star-346890_640

~~~

Meredith and Gina were just finishing up sharing a meatloaf MRE at Gina’s insistence, when Doug McFarlane entered camp with an older gentleman and a teenage girl. The two men were preoccupied, studying a map under the older man’s pocket flashlight while the slender girl with straight, jet-black hair and blonde highlights plopped down in the nearest lawn chair, suffering from electronic morphine withdrawal since her iPod’s batteries had died yesterday.

Gina gave Meredith an amused look after watching the poor teen slink down in her chair as if her bones had liquefied on contact.
The girl stared into the small fire, folded her arms, and announced dramatically, “The end of the world sucks!”

“Ashley,” her father cautioned without looking up from the map, “mind your tongue, girl, or we’ll be talkin’ again about the importance of manners versus the back side of my hand.”

Ashley rolled her eyes, and blew blond streaks away from her face.

Meredith held back a hearty laugh for the sake of Ashley’s temperamental emotional state, and said, “Gina, this young lady is Ashley Dermont, and that man with Douglas over there is her father, Gregory. They’re Percy residents and were among the first survivors to arrive at the plant. Gregory’s an all-around handyman who can’t keep still longer than a few seconds, and he’ll wear your ears out if you’re not careful.

“Hello, Ashley,” Gina said. “Nice to meet you. I’m Gina Melborn.”

Ashley looked over, noticing the new face for the first time. “Welcome to hell, Gina Melborn. There’s nothing to do here but wait around until you die of boredom or until some grown-up tells you to get out of the way and wait somewhere else to die of boredom.” She looked back at her father to see if he’d heard, and then finished, “Any questions?”

Gina busted out laughing and said, “Well aren’t you refreshing. I think you spilled a little sarcasm beneath your chair.”

This awarded Gina a small smile that quickly faded. “Meredith, I like the new girl, but perhaps you need to remind her that there’s no time for jokes if we have any chance at all of maintaining our slow and tedious existence here.”

“Oh, come on, honey, it can’t be that bad,” Meredith teased. “I’m sure if you asked the guardsmen, they might let you watch when they wash their trucks or perhaps you could walk the perimeter a thousand more times. Doesn’t that sound like a blast?”

“Meredith, you just lost a cool point for that unentertaining comment.” She started patting herself down. “As soon as I find my notepad, I’m deducting it from the record.”

“Gosh, darn it!” Meredith feigned hurt. She elbowed Gina. “Took me forever to earn that last one, too.”

“Girl,” Gregory called, “off to bed now. Leave them ladies in peace.”

She rolled her eyes once more. “My dictator hath commanded and I must oblige. Nice to meet you, Gina. See ya, Meredith.”

“Good night, honey,” Meredith said.

Gina nodded to the girl who climbed into her sleeping bag to dream of smart phones which never needed recharging and unlimited internet minutes.

“What a cool kid,” Gina said. “Considering all that’s happened, she’s holding up very well.”

Meredith smiled at Ashley and said, “Yes, she’s doing so much better than a lot of us. Quite an inspiration, really.” Then she frowned and whispered, “But when you hear her crying out for Gregory in the night when the nightmares strike, it damn near breaks your heart.”

The two men finally broke from their discussion. Gregory stopped by to say goodnight to Ashley while the big man sat down by the fire.

“It’s getting late,” Doug said. “Where is everyone, Meredith?”

“Oh, I’m sure they’ll be back in a spell. Lot of tension in the air tonight. A good walk will probably do them all some good.”

Doug nodded, not caring to pursue the comment further. He turned to Gina. “Sorry about… earlier. I lost my head a bit. Don’t want to give you the wrong impression about me. I’m usually fairly level-headed. Your name’s Gina, right?”

“Nice to meet you, Doug, and don’t worry about earlier. I’ve been known to fly off the handle on occasion.” She looked at Meredith and winked. “I had a heated discussion with Charlie while you were gone. Didn’t go so well.”

Doug laughed. “That little man gets under a person’s skin like a tick. You know how to use that firearm you’re carrying?”

“You don’t waste any time do you?” Gina asked, caught off guard by his abruptness.

“Yes, Meredith’s always reminding me that I can be a bit rough around the edges. I’m working on that. So about the gun…”

“Yes. I can handle it well enough. My father taught me when I was young.”

“Have you had an occasion to use it lately?”

Gina frowned. “Yes. I had to shoot a young man who came at me yesterday.”

Both Doug and Meredith studied her expression.

“Was it… one of them?” Meredith asked.

Gina simply nodded.

“Head shot, right?” Doug asked.

“Yes,” Gina said surprised. “Nothing else worked.”

Doug nodded, satisfied. “I found out on the Interstate. I was headed home from visiting relatives out in Erie. Always traveled late to avoid the traffic and I love driving at night. Usually no one but the state troopers to worry about. Anyway, I came across a multiple car accident in the west bound lanes. Stopped to see if I could help. That’s when I saw them… feeding on passengers who had been thrown from their vehicles. Another driver pulled up and got out to help. That’s when those things turned on him as well. Then they saw me and charged. They’re hideous things that made my hair stand up. I almost froze but remembered how they were gnawing on that driver and the fear made me move. I made it back to my jeep just in time to grab a bat from my sport’s bag and I just started swinging at the fuckers—pardon my language. Anyway, I can swing a bat like no other, but these things just kept getting up. I mean, I could hear bones cracking as I swung, crying out like a madman. Nothing stopped them until I started bashing their skulls in and I just kept swinging and swinging-”

