Warning: This has Nellis in it, just FYI. Don't like it? Oh well!
"Oh mah GAWD, is that what I think it is??"
Ellis dropped his machete and let his mouth hang wide open. Nick did the same with the sheet he was holding and shook his head incredulously.
"If by 'it' you mean a fucking baby, then I'm not the only one hallucinating."
"It looks real enough to me, Nick. Even sounds real!" Ellis said, leaning in closer to the crib. "I think it's a girl, on account a' all the pink."
"Okay, that's great and all, but the whole point is that there's a fucking baby here."
Ellis lifted an eyebrow at the con-man. "Yeah? What's so hard ta understand, Nick?"
"No, no, no. What's hard for you to understand is that this thing is here in the first place. After months of zombies strolling in and out of this city, how is it that it's still alive?"
"Well, how am I supposed to know that? I might'a been a baby at one point in mah life, but that don't mean I know a lick about'em," Ellis said in his defense.
"It just doesn't make any sense
" Nick scratched his head and blinked a few times to make sure he hadn't finally lost his marbles. So, this was the so-called "creature" they heard from outside? How had he misinterpreted the sound of a baby with a zombie? Had it been that long since he'd heard one cry? He couldn't remember the last time he even saw a baby. What the hell was one doing in a crib; it was like the zombie apocalypse had never happened!
Then he remembered the suicide note.
And the dead woman in the tub.
Everything clicked into place like a three-piece jigsaw puzzle after that.
" he said softly.
Nick?" Ellis spoke up. "You think that
the girl in the bathroom
that this is her
'You read my mind, sport.'
"Yeah. Yeah, I do." The con-man turned around to face the crib again, leaning on the edge with both his hands. "Looks like little Annie just became an orphan."
"Annie? How do ya know her name?"
I don't. It's called a cultural reference, kid."
Ellis just shrugged and decided not to ask anymore about it.
what do we do?"
What do we do.
That was the million dollar question, wasn't it? Nick pursed his lips in thought, fingers digging into the crib's wooden railing. Of all things, he never expected to come across something like this on their travels. Hell, he figured that the infection had wiped out any and all children below the ages of twelve because their bodies couldn't handle the sickness, but here was living, breathing proof that he, and the rumors he'd heard, were wrong. Nick would never cease to be baffled by this strange phenomenon, but that wasn't the issue they needed to dwell on at the moment.
Ellis' eyes shifted from the infant to Nick about a dozen times while the con-man was thinking. He finally settled on looking at the baby girl and decided to make sure she wasn't hurt or bitten anywhere. She seemed untouched, which was a relief, but there was a definite and distinct stench coming off of her that warranted an unchanged diaper. It didn't bother the mechanic that much, though, seeing as he'd smelled worse things in his life, even outside of the zombie apocalypse. There were a ton of Keith stories he could tell of their grotesque pranks and misadventures involving filth of all kinds.
During a pause in the baby's keening, it's plushy pink lips slipped out into a full pout, obviously a bit angry at the two people just standing there doing nothing to tend to her. This caused Ellis to chuckle, amused that she could make such an expression at this young of age.
Nick's eyes watched the interaction between the two and, with his mouth set into a tight frown, put a period on the end of his thought process. He lifted the axe onto his shoulder and turned to exit the room.
The mechanic did a double-take before realizing that Nick was leaving. He pulled his finger away from the baby, who had taken a hold of it out of curiosity, and called out to the con-man, "Where ya goin'?"
"We're leaving. Grab your butter knife and let's go."
"Oh. Okay, hang on a sec
" Ellis slipped the machete through one of his belt loops. "Let me just grab th--"
"Without the baby."
That command hung in the air for a few seconds, stalling both of the men in their current actions. Ellis was the first to speak.
yew wanna leave her here?" The quiet shock in his voice was nothing Nick hadn't expected.
Nick stopped at the bedroom doorway. "We can't be carrying around a baby in a goddamn zombie apocalypse, Ellis," he said in an exasperated tone. "There's no way it would survive outside of these walls, let alone with us. I mean, seriously, you're kind of a zombie magnet, ya know that?"
"But we can't just leave it here to die, Nick! That ain't right!"
"Oh c'mon, the zombies would have gotten to it eventually."
"Not unless we take her with us!"
"Yeah? And what would you suggest we do with her, huh? Roll her down the street in a little pink buggy? Feed her, burp her, clean up her puke (not like we don't have enough of that on our hands)? Ellis, it would attract zombies like flies with it's crying alone."
