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~~~

Greg and Frank crept through the woods at a steady pace for two hours. They kept the talking to a minimum as the unusual stillness of the woods made them feel watched. The thick fall foliage and trees made them vulnerable. They paid extra attention to the numerous blind spots which could conceal a pack of flesh eaters waiting to reach out and grab them.

Frank signaled Greg to stop and then pointed to his nose.

Yes, Greg could smell it, too. It was faint due to the rain making everything damp but something was definitely burning nearby. They huddled close and squatted.

“Is that coming from your orchard?” Frank whispered.

“I reckon’ so.” Greg stared up toward breaks in the thick leaf-filled layered canopy for signs of smoke. There were none. He took a moment to judge the wind’s direction and then pointed off toward the left. “That way. Maybe another mile.”

Frank nodded in agreement. “Let’s get closer.”

For the next fifteen minutes, they moved much slower as the burning smell grew stronger. Frank scanned the woods while Greg searched the ground for tracks. If the woods had caught fire, he expected to find evidence of fleeing wildlife.

Frank pointed up through another break. They could now see black smoke just above the tree line.

“We’re close,” Greg said.

Another ten minutes passed as they noticed the woods getting thinner. They were approaching a clearing.

“Watch it now,” Frank warned. “Expect anything.”

Greg nodded.

Both men held their guns at the ready as they exited the woods in the corner of a large field. To their right were numerous rows of apple trees. Farther ahead, the field sloped upward forming a small hill where the remains of a farmhouse were smoldering from what looked like a recent fire, perhaps as early as last night.

“I’m startin’ to get a real bad feelin’,” Greg said.

Frank noticed a barn on the hill which looked untouched by the blaze. He motioned toward it and Greg nodded.

“Whatever happened here is old news now,” Frank reasoned. “In any case, we still need shelter and this is all we’ve seen so far.”

“Could’ve just been some silly woman left supper cookin’ on the stove,” Greg added. “I bet it’s the same shitty pot roast she’s been servin’ up for twenty years. She probably did her husband a favor-”

“Hush now before you wake the dead with all that chatter.” Frank immediately regretted the pun.

Greg swallowed hard. “Sorry… I get to talkin’ when I’m nervous. Can’t you feel it? Every hair is standin’ up on my arms right now.”

Frank ignored him and focused on the barn.

“Let’s restock the food stores on the way,” Greg suggested, looking toward the first row of apple trees on their right. He spotted a box of plastic bags near the front of the row with the name of the orchard written across it: Ruby’s Reds.

They turned the corner of the first row and lost all desire for red delicious apples.

Several bodies were scattered about the base of the trees, torn in various mangled pieces. Of the ones which were still distinguishable, deep five-fingered claw marks were branded across their flesh. One woman died gripping the trunk of a tree, a look of horror frozen on her dead face as her back looked like it had been split open from the neck down and her spine completely ripped out. It appeared that she died trying to get her daughter up the apple tree. All that remained of the child was a severed head which stared blankly back at Greg as it swung from a tree branch by a long lock of brown hair.

Greg turned away and threw up.

Frank covered his nose and mouth with the sleeve of his shirt as the breeze blew the stench of decay toward them. He studied the scene, took in all the grim details: Two men—one older; the woman on the tree—the mother. Three children various ages—same hair color as Mom. Eye color—blue like their father. Clothes—apple pickers, family owned. “They fled the home and tried to hide in the trees. They felt safe here. Almost made it to the woods before they were discovered. Very stupid.” He turned to Greg and frowned. “The woman on the tree kind of reminds me of you. The girl could easily be Ashley… especially if you don’t get over this rather quickly. You think this is the worst we’re going to see?”

Greg regained his composure as much as possible and glared at the big man. “You done yet?”

Frank smiled. “That depends on if you plan on lying there and joining these fools or would you like to get back to your daughter and make sure this isn’t her fate?”

Greg shook off Frank’s comments. “If you’d asked me a couple weeks ago, I’d say a bear had at ‘em. But that was no damn bear. Dear Lord, nothin’ can prepare you for seeing somethin’ like this!”

“Keep it together, Greg. You’ve seen war so you know the score. It’s us against them… and they’re winning.”

Greg nodded. “So whose side are you on? Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re one of us or one of them. It’s our compassion that separates us—always has been.”

Frank turned away and said, “Let’s not get dramatic. No one weeps for the dead. I sure hope no one wastes time crying over my corpse. Let’s go.”

“Wait. I need to check somethin’.” Greg was on the ground exploring a set of muddy tracks. “These are strange. Looks almost like two imprints overlappin’ but the depth’s the same.”

“Which means… ”

“The pads are irregular… stretched out… same with the toes… but they still look human, or started off human.”

Frank came over to see.

Greg continued. “Then there’s these paw prints out front… stride makes ‘em big, but I know of no animal that big who walks like that… and they look a little human, too. Five fingers.”

“Are you saying this was an animal attack or not?”

Greg looked puzzled. “Either those dead things are crawling around on all fours and growing claws now, or we’re seeing somethin’ else—somethin’ we haven’t dealt with yet.”

