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~~~

Gina’s tired mind drifted as she stared out the front window, lost in the soft morning light that came down and snuffed out the last traces of the long, sleepless night like gauze placed over an ugly wound. She should’ve felt better but the ashes of her angry thoughts continued to smolder, and nothing could put out her fire.

She’d failed miserably to see the enemy within her own ranks. It had almost cost Amanda’s life. Frank had seen it—had practically tried to lead her to it—but she either couldn’t see it, or refused to.

Gina could not shake the image of Charlie getting ready to rape one of their own, as Amanda lay helpless and bound to that tractor, her wrists bleeding profusely, her sanity threatened—held under duress by a monster, just inches away from tearing her to pieces while the other monster had its way with her.

She should’ve have known better—she should’ve seen the signs long before. Amanda was not the same when they left the Grand River. Everyone knew that. If anyone could have understood why that was, it should’ve been her, she’d reasoned.

How long was it happening? she wondered. How long had Charlie been using Amanda as his own personal sex toy… right under your fucking nose?

They’d all thought Amanda’s sullen behavior had to do with her withdrawal. It was easier to believe that, than something as horrible as what they’d discovered in the vineyard.

He made a complete fool out of me! His sexual assaults on Amanda were just another way to mock me as a leader, but more importantly, as a woman. Her shame at failing Amanda made her feel like she was back at the beach house on that first horrible night being violated all over again.

You are a damn, blind fool, Gina Melborn!

She continued to wrestle with her own thoughts while the others paced back and forth across the living room, needing to make sense of what happened.

Greg was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. “I still can’t wrap my mind around it. Charlie—our Charlie—tortured that poor girl?”

“We saw it,” Stephen said. “He was about to… and then there was the monster… it was awful.” He couldn’t finish. Stephen had been in shock for much of the remainder of last night.

Marcus came out of the bedroom, causing everyone to shift uncomfortably with anticipation.

“He’s still out,” he said. “I thought he might’ve died a few hours ago because he hardly moved a muscle. I kept having to check him. His breathing is slow, but Charlie’s still alive. If Gina had hit him any harder, or a little higher… ”

Gina failed to acknowledge the news. She continued to remain silent and distant.

After getting Amanda and Charlie back to the house last night, Meredith had done what she could for Amanda’s wrists and Charlie’s broken nose with the meager first-aid supplies available. They had tied Charlie’s hands to the bedpost and took turns watching him. Meredith stayed with Amanda until she finally fell asleep, but not before she’d told them… everything.

“If even half of what that poor girl said is true, then we have a real problem on our hands,” Frank said. “If Charlie can somehow… control the dead… as fucked up as that sounds… then we’re going to have to do something about it.”

Meredith lifted her head. She’d been sitting on the couch trying to make sense of all the madness. So far she was at a loss. “What does ‘do something about it’ entail, Mr. Frank? I hope you’re not suggesting that we do something… rash.”

Frank sighed heavily. “I’m not suggesting anything. I’m only pointing to the facts. Charlie is dangerous. Amanda tried to tell us in Painesville but no one listened. Now look what happened to her. There’d been other indications all along the way, but no one wants to believe that Charlie is anything other than a chicken shit with a big mouth. Well, now we know better.”

“What other indications are you taking about?” Stephen asked. “Has he… controlled the dead before this? Amanda… did he do something else to her?”

“Look,” Frank said. “I already told Gina about the church in Crazy Town. When Charlie caught up with us, I smelled gasoline on him. The rest is fucking basic math. Someone burned that church down. Someone let those things out of the buildings. Someone could have been directing them… put the damn puzzle together, people, and see it for what it is: Charlie’s changed. Hell, we all have. Difference being, we aren’t trying to feed each other to zombies while engaging in some necrophiliac’s idea of the ‘new’ threesome!”

“Frank! Please keep your voice down,” Meredith said. “That poor girl doesn’t need to hear it again… and neither do we!”

Frank shook his head and cursed under his breath.

“Well, I reckon’ whether or not Charlie can or can’t do what you all claim to have seen, is another matter. Doesn’t change the fact that he attacked Amanda. That alone makes him a dangerous sonofabitch. I won’t have no sex offenders in my company. Frank’s right. Charlie has to be dealt with.”