"Well then we just gotta make her stop cryin'. Shouldn' be that hard." The mechanic turned around once more and pulled the fussy infant out of the comfort of it's crib. He was so set on showing how determined he was to bring this little girl with them that he momentarily forgot to put a hand behind her head.
"Watch it--!" The con-man shot a hand out, even though he was a good few feet away from them.
Ellis quickly corrected his positioning and supported her head properly this time, bouncing the baby in his arms to try to calm her down. He gave the con-man a quirky grin.
Nick shoved the traitorous hand into his pocket, averting his eyes as if he had flicked an internal switch back to "cold and uncaring".
"Hey, 'ey, 'ey
shhhhh shh shh shhh
It's okay, baby girl. Uncle Ellis' got'chew," the mechanic cooed while rocking her gently. The infant's limbs jerked around from the discomfort she was in, clearly not pacified by the boy's attempts at making her happy. But, just like her, he was a stubborn individual who wouldn't give up so easily. Ellis knew that if he couldn't find a way to make her stop crying, Nick would never let her tag along. In fact, crying or no crying, Nick's decision would probably remain the same.
That's when the mechanic formed an idea.
"Alright, Nick, " he said, directing a confident gaze at the con-man. "How much you wanna bet I can get her to stop cryin'?"
The con-man's gaze slowly fell on Ellis', one eyebrow arching. There was a sudden aura coming off of Nick that sent chills up his spine. Those alluring bedroom eyes were meant for more than just the bedroom, it seemed.
"You serious, kid?" he asked in a low voice.
"Serious as a heart attack." Although Ellis' boldness usually got him places, he was still rather intimidated by the electricity that Nick emitted when his gambling fix was being catered to.
Unfortunately, the con-man held back from taking the bait and shook his head. "Forget it, kid. I know what you're trying to pull, and it ain't gonna work. I've spent half my life doing it."
"Yew don' think I can do it? I'll prove it to ya, right here, right now!" Ellis gave a cocky nod of his head.
"Oh? And just what exactly would the stakes be in this ridiculous wager?"
"She comes with us." Plain, simple, and ever so typical.
"Yeah, I don't think so." Nick knew when he was being cheated out of a con, and the mechanic was doing a piss poor job of hiding it. "There's too little to go on. You're gonna have to add to the pile if you want me play, sport." He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall.
Ellis bit the side of his lower lip and knitted his brow together, clearly thinking of a way to sweeten the deal. His eyes lit up when a new approach struck him. "Fine, Mr. Gamblin' Man. I bet I can get her to stop cryin' and keep her from cryin' for the next
"Hour and a half."
"Hour and forty-five minutes. Final offer, kid. Take it or leave it."
And that was that.
"Okay, okay. Hour and forty-five minutes. I bet yew I could even put her 'ta sleep if I wanted," he grinned.
"Well, we'll see about that, won't we?" The con-man returned the smile, but in a more dastardly manner.
"AND, and no tricks! You can't do anythin' like scarin' her or whatever 'ta make her cry! Got that?" He jabbed a finger in Nick's direction, hoping he looked as resolute as he sounded.
"Shouldn't you be proving me wrong before you start laying down the rules?" He gestured to the still whimpering infant in the mechanic's arms. "Just so you know, if you can't get it to shut up sooner or later, we're leaving it here. Got that?" He said in a more jeering way than Ellis had.
The boy didn't respond, giving the fellow survivor one last pensive look before returning his attention towards the baby girl. His steady rocking had helped to quell the temper tantrum at least, but she still had tears leaking from the corner of her pretty hazel eyes. They were very similar to her mother's
the southerner shook himself of that tragic image in the bathroom and focused on the task at hand.
First thing was first; changing her out of that dirty diaper. Who knew how long she'd been stewing in her own juices, so to speak?
With great care, Ellis laid her on the floral patterned bed and began aimlessly looking around for a package of diapers or some kind of baby bag. He slipped his fingers underneath his cap and scratched the dry scalp, a common habit he displayed when feeling pressured. Nick simply stood where he was and watched the humorous scene before him. The kid seemed so lost, it was almost painful to watch. He was only twenty-three, for God's sake, and, as far as Nick knew, he didn't have any younger siblings that he'd had to practice on in these particular situations.
Once the boy had found a baby bag in a space between the crib and the dresser, he hoisted it up on the bed and rifled through it for the required supplies.
