This is Issue #77 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Mercy. This is the fifth issue in Volume 13.
Issue 77 - MercyEdit
Roxie gazes at the carnage around her. Of what's left of Martin's camp. Several of the decrepit and unsturdy cabins are up in flames, leaving layers of ash over the bright snow, dead bodies strewn around the ground in front of them. Her men begin filling boxes with anything they can scavenge and piling everything into the cars.
Coughing and sputtering, Walter and Sterling appear from a smoking cabin, carrying Martin by the arms. The left side of Martin's face is burned, the pale skin now pink and peeling. His shirt is torn to disuse, and he wears no shoes. In Roxie's eyes, it's absolutely pathetic. Walter and Sterling throw him to the ground, where his face collides with the melting snow. He lies there, defeated and pained, and Roxie nudges him with her foot.
"Hey, Marty," she says, and she kneels next to him, "You alive?" He groans in response. "Good." With how scrawny Martin is, she can easily turn him over onto his back. He stares up at her, his pale green eyes conveying total despair and hopelessness. They seem to plead with her to get it over with, to just kill him already. His lips move as he tries to say something, but his throat is so raw that no words come out.
"What's that?" Roxie asks, and Martin moans in response. "Mhm. Interesting," she replies sarcastically. She presses the bottom of her boot onto Martin's neck, restricting his breathing. "Wanna repeat that?" Martin's eyes go wide and she presses her foot harder on his throat. He grabs at her leg, trying to move it, but the weakness caused by the burn injuries makes it impossible. He tries to talk, but makes a guttural choking sound.
"This is it then," Roxie says with a nostalgic sigh, "You had a good run. Longer than most. You know where you went wrong and looking at you now, I know you're wishing you could take all of those mistakes back. But you know what? Too little, too late, Marty."
Martin’s attempts at breathing turn into rapid, painful gasps as Roxie pulls a long, sleek knife from her weapons belt. “Pl-plea...” Martin manages to croak out. “I’ll do...a--any--anyth...”
“Really?” Roxie asks. She moves positions; instead of using her foot, she kneels and presses her knee into Martin’s chest. With airflow now less restricted, he takes deep breaths, gulping up the smokey air around him. “How about you shut up long enough for me to kill you, yeah?”
“Good one,” Sterling adds in quickly.
Roxie looks up at him and shakes her head; still, a small grin forms on her face. “Shut up. You’re ruining my intimidation speech I’ve got going on.”
“Oh, my apologies.”
“Anyways”--she looks back down at Martin--”nice knowing you.” She places the blade to his neck, and with one clean swipe of her wrist, slices his throat.
Cole waits a few moments after knocking on the door of Alexander’s suite. Muffled voices seep through the door, but they soon halt and Cole hears someone fiddling with a lock. Lucy opens the door instead of Alexander, and he notices that her face, usually flawless, is tainted with dreariness. “What do you want?” she asks, no room for greetings.
“Oh, good morning, Lucy. I’m good, thanks for asking. How are you?” Cole says mockingly.
“Being an ass isn’t charming,” she points out. “What do you need?”
“Need to see your dad.”
“He’s not taking visitors.”
“Too bad.” He pushes the door open and moves past her against her wishes. Alexander and Griffin talk in harsh tones at the table. They stop and stand as soon as Cole enters. “This seems really familiar, Alexander.”
Alexander pushes his chair in and steps toward him. “Why are you---wh--what do you mean?"
"Were we not in this same situation a few months ago? You, keeping secrets? People deserve to know when there's a psychopath living near us. Don’t they?"
"And then," Cole interrupts, "you have the audacity to tell me everything’s dealt with. Really.”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
“And look what happened. Jake’s mom, dead.”
Lucy steps forward, crossing her arms. “You’re blaming him for this?”
“If we----the people who trusted Alexander--knew, this could have been avoided. Or, at least, we could've prepared."
"He's doing as much as he can!"
"It's obviously not enough."
"Would you like to step up, then? Take my dad's place?" Lucy counters. "He is the leader. Not you. And didn't you want him to get his position back after what Marsh did?"
"I did, but that was when he assured me, promised me that everything with this crazy fucking lady was over with. That we didn't have to worry anymore. Lies like that don't go over well with me."
"What the hell did you expect me to do?!" Alexander suddenly explodes. Griffin sits back down slowly, scratching his head awkwardly. "Just tell people that some insane, bloodthirsty woman is taking everything from us? People here are not---they prefer not to fight. They prefer to just be...people. They don't want to worry, and that's what I'm trying to protect them from. All of that worry they were used to out there." He gestures vaguely to the window, the dead world outside.
"I get th--"
"Let me finish. I realize now that that wasn't the best plan of action. She's here now; she's made her presence known loud and clear. So before you bursted in here without my consent, I was chatting with Griffin about what to do about this--"
"Hey," Griffin says with a small wave.
"--and we decided we're going to explain this entire situation to everyone. No details being left out. Are you happy with that?"
"Griffin?" Cole says.
"Yes. Dr. Vega. He's been here longer than most. I trust him. I'd trust him with my life if I had to. He's well-spoken, well-respected. I couldn't think of a better person to confide in."
