Being alone is supposed to be bad for you. He’d figured it out pretty fast when his Pa died, opening his mouth to say something and finding nobody there. Talking to trees instead of his father.
He’d always been weird. Or at least that was what people told him. Awkward, poor social skills, spent way too much time outside to be considered normal. But he’s self aware enough to know that talking to himself is a level of weird he’s not at. At least not yet.
And the Z’s like noise, so Tommy keeps his mouth shut. He can talk to himself in his brain.
At some point, he becomes 10k. He’s not really sure when it happens. There’s no defining moment, no waking realization, but he’s not Tommy. Not anymore.
Tommy didn’t live off the remnants of the Earth. Tommy didn’t scavenge, didn’t raid old houses, didn’t mercy Zs. If he missed a shot out hunting, it didn’t mean going hungry. Unless he found something else, 10k did.
The isolation doesn’t make him crazy. It makes him 10k. Tommy wouldn’t have made it; he wasn’t cut out for what the world turned into. Tommy needed his Pa to keep him safe. To help find food, water, and shelter. To help him not be afraid.
But he’s stronger now. A better shot than he used to be. Quicker on his feet. More coordinated. Tommy had been so scared. Sure, 10k was scared sometimes, but the fear made him smarter. One bite was all it took. Then he wouldn’t be Tommy, wouldn’t be 10k, wouldn’t be anything, and he’d rather die than be a Z.
He doesn’t know why he shoots the Z attacking the old hippie. His finger moves on impulse, squeezing the trigger and blowing an impressive hole in the dead thing’s head as natural as taking his next breath. Another to add to the count. It’s the only time he talks now, just to keep track of the numbers as they slowly tick upwards.
He doesn’t know why he gets in the truck when they offer him a ride. It’s a bad idea, other people are a bad idea. They either want your stuff, want to kill you, or will break your heart when you have to mercy them later on. But 10k gets in the truck.
He sounds hoarse when he gives his name and bored when he has to explain it. Had it always been this hard just to communicate? All it was was sound coming out of his mouth, but it took a monumental effort to string together the noise into words.
Isolation had made him 10k, protected him because people were more dangerous than the Zs a lot of the time, but it had taken the little social skills he’d had and ground them to dust. It sucks. But he finds that he really doesn’t want to do it again, so he grits his teeth and bears it.
It gets easier. Talking, laughing, not going silent for hours and hours because apparently it gets worrying when he hasn’t spoken a peep for days. It’s not supposed to be worrying, but that doesn’t stop the group from doing it. Except for Murphy, but he doesn’t care about Murphy. He’ll put a bullet in a Z if it looks like it’s about to eat him, but other than that, he doesn’t have much of an opinion on the man other than that he doesn’t like him much.
Doc’s the one that makes him talk. ‘Makes him’ is the wrong words. The old man talks so much it’s hard not to say something back every once in a while. It’s just chatter, but chatter becomes the normal. Opening his mouth and saying something becomes less and less like pulling teeth. Maybe not completely, but it’s not so bad.
They’re not so bad. A hell of a lot better than being alone, at least.