Sergeant Hash conducted the short version of the interview process, understanding that they were about out of light and needed to get back to the bridge. The other guardsmen expedited emptying the truck, swearing profusely under their breath.

After examining her eyes and a quick visual inspection for cuts, abrasions and especially bites, Hash invited Gina over to the Humvee and away from the bodies which were visibly upsetting her. When asked about the corpses, Hash explained that they were responsible for clearing the perimeter of the dead as a result of Saturday morning’s early attack. Since everything went quiet, the bodies began to stink and were disturbing the calm of the civilians camped in the outer protected area.

He offered her a seat and sat next to her on the driver side. “You said your name was Gina, right? I hate to put you through anything else this evening, but try to understand that we have to be careful. I have to know what I’m dealing with at all times, so please, no bullshit, just answer my questions honestly, alright?”

Gina simply nodded as she sat in the passenger seat with a warm cup of coffee from Hash’s thermos. She was exhausted and overcome with emotion, unable to stop the tears from streaming down her face. “I’m… sorry. Damn, you must think I’m losing it. I’m not usually an emotional wreck.” She quickly wiped the tears away with the back of a shaky hand.

Hash smiled. “How long have you been by yourself out there?”

“Two… wait, more like three days—God, this coffee’s heaven, by the way. It’s been the longest three days of my life. I started to think I was the only one left. Every time I found someone they were either dead, crazy or… changed.”

“You had encounters with the infected?”

“Yes, I even had to shoot one.”

“Do you still have the gun?”

“It’s in my pack.”

Hash sighed. “So you’re saying you dropped the gun in the lake?”

Gina turned and gave Hash a puzzled look.

Hash raised his eyebrows until she caught the hint.

She smiled. “Yes, I lost it on the way here.”

“Well, that’s good because if you had a sidearm on your person, I’d have to confiscate it and ask you a shit load more questions I’m too tired to get into. Not to mention the damn paperwork. Next question: Were you at any time scratched or bitten during your altercations?”

“No,” Gina said. “I know why you’re asking that because I’ve seen the grey-eyed ones, too. They’re not right in the head are they? They were bitten and something seems to be eating at them from the inside out.”

Hash frowned. “Gina, there’s a lot I don’t know right now. But yes, the greyish eyes seem to be a manifestation or a mutation of the infection working much slower in people who were attacked by the main group. The other ones—the yellow-eyed devils—underwent a complete transformation from the onset and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why some turned while others did not. We don’t have a clue how the disease selection process works.”

“So this is a disease?” Gina asked. “Was it something in the air, or the water supply?”

Hash shook his head. “I wish I had more concrete answers for you, Gina. We’re just trying to fight this thing off long enough to catch our breath and hopefully by then someone much higher than my pay grade will have some answers.”

“Sarge, we’re done and ready to roll,” Thompson said over the handheld radio.

“Copy. Do it.” Hash put the Humvee in drive and turned back toward the plant.

The other guardsmen piled up in the second truck and followed.

“I won’t bother you with any more questions, Gina. You seem normal enough to me. I’m sure you would like to get some rest. It’s a mile or so back to the checkpoint and we’ll be taking it slow, so just try to relax and enjoy the view.”

“Sleep? Yeah right. I’ll probably never do that again.” Gina had so many questions she wanted to ask but she fell asleep from exhaustion as soon as she sat back as the Humvee started down the dirt road.


Hash’s team cleared the checkpoint and proceeded west along the cliff side as the main power block opened up to their left. Housed within the inner protected area were high-ranked civilians and local government leaders, as well as scientists from a diverse range of fields. Plant employees were also housed within, trying their best to keep the power up and running to provide what electrical power they could. There were multiple layers of tall chain-link fencing with razor ribbon filling the gaps between the fences. Several manned towers stood behind the fences overlooking the north side. Behind the towers were many other defenses, which were considered classified.
Entrance into the protected area required the highest clearance, a complete medical exam, and a lengthy decontamination process.

Once beyond the north side that followed the lake, the west half of the outer protected area opened up, forming a mall-sized parking area where all the civilians were being cared for. Hash halted the vehicles just short of the civilian checkpoint and reached over to wake Gina up by nudging her shoulder. “Rise and shine, we’re here.”

Gina opened her eyes and sat up straight in her seat, embarrassed that she’d fallen asleep. “Shit. How long was I out?”

“Not long,” Hash laughed. “Thought you might want to take a look out there.” He pointed toward the parking area. “Turns out you’re not alone after all.”

Gina looked toward the south, past the checkpoint and into the quarter-mile long parking area. There were people everywhere.

Hash laughed at the wide-eyed look on her face. “They started coming in on Saturday afternoon. Just a few trickling in at first, and then in larger numbers. They heard the broadcasts and came from all over to find a place that was safe. Poor devils don’t know that nowhere is completely safe, but they’re here and they’re still alive, so that has to count for something. I hope this cheers you up some.”