"You knew about everything and didn't tell anyone?" Cole says to Griffin.
"As of two months ago I did," Griffin says. "And no, I didn't. Per Alexander's wishes."
"They're going to deal with it, together, and everything's going to be fine," Lucy says as she walks to the door. She opens it and gestures for Cole to exit. "Are we done here? I think so."
"You'll get all the details, along with everyone else, later today. Be in the auditorium after your run, alright?"
Along with a few other people, Billie and Chloe are out in the lot, taking their turn to shovel the snow.
Chloe scoops up a mound of snow and moves it to the edge of the parking lot. "What do you think Hector meant?" Chloe asks.
"I dunno. Probably nothing," Billie says.
"Yeah. I mean, have you seen him lately? He looks...crazy. Don't put any thought into anything he says. I know I don't."
"...He looked really, y'know...scared. That's not normal behavior from anybody. And what if he knows something about...her?"
"Roxie? I doubt it. Cole was the first one to know, and unless he, or one of us, told him, I don't see how he could know anything. Besides us and Alexander and Lucy, none of us knew she existed. Just think: Hector has barely left his room in two months. Maybe he's a bit delusional."
Chloe shrugs, and they continue their snow shoveling conversation. From inside the hotel, Griffin looks out the window to the lot covered in white. He spots Chloe and Billie at the far end, then smiles. He looks down where, cupped in his hands, is a furry, long-legged spider he found in a dusty corner of his room. "How's about we go have some fun?" he mutters to it, and he uses his shoulder to push open one of the double doors to the outside.
The spider gets more restless by the second, so he picks up speed until he's a few feet from Chloe and Billie. "Hey, Chlo, look what I found. Pretty cool, yeah?" Chloe turns and is greeted with a face full of spider. She lets out a mixture of a gasp and a yelp, but quickly recovers.
"Jesus, why would you do that?" she asks, her hand held to her heart.
"Just found him up in my room and thought it'd be funny to scare you," he explains. "It was."
"Wait, found what?" Billie says warily. She stands a few feet behind Chloe, Griffin's hands shielded by her body.
"Just this." He lifts his cupped hands to show her the spider. It tries using its spindly legs to escape, but he halts it. "Nice, right?"
At first sight of the thing, Billie lifts her shovel in defense and backs up a few steps. "Nope. No, no, no. Get that fucking thing away from me."
"Oh, come on. He's friendly."
"Griffin. I will hit you with this shovel somewhere you don't want to be hit with this shovel if that spider isn't away from me in five seconds," Billie warns.
Chloe grins, but then it fades quickly as she squints her eyes and leans her face closer to Griffin's hands, getting a better look at the spider. "Is that...oh my God, Griffin, put that down. That's poisonous!"
Griffin's eyes go wide and the playfulness vanishes from his face. "Wh-what?" he stutters.
Chloe backs up, along with Billie, whose shovel is still placed in attack position. "Look. The pattern, on its back. Ten seconds after that bite and you're dead."
Griffin yells and throws the spider to the ground. He stomps on it once, then twice, then three times for good measure. Only when he's done murdering the defenseless thing does he realize Chloe is laughing uncontrollably. "It's not...?" he starts.
"No, not at all," Chloe responds.
“Oh, look at that. Karma’s a bitch,” Billie says, smiling.
“You’re mean. Really mean,” Griffin says, grinning and pointing a finger at Chloe.
“Okay, did you really come out here just to do that?” Chloe asks.
“Well, no. I decided it was a great time to be a gentleman and take Billie’s, uh...shoveling shift.” He looks to Billie and holds his hand out; she hands him the shovel with a shrug.
“Go for it. Don’t have too much fun, you crazy kids,” Billie says, and she’s off into the hotel.
“You look like you want to talk about something,” Chloe says as she continues to shovel her section.
“Ding, ding, ding. But I’m nervous you might be...mad. And you having that shovel in your hand doesn’t make me feel better.”
“I won’t hit you with the shovel. I promise.”
"Good. So do you know how we thought all that business with Roxie was done with?"
Chloe nods. "Well," he continues, "it's not."
"Yeah, of course not. After what she did."
"Yeah, but the thing is...I kind of knew. I--I didn't know she was gonna kill Aubrey, of course, just that we were still...supplying her. And now it's coming back and biting us in the ass."
"Wait, you knew? How?"
"I'm sort of Alexander’s right hand man now. I have been, pretty much, since Marsh died. And before you ask why I kept this from you the entire time, it's because I didn't want you to say anything. Didn't want news about Roxie to spread then it'd turn into this entire hoopla that'd caused panic."
Chloe grins. "'Hoopla?'"
"Yeah. Hoopla. Pandemonium. Shebang. Brouhaha." She laughs and he continues, "I take it you're not mad?"
"But wait, why are you telling me this now?" she asks.
"Because," he says, and he sets the shovel against the nearby fence, "Alexander is planning to tell everyone everything today, and I didn't want you to find out I was keeping everything from you from a third party."
