Chapter 21-8: Goodbye Charlie

Posted: January 13, 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 insisted on escorting Charlie through the vineyard… alone.

The plan was simple: Take Charlie across and cut him loose near the Interstate. From there, he could follow I-90 the rest of the way into Ashtabula.

Gina had stated firmly one time, “Charlie, if you try to… call them… or whatever it is you do, I’m going to put a bullet in your back and let them tear at your remains. Are we clear?”

Charlie simply nodded.

They walked through the rows in silence, neither wanting to look at the other.

Gina kept his hands tied behind his back and had him march ten feet ahead of her.

As they neared the end of the vineyard, the haunted remains of the freeway appeared. A congested roadway, filled with bumper-to-bumper mobile tombs, sat deceptively still—void of all life.

And then she began to see the dead, roaming among the Interstate graveyard. There were just a couple at first, then ten… twenty, all shambling down the freeway, going from car to car like vultures and picking at humanity’s remains.

“You know,” Charlie finally said, “if you shoot me, you’ll bring them all right to you.”

“Don’t you worry, Charlie, I promised Meredith that I wouldn’t do it. I would love to shoot you right between the eyes for what you did to that poor girl… but I won’t.”

“Good. Then I won’t call my friends over to rip you-”

Gina pulled a long strand of duct tape off the roll she’d brought from the house.

“What are you doing?”

“Hold still,” she commanded. Gina roughly wrapped the tape around his mouth. “Insurance,” she said. “I don’t need you sending your friends back to follow me the moment you’re out of my sight.”

Charlie spoke volumes with his eyes. Gina could feel his hatred seething just below the surface. To her, Charlie was a time bomb waiting to blow. She wanted to be nowhere around him when he finally did.

“Time to go,” she said, giving Charlie a rough shove forward.

He looked back at her questionably.

“I’m not going to kill you, Charlie. So get your fucking eyes off of me!”

The sound of her voice attracted the closest dead heads.

Charlie mumbled something incoherent through the tape.

“What was that? Oh, yes, the tape… kind of makes your black magic null and void when you can’t speak. Shut up and move!” She shoved him forward again.

More zombies were moving toward them.

Charlie tried to back away.

Gina shoved him forward until he fell.

A dead man looked back up at her.

Gina backed away from the excited zombies who were moving much faster, now that they spotted easy prey on the ground.

Charlie tried to yell through the tape. But the words came out garbled.

Gina stepped back behind the vines. “I’m not going to kill you, bastard… they are.”

Charlie screams were muted out as ten zombies fell upon him.

One hideous beast took a bite out of Charlie’s neck. His freakish powers were no more.

They continued to tear him apart.

Gina smiled like the devil and continued to watch…

~~~

…“Gina… Gina…” Marcus said, gently shaking her shoulders.

She came awake with a start and then placed her hand over her forehead. She felt like someone had dropped a car on top of her after falling asleep on the living room couch. “Fuck, how long was I out?”

“Not long,” Marcus said. “You looked like you needed a rest, so we let you have it.”

She sat up and looked into his eyes. “How did it go?”

Marcus smiled. “He took the bait. All I had to do was lead him to exactly what he wanted. Made it seem like leaving was his idea.”

Gina smiled weakly. “You did well, Marcus. Thanks for giving us another option. I hope this works out the best for everyone.”

“If nothing else, it buys us time. We’ll be long gone if Charlie decides to come back.”

She nodded and got to her feet.

“He put on a good performance,” Marcus said. “I brought everyone else in the room, except Amanda, and he laid it on thick. Charlie is deeply sorry for everything he’s done and feels like shit for what almost happened in the vineyard… blah… blah… blah. He wants to make a run for the Ashtabula group to prove his intent to do right by us. He has promised to bring back help when he gets there.”

“Yeah, he’s sorry alright,” Gina said.

“Everything’s ready. We’ve packed his things, minus the weapons.”

“And he thinks we’re going to sit tight while we wait for him to find the survivors?”

Marcus nodded.

“He has no idea that we’re turning southeast toward Jefferson?”

“Not at the moment,” Marcus said. “But Charlie’s a smart guy. He’ll figure it out eventually. Let’s just hope he doesn’t have a need-to-know anytime soon.”

Gina nodded. “Is everyone else packed and ready to go? We’re leaving as soon as the others get back.”

“Everyone is packed and ready,” Marcus said. “Are you ready?”

Gina frowned. She didn’t care for this part. “Are you sure this is necessary? It’s going to be hard enough not throwing his ass out the fucking door!”

Marcus laughed. “Yes, but it will knock him off-balance. He won’t expect it from you. I believe your part is crucial in feeding his ego long enough for him to think his ‘mission’ into Ashtabula will work to his advantage again. If you come on strong, he might see you as victorious and smug, rather than regretful. If he departs feeling like you got the best of him… the consequences could be disastrous if he chooses to retaliate at another time.”

“Alright… alright… let’s get it over with before I change my mind,” Gina said. “Get him out back with his things. I’ll be out as soon as I scream into this couch cushion a hundred times.”

Marcus started to turn.

“Oh, and Marcus,” Gina said, the dream lingering heavy on her thoughts.

Marcus looked back.

“Promise me that if I ever turn into a monster, like that thing in the next room, that you will put a bullet in my head.”

