((Since it's been a while, here's a previous chapter synopsis if you don't want to go back and re-read it all: Ellis, Nick and Georgia run from a Tank on the highway, hide in a cargo truck, are almost discovered because of a barely breathing soldier blowing their cover, but are saved by a stranger named Marv who throws a molotov at the beast (soldier dies). They are currently making their way to an abandoned brick factory where Marv is holing up, and it is here that they can find food, supplies, and rest up. Now you may read on to find out what happens next!))
They twisted and curled around each other in no particular fashion, like the path of a worm through loosely packed earth. With their only destination being the mottled gray sky above, it was up, up, and away in a seemingly endless snarl of clingy green tendrils that had so lovingly made the metal structure it's host.
Ellis' eyes followed the vines to the top of the smokestack until the distance made it merely look like big cracks had formed up it's side. There definitely wasn't anymore smoke coming out of the long cylindrical tower, but the smears of rust and emission stains along the lip of it's opening showed that this factory had seen quite a few working years. More creeping foliage embraced the rest of the facility in concentrated clumps, namely the smaller office building the survivors would be making their way into shortly. It provided pretty good cover for someone wanting to hide from the infected around here, if any, with how thick the coat of vines had become. It was rather comforting to know that the boys had this bit of safeguard to camouflage them from the rest of the dying world, if only for a day.
After a two minute trek across the employee parking lot, Marvy led his guests to a side entrance that had a set of concrete stairs climbing up towards the metal door that would act as their primary inlet and outlet.
"Welp! Here we are - home sweet home!" The older man grinned and proceeded to conquer the last five steps to the door before turning and facing his party.
"Gosh, this place sure is huge
" Ellis marveled at the building's length from left to right.
"Wait'll ya see the inside of it! I mean, I know this company used to produce a lot of heavy duty stuff, but shit!"
"Fascinating. Now can we go in? I don't like the look of that sky
" Nick peered up at the dark patches of clouds that loomed overhead, holding promise of a storm coming their way. He glared at them as if the engorged skyline would dump water on him any minute.
"Sure thing, brother." Marv gripped the handle of the door and pulled to let his new companions go in first.
"It's 'Nick'," he said in response to the improper way of being addressed.
"And I'm Ellis." The mechanic chimed in.
Marv smiled and continued to hold the door open for them until they passed through. "Well alrighty then, Nick and Ellis." He gave one last glance around the field before heading in himself and shutting the door behind them.
The inside was surprisingly cool. All three men had felt the draft that flushed it's way out the door before entering, sending a tiny chill up Ellis' spine. It was quite a difference compared to the hot and humid Savannah climate.
As soon as the metal door was shut, there was nothing but the quiet moan of wind through it's seams and the survivors' breathing to match. Nick glanced down both sides of the poorly lit hallway, a couple of dim flood lights placed at each end, barely illuminating where they'd entered. The area was barren otherwise, save for some stray trash and the usual apocalyptic fester of filth and grime that sullied the once shining tile floor.
Judging from the outside of the facility, this corridor would lead to a connecting route from the offices to the main factory. It was probably very wise of the planners to keep these two buildings separate, unless it's business owners wanted to suffer through all the noise that the brick company undoubtedly made during working hours. Even then, one could most likely hear distant whirring of machinery and whatnot, but now it was just
silent; eerily silent.
"Yeah, ya gotta admit
" Marv's voice cut through the extended pause almost violently so, wracking the boys' nerves with a slight jolt. "The decorator didn't do much with the place, but at least we got everything we'll need for you boys back in the break room." The older man began walking down the passageway to their left, his thick-soled hiking boots making dull, echoed clomps with each step.
"Break room? Aw, that sounds mighty nice right about now
" Ellis nearly swooned.
"Ayup! Food, water, workin' microwave
You'll be set for life! Well, at least for as long as the apocalypse allows us."
"And you've been here for how long?" Nick raised an eyebrow, although the skepticism in his face went unnoticed by the scruffy man up front.
"Hmmm, about a month now? That's sounds right
Yeah, a month, give or take."
"Gollee, I don't think I could handle stayin' in a place like this for too long
"Tch, that's for damn sure," Nick quipped.
