Travis and Rose walked on the sidewalk, passing abandoned buildings. She thought they would get used to the sight, but looking at the state of Ashland never failed to make her feel depressed. Most of the buildings she recognized, and the memories of her walking past them on a sunny summer day failed to cheer her up.
“I always used to go here.” Travis said. Rose failed to understand until she looked at where he was pointing. It was a bar. The sign read “Ash’s Bar”.
“Bit of a corny name.” She said. “I didn’t know you used to frequent bars.”
“When I was younger. Me and my friends would go over there and have a drink or two. I wonder how they’re doing now.”
“Were they also doctors?”
“None of us were doctors back then. I was the only one studying medicine. They thought I was crazy, too.”
“Why? It’s honorable work, if you ask me.” She said.
“It’s just a expensive career to go into, and it’s a long time before you see any kind of reward.” Travis said. He stood on the sidewalk, looking at the bar. “I wonder if it’s closed.”
“Most of the town is.” She said. “But we can give it a shot, if you want.”
“I’d like that, actually.” They moved towards it. The neon they had used for the sign was long dead, but in otherwise good condition. Travis tried the door. At his surprise, it opened easily enough, and they walked in.
The smell of alcohol was the first thing Rose noticed. Dozens of opened bottles laid scattered around the locale, some finished and others almost full.
“I guess some folks wanted to drink when…whatever happened hit the town.” She said.
“Makes sense.” Travis said, moving around the place. It was largely empty, except for some chairs and tables on the ground.
“Are we looking for anything here?” Rose said. She sat on a bar stool as Travis moved around.
“I don’t think we’ll find anything important here.” He moved from the tables to behind the counter. “I guess I just wanted to relive some memories.” Travis cursed under his breath. “No drinks.”
“Right now isn’t the best time to drink, Dad.”
“Indulge me, will you? I’ve been almost two decades without a drop of— What’s this?”
“You found something?”
“Notes…and a shotgun.” Travis pulled a bolt action shotgun from under the table, and a small notepad. On the top of the paper, there was the legend “WRITE IT DOWN!”, and the caricature of a beaver holding a pencil.
“There’s some notes on it.” He said. “Looks like an impromptu diary, probably the bartender’s. It starts on September 19.”
“That’s the day after the last newspaper issue.” Rose said, moving over to him.
Travis nodded, and started to read.
Last night some things came out of the asylum. They looked like some kind of…monster. They went downtown, attacking people left and right. The ones who survived are all boarded up inside their houses. Luckily, I was in the bar when it happened, with a dozen or so other men, so it wasn’t hard to hole up in here. I’ve got my shotgun with me and food enough for a few days. I hope the police gets here in that time.”
Giving out the supplies evenly is harder than I thought it’d be. I’m not giving out any alcohol. Who knows what these guys would do drunk. Better have them angry than drunk. I have the gun, after all.”
Things are starting to go to hell. Supplies are running out, and there’s no signs of the police. The snarls outside the bar are starting to grate on my nerves. The guys are starting to get more uneasy. Maybe calming them down with some booze would be a good idea…”
I have no idea where he got that switchblade. The alcohol was a bad idea. We’ve got one dead guy. No idea what we’ll do with his body. Where the hell is the police? Or the army? Anybody, please. We’re running out of food.”
Well, it happened. Shit has hit the fan. They started to fight over the food, over the booze. I had to lock myself in the back, but I don’t think the door will hold. I’m going to go before those drunkards get me.”
Rose looked at the shotgun, then at Travis. He put the notes down, and then took the shotgun. Opening the chamber, he noticed one round was missing.
“That’s all we’re going to find here, I think.” He said, walking out of the bar. Rose followed behind him.
An over sized knife suddenly cut through the door, poking into the bar. They took a step back and Travis held the butt of the shotgun up to his shoulder, taking aim at the door. It flew off its hinges with a strong kick, zipping past Rose and landing in the back, hitting a wall. The monster they had seen in the East Wing smashed in, breaking his way in. He roared at them, holding his large knife. Travis took another step back. Rose grabbed the revolver from her dad’s belt.
