Chapter 4-1

~~~

Amanda Howard bolted upright from the backseat, slamming her head against the roof of the car. The convoy of emergency vehicles continued to roar past with sirens blaring.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” she meant to yell, but it came out cracked and hoarse instead. Her throat was still sore from last night’s burning vomit followed by dry heaving after drinking herself to oblivion.

Vodka is pure evil.

She placed her head in her hands as the hangover pulsated through her skull. The pain from colliding with the roof was quickly forgotten. Amanda felt dehydrated and sick to her stomach. She tasted bile in her mouth, the last warning sign before the inevitable, and took deep breaths to steady herself. After a long questionable moment, the urge passed. Amanda leaned over into the front seat and retrieved the energy drink and pack of cigarettes from the glove box. She chugged the warm drink and then lit a cancer stick.

Much better.

Amanda grabbed a beer from the half-full case near her feet and chased the energy drink with warm beer. Disgusting, but it always worked for her; the headache was already fading.

She continued to nurse the beer while staring out beyond the dark and empty parking lot of Dell’s Bar toward the twenty-four hour mini-mart/gas station across the street.

Those lights are too damn bright.

Amanda noticed the time on her dashboard clock: 3:15 am.

“Fuck me,” she said, in an unsurprised tone. She was supposed to pick up Marie more than six hours ago. “Way to go, you dumb bitch,” she scolded herself. “Just couldn’t stay away from the booze for one damn night, could ya?”

Amanda had only meant to stop in at Dell’s for a couple of drinks. Happy Hour was her Achilles’ heel. Four o’clock had melted away as she got chatty with other patrons pouring in… and the drinks kept coming. By six, she’d been half intoxicated and flirting with every available man at the bar… and the drinks kept coming. By seven, she was drunk (and paying full price for the booze). By eight o’clock, the whore had shown up—Belinda What’s-Her-Name, the woman her ex-husband had cheated on her with two years ago.

Amanda remembered buying Belinda a pitcher of beer (the cheapest shit on tap) and stumbling over to talk to the bitch.

Belinda had been too busy flashing that whorish smile at all her guy friends at the table to notice her approach.

How many of these losers are married? she’d thought.

When Belinda turned and noticed her, Amanda had impulsively poured the pitcher down the front of the skank’s blouse, soaking those fake boobs and hopefully ruining her expensive whore clothes.

There had been heated words that quickly devolved into an all-out cat fight as the two women rolled around on the floor, tearing at each other’s hair. Amanda was grabbed from behind and ushered outside as nearby patrons stepped in and broke up the fight. Amanda landed a right hook into that whore’s left eye on the way out.

She fell hard, too. That’s what you get for tearing up my family, bitch!

Amanda vaguely remembered stumbling across the street and purchasing the beer at the mini-mart. She eventually made it back to her car and settled in for a night of self-loathing and painful memories—her daughter, forgotten.

Her husband had left her long before the affair with Belinda made it official. He’d left because of the drinking. Amanda could finally see that now… now that it was all so fucking irrelevant.

The divorce hearing had been ugly. Amanda had shown up in court drunk out of her mind, screaming at the judge for giving James full custody of their only child.

She was court-ordered to get clean and failed repeatedly. It was only for Marie’s sake that James allowed Amanda one weekend a month to spend with her daughter… this weekend.

And here she was again, drinking her way to the grave.

Two police cruisers sped by with sirens howling.

“Fuckin’ grown-up boys with their toys! Where’s the damn fire… huh?” She dropped the empty beer can and opened another.

Amanda was almost functional now. Another beer for the road and she’d take her sorry ass home. Marie would just have to wait until this afternoon for their monthly blow out argument about something that was always Amanda’s fault.

“It is what it is, sweetheart, and your mommy’s a fuckin’ mess.” Amanda tossed another empty beer can aside. She opened her third and held it up, toasting her dark, blood-shot eyes staring back at her from the rearview mirror.

Gawd, I look like hell.

Amanda quickly turned her gaze away from those haunted and condemning eyes. They made plain the hopelessness and desperation that ruled her life; a slave to the bottle, she’d just about ruined anything good she once had. Marie was all she had left, and that had been slipping, too.

Amanda was pushing forty with nothing to show for it but a dead-end job as a waitress, a failed marriage, and she was a poor excuse for a mother.

She made a habit of drowning her cares in the bar scene. As a single middle-aged woman, managing to keep all her curves in place, Amanda dressed up her desperation in low-cut blouses and tight jeans, living vicariously through the lives of younger patrons who still had everything to look forward to. Acting like a twenty-five-year-old party girl, dancing and drinking and fucking all her nights away, she pretended she was someone else—someone in control of her life.

Each evening, she could be sexy and run with those younger girls who lacked her years of experience, or play the role of an intellectual and engage any man or woman in stimulating conversation. Most nights, she was alive and surrounded by wild, youthful energy, which made her feel like she could become anything she wanted, live in the now, forget the past.

By morning, she was always alone.

And the drinks kept coming.

Amanda spilled her newest beer all over the front of her blouse when something struck the rear of the car.

“What the fuck was that?” She spun around too quickly and caused her headache to return.

A man had just stumbled into her car and continued to pass as if nothing had happened. Amanda couldn’t see him clearly due to the long shadows that dominated this end of the lot, but he was obviously drunk.

