The morning merged with early afternoon without much change. Gloomy grey skies continued to hide the sun as light but steady rain mixed with wind made everyone miserable. Some had found jackets which fit while others made do with whatever extra layers of clothing were still available from their foraging of the house. They did what they could to fight the chill of the day while finding it difficult to distinguish whether their trembling was from the cold or the fear which kept them on edge. They had not seen a single soul, dead or otherwise, since leaving the house. The woods continued to grow desolate around them as they traveled deeper into the outskirts of civilization. They had not come across any more homes or other man-made structures. The isolation was unnerving.

The old railroad tracks began to turn sharply toward the right, disappearing farther ahead around a bend of pine trees. At this point, Doug stopped the group, allowing everyone to get some food in their bellies and to rest their legs while he and Greg examined the map to get their bearings.

“There may be a farm in this area, or an orchard, if my memory serves me correctly,” Greg said. “Tracks turn away from it though.”

“Is it worth a detour from the tracks?” Doug asked.

Greg shrugged his shoulders. “Hard to say. I’ve not been this far into them woods in years. I reckon’ it might be a mile or two, maybe five or ten… sorry.”

Doug considered this. “We need shelter before nightfall. We can’t be stumbling around out here in the dark. Can you think of anything else that’s farther up the tracks?”

Greg was about to say no, but then he remembered something. “There used to be an old boxcar on these tracks. It became a party spot for teens on weekends. I remember hearin’ some of the locals still talkin’ ‘bout it a couple of years back. If it’s still there, we should reach it before dark.”

“We need more certainty.”

Greg frowned and then said reluctantly, “I could cut through the woods from here and see if that orchard’s close. The tracks turn right now, but eventually bend back around to the left. I wouldn’t even have to double back. I could just meet up with you all farther down the tracks. Worse case, I get ahead a little. If not the orchard, maybe I’ll find somethin’ else.”

Doug sighed and nodded. “You’re not going anywhere alone. Take Frank with you. He’s a pain in the ass, but he knows how to keep quiet and he’s good in a fight.”

Greg nodded.

“You run into even a hint of trouble out there, get the hell back. We’ll just have to take our chances on your boxcar. Understood?”

“Understood. Promise me you’ll keep my girl safe.”

“With my life.”

Greg smiled gratefully and turned to find Frank.

“Hey, Greg,” Doug said.

He turned.

“Go with God, my friend… and watch your ass out there.”

Greg’s eyes lit up. “Amen. That’s right. Can’t go anywhere without the Good Lord Jesus these days.” He departed with a lighter step and mumbling paraphrased scriptures like a redneck preacher.

Doug couldn’t help wondering if he happened to meet up with the Good Lord Jesus on the tracks up ahead, if God’s son would be glad to see him or if his eyes would be yellow and if his appetite for saving souls had changed into devouring them.


It broke Gina’s heart to watch Greg say goodbye to his daughter. Ashley embraced him fiercely as he nearly had to pry her off. He whispered something to her that made her laugh and then gave her one last look and turned toward the woods where Frank waited. He kept his head down as he dried his face with the back of his hand.

Ashley continued to stare after them until they were out of sight and then she plopped down on an old metal tie as if she’d just gained fifty pounds. She looked at the strangers who surrounded her with the most pitiful look in her eyes.

And that is what the children in this new world look like now… what they really look like. Lost and alone. Gina moved in next to Ashley and sat down. “Mind if I sit?”

Ashley kept her head down to hide her tears. “It’s a free country… what’s left of it.”

“Are you going to be alright?”

Ashley looked back into the woods where her father had gone. “Yeah. He’ll be back. My dad knows his way around the woods better than anyone. I’m just tired… and my phone’s dead. I’d kill for some music right now.”

“Would you like me to sing?” Gina asked. She started to clear her throat. “I have to warn you though, I suck big time. I know this one annoying country song-”

“Oh, shit, no… you’re kidding right?” Ashley’s eyes went wide until she saw Gina’s smile.

