Posts Tagged ‘The Nomad’

~~~

Thanks again for all your votes last week, bumping my serial up a few places.

If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

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Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

David Fintner had inherited the old farmstead five years ago. On paper it had looked promising. Several acres of land, including the surrounding forest, seemed to hold so much potential when he first moved his family here. Sure, the land needed a lot of work, the farmhouse hadn’t been upgraded in years, and the old barn was about to collapse, but David had once had big plans for the place.

Unfortunately, so did the bank that made it nearly impossible to keep up with the debt he also inherited.

He, his wife, Mary, and his older Brother Daryl, along with David’s two frustratingly unappreciative sons, who were both over eighteen and threw it in his face every time David asked the freeloaders to help with the place, had all moved in. It had been a living hell ever since. The only saving grace had been little Amy, David’s youngest child, who absolutely loved the farm. When Mary threatened to leave him for moving them out to this wasteland of life, and Amy’s uncle Daryl caught the cancer and was unable to help with the hard labor, it was eight-year-old Amy who brought a ray of sunshine even on David’s darkest days. When they were on brink of losing the farm, that little girl kept David afloat as he’d tried his best to take the blunt of the strife in his household and keep Amy far from it.

Then the outbreak happened.

As it turned out, losing the rest of the world to the dead had saved David’s family. No one came to reclaim the farm. Those ungrateful older siblings stopped threatening to move away. Mary never uttered another word about divorce. Even Uncle Daryl seemed to get better.

They’d all listened to the news on the radio, when there still was news, and had heard what happened to families. Children attacking their parent. Parents attacking children. They’d heard the odds: one in five had turned into monsters. But somehow, David’s family had been spared.

The farm, originally a curse, had become a blessing overnight. While the dead ravaged the landscape around them, David and his family had hunkered down for the long winter, living on canned preserves, a well-stocked pantry, well water, and an abundance of fuel that kept the generator running, one of the few things David had done right. They had all drawn closer as a family and survived when so many had not. His family had turned to him for comfort and David provided reassurance, however false it was. It didn’t matter. They were still here.

And all the while little Amy remained oblivious to it all.

David knew he should’ve started talking about leaving the farm after winter ended, especially after he explored the surrounding forest for game, only to discover that the dead were slowly moving closer to the farm. One lone ridge was the only thing keeping those sickly-looking beasts from discovering them, but he did nothing.

He told them nothing.

David had returned with news that the wildlife had gone away and that they should just stay put and wait for the world to right itself. He’d locked up the only two guns in the house, telling his family that using them might draw attention from the living who would try to take what they had… but in truth, it was the dead he feared. One gunshot and all David had achieved would be over.

His family did not question his judgment, something David wasn’t used to, and they agreed to defend the farm with blunt weapons, should it ever come down to it.

Time passed. Complacency became a slow poison. The Fintner family continued to live, grateful for the farm, and safely hidden away from their dying world…

…David continued to stare at the body of his young daughter as the dead fought for it. He could only see her foot sticking out of the mass of bloody savages that had attacked her from the forest. He held the pitchfork in numb hands. He felt his legs give way as he dropped to his knees, oblivious to the scattered dead that continued to approach him from the surrounding forest and invade the back of the property.

Her pitiful screams would haunt the remainder of his short life… and the hell that followed.

He’d just gone out back to fetch her for breakfast. Amy loved to dance in the backyard in the mornings, talking to her invisible friends who she’d made up over the winter months. He enjoyed watching her imagination thrive and she made him laugh. She never wandered far, just far enough for the first of the shadowy forms which had emerged from the wood line to beat him to the girl. He’d shouted at them. But that only made the monsters move faster.

