Unknown173

~~~

The remains of the day bled fire beneath an October overcast sky as dusk came early to murder the fearful sun. Like a fresh crime scene, luminescent blood-red splatters penetrated the cracks between cloud and horizon as the last of the light spilled out and shimmered across Lake Erie—just another victim of a broken world.

Gina Melborn pulled the hood of her navy-blue rain slicker up over her red ball cap and lowered the visor to protect her eyes as gusts of cool air coming across the lake assaulted her face with sand. She tightened the straps of her backpack and continued to walk south down the shoreline, trying to avoid the strong surf, which threatened to soak her shoes.

She’d hoped to reach the Percy Power Plant before dark but was yet to spot its two giant conical-shaped towers along the shoreline. The power plant was one of a handful of places listed as a safe haven for anyone who could reach it. It was mentioned in an automated emergency broadcast message that continued to play on a repetitive loop every fifteen minutes on the portable AM radio she’d found at Malcolm Hathaway’s beach house.

Gina had underestimated the terrain and her own paralyzing fear, which had made her hesitant to travel every time she neared a beach-front home, park, or when she had to temporarily come inland when the shoreline was obstructed by debris or completely submerged beneath the lake.

Gina had nearly given up and turned back earlier that afternoon when she’d had to cut through a neighborhood that was completely deserted. The remains of panicked citizens who had tried to flee last night’s blood bath were scattered in the streets—looks of surprised horror forever frozen on their mangled faces. Front doors were left wide open; hastily packed suitcases full of cherished memorabilia were littered across bloodied lawns; car windows were bashed in. One image that haunted Gina more than the rest was when she’d come across a bloody child’s stroller left abandoned in the center of the road.

The real unnerving part had been the silence. Gina moved heavy feet down each street, imagining each horrific scene play out by the evidence that remained, until she thankfully found another beach access. There had been numerous signs of attacks, but no attackers. She’d expected to find monsters, like Gerald, the rapist. But there was only silence—and worse—no survivors. All that silence came alive with eyes which followed her from every dark window she passed until it felt like her sanity was about to give.

Walking along the shoreline was easier but no less terrifying. The constant rush of the waves muted out all other sounds and she feared that one of those monsters would simply sneak up behind her if she wasn’t on her guard. All day she had watched the inland side like a hawk, waiting for the attack that never came. Her plan was simple: If they came at her in numbers while she was exposed along the water, Gina would swim out on the lake and let the current either move her farther south or drown her. Either was preferable at this point. One on one, she believed she could defend herself with the revolver she’d found in the glove box of Captain Ellington’s vehicle (Malcolm’s Magnum became worthless since she’d never found any more rounds for it), but the sound was sure to attract more of them.

She had done well so far by avoiding heavily populated areas, but now she faced the uncertainty of nightfall and needed to find shelter. She hated the thought of leaving the beach and approaching one of those empty, lifeless neighborhood tombs with what God-only-knew horrors that waited within them.

Gina stopped abruptly as she saw a dark shape standing near the water up ahead. She almost missed it in the failing light.

Oh, God, not now. I’m not ready for this.

She’d entertained this very possibility before leaving Malcolm’s beach house that afternoon. To shoot an evil man like Gerald or his fellow rapists, or even Malcolm Hathaway himself before he committed suicide, seemed reasonable and justified. But how would she be able to shoot complete strangers, who by no fault of their own, had succumbed to this… plague? Whatever they were now, just a few short hours ago these monsters were somebody’s son or daughter, a loving father or mother, a dear old grandmother… What if it was just a small child?

Gina had long ago learned the fundamentals of safely handling and firing a handgun from her father, but shooting empty cans of Coors Light off a fence post was not the same as firing at another human being.

Her father had served in Vietnam, and like many veterans who had seen action, he rarely spoke of it. But when asked by his young daughter at fifteen, “Daddy, did you ever kill anyone in the war?”

He’d confided in her and said, “Yes, Gina, I’ve shot people… but only the bad guys. The world is a wonderful place but sometimes evil men try to make the world bad and do bad things. In wars, sometimes you have to shoot the bad guys. Understand?”

Little Gina had nodded and smiled. “I’ll only shoot bad guys, Daddy… but only if I have to.”

Her father had laughed, brushed the top of her wild, reddish hair with his hand and said, “Honey, I hope you never have to shoot anyone. Learning how to handle a gun and protecting the ones you love is important, but learning how to live and get along with everyone in this crazy world is better. If you can do that, you’ll never need to worry about shooting guns.”

“Unless it’s war… right, Daddy?”

Her father had frowned, staring off into the distance with a haunted look. “Yes, Gina. War is different. War is hard and very different.”

“And this is war,” Gina whispered as she retrieved the gun from the holster she kept concealed beneath her rain jacket. She modified one of Malcolm’s thick belts to support the gun and wore it around a baggy set of grey work coveralls she’d found at the beach house.

The figure had not noticed her yet as it simply stood near the water.

Gina considered her options. She could hide and wait for it to go away, but the light was fading fast and she didn’t want to be out in full dark. Anything could get close to her then. She thought about going around, but a quick look at the changing terrain ahead showed her that wouldn’t work. The beach was narrowing again and a cliff began to slowly rise on the inland side. She was certain to find another beach home before dark if she kept along the shore.

She decided to approach as close to the cliff as possible and try to slip around it, using beach debris for cover. If it saw her, she’d blast a hole in its head.

What if it’s another survivor?

There was that possibility. Gina would never forgive herself for shooting another human being out of fear. She needed to be careful and only shoot when it was clear her target was like Gerald. But she’d have to let it get close before firing to know for sure. Hopefully, she could avoid notice.

She crept along the rising cliff, keeping her gun at the ready but off the trigger. As she got closer, Gina began to feel vulnerable due to tunnel vision, her attention too focused on the stranger.

When she was close enough, she recognized her enemy… the dead tree.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” Gina holstered the hand gun, took a deep breath to calm her nerves, and then approached the tree. Its long bony branches, twisted together, stood up out of the main trunk lying in the sand casting a convincing illusion of a figure from a distance. “I’d shoot you just for the damn trouble you’ve caused if not for the noise,” Gina advised the tree. And this was the kind of shit she had to look forward to in this fucked-up new world where even dead trees could cause her to jump out of her skin. She let out a nervous laugh and gathered her bearings.

From the water’s edge, she noticed the beach was about to take a sharp turn toward the left where it disappeared from view behind the inland cliff. Wasting no more of the light, Gina turned the corner and discovered a small gulf where she spotted four beach homes connected by a large private four-pier dock. Tied off to the farthest pier was a sailboat.

A sailboat with its running lights on.

