man-429641_640

~~~

After parting ways with Gina and the others at the vineyard home near Austinburg, Charlie Ottermeyer initially had every intention to locate the Ashtabula survivor’s group that they had first heard about broadcasted over the CB radio in Fairport Harbor. He had set off through the vineyard, feeling surprisingly up-beat about the way things had turned out. He’d been looking forward to his little adventure as well as the break it provided from being under the red-headed bitch’s dictatorship.

Charlie hadn’t cared anymore what the others thought about him or his actions. Given time, he’d believed that they would overlook the whole unpleasant situation with Amanda and learn to appreciate him for what he could do… now that his big secret was out of the bag. He’d actually felt relieved that the others finally knew. Now, he could stop pretending and stop holding back, finally receiving the respect that he deserved.

Yes… he had his share of regrets. He regretted being so damn impulsive when he’d abducted Amanda. He hadn’t thought it through carefully enough and so what was supposed to be a private matter had turned into a public misunderstanding that had nothing to do with the rest of them.

Regardless, Charlie had felt confident that everything would work out after he brought back word from the larger group in Ashtabula, and led them to safety… at last.

“Now there’s something Gina has never been able to provide,” he said smugly as he had headed east up the congested graveyard of Route 90.

Everything had been going according to plan until he’d seen them—the yellow-eyed devils—blocking his path further up the freeway.

He’d hidden in the nearby woods and considered confronting them.

“It has to happen sooner or later, Charlie-boy,” he’d reminded himself. But every time he’d tried to muster up the courage to face them and ‘take control’, he would think back to the hospital, remembering how fierce and fast they were… and how he’d crawled into a pathetic ball like a terrified child.

Charlie had reasoned his fear away. “They’re not like the slow ones who seem drunk most of the time and easy to manipulate. Those bastards on the freeway are like Pit-bulls fighting over a bone… and no one walks right into the middle of ‘that’ if they know what’s good for them.”

He’d decided to cut around them through the woods, losing several hours in the process as he’d let his mind drift back to when he and Amanda were trapped in the boathouse. Charlie had smiled, reminiscing about that glorious night when the tall zombie had found them and he had saved Amanda’s life. She had never belittled him again after that day… no-sir-re!

Charlie had found it strange that his thoughts often returned to moments he’d shared with Amanda… and it wasn’t just the sexual moments. In fact, since being out here, alone, Charlie had felt he could allow some honesty to breach the surface: He actually missed her company.

Charlie would never claim anything as outlandish as ‘love’ for the woman, but the closest he came to it was a sort of self-serving ‘need’ that she brought out in him. Charlie had been glad the others had stopped him from turning Amanda. After having time to reflect on the situation… she would’ve lost all appeal to him as a rotting reanimated creature. No… Amanda needed to be living. He knew that her façade of submissiveness was merely a mask for her fear and loathing toward him… but at least it was genuine. Amanda as a dead ‘thing’ would simply be a mindless drone who obeyed his every command but never thought about him one way or the other. As much as he loved the idea of turning the others into puppets, especially the red-head, he did not want that for Amanda. Perhaps in time their relationship could flourish into something more… something beyond the fear and hatred she had for him.

Hours later, as evening had approached, Charlie had ended up circling back through the woods and coming out at the eastern edge of the vineyard. He’d been silently grateful to have put some distance back between himself and those hate-filled savages on the freeway.

“Those people in Ashtabula are most certainly either dead or long gone by now,” he’d reasoned, using the yellow-eyed dead as an excuse to smother his fear of going on alone. Besides, he’d wanted another chance to win Amanda back.