He knew he should get up and fight them, defend his family, his home, but all David could do was watch as his daughter was devoured by the dead… and he wanted to join her. And of course, the rest of them weren’t out here now. He might have shouted for them to run… David couldn’t remember. Or maybe they were watching from the windows as David’s lies materialized and invaded the farmstead. Maybe they were waiting just long enough to watch him die while cursing his name for ever moving them out here… and rightly so.

He had told them they were safe. He had locked up the only weapons they had. And now the monsters had finally come for them, too.

All debts were now being collected.

“Come on, mother fuckers!”

David followed the voice, looking up past the mob consuming his daughter, beyond the monsters coming for him, too, and saw something that defied belief… even now. At first, he thought the dead were attacking their own, as one of them, apparently wielding a hand axe, stormed out of the woods and started hacking into them.

He managed to get to his feet.

As the dead thing came closer, causing the rest of its kind to turn back toward it, David swore he heard it speak a second time.

“Fuck you! Every single one of you! You want it… come on then! I’LL FUCKING KILL EVERY ONE OF YOU!”

Its clothes were not deteriorated like the others. But it was covered in blood and filth. The thing’s wild reddish hair concealed its face as the monster continued to kick, shove and hack into the dead all around it. David heard it swear into the faces of its victims, and for a moment, the beast looked and sounded like a woman. He raised the pitch fork in shaky hands toward the crazed talking beast, believing that a devil had come straight out of the woods to claim him for his sins.

The devil/woman thing briefly locked eyes with him. It spoke again, “RUN!”

“David!”

David turned back toward the farmhouse. It was Mary. She was standing with the rest of his family on the back porch. They were armed with whatever weapons they could find. Terrified, but they were there.

He smiled at them. “It’s okay,” he shouted back. “I’ll take care of this. You all… you all just go back in the house and wait… just wait for me to… take care of things.”

“David… where’s Amy? We can’t find Amy!” Mary was bordering hysterical.

“Just…GO!” he shouted. “I’ll find her… I’ll bring her back! She’s just out here playing like she always does… I’ll just go get her and-”

Several cold limbs reached out from behind and pulled David to the ground. They dead tore him to pieces in seconds.

The demon woman had made it as far as Amy when she saw the farmer go down. She looked toward the rest of David’s family who were screaming from the porch and shouted, “What the fuck are you waiting for? RUN YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!”

The Fintner family had seen enough. They scattered from the back porch and started running around the front of the house.

Gina, enraged that she couldn’t reach the farmer in time, turned on the closest dead things and hacked into their faces, screaming and howling until her voice gave out.

There were far too many now. Gina’s only chance was to make it to the farmhouse. She pushed her tired legs forward, just ahead of the herd, and watched the rest of the family flee.

Please… let them all be gone, she frantically prayed. Please tell me this wasn’t all for nothing.

“Come on you stupid fuckers!” she shouted back, hoping to keep the monsters’ attention on her. “You want to eat me… come and get me!”

Gina almost stumbled on the steps climbing up the back porch. If she had, the dead would’ve had her. Instead she clumsily struck the back door, opened it, and just managed to fall inside. Gina rolled on her back and slammed the door shut with her foot. She immediately smelled something burning from the kitchen that made her think of breakfast. Corned beef hash?

The dead started pounding on the door. Light coming through the windows facing the back of the house was immediately blocked out as hollowed-out faces pressed up against the glass.

Gina struggled to her feet, using a wall to keep from falling over. She was spent, burning up all her physical reserves a while ago, she’d been running on the fumes of pure rage and adrenaline.

She took a deep breath and shouted into the house. “Is anyone in here?”

No answer.

Good.

Her senses were overloaded with the manic sounds of the dead trying to penetrate the home, combined with the comfy-looking interior of the small house. Her heart pounded in her ears. She caught a glimpse of the small breakfast table, just outside the kitchen. Plates and glasses were set before a window of bloody dead hands pounding for today’s menu specials.

Gina laughed at the thought. Her laughter sounding strange… bordering insanity.

She moved toward the table, staring out at the dead, and hissed, “Come on… then. Let’s get this over with.” She reached down toward the table, picked up a half-full glass of water, and inhaled it.

“I’d kill for a cup of coffee.” She laughed, a little longer then she should have.