~~~

Gina forced herself to slow down before she broke her neck tripping over driftwood in the dark. She was almost to the dock. From this close, she could now see that the interior cabin lights were also on.

Thank God! Another survivor… with a freakin’ boat!

She was deathly afraid that whoever was on board was about to sail away and leave her all alone. Gina wanted to cry out as loud as her strength would allow, but feared giving away her position to anything lurking up near the homes where shadows hid all. She cursed herself for not searching Malcolm’s house more thoroughly to find a flashlight. If she had one now, she could signal the boat.

“Please don’t leave me here,” she moaned through labored breaths. She never realized until now how much she couldn’t stand being alone and that she desperately needed to make contact with another human being to verify that she really wasn’t the only survivor. A few days ago, she would have loved a quiet weekend on some remote beach with no one around for miles. Alone had become a curse overnight, promising a slow and agonizing death; alone meant the end of hope.

When Gina reached the pier, her emotions were about to burst. Rather than sprinting across the dock and jumping on the boat, she took a moment to catch her breath and collect her wits. She glanced back at the closest beach house and wiped a tear from her eye. She saw nothing but another dead and deserted house looking as if years had been added to the exterior overnight to remind her that everyone was gone. Dark sockets stared back at her from where lit windows should’ve been. The front door hung open pleading for the return of its owners who would never come back. And again, that God-awful, heavy silence that filled all the spaces once reserved for life and light were now dominated by shadow and the things that hid within them.

I have to get off this fucking beach. There’s nothing but death here.

She walked cautiously but anxiously toward the boat, refusing to look back toward the dark. The lit sailboat renewed her hope for it meant life and perhaps an exodus from this silent graveyard.

“Hello,” she called out. “Is anyone there? My name’s Gina Melborn and I’d really like to speak to someone… anyone?”

She was rewarded with more silence.

“You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m not like those things… I’m normal.”

Gina spotted the door to the cabin. It had a round window where light shined out.

Perhaps they can’t hear me in there.

She crossed over to the deck of the boat and approached the small door. She was about to knock but opted to peek in through the hole first.

It was a modest sized cabin with two pairs of bunk beds along the back wall. The rest was a small multipurpose living area that looked like a hurricane had blown through as various items were scattered about. From a lower bunk directly across the door, Gina could see the back of someone curled up into a ball and appearing to be asleep. She spotted dark splatters on the back of what looked like a soiled nightgown.

My God, that’s a small child.

Fearing the worst, Gina reached for the door handle. It was locked.

“Get away from my daughter, ya’ foul fuckin’ thing!” a heavy voice hissed from behind her.

Before Gina could turn around, she was grabbed by her arms and thrown like a rag doll toward the stern of the sailboat. The aft lifeline was the only thing that kept her from falling over the side as she slumped to the deck instead.

A large man with a black beard on a face buried within the hood of a yellow rain slicker started toward her.

“Please… wait! I’m not one of them!” Gina tried to retrieve her gun but couldn’t get to the holster buried within the folds of her jacket.

The man stopped three feet in front of her, not expecting a conversation. He fumbled through his slicker pocket and pulled out a flashlight. He shined it in Gina’s face and backed up another foot. “You human?”

What a strange question to be asked. “I’ve looked better, believe me, but yes… I’m human.” Gina got up slowly and continued, “I didn’t mean to scare you or your daughter. I called out but no one answered.”