When Charlie had reached a point in the vineyard where he could see the house again, he’d decided to head back to the shack where he’d watched the woman die (he couldn’t remember her name). Charlie had decided he would spend the night near the shack and think of some clever lie that would allow him to reunite with his group a day sooner than expected.

“I’ll tell them about the horde on the freeway and Meredith will be able to confirm it,” he’d said. “They wouldn’t expect me… even with what I can do… to go head-to-head with those monsters? I’ll play the submissive role for a while and show them how much I’ve changed. They’ll fall for it because that’s what weak-minded idiots confuse for strength, and then I’ll be back in the group.” He’d made himself a small fire and continued to entertain ideas of winning them over with a brand-new Charlie—one who didn’t lord his incredible ability over them, and one who only used it help the group for the greater good.

“Yeah… I like it! And then I can start opening up to them with some sad sob story about my troubled youth… and how it led to the bad choices I’ve made—that sort of horseshit.”

His thoughts had eventually led back to Amanda again. “And when I’m eventually allowed to talk to her without everyone going crazy just for looking at her, I’ll pull Amanda aside and let her know that I’ve released her from our previous arrangement. She’ll be so surprised by my generousity and start to see what a swell guy I truly am. After that, it’s just a matter of arranging a scenario that finds me arriving in the nick-of-time to bail her out of a jam… and then it’s a free slide right back between those wonderful legs of hers.”

He’d laughed at himself while continuing to feed delusions of acceptance as he’d mused throughout the night, all the way up to dawn.

Charlie had been so excited about getting back that he’d forgotten to sleep as he’d waited just long enough for the morning to set in and then he’d approached the ranch house.

He’d found it strange that he was able to make it all the way to the back door without someone spotting him and coming out.

“Fucking careless morons. Someone obviously fell asleep on watch.”

He’d initially waited outside for someone to see him, but after half-an-hour, Charlie had decided to enter the house.

He’d walked up to the back door and announced, “Hello! Anyone home? Gina… it’s me, Charlie. I know I’m back early but… hey, can anyone hear me?”

There had been no response.

Charlie had become concerned and thought, What if they were attacked last night!

He’d almost retreated out the back door until he looked around the living room and saw nothing out of place. Everything appeared fine.

Charlie had searched room by room, calling out their names until he’d cleared the whole house.

Everyone was… gone.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” he’d said. And then another thought struck. “Maybe they had to leave in a hurry to avoid an attack. If so, then they would’ve left a note for me.” He’d explored the house again for a note, even searching through closets before realizing the absurdity in that.

He’d stopped in the living room again and started scratching his bald head. “I don’t understand. They said they’d wait two days…”

A troubling thought rose to the surface.

Charlie’s face had drooped and his eyes went blank. He’d taken a deep breath, dropped down in the closest chair and then finally saw the truth.

“They lied to me!” he’d whispered. Charlie got up and opened the front door. The morning had suddenly become vacant… meaningless. He’d slammed the door shut and sat back down.

“How could they just… leave me behind? After all we’ve been through together… How could ‘she’ leave me?”

Charlie had begun to panic. He’d never truly felt alone until then. To be utterly alone meant being cut off from everyone you knew without a home to return to… and they were the closest thing to family he had left. But realizing he’d been abandoned, Charlie had felt like a man waking to find himself stranded at sea with nothing but hellish waters surrounding him.

How could even a great man, as he’d believed he was destined to be, amount to anything if there was no one left to appreciate his greatness? Who would esteem him and lift up the name of Charlie Ottermeyer if his thunderous applause was reduced to silence? He could not die alone! It just wasn’t right!

In a fit of rage mixed with deep sadness, Charlie had torn apart the living room, toppling furniture while no one was around to care and ask, ‘Charlie, what on earth is the matter?’

After wearing himself out, sweating, and out of breath, he had collapsed into a corner and wept.