Gina sat down at the table, knocked a plate to the floor, and set her axe down. She stared at the place settings, bemused by it all, and shouted over her shoulder at no one, “What’s a girl… what’s a girl gotta do to get service around here?”

The glass in the window started to crack.

“Oh… just fucking wait a damn minute,” she hissed toward the window, refusing to look at them. “Just… give me five fucking minutes of piece. Then you can eat.”

She could hear the back door starting to give. They’d break through any moment now.

Gina no longer cared. She had nothing left. It took all she had after foolishly sitting down, not to let her heavy eyelids close. “I always could sleep right after a big home-cooked breakfast,” she said with a smile. “To bad I didn’t get here sooner. Probably missed out on the bacon and eggs… although, I’ve always been a pancake girl.”

More cracks appeared in the window. She could hear other windows cracking.

The dead stared in at her, oblivious to breakfast or anything else. The exhausted woman sitting at the table was only another blood bag carrying what they needed… what they absolutely had to have.

Gina stared toward the window into the tightly pressed pale and bloody faces of the former living, their rotting teeth snapping at her through the cracked glass, their eyes, dark and sunken in—void of life, and she started to weep. She tried to shut out the chorus of hungry indifferent moans with her own pained words. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry for all of this. Not that it’s my fault… but… someone should be… sorry.” She wiped fresh tears away. “Someone should grieve for you pitiful pieces of shit, I suppose. Hell, it’s not like you dumb fucks had a choice.” She closed her eyes. “It’s not like any of us really had a choice… to do the horrible things we’ve done.” But deep down, that excuse wouldn’t hold. For the dead… yes. What else could they be or do other than what they’ve become? What did that say about the rest? What did that say about the living who still possessed choices, no matter how limited they were?

Gina smiled bitterly and shook her head. In a few more moments, she wouldn’t have to contemplate it.

There was that, at least.

Suddenly, the dead started quieting down.

Gina felt light from outside strike her closed eyelids. She opened them, staring bewildered toward the clear window. “What the hell?”

The pounding at the back door had stopped.

Gina rose to her feet, feeling like there was a knife firmly planted in her side. She picked up her axe and approached the back door, staring out through the windows and watching the dead turn away.

“Where are you going?” She watched them collectively move toward the side of the farmhouse and disappear from her view.

Before she could investigate further, there was a light knock on the back door.

Gina was stunned. What is this?

“Gina?” a familiar voice called through the door. “Open up. It’s me… Marcus.”

Uncontrollable tears started streaming down her face as she raised her hands to her mouth. For a moment, she couldn’t believe it. “I’m hearing shit,” she said. “It’s official. I’ve finally lost my fucking mind.”

“Gina? You alright in there? It’s safe, for now, but we don’t have long. If you could-”

Gina opened the door.

A man with short black hair and dark, penetrating eyes, stood at the door. For a moment Marcus appeared as shocked as she was, observing her ragged appearance. He finally smiled. “It’s good to see you, Gina. I thought-”

Gina fiercely embraced him and started to bawl like a child.

Marcus caught her and reluctantly placed his arms around her. “It’s okay,” he whispered. “Everything’s going to be alright now.”

Gina managed to nod, digging her face into his shoulder. “I’m… all fucked-up,” was all she managed to say.

“Okay, well… let’s get you out of this horrible place,” Marcus said, gently leading her outside. “We’ll talk in a bit.”

Gina allowed herself to be led off the porch steps. Marcus escorted her back toward the rear of the property and into the forest. He kept his arms around her, feeling the broken woman on the verge of collapsing.

Gina looked around at the surprisingly empty field and said with alarm, “What about the dead? There all over the-”

“I took care of that, Gina.” Marcus said. “Don’t’ worry about it. They’re… distracted… for the moment.”

“Did you see them? That… that family? Did they get away?”

“Sorry, Gina. I didn’t see anyone.”

Gina gave up. Marcus was here, and that meant she wasn’t alone anymore.

Things will get better now, she thought. They sent him back to bring me home. The admission caught her by surprise, causing her to weep again.

Home?

Fuck me, maybe I’m not better off without them, she wondered. Her thoughts drifted to that breakfast table and the family that once drew strength from sitting together at it each day. She smiled and thought, Take me home, Marcus. I miss them terribly. I don’t care if I have to spend the rest of my days in a prison cell… just… just take me…

Home.

Marcus and Gina disappeared into the trees.

