fear-198932_640

~~~

Gina woke earlier, surprisingly refreshed and in good spirits considering her forced exile from the rest of the world. Life, as best as could be described among the camp, was an entirely different beast in the daylight hours. There was an abundance of jobs for anyone looking to stay busy. Volunteers abounded as many wanted anything to do to keep preoccupied and far from focusing their dark thoughts on what might be lurking just beyond the fences or on the uncertain whereabouts of their loved ones. Some helped clean, others chopped wood; some worked at distributing the three meals a day that were provided, while others helped with medical concerns.

What Gina found most encouraging was the survivors’ resilience to maintain some semblance of society and adapt their former daily joys and routines to fit the confines of the plant. Children were a main concern and it became paramount to provide a place for their imaginations to roam. With the help of some creative members of the community, as well as the National Guard, a playground was erected just behind the main pavilion, enclosed by a temporary chain-link fence to keep them all together in a secure place. The playground was also under constant guard to add additional peace of mind. The tops and bottoms of several fifty-five gallon drums, removed from the warehouses, were modified into climbing tubes, while lumber was hammered together to make a small fort. A couple of tire swings hung down from an old engine crane that was relocated from the on-site garage. A crafty welder even found a way to make a swing set from aluminum poles with motorcycle seats hanging from thick ropes.

Gina found watching the children play together was like a soothing balm on her wounded soul. It was amazing to watch them get lost in adventures as if they still owned exclusive rights on fun, and the dangers without had no sway on their magical lands within.

She smiled at Greg’s daughter, Ashley. She had managed to allow her ultra-cool teenage ways to go on holiday long enough to join the ranks of uninhibited childish laughter as they all got lost in one silly game after another.

She considered going over and joining them in that magical place where every child was the hero and monsters were always defeated. But there were darker matters pending and questions Gina needed answered. Now that Ashley was engaged elsewhere, she turned her attention on the real monsters.

Gina stared into the faces of her new, strange group.

Greg sat back watching his daughter out of the corner of his eye while carving something from a block of wood. Doug sat in silence while wolfing down his meal. He was going over the map again. Frank sat in his usual stand-off-distance spot, entertaining himself by watching other survivors going about their business. Meredith had gone back to sleep. She’d woken up briefly, tried to eat, then laid back down claiming she didn’t feel well. Of course, she blamed it on last night’s meatloaf. That left just her and Charlie sitting near the embers of last night’s fire. He’d nodded and said, “Good morning,” and she’d responded in kind. That was as good as it was going to get between them at the moment.

There was no good way to approach the subject so she just announced, “When I was first attacked, a man I despised blew the back of one of those thing’s brains all over me. Probably saved my life since the thing was inches away from ripping out my throat with its teeth. That’s when I first encountered one of those things with the hateful yellow eyes and found out that it saw me as… food.”

Charlie looked down at the MRE he was pecking at, then back to Gina. “Really? You wanted to bring that topic up right now?”

Gina smiled, pointed up, and said, “Sun’s up. Topic’s fair game now and I’ve been as patient as I can be. It’s time to exchange notes.”

Doug and Greg shared a weary look as Greg nodded and said, “Go on. Tell her what we talked about that first night.”

Doug sighed and said, “Alright, Gina. We’ve discussed this a bit before you got here—almost scared ourselves into becoming insomniacs—but you’re right. We need to know the enemy and re-open this discussion. Why don’t you tell us how you got here, what you experienced, and we’ll fill you in on anything new from what we’ve learned.”

“Why don’t we cut to the chase this time around and just say the word,” Charlie added.

“Not this again.” Doug rolled his eyes.

“What’s he talking about?” Gina asked.

Charlie pushed. “No one in this group is apparently any good at math. So I’ll add up the facts which will equal the obvious: Dead people walking + Flesh eating tendencies = Fucking Zombies!”

Gina chuckled. “He’s kidding, right? Are we really calling these things… zombies? Like from those cheesy horror movies?”

Charlie placed his hands on his head. “Great, another unbeliever. Tell me people, what’s it going to take to convince you just to call these things what they are. Horror movies or not, they still fit the bill. Hell, we’ve already established that it takes head shots to bring them down. What more proof is needed? If it looks like a dog and acts like a dog, no one sits around disputing whether it’s a fucking dog or not.”

