Chapter 19

~~~

Gina and Greg sat at the rear of the bus watching the night swallow up the city. The car alarms went quiet twenty minutes ago leaving everyone to fend off the unnerving silence which remained.

“They’re late,” Gina said. She couldn’t stop tapping her foot on the floor. “Is everything ready to go?”

Greg laughed. “That’s the third time you asked me that. Bags are packed and loaded on the boat. I checked her several times. Other than a lack of fuel, and there’s still enough to get up river a few miles, she should start right up.”

Gina nodded, staring out the emergency door window again. “They’re really fucking late.”

“Yep,” Greg said. He looked up at the night sky. “I’m sure they’re on the way. Maybe they’re just havin’ trouble findin’ the place.”

“What do you mean?” She turned and saw Greg pointing at the night. “Shit! I should’ve thought of that. There’s no big neon sign lit up, screaming, Archie’s Fucking Ammo… whatever.”

“Not your fault. You can’t think of everything.”

“Flares,” she said. “Didn’t I see some over by the moldy produce?”

Greg laughed. “Yeah, in between the oranges and the fishing tackle. Gotta love this place.” He went to get the flares.

Gina smiled after him. She decided that when the apocalypse was over, she was going to ask Greg to move in with her and let him fix everything in her cramped apartment and her associated crummy life. From the bathroom sink which always leaked, to the gaps in her front door which let out the heat every winter, she would just let Greg have at it.

Her tired thoughts drifted from Greg to a fantasy of Tony trying to fix her water heater. It had become ugly fast—he wasn’t much of a handy man—but the sex was out of this world…

Her grim reality came back and slapped her in the face… hard. She could not afford to reside there anymore, even for a pleasant moment of fiction.

Your old life and everyone in it is dead. The cold but necessary thought brought her back.

Greg returned with three flares. “Will this cover it?”

“Yeah, that will do. Now we need to get outside real quick and throw these out a bit. Just so those dead-heads don’t think we’re inviting them over for dinner.”

“You cover me Annie Oakley and I’ll toss the flares,” Greg said with a wink.

“You got it. Fastest fucking draw in the West… and I’m probably right considering there’s a lot less competition these days.”

Before stepping out, Greg pulled out a strange pair of binoculars. “Found this in Archie’s private collection.”

“What’s that?”

Greg turned a dial and Gina saw green light coming on inside the lenses. “No way. Night vision goggles?”

“Yep. All we need is a little ambient light and the magic starts.” He put the goggles up to his eyes and scanned the night. “All clear.”

“Okay, go throw some flares. I want to play with it.” Gina put the goggles to her eyes. The vacant downtown streets were lit up green. “Very cool, Greg. A bit creepy under the circumstances, but very cool.”

Greg laughed. “Well, I know what to get you for Christmas now. Here we go.” Greg opened the emergency door and stepped out into the night.

Gina drew one of her handguns and continued scanning left to right with the goggles. “Still clear. Do it.”

Greg lit up the first flare and tossed it directly ahead about fifty feet. He lit the remaining flares and tossed one to the left and the other to the right. “That’s it. They should be able to find us-”

“Greg… get in the bus… now!” Gina stopped scanning, catching movement down at the far end of McCormick Avenue.

“What do you see?” Greg asked, stepping back on the bus.

“Do these things magnify?”

“No.”

Gina swallowed hard. “Was there any other way they could’ve come up from the river?”

Greg thought about it. “No. Not from where you’re lookin’.”

Then they heard the sound. Like a large distorted wave smashing against the inside of a boxed-in ocean.

“What do you see?” Greg asked anxiously.

They both turned, startled by the sound of footsteps rushing up the bus steps.

It was Meredith. “We have to leave… now. They’re close.”

“My God,” Greg whispered. “Can you hear that?”

Gina looked up McCormick again and saw them… all of them… advancing like a sluggish and blurry green army of demons.

She turned to them and said, “Greg, get the boat started. We’re about to be in real trouble here. I’m going to wait as long as I can for the others.”

“Look!” Greg said, pointing to the left. “I see them.”

Gina turned and saw three figures approaching.

Marcus was the first to reach the bus. He was out of breath as they pulled him up. Amanda and Stephen were right behind. They all looked exhausted.

“Where’s Charlie?” Gina asked.

“He’s fucking dead,” Amanda quickly chimed in. “Zombies got him… Let’s go.”

Gina looked to Marcus who said, “Last time we saw him, he was being chased by a horde. We got separated. It didn’t look good for Charlie. Thanks for throwing out those flares. We had a hell of a time getting here in the dark… What’s that awful sound?”

“Okay, Okay… you guys follow Greg and Meredith to the boat. No time to explain… just do it.” Gina already had the goggles up again.

Stephen and Greg held up.

He waited until Amanda was off the bus and Stephen said, “We should wait for Charlie. He saved our hides back there. Drew those things away from me and Amanda. We’d be dead right now if he hadn’t.”

“Thank you, Stephen, but we’re really out of time. Please shut the fuck up and get to the boat,” Gina barked as she continued to scan the horde.

Stephen gave her an astonished look, and then turned to Greg who gently ushered him off the bus. “What the hell was that about?”

Greg quickly returned and stood beside her. “We are waiting for Charlie, right?”

“You should get the boat started.”

“Frank can manage just fine.” Greg waited.

“Fucking things! They’re all out of focus!”

“Let me see them.”

Gina handed the goggles to him. She refused to look Greg in the eye.

Greg lifted the goggles to his eyes. He focused in on the horde and gasped.

