witch-burning-351208_640

~~~

Dawn slowly ascended over the eastern end of town dispelling the shadows of the long night. After the gunfire ceased, Jefferson’s resident dead disbanded as the manifested ghost-like echoes of the living returned to wandering lifeless streets elsewhere. None of them had made it to the school last night due to the familiar scent of the yellow-eyed zombies that made them respond as if they’d just come across a NO TRESPASSING sign that only the dead could comprehend.

The re-animated and those that had undergone The Change did not mix company, and on occasion, when this was unavoidable, the yellow-eyed monsters slaughtered them indiscriminately, as if to send the message: We are the evolved ones and belong to this new world. You may resemble and act like us, but you are the inferior species, you are the freaks and we are the masters. Stay away… or else.

After the sudden and mysterious collapse of the remaining predators within the school, Gina had reunited with her group in the third floor hallway, relieved to discover that they had all survived the night.

Rusty’s group had not been as fortunate. Along with the two men that had stayed to help Rusty protect the roof access point, three of the five teenagers had perished, leaving only Tommy and Brian to protect the school.

Rusty had also survived, but his grief at the loss of life and the illusion of safety they had maintained up until last night weighed heavily upon him.

Before anything else could be done, if was quickly agreed upon that they needed to sweep the entire school, as well as the grounds around it, before signaling the rooftop survivors that the attack was officially over. They needed to kill the brains of every yellow-eyed monster whether already destroyed or remaining in the disturbing sleep-like state. They moved as one large group in silence as the unnerving deed took them two hours to complete. Every time they came near the next yellow-eyed beast, they expected it to wake up and attack. Fortunately, they were able to put them all down without incident.

Gina was grateful to be alive, but at what cost? She was yet to speak with Meredith on the roof, but had to assume that they were okay. And then there was Stephen and Amanda, left alone outside with less protection than they had. She wanted to search for them but they needed to make the school safe first. She owed it to Rusty and his people to make this happen.

“I’m sure they’re alright,” Greg had consoled her. “Looks like the school was the focus for the entire attack. Stephen and Amanda probably heard the gunfire and found a safe place to lay low.”

Gina smiled but was not convinced.

They had found the remains of all three teens. Rusty, Tommy and Brian had covered them up while Gina and the others kept a respectful distance away. Tommy took it upon himself to make sure his friends stayed dead as he took out his knife and did what needed done.

“They fought bravely,” Frank had told Rusty. “We wouldn’t have met it to the third floor if not for them.”

Rusty had remained silent.

When the school was deemed safe, Gina was shocked by the low number of the dead when the original estimate had been over a hundred. To them, it felt like a thousand: Seventy-seven monsters had attacked them last night. Of that number, forty had gone dormant, all of them spread out across the third floor.

We stopped less than half of them, she thought grimly. They had us… easily.

“I can’t let them see this,” Rusty said as they returned to the third floor, stepping over the dead. “I’ve got two mothers upstairs that don’t even know their husbands are dead yet… and the children… my God, they can’t see all this…” The old man plopped down on the floor, looking like he was already defeated. “It will take all we have to recover from this nightmare.”

Tommy and Brian knelt down next to him, unsure of what to do since they had never seen Rusty this way. He was their rock, their strength at the beginning. They could not afford to lose him now.

Gina wiped frustrated tears from her eyes. We did this. We brought the dead right to their fucking doorstep. Feeling her anger rise and needing a target, she turned to Marcus. “Go find them,” she said. “Go find this fucking bar and bring Stephen and Amanda back,” she said. “I don’t care what caused them to leave or why you fucking thought it was smart to let them… just get them back safely.”

He nodded and kept his mouth shut.

“You can use the rope ladder in the gym,” Rusty said, overhearing their discussion. “Lower it down from the playroom window on the second floor. That was our original egress plan if we ever needed to set the traps on the first floor.”

Marcus nodded.

“I’ll go with him,” Greg offered.

“No!” she said, stopping him in his tracks. “Let him clean up his own mess. I need you and Frank to help me move the bodies.”

“That can wait,” Rusty told her. He looked to the concerned teens, smiled for their benefit, and then offered his hands. Tommy and Brian helped him up. He gave Gina a stern look and said, “I’ll keep everyone up on the roof for the time being. Probably safer up there now anyway. Hell, it might be better to just move since those things know where we live now. All in good time. Let’s go check on those folks up on the roof. They don’t have any idea what’s going on down here.”

Gina said nothing. Her guilt was tearing her up. She turned to Greg and said, “Go. Keep each other safe and bring them back… okay?”

Greg smiled and departed with Marcus.

The old man walked up the steps with Tommy and Brian. When he reached the top, Rusty pounded on the hatch door.

Frank stepped beside her and whispered, “I’m starting to feel like we’ve overstayed our welcome. Perhaps we should just grab Meredith and go.”

“No,” she said. “I’m not bailing on these people. They need our help. We’re in this together now.”

Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise and said, “I wouldn’t count on that if I were you.”

Gina gave him a questioning look. Before she could respond, the hatch door opened.

Miss Marple greeted them with a grave look on her face.

Rusty smiled and said, “Well… It’s good to see you again, you old bat. Is everything alright?”

“You all need to get up here quickly!” she said. “There’s something very wrong with Meredith!”