~~~

From the side of the Fintner farmhouse, just beyond Gina’s view from within the house, the dead had found a new target for their blood lust as they’d swarmed together, fighting over the freshly slain.

A once distraught Mary Fintner, her two terrified sons, and overwhelmed Uncle Daryl had been butchered behind an old rusted tractor.

The man wielding the machete had shown them no mercy when he’d hacked the Fintner family to pieces, scattering their bloody remains out in the yard in full view of the dead.

~~~

Next Episode 45-1

Previous Episode 44-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 44-8: 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.

~~~

Gina grabbed her hand axe and rose to her feet. The flashlight rolled off her lap and landed on its side, illuminating the space between them. “You better explain that to me!” She was raising her voice. “You better have a good fucking reason for being involved with those animals!”

John looked confused. “Please… just calm down! I… I had no idea you were aware of them. How could you possibly-”

“I know your fucking group!” Gina spat, pointing her axe at him. She started to pace. “I’ve dealt with these Mother assholes ever since the beginning! I’ve lost people because of them—good fucking people! And now you tell me they’ve been out here this whole fucking time!”

John didn’t know what to say without making matters worse. “Janet… please… you obvious understand these people. You know how dangerous they are. We need to get out of here before-”

“My fucking friends have died because of you and your fucking kind!”

John looked nervously up toward the top of the valley. He could hear the anxious moans of the dead stumbling through the forest. They sounded close. “Janet…. you need to calm down. Can’t you hear them up there?”

“Doug… Ashley… Greg… Amanda… Frank… all dead because of your people.” Gina’s entire body shook. She turned her back on him and closed her eyes. She no longer cared about the dead at the top of the valley. All she could hear were the names of the dead echoing in her thoughts. They’re responsible for all of it! For every horrible thing that’s happened to us! And no matter where I go… even out here… that fucking name follows me like some damn eternal curse!

“Janet… I’m… I’m sorry for what’s happened to your friends. I didn’t have any part of that… surely you must see that. I’m no spy. I’m just like you, trying to get away from these horrible people.”

“Don’t talk to me about my friends,” she hissed. “Don’t you ever speak about them again.”

“Fair enough. Can we just please talk about this? I don’t want the dead to hear-”

“Why is Mother in these damn woods?” Gina refused to turn and look at him.

John shook his head at her back. “It’s… it’s hard to explain. I know a little bit, but even that’s not much.”

“Is she… this Lady Clementine… is she the leader of Mother?”

John didn’t answer.

Gina turned. “Answer my question! And don’t give me any shit about being loyal to them or about running away from them! That’s all bullshit and you know it!”

“I’m not a spy!” John cried.

“You’re a fucking liar… all of you are!”

“Fine!” John laughed nervously. “I’m the damn bad guy! Believe what you want! Sure… Mother sent me out here to spy on you because you’re just so damn important!”

“Shut up.”

“No… seriously… since you refuse to believe anything I have to say, and we’re probably going to bring the whole damn zombie forest horde down on us any way… then let’s do this. Yep. Mother… the all-knowing, global fucking organization that’s been around longer than you or I have been alive, sent me all the way out here to spy on your insignificant ass! Come on… are you fucking hearing yourself? I’m just a man who had a chance, one chance, to get away from there… wait! Stop! STOP!”

Gina brought the axe down releasing a primal groan.

John shifted to the left, avoiding being struck in the skull. The axe went into his shoulder instead. John stared at the wound and then back at Gina as the shock set it.

For a second, the savage woman was captured by that dying man’s condemning eyes.

Click… click… click… snap.

As the pain registered, John opened his mouth and let out a horrific scream which reverberated through the valley.

Gina ripped the axe from John’s shoulder and brought it down into his head.

She did this three more times to silence him, not realizing that it was she who continued to scream, long after John went silent. Gina let go of the axe that was still sticking in the dead man’s face and stumbled back.

For a moment, John’s dead eyes remained fixed on her, then he fell over on his side.

Gina raised two bloody and trembling hands into the flashlight beam.

She felt nothing. She thought nothing.

