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Episode 3: Long Road Ahead

Chapters

Chapter 17: Goodbye She Quietly Says

Chapter 18: Bad Blood

Chapter 19: Hit the Road

Chapter 20: What Now?

Chapter 21: Handle It

Chapter 22: Unexpected Delay

Chapter 23: Look Behind You

Chapter 24: Lend Me Your Ears


Chapter 17: Goodbye She Quietly Says

Days passed, seeming to drift away completely along with the harsher winds. Soon it would be winter. Most of them feigned ignorance and apathy to the dropping temperatures but deep down, they knew it was inevitable.

Time wasn't the only thing that faded. The group's moral was falling. Hand in hand with hunger, dread and paranoia had begun to accumulate in each of the members' hearts. But, they pressed on with their heads up. The incident at the farm would not pull them down. At least, that was what Mordecai intended to do.

The party had decided that in order to slow the process of supplies diminishing, they assigned Mordecai and Rigby to scavenge for whatever was remaining in the town of Macon. This would occur every once in a while. Margaret had instructed simply, "Sneak in. Gather. Sneak out." The task at hand seemed easy enough. In reality, it was a dangerous and nerve-wracking mission to sneak right into the heart of an enemy territory. However, it was better than sitting around until they starved to death.

Upon returning, Margaret would examine the gathered bundle and it could go two ways from that point. But they were back home. Or at least what they called home. Then, they would mull about with their lives at the motor inn until the next assigned day.

It was one of those days...

This had to be quick, before the walkers caught notice. Sneak in. Gather. Sneak out. Mordecai and Rigby ran along the streets of Macon, over discarded and torn pieces of what seemed to be newspaper headlines. This wasn't the first time they had been sent out on this mission but nevertheless, it never failed to keep the two on their toes. Trying to be quick and silent at the same time was proving to be difficult. They bent low, staying close to the wall as they rounded the sharp corner. Realizing the street seemed to be clear, they parted from the building's side and strode out into the middle. Mordecai and Rigby exchanged wary looks. It looked safe enough out here. Hopefully that went for the inside of their goal.

The streets were silent, other than the occasional rustle of crumbled loose-leaf fluttering freely in the air. It reminded Mordecai of a desert town, except tumbleweeds were replaced by papers and the saloons replaced with pharmacies and what-not.

Rigby arched his eyebrow and the corners of his mouth perked up, "Looks like this is our lucky day."

Mordecai shrugged, but his face shared the smile.

"Well, let's just get to it then,"

Mordecai led the way, looking from side to side for growling predators. They walked up towards a boarded up building. It seemed the messy fortification just wasn't enough to subdue the living dead judging by the blood-stained and jagged shards of glass. Mordecai glanced up.

TIM'S TOOLS & MORE

Strewn about were thin posters advertising mega sales and big savings. Mordecai peered into the gaps between the demolished planks; Rigby covering his flank. Once he signaled that there was nothing useful for the taking inside, they continued on side by side down the empty and long-stretching road.

Rigby groaned, arching his back and rubbing it like an old man, "Mmph..man."

Mordecai glanced at him worryingly, "How's it doing now?"

"..Well, I've felt better."

"Any progress?"

"Yeah, doesn't hurt that much as before." Rigby changed the subject, "Mordecai, where do you come down on stayin' or goin'?"

It was obvious what he was getting at but he still inquired, "You mean, packing up the motel and getting in the RV?"

"Yeah. We've been talking about it, but you made up your mind yet?"

Mordecai thought deeply before sighing, "We should go. The motel's run its course and it's not safe."

"You're damn right it has. We pile into the RV and don't pull over 'til we see water. And if Margaret's dead set on staying…then, well, that's the way it's gonna be."

The pair marched forward, the destination in mind; Quintel's Prescription. As they neared their goal, one could see that a catastrophe had fallen the drugstore. A rusty, faded and scratchy yellow and brown plane adorned with the bolder yellow numbers, 1099 had crashed through the roof of the poor pharmacy, collapsing the top of it and leaving a large wreck. A large red letter D had started to swing off its hinges to join the rest of its fellow letters on the ground somewhere. Mordecai supposed most of the lower exterior damage had been done in by the horde of walkers that had nearly taken their lives. A large supply truck had crashed into the side of the store, nestling deeply inside. There was another vehicle in front of the pharmacy. It was a dirty green-colored military jeep with a symbol on the door; a thin white ring and inside laid a white star.

"Okay, just like last time. Over the rig, into the pharmacy and scrape together whatever supplies are left."

Rigby drilled, looking up at the rusty and near-its-end ladder that perched against the supplies truck.

"We didn't leave much in there." Mordecai remarked, "In fact, I'd be surprised if there was anything left."

"Hey, we're out of options. Somethin's better than nothin'." Rigby began to make his way to the metal rungs. He grouched in pain as he began to scale it. Mordecai stayed on guard. There was a clatter as Rigby bounced off the top rung onto the top of the truck. The top rung had snapped in two flimsy pieces and halfway unhinged off the vehicle, "Shit!" Rigby silently cussed.

"You okay?"

"The ladder's come loose. I'm not sure how many more trips she's got in her."

"I'm not sure how many more trips we've got in us." Mordecai countered and shrugged.

"No kiddin'."

Mordecai sauntered over to the ladder. He placed his hands upon the dangerous contraption. Even when putting only the slightest amount of pressure on it, he was able to wrench it off its remaining link and chuck it to the side. Mordecai shook his head in disappointment. Well, he definitely wasn't going up from there, "Looks like she's had it."

"What now?"

"I'll find another way up." Mordecai answered plainly.

"You do that. Better get a move-on. I'll watch the streets."

Mordecai looked around the surrounding debris for anything. He trot around, past a toppled barrel and found himself in front of the military jeep. Like the sides of the doors, the front trunk shared the white symbol. Upon closer inspection of the grill, he recognized a winch and pulled on it, grunting. Rigby voiced his thoughts during Mordecai's effort, "Margaret's not doin' so good, huh. I mean, before…and now…it's a big change."

"Well, we killed Benson." Mordecai replied, slowing tugging the winch towards the supply truck.

"We did kill Benson." Rigby echoed numbly.

Mordecai finally reached the wheels of the supply truck, bending low to hook the winch onto the trailer axle of the large white vehicle. The hook clamped on tightly. He strode back towards the jeep, flicking on the winch control which curiously hung off the side. It whirred on loudly and Mordecai slightly panicked. Was it loud enough to attract the walkers? He hoped not. The cables between the two links shortened and straightened out as the machine began to pull them together. The small bits of debris on top of the green vehicle began to slide off.

The vehicle pressed on, inching closer and closer to its linked partner. Mordecai followed behind like a pet dog. Then, the two transports collided with each other with a loud crash before silencing completely. Making sure the winch wasn't going to turn on all of sudden again, Mordecai clambered onto the front truck, carefully placing his feet and not to slip. Rigby seemed to be pouring out a bunch of heart today, "Rancis was asking about that guy at Ralph’s house last night."

"Really? I wasn't sure it had phased him." Mordecai arched his eyebrow, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"Of course it did." Rigby looked back down at Mordecai.

"He'll get over it. Felix is one of how many, now? We've all seen a lot worse." Mordecai shuddered slightly at the thought.

"Rancis is a tough kid, ya know. Like I said, not much phases him, but…it's startin' to add up. Ralph’s house, the drugstore, the dairy…" He looked determined, "I need to get to the coast. Get him out of all this madness."

Rigby cautiously leaned over the side and roof of the supply truck, reaching out a hand to Mordecai. Mordecai thought about Rigby's still recovering side wound, "…Uh, you sure you're up for this?"

"Mordecai, I'm fine. I've got this. Just gimme your hand." He smiled reassuringly.

"Well, here goes nothing." Mordecai raised his arm, placing it in Rigby's. After getting what he thought was a pretty good grip he clutched Rigby's forearm with his other hand and placed his legs on the side of the truck, attempting to scale up. Rigby's eyes widened with the effort, struggling to keep Mordecai airborne. The task proved to be too difficult as he winced in pain, "ARRG!" He let go of his hold on Mordecai.

"SHIT!" Mordecai gulped as he immediately flattened against the top of the green jeep with a deep smash. Mordecai felt the air knock out of him. The back of his head fractured the glass pane of the automobile's window. He felt dazed for a moment, his head and back feeling sore, before he snapped back to his senses and looked wildly shocked. Rigby looked down at him, his face resembling the expression. Uh oh. Rigby looked up at the street up ahead for any approaching walkers. After a commotion like this, there was bound to be something that could've heard them, right?

Rigby scanned the streets below him for any sign of the dead waking up. None. At least, none that he could see. He gasped, releasing a breath that he had not realized he had been holding. Rigby looked back down at Mordecai, giving him a silent and bewildered shake of his head.

"Jesus, are you okay?"

"I'm fine. I should be asking that to you. Shit, I'm sorry, pal. I thought it'd be healed up better."

"You're lucky it wasn't any worse… You cou-" Suddenly there was a shrill wail that pierced the air. Rigby and Mordecai flinched, jerking their heads toward the sound.

It seemed to be coming from a woman, "N-N-NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! GO AWAY! GO…G-GO AWAY! HELP ME! AGHHH! SOMEBODY HELP ME! OH GOD! OH GOD!" She emerged clumsily out of the store at the far end corner. The woman was being chased by a lone walker which stalked her movements. She scampered around, before tripping and then quickly picking herself up to scream and run some more. The female was terrified. Her face portrayed the wild expression of bewilderment. Had Mordecai not been looking carefully, he would've assumed she was one of the dead herself. She continued to screech, drawing more walkers to crawl out of their hiding spots towards her. She seemed to have no sense of direction or goal, choosing to resume screaming and run around in circles or in areas where there were no apparent walkers.

"What the—what the hell is that?! A walker?"

"Walkers don't scream, do they?!"

"Jesus! I don't think so."

The woman's screams continued to echo throughout the town. Mordecai looked through the scope of his rifle to get a better look at the girl, "It's a girl! She’s gonna get us killed." The woman was in the midst of barely escaping from her attacking and slowly nearing assailants.

"No shit.”

Mordecai looked through his scope again. It was too late for saving the woman. A crawling walker gripped her ankle and calf firmly and torn into it with its blackened teeth, emitting a hoarse wail from the woman. She jerked her leg away before continuing her deadly dance with the dead.

"Fuck, we gotta shoot her. Put her out of this misery."

Rigby shook his head solemnly and regretfully, "They don't know we're here!"

"What the hell do you mean?"

The yelps continued to bounce off.

"I mean, we leave her alive and she draws them all to her…buying us time."

"Rigby…"

He didn't let Mordecai finish, "Think about it! We're always worryin' about the walkers we can't see –she stays alive and brings them all out of their damn holes!"

Mordecai turned towards the horrendous scene again. He heaved in, breathing deeply. He had to make another choice. Damn choices. Mordecai looked through the field of his gun. Shoot. Or Leave her. The chase was still pursuing. Once in a while, a walker would get close enough and attempt to claw at the woman who would resist and push them back momentarily, "G-GO AWAY! GO AWAY! PLEASE!" Mordecai put the rifle down, figuring that it wasn’t worth attracting the walkers.

“Good.” said Rigby. “We gotta go.”

As the horde slowly closed in on the woman, Mordecai gestured for Rigby to hurry. The two of them hopped off the top of the truck, entering the pharmacy through the back door.

Even from the inside of the building, the jarring cries were still easily and loudly audible. Rigby led the two to a room with many towering faded blue shelves.

"We should be good to clear this whole place out, but we ain't got all day." Rigby began heading down one row of the shelves, "Get everything you can outta these racks. And don't forget underneath the counter this time! I'll clear down here and then we gotta go!" Mordecai straightened a tilted shelf, revealing medicine and other goodies. His arm quickly swooped down to snatch them. Medicine boxes, supplies, energy bars, and more medicines went into his hands. He couldn't believe he had missed this jackpot last time. He circled, looking at what else there was. Then Mordecai realized that the yells of the girl were no longer sounding. Rigby had noticed this as well, "She's gone. There's not much time now." The two of them continued to ransack the shelves.

Most of the shelves had been emptied due to previous trips. Mordecai scurried about, looking for anything for the taking. After emptying one particularly large area of supplies, Mordecai stood up, "I think that's everything!"

"That girl didn't die for nothin' then." Rigby remarked, walking past Mordecai towards a short shelf, "Up and over!" Mordecai realized the door Rigby had just passed by was being angrily pounded against by walkers. How they had caught wind of them, he didn't know. But there was no time to waste. Up and over. He echoed. "We're still clear, let's hustle." As Mordecai passed by the door to the office, it suddenly crackled ear-splittingly as it collapsed roughly onto his side. Several walkers fell along with it, scrambling about, "Rigby! HELP!" Rigby jogged over, and not a moment too soon. He quickly aided Mordecai in heaving the heavy weight off of him.

Rigby raised his pistol, aiming but reluctant to burst off. He looked to the side, "FRIDGE!" Mordecai understood, quickly getting to his feet and pushing it over, knocking to its side and caving in a walker's skull. The door had been blocked. But for how long? Hopefully long enough. Rigby took out the walkers that had fallen along with the office door, "OUT! Let's fucking get out!" Mordecai chased after Rigby, before being confronted with a walker that equipped a pilot helmet. It must've been the poor bastard who'd somehow crashed into the roof.

The walker staggered towards him threateningly, its jaws snapping up and down. "AH!" Mordecai exclaimed, knocking it back with the butt of his rifle. It regained its composure, refocusing on Mordecai. He grunted, smashing against it again. Like it was sick of the constant shoving, the walker threw itself on Mordecai, only inches away from biting him if it were not for the gun that kept them apart. Mordecai resisted, continued to heave the thing off of him. He eventually successfully managed to thrust it away, impaling its chest against a protruding sharp spike. The monster seemed to not be affected by the pain but it could no longer move away from its trap.

Mordecai turned away from it. The walkers were past their barricades now, beginning to stumble closer and closer. Their expressions forever a hungry snarl. Rigby voiced, "Let's go, pal."

Rigby ducked into a large crack in the wall, uncannily and conveniently the rough size for a person to fit through. He disappeared out through the hole and onto the streets of Macon.

Mordecai looked back for the last time. It reminded him of the scene of when they first evacuated the drugstore. Only, things were more cluttered and destroyed and it was harder to tell what was what. His family's drugstore would never ever be the same. Discarding his final memories of the previously happy place, he stepped away from the advancing swarm. With a few moments left, Mordecai slipped out, following close behind Rigby.

Sneak in. Gather. Sneak out. Check.

Chapter 18: Bad Blood

It wasn't too difficult; navigating their way out from the grasps of downtown Macon. Most of the walkers had been drawn to the deceased siren-like woman, munching on her carcass. Once they had made it out of the swarming drugstore, it was smooth sailing from then on. They walked casually side by side. Rigby rhythmically swung the heavily stocked lavender and flower-decorated backpack at his waist.

As they neared their home: Travelier Motel, Mordecai noticed who was on watch. Thomas. Thomas's figure looked glum, slouched forward as if he were carrying a huge burden. He didn't move an inch even as the pair re-entered through the gates. The gates and other wooden fortification walls were riddled with arrows. Damn bandits. Mordecai muttered to himself under his breath. It was as Jolene on the video camera had said; Bandits got their eye on that dairy. As long as they keep getting food from them, you'll be safe. Ever since they had destroyed the walker-infested place, the people in the woods had started attacking them, soaring arrows above their heads. They never came too close though. Mordecai often wondered how many exactly of the bandits were there.

Mordecai wandered in, noting Vanellope, who was muttering to her walkie-talkie quietly. Mordecai smiled. As he walked closer, she must've heard his footsteps or saw the two of them out of the corner of her eye as she pranced towards Mordecai and Rigby, "Hey, stinkbrain, you back from getting supplies?

Mordecai grinned sincerely, "Yeah, we are. C’mon, let’s go to Margaret’s room." Mordecai and Vanellope joined Rigby who knocked repeatedly on the door pane of Margaret's assigned room. She emerged quickly as if she had been expecting them. Now all that's needed is for her to turn 180 degrees in a spinny chair…whatever those are called. Mordecai thought.

Rigby commented on Thomas's shift, "Looks like we got the kid on watch again." Thomas's head perked up for a second at the sound of his name like a dog then sank back down sadly.

She ignored his remark, cutting to the chase, "What'd you get?"

Rigby continued his rant, snorting, "Might as well leave a sign out that says, ‘the men are gone, come and rape our women and children.’”

"Ha." She rolled her eyes humorlessly and coldly. Mordecai handed the rifle to her which resulted in her placing it on her far dresser, "So…what did you get?"

"A lot of stuff." Mordecai answered simply.

Rigby handed her the light purple backpack in which she snatched gladly and immediately. He arched his eyebrow, "We're FINE by the way…" Margaret placed the sack on her messy bed, peering into its contents. The look on her face seemed to look pleased. Somewhat. She thanked them, "Nice work. This will keep us going." It seemed sincere enough, "If we carry on like this, we'll get through the winter here."

"The winter? We'll freeze our asses if we stay here!" Rigby's eyes widened. Vanellope disagreed with the idea too.

“No way, Margaret!” Vanellope hissed.

"Because piling into an RV with you two, after what you did to Benson, is SO appealing." She shot back.

"And why wouldn't it be? Y'know, I'll do whatever it takes to keep everyone here safe.” Rigby countered.

"We're already safe."

Rigby gestured to the defenses outside, "Take a look at the wall out there, Margaret. Those aren't graffiti. Those are BULLET HOLES. We've got enough arrow shafts stickin' out of the damn thing to dry laundry. And that's all beside the fact that Macon is busted at the seams with walkers."

Mordecai supported Rigby's opinion, "We have to go eventually, Margaret."

"We don't have to do anything." Margaret replied. She seemed calm at the moment. That could all change any second though.

Rigby continued, "You didn't want to go because of Benson’s health…but he's gone now." Margaret's eyes narrowed at his statement.

"Easy, Rigby." Mordecai warned.

Eileen and CJ, hearing the ritual commotion, sauntered over. CJ grimaced, "At it again, are we?"