~~~

They were met on the rooftop by frightened and confused stares as Rusty’s people bombarded him with questions. “Is everything under control?” he managed to ask the old woman.

“Yes, Rusty. You go take care of things,” Miss Marple said. “I believe this is a private matter for Gina and her friends.”

Rusty nodded reluctantly and let the others lead him inside the bungalow. He already had enough bad news to share.

“She’s over here, Gina,” Miss Marple said anxiously, leading her and Frank to the least populated corner of the roof where one of the wives sat in a fold-up chair with a gun in her lap. The woman was standing guard over Meredith, who sat quietly with her eyes closed, knees tucked up under her chin, and tied up with bed sheets modified into a makeshift rope. Meredith was soaked in sweat and trembling like she’d been wrestling with demons all night.

“What the hell is this?” Gina asked, giving Miss Marple an angry look.

“Please… just hear me out,” the old woman said with her arms raised. “I know this looks strange, but we did everything she asked us to do. Your friend started babbling on about dreams and how she knew of a way to stop all of this… ”

“Is she hurt?” Gina said moving in front of Meredith.

The woman in the chair got up and looked to Miss Marple for guidance.

“It’s alright, dear. We’ll take it from here. Go inside.”

The woman looked relieved to be away from the crazy woman in the corner. She stopped long enough to say, “At first I thought she was having a seizure or something, but then she started talking about the craziest things… most of it was hard to understand.”

Frank crouched down next to Meredith. “Physically, she looks no worse than the rest of us,” he told Gina. “Sounds like she had another… episode.”

“What did you do to yourself?” Gina whispered to her.

“I think your friend needs professional help,” the woman told Gina. “She was screaming her head off… and acting like one of those monsters downstairs. I started to think she was one… that she’d changed. Damn near scared the children to death!”

“That will be all!” Miss Marple told her. “Let’s not make matters any worse than they already are!”

The woman looked like she wanted to say more, but turned away and headed toward the bungalow.

Gina and Frank ignored the outburst.

“Meredith?” Gina said, lightly shaking her shoulders.

Meredith was unresponsive.

“She’s burning up like she’s got a fever,” Gina said.

Frank looked at the hastily tied knots in the bed sheets. “They did this in a hurry,” he said. Frank turned to Miss Marple. “Meredith told you to tie her up?”

“Oh, yes… yes… she insisted. She kept talking about going back and opening herself up—didn’t make much sense. Whatever she was going on about, she was very clear that she thought she could stop all this… but that it was risky and very dangerous for us. So she made us tie her up and watch her under guard. She wanted to be outside and away from the children in case things got… bad. Her words, not mine.”

