1. She Leads Me Down
The whole group headed out at daylight in search of Sophia with the exception of Dale and T-Dog. And the search had proved fruitless. Instead of staying together to make a concentrated effort to find Sophia, they’d separated - leaving Shane, Rick and Carl at a church they’d found. All the others had headed back to search the other side of the creek bank.
The news had come via a girl on horseback that Carl had been shot. That left their group with one less as Lori climbed onto the horse behind the girl to go to her son’s side.
Glenn had also taken T-Dog to the farmhouse in hopes of having his arm looked at and doctored. The infection was already spreading into his bloodstream. All they could do is hope that he’d be okay.
Daryl had agreed to stay behind with Dale, Carol and Andrea to rig some kind of sign for Sophia in case she found her way back to the road the next day, and leave her food and water. A the night began to drag on, none of them were able to sleep. Whether it be because of the lost little girl in the woods or the heat, sleep just wouldn’t come.
Daryl moved through the throng of cars, eyes scanning the sides of the road for any signs of life. He’d left the confines of the RV, unable to bear Carol’s anguished sobs any longer. He saw the look in her eyes when he’d asked Andrea for his clip. That look of complete faith. It terrified him. No one had ever looked at him like that in his whole life.
Andrea had volunteered to go with him, but he’d declined. He was quieter and quicker on his own. It’s just how he preferred it.
He nodded at Dale. “Just gonna have another look. She’s out there, and I’m gonna find her.” The older man gave him a nod, and he was on his way.
Slipping off into the woods, he immediately started to look. He combed the woods for hours, making sure to cover every inch of ground that she could have walked on – any and every place she might have hidden. He was so close to losing the meager ounce of faith he had left. His eyes turned up toward the sky, whispering words to a God he wasn’t even sure existed, “Just let me bring ‘er home to her mama. Ain’t she suffered ‘nough? Don’t do this. Not to her. Not to that ‘lil girl.”
He didn’t want the last of her time on earth to have been lived in fear. She’d lived her whole life that way and she shouldn’t have had to. If he had it his way, she’d have some good times too. Her and her mama both.
Carol moved slowly out of the RV, ignoring Andrea’s look of pity. She couldn’t breathe. Her lungs felt like they were going to burst if she didn’t get some fresh air into them. She stepped down onto the pavement, pulling a deep breath of thick summer night air deep into her lungs. It did little to calm the fears she had deep in her gut.
She glanced up at the sky, saying a silent prayer. ‘Just let him find her. Let him bring her back safe. Please? I’ll do anything.’
Dale peeked over the side. “Why don’t you come up? Sit for awhile.” He knew that she didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to talk either. He motioned for her to go to the back of the RV and climb up.
She did as he asked and sat on a crate beside him. She hugged herself close. Her eyes erratically scanned the side of the road where she knew that he’d gone in after her. Her hand moved to her throat, trying to coax the aching sob that threatened to come out to stay put inside her. Crying never did her any good. What would make it different now?
Daryl’s feet never made more than a whisper of noise, even in the dark, as he covered more and more ground. At one point, he had been about to return toward the direction of the traffic snarl and the others, but something, a pull really, had led him astray. He had gone about thirty yards to the left of their original plan and something inside him told him to keep going, not to give up. That he would find what he was looking for.
If he didn’t, then all hope was lost.
Carol couldn’t stand the silence any longer. She voiced her fears. “What if we don’t find her, Dale? How…What then?” She wiped at her cheek with her knuckles as a tear escaped her eye and began to roll down. “I was never any good at anything else. Just being a mom. And you could say I wasn’t even very good at that.” Emotion choked her voice, making the last words almost incoherent.
Dale met her eyes. “You have got to stop worrying, Carol. They’ll find her.” He didn’t know for sure if they would find her alive, but he knew they wouldn’t give up until they knew one way or another. “You can’t lose faith now.” He covered her knee with his hand and gave it a gentle pat.
She let out a quivering sigh. “I hope you’re right.” She glanced toward the road again. Only a sliver of moonlight lit the road around them. The clouds were heavy in the night sky, hiding the stars. She hugged herself again.
‘Sophia, sweetheart, just hold on. Don’t be scared. He’s going to bring you home. He has to. He just has to,’ she thought.
Daryl kept the moon against his back. He felt himself being pulled deeper and deeper into the woods. Like he was a moth and somewhere there was a flame. He called out softly, “Sophia? Sophia, are ya out here? Can ya hear me?”
And then he heard a noise to his right. He spun around, crossbow raised as his finger touched the trigger. The walker was shambling toward him, teeth mashing together, its smell reaching Daryl’s nostrils before it got within five feet.
He released the bolt, landing it straight through the eye socket. It felt dead at his feet. “Son of a bitch,” he breathed heavily. That was close.
He ignored the tug at his chest as he pushed through the undergrowth in the direction of the highway. He’d wasted enough time following this unseen force, and it turned out that it only wanted to kill him anyway.
“Fuck this,” he growled, reloading a bolt into the chamber as he went. Then another sound stopped him dead in his tracks.
“He should be back by now,” Andrea called up to Dale. Carol had returned to the bed inside the RV when the overwhelming urge to sob returned, leaving her unable to fight it.
Dale was about to speak when he glanced around once more and gasped. “Get Carol, Andrea. Get Carol right now!”