Shelter from the Storm 2/6

Shelter from the Storm
Written August 2013
Rated a very strong R
Synopsis: A routine supply run turns dangerous as Daryl and Carol find themselves battling against Mother Nature … but the storm brewing within their shelter might be more intense than the one raging outside.

Disclaimer: The characters and universe herein were created by Robert Kirkman et al. The series is produced by AMC and other corporations. No infringement is intended.


Carol gasped at the sudden plunge then landed on her back and started sliding haphazardly down the cliff. Down, down, down, gaining speed as she went. Mud flew into her nostrils and eyes, obscuring her vision even more than before. Faster, like a roller coaster from hell. Something sharp sliced into her back, and she cried out in pain. Her foot caught on a root, flipping her onto her stomach and somersaulting her the rest of the way down.

She landed on her ass in a muddy pile of rocks. Pain ripped through her, and she groaned, grabbing her hip. It wasn’t a pretty ride down, but she was alive.

A guttural growl interrupted the assessment of her well-being, and she thrust her knife – oh, thank God, she hadn’t lost it on the way down – into the flesh of a walker’s leg. She pulled it back out and stumbled to her feet, backing away. Only stunned by her attack, the walker lurched again, and she charged, gripping the handle with both hands and sinking the blade into an eye socket. The walker fell to the ground and she on top of it.

Panting for breath, she glanced around for other immediate dangers and found none. Her back hurt like hell, and she reached around, feeling a gash in her shirt and her skin. The antibiotic ointment she found at the store would help.

That was when she realized her backpack was gone.

“Dammit,” she muttered. It must have gotten stuck on something on the way down. She didn’t even remember losing it.

A whoosh caught her attention, and Daryl rolled into the mud, coming to an abrupt stop on his back. “Motherfucker!”

“Are you okay?” she asked, helping him to his feet.

“Yeah. Shit.” He gripped his right bicep, wincing in pain. When he pulled his hand away, blood trickled down, forging a red path across his dirty arm. “It ain’t a walker scratch. Somethin’ scraped me on that damn cliff.”

“Same here.”

“Where at?”

“My back.”

“Found bandages at the general store, didn’t ya? I’ll patch it up. Where’s the pack?”

She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. Without the backpack and the supplies inside, the entire run had been for nothing.

While his first inclination may have been to yell at her – and she certainly expected it – he didn’t raise his voice at all. “Well, we’re alive. That’s more important than some fake flowers and shitty cigarettes.” Carol suppressed a grin. “But we gotta find shelter. Too many damn walkers with that herd moving through. Come on.”

***

They managed to make it out of the forest and into a clearing. The rain had let up significantly, and the clouds were dissipating. The last remnants of daylight provided them with enough light to see a two-story farmhouse looming in the distance. They picked up their pace and jogged through tall grasses to the front door.

It had been a beautiful house at one time, before the world went to shit. A deep wrap-around porch made it look inviting, the kind of place where large families would chat as they sipped lemonade on a hot summer day. The black shutters on each window provided a stark contrast to the white paint. But as they got closer, they noticed the paint chipping away, shutters hanging from one hinge, the rocking chair on the porch creaking with each gust of wind. The entire property had fallen into disrepair.

In fact, it kind of reminded Daryl of Hershel’s farm before it burned to the ground. One glance at Carol and the slight tremor in her chin, and he knew it had reminded her too. Thankfully it didn’t have a barn full of walkers and a missing little girl.

He crept up the front stairs to the porch, crossbow at the ready. Carol stood behind him, knife drawn. He nodded toward the door, and she opened it before stepping aside to let him in. He made a quick assessment, aiming at each doorway, looking for any signs of life – or death.

It smelled musty, and he stifled a sneeze. Whoever had lived here had packed up and left long ago. The house was a lot smaller than it looked from the outside. He had walked into a tiny sitting room with a couple of chairs and an upright piano. The kitchen was situated to the right of the door, the window overlooking the farmland. Straight ahead were two doors and next to them an oak staircase. On his left was a floral carpeted living room.

He scanned the kitchen, but it was empty. Carol gestured to the living room, and he walked to her. In the center of the room was a rocking chair, its back to the doorway where they stood.

The chair was occupied.

He rounded the chair, back to the wall, until he reached the far corner and could face whoever – or whatever – sat there.

It was an elderly man, but he had been dead for months. He didn’t even smell anymore. A gaping hole pierced his left temple, and there was a revolver on the floor. Daryl shook his head to convey there wasn’t a threat and lowered his weapon.

They checked the rest of the house but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. By now the rain had almost completely stopped, and the world was quiet again. Daryl found towels in the downstairs bathroom, and they dried themselves off before separating to look for food and other supplies.