Something… no… several somethings started descending into the valley directly over her head. To Gina, it sounded like an avalanche as the sounds of moaning dead men struck trees and brush, rolling out of control toward the stream.

Fuck!

A heavy, half-naked rotting-flesh boulder came crashing down right behind Gina. The sluggish former man reached out for her ankle, letting lose a bone-chilling cry.

Gina got a good look at it in the flashlight beam as she sidestepped it.

The brute of a man with half its scalp missing, exposing part of its black, mushy brains, got to its knees and started crawling toward her. The man had a scraggly beard that ran over his pale exposed chest.

Gina kicked the thing hard under the chin. It barely flinched. She felt like she’d just kicked a rock as the once muscular man reached for her leg, grabbed it, and pulled Gina off-balance. She fell inches from John’s corpse. Gina reached back as the big dead thing started to pull her toward its large mouth.

She managed to reach the axe handle in time as she pulled while the dead brute aided her in freeing the blade. Just as it was about to put all its weight on top of her, Gina leaned forward with a loud cry and split the thing’s face in half with the axe. The brute let go of her leg and Gina rolled to the side. The large monster lay still.

Gina struggled to catch her breath as more zombies reaching the valley floor were now rushing toward her. She rose to her feet just in time to side swipe the axe across the neck of a tall woman in a disintegrating dirt-stained nightgown. The woman’s pale head hung backward off its half-severed neck, temporarily losing sight of its prey. Gina kicked the wretched thing back into another zombie wearing bloody overalls.

A fourth zombie grabbed her by the back of the hair. She could feel its slimy, cold hands on the back of her neck. Gina spun around, ripping her hair loose from a dead teenage boy. She swung the axe into the side of its head, severing its right ear completely off before it fell limp to the ground.

More were already pushing into each other to get to her.

Gina dove for her silenced handgun as another dead hand attempted to grab her hair and missed. She grabbed the gun, flipped over on her back and fired four rounds upward and into the face of the man in overalls. She got back to her feet just as a short woman with curly blond hair with a spiderweb on the top, leaned in to bite her arm. Gina shoved the barrel of the gun with the attached silencer into the spider woman’s mouth and blew its decrepit brains out the back of its head. The woman fell, taking the gun with it.

Gina spun around as another rotting man in a bloody jogging outfit tried to bite her ear off. She swung the axe across its jaw, completely removing it from its face. She then pushed hard against it with her shoulder, knocking the dead jogger to the ground.

More were coming.

Gina spotted her gun bag just outside the limited light range of the flashlight and ran for it, knocking another zombie off its feet with an armbar across its neck. Gina grabbed her bag on the fly, keeping her momentum up, and then dashed across the stream.

More dead things were falling from the top of the valley on the opposite side but had not yet seen her.

Gina dodged and weaved through flailing arms and started ascending the opposite side of the small valley. What little bit of light she had was now gone as she climbed up in the darkness, reaching out for small trees as handholds to stabilize her uphill ascent. She almost slipped back down into the valley but reached out and found an exposed root to stop her from falling.

She pushed her burning legs forward and made it to the top of the valley, expecting the dead to swallow her up once she got there.

All she could see was darkness in every direction.

Gina tried to orient herself as her eyes adjusted to the faint ambient light that allowed her to distinguish between the darker shapes of trees and the slighter lighter spaces between them. She looked for any dark shapes moving toward her.

She could hear several dead things moaning all around her in the darkness. Some were close, others were farther off. One sounded so close, Gina believed if she extended her arm, she’d touch it.

Fuck this!

She pushed forward blindly through the trees, no longer able to distinguish tree from monster, and swung her axe randomly just to make sure she wasn’t running right into her own death.

She dragged the bag of weapons behind her, hoping the dead would charge for it, and not her, while silently wishing she had time to arm herself with the shotgun.

Something swung at her face. A dead hand struck the side of her mouth. Gina stumbled forward and struck a tree. She turned, putting the tree to her back, and pushed out with legs as something tried to put its arms around her. She kicked the thing back into the dark.

Gina rolled around the tree and squatted down. She reached into her bag and grabbed the shotgun.