“Alright, Douglas,” Meredith said, patting him on the shoulder. “I think she gets the point. Let’s not start in with the scary stories. Besides, we all agreed not to talk about them at night, remember? None of us will get any sleep bringing that subject up again.”

Gina could see the terror play out in Doug’s eyes… could feel it. If she ever needed to know what her own fear looked like when she shot down the monster on the beach, she could see it now mirrored in Doug’s eyes. Gina nodded to him in understanding.

Doug turned away, pretending to adjust the fire. “Sorry about that. It’s hard to shake it off when I start telling it. Meredith’s right. Some things are better discussed in the daylight. Anyway, that’s how I found out that only head shots affect those foul things. Shattered four of my best sticks in the process.”

“Fortunately, Douglas was just outside Percy before the panic clogged up the Interstate,” Meredith added. “He’d had enough time to get off the highway and lay low until the call came out to head toward the plant. He was among the first to arrive with Gregory and Ashley on Saturday afternoon, after the initial attacks… after everything got so… quiet.” Meredith stopped herself from elaborating further, beginning to spook herself out.

“As for myself, I just used this here tree cutter and took out their legs… like this! Bwahahaha!” Gregory jumped in holding up his axe like a bearded maniac.

Everyone jumped back.

Greg’s good-hearted laughter woke his daughter up. “Dad, stop freaking out the city folks and go to bed!”

“You know you’re not right in the head, old man,” Doug said shaking his head.

Greg calmed down and introduced himself to the pretty red-head. “Hello little lady, I’m Greg Dermont. Didn’t mean to scare you too bad.”

“Nice to meet you too, Greg… I think.” Gina was holding her chest, waiting for her heart to slow down. “Name’s Gina, and if you don’t mind, could you spare me the Halloween pranks next time.”

“Sure thing, Genee.”

“It’s Gina.”

“That’s what I said.” He then studied his axe and added, “You know, I’ve been cuttin’ trees for as long as I can remember. Runs in my family. I just had no idea I’d be cuttin’ down a bunch of crazies in my own backyard.”

“Meredith tells me you’re from Percy?”

“Yes ma’am, born and raised. My family’s been roamin’ these parts long before them tall cloud makers started runnin’. I never thought so before, but I reckon’ it’s good they’re here now. This place saved a lot of folks from dying when those crazies came through.”

“Was it bad, Gregory?” Meredith asked.

“Not as bad as I hear the city folks got it. We’re spread farther apart out here. That way we don’t kill each other when we’re shootin’ things up. Why, just last year, ole’ Jameson was out huntin’ turkey when a stray bullet-”

“Alright, Greg. It’s getting late. Let’s save the stories for another time,” Doug interrupted. “Let’s talk about what you found today.”

Greg sat down on the asphalt, put his knees up and rested his long wiry arms on them. He ran a hand through his thick beard. He had the look of a man who’d spent most of his days outdoors beneath the sun as his tan showed through his long grey beard and scraggly, grey hair. He was lanky but lean and could’ve passed for a hippy with the red bandana wrapped around his forehead. Gina guessed that he was probably old enough to be Ashley’s grandfather, but was in great shape for his age due to years of hard labor.

Like his wagging tongue, Greg waved his arms around constantly when he spoke. “I was out helpin’ the volunteers chop some lumber out in front of the warehouses when I looked to the south and saw her. I knew she used to be there from the early days, but I’d wondered if they’d tore her up when the trains stopped comin’ through.”

Doug twirled his index finger around impatiently.

“The tracks. They were still there, buried in the overgrowth. I could just make out the indentation of a path running out and away from here. The security fence runs straight over it, but we could cut the fence, crawl beneath, and use the tall grass as cover.”

Doug laid out the map he and Greg had been studying. It was a local road map of Northeast Ohio. He pointed to the tracks that ran out of Percy and followed it southwest with his finger. “Those old tracks are our exit out of here,” he said with confidence.

Gina was alarmed. “What do you mean ‘out of here’? I went through hell to get here and I intend to stay put behind these fences with all those armed soldiers surrounding me.”

Meredith clarified, “Gina, Douglas has been working out an escape plan just in case things get worse. He believes we need another option at the ready, another means to travel out of here undetected.”

“Sure, I get that, really I do. But isn’t this place as safe as we’re going to get?”

Doug looked troubled. “I was talking to my National Guard buddy a short time ago. He tells me everyone’s on edge because they’ve lost contact with the main base in Columbus. Coast Guard Station over in Fairport Harbor, too. He tells me that further inland, things are very different from here. When the choppers were still flying, giving aerial reports from above, they were describing the streets below as ‘infested’ and ‘hundreds of casualties’. Then later, those same streets were reported as ‘clear’ causing a hell of a lot of confusion. We can’t assume we’re out of the woods yet. Better to play it safe and have a back-up plan.”

Gina was shaking her head. “No, it can’t be getting worse. Surely the government has things under control. What about other evacuation centers like this one? Percy can’t be the only place that has a handle on things.”