“She talked about this before,” Frank started. “I remember her warning us about what would happen if she ever ‘opened’ herself up to them too much. She made it sound like she could lose control… and that it was dangerous.”

Gina nodded. “I remember that conversation.”

“Will your friend be okay? Has she done this before?” Miss Marple asked.

Gina turned and said, “Everything’s okay. This will pass. You can tell Rusty that Meredith’s no threat to anybody… not anymore.”

Miss Marple didn’t know how to respond to that comment. “Perhaps we should just keep her where she is for now… at least, until emotions have had time to settle a bit.”

“That’s fine,” Gina said. “We’ll watch her.”

“I’ll fetch her something to drink and a blanket,” the old woman said, looking for any excuse to depart.

“They’re going to have a problem with this, Gina,” Frank advised, wiping sweat from Meredith’s brow.

Gina shook her head and said, “Oh well. They may not understand what she just did for them… hell, I don’t know that I do… but I’m certain that whatever happened up here, Meredith’s the reason we’re all still alive right now.”

“You think she put those fuckers to sleep?”

Gina smiled at the older woman and said, “Yes. That’s exactly what I think.”

~~~

Frank looked out the portal facing the front of the building for the tenth time. There was still no activity down on the streets—no Greg, Marcus, Stephen or Amanda—nothing at all. He was beginning to get agitated. He looked over to Gina who was still tending to Meredith. Gina had removed her bed sheet bindings and had laid her down as comfortably as she could, using the bed sheet bundles as a makeshift pillow. Meredith continued to remain in a deep sleep state, just like the last time she’d gone nuts at the power plant. This time, however, she remained out for a much longer time. They were growing concerned.

Frank started pacing near the portal, stealing sideway glances at the bungalow. Miss Marple had departed to fetch a blanket for Meredith and had not returned yet. In fact, for the last thirty minutes, none of Rusty’s people had vacated the bungalow.

“Still no sign of them?” Gina asked, starting to feel Frank’s tension.

He shook his head and looked toward the bungalow again. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel like we’re not invited to the meeting going on in there.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I think they’re deciding what to do about us.” Frank said.

“You’re being paranoid,” Gina said. “Rusty and Miss Marple are probably just trying to console them. They did lose five people last night.”

Frank looked at her and said, “Maybe. But maybe they’re also looking for someone to blame for those deaths. Emotions are probably amped up in there… hell, you saw how the woman reacted to Meredith.”

Gina refused to let Frank’s distrust of people cloud her thinking. They had survived the night when they all should have died. She wanted to focus on that and stay positive. “You need something to do,” she told him. “Why don’t you help me figure out the best way to dispose of all those zombie corpses down stairs. If we’re going to fix this place up, we’ll need to clear it out first.”

Frank stopped. “Are you serious? Fix this place up? Have you seen how fucked-up the first floor is? We might as well build a staircase from a second floor window now.”

“Well… then we can do that,” Gina said. “First floor was worthless anyway. And if not that, then maybe we do what Rusty said and start scouting out another building in town. Either way, we need to start thinking about reestablishing a secure perimeter again… somewhere.”

Frank wanted to say something sarcastic but stopped himself. He could see that Gina meant every word and intended on believing that nothing had changed. In her mind, she already saw them and Rusty’s group as one and was acting accordingly. “Gina,” he said carefully. “For what it’s worth, I believe your heart’s in the right place, but if you think-”

“We’ll have to have a service of some sort,” she interrupted. “These poor people will need some closure if we intend to pick up the pieces and start again.”

“Are you hearing yourself?”

“Maybe we could bury them beneath the trees out back… unless they have a better spot in mind. This is their home after all, I’m sure they’d know best.”

Frank stopped talking, let his shoulders sag, and simply stared at her.

Gina’s mind continued to drift. “After we’ve recovered from all of this… and we will… I think we’ll be much stronger in the long run, a lot more careful with a lot more defenses in place… maybe we could work out some early warning system by posting lookouts on rooftops surrounding our location. What do you think, Frank? We could make it work.”

“Maybe… sure, maybe we could,” he offered, understanding that Gina was trying to work through her own state of shock, now that she was able to stop and process everything.

“Stephen could work with Miss Marple on how best to educate the kids. You and Greg could take over security… or maybe Greg would be better suited to maintenance projects…”

Frank frowned and turned back toward the portal. He’d never seen Gina this way and he found it unsettling. He looked down into the streets again and saw three figures approaching the building. “Gina.”

“This could work,” she said. “After Meredith wakes up and we find Amanda and Stephen, everything will be okay and we’ll just lick our wounds… like before… and pull it together.”

“Gina,” he said more forcefully, causing her to stop and look at him. “They’re back.”

She looked into Frank’s concerned face and stopped herself from asking the question.

He answered it anyway. “There’s only three of them. I don’t see Amanda.”

Gina looked visibly shaken by the news. She tried to disconnect and said, “Go… go downstairs and help them, Frank. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on Meredith.”

Frank nodded and departed.

Gina checked on Meredith again and tried to stay busy by checking her vitals.

She’s dead… Amanda’s dead… and it’s your fault.

Gina tried to force the thoughts away but they came anyway: Oh, God… please… no! Not on my watch! Please let Amanda be okay…

She whispered to Meredith, “You… you need to wake up, Meredith… please… wake up.”

There was no response.

Gina was feeling the weight of it all now, the burden of leadership and the overwhelming responsibility that came with it of making sure her people remained safe. She felt suffocated by it… and incredibly alone.

“Meredith?…” she trailed off. She desperately needed her friend to open her eyes and tell her everything would be okay.

In her heart she already knew that Amanda was gone.

She began to weep on that lonely rooftop.

