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Stupid, stupid, stupid. I think to myself, my eyes on the perimeter of the property, looking for anything, anything amiss. How desperate can they be, welcoming a stranger into their midst immediately after letting me in? What are they doing, running an orphanage?

It's shameful, but in the walk back it had crossed my mind more than once that I could take some of their things and sneak out that night- they wouldn't notice until it was too late .

The problem lied in convincing Daryl to abandon this group- his family of a couple years now. Part of me thought, surely he could see the logic that more people meant more risk. The other part of me knows that all the trials I went through alone in the last year, they went through together. A pang of hurt aches in my heart when the thought crosses my mind.

"Hey," Maggie pries open the barn doors . "Everyone, this is Aaron,"

Everyone in the barn immediately stands and aims whatever the closest weapon is at the stranger. Sanity, at last.

Daryl charges out behind Aaron, eyes darting around the perimeter instinctively.

"I already looked, no one we can see." I report.

Daryl grunts, turning back and roughly patting down the stranger.

"We met him outside, he's by himself," Maggie gestures to me. "She took his weapons and his gear,".

"Hi," Aaron greets the group nervously. He takes a step forward to shake Rick's hand, and everyone in the muggy barn readjusts their weapon.

Rick looks the man up and down. "You said he had a weapon?" He looks at me expectantly. I hand him the flare gun, and he immediately tucks it in his waistband. "There something you need?"

Rick has changed, like me, I realize. The Rick that immediately took me into the group, no questions asked, he was no longer. I somehow trust him more for it. I understand him better, and I think he might learn to understand me.

"He has a camp, nearby." Sasha explains. "He wants us to audition for membership."

"I wish there was another word. Audition makes it sound like we're some sort of a dance troupe... That's only on Friday nights," He smiles weakly. No one laughs. "Anyways, it's not a camp, it's actually a community. I think you would all make valuable additions. But... It's not my call. My job is to convince you all to follow me back home,"

I scoff. Yeah, right. The incredulous looks of the others echo my sentiment.

"I know... If I were you, I wouldn't go either. Not until I knew exactly what I was getting into," He turns to me. "Miss, could you please hand Rick my pack?"I slowly walk the bag to Rick, eyeing him wearily. "Front pocket, there- well, there was an envelope. Your... friend... She did a really thorough job of searching the bag. There's pictures. I wouldn't be able to convince you to join us just by talking about the community, so I brought those." He clasps his hands nervously. "I apologize for the picture quality-" he begins.

"Nobody gives a shit." Daryl cuts him off.

I look over Rick's shoulder, folding the blade of a pocket knife in and out absent minded . A film photograph of some sort of wall with reinforcements.

"Nothing I say about our community matters unless you know you'll be safe. And if you join us, you will be. Each panel in that wall is 15 feet tall, 12 feet wide slab of solid steel," He goes on the describe the construction and the security of the wall in depth, and the other look at one another cautiously.

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⏰ Last updated: May 25, 2021 ⏰

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