"Very thoughtful. And no, I'm not mad. I understand why you wouldn't tell me, or anyone. Before now. But...one more question.” Griffin nods for her to continue. “You’re the inside man, basically. So, how serious is our situation?”
He scrunches his lips together as he thinks for a moment. “I think--” He puts his arm around her shoulders and pulls her close. “--if we play our cards right, we should be okay.” He smiles before giving her a kiss, then quickly grabs his shovel from the fence. “Back to shoveling! You’re slacking.”
Chloe smirks as she moves another mound of snow.
Another supply run. Cole’s first of this month. Driving along with him are Alec, Devon, Jimmy, Kris, and Jake, who was able to convince Alexander he could join everyone else. His silence the entire ride has made Cole a bit uneasy, but he leaves the kid alone. Talking obviously isn’t on his mind right now.
Cole stops the car in front of a store called Aunt Leah’s. Peeking inside, it looks like some kind of thrift shop, with random items and boxes thrown around. They walk over the thick carpet of snow to the store, and Jimmy works on busting the door down. Alec notices an infected sitting up against the wall of the shop, but it’s not moving. Probably frozen.
“It’s so cool how they freeze like that,” he says. He kneels down and inspects it. Its bald and wears a torn brown jacket. A fresh bite mark decorates its neck. “Ha, it’s got icicles on its sleeves. Nice.” He reaches out to touch one, when the infected groans and makes an attempt to lunge forward. Its not fully frozen, but the cold has disabled it enough that it can’t move more than a few inches forward. Alec yelps and jumps backward, landing on his ass.
His terror is followed by laughter from everyone else. “Not funny, guys,” he says, breathing more rapidly than normal.
“I disagree,” Cole says as Jimmy finally gets the door open. Devon takes a second to stab the infected in the head, then holds her hand out to Alec. He takes it, and she helps him stand. He quickly wipes the snow from his pants and jacket.
“Are you okay?” Devon asks, but she’s still laughing.
“Of course I am.” He walks over the infected and kicks its lifeless body before heading into the store. “Stupid fucking thing,” he mutters under his breath.
Inside the store it’s cold, but not as frigid as outside. Cole pulls out a cigarette and lights it. He fills his bag with different items--a pair of headphones, an XXXL shirt, a notebook--and he and Jake walk together in silence. After a few minutes of no conversation, Jake finally says, “Why do you do that?”
Cole looks to him and scrunches his eyebrows together. “Do what?” Cole asks.
“Oh.” Cole looks down at the cigarette he’s holding, then takes another drag. “Because...it helps me feel less anxious. Or angry, or sad or something.”
“Are you anxious, angry, and sad?”
“Uh...not right now. It’s an addiction.”
“C-c-can I have one?”
“You’re 15. They’re not good for you,” Cole says.
“So w-wh-what if I’m 15? You’re 25 and they’re not g-good for you, either. Who’s gonna stop me anyways?”
Cole lazily inspects an odd toy on one of the leaning shelves, turning it around in his hand several times, and says, “You have a point, but I don’t want to be responsible for causing your addiction. I already fucked myself over by starting...”
“Maybe it’ll help,” Jake says succinctly. Cole is about to ask what it’ll help with, but quickly realizes he’s talking about his mom.
Cole sighs. “There are better ways to deal with...what you’re going through. Ways that won’t take years off your lifespan. And yes, I’m a hypocrite for saying that, but I’m just trying to help you.”
“What if there’s n-not?”
“There is. Trust me.”
Jake is silent as they walk through a few more aisles, then he stops and leans his back against one of the empty shelves. Cole stops and turns, then sees the tears in the kid’s eyes. “Back before everything, she w-was my only friend. My mom, m-my only friend. It’s so fucking sad, but I was a loser. This st-stupid stutter made those dumbasses at school pick on me every s-single day. Couldn’t g-give me a break. Hope they’re all f-f-fucking dead. And now the only person that w-was there for me, always, isn’t there anymore,and you w-won’t give me a stupid cigarette. It’s the end of the w-world. No one cares.”
“I care, alright?” Jake looks up, surprised at his words. “More than you think I do. Now stop moping and come on.”
Jake walks forward, and Cole puts a friendly arm around his shoulder. “And fuck those kids,” Cole continues. “No way they can paint like you, I bet.”
Jake grins, looking at the ground. “Yeah. No way.”
They’re suddenly interrupted by a weak groan to their left. Cole drops his cigarette to the tile and smashes it with his foot; he reaches for his knife, ready to take it out, when he looks to Jake.
“Want to do the honors?” Cole asks.
“Y-yeah, sure.” He retrieves his own weapon, a small combat knife, and eases over into the next aisle. An infected stands there, a hunch in its back, sniffing at the shelf in front of it. Before it can notice him, Jake lunges it at it, digging the blade into its head. It falls to the ground, and Jake stands over it, the knife hilt grasped in both hands. It’s already dead, yet he stabs it in the head again, then the face, even the body. This wild attack goes on longer than it should, and Cole stands back, disturbed and smart enough not to intervene.
Jake finishes off his assault with a stomp to its head, and the last of its skull makes a sickening pop sound. Jake's anger from before...Gone.