"Can it, CJ." Rigby turned his head to her. She walked away but Eileen stayed, worried for Rigby.

"Don't boss people around." Margaret frowned.

"Well, I'm sorry. But someone around here needs to start making executive decisions for the group though, and I just don't think you're capable anymore, Margaret." He looked down.

Mordecai cut in, "We're strongest together. It can't be you versus us all the time, Margaret. Look, we're sorry for what happened to Benson, but we're in this together now."

Rigby continued his argument. Mordecai had to admit, they were good points, "What about the food situation? What about protection? What about when this place falls? Somebody's gotta be thinking about this shit."

Margaret's voice began to falter, "How has this not been working? We have everything we need!"

"Because of me, Margaret."

"That's B.S., Rigby, and you know it.

"What about medicin-"

"What about medicine?" Margaret interrupted.

Rigby seemed to think for a moment, choosing his words, "…Do you know how we got these supplies?" He arched his brow, lowering his tone, "We got lucky and let a girl get eaten out there."

Eileen's eyes widened in horror, "What…?"

"Some girl. She came screaming out of an alley. She had dead hangin' all over her. She gave us enough time to get everything we could out of the drugstore." He explained.

Margaret was horrified at this new piece of information, "…You just let her suffer like, what, like bait? God, what is happening…"

Mordecai tried to explain and defend themselves, "She was dead anyways.”

"Mordecai’s right. We’ve been busting our asses making these trips.” Rigby reddened with slight anger, "You should be thanking Mordecai for not shooting that girl. Look, Macon and its people aren't savable. It's not a town. It's FULL of walkers and the people who WERE left are dying and wandering out onto the streets." Rigby continued, "It's hell on earth and it's coming this way."

Margaret snapped, raising her voice tremendously, "IT'S NOT GONNA BE EASIER OUT ON THE ROAD!" Mordecai's brow furrowed with worry.

Rigby put his hand on his hip, his voice steady but quiet," How would you know?"

"WHAT I KNOW? I know you're not above murder! I know somebody has been STEALING our supplies – that's right STEALING – and I know the list of people I can trust here gets SMALLER. EVERY. DAY!" She crossed her arms, facing angrily away from the door, "Now everyone GET OUT."

There was no other choice. Margaret would obviously accept no consoling from the members. They heeded her demand and turned away from the door. Rigby turned 180 degrees, looking at Mordecai as if he were expecting a response. Mordecai gave none, instead crossing his arms over his chest and shaking his head regretfully.

Rigby spoke up instead, "Well, she's right about one thing. None of this is getting' any easier." Then he turned and stalked away, his wife following closely behind after giving Mordecai a sad look.

CJ filled the silence after, "Oof. Things are definitely coming to a head now."

"You could say that." He replied, before beginning to walk side by side with her.

"Well, I think you did good today. And I find myself thinking that most days." She smiled.

Mordecai's mood slightly improved at the compliment, "Thanks."

"It's probably worth following up with Margaret about what she was saying about missing supplies." CJ suggested, "With her wound up the way she is…well I just don't want see her paranoid."

"No question."

She arched her eyebrow before breaking into a polite smile, "And I'd like to talk, when you've got a minute or two."

He nodded, letting CJ depart on her way. Mordecai watched her head up the stairs step by step. Half way, she turned to glance at him before resuming. Hmm… what could she want to talk to me about? Mordecai gazed for a second at the closed curtains of Margaret's room and considered following CJ's suggestion.

Over the time that Mordecai and CJ had spent together, their relationship had gone quite well. Mordecai found himself becoming more and more connected with CJ than he could with Rigby. Rigby was a good pal and all and he always had his back in cases of walkers, but they more than often had disagreements. Of course, Mordecai agreed with his idea of packing up and hittin' the road and that the motor inn just wasn't good enough anymore. Was it just friendship between CJ and him though? Mordecai often stayed up a little later than he should've thinking about that. Sure, he was drawn to the fight and kindness in her but…Stop thinking, Mordecai. He snapped himself back to reality.

Mordecai turned towards Vanellope, who had a tired look on her face. “What do you think about all this?”

“We gotta get out of here, Mordecai.” Vanellope said, taking Mordecai and Rigby’s side.

“I agree.”

“Go see what CJ wants.” said Vanellope. “I think Mordy is finally gonna make his mooooove.”

“Maaaaaybe.” agreed Mordecai. “She is pretty hot.”

“Tell me how it goes.”

Mordecai nodded and decided to go talk to CJ. He paced up the stairs, finding CJ leaning slightly over the balcony rails, deep in thought. Her eyes flickered as Mordecai neared, "Talk to Margaret yet?"

"No, not yet. But I will."

"That's a good thing. One of these days, Margaret's gonna go nuts. Or maybe Rigby. It's really frustrating with those two fighting all the time."

"Yeah, they're almost like polar opposites. One wants one thing, the other wants the other."

"Could you imagine if they were combined?" CJ smirked.

"Huh, and who would that be? Marby? Or maybe a Rigaret?" They both chuckled, before it slowly faded out. If the others had noticed their joke, they'd hidden it well.

There was silence for a moment, as the two of them collected their thoughts and chose their words carefully. CJ broke the silence, "…What I wanted to say was, well, I've been thinking a lot. About you."

Mordecai blurted out the words before he could stop them, "I think about you too."

She gave him an awkward look and Mordecai felt like he had misunderstood completely about what she had meant. That wasn't going to be good at all. Then she smiled slightly and his worries faded, "Our group is small."

Mordecai smirked, "You're small."

Okay, she looked even more awkward now. Why? Why did he have to say that?

But then her expression changed to one of worry, confusing Mordecai, "You're a convicted killer." He didn't expect the words at all.

"CJ, Jesus…" he flinched, jerking back slightly.

She brushed aside his words, "And I think people should know. Not because they deserve to and not because you're a bad man. I think the opposite of those two things."

He frowned, silent. CJ took this as a cue to continue, "People need to know because we're hanging by a thread here and I just can't see Margaret talk about you without thinking it's the next thing she's gonna say." Mordecai looked down as he understood, "You don't have to tell everyone, but think about who you trust and take the opportunity while you have it."

"You're probably right." Mordecai sighed.

"Of course I'm probably right. People might be pissed. And telling them might cause some trouble, but it will be a far cry from what'll happen if they don't hear it from you."

"Yeah.." he frowned.

"So you'll do it then?" She pressed.

What choice did he have? Other than the fact that people might hate him and think of him as repulsive? It was like CJ had said, it was better to hear it now from him then later from some other source, "I'll let people know. You're totally right."

"Good. I think it's for the best."

All of a sudden, she smiled mischievously and leaned him to kiss him right on the cheek. CJ whispered in his ear, tickling him under her warm breath, "Don't call me small." Now how was one supposed to react to such a gesture?

He looked to the side, avoiding eye contact for a moment and remained silent.

"Now. Um, is there anything else you want to talk about?" CJ inquired.

"Do you feel safe here?"

"Show me a bath with a heated floor in a highrise apartment and hand me a full-bodied Malbec, and then I'll feel safe. Uh, I don't know, this place is fine but we all know that that could change any second. And not for the good."

He guessed there wasn't anything else to talk about, "I'm going to look into this thing."

"Good idea."

Mordecai strode back down the creaky steps. He thought about what CJ had mentioned. Tell certain people about his past.

The problem was: who?

He had to tell Vanellope first. She had no idea about his past. He's been taking care of her long enough, and he trusts her with his secrets. He knew for sure that his young charge wouldn't tell the wrong person.

Mordecai approached Vanellope, who was leaning against the wall of the building. "Hey, Vanellope."

"Hey, Mordy." Vanellope greeted. "How'd your talk with CJ go?"

"Well, she did kiss me on the cheek." Mordecai answered as a smirk formed on his face.

Vanellope chortled. "There ya go, big guy!"

Mordecai sighed and decided to get this over with. "Vanellope, I gotta tell you something. It's serious."

"I swear to GOD Mordecai, I told Rancis a HUNDRED times that I don't want to read anymore of his Batman comics!" Vanellope groaned in dismay.

"Wha--? No!" Mordecai sputtered. "It's not that. Just listen to me, please."

"Oh, well then what?" Vanellope inquired.

Mordecai took a deep breath. "The day you and I met, I was in a car accident."

"Well, yeah!" Vanellope interrupted. "You're leg was so big that the neighbor's dog would have mistaken it as a giant sausage."

"Will you let me finish?" Mordecai spat impatiently. "The car I was in was a police car. I was on my way to jail for committing a crime."

Vanellope's smirk fell to a look of surprise. "Whoa, seriously?"

"Yeah." Mordecai answered.

"Don't tell me what you did." Vanellope halted the avian, eager to figure it out herself. "Did you rob a bank?"

"No."

"Sell counterfeit Ted Nugent tickets?"

"Noooo."

"Burnt down the White House? That Obama sure was a lousy president."

"I didn't burn down the White House!" Mordecai spat. "I ki--"

"You kidnapped the president!"

"I killed--"

"You KILLED the president?"

"I killed a Georgia state senator for sleeping with my wife!" Mordecai growled.

"Ohhh." Vanellope spoke in a drawl. "Well you could have told me instead of making me guess."

Mordecai face palmed. "You know what? I friggin' hate you."

Vanellope smiled. "No you don't. Now go on and do your thing, Killer."

Mordecai smiled sweetly at Vanellope. It seemed like she didn't care what he did. He looked over to the couple sitting by the couch they have moved out recently. Lets get this over with. As he strode over, he noticed the anxious looks on their faces as they talked quietly between themselves. He wondered what was going on, "Hey you two, how are you doing?"

"We're okay." Eileen replied softly.

"Just havin' a little spat." Rigby elaborated. Eileen flicked her head back at Rigby with a strange look.

She explained her opinion, "We all carry guns now and, well, I don't like it."

Rigby frowned, "It's the way it's gotta be."

"I know…but I'm not getting used to it." She expressed in return before remembering Mordecai, "Oh, I'm sorry, how are you, Mordecai?"

Mordecai glanced at Rigby, "Rigby, you gotta second? I need to tell you something."

"Sure, pal. What d'ya got?" Rigby perked up, curiosity touching his features and tone. He stood from his seat on the couch, wandering to a farther and more private spot. Mordecai stood still for a moment, wondering how the heck he was going to explain this to Rigby and also a lot about how Rigby was going to react. Would he be angry? Would he not care? "People might be pissed. And telling them might cause some trouble, but it will be a far cry from what'll happen if they don't hear it from you." CJ's voice rang out in his head. Yeah, it would be better to just get it over with. He followed behind, but not before noticing CJ observing him from the balcony. It was like silent encouragement.

"It's serious." Mordecai firstly began.

Rigby crossed his arms, "Oh no…what'd the she-devil do to you?"

Mordecai would've laughed if it were a different situation, he said in a tone that told Rigby he was totally misunderstanding, "Shut up, man." He paused, thinking, "I was uh…on my way to prison three months ago."

Rigby's eyes widened to the size of two dinner plates, "No shit?" Mordecai could see CJ in the background, nudging him on.

"No shit."

His friend-in-arms' eyes were still huge. Rigby glanced down for a fraction of second before resuming eye contact, "It wasn't for touching kids, was it?" Out of all responses, Mordecai didn't expect this.

"Gah no way, come on, man...!"

"…What? I gotta ask!" Rigby defended; he seemed extremely flustered at the news.

"No!" Mordecai explained exasperatedly, "I killed a guy in a fight."

He looked strange for a second, glancing anywhere but Mordecai as the new information sunk in slowly. Then he broke out into a slight grin, "Hmm. Musta' been a real piece a' shit if you had to haul off and kill him."

"So we're straight then?"

"Mordecai, look at everything this mess has got us doin' now. I'm sorry you went through whatever you went through. Yeah, we're "straight."" Rigby paced away.

Mordecai couldn't help smiling. That went better than expected. Maybe he was such a pessimist to think that Rigby would hate him for life and never let his family go within a ten-mile radius from him. Or perhaps Rigby would give the signal and all of the group's members would brandish large and dangerous weapons; their target, himself. He brushed away such thoughts.

Mordecai looked away from his group, instead to the scarcely open door of Margaret's room. She had sent them out of frustration and anger but surely she'd calmed at least a bit down. Maybe it was time to tell her. His relationship with Margaret wasn't that horrible compared to Rigby's and her's. Ever since the meat locker incident it had slowly began to go down road. He'd hate to make the bond between them even more strained if she'd figured out that he was a killer from someone else. In fact, maybe she wouldn't even care and say that he was already a killer for plain-out being Rigby's accomplice. Still, he nudged the door open.

Margaret was sitting on the side of her still messy and not-made bed. Her head was placed down on her knees. Mordecai thought again about how he should begin. Should he just start like how he did with Rigby?

Unfortunately for him, he never got the chance. At the sound of his arrival, she sat up, "I'm sorry."

Mordecai found himself conveniently in front of a small chair, falling back gently into it. He paused for a moment, rearranging his words, "You don't have to apologize."

"Did you come in here to give me hell or to coddle me?" she murmured.

"…" He didn't know what to say. Something in his look must've irked her.

"Look. You can take whatever "this" is and… I-I need your help." She poured out, "There's a traitor, somebody, one of us, out there. He or she or they have been taking our things."

No response. He looked down. What was he supposed to say?

"So you don't believe me." Margaret frowned.

Mordecai looked back up sadly but still didn't answer.

"Look…The count's off and it's the good stuff. Antibiotics, oxy, fuck, anything with opium in it."

He finally spoke up, "I see the count and it's fine."

She nodded, understanding the base of his claim, "I keep my own. That one's getting messed with." Margaret grimaced, "I'm a fucking mess right now but I'm not stupid. I know what happens if I start a witch hunt."

Mordecai's brow furrowed, "So you want me to start one?"

"I want you to poke around."

He looked down, shaking his head. Mordecai wondered why he was still here but he decided to let her continue,

"What's there to go on?"

Margaret reached down under her bed, confusing Mordecai. He naturally leaned closer to get a better look. She pulled out a bright yellow and familiar tool, handing it to him, "I found this tossed into the garbage." It was one of their flashlights. Shit. The lens was broken, and it was helluva task to fix one of these.

"Hmm." He grunted, examining it in his hands.

"We don't toss out equipment. We fix it. You'd only try to get rid of a flashlight if you were using it when you shouldn't."

"Seems like you're manufacturing this from nothing."

"Prove me wrong. Or I'll just assume it was you."

Well, shit. No choice now, was there? He nodded unwillingly, "I'll poke around…"

Mordecai left her room, creaking it back into place. On his face was a scowl. All of a sudden from a left was a high but male voice, "A mystery…!"

He jerked his head only to meet face to face with the eavesdropper in question. Rancis. Rancis's face held a goofy, impish, and sly smirk. It was a look that no doubt meant trouble. "Jesus, Rancis!"

"I'm sorry…I heard you guys talking." The eavesdropper shrugged.

"Well you need to un-hear all of that."

As if Rancis had not heard a single word that Mordecai had said, he ran up, tugging on his sleeve, "Can I help?"

"What did I just say?" Mordecai scolded.

Still not a word was paid attention to. It was as if Mordecai's words went through one ear and out the other ear. And as if it wasn't enough. The small boy began calling himself Robin, "You're the greatest detective and I can be Dick Grayson! Your ward…!"

Mordecai frowned, unable to find the words to speak.

"That's Robin." Rancis explained matter-of-factly.

"…I know who it is." Mordecai crossed his arms, displeased.

Rancis peered up at him with begging puppy-eyes. Any second now a wagging tail would sprout and he'd start fetching sticks and Frisbees. Mordecai sighed deeply, uncrossing his arms, “Okay…fine, you're Robin."

"Yeeees!" He cheered, placing his at his waist and puffing his chest out as best as he could. Ah well, he tried, "What do I do?"

"Uh, I-I don't know! Go look around. Let me know when you find anything…weird."

"I'm on the case!" Rancis threw a fist into the air. He ran off, horribly humming Batman's theme song. Kids. Mordecai thought about Vanellope. Rancis and Vanellope were quite different from each other. Vanellope was much more reserved and quite a bit mature for her age. But...in a way, they were similar. They had both still kept their innocence even through all the hell the whole group went through. Mordecai wished it could stay that way.

Mordecai shook his head before re-examining the large flashlight. Could it really be what'd Margaret had said? The flashlight seemed convincing. She was right about how they would try their best to be resource-efficient. He gazed at the broken lens, tracing the jagged, sharp gap's shape with his eyes.

Time to poke around.

Mordecai sauntered over to the supposed area with supposed glass. Sure enough, by the fluorescent chalk doodles on the asphalt, there were shards of glass lying about. Mordecai carefully picked up the largest piece, examining its shape and placing it inside the flashlight's broken lens; fitting perfectly. So did the other pieces. Well, there was his first clue. Whoever had broken this flashlight had obviously not cleaned up after themselves.

He suddenly got a strange impulse to check out the wall on the other side. Mordecai placed a hand on the corner, taking a look. Unless he really was becoming the world's greatest detective; Batman, he had no idea how or why he check it in the first place. Gut feeling, he supposed. There was a quite large "X" that hadn't been there before. Mordecai squinted, scrutinizing the pink sign. He brushed against it with his index and middle finger, taking a powdery and soft material back with them. Huh. Chalk.

Out of the blue, Rancis popped out of nowhere, also examining the potential clue, "Pink. Hmm."

"Rancis!" Mordecai scolded frustratingly.

"A clue!" He grinned, waving his finger in the air.

"Maybe."

"What do you think it is?" Rancis's eyes grew wide with curiosity.

Mordecai took another look at the pink rubbed "X", "I don't think it's anything."

Rancis bent closer, cupping his mouth like one of those gossiping old women on television, "Maybe it's a sign…"

Mordecai had to admit, it sure did look like a sign, "It could be. It's pink chalk, which is weird."

'Robin' put on his superhero voice and professional pose that screamed out I've got this. "Okay, back to investigating!"

As his sidekick sped off, Mordecai stared at a chalk drawing of an orange-y sun on the asphalt. He looked up, wondering if Vanellope had anything to do with the pink sign. He made his way towards the young girl,

"Hey, Vanellope."