“And just what do we have here… smiles? Why that’s unheard of in these dire times,” Marcus said in a theatrical voice. He sat down right in front of them, crossing his legs and waving his hands. “No, don’t say a word, it’s perfectly alright. Simply allow me to amaze you with my woodland magic, taught to me by the fairies themselves from the faraway land of Lollapalooza!”

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. Did he just say, Lollapalooza?” Ashley asked.

Gina smirked, stared at Ashley, and raised her arms with a, ‘I’ve no idea what planet this guy just came from’ look.

“Now,” Marcus continued, “as you can see, my hands are empty… I’ve nothing up my sleeves… I assure you, this is no trick.”

Ashley laughed as Marcus waved his arms in the air like a swimmer out of water.

“Now, by the magic entrusted in me by the sacred fairies of the woods-”

“From Lollapalooza!” Ashley injected.

“Yes, indeed! I will now pull from your mind your heart’s desire and make it materialize from the very air!”

“Oh, this ought to be good,” Gina said with a wink, rubbing arms with Ashley.

“Now, concentrate little lady and let the fairies grant your request!”

Ashley gave Marcus her best crunched up face.

Marcus laughed and said, “This requires concentration… not constipation.”

Both women laughed.

“Here it comes now… I can sense your thoughts… and presto!” Seeming to appear from above, something fell right into Marcus’s hands.

“No way!” Ashley said.

Marcus handed her a pink iPod. “For you, my lady. The fairies have heard and answered your request!”

Ashley grabbed at it greedily and began to fumble with the buttons. She stopped abruptly and said, “It’s loaded with songs! How did you-”

“Oh, no, my young lady. It’s forbidden to inquire of woodland magic. Simply take this gift and offer your praise to the fairies of Lollapalooza!”

“Lollapalooza!” Ashley said, feeling foolish for doing so. She started giggling uncontrollably.

“I couldn’t help overhearing and remembered that I had acquired this gizmo on my travels toward the power plant,” Marcus said. “I’m glad I held on to it.”

“Thank you,” Ashley said, feeling the tears rise up in her again.

“You are very welcome, Ashley.”

She spotted Meredith nearby and said excitedly, “I have to show Meredith, she’ll never believe the luck!” She got up and quickly hugged Marcus before heading over to Meredith.

Marcus laughed as she ran off.

“Your magic act was probably a little better than my singing would’ve been,” Gina said. “That was very kind of you to do that for her. I think you made a friend for life.”

Marcus moved in to Ashley’s spot next to Gina and waved off the compliment. “Oh, that was easy. What was hard was seeing that girl’s sad face all the time. She’s far too young to be that miserable. Misery is an occupation best suited for the old who have abandoned the adventures of youth for stagnant stations in life… or I should say, what used to be this life.”

She moved over immediately to create some space between them, feeling foolish for being so abrupt about it. “Well, I don’t know about all that… Marcus. But I know that you just helped Ashley immensely.” Then she took a deep breath and changed the subject. “I suppose this would be a good time to thank you for saving my life yesterday.”

Marcus, dismissing her discomfort, folded his hands and stared at the tracks. “You are welcome. I’m just trying to earn my keep here. I never imagined it would come to doing something like that, but I’m glad I was in the right place at the right time to intervene.”

“Ditto,” she said. Gina rolled her eyes. ‘Ditto’? Really? When did you become such a social misfit? She tried again. “So, how did you and Amanda get together?” Good one, Gina! That’s awfully intrusive of you. Why don’t you ask about their sex life next. “I’m sorry… that’s none of my business. Next, I’ll be asking what you do for a living before realizing how absurd that is right now.”

Marcus laughed. “It’s alright. You don’t need to force conversation for my sake. We’ve hardly had the time to get to know each other, and yet, we’ve all been thrown together by our mutual circumstances. I imagine it’s difficult to know where to begin when we’ve already gone through so much together. And this, coming from the newest member in this little band of survivors.”