“My buddy also told me there’s a list out which continues to grow longer.”

“What do you mean, Douglas?” Meredith asked.

Doug frowned. “Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Mentor, Painesville, Euclid… just to name a few I recognized. It’s a list of cities that have been overrun. But it gets worse. I saw other cities I recognized: Detroit, Chicago, New York City… ”

“Oh my God, how widespread is this thing?” Gina was horrified.

“No one knows for sure. Since the internet, phone services and the television channels went down, most information is being relayed through carriers broadcasting within hand-held radio contact range. Information coming in is sketchy and conflicting—just credible rumors really.”

“Douglas, aren’t we proof that things are getting under control? We haven’t been attacked since Saturday morning,” Meredith said.

“That’s because the food supply is more abundant in the bigger cities,” Frank said, startling them from his shadowy perch just outside their circle. He appeared to be half-listening, buried within his blanket, while folding a piece of paper into some design. “Those things are gathering for the buffet special right now. Out here in the sticks, we’re just snack food.”

“Oh, you’re still here. Wonderful.” Doug sighed. “Don’t forget that it’s your turn to take the watch tonight, shit-bag.”

Frank answered with a mock salute followed by the middle finger.

“Welcome back, Mr. Frank,” Meredith said, shooting Doug a warning look to stop before the fireworks resumed.

“So what is your plan?” Gina asked. “Do you honestly think our chances of survival would improve out there?”

Greg looked as if he was about to burst. He pointed at the map. “I know them tracks, Ginger.”

“It’s Gina,” she corrected.

“Yeah, like I said… anyway, they lead through abandoned areas with nothin’ around but God’s country. We could take ‘em out a good ways to the southwest, until they end near the Grand River. Then we follow the river west into Fairport Harbor Marina-”

“Then catch a boat and get out of Dodge until the shit storm blows over,” Doug finished.

“You want to claim an island, is that the plan?” For once, Frank seemed genuinely interested.

Doug nodded. “Put-In-Bay Island would work. This time of year… no one would be there. It has a small airport, some tourist shops, a couple of bars at the center of town, and some time-share homes that might be worth holding up in. It’s small and manageable. Only way on and off the island is by boat or plane. There’s a ferry that runs folks back and forth, but I imagine it’s not in service at the moment. It could work.”

“It could work if you knew someone who could navigate a boat,” Charlie said, returning to his spot and taking a seat. He avoided looking at Gina.

“Yes, there’s that,” Doug admitted. “But how hard could it be?”

“Harder than you think if the lake’s acting up. You can’t just pull a boat into an island like parking a car in the driveway. You have to know what you’re doing.” Charlie’s cocky smile was leading up to the reveal. “Not that anyone gives a shit, but I just happen to know how to sail a boat.”

“Well then we have a solid plan,” Doug concluded.

“You would if I was going. But I have no intention of leaving this secure place to face what’s out there. That’s insane. I saw first-hand the devastation of those monsters when I caught the last Life-Flight helicopter departing the hospital for the nuke plant. They’d landed on the roof to fetch some doctors and medical supplies, but found me instead. Everyone else was dead.”

Doug threw his hands up in surrender. “Well, it’s still a good plan, if we need to bail. That’s all I was trying to do.” He then scooped up the map and said, “I’m turning in people. Goodnight.”

“Thank you, Douglas, and goodnight. It’s nice to know we have other options,” Meredith added diplomatically. She then turned to Gina and asked, “Could I interest you in trying one of those fine portable showers? I can’t stand smelling like that dreadful meatloaf.”

“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Gina said getting up.

Greg also excused himself and went to lie down beside his daughter.

Charlie sat by the fire with a devilish grin illuminated on his face. He was immensely satisfied for squashing that know-it-all’s perfect little plan. It was also good to know that he had something to offer that the other morons couldn’t. He knew that none of them liked him. So what. He wasn’t here to make friends. But they would need him one way or the other.

“Felt good, didn’t it?” Frank said looking straight at Charlie.

“What was that?” Charlie had forgotten about Frank.

“Feels good having leverage.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Sure you do. Funny thing about leverage is that it only works when you’re the only one holding the cards.”

“I hope there’s a point coming soon.”

Frank laughed. “I liked the plan myself. Hate to give that asshole credit, but he’s on to something. Especially, since we have two people who can sail a boat. Know what that means, Charlie?”

“What?”

“That means one of us is still expendable.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Frank reached into the folds of his blanket and said, “I’m finished.” He pulled out the piece of paper folded into the shape of an animal and placed it on an empty chair arm. “I’m calling it the Scapegoat.” He then got up and began to wander off again.

“Now where are you going?” Charlie asked, staring at the stupid paper goat.

“You heard the man, I’m on watch… and I’m always watching.”

“You know,” Charlie called after him, “you don’t have to try so hard to be so damn creepy. You win that prize, hands down!”

