This is Issue #81 of Dead Frontier by Walkerbait22, titled Cold. This is the third issue in Volume 14.
Issue 81 - ColdEdit
"I feel--I feel a bit sluggish. I, um, don't feel as young as I used to, you could say," Joe says with a chuckle, and Chloe laughs along with him. He sits on the crinkly paper that covers the hospital bed, his hands folded over his lap. Chloe sits at a desk a few feet away, twirling a pencil between her fingers. "And--it's my memory. I'm not a stupid man, Dr. Connors. I know I'm getting old, my memory's not gonna be what it used to of course. But..but it's really...'odd' is the only word I can use to describe it."
"Could you elaborate a little, Joe?" Chloe asks.
"Of course, of course. Let's see...I honestly don't really remember what I was doing before I came up here. Literally 10 minutes before. It's this big blur in my mind...See, I know, very vaguely, what I was doing: chatting with someone. With who? I have no frickin' clue. About what?" He gives an over exaggerated shrug. "Beats me. And then I'll--I'll set my pen down or something, say on the table, I'll go do something for a few minutes, then come back and drive myself crazy looking for it. I ask someone if they've seen my pen, and then they tell me it's in my hand. How'd it get there? I don't know.
"And then the oddest thing is, I can remember something from...from weeks ago. Years ago. Little tiny things from my childhood in such detail...it's astounding. But only very recently. I could never do that before never. Always had to look at pictures to think back, really think back, to those nice moments in the past. Now, if I see a nice rose, I'll start daydreaming about that time I gave Julie next door one of the flower's from my mother's garden. Then I'll snap out of it...and that's it." He sighs and scratches his head. "You're lookin' at me like I'm crazy. And don't tell me you're not, because I've seen that same look too many times."
"I don't think you're crazy, actually," Chloe says, jotting something down on the clipboard in front of her.
"Of course you don't. Saying that to make me feel better, I understand. Don't know how you people put up with me."
"Really. You're an older guy, Joe. It's not uncommon for things like this to happen. It could be a combination of your age, your diet...especially stress with everything going on. So you're definitely not crazy. But you do have a very...nice way with words, I'll admit."
"Oh. Well, that's very sweet of you. Maybe it is...maybe it's the stress. These last two, three months..I don't have to tell you about them. I'm the old guy that cooks ya food then locks himself in his room. And now with Alexander's new regime I won't be able to cook you food! Goddamn instant oatmeal and coffee every day."
"I'm not trying to be your psychologist or anything, Joe, but it sounds like your granddaughter's passing has left you a little lonely. Maybe?"
"A little," he scoffs, and begins to gesture wildly as he speaks, his voice taking on an angry tone. "Charlotte was practically the only one to keep me company. We'd eat dinner together, we'd look through my old box of pictures almost every day, take the occasional picture with my--my old Polaroid camera--you remember those? Anyway, now there's this--this empty space next to me while I look at 'em. And then all these bad feelings about everything going on...and that woman who keeps paying us her awful visits. I'm just this old mess, it seems like." He removes his glasses and wipes his tears with the heel of his hand. "I didn't come here to start crying, I apologize."
Chloe puts a comforting hand on his knee. "You know what? I'm going to prescribe you a nice dose of 'get some rest.' For a few weeks, get to bed early, see how you feel. I'll even find a way to get you to come out of your room a little more often. If you're still feeling a bit fuzzy, you can just come back down to see me, alright?"
Joe smiles, the tears making his eyes sparkle. "That...that sounds wonderful."
Chloe leans back on her chair and looks around at the empty hospital beds. "I'm not busy. Why don't we start now? You can bring down some of those pictures you were talking about."
He pauses before saying, slightly surprised, “You...you’d want to see them?”
“Yeah, sure," she says.
“Oh, alright then. We can just head on up. They’re stored in my closet somewhere...” He stands from the bed and heads toward the door. “I’ve got some of me when I was...just a little kid, and then of my kids--”
“How many kids do you have?”
“Just two. Mike and Maggie. Me and my wife, we--we had a nickname for ‘em. It’s on the tip of my tongue...” He sighs as he opens the door, trying to remember. He snaps his fingers suddenly. “M&M. We used to call them M&M. Like the candy. Because they were inseparable, you know? And their names...they both start with M.” He chuckles to himself, and Chloe smiles, following him as he heads to his room.
