Amanda Howard woke up alone to the sound of various voices and a flutter of activity just outside the small, four-man tent. The painful morning light penetrated the thin nylon walls as busy man-shaped shadow puppets walked by, making her uncomfortably aware of how naked she was. She rose quickly—too quickly—and covered her breasts with the sleeping bag as she searched for her clothes.

Her head was pounding like a drummer announcing the hangover parade which marched from the front to the back of her skull. The smell of fried eggs filled the air, making her feel nostalgic and nauseous. Someone in the tent community was serving breakfast far too early. “Fucking day-people,” she said, lying back down and placing her hands over her eyes. Her long brown hair splattered in tangles across the sleeping bag beneath her as she pushed her chest upward, arched her back, and stretched out her arms. Other than her headache, she felt limber, relaxed and very raw from the waist down.

I haven’t been fucked like that in ages, she thought, her nipples standing at attention in agreement.

She liked this one. Not only did he share his fifth of vodka, he was a tender and patient lover, touching her in all the right ways until she had time to climax. He was nothing like the others she bartered with who poked too hard and groped her breasts as if they were detachable. All they wanted was instant gratification so they could turn to their buds and say they fucked the new hot girl before passing out from a hard (three minutes or less) night’s work.

No, Marcus wasn’t like them. He’d invited her to his tent last night when she’d passed through the tent city—even offered her a drink. They had done the usual chit-chat; she’d flirted a bit, he’d told some amusing tales to keep the mood light as she’d become more and more adventurous with the ‘hands-on’ part of the evening (as long as the vodka continued to flow). Then they had gone at it like savages. Hell, even without the sex and booze, Marcus was still better company than those losers she was stuck with. Amanda had even scored those dismal drones some camping supplies, hoping that if they were more comfortable, they would relax a bit more. But all they wanted to do was be miserable. Amanda had tired of them after the first night and had sought out a good time among the large tent community, trying to put some distance between herself and them, especially Stephen who followed her around like a lost puppy.

Marcus wasn’t particularly handsome, or even cute. He was rough around the edges, with a hard face but a soft demeanor. She considered staying with him until this mess blew over. Amanda had already discovered that Marcus was a single man in his late thirties (still her junior by about ten years, but he didn’t need to know that). He had been out camping when the shit hit the fan (apparently he was some nature nut but she wouldn’t hold that against him) and that was how he ended up with all his supplies.

Marie is dead.

The thought struck her like a kick to the heart. In a panic, she searched the tent, throwing gear and clothing aside, until she saw the bottle roll out from beneath Marcus’s sleeping bag. She grabbed the vodka and took five huge swallows. It burned going down, but she didn’t care. She stopped, coughed fiercely, and then hit her chest with a balled fist. “Mother-fucker!” Amanda was about to take another swallow until she felt that familiar pool of numbness rise up over her troubled thoughts, drowning all her painful concerns in the buzz the vodka god promised.

An unwelcome face appeared just inside the partially unzipped entry door. “Amanda, are you alright? I heard you coughing and thought—oh shit—sorry.” Stephen Eddington turned his gaze away, but not before seeing more than he should have.

Amanda was pulling up the sleeping bag. “What the fuck, Stephen! Did you follow me here last night?”

“I… just wanted to keep an eye on you… we have to watch out for one another right now-”

“Just get the fuck out of here, pervert! Show’s over.”

“No, it’s not like that at all, Miss Howard, I-”

“Mister Eddington… Stephen,” Amanda brought it down a notch and finished condescendingly, “I’m a grown woman capable of running my own fucking life any way I damn well choose. I don’t need some would-be guardian angel watching over me. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who need help!”

Stephen sighed. “I’m just worried about you, Amanda. You just lost your daughter…”

“Get out!”

“…and drinking yourself to oblivion won’t make it all go away.”

“GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!” She held up the bottle, threatening to throw it.

Stephen frowned and backed out of the tent.

“Any particular reason why you’re in my tent, friend?” a man asked, keeping a cautious distance between himself and the former teacher.

Stephen was caught off guard by the stranger. “I… uh… I wasn’t snooping around your stuff… was just talking to Amanda. We came in together.”