~~~

Gina and Marcus were the last to join the others out back near the vineyard.

Charlie turned anxiously as Gina approached.

He held has hands up and said, “Gina, if you would please allow me to speak. I know I’m on everyone’s shit list right now… and rightfully so.”

Gina stopped before the short bald man with the banged up face. He looked painfully submissive, as Marcus assured he would be. But inside, she knew the monster was laughing at them. She took a moment to check her anger and make sure it didn’t show on her face. Just think calm, peaceful thoughts, Gina… kittens, butterflies, angels, little children on swings… that kind of shit.

She took a breath, closed her eyes for a moment and said, “Hello, Charlie. I’m sorry about your nose. It was a crazy night.”

“Yes, unfortunately, it was,” Charlie agreed. He paused for a moment to collect his words while the others stood around him, trying to appear casual and not like guards.

Charlie looked toward his feet and said, “Usually, I would’ve had some sort of clever excuse already concocted, or some line of bull ready and waiting on why I’m a valuable member of this group, despite my many faults. But what I did last night was nothing like any of those things. What I did to Amanda, and the rest of you, is inexcusable.” He looked up at Gina and frowned.

Gina waited. She unconsciously balled her right hand into a fist, digging her nails into flesh. Even now, there’s no remorse in his eyes. He’s prepared a speech which sounds humble while he uses his false humility to make himself look like the good guy in his own eyes. Unbelievable!

He looked around at the others. “I’m ashamed of my actions… plain and simple. No more Charlie bullshit. I crossed the line and there’s no easy way to come back from what I’ve done in your hearts. All I can say is that I’m truly sorry.” He looked back down toward his feet.

Marcus looked at her.

Yeah, I know, asshole. My turn. Gina took a deep breath and said, “Charlie, for what it’s worth, I’m afraid I may have pushed you to the brink when I… pulled my gun out and threatened you yesterday.”

Some of the others were surprised by the admission.

Gina hadn’t told them all yet. She was grateful Meredith wasn’t there. She was with Amanda in the house.

Charlie looked up, surprised.

“Before you took off, I felt bad about what I did, too. I threatened you and pushed you away. Made you furious after being humiliated… then you took it out on Amanda. So I feel indirectly responsible for what happened. If you’d been here, maybe none of this would’ve occurred.”

Charlie was speechless.

Gina felt like she’d just vomited all over herself with her putrid words—lies to combat lies in order to create a peaceful resolve between them.

She needed to finish or she never would. “Charlie, I’m sorry for not trying harder to understand… for not listening to you and finally for threatening you like some school yard bully. There’s no excuse for my behavior. I’ve thought most of the night about how to handle confronting you. When my anger finally moved out of the way, I realized there was one thing I could do, in light of my actions. Charlie, I forgive you.”

Charlie was shaking his head. “No… you don’t owe me anything, Gina. I’m the one who lost my head out in the vineyard. I’m the one who almost got Amanda killed.”

No… you’re the sick fuck who almost murdered Amanda. Gina’s happy thoughts were starting to fall apart.

Charlie continued, “And now you all know what I can do… my ability.”

No one knew what to safely say.

“I know you’re all afraid of me… and rightly so after what I did last night. I lost your trust and must earn it back.”

“What are you suggesting, Charlie?” Marcus prompted.

Charlie let the silence linger for dramatic effect.

Oh, Gawd! Somebody please shoot this prick, or shoot me! Gina was trying to hide her contempt.

“You need to let me go to Ashtabula. Let me find that group, or die trying. This way, you don’t have to watch your backs wondering what I’ll do next, and hopefully, I’ll find some help and bring them back. I know that doesn’t make it all better… but it has to be a start. Right?” Charlie smiled.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Charlie?” Gina asked. “You’d be taking an incredible risk out there on your own.”