Carol headed upstairs, hoping to find something worthwhile. She was still upset about losing the backpack, but perhaps she could locate things here. She started in the first room at the top of the stairs. It was a small sewing room. The machine sat on a table against the wall. Her eyes lit up when she didn’t see a power cord. It was a treadle machine and didn’t need any electricity, only human power.

“Perfect,” she said to herself, tracing her fingers across the dusty wheel. If they could get the truck down here, they could take this back to the prison and stitch up tears in clothing, maybe tailor some of the older children’s clothes to fit the younger ones. If they could find fabric, they could make entirely new outfits. She had some experience with the machine; she used to repair her own clothing following one of her husband’s drunken attacks. It felt like forever ago. She wasn’t sure if she could still do it or if she was too out of practice.

Only one way to find out.

She took off her tank top, wincing as the wet fabric rubbed against her wounded skin. The rock that had scraped her had ripped through the shirt as well and left a long tear from hem to hem. She could probably sew it, but it would be easier to scrap and use for rags. Maybe there was another shirt in the house she could take.

“Hey, Carol, I found—”

She stiffened at the sound of Daryl’s voice and held the tattered shirt to her chest. Her back was to him, and she was wearing a bra, but she preferred to maintain some decency. “Yes?” She didn’t receive a response and glanced at him over her shoulder. His eyes were fixed on her back, an unreadable look on his face. She wasn’t sure why; if anyone understood, it was him.

She felt him move closer to her, felt a hand hover over an old scar that went from her shoulder blade to the middle of her spine. “Ed?” he asked, voice thick with anger.

She nodded. Her husband had given her more emotional scars than physical, but nobody could see those. He met his end within two months of their escape from Atlanta but had kept her alive and safe until that point. It was the only nice thing he ever did for her.

She could feel Daryl’s eyes on her, taking in all of the faded lines. She was glad she couldn’t see them without a mirror. Daryl had some scars of his own, caused by his father, and she knew he was thinking about his own abuse as he looked at the remnants of hers.

“You needed somethin’?” she asked, bringing them both back to the present. No sense in thinking about the past any longer.

“Found this.” He held a small container of Neosporin in her line of vision. “Ya mind?”

She shook her head, and his hands touched her, spreading the cream across her open wound. She sucked in a breath. This felt too intimate for him, for her. It had been a long time since she’d been touched by a gentle hand, and while her first inclination was to make a joke of it, she couldn’t find the words. Her eyelids fluttered closed as she savored the contact just a little longer. “Better now, thanks.” Despite the dismissal, his hand lingered at the small of her back, feather-light on her skin.

“Wait here.” He disappeared, only to return moments later with something bunched up in his fist. “This should fit ya.” Then he left again.

She looked at the white tank top he had hung on the chair and smiled.

***

Something wasn’t right.

Daryl looked out the windows in the kitchen. There were a couple of walkers in the field, but he wasn’t interested in them. They weren’t close enough to be a threat.

What bothered him was the sky. The clouds had dissipated from the earlier rain, but there was a new wall of black clouds coming in from the west. While he had no degree in meteorology – no degree period – he knew enough about the weather to know things were going to get worse before they got better.

Carol appeared beside him with an empty duffel bag. “Found this in a closet. Figured we could load it up when we leave for the truck. Plenty of clothes upstairs. That sewing machine. Come back and get the rest some other time.”

“Ain’t goin’ nowhere for a while,” he said, eyes still focused outside. The sky was beginning to take on a greenish hue.

“That’s fine. At least we’ll get to sleep in a real bed tonight.”

“Kitchen’s empty. Ya find any food?” He opened the window and frowned.

“No. What are you doing?”

He held up a hand to silence her. Silence. That was the problem. There wasn’t a sound to be heard outside – not a bird, not the rustling of grass, not the creaky rocking chair. It was completely silent.

“Daryl?”

The wind picked up again, pushing hard against the house. There was a low grumble like a train speeding along a track. The sky darkened quickly, and the rain returned with a surreal strength and intensity. “Fuck. Really?” He looked at Carol. “This just ain’t our damn day.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Tornado.”

“What?”

He moved past her and opened the door into the bathroom. It was the only room in the house without a window, but it was too small for both of them to fit inside. “Shit.”

“Old house like this? Gotta be a storm cellar outside.”

Damn, why hadn’t he thought of that? “Let’s go.”

“Wait.” She ran up the stairs and disappeared around the corner.

If she was grabbing that sewing machine, he was going to knock her on her ass. He opened the screen door at the front of the house, and it immediately slammed shut from the force of the wind. This was not good. “Ca—”

“Here,” she said breathlessly, the duffel bag looking fuller than it had been before she went upstairs. “Ready.”

Daryl opened the door again and held on tightly as she stepped outside. He followed and was greeted with a gust of wind that nearly pushed him over. Giant balls of hail pelted the ground along with fat raindrops moving horizontally. There better be a fuckin’ storm cellar out here, he thought as he grabbed Carol’s arm and thrust both of them down the stairs and into the open air.