Amanda rolled down her window and yelled at the back of the staggering man, “Hey buddy, watch where you’re walking! That’s a good way to get your ass kicked!” In her anger, she failed to register the rotting smell that invaded her open window.

The man, dressed in a raggedy looking suit stopped as if considering where the admonishment was coming from, and then slowly turned toward Amanda’s voice. Still wrapped in shadow, the man slowly advanced toward Amanda, dragging what looked like a broken foot behind him.

Amanda laughed, trying to control her building unease. “Shit, I thought I had it bad. You better drag your drunk ass home before the cops catch you. They’ve been racing up and down the damn street for the last five minutes.” The last she hoped would register and turn the drunk back around.

The drunk man continued to advance.

“Look, I’m not playing around. You better keep on walking or I’ll call-”

The man entered the light. His ancient face and ratty black hair were covered in blood. His dark eyes seemed pushed back in their sockets. His lower jaw hung to one side of his face, swinging like a broken door on a flimsy hinge. His exposed black tongue wiggled up and down like a snake.

Amanda had just enough time to roll her window up as the disfigured man slid his rotted appendages through the crack at the top. “Mother fucker!” she screamed, sliding toward the other side of the car.

The man shook the car as he tried to free his trapped fingers from the window. He fell backward as long dead flesh tore at the wrists, sending him to the ground, his hands remaining on the window.

“Oh, fuck,” Amanda managed, trying desperately not to vomit into the back seat. She started to exit the opposite side door when a large black woman slammed into it, causing it to close.

“Please help me!” Amanda cried out to the woman. “There’s something wrong with-”

The black woman pressed her face against the glass, exposing her rotted teeth as she tried to bite at Amanda through the car window like a rabid dog.

Amanda let out a nervous, strangled sound, unable to draw breath as she quickly locked the car door.

There were others approaching the rear of the car. Amanda could make out seven disfigured shadows slithering out from the dark. Men, women—even a child—all drawn to the disturbance. As each of them entered the lit area of the parking lot, Amanda watched as shadows transformed into monstrous representations of what used to be people, each in various states of decomposition. Mutilated flesh, exposed bone penetrating stretched skin, sunken eyes and ragged clothes—and that God awful smell!—It was all so hard to believe.

From across the street, the gas station erupted in a ball of flame that made Amanda scream as she clenched her ears, ducking down into the back seat just as her front windshield imploded into a thousand pieces.

It took all she had to move, forcing a look out the front of her car and then wishing she hadn’t. The flames hovering high above the gas station illuminated the night and brought the totality of her situation to light. The parking lot, now entirely exposed on the Mentor Avenue side, was infested with monsters. Some were sluggish creatures like the ones who approached from the rear, but others were moving like wild animals.

Amanda watched a passing car swerve out of control to avoid hitting one only to sideswipe a telephone pole instead. The stunned driver got out as several beasts descended upon him with chilling ferocity.

Sobriety had never come quicker as the monsters from the rear of the vehicle began to push their way around her car in an attempt to reach Amanda through the shattered windshield.

Got to get out of here!

As if responding to her frantic thought, one decrepit creature found its way to the front of the vehicle and began to clumsily climb the hood of Amanda’s car, teeth barred, dark eyes ablaze with insidious hunger.

Amanda had almost given up to fright, but spotted her car keys still hanging from the ignition. She crawled into the front seat, the pain from the pebbles of broken safety glass digging into hands and bare feet causing her to move even faster, as she raced to get the car started before it could get at her through the breach. The thought of those cold, gray hands with black fingernails scratching at her face strengthened her resolve to get the car moving.

An older man with dirt clots sticking to the remains of his dark beard had managed to get spread-eagle upon the hood of her car as it crawled toward her. She could smell its rancid breath as it approached. She looked up long enough to watch as the old man’s left eye fell loose from the socket and dangled down its filthy cheek. The old man paid it no notice as Amanda was all it had eyes for now.

Amanda reached for the ignition with shaking hands, believing it wouldn’t start like in every horror movie she’d ever seen, turned the key and let out a nervous laugh when the car roared to life.

The old man reached in through the broken windshield and grabbed a strand of Amanda’s long brown hair.

Amanda screamed as she put the car in reverse and floored the gas pedal, turning the steering wheel sharply to the left. The old man was tossed off the hood of the car ripping out Amanda’s hair in the process. The closest creatures were knocked back, some fell beneath the vehicle as Amanda’s exhaust pipe rammed into one.

Amanda slammed the brakes and quickly looked out across the parking lot and found a clear path to a neighborhood side street. She sped toward the opening¸ unwilling to look at the monsters on either side and focusing solely on escaping the parking lot.

Something was still holding on beneath the vehicle as she dragged it across the parking lot until hitting a curb, which knocked it loose.

She turned on to Hopkins Street, slowed down before hitting a tree, and dared a glance into her rearview mirror. She was free. Amanda let out a victorious laugh and then began to sob as her amped-up emotions took over.

“This is fucking insane!” she declared to the night as she reached back and grabbed a beer. She downed the warm brew in seconds and discarded the empty can out the window.

This shit is not happening!

She quickly opened another beer, unable to process the horrors she’d just witnessed.

And then a thought struck her like a baseball bat:

Marie!

