Unknown56

~~~

An overcast sky promised a bleak morning as ten weary survivors departed at dawn. After the long night of waiting to die, no one protested leaving the dead house, wanting only distance between themselves and all memory of the previous night. They’d foraged what they could—some canned goods from the pantry, bottled water, warmer clothing including some rain gear, an additional rifle with twenty rounds to add to their small arsenal of weapons, and whatever else that might be useful, all stuffed into their packs.

They’d exited the woods and resumed their journey south along the wasted tracks. The overgrowth of tall grasses between ancient ties made it difficult to distinguish where iron began and nature ended as the abandoned railway held a straight course into the unknown.

Their moods were dark like the clouds above that seemed to swallow up the daylight. Everyone expected another attack at any moment now that they were out in the open. They suspiciously scanned the woods on both sides of the tracks for movement as they found themselves jumping at shadows that played tricks on their perception in the post twilight sky.

Doug had spread them out along the tracks to provide less of a target bunched up in a group, hopefully hiding their numbers, and to expand their early warning area should they be discovered. His tactics were grim and desperate, but no one could argue against them. He put Gina’s gun in the front, Frank’s at the rear and Greg, who was an experienced rifle shooter, in the middle.

Gina yawned as she held her handgun at the low ready and tried not to think about how tired she felt. She needed to keep alert and focused, especially after being graciously assigned to guard the front of their make-shift militia. She tried not to look back at the others for every time she did, Gina could see her own fear reflected in those anxious stares. They were all in bad shape with too much uncertainty weighing heavily on their already exhausted minds. Sleep was quickly becoming a rare resource that was getting harder and harder to come by. They needed to find shelter soon, somewhere safe and secure so they could get some real rest rather than broken naps sandwiched in between nightmares.

What I wouldn’t give to just have an hour of deep fucking sleep. Her eyelids fell over her eyes in complete agreement.

“Watch yourself, Gina,” came the gruff voice from her left as Doug grabbed her by the shoulders to keep her from falling off the tracks and into a ditch.

“Fuck me,” she said. “Now I’m sleepwalking. I could’ve sprained my damn ankle in that. Thanks.” Then she added, shaking her head, “Add dumb ass to that. You walked right up on me and I never even heard you. Some guard I am right now.”

Doug said nothing at first but continued to walk beside her, staring dead ahead into the foreboding half-light. Finally he said, “We’re all tired and wore out. It’s real easy to make mistakes in this state. From now on we’ll stay in pairs to keep each other out of trouble.”

“Sounds good to me.” She noticed Doug was still carrying the spiked baseball bat. “Besides, it may be me next time that saves you from falling on that creepy thing, should you try to perfect sleeping in the standing position.”

Doug cracked a smile. “How’s that working out so far? Do you find the quality of sleep in the vertical position better than the usual horizontal position?”

Gina laughed. “Holy shit, no one told me the bossy prick could be funny too.”

Doug raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m having a weak moment is all. I’ll get back to bossy prick after a good night’s sleep.”

She studied his stony face to see if he was joking. She almost thought he was being serious until he looked at her out of the corner of his eye and stuck his tongue out like a child.

“You’re alright in my book,” Gina said with a smile, “even if you are a bossy prick.”

“By the way, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not the only one capable of mistakes. If I hadn’t been exhausted yesterday, I might not have put us in that fix last night. The house almost got us killed. That’s on me.”

“Do you know that you have an annoying habit of abruptly changing subjects?” Gina gave him a mock scolding look. “You really shouldn’t do that to tired people. It’s hard to keep up.”

“I’ll try to remember that.”

Gina added, “I think we all fell for the house. We were scared out of our minds and tired and just wanted a roof over our heads to hide and lick our wounds. No one blames you for it.”

“Yeah, but I led us there without an out. That’s not my style… so that’s on me. I won’t do that again.”

Gina looked at the big man for a moment. She admired his natural ability to give out orders with the confidence he displayed. But now, he’d won her respect for accepting responsibility for a bad decision with equal confidence. Doug had come off as the overbearing, need-to-feel-important asshole at first, but Gina was beginning to see that there was more to him than met the eye. He was unwavering and committed to seeing this group of strangers to safety. Not many would do that in normal times, let alone during an apocalypse. Gina could tell that it weighed on him immensely. “My turn to change the subject. Do you mind?”

“No. Please do.”

She nodded up the tracks and said, “So what do you think of our chances? Will we make it to the marina or are we just staying busy before the end, rather than just waiting to die? You don’t need to sugar coat it for me, I’ve been through enough already to know how brutal it could be… and that was before I met the rest of you.” Gina quickly shut out the memory of her rape that struck her like Doug’s bat.