When they get there, he searches for the box of photos, and even finds his Polaroid camera. He sifts through the pictures--some old and fading, others almost brand new--and Chloe listens, laughing along with him and sometimes even getting choked up, as he reminisces about anything he can remember.
Griffin has his palms pressed down on Alexander’s desk, leaning forward and staring down Hector, who sits opposite him. The sweat beads on Hector’s forehead shine, and he wipes them away with a swipe of his sleeve. “C-could I have some water, please?” Hector asks, his throat parched and dry from nervousness. He looks down at his hands, fidgeting with his fingers and not daring to look up at Griffin and Alexander, whose glares send chills through his body.
“No,” Griffin says and, wasting no time, he continues, “Why did she want to talk to you?”
Knowing they were going to want to talk to him, Hector has the lie already formulated in his head, though executing it might be a challenge. But he starts off honestly and says, “She wanted me to do something for her.”
“She wanted me to steal from the hotel. Any food, any medicine I could take, she wanted me to give to her.”
“How’d you respond? What’d you say, word for word?”
“I--I don’t remember what I said, word for word. I was nervous, I wasn’t thinking strai--”
“Then paraphrase,” Alexander says impatiently.
“I told her no, of course. She tried to coax me. Use the hatred you people feel for me against me. But I said I couldn’t. It was a mistake, the biggest mistake of my life, betraying the Hyatt once and...and killing that dog, and nearly kidding Adam. I told her that, and you have--”
“Wait, hold on,” Alexander says, stepping forward, “she knew about that?”
“Yes. Marsh informed her. They seemed to be quite close friends.”
“Makes sense. They’re both fucking crazy,” Griffin mutters.
“Friends? Hector, this isn’t adding up. Marsh hated Roxie. Absolutely hated her," Alexander says.
“Okay. Maybe friends was the wrong word," Hector says. "They had a few...sexual exchanges over the period Marsh took over. She explained to me he did hate her. Initially. But they bargained. She agreed to lessen her demands of the Hyatt--less food, less water, less medicine, less weapons--if Marsh agreed to supply her with women, for reasons I think you can figure out on your own. He was willing to sacrifice those few people if it meant keeping the majority well-fed and safe. And then he was okay with her.”
“And one of those women would have been Adrienne.”
“Yes.” He swallows hard, really craving that glass of water now.
“She told you all this,” Griffin asks. “Just flat out told you?”
“She did. She dearly wanted me on her side, and she thought explaining this to me would get me to trust her. She even apologized for the skirmish with my sister, and that she didn’t specifically request Adrienne, but it was Marsh’s idea. But I still could never forgive her for that. Never. Why would I? How could I?” He sighs and looks up at Alexander. “I know everyone here looks at me like a murderer, or a traitor. Those views are entirely justified. But I consider the Hyatt my home, just like everyone else here. Never again would I betray it like I did so terribly. Roxie...she threatened me and my sister. She did, but I told her no. It was the only thing I could do.” His eyes start to moisten quickly, but he doesn’t cry. “You have to believe me. That’s all I want.”
Griffin stands up straight and crosses his arms. “Hector, I have a question for you. Why in God’s name should I believe anything you’re saying?" Griffin asks.
“Because!” Hector shouts, suddenly angry. “Why would I tell you this? Why would I tell you any of this if I wasn’t on your side? I just want to help, I want to redeem myself. I don’t want her to destroy us, because that’s what she’ll do! You people need to understand that I am not a bad person. I was manipulated by Marsh. He used a loved one against me, and I’m sure if it were any of you, you would have done the same. If it was your son, Griffin. Or, for you, Alexander, if it was Lucy. You would have considered doing what I did, at least. So please, don’t shun me. I’m telling you this because I want you to know...I’m sorry. I am not with Roxie, I am not on her side, nor will I ever be.” He takes a deep breath and calms himself, loosening his tensed muscles. Based on their expressions, he’s sure his rant was effective. They look surprised, if not apologetic. “I’m sorry. Dealing with what I did has been hard for me as well, and...I’m sorry. I don’t know what else I can say.”
