Gina glanced into their tired and expectant faces as she paced the small living room, trying to think of something motivational to say after she unloaded the bad news. When she couldn’t look at her battered and bruised up companions any longer, she focused on Doug’s rolled up map in her hands.

This is going to suck. Hell, I took it hard when Meredith told me. Fuck… we were so close!

In accordance with the map, the ranch house was sitting just a few miles outside of the town of Austinburg. From there, the rendezvous position broadcasted over the CB transmission they’d heard in Fairport Harbor, was about twenty miles away.

Frank and Charlie entered the living room. “Sorry, boss, I had to wake Sleeping Beauty over here,” Frank said.

Charlie glared at him.

“That’s alright. At least someone got some sleep.” Gina was stalling.

“Enough with the banter, Scarface,” Charlie said, noticing her facial wound. “Why don’t you tell us why you called the fucking town meeting? You just interrupted the first real sleep I’ve had since forever.”

“Charlie!” Meredith scolded. “Of all the insensitive-”

“What? Mr. Creepy called me Sleeping Beauty? At least I gave Gina a tough-sounding nick name. Who’s going to mess with someone named ‘Scarface’ in the zombie apocalypse?”

Frank covered a smile with his hand.

“It’s okay, Meredith,” Gina said. “I have tougher skin than that.” She turned to Charlie and said, “Thanks for coming, Charlie… and if that name were to stick, I think I could get used to it.” She smiled.

Charlie rolled his eyes and folded his arms.

She took a deep breath. “Now that we’re all here, I have some good and bad news to share.”

Everyone waited with trepidation.

Gina continued, “Good news is that we’re all still here after everything that went down yesterday. I think we’d all agree that things could’ve ended a lot differently and there might have been fewer of us sitting here this morning if it had. I for one am thankful as hell for that.”

“Me too,” Meredith chimed in. “I’m very thankful.”

That only made the moment more awkward as everyone else sat with blank expressions on their faces.

No one ever gives a shit about good news when bad news stands in the on-deck circle. Gina smiled at the thought, realizing she must have picked up the baseball analogy from Doug a million years ago.

If only he were here now, she thought. He’d say what needed said without giving a rat’s ass about who could swallow it or not.

But Doug was dead and she was all they had.

“Meredith informed me earlier that we’re headed into harm’s way. She… senses… a horde of those yellow-eyed zombies ahead of us. They stand in between us and the Ashtabula group.”

Heavy sighs and shaking heads filled the room.

“What are you getting at?” Charlie asked.

“What I’m getting at is that I don’t believe it’s safe to continue toward Ashtabula. We’ve seen these things fight before. We know what they did at the power plant. We wouldn’t have a chance. For all we know, the Ashtabula group could be gone. Those ‘things’ seem to be gathering in that general area.”

“But… where would we go?” Amanda asked. She was not her usual defiant self. It seemed that their escape from Harpersfield had struck all of them hard.

And now I tell them the crappy news.

The question got them all talking amongst each other.

Gina needed to quickly relight the candle of hope. She raised her voice confidently and said, “Nothing’s changed, people. The plan has always been head east toward the mountains, toward Doug’s cabin. We knew the score. We decided to try for the Ashtabula survivors because it wasn’t much of a detour from our original route. We still needed to follow the Grand River east to avoid detection before we could turn southeast toward our ultimate goal. It made sense to try for Ashtabula along the way, since it was just a few miles north of the river. But now… it’s not worth the risk for a shot in the dark. We stick to the plan and get to the mountains. We watch out for each other and keep pushing forward. Look how fucking far we’ve already come. We can still do this because we’ve already proven to each other and ourselves that we can take a beating, get the fuck back on our feet, and keep going. Are you still alive and with me, or am I in a room full of fucking dead-heads?”

This elicited some laughter and a few vocal ‘hell ya’s!’ Just about everyone felt better because, as Gina pointed out, they were all still here… together. That was enough.

Gina turned to collect herself. Not as good as Doug, but it got the job done. Now, I just have to talk myself into believing it, too.

Her motivational victory was cut short. “Hold on, everyone. I’m throwing in the bullshit flag on this one before we let Scarface lead us off another cliff!”

Gina turned and frowned. Charlie… it’s always fucking Charlie!  “On second thought, I don’t like the way you call me that,” she said sternly. “Something on your mind, Charlie?”

“I’ve just one question I’d like you to answer before you have us running off into the wilderness again.”

“What’s that?”

“Why don’t you tell your delusional followers how far the Ashtabula group is from our present location?”

Why is he bringing that up?  Gina was getting upset. “It doesn’t matter how far-”

“Of course it matters, you fucking diva!”

“Hey, take it down a notch,” Frank suggested with a laugh. “We’re just talking here.”

“Then let me talk,” Charlie snapped back.

“Yes, let him have his say,” Gina said. “To answer your question, the group is about twenty to twenty-five miles from here.

This fact surprised a few in the room.

“So you’re saying we could be there in a day… two days tops?” Charlie asked.

Gina was getting pissed. She could see the doubt his words were provoking. “In a perfect world, it’s possible to get there by the end of the day… yes… but that’s not accounting for-”

“So you want us to give up and go hide in the mountains when we are so fucking close to a group of professional people who could keep us safe? All based on the musings of a fortune teller?”

Gina held up her hand to Meredith before she could speak. “Just let him go, Meredith. He’s been waiting to take a crack at me, slowly stewing away all this time as if I couldn’t tell by his snide comments and disapproving glares that he absolutely abhors being bossed around by a woman.”

