cross-279088_640

~~~

Late morning over Andover was quiet and surprisingly void of the dead.

Stephen had been the last to see a lone straggler heading back into the woods and toward the lake where he and Meredith had first seen the horde originating from. It was quickly decided that they all avoid the lake.

Meredith had suggested having a service for Gregory and Amanda as she and Stephen volunteered to dig the graves.

After finally getting a little sleep, Gina was looking for anything to stall any decision in regards to the inevitable trek into the mountains. She was immediately receptive to Meredith’s idea for a service since Andover seemed temporarily safe. They had reasoned that the majority of the small town’s dead had been put down near the office building since there were no new sightings of larger groups in the area.

The only change Gina made to Meredith’s plan was her insistence on digging the graves herself and Frank offered to help.

Stephen and Marcus went out to find supplies, while Meredith stayed behind to keep an eye on the diner and give herself and Gina a little breathing room. The building tension between group members appeared to be the only threat at the moment.

~~~

Stephen and Marcus found the first of several camping supply outlets. They started gathering gear and throwing it into two shopping carts.

“Well, here we are again, walking through another of Yesterday’s ghost towns on our tour of dead places in Northeast Ohio,” Marcus joked.

The humor was lost on Stephen who didn’t feel like living this morning.

“Want to talk about it?” Marcus asked.

“You’re awfully chipper after everything that’s happened,” Stephen said. “How do you do that? How can you remain so… oblivious… after killing those people?”

“Every death matters, Stephen. Don’t mistake my good cheer for indifference. I’m simply enjoying right now because it’s what we have. You and I could be dead minutes from now.”

Stephen shook his head. “You call that ‘good cheer’?”

“What’s really troubling you?”

He hesitated and then said, “I need to know what you’re going to do about our conversation in Jefferson? I don’t care either way… it’s just the anticipation of not knowing what to expect that’s bothering me.”

Marcus nodded. “You want to know if I intend to tell Gina that you murdered Amanda’s daughter… accidentally, of course.”

Stephen winced at hearing the truth spoken out in the open. For so long, it had been his burden to bear. “Well, are you?”

Marcus stopped and looked Stephen in the eye. “Let me ask you a question first. In light of what happened today, do you really think it would matter if I told her? None of our hands are clean anymore, Stephen.”

He considered this and said, “Does that make us the bad guys now?”

Marcus laughed. “Good, bad, indifferent… none of it matters anymore. What we have are the choices presented before us and that’s it. We make our choices, sometimes collectively, sometimes individually, and simply walk the paths our choices create. We represent the last of the living, spread out across the world and that world is full of new exhilarating and terrifying choices. “

“You really know how to not answer a question… are you aware of that?”

Marcus laughed, placed his hand on Stephen’s shoulder and said, “No.”

“No, what?”

“No, I won’t be telling Gina about our conversation. Nicole is dead. Her mother is dead. Everyone that ever knew either of them… dead… except us. Not to be harsh, but what’s the point in telling the group about the circumstances surrounding the death of a young woman that they don’t know… and never will? You probably know Nicole better than anyone. In fact, you honor the memory of her daily with your pain. Isn’t that enough?”

Stephen nodded uncomfortably. He wanted out of this conversation. “Thanks… not for keeping quiet, but for letting me know what you intended.”

“You’re welcome, Stephen. By the way, I have Nicole’s diary. Amanda left it with me when she … took off. It seems appropriate that since you brought it all this way, that maybe it should remain with you.”

Stephen did not know what to say.

“You do want it, don’t you? As I recall, it helped you in some small way.”