The man simply stood there as if wondering if the dead could speak or if Gina was a figment of his imagination. That’s when she noticed the large hunting knife in the stranger’s left hand.

“Sir, you’re not going to need that. I’m harmless.” Gina wanted to go for the handgun but feared how it would be perceived. “Could we just calm down and talk this out?”

“Why are ya’ on my boat? Did ya’ think you could just steal my boat?” The man stepped toward her again until he was close enough to slit her throat in one quick motion.

“No, Sir… I saw your lights and-”

“Where’s the rest of your group? Hiding in the dark waiting to steal my stuff?” The man drew the knife back as Gina lifted her hands to protect her face.

The man fell to one knee as a violent coughing fit seized him, cutting off his ability to breathe. The man lifted the back of his knife hand to his mouth as blood trickled down his chin.

Gina pulled out her gun but kept it aimed low. “Please, calm down. I don’t want to shoot you so don’t force me, alright?”

The man stopped coughing and pulled down his hood to reveal his curly black hair. He tried to get up but lacked the strength to stand. “I knew ya’ were no good. Nothing in this world is good anymore. Can’t trust anyone!”

She caught a good look at his face… his eyes. They looked dead and dark grey, like overcast storm clouds.

I’ve seen this before. Malcolm was behaving the same way. The coughing, the blood… those eyes.

“Sir, I think you’re very sick and you should try to calm down. Your daughter is going to need you more than ever now, so please don’t make me shoot you.”

This seemed to hit home. The man gave up trying to stand and sat down, leaning against the rear mast. He lifted his shaking hand which held the hunting knife and then dropped it to the deck. “I don’t feel right. Burning up inside like hell lives in me… can’t think straight for too long… getting so angry.” He didn’t seem to register Gina anymore as his haunted eyes stared out toward the water, a horrific memory replaying just behind them.

Gina moved around to the other side closest to the dock. She kept the gun trained in his direction but aimed at the deck.

The man cried out in pain, gripped his stomach and puked up blood. “I can’t take it! It’s too much.”

“Sir, we need to get you some help. Why don’t you get this boat moving and we’ll try to find a doctor.”

The man interrupted her with a chilling laugh. “No doctors anymore. No anybody.” He then looked at her—looked into her—and said, “We’re all damned. Everyone, everywhere… all damned!”

Gina felt a sudden chill rip through her soul. This poor man was out of his fucking mind.

Will this be my fate if those monsters don’t get me first? Will I eventually snap under all the stress of just trying to stay alive?

Then she thought of Malcolm again. “Sir, were you bitten by one of those things? Is that why you’re sick?”

“Yes, yes, yes… I was bitten. I knew better but I tried to help her anyway. But what else could I do? We were sailing… my darlin’ wife, Clara… oh, my poor, poor Clara… she just… changed. She tried to get Megan and I pushed her overboard… I had to. I watched her drown… but I didn’t know… I didn’t fuckin’ know! I thought she drowned… how was I to know she couldn’t…” The man began to weep.

Gina failed to find words. She was trembling when she holstered the gun. “Sir, I’m going to check on your daughter. Please, just stay there and we’ll figure this out together.”

The man was unresponsive, lost in the prison of a memory that would scar him for the rest of his short life.

Gina approached the locked door. She looked through the round window but the girl was no longer in the bunk bed. She scanned the cabin but was afforded a limited view through the small window. She knocked on the door. “Megan? Hello, Megan? Don’t be afraid, honey, you can come out of there. My name’s Gina and I just want to make sure you’re alright.”

Gina turned toward the broken man. “Sir, do you have the key to this door?”

Just then the face of a hideous beast filled the portal and began to slam against the door.

Gina fell backward, landing on her ass. “Oh dear Jesus… this can’t be happening.” Gina covered her mouth as the blood drained from her face.

“Megan!” her father yelled. “Calm down, sweetheart… we’re going back out to find your ma’ very, very soon… then everything will be alright… just you wait and see.” The man began to laugh as if remembering a private joke. “You see,” he said to Gina, “I didn’t know my Clara couldn’t drown… and she’s still out there… waiting for us! We can still be together, don’t ya’ see?”

Gina backed away from the screeching monster that tried to break the door down to tear her apart. My, God, she looks just like Gerald did! What can do such a thing to children!

The beast in the cabin tore into her with intense yellow eyes and screamed.

I’m getting off this floating madhouse! She walked cautiously toward the man, picked up the discarded flashlight and stepped back onto the dock.

“Calm down, sweetheart,” the sick man yelled. “We’re gonna go get your ma’ back… and she’ll know how to make you… better… you’ll see.”

She walked back off the pier and toward the beach house with the open door. She turned on the flashlight and entered. Gina refused to look back at the dock. She couldn’t. Once within the house she closed the door, ascended a staircase, found a bedroom, found a closet, turned the flashlight off and wept in the darkness, hoping the night would simply swallow her up before the dawn.

~~~

Next Episode 9-2

Previous Episode 8-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 9-1: Desolate Shores” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Comments
  1. Sam says:

    Loving Gina’s struggle to hold on to the reality of it all.

    Liked by 1 person

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