The parking lot of Archie’s Anything and Ammo was infested with the undead. Downtown Painesville, like most other major cities, was still primary feeding grounds for the former living. They roamed the aftermath of once busy streets turned silent graveyards, oblivious to their surroundings and each other like a thousand town drunks left wandering between ‘last call’ and home.

Some citizens had died trying to flee the city while others were ripped from unsecure locations and poor hiding spots, caught in the middle of a mass panic. Others had simply changed, devouring their loved ones who watched the news in disbelief until their own blood was splattered across television screens before the power went out. In most instances, victims had returned from the dead to join the ranks of their attackers until the city was overrun.

Gina sat toward the front of the abandoned school bus at the far end of the lot, staring out at the large number of monsters which congregated in the late afternoon. They seemed to be much more numerous and active approaching the evenings, perhaps responding to the cooler air that carried the scent of the living to their rotting nostrils.

She shivered at the thought.

“You look beat. How are you holdin’ up?” Greg asked, coming up from behind.

Gina gave him a weak smile. “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t… exhausted. Think I’m just getting used to it.”

Greg sat down beside her and studied the entrance to the ammo shop. “This is a damn crazy idea… but I believe it’s gonna work.”

“It has to work,” Gina said absently. “We can’t keep living like this.”

Greg smiled at her encouragingly and said, “Well, when we get in there, it’ll be a one-stop-shop for us. Archie’s done well for himself over the years with that place. Groceries, guns, and gear—we can get it all and get out before those critters know what we’re doin’. I just hope Archie will show us some understandin’ when he gets back and sees what we did to his place. He keeps it locked up like Fort Knox when he’s away… I wonder if I’ll ever see him again. We’re long overdue to go fishin’. My fault, really. Kept putting it off.”

She smiled. “How are you holding up?”

Greg came back. “Grace a God’s been keepin’ me together. Has been for quite some time. When Ashley got bit… well, let’s just say I don’t go too far anymore without prayin’.”

Gina nodded, trying not to stare into the older man’s sad, yesterday eyes. “You still think this bus will be enough to get in there? That security gate and front door looks tough.”

“It’ll be enough. I just hope the power doesn’t come back on while we’re doin’ it. I’d hate to see what would happen if Archie’s alarm system woke up the rest of ‘em.”

Gina looked back at the mob of dead men. “Yeah, I’d say we would be making our last stand here if that happens.”

“At least we’d have a bit of fun first,” Greg said with a wink. “Archie has a lot of firepower in there.”

“Coming here was a good idea, Greg. Thanks for bailing me out… again. I see now why Doug leaned on you so much. The last few days hasn’t scored me any popularity points as the new leader. This plan may be risky, but it’s better than running in circles like I’ve had us doing.”

“You’re doing fine in my book. Kept us alive… that’s gotta count for somethin’, right?”

“Thanks, Greg. How are the others?”

“Meredith’s still listening to the wind, or whatever she does. Frank… well, he’s under the bus. He’s keepin’ an eye out and makin’ sure this things gonna move when we need it to.”

Gina laughed. “It’s ironic since he threw us under the bus at the Marina. If that jerk had helped us, we might never have been split up in the first place. ”

“Well, I think you’re a little too eager to place more blame on the man than he deserves. You didn’t see the Frank I saw when we were neck-deep in shit. He fought like hell to get me and my little girl out. You weren’t there. Anyone else with any sense would have just left us there, but Frank fought for us. He’s a better man than you give him credit for. He’s an odd one, I’ll give you that, and he doesn’t like to show his softer side, but I know he blames himself for how things went down.”

Gina sighed. “Well… I still don’t trust him. Maybe in time I’ll see what you see in the man, but for now, I only remember seeing his back when he was about to leave us high-and-dry on that pier.”

“Fair enough. I’ll go check on the jerk,” he said with a wink. “We should be almost ready.”

Gina took a few more moments to reflect on the last few days. Since taking over leadership of their small group, they’d been hitting up homes and small businesses along the river for any supplies they could find. They’d found plenty of warmer clothes but food and water were scarce since many of the places they’d stopped at had already been raided by other survivors fleeing the city. They never found any weapons and Gina was still the only one carrying a loaded gun.

Several times, they were forced to double-back as the Grand River approached Painesville, barely avoiding detection from larger groups of the dead while trying to keep it together. Tension was high. Arguments abounded. And all eyes looked to Gina for a way out of this mess.

The river had continued to remain their safest means of travel but with the city of Painesville standing ahead of them like an ominous road block of the undead, they would either have to go back the way they came, which was no option at all, or they’d have to find weapons to punch their way through.

When Greg had suggested the ammo shop downtown closest to their location, Gina jumped all over the idea and convinced the others that they needed to go inland because that’s where the supplies were, and no survivors in their right minds would dare re-enter the city right now… except them.

Desperation made the decision unanimous.

Gina took a deep breath and fought off her emotions for the hundredth time. She felt overwhelmed and needed this plan to work more than anyone.