Gina reached over and kissed Hash on the cheek. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!”

“You’re very welcome, Gina. Just remember, there’s always hope even in the darkest of times. Seeing all these people alive and kicking should be a reminder of that.”

“Noted. So, where do I start?”

“Head toward the large pavilion tents toward the center of camp and get something to eat and drink. There’s also a few portable showers and some cots located there. Check in with the nurses at the Red Cross tent and they can look you over and treat any injuries. Talk to Jenny, she’s a good girl. Tell her Hash sent you over and she’ll hook you right up. If I have time later, I’ll try to check in on you.”

“Okay, thanks again, Sergeant Hash.” Gina was grateful for all he’d done and sensed that this was a man who genuinely cared for people—a rare thing to find even before the world went to hell. She waved as Hash moved his two-vehicle convey toward the power block, or what Hash called the inner protected area, where they entered another set of guarded gates to begin processing inside.

Gina felt all alone again as she scanned the crowded parking lot where disjointed groups of survivors were spread out across every available space. She was reminded of a Phish concert she’d gone to in her youth, minus the copious amount of drugs and the lack of excited chatter. There was a heavy silence which hung about the parking lot as various survivors eyed her suspiciously until she passed. People spoke in hushed tones is if expecting the night to wake up and devour them. Half-lit faces surrounded small campfires; looks of grief, anger and loss were displayed on every face. Trust in one’s neighbor had been destroyed completely in the span of one long night as Gina was certain that everyone had lost people they knew, either changing before their very eyes and turning on them or being attacked by others who had suffered the same. She didn’t blame them for the lack of trust, but it was disturbing to see her fellow survivors in this way.

Will we ever be able to bounce back from this? Will we always be watching each other from the side and waiting for the monsters to return? These were chilling thoughts that Gina did not want to speculate on.

As she approached the center of camp, she observed that there were no civilian vehicles present throughout the parking lot, just military vehicles which surrounded the perimeter at different intervals. She noticed a tall fence, lit up by mounted spotlights running back to portable generators, encompassing the entire parking area. A ten-foot zone was roped off before the fences, labeled with signs that read: RESTRICTED ZONE, STAY CLEAR. Soldiers traveled on foot in pairs to monitor the zone and keep an eye on the fence line. There were also soldiers walking among the crowds to maintain a presence of law and order. Every one of them carried assault rifles.

Gina approached the large tents feeling like a girl on her first day in a new school in the middle of hell. She was drawn by the smell of food, realizing how famished she was, and joined a line where each individual was given an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) pack and two bottled waters by guardsmen who stamped each person’s hand as a makeshift receipt for the meal.

After being rushed through the line, she stepped aside and began to tear into the MRE like a savage.

“Slow down, honey, or you’ll miss the best part of these things,” a small woman said from Gina’s right.

Feeling embarrassed, Gina stopped and took a breath. Try to act like a damn human being, Gina. She turned and offered a faint smile. “Sorry, I didn’t notice you standing there. I… I know it’s hard to believe, but I used to have manners a few days ago.”

The slender, middle-aged woman with long, black hair tied up in a bun, dressed in a blue, flower-printed summer dress as if she’d just escaped from a southern church social, laughed heartily. “My word, it feels good to laugh. Not enough of that right now. What’s your name, honey?”

“Gina Melborn.”

“Well, Gina, my name is Meredith… Meredith Montgomery, and it’s nice to meet you. Now, about these little food contraptions, they’re really quite clever. You see, you open the bag and pour water into the biggest pouch—some kind of meatloaf, I think—then you add water and like magic it heats up your food. I could show you if you would like…”

Gina was crying.

Meredith gave her an understanding look, reached out and touched her shoulder. “It’s alright, honey, you go ahead and let it all out. Been plenty of that going on here. It’s the meatloaf, isn’t it? Everyone’s been crying about that, I’m afraid.”

The joke made Gina smile. “I’m sorry,” she said. “That’s the second time for waterworks today. I think I’m going for a record. You were being so nice to me… I’d almost forgotten what a normal conversation felt like.”

“That’s perfectly understandable. Tell me, honey, are you alone here?”

“Yes. I just got in.”

“Well, why don’t you come over and join my little group of assorted characters and we can have some more of that normal conversation… and it might just distract you enough to stomach that meatloaf.”

Gina smiled again and followed the nice woman. Along the way, she asked, “Are we safe here, Meredith?”

“I think you’ll feel a little better sitting beside a warm fire,” Meredith said. “There’s nothing like a fire and good company to get your mind off your troubles.”

Was that a ‘yes’? Gina wondered. She was too tired to press.

If this place isn’t safe…

She refused to finish the thought. The possibility terrified her too much.


Next Episode 10-3:

Previous Episode 10-1:


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“Chapter 10-2: The Plant” 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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