~~~

Gina slid into the sleeping bag and sat up next to the kind-hearted woman who sat beside her and watched as she combed the knots from her wet fiery hair. “It feels so good to be clean. I don’t even care that the water was luke-warm and the shower brief. I feel a million years better. Thanks, Meredith.”

“No worries, honey. It’s important to keep up with hygiene, and not just because the medical staff’s all worried about infections and the like. Sometimes a woman just needs to feel like a woman again. Besides, with a gorgeous mane such as yours, along with those stunning green eyes, you might be running this place in a few days with all these soldier types falling over themselves to tend to your every whim.” Meredith smiled and crawled into her sleeping bag. She helped her long black hair flow over her shoulders and pulled the top of the bag snug above her breasts.

“Are you nominating me queen of this fine camp of survivors?” Gina smiled. “I suppose I’ll need a second in command to keep the dogs at bay.”

“Now you’re talking, honey. Just leave them nasty dogs to me and I’ll have them chasing their own tails in minutes.”

Both women laughed, enjoying their outdoor slumber party.

Gina crawled into her own bag, thanking Meredith again for providing it, and believed she would sleep forever as soon as her eyes closed. She held on a bit longer. “Meredith, what did you do before all this started? I would’ve pegged you for a Sunday School teacher when I first saw you.”

Meredith giggled. “Now that would be a hoot. Actually, honey, I was a more like a counselor than anything else. I helped folks get through difficult times in their lives.”

“Now that makes perfect sense after watching you dance all day putting out fires in this assorted box of mixed nuts. Were you some kind of grief counselor?”

Meredith smiled. “Why, I like the sound of that. I never thought of it that way but that’s an apt description for what I did if ever there was one. What about you, Gina Melborn, what did you do before becoming Queen of Percy?”

Gina frowned. “Nothing quite as noble as counseling, I’m afraid. I was in the… entertainment business.”

“My stars alive! You were an actress?”

“I certainly did my share of acting… been acting like something or another for a few years now. But truthfully, I was an exotic dancer.”

Meredith considered this for a moment. “Oh, you mean like those hula dancers in Hawaii? I’ve always wanted to go there.”

Gina gave the older woman a ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ look and Meredith winked.

“Not what you expected, was it?” Gina had rarely told anyone outside her profession what she did for a living. It usually made conversations awkward in a hurry; men would become intimidated or horny while women usually saw a potential husband stealer. She was surprised at how open she was being with a woman she’d only met this evening.

“Honey, if I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s to expect the unexpected.”

Gina smiled. “You’re talking about the meatloaf again.”

Meredith laughed. “Oh, Gina, you are a hoot!”