“Do you see the one up ahead of the rest?” Gina asked.

“Yes.”

“Tell me that’s just another dead-head.”

Greg said nothing.

“Hand me the goggles.” She took them and studied the moving green mass once more.

“Looks like Charlie to me,” Greg said. “Looks like all hell is on his heels.”

“Fuck! Son-of-a-bitch is leading them right to us. What was he thinking?”

“Seems obvious, Gina. He’s scared shitless and runnin’ to the only place where help can be found.”

Gina shut off the night vision and handed them back to Greg. “Let’s go.”

Greg stared after her. “But he’s coming.”

She turned and shouted, “Damn it, Greg! I’m not risking everyone for that pretentious prick! Did you see the size of the group that’s chasing him? If Charlie had a shred of concern for the rest of us, he would’ve led them away!”

Greg sighed. “Gina… we can’t just leave him out there.”

“That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re leaving while we still can. Someone has to make the hard choices and I’ve just made one. End of discussion.” She stormed off the bus.

They reached the dark dock behind the ammo shop where the others sat huddled nervously in the fishing boat like survivors from a cruise ship disaster.

Frank held a large battery-powered spotlight aimed toward the motor. “It’s about fucking time. It’s getting cold out here,” he said. “Where’s Charlie?”

Gina got in the boat, followed reluctantly by Greg. “He’s not going to make it,” was all she said.

Frank laughed. “What the hell does that mean?”

“He’s running directly ahead of the massive horde which is headed this way… and he might make it if he had some help,” Greg said, earning him a sharp look from Gina.

“Start the motor, Frank. It’s time to go.” Gina looked out into the dark Grand River feeling sick to her stomach.

Stephen chimed in. “This is wrong. He saved me and Amanda and this is how we repay him?”

“Shut up!” Amanda said. “He’s as good as dead. Didn’t you just hear? That horde is coming. There’s nothing we can do now but get the fuck out of here!”

“We can hold them off,” Stephen defended. “We have guns now. All Charlie needs is a few seconds to make it inside… then we go.”

Gina closed her eyes. She felt her resolve slipping.

“No…no! We have to leave right now!” Amanda was adamant. “You just don’t know. He can do things… horrible things… Charlie’s dangerous.”

“What on earth are you babbling about?” Frank asked.

Gina turned to look at Amanda and met Greg’s pitiful gaze instead. His look said it all.

“Maybe Stephen’s right,” she said.

Amanda was shaking her head violently. She stood up. “Just start the fucking boat and go! Charlie’s the reason we almost died back there in the first place—always doing things his way and fucking the rest of us over.”

Marcus and Stephen gave her a puzzled look.

Amanda continued before they could protest. “Gina, he’s always doing what he wants behind your back while he nods politely to your face and laughs at you when you’re not looking. It’s no secret that he doesn’t take you seriously. He could do more to help you…believe me, he could… but he won’t. He’d rather watch you all fail and die if necessary… just to prove he should be in charge!”

“Gina,” Stephen interjected. “Amanda has it wrong. Charlie had nothing to do with what happened to us at the car lot-”

Amanda cut him off. “What more evidence do you need? Just look up the fucking street! He’s risking our lives right now just to save his own skin!”

Gina felt her blood turn cold. She’d known all about Charlie’s contempt, but hearing it spoken out loud made the threat to her leadership—to the group—more tangible.

She looked at Greg and said, “He shouldn’t have led them straight for us.” She stood up and said, “Start the motor, Frank… we’re leaving now.”

“No,” Frank calmly said.

“What?” Gina was beside herself.

“No fucking way. I can already see how this plays out,” Frank continued. “We leave Charlie behind and everybody starts feeling guilty as hell a day from now. Soon our little fucked-up family is drowning in it—all that fucking guilt added to the loads we’re already wearing on our backs. Nope. Won’t do it. Besides, when it’s time to play the blame game—and that’s where all the fun guilt will take us—somehow, it will end up being good old Frank’s fault again. Well, not this time, sister.” Frank got out of the boat.

“Where the hell are you going?” Gina asked.

“Stephen’s plan is sound. We’ll blow some holes in their ranks, let that annoying fuck make it to the bus, and then we can all get out of here. Besides, I’m dying to try out the M-16 I found.”

“Hey, that’s from Archie’s private stash,” Greg said. “I was wondering where it went.”

“You already beat me to the AK-47,” Frank said with a wink. “Want to go shoot some dead-heads?”

Greg got out of the boat.

Gina stood up. “Get the fuck back in the boat or-”

“Or what? You’ll leave us here, too?” Frank said with a laugh. “Talk about double-standards. Give me a break, lady! You talk about the team but you’re ready to throw one of us to the wolves when he has a fighting chance. Now I’ve done some shitty things and I’ve been taking your whiplash for days now… and rightly so. But letting you make this bullshit decision is the worst thing I could do, whether you realize it or not.”

Gina said nothing.

He addressed the rest, starting with Amanda. “I don’t know what Charlie’s done to piss you off more than he pisses off the rest of us… but frankly… I don’t give a shit at the moment. You can all sort it the fuck out in the People’s Court of the Apocalypse after we get out of here.”

Stephen started to get out of the boat. “I can’t shoot a gun, but you’ll need someone at the rear of the bus to make sure only Charlie gets in.”

“No, that’s enough,” Gina said. “I’ll go. Stephen, you’ve done more than you know. Please stay with the boat. We’ll get Charlie back.” She reached for her shotgun and fired a nasty look at both Frank and Greg. “Let’s go do this before I start dwelling on your attempted mutiny.”

