~~~

Exiled – Day 10

Gina packed as much food as she could carry, along with her weapons, and traveled south of Interstate 90. She’d found a larger stream at the bottom of a small valley and had followed it for the next two days, moving deeper into the woods. She’d stashed the remainder of the food supplies in a hollowed out oak tree a mile south of the pine forest camp, near the stream, and had marked the tree in such a way that only she could find it if she needed to circle back and resupply.

The valley hid her from the increasing dead population roaming the southern portion of the large forest, making her trip uneventful.

Her only objective for wandering deeper into the woods was to find some shelter, cabin… anything she could use for a new camp while she continued to explore the forest. Gina was still spooked by the undetected visitor who had invaded her pine forest camp two nights ago, and now, she wanted something with four walls and a roof, something she could reinforce and defend from further intrusions.

By late afternoon, Gina moved up out of the cooler valley to set up camp for the evening. That’s when she realized she’d reached the southern border of the large forest.

She discovered a tall rusted chain-link fence just beyond the tree line that prohibited her from traveling any farther south. On the other side of the fence was a two-lane narrow road that ran parallel to the fence. Just past that, the landscape changed considerably as it rose up out of the forest and then leveled out, appearing to be some vast farmland or field. She needed a better vantage point to be sure.

Gina found a tall tree near the edge of the forest. She removed her gear and climbed the tree until she got a good view of the flatlands to the south.

“Well, shit,” she whispered to herself.

What she’d discovered was not another field, but a small abandoned airport.

~~~

After twenty minutes of scrutinizing the airport from the above, Gina climbed back down and sat on the ground, releasing a heavy sigh as she leaned her back against the tree.

The airport had a single runway with a parallel turnaround lane that Gina estimated was about a mile long. There were three large hangars and several smaller garages or storage units surrounding what looked like a main terminal with a communication tower. The chain link fence appeared to extend entirely around the airport property keeping the dead out.

It had all seemed so promising at first. Gina had started considering making the terminal her temporary camp, especially since the communication tower would make a perfect observation post. But then she noticed movement in and around the hangars. Yes, there were people there. At first, she thought it was the dead, but then she noticed the automatic weapons they were carrying. Sentries, she’d thought. Whoever’s down there, they’re organized and guarding the place.

After counting twelve armed individuals, Gina had seen enough.

She shook her head at the base of the tree. “Did you really expect a place like that to go undiscovered after all this time?” she scolded herself. She released a bitter laugh. “For a world greatly reduced in population, I have a real knack for finding whoever’s left. Must be my curse: Exiled woman is forced to watch the remnants of humanity move on from the confines of the wild.” And then a desperate thought struck her. “I could watch them a bit more, get a sense of what they’re about, and then… maybe… join them? They look prepared, organized, probably have established leadership.” She frowned and finished. “But most importantly, none of them know me… or what I’ve done. Yeah… I could… I could get cleaned up, introduce myself. Show them I have skills they need, tell them about my supplies… and just join whatever cause they’re claiming. Then, I wouldn’t have to be-”

Alone.

She rose to her feet, angered by her moment of weakness. She started to pace. “No! It always ends the same! Doesn’t matter how many they have, or how many weapons—someone always ruins it for the rest. Someone will talk about the good-old-days and want to go find more people! They’ll get infected by all that bullshit until they screw up what they have and go chasing after ghosts! Then… then… they’ll see that I’m not like them anymore… that I’m a real survivor… and they’ll start to talk. They’ll say, ‘What’s wrong with that strange woman? All she wants to do is fight and survive, and for what? Just to stay at this stupid airport while the rest of our families are still out there… missing.’” Gina kicked at the tree. “Yeah, then after that poison of Hope infects their camp, they’ll turn on each other and want to leave. Some will stay. Some will look to me for answers… they always fucking do! And then they’ll know who I really am! They’ll know that I’m no good at feeding them hope, feeding them lies about how the world’s going to right itself eventually, and then I’ll end up right back here in these woods!”

She stopped, closed her eyes, and tried to calm down. Gina shook her head and laughed. “Of course, I’m not really talking about them, am I?” Gina understood in that moment that approaching the airport camp was the last thing she ever wanted to do. “No, Gina Melborn, you tried that already. Living among the living just isn’t your thing anymore.” She stared around at the indifferent trees. They did not care what she said or believed, but they did not judge her, either. The longer she remained in the woods, even the ghosts of memory that continued to linger and haunt her thoughts each night seemed to become less frequent. “No, this is where you belong,” she whispered with finality.

