Chapter 21-4: Goodbye Charlie

Posted: January 4, 2016 in Apocalypse, books, creative writing, drama, Free Online Novel, free zombie books, Horror, horror fiction, killing zombies, living dead, monsters, mystery, novels, serial novels, Survival, suspense, thriller, Uncategorized, walking dead, zombie books, Zombies
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~~~

Gina grabbed her jacket and the shotgun and then rushed outside.

Frank was already out back waiting for her, checking the magazine of his Beretta. He looked up and smiled. “Where are you going in such a hurry?”

Gina sighed. “Look, I have no time for your games right now. Can I trust you to watch their backs while I’m gone?”

“No-can-do. I have other plans.”

“What… are you finally leaving us high and dry now that Ashtabula is off the table?”

Frank laughed. “I don’t give a rat’s ass about Ashtabula. I’ve been there… trust me, it’s a real shit-hole. I’m coming with you to find Charlie.”

“Absolutely not,” she said. “Charlie’s my responsibility. I’m the one who set him off and now he’s being reckless and not thinking.”

“Kind of like you right now.”

Gina glared at him.

He looked toward the vast vineyard and said, “Think you can search all that by yourself before sundown? What if he’s not even in there?

“He’s in there,” Gina said. “I was on watch out front. I would’ve seen him if he headed for the road.”

“He could’ve doubled back.”

“You’re wasting my time with all your noise.” Gina walked past him toward the rows. She stopped, trying to assess which way Charlie went.

“Greg’s a decent tracker,” Frank suggested, stepping up beside her. “But I bet you knew that already, so I assume he’s not invited either.”

Gina ignored him.

“Of course, I could just tell you which way he went since I watched him sneak away…”

“You saw him leave and you didn’t think to say anything!?”

Frank shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know Charlie was your prisoner. Who was I to stop him if the little shit wanted to leave?”

Gina was out of patience. “Just fucking tell me where he entered in at?

“All you had to do was ask nicely,” Frank teased. He turned in another direction and walked toward the vines. “Since you don’t want my company, I won’t come with you. But I’ve just created my own search party. You can follow me, if you want… makes no damn difference to me… or you can just stand there stabbing me in the back with your eyeballs.”

Gina shook her head and said, “Charlie’s right about one thing, you are the biggest asshole I’ve ever met.”