“I think it’s the best solution for everyone,” Charlie said. “Dangerous? No less dangerous than letting a man who commands the undead stay inside your camp. There’s really no other solution that I can see.”

I can think of another, Gina thought, picturing a nice bullet wound on Charlie’s forehead.

After another pause, Charlie picked up his pack and said, “Alright, it’s time to earn my keep and win your respect back. It should take me a day to get there.” He stopped and turned to Gina. “Will you wait for me… here? Just please give me two days. If I’m not back by then… I’m probably dead.”

“Yes, Charlie, we can do that. Two days. I think the rest would do everyone some good. If you’re not back by then we’re going to start looking for you, so please, make it back safely.” She smiled, vowing silently to cut her lying tongue out when Charlie was gone.

“Very good then,” Charlie smiled back and placed his pack on his back.

After some brief goodbyes and nods, Charlie turned toward the vineyard, stopped, and then said, “I almost forgot.”

Gina was confused. “What was that?”

Charlie shook his head. “Amanda, of course. I almost left without her.”

Gina’s mask fell apart, clearly revealing her loathing of the little monster.

Charlie saw it immediately and frowned. Looking into Gina’s face at that moment was like looking into the sun and feeling its intensity as the star began to implode.

He stood for a moment more, trying to read her.

“Goodbye, Charlie,” was all she said and then she turned and headed toward the house. She never wanted to look at his face again.

Marcus followed her into the house. “You alright?”

“I’ll live,” she said. “Is he leaving?”

“Yes. He left as soon as you walked away. I think he was afraid you’d turn him into stone.”

“Was it that obvious?”

Marcus sighed. “Yes. Everyone could see how much you despised the man in that last moment. But all-in-all, I think it went very well.”

“What about Frank and Greg?”

Marcus nodded. “They’re going to follow him from a distance to make sure he’s still set on making it to the freeway. They’ll come back as soon as it’s done.”

“Let’s be ready. We’re leaving immediately after they get back.”

Marcus saluted. “And you?”

She turned. “I’m going to tell Amanda that the monster has finally left the fucking building!”

~~~

After departing the vineyard home, they continued northeast on Route 307 reaching the outskirts of the small farming community of Austinburg two hours before sunset. From there, Route 307 curved toward the southeast, with an estimated two-day hike to get to the town of Jefferson where they hoped to restock their dwindling supplies.

They had only encountered a handful of the dead along the way, mostly wandering alone, which were easily avoided by ducking off the road and waiting them out in nearby fields that hid them from view. Each time the monsters had simply shambled on through, oblivious to everything, including their own abominable existence.

Gina picked out a field, once used for grazing horses, to set camp for the night. There was a small pond at the center beside an old willow tree, which made great cover for a small fire. The field was surrounded by a sturdy fence that looked sufficient to keep the beasts from wandering into their camp.

Through the night, Gina set up two-person patrols to walk the perimeter around the pond while everyone else slept restlessly as dead things and doubts invaded their dreams.

Stephen and Marcus started their watch in the safety of silence, each still processing the madness at the vineyard.

Marcus finally spoke. “So how are you holding up these days, my friend… all things considering?”

Stephen surfaced from his troubled thoughts. “As well as anyone, I suppose. Does breathing still count?”

Marcus laughed. “Yes, there is still that isn’t there. No matter what horrible circumstances are presented before us, all one has to do these days is say, ‘At least I’m still alive’ and it just makes all those trivial problems go away.”

Stephen gave him a strange look, saw his smirk, and said, “Ahh… sarcasm. You just reminded me of how I seriously need to be reacquainted with the not-so-serious subtleties of conversation. Humor of any kind is becoming an endangered species around here.”

“Oh, it better not,” Marcus added. “The ability to laugh at ourselves is the only real thing separating us from the mindless flesh eaters out there… well… that… and the mindless flesh eating.”

Stephen laughed. The sound of it sounded so strange to his own ears. “Thanks, Marcus. You know how to take the edge off the zombie apocalypse.”

“I try,” he said with false bravado. “Comedy aside, are you okay? I can’t imagine it was easy to witness what you saw in the vineyard.”

“I was only gone for a few minutes,” Stephen blurted out. “I keep telling myself that it’s not my fault. I wanted her to come inside but she overruled me in her usual way.”

“Yes, she does that often,” Marcus laughed. “You’re right, of course. You can’t blame yourself. Charlie is a smart man. He just would’ve found another way to get her out there.”

Stephen nodded. “I’m just glad she’s alright. I never saw it coming, you know? I mean, who would have thought that Charlie was capable of something so awful? And on top of it, to find out that he has some sort of ‘zombie super power’… it’s mind boggling.”

“Well… it’s certainly not dull out here, that’s for sure,” Marcus added with a wink. “Trust me, my friend, you aren’t the only one with heavy thoughts. I had a long talk with Charlie before he left. I found out that he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Can you imagine that? Naturally, I didn’t believe him. But afterwards, I started to wonder why he would feel so… blameless about the whole matter, unless there was more to the story.”

“What do you mean?”

Marcus turned and whispered, “Just between you and me, I’m starting to wonder if Amanda had something to do with Charlie’s crazy behavior.”

Stephen stopped. “Are you telling me that you think Amanda… what… wanted it to happen? That’s insane!”

Marcus held out his hand. “I’m not saying that she wanted to get bit by Charlie’s zombie friend. But maybe things started on a mutual level and then got out of hand later.”

“Stop beating around the bush, Marcus. Spit it out.”

“Okay,” he said. “Charlie kept referring to their ‘arrangement’. I didn’t connect the dots then, but what if he was referring to something… sexual? It would explain a lot of things, such as why they appeared as the new couple for a while.”

Stephen shook his head. “No way. That’s just sick. Amanda is capable of a lot of things, but you can’t tell me that she’d be okay with what I saw! She was terrified, Marcus.”

Marcus let out a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right, Stephen. But I just can’t shake that she had a part in it somehow. Like I said, maybe it started out as some kinky idea which quickly got out of control.”

“Amanda would not be a party to something so… base!”

“Stephen, I know you’re aware of how she spent her time at the plant… in the tent community. She established a reputation for herself in a hurry doing a lot of naughty things. My point is, how well do we really know each other? What may seem sick and offensive to you and I, may be thrilling and exciting to someone like Amanda.”

Stephen was getting upset. “Look, Charlie lost his marbles somewhere along the way, probably when he acquired this new ability. Arrangement or no arrangement, sex or otherwise, she would never do something as vile as what I witnessed! I’m sure she’s done things, things I know she regrets, but I’ve come to find out that Nicole is a great person… a wonderful girl, in fact!”

Marcus gave him a surprised look. “You meant ‘Amanda’… ‘Amanda is a great person’.”

“That’s what I said!”

“No… you said ‘Nicole’.”