~~~

For the remainder of that day, Charlie had kept himself busy by stewing over a road map he’d discovered in a kitchen drawer as he’d desperately tried to deduce the probable destinations they might have taken. Every time Charlie had picked a reasonable direction of travel, he’d become frustrated with himself for even considering attempting to follow the others.

“What am I now, some lost puppy trying to find his masters who rejected him? Pathetic, Charlie-boy!” He had crumbled up the map several times, only to pick it up again and again, not willing to accept that they had simply left him—not ready to face the awful truth that it implied.

“This is all her fault! That fucking bitch waited for me to leave and then poisoned their minds against me! She even talked Amanda into leaving…” His reasoning had sounded weak to his own ears.

“When I find them, they better have a good explanation! It’s not even humane to leave someone all alone in this fucked-up world!”

As evening crept up on him, Charlie had to face the grim reality that he’d have to spend the night in this dark house and try to get some sleep.

That was when the yellow-eyed demons had assaulted the ranch house like a runaway train as the dead barged in through the doors and windows with incredible ferocity.

Charlie had tried to make it to one of the bedrooms and close the door, but the dead had easily overpowered him as he’d backed against the foot of the bed and lifted his arms to defend himself.

Twenty monsters had barged into the room and surrounded him, as Charlie cried out, “STOP! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”

And as they had done when they’d cornered him in the hospital room, the yellow-eyed ones stopped and stared at the strange little man, trying to understand what it was.

Charlie had closed his eyes, waiting for the end.

The dead simply turned around and fled the room, no longer interested in the strange thing they’d found on the floor. After another ten long minutes, the yellow-eyed zombies departed the house and began running up the road toward Austinburg.

Charlie had been shocked. He’d gotten up and watched them leave from the bedroom window.

“They didn’t want me,” he’d whispered to himself. “I wasn’t even worth their time in killing me—rejected by man and beast.”

He had remained in that bedroom for hours, wondering if the monsters would return to finish him off. As he’d drifted in and out of nightmare infested sleep, Charlie had woken up with a question that burned until he was pacing the bedroom: Why had this smaller horde broken off from the main group along the freeway, determined to head east?

The answer was obvious. They were tracking prey.

Charlie quickly packed his things, eager to get out on the road. He had a strong suspicion that these yellow-eyed demons had come from elsewhere and that they’d been tracking a particular group of humans for quite some time—the very same group that would have led the beasts straight to the vineyard house, and after they had discovered that only Charlie remained, the monsters had continued their hunt for this elusive prey, somehow able to sense them.

~~~

It took him much longer than the dead to finally reach the town of Jefferson, but Charlie’s theory had panned out as he was easily able to follow the course of the horde right up to the apartment building where the dead laid in piles all around the building.

He’d encountered a small group of survivors there, led by an old man named, Rusty, who wanted nothing to do with him and threatened Charlie to leave them alone or they’d shoot him.

When Charlie had inquired about a red-headed woman and her group, their defeated-looking leader only babbled on about how opening their doors to the strangers he’d mentioned brought all this trouble down on them.

He’d pressed his luck and asked where they went.

In a fit of anger, the old man had answered, “They’re probably all dead… like that dark-haired woman that perished in the bar.”

Charlie’s heart had stopped. “Was her name Amanda?” he’d asked.

“Yeah… that’ s the one. Now get the hell out of here! We’re done helping outsiders! We can barely take care of ourselves now.” Rusty had slammed the door in Charlie’s face before he could ask anything else.

Charlie had wandered aimlessly down the block, oblivious to the quiet streets as he tried to process the news that Amanda was gone.

As chance would have it, he had looked up and found a sign above a small business with shattered windows that said: The Last Call.

It was a bar. “This has to be the place,” he’d whispered. Charlie had wanted to turn and run away from the bar, but then he’d realized that Amanda might not be gone… even if she was dead.

As he’d entered the torn up bar, Charlie’s anxiety level had soared through the roof. He’d been afraid that he wouldn’t find her… or worse… someone had already placed a bullet in her head.

“I’ll make this work somehow,” he’d said, frantically searching the bar. “I know it won’t be the same Amanda… but at least she’ll be with me at last. I’ll protect her and keep her safe and feed her whatever she needs… just please… please… please… let me find her here.”

Charlie had found a flight of steps that led down into a cellar. “She has to be down here… there’s nowhere else…”

He’d heard movement from below.

Charlie had rushed down the steps, stopping himself at the landing before falling head first into the five reanimated corpses that stared up at him with bloody faces.

“No!” he’d whispered.

The dead were chewing the flesh off what remained of Amanda’s bones. She looked like she’d been devoured by a pack of wild dogs. There was hardly anything left that was recognizable except a chunk of scalp with her long brown hair attached to it… all the rest was so much blood, mush and bones.

The zombies had hissed and moaned at Charlie, getting excited as they reached out for him.

“SIT THE FUCK DOWN!” he had roared.

The reanimated had given him a strange look and then sat down on the cellar floor, like children being punished.

Charlie had placed his head in his hands, understanding for the first time how much Amanda really meant to him, as he’d felt his insides tensing up, his body shaking, and the blood draining from his face.

“I… I loved you,” he’d finally said, not really understanding what the words meant… only that they felt right to say, as opposed to ‘goodbye’.

The reanimated had hissed at him again.

Charlie had stared at the sickening monstrosities covered in Amanda’s blood, as his own began to boil over.

Not aware that he could make the dead turn on each other, Charlie had poured out all his rage into one violent and bloody moment, commanding the monsters to tear each other apart. The zombies had cannibalized each other, until one mutilated corpse remained. And still, the creature wanted Charlie’s flesh and could think of nothing else. Charlie had kicked the thing’s head in repeatedly, shouting at the top of his lungs until he nearly overexerted himself.

And like the persistent hunger of the dead thing turned to mush beneath his feet, Charlie’s rage had remained hungry.

“You fucking murderous whore!” he’d hissed into the dark basement as his warped mind had given him a target. “After you got rid of me… Amanda defied you… didn’t she? She tried to tell you that leaving me behind was wrong… and so you left her to die in this shit-hole town… because she loved ME!”

He’d gotten up and stormed back up the stairs. Charlie’s blood-lust for Gina and all the others easily rivaled that of the dead. He’d needed to find her and that meant dealing with the broken survivors in the apartment building that slammed the door in his face.

“We’ll see about that,” he’d said with an evil smile. “I’ll torture every one of you… until you’re begging me to let you tell me where she is!”

Charlie had run out into the street, screaming like a madman: “COME! COME NOW!”

Every dead thing scattered about the town of Jefferson had… come.

When he’d gathered enough of them, Charlie had returned in force to the apartment building. And even after the frightened old man had told him everything… Charlie made him watch, promising to turn him after he’d let the dead devour his entire group… including the children.

And still, it wasn’t enough. He wanted more…

