Your voice. It's beautiful. I can’t get over this shit...How?"
Cash waves off the compliment. "It's nothing. My friend Duke here is the actual talented one. Can't teach charisma like he has. He's got the perfect personality for radio."
"And Cash has got the face for it," Duke jokes, good-naturedly patting his co-host on the shoulder. He suddenly points a stiff finger at Cole. “And you’ve gotta be Cole, right? Adam told me to keep an eye out for the whitest guy in the entire hotel.”
Shit. Am I really that white?
“Just messing with you, man,” Duke assures. “So many new people coming in I haven’t had the chance to meet you. Duke Curry, part time radio host, part time sniper, part time whatever else you want me to be, nice to meet you.” He extends his hand and Cole gives it a firm shake.
“Man, it’s like meeting two celebrities...” Cole remarks.
Duke smiles. “It’s too bad, though, Mr. Benton, but I’ve gotta get out of here,” he says. “You’re on your own for a while.”
“On my own!” Cash scoffs. “That just won’t do. Maybe there’s someone here that’d like to join me on my Regency Radio endeavors during Duke’s absence...some over-enthusiastic teenager maybe...”
“Cash?” Alec pipes up.
“Oh, look! A teenager. By any chance would he like to join me?”
“Oh my God, yes.” Duke rises and offers Alec his seat. He marvels at the set up, tapping the microphone a few times and gazing over the various buttons.
“And it looks like we’re heading out,” Duke says and points to Cole and Adam.
“No he can’t,” Duke scoffs after Cole and Adam just inform him of Wrigley’s ability to take out infected. They claim the German Shepherd can take down two, easy, but Duke doesn’t believe it. But with two corpses about 30 meters in front of them, trotting down the cracked and vehicle-littered city street, it’s the perfect time to show off.
“Wanna bet?” Cole asks. “I’ll bet.”
“Bet what? You got a twenty in your pocket? What're gonna spend it on?"
Cole laughs, and Adam says, "Whatever. Just watch. Wrigley! Wrig! Go!" He nods his head towards the two infected, and Wrigley instantly sprints into action. His paws pound against the uneven ground as he pushes his body forward, then he jumps, just high enough to hit the first infected in the chest and knock it to the ground. With no hesitation, Wrigley clamps his jaws onto its soggy, rotten forehead and destroys the brain.
The procedure is almost identical for the next infected, but this one is more fresh. Maybe only turned a few weeks ago. Wrigley chomps on it's leg and shakes it fiercely, making it tumble onto its face. He hops on its back and rips out a piece of the skull.
Duke just chuckles and shakes his head. "Well, damn."
They journey a few more blocks, weaving in and out of the maze of cars, until they find the larger-than-usual convenience store Marsh mentioned. It's unremarkable, besides the big crooked sign dangling from the front that spews the name 'REGGIE'S.' It looks like it's been searched recently, though just at a glance they can see a few valuable items.
"Take the front," Cole instructs. "I've got the back with Wrig."
"Yes, boss, sir, Mr. Boss, sir! Anything else you'd like me to do Colonel Pruitt, sir!?" Duke says.
"That's all for now, Private." Cole smirks and whistles for Wrigley to follow. He strides towards the back of the store, looking around carefully and grabbing from the shelves: batteries, pens, stale chips, anything. He glances down at Wrigley, who seems about as bored as a dog can be.
"What do you think about? What goes through your dog-brain everyday?" Cole asks him. Wrig looks up with perked ears and wide eyes. "God, I'd love to be a dog now...is it easy, not worrying about anything? I bet it is. You just do what we say, you get a snack as a reward, and then you're happy. Is that how it works?"
Wrigley makes a high-pitched whining sound at the word 'snacks.' "I'd give anything to be worry free. Like you. Just for a little while."
Wrigley's still looking up expectantly. Cole sighs, but he can't help but smile. "Okay... Guess I owe you for earlier." He stops and reaches for his pack. The dog instantly sits and stays perfectly still, though his eyes give away his excitement. The unwrapping of the granola makes his tail wag wildly, but when it's finally in his mouth he devours it in an instant. Cole crouches down and pets him on his furry head and neck. Man's best friend.
Adam and Duke are walking through the front-most area of the store, and Adam listens politely as Duke tells his story. "Nah, it's not too hard to talk about," Duke says. "I've gotten over it--mostly. I'm just happy my mom and pops don't have to live through this shit, you know? And Sasha...love of my life, that crazy girl. Hope I'll find her one day, man. I just hope."