“Oh, I know you can handle yourself. From what you’ve told us about your beach experiences and then seeing you in action yesterday, I believe you’ve been a tremendous boost to this group.”

She looked at him and was touched by the unexpected compliment. “Yeah, but I’d be dead right now if Marcus hadn’t shown up when he did. I’m just barely getting by like the rest.”

“Don’t downplay it, girl. It’s because you did almost die—and are still up and running—that’s exactly why you’ve already proved yourself. It takes a lot to rebound from something like that. Most people would just crawl into a corner and let the fear finish them off. You survived. Hell, we’ve all had close calls, some closer than others, but we’re still pushing on. I worry about a few of them. I worry that they’ll just give up at the worst possible moment when we need everyone to pull together.” He looked over at Gina and saw the concern wearing down that beautiful face. He stopped himself. “Sorry, I don’t usually talk this much. It’s the tired talking is all.”

“No, go ahead,” Gina said. “We need to address this and understand where we’re weakest. I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone but Meredith so I wouldn’t know.”

Doug nodded. “Charlie and Amanda are dangerous. Don’t ever underestimate them.”

“What’s makes them dangerous?

“They’re dangerous because they have nothing to offer the group, but they’re smart enough to realize it. That makes them desperate. Desperate people are capable of anything.”

Gina believed his assessment was spot on. She’d already had difficulties with Charlie from the start. Amanda seemed volatile right away. “Anyone else we need to worry about? What about Frank?”

“Well, I can’t stand the fucking guy, but other than that, Frank’s alright. You’ll definitely want him at your side when everything goes to hell… maybe just not covering your back. You might turn around and find him gone when you need him most.”

“Noted. Anyone else?”

“Stephen needs to find somewhere to lock up his grief. He’s carrying too much of it around. It’s bad for morale. It’s hard to say how he’s going to be in a few more days.”

“Marcus?” Gina asked.

Doug shrugged his shoulders. “He did save your life. That’s got to count for something.”

“Looks like he’s also distancing himself from Amanda,” Gina added. “Heard them arguing last night. Maybe he figured out his girlfriend was a loose cannon. What about Meredith?”

“I should be asking you that,” Doug said. “She took to you right away. That’s just more confirmation for me. Other than her ‘episodes’ of late, Meredith’s been the glue of our little group. She patches up emotional wounds faster than a battlefield medic.”

“You said, ‘confirmation’. Confirmation of what?”

Doug ignored the question. “Greg’s a good man. You can trust him. He’s level-headed and resourceful in a pinch. You’d be wise to rely on him if things go badly. He’s a good God-fearing man. Can’t go wrong with that even if you don’t believe in all that stuff.”

Gina was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. She was beginning to wonder why Doug had chosen now to open up to her. Perhaps he just needed someone to talk to. Guys like Doug could be intensely private. But it still felt like she was being briefed for something she did not care for. She couldn’t stop the question, “Doug, you planning on leaving us soon?”

He gave her a puzzled look, then smiled. “You’re wondering why I’m confiding in you?”

She nodded.

He chose his words carefully. “Dreams are strange. Sometimes they’re just the mind’s way of sorting stuff out. Other times, there might be more to them than that.”

She waited.

“Let’s just say I had a hell of a dream last night and the verdict is not back yet on which side it falls on. It reminded me that I’m not exempt from a dirt nap. I’ve been so busy planning and worrying that it never occurred to me that the rest of you might have to make it to the marina without me. I forgot to plan for that.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Gina said. “How about you just get us there ‘as planed’ and chalk the rest up to nightmare bullshit.”

Doug laughed. “More than likely, you are correct. Nevertheless, I have to tell someone the back-up plan just in case I can’t get us there.”

“What the hell for? Tell Greg… I’m nobody.”

“Well, Nobody, I trust my judgment and my gut says to tell you.”

“Screw you and your gut,” she grumbled.

“Someone needs to make sure these people get to safety. If it’s not me… then it has to be you.”

“Bullshit. Why not just tell the whole group now?”

“Because they need to believe we will reach the marina and succeed. The other option will create doubt in their minds, or, when it comes time to do what’s required, they’ll give up the marina all together out of fear and retreat into the back-up plan.”

“You’ve really given this some thought.”

“Yes.”

Gina tried another tactic. “Okay, since we don’t know each other at all, how do you know I won’t get desperate and bail? You’re already creating doubt in me about the marina just by saying as much as you have. How do you know I won’t just leave and go my own way?”

Doug smiled. “Because you give a shit, that’s how I know. And as far as the back-up plan is concerned, trust me, compared to the present plan, the second option makes the first look much more appealing.”

“So you’re saying it’s long odds on us making it to the marina, but longer odds on Plan B?”

“Yes.”

“You suck.”

“Ready to hear the back-up plan?”

“No.”

“I’m going to tell you anyway.”

“Shit.”

