Chapter 17-2

~~~

“What are we looking for exactly?” Charlie whispered as Marcus led him deeper into the main dealership building. They passed a group of cubicles, scanning each makeshift office for dead stragglers waiting to jump out of the shadows at them. Fortunately, they found no one.

Marcus had his machete out, looking for the largest office. “The manager will have the keys for the vehicles, hopefully on a nice, organized rack of some kind.”

“Got it. You’re looking for the remotes to set off the alarms from a distance… that’s smart, and a bit surprising considering the source.”

Marcus laughed. “You don’t think very highly of me, do you, Charlie?”

“Hey, don’t take it personally. I think you’re all a bunch of idiots.”

“You say that because we put Gina in charge. You’re guarding your tongue these days but it’s still obvious you don’t approve.”

Charlie sighed. “I originally went along with this poor decision believing you’d all come to your senses when things fell apart… again. So far, she’s managed to get us trapped between the river and the city and all we do is run and hide. It’s getting fucking old. Apparently desperation is keeping her in charge. And now, no offense, she’s promoted you to second in command… or is that crazy Meredith?”

“And you can do better, is that it?”

“Yes. A fucking monkey could do better.”

Marcus stopped and turned. “I voted for her because I knew the rest would. She was clearly the popular choice. I’m the outsider still trying to earn my keep so it seemed the prudent move. But now… I’m not so sure.”

Charlie’s ears perked up.

“I’ve been watching you, Charlie. You’ve changed quite a bit in the last few days. You seem… more certain of yourself and less afraid. That surprised me and got me thinking about how the worst circumstances bring out the truth in a person. I may have misjudged you for it seems like you’re thriving in this new hostile environment—accepting it and adapting to it. Obviously Amanda recognizes this as well, judging by the amount of time she spends with you.”

Charlie tensed up. “You know she’s with me now, right? I hope that’s not going to be a problem.”

Marcus smiled. “Don’t misunderstand me. Whatever myself and Miss Howard had is over. I just know that she’s drawn to stronger men, which says volumes about you.”

“You’re fucking with me.”

“No, Charlie. Not at all. I’m just clearing the air and letting you know where I stand.”

“I’ve watched you too, Marcus. It’s very clear that you’re so far up the red-head’s ass that you’d do anything she said.”

“Your perception is off on that one, my friend. My interest in Gina has nothing to do with getting in good with the leadership. As childish as this may seem, I’m infatuated with the woman.”

“You have to be kidding me. Love? Really?”

“I wouldn’t take it that far, but who knows… maybe eventually. Point is, she has her head so far up the ass of being the leader that she hardly notices me.”

Charlie laughed, piecing it together. “And you would love nothing more than to see someone else take up that burden of leadership, allowing Gina to finally notice you. Are you really that simple?”

“Ambition is required to lead, Charlie. I have none. What I do have is the fact that I saved her life twice and she knows it. That’s why she trusts me and why I’m in charge of this little mission today. But honestly, I see what being the leader is doing to Gina. She’s going to crash and burn and I would like to spare her this. We might one day share a romantic interest if I could gracefully convince Gina to walk away from that bad lover called, ‘Leader’.”

“I see,” Charlie said. “So you won’t mind if I take over… at some point… as long as I don’t hold it over your girlfriend’s head.”

“Precisely. If you could present yourself as the better leader without tearing down the current one to make yourself look good, then you’d have my support, Charlie. Those old style dirty politics won’t work out here. All you need to do is wait patiently for an opportunity to show yourself strong.”

Charlie considered this.

“Oh, and just between you and me, I don’t believe a woman has any business being in charge. They just don’t have the right temperament for it. Not to mention, it’s damn difficult to take orders from someone with such distracting ‘attributes’.”

Charlie laughed. “Perhaps you’re not the idiot I thought you were.”

“Well, I have my moments.” Marcus pointed toward a large rack of keys along the back wall of an open office.

They entered the office. Marcus reached for the nearest remote and stopped short when they heard the sound of the car alarm going off outside.

~~~

The lot of Mariano’s New and Used Cars sat partially in the shade beneath the Route 2 overpass which ran through Painesville. Just on the outskirts of the city and pushed back against the Grand River, the dealership was the ideal spot to wake the dead and bring them running to the lot while Marcus, Charlie, Stephen and Amanda fled back toward the river which wound its way back around toward the gun shop.

The plan was simple: Set off as many car alarms as possible and get the hell out of Dodge. They were to meet up with Gina and the others, grab as many supplies as possible, and reconnect with the river, which completed a wide circle near the back side of the gun shop. From there, the river straightened and headed northeast out of town.

Stephen and Amanda sat in a Lincoln Town Car near the center of the lot, watching the surrounding area for uninvited guests. Marcus and Charlie were due back anytime, hopefully with at least a dozen sets of car keys for the newer vehicles they’d spotted with security systems.