“Alright, Charlie, you’ve already exhausted this discussion on the first night,” Doug said. “Let’s skip the whole ‘what to call them’ debate for now, and move on to what we need to know. Yes, as Charlie mentioned, it appears that only head shots can bring down these things. This has been confirmed repeatedly by other survivors as well as the Guard. Myself and Gina have also discovered this first hand.”

Gina nodded.

“Okay, we know there are different types as well,” Charlie said. “Amanda talked about the rotting ones while Stephen, Doug and I saw the crazy ones. The Guardsmen said they only fought the crazy ones that were stopped at the outer fences that first night.”

“Yes,” Doug added. “They said that they came sporadically and in smaller groups, striking at multiple locations around the fences. It’s assumed that most of them were locals affected by the The Change.”

“The rotting ones are much slower, unless they haven’t been dead very long, then they’re a lot of fun. Easy to avoid individually, but when they move together, they’re overwhelming,” Frank added, surprising the others by joining in the discussion. “I was in Eastlake when they came in force—almost got me trying to get out of that hell hole.”

“Don’t forget those animal ones that folks have been talkin’ about,” Greg added. “The ones with the red eyes?”

“Good point,” Doug chimed in. “The eyes seem to be an important characteristic of these things. Let’s see, the animal types had red eyes, the rotting ones had dark eyes, the crazy ones- ”

“Their eyes were yellow,” Gina cut in. “A sickly looking yellow. They also had bulging veins that seemed ready to burst through the surface of their pale skin. It was like they were pumped up full of adrenaline multiplied by a thousand, or something.”

“Almost superhuman. That’s how they seemed to me,” Doug added. “I’ve been in a scrape or two in my day and I’ve fought bigger guys than me that were easier to put down than the smallest of these things.”

“They seemed fueled by rage,” Charlie said, no longer enjoying the discussion. “When they saw me at the hospital, it was like pure fucking hatred staring back at me. All you had to do was see that look and you just knew they wanted you dead.”

“Exactly,” Gina agreed.

An unsettling silence fell as each of them tried to shake off the chills brought on by their shared hellish memories.

Gina broke the silence. “Mercury.”

They all waited.

Gina continued, “The man that saved my life that first night, he’d been bitten by the thing that attacked me. I didn’t think too much about it until I came across another man on a boat. They were both sick as hell, coughing up blood and acting… insane. Yes, they definitely weren’t right in the head. But what stood out the most was that they had these dark silver looking eyes, like mercury.”

“That’s what my buddy in the Guard was talking about,” Douglas said. “He was very hush, hush about the whole initial attack, said it was an ugly affair because he had to defend himself against his fellow guardsmen that…changed. He said that some of his troop that survived the attack had been bitten or scratched or got those bastards’ blood on them and that they were immediately placed in quarantine. Said that he hadn’t seen any of them since. He stopped talking about it after that because I think he knew he’d said too much, but he did babble on at the end about how their eyes had changed to lead. Sounds like he was talking about the same thing, Gina.”

“So let me see,” Charlie began. “People with bites and scratches start turning into the things that attacked them, a.k.a. infected… hmmm… sounds like more fucking zombie math to me.”

“I don’t know that they were turning into those things,” Gina clarified. “The infected people I encountered seemed more sick than anything else. They were still aware of things.”

“Maybe it’s a process,” Doug offered. “Perhaps they start off like us, and then slowly turn into one of them.”

“Maybe,” Gina said, not totally convinced.

“Zombies,” Charlie said. “Fucking zombies.”

“My Hannah,” Meredith said, sitting up and joining the discussion, “she’d been bitten as well. She had those same mercury eyes Gina mentioned. I saw no indication that she was changing into a monster, only that she was in intense pain. She said she felt like she was dying inside. Everything started to get blurry after that. I remember getting very sick shortly after and nearly died myself… ” She broke herself off, not wanting to relive the rest.

“I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Meredith,” Gina said.

“What happened to her?” Charlie asked.

Meredith looked to Frank then toward the ground. She only added, “We were chased… they caught up with us… that’s when we lost Hannah.”

No one approached the subject further.

Frank shifted uncomfortably within his blanket and looked away, appearing bored with the whole conversation.

Meredith continued to stare at the ground, wrestling with her own deep thoughts.

“You okay?” Gina asked, moving to sit beside the woman. “You don’t seem yourself this morning.”