She got up to check on Meredith. The older woman was staring out the back window into the mess of shattered cars and lives; the scattered remains of society’s temporal hold now reduced to debris blowing down a dead street. She appeared lost in a trance of some kind.

“Meredith,” Gina said, sitting down, “are we still okay?”

The older woman turned and smiled. “Yes, honey, it’s alright. I don’t sense the other ones anywhere around us.” She was referring to the yellow-eyed monsters. “It’s strange that we haven’t seen but a handful of them since the power plant and when we do, they’re always alone. It’s like the ones we’ve come across were left behind while the others… vanished. Very, very peculiar.”

“Maybe they went dormant like you mentioned once before?”

Meredith considered this. “Perhaps… but I think it’s more than that.”

“Well, you let me know the moment you sense those things. We won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell if they show up in the middle of all this. The dead things outside are manageable only because they’re much slower and… well… stupid.”

Meredith laughed. “Yes, they remind me of a pair of dogs I once had: Content when left alone, but if I were to throw a steak between them, they’d go savage in a minute.”

“Please don’t remind me of that,” Gina said nervously. “I’m trying not to think about the four steaks in this bus who they haven’t discovered yet.”

“Good point, honey. No more talking about steaks.”

Frank and Greg approached.

“Gina, it’s always a pleasure to see your charming face before coffee,” Frank said with a big yawn when she gave him her usual dirty look.

She ignored him and asked Greg, “How much time?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“I hope your Delta Force from the Island of Misfit Toys doesn’t screw this up,” Frank said. “That’s assuming they aren’t half-way back down the river already.”

“They’ll be fine,” Gina snapped, trying to sound convinced. “You just be ready to move this bus as fast as you wag that tongue.”

Frank saluted with a smile. He knelt down beneath the steering console and reached under for the bundle of wires he’d stripped out earlier. “You’d think that when they fled the bus,” he muttered, “the fucking driver would’ve just left the damn keys.”

“Old habits die hard,” Greg said.

“Shhh!” Meredith said. “Do you hear that?”

It was muffled, but they all heard it: the car alarm.

“Shit! They’re early.” Frank shook his head while quickly working through the jungle of wires. “Among the four of them, you would think they could manage reading a fucking watch!”

“Shut up!” Gina hissed. “Stay down and listen.”

They could hear several car alarms going off now.

“What are those dead-heads doing out there?” Gina asked.

Greg watched several zombies stop and tilt their heads toward the new sounds. “They’re acting like puppies staring at a squeakin’ chew toy.”

There were at least a dozen car alarms going off now, resounding across the dusk like a manic symphony.

One turned toward the sound, and then another, and then another. Following the lead of the first, they began to shamble toward the new noise source.

“It’s working!” Greg said. “They’re moving toward the car dealership.”

“Frank?” Gina asked impatiently.

“I know. I know. I’m fucking working on it!”

“Why do you suppose they didn’t wait?” Meredith asked.

Gina’s concerned face answered the question as she looked in the direction of the dealership.

“You reckon’ they’ve run into some trouble?” Greg asked.

“Doesn’t matter now,” Gina said. “We have to finish this and get those damn guns or we’re going to be in trouble, too.” She looked back at the dispersing herd nearly a block away, and then back to Frank. “They’ve cleared the area. Anytime would be good.”

The bus engine came to life. It was louder than they’d expected.

“They didn’t hear us. They’re still moving away,” Greg said.

“Why don’t you all stop your yapping and get back a bit,” Frank said, sitting behind the steering wheel and putting on his seat belt. He pulled the straps around his waist and shoulder as tight as he could make them. “It’s not every day you get to ram into a building with a motor vehicle… and we’re doing it completely sober.”

Greg leaned in beside him and said, “Twenty miles an hour should be enough to-”

“Fuck it,” Frank said, flooring the gas pedal.

They were fortunate the bus was mostly in line with the front door of the ammo shop and with just enough distance to get some momentum behind them. He maneuvered the bus down the narrow stretch of parking lot, which remained clear of obstructions, and took his foot off the gas when they were within ten feet.

“Hold on!” Frank shouted. “Brace yourselves!”

The others sat three rows behind, using the backs of the seats in front of them to protect themselves.

Frank slammed on the brakes just as the school bus struck the security gate. The vehicle skidded through the gate and into the heavy wooded front door, demolishing both, before sliding slightly to the right and coming to a halt with the back third of the bus still sticking out the entrance.

“Holy shit!” Frank said. He’d been thrown forward on impact, but other than some shoulder pain which would linger a while, he was no worse for wear. He unfastened the seat belt and looked back. “Everyone alright?”

All three lifted their heads above the seats.

“We’re good back here,” Greg said, giving Frank the thumbs-up sign. “These seats aren’t as soft as they appear. Damn headaches should go away in about a thousand years.”

Frank laughed. “Well, it worked. We’re inside. What now, Captain?”

Gina scowled at him, massaging her bruised head. “Now, we make sure there’s no dead-heads waiting in here for us… and then we get the fucking guns.”


Next Episode 19-2

Previous Episode 18-4


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“Chapter 19-1: Get the Guns” 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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