~~~

Stephen regretted opening his mouth the moment he stepped beside Amanda and asked how she was holding up. The part of him that continued to govern his actions out of guilt compelled him to keep trying to reach out to her. But Amanda wanted no part of it.

“I’m fine, Stephen. Fucking wonderful. You gonna bring up my dead kid again with those pitiful eyes of yours or do you want to lecture me on the finer points of alcoholism? It’s bad enough that asshole, Doug, put the rush on us to leave and then my bottle mysteriously disappears before I could pack it… gee… did you have something to do with that?”

“No… I… I didn’t even know about that… I simply wanted to talk to you,” Stephen started. “No need to get testy. I know we all had a rough night… that was all I meant- ”

“Oh, fuck me sideways! Can’t you just find another lost cause to help? My fucking hangover is legendary and I’m out here on a fucking nature hike into hell! How do you think I’m doing?”

Stephen stared ahead, no longer trusting his words, and found the backs of Marcus, Greg and Ashley further up the tracks. He could tell they were pretending not to overhear. Greg even moved his daughter a little faster to get out of earshot of Amanda’s ranting. He looked behind them to make sure the others hadn’t fallen behind. Frank, Meredith and Charlie were still there. He wished he was with them now.

Before he could say anything, Amanda continued, “That cock sucker, Doug, did it. I’m almost positive. He’s been on my ass since we left, throwing those disapproving glances at me. Well fuck him too! He had no right! That was my bottle. Fucking Greg probably told him I was the reason Charlie was sleeping on watch. That old fucker’s got his nose so far up Doug’s ass he’d say anything to earn some brownie points! And I don’t care if he saw us—it wasn’t any of his fucking business. He probably enjoyed watching us too! Sitting there in the dark jerking off while- ”

“Amanda, please lower your voice!” Stephen was getting irritated. “That little girl doesn’t need to hear all of that!”

“Oh, now you sound just like him.” Amanda glared at Marcus as though trying to set his head on fire with her eyes. To her, he seemed preoccupied with wondering what his new girlfriend and Doug were talking about at the front of their pathetic convoy. “You don’t have to worry about that guy hearing shit. He’s all about tapping the red head’s ass first opportunity he gets!”