The man shook his head and said, “Please tell me she’s not your wife. Now would be a horrible time to find that out.”

“Oh, no. It’s not like that at all.” Stephen felt ridiculous.

Amanda popped her head out of the tent and rolled her eyes. “It’s okay, Marcus. He’s just a friend.” She gave Stephen a final warning glance and finished, “He’s just a friend who was leaving.”

“That’s right,” Stephen said backing away. “I’ll just be on my way then. I’m glad you’re alright, Amanda. That’s all I came to find out.” He then waved like an idiot to Marcus. “Nice meeting you… Marcus.”

Marcus waved to Stephen, and then lifted his eyebrows toward Amanda.

She rolled her eyes. “That was Stephen, my self-appointed guardian angel… blah… blah… long boring story… blah… Now get your ass in this tent and do to me what you did last night before I decide to put clothes on.”

“Yes, ma’am.”


Stephen rushed back through the tent community, abandoning his spot within ear shot of Amanda’s tent. He’d been enjoying a plate of scrambled eggs, which was offered to him by a kind older woman who had invited him to sit with their group. He’d asked about Amanda and was surprised at how fast an impression she’d made in this larger community. Many knew exactly who she was. There had been a few sidebar jokes raised about the noise coming from a certain tent last night and from there it didn’t take long for Stephen to connect the dots.

Last night, he’d lost track of time, sitting outside the larger community and reading Nicole’s diary. After dozing off for the third time, Stephen had given up on waiting for Amanda and headed back to his bedroll near his group’s fire pit.

When he’d woke in the morning and discovered Amanda hadn’t returned, he grew concerned and wandered back through the tent camp to catch up with her.

Now, he didn’t know why he’d bothered.

“Way to go, Eddington,” he mumbled to himself. “Why didn’t you just ask if you could join them in their little love nest. She wasn’t even dressed and you go storming in like some retarded white knight.”

Stephen felt foolish. In his less complicated world among the privileged few, he was once a highly respected educator of fine young minds where social interactions consisted of questions, answers, and an array of acceptable platitudes befitting every situation. But now, out among the everyday citizens, he had been reduced to what felt like a first-grade level of understanding when it came to social protocols. He found Amanda’s erratic behavior more perplexing than hosting history debates with his students about time periods loaded with controversy.

Stephen looked around to make sure he was a good distance from the tent community before continuing his ramble. “That woman’s completely unreasonable and determined to die by any means of recklessness that presents itself. And now she has you talking out loud to yourself, completing your demotion to camp court jester. She humiliated me in front of that… stranger; scolded me like I was some child. The audacity of that woman is unbelievable! We hardly know each other and she talks down to me like that… and all I’ve done is try to help her.”

This is just like the time she humiliated me in front of the popular kids in the high school hallway when she came to pick me up from detention in that ridiculous slutty tank top and leather pants. She heard some of them snickering behind her back and one made a remark about ‘…how sad it was that a grown woman couldn’t act her own age.’ Then she took it out on me! Called me all sorts of names and threatened to ‘spank my sorry ass if I couldn’t keep out of trouble’. All that just to make those kids laugh at me instead of her. Is it any wonder by now that I’ve nothing but hatred for that…

“…fucking bitch!”

Stephen stopped. “Wow, where did that come from?” He was puzzled by the foreign memory that surfaced, realizing that it had to have come from Nicole—or rather—Nicole’s diary. He laughed at the minor lapse in reality. “I need to start getting more sleep.”

He heard the sound of the soldiers’ boots coming up from behind and turned just as three guardsmen parted around him and kept running.

“What on earth…” His eyes followed the path of the soldiers toward a large crowd of survivors gathered in the vicinity of his group’s camp site.

Before he reached the crowd, Stephen heard the agonizing shrieks of a woman coming from just beyond the wall of nervous spectators. The sound made his blood turn to ice as he caught a quick glimpse of a woman lying contorted on the ground as the guardsmen cleared a hole through the crowd.

Stephen was horrified. “Meredith?”


Next Episode 11-2:

Previous Episode 10-4:


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“Chapter 11-1: Nowhere Safe” 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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