“I guess the real question is where do we go from here?” Stephen said. “I don’t understand what I saw, but I agree, Charlie’s scary as hell now. I nearly pissed myself when he ordered that thing to come after me. If Frank hadn’t stepped in, I wouldn’t be standing here right now. I know enough from talking to Amanda that she was constantly afraid of him. It kept her from talking to me, or anyone, until now. If Charlie possesses some ability to make her that afraid, then he absolutely must be dangerous… even if I don’t understand it. So what do we do with him?”

“If he even regains consciousness at all,” Marcus added. “He might not survive the day.”

“We could just… leave him,” Greg said half-heartedly. “If he wakes up, we’d be long gone.” He immediately stared at his feet, regretting the suggestion. “Seems a bit uncivilized, now that I went and said it.”

“It’s downright cruel!” Meredith chimed in. “We’d treat a stray dog better than that! How would you feel if you woke up alone and couldn’t get out of bed by yourself? What if the house was attacked? Could you live with yourself leaving anyone like that?”

Greg didn’t dare answer.

“Well, then we wait until he’s better. Pack him a bag and send him on his way,” Stephen suggested. “There’s no way he’s coming with us… right?”

“Unacceptable!” Frank said. “Just pretend for a moment that he can control the dead. Try to imagine what he might try to do to us in our sleep if we let him go and he followed us. We could be surrounded by those fucking things while he just enjoyed his front row seat, jerking off, while his new buddies tore us to pieces!”

“Frank!” Meredith hissed.

“I’m just saying what needs said! You people need to start getting really afraid at the fucking possibility that Amanda was telling the truth about everything. Is it really that hard to believe? Look around you! We’ve seen some shit that defies belief… and then some! There’s no damn way we just let him go.”

“Or let him stay. Hell, I’d never sleep again knowing he was creeping around,” Stephen said.

“Kill him.”

Everyone stopped and looked toward Gina.

“What was that, honey?” Meredith asked.

