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Puzzle Pieces, That Don't Fit Together

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"Fate is just an opportunity that'll pass by, like ships in the night without a lighthouse, unless you reach out and strike the match yourself. Seize the flame."


 

Alicia’s not a mourning person. 

She takes pride in her independence, in her agency. She chooses when someone is allowed to hurt her; “I will break my own heart before you can touch it.” Or, choose to tattoo another’s on her wrist, someone else’s love in every prick of the needle. In every clench of her jaw. The pain’s her own to bear.

That said, even a self-inflicted wound needs to heal. It’s pretty tough to mend something you can’t stop ripping open.


“Alicia. Give me the radio.” Strand’s cornered her this time, Madison and Nick flanking on either side. The lower deck’s hallway feels suffocating, and between the closed quarters and inevitable tilting of the Abigail, Alicia has only one thing grounding her.

And Strand wants it.

“I haven’t even had a chance to respond yet,” She protests, taking a step back and clutching tighter at the radio. “Geez, dude, make up your mind. Do you want me to help or not?”

Strand peers at her though the lilt in his sunglasses. “I’m not sure what you’ve been doing all night, but it is most definitely not ‘helping’.”

“Come on, Alicia, just give him the radio.” Nick steps around Strand to lean against the wall, head lolling slightly. Alicia tenses, but then he smirks at her, eyelids fluttering in what could be a wink. Alicia relaxes just slightly. Nick’s ticks are as familiar to her as to him; he’s on her side.

“We’ll find something else for you to do. Right, mom?” Nick glances at Madison. “Shower duty? Those towels are getting awfully smelly.”

“Don’t start, Nick.” Madison says with the barest hint of exasperation. “Alicia, just give him the goddamn radio.”

“Mom, no! Look, I promise I won’t say anything.” Alicia tries. “I’ll just listen. I promise.”

“Ooh, she promised.” Nick says with exaggerated surprise. His eyes are hollow, humorless. “Unlike me, she keeps her promises, Strand.”

Now Strand doesn’t hesitate, as a rule, but he does contemplate. Nick’s defense obviously has that effect, and Alycia feels a surge of gratitude for her brother.

Strand chews his bottom lip, and Madison looks between them. It’s 10 o’clock at night, and more than just the daily fatigue’s taking its ponderous toll.

Strand breathes in through his nose and smiles a very thin smile. He folds his hands behind his back, cocks his head to the side. “And what insurance are you going to give me, Ms. Clark? I can’t exactly take you at your word.”

Alicia blinks. “What?”

“Give him a guarantee, Alicia.” Nick suggests. “A...what do you call it, mom, in grown-up world?”

“Collateral.” Madison says through her teeth. “Strand, you bring Nick and I down here, ask once, and change your mind in the same breath. What’s the deal?”

Strand steps forward, but this time Alicia holds her ground. Her knuckles turn white around the radio, chatter buzzing mutedly like summer crickets through a bedroom window. “Give me, as your brother so aptly put it,” and the slight glint of pride sparking in Nick’s eyes does not escape her, as Strand stops barely inches from her. “A guarantee. I can’t have you compromising our position.”

Alicia’s mind races; he smells of pine and rust, with a tinge of smoked leather. It’s a stark contrast to the almost sterile odor hanging over the rest of the boat. But what would a man with every trace of the old world want? Material-wise, nothing, but that’s all she has. Symbols matter to Strand, enigmas, games...her lip curls with disgust.

Fine. She’ll play.

“I’ll give you my phone.”

Nick and Madison’s jaws both drop at the same time. Strand’s smile widens. “Oh? A teenage girl’s most prized possession?”

Alicia maintains eye contact with him as she fumbles through her pockets; her hand clenches around her phone; a beat as Nick laughs and Madison splutters, and she hands it over. Strand handles it with an off-putting sort of delicacy, like one would examine a deformed newborn. Curious. Disgusted. He slides the treasure into his back pocket.

"There. You have your ‘collateral’.” Alicia practically snarls. “Now I’ll keep this,” She waves the radio in his face, “And you keep your secrecy.”

“I keep my privacy, and yours.” Strand replies easily, tapping at the phone. “Don’t worry, I have no interest in your-”

“Shenanigans.” Nick offers. Strand looks at him, and laughs. “Yes.” His throat rumbles as he turns back to Alicia. “Shenanigans.”

Madison throws her hands into the air. “I’m going to go check on Travis. Alicia, please,” She looks at her daughter and her voice softens, but the warmth does not reach her eyes. “Get some sleep. Nick, come with me.” Nick shrugs, and follows his mother back down the hallway.

Alicia watches them leave. The radio feels ever heavier in her arms, and she wonders when it became so much easier to be alone.


Voices don’t fill cramped spaces.