"Eh, it ain't a five star hotel, but it's kept me in the dark from all them hell spawns out there. I figure the government will come lookin' for all us survivors eventually, and we'll finally be brought to a place where we can wait out all this mess."
Nick's eyes flicked up to the back of their savior's head after that last comment, and kept his response quiet. "That's not the only thing you've been kept in the dark about
After cutting a few corners, the hallways becoming noticeably narrower as they went, the trio came to a entrance that had had it's door ripped right off the hinges aggressively, by the looks of it. Blocking their path into the room was something large and wooden. Marv stopped in front of it and leaned his upper body into the structure, rapping his knuckles against it in a deliberate rhythm. Nick and Ellis exchanged glances for a second, both somewhat surprised that there happened to be someone else here, seeing as Marv had failed to mention it.
"Hope y'all don't mind. I got some friends of mine here with me as well. They're good people. I'm sure y'all will get along just fine."
Ellis nodded, politely. "That's cool, man. We don't mind."
Nick scoffed, more irritated that Marvy hadn't told them about his "friends" than the fact that there were more strangers to deal with. The conman's guard flared up, although he barely felt it prick his senses as the feeling was almost second nature to him.
The wooden blockade moved a few inches enough for the person inside to get a peek out the doorway, probably making sure that it was indeed a familiar face and not some random infected flopping against the structure. With a hardy shove, the wooden object slid to their left, allowing a clear view of the break room...
As well as a very perplexed Coach.
The three teammates stared at each other, wondering whether the darkness of the corridor and the abrupt flood of light from the break room were playing tricks on their eyes. It was a surreal experience, like seeing someone come back from the dead.
"Nick? Ellis? Is that'chu
Holy hell, it even sounded like Coach.
"Coach?!" Ellis, who had been rather out of sorts since the whole Tank incident, had reverted back to his old southern self as he lurched forward for a hug from his older companion. "I-I can't believe it! Oh my GAWD!"
Marv's eyes bugged out a bit, but the growing smile on his face betrayed his surprise. "I guess introductions won't be necessary after all, ha ha!"
Nick snorted and couldn't help but let out a small smirk at the little hugfest between his comrades. Inside, the conman was practically tearing his hair out with joy, but hell if he was in the best shape to do it publicly - not that he would anyway.
"Boy, where you been?!" Coach joked and returned the embrace, the hardened creases around his eyes relaxing from a wave of genuine relief.
The whole bridge fiasco had left him without much hope of seeing the two boys ever again, and his spirits had been further squashed when he found Rochelle lying face down on the asphalt where one of the blasts had catapulted her.
The sore realization of how easy it had been to separate the group, after wave upon wave of zombies and every level of hell that had been thrown at them, was unsettling to say the least. Debris had burst forth from the explosions like a field of land mines, chunks of road and automobile gushing outward from each fiery geyser that was planted by the jets. The scene was disorienting, and it had probably been the closest any of the four survivors had come to death in a long while. Coach would never forget how scared out of his wits he was during that moment; tears nearly sprung to his eyes just from the panic.
Sheer willpower was the only thing that threw the Phys-Ed teacher into action, grabbing Rochelle before anymore missiles made their way down. The feeling reminded him of the one time he had to force his body to cliff dive with the rest of his siblings on a family trip. Raw courage was what propelled him to finally do it, and a bit of a push from older brother Stewart (who was always trying to toughen up his little bro every chance he got.) But instead of ruminating on what had happened, Coach brought his attention back to what mattered now - a family reunion.
Imagine his surprise when he saw an extra member of their crew attached to Ellis' back. "What the
?" He gawked at the bulbous, curly-haired head.
"Man, we've been lookin' all over for you! Was afraid somethin' might've happened to ya when we got separated
" The mechanic pulled back and gave his friend a once over to make sure he was the same ol' Coach they'd last seen a couple of days ago. All limbs and body parts seemed accounted for.
"Uhh, yeah, likewise
" the larger man nodded, silently wondering what he just saw. "Them bombs got us real good on our side. Too much destruction for us to get on over to y'all, 'specially with Ro's leg all busted up
"How is she?" It was the first thing Nick had said during the whole conversation.