"Hey, Mordecai."

"Do uh, you have any pink chalk?"

Vanellope frowned, shaking her head slightly, "No. Why would I have pink chalk?"

"Hmm."

"Psst! Mordecai."

It was Rancis, who signaled subtlety to follow. He headed to him. Rancis reached into his back pocket and rummaged around for a second, "I found something."

"What?"

He pulled the something in question out, "I found this piece of pink chalk and a scuff of it over by the gate!"

Mordecai's eyes perked up, "Really?"

"Totally!" he crowed triumphantly, "I was combing the scene for clues when—"

Mordecai interrupted, brushing his story off, "Yeah, yeah, Rancis. I got it. Good job." As Mordecai paced towards the front gates or more like front dumpsters, Rancis tagged along. Rancis positioned himself between the gates and Mordecai, waving his hand in the air up high, expecting. The meaning was clear. The boy wanted a high five.

Mordecai decided that Rancis was just trying to help. He decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He high fived Rancis. “Cool!” At that point, he thought Mordecai was incredibly awesome. He recovered fast however, posing heroically. Mordecai questioned him, "You didn't break the flashlight, did you Rancis?"

"No…Eileen and Rancis won't let me touch ANY of their stuff. Margaret neither."

Mordecai looked at Rancis strangely, "That's probably for the best…" he muttered under his breath. He bent down, checking out the scuff of pink chalk that Rancis had been talking about earlier. Mordecai pushed one of the gates aside slightly to get a better look of the evidence. It seemed to be the result of a fragment of the pink chalk being crushed by one of the wheels of the dumpsters and dragged, "Somebody was here as well."

"See, I did good, huh?" Rancis nodded furiously.

"Yeah, Rancis, you did." Mordecai congratulated sincerely, "I suppose I should go out there and have a look around. You stay here this time. Seriously."

"Okay." Rancis shrugged.

Mordecai pulled open one of the motel's gates, not before having another glance at Rancis to make sure he was staying true to his words. Satisfied, he crossed it. Mordecai examined the wooden board adjacent to the gate, Those bandits gave us hell, but they've been quiet for days now. Mordecai continued to walk along the motel fortress' boundaries, eventually coming along the side wall of one of the many rooms. The window had been shattered before the team had patched it crudely with a large plank of wood. Near the bottom of the wall, there was a grate. There's something in there…? Mordecai bent down, gripping its bars with his hands and wrenching it off.

There was a bag. Roughly the size of one a kid would bring for lunch. But Mordecai knew it was unlikely for nutritious foods to be inside.

He reached for it carefully, peering in.

Mordecai's eyes widened.

The missing supplies. Son of a bitch…this wasn't good. Not at all.

Mordecai promptly returned from his mission to Margaret's room where he found her still in the same position as before, head down on her knees. At the sound of his arrival, she flicked her head up, "You haven't come up with anything, have you?"

"I came up with this." Mordecai reached into his pocket, pulling out the sack of stolen goods, "It's got a bunch of meds in it! It was in a grate on the outside wall and there's a sign on the other one."

"Holy fuck."

Mordecai crossed his arms in agreement, "Yeah."

"Okay. We line everybody up. Everybody." Mordecai looked down at her sharp words. He had no doubt what she would do to the traitor. If it was one of them.

"Somebody is killing us. Stealing from that supply is the same as slipping into your room at night and cutting your throat while you sleep." It seemed like an exaggeration, "You die. What is the difference? What if Vanellope gets sick and we don't have what we need –" Margaret stopped talking, squinting her eyes and peering out the gap in the curtain at something behind him. What's going on?

She suddenly exclaimed, "What the hell?" Mordecai also looked.

"YOU DON'T FUCKING STEAL FROM US!" A bandit's voice rang out.

"Who the fuck is that?!" Mordecai cried, "They've got our people out there." His observations were true, outside in the general middle-front area of the base, everybody had been lined up. It seemed ironic, considering what Margaret had said earlier. "Y'ALL GONNA GET YOUR PEOPLE OUT HERE. WE AIN'T FUCKIN' AROUND NOW."

"What do we do?!"

"Oh shit!" Margaret expressed, running towards her dresser and reaching for her rifle, "They're gonna start kicking in doors any second!"

"Margaret? What the hell are you-?"

"Stall them." She cut him off.

He couldn't believe what she had said, "What?"

"Just keep them talking." Margaret commanded, hopping out the back window of her room, "Do whatever it takes to stop him from pulling the damn trigger!"

"YOU'VE JUST MADE THE BIGGEST MISTAKE OF YOUR LIVES!"

Mordecai gulped, out of options, "Shit."

"Enough of this bullshit! Drew, start putting your boot to these doors."

"Yeah!"

Mordecai walked forward with his hands in the air, trying to calm down situation. In front of him, all of his group members sat on their knees, their hands held behind their heads high. Mordecai could see several of them shaking with fear.

"Hold it asshole!" The supposed leader of the bandits halted him. It was the same one they had seen in the forest fight before. He wore a white slogan shirt with a ash-grey ski mask covering his entire neck and head, not including the part where you could see his grey-blue eyes.

"Take it easy…"

The bandit didn't reply, a signal for Mordecai to continue, "You think this shit’s gonna get you what you want?! You better getter the fuck out of here!”

“Listen to this hard motherfucker!”

A small head at the opposite wall caught Mordecai's attention for a split second. It was Margaret's. What was she doing…?

"We can split the supplies. Spread them around!"

"Or we could just kill you and take 'em ALL."

"And what about when they run out? When you don't have us out there collecting them for you?" Mordecai continued.

The bandit put his gun down by his side slowly, "Well, I suppose we oughta hash out some terms then."

The bandit to his right, a heavy-built man, who wore a brown baseball cap and dark shades spoke up. Half of the man's face was covered in a thick forest of hair, "I don't like no hash!"

The leader snapped his head to his right angrily, "Man…! SHUT UP OR I'LL—" All of a sudden, a large bang went off and a bullet found its home in his head. "Christ!" Another bandit said as his ringleader collapsed in a heap on the ground. That seemed to be the signal to utter chaos. Everybody began scrambling about, desperate to get out of there. The bandits were confused for a moment. They were mildly concerned for their fallen comrade, before recalling their escaping hostages. Mordecai looked about for the source of the gunfire, before laying eyes on Margaret who sneakily perched behind a wall with her rifle. CJ stood up quickly, grabbing the dead bandit's discarded weapon and firing at the closest bandits. Her first two shots hit directly, immediately putting them down. She was about to fire at the third one when there was an unsettling click of the empty round. CJ dashed out of there before anything else could happen. The third bandit who had got away was attempting to escape. Mordecai raised his sidearm, aiming at the heavily purple-cladded man. He fired, grazing the man's back. Unfortunately, the man was able to get back over the wall, falling onto his behind. The purple bandit whistled loudly and the bandits' ambushed ensued.

Bullets soared over Mordecai's heads, the bangs and booms of weapons firing. Mordecai ran for cover of the RV as two of the pursuers pushed opened the gates of their base.

"Get back there! Smoke him out!"

Thomas, who had been hiding behind the couch, ran for the cover of the RV. As he made halfway, a bandit shot his rifle, nearly clipping him and hitting the far window to his right. He flew backwards, falling down and scrambling out of the way back towards his shelter frantically. Mordecai could hear him cursing to himself repeatedly, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…!"

Rigby ran out of the room that had been shot through the window. He was brandishing his rifle, "We gotta get out of here!"

"No shit!" Mordecai retorted.

The same bandit continued to fire, attempting to take out Thomas from behind the couch. Rigby looked over, "Get those damn bastards!" Rigby ordered, throwing the rifle to Mordecai, "Cover our people and get them to the RV!" Rigby ran towards the door of the RV, throwing it open and quickly stepping inside to get it ready. Mordecai called to CJ and Thomas who hid, "Thomas, stay down!" in which he replied, "Help! Jesus!"

Mordecai peered out from the RV's side, scoping in on the bandits which constantly peeked up to fire and ducked over and over again. "Go around shit for brains! He's back there!" Mordecai fired, piercing a bandit in the head. He saw another crawl over behind a large rectangular box and pulled the trigger, taking another down. Mordecai called towards CJ and Thomas, "Now! Get over here! Hurry!" They reacted quickly, running as fast as their legs could carry them towards the RV. Thomas stopped by the door to thank Mordecai graciously, "Man, you saved our asses!"

"Get inside!" he replied. The vehicle shook slightly at the sudden increase of weight before settling once more.

Their right side gates had also been pushed, "BEHIND THE RV!" Mordecai heard someone shout. He could see Vanellope, Eileen and Rancis hiding in the general area of the ice machine behind large wooden crate. Eileen cried out to Mordecai, holding tightly onto her adopted son, "Help!"

"Eileen! Hang on!" A bald bandit who had been firing at the three's hiding spot was suddenly taken down. But it wasn't Mordecai who had fired. It was a walker. In a desperate attempt to fight it off, he repeatedly and aimlessly fired his weapon, lighting the corner up. To no avail, the man's throat was torn apart by the walker's razor sharp teeth.

Oh shit. This. Was. Not. Good. The sound of the motel's crossfire had attracted the local dead. Any longer and the place would be inescapable. It looked like bandits weren't the only big problem at the moment. As it wasn't enough…!

"Where is he?"

"He's hidin' behind that van! Get your asses around behind that thing!"

Mordecai did his procedure, trying to remain calm. Shaky hands would not do for rifle shooting. He scoped in, pulling the trigger on a bandit who hid behind a barrel. Another one took his place and Mordecai fired again. Double kill. He flicked his scope around, looking for anybody else. He looked back towards the hiding trio and noticed a rugged bearded man attempting to crawl towards them. Mordecai grit his teeth angrily, firing. There was no other bandits attacking from that side and he ordered, "Eileen, Vanellope, Rancis, hurry and come on!"

"Mordy…!" Vanellope rejoiced, running to her savior and giving him a tight hug. “Thanks, stinkbrain.” Mordecai briefly returned it before telling her, "Vanellope! Get inside the RV! It's gonna be okay. Go!" As if it couldn't get any worse, a walker stalked up behind Eileen and Rancis, throwing its self on them.

Mordecai's eyes widened, raising his rifle at it. Luckily, Mordecai was able to shoot the walker in the nick of time. It fell sickingly on top of the two. Rigby flew by their side, helping them up. Mordecai called out to Margaret who was sharp shooting the left side's army of bandits, "Margaret! Get in the RV!"

Rigby burst, "Screw her! Let her stay!" he ran back into the RV with his family. CJ watched as Rigby frustratingly attempt to turn on the engine of the vehicle. She looked out the side window, cursing as she spotted the oncoming walkers, "Shit!" She ran out of the RV, aiding Mordecai as they bought Rigby time. CJ took the left side of the vehicle. Mordecai ran to the right, firing at the staggering but slowly gaining walkers. Come on…come on Rigby! He ran back and forth, taking out one or two at a time. Then there was a roar of the RV as it came to life. Hearing it, CJ dashed back inside. Mordecai followed her, stopping at the door to yell, "Margaret! Last chance! Get down here!"

Margaret heard him, looking back at the scene of the Travelier Motel. Walkers, bandits, gunfire. Destruction. There was no way to reclaim their home. Travelier Motel was lost, "Shit." She swore, running down the balcony's stairs.

Rigby began to drive, slamming the accelerator. The RV's wheels protested creakingly for a second, before beginning to move. Just in the nick of time, Margaret ran through the still-open door of the RV. Rigby steered, driving straight ahead and running over several walkers. He drove through the walls of Travelier Motel Fortress, taking them out almost easily with a loud crash and turning down the streets of Macon. Mordecai glanced out the back window at their progressively disappearing overthrown home. He thought about what had happened that day.

It was…just plain horrible. How could've things gone so bad…so fast?

Chapter 19: Hit The Road

So they drove. Mordecai didn't know where the heck they were going but seeing as Rigby was the driver, it seemed like a good guess that they were headed to the coast. Mordecai and Margaret held onto whatever they could get a good grip on to prevent reckless movement, similar to as one would do on a filled bus. And as soon as the overrun motel they had once called 'home' had disappeared behind the sharp corner, the silence was broken, replaced by confusion and anger.

"EILEEN! Jesus, are you okay?!" Rigby half-yelled, trying to balance the task of driving and ensuring his family was safe.

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" she reassured firmly, still holding onto Rancis in her lap.

Thomas looked as if he were having a mental breakdown, he sat near the back with his head in his hands, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh—" Suddenly he stopped, and looked up at Margaret, "I'm sorry." Mordecai didn't understand what he was apologizing for.

"Everything's fine, Thomas." CJ replied.

"What the hell are you talking about? Everything's NOT fine. We need to figure out now this happened." Margaret started, "We just lost everything."

"Well we're lucky as shit to have this RV!" Rigby commented.

"And nobody died." CJ concluded.

Rigby argued, "Eileen's head is SPLIT OPEN!" He gestured with his head to the horribly bloody wound on his wife's forehead. Her cheek was stain with the flow of red liquid, "I'm fine!" she repeated.

Margaret ignored it all, "Somebody in here caused this."

The driver retorted, "Settle down back there; the bandits have had our numbers for weeks!"

"This is different." She looked Mordecai as if seeking his agreement and undying support, "Somebody was working with them. Whoever it was was slipping them our meds. They didn't get their last package, so they attacked."

"Calm down back there! That's nuts!"

Margaret continued her story, "Mordecai found a bag of supplies hidden outside the wall." The others looked at Mordecai to confirm. He shook his head regretfully, "It's true."

Then Margaret snapped her head up and looked at the RV's occupants, eyeing each of them like a hungry vulture, "So, CJ, is there something you want to say?"

CJ's brow furrowed deeply and she scoffed, "Please." Mordecai couldn't believe that it was her. It was CJ! Why should she steal medicine? And it didn't make sense if she had told Mordecai to confess to his past secrets that she would hide hers.

"We have to get it out of you then?" Margaret pressed.

"Back. Off."

Margaret snorted slightly, "You're in NO position to make demands."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, you're just pointing fingers here!"

Mordecai stood up for her, "CJ's trustworthy. She's not a traitor, Margaret."

"Thank you, Mordecai."

Margaret stared at Mordecai, "She can fight her own battles. Unless…there's something going on here that implicates you both."

"Don't be ridiculous." CJ shook her head, frowning once more.

The air in the RV was becoming tenser and more uncomfortable by the second. Mordecai felt anxious, looking from side to side even though he was innocent. Everybody else seemed to share the same experience. Thomas suggested hesitantly, "Like, look, maybe we should, uh…vote or something like that!"

"Vote?! What." Margaret's eyes widened with utter disbelief.

"Just, look! CJ is, uh stand-up kinda gal and maybe, maybe this was all just a mistake."

The 'stand-up kinda gal' cut in, "We need to look at the facts. Let's calm down, we'll eat, and then we'll deal with it."

Mordecai tried to calm Margaret down, "Let's just let it go. People make mistakes and yeah, this is a fucking doozy, but, it's not worth it, Margaret."

"Then what do we NOT forgive? Honestly, tell me. Rigby can fucking kill Benson; CJ can steal from us? Where's the line?!"

"Nobody was stealing ANYTHING!" Thomas tried to persuade, crossing his arms even tighter.

"Was it both of you?" Margaret leaned in closer, staring into Thomas's eyes.

He jerked his head back, "WHAT?"

"I've seen you two together. Was it both of you?" Mordecai couldn't believe Margaret was claiming things based on facts like this. Just because they were seen together, they were suspects? Mordecai was with CJ before, he was with Thomas before, the next thing you'd know, she'd be saying that she saw the whole group together and it was some ploy. Margaret was losing it.

"Look, just let me out. I didn't do it, but, I don't like this; I don't like where it's headed." Thomas shook his head frantically, looking from CJ, Mordecai, and then back to Margaret.

She leaned in even closer. Mordecai could imagine her playing the bad cop of a Good Cop, Bad Cop game very well, "Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn't have anything to do with it."

CJ interrupted, trying to help Thomas, "Margaret, lay off of him."

Thomas gulped, his face showing extreme panic and confusion, "I—"

All of a sudden, there was a large wham from the front of the vehicle as the RV collided with something. Everybody shifted their heads, momentarily distracted from the overwhelming and troubling topic at hand. The RV kept driving. There was sharp, scratchy noise as the rammed object became lodged between the wheels of their get-away vehicle. "Shit!" Rigby swore, losing slight control of the RV for a moment.

"What's going on up there?" Margaret yelled from the back worriedly.

"I hit something." Rigby said matter-of-factly, "We gotta stop." He began slowing the large vehicle down, turning to a stop on the side of the road.

Margaret leaned in back towards Thomas, "All right, well, we can deal with this now, then."

As they finally came to a stop, Mordecai let go of his grip on one of the many up top cabinets, "Rigby, is it safe?"

"Should be."

Margaret ordered, "Everybody out."

"Margaret…" Mordecai frowned. This was not going to end well.

"Out!" Margaret commanded, walking past Mordecai and down the few steps. The rest of them followed out. Rigby exited through his side door to examine the damage. They looked around warily for any signs of the dead. There was a faint croak of a walker coming from under the RV. So that's what we'd hit, Mordecai thought. It almost sounded as if the lodged walker was crying out of pain instead of the usual groan for flesh. Margaret bent down, carefully taking a look at the trapped thing. It wiggled its legs weakly and aimlessly. She got back up, "Rigby, the RV has some surface damage but there's a walker trapped underneath."

Rigby crouched to validate it, "God dammit. Everyone, keep your eyes peeled."

Leaving Rigby to solve the undead problem, Margaret continued her persecution-like interrogation, "You know what, we shouldn't just kick you out, we should hear what everybody thinks."

Thomas flailed his hands down, "I think you should chill out!"

CJ shouted, "I'm NOT gonna take this. You can push Thomas around but you're not going to push me around!"

"Well, I'm really sorry you feel that way." Margaret crossed her arms over her chest, "I'm starting to think maybe it was both of you."

