Chapter 22-5: Almost Dead

Posted: January 25, 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 and the others lost track of time as full dark crept in. Miss Marple and Rusty had kept them entertained for a couple of hours as they talked away about the history of their beloved town and what life was like before the world changed and left Jefferson a virtual ghost town overnight.

As she continued to enforce the ‘no zombie’ talk at the supper table, Miss Marple had her guests tied up in memories of what was, as each member of Gina’s group let their own nostalgia of better days keep them her willing hostages.

The families also warmed up to Gina’s group, letting the children loose to investigate the strangers who attacked them with blunt curiosity which only children could muster. They asked them questions from ‘Who their favorite cartoon characters were?’ to ‘How did Gina change her hair color red?’ Of course, Meredith’s favorite question had come from a little girl who had stormed right up to Frank and asked, ‘Are you the giant who lives up at the top of Jack’s beanstalk?’

Everyone except Marcus, who had returned to the table after leaving Amanda, was enjoying themselves and the break from their dark journey. He simply sat back in silence and watched his traveling companions transform into their former selves.

Stephen turned to him and said, “Too much yesterday for your taste, I suppose.”

Marcus smiled and said, “Laughter’s good for the soul, my friend. Whether it comes from yesterday or tomorrow, you won’t find me objectionable. I just hope you realize that our hard road still awaits us in the morning and that the intoxication these memories afford will only add up to a bitter hangover once we’re back out there again. ”

Stephen frowned and said, “You certainly know how to kill a mood.”

“Just keeping it real, my friend… but please, enjoy this while you can. You’ve all earned it.”

Gina turned away from present conversations long enough to catch the tail end of what Marcus had said. She quickly understood why Miss Marple’s rule was in effect as she let Marcus’s comments toward Stephen slowly steal from her mood.

He’s right, she thought. No matter what this is right now, we’ll still have to leave in the morning. A day or two down the road and this wonderful supper and all of Rusty’s people will just be another memory which won’t keep us safe, stop the nightmares, or put food in our bellies.

“You alright, Gina?” Greg asked. “You look like someone who found out her favorite pet just got ran over in the street.”

She smiled at the analogy and spoke low enough for only him to hear. “What if this is it, Greg? What if this is as good as it gets for us?”

“Are you havin’ doubts about the mountains?” he asked. “I still think it’s a sound plan. And we’ll get there… we will.”

She nodded. “It’s not that…” She looked around at the table full of life and then back to Greg. “All this fighting and struggling just to find a safe place… and for what? So we can live like hermits in a fucking cave? Look around, Greg. Surviving is one thing… but this is living. What if we don’t find anyone else out in the mountains and things continue to get worse? Are we just trading in a quick death for a life of isolation instead? I can’t imagine the long-term effects of being cut off… from everything. ”

Greg gave her a long look and then smiled, understanding her dilemma. “You want to stay right here.”

She gave him a pleading look and asked, “Is that so wrong? Am I letting all this hospitality cloud my judgment?”

“Well, they have done alright for themselves with what little they have. Hell, Rusty’s managed to turn his group of teens into a protective fighting force.” He leaned in and added, “But I’d be willin’ to wager that the feelin’ is mutual and that Rusty wouldn’t mind us stayin’ as much as we don’t wanna leave. He could benefit from havin’ us here, too. Remember what Rusty said about first impressions? I’m startin’ to think he really wants us to like it here.”

“But what about the plan?” she added weakly. “The mountain refuge would surely be the safest place in the long run… safer than hiding out in this town. God only knows how safe these people truly are here.”

“True,” Greg said. “But it’s like you said… survivin’ isn’t everything. Maybe the risk these good folks take by stayin’ here is worth it. The hermit in the cave might live longer than the fool in town… but maybe outlastin’ the rest of the world at the price of remainin’ alone isn’t worth livin’ that long.”

Gina smiled at the man and said, “On top of everything else, you’re a damn philosopher, too?”

Greg laughed and tugged at his beard. “No, Gina,” he said with a wink. “I’m just that fool from town.”

Gina leaned back in her chair and said, “Me, too.”

Miss Marple stood up and announced, “Alright, everyone, it’s getting late. Kids and old ladies still need their rest and I for one can’t keep up with all you young folk.”