Stephen looked at Amanda in disbelief. He was beginning to believe she was completely nuts. He’d never seen her this out-of-control angry. With everything going on, Amanda seemed oblivious to their present situation.

She’s like a rabid dog when her temper gets going. The booze is the only thing that soothes the savage bitch!

Stephen barely managed to hold in his laughter at the thought. Where had he heard that? Of course, that was something Nicole had written about her mother. He often tried to skip those segments of the diary that mentioned Amanda, feeling like their relationship was none of his business. Besides, Nicole never had anything encouraging to say about her mother.

And you know what to do when a dog gets rabid? You put the bitch down!

Stephen found that thought unsettling.

“Well I’m glad you find me so amusing,” Amanda said, noticing Stephen’s grin. “Here I am dealing with all this shit as best I can and you sit there laughing at me!”

“Amanda, I’m not laughing at- ”

“Well fuck you too!” She started to cry.

And here it comes… my mother’s favorite game of hot and cold. She’ll tear you down with her devil tongue until she knows she’s being looked at funny. Then she turns on the waterworks to get the attention back on you and how you’re the cruel one for making fun of the poor drunk bitch. Pa-the-tic!

Stephen didn’t remember reading that.

Amanda lowered her head to hide her tears while brushing them away with the back of her hand. “Don’t mind me, Stephen. I’m just… not myself right now. The alcohol helps me cope with all the pain. I know you understand that even if you don’t approve of my methods.”

Stephen didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, Amanda. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

Sucker.

“It’s alright. I know you’re just trying to help. I think I just want to walk a while and get my thoughts straight. Can we just stop talking… please?”

“Sure.”

“Maybe you could talk to Doug later—he’s still pissed at me because I have problems, heaven-for-bid. But maybe you could get him to stop if we find another house or something. Then I could find something to drink just to get me to the marina. No one else would have to go… I’ll do it. After we get to the boat, I’ll be able to cut back.”

Stephen frowned. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Hook. Line. Sinker.

He was just grateful Amanda had calmed down. Stephen immediately imagined a pond full of liquor with himself and Amanda standing waist deep in it like a southern baptism ceremony. He pictured himself thrusting Amanda forward and holding her head beneath the surface… for a long, long time.

You are healed! Praise be to Jesus!

Amen to that.