Griffin sighs, leans toward Alexander, and whispers, “You believe him?” Alexander glances at Hector, trying to form an opinion, but finds himself conflicted. He knows he shouldn’t be, but the pleading expression on Hector’s face is too convincing, as well as the emotion in his voice. Trust can’t be lost in this world, nor can forgiveness. And he’s said it himself, to Lucy, to new residents of the Hyatt: you can’t let the evil take over.
“Look, Griffin,” Alexander whispers back, “look at the kid’s face. That is regret if I’ve ever seen it.”
Griffin shoots him the ultimate look of ‘are-you-fucking-kidding-me,’ and his mouth hangs slightly open in disbelief.
“Just listen to me,” Alexander continues. “He made a mistake. You’ve made mistakes. I have. And where would I be if these people didn’t accept me again? He could even tell us more about her. What are we going to do, anyways? Kick him out? Keep him locked up in a room? That’s inhumane, and he has family. I won’t allow it.”
“He tried to murder--”
“I won’t. Allow it.”
“You won’t allow it? Alright, let’s see how everyone else feels about that, yeah?” Griffin whispers, and he makes for the door. Alexander stares at him, baffled, before he comes to his senses and follows Griffin out the door, leaving Hector alone.
“You won’t let this get out,” Alexander says.
“Why not? Shouldn’t we get the public’s opinion? Isn’t this a...a community, like you say?” Griffin counters, getting more and more heated. “We cannot trust him, don’t you get that?”
“We’re not kicking him out, we’re not killing him. That’s sick. You are one of the few people I know who have some humanity left, Griffin. Don’t ever lose it. You know what? You can tell everyone, rally them to get rid of Hector, but just know that’s guilt you’ll have to deal with. Not me.”
Chloe intercepts Griffin on the fifth floor corridor, interlocking arms with him, Joe’s old Polaroid camera in her left hand. “There you are. I’ve been looking for you,” she says, quickly standing on her toes to give him a peck on the cheek. He mutters a ‘hello,’ and she notices the uncomfortable expression on his face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m just really tired. Really tired as of late,” he replies.
“Now I know why you became a doctor and not an actor.”
“Now I know why you became a scientist and not a comedian,” he says with a smile, and she scoffs.
“You can’t use my own retort against me. That’s not how it works.”
“Doesn’t matter. But when you’re ready to tell me what the hell is wrong with you, I’ll be waiting.”
“With time, young one, with time,” he says, and they descend a few flights of stairs. “So, what’s with the camera. Where’d you get it?”
“Joe gave it to me. A sort of appreciation gift, I guess. I sat with him for an hour or two, looked through some of his old photos. I was planning on inviting everyone outside to take some pictures. Well, once Billie, Adam, Tora, and Hiro get back.”
“Oh. That’d be nice. You’re a photographer now, too?”
“Maybe...” she says, smiling, and she suddenly stops him in the stairwell and snaps a picture of his face.
“What the--you can't catch my by surprise like that! It’ll come out ugly!”
“Please. I’m sure you’ll look fine,” she says, retrieving the picture from the camera and shaking it several times. An image of a wide-eyed Griffin starts to appear, and she laughs loudly.
“What’s so funny? Lemme see,” he says, reaching for it, but she snatches it away.
“Nothing. Nothing. You wouldn’t want to see. But you look very handsome, I promise.”
Currently on a larger supply run that includes Hiro, Adam, and about 6 other Hyatt residents, Tora and Billie rummage through a bookstore contained in a huge mall after finding nothing of interest elsewhere. Tora watches as Billie sits cross-legged on the floor, periodically picking from the stack of books in front of her and flipping through the pages. Billie picks up a black book with large text on the front, and a wide smile forms on her face.
Tora walks over to her, takes a quick glance at the cover, and asks, “What’s that one?”
Billie gazes at the book for a few more seconds, overcome with warmth even though she’s never read it. “It’s...it’s called ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.’ The title’s a mouthful, but it was my sister’s favorite book. She read it all the time... and I told her I’d read it one day and we could talk about it. I never got to it though. I kept putting it off; I always told myself I was too busy, and I’d get to it, always promised I’d get to it one day. And then I moved to Chicago, three hundred miles away from her and I still never read it. Huh.” She quickly looks up at Tora. “Sorry. I kind of ranted there.”
