After finding the pink hoodie, none of us wanted to stop. But the darkness was fast approaching and we knew that we didn’t have the means to continue searching. We found a nearby store and spent the night; tensely I might add. Unfortunately it had been inventoried and emptied for the settlement a long time ago. All of us were getting ravenous; it had been days since any of us had eaten anything. We would need to find something to eat soon. If we didn’t, we ran the risk of not being able to continue the search for the children and other survivors.
Knowing that we had to find something to eat, Julie let us know there was a warehouse for the communal kitchens not too far away. We left at first light, making the decision to check out the warehouse as we began our search for the day. The truth of the matter was that we would need some form of nourishment in the event that we found the children. It would have been days since any of them had likely eaten as well.
Hunger can really affect a person negatively. The last thing that we wanted was for the children to go searching for food, only to be caught unaware by some of the crawlers. It was a worrisome point in that we had no idea in what state we would find them. We prayed they would be okay but the truth was that they could be delirious or even unconscious. They wouldn’t be able to communicate with us if they were passed out from dehydration or malnourishment. We could wander the streets for days calling out to them only to have passed them many times, their small bodies lying lifeless behind the walls, unable to call out for help. It was something we didn’t want to think about but we had to prepare ourselves for how we might eventually find them.
We did try to keep those frantic thoughts at bay. It wasn’t going to help us find them any faster if we panicked. Making our way to the warehouse in search of food was the first course of action that we had to take. Food was essential; it was a priority especially after considering all of the options.
As we travelled the relatively short distance to the warehouse, we noticed the trails of crawler slime ground into the asphalt. Our goal of searching for the children never wavered, we still called out to them as we walked to the warehouse, hoping that they were still close by. Perhaps we would locate them prior to reaching the warehouse. They could be hiding anywhere, in any of the vacant businesses. The trails of putrid slime seemed to point in the direction of the warehouse so we followed them. They were moving toward something, following something; perhaps the children.
Turning the last corner, bringing the warehouse into full view we could see that the crawlers had completely covered the front approach to it. They were so thick, like worms on the surface after the rain, writhing and rolling on top of each other.
Seeing the crawlers made each of us wonder if the children could be inside. While none of us tried to get our hopes up, the fact that the crawlers were there and for no apparent reason as of yet, made us believe that there was someone in the warehouse. We still had a field of crawlers to get through before we’d know for sure.
We put Liam into a vacant store around the corner, knowing there was no way that we could take him with us. He didn’t want to be left alone but in the end, he understood that he would be safer inside and alone while we cleared the crawlers from the front of the warehouse.
We took a moment to check in with the team that was still trying to get into the hospital. They had encountered quite a few obstacles once they got there and had yet to breach the building. From what they could tell, whoever was at the hospital when the Undead breach occurred had secured the doors as best as they could. I don’t blame them; I hadn’t wanted the Undead rodents inside with me either. The team couldn’t get anyone inside to respond to them either as they shouted from the perimeter; they had no idea if there were any survivors holed up inside. Each night they had to retreat to the safety of a vacant house they’d found nearby. Their update last night conveyed the message that they thought they’d finally found a way in.
The problem with just going through a window or some other constrained access point was the desirability for an easy egress. The hospital could very well be full of the Undead, either crawlers or walkers and none of them wanted to be trapped inside with them. The quick radio call revealed they had just gotten inside and were starting to search the different wards. They promised to let us know if they found anything just as we promised to let them know the outcome of our search for the day.
We made a second quick call to the other team searching for the children. They had nothing to share with us. They had no leads to where the children might be. The good news was that in the course of their search, they had discovered 47 other survivors hiding in buildings and vacant houses. They had started to clear some of the streets of the crawlers as they had the manpower to do it as well as look for the children. A group of them had even fragmented off on a mission to see if they could get the power grid back up. It was good news in some regards but the children were the most important thing to us at the moment. They consumed our every waking thought; none of us wanted them to think they had to survive without us, that all of the adults were dead.
We told them where they could find Liam, thinking it best just in case we couldn’t handle the crawlers. Or met something horrible in the warehouse that got the best of us. With that, we left Liam on his own and approached the cinder block facade.
We’d decided it would be better to call the crawlers to us, as opposed to trying to attack the mass of them. As we stood a fairly close distance to them and called, you could see their attention shifting from the building to us. They made a slow advance, allowing us to kill each of them quickly and efficiently. There was never a point where we found ourselves in the midst of being overrun. It was a perfect plan until the unexpected happened.
The door to the warehouse opened.
There were still quite a few crawlers that hadn’t turned their attention to us, intent solely on what was behind the red metal door.
Silhouetted in the doorway was one small figure. A little girl.
She must have heard our voices and recognized them.
Standing in the doorway with crawlers only inches from her precious sneakered feet.
She started to come toward us, mistaking our shouts to get back inside as ones that directed her to come to us.
A frail arm, muscles almost completely eaten away, snaked up to take hold of her ankle.
A scream escaped her lips; surprise, fear, and revulsion all contained in a singular note.
I started to go to her immediately, not wanting anything to touch her. From the corner of my eye, I could see Julie making the same journey, quickly dispatching those crawlers in her way.
Alerted by the scream, an arm reached out the doorway and hauled Lily back, taking the arm of the crawler clear off of its body.
The door slammed shut just as another crawler was about to close in.
Knowing the children were safe, we turned our attention back to the crawlers at our feet. We steadfastly put them all down in haste, wanted to get to the children as soon as possible.
As soon as the crawlers lay unmoving around the building, we called to Jane, letting her know that it was safe to open the door again.
The door opened and one by one the children came outside, gingerly stepped over and around the corpses at their feet.
It was a beautiful sight. They were all still alive. We collected Liam and started to move back toward the hospital, taking the time to radio the other groups that we had found them, safe and sound. It was good day, a good day indeed.