He placed his hand over his mouth to hide his amusement at the image.

~~~

Meredith and Frank walked in accustomed silence along the old tracks. She looked back at Charlie several times who trailed behind them just out of ear shot. To her, Charlie seemed ready to crawl out of his own skin at the next sound that caught his attention from the woods.

She turned back around, shaking her head, and glared up at Frank.

“Our fearless leader told me to keep an eye on him, so that’s what I’m doing,” Frank said in response to Meredith’s disapproving stare. He shifted his blanket up around his shoulders and studied the trees.

“Yes, he fell asleep on watch, but I don’t feel punishing the young man like this is appropriate,” Meredith said. “He’s scared. Anyone can see that. I don’t know why you have to push at him.”

Frank sighed. “He’s guarding the rear to make sure those dead bastards don’t sneak up on us. Someone’s got to do it.”

“You’re toying with him. That’s what you do. Sometimes I think you’re nothing but a bully.”

“I’m giving him an opportunity to redeem himself. No one’s forcing him to do anything. Besides, I gave him the gun.”

“You put him on the spot in front of everyone when you suggested it to Douglas,” Meredith said. “You gave him no option but to say ‘yes’ or look like a coward.”

“It’s good to be scared. Keeps you sharp. Fear is the body’s way of reminding us just how vulnerable we really are. Charlie’s been coddled in this little group for far too long while others have been taking all the risks. This will do him some good. Maybe next time he won’t get hammered on watch if he understands what’s at stake. Guys like him never know the score until it’s their own ass that’s left unprotected.”

“You’re just making matters worse,” Meredith insisted. “He’s resentful enough as it is. We don’t need any more friction with all that’s happening. We need to pull together, not apart. Your lone dog act makes you blind to that fact.”

Frank smiled. “Well, just go tell him you’ll take over back there if it bothers you so much.”

Meredith glared at him. “You know he’s too prideful to let me do that. He won’t humiliate himself in front of the others.”

“Then this conversation is irrelevant. Charlie’s earning his keep.” Frank turned her words against her. “What about you? All this talk about pulling together and you’ve been keeping big secrets. Do you think they don’t wonder when your next ‘episode’ will take place? They look at you differently now. They want to ask, but they’re afraid to. The longer you keep your own counsel the worse it gets. How long do you think they’ll tolerate having a freak of nature around?”

Meredith countered. “What do you care when all you’re doing is looking for the next opportunity to run?”

Frank gave her a hard look.

“You stand on the outside as if that will protect you from getting too involved and vulnerable. Yes, I’m holding back… for now. But I’m being prudent not deceptive. There’s a difference. I’ll tell them about me when the time is right. As for you, you’re trying to keep one foot in the door and one outside. Heaven-for-bid should you actually get to know some of them, then you might have to care for these poor people and take a risk yourself. You’re no different from Charlie because you’re both acting out of fear.”

“Watch it,” Frank warned.

She pressed. “What baffles me is why you’re still here.”

Frank remained silent.

“I’ll tell you what I think. You had a chance to run last night, but you came back because whether you want to believe it or not, you do care.”

“It was the best option at the time. The woods were infested.” Frank was getting uncomfortable. “It wasn’t until after I got back to the house that I realized how foolish it was to do so.”

“Or maybe you couldn’t run off last night knowing that the rest of us would’ve been caught unaware. Perhaps you have more of a conscience then you know. I believe there may be hope for you yet.”

“You’re reading into it too much,” Frank said sharply, tiring of the conversation. “Believe me, when we get to the marina, you’ll see no conscience at work. I’ll get to a boat with or without the rest of you, and if you all can’t keep up, I’ll leave you all there. You can count on that.”

This time, Meredith smiled. “We’ll see.”

~~~

Charlie wanted to shoot them both in the back.

Yeah, surprise, surprise. Looks like the crazy woman was in on it too! Just look at those two, talking about me like I’m some big fucking joke. She can’t even not be obvious about it–staring back at me every few minutes like I can’t figure out just who they’re talking about! Well, fuck the both of you! You’ll regret the day you all poked fun at Charlie Ottermeyer.

After surviving the night, it didn’t take long for Charlie’s mistake to reach everyone’s ears. No one said anything but he saw it in their eyes. It was Doug who finally pulled him aside before leaving and said in so many words that if he ever did anything so foolish again, he’d leave him behind.

Who the fuck does he think he is? God? Talking down to me like I’m some fucking child—and it wasn’t even my fault!

Amanda had been quick to avoid coming to his defense.

That bitch! She gets me drunk then lets me hang. She hasn’t said one word to me since we left.

Deep down, Charlie suspected that Amanda’s behavior toward him had more to do with the sex than anything else. He was still trying to process that strange encounter—his mind felt like mud and the details were still fuzzy. It had been a long time since he’d slept with a woman who didn’t look better with the lights out, but as the pieces slowly began to form in his sober mind, he found that rather than that deep satisfaction that accompanied that conquest of getting in between a woman’s thighs, he felt cheated.

“I’m not done with you bitch!”

The memory of her words struck him like a sharp kick to the balls. Sex with Amanda Howard had resulted in him feeling like less of a man. And for that, he hated her.

~~~

Next Episode (13-2):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/chapter-13-2-railway-exodus/

Previous Episode (12-4):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/chapter-12-4-the-devils-dark/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 13-1: Railway Exodus” 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. Artcp says:

    Hi again sscherr,

    “If it’s not me… than it has to be you.”
    Then instead of than.

    “was more to him then met the eye.”
    Than instead of then.

    “but their smart enough to realize it.”
    They’re instead of their.

    Like

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