Gina turned and repeated, “We should kill him. Put a bullet in his fucking skull and do the world a favor. He’s not a man anymore. He’s not even like those mindless dead-heads out to make a meal out of us. He’s something far, far worse.”

~~~

Marcus entered the bedroom and quickly closed the door. He sat down in a chair and sighed wearily, relieved to be free of the tension boiling over in the next room. After waiting a few minutes, when he was sure the others had dispersed, he said, “You can stop pretending to be asleep, Charlie. I’ve known you’ve been conscious for a couple of hours now.”

The man strapped to the bed with a bandage wrapped around his splinted nose, and with two black eyes that made him look like a raccoon, opened them and looked at Marcus. “Have you told the others I’m awake?”

Marcus yawned and stretched. “Not yet,” he said. “I figured you were safer if they thought you were still out.”

Charlie took a deep breath and exhaled. “I’m in big trouble, aren’t I?”

“That’s an understatement. Did you hear any of that out there?” Malcolm asked.

“Just a little—enough to know that I’m the topic of the morning.”

“Then you know they’re discussing what to do with you.”

“What does that mean?” Charlie was concerned. “Wasn’t breaking my nose and a concussion enough?”

“Not hardly, Charlie. You’ve crossed too many lines last night… surely you must know that.”

Charlie looked away.

Marcus pushed, “And, they know all about your… special relationship with the undead. Between what some of them saw last night and Amanda filling in the rest, your secret is out.”

Charlie turned and said, “They think I’m a freak, don’t they? A monster?”

Marcus sighed and said, “What they think you are should not concern you as much as what they know you tried to do. If you were standing before a judge right now, I believe some of the charges against you would include:
kidnapping, attempted murder and rape.”

“That’s a bit harsh. I didn’t do any of those things!”

“Let’s see, you found a girl and watched her die so you could turn her into your… puppet… even after she begged you to take her life?”

“That was different! I tried to do what she asked,” he lied. “But I just couldn’t do it. That doesn’t make me a murderer… she was already dying when I found her. I left to get help… but I got lost. I ended up circling back to where I found her. By then she’d changed. I felt sorry for the girl so I… took her with me. If that seems sick to you, then fine. But I was alone and… I needed the company.”

Marcus’s face was blank. “Do you deny trying to get Amanda infected?”

“Is that what she said?”

“Yes. While you were trying to have your new friend take a bite out of her arm, Amanda told us that she talked you into having sex instead, hoping to buy herself a few more minutes to get away. Do you deny this?”

“Absolutely! As you already said, the sex was her idea. As for the biting, that’s what she wanted. Amanda said she wanted to die and… be with her little girl again. Everything that the others saw was orchestrated by that crazy whore!” he hissed.

“Keep your voice down, Charlie,” Marcus reminded him. “I thought that ‘crazy whore’ was your woman? It’s strange to hear you talk so poorly of her after all the trouble you went through to make sure I stayed away.”

Charlie had no comment.

“So, what happened at the house? Are you denying that you kidnapped Amanda as well?

“I was on my way back. She saw me and asked if I had any alcohol. I said no, and she went crazy! I struggled with her in the yard and finally got free. I fled back into the vineyard, and then that psycho followed me! I think she thought I’d lead her to some imaginary booze I kept hidden. Honestly, I don’t know what goes on in her warped mind. I thought we were close once. But she turned strange and we drifted apart. You must know that Amanda is a deeply disturbed woman? Surely you’ve seen a little of it?”

Marcus got up and moved his chair next to Charlie, beside the bed. He sat down, leaned in close and said, “Charlie, I don’t believe you’ve spoken one word of truth since you’ve started talking this morning.”

“But…”

“And if I don’t buy it, I know damn well that the others won’t either. Which translates: You are screwed.”

“So why are we talking? Are you supposed to be my one-and-only friend right now, watching over my best interests? I call the bullshit flag on that one, Marcus. For all I know, that red-headed bitch sent you in to spy on me and find out what I’m capable of.”

“I think we’ve all discovered last night what you’re capable of, Charlie.”

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Charlie threatened with a smile. It hurt his entire face to do so, but he wanted Marcus to know he was still in control.

“Now that, Charlie, I do believe. In fact, you’ve made such an impression on the group that they can’t stop worrying about what you might do next. If your goal was to be terrifying, then you’ve done it. But here’s the kicker: get enough people afraid of you, they’re likely to do something just as terrifying to be rid of you.”

Charlie’s smile faltered. “You’re just trying to scare me. What are they going to do… kill me?”

Marcus was a stone.

Charlie’s anger began to rise. I should’ve killed every one of them in Harpersfield. If they only knew what I did for them… how I burned all those freaks up… I could’ve just left them all there! And this is what I get? Ungrateful, worthless… LIARS!

“Something you wanted to add, Charlie?” Marcus asked.

“You didn’t back me up when I tried to take over. You just let the red-headed psycho make a fool out of me. You said you would support me… but you’re just like the rest of them!”

Marcus frowned. “Don’t blame me for your own impatience. Instead of waiting for the right opportunity, you decided to press the Ashtabula issue by confronting Gina. With or without my support, you would’ve ended up in the same position. There was no need to show my cards if you were going to be so foolish with your own. And I asked you not to tear Gina down to make yourself look better. Bad politics, remember?”

“Doesn’t matter much now, does it?” Charlie spat. “I still don’t know why you’re talking to me.”