Mordecai defended, "There's no way it was CJ. It was somebody else. It could've even been someone sneaking into our camp."

"That's ridiculous. That's what you actually think?" Margaret spat.

"Yes." He frowned in return.

"Okay, fine then." Margaret gave up on Mordecai's support, "Rigby?"

Rigby peered up from his work in front of the RV's grill, "I don't know! Fuck! Just, stop, would ya?!"

"Well your vote counts for you and Eileen." She replied.

Thomas screamed, beginning to lose his cool, or at least what was left of it before, "We don't need all these VOTES! What do I have to do for you to TRUST me? I'll do ANYTHING! I'll-I'll do watches for a month!"

"Hah. The hell you will!" Margaret laughed in his face.

"I'll get more food! More medicine! ANYTHING!"

Mordecai interrupted his hysterics, "Stop panicking! Seriously Thomas, you need to stop and just take a breath."

Margaret looked back at Mordecai angrily, "Do we need any more evidence than this?!"

"Fuck EVIDENCE! Stop treating him like this." CJ spoke up.

"Shut up, CJ, UGH, I've heard enough out of you." She looked back in Rigby's direction, "Rigby! What's it going to be?"

"Just...give me a damn minute!" Rigby barked.

"Thomas, you have until that walker is dealt with to tell me it was her and not you!" Margaret continued.

CJ attempted to defend him, "Stop this. You're torturing him!"

"NO..!" Thomas tried to refuse before being cut off again by Margaret's snarl, “THOMAS!"

"Stop!" CJ repeated.

Margaret grimaced frustratingly at CJ before turning back towards Thomas, "This is all about trust and I've NEVER trusted you."

“Margaret, lay off.” Mordecai said calmly.

"I can't, Mordecai." Margaret growled. "You know I can't!"

“Thank you, Mordecai.” CJ spoke in a thankful tone.

"Please don’t kick me out of the group!" Thomas pleaded to Margaret.

He tried to reassure the hysterical teen, "We won't."

"Tell me. Now." Margaret grit her teeth.

Then there was the loud rumble from the front of the RV as Rigby dislodged the walker, "There. I got 'im."

Thomas pleaded, "Please…let's just get back into the RV."

"That's not happening." Margaret snapped back.

That's when CJ spoke her mind, "You think you're some tough bitch. Like nothing can hurt you, but you're just a scared little girl. Get the fuck over it." Margaret glared daggers at her. If looks could kill… CJ continued, "Take a page from Mordecai's book and try helping somebody for a change."

Then there was splattering and crunch of bones and brain from the result of Rigby stomping roughly on its skull. Everybody turned to look. Mordecai felt Margaret subtlety reach behind her back. Rigby joined the party, "Now what the fuck's the problem?" CJ began looking back towards the center of the group when there was an ear-splitting bang and blinding flash. CJ’s red-splattered body hit the muddy ground. Similarly, Mordecai's heart plummeted. He blinked incomprehensively, wondering and hoping this was all just a bad dream; that he would wake up anytime now and he would be back at the Travelier Motel with everyone.

His vision went blurry and he realized that he was starting to tear up. Everybody stared at the fresh corpse. Margaret's eyes also went to her victim, her breath heavy and unsteady. Mordecai could see that her hand was shaking from what she had done. It was getting harder to breath.

..Why? Why? Why? WHY? WHY…?! He thought, snarling as he pinned Margaret's body against the RV's side, shaking the vehicle and rattling the gun. Mordecai trapped her arms, more so the one holding the cursed weapon, "Drop it!" he half-whispered, half-screamed in her face. Margaret looked dazed. She weakly tilted her head to the side, making sure she still could still at least control her hand. Her hand limply released the pistol and it fell loosely to the side. Rigby, Thomas, and Vanellope stood by their murdered comrade's body. "Holy fuck…" Rigby murmured. Thomas bent down to see if there was any hope. Any trace of a flicker of life inside the woman's body. Eileen cried from her passenger seat, hearing the commotion, "Rigby! What's happening?!"

He responded quickly, "Keep Rancis away from the windows! Jesus CHRIST!" Rigby joined Thomas's opposite side, also checking. Vanellope had a look of shock, mixed with sadness as she gazed at CJ. Rigby suddenly stood, going to Mordecai and Margaret's position, "GET IN. We're leaving this crazy bitch!"

Margaret spoke under her breath, "She couldn't be trusted, Mordecai. I swear. Please."

Thomas looked up from his crouched form, "What are we going to do with her…?"

"Leave her for the walkers." Rigby answered plainly. With the loud noise that Margaret's gun had produced, there was no doubt going to be trouble lurking in the treacherous growth. There were only two choices really, to either let her come with them or to leave her for the walkers. Mordecai's decision was almost easy in his mood right now. How could he let the killer of CJ just be allowed to live? It was sick. Back in the meat locker with Rigby, Vanellope and Margaret and Benson…no that was different. Benson was dead. There was no coming back from a heart attack as severe as that and there was no medicine at the time! It was different. CJ was murdered in plain cold blood. Benson was killed for the sake of the group. He pushed himself off of her,

"You're not coming with us."

Her face fell, "I'll die out here."

Mordecai bent down to scoop up Margaret's dropped weapon. He almost cringed at the touch of the thing that killed her, "I don't care." He replied calmly and coldly. Now, without a weapon to defend herself, it made her chances of survival even duller.

Rigby spoke up for Mordecai's lack of words, "You're a murderer, Margaret. We can't have you with us."

"I'm a murderer?! You've had Mordecai with you this whole time!" She revealed.

"I don't care what he did before." He snapped back.

The surprise was clear on her face, "You know?" Her expression remained the same as she looked frantically around.

"Yeah, he told me. And I don't give a shit. If we keep you with us, how long until you get ME?"

"…I was trying to protect all of us…" The deep silence of the two men cued her to continue, "I don't have anything left…"

Rigby stared at her strangely, before ignoring her completely, "Get in, Mordecai. Let's go you guys."

Margaret looked up sadly. It was saddest Mordecai had ever seen her look, even more than when Benson died. If she was looking for pity from him, then she wasn't going to get any. He couldn't forgive her. She watched as Thomas re-entered the RV. Mordecai stood for a few seconds, scrutinizing Margaret. Then he shook his head and started back up the steps. He stole a quick glance at CJ's corpse, before sighing and closing the door. Rigby started the engine. There was the sound of a walker finally starting to approach the area as they began to drive off. Mordecai looked through the thin cracks between the blinds of the back window. Margaret got off the side of the road and stood in the middle of it, watching them go. Perhaps she could even see him watching her. Suddenly she spun, realizing the walker's presence and took off, running towards the woods. Her form barely became visible as the RV drove and drove. She was gone.

Chapter 20: What Now?

NOTE: I apologize if their's any typos or off the wall dialogue. I didn't have time to edit this part from my private version of this story to the public version, so bear with me.

A voice from the front of the RV called to him, interrupting his thoughts, breaking the silence and lifting up the suffocating atmosphere of their mobile shelter, "Mordecai? A word please?" It was Eileen. There was a feeling in her tone that made Mordecai feel uneasy. As if he couldn't feel worse. Before he went to Eileen, he turned to Vanellope, concerned for the young girl. She had seen the same things as him, but for a young kid like her, it could do some fucked up damage, "You okay?"

She ignored his question, quietly answering, "Go see what Eileen wants."

Mordecai made his way to the front of the RV, holding onto the side for balance, "What's up?" he solemnly asked. He could see Eileen's expression in the mirror. Or more like, the lack of it. She looked over to Rigby who glanced back silently. They certainly did not look like bearers of good news. Mordecai stared at Rancis who leaned into Eileen’s lap, he didn't twitch a muscle, "Is Rancis feeling all right…?"

Eileen didn't need to reply with words. She robotically moved her hand down towards the hem of Rancis's shirt. She raised it. Mordecai felt stunned.

There was a purple, round, bruise-like wound on Rancis's waist. Mordecai knew with no doubt that this was no bruise. Etched around its circumference were red marks that upon closer inspection revealed to definitely be teeth marks. Human teeth marks. "What the fuck…" Mordecai whispered in horror. It was like that time back outside the drugstore where Rancis had been pursued and pushed down by a walker. Luckily, the walker had been killed and Rancis managed to get away physically well but it seemed that his luck had not carried onto today's assault.

"Happened during the raid." Rigby explained quietly, his eyes focused steady on the road up ahead. Mordecai recalled the walker that had attacked the two of them. He felt guilty and somewhat believed it was his fault even though he immediately shoot the monster off of them.

"What's the plan? We've never had a bite victim in the group before."

Eileen responded, "I'm…going to keep an eye on him and see what I can do, from a medical perspective."

Rigby continued, "We keep the same plan unless something changes. East."

It seemed like risky and those plans seemed far-fetched. Rancis looked pale and his face looked hollow and thin, "Guys…" Mordecai started before being interrupted by Eileen, "What else is there to do?! We thought you should know."

Rigby took his eyes slowly off the road, turning to look at Mordecai, "Important to stay honest with each other." He sadly remarked.

Eileen murmured, "Anyway, if you could tell Vanellope…we would appreciate it."

Mordecai nodded solemnly, turning to Vanellope who sat on the brown, fabric, built-in sofa. She looked down, lost in her thoughts. At the back, he could see that Thomas sitting at the far back table with his head in his hands. He looked visually depressed with the recent occurrences. Mordecai couldn't blame him. Mordecai sat down next to the girl on the couch. Mordecai looked down at the young girl. It was hard enough to tell her that her friend was bitten. She was already sad. Mordecai felt adverse to the idea of making her even feel worse. But it had to be done. He plainly spoke, "Rancis is bit."

She looked up, confused, "What?"

"He got bit by a walker trying to escape the motel."

Vanellope looked back down, "No…that’s terrible. I was growing fond of him." Mordecai didn't know what to say. She continued, "What about CJ?"

“I can’t believe Margaret killed her…" Mordecai closed his eyes and felt tears running down his face.

"Just let it out, Paco."

"…It's…horrible."

Vanellope frowned and then placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. She’d never seen Mordecai so wrecked before. It broke the girl’s heart. There was a moment of silence, as they thought of their losses, mourning them.

Margaret was gone. Mordecai couldn't lie. At first he'd somewhat respected Margaret's courage to attempt to lead the group to safety. He guessed that that courage and strong resolve had slowly begun to crack and dissolve into a shallow cry from what it had once been. It had been destroyed by it all. This hell they were all in now. Mordecai vaguely recalled the words of the police officer that had been driving him to prison. He found that they perfectly fit for Margaret and perhaps the rest of the group. It goes to show, people will up and go mad when they believe their life is over. And the apocalypse had ruined their lives. Taken it and merely stomped on it to smithereens. Maybe he was part of the reason she had snapped. Rigby too. He and Rigby had put down Benson, the only thing she had left. He could understand why she had said those words earlier. Mordecai didn't want to pity her because of CJ but…it was…difficult. They all needed a break from it all. Margaret included.

Margaret was gone. Just like CJ. Despite her strange personality, Mordecai had admired her morals. He couldn't remember if he had even thanked CJ for saving them back outside the pharmacy. Without her, (and Gloyd of course) they would've never made it out of there alive. Then she had agreed to keep his secret of being Mordecai Quintel the Convicted from the others. CJ had helped him out a lot, not including the drugstore, there was the countless of times during the three months they had holed up at the motel, the time during the fight with John, and recently when she told him to tell people about his secret. If he hadn't, Margaret would've revealed it all and everybody would probably hate him for it. Truly, he was thankful. But…she was gone; left to bleed out on the cold, muddy, wet ground. There had been no time for a proper burial or even time to mourn. His heart ached. Maybe he did like her. Probably. He guessed he liked her smile and the way she could stand up for herself. That's was probably one of the reasons why he was so angry. Okay fine, maybe the biggest reason.

Margaret was gone. Just like CJ. Just like their home; the Travelier Motel. Even though it was often uncomfortable to go on about life in their make-shift home, they had somehow managed. Everyone was grateful though and didn't complain much except for Rigby who vowed to head to the coast. But even he couldn't deny that that place was their own little haven that could protect them slightly from the dangers of the undead world. There were those days that Mordecai would wake up in his firm bed and wonder, where is this? This isn't my home. What the hell? It would then hit him, and he would remember that it wasn't a dream. This is reality and you'd better get used to it. Then the whole process of readjusting to it would repeat. And it was true; the Travelier Motel wasn't his home. It wasn't his home with its TV, radio, stove, refrigerator, internet, and all those other little things. But it was now. Well, at least then. But what about now? Now that his home was destroyed, when everything was torn down by bandits and walkers…Where was his home? Where was his little haven? Mordecai didn't know.

Margaret was gone. Just like CJ. Just like their home. And it was all taken away by this new world. Now, this world was going to take away the friend of Rigby and his beloved wife Eileen; Rancis. Mordecai had to admit, he'd thought Rancis to be quite the troublesome little kid. He didn't belong in this world. He didn't deserve it. Rancis was just a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky, (and maybe a bit dumb) kid. He couldn't hate Rancis though. When it had been Mordecai’s turn to stand on watch at evening, Mordecai had admired the happy acts that had been done by the two kids in the group.

In a past life, a long time ago from this new one, Mordecai would often find himself looking in the mirror, pinching at his face and staring at the wrinkles on his skins. Those wrinkles would become even more deepened by the frown on his face. He felt like his time and youth was ticking away. But now, for Rancis, even for a little kid like him who was not even half Mordecai's age, time seemed to be fading from him. Tick. Tick. Tick. The steady drops of water accented the time and also told Mordecai that time was not only passing but running out. Tick-drip. Tick-drip. Could there be a cure? There could be, but Eileen was just a veterinarian, not a professional doctor. Tick-drip. Tick-drip. So they would be going east until there was a change. But…wasn't this a change in the plan? Two members gone and a bite victim in the midst? If that wasn't a change, then Mordecai didn't know what was. Tick-drip. Tick-drip.

Mordecai looked down at the little girl sitting next to him, wondering. She had been through worse. Vanellope had told him more about the beginning of this all, because he had missed it during the time of the police car crash. Although he had missed it, he believed himself luckier than if he hadn't. Apparently, Mordecai had gathered that he had been in the police car from the crash for three days, falling in and out of consciousness. That would explain why he had been life-threateningly dehydrated when he'd woken up. Then, all that had happened. But Vanellope, she had stuck out those three miserable and horrifying days on her own, in her tree house. It seemed like a silly idea, living in a tree house for three days. Mordecai wondered how she'd managed it. What about food? What about water? She must've heard the screams of her neighbors as they opened their doors to be greeted by the hungry jaws of the dead. Three whole days. Alone. Mordecai wondered what would've happened if he hadn't found her and shuddered at the idea. Now she was here with the group. Mordecai remembered the answering machine back in her house, the sound of her mother's voice on the verge of tears. It didn't seem likely that her parents were still alive but he would never say it out loud to her. It was a horrible experience for Mordecai to realize that his family were dead, but for a little girl like Vanellope? Vanellope was strong. There was no doubt about that.

"I'm glad I have you." Mordecai spoke up.

"Me too." She smiled, then she started her story, "I heard you outside my tree house that day and thought about dropping a hammer on your head."

"Hm? Why?" Mordecai smirked despite the conditions.

"I thought you were up to no good." Vanellope explained, "Before you, there was this other guy. He was yelling and trying to get into my house. He wanted to take the TV and tried to break the glass door with a rock. Then some walkers came and scared him away."

Mordecai frowned at the idea before suddenly smiling, "The door was open."

"He was dumb." She grinned.

Then the silence returned, but it was welcomed and seemed a bit more comfortable. Vanellope closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Mordecai looked around in the RV. There was the constant drip drip drip drip of water from the sink. Thomas sat depressingly while Rigby and Eileen drove on silently into the night. Rancis's legs twitched and Mordecai worried for a moment.

All of a sudden, there was a quiet moaning sound that increased in volume. The little girl sitting suddenly snapped back up and threw herself on Mordecai, snapping her jaws up and down, trying to get a bite, "Vanellope! FUCK!" He raised his arms, desperately and confusingly trying to push her off, "What the fuck happened?!" Did she get bit as well?! Is that why she said she wasn't feeling well? Even if she was a tiny little undead girl, Mordecai was having a hard time keeping her off his throat. Then, he lost his grip and she closed in, bringing her mouth to his throat.

He could almost feel her sharp teeth biting into him when Mordecai jerked awake. He gasped, heaving deeply as he looked around his surroundings. No hungry little, undead girls apparently. It was all just a dream. Mordecai had apparently fallen asleep along with Vanellope. He looked down at his dozing young charge. She smiled in her sleep, hopefully dreaming about a place better than this. He slowly shifted his position, placing her sleeping form gently onto the couch. Light peeking in through the gaps of the shades seeped into the RV, creating interesting patterns on the walls and floor. Mordecai made his way towards the family in the front, checking up on the situation. They had apparently been driving throughout the whole night. Mordecai could see the tiredness in the eyes of both of them.

Rigby cursed, "Dammit, road's blocked." The RV slowly came to a stop, "Now we gotta deal with this..."

The RV stopped in its tracks, parking in front of a train that had derailed in a collision. Several cars lay around it in different piles; they had been battered away by the train. Mordecai pushed open the RV's door, stepping outside and taking a deep breath. Thomas and Rigby followed suit. He walked towards the train crossing. What now? The train lay directly on their lane, making a messy cross as it taunted them. Mordecai shifted his eyes towards the surrounding shrubbery, wondering if they could maneuver around it somehow.

As if reading his mind, Thomas voiced, lightly crossed his arms, "Is there any way to get around it?"

"Doesn't look like it. On foot, maybe. Can't really afford to do that now." Rigby sighed.

Mordecai carefully scrutinized the scenery, looking from side to side before reporting his observations, "This seems like a safe area. All this brush around here will stop anything from creeping up on us." The others nodded, taking note.

Vanellope stepped curiously off the RV. Along with everyone else, she frowned as she watched Eileen help her friend struggle onto his feet, his knees buckling. When Rancis found his point of balance, the three of them began to walk towards a nearby corner which held conveniently placed logs, resembling a campfire square which was missing its key feature: the warm fire.