Gina raised her eyebrows and smiled. “You sure know how to put it into perspective. It’s been a very strange and terrifying week so far. I guess weather conversations, at this point, seem ridiculous.”

“I suppose we’ll all need to learn how to communicate again,” Marcus said. “Start from scratch and figure that out as we go along, just like everything else.”

“You’ve got that right.”

Marcus looked up and beyond Gina, sighed heavily and said, “Rest assured, Gina, you’re not the only one who needs to relearn how to speak. It would appear that I can’t keep from pissing off the very woman you’ve mentioned. So much has changed, and yet, not enough of the things which need to change. I keep forgetting about the hazards of appearances.”

Gina quickly followed Marcus’s gaze and found Amanda, sitting farther down the tracks next to Stephen, glaring over at her.  “Oh, fuck me. She doesn’t think-”

“It’s not your fault, Gina. It’s mine. I thought Amanda and I had moved on, especially after her and Charlie’s… good time, last night.”

“Good time? Oh! Got it… Shit… I’m… sorry?” Gina wanted to crawl under a rock.

Marcus laughed. “And now I’ve said too much. You’ll have to excuse me. I’ve enjoyed our little chat, but I should remove myself from Miss Howard’s sights for the time being.” Marcus got up and walked farther down the tracks to sit with Doug.

Gina stared after the odd but intriguing man and then turned back toward Amanda.

She was watching him like a hawk.

Give me a break! Gina thought. What a royal bitch!

Amanda met her gaze as if receiving the thought.

Yeah! You heard me! Gina forced herself to look away. She wanted to get up and punch that drunk whore right in the mouth. There you go, Gina, that’s the spirit. Making friends left and right. Just mind your own business. Who needs all this fucking drama right now?

She got up and walked over to where Meredith, Ashley and Charlie sat, preferring a zombie ambush over being forced into an insecure woman’s love triangle.

“How you feeling, Gina?” Meredith asked.

“I now know the name of this horror movie I’m trapped in,” she grumbled to Meredith. “Fucking, Junior High School of the Living Dead!

Meredith smiled. “Come again?”

“Never mind.”

“Hey,” Ashley cut in. “I don’t mean to be crude, but unless everyone’s given up on bathroom breaks… I could really use some company for a few minutes.” She gestured toward the wood line.

Gina laughed and said, “I’ll go with you.” She turned to Meredith and said, “Could you let Doug know what we’re doing before he calls a search party?”

“You got it,” Meredith said. “Just be careful.”

Gina held out her gun and said, “Never thought I’d be taking one of these to the ladies room. Don’t worry, we’re not going far. I can see a pine tree from here that will work.”

Gina helped Ashley down off the tracks and into the woods. They both looked back several times to make sure they could see the others.

“This is nuts,” Ashley whispered. “I can’t even piss without feeling afraid.”

Gina was scanning the gloomy woods with her gun aimed low. “I know exactly what you mean. Let’s just take care of business and get back, okay?”

As they approached the pine tree, Ashley turned and said, “Gina, if I get bit while squatting in the leaves, promise me you’ll shoot me real quick.”

Gina gave her a strange look. “Ashley… we’ll be okay. I don’t think-”

“No. I mean it!” She stopped and put her hands on her hips. “Think about it for a second. I get infected, come back as a howling dead thing, and then start tripping over my own pants wrapped around my ankles because my ‘zombie self’ is too stupid to figure it out… I’d be the laughingstock of all zombies!”

Gina had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing.

“This is no laughing matter, Gina,” she said, blowing the hair out of her eyes. “When this is all over and they start rounding up all the leftover zombies, I don’t want to be the one they find later and say, ‘Hey, isn’t that the Dermont girl… what a shame… but did you ever see a zombie tripping over their own pants like that?’ Gawd… that would be SO embarrassing. I’d probably end up on YouTube when the power came back on.”