Meredith offered a half-hearted smile and said, “Rough night is all, honey. Just give me a bit of time to wake up… I have one hell of a headache.”

Gina nodded and looked up to catch Frank staring at the woman like a hawk.

“So that’s about it,” Doug finished. “We know a few things more than we did, but we’ve got more questions than answers. I suppose it’s a start.”

“We know that they’re zombies,” Charlie grumbled under his breath.

Everyone ignored him.

Meredith suddenly keeled over and vomited causing everyone to rise. “Oh dear, I’m sorry about that. It seems that last night’s meatloaf has declared war on my digestive system.”

No one shared in the joke. They were all staring at the pool of blood beneath her feet.

“Meredith…” Gina was deeply concerned. She started looking toward the first aid tent.

Meredith stood up abruptly causing Charlie to fall back in his chair. Her eyes went wide and her jaw dropped open.

“I think she’s having trouble breathing,” Doug said. He started toward her then stopped.

Meredith closed her mouth and lifted her arms up over her head. She closed her eyes and began swaying her arms back and forth like some bizarre marionette doll without strings.

“What the hell’s wrong with her?” Charlie backed away, unsure of what to do.

“Meredith…It’s me, Gina. Can you hear me right now? Are you having trouble breathing?”

Meredith collapsed to the ground and began to convulse.

“My mama had the shakes just like this… epilepsy,” Greg said. “I think she’s havin’ a seizure.”

“What do we do?” Charlie asked.

Gina started for the first aid tent then stopped when she heard Meredith shout in a low guttural voice:

“THEY’RE COMING… BE QUICK… MAKE HASTE… THE DARKNESS IS NIGH… THE DARKNESS IS NIGH…”

“Shit,” Frank said, rising to his feet.

Meredith grabbed the sides of her head, her face strained like it was about to explode. She opened her eyes and let out an ear-piercing scream that caught the attention of campers nearby.

“Holy fuck!” Charlie said backing into another chair and nearly falling.

“Gina, get her some help!” Doug barked. “And be quick about it…Gina!”

Gina couldn’t look away.

Charlie was quick to volunteer. “I’ll… I’ll go get the nurse.” He fell over their supplies trying to rush off.

Meredith stopped shaking and slowly rose to her feet. She turned toward Charlie, cocking her head to one side, and stared right at him.

“She fucking infected!” Charlie yelled. “She wants to bite me!”

“Shut up, you idiot!” Frank hissed. His attention turned immediately toward the small crowd of concerned survivors that had gathered. One, hearing Charlie’s declaration, ran off to find the guardsmen. Others stood in shock, staring at the crazy woman and fearing the worst.

Greg turned toward the playground. “I can’t see Ashley.” No one was listening. He looked to Doug and gave him an apologetic shrug then went off to find her.

Even Doug backed off, not comprehending what was taking place. Meredith turned to gaze at him and he lifted his arms. “Meredith, please calm down. We’ll figure this out.”

“DEAD INSIDE… DEAD OUTSIDE… DEAD INSIDE… DEAD OUTSIDE… RUN… RUNNNN!”

The crowd had grown and they were afraid. They began to voice their fear:

“…Somebody needs to do something.”

“…She’s one of those things!”

“…She’s scaring everyone. I wish she’d stop. Where’s the Guard?’

“…Look at her shaking and acting all crazy! We need to stop it!”

“…Oh my God… the children! What if it attacks the children!”

“…Let’s do something before it attacks!”

“THEY’RE COMING… SUCH GREAT PAIN… FEED… FEED…. BE QUICK… MAKE HASTE… THE DARKNESS IS NIGH… THE DARKNESS IS NIGH…THE DEAD ARE COMING… THE DEAD ARE COMING!!!” Meredith fell to the ground. Her body tensed and arched upward. She screamed as though she were on fire.

By now the guardsman were making their way through the crowd. Their rifles were drawn.

The crowd again:

“…Here they come! Kill that monster before it’s too late!”

“…Now’s our chance, let’s get it while it’s down.”

As one, the crowd began to advance, feeling braver in numbers. One had a shovel and moved in to bash Meredith’s skull in.

Gina was there. “Get the fuck back! What the hell’s wrong with you people?”

