~~~

Exiled – Day 24

Sunset. The forest half a mile to the north of Gina and Russell’s camp came to life as eighteen phantoms of former humanity gathered—pushing, stumbling and tearing through the brush. They did not care about their mangled and filthy appearances. They did not miss their loved ones previously slaughtered. They did not register each other’s presence in horror as one served to mirror the next. They were The Dead. Their previous lives held no meaning. Their present survival—inconsequential. Individually, they were the nameless echoes of lives no one remembered. Collectively, they were a relentless nightmare that had long since violated the daylight boundary, where sanity and reason once ruled in the light, and could lie to the waking mind that there were no terrors in the darkness. But their blood-stained clothing declared the truth as the monsters continued to march across their new world.

A tall shirtless man in soiled khakis, dark skin stretched tight over every bone in his upper body, his rotting face with a missing nose adding a slight whistling sound to his moans, was once a banker on his way home from work. He had never made it off the congested freeway.

A little girl shambling beside him, wearing a blood-soaked nightgown, her back from the shoulders down to her waist clawed open as if a pack of wolves had started a meal, and then gave up, had been attacked in her bed, screaming for her parents who were already in the room.

A woman with short blond hair, streaked with dried up blood and mud, wearing a shredded sweater, walking unnaturally on a broken hip, her right arm ripped off long ago, limped from four feet to the little girl’s left. Her dark sunken eyes staring ahead, oblivious to the others—she was once a mother who had never found her children.

A teenage boy, still wearing his soiled letterman jacket, his once handsome face with blue eyes now dark and rotted out, his neck snapped as his head sat 180 degrees on his twisted neck, was once a high school senior who had abandoned his girlfriend to a horde to save his own skin. Karma’s a bitch. The teenager pushed forward to the right and ten feet back from the banker.

The list of the nameless, lifeless, relentless dead continued. All of them pushed in the direction of the sounds that had drawn them out of the dark. Somewhere up ahead, Russell Bower continued to knock on the trees with Gina’s hand axe… luring the woodland herd straight toward her position.

She waited for the banker to pass. Then the little girl. She could hear them both rustling dead leaves with their feet.

Five feet, maybe. Not close enough. Gina tried not to tense up as the dead slowly shambled past her concealed position at the base of the small tree. She sat with her back to the tree, eyes closed, slowly breathing. Her clothing, skin and hair were covered in mud and weeds, partly to disguise her scent and partly to blend into her surroundings. Her legs lay flat with her hands resting on her thighs. In each hand, she held a hunting knife.

I am not here, she thought, to calm her nerves. I am the forest.

The mother with the broken hip passed to her left.

Ten feet, she calculated.

Another was moving around the tree to the right. This one sounded close.

Five feet… and closing.

The high school senior suddenly bumped her tree and continued past her. Gina watched its left foot step less than an arm’s length from her legs.

This one, she thought, as the dead thing stepped away from her tree. She was about to move into position behind the teen for cover and attempt to mimic his footsteps to mask her movements, but she froze.

What was left of the teen’s face was staring directly at her, causing Gina’s heart to skip when she couldn’t tell if it was moving away or toward her. Then she spotted the back of the letterman jacket and understood. The sight of the twisted-head teen made her shudder slightly. She quickly regained herself. There was nothing she could do now but wait to see if the teenager saw her and turned. If he did, she would have to move fast and take it out before the surrounding herd turned and closed in on her.

The high school teen continued to march off into the pending darkness.

That was almost a real bad day, she thought.

Another dead-head moved in on the left. This one would also be close, but not as close.

A wide, rotting naked woman, her old flesh falling off her bones like rubber, passed Gina’s tree on the left.

Perfect! Gina waited for the big woman to shamble ahead three steps while timing her strides. She then stepped away from the tree, hunching down in the shadow of the large woman. She immediately spotted another zombie off to the right. At any moment it would turn its rotted head toward Gina and spot her.

Gina calculated quickly, then reached up behind the large woman and stabbed it in the back of the head. Before the woman collapsed, Gina rolled to the right, using the noise generated by the woman’s fall to mask her own moves. She was now directly behind the zombie to the right who stopped to watch the large woman fall over face first to the ground.

Gina quickly stepped up behind the distracted zombie and stabbed it in the temple. As it fell, Gina was already moving toward another tree.

Several more zombies up ahead had stopped and turned, hearing the dead fall behind them. Others from behind were closing in, attracted by the new sounds.

Gina used the commotion to move in behind another tree, directly to the left of a shorter zombie. It was hunched over with a few strands of white hair sticking out of its head, its saggy muddy tits ripping through a soiled t-shirt. Gina stepped around the tree and stabbed the knife up under the old zombie’s chin and into its brain. She quickly rolled away as it fell into some tall weeds.

By now, several of the dead had spotted her and were closing in.

Gina stepped in between two of them, their backs facing each other with their heads spinning around like radars, and she quickly stabbed them both in the back of the head.

The dead began to scream and moan toward her as they scrambled to reach the elusive blood bag.

Gina continued to move quickly, using their own noise to slip in and out of their line of sight, while turning them around in different directions to aide in the confusion. She stabbed three more in the head while zig-zagging within tackle distance of several frantic beasts.