~~~

…Blood.

Charlie did not hesitate when he approached the southern entrance into the wilderness preserve. He led his hungry horde of over 500 reanimated corpses across the woods, fearing nothing. He had not heard the Shadow Dead camp fire stories or about the insane man who ran an armed camp that worshipped a cruel machine just up the narrow road he traveled. Charlie only knew that the others had come here and that had to mean that Gina was somewhere in these woods as well.

He had been very careful not to follow too close and let the witch, Meredith, have an opportunity to ruin his surprise advance. And now… Charlie felt like the end was close. He believed he would find them all camping in these woods, perhaps believing this preserve was some new safe place to hide. He would prove them all wrong.

When Charlie saw Micom’s scarecrows suspended from the trees and lined up on both sides of the narrow road, he ordered a halt and then laughed as he told the old zombie, Rusty, “Is this supposed to be some kind of warning? Pathetic!” That’s when he understood that there were others hiding out in these woods and he decided to take some extra precautions to protect himself.

He noticed the severed zombie with the crushed skull and walked right in between the hanging dead that reached out for him without so much as blinking their way.

The massive horde stood moaning in the background as Charlie bent down over the fallen corpse and stuffed his hands into its mutilated flesh. He then started rubbing the black blood all over his clothes and finished by smearing it across his cheeks and forehead like war paint.

“That ought to do it,” he said, catching a glimpse of himself in a small puddle. At first, his reflection troubled him as he looked just like another dead man walking. But it was his emotionless expression beneath the blood and his cold and distant eyes that really disturbed him. He looked like a man that had lost everything… and now… he was finally shedding the remains of his humanity, as well.

Satisfied with his zombie camouflage, Charlie stood up and looked up the narrow road. He could see the faint traces of man-made structures standing out through the trees.

His eyes lit up at the prospect of not only finding that whore, Gina, but of finding more people to turn his insatiable rage upon.

He looked back at his army of savages and smiled like the devil. He lifted the bullhorn to his lips and shouted, “WE MOVE… NOW!”

As one, Charlie and his zombie horde advanced toward the southern gate of Micom’s camp. He felt supremely powerful and invincible as he puffed his chest out and marched forward toward the mysterious structures.

Charlie felt more alive in that moment than he’d felt his entire life. All he needed was a crown to adorn his head as the madman would lead his mobile kingdom across desolate lands infested with the dead, picking up new subjects as he traveled onward, conquering everyone that dared to get in his way.

Yes… a crown, indeed… a crown of death, destruction… and so much fucking blood!

~~~

Next Episode (27-11):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/chapter-27-11-end-game/

Previous Episode (27-9):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/chapter-27-9-end-game/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 27-10: End Game” 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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