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18 Months Later

Quiet. Before I left the farm, I couldn't stand it. It made things feel wrong, because where there was silence there was death. Now, the quiet was safe.

18 months since I'd left the farm, and it's been a year since I've been in contact with anyone.

I think back on my brief time with the first and last group I would every join. They had brought out a side of me I didn't recognize, and didn't want to recognize. I snuck out in the night and didn't look back.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one left, but then I'll hear a gunshot or find the remains of a campfire, or downed walkers. I steer clear of those signs of people if I can.

At first it was lonely, but now I find comfort in the solitude. Just me and Shadow.

It took me a long time to understand the difference between loneliness and solitude. Loneliness was being in an empty room and being stifled by the emptiness, letting the vacant space swallow you. Solitude was embracing the empty and allowing it to make you whole.

In the end, I think I was built to be alone.

I'd spent the last year migrating like the birds, only I went north for the winter. A campground just outside Richmond in the spring and summer, and a hunting cabin in southern Michigan this winter.

Michigan was peaceful. The cold made them slow, just like I'd heard. The only reason I couldn't stay was because there just wasn't enough food for Shadow, and hardly enough game for me. The grazing grounds were few and far between up there and we'd had to leave the north early this year.

I kneel in the shade of the canopy, splashing myself with water from my canteen. The drought this summer has left the sleepy Virginia forest barren, and the creek that was here last year is long dried up.

Shadow and I go about our rounds, gathering from the snares I'd set a few days earlier. So far, I've been particularly lucky, with two rabbits and a squirrel slung over my shoulder.
The air is dry and hot, and a trickle of sweat runs down my back. The trees are still, and the summer sun bakes the forest mercilessly.

I long for the coolness of the basement I'd set camp in a few days earlier. Even taking refuge in the shadow of highway overhang seemed preferable.

That was the trick with setting the snares. Finding the places the animals felt most comfortable and safe, and surprising them where they thought they would find a moment of peace.

I smile when we come to yet another tripped snare, a particularly plump squirrel jerking against it violently. With one swift motion of my knife, I end its suffering and string it onto the growing line of rodents attached to my backpack. I would not go hungry tonight, that's for sure.

I click my tongue softly, but turn back to look at Shadow when she remains in place, ears swiveling. She must have heard something.

On high alert, I tiptoe back towards her and quietly swing my leg over her back. I listen closely, but hear nothing besides the cicadas.

Shadow snorts softly and walks on, taking us back to the main road. I pat her flank, readjusting my backpack.

Without warning, she startles, ears pressed flat to her head. I try to calm her, urging her to back up , but she bolts, darting up the hill and away from whatever has her spooked. Branches whip at and cut my face as we charge through the brush.

The sound of her crashing through the forest turns to the solid crisp sound of her hooves on asphalt. I jerk the reins back desperately, and she settles with a huff, tossing her head. I climb off of her back and brush the thorny stickers from my pants.

I touch a small cut on my cheek, hissing and wiping the blood on my shirt.

A shuffling behind me makes the hairs on my arms stand on end and I whip around to face the assailant, teeth gritted and spear ready.

An asian man, gaunt and exhausted looking, stands facing me. Behind him, a dozen others, some half heartedly aiming weapons at me, others hanging back. They look hungry, and tired.

I study the man's face. It's smudged with dirt, and his scraggly black hair clings to the side of his prominent cheekbones. He's too dehydrated to sweat. His skin is dusty and callow. His lips are cracked.


My name. I hadn't heard my name in ages.

I blink once, then twice in recognition. "Glenn."

"You know her?" A tall and strong looking redheaded man demands, his pistol trained on me.

Behind him, a man with a mullet and a Hispanic woman I don't recognize. Carol and Maggie look on, eyes wide.

"We thought you were dead." Rick approaches me slowly. He's nearly beyond recognition, with a thick beard and long, graying hair. The only giveaway are his same striking blue eyes.

I tense my jaw, taking a step back. "I know."

Glenn looks ashamed. "We didn't know. Shane..." he trails. "He said Randall took you, and then the barn..."

"Yes, I know. It's fine. I get it." I back up more. Anxiety like I'd never felt before stirs in my gut.

I wasn't angry at them, no. It had been too long. It was fear. Maybe it's the fear of change, or maybe I can't get close to them again, because it would hurt too much to lose them...

"Gotta go." I remark without emotion, avoiding their eyes. My heart races as I turn my back on the group and lead Shadow south.

"Sonora..." Carl trails. I turn back to look at him. He's grown. He wears Rick's sheriff hat, and holds a baby. He's lanky, tall. But still with Rick's eyes and Lori's nose. I hand him the fat squirrel. "I'm sorry."

A rustle in the embankment freezes me in my place, and I back up slowly, pulling my knife from my pocket.

I suck in a gasp when an all too familiar face emerges from the trees.

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