As if on cue, the families started gathering their children and saying goodnight to their guests.

Miss Marple turned to Rusty and the others and said, “Now, I’ll leave you all to your dark discussions, for I’m sure there’s a lot on your minds. You’ll have to excuse me, I’ll leave you in Rusty’s capable hands. It’s been a pleasure meeting you all and I’ve enjoyed your company. With any luck, maybe you will all see fit to stay another day or so and I’ll get to see you all tomorrow night.”

“Now that will be enough of that,” Rusty stopped her with a smile. “Go on and get some sleep, you old bat, before you start making offers which aren’t on the table yet.”

“Well ex-CUSE me!” she said. “I was just trying to save you time by getting to the damn point! You men folk always want to take the long way around to the obvious.”

“Goodnight, Miss Marple,” Rusty said, shaking his head.

“Goodnight, oh, fearless leader and sage of Jefferson,” she called back teasingly. She nodded to the others who thanked her for the hospitality.

She finished with, “For anyone else who’s tired, we’ve set aside a room for you to sleep in. First door to your left on the third floor. There’s plenty of space for you all to stretch out.”

They all watched her walk away.

“I really like her,” Stephen said with a smile, patting his full belly.

Rusty laughed and said, “Now that’s just the food talking, son. Don’t let her bewitch you by way of your appetite.”

“I’ll try… but it will be tough,” he said with a smile. “Gina, I’m liking the whole sleep thing right about now. Do you mind?”

“No, please,” she said. “Anyone else need a nap, now’s the time. Myself, Greg and Frank want to stay a bit longer and talk with Rusty. The rest of you should get a few hours.”

“That sounds delightful,” Meredith said, rising to her feet. “Stephen, would you accompany me?” she asked.

They both nodded to Gina and followed Miss Marple down to the third floor.

Marcus got to his feet. “I’ll go fetch Amanda so she can get some sleep as well,” he told Gina.

“Sounds like a plan, Marcus,” she said. “Get some sleep yourself. We’ll take the first watch and wake the rest of you in a few hours.”

Marcus nodded and departed.

Rusty laughed. “Gina, you run a tight ship.”

“Our experiences have taught us that there’s no such thing is being too careful,” she offered. “The moment we let our guard down is when trouble seems to bite us in the ass.”

Rusty nodded. “I can appreciate that.” He then studied his three remaining guests and added, “Well, now that Miss Marple’s spoken out of turn, I guess there’s nothing to do but come out with it. You all seem like good folks. Good folks who have had a lot of bad breaks. If you’re dead set on leaving in the morning, then I’ll honor my word and send you off with some supplies for the road.”

“I hear a big ‘but’ coming,” Frank said and folded his arms. “Is this the part where you charge us room and board but tell us it’s ‘cash only’? I hope not because I’ve been carrying around this fucking American Express card and I’ve been dying to max it out ever since the apocalypse started.”

Rusty turned to Gina and raised an eyebrow. “Does he always do that?”

“What… you mean tell jokes that he thinks are funny?” Gina said. “Yeah… I’ve tried to tell him, but he just can’t help himself.”

Frank blew her a kiss.

“Anyway,” Rusty continued, “your big friend is correct. I won’t stop you if you’re bound and determined to move on… but… I would love a chance to talk you out of it.”

“To what end?” Gina asked.

“Why… I think it’s obvious. We’d all love to have you join our community.”

Greg elbowed Gina with a big smile on his face.

Gina tried her best to maintain a poker face. On the inside she was doing a joyful dance. She said, “We’re trying to reach the mountains. We know of a cabin out there which is off the beaten path. Once we’re there, we plan on staying put until this nightmare is over. I think you’ve done an excellent job keeping this place secure but you’re still in harm’s way here. But… I’m willing to consider your proposal.”

“Good… good,” Rusty said, getting up. “Then I’ll go break out those cold beers I mentioned earlier… now that I know I won’t be wasting them on deaf ears.”

Frank waited until Rusty was out of ear shot and then turned to Gina and said, “Are we seriously considering staying?”

Gina answered, “Why… are you against the possibility?”