The monster swung at them, missing them by a mile. His knife flew over Travis, smashing one of the overhead lights. Travis closed one eye as he pressed the trigger of the shotgun. Shots blasted from the barrel and dug into the monster’s skin, driving it back. Rose leveled her gun and drew back her finger. She barely hit the monster, the bullet sliding off the side of his head.
Travis pressed the trigger again. His only response was a click noise.
“Dammit!” Travis said as he put the shotgun away. He pulled out his axe and held it between his hands. The monster advanced upon him. Rose took steadier aim and shot again. She hit it in the forehead, making a gaping wound.
He roared in pain, but showed no signs of stopping. The monster swung backhand, hitting Travis with the blunt of his blade. Travis hit the counter and slumped to the ground.
“Dad!” Rose cried out, taking her eyes off the monster. He ran at her, taking advantage of her distraction. She screamed out as it was upon her and rolled to the side, narrowly dodging the blade. The knife flew over her and dug into the wall. Roaring, the monster struggled as he tried to pull it out.
Rose moved away from the monster, running towards Travis. She kneeled beside him, checking his wounds.
“I’m fine.” He managed out. “Just got the air taken out of me. W…watch out!” Rose turned around. The monster had gotten his knife out and was walking menacingly towards her. She grabbed the axe and walked towards the exit. Travis laid against the counter as the monster walked past him, focused on Rose.
Rose pulled out her gun and took aim, pointing at the monster’s hand. She pulled the trigger and the bullet dug into his hand. He dropped the knife and lifted his hand up to his face, roaring in pain. Dropping the gun and grabbing her axe, Rose ran towards the blind and distracted monster. A steady overhead swing dug the axe into the monster’s brain, splitting the head down to the eyes. His head exploded, bathing Rose in blood. Her clothes and skin were stained, completely drenched in scarlet.
She closed her eyes against the red liquid that stung her eyes and backed up, letting go of the axe. The monster stood in place, his head split, the axe stuck between his eyes. He focused on Rose before dropping forward, shaking the ground beneath him. Rose heard the thud and opened her eyes. For a moment, she couldn’t believe the monster laid dead in front of her.
Happiness and relief rose strongly inside of her. She turned to Travis and it died down. Rose ran to him.
“Dad, are you okay? Say something, please!” She said.
“Yeah.” He coughed. “I’m fine. No wounds or broken bones, atleast that I can feel.” Travis slowly stood up and Rose helped him up. Up on his feet, he shook his head and looked at her. “Nice work.”
She looked down. “I didn’t really…I don’t know what took over me…” Travis put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head.
“No.” He said. “You did well. You want to survive, that’s all there is.”
Rose wasn’t really convinced. She looked over at the monster, regret in her eyes. “I just think I may have overdone it. I don’t want to become as brutal as the monsters we’re trying to fight.”
“Sometimes to beat the monster you have to become the monster.” Travis said. “And if you can walk away human, that means you’ve won.” He bent over slightly and kissed her forehead. “Now, let’s go, alright? We should find a gun store.”
“Wouldn’t it be completely raided?” She said. “I mean, the last days of Ashland, in here, were spent locked up, fighting monsters.”
“Better safe than sorry.” He said, looking towards a door they had not gone in. “Didn’t the bar keeper say that he was in the back? Maybe there’s some ammo there.” Travis moved to the door, opened it and walked in. Rose grabbed the gun from the ground and walked into the room with Travis.
A single chair stood against the wall. Bullets and splatters of blood were on the wall above it. There were several shelves around the room, mostly empty. Travis looked up and down and found a box of shotgun shells under a shelf.
“Found it.” He said, pulling the box out. Loading a few rounds into the chamber, Travis stood up and walked back into the bar. Rose handed Travis his gun back but he shook his head. “No, keep it. You’ll need it more than I do.”
Rose shrugged her shoulders and walked out of the bar. Travis followed behind her. The town was still as dark and dreary as it had been when they entered the bar.
“Where to next?” She said, squinting her eyes against the darkness.
“A gun store, if we can find one.” Travis said, and started to walk.