“I try my best to please,” he laughed. “You coming or not? You’re wasting my time with all your noise.”

~~~

They searched the large labyrinth of grapevines for an hour until they stumbled upon the storage shed and tractor.

Gina examined the corpse in the shed. It was one of them—the reanimated. The poor woman looked like she’d been dead forever. There was blood around her mouth and a knife-sized hole in her head. Both looked recent.

“Over here.” Frank was kneeling beside the tractor. Gina came over and he pointed toward a bloody patch of grass beneath one large tire. “That’s fresh. There’s not enough to say someone bled out, but it’s definitely a considerable wound. What about the thing in the shed?”

Gina frowned. “Someone killed it recently… but not before it took a bite out of something.” Then she took a deep breath and asked, “What do you think… is it Charlie?”

Frank rubbed his chin, still examining the area beneath the tractor. “Grass is matted down, like someone’s been lying here a while. I’d say someone slept under here overnight. That would rule Charlie out.”

Gina plopped down in the grass with relief. She rubbed her eyes and then the scar along her cheek. “What the hell are we doing out here, Frank?”

“If that’s not a trick question, then it’s a stupid one.”

She frowned at him. “No, seriously… it’s like you said, he doesn’t have to stay with us, nobody has to stay. If he wants to leave, then I should just let him fucking leave… right?”

Frank came over and sat down in the grass across from her, laughed, and said, “Hey, look, everyone knows there’s no love between you two. Why do you even give a shit? Maybe he’s dead, maybe he’s not… so fucking what. Just a little while ago he tried to go all Brutus on your Caesar. Doesn’t his absence solve some problems?”

Gina sat there exhausted, trying to think.

“Hell, it wasn’t like you tried to ditch him before in Painesville.”

“That was different!” she fired back. “I was prepared to make the tough fucking call no one else wanted to make! I wasn’t going to let him lead the horde right to us. We all could’ve died.”

“But we didn’t, and we still saved his sorry ass in the process. So I ask you, was that the right call then, or did you secretly want him gone?”

Gina gave him a look of stone and said, “Just because I’m grateful that we got out of Painesville and no one had to die, that doesn’t mean I regret my decision. I made the call, you and Greg ignored it putting us all at risk, and we managed to get out of there anyway. Fine. But it was still the right call, and not because I was trying to ‘solve some problems’ and use it to my advantage. I fucking resent that you’d even suggest it!”

“Calm down,” Frank said, raising his hands. “I believe you… or, I believe you believe that. But what if deep down in your bones you know what I know about him… and guys like him.”

“Just spit it out Frank. I’m way too tired to play your mind games.”

“Okay, what if you intuitively knew that Charlie was dangerous and you saw it confirmed for the first time in Painesville.”

Gina waited.

“You know what I was really good at back in our other life? I watched people. I studied their walls until I discovered how strong they were and where the cracks were located. And then I exploited those weaknesses to my own advantage. I did this so much that what you’d call casual sit downs and light conversation with friends was like sitting down at a poker table for me. That being said, I’ve been studying all your poker faces since the plant and assessing every one of you. Know what I’ve learned up to now?”

“Go on.”

“I’ve learned that none of us know what any of us are capable of anymore because we’ve never played this game before. That includes what we once thought about ourselves. It’s all bullshit now. We’ve had to adapt and rediscover who we are. That’s the only way we beat the game. You see…the Dead own the house, and we don’t know all the rules yet. But if we don’t figure them out soon, and keep settling for the draws we’ve managed to pull off, one concept will hold true: When push comes to shove, the House always wins.”

“And all this is supposed to convince me that Charlie is dangerous? You’re losing me Frank.”

Frank laughed and said, “You don’t need convincing, Gina. The ‘tells’ are all out there in front of your face. Problem is, you’re still sitting at the old tables where guys like Charlie being dangerous make no sense. Back in the other world, calling Charlie dangerous is a losing hand. But you need to look at what’s been happening to people now… and not just our dysfunctional little family. Remember all these dead things we’ve seen? They used to be us… and now they’re something else. We’ve seen others like that, too… in Harpersfield. Again, new rules for a new game of life which we haven’t learned yet.”

Gina thought about this. “So you’re saying that because I’m still seeing Charlie as I would before things went to shit, it’s keeping me from seeing the obvious and that he’s a threat?”

“Bingo.”

Gina remained silent for a moment. She looked toward the grass. “I pulled a gun on him this morning, after the meeting. I threatened him to fall in line or I’d shoot him in the head, like I was some fucking dictator. I was… not myself.”

Frank raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You’re doing it again, Gina.”

She looked up with shame-filled eyes. “What’s that?”

“You’re thinking about who you used to be and still sitting at the wrong table. For all practical purposes, that girl you remember is dead. What you did to Charlie is only shocking and shameful because the ‘old’ you would never have done something like that… but the ‘new’ you, born out of necessity… well, you don’t know that girl yet, do you?”

“That doesn’t justify what I did. It was still wrong. I was very… cold. I could tell he was afraid of me… and part of me wanted him to be.”

Frank smiled. “Gina, you deal with right and wrong as you see fit. I’m not here to condemn or congratulate you for what you did to Charlie. What matters right now, is that you didn’t see your own actions coming… am I right?”

“Yes… you’re right about that.”

“Consider that for a moment. If you’ve overlooked the stranger residing within you… how easy would it be to miss it in another?”

“Like Charlie.”

Frank held his arms wide and said, “I rest my case.” He then stood up and asked, “Would you like me to tell you what I’ve seen in that obnoxious little twerp?”

“Please, enlighten me,” Gina said sarcastically.

“I’ve noticed a new boldness in him ever since Fairport Harbor. I think he tries to dummy it down so as not to tip off his hand, but it’s there. He’s dealing with his fears a lot better than the rest of us these days.”

“Well, good for Charlie, but that doesn’t make him dangerous.”

“Have you noticed how he had Amanda wrapped around his little finger, or how often they had slipped away together on watch when we were stuck outside of Painesville? How did that little shit manage to tame our resident drunk with the mean streak?”

“I thought about that,” Gina said. “He could’ve been manipulating her with alcohol for all we know. What else have you got?”

“Excuse my bluntness, Gina, but you do know that they were fucking… right? I mean, maybe he really is some kind of chick magnet… who am I to judge what you women find appealing.”

“Okay, thanks for the disgusting visual, and yes, I had figured that one out. You can just as easily chalk that up to desperation. Perhaps they both use sex to get their minds off being eaten alive at any moment. Again, disgusting, but being horny doesn’t make Charlie a monster either.”

“How the hell did he get ahead of the horde in Painesville? You saw the same thing I did. He should have been dead long before he made it to the ammo shop.”

Gina couldn’t disagree. “Dumb fucking luck… I don’t know.”

“Okay… you’re still unwilling to see it. Fine. But what if I told you that I believe he started the fire in Harpersfield? I smelled gasoline on him when he caught up to us. Now why the hell would the chicken-shit Charlie we’ve come to know and love go out of his way to do something so dangerous? And why keep it a secret? The old Charlie would have come along and bragged about how he saved us by burning down the church with all those grey-eyed weirdos in it. Why keep quiet about it unless it was malicious and would cause us to question the kind of man he truly is?”

“You’re telling me that Charlie burned all those people up? Bullshit. He doesn’t have it in him.”

“Again, you and I are not talking about the same Charlie at all. I’m talking about the dangerous one that’s been plotting to take over your command, right under your fucking nose; the one who tipped his hand with you earlier at the meeting.”

Gina had to admit, the look she saw in Charlie’s eyes after threatening him, was not fearful… it was pure hatred. She shook her head and changed the subject. “I’m almost tempted to ask what you did back in the day… if I thought you’d even tell me.”

Frank smiled and put his hands behind his head and stretched. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day when none of it matters anymore.”

Gina considered her old life as a stripper and wondered if any of them would believe her now if she’d told them. Meredith had been faithful in keeping the secret. “Fair enough,” she said. “Let’s get back. It will be dark before too long and I don’t want to be out here.”

“What about Charlie?” Frank asked.

“I can’t change what I’ve done. If he comes back, I’ll try to do right by him. But if he wants to go, then I hope he makes it to Ashtabula in one piece and proves us all wrong.”

“Can I ask you one more thing, Gina?”

She turned and said, “Go ahead, Frank, but Truth or Dare ends after this one.”

“Fair enough. What you did to Charlie—and to hell with whether it was right or wrong—do you stand by that decision, too?”

Gina considered her words carefully. “No, Frank. I don’t. But I’m learning that I can live with it… that I have to live with it. Both the right and the wrong decisions are my burden now.”

~~~

Next Episode 21-5

Previous Episode 21-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 21-4: 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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