Amanda hadn’t said a word all morning, which had become her new norm since rejoining the group. She sat in the passenger seat staring up McCormick Avenue, locked in on a large, green sign which hung tauntingly in the wind a block away, just off the side of a local watering hole called Brian’s Pub.

It was all she could do to stop herself from ripping her hair out and rushing out of the car to get to the pub. Once inside, with several fifths of whatever was available coursing through her blood stream, Amanda could just pass out and die peacefully of alcohol poisoning. Sounded like paradise.

“Where are you right now?” Stephen asked from the driver’s seat. “You seem a million miles away and I’m jealous as hell.”

His attempt to make her smile failed.

Amanda turned her head sluggishly to the right. “Umm… sorry, did you say something?”

“Only that we’ll be out of here soon with guns and supplies. We might even be able to sleep again soon with full bellies and some extra security.”

Amanda cracked a weak smile.

Stephen was concerned. Ever since Amanda and Charlie started spending more time together, he’d watched her normal fiery temper quickly die out. For the last few days Amanda had become more and more withdrawn and secretive, often leaving camp during the night to sit watch with Charlie Ottermeyer, the man she previously found repulsive. What little time he had to speak with her, Amanda was often quiet, keeping her head low and just doing whatever part was required of her.

“I don’t know what’s happened to you,” he started, “and I know you consider me a nagging hen, but I’m always available if you want to talk. Lots of things have changed—lots of things keep changing—but that hasn’t.”

He half expected her to lash out at him—hoped she would—but she simply lowered her head and said, “Thank you, Stephen. That means a lot.”

“Is it Charlie? Did he… hurt you?”

Amanda stiffened and said, “Just leave it alone, okay? I can’t talk about that.”

He could clearly see that he struck a nerve but let the matter rest. “For what it’s worth, I’m… I’m proud of you.”

She stared at him with a puzzled expression.

“You’ve been staring at the pub down the street for a while now but you’re still sitting here. A week ago, I wouldn’t have thought you capable.”

“Capable of what?” she snapped.

Stephen felt like he was about to step off a cliff edge. “You know, capable of… controlling it.”

Amanda surprised him by laughing. “Control, Stephen… really? Is that what you think I’m doing?”

“I just meant-”

“I know what you meant. You’re so fucking naïve. Nobody’s in control of anything anymore. No one. We’re all just dying from one moment to the next and doing whatever’s necessary to make it to the next day… just to do it all over again. Control? No one controls hell. It owns you and laughs in your face when you think you’ve caught a break. Because as soon as you lift your head out of the sand to take a breath… Death is right there waiting for you, waiting to torment you all over again.”

Stephen remained silent.

Amanda gave him a wicked smile and said, “The only—and I do mean only—reason I’m not at that fucking bar yet is because I’m not ready to die. That’s the bitch of it. I’d drink and drink and drink again and never come back up for air if I could… but I still want to live. Fuck if I know why. That’s the hell part.”

“I don’t know what to say, Amanda.” Stephen looked at his hands on the steering wheel. They were shaking.

“Don’t say anything. My God… there’s nothing you could possibly say to make it all go away. We’re fucked, but we’re still too stupid to let go because there’s some internal survival mechanism or curse which takes over and tells us to preserve ourselves even when good sense says to just lie down and be done. I want a bottle so bad, but I also want to live. Like everything else around me now, drinking’s no longer a comfort… it’s downright fucking scary.”

Stephen could find no argument for that. What he once took comfort in—filling the vast halls of his mind with limitless knowledge—had now become strange rooms reserved and devoted to guilt and madness. His own mind had become a haunted place full of demons and nightmares which tormented and made him question his own sanity¬—even manifesting hallucinations which seemed so real that he couldn’t tell the difference.

He looked away from his hands and into the rear view mirror and nearly screamed.

Nicole was sitting in the back seat.

This was the fourth time he’d seen her after nearly dying of exposure along the river.

“This is not real,” he muttered without thinking. Stephen quickly looked away from the mirror, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder to verify his madness.

“Is that what you do to get by, Stephen?” Amanda asked. “Just pretend this is all some fucked up dream you’re going to wake from?” She shook her head. “You need that bottle more than I do. This is as real as it gets.”

Stephen took a deep breath and looked back in the mirror.

She was still there, wearing a low-cut black dress. Her long brown hair was covering the left side of her face.

Stephen froze.

Nicole looked sad. She tried to speak but stopped. Instead she looked over at her mother and gave her a hateful glance. From her left hand, Nicole lifted up a bloody knife.

Stephen recognized the knife immediately.

Nicole made a move toward her mother, revealing a dark socket where her left eye used to be.

Stephen wanted to speak but shook his head ‘no’ instead.

Nicole sensed his distress and relaxed. She gave him a concerned look.

Stephen looked away.

“What the fuck’s the matter with you?” Amanda asked. You look like you’re about to have a heart attack.”

“I’m… I’m alright. Just a panic attack. I get them sometimes.”