“This is not about me, Gina. This is about you leading us into danger rather than away from it. If you say ‘stay away from Ashtabula’, well, then we should do the exact opposite if Harpersfield is any indication of what to expect from your idea of ‘safe’. Let’s face it, your batting average is about as good as your predecessor’s… and we know what happened to him.”

She wanted to punch him in the mouth for taking the cheap shot at a dead man. Gina remained surprisingly calm. “Look, Charlie, I’ve had enough of your contention to last me two lifetimes… and frankly, I’m sick of you whining like a little bitch every time we manage to catch a second of peace. When the shit hits, you disappear, hiding behind all your big words which don’t add up to anything helpful. You’re just a bitter little man who needs to feel important, no matter the cost!”

Charlie was furious. “And what have you done other than try to get us killed?”

The statement rattled her. “Fine!” she said, getting in his face. “You think you can do better? I’ll step the fuck down right now and let you have at it.” She turned to the others. “Anyone want to nominate Charlie to lead us safely through the zombie horde and into the welcoming arms of the Ashtabula survivor’s group… well, now’s your big chance! That’s assuming they haven’t already been slaughtered. I’m far from perfect and I’ve made a hell of a lot of mistakes. But I’d like to think that I’ve done my best to try to keep us alive. But if any of you think you can do better… then by all means, step the fuck up!”

“Well, that’s touching… really,” Charlie mocked. “But let’s cut through the bullshit.” He turned to the others. “Look, I can get us there. I know I can get us there.” He shot Amanda a look that she quickly turned away from. “Even if we find no survivors, we’ve lost nothing but a couple of days to get there and back. I say the mountains are the long shot. This is our opportunity to get reunited with real people and they’re only just up the road a few more miles.”

Gina sat down on a couch. She was mentally exhausted. “I have nothing left to say to any of you. If you think Ashtabula’s worth the risk, I’ll follow Charlie and the rest of you. Just know that I believe Meredith and that if we head toward Ashtabula, we’re probably going to die.”

“Look,” Charlie laughed, “now Gina’s the fucking psychic!”

Gina refused to look at him.

Charlie felt smug and in control. He looked toward Marcus and Amanda.

All I need is for either one to step forward and back my play and then I’ll have this! Now’s my time… finally!

“So who’s with me?” Charlie asked enthusiastically.

He looked to Marcus who stared back at him as if studying a strange new species. Marcus finally looked away, feigning boredom with the whole affair.

Charlie looked toward Amanda. She refused to look at him, cowering down in her chair and trying to become invisible.

Backstabbers! Liars!

He looked to the others who simply looked to Gina.

The blind leading the fucking blind!

Frank finally stepped beside Charlie and said, “Okay, playtime is over, Charlie-boy. Why don’t you sit back down at the kiddie table and let the grown-ups talk now.”

“Fuck you!” he said, sitting down to hide his embarrassment. “You all have no idea what I’m…” He was too infuriated to finish.

Gina stood up and said, “Okay then. Charlie’s made his case and you’ve all made your decision. Since I’m still in charge, we’re going to stay here one more night, get as much rest as we can, and then head out at first light.” She looked to Meredith. “You do your thing and monitor the horde. Let me know the instant they make a sudden move toward us. If that happens, we’ll need to have our shit packed and ready to move out quickly.”

Meredith nodded.

“We’ll watch the yard from the windows until the sun goes down. That way, no stragglers see us outside during the daylight. Tonight, we’ll patrol the perimeter in pairs to make sure nothing sneaks up on us.”

Everyone nodded.

“That’s all I have to say on the matter. Get some rest.”

They all started to disperse.

“Charlie,” she said. “If you could wait a moment, I’d like to talk to you privately.”

He reluctantly waited until everyone cleared the room.

Gina walked up to him and said, “Next time you attempt a mutiny on my watch, you better make sure it’s successful or I just might forget that you’re not one of those things out there trying to eat us as I put a fucking bullet in your head. Are we clear?”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Charlie hissed.

She drew her gun and held it down along her side. She closed the gap between them, pointed in his face, and said, “Look… I have no more time for your obsolete prejudices, especially since the old world which spawned them is now an endangered species. You don’t know a fucking thing about me, asshole! I’m tired and my patience is wearing down like a ticking time bomb. Try to remember that the next time you open your pie-hole and challenge my authority, or this woman’s going to get all ‘Scarface’ on your ass!”

Charlie was sweating. He managed a nervous smile and said, “Fair enough, you crazy bitch. But you remember the same about me the next time you think about threatening me. For I promise you, you’ll never get another chance to do that… or humiliate me again.”

He then stood up and met her heated gaze with a boldness she’d not seen before. Charlie then turned around with as much dignity as he could salvage and exited the room.

Gina was puzzled by what should have been another empty threat from the little man with the big mouth. When she had looked into Charlie’s eyes, they were anything but empty.

She looked down at the gun in her trembling hand and quickly put it away. How much more of this bullshit am I expected to bear? she thought grimly, feeling sickened by her reaction to Charlie’s outburst. Maybe Meredith is right about me.

Gina collapsed on the closest couch and buried her head in her hands. She closed her eyes and tried to focus on breathing… anything to keep the emotional mess from breaching the surface and betraying how alone she truly felt.


Next Episode 21-3

Previous Episode 21-1


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“Chapter 21-2: Goodbye Charlie” 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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