~~~

Charlie forced his legs to keep moving through the darkness. His pursuers were relentless. They never tired, never wavered from their one and only objective: to feed. After leaving the car lot, he’d run down several alleys, cut through an apartment building and climbed down a fire escape. He was eventually forced back onto McCormick Avenue, headed directly toward the ammo shop.

After distancing himself from the dealership, as the car alarms grew fainter, he was able to command the dead only when they were inches from obtaining their goal. When he felt their cold arms reaching out for pieces of his shirt or an ankle, he’d turn and shout, “BACK!” and they would stop as if momentarily confused by the strange sound of his voice.

He was far too tired and exhausted to keep the fear in check long enough to effectively force them to go away, so he shouted quick and desperate commands, praying that his voice would not fail him between labored breaths.

He could see the flares outside the ammo shop at the end of the block. If only he could hold them back a little longer.

Charlie could hear their frustrated groans from ten short feet behind him as the dead worked as one to simply outlast their skittish prey. He had nothing left and dug in deep to find the strength to keep his body from betraying him.

“GET BACK!” he screamed over his shoulder as another one grabbed at his head.

The creature fell back into the wall of the dead which pushed it forward.

Charlie could see the back of the school bus sticking out of the gun shop like some bizarre joke which he would never understand. He was close now.

But the dead were closer.

Not like this. I deserve to live. I need to live!

His self-preservation was the driving force, pushing his tired limbs to reach the bus. Just a hundred more feet and then he could lie down and collapse.

That was when he tripped and fell.

The dead advanced on his location like a swarm of locusts.

Charlie lifted his arms and screamed, “Not like this! Get away from me! GET AWAY!”

Again, the dead stopped and stared at their strange feast, confused by the sounds their meal made.

Charlie tried to get up, but lacked the strength.

This is it. I’m done.

That’s when the closest zombies’ faces fell apart as the night was ripped open by the sound of automatic gunfire.

Charlie turned toward the ammo shop and saw the muzzle flashes of two weapons lighting up the dark from the rooftop.

He heard the back door of the bus squeal open and saw a woman waving him toward the bus.

It was Gina.

Charlie got to his feet and pushed toward the bus, nearly stumbling beneath it as his legs went limp.

The undead continued to push forward as the first rank of zombies fell to pieces; heads, limbs and chests disintegrated as multiple bullets exploded on rotting flesh. The dead fell, causing the ones behind them to stumble over the corpses of their brethren.

The sound of the shotgun near Charlie’s right ear caused him to scream as Gina yelled, “Come on! Get in here!”

Charlie reached for the back of the bus as Gina grabbed his shoulder and pulled him in. She fired three more slugs into the horde before quickly slamming the emergency door closed.

The dead struck it with tremendous force, causing the bus to rock forward. The thick wall of walking corpses pushed against each other, trying to force the door to yield.

Charlie was up on one knee, breathing for dear life. He looked up at Gina near the front of the bus and managed a rare and heart-felt, “Tha…thank you.”

The dead began climbing on top of each other as the first one struck its head against the window, shattering it. What was left of the mangled corpse, slithered through and fell into the bus.

Gina aimed past Charlie and shot the monster’s head off, causing Charlie to cry out.

“Let’s go before I start thinking saving your skin was a bad idea.” She exited the bus.

They ran out the back door and Gina shouted, “We’re leaving… right fucking now!”

Frank and Greg already had the motor running.

Gina and Charlie loaded the boat.

Greg went to the bow of the boat and held the spotlight as Frank maneuvered the vessel away from the dock.

The back door of the ammo shop crashed open as the first of the dead stormed the dock.

Gina stood up and fired two shots into the first dead-head before it made it to the end of the pier, dividing it in two pieces which fell into the river.

Others continued to come, blindly running off the dock and sinking into the water.

“We’re clear,” Frank said, nodding to Greg who began aiming the light ahead of them.

Charlie didn’t say a word. He refused to even look in Gina’s direction.

Gina sat down near the back of the boat and took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She began to weep softly, grateful that her tears were hidden in the darkness as they traveled up river.

~~~

Next Episode 20-1

Previous Episode 19-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 19-4: 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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