Marcus smiled. “My motives have always been the same, Charlie. You’re the ambitious one… and I just want the girl. I don’t need a wall of guilt standing between us because Gina’s about to do something she’ll most certainly regret down the road. I’m hoping you’ll help me find a peaceful solution; one that doesn’t end up with you and a bullet in your head.”

“She wouldn’t… ”

Marcus frowned. “Charlie, she’s already suggested it to the group. They already know you’re dangerous and I fear they will all turn their backs and let her do it. Are you hearing me clearly, Charlie?”

Charlie could feel the panic trying to rise up and overwhelm him. Was Marcus telling the truth? Could Gina actually be trying to talk the others into an… execution?

Marcus sighed. “Look, Charlie, I’m not bullshitting you on this. You can believe what you want about me, but it’s your life on the line. Are you willing to risk it? I’ve nothing to gain by watching you die and I understand why you did those things to Amanda, although I don’t approve of your methods. I get it. She humiliated you and you wanted to humiliate her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Sure you do. I saw you both that first night we left the plant, when Amanda used you to get back at me; I was coming down the stairs when I saw how she treated you, how rough she was… how cold. I saw how cheap she made you feel.”

Charlie didn’t trust his words.

“I wasn’t upset that she had sex with you, Charlie. My sights were already on Gina by then. But I was upset at how she treated you because of me. So I get it. You wanted to make her feel cheap… just like she did to you. Am I right?”

Charlie nodded.

“Then things got a little out of hand?”

“Yes,” Charlie looked away. “I thought we’d worked it out before we left the river—we’d made an arrangement. But then she… hurt me again when she started avoiding me.”

“Because she was afraid of you?”

“Yes.”

“Can you blame her?”

Charlie studied the man’s face. What’s your endgame, you sly devil?

“No, I suppose her reaction to me should’ve been expected,” Charlie admitted. “She did see me do some frightening things prior to finding you all again.”

“And now you know the price for wielding great power,” Marcus finished. “Few will ever understand what you can do—I certainly don’t—and fewer still will ever get to know the man behind that power.”

Charlie considered this. “They will fear me… but they can’t love me?”

“Leave that ‘love’ stuff to the simple-minded. That’s my territory, remember? You obviously have a greater purpose than trying to lead this small-minded group.”

Charlie laughed. “For once, Marcus, you’re speaking my language.”

“Consider what you’re capable of, and now see yourself strapped to a bed with a broken face. Did it ever occur to you that nothing’s working out because you keep settling on being the big fish in such a little pond? What kind of opportunity is that?”

Charlie raised his eyebrows. “I’m still listening.”

Marcus rubbed his chin. “I’m only speculating, of course, but what if your problems lie in the fact that you’ve set your sights much too low to begin with. Suppose you did take over this little group of misfits… what then? Do you honestly think you’d find this satisfying?”

“Hell, no. That’s why I was looking forward to reaching the survivors in Ashtabula. The thought of meeting new people that could appreciate me for what I had to offer…well… that’s been my driving force so far.”

“And yet you’re still lying there in chains.”

He’s right. I’ve been going at this all wrong from the start, Charlie thought. I can’t lead this pathetic group because they’re just like frightened little children, scattering in all directions at the first sign of trouble. They’re already too busy jumping at their own shadows… I might as well be the boogeyman to them. It’s always been a lost fucking cause!

“Marcus, you have to help me get out of here. I’ve made a grave error staying as long as I have. Just look at the trouble it’s caused me. I need to get back on the road and find the Ashtabula group. I’ve known all along that I’m the only one that can get there safely. I’m meant to get there!”

Marcus sat back in his chair and put his hands on his head. “Charlie, you can’t ask me to help you. Gina would never look at me again if I aided in your escape. You would be strapping me to that bed in your place.”

“Then come with me. Screw that red-headed bitch! I’m sure you’ll find another woman to your liking in Ashtabula.”

“But you still terrify me too, Charlie. I suspect I wouldn’t last very long on the road once you grew tired of my company.”

“I see your point. I’m getting tired of you now.” Charlie waved a dismissive hand at him. “If you’re not here to help me get out of this, then stop wasting my time with your endless words.”

“There is a way out of this, Charlie,” Marcus said. “The real question is whether you have the strength to do what it takes to stop things from getting worse.”

“I’m all ears. I just want the fuck away from all of you… no offense.”

“Remorse is the key. You need to own up and apologize for your actions.”

“Fuck that!”

Marcus sighed. “Charlie, if they think you’re a monster… they will kill you. Show them a man without remorse and you’ve shown them the monster. But show them a conscience…”

Charlie was catching on. “You mean, tell them sweet lies… anything to remind them that I’m still a human being capable of some horrible mistakes.”

Marcus smiled. “That sounds like an admission. Are you sorry for what happened, Charlie?”

You’re damn right I am. I’m sorry I didn’t kill the whole lot of you much sooner.

“Yes… I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me and I must have… lost it. I believe it’s in the best interest of everyone that I depart for the Ashtabula group and take my chances. I don’t want to be a danger to the group anymore.”

Marcus nodded. “I’ll go tell Gina and the others. You made a wise decision, Charlie… even if we both know that you’re full of shit.”

~~~

Next Episode (21-8):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/08/19/chapter-21-8-goodbye-charlie/

Previous Episode (21-6):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/08/15/chapter-21-6-goodbye-charlie/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 21-7: Goodbye Charlie” 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:

    Hey Scott, typo:

    “he repositioned his chair in front it,”
    In front of it?

    ;D

    Like

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