The man with the shovel pushed her aside and ran into a wall of Doug. He picked the man up by his shirt and pushed him back into the crowd. “Back off!” he threatened.

“She’s infected!” they roared. “We need to kill it!”

Others started to advance with whatever makeshift weapons they could find. Someone threw a rock that
struck Doug in the head. Momentarily stunned, three men grabbed him from behind and dragged him to the ground.

“GET IT! KILL IT NOW!!!” They roared as one. Others moved in.

Gina crawled over to Meredith and tried to shield her with her body.

The first of the frightened survivors lifted weapons to strike at the fallen women.

Frank Carman stepped up in front of the mob, brandishing a 45mm hand gun. He aimed it in an arc toward the crowd. “First fucker that lays a hand on her is dead!” In his other hand he held a long hunting knife.

Doug was up on his knees, staring in disbelief at how fast the situation had turned so dismal.

The guardsmen broke through and Sergeant Hash ordered the crowd to stand back.

The crowd obliged, relieved to let the four men with the guns take over.

Frank lowered the gun toward the ground, taking a deep breath.

Hash, assessing the situation, looked to Meredith who was convulsing violently. “Shit. Get away from her! This woman needs to be restrained.” He signaled his men to move in.

Frank raised the gun. “Not gonna happen, soldier boy. Leave her alone. Last warning.”

Hash looked into Frank’s eyes and saw that he meant it. “Stand fast!” Hash ordered. The guardsmen stopped. They all had their rifles targeting Frank. “Look, your friend’s sick. We’ve seen this before. She needs to be quarantined from the rest of the camp for everyone’s safety! There’s just too much we don’t know right now.”

Frank smiled. “Fuck your quarantine! I’d be more concerned about wearing a bullet, if I was you.”

“They’ll mow you down right after,” Hash warned.

“Sergeant Hash,” Gina said. She’d drawn her revolver, hands shaking, and aimed low in the direction of the guardsmen. “She wasn’t attacked. She wasn’t bitten or anything else… please… this is something else. She’s not infected.”

Recognizing Gina, the girl he’d rescued just last night, Hash took a deep breath and said, “Look, as much as I have a habit of blowing off orders that make no sense, my orders to quarantine anyone showing symptoms makes perfect sense. You do understand what might happen if your friend… changes?”

Gina was in tears. She hadn’t known Meredith very long but was unwilling to lose this woman. Hash was
only thinking of the greater good… and he was right.

“Gina,” Frank said, refusing to turn away from Hash, “Meredith is fine. Stand your ground or you’ll never see her again. Ask the good Sergeant where his fellow guardsmen are, the ones that got scraped up and brought inside their sacred inner protected area. Go ahead, ask him. I bet he’s wondering where they are too, and why that precious power block is virtually off-limits to everyone.”

“What are you talking about… has someone been talking to you?” Hash asked.

“I pay attention, Sergeant. That’s something you might want to start doing because if you think for one fucking minute that I’m going to let you take this woman inside that concentration camp of secrets, you’re dead wrong. Time’s up. Either you leave or I shoot.”

Gina lifted the gun at Hash and gave him an apologetic ‘what-else-can-I-do’ look.

Hash shook his head and said, “For crying out loud! I didn’t sign up for this shit!” He lowered his rifle, turned around and told the guardsmen to lower their weapons. This caused an outrage among the mob. He ordered his troop to watch the crowd. “Let’s defuse this situation and try to find a satisfactory resolve, alright?”

“I’m almost disappointed we didn’t get to let that play out,” Frank said with a wink. He lowered his gun.

“Un-fucking-believable,” Hash said to the big man.

Gina holstered her gun and checked on Meredith. She appeared to be asleep with her eyes wide open. “She’s calmed down. Look! She’s fine now.”

“This changes nothing,” he said. “If I take my troops and leave, what do you think those fine citizens will do to you?”

“We’ll guard her ourselves,” Doug said while attending his head wound. “We’ll place a twenty-four hour watch around her and if her condition gets worse- ”

“If she changes into one of those things, Sergeant, I’ll blow her fucking head off myself!” Gina finished. Her adrenaline enhanced emotions were on overload. Enough was enough.

“I hear she’s a good shot,” Frank added. “So you’ve got nothing to concern yourself with here.”

Just then, a voice crackled over Hash’s radio, “Sarge, where you at? There’s something strange going on over at the east perimeter. Over.” It was Thompson.