"Awright, girl. Yew just let ol' Ellis make everythin' right again. Don't yew worry none." He managed to get the diaper off through the infant's wriggling and began the grueling process. "Whoooo-weee! Smells like yew dropped a bomb, baby!" He laughed and recoiled away from the stench, quickly disposing of the dirty diaper into a small trash bin next to the bed.
Nick was mildly surprised that the mechanic knew how to change a diaper right off the bat. He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would possess such knowledge considering his lifestyle.
"I had 'ta babysit for my mama's friend's kids a couple times when I was younger," he said, as if knowing what Nick was thinking. "It was an easy way of gettin' some cash when I needed it. One of them was only a few months old, an' I had 'ta change his diapers all the time. I swear, he was like a poopin' machine! How can so much shit come outta such a tiny thing? Ha ha, oh man
Ellis' ramblings, while often times irritating to others, seemed to soothe the baby below him. She stared at the mechanic with her big doe eyes as he talked, mouth still in a slight pout, but the tears were coming to their end, thankfully.
He patched her up with a brand new diaper once he'd applied the necessary powder, and secured the tape that would hold his handiwork together. The baby didn't look like she was uncomfortable, so Ellis immediately picked her back up in his arms and turned to show Nick.
"Ta-da~! Told ya I could do it." His cheeky grin made the con-man scoff.
"Uhh, hold it right there, kiddo. I don't think she's quite satisfied yet." He pointed to the baby's face as it was starting to scrunch up again. A few unhappy hiccups and that was all Ellis needed to hear before he realized that his job was far from done.
"What's wrong, girl? Yew hungry or somethin'? I don' have any food on me, though." This seemed to make the infant even more upset, even if she couldn't understand him. "Nick, I
I don't know what
" He didn't want to ask for help since that wasn't part of their bet, but the boy honestly wasn't sure how he was going to feed the poor child without any food around. He was at a loss.
"Hold on a second." Nick left the bedroom without informing Ellis of what he was going to do. After the mechanic heard some bustling in what sounded like the kitchen, his companion came back with a small jar of yellow stuff and a spoon.
"What does it look like?" With a pop, Nick twisted off the lid and swirled the baby food around with the spoon. "Hope she likes bananas. Here." He shoved the jar in Ellis' free hand and crossed his arms. "Finish what you started."
Ellis nodded and sat down on the bed, keeping the baby snug in his lap. He scooped a spoonful of the yellow glop out of the jar and examined it with scrutiny. "Yew sure she's supposed to eat this? It looks kinda
"It's a baby. They don't know the difference between food and crap. Just give it to her; she'll eat it," Nick shrugged. "And didn't you say you've done this before?"
"Uhh, yeah, but it's been a long time since then, man. Years!"
"Well, if you've got a busted hand, then maybe you shouldn't have tried buying the pot in the first place."
While he didn't know much about gambling terminology, Ellis wouldn't let Nick's words bring him down. He carefully moved the pasty banana concoction towards the baby's mouth until it almost touched her lips.
"Here ya go, girl. Yer probably perty hungry after bein' all by yerself fer so long."
The infant eventually gave into the temptation of food and opened her mouth to receive the mushy substance. She seemed to like the food after the first few bites, aside from spitting it up a couple of times like most babies do, and even Ellis looked like he was starting to enjoy the simple routine.
"Hey Ellis, here comes the airplane~," Nick teased. The mechanic just glanced at him and rolled his eyes.
Once the entire jar of banana surprise had been emptied, Ellis wiped the baby's mouth and slung her up to his shoulder. He stood up and resumed his cooing while gently patting her back, waiting for the oncoming burp that was bound to come out.
Nick watched how Ellis bounced her up and down while waltzing around in circles. He'd started singing a little tune under his breath, nearly lulling her to sleep with his sweet southern drawl. At one point, the boy turned away from the bedroom door where Nick had taken root, his broad back facing him along with the baby's head that was resting in the crook between his neck and shoulder. She made abrupt eye contact with the con-man and stared so hard that Nick was afraid she'd bore holes in his suit. He felt a twinge of envy seeing her nestled against that bronzed skin, or whatever his shirt didn't cover up. He'd wanted to experience that feeling with the kid for quite a while now. Not in the exact same way, per se, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't get these sudden urges to press himself against that body of his; to feel the warmth of skin against skin again, back when the world was in order. It was practically a crime to look like that and turn out to be some podunk mechanic! Although, the thought of a, preferably, shirtless Ellis working under the hood of his car didn't produce such a bad image
"Where'd you find the baby food?"