Gina sluggishly gathered her supplies, deciding to spend the evening back down in the cold, desolate valley, where not even the dead seemed to care what she did. In the morning she would head east, work her way around the airport, and put it behind her.

Something started moving frantically through the brush behind her.

Gina turned, ducked down behind the tree, and retrieved her shotgun.

The new sound was coming from the southern border, but far enough away to not see the source. Whoever it was, Gina couldn’t tell if it was one or many… and they were running through the forest straight toward her.

“Fuck!” she hissed. She could tell that it wasn’t the clumsy, disconnected movements of the dead. No, these were sounds only the living could make. Whoever was coming, they were running away from something, or-

Gina shook her head at her own carelessness. She’d never considered that while watching the airport camp, someone might have been watching her.

I won’t let them capture me! Gina stood up, back against the tree, prepared to shoot anything or anyone who tried to put a hand on her. She silently prayed they would run right past her.

As the frantic sounds grew close, Gina could now distinguish that it was just one person, and not many… and whoever it was, he or she was about to come out right on the other side of her tree.

They know exactly where I am!

Gina steeled herself, then stepped out from cover, shotgun raised toward the brush.

A tall man wearing a small pack suddenly appeared, out of breath, and stopped in surprise when he saw the shotgun raised toward his face. “Don’t shoot! Please!” the man fell backwards to the ground, raising his arms defensively.

Gina quickly closed the distance, aiming her weapon down at him. “Don’t fucking move!”

The man appeared unarmed. He was wearing a blue flannel shirt and jeans. His shoulder-length black hair was plastered in sweat across his face. His terrified blue eyes stared up at Gina as if she were the latest brand of monster in this horrific new world.

“Please,” the man said. “I just… I’m just trying to get away. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Shut up,” Gina ordered. She raised her shotgun in the direction the man had come. “Are you alone?”

“Yes… I’m just… like I said… I’m trying to get away from them.”

“From who?”

The man struggled to speak through breaths. He pointed back toward the airport. “If they… When they find out I’m gone… they’ll come for me… We don’t want to be here when… when they do.”

“Answer my question!” Gina aimed the gun back at the man. “Who the fuck are they?”

The man seemed either surprised by the question or was still in shock at the crazy woman who stood before him. “You… you’re alive?”

It was Gina’s turn to feel surprised. She then remembered how she looked. “Yes… I’m alive. But you’re about to be dead if you don’t start talking.”

The man looked back over his shoulder as if the devil were about to appear. He looked at the wild woman with the gun and said, “Look… I’ll tell you anything you want… just… just not here. We can’t be here. It won’t be long before they discover I took off. Please… just take me with you.”

Gina lowered the gun slightly. She stared back toward the airport, remembering the abundance of weapons she observed. The man’s anxiety was contagious. “Get up… slowly.”

The man obliged, keeping his hands raised as he did so. He was starting to catch his breath. “Thank… thank you.”

“Be still!” Gina considered her options. There wasn’t many. If the man was correct, she might be moments away from being discovered by whoever was after him. If the man was lying, then they already knew she was here, and this an attempt to ‘feel’ her out. “If you’re lying to me… I’ll kill you. Do you believe that?”

The man hesitated, then said, “Yes. I believe you.”

“What’s in the pack?”

“Just some food… clothes… not much. I had to leave in a hurry.”

“Reach for the pack and you’re dead. Understand?”

The man nodded.

Gina moved cautiously toward her gear, picking up her weapon’s bag and slinging it over her shoulder. She nodded toward her backpack full of food. “Pick that up and start walking.” She gestured with her rifle back toward the top of the small valley.

The man slowly picked up Gina’s pack and started walking.

Gina stepped in behind him.

“You know,” the man started. “If you shoot me, they’ll all hear it. You’ll be dead, too.”

“That a threat?”

“No… Oh, God, no… I’m just saying… they’re heavily armed, and you don’t want them to know you’re here. Trust me.”

“Just shut up and walk.”

The man walked, dragging Gina’s food bag behind him, until he reached the edge of the ravine.

“Stop there,” Gina said.

The man stopped and started to turn.

Gina swung the stock end of the shotgun into the back of the man’s head.

The man fell unconscious over the side of the ravine and rolled down into the small valley.

~~~

Next Episode

Previous Episode 44-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 44-5: The Nomad” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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.

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