“Do you know where one is?”
“I think so. Near our house.”
“I would remember that.” Rose said. She didn’t stop walking.
“Remember, last time I was outside the maze, it was about sixteen years ago. May have changed in that time.”
“Alright.” She said, and no more. Walking down the sidewalk, they passed abandoned buildings. They looked out at them, derelict and dark, each one with their own story that ended in the same, grisly fate – ransacked by monsters and left to die. Rose looked away from them. Travis kept on walking, without paying much attention to them. In his experience, getting stuck in past memories was the worst anyone could do. He would know, of course.
Ignoring his own advice, he found himself thinking of his days in the maze. How he had woken up in a strange place, with dim lights hanging overhead and walls that were about to peel off. He remembered walking down those corridors, facing strange monsters. They would attack him on sight, and Travis would run, run through the corridors, like a rat in a maze. Travis thought he would never see the light at the end of the tunnel, that he would keep running, forever trapped. And when he did finally find the light…
He was stuck in an asylum look-alike that was more maze than asylum. The long years only served him to grow a grudge, berating himself from looking into matters that didn’t concern him, for the pain his disappearance must have caused his wife and daughter.
In his time inside the asylum, he had seen many other people who had walked through those halls. One of them was a pyromaniac named Manuel Lombardo. Their conversation had mystified Travis for years to come.
“How can you beat the heat, man?” Manual asked him.
“The heat? What do you mean? It’s pretty cold in here.”
“The flames, man! Don’t you see them? They’re everywhere!”
“The flames…? Are you feeling alright? This place isn’t burning.”
“Forget it, man. All I know it’s hot as hell in here.”
Manuel walked away into the East Wing. Travis never saw him again.
The next time somebody came in, Travis wasn’t as distrustful as he had been with Jack and Rose. This proved to be a mistake, as the mad man had tried to kill him. One shot was all it had taken to put him down, but Travis could never forget the noise of the gun and the man slumping, dead, before him, and never would.
“Dad.” Rose said. Travis stirred, shook free from the cobwebs of memories. “You walked past it.”
He turned around. “Past what?”
“The gun store.” She said, pointing to the building beside them. Travis looked in. It was too dark to see.
“Sorry, I was thinking of something and got distracted.” He pulled out the shotgun and smashed the end of it against the window. It shattered into pieces that fell on the floor. Travis made his way in and opened the door for Rose. She walked into the dark store.
He found a light switch near the counter. Travis flicked it on and light was born from the bulbs above. The store was completely raided, as Rose had predicted.
“I guess it was a waste of time.” Rose said, walking out the door. Travis stayed behind.
“Wait.” He said. Rose looked over her shoulder. Travis moved behind the counter.
“What?” She said. He looked under it and pulled out a few boxes of ammunition.
“Here we go.” He said, pocketing a dozen rounds of shotgun shells. There was another box he put aside, back under the counter. “These are rifle shells. Useless to us.”
“Alright. Let’s get moving. Jack is probably waiting for us. I hope he’s alright.” Rose said, moving back into the streets.
“You care about him, don’t you?” Travis walked behind her. Rose lead the way back to their house.
“He’s saved me a few times.” Rose said. She looked down, and seemed to consider. “To be more honest, without him, I don’t think I’d be here right now. I was…to scared to move. At what I’d find.”
“I’m sure he feels the same way about you.” Travis said. “I was like that for the longest time, too.”
“How did you get over it?”
“I didn’t.” His words rung clear in her ears. “The East Wing door, it taunted me for years, but I never moved. Until you two came along.”
“I don’t get it. You survived the maze, just like us. You could have taken whatever that Wing dished out. Why flag behind?”
“As scared as I was, I really didn’t want to die. I was cowardly.”
“Don’t say that, you…” Travis cut her off.
“No, it’s true. But right now, I’m making up for it. We’ll all get through this, I promise. You, Jack, me…even Jack’s sister, Maggie.”
“Yeah, I really hope he gets to see her. It seems like Maggie means the world to him.”
This was true enough. However, Travis would find out later he couldn’t fulfill his promise.