“Feels good to laugh again, doesn’t it?”

“Got to take what you can in these dire times as of late. Been far too many tears already.”

Gina fell silent a moment, and then said, “I’m sorry that you lost your partner. I lost someone, too.”

“Oh, honey, that’s terrible. I had no idea.”

“His name was Tony. He was a bouncer where I worked. I wanted to run away with him to somewhere—anywhere—I was just saving up money… I loved him very much… ” Gina surprised herself by the admission.

Meredith reached out her hand and Gina took it.

“Damn, I have to get a handle on all these tears. So much for your new queen.” Gina quickly wiped the tears away and smiled.

Meredith let her own tears come. “Honey, you just let those tears fall, it’s alright. Whether we cry or we laugh, it’s all precious—more so now than we’ll ever know. Those tears are keeping your Tony and my Hannah close, so don’t you ever forget that.”

Gina nodded.

Meredith looked grave. “Times are coming, Gina, when tears are going to be much harder to come by. Times when you and I will be willing to spend anything to get those tears back.”

Gina did not know how to respond.

Meredith’s face lightened. She patted Gina’s hand and said, “But right now we have tears and laughter, honey, and that’s like refreshing drops of gold raining down on a warm summer day. Goodnight, Gina.”

“Goodnight, Meredith.”

Gina smiled, imagining the beautiful image Meredith painted for her as she looked up at the clear night sky, picked out a star and allowed thoughts of Tony to fall freely from her eyes. She closed them and pictured his smiling face. She continued to let the gold roll down her cheeks.

~~~

Dawn invaded the eastern edge of the power plant as pink luminescent clouds climbed over the tops of tall trees, scaled the twin towers and exploded across the twilight sky.

Meredith walked toward the advancing morning, her thoughts wrapped up tight to keep her fears from spilling out across God’s majestic canvas. She wanted to savor this, hold it forever as a lasting visual refuge permanently imprinted upon her eyes. The darkness was coming. There was no stopping it.

She wandered toward a remote area in case she couldn’t contain the scream which wanted out of her anguished soul. There had been so much death already—the cup far from filled—and the darkness thirsted for so much more

Blood.

She closed her eyes and focused on breathing, allowing the disciplined calm to wash over her like a steel-plated waterfall.

“You’re up early.” He approached her from behind.

“Mr. Carman, what on earth are you still doing up?” Meredith didn’t bother turning.

Frank Carman stepped up beside her and stared up at the clouds. “Even when it’s just us, I’d prefer you not call me by that name. I’m a fugitive, remember?”

“Yes, I know, Frank. Excuse my lapse, I’m not feeling altogether here this morning.”

He paused then asked, “Have you heard from them this morning?”

“I never stop hearing from them, Frank. God knows, I’ve tried to shut them out. But they’re persistent.”

“How much time do we have left?”

“Not long. A few days… hours… hard to be certain.”

He silently considered this, and then said, “You know I’m running first chance I get. You’re all just a means to an end until I’ve no use for any of you.”

“I know you believe that, Frank,” Meredith said. “Often, what we believe and what’s actually true are rather different.”

Frank studied her blank expression, trying to gleam more from what wasn’t spoken.

Meredith offered nothing.

He smiled, turned and started back toward camp. “You’re looking pale… Mother. You should try to get some rest while you can.”

Meredith winced as if struck. She hated it when he called her that. It brought up too many bad memories and Frank knew it.

She focused on the rising sun and tried to hold it there in her thoughts for as long as she could… before the more frightening images surfaced.

In them, all she saw was death and destruction.

And it was coming…

~~~

Next Episode 11-1:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/chapter-11-1-nowhere-safe-2/

Previous Episode 10-3:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/chapter-10-3-the-plant-2/

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

http://topwebfiction.com/
http://www.top-site-list.com/zombie/vote/457627

__________________________________________
“Chapter 10-4: 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.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Sam says:

    The plot thickens… don’t they say that blood is thicker than water….

    Loving every bit of this, keep up the great work.

    Like

  2. sscherr says:

    Hey Sam, yes, blood is certainly thicker than water with this family of survivors… at least, it better be… lol. I’m glad you’re enjoying this part of the story. More to come. Chapter eleven is going to get crazy in a hurry.

    Like

  3. Joseph Hebebrand says:

    Scott great job this is the best chapter so far. Thanks

    Like

  4. sscherr says:

    Hey Joe, welcome back. I started to have some fun when I finally got my characters together here. Glad you’re still enjoying it.

    Like

Comments? I love to read them

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s