Gina didn’t know what to say. It took all she had to keep from bursting out into laughter.

“You don’t look so good, Gina. Let’s do this thing. You look like you need to pee more than I do.” She turned and headed toward the back of the pine tree.

Gina turned away for a second to wipe tears from her eyes. She took a few deep breaths, managing to keep her laughter contained to a few uncontrollable giggles. Oh… she’s fucking killing me, she thought with a smile.


She turned in time to watch Ashley back into a tree. She started to cry as she frantically pointed toward the base of the pine tree.

“What… what is it?” Gina called out, rushing over and stepping in front of the girl with her gun drawn.

That’s when she saw the legs of a man sticking out from beneath the pine tree.


Doug and Marcus carefully grabbed the man’s legs, pulled him out from beneath the pine, and turned him over on his back.

Gina nearly dropped the gun and ran after seeing the man’s pale bloody face—his blank eyes staring off into the forest canopy above. “Shit… is he… ”

“Yes,” Doug said. “This man is definitely dead.”

Charlie was pacing nervously. “Okay, show’s over now. I told you we should’ve just left it alone. But you all had to see the obvious. We’re probably risking infection just standing by that thing!”

“Calm down, Charlie,” Doug said. “We were careful.”

“I want to see,” Ashley told Meredith from several feet away. The older woman tried to keep her back. “I need to see this!” Ashley broke away from Meredith and approached the body. She immediately stopped next to Gina, her eyes going wide, as she put her hands to her mouth.

The man, dressed in dirty jeans and a blue flannel lay spread-eagle in the weeds. His chest had been ripped open exposing his bloody innards.

To Ashley, it looked like someone had stuffed the man’s chest with mangled dark-red Jell-O. She turned and found Meredith and buried her face into her chest. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Meredith pulled her back and told the others, “We should leave now.”

Stephen couldn’t look away from the dead man. His lifeless face made him seem less real, like some elaborate Halloween prop. “It’s not right,” he said. “No one should die alone like this… it’s… it’s just not right.”

“This was recent,” Marcus said, covering his mouth and nose with his shirt as the stench hit him. “Probably happened last night, would be my guess. Can’t tell if it was animals… or something else.”

“Okay, let’s skip the fucking details,” Amanda said, leaning up against a tree. “He’s dead… can we go now?”

“We should bury him,” Stephen suggested. “That’s the decent thing to do.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” Charlie said. “We don’t have time-”

“We really need to leave now,” Meredith said much louder.

Ashley was crying.

Gina kept her gun aimed at the corpse. She couldn’t look away from its eyes. They appeared dark as doll’s eyes surrounded by blood-shot white. Is this what it looks like? she thought grimly. Will this be how we all will look when it’s our turn? She shuddered at the thought.

For a moment, she swore those dark eyes shifted. What the fuck?

“Gina,” Doug said weakly. “Are you okay?”

She turned to him and nodded. “Just a little freaked out is all.”

Meredith was shaking her head. “We really need to go… right now!”

Doug looked at her wearily.

“For once, I’m with the crazy woman,” Charlie said. “Obviously, this place isn’t safe!”

Gina looked to Meredith, and then back down at the dead man.

It was looking right at her.

No way!

The man grabbed her ankle.

Startled, she dropped the revolver. “Fuck!”

It started to roll over toward Gina, spilling its guts on to the ground. It made a ghastly, choking sound as it tried to reach her.

Ashley was screaming.

In a panic, she forgot about the gun. Gina kicked it in the face until it let go of her foot.

Everything happened quickly. Before anyone else could respond, Meredith had retrieved a knife no one knew she had, and she jammed it into the corpse’s right ear.

The body fell limp and silent.

Meredith wiped her knife blade on the man’s shirt with shaky hands and said, “There’s nothing left to do for this poor man. We can’t bury the dead any longer. We can only set them free.”


Next Episode 13-3:

Previous Episode 13-1:


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“Chapter 13-2: Railway Exodus” 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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