Frank smiled and said, “The old geezer already had me at ‘cold beers’.”

~~~

Cole, Roger and Casey heard a knock at the front door and quickly let Tommy and Brian back inside.

“Wh- where’s the woman… and the supplies?” Cole asked.

They were both out of breath, rushing to get back as fast as possible. Tommy shook his head and said, “We need to find some guy named, Marcus.”

“Fucking woman went nuts!” Brian added. “She’s taken over the bar! I think this Marcus guy is the only one who can make her come back.”

“If we don’t find him quick and get her back here, we’re fucked!” Tommy said. He stopped abruptly, noticing that the others looked like they had just wet themselves. “What the hell is going on?”

All three of the teens pointed behind them toward a man who stood in the shadows against the wall.

“I think what you’re friends are incapable of conveying… Tommy… is that you are already ‘fucked’.” Marcus stepped into the light, folded his arms and demanded, “Now, tell me again where you took my friend and then you better have a damn good reason why you left her out there.”

Roger said with a heavy sigh, “This is Marcus.”

Tommy and Brian began talking over each other, trying to explain what had happened. They were both careful to omit Amanda’s sexual propositions from the story.

“Give him the damn note,” Brian reminded Tommy.

“Shit, almost forgot.” Tommy fumbled through his pockets until he found Amanda’s message. “She wanted me to give you this. She was very insistent.”

Marcus took the note and read it.

Tommy and the others noticed the frown on Marcus’s face grew harder.

“Shit,” he finally said.

“Is… everything okay?” Brian foolishly asked.

Marcus answered with a cold look and then addressed them all. “You’re all going to be in some serious trouble if you don’t help me fix this.”

“Sure thing,” Tommy said. “What do you need us to do?”

“All of you are to remain right here until I get back. There’s going to be one more unscheduled run this evening. Am I making myself very clear?”

They all nodded.

“If I can remedy this, there’s a chance Rusty may never have to find out about your stupidity tonight. So don’t fuck with me.”

“We’ll all wait, Mister,” Brian said. “We didn’t mean for this to happen… honest.”

Marcus ignored them and read the note again:

Sorry, Marcus, but I have to take care of this my way. Don’t try to stop me. Tell Stephen that I read Marie’s diary and to meet me at The Last Call. It shouldn’t take much persuasion to get him here. Tommy can take him. If things go to hell, tell the others that I’m sorry for everything.

~~~

After an hour of lying in the darkness and staring at shadows on the ceiling, Stephen gave up on sleeping and quietly stepped out of the room, being mindful not to wake up Meredith who slept like the dead on the couch along the opposite wall. So far, they were the only two who had taken advantage of the vacant room their gracious host had provided for them. Well, at least one of us will be rested in the morning.

He entered the third floor hallway and let out a heavy sigh. Like everyone else, he was exhausted, but his troubled mind would not cooperate. Stephen turned to his left and headed for the large window at the end of the hall which let in the moonlight. He stared out at the indifferent moon and then down toward the top of a large tree which dominated the view. Nothing down there to see anyway… just another ghost town, he thought grimly.

His thoughts drifted back to Amanda, the source of his sleepless evening.

Something’s wrong. I thought it was just what happened to her at the vineyard but she’s different now… colder. He knew it was more than that: She’s turned cold… towards me.

“And what did you expect, my love?” came the personified voice of his madness from behind him.

Stephen closed his eyes and tried to shut Nicole out.

“Stephen… please don’t treat me like this. I’m only here because you need me.”

He opened his eyes and turned toward the voice.

Nicole was sitting against the wall with her knees up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them. She was wearing what looked like a set of Stephen’s old pajamas. Her long hair hung limp over her shoulders as if she’d just had a shower. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said with a smile. “They looked comfortable.”

Stephen let out a tired laugh at the absurdity of the hallucination. “It looks like I’ve dressed you in accordance with my desperate need for sleep.”

Nicole frowned. “I do wish you would stop that, Stephen.”

He laughed again. “Now that’s classic. My own madness is telling me to stop now. If only I had-”

“Stop treating me like I’m not real!” she fumed.

Stephen stopped abruptly and backed up against the wall as the image of Nicole briefly flickered and the bloody one-eyed girl appeared, before returning to wearing pajamas.