Laying comfortably atop a stack of crates, Alicia listens to the girl she’s dubbed ‘Rambo’ drone on and on about the past hour or so’s adventures; nothing too exciting. There was a fun story about her managing to dispatch a couple of walkers,(one pretty spectacularly with a crate attached to a rope and pully system; Rambo giddily compares it to smashing watermelons with a hammer, something Alicia can imagine all too vividly), and a close encounter with some expired milk, followed by a drowning experience here and there, but...Alicia finds it easier to drift off to stories such as these, like listening to Morgan Freeman recite his weekly shopping list.

Good old pleasant white noise, passing time as easily as napping, and with fewer face marks.

Well. If white noise were very husky, and very Australian, and made Alicia a bit lightheaded when saying words like ‘fuck’. Truly, Morgan Freeman had no such effect.

Alicia briefly wonders if Mr. Freeman's still alive. It follows that she thinks of God, and wonders if He managed to survive the end of the world.


 

The boat doesn’t want to use her, it seems.

Alycia scrolls through various channels, cries for help blending with screams tied together with some pleasant what-she-thinks is Coltrane, but it’s muddy and a performance she doesn’t recognize.

Nick’s off smoking with Strand, Madison only pops by to demand Alicia sleep (or, occasionally, eat) or work, and Travis might as well be a broken lamp. A lamp Chris particularly hates, and occasionally punches, but a lamp nonetheless.

Alicia finds the person who listens best is someone she doesn’t even talk to.

There will be breaks, when Rambo disappears for an hour, maybe two, but she reappears with a vengeance, loud and breathless; Alicia sometimes is forced to dial the volume down for the sole purpose of saving her own ears.

Rambo doesn’t ask her any questions, she only makes statements; Alicia’s only made the mistake of opening the channel once, and she fumbled to close it, but the damage was done. Rambo knows for certain someone’s listening. But Alicia honors her word, and does just that: listen.

“Any-way,” Not-Rambo continues loudly; it’s dusk, and the fading sunlight illuminates every dust particle in the storage room; Alicia has to crank her neck to avoid being blinded, but the result is a permanent scowl pulling at the corners of her face. She eventually just drapes a hand over her eyes and lets the light just burn her arm.

“So I thought for sure it’d be a one and done, but nah, this fucker just would not. Stay. Down. God, it’s like maths for walkers. Takes some real hammering down. Now, I never actually went to maths, mind you, but I’ve heard stories of people who have. You probably did.”

Alicia hums in agreement. Her hand twitches around the receiver idly, as it always does during those weird moments, where Rambo assumes things that really, could apply to anyone, but certainly apply to Alicia. Like when you’re given a one size fits all glove, or hat, but while anyone could wear it, it’s unquestionably yours.

Alicia frowns at the thought of being so ordinary, at being interchangeable, and the urge to retort that she’s not just some...some random, sets off her trigger finger. With effort, she ignores it.

“But oh! I almost forgot, I think I’ve come up with a name for you.” Rambo enthuses. Alicia’s breath hitches in her throat. A name. Maybe like Clark. Or Jack.

“Now it’s very likely you’re a corpse. Maybe your hand got stuck around the receiver and you’re just stubborn like that. But I think you’re very much alive, and very much listening to every word I’ve said this past..uh, day.”

Alicia rolls her eyes; by this point it’s practically a defense mechanism. Her breaths are shallow, controlled, and she feels suddenly very vulnerable, listening to this voice try to solve her, like some puzzle; name her like some stray dog.

“At first I thought, maybe this is like one of those password protected journals,” And Alicia has to cover her mouth to stifle her laughter, even if Rambo can't hear her.“You know, when girls would write dirty words like ‘butt’ and ‘boy’ in the same sentence. Or in my case, girl. Heh.”

Slowly, Alicia’s hand returns to her side. She lifts her left, runs a finger down the ceiling just barely inches from her nose and drawing the smallest line between specks of dust. Girls, huh.

Maybe a name like Alexandria.

Or Alicia.

“-And I didn’t personally have a journal, being a right bludger. But friends did. And it was a fun combo, that, invisible ink and all. Anyways, I considered naming you just, like, diary or somethin’. But then I figured, why stop there? Why not pay some respects to Anne Frank, call you kitty.”

A filthy thought crosses Alicia’s mind, tinging her cheeks with warmth, and she wrinkles her nose.

“But that’s kind of fucking rude. Disrespectful. Even I know that.”

“Damn right it’s disrespectful,” Alicia responds aloud. Safely. Rambo can’t hear her; as proof, she blazes right on through with- “So I thought a bit more, and came to a nice bit of a conclusion.”

“And what’s that?” Alicia whispers to the ceiling.

“I’m going to call you...ha, it’s a funny sort of name. Kind of regal. Bougie.”

Alicia frowns impatiently. It’s a random title from a random voice, (‘Rambo’, hello?) Why the pomp and circumstance?

(She ignores the tune suddenly strumming in her mind, a song of high school and of graduation. Of a future she fucking deserved.)

But Rambo’s voice, husky and beautiful, filters through the speakers, and Alicia’s frown deepens, her lips parting just slightly, as Rambo says,

“I think you’re most definitely an Abigail.”