"Best of luck," Adam says. "That'd be a miracle, though. Guess we need some of those."
"Oh, hell yeah. I could do with some miracles. I wanna be bathed in some miracles. A bubble bath of miracles."
Adam laughs, and Duke continues: "...It's the nightmares, though, man. They...shit...they just mess with my head so much. I'll just see 'em, Sasha or my family or something, and...it's bad. Can't go to sleep afterwards."
"Oh, man, I feel you," Adam replies, nodding his head. "Having to relive all of that shit over again...it's the worst."
"You too? Damn. Not many back at the Hyatt get them. Most of 'em had it easy. Came here with their families...I didn't get that privilege. Or they just get used to the good life they've got there and forget about all of the dead guys. I don't."
"We've got new family now. Don't you think?" Adam points out.
"New can't always replace the old. But yeah, man, you're right. You're right."
"Find anything?" Cole calls out as he makes his way to the front of the store. He finds Adam and Duke stuffing some things into their bags. Looks like a good day.
"Found some hair gel...batteries. No food," Duke says with a shrug.
"Ah, that's fine. I found some ch--" He's cut off by the sound of laughing from outside, then a man's baritone voice. A feminine voice responds.
"My cooking is shit, Walter?" the woman scoffs. "My cooking? Your beans literally taste like shit. Literally. Seriously, who fucks up canned beans?"
Adam, Cole, and Duke take nervous glances at each other, a moment of mutual nervousness passing between them. Adam raises his eyebrows, as if to ask what their next move is.
"Ooooh, 'Reggie's,'" another deep-voiced man says. "Wasn't that the name of your last man, Savannah?"
"More like your mom's name."
The other man laughs loudly and claps his hands a few times.
Cole nods his head to the right, directing Adam and Duke to the back of the store. Duke sees a supply closet, and pushes on the door a few times only to find that it won't budge. Of course.
The footsteps and voices of the strangers get louder, until it sounds like they're directly outside the store. Duke smashes into the door one last time with his shoulder and manages to force it open. He, Adam, Cole, and Wrigley stumble inside the cramped room, with Adam closing the door shut behind him, cringing at the loud SLAM! it makes.
The pitch black room is mostly empty, except for a wall of boxes at the end and an infected sitting against it. It groans, but it looks too weak it do anything. It lifts its arm pathetically, but drops it back down quickly and instead stares at the four in front of him with loathing. Cole takes a few small steps forward and pushes the tip of his knife into its head.
The strangers enter the store. There's three of them: two male, one female. A dark skinned guy with close cropped hair, a white man with a thick beard and a full head of chocolate colored hair, and a pretty, but stern looking, blonde woman.
"Fucking place is looted," the woman, Savannah, says. "You said this place was still stocked, Walter."
"I thought it was..." the white guy, Walter, replies.
"You never do anything right. Jesus Christ."
Walter turns his head to the other man. He points to Savannah in disbelief. "Do you see how she treats me? Thought she loved me..." He clutches his heart in feigned hurt and displays an exaggerated frown.
"I do. Just not right now..." Savannah interjects. "But for other reasons besides your intellect. Which, is practically non-existent."
The other man just shakes his head and laughs: "Y'all gonna be back to fucking like monkeys again in just a few days. So just kiss and make up. Damn."
Walter grabs bag of chips, examines the stale contents before chucking it across the store. "See?" he says. "Sterling has some sense. Just forgive me, and all is well. Eh?" He puckers his lips at Savannah, but she responds with an eye-roll and walks in the opposite direction.
"Maybe another day," she says. "Sterling, check behind the counter. Dickhead, check the storage closet back there."
"You know Roxie's open for business anyway..." Walter responds. He gives her the finger as she turns her back. Then, he looks to Sterling and leans his head to the side, sticking his tongue out of his mouth and rolling his eyes behind his head, and acts as if he's wrapping a noose around his neck. Sterling laughs a little too loudly, which causes Savannah to turn. Walter quickly ends his miming act and turns to walk toward the storage closet.
Adam, Cole, and Duke are trapped, petrified in the same positions as the man closes in on them.
- First appearance of Griffin
- First appearance of Lilly.
- First appearance of Sterling.
- First appearance of Walter.
- First appearance of Savannah.
- First physical appearances of Duke and Cash.