“What the hell are you?” Stephen asked. “What the hell’s the matter with me?”

Nicole put her face in her hands and said, “I’m… I’m sorry, my love. I don’t mean to frighten you. But when you treat me like I’m not even there… it hurts. It really hurts.” She began to weep softly.

“I’m sorry,” Stephen said. “Please… please stop, okay? I’m just tired and I don’t know what I’m saying anymore.”

Nicole looked up. “I’m trying to help you, my love. I’m doing all I can… under the circumstances… to be there for you. Don’t you see that?”

Stephen could almost believe Nicole was there. Almost. “I guess I’m just afraid.”

Nicole smiled. “What… of me? My love, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I know our relationship has changed, I know this is hard to get used to, but it’s still us… the way we were always meant to be.”

Stephen nodded and said, “Let me explain. I’m afraid that if I accept… this… whatever this is, I will have officially gone crazy with no recourse other than to ask the others to put me out of my misery.”

“But you’re not crazy, Stephen. You just can’t accept it yet… I understand. You’ve spent too many years relying on your intellect. And now, when something comes along, which your mind can’t comprehend or place neatly in its proper place, you immediately reject it… reject me. But your heart is what brings me back. It’s not madness to admit that I’m really here… it’s accepting that your heart demands it, despite what your mind refuses, that’s what matters. When you can see this clearly, you won’t care anymore and we’ll finally be together.”

What if she’s right? The question immediately shook him to the core. All of his defensive mental mechanisms began to scream out in protest against such an illogical line of thinking.

Nicole looked straight into his eyes. “It’s your heart that knows I’m right. For your sake… I have to be.”

“What does that mean?”

Nicole was gone.

“Who are you talking to, Stephen?” Marcus asked, stepping out of the dark end of the hall.

“Where did you come from?” Stephen asked, feeling exposed.

“I came looking for you,” Marcus said, studying the former teacher. “You weren’t in the room and then I heard you whispering down here.”

“I was praying,” he lied. “I thought this looked like a private place… obviously I was wrong.”

Marcus hesitated for what felt like an eternity to Stephen. He finally said, “Okay. I’m sorry for disturbing you.”

“What did you want? You said you were looking for me?”

Marcus let out a heavy sigh. “We need to talk about Amanda.”

Stephen looked anxious. “Has something happened? Is she alright?”

“She’s not alright, Stephen. She is definitely not alright.”

Stephen could see it in Marcus’s condemning stare. Oh, God, she knows! I don’t know how… but she knows!

Marcus carefully asked the question, “What can you tell me about Amanda’s daughter, Marie… or as she calls herself in her diary, Nicole?”

Stephen did pray then. He silently prayed for the moon to fall from the sky and crush him immediately. “You found my… Nicole’s diary? I… I thought I lost it along the river. Does Amanda know?”

Marcus gave Stephen the short version of all the events, starting with how he came into possession of the diary in the woods when Stephen fell ill, to when he decided to give it to Amanda after Charlie nearly killed her. He told him how he’d been keeping Amanda away from him for the last two days while they were waiting for the right time to confront him about it.

Stephen simply sat against the wall, stared at his feet and listened, feeling like a man who’d been living on borrowed time ever since committing the crimes which were now being called into account.

“…And that’s about it,” Marcus finished. “Against my discretion, Amanda’s gone behind my back and made arrangements to meet with you at a bar in town and she won’t come back until you go to her.”

Stephen nodded. He looked up toward the spot along the wall where Nicole had been, hoping for once that she would be there to make this alright somehow.

And of course, he knew that she wouldn’t be.

“You must think I’m a despicable man,” Stephen said at last.

Marcus gave him a puzzled look. “I took the diary from you, read it, and then gave it to Amanda. I guess that makes us both despicable… depending on who you ask.”

Stephen shook his head. “Doesn’t matter what you did. I could’ve thrown her diary out a long time ago… but it just felt wrong, like trying to hide it. What matters now is that I own up for what I did and try to work this out. So she’s at this bar, right now?”

“Yes.”

“Then I better get going before she’s too drunk to hear an apology. Not that I think it will matter.”