~~~

When the others got Stephen up to the roof, Gina was shocked. He was covered in dried blood, but fortunately, not his own. He was not physically injured, cut or bitten, but he looked very pale and his downcast eyes and defeated posture made him seem half-dead like something had stolen his soul.

Gina looked at him and said, “Stephen, are you alright?”

Stephen refused to look her in the eye.

“We found him hiding beneath a car between here and the bar,” Greg said. “Almost missed him, but he flagged us down.”

“And… Amanda?” Gina asked.

Stephen lifted his head and stared at her with tears in his eyes. “She… she saved me. The bar was overrun… we tried to get away but they… they kept coming. We were trapped in the basement. I got out through a window… there was not enough time… they… they grabbed her.” He looked down and finished, “I’m sorry, Gina. I tried to get her out, but they grabbed her and pulled her back into the basement… I can still hear her screams in my head… I can still hear them… feeding on her in the dark…”

Gina turned away before she lost it. She could not listen anymore. “Take care of him and Meredith,” she told them with her back turned. She closed her eyes and tried to keep calm. “I’m going to go talk to Rusty and find out- ”

Just then, the door to the bungalow opened.

The old man, along with Tommy and Miss Marple approached them.

Tommy was holding a rifle across his chest.

Rusty walked up to Gina, looked over at Meredith and then to Stephen.

“We lost Amanda last night,” Gina explained, feeling like a child explaining why her toys were not put away. “Meredith’s still out… but she should be okay soon.”

Rusty nodded. He had a hard time looking Gina in the eye. Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “We… We all have been talking… Hell, there’s no easy way to say this so I’ll just spit it out… We’ve decided that you can’t stay.”

Gina’s heart sunk.

Rusty took them all in and continued. “Please don’t misunderstand… I know how hard you fought for us last night. Hell, Tommy and I fought to keep you here, but the others just don’t see it that way. That’s why I’m still going to honor what I told you and make sure you have supplies, extra ammo and whatever else you need to see you off safely.”