~~~

Amanda woke for the third time that evening wanting to scream as she lifted her arms over her face to protect herself from demons which weren’t there. She felt like the night was trying to smother her. Her sleep was an amusement park of nightmare rides and taunting laughter as various scenarios played out in her dreams which always ended with a zombie version of herself jumping out of the shadows and tearing into her flesh.

She staggered to her feet, grabbed her pack, and quietly departed her spot from around the small fire beneath the willow. Everyone was sleeping soundly, including Meredith, who’d been watching over her like a protective mother hen since the incident with Charlie.

Amanda desperately needed some alone time. She walked over to the pond and sat near the edge, watching the moonlight shimmer across the calm surface.

She placed the pack down between her legs and unzipped the bag.

The unopened bottle of Jack Daniels, which she’d grabbed from the laundry room before departing the vineyard home, called out to her:

Missed me, didn’t you? Go on, have a taste… it can be just like old times again. Just you and me, laughing the night away on a barstool in hell.

She grabbed the neck of the bottle, intending to toss it into the pond.

You need me, Amanda, the bottle mocked. You’ve always needed me. Don’t do something you’ll regret later when everything comes back to haunt you… all those things you know you’ll need to forget.

“Fuck you,” she hissed into the night. “I don’t need you anymore.”

Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, it teased, I own you… and you know it.

“When I die, it’s going to be on my terms,” she promised herself.

She was about to throw it again, felt the sick need overwhelm her anger, and put it back.

Amanda’s shoulders dropped as she zipped up her bag, disgusted by the sight of her master. “I’m such a cowardly bitch,” she whispered, staring out despondingly toward the pond.

“May I join you?” Marcus said, surprising her from behind.

Amanda jumped up, nearly knocking her bag into the water. “Shit, Marcus! Where did you come from?”

He sat down a few feet away and said, “Just got relieved. I saw you wandering off and I thought maybe we could talk… if that’s okay?”

“Alright,” she said, sitting back down. “But just don’t ask me how I’m feeling. I’m tired of answering that one.”

Marcus looked at her bandaged wrists. “Do they still hurt?”

“Only when I look at them,” she smiled. “Meredith thought I was trying to rip my own hands off when she first saw them. I was so fucking scared at the time… if the others hadn’t shown up when they did, I might have.”