They ran with the wind and took cover on the other side of the house, the walls blocking most of the gusts. Carol pointed to a small hill that sat thirty feet away. He wasn’t sure why until he saw it: a slanted doorway tucked between two butterfly bushes. They made their way to the cellar, slammed by rain and hail. Daryl lifted the door, and Carol ducked inside, knife first. Once he was in, he slid the bolt locks in place, and the room went dark.

Carol was at the bottom of the stairs as he came up behind her. She had noticed a kerosene lantern hanging off a post on her right before Daryl closed them inside, and she turned up the wick, illuminating the room.

“Holy shit,” he muttered, eyes wide. “We just hit the jackpot.”

The residents had apparently been using the storm cellar as a root cellar, and while there weren’t any picked vegetables inside, there were long shelves along one wall, filled with glass jars, aluminum cans, boxes, bottles… Food – and lots of it.

Daryl walked along the wall to admire their inadvertent discovery. Beans, coffee, tomatoes, pickles, apple sauce, cranberries, okra, oats, noodles, tuna, bottled water: the list went on and on. He cracked a smile, the first one all day. They would eat like kings tonight.

His eyes fell on the shelving unit under the window. Rows and rows of wine bottles. He would’ve preferred beer or whiskey or really anything else – but alcohol was alcohol: it got you drunk if you consumed enough of it. He grabbed a bottle of merlot. Better than nothing. Using his utility knife, he peeled away the neck wrapping, popped the cork, and took a good, long pull from the bottle.

He turned to Carol. She was still standing at the foot of the stairs, shivering. Shit, he’d forgotten she was claustrophobic. A little eight-by-twelve room was going to drive her insane. “Here.” He brought the bottle to her. After looking at the label, she took a drink and handed it back.

“Thanks.”

The doors began to rattle, gently at first then with more force. He was sure they’d hold; otherwise this would be the shittiest storm cellar in all of Georgia. Carol stepped closer to him, looking up the stairs, arms wrapped around her body. “Storm’s passin’ over. Shouldn’t be long.”

She continued to shiver, and he almost put an arm around her. Almost. It would have been to keep her warm, or at least that’s what he told himself. No need to make things any more complicated than they already were.

The roaring sound quieted, the doors slowed their vibrations, and soon the only things they heard were the rain and thunder. “See? It’s nothin’.”

She nodded but continued shaking. He noticed water dripping from her skin, forming a puddle on the cement floor. Maybe she hadn’t been shivering from fear after all. It was cool in the cellar, and they were both soaked.

“We gotta get out of these clothes.”

“Are you making a pass at me?” she asked, a hint of a smile on her lips. Before he had a chance to rebuff her, she picked up the duffel bag she had left by the stairs and unzipped it. Inside she had packed several quilts.

He looked at her curiously and let out a slight chuckle. When did she become so survival-savvy? And why the hell didn’t he think of these things? He removed a solid red blanket from the bag, leaving her with the one decorated with purple and cream-colored stars. “Thanks.”

“Turn around,” she said, hands already working to unbutton her jeans.

He did as he was instructed and stripped naked as well. He hadn’t realized how cold he was until the air touched his skin. Goosebumps popped up instantly, and he rushed to undress. The quilt was a little short after he had wrapped it around his shoulders, but it was a hell of a lot warmer than his wet pants and vest.

“Okay,” she said a few moments later, and he turned to face her. She’d figured out a way to somehow wrap her blanket around herself like a dress, leaving her shoulders bare but her feet covered. She pulled a third quilt from the bag, this one with an argyle print, and spread it out on the floor. “It’s not much, but…”

He shook his head. “Ya did good. Real good.”

She beamed at the praise. “Thanks.”

The moment passed, and the awkward reality of the situation settled in. They were naked in a storm cellar, a tornado outside and a hell of a lot of alcohol inside. Safe but exposed – a lot more exposed than he would have liked.

Of all of the people to be stuck with, it had to be Carol. What did she see in him? Why did she insist on complimenting him and teasing him and getting to know him when he’d done nothing to deserve such attention? It was infuriating, but at the same time it fascinated him. Women had always been an enigma, so much so that he hadn’t had much to do with them for his entire life. His brother had been a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy; Daryl had never even gotten to the love part. He’d never really thought about it and so had lived his life as a loner, content to let life pass him by without taking time to enjoy it.

But sometimes, like now, he caught himself looking at Carol a little too long, some unknown emotion bubbling up to the surface. He wasn’t sure what it was, wasn’t sure he even wanted to know. But there was something about her that defied all logic and reason, something he felt deep in his core, something that made him wonder what he had been missing and if she could help him find it.

He averted his gaze, pushing the inappropriate thoughts out of his mind, and focused on the food shelves. “Hungry?”

End of chapter 2

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