“Most of us believe that you brought this trouble into our home,” Miss Marple added. “Although we appreciate that you stayed and helped us, we just can’t take the chance that those monsters will return.” She looked over at Meredith and finished, “We think they were after you… not us… and that makes having you here too much of a risk. I’m sorry, but that risk is not something we can afford to take again.”

Gina stared at her feet and nodded. “I understand.” On the inside, she was tearing her own hair out and fighting the urge to jump off the roof. “Can we stay the night? Just to get our bearings and wait for Meredith to wake?”

Rusty shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

Gina felt like she was just slapped… hard.

He looked over at Meredith and said, “We don’t want that witch to wake up in our house… and make those things come back.”

Gina looked up with fire in her eyes. “Don’t you ever call my friend that again,” she said. “If you knew what she personally suffered for you last night…”

Frank gently squeezed her shoulder from behind and said, “Gina… let it go. We need to leave. The man’s made that clear. There’s nothing left to talk about.” He looked at them with disgust and finished, “We’ve wasted enough time here.”

Rusty held up his arms and said, “My apologies. I spoke out of turn. There’s a whole lot I don’t understand about your friend, but whatever she is… she scares the hell out of us.”

“Tell them about the car,” Tommy said.

“I was getting to that,” the old man said. “Look, I know you’re trying to reach the mountains. We talked about how best to get you there. There’s an auto shop a block from here where we’ve stored a handful of vehicles with full tanks of gas. We kept them maintained in case we needed to leave town in a hurry. Tommy will take you there shortly and give you the keys to a Suburban. We all agreed that the town of Andover is your best bet into the mountains. Town sits right on the Pennsylvania border near Lake Pymatuning. Lot of campers go there so you should be able to get all the supplies you need for roughing it. We know a lot of back roads that most people wouldn’t have thought to use when everything went bad. They should be clear of traffic. Tommy’s got a road map with those roads highlighted. That’s the best we can do… I’m sorry things couldn’t have turned out differently.”

Gina nodded, stifling her anger and sadness. “Thank you,” she said. “We’ll get our shit together and get out of your hair.”

Rusty waited a moment longer and then turned away with Miss Marple in tow. Tommy stayed behind at a distance to wait for them.

Gina turned and walked toward Meredith and was surprised to find her eyes open and full of tears.

“Meredith! How are you?” she asked.

“Gina,” she said weakly. “They’re right, honey. They’re right to be afraid of me. This is all my fault.”

“There’s enough blame for everyone,” she told the older woman with a dismissive wave. “I’m just grateful you’re alright. Can you stand?”

Meredith nodded, slowly getting to her feet.

“How long were you awake?” Gina asked her.

Meredith frowned at young Tommy as he ran back inside to inform the others that the witch was up. “Long enough to know that there are pitchforks and a bonfire in my future if we don’t leave.”

“Meredith, what happened up here last night? How did you… make them stop?”

She gave Gina a grave look and answered, “Ask me another time, when you don’t mind losing sleep. Just know for right now that I had to go to a very dark place that I vowed never to go. I took a great risk to give us a chance… I owed you all that.”

“But… how?”

Meredith sighed and said, “I gave them what they wanted and made them go dormant. I remembered finding them that way in my dream and it sparked a horrific and desperate idea. I gave them so much of it they… shut down.”

“I don’t understand.”

Meredith gave her an exhausted look and answered, “I fed them, Gina. I fed them blood.”

~~~

Next Episode (22-13):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/chapter-22-13-almost-dead/

Previous Episode (22-11):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/chapter-22-11-almost-dead-2/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 22-12: Almost Dead” 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, a few typos:

    – left alone outside with less protection then they had.
    than they had

    – “I think they’re deciding what to do about us?”
    Unintended question mark?

    – we just can’t take the chance that those monsters won’t return.”
    Because it would be awful if they didn’t return.

    Keep up the good work. ;D

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Last ones (for now). Got them fixed. Thanks Art for taking the time to point out all this errors. I appreciate the effort and I hope it didn’t distract from the reading too much.

      Like

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