“Yes,” Stephen said. “I would like to have that back… very much.”

~~~

Frank and Gina dug two graves in silence.

After an hour, Frank said, “Let’s take five. The arm is killing me.”

“Go ahead,” Gina said, refusing to break her stride. “I want to finish this first.”

“Suit yourself.” Frank sat down beneath an oak tree. He took a long sip of water and stared at the sweaty red-head. He had come to respect Gina on many levels because she was one tough bitch when push came to shove. And that’s what was required to survive in this hostile world… even if she didn’t know it yet. He hated seeing her like this. Frank first saw it on that roof top in Jefferson when those losers turned them away. And now, the killing rampage at the office building—he feared for her state of mind. It was never easy to kill. There were always repercussions… She’d crossed lines that clearly made her despicable in her own eyes. She’d done things that even he wasn’t capable of carrying out. You just hold on, Gina. Don’t let this mother fucking world break you.

Gina continued to throw shovels of dirt over her shoulder while trying not to notice Frank’s probing stare. “The only thing more annoying than digging graves you don’t want to dig is doing it with a compulsive ‘people watcher’… or are you just staring at my ass?” She gave him a weak smile.

Frank laughed, spitting out water. “As much as I wouldn’t mind a post-apocalyptic romp with the red-headed she-woman… you’re simply not my type. No offense.”

She nodded. “Yeah… got it… you’re gay.”

He huffed like a caveman at the ridiculous comment and asked, “Where’s this all going, Gina?”

“Apparently nowhere now,” she teased. She stopped shoveling to look at him. “That was a joke.”

“I see you trying your fucking heart out to lead us to the mountains like Moses trying to cross the Red Sea of death, despair and destruction… but where’s it all leading us to?”

“Is all this bullshit we’ve gone through going to pay off once we get to that mystery cabin in the middle of nowhere? Is that what you’re asking me?”

“More or less.”

“Fuck if I know.” Gina started shoveling again.

Frank snickered. “Then why do it?”

She stopped again, wiped sweat off her brow and said, “If I tell you the big fucking secret, will you shut up and start shoveling again?”

“Absolutely.”

“We try for the cabin in the mountains, because the power plant failed, and then the marina, and then Jefferson. We strive to get there not because it’s going to pan out… hell, I’m almost sure it’s a wash… but we do it because standing still is certain death. So, we make up any damn reason to keep fucking moving. And that’s Gina’s big survival tip for the apocalypse. If I ever come up with 364 more of them, I’ll make you a fucking calendar.”

“Shit… that will be the day. I’m still waiting on the mocha latte.”

“Just get you big ass over here and dig. A deal’s a deal.”

Frank rolled his eyes and picked up the shovel. “What about that place on the flyer? Do you think that will
pan out?”

Gina looked grim. “For that poor girl’s sake… I sure hope so.”

He paused again.

“What now?” she asked.

“Nothing… I was staring at your ass that time.”

Gina laughed hard and dropped the shovel. Once she started, she couldn’t stop as the pent-up emotions found an outlet. She suddenly went from laughing to sobbing like a crazy woman as she knelt down in the dirt and let it all out.

Frank knelt down beside her and awkwardly put his arms around her shoulders.

Gina turned in toward him and wept into his big embrace.

He felt both intensely angry and deeply saddened by the broken woman in his arms. He looked around to make sure no one saw her like this. He also wanted something or someone to destroy. “I know… I know this shit sucks, but you have to pull it together, Gina. We’ll figure this out. Okay?”

She nodded and angrily wiped the tears away. “I’m pathetic… and weak!” she scolded herself.

“Shut the fuck up!” Frank said. “Don’t you ever say that again! You’ve done right by us… hell, you even made a believer out of me, and that’s not something to take lightly.”

“I’m just… I’m just so fucking tired, Frank… tired of everything.”

“Well… you just rest a minute. The fucking apocalypse can wait.” He just tried to hold the broken pieces of their leader together as best he could. “You’ve always had what it takes, Gina,” he whispered. “Just… hold on.”

~~~

The five remaining members of the power plant survivors stood in silence around two shallow graves at the center of a small park. The mid-afternoon, partly cloudy sky spit out the sun that shone through the remaining autumn foliage as surrounding tree limbs swayed from a light breeze. The rare absence of the dead made it possible to stop and enjoy the day—taking in the last of fall’s defiance as the season slowly bled to death across a landscape of vivid colors.

Meredith was the first to speak. She stared up into the trees and smiled. “The last time I spoke with Gregory was at the vineyard house. We shared a moment much like this one and just stood in awe of the morning his God provided. He never took those rare moments for granted and I was blessed to share that one with him.” She stopped before her emotions got the best of her. “Goodbye, Gregory. You will be missed.”

Frank’s discomfort was easily apparent as he slowly paced near the rear of the group. He turned to Gina and said, “I’m not good with goodbyes. I’m going to walk the perimeter and keep an eye on the town while you all finish.”

Gina nodded and said, “Just don’t wander off . Those things seem to be content to remain near the lake for now… but that could change.”

“Agreed,” he said. “I just need a little space.”

She watched the big man walk off with his hands in his pockets. He’s taking Greg’s death hard. I’ve never seen him so… vulnerable.

Stephen was speaking now. “Amanda was one stubborn woman,” he said with a smile. “She had a temper that could rival the best of them… but underneath it all, she was a woman who made a lot of mistakes in her life and carried those regrets around with more strength than I could ever muster. She was a lousy mother that loved her daughter, and she struggled to find a way to express that love…” He trailed off, feeling all eyes on him. “Before she died, she shared some of that pain with me. She was inspired by her daughter’s courage when facing adversity, and always wanted to be more like her. As a result, Amanda showed some of that same courage and saved my life from the horde that trapped us in the bar. I would be dead now if she hadn’t stayed behind to slow them down… and that is what I will always remember about Amanda Howard. Go in peace, Amanda. I hope you and your daughter are reunited… somewhere.”