Something was screaming and charging at her position from the side.

Gina aimed the shotgun toward the sound and fired twice, momentarily lighting up the forest just enough to see them all… and they her. She’d blasted another female zombie in the torso, splitting the creature in half.

Move! MOVE!

The dead closed in.

Gina ran forward, firing the shotgun right in front of her, hoping to clear a path. The monsters closed in. Gina fired to the left blowing the head off a man. She fired to the right, knocking a small man to his ass. She continued firing until the gun ran out.

Something grabbed the shotgun and wrestled it from her hand. Something else fell on the weapon’s bag.

Gina gave them both up. All she had left was the hand axe.

“Come on, you fuckers!” she shouted into the black. “COME ON!”

The dead reached out for her, snapped their teeth at her, groaned into her ears.

Gina fiercely swung the axe, hacking into the night with everything she had left. She kicked and screamed back into the night with equal ferocity.

But the dead kept coming.

Suddenly, her feet stopped as she tripped over the remains of a dead tree. Gina fell forward and downward as she started rolling uncontrollably down a hill. She bounced three times before striking something hard in the side, which stopped her descent. Gina struggled to breathe. She could still hear them coming, but for a moment, she’d eluded them.

She reached around and felt the base of a medium sized tree growing out of the hillside that had stopped her fall. Surprisingly, she still held the axe in her other hand. Gina attempted to free herself from the tree but the pain in her side was excruciating. She placed the handle of the axe in her mouth and bit down, trying not to cry out.

That was when she passed out.

~~~

She woke to someone yelling. It was faint, but definitely a man’s voice, coming from somewhere beneath her.

Early morning light penetrated the gloomy woods. Gina quickly took in her situation. She was lying sideways across the base of the tree, half-way down a steep hill. She could hear the moans of the dead from above her and below.

Caught between the fucking frying pan and the fire, she thought, realizing that the tree had probably saved her life, keeping her just out of reach from the frustrated dead. She dared to move. The pain in her side was considerable, but she could still function.

No time for that.

She’d dropped her hand axe beside her. Gina picked it up and slowly crawled away from the tree, starting a controlled descent down the remainder of the hill on her stomach.

When she reached the bottom, crawling under brush for cover, she rolled on to her back, pulled up her shirt, and examined her side. There was a large dark bruise just below her ribs. A little higher, broken ribs for sure. She pulled down her shirt and focused on breathing and gathering her strength.

She heard more yelling. Much closer this time. Something bad was happening.

Something bad that you brought with you, Gina.

The thought felt foreign… but true.

Gina rolled back over and rose to her knees.

She could hear the dead all around her, pushing through the forest toward the shouts of alarm. She stood on wobbly feet, feeling dizzy, disoriented, and sweating from the effort to move.

I’m more fucked-up than I realize. She abandoned the thought and focused on the direction she’d heard the shouts. Somewhere up ahead, she could see the trees thinning out.

That’s where the dead were heading.

She considered moving the opposite direction, taking advantage of the distraction to get away.

She heard a young girl scream and turned back toward the thinning trees.

Just walk away, Gina. Not your problem. Doesn’t matter. None of it matters… remember?

The dead had clearly found someone knew to pursue, just beyond those trees. Probably another group of foolish survivors, unprepared for the shitstorm coming out of the woods.

Don’t worry, Gina. It’s not the same as what you did to that man last night. It’s not murder if you choose not to help. Whoever they are were probably going to die anyway. Just a matter of time. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter that you led their death right to them with your screams and shotgun blasts from last night.

“Shut up,” she hissed at herself, reaching for a tree to keep from falling over. She closed her eyes tight, wishing she could turn her thoughts off. She gripped the axe tightly, a fresh wave of anger renewing her strength.

They’re dead already. You’ll gain nothing but your own demise by getting involved.

Gina heard the girl’s scream again.

She immediately pictured some unsuspecting family held up in some run-down shack just beyond those trees. Some family that thought they were safe out here, hidden away from the horrors of the world. Hidden away until she came along and ruined it.

“It… doesn’t… matter!” she reminded herself. “Not my problem!”

She pictured the dead feasting on the remains of that dead family, leaving nothing behind but their condemning eyes that would follow her forever… just like John Sterling’s eyes would.

She opened her own eyes. “Fuck me,” she whispered.

Gina pushed forward, following the dead toward the thinning trees. With each new cry of alarm, she quickened her pace, hoping to catch as many of the dead from behind as she could before they turned back and finished her off.

Not a bad way to die, she consoled herself, sneaking up on the first dead-head with her hand axe raised. There are worse ways to live.