Amanda just stared at him, growing increasingly concerned.

Stephen looked back in the mirror.

Nicole had carved words into her flesh, above the neckline of her blouse:

DON’T LISTEN TO HER POISON. SHE’S A LIAR!

“Oh, God! I can’t take this!” Stephen was shaking uncontrollably as he looked away again.

Amanda had an arm around his shoulder. “Relax. Just try to breathe, okay? Another attack?”

He thought of the knife. He thought of Nicole’s words etched in blood, how it looked just like that on his hands the day he stabbed her.

Fucking tell her! Tell her now. Get it off your chest and just admit what you did and this will end!

Stephen turned to Amanda and opened his mouth to speak. He caught movement in the mirror and turned toward the back seat instead.

Nicole was still there.

She’d carved new words in the place of the old:

DON’T SAY A WORD! YOU’RE NOT SAFE!

And then Nicole pulled down her blouse to reveal three more words deeply carved across the top of her breasts:

KILL THAT BITCH!

“I need to get out of here,” Stephen declared, reaching for the door handle. “Need some air.”

Stephen opened the door and fell out of the car, landing in the dirt.

Amanda was already outside rushing over to him. “Stephen! My God, you’re going pale! Fuck! Tell me what to do? How can I help you?”

“I’m okay. Just need… just need a minute.” Stephen got up. He felt lightheaded and nauseous. He could feel the early evening shadows clawing at him from beneath the overpass. Stephen headed toward the exposed section of the car lot, needing to see open sky.

Amanda followed closely behind through a narrow row of cars, keeping an eye out for the dead ones. “Stephen, please stop. We need to get back before we’re seen.”

He wasn’t listening. He needed some space and a moment to regain his sanity… if possible.

When they were clear of the overpass, Stephen turned and stopped, sucking at the air, and focused on the sky. He was immediately drawn to the top of the overpass as he saw a glimmer of movement.

Amanda waited patiently for Stephen to get calm. She kept turning to watch the roadway, feeling exposed. “Stephen, are you okay now?”

Stephen ignored her. He was watching a man run across the overpass. The man looked right at him, stopped, and rushed toward the guardrail. “We’re not alone anymore,” Stephen said, pointing up toward the overpass.

Amanda turned and saw the man. He was shouting something down at them which they couldn’t make out. “What the fuck is he doing? That idiot’s going to attract attention we don’t need.”

“Holy Christ,” Stephen said, noticing the zombies closing in on the man’s position. “Get out of there!”

The man turned and saw the dead.

“He’s going to die,” Amanda said with a flat, trembling voice.

The man looked to his left, then his right. They were everywhere. He began to climb over the guardrail to avoid the first of the undead.

“What’s he doing?” Stephen said in disbelief. “There’s no way down from there!”

“Stephen,” Amanda nearly whispered, “can we please get back to the car now. I can’t watch this.”

The man was struggling to hold on to the guardrail as the monsters reached out for him. He lost his footing, once, twice… and then he fell, crushing the roof of an SUV on impact.

Glass shattered on crushed aluminum setting off the high intensity squeal of a car alarm. The man was dead instantly.

They backed away from the shattered vehicle, now covered in so much blood as the upside-down, lifeless eyes of the crushed man gazed at them.

Something else fell from the sky striking another vehicle, and then another, and then another. Car alarms blared as the dead fell from the overpass.

“Oh my God!” Amanda said. “Those crazy fucks are jumping right off the overpass!”

Five more came crashing down, their rotting flesh falling into numerous pieces on impact.

Multiple alarms blared across the evening, attracting the nearby dead to their location as hundreds departed nearby buildings and alleys and advanced on the car lot.

“We have to go!” Amanda shouted, her voice nearly drowned out by the alarms. She pulled Stephen down behind the row of cars.

“Go where? They’re all over the place!” Stephen looked around for a place to hide.

The dead were coming from numerous directions.

“We can still make it back to the car before they see us!” Amanda said. “Only the ones up on the overpass saw us.” So she hoped.

They were on the move, cutting in among the cars and barely making it back to the Lincoln before the first of the dead began weaving in and out of the rows where they were just at, attracted by the scent of the fresh corpse. When they saw the body, the undead went wild and formed a large mob around the SUV. The closest savages began to tear apart warm flesh while the rest tore at each other to get to the front.

They could hear the man being mauled to pieces through the partially opened driver-side window. Stephen and Amanda crouched down as low as they could into the foot spaces of the backseat and tried not to breathe.

From a group of stragglers just arriving, a lanky, shirtless creature with a dislocated right shoulder stopped when he caught the scent of fresh meat coming from a vehicle twenty feet to his left. The creature stumbled through the cars, attracting several others to follow him until two dozen monsters surrounded the Lincoln.

~~~

Next Episode 19-3

Previous Episode 19-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 19-2: 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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Comments
  1. Life says:

    Russel is so amazing!

    Like

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