“That’s alright. We all do it,” Tora says, and she takes a seat on the floor next to Billie. “How old was she? Your sister?”
Billie gulps at the word ‘was.’ “She turned seventeen last month. On the 22nd.” Tora notices her slight change in tone, and makes a sudden realization. “Oh. You--you don’t know...?” You don't know if they’re dead, is what she wants to say, but she decides to leave that last part out for gentleness's sake.
“No, I don’t. My other sister, either. She was--” Billie mentally notes to herself to stop instinctively using the past tense, and hates herself for doing so, but it’s been so long seen she’s seen either of them, and she’s since thought about the possibility of their deaths. But you never know. “She’s thirteen. Abigail. We call her Abby, though. She’s, you know, she’s the shy one. The one with the good grades, the nice friends, the ambitions. So freakin’ smart, too.
"And then Kate--she’s the older one--is probably the most stressful person I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. She played the rebellious teen shtick really well...sneaking out, skipping school, all the classic stuff. But she's smart. Not necessarily in the straight-A student kind of way. But she's clever. Intuitive. Loves to read, too. She hid it from her friends, but her favorite thing to do was just read a good book and talk to me about it for days and days and days..." Billie looks down, flipping through the book, a small smile plastered on her face. So many memories, of not only her sisters but her entire family, rush to her. But then that smile vanishes and she says coldly, "They're probably dead."
"You don't know that."
"I'm not really one to delude myself, so I'll just assume the worst. It's worked before."
"Assuming the worst...it's not always the best thing. I think you know that."
Billie sighs and turns, looks Tora straight in the face for the first time. "You never met him, and it's a shame, but there was a guy I knew. His name was Dwight. He was one of the first people I roamed this shit world with, and a few months before he died, do you know what he told me? He said I'm always going to be let down. Always. And there's no time to mope around about it, no time to be a bitchy little girl and cry about it. So I'm not going to. My sisters, my mom, my dad: chances are they're dead, and I'm not going to dwell on it."
Tora puts her and on Billie's forearm and squeezes, trying somehow to comfort her. Tora can tell she's trying to show no emotion, but it's easy to see through. And it breaks her heart. "But you are," Tora says. "You're only nineteen. You're just a girl, Billie. And I can see it in your face that you're in so much pain. That's okay. And you...you're mature beyond your years, really, and it's absolutely amazing, but you're just a girl. Don't let this idea that hoping for the best is an idiotic idea, because, frankly, that pisses me off. No offense to your friend Dwight, but he was wrong; hope is a good thing. A great, amazing, amazing thing."
"You start hoping and then you get let down. What happens then?"
"You know what happens then. You move on. But don't assume the worst until you know."
Billie sighs and goes back to looking at the floor, her eyes glued to a chip in the tile. "My last phone call with Kate...it ended with her screaming. That was the last thing I heard," Billie says. "If you heard that scream, Tora, you'd know why I'm assuming the worst. Every once in awhile, I think about them, then I think about that scream, and I know."
Tora puts a comforting arm around her shoulder, and even though Billie doesn't have a single tear in her eye, she feels herself wanting to breakdown for this girl. Then there's banging outside the bookstore. Adam repeatedly hits a metal bench sitting next to a rusty hot dog stand, attempting to get everyone's attention. "Yo! We got more infected near the front!" he shouts. "Grab what you got, and we're heading out."
"You know," Tora says, "if you're still angry you can always kill those things."
"Sounds fun," Billie replies, and she stands, stuffing the book in her bag. When she sees Adam, she takes the baseball bat from him and he looks at her in surprise.
"Can I borrow this?" she asks.
"Well, damn. You already took it," Adam says.
"I never said yes," he says, but she's already heading down the defunct escalators, twirling the wooden bat in her hand. There are a few people ahead of her, already swinging and slashing at a few infected roaming the area in front of the mall. She spots a supremely ugly one: its missing an eye, half of its jaw juts out to the left, and its skin is a brown-greenish color. She holds the bat high above her head and, with as much force as she can muster, smashes it down, creating a large dent on the top of its head. The skull caves in and the lifeless body clashes with the cement. She smiles. Instant kill.