Marcus stepped forward and pulled a half-empty bottle of whiskey out of his pack. He held it up and said, “Amanda approached me at the power plant like a light in a dark place. Everyone around me looked so defeated and half-dead… but Amanda was the exception. She refused to let even the apocalypse dampen her vivacious spirit as she reminded us at the larger tent community the importance of having a good time… regardless of the circumstances. She might say now, ‘What’s the point to all this surviving if we’ve forgotten how to live a little’.” He took the cap off the bottle and took a large sip. “To you, Amanda.” He handed the bottle to Stephen.

“What the hell,” he said and took the bottle. “Thank you, Amanda… for saving my wretched hide.” He took a large swallow of whiskey that burned his throat.

Both Meredith and Gina followed after, drinking to honor her memory. Meredith coughed after swallowing the harsh liquor, but managed to keep it down.

When the bottle got back to Marcus, he was surprised when Gina asked for it again.

He handed her the bottle and Gina took another large swallow before returning it to him. “Thanks, I needed that,” she said. Gina stepped toward Greg’s grave and said, “He never let me quit when I was close to giving up. Greg simply lent me his hope and it was enough to get me to the next day… and the one after that… Greg was good people… the kind of man who you hoped survived this thing the longest because he set the example of how to be… especially in the apocalypse. He loved his God and his faith never wavered, even after losing his daughter. I will always remember his strength, his wisdom and most of all, his gracious heart…” She stopped abruptly as the waterworks started up again. She stepped back, losing herself in the loud silence.

~~~

Frank had wandered back into the office building, back up on the rooftop. He was staring down at the blood-stained spot where Greg had fallen.

“So long, you old fart,” he said. “I miss you already.” The longer he stared at the blood the angrier he became. “You know you had no business lasting as long as you did, right? Good people aren’t fit for this new world and you ended up getting just what you deserved!” He turned away as a rare tear fell from his eye. He quickly wiped it away and whispered, “Only the worst of us deserve to remain here. You, my friend, deserve to be in a better place with your little girl.”

He turned back for one last look at his friend’s blood on the street, to remind him what being a ‘good person’ got you in this world. “I need to stop all this ‘caring’ bullshit… they’re all going to die anyway. It’s time to start looking out for #1 again.” His words sounded shallow to his own ears. Once… yes… he was capable of such cold detachment from the rest of the human race… but no longer.

Frank felt extremely uncomfortable. He had changed over time with this group. And with those changes came weakness, weakness that stemmed from compassion—the bastard child of… love.

He would have to take a long hard look in the mirror and try to figure this all out.

Frank started to turn but caught movement to his right and up the street, toward the entrance into town. He waited a moment and then his eyes went wide.

“Fuck!” he hissed.

Frank bolted off the rooftop. He needed to get down to the others…

Now!

~~~

They slowly started back toward the diner. Gina had decided to stall one more night so that they could get a good night’s sleep and discuss plans for the mountains well-rested. Silently she prayed for any other option to present itself between now and then.

As they neared the door of the diner, Frank rushed up out of breath.

“What’s the matter?” Gina was immediately alarmed.

“We’ve got trouble coming!” he said.

Gina drew her gun. “Zombies?”

“No,” Frank said. “Much worse. There are people coming this way… a good twenty or more.”

“Shit!” she said.

They all looked around nervously.

“We should go meet them,” Stephen said. “I still believe that not everyone is out to get us.”

Frank said, “Did I fail to mention that they’re armed to the teeth?”

And then a horrible realization struck Gina like a brick. She thought about the two young snipers and the pregnant girl that they had allowed to leave. “Frank.” She looked ill. “Do you think… do you think they came from- ”

“Do I think they came from Mother?” he interrupted. “That’s exactly what I think! Those kids went for reinforcements. We’ve been played!”

Gina shot Meredith an evil look and then addressed them all. “Everyone, get inside! If Frank’s right… then they already know exactly where we are!”

~~~

Next Episode (25-1):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/10/26/chapter-25-1-reunions-and-departures/

Previous Episode (24-5):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/chapter-24-5-blood-required/
~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 24-6: Blood Required” 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, found a typo:

    – “We should got meet them,”
    We should go meet them.

    ;D

    Like

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