" Nick pushed the fantasy into the back of his mind to save for later. "In the kitchen pantry. I just figured that's where baby food would be if there were any. Luckily it's one of those things that has an expiration date of infinity." He had snatched up the suicide note from the bed when Ellis wasn't looking so that he wouldn't find out how Nick knew about the food, still intending to keep that morbid piece of evidence from the boy.
"I guess we should grab more on the way out then." The mechanic made a pleased expression when he heard the tell tale burp come from over his shoulder. He had been spared any puke, for now.
"Woah there, overalls. You still want to drag it along after all that trouble? There's not gonna be any diaper changing stations where we're headed, you know."
"Yes, I still wanna take HER with us, Nick, and there ain't nothin' s'gonna change my mind about it. Not yew, or your pissy fits." He responded in a stern voice, leaving no room for argument. Ellis was well aware of the dangers that awaited them beyond the safety of this room, especially with a one year old as the newest member of their team. But, by God, he was not going to leave this little girl for zombie chow!
" Frustrated, Nick shook his head and turned towards the door. After a few moments of heavy silence, the con-man sighed and bit the inner skin on his lip. A deal was a deal, after all, and this bet was far from being over in the long run. "Fine. Pack her up and let's go. We sit here on our asses too long, Coach and Ro will wind up thinking we're dead in a ditch somewhere." He roughly grabbed his axe from against the wall and made his way out into the living room.
Ellis smiled gleefully when Nick wasn't looking and set the baby down on the bed to load up on some supplies. She already had some footie pajamas on, so there was no need to worry about clothing. He then took the blanket found in the crib and wrapped the little girl up into a bundle so that she'd be slightly protected from the elements. During his actions, he came upon another problem; there was no way he could carry the girl while wielding a weapon, so he had to find an alternative to a stroller or carrier. There wasn't a piece of cloth long enough to do the job of a sling, until he spotted the big blue curtains rippling gracefully in the open window. The mechanic yanked on the drapery until it was taut and whipped out his machete to slice at the fabric, forming a perfect substitute for a baby hammock. After tying the knot around his torso and making sure there was enough slack, he turned the sling around, placed the baby inside the little curve, and twisted it back around so that the infant was curled up behind him. It wasn't the best make-shift sling, but it'd have to do for now. The last few items he needed were all contained within the baby bag, which he put on like one would a sash, including a baby bottle, some stuffed toys, extra diapers, wipes, powder, and a small towel for spit-ups.
He joined Nick in the den, showing off his baby gear with a thumbs up.
The con-man couldn't hide his amusement when he saw the two. "Ha! You got a whole system worked out there?" He handed the mechanic the rest of the food jars to put in the baby bag.
"Yep," Ellis chirped. "Me and her; we gonna have a good time. Ain't that right, Georgia?"
you named her?" Nick had stopped himself from saying "it" this time since Ellis seemed rather perturbed about before.
"Well, yeah! What else we gonna call 'er? We don' know what her mom and dad named her."
"Ellis, once you've named her, you're gonna start getting too attached, and it'll be that much harder to say goodbye when the time comes."
Nick snorted, "Tch, what? You were planning on adopting her or something? Be realistic, Ellis. You aren't her daddy. The best thing to do when we get out of here for good is to pass her off to someone who can, and is willing, to take care of her. I'm sure there's tons of child-less moms out there who'd love to have their baby back, or at least a version thereof."
"I-I know that. I do."
"Good. Then let's go. We've wasted enough time here already." The con-man exited out the front door and back into eerie hallway.
The baby squirmed against Ellis' back for a second before settling down again, hopefully into a long fitful nap. He glanced behind his shoulder at the tiny face. Nick was right about one thing; she needed to find a proper home after this. Keeping the baby with them wasn't really a luxury he could afford, not that he was thinking about keeping her permanently
Ellis forced himself to stop dwelling on these issues and jogged to catch up with Nick, who had already reached the stairwell down the hall. The only thing he had to focus on now was making sure little Georgia didn't start crying again, otherwise the big bad Nick might huff and puff and throw her to the zombies. But no one could be that heartless, right?
Although, when it came to the con-man
Ellis had a feeling that those forty-five extra minutes added on to his original one hour deal would be a lot longer than he thought.
To be continued...