Thomas turned his attention away from the scene to Mordecai, "Why don't you and I go look around?"

Mordecai agreed, "Yeah, good idea. Everyone else relax. Vanellope, you stay close to Rigby and Eileen, got it?" Vanellope nodded in response to his request.

Eileen spoke softly, "Mordecai, if you come across anything to drink, if there's a dining car or something like that. I think Rancis is a bit dehydrated."

"It's a freighter, hon." Rigby corrected her, before turning to Mordecai, "Be careful in there."

"What, you think there might be something dangerous inside of an abandoned locomotive? Hadn't crossed my mind." Mordecai replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

Mordecai found Thomas leaning over the linked area of the train. He thought about the way Margaret had pushed him around like a rag doll back there, "What would you have done with Margaret?"

"I don't know…left her? I've never seen anybody…kill someone like that before." He shivered at the thought.

"You've seen a bunch of other stuff by now."

Thomas looked down, muffling his voice, "Yeah, but not like that."

"You, uh, happy you stayed with us all this time?"

Thomas's face melted into a smile, "Yeah!"

"Really?"

"It's with you guys or…dead." He quickly explained himself, "I woulda died out there in the woods, just like my classmates."

"Well you think this is better?" Mordecai leaned in intimidating.

Thomas leaned away from his approach, "Yeah, of course."

Having nothing else to say for the moment, Mordecai decided to begin checking out the red boxcar. Outside of the locomotive seemed fine at first glance. The box car was red…or was it maroon? It looked as if there were previously white stripes but they were worn out from the years of work and were not covered in smothering dirt. The paint was chipped and it was rusty to touch. Mordecai peered in through the vertical window of the boxcar's door, making sure the coast was clear. It opened with a creaaaaaaak that made Mordecai cringe.

Stupid pet-peeves.

Upon entering the boxcar, the first thing Mordecai noticed was the amount of objects taking up the whole of one side of the boxcar.

The ground was blanketed with papers along with a long but thin dirt-colored mattress. There were also a large number of boxes that were positioned to resemble furniture. A blue and small recycling bin had been turned upside and positioned next to the mattress to act as a sort of bedside. Up top on this bin was a water-bottle. To the north of the mattress was a lawn chair that looked so frail that it would surely collapse if a blond girl named Goldilocks were to sit on it. A larger crate with the text SHOE OUTLET was adjacent to the chair to serve its user as a table. Mordecai stepped closer to get an ever better look. As he got closer, the larger boxcar door to his left slid open loudly and he could see Thomas. Thomas turned his attention to the crude living space, "Woah."

"Woah indeed. Somebody's been living in here."

Thomas kicked up onto the boxcar's floor, "Yeah, man. Shit. Think they're gone?"

"I hope so, but this looks recently used." Mordecai murmured worriedly, "Be on the look-out and have your guard up."

Mordecai bent down, looking over the disarrayed area. A clipboard caught his eye and he scooped it up. A map of where the train goes. He thought, examining it. I think these tracks might lead to the coast. Route 27, Savannah. That's where Rigby's got us headed. He pocketed the map. Remembering the water bottle, Mordecai grabbed it. I'll take this to Eileen for Rancis. Not finding anything else interesting, Mordecai exited through the door he had come through. Thomas was back between the links, leaning over onto them. He still seemed to carry the effects of last night with him. Mordecai leapt over from the platform to the platform across like a school kid, catching himself on the rails. Now what do we have over here...

He walked along the side of the train, before coming to a number of engine compartments along its wall. Eenie, meenie, miney, mo. He opened up the second one, discovering a set of worker's tools perching along the doors opposite side. A spike remover, a spanner, and a monkey wrench. He held each tool in his hand, testing its weight. Mordecai decided on the monkey wrench, bouncing it on his palm and grinning. This would be perfect for walker-killin' and it would be good in a time for tools. He closed the compartment's doors, moving on to the next. Mordecai opened it up, revealing nothing and he shook his head, reclosing it. He went back to the first compartment. Mordecai pried open the doors. Inside seemed to be some sort of machinery. To the side of the machinery was a set of buttons probably needed to work the train. Under the buttons was a number "9" that had been neatly etched in. He twisted one of the buttons, testing it. Nothing. Same as the third compartment, the fourth also held nothing.

Mordecai made his way towards the train's cab. Immediately, his hand went for the door before he catching himself. Don't get ahead of yourself, Mordecai… He bent his head down to peer through the translucent, dirty glass. There was somebody or something in there in the train driver seat. "Shit." Mordecai cursed. It was loud enough that Thomas heard him, curiously peeking from his leaned position and heading to Mordecai's back. Mordecai examined the body, making sure his eyes weren't tricking him. He turned to Thomas, whispering, "We got one."

Thomas leaned closer and Mordecai continued, "Walker. Sitting in the chair. We got 'im."

He didn't even consider using his pistol to shoot it through the glass because of the noise. The monkey wrench would have to do. He replaced his hand on the handle, pulling the door open. The thing didn't react to the noise. Mordecai got closer, smashing it in the head with his wrench. It fell over onto the control panel with a slump. Thomas breathed a sigh of relief.

"Suppose we ought to look him over." Mordecai spoke.

"Yeah."

Mordecai got closer, holding his breath from the putrid stench. He lifted the engineer by the arms, throwing him to the ground with a weak thump. It was a man. Was. He didn't look as if he had ever showed the physical features of a walker. In front of the carcass was a large breakage of glass and dried, brown blood dripping from its shattered edges. Part of his face was caved in from a large impact, presumably from the window.

"I don't think this guy came back…" Thomas said, leaning in closer to take a better look.

"Christ…" A light caught Mordecai's attention. It was one of the numerous buttons on the front of the control panel. It was flashing orange. "That light is blinking."

"Push it!" Thomas urged, his face lighting up with another one of his strange ideas.

"…Push it?" Mordecai blinked blankly at what he had just heard from the boy's mouth.

"Yeah, why not?" He encouraged.

"Are you fucking serious?"

Thomas jumped forward, taking matters into his own hands, "Here, look." He jabbed at the button.

All of a sudden the area around them was enveloped in the loud sizzle and hiss from the outside of the train. Rigby looked up from his duty of watching the rest of the group. Then his face melted into a satisfactory smirk.

The teenager was giddy at his work, "It's just the brakes."

Mordecai eyed Thomas strangely, before sighing with a smile on his face, "Okay, I'll give you that one."

Rigby suddenly materialized behind them at the door, spooking the two of them, "This fucker WORKS?"

"Seems like it." Mordecai crossed his arms.

"Well I'll be damned." Rigby threw himself into the driver's fluorescent orange seat, rolling it into place with his feet, "How the hell do we get it movin'?"

"I don't know." Mordecai gestured to Thomas as he peered over his shoulder, "Ask Mister Amtrak over here."

Thomas looked up from dragging out the engineer's body to the front of the train, "No clue."

Mordecai pulled the map from his pocket, handing it to him, "We found this in the boxcar back there."

Rigby turned to pace around the small room while examining it. Mordecai didn't have to see his face to hear the disbelief in his voice, "Whoa…is this what it looks like?"

"I think so."

"This hoss will take us right to Savannah. A hundred tons of steel! Put a thousand walkers between us and the ocean and we don't have to give a shit! I can't believe it…" Rigby gasped, blinking several times to see if it truly wasn't a dream. "Try to get this thing started. There's gotta be some sort of…manual or somethin'."

"Ha, I don't know about that." Mordecai snorted lightly.

"That's the spirit." Rigby seemed to be perked up again.

Thomas entered through the front, finished with disposing of the dead body. Rigby looked up from his seat,

"Thomas, if you could keep an eye on the girls and Rancis, I'd really appreciate it. I'm going to make sense of these controls."

Thomas seemed disappointed, stuck with babysitting again. He didn't reply as he drifted out the door. As he closed the door behind him, Rigby spoke up again, "Man, this could be exactly what we need."

"Hey, Rigby."

"What's up?"

"You…want to talk about Rancis? I'm really sorry, dude. Nobody deserves this."

"There's nothing to talk about. You heard Eileen, he could be fine." He was in the process of the five stages of grief. Stage one: denial.

"We probably shouldn't ignore…"

"Nobody's ignoring nothin'. I'm not worried, you shouldn't be either.”

He seemed dead-set at the moment. Mordecai would bring it up later, at a different time. He decided to talk about the train instead, "God, we need some help getting this train going."

“People take notes, right, when working on stuff like this? We're smart guys, we can figure this out."

"I'll get back to it then."

"Me too."

Mordecai noticed a pouch to Rigby's right. In the pouch contained maps about Georgia's cities. Nothing about the train however. Above the map was a family picture; probably of the dead engineer's. He continued to look around for anything. Suddenly his gaze fell upon a notepad. It read, Engine Startup. "Shit, this is it! Instructions on starting the engine!" He bent down towards it, "Damn. Pages are gone." and upon closer inspection, "I can kinda see the indentations from the writing."

He continued to explore the room. In the corner of the room was the spilled contents of the train driver's lunch, rotten and disgusting with the progress of three months. Ugh.

There was a large console that dominated the majority of the far wall. Switches, levers, whatchamacallits, thingamajigs, occupied it. It would take forever to just guess what to do with them. Mordecai decided to go explore outside the train cab.

He remembered the bottled water he had taken from the home in the train boxcar and looked over to Rancis and Eileen who sat in silence, "Here, I found some water." Mordecai handed the plastic drink.

"Ah, thank you. That's perfect." She looked up to him thankfully. Suddenly she murmured to herself, "He's allergic to bees."

"Huh? Is that right?" Mordecai arched his brow.

Her voice broke a little, "It's all I can keep thinking about. Like somehow that matters."

"It doesn't. "

"I know. Well…I don't. But you're…you're probably right."

Mordecai glanced over his shoulder at the glooming teenager. Thomas had graciously surrendered seats on one of the two logs to the others. He looked pale and deep in thought. Mordecai considered talking to him right now but decided against it. Thomas looked like he was fighting some sort of internal battle. Mordecai resumed his search. He marched towards the boxcar's side, noting the 'one hell of a mess' of large cylinders.

He clambered onto the floor of the boxcar and hopping off onto the other end of it. There wasn't much area to roam. A large amount of debris restricted his front, forcing him to turn to the left. Upon walking a few feet to the left, he reached the coupler bar and pin of the train which held it in place. He reached for his monkey wrench and attempted to pry the coupler pin out. "Urrrrgh. It's stuck." He backed away from his position, "I can definitely pry this thing free, if I can break it loose first."

He reached towards the coupler bar, turning it. "Shit. Broken. I'll have to find another way."

There didn't seem to be anything else he could do there. He'd come back later. Mordecai swiftly hopped back into boxcar and back out the other side. This time, he'd try the front of the train. He strode against the side of the train, finally finding himself at the cow catcher of the train. "It's in pretty good shape for a wreck." He noted curiously to himself.

Jammed between the trunk of tree and the side of the cowcatcher was a green, smashed car. Inside, Mordecai could see something resting on the passenger side as if taking a nap. Its head leaned over the front of the glove compartment. As he narrowed his eyes and drew closer, the walker suddenly shot forward, "WAH!" he cringed away. The thing had scared the living bejesus out of him. So much for naps… Luckily for Mordecai, the walker was pulled back by the seatbelt.

It struggled furiously but uselessly against its restraints, eager for a bite at Mordecai. The car shook with its efforts. Mordecai recovered himself from the latest scare and carefully scooted up closer to the car door. Through the shattered window, he could clearly see the walker. Mordecai noted the seatbelt that had probably saved him from a chomping. He looked up and down at the walker and the seatbelt before shaking his head. "I thought those things were designed to save lives."

Underneath the passenger dashboard and nestling by the walker's trapped legs was a container of animal crackers. Mordecai considered his chances of winning the tug-of-war with the walker. No way. It was too loud to use the pistol to Mordecai's dismay. He would have to get up, as much as he didn't like the idea of it, nice and close. Mordecai's eyes noticed the car door and his eyes lit up with a plan. He opened the car door, closing and then proceeding to open it again a few times, testing it out. "This door's gonna hurt."

He bent down low until he was right size to fit into the car. "Okay…you aren't gonna like this…" he spoke to the walker who obviously didn't respond other than the "GRAHMAGHGRAG." Mordecai's hand shot forward, pinning one of the walker's wrist to the car seat while his other hand rapidly unlocked the seatbelt, releasing the monster.

It reacted quickly, falling to its side from the sudden lack of support and continuing its pursuit towards Mordecai. He waited. Mordecai would have to time it perfectly or the consequences were dire. As whatever remains of its bloody hand reached towards Mordecai's thigh, Mordecai took action. He slammed the car door on its head, dislocating one of its grey eyes and jaw. It halted its crawl, slumping over the end of the seat. Mordecai flung the door again. The walker's face or what used to be a face was a heck of a lot smaller than before now.

Maybe it was for good measure, or maybe it was for revenge for the jump scare earlier but Mordecai definitely found himself feeling a whole lot better. He reached behind the walker's dangling carcass, feeling disgusted at the three-month stench, And now for… he thought victoriously and yoinked the box of crackers. Mordecai sighed. The things he would do for a pack of snacks these days…

Mordecai turned away from the mess he had made, curiously glancing at the nutritional values on the side of the box he had obtained. It was unhealthy, but who really cared now? Food was food. He advanced on towards Eileen and Rancis, who looked up (Well, mainly just Eileen.) after he slightly shook the box to get their attention, "Here. I found these crackers, if Rancis's up for it."

"Thank you, that's very thoughtful of you, Mordecai." Eileen smiled earnestly,

"Sure." Mordecai nodded, returning to his other duties.

Mordecai glanced over at his young charge who sat solemnly to herself, lost in thought. She had said that there might've been a pencil in RV. With his next destination in mind, he moved on.

Pulling himself through the RV's door, Mordecai began his search. He turned to his left first, noting a faded pink laptop with several Barbie stickers placed on the table. The battery was probably long dead. And even if there was some battery life, what would they use it for? Finding nothing else of any significant usefulness, Mordecai checked out the front of the RV.

Vanellope's speculations had been right; there was a pencil lying abandoned in the cup holder. Mordecai scooped it up, smirking with satisfaction. Great, now they could progress with trying to get the train moving! Leaping out of the RV from the top step like an eager little school kid, Mordecai didn't waste time, heading straight towards the front of the train. He yanked the door open a little bit too roughly, alerting Rigby of his presence. Rigby spun around in his chair like he had been expecting him, "Hey, Mordecai, anything new?"

"Found a pencil." Mordecai said plainly, offering no further explanation. There didn't seem to be a need for anymore. He proceeded to pick up the hanging sketchpad, and roughly scribbled across the whole page. Mordecai mentally did a happy dance. In faint but still visible scrawl and doodles, were the instructions to starting up the engine. Idiot-proof, was a term Rigby might've used to describe them. The pictures described the turnings and flips of switches which were clearly marked on the side accordingly to the symbols on the console before him.

6. Small switch down twice, large switch up twice, up down up.

Mere seconds after completing this first pattern of flips and whatnots, Rigby exclaimed with joy, "Son of a bitch, whatever you did lit the dash up!"

"So far so good."

5. First switch turned horizontally, second switch turned vertically.

The formerly red light besides these two switches turned green. "Now we're talkin'." Rigby looked over his shoulder. Mordecai grinned, looking back down at the notepad.

9. Turn left then turn right.

Mordecai looked back up, scanning the console for the section labeled number 9. Realizing that the console only went up to 8, he continued his search outside, guessing that section 9 was probably one of the engine compartments. Finding the compartment he desired, he pulled it open, revealing the bar of switches on the side. Okay, first turn left…then turn right…

In response (to Mordecai's relief)to the successful and complete activation of the instructions on the notepad, the train began to vibrate, letting out a mechanical hum. Mordecai began to close the engine compartment's door, only to jump slightly when he realized Rigby had been standing right behind it, concealed. Not noticing, Rigby began his joyous banter, "Holy shit, we're golden!"

Mordecai seemed just as happy. “Yeah we are. Golden. Man it feels good.”

"Let's fucking enjoy this." Rigby looked out towards the forests and beyond, seeming to feel better, "Come on, let's see if she'll move."

He proceeded to follow after Rigby into the cab.

By the time he had entered the cab, Rigby had firmly planted himself right back into the train's chair. He gestured with a slight smirk to the controls, "It's all yours." Mordecai came in closer to the controls and Rigby leaned outwards obligingly. Putting his hand on what he was sure was the throttle, Mordecai pulled the lever. Mordecai could feel the train beginning its course when all of a sudden it was jerked back into position, along with its occupants.

"Damn it!" Rigby sighed, disappointment evident on his features, only to be replaced with bitter realization. With a controlled expression, he shook his head, "Of course. We're still attached. Can you go find where we're stuck, and get us UN-stuck?"

"Yeah." Mordecai uttered. (Maybe he was getting a bit cranky but shouldn't Rigby do something once in a while?)

In no apparent hurry, Mordecai sauntered towards the coupler pin which was keeping them from proceeding forwards with the train. With a grunt, Mordecai pried the coupler pin off with the tool he had found. After being free from its grasp, the pin eased off. Mordecai called to the front of the train, "Hey Rigby, we're loose!"

They were done. Now they could finally get a move on with the train. Mordecai hopped back into the boxcar. He glanced back at the crude home. What if the person who lived here came back and realized that their home had just left, possibly miles away? He considered telling the others to wait and see if anyone was going to be coming home to this when all of a sudden, "You touch any of my stuff?" a deep, gruff voice announced from behind.

Mordecai jerked his head sharply, only to come face to face with a yeti with yellow-ish eyes, wearing only jeans with a brown belt. He closely resembles a gorilla. He has large muscles and abs, though he has small hands. He has white hair all over his body except for his hands, feet, chest area and his face. "I took the map of the train route.” Mordecai answered truthfully

"That’s fine, you can have that.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I got them all up here.” the yeti said, pointing at his noggin.