One struck a tree when Gina sidestepped two outstretched arms. The beast rammed head first into it and fell to its knees. Gina quickly moved around behind it and put the creature down. She was already moving again by the time three more zombies charged out of the brush, nearly colliding with each other.

Gina dashed up toward the front of the herd, timing her movements with the excited herd’s actions, using the trees for split-seconds of concealment.

She stepped in front of the broken hip woman, catching her by surprise, and stabbed it in the forehead. The woman fell to the ground.

Gina heard the banker storming at her from behind. She quickly turned and dropped on all fours, letting the rushing zombie trip right over her. Gina crawled on top of it and thrust the hunting knife down where its nose used to be.

Another dead thing was about to clear the foliage and discover her. Gina wrapped her arms around the motionless banker and rolled him on top of her. A younger rotting woman with long red hair and wearing a bloody gown tore through the brush with its fingers out like claws.

Gina remained still beneath the banker zombie.

I am not here.

The young woman howled in frustration and stepped right on top of the banker. Gina felt the weight of the sickly banker zombie press down on top of her, its black blood seeping into her own clothes. Blood dripped down from the stab wound in its face and leaked over Gina’s turned cheek like thick syrup. Then the weight was lifted as the young woman stepped down and stormed off, screaming into the forest.

Gina pushed the dead thing off her and wiped the syrupy blood from her face before it reached the corner of her mouth.

That there just ruined dinner, she thought. Gina rose to her feet and started to move again.

What remained of the herd was more scattered now and farther apart, allowing Gina to pick off most of them one by one.

By the time one saw her and charged, Gina was already moving into another position to intercept it, using the terrain to her advantage while each beast attacked blindly, under compulsion of the blood lust. She was beginning to understand what Marcus meant by leaving emotions out of it. These beasts, though emotionless, still displayed similar emotional disadvantages, acting like addicts running off a cliff to get to the next fix.

The young red-headed woman found her and charged. Gina held up her hunting knives and braced for the attack. The dead thing swung its arms toward her face. Gina backed up and to the side of the creature. She lunged forward and stuck it in the neck, losing her grip on the knife. The beast screamed and spun toward her. Gina ducked beneath it and swept at its legs with her right leg. The creature lost balance and fell forward, striking the ground hard.

Holy shit, that really works! Gina thought excitedly. She quickly got on the creature’s back and grabbed the monster’s nasty hair which felt like seaweed running though her fingers. Gina pulled the woman’s head back for a clear shot and plunged the other knife through its forehead.

Gina let go of the monster’s hair and rolled off its back. She retrieved her other hunting knife from the ground and held both weapons up from a crouching position, resembling a scorpion with its tail held high, the other knife drawn in close for defense. She scanned the twilight colored forest. Whatever remained of the dead were either lying still on the ground or gone. She finally allowed herself a moment to feel her exhausted body as she let loose a heavy sigh. “Fuck me,” she whispered. “That took it all out of me.”

Something started moving toward her rear from out of the tall weeds. Gina spun around on one foot as the little girl in the blood-soaked nightgown charged on all fours like a rabid dog. Gina had just enough time to bring both hands up as the little savage jumped on top of her and started snapping her teeth at Gina’s face, trying to claw her way over the extended knives. Gina crossed the blades into an ‘X’ shape, catching the ferocious child’s neck between the blades. Gina closed her eyes, let loose a guttural cry, and then completely removed the girl’s head with an outward thrust of the blades. Black blood splattered across Gina’s face as the head spiraled off into the air, landing in the tall grass. The girl’s body fell sideways.

Gina crawled away from the decapitated corpse in disgust and rose to her feet. She felt faint. Gina saw movement in the tall grass. She walked over and found the child’s head still snapping away at the weeds, its eyes glaring at Gina as if it could devour her with them. Gina covered her mouth, took a deep breath, and then bent down and stabbed the head with her knife. She then walked out of the grass and vomited.

“Other than losing you composure just now, you handled yourself well out here.” Russell surprised her from behind, stepping out from behind a nearby tree.

Gina spun toward the voice, before realizing who it was. She almost charged him, knives raised to strike, before registering her friend.

Russell smiled, raising his hands defensively. “Breathe easy, Gina. You got them all.”

Gina finally relaxed, lowering her weapons. Her arms felt like she’d been holding up the world. “Does it always… is it always so exhausting… after?”

“Yes,” he said, stepping closer. “Let’s get you back to camp before you either stab me or pass out and make me have to carry you.”

She attempted a smile, then gave up. Everything hurt, including her face. “I need a long fucking shower,” she said, feeling just how much of the dead she was now wearing. “Just leave the water running for at least a year.”

Russell examined her. “No bites or scratches, I assume?”

Gina shook her head. “No… just a whole lot of that nasty-ass rot blood.” She sheathed her knives. “Seriously… I got them all?”

“You did, Gina. Once you started killing them… your training took over. You did very well.”

Gina leaned up against a tree to keep from falling over. “You going to tell me now why I had to go through all that?” she asked.

Russell patiently answered, “You may find yourself surrounded at the airport if things go… badly. You needed to know what you were capable of if that happened… and that, you could kill every one of them if necessary.”

~~~

Next Episode 47-2

Previous Episode 46-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-1: The Enemy” 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.

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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