Marcus nodded thoughtfully and then said, “I’m sorry we never had a chance to clear the air between us. Things got crazy and crazier and then when just finding enough to eat and not get eaten ourselves became our lives, everything else didn’t matter so much.”

“Yeah, no, I understand what you’re saying.” She unconsciously stared at the bag. “I had some shit to work through on top of everything else. There wasn’t much time to mend fences.”

“Well, I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re still with us. I’ve lost a good deal of sleep lately trying to figure out why none of us saw the warning signs ahead of time… perhaps we could have dealt with Charlie much sooner.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it,” Amanda said with a weak smile. “What happened between me and Charlie was my own fault. I let him scare me into submission and kept everyone in the dark when I should’ve been telling everyone what he could do. Truth is, I didn’t think any of you would’ve believed me anyway. You know, ‘listen to the drunk with the crazy story’ kind of thing.”

“I believe you did try to warn us in Painesville.”

She laughed. “Yeah, but my credibility was for shit. I was surprised Gina didn’t suggest leaving me there, too.”

Marcus laughed. “Anyway, I hope there’s still time to ‘mend those fences’ between us when things get better again.”

“Me too,” she added, half-heartedly.

Marcus waited. He was staring at his feet.

“Was there something else?” she asked. “I’ve never seen you look so… distracted. It’s not your style.”

He smiled. “Usually I’m pretty good about letting things go, but I must confess, Charlie’s behavior really did a number on me. I never saw it coming. It got me thinking about how many more secrets might be tucked away in the bottom of our bags… and how seriously treacherous those secrets can be.”

“You have a secret to share, Marcus?” she teased.

He looked at her gravely. “As a matter of fact, I do.”

She lost all humor and started thinking about the bottle in her bag again. “Something you want to get off your chest, then? Go ahead, I’m listening.”

Marcus sighed heavily and nodded. He took off his small pack and sat it in front of him. “I just want you to know, Amanda, that what I’m about to give you has bothered me for quite some time. My initial reaction, when I first came into possession of it, was to just give it to you. But after seeing how hard you were trying to get free of the alcohol, I wanted to wait until you were… stronger.”

“You’re starting to worry me, Marcus. As long as it’s not an engagement ring and a proposal, I think I’ll be able to handle it,” she teased.

Marcus smiled weakly. “There’s no good way to do this, so I’ll just give it to you now. I’m tired of carrying around this secret. It’s been a horrible load to bear.”

He reached into his pack and pulled out a small notebook which looked like it had been through hell and back.

“What’s that?” Amanda asked.

“When we all got separated at the marina, I found Stephen half-dead with a fever wandering the woods. He’d been carrying this. I held on to it for him, intending to give it back when he felt better. My curiosity got the better of me so I took a peek. Needless to say, I wish I never had. Anyway, when he recovered, Stephen never inquired about it, so I assumed he believed he’d lost it. I decided to hold on to it because of the damage it might cause to the both of you. But now, I don’t want to carry this secret any longer. There’s been enough secrets.” He handed the book to Amanda.

She reluctantly took the damaged book. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“A lot of it’s ruined. I think it got soaked when Stephen and Gina fell into the Grand River. But there’s still enough of it there to… understand.”

Amanda opened it to the first page. Most of it was covered in smeared ink, all except for the title. She read it:

“A Higher Education: Tales from My Fucked-up Life,” Amanda said. She quickly closed the book and looked to Marcus. “It’s his journal, right? Stephen’s journal? My God, Marcus, why didn’t you give it back to him? We have no business reading this.”

Marcus frowned and rubbed his temples. “It’s not Stephen’s journal, Amanda. It’s your daughter’s diary.”

~~~

Next Episode 22-1

Previous Episode 21-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 21-8: 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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Comments
  1. nashmcgowan says:

    Obviously there are a lot of great story lines in this novel but the Amanda/Stephen/Nicole story is the most intriguing IMO. Looks like the secret will be let soon. That’ll be a fun chapter.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Nash, you called it. In fact, this next chapter is the final chapter of Book Two which will take 13 episodes to complete… which translates: a whole lot of shit is about to hit the fan ;)

      Like

  2. Kotawa Ma says:

    Wow. I’ve scarcely been so eager to kick a fictional character’s ass. Guess it’s a proof of your good writing !

    Like

  3. Zaca says:

    I’m getting excited. I want to see what Marcus has cooked up.

    Like

  4. oncegiants says:

    Whoa. I’m still going! Will have to drop in some likes. You really know how to make a character heinous. I need to steal some ideas off you! Felt like executing Charlie myself xD

    Like

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