~~~

People fled their homes screaming, still wearing pajamas and nightgowns, as Amanda’s headlights lit up each street-by-street display of panic, chaos and bloodshed. Families rushed to the false safety of their cars, only to be ambushed trying to get away. Other families ripped each other apart on their front lawns. Concerned and confused neighbors gathered on corners, shining flashlights in all directions, not yet understanding that it was their own neighbors who were murdering them.

Terrified people ran into the street, drawn to Amanda’s headlights like moths to a flame, desperately trying to escape their waking nightmares.

She swerved to avoid a blood-soaked woman who ran directly toward her window as a man with yellow demon eyes tackled the woman from behind.

Amanda struck a curb, spilling her beer in her lap. She managed to keep the car moving forward as the wind and the sounds of madness assaulted her through the broken windshield. She blew past a stop sign, and struck a man with hostile yellow eyes who ran straight at her. The crazy man struck the hood of the car, knocking out her left headlight, and then fell beneath the front bumper, becoming a speed bump. Amanda nearly lost control of the fast moving vehicle.

“This is not fucking happening!” she shouted out the broken windshield as she took a hard right around a corner, fishtailing into a parked Corvette. She slammed her head into the steering wheel but kept her foot on the gas pedal, refusing to stop for anything or anyone. She felt blood trickling down her numb forehead and into her eyes. Amanda wiped it off with her forearm and spotted an exit out of the neighborhood slaughterhouse. The Mentor Avenue intersection was just three blocks ahead of her.

Amanda reached over and grabbed her last beer, opened it, and clipped a mailbox with her right passenger mirror.

