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We arrive later in the morning to find the other half  our group, along with a family I haven't met stacking rocks in some sort of pile. I raise an eyebrow at Daryl as we unload our things, and he shrugs. We quietly approach the group and stand on the outer edges of the circle. I quickly deduce that someone has died, and Shane has something to do with it. I glance at the dark eyed man. Not a surprise, there.

Afterwards, the older daughter, Maggie lays out a map.

"County survey map. Shows terrains and elevations." Maggie unfurls a tattered map.

"This is perfect." Rick beams, smoothing the parchment. "We can finally get this thing organized. We'll grid the whole area, start searching in teams."

An old man, Hershel, I think, approaches us from behind. "Not you." He addresses Rick. "Not today. You gave three units of blood. You wouldn't be hiking five minutes in this heat before passing out." He turns to Shane, warning him; something about his ankle. His shirt is ironed nicely, with clean, straight creases. His hands are worn and sun spotted, and he smells like fresh linen. He reminds me of my grandfather, I think.

"Guess it's just us." Daryl remarks, shifting his crossbow and glancing down at me. "We can head back to the creek, work our way from there."

I nod, and the two of us make our way to the edge of the property. We walk in silence for most of the afternoon, ears pricked and arrows ready. When we arrive at a house, we turn to each other knowingly.

"I'll go in first. You got my back in there, somethin' jumps out?" He asks, turning to me as he loads an arrow into his crossbow.

I give him an encouraging smile. "If you've got mine."

His eyes linger on my face for a moment, and he nods with a smirk, throwing the door open.

Daryl motions for me to check the room on the left, while he takes the one on the right. I silently stalk toward the room, stepping on the lines between the floorboards to avoid creaking. Taking a deep breath, I turn the corner quickly, pulling my bowstring back and sucking in a breath. Instead of a walker or even Sophia, I am greeted with an empty room and some dust. I turn back and look at Daryl, who's shaking head tells the same story of the next room.

Disappointed, we scan the room for anymore signs. My eyes hone in on a can in the waist bin, and I pull a freshly opened can of tuna from the trash. Daryl raises an eyebrow, jutting his chin toward a closet with the door cracked open. I nod, pulling my knife from its sheath and tiptoeing toward it slowly. I look back at Daryl once. His sky blue eyes glance from the closet back to me. He gives me a reassuring nod and raises his crossbow readily. I suck in a breather and pull the door back, praying to find a certain tired little girl, nothing more and nothing less.

We are greeted by a small bundle of blankets tucked into the bottom of the dusty closet. Images of Sophia flash through my mind, and I look up at Daryl with hope. He nods, looking into my eyes with his soft blue ones. We head back outside and retrace our steps back to the farmhouse. My heart swells with hope for the future as I think about how close Sophia could be.

The forest is quiet today. A nice kind of quiet.

Between the empty spaces in the forest's canopy, lances of the sun's glowing beams splash onto the damp ground. I sigh as the sunshine passes over my face, taking a deep breath through my nose. Looking to my left, I see a familiar white flower growing along the edge of the road. It's delicate petals remain pure white, even in the Georgian summer heat. I smile, falling into step with Daryl cheerily.

CHEROKEE ROSE (D. DIXON)Where stories live. Discover now