The disheveled yeti turned his body towards his area of the train, putting his arms on his waist. He seemed to believe Mordecai, "I guess it's no worse for wear." He turned back to face Mordecai, "Name's Skips.”

"Mordecai."

"That your crew outside?"

"..Yeah." Mordecai cautiously answered.

"And the guy up in the cab?"

"Him too."

Skips’ voice took on a lighter tone, seeming to have finished with his more important questions, "I saw you walking through here and thought about scaring the pants off of you."

"What?" Mordecai bewilderingly replied quickly.

"But…I couldn't force myself to do it." He shrugged nonchalantly.

Mordecai arched his eyebrow for a moment before admitting, "You're still kinda freaking me out."

"Train folk'll do that." he looked into Mordecai's eyes, "Already met everyone outside; they all warmed to me right quick in direct sunlight." Skips hopped off the platform of the boxcar, joining the crew by the logs. Mordecai followed along, still unsure of what to make of Skips. Vanellope rose at the sight of Mordecai, "You met Skips!"

"Yeah… I did."

Eileen sighed, "It's so nice to meet someone normal for a change."

Skips got up from his place on the log. Mordecai hesitated, "What's your game, man?"

"Keepin' alive."

"…That's not bad."

Skips smiled contently, "I like it."

"You met Rigby?"

"Sure did. Man shares my love of the road." He sat back down next to his guitar on the log.

"That's for certain."

Rancis suddenly started hacking, quivering in Eileen's arms. She gently pat Rancis on the back.

Skips got back up, bending down in front of Eileen and Rancis, "I'm awfully sorry that the lad’s not feeling good."

"I appreciate your concern."

"Well, with a little TLC I'm sure he'll be fit as a fiddle in no time." He got back up as Rigby rejoined the gang, "And I can offer ya'll whatever I got, although it ain't much."

"Thank you… we'd like to do the same."

Rigby stepped forward towards Skips, still not that trusting of him, "Why don't we hold off on…"

His wife interrupted, "Stay with us, we'd like the company."

Skips placed himself back onto the log next to Vanellope, picking up his guitar and beginning to strum a pleasant tune.

Mordecai walked towards Eileen, bending down, "How's Rancis?" he asked with concern.

She gave no immediate reply, instead looking down with worry at the worryingly-pale boy in her arms, "I don't know. Tired. Which could mean a lot of things, right?"

"Yeah. His body is probably fighting whatever is in it."

"Exactly." She agreed glumly and stiffly.

It was obvious that she didn't want to continue the topic on Rancis's diminishing health so Mordecai changed the topic, "Would you have left Margaret back there? On the side of the road like that…"

"Yes, Mordecai." She replied without a break. Mordecai was surprised by the usually kind and caring woman's quick answer.

"Yeah?"

"We have to have lines. Yes. I would've left her."

Mordecai looked down for a moment, "Okay then."

He knew he wasn't the only one affected by the loss of two members and possibly a future third one, "Has Vanellope said anything to you about CJ…Rancis, or anything? I'm worried about her."

"No." Eileen replied with a sigh, looking off to the side, "That little girl is a puzzle."

"Yeah, she is…"

"Poor CJ. God, where did yesterday go?" It was hard to believe that everything had gone to shit just the day before. It just went by so fast…

"…I don't know."

There was a pause, as the woman in front of him chose her words carefully, "…Are you okay? I know you were fond of her."

"I was. This isn't the right time for, you know, romance, but yeah… I was fond of her, yeah." He answered solemnly, "Anyway, let me know if anything changes here."

She nodded, before turning her attention to Rancis who slightly shivered in her arms.

Deciding to check up on Vanellope, Mordecai strode over, squatting back down, "Hey, Vanellope."

Vanellope looked up at him, smiling sweetly. “So, how you holding up?” Mordecai asked.

“Not too bad.” Vanellope replied. “I’m worried about Rancis though.”

“I am too.” agreed Mordecai.

“How are YOU holding up?” Vanellope wondered. Mordecai immediately thought of CJ. She’s only been dead since last night, so it still phased him pretty bad.

“I’m still upset about what happened.” Mordecai answered with sadness in his voice. “CJ didn’t deserve it.”

“I know.” Vanellope agreed with sympathy. “It’ll be okay. You still got me.”

“I know, but I can’t kiss you or have lovey dovey thoughts.” said Mordecai. “That would be wrong.”

Vanellope thought about it for a second. “Aww barf! That would be messed up!”

“Totally.” the conversation had ended there. "Well, I'll talk to you later then, alright?"

She smiled again, before nodding.

Mordecai spotted Rigby examining the under workings of the train before heading over. Rigby turned at the sound of him, "So that's it? We're cut loose?"

"Seems that way, yeah."

"Great." He exclaimed before pulling Mordecai along to inform the group, "We don't got much left, so just gather whatever you have. Let's go."

Thomas and Vanellope ran ahead like eager puppies, taking the lead. Rigby focused his gaze on Skips,

"Want a ride?"

"Well, it sounds like you're taking my home." Skips said dryly.

"That's a yes then."

"Haven't found anything better for keeping the creepy-crawlies out than that boxcar." Skips gestured with his thumb before climbing on board.

Vanellope walked over towards Mordecai, "Rancis is sick."

Overhearing, Rigby frowned, "Get on the train, Vanellope."

Eileen was next in line, carrying Rancis over her front, "He's getting sicker."

"Let me look at him." Rigby exasperatingly sighed, leaning in closer. Rancis's pale, empty and hollowed face stared back, causing Rigby to go silent and step back, his eyes wide.

Mordecai spoke up, "Is the train really a good idea, with Rancis like that…? Maybe we should focus on one thing at a time."

"YES. What can we do here?" Rigby snapped, "We get on the train and we find something better. THAT is the plan."

Eileen defended Mordecai, "I think Mordecai just wants to talk it through."

"It's TALKED THROUGH!" Rigby barked, "Get on, Eileen. I'll be up front. I don't want hear any nonsense until we get where we're goin'." He turned and stormed angrily away.

Mordecai and Eileen exchanged worried looks before she conceded and carefully entered the train.

He walked towards the front, entering the cab where Rigby sat patiently. It's all yours. Mordecai could almost hear him say. Mordecai leaned forward, once again pulled the throttle. This time, the train would work.

The train let out a low hissing whistle, gently easing forward. Mordecai and Rigby exchanged a victorious and proud glance before turning their gazes forward again. Out of the corner of his eye, a look of sadness replaced Rigby's usual grin.

They were moving forward. Away to somewhere better, they hoped.

Chapter 21: Handle It

The train was loud.

Maybe too loud.

However, these numbing worries escaped Mordecai's mind, being replaced with more important matters as the locomotive raced forward, passing by unsuspecting walkers (and over some). The conversation was minimal if not at all with the heavy atmosphere of illness and incoming death. Mordecai and Skips stood by the dangerously open boxcar door, staring silently at the browning and forest that fell behind. There was no way to tell of the passing time other than looking out into the sky.

Skips broke the unbearable silence, "Got to be hard on ya, eh? Three adults taking care of three kids." Thomas glared at the back of his head, "No disrespect, son."

"There were more of us."

"Dead get'em?"

"Yes." Mordecai lied, not sure exactly why he did.

"Shame."

“MORDECAI!" Eileen cried. Rancis was coughing out blood, quivering in extreme pain. Some of the blood dripped off his face, leaving a messy splatter on the side of his cheek. It was becoming clearer that he was losing his internal battle, "Mordecai. I need you. Right now. I need you to go get Rigby."

"What's.."

She cut him off, "Would you get that off his face? My hands are full here."

He obliged, picking up the neatly folded rag by Eileen's legs.

"Thank you. Could you just get that off of his face, please?"

Mordecai shuffled closer on his knees, carefully wiping the dark-red liquid on his face. Even through the thin cloth, Mordecai could feel how cold Rancis was. How much time was left for him?

As if hearing his thoughts, in a small panicky voice Eileen spoke up, "He's out of time. We need to stop this train."

"Okay." Mordecai mumbled.

"Please." She begged.

He had to somehow convince Rigby to stop this train. Rancis was out of time and he could turn any moment. Mordecai couldn't let that risk the group. Nor Vanellope. Rigby had the parental love for Rancis, that Mordecai had never gotten around to experiencing with his girlfriend, who could have been his wife if things weren't the way they are now. It was obvious that no matter what persuasion the group had given him before the train started, Rigby would not listen to any of it. What would he listen to? Losing the motor inn, two members of the team and now Rigby's de-facto child being taken away from him. It was clear that it would be more than just difficult to convince him otherwise.

Mordecai opened the door to the front cab. Rigby's posture was tense and the unwelcoming feeling was almost tangible. Rigby made no effort to greet him as Mordecai stood by the still-ajar door. Stepping into the cab, Mordecai got straight to the point, "You need to stop the train."

Rigby slightly turned in his seat, silently glaring daggers at Mordecai to "leave him the fuck alone" before turning back. Mordecai then placed a gentle hand on Rigby’s shoulder.

“Get that hand off me!” Rigby snapped angrily, swatting Mordecai’s hand away.

"I‘m sorry, I just want to talk okay? Eileen needs you, man. Rancis hasn’t got much time left. "

"He’ll be fine!"

"Dude, Eileen NEEDS you. Rancis is on his last legs.”

“Rancis will be fine!”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t talk like that.”

“Go back there and tell my wife that Rancis will be fine.” Rigby demanded, clearly still in denial. "What is the goddamn deal? He's a little sick, but we can't just quit! It's a scratch! He's not like the others. Jesus, all ya'll are just makin' it worse!"

“This isn’t about Rancis.”

“The hell it's not!” Rigby spat. “You think we’re pals, like you know me or something? You’re just some elitist prick, with a fancy education, trying to pick me apart!”

“It’s not like that.”

“The fuck it isn’t!”

"You think you’re the reason Rancis was bitten, like you had this coming or something.”

Rigby’s angry looked quickly changed to sadness. He was starting to figure out that Mordecai’s right.

“You didn’t kill Felix.” Mordecai continued in a assuring voice.

“Yes, I did,” Rigby replied, covering his forehead with his hands, “and now it’s catching up to me.”

“That’s not what went down. You looked out for Rancis and a bad thing happened to Felix.”

“There ain’t no way this world lets Rancis live when I helped put Felix in the ground.”

“That’s not the way it works, you know that.” He then placed his hand on Rigby’s shoulder again. Instead of swatting Mordecai’s hand again, he looked up at him with pure sadness. “Stop the train, man.” Mordecai calmly concluded.

Rigby looked at Mordecai like as if he was about to say something else, but his expression dropped again. He looked down at the brake, shook his head, and turned the switch, causing the train to squeal as it slowed down. The train had finally come to a complete stop and Mordecai and Rigby exited the cab. Rigby turned over and faced Rancis.

Rancis's chest heaved with heavy but slow panting as he lay across the boards of the boxcar in front of the door. Eileen had her head by his ear, anguish creasing her features. Eileen turned to her husband, a sad grimace on her face, "Rigby. It's… I think it's time."

The look on Rigby's face went from surprise to dejection to bitter acceptance. Frustrated, he turned to Skips, who inconspicuously leaned on the side of the train, "The boy's been bit. In case you haven't figured that out." Skips gave no reply, instead turning his head away.

"What do you need?" Mordecai asked Eileen and Rigby.

Rigby looked down, "I…I…"

"Eileen?"

She replied with growing distress, "It's time to…this…this is not possible…" She placed her hand on Rancis's forehead.

Rigby gulped, murmuring, "What are we gonna do…?"

"We can't allow him to become one of those things." Eileen said with a controlled poker face.

"But what if…" Rigby began, "What if he doesn't?"

"Rigby, I love you very much. I love our son more than life itself." She wept, "I need you to hear me. What you are saying…that he may not turn, is foolish."

"But—"

"No."

"There's…" Rigby stammered, "Come on, Eileen…"

"If you think of one, you let me know."

Rigby begged, grasping at straws, "Isn't there some sort of pill, or something we can…we can just give him…"

"Stop it." She whispered.

"He can just drift off to sleep, right, hon?" He grabbed at his head, "I mean, Jesus, this is our son!"

"I KNOW." Eileen pointed at her temple, "But we know it's… here. Or nothing."

"Well…fuck…just…who then? You want me to?"

"You don't have to."

"..I'll do it.."

"No. You don't HAVE to."

Mordecai couldn't just stand here and watch, "I'll do it."

"No. It should be a parent." Eileen refused.

"No parent should have to do something like this."

Rigby supported him, "Mordecai's right, Eileen. We can say our goodbyes and…just let that be it."

"I don't know…" She shook her head, "Mordecai, you'd be doing this family a great service."

Eileen suggested, "Why don't we take him into the forest. So Vanellope doesn't have to see."

Rigby voice was hoarse, "Yeah."

She turned to Mordecai, "Give us a moment to say goodbye?"

"Of course."

Eileen rested her hand on the side of Rancis's face, gently tucking a loose strand behind his ear. She hoisted him carefully up into her arms and began walking in a straight direction into the forest with Rigby by her side. They seemed to be in no hurry, as if they were attempt to making the moment not come faster. The rest of the group watched the pair walk slowly away with wary and mourning eyes. Vanellope walked over to Mordecai with glassy eyes. “Mordecai…?” was all the girl could say as her voice started breaking. It broke Mordecai’s heart to see Vanellope broken up about this. Tears started streaming down Vanellope’s face, and she wrapped her arms around Mordecai, seeking comfort. Mordecai pulled her into a hug and let the girl express her grief.

“Shhh…it’s okay.” Mordecai softly spoke in a fatherly tone, trying to hush Vanellope. Vanellope looked up at Mordecai with tears in her eyes.

“This isn’t happening.” Vanellope managed to chock up, before sobbing quietly again.

“It’ll be okay Vanellope.” assured Mordecai. “I’m putting Rancis out of his misery. He won’t have to feel more pain than he has to. Look, Vanellope. Things will –" All of a sudden there an unexpected gunshot, "What the—"

"NOOO!" Rigby's pained voice howled as it shuddered through the forest.

"Thomas! Take Vanellope into the train! Go, it'll be fine!" Mordecai ordered towards the teenager who was in action. Without another thought, Mordecai bolted into the thicket of trees, following the pathway that the family had taken.

He kept running along the way, worry creasing his face. What had happened? Why was there a gunshot? Did they bump into a walker and had to fire? Was someone hurt? These questions soared around in Mordecai's mind. However, he kept his current goal clear in his head; get to Rigby and his family. How far had they gone? Mordecai continued sprinting down the leafy path, thankful for it. Soon he came to a clearing and his eyes widened.

Oh no.

Rancis's pale frame lay against the base of a large tree but that wasn't what had grabbed Mordecai's attention. On the ground nearby, Rigby lay bent over Eileen's still body, a growing puddle of red by her face. A gun lay next to her body. What…had happened? Mordecai wanted to ask but his voice was stuck in his throat. He stared wide-eyed and frozen in his place at Eileen's fresh corpse.

"EILEEN! EILEEN!" Rigby's voice called frantically towards his dead wife, partially unfreezing Mordecai. He turned his head stiffly to look at Rancis, who sat unmoving but still somewhat alive judging by his shoulders and chest rising heavily with his ragged breath. Had Rancis conscious enough to see what had happened?

Tears streamed down Rigby's grief-stricken face, "…Why, Eileen? Honey, oh fuckin' God…?" he mewled before beginning to sob down at his wife.

Mordecai was grief stricken. “Oh my God…”

"I….I….” Rigby's quivering voice stuttered. He shuffled on his knees closer, raising a shaky hand to his wife's face and sliding her eyelids shut.

"I love our son more than life itself." Mordecai recalled. Why…? This strong and caring woman had just…shot her herself in front of Rigby. How could she do something like this in a time when Rigby would definitely need her? The events from the day before had most definitely shaken her positive resolve. No, not shaken. It was more like a whole collapse. Her demeanor had become more solemn as her son's health deteriorated.

But even so…first Eileen…now…

Tears in his eyes, Rigby forced his head to turn to look at the near-dead Rancis. With a trembling hand, he picked up the pistol and lifted himself off the ground, eventually finding his balance. Mordecai joined his side uneasily as they pitifully regarded Rancis's barely-moving body.

"What do we do?" Rigby murmured nearly under his breath.

Mordecai couldn't just let Rigby kill the boy who was the closest thing to being his own son. Especially after losing Eileen. "Give me the gun, dude. I'll do it."

Rigby didn't object, shoving the damned pistol into Mordecai's opened hands and turning away. Mordecai took a deep breath. You can do this Mordecai. …It's either this or he'll become a walker. He held his breath, slowly lifting up the pistol as if it weighed a hundred pounds. His finger slid lightly against the trigger. One nudge and it would be over. He closed his as Rancis's head tilted and rested itself lightly against the tree. “I’m sorry kid…” Mordecai muttered, and then he pulled the trigger.

BANG!

Rigby slouched, fresh tears emerging. He raised a tightly clenched towards his eyes, trying to keep it together. Mordecai closed his eyes, silently but quickly mourning for the two losses. Rigby gulped, before turning to slowly leave the death site. Mordecai followed, forcing himself not to look back.

They were on the road again. (Well, technically the tracks)

When asked what had happened back there, Rigby had just shoved right past without a backwards glance. Even without an explanation, everyone noticed the extra absence of another member of the group.

Vanellope was sitting on the edge of the open train door with her legs hanging out to Mordecai's subtle dismay. Her walkie-talkie was in reach to her side. Mordecai hunkered down beside her with a worried grimace, "You want to talk?"

She shook her head glumly.

"You understand what happened?"

Her voice was barely audible with her reply, "Yes."

"Okay." Vanellope was worrying him, in more ways than one. Although Mordecai tried his best to keep Vanellope from experience all these hellish things of this world, they just couldn't be avoided. It wouldn't do good to just keep all her thoughts just bottled up inside of her. Sooner or later, she'll break…

"What are you thinking about?" Mordecai pressed.

"What Skips said."

He arched his brow in confusion, "What'd Skips say?"

"…That what happened to Rancis would happen to me."

Mordecai heated up, a curse unconsciously popped out, “The fuck he did."

“Yup.”