She engulfed the warm brew like a desert survivor, tossed the can out the window, and then laughed hysterically into the night. “End of the fucking world and wouldn’t you know it… I’m out of fucking beer!”

~~~

Amanda turned sharply off of Mentor Avenue, nearly colliding with the Archer-Oswald Academy marque and drove up the long drive toward the school. Her heart stopped as she approached the main campus, the smell of smoke hung heavy in the air. The dark school made it easy to spot the flames that rose from a large structure at the front.

I’m not… drunk enough for this!

She stopped half way down the long drive, scrapping a curb with her right front tire, as she noticed several people fleeing in her direction. They could’ve been some of the boarder students escaping the fire, which might mean Marie was among them. She put the car in park and stumbled out of the vehicle to get a better look.

“Marie! Where… where the hell are you, girl? Mommy’s here… I said Mommy’s here! Now’s not the time for your… for your bullshit!”

A man approached her, waving his hands to gain her attention. He was shouting something she couldn’t understand.

“What the fuck you say?” she asked, and laughed at the sound of her own inebriated speech.

“Get in the damn car!” The man was out of breath, nearly stumbling in an effort to reach the passenger side.

“What the fuck-” Amanda’s thoughts were cut short as she began to comprehend what the man was running from. “What are those… why are those kids…”

She could see them now, the crazy children with yellow fire for eyes.

Amanda couldn’t move as she watched them race across the night toward her car like a pack of wild dogs.

The man grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back toward the vehicle. “Come on! We have to go… NOW!”

Amanda was pushed through the driver side as the man got in and quickly turned the car around. The first of the savage children slammed into the rear of the vehicle as he drove back toward Mentor Avenue.

The man punched it as the car outran the little monsters and he quickly approached the main street, keeping an eye locked on the rearview mirror. He turned left on to Mentor Avenue in the direction of home… toward Claudette.

Amanda slouched down in her seat. The jerking motions of the car were making her sick.

“Ma’am, are you alright?” the man asked, refusing to look away from the road.

Amanda looked up and spat, “Of course I’m not alright… stupid mother fuc… Nothing’s alright!” She then laughed at herself. “What the fuck… is happening? Those children… what on earth could make children bat-shit crazy… like that?”

“Are you drunk?” the man asked.

“What if I am? Worlds fucking… fucking ending… seemed like a hell of a good idea at the time.”

The man ignored this and said, “My name is Stephen Eddington. I’m a teacher at the school. Thank God you came when you did. I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

Amanda climbed back up in the seat. “Fuck me! Turn around!”

“What? You mean back to the school?!” Stephen was beside himself. “Did you not just see-”

“Turn the fuck back around, asshole! My… my kid’s back there!”

Stephen had no response.

Amanda turned and placed her face right up against his ear. “You turn around right now, or so help me God, I’ll do it… turn the car… do it myself,” she slurred.

Stephen saw an overpass up ahead. He stopped the vehicle at the top, looked around to make sure they were safe and sighed heavily. “We can’t go back there. It’s too dangerous.” He turned toward Amanda and for a brief moment he saw a ghost sitting next to him. The resemblance was striking.

“What’s your daughter’s name?” Stephen asked, trying to stall and figure out how to prepare this poor woman for the horrors he’d witnessed.

“Marie… her name’s Marie Howard. I’m her mother.”

Howard. That was Nicole’s last name.

“Do you have another daughter at the school? I know a Nicole Howard.”

“Yes… that’s her middle name. Her father gave it to her. She uses it to… to piss me off. Did you see my daughter in that mess? She stays at Hal… Halcum Hall.”

Stephen’s face went pale looking into Amanda’s eyes. For a moment he saw the dead girl in those eyes. He looked away, shifting uncomfortably in his seat, and feeling the notebook stuffed into his shirt burning into his chest.

Murderer!

“You know her. I can tell. Did you see her? Did she get out?”

The words fell out of his mouth like a confession. “Your daughter’s dead. I was in Halcum Hall. They’re all dead. I saw… I saw your daughter die.”

Murderer… and a liar!

Amanda’s face went pale. She tried to speak, but failed to find the words.

Please… please stop staring at me. Stephen looked away. “I’m so terribly sorry. We have to go now.” He put the car back in drive, needing a distraction from the geyser of grief that was about to erupt next to him. “My wife… I want to make sure she’s alright. Okay?”

Amanda nodded indifferently. She turned toward the window, lost in a hell of emotions.

Stephen tried his cell phone. There was no service

I need to get to Claudette. Fuck the rest. I need to make sure she’s safe.

“My home is close to here. I’m going to head there for now. We can clean up, collect ourselves and figure out what to do next. Alright?”

Amanda was unresponsive.

Stephen gripped the steering wheel and closed his eyes, trying to force out the guilt. “Again, I’m so sorry. It all happened so fast. Everything went to hell so damn fast…”

“Stephen… right?” Amanda asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you have any hard liquor at your place?”

~~~

Next Episode 5-0

Previous Episode 3-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 4: Happy Hour” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

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. oncegiants says:

    Aw man… this can’t end well!!

    Like

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