“I copy. I’m coming now,” he told Thompson on the radio.

Hash turned and pointed at Gina. “You watch your friend and you better watch your backs because these
people are now afraid of what that woman represents, whether it’s true or not. They see her as a threat to their safety living just a few feet from where they sleep. You best remember that.”

Gina nodded. “We’ll watch her, I promise.”

“I’m holding you responsible for this mess, Gina. If she turns and kills someone, that’s on you! Understood?”

“Understood.”

Hash departed with two of the guardsmen. He ordered the last one to remain in the area until the crowd dispersed.

“Thank God that’s over,” Charlie said, rising from behind their camping gear he’d positioned in front of himself like a flimsy barricade.

Frank rolled his eyes at the little man. “Well, it’s a good thing you were here to help.” He returned to his spot, keeping a watchful eye on the remaining onlookers nearby.

Gina stayed glued to Meredith’s side. She re-positioned her contorted body and rolled her onto a sleeping bag. “Meredith, can you hear me?”

The older woman continued to stare off despondently.

By now Greg had returned with Ashley in tow. He kept his distance, uncertain of whether Meredith had lost her mind or not. Ashley was crying.

Stephen came hurrying from the direction of the crowd carrying some supplies he’d obtained from the first aid tent. He took a look at Meredith then to Gina, who waved him off. “She appears stable… for what it’s worth. No cuts or bruises… nothing visible anyway.”

Stephen nodded then walked over to Doug and helped dress his head wound. “That was crazy,” he began. “I was stuck behind the crowd. The way they were acting I started to think they’d changed. I saw Doug get hit and I went for help. Couldn’t get any of the nurses to come over here… I think they were afraid.”

Doug was staring at the limp Meredith, weighing their options. “I think fear if left unchecked could spread and destroy this camp faster than any damn infection ever could. They were so quick to assume the worst that they were ready to kill her.” After a pause he added, “Regardless of what’s ailing Meredith, we’ve become outcasts in their minds now. I don’t think we can stay much longer.”

“What are you talking about? We’ve every right to be here!” Charlie was up in arms. “They can’t make us leave… that… that would be the same as murder!”

Doug ignored this and let Stephen finish attending to his head wound.

Gina let their conversations drift into the background. Her only concern was whether the kind-hearted woman lying vacant in front of her would come back or not. And if she did return, would it be with more of the same lunatic ravings. She did something for the second time since her world turned upside down that she hadn’t done in many years:

Please, God, not one more loss. There’s been too much already. Please, just let her be okay.

Meredith suddenly tensed up and grabbed Gina’s arms. She took a deep breath as if surfacing from deep waters and then relaxed when she recognized her red-headed new friend.

“It’s okay, we’re here. You’re safe.” Gina was laughing and crying simultaneously.

The others moved in closer, except for Frank who continued to watch the scattered onlookers.

“Wh…where am I?” Meredith asked in a weak voice.

“You’re here, at the plant. We’re all still here… even the meatloaf.” Gina smiled.

Meredith smiled back, patting Gina’s hand. Then her face went dark as the nightmare of memory resurfaced. “Douglas?”

“I’m here, Meredith. Are you feeling alright now?”

She looked at Douglas gravely and said, “We need to leave this place.”

“I was just going to bring that up tonight after everyone’s here. You get some rest and will discuss our
options this evening- ”

“No. You don’t understand. We need to leave right now.”

Douglas didn’t know how to respond.

They all began to look at one another wearily, fearing a relapse.

Meredith tried to sit up but lacked the strength. She looked at each of them, letting her frustration show. She said, “I know, ole’ Meredith seems pretty crazy to you at the moment, and you’ve every right to think so. But I’m begging you to believe me just this once and then you can lock me up.”

“We don’t think you’re crazy, Meredith,” Gina said. “It’s just that- ”

“Gina, listen to me!” She turned her gaze on all of them. “All of you need to be still and listen! There’s no more time for hesitation. The dead are coming… right now!”

~~~

Next Episode (11-3):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/chapter-11-3-nowhere-safe/

Previous Episode (11-1):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/chapter-11-1-nowhere-safe/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 11-2: Nowhere Safe” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

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. mike says:

    End the next one on a cliff hanger and I will hunt you down

    Liked by 1 person

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