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~~~

Tony sat in front of the abandoned Clarkson Mini-Mart devouring his third pack of beef jerky. He washed it all down with a two litter of Pepsi and let the sugar rush steal over him. The nourishment along with the sleep was making him feel alive again. He marveled at how much enjoyment could come from such small creature comforts when forced to live as he had for the last week.

He turned his head up toward the sun and welcomed the revitalizing warmth. It felt good to be back out in the light—to simply breathe fresh air rather than sucking in the putrid stench of piss, blood and vomit brought on by so much time in that dark place.

Tony looked down at his jerky feast and kept his back turned away from the entrance door of the gloomy mini-mart. He’d gone inside long enough to discover the power was out, as well as the phone lines. There were several shelves that had been overturned and the walls and linoleum floor were splattered in blood, reminding him of the living room at the bad man’s ranch.

Tony refused to think about it as the buzzing of flies continued to taunt his back. He shook his head. Not going to do it. I’ve earned the right to ignore it all for a few more minutes and eat in peace.

“It’s not like Lydia said,” he told himself. “This is something else. It can’t be like she said.”

Thoughts from earlier that morning invaded his peace, tearing apart his denial…

He’d woken at dawn. The rain had stopped. Tony had crawled out of the bale of hay, turned his sluggish frame toward the ranch house and was left speechless by the sight of at least fifty listless creatures that moved around the house, pushing up against boarded up windows and doors in an attempt to breach the bad man’s lair. He’d heard their collective moans of frustration that reminded him of Helen, the mad woman. He was grateful that he’d been far enough away to not make out their details or for them to spot him standing foolishly in that field.

He’d stared at them from behind the hay, wondering if this was just an extension of the nightmare he’d had last night before passing out.

Tony had turned the opposite direction and made his way back to the dirt road, praying to avoid notice. The road curved off to the right and Tony had been relieved when he’d looked back and could no longer see the house… when he could no longer hear them. He’d kept going, staring into the tall grass on either side and waiting for monsters to jump out and claim him. After a half an hour, he’d made it to the end of the property and stepped out on to a two lane road. He’d looked back, half expecting to see the bad man’s van ripping around the bend, or worse. But nothing had happened.

He’d traveled south for a mile, waiting to hail the first car that passed. He’d seen no one.

Too early for anyone to be out yet, he’d reasoned, quickly reestablishing his delusion.

He’d seen the first car—a blue SUV—parked in the center of the road with all its doors left open. Whoever they were, they’d left in a hurry and never came back. Tony had discovered the keys still in the ignition but the battery was dead. He’d searched the car for anything useful but found nothing but two toddler seats in the back covered in blood.

Tony had backed out of the car, trying to steady himself, and noticed several streaks of blood that ran into the woods inviting him to come see the fate of the passengers. “No, this is not happening.” He’d started down the road at a faster pace, trying his best to shake the horrifying images from his mind as a chill seized him.

A little later he’d passed the outskirts of two large farms that he refused to investigate, and several more abandoned vehicles without keys that had been stripped of anything useful; some filled with more bloody crime scenes that plagued his imagination. He’d begun to become unglued wondering how there could be so much blood but no bodies. There’d been a hastily scribbled sign in the rear window of a silver Sedan that read:

WENT TO FIND JESUS… THE WORLD IS DEAD

He’d reached the mini-mart at a four-way junction that was the scene of a multiple car accident from all four directions. Again, he’d found no one alive or dead—just a lot of folks in a hurry to die since it looked like no one bothered to regard the stop signs. Judging from the severity of the impacts, it looked like the motorists were moving at insane speeds when they struck one another, as if being chased by the devil…

Tony heard something shift from behind him. He dropped the jerky and took two steps back from the mini-mart entrance.

“Hello. Is anyone in there?”

No answer.

He took a desperate look around, hoping someone—preferably a police officer—would appear and take him far from this crazy place.

The day remained deceptively quiet, as if it would stay this way forever until, he too, perished mysteriously with everyone else—his body dragged away to where the dead could leave no warning for the living.

“Keep it together, Tony,” he counseled himself. “There’s still a rational, albeit, a horrible explanation for all this. Just keep your cool.”

Again, something moved inside the mini-mart.

He wanted to leave but found himself wondering if someone was hurt inside, trying to get his attention.

Tony took a deep breath, manned up, and stepped back into the store. He called out again.

This time he heard something from behind the cashier counter—a voice that sounded weak and intelligible.

“Hold on, I’m coming,” he said, as he made his way around the counter and stopped.

There was a woman lying spread eagle on the floor, face down in a pool of blood. She was pinned to the ground by a large cash register that had fallen on her back, just inches from crushing her head. She moved her legs in a vain attempt to reach her knees, but slipped, unable to gain any traction in the blood.

“Fuck me,” Tony said as he straddled the woman and pushed the heavy register to the side. She was in a bad way. It looked like her collar bone and possibly her back were broken. He couldn’t risk moving her. “I can’t move you… I’ll get some help, okay?”

The woman began using her arms, one clearly broken, to push herself up.

Tony backed away in shock. “You don’t want to do that, you’re going to make it worse if you- ”

The woman turned her head toward her right shoulder, showing Tony a face covered in syrupy blood. Her dark hair was damp with it as well.

“Jesus, lady! Please stop moving before you hurt yourself!”

Tony watched as the woman tried to raise herself up by grabbing a lower drawer and heard a loud snap as what was left of the woman’s spine came apart. She fell back down, twisting unnaturally at the waist while her legs remained still. She opened her bloody eye lids and looked at Tony with fierce, hunger-driven, yellow eyes, letting loose a terrifying howl as she tried to reach out to him, crawling past her useless legs until it looked like she would simply split in half at the effort.