Coach gave a curt nod and tightened his lips. "She doin' fine, better'n I expected her to, at least. Big ass chunk o' concrete caught her pretty bad in the knee, but nothing's broken."
"Is she in there with ya?" Ellis chimed in, eyes widening in anticipation.
"Yep. Why don't y'all come in so we can talk proper 'bout all this?" Coach stepped aside for his two long lost teammates and Marv to enter the break room.
" 'Ho man, this is too awesome! I can't believe we found you guys!" Ellis continued to ramble as he headed inside, immediately searching for Rochelle's hot pink Depeche Mode shirt. Nick shuffled on in next, after the courteous gesture of Marv's outstretched hand.
Coach's eyes wandered to the boy's back, trying to figure out what he'd seen over Ellis' shoulder, but was halted as Nick laid a strong grip on the big man's shoulder to make sure he had his undivided attention. "Nice to know you haven't lost too much weight since the last time I saw ya," he teased.
"Heh. We been doin' just fine on our own, thank you very much. It did get pretty quiet, though, without yo whiny ass around."
"Duly noted. I'll be sure to get back on that," Nick chuckled and walked the full length into the break room. With the two youngest survivors' excited squeals and chatter as a pleasant backdrop to the gloomy silence from before, Marv went in next, giving Coach a friendly nod before the former linebacker shoved their "barricade", also known as a wooden bookshelf, back into place.
It was a decent space, about the size of your average living room, and included everything one might expect a break room to have - a couple of saggy couches, some reading material, your standard kitchenette with working stove and microwave, even a few paintings hung up on the egg-shell colored walls, all of which were cheap replications of the originals. Nick swore he'd seen the same pictures in some of his grade school classrooms as a kid.
Ellis had successfully found Rochelle, who was sitting down on one of the green, mystery print sofas, with one leg propped up and the other hanging off the side. A fresh bandage hugged her jean-clad knee from mid-thigh to shin, along with a wooden plank to keep the knee joint straight as she recovered. Other than that, she looked to be in pretty good spirits, although it was hard not to be when Ellis was sporting his infamous toothy grin.
I cannot believe we were able to find each other like this!" Rochelle said in a tight voice that was borderlining a joyous scream.
"I said the same thing! It's a miracle is what it is!" Ellis guffawed and knelt down next to Rochelle after he'd wrapped his arms around her in a big bear hug, leaving no room for her to return the gesture with her arms pinned.
"How the heck did you guys meet?" She directed the question to both her boys and Marvy, a bit breathless from how happy she was that her group had been reunited.
Nick was about to tell them of the "adventure" they'd had this past hour, but Ellis' mouth was quick to draw. "Aw man, you are gonna flip your shit when you hear about everything that's happened on our way here. Marv here saved our lives from a Tank, he did! If it weren't for him, me n' Nick would be more pulpy than my mama's homemade orange juice!"
Rochelle laughed at the analogy, eyebrows rising at the mention of the hulking beast. "Jesus! I guess he got there right on time then?"
"Sure did! I don't even wanna think about what would've happened if I'd arrived a minute later." He shook his head solemnly.
"Me neither," Nick said. "Guy threw a freaking molotov at it. That nearly killed us, too."
" 'Ey! You be grateful, Nicolas." The bigger man pointed a firm finger his way. "He could'a just walked away and left ya to save his own skin." Coach's expression softened as he turned to their new friend. "But he ain't that kinda man. S'rare to find good people like you in the apocalypse nowadays, Marv. We've only come by so many."
"Aw, c'mon now. I don't need all this credit. I figure that helpin' a brother out during these dark times is the best thing anyone can do if we're gonna try to fix what we got left."
"Know that's right." Coach agreed, wholeheartedly.
"Well, I'm glad you guys are okay." Rochelle said in a tender voice, rubbing the mechanic's shoulder back and forth as if needing to make sure he was tangible.
Ellis laid his hand on hers and quietly responded with a "same here", just as elated by the fortunate turn of events.
Nick simply crossed his arms, but not in his typical defensive manner. For the first time in weeks, the gambler felt like a piece of humanity, of normality, had returned to his person. Maybe he could let himself believe in miracles... just this one time.