Marcus continued to stare at him. “Why don’t you tell me the rest, first?”

“Excuse me?” His heart began to race.

“You had sex with Amanda’s daughter, she was under the age of consent, but from what I’ve read, it seems like you were seduced by her… correct?”

“That doesn’t matter. What I did was still wrong. I’m not going to let Nicole take the blame for my poor choices. She’s been through enough.”

Marcus pointed and said, “There it is.”

“What?”

“For a moment, you sounded just like Nicole when she defended you… it’s all there in the diary.”

Stephen said nothing.

“Are you in love with her?”

“That’s insane!” Stephen said. “Nicole is dead! Why would you ask that?”

Marcus shook his head. “Because there’s more going on than what the diary is telling me. Your defensiveness all but confirms it.”

“It doesn’t matter! None of it matters!” Stephen tried to calm down. “Look, let’s just get this over with. Tell me how to find Amanda.”

“No.”

“What?”

“Tell me the rest. No more secrets.”

“I… can’t.”

“I won’t judge you. Whatever happened is all part of a dying past which no longer belongs in this world.”

“Then why push this? Isn’t what you already know… what Amanda already knows… isn’t that enough?”

“It doesn’t explain why you kept the diary or how you came into possession of it to begin with. It doesn’t explain why you kept reading it every night when you thought no one was looking.”

“That’s none of your fucking business!”

“It doesn’t explain why you continue to keep a dead girl alive… unless you can’t let her go.”

Marcus’s words struck too close to the home that held his madness.

Unless I really do love her, his mind declared surprisingly.

Stephen turned to Marcus and whispered, “I killed her.”

“Come again?”

Now that he’d said the words, he couldn’t stop. “She came up behind me in the dorm. I was terrified. I turned and thought she was… one of those things, and I stabbed her in the fucking eye before I realized what I’d done.”

Marcus said nothing.

“She was holding the diary when it happened. I was in shock. I picked it up and stuffed it into my shirt…” Stephen stopped. And now it’s really over. He’ll tell the others and they will all know they’ve been traveling with a murderer.

Marcus turned to look down the dark hall as if checking to see if the shadows had been listening. He looked at Stephen and said, “We should go. Tommy will take you to the bar.”

Stephen nodded. “That’s it? I tell you I murdered Amanda’s daughter and you’ve nothing more to say?”

“It doesn’t matter what I say or don’t say, Stephen. What matters is what you tell Amanda.”

“It matters to me.”

Marcus frowned. “There’s nothing I can say that will fix this. Even if it were possible for Amanda to forgive you, nothing will make this go away.”

Stephen felt completely defeated. “Then there’s no hope for me, is there?”

Marcus offered a weak smile. “You’ve managed to survive this long with the knowledge of what you’ve done. Regardless of what happens next, you will find a way to live with it. That’s all there really is.”

“So I assume you’ll tell the others when I’m gone,” Stephen said.

“We will cross that bridge when the time comes. Let’s just focus on the matter at hand.”

“You’re right,” Stephen said, somehow finding the strength to stand. “Take me to Tommy.”

Marcus hesitated. “Stephen, does knowing your secrets are out in the open diminish the fear now?”

He found the question odd, but after thinking about it, he had an answer. “Yes. I feel less smothered by it now. There’s no more wondering what will happen if Amanda ever found out… Surprisingly, I’m ready to face this… I need to face this.”

“That’s good to hear,” Marcus said. “Because I think it’s only fair to warn you that I believe Amanda intends to kill you tonight.”

~~~

Next Episode 22-6

Previous Episode 22-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 22-5: Almost Dead” 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:

    Another good chapter, I love the way this is being set up. I have a question from way back at the beginning. So obviously this story has a tone of characters. It seems they are all interconnected some how. But what happened to Russell? Did he die and I just don’t remember it? How did he fit in with the rest of the characters? I know one connection (albeit quite distant) being through Janet/Gerald and the Demon Night Party. Help a brother out lol

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Nash, all I can say about the Russell Bower question is that the answer is in the next book (sorry… no spoilers). I’m glad you’re enjoying these set up episodes. Episode 22-6 on Wednesday will start the downhill run of this chapter.

      Liked by 1 person

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