Tony scurried backward, falling over an overturned shelf and losing sight of the hideous woman.

“Don’t feed the dark, Tony! Don’t you ever feed the dark!”

He heard Lydia’s warning screaming in his mind as the thing behind the counter continued to pursue him. He could hear it dragging its dead legs behind her as she reached over the shelf and grabbed his foot with a bloody hand.

Tony reacted, kicking the hand away with his free foot.

The thing behind the counter let loose a frustrated cry.

He got up and ran for the door, refusing to slow down until he was back out in the light, where some sense of sanity still resided.

Tony looked around, expecting more of those things to jump out at him. He was still alone.

He focused on the road, waiting for his heart to slow down, and sucked in the air to stop from hyper-ventilating.

“That didn’t happen,” he told himself. “Fucking hallucinations! You’re sick in the head from all those drugs that were pumped into you.” That sounded very plausible… if not desperate. He didn’t care. He thought it was better to believe he was losing his mind than to face that any of this could be real.

He needed to move… now. If Tony heard that thing coming out of the entrance door and turned to see it, he was convinced his mental breakdown would be complete. He quickly regained his bearings and noticed the I-90 junction sign at the intersection. He decided to escape the backwoods and try for the busy freeway, convinced that he’d find help and hopefully a nice, padded room and a good psychiatrist to un-fuck his head.

~~~

About a quarter-mile from the off ramp, Tony met a convoy of vehicles blocking both lanes and heading toward the freeway ramp. He found more cars left abandoned… and more blood. People, with nowhere left to go, had either fled on foot to God-knows-where, or they’d perished here as the traffic had turned their vehicles into tombs. Like before, all he found were the bloody remains of violence, but no bodies. He did have more luck foraging the vehicles he passed as he scored some bottled water, leftover food items, a flashlight, and a few other odds and ends. He found a school backpack, emptied various school supplies and stuffed his goods in the bag as he went. In the trunk of the same car he found the backpack, Tony found a tire iron which became his weapon.

The silence was overwhelming as he neared the off ramp. He should have heard freeway activity at this point, but there was nothing. He decided to bypass the off ramp and get a good look from the overpass instead. What he saw damn near broke his mind. For as far as the eye could see, all eight lanes running east and west were filled with dead vehicles. Even the shoulder lanes were packed with bumper-to-bumper cars.

“What the fuck is going on?” he whispered out loud as the fear struck him anew like a tractor-trailer riding the cool air that assaulted his face.

There was no use clinging to the insanity plea when so much wide-spread panic lay below him. People had fled on foot and it was becoming evident what they had run from. He’d seen them himself.

Tony caught movement from among the cars. He squinted to get a better look and saw several vultures take to the sky. That’s when he saw them: the bodies. He’d been so focused on the cars that he hadn’t noticed them lying in between the vehicles… what was left of them. There were also people moving among the remains, people who looked like the ones he saw attacking the ranch house. They moved like the vultures, shambling in between the cars until they stumbled upon human carcasses.

Tony watched one, a man in a torn business suit, still holding a briefcase, staggering in between two sports cars as if he was still trying to find a way to make an appointment on time. He watched the business man bump into one of the sports cars as if he’d been walking in his sleep. Then the man saw a headless corpse lying over the hood of a station wagon. He immediately dropped the briefcase and staggered quickly to the wagon, crawling up on the hood until his hands were buried in the flesh of the corpse. Tony watched the business man pull his hands out of the abdomen of the dead and stick what looked like globs of strawberry jelly into its mouth.

Tony could look no longer. He turned away and vomited all over the road. When his stomach settled, he collapsed on the curb and grabbed the sides of his head. He felt like he would never be able to eat anything again.

And this is what I fought so hard to get back too, he thought. If I hadn’t been that bastard’s prisoner, I’d probably be down there right now feeding vultures and mad men.

Tony started to laugh. “Lydia, you were right,” he confessed to the sky. “We were better off in chains. Fucking joke’s on me.” His laughter turned to tears as he wept from exhaustion, his emotions hitting overload—his mind—no longer able to process the level of horrors he’d witnessed.

He thought about the body the business man had torn into.

Is that what Gina is right now? Someone else’s meal?

The thought chilled him, but also empowered him to move. “Fuck that. Fuck all of this!” He had to get to her, somehow. If she was dead… so be it. But he still had to find out.

“I don’t know where you are, Gina, but… I’m sorry… sorry for all of this,” he said. “I was supposed to keep you safe, and now I don’t know that there is such a thing anymore.”

The beach house in Geneva seemed a million miles away, but he had to try to get back to her.

Tony got to his feet and forced himself to look west down the freeway. That used to be the fastest route, but now it only promised death. He’d have to take the back roads to get to her now, but first, he needed rest, supplies and some better weapons.

Tony had no idea where to begin.

He looked off to the left, a quarter of a mile out, and saw the tops of several larger vehicles. He thought it was another exit ramp at first, but then he figured it out.

Truck stop.

That had to be the final rest area between Ashtabula and Erie, Pennsylvania which meant it was also one of the largest, hosting a motel, several restaurants a gas station, and some other local shops that fed off the freeway business. There’d be enough supplies there to get him started, not to mention access to maps of the area that would help him find all the back roads he would need.

He felt a thread of hope return.

As confirmation, Tony saw the top of the two-floor motel in between some taller pines, closest to the freeway. He believed he could get there without being seen by anything feeding on the freeway.

Let’s do this, Marcuchi.

Tony started down toward the motel.

~~~

Next Episode (17-2):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/chapter-17-2-dark-territory/

Previous Episode (16-5):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/chapter-16-5-prisoners-2/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 17-1: Dark Territory” 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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