“Shhhhh…” Carol whispered.
“Like hell!” Merle scowled, “Let ‘em come!”
Carol ran her fingers through her short hair and glared. Daryl glanced back from the clearing and motioned lifting his crossbow into the air.
“See, nuthin’ there, just your imagination lady!” Merle quipped striding to his brother.
Carol sighed and followed, stepping lightly through the long grass, casting watchful looks over her shoulder despite the all clear.
She cautiously backed up to the brothers, squinting at the trees, until she reached Daryl’s shoulder.
Merle swung his knife. “So, what we doin’ out here? Can’t see nuthin’.”
“Something in the far trees. Maggie said something glinted,” Carol whispered.
Merle’s voice raised a pitch. “And she saw that glinting somethin’ from the lookout did she? Wild goose chase, if you ask me!”
“No one asked you…” muttered Carol.
“Still gotta look, even if it’s nuthin’.” Daryl kept to the line of trees. Carol followed, grasping the knife at her hip. Only Merle, wandered out into the sunlight, ignoring his brother’s warnings. “It’s quicker to go across, quicker there and quicker back again!”
“He’s gonna get us killed one of these days,” hissed Carol.
Daryl paused, glancing back. “Get hi’ self killed, not us.”
Merle continued across the grass. Daryl bent forward hurrying along the edge, muscles taut, ready, ears listening and eyes darting. Carol followed close.
The breeze sang through the canopy and Merle’s boots thumped across the dry field. “Wait!” Carol hissed, “Listen…”
Daryl and Carol stopped. “You hear that?” she whispered.
A mewling whine rose over the wind and Carol grabbed Daryl’s arm. “Something’s hurt.”
“It’ll attract attention…” murmured Daryl.
“Coming from over there…” Carol pointed. They moved towards the whimper.
“Oh, joining me now are you?” Merle chuckled and ducked as Daryl swatted at him. “Shut it Merle!”
They ran guardedly into the shadowy trees. “Fan out…” said Daryl, clutching his bow to his chest.
They moved slowly apart, stopping as the whine began again. “This way…”
They trod carefully, until Carol released a cry of surprise. “Down here!”
She crouched in the long grass.
“Dinner!” cried Merle ignoring Carol’s glare.
“So tiny!” cooed Carol, “No…” Tears welled as she parted the grass revealing a forgotten hunter’s trap. The puppy whined and Daryl sank to the grass. “Keep watch,” he muttered, “blood will attract walkers…” He pulled out his knife and worked on the trap, until the metal jaws snapped open and Carol moved the pup’s hind leg. Fresh blood spurted and Carol tore a strip of her shirt to bind around the pup’s wound.
“Too small for dinner anyways…” said Merle.
“We’re not leaving it.” Carol tucked the tiny creature into the crook of her arm. “Maggie must’ve seen the trap glinting…” She backed away from the twisted metal.
“All this for a dog!” Merle waved his arms. “Thought we’d get a real fight out here!”
“Let’s just get back,” said Daryl.
Midday sun glared through the dappled shade, and they began to run through the undergrowth. Carol stayed close to Daryl, until he pulled up suddenly and wrenched up his bow. An arrow flew, swift and straight, hitting a walker between the eyes.
Rattling moans rode on the wind and the putrid stench of rotting flesh filled the air. Zombies emerged from the trees, stimulated by the metallic aroma of fresh blood…and wild, dark eyes fixed on the living.
Merle swung, lifting his newly equipped right arm, thrusting his blade up through a walker’s chin. Satisfaction blazed in his eyes and he whirled towards another zombie, driving the knife cleanly into its skull. Daryl fixed another arrow taking out a decrepit creature and immediately moved to a third walker lumbering close, slamming his knife through its throat and up into its brain.
Carol held the puppy close, brandishing her hunting blade, her eyes wild and alert. No one spoke. Merle’s brow furrowed in determination as walkers leached from the woods, and Daryl grabbed his spent arrows, tearing them out of the finished walkers’ brains.
The three moved close together, dodging walkers, bolting through trees and out into the clearing. They ran, pounding across the dry earth, until a cry lodged in Daryl’s brain.
His breath caught in his throat as he turned. Carol was down on the ground, a zombie clawing at her. She held it off, kicking and thrusting with her knife, but more lumbered out of the trees, and the puppy lay at her side. “Leave her, it’s the dog they want, we’re good!” cried Merle.
Daryl cast Merle a withering look and raced towards Carol.
Merle threw up his arms and launched back into the fray. Arrows whizzed past Carol’s ear and the walker fell at her side, blood and ichor splattering down upon her and the pup. She twisted and was felled by another unwieldy walker. She screamed and seized the pup, tucking it down inside her shirt. The walker grabbed her leg and hungry moans assaulted her.
Daryl strode forward, arrows flying from his bow, until the walkers lay totally dead and finished. Merle let out a whoop and thrust his blood spattered fake arm in the air. Daryl moved to Carol.
His eyes roamed up and down her body. “It’s alright, I’m not bitten,” she assured him as he dropped beside her.
A wry smile played on his lips as he caught her eye and his hand lingered, brushing against her thigh. She stared into his eyes, and as his brother whooped, he relaxed. He dropped his crossbow and Carol rose on her elbows. Daryl lifted his hand and gently touched her face, wiping a splash of black ichor from her chin. He glanced away, his eyes trailing down her neck, across her torn shirt and down to her breast. She giggled, an usual sound in the eerie silence, and he rested his hand on her wriggling stomach.
“So what you gonna call him?” he asked stroking the puppy through the thin cloth.
“Rose,” she answered, “I’m gonna call her Rose.”