"I'm gonna go talk some sense into him."

Vanellope whispered in anger, "Time for the monkey to get chomped by Mr. Walker."

Mordecai quickly got off, already knowing where the yeti in question was. Crossing over to the front of the train cab, he strode past Rigby towards the front door and found Skips casually lounging against the rails. He looked up at his presence.

"Hey." Mordecai called, crossing his arms in anger.

"How ya doin'?"

Might as well get straight to the point. "Don't talk to my girl. Just stay away from her."

He narrowed his eyes, "Excuse me, son?"

"I heard you told her she was going to die; that she was gonna end up like Rancis. Why'd you go and do that?"

"'Cause she is." Skips stared into Mordecai’s eyes, "I don't know much about you folks, but I can tell you, sure as the sun gon' come up tomorrow, that ya'll keep going on like this and that girl ain't gonna make it."

Mordecai snapped back, "What do you know?"

"I know that you don't have a goddamn plan. We get to Savannah and then what?"

"We find a boat."

Skips looked amused, "You think that's a new idea? You got even the foggiest idea 'bout where you're gonna find one of those?"

"…"

"Look, sit down with the girl and hash it out. Find a map for Christ's sake – I'd give you one if I had it." He began, "And if something were to happen to you…"

"It won't." Mordecai cut in.

"If it WERE, you gotta prepare the girl." Skips sighed, "Teach her to use a weapon!”

"She already knows how to shoot a gun…"

"Well, at least you prepared her for something. I don't mean to tell you how to do your job, but too many people have died already…"

"They have…"

Skips looked towards the distance, "…And seein' another little girl die might just do me in."

Mordecai didn't even feel angry anymore at the man, "I hear you. Think of a reasonable plan. It's good advice."

"It's at least something." He finished, seemingly satisfied with his lecture.

Deciding to talk about something else, Mordecai was curious about Skips' past, "You have any family?"

Skips sighed, "Out there, somewhere. Been sorta on my own for the past...fourteen years now."

"Sorry to hear that."

"No one to blame."

"Where are you headed then?"

He raised his hand, pointing straight ahead, "Uh, that way."

Mordecai rolled his eyes, "I mean, when we get to Savannah."

"Got a few ideas." He answered, "We'll have a talk when we get there about whether or not you folks want some company."

With nothing else to say, Mordecai parted, "Be safe up here."

"You betcha." He clicked.

Mordecai headed back into the train cab. Strange. He had walked out there looking to speak his mind only to have it changed by Skips.

He looked over to Rigby who manned the train's controls. He didn't look so good.

"Hey man."

Rigby turned his head slightly, arching his brow, "You and me. We…uh. Fuck it. Let's just get to the ocean."

"I'll uh…talk to you later, Rigby." Who proceeded to cover his head in his hands and slouch over.

Leaving the man to himself, Mordecai quietly made himself disappear from the train cab and found Thomas visibly depressed, cupping his hands over his face while leaning on the rails.

"Hey, Thomas."

He seemed to make an effort to seem optimistic, "Hey."

Mordecai thought back to the night before and all the chaos that had happened. Thomas had been one of the people Margaret had believed to be a traitor…"CJ didn't have to die, you know."

"…She would've killed me instead…"

"Yeah, maybe." Mordecai frowned, before finishing with a quick, "Anyways, see ya."

"…Yeah." He leaned himself back into his previous position.

Mordecai re-entered the boxcar, noticing a large green bottle that he presumed was Skips’. He picked it up, shaking the contents. It's a fifth of whiskey. This might cheer Rigby up a bit…

He stepped over to Vanellope who still remained by the boxcar door, "Hey, Vanellope."

"So?"

"I talked to him, he had some…uh, he explained himself and made some good points." He sat down with a sigh, "Look, we're not going to let anything bad happen to you. But there are some precautions we have to take."

Vanellope shot him a curious and wide-eyed look, "Okay, yeah, that makes sense."

"Don't worry, sweet heart."

"Okay." She nodded immediately, "What should we do?"

"Well, we're going to figure out a plan for when we get to Savannah.

Vanellope smiled slightly, "Sounds like a plan."

"Good. I’ll be right back.”

“Come back when you can’t stay long.” muttered Vanellope sarcastically.

Deciding to check up on his friend, Rigby, Mordecai exited the boxcar, brushing past Thomas and found him sitting in the controls seat, "Hey."

"Yeah?" Rigby grumbled.

"Let me know if we're getting close or you see anything." Mordecai called through the door as he headed over to Skips.

"Hey, Skips. I found this in your pack, if you want it." Mordecai alerted his presence, offering the whiskey.

Skips' jaw seemed to almost fall open as he reached towards the green bottle, "Damn, didn't realize I had it left. Thank ya." And almost slyly, "Want a nip?"

Mordecai liked the idea of that. “Sure.” Skips handed Mordecai the bottle. Mordecai took a swig of whiskey. “Oof.” he muttered as the whiskey entered his system. He then handed Skips the bottle back.

“Not known for its finish.”

“No kidding.”

Skips then took a swig. "Anybody in there want to share a drink, you let 'em know."

Mordecai looked up to the area where Rigby was, "Will do."

Entering the cab, Mordecai spoke up, "Skips wanted to know if you needed a drink."

Rigby looked at him with disbelieving eyes, "He's got some?"

"Yeah."

Shaking his head for a moment, Rigby got up from his chair, leaving it swinging. He brushed past Mordecai with a "Yeah, that'd help."

As Mordecai proceeded to leave the train cab, a bin full of documents caught his eye. Examining it more carefully, he discovered it to be a pile of maps and other sorts of documents. He reached over, taking the map with him. This would be very useful. Vanellope and he could go over this map.

With his hand reaching towards the cab as he skimmed over the map, Rigby suddenly burst back into the cab apparently done with his quick drink. "Thanks." Mordecai heard him mutter gratefully but grumpily (probably not a good mix with alcohol) as he sat back down.

Striding back down the railway with his map, Mordecai glanced at Thomas who still sat with his head in his hands. It reminded him of his many university students the week before exams. Stressed and anxious. Wanting to leave Thomas alone with his troubles, Mordecai began to walk past when there a sudden but quiet, "It was me." from behind.

Confused, he turned towards the source of the cracky-sound, "Huh?"

"I was the one giving the bandits supplies." He admitted.

Why? That was his first question, followed by the rest of "five 'W's". Mordecai's eyes widened. Shock. Horror. Disbelief. After denying it immensely and in such a thorough manner, Thomas had been the culprit all along…?! "WHAT?" He managed to splutter.

With Mordecai's reaction stabbing him, he shook his head and re-covered his face. Mordecai quickly climbed over to his side of the train and Thomas turned to face him with a huge effort, "It's all my fault." He whispered. He stood there dumbfounded at the teenager's words. The culprit that had caused it to all go to hell, whether purposely or by accident, was standing right in front of him. The person who had caused CJ to die…

“What for? Why the hell would you do this?!”

“They said they had my friend, that he was with them, but when I found out that they really didn’t, they threatened to kill us. I’m sorry, Mordecai.”

Mordecai shook his head in frustration. Rigby would definitely not like this. Not one. Little. Bit. He'd probably kill the boy two time-over. And he was ashamed to admit that he might've helped Rigby do it. So what was he doing, already unconsciously decided in keeping the poor teenager's dreadful secret? He gritted his teeth, trying his best to not hurt something or in particularly someone behind him in a black tee shirt.

With his hand hovering over the handle of the boxcar door, he sucked in a deep breath. Was his face still frowning? He thought while focusing all of his concentration on straightening out and calming his clouded expression. An unnatural face would only bring about troubling and prodding questions. Plus, he didn't want to worry Vanellope. God knew how much stress she had been going through the past…hours.

He entered the boxcar, immediately knowing where Vanellope would be sitting. Remembering the map he had obtained from the train cab, he plopped himself down next to the small girl who in turn smiled a hello at him.

"I want to talk about Savannah." Mordecai began.

She looked up at him, “Was that why you just left like that for 15 minutes?”

He continued, pulling out the valuable document as he spoke, "And what we're going to do when we get there. We don't know what to expect – the city could be bad or totally under control." He laid the map across the space between them. A variety of different-sized faded teal shapes blanketed the majority of the map's face in an orderly fashion.

"The thing is, you and I, we're a team, you know?" Mordecai said as they gazed upon the map's workings, "And a team needs a plan. Aside from everyone else, when this train stops, you and I should know exactly what we're doing."

"A plan. I like it."

He chuckled lightly, "Ha, good. We need to keep looking for a boat.”

“Sounds like plan enough. Where do we start?”

He noted the train's path through the busy streets of Savannah with his finger, "Well, once we get off the train, we’re gonna have to head towards river which is here. Afterwards, we can get the hell out of this dreadful place.”

“I can agree with that.” Vanellope said with a smile. “My parents are probably walkers, soooo yeah, let’s stick with the boat plan.”

"All right. How do you feel?" Mordecai inquired.

Vanellope arched her eyebrow for a moment, sorting out her feelings, “Well aside from Rancis dying, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m glad we’ve got a plan.”

"I guess we should see how far—" He began before being cut off by the echoing and familiar voice of Rigby, "OH, SHIT! HOLD ON EVERYBODY!" Not two seconds after, the train began to suddenly brake with an annoyingly high-pitched whine and Mordecai could already feel the momentum pulling him. Getting a firm grasp on Vanellope and on the door next to him, they braced themselves.

Chapter 22: Unexpected Delay

Skips stood straight with a tight hold on the bars in front of him, not wanting to fly off the front of the train. Through the glass, Rigby's cold eyes fixated on the group's newest obstacle.

The team, nervously curious to know what had caused Rigby to suddenly halt the train, debarked from the locomotive, eventually gathering as they reached the front. They stopped, taking in the sight as Rigby continued walking forward. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! FUUUUUUUCK!" he let loose curse by curse as he kicked at the ground in utter anger. About maybe 20 to 30 meters away from the front of the train dangerously hung the huge back tank of a gasoline truck with the rest of the large vehicle still miraculously on top of the bridge it hung from. The side of the gasoline tank read PSVF in bold white letters surrounded by blue and gray. It probably wouldn't have been such a big problem if the tank itself was not completely obscuring the train's direction.

At least they were lucky that Rigby had stopped the train on time.

Thomas suggested weakly, "…Maybe we could walk?"

"That's fucking stupid, Thomas." Rigby grumbled coldly.

"I'm just sayin'…" his voice declined in volume even more.

Skips hopped off a ladder, "Hmm. I dunno; I ain't got much experience with y'all's fortitude but we could probably deal with that. We got a goddamn train."

"That thing's not full of milk, Skips. That's gas. Or diesel. Something that's gonna explode."

He turned to face Rigby who was still fuming, "YOU gotta get a hold of yourself. This is a crew here."

Rigby stepped closer to Skips. He leered with an aloof tone that Mordecai recalled, "This ain't shit."

"This—"

Another interruption that was unexpected. Except this time, the voice was new, amused, "Yo, you keep screaming like that and you're gonna get your face chewed off."

Another voice called down from the top of the bridge; this time, a female's voice, "Are you guys going to be trouble? Because we could've just kept walking."

"No, we're friendly." Mordecai stepped up to the plate, calling up to them with a loud voice and whispering to Rigby without breaking eye contact with the newcomers, "Put your hand down, Rigby."

The woman replied dryly, "That's what everybody says."

"We know."

The man of the couple turned to his partner, "Let's give these guys a break."

"We'll see." She replied.

From down here, Mordecai could make out that the man is actually a small ghost with an arm connected to the top of his head and that the woman's was a young woman with a little blue in her hair. She wore a purple tee shirt.

The ghost spoke up, "You guys got a problem with your train?"

Rigby grouched, "Yeah, you're standing right in front of it."

"Dude, it's a wreck. It's not so bad from up here. Send your buddy up to have a look."

Mordecai began to step forward, heeding the ghost's advice when Rigby's hand rose up, stopping him at his chest, "Anything goes sideways up there, we won't let them escape." Mordecai nodded before resuming his walk.

Walking towards the large pillar where several ladders had been set up against, Mordecai held his breath. He could be about to head straight into two stranger's dangerous trap. They seemed friendly enough (well, the ghost mainly) but it was as the woman had said, That's what everybody says. He hoped he could trust them and that things wouldn't go wrong. Placing his hand on his first bar, he called up to them, "If I come up there you better not be murderers or thieves."

The woman's head peered over the edge, "I guess you'll have to find out."

As he began to climb upwards, muffled voices from the top became clearer. From down there, there would've been no way to hear them and Mordecai considered pausing and eavesdropping but the pair knew he was coming up anyway. "A group of guys is what we need." The ghost seemed to be persuading the woman, or at least trying to.

"They're what you think we need. We're doing fine."

"For now. What about when…?"

"Stop it."

Mordecai hopped over the top of the ladder and his feet touched stable ground. Turning at his presence, the ghost smiled friendly at him, "Hey dude, I'm Hi Five Ghost."

"Mordecai." He returned, looking over at the woman expectantly.

She sighed, "Celia. What's the deal with the train?"

"We're driving it."

"OH, MAN." Hi Five Ghost grinned with sweet anticipation.

Up close, he could see their features more clearly. Hi Five Ghost has a bland appearance. He’s only a small ghost that floated up to Mordecai’s height. He’s the same shape as the ghosts you’d see in Pac-Man, except this ghost was white and transparent, has a mouth, has no eyes, only empty sockets, which he can still see out of, and a hand, and a short, stubby arm connected to the top of his head.

Celia has shaved black hair with a long blue fringe and black eyes. Her skin color is peach. She wears a light purple top with a dark purple skirt. She also wears stripy tights with purple shoes

Mordecai continued his story, deciding to trust the pair for not trying to kill him, "I'm not going to bullshit you. Our group is a little fucked right now. We had a bite victim and then his mom took her life and before that, just…"

Celia's eyes softened, "It's okay."

"Oh, shit!" Hi Five Ghost exclaimed with a smile, confusing Mordecai. What was he going on about now? "Goddamn, you guys have a kid!"

Huh? Mordecai turned just in time to see Vanellope pop herself over the ladder and joining Mordecai's side, "What are you doing up here?"

Hi Five Ghost was giddy, "Do you know how long it's been since I've seen a kid? Shit! What's your name?"

"Vanellope."

"Well, this is great!" Hi Five Ghost laughed, turning to Celia, "See, things are looking up."

Ignoring him, Celia questioned Mordecai, "You're not related to her. Her parents down there?"

"It's that obvious?" Mordecai uncrossed his arms.

"To me."

"And no, he's not down there."

"Hmm. What's your story?"

He bent down to Vanellope's height, patting her lightly on the head, “I came across Vanellope when all this started. I was incarcerated.”

“Sick, you got any prison tats?” Hi Five Ghost asked.

“I didn’t make it that far.” Mordecai answered.

"And everybody down there, they're cool?" Celia continued.

Mordecai walked over to the edge, looking down at his group who were currently engaged in a silent staring contest, "Thomas is young and stupid and, I think, harmless." He couldn't trust them enough to just tell them about a specific thing about the individuals in his group so he went with a simple one.

Celia frowned, "The first two things you said don't really go with the third." Yeah, pretty much. Mordecai rolled his eyes.

"I know. We just have to keep an eye on him."

"No sweat." Hi Five Ghost said.

"It's been rough for everybody down there. I'm sure you can say the same."

Hi Five Ghost sympathized, "We're sorry for anything that's happened to you guys. That train is awesome, though."

They all turned towards their current problem, "That tank is your real problem." Celia began, "We'll help you with it, but if we see anything we don't like, we're moving on down the road. Alone."

Mordecai genuinely smiled. Fair enough. "We'd appreciate the help."

"You can't just blast through it, I guess?" Hi Five Ghost said.

Yet again ignoring him, Celia continued, "If you could get it down, the rest would probably be pretty easy."

"We'll start there."

"We'll come down and settle in, and see if we can help."

Apparently done with the conversation, Mordecai began to explore the accessible parts of the bridge. There was Federal Rescue Services near the mouth of the ladder that Mordecai wondered how long this bridge had been clogged up with vehicles? It had been at least three months since the start of this all. What had happened to the vehicle's occupants?

The back of the FRS vehicle was not locked so Mordecai was free to open it up and explore its contents. Or whatever was left. He thought dimly as he cautiously pulled both of the doors open and looking inside. Either this vehicle had not been stocked very well or it had already been ransacked long ago. There were two stop signs and two orange traffic cones. Looking more closely in between the few objects, he discovered a small roll of yellow tape. That's about the only useful thing in here. Not bothering to close the doors, he continued to look around the area.

Nearby the FRS vehicle was a generator at the feet of a pole. Upon closer inspection, he concluded that it was empty and utterly useless until fed some fuel. Wherever they would find that.

He headed over to the gas tank, examining the large joint of metal that supported the obstructer. There's no way I'm pulling anything apart down there. Feeling as if he had nothing else he could do up on the bridge, Mordecai nodded to Celia and Hi Five Ghost who followed behind him along with Vanellope back down the ladder. The rest of the group perked up like patiently waiting pet dogs at the sound of their arrival.

"Guys, this is Hi Five Ghost and Celia." Mordecai introduced to the couple behind him.

Their expressions were cautious of the newcomers, giving no other reaction nor reply.

Hi Five Ghost eyed Mordecai, "Not big on welcomes, I suppose."

"Like I said, it's been a bit of a day."

He tried to lighten the mood, "We just wanted to say hi and say your train is pretty cool."

"But we're not looking for charity." Celia firmly threw in.

Mordecai explained, "The plan is to cut that tanker down and be on our way."

At this point, Rigby seemed eager enough to accept anything, save Thomas's plan of walking the rest of the way, "Seems like plan enough to me."

Hi Five Ghost looked back to face Mordecai with eager eyes, "You want to start in on that tanker?"

Celia also turned, "I'll get to know the girl for a minute, if you don't mind."

Rigby spoke up glumly, "And why don't I show you how this thing works, in case something happens." In case what were to happen? Rigby wasn't about to go off himself now. Mordecai arched his brow, "Really, Rigby?"