“Wonderful.”

“One more thing. There’s a group of ‘em. I think they’re huntin’ together… like wolves. Prints are strange as hell, but the patterns don’t lie. We’re dealin’ with a pack.”

Frank thought of something. “Aren’t wolves territorial?”

Greg looked alarmed. “That’s right. Holy shit on a Sunday! We need to get outta here.”

“We still need to check the barn,” Frank insisted. “If it has a loft we can defend it from above. In any case, if your animals are still around, we’re probably fucked already.”

Greg nodded. He wanted to mourn that poor family. No one else was going to.

They reached the top of the hill to discover the farmhouse had nearly burnt to the ground. Nothing but a few charred support beams remained as the roof had completely caved in. They cautiously approached the barn.

Frank shook his head at the old wooden one-story structure, which was built on top of a cobblestone foundation, making it appear much larger from down in the orchard. “This doesn’t look promising.”

Greg walked up five stone steps to the open doorway, his rifle drawn, and peeked inside. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t bring apples. Place is loaded with barrels of ‘em. Not much else of any use.”

Frank moved in to get a look, grabbing an apple from the closest barrel. “Might as well had been a fucking outhouse. That’s about as much use as this place will be. Let’s get some apples and head back toward the tracks.”

They stepped inside as the old wooden planks beneath their feet squeaked in protest at their trespass. They stopped, fearing the floor would cave in and sized up the four-car garage sized structure.

Something moved beneath the floorboards.

Greg looked at Frank, his eyes going wide.

Frank immediately motioned him back out the door.

Once outside, Greg whispered, “These old shacks were sometimes built with cellars.”

Frank nodded. “Let’s check out back.”

They walked around to the back of the barn and found a storm cellar. The old double doors were left wide open.

Greg peered down into the dark entranceway and stopped. He heard movement. He signaled to Frank and then aimed his rifle at the door.

Frank stepped just to the left of the entrance and tossed his apple down into the dark.

The darkness came alive immediately as several guttural screams escaped the hatch.

Greg was still standing before the door as he caught sight of several pairs of red eyes staring back at him from the bottom of the dark staircase. “Shit!” he cried, stepping backwards and firing three shots into the cellar, causing him to fall on his ass. “They’re down there!”

Something hissed up at him from the stairs and charged, stopping just before reaching the light.

“Move!” Frank yelled, picking him up from behind and spinning Greg around by the shoulders until they were facing the orchard.

They sprinted back down the hill, dodging and weaving tree branches as they cut across the rows. They both received slashes across their arms and faces as they pushed through the trees to get back to the wood line. Neither of them stopped until they were out of the orchard and several hundred yards into the woods. Out of breath, both men collapsed to the ground.

“That was close,” Greg said between breaths.

“What did you see?” Frank asked.

“I think we found our pack. Big red eyes and all madder n’ hell. If they’d come up the steps, my head would’ve been the next apple tree ornament.”

Frank snickered. He looked up through the tree tops and said, “I hope we find your boxcar before nightfall.”

“Why’s that?”

“I think we’ve just figured out why we’re not dead yet. These things might be nocturnal. They could’ve come out of that hole any time, but they didn’t. We caught a break.” Frank started going through his backpack.

Thinking about his daughter alone in the dark surrounded by hovering blood-colored glowing eyes, Greg quickly gained his bearings and pointed toward the woods behind them. “Tracks are that way.”

Frank retrieved a half-full bottle of whiskey from his pack, removed the lid, and swallowed the warm liquor. “I was saving this for a special occasion. Seemed like as good a time as any since we’re still in one piece.” He offered the bottle to Greg.

“Is that what I think it is?” Greg asked.

Frank smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“You know Amanda would be real upset if she knew you had that.”

“Then you best not tell her,” Frank said with a wink and took another drink. “Besides, I do believe this was the property of the homeowner whose house we trespassed in last night.” He offered the bottle again.

“No thanks. I’ve been clean for years and I’m not about to start now.”

“I thought you would say that. Only reason I offered it.” Frank took another drink.

Greg shook his head. “You are one pain-in-the-ass crazy bird, Mr. Frank.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” He then turned the bottle upside down and began pouring it out. “Not much of a whiskey man, myself. I prefer tequila. Looks like we won’t be having any more parties on watch for a little while.”

Greg shook his head and couldn’t help smiling. “Ready?”

“Yep. Let’s go find your boxcar.”

~~~

Next Episode 13-4:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/09/06/chapter-13-4-railway-exodus-2/

Previous Episode 13-2:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/chapter-13-2-railway-exodus-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 :)

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 13-3: 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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Comments
  1. Anonymous says:

    whens the next chapter going to be available this is the only thing getting me threw work…

    Like

  2. sscherr says:

    Hello. I generally post new episodes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Sometimes I post early the evening before depending on my work schedule. Monday’s episode, Chapter 13-4, will be available tonight around 10 pm. I’m glad DFTD is helping you get through the 9-5 grind and thanks for commenting. I hope you’re enjoying the story :)

    Like

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