"It's probably for the best." He sighed before beginning to climb back up the ladder to the train cab, "Someone might want to have a look inside of that station back there, too."

Now that you mention it… The group looked over to the not too far-off building beyond the oil tanker. Hi Five Ghost smiled, "Sounds good to me. Let's do this thing."

Off to do their own things, the rest of the group dispersed. Skips began to play his guitar again and the heavy air was filled with the calming strum of the instrument and casual chit-chat. Curious to check out the station in the back, Mordecai sauntered by Vanellope and Celia who sat criss-crossed on the leaf-covered grass chatting about things Mordecai would've probably never understood. Girls. Mordecai snorted with slight laughter. They'd seemed to hit it off quite well for a first meeting. And it was a nice feeling to have another adult woman in the group that the young girl could connect with. Deciding to leave them be, he continued his quest only to stop at the familiar chime and sleeve tug from behind him.

"Can I follow you over there?" He jerked his head back to look into the insistent eyes of Vanellope. Celia stood farther back, seemingly abandoned by her.

"You don't like the new girl?" Mordecai bent to her height.

Vanellope's smile faltered, "I do. But…I’m just bored and I need some adventure."

What was he supposed to say to that? "Yeah, all right. Come on." Mordecai stood back up, calling over to the rest of the present group, "Vanellope and I are checking out this train station, all right? Hustle over if you hear anything."

Chapter 23: Look Behind You

Mordecai and Vanellope walked side-by-side along the train tracks before breaking apart from it as they neared the station. It was an old and rusty building with a front that resembled a train stop back then. Along the wall of the station were bricks arranged in a pattern of appearing as walls and then arches. Painted on one of the wall gaps were white words that were hard to read because of the age. Mordecai believed they said Everton & Schuctz. This pattern continued along the rest of the wall gaps. Occasionally there was a window that would be almost entirely if not nearly covered with large planks of wood. It seemed to be well fortified from the outside from walkers. From the outside AND the inside. Mordecai corrected. He still wasn't so sure about this place. There was something about it that gave him slight chills and Mordecai worried if it was actually the right thing to do, bringing Vanellope along with him.

Vanellope continued to walk along the shaded porch, placing a drifting hand on the walls as she walked. More recently, were accidental splotches of whiter paint on the front. There were opened cans of white paint that lay abandoned by one of the beams that supported the roof over the porch. Had they been renovating something before this had happened?

Curious, Mordecai stepped out farther from the building, looking around. He found it. On the roof in messy and big, but fortunately easily to read scrawl were the cries for help, SU RV IV O SI D E

How old was this? Could there still be people inside like the message had said? Or were they long gone; rescued by a lone helicopter pilot who had happened to pass by and read the message…or worse? The possibilities were endless.

Vanellope ran ahead and Mordecai made an effort to catch up to the little girl. He found her trying to open the entrance to the station and he made a disgruntled face. "You should wait for me before trying to open doors."

Her reaction was immediate and she looked down, holding her hands together at her waist. "My bad.”

Mordecai let up, "Luckily it's locked. We'll get better at working together."

She nodded, smiling before moving out of the way from the door. Mordecai noted the open window above the locked door. "The window's open up there…"

"Maybe I could look in?" Vanellope suggested.

"Why don't I put you on my shoulders and you can peek into that window up there?"

"Sounds good." Mordecai lifted the small girl up with a grunt, maneuvering her closer to the open window.

She bent her head down into it, "Okay, I can see in. What do I do now?"

"Maybe we can find the key or figure out a way to knock this door down." Mordecai continued to ramble dryly, "Rigby would probably have me pick the lock…which actually might work now that we have the time." All of a sudden there was a clicking noise as the door unlocked. Vanellope cut off Mordecai, "I got it, Mordecai."

"For real?" Mordecai looked up in bewilderment for validation of his young charge's achievement.

"Yup."

Mordecai allowed her feet to touch the ground and she cautiously pulled the door open. The triumphant look on her face put Mordecai in his spot, "Well I'll be damned."

"C’mon.”

They entered the station, and Mordecai was immediately struck hard again with that grim and ill-fated feeling. And it wasn't like you could blame him. The room was dimly light by the open entrance and the thin and barely-noticeable cracks between barricaded windows. The door creaked as it slowly slid back into place and the room lost nearly all its light. "Goddamn it's dark in here."

"Maybe I could hold the door open?" Vanellope shrugged.

He shook his head at the idea, "I don't like that. I'll prop it open with something." That being said, he reopened the door widely and placed down his monkey wrench against the door as a wedge.

Once again, the room was illuminated enough for Mordecai to look around his surroundings instead of fumbling around like an idiot in the dark. Despite the roof's sign that claimed people were living inside of her, Mordecai could not see much signs of life in the dark area, at least, not in this room. His instincts tingled warning of danger but he paid no heed to them. Overall, the room was very empty yet cluttered at the same time. One half of the area, the one they were currently standing in, consisted of mainly boxes and scattered wooden pallets. The latter half, Mordecai presumed, was probably used for storage as there were shelves that lined the space. In the middle, separating each half was a physical border: set of bars that resembled a cage.

Mordecai peered past the bars and into the other side, looking for anything that would provide as motivation to getting past the boundary. A large white cylindrical container caught his eye. It was a blowtorch. "That's exactly what we need." He voiced out loud.

"Over there?"

"Yeah. We need to get in there and get that blowtorch."

The cage door was locked up good upon examination. No getting in through there. Maybe…he looked up above the door with his hopes up. Like the door they had entered in through, there was also a gap that lined the top of the cage. "There's some space up there, but not much."

"We're lucky I'm so little."

"Yeah, we are. You okay going over the top of this fence?"

"Hell yeah!"

There was that dreadful feeling again as Mordecai lifted Vanellope through the narrow gap. She gracefully (well as gracefully as she could get) hopped down into the other side, catching herself.

So far so good. "Go on and grab the keys, Vanellope."

She nodded but mid-turn, something caught her attention and her eyes widened.

"Come on, scoot."

Her reaction was not at all expected: she gave Mordecai a look of ‘are you mental?’. Mordecai was paralyzed with confusion as he stared at her.

Vanellope warned, unfreezing Mordecai. “I’d turn around if I were you!"

He turned just in time as a bloodied walker neared him. "Fuck!" Mordecai swore, instinctively reaching behind him for his gun. Pulling it out with time to spare, Mordecai expertly aimed the gun at the walker without a single pause. And he would've proceeded to fire if not for the growling sound to his left. Oh sh-! Just in time, he reacted by throwing his arm up to block the incoming walker by its throat. The force from it threw Mordecai off balance, dropping his gun which slid under the bars. Mordecai shoved the walker off and he stared at his nearing pursuers. He glanced over his shoulder at the spike remover that was holding the door open. Immediately, he began backing up. Without wasting any time, he bent down to scoop up his weapon of choice. Never had he been so glad to see a monkey wrench.

He swung the club down at the nearest walker. It still wasn't giving it up so Mordecai swung upwards into it. The second walker threw itself at him hungrily and Mordecai caught its left hand and pushed back against its rough shoulder. Mordecai slammed the walker's head with the club. It's neck flicked back like a toy. Disgruntled, Mordecai swung the weapon again, tearing off a large chunk of its face with it. The walker turned with the sudden momentum, now having his back towards Mordecai. Bringing the weapon down hard on the being's head, Mordecai finished the job.

He looked down, hands on his bent knees as he caught his heavy breath. That was close. Way too close. He breathed a huge sigh of relief as he looked back up and his eyes widened.

In the corner of his eye there was movement. Mordecai jerked his head towards the source and he blinked several times, hoping this was just his paranoid mind. A large walker that had been concealed by shadows slumped forward into his step. The sound that a predator finding its prey probably would've made emitted from its slack jaw. “SHOOT IT!" Mordecai shot forward to the bars. Vanellope picked up the gun and shot the walker, right between the eyes.

“You gonna unlock me from here?” Vanellope urged.

“Turn around.”

She did and noticed the keys. She grabbed them and handed them to Mordecai. Mordecai unlocked the cage and opened it. Vanellope stepped out and handed Mordecai his gun back.

Out of the blue, there was Celia's voice that called from behind the now-closed door. "What's going on? I thought I heard a gunshot."

"We're fine." Mordecai repeated.

Celia wandered into the building, letting the door shut behind her. Immediately, her eyes went to the obvious several walkers that laid scattered across the floor in areas and more importantly, the fresh blood oozing from their head wounds.

Mordecai felt like a child caught in trouble by a parent. He awkwardly scratched the back of his neck with the end of his gun. "We uh…found some walkers."

"You and an eight year old versus three of them, huh?" She stepped closer, and Mordecai imagined a well-deserved storm forming in her eyes. Celia placed an arm on her hip, demanding an answer.

"Mind your own business. If we wanted you to help out we would've asked."

She snapped back, "If you two were to die in here, three dead turns to five and THAT'S my business."

"Good thing it didn't happened then."

"I'm going to go make sure the noise didn't cause us any problems."

“Come on, Celia! Chop, chop! Move your molasses!” Vanellope exclaimed in a hurried tone.

Celia looked over at Vanellope with the same grimace that she gave Mordecai. In front of the door, she turned back, fixating Mordecai a look, "I hope you know what you're doing with her."

"We're still alive, aren't we?"

"Yes, you are."

She left somewhat pompously, again leaving the door to shut behind her. Mordecai hurriedly turned to Vanellope "You okay?" After a scene like that, he was worried about her well-being.

"Yeah, although I almost got chomped."

"Well you still killed it."

He turned to door only to pause and remember the blowtorch. It wouldn't do to just come all the way here, have three close-calls from the station's probable previous inhabitants, and then just leave without getting their well-deserved prize. Mordecai strode into the cage, bending his knees to lift up the cylinder, "We've got it."

"Let's go outside now."

Wanting to leave this dark place as soon as possible, Mordecai heaved the cylinder through the door with the help of Vanellope holding it open for him. They made the quiet journey back with Mordecai having some time to think to himself. Celia was right. He should've been more cautious of just entering a random building. There had been three too many close-calls in there. And the thought of Vanellope being attacked by that walker if she didn’t shoot it in time…

He shook his head, mentally willing his thoughts out of his head. As they reached the overpass and rejoined with the group, Hi Five Ghost exited the cab, waving towards them. Mordecai waved back, "I found a blowtorch in the station. Should make quick work of the coupling up there."

"Excellent." He grinned with anticipation, "I'll come up there with you to have a look." Having said that, he began to climb the ladders, patiently waiting for Mordecai at the top.

Once he propped himself onto the overpass, Mordecai set to work, placing the blowtorch on the ground as close as it could get to the hitch. He loosened the screw, holding the torch up. "Shit."

"What?"

"The hose has a leak in it." Mordecai sighed exasperatedly.

"T-turn it off, dude!” Hi Five Ghost backed away carefully. He obliged, "Better plug that leak with something."

Remembering the tape that he had found in the FRS vehicle, Mordecai rummaged his hands through his pockets (Since when does a blue jay have pockets?) for the roll before finally emerging. He bent back down low to the blowtorch, expertly wrapping the leak with secure protection, "Hope this holds."

He turned the blowtorch back on, leaning towards the hitch. He was careful not to let the sparks blind him without proper gear and closed his eyes, flinching from the sudden heat.

Hi Five Ghost watched his work, "That is crazy, look at it go!"

"Just about got it." Suddenly there was a rumbling as the front part of the gas truck began to slide backwards. Hi Five Ghost's eyes widened, floating forward to pull back Mordecai from behind taken down with it. The back wheels caught lodged itself into the overpass's side. Mordecai looked up at Hi Five Ghost as he got back up onto his feet, "Whoa, thanks!"

"No sweat, man."

"This thing's hanging by a thread. The smallest cut and it'll go."

Unfortunately, the hitch was now out of reach.

…Mordecai had an idea.

Mordecai shoved the blowtorch towards Hi Five Ghost's open hands, "Here. The weak portion of the coupling is out of my reach."

"Well, we can check if it’s within mine.”

Moments later, it was so.

"Good, now we can get this thing cut off.”

Upon exploring out of utter boredom and lack of things to do, Thomas had found a ladder that led to the top of train. He was on lookout duty then, and he was on lookout duty now. He sighed, satisfied but dissatisfied. When Mordecai had returned from the station, his attention had followed him since, or more specifically the blowtorch he was heaving around.

At the moment, he was watching (and to his surprise, enjoying) Mordecai and Hi Five Ghost's work on the oil tank's hinge. His mind wandered, imagining what would happen if they just rambo'd and drove right through the damn thing. Would it be like the movies he and his friends would often go to? Nah. They'd probably go up in pieces. Many. …then the noise would lure walkers from all over the place and those pieces would then become even smaller.

He sighed. Instead of letting his mind go loose, he should be entirely focused on watching for any trouble. Thomas turned only to see the previously empty field far-off not completely covered in something…bringing his hand over his squinted eyes to get a better look he…Oh no.

"Guys…! There's something coming…!"

"WHAT THE WHAT?" Hi Five Ghost exclaimed, noticing what Thomas had said was coming.

Walkers. And not just one or two. It must've been hundreds of them. Thousands even. The drawl of moans from all of them sounded like a low hum from this distance.

Mordecai grimaced as he still watched Hi Five Ghost, "There must be thousands…"

Thomas yelled, running towards the farther end of the rooftop, "WE GOTTA GO!"

Mordecai grunted, "Fuck, Fives! CUT! CUT!"

"I AM!" He shouted back, "IT'S GOING!"

The ground shook as the tank fell off its hinges and hit the ground. Luckily, the impact was not enough to explode it. Mordecai and Hi Five Ghost began to run towards the ladder only to find empty space instead. The oil tank had fallen towards the right and had taken the ladder down with it.

Mordecai cried to Rigby, who anxiously was waiting for the cue, "RIGBY, GO!"

The group hurriedly assembled back onto the train as it began to ease its way into acceleration.

With the ladder out of the question now, Hi Five Ghost panicked, "Shit! What the hell do we do now? The ladder's smashed to hell!"

Mordecai looked down as he saw fuel empty out of the tank. He looked over at the blow torch. “Hope to God this works.” he mumbled as he kicked the blow torch off the edge.

“HOLY CRAP!” Hi Five Ghost exclaimed. The blow torch landed in the fuel, and it caught fire.

Mordecai ran to the opposite side of the overpass with Hi Five Ghost quick to follow, "We gotta jump!"

"WHAT?! No way!" Hi Five Ghost stared back in disbelief. Mordecai climbed on top of the fence and Hi Five Ghost gulped, mimicking him.

They couldn't waste anymore time. Any longer and there would be no more train to land on. "Have it your way."

"I will!"

He pushed him.

Hi Five Ghost swore, "You son of a-!"

He landed badly, bouncing off the top of the train and tumbling to the side.

"Shit!" Mordecai heard a female voice cry. Celia jumped off the train and ran towards Hi Five Ghost, helping him up.

Mordecai hopped off the fence, fortunately landing better than the former.

"RUN!" Celia yelled as Hi Five Ghost painfully floated behind at his fastest speed. The walkers were gaining. Deeply regretting his move now, Mordecai swung himself into the open door of the boxcar and quickly got to his feet, helping Hi Five Ghost first up into safety.

He yelled, "No! Her! NOT ME!" Celia stumbled out of view from the train. "CELIA NO! FUCK! You piece of shit! She's a woman! Don't you know—"

Celia suddenly came into view again through the boxcar door, breathing heavily as she sprinted along with the train. She threw herself onto the floorboards of the car with a grunt. Hi Five Ghost had a huge look of relief on his face, "Baby…"

"It's okay, honey. I'm okay."

Getting to his feet, Mordecai peered behind the train through the open door. The train was picking up speed and the angry and hungry mob of walkers were losing them. One zombie in particular seemed to give them the finger. The breathtaking amount of them shook him. Imagine being caught up in that…

Hi Five Ghost shared his thoughts, "That…was a LOT…of them."

Vanellope appeared in the doorway, "Geez, what happened?"

Mordecai answered, “We're okay."

"Speak for yourself. It hurts to float! My body’s fucked!” Hi Five Ghost frowned.

"We're fine, Vanellope. We're fine." Celia reassured.

Chapter 24: Lend Me Your Ears

The dawning sun was peering up through the horizon of tall buildings and houses. Mordecai had volunteered manning the controls while Rigby took a small nap. Vanellope, wanting to stick together like a team, was now snoozing in a chair that Mordecai had pulled up.

Rigby who had apparently finished his break entered the train cab and Mordecai felt slightly guilty

Rigby’s voice broke him out of his trance, "Next stop, the Atlantic."

“We need to find a boat.”

“We will.”

Mordecai looked over at Rigby, who still had a look of sadness on his face. “You’ll never get over today.”

“That’s all I keep thinking about.” Rigby replied.

"I'll leave you to your thoughts." Mordecai said, turning to the sleeping child in the seat, "She's out cold like I've never seen."

All of a sudden there was a high-pitched static noise as her radio came to life. Confused, Mordecai bent down to scoop the communicator up. There was more static and faint words between them, Hell…o…oo…there?...

"What the…?" Mordecai gasped. Rigby stepped closer, equally shocked.

Can't wait for you to get to Savannah, Vanellope. I've got your parents right here, and you be sure to find me whether Mordecai wants you to or not. Now, what I need— The radio suddenly cut off.

"Holy shit…" Mordecai stared at the walkie-talkie that wasn't even supposed to be working.

Rigby whispered, "I thought that fucking thing was broken…"

"So did I. How does he know where we’re going…who the fuck?”

“I don’t know, but I doubt we’ll be happy when we find out.”

Mordecai remained silent as he gazed at the girl sleeping soundly in her chair and then outside the window towards the nearing city.

Walkers might not be the most dangerous things in Savannah as thought.


Trivia

  • First appearance of Skips.
  • First appearance of Hi Five Ghost.
  • First appearance of Celia.
  • First (and last) appearance of the screaming Macon survivor.
  • Last appearance of the Save-Lot Bandits.
  • Last appearance of CJ
  • Last appearance of Eileen
  • Last appearance of Rancis
  • Last appearance of Margaret (unknown)

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