~~~

Next Episode 44-8

Previous Episode 44-6

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 44-6: 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.

~~~

If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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Anything you can do to help me get Don’t Feed The Dark to the readers is appreciated. Be sure to spread the word on all your social media sites as well.

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

The evenings were getting much warmer, but out in the forest, especially down in the valleys near the water, the long nights could still chill the bones. Gina tried not to think about the cold or the suffocating darkness as she wrapped her arms tighter around her coat, longing for a small campfire.

The steady rush of the nearby stream made it hard to stay awake as she forced her eyes open for the um-teenth time. Fortunately, all she had to do was listen to the collective moans of the wandering ghouls roaming the tops of both sides of the small valley, and she was sufficiently motivated to stay conscious. There were so many out tonight, more than she’d anticipated when Gina had dragged her prisoner half-a-mile back north along the valley stream.

She stared across at the lying form of the unconscious man. She’d bound his hands behind his back with her nylon rope before stopping for the night. She kept her hand-ax, a silenced handgun, and a small flashlight she’d discovered in the man’s backpack, all within reach.

“I know you’re awake,” she said in a low voice. “Why don’t you stop trying to plot my demise in the dark and tell me why you’re really out here.”

She heard the man sigh and shift uncomfortably. “Where… where are we?”

“Nowhere,” Gina responded.

The man strained his eyes to see into the face of the silhouette. He finally said, “You… you struck me, knocked me out. I remember falling. Were you trying to kill me?”

Gina turned on the flashlight, cupping the bright beam with her hand, and aimed it toward the ground. This gave off just enough light for the two of them to see each other. She could see the man’s bandaged head and his accusing eyes. “You’ll live,” she said. “But not for long if you don’t keep your voice down.” She nodded up toward the cliffs. “My friends are very active tonight. Fortunately, they don’t like water—God only knows why. I can imagine them up there, stumbling around in the dark, then stopping when they hear the river with this dead, distasteful look on their faces, before shambling off in the other direction. It’s a good thing, too, because they’re stupid enough to wander right off the edge and fall right on top of us.”

The man looked up toward the dark cliff above them. He could hear the dead, shuffling through the foliage, their animal-like moans making the hair stand up on his arms. “Fuck,” he whispered. “They sound like they’re all around us.”

“They are,” Gina said. “But they won’t bother us if we’re quiet down here.”

The man looked at his captor. She looked like one of the dead in the faint light. Her dark dirt smeared face was buried within her tangled reddish mane. “May I sit up? I promise… I won’t try anything.”

Gina nodded, picking up the hand gun, and lying it across her lap as a clear warning.

The man slowly sat up, staring around into the dark forest and feeling like every sound he made would bring the dead raining down upon them. He shivered from the cold. “I suppose they love camp fires.”

“Too much light,” she said absently. “Stop complaining. You’re the reason we’re freezing our asses off tonight.”

“Fair enough,” the man said. He could feel the bandage wrapped around his forehead. “And thank you.”

Gina gave him a puzzled look. “For what?”

“For patching me up and not leaving me alone out here.” He looked back up toward the cliff. “I had no idea what I was getting into in these woods. You probably saved me from running right into them.”

“Yeah… you are a noisy fucker.”

The man let out a nervous laugh. He paused, considered the strange woman, and then said, “My name’s John… John Sterling.”

“I don’t care who you are.”

“O-kay… but I care,” John said. “Before we were these bastards’ food source, we used to be people that gave a shit about each other… or at least pretended to.”

“What’s your point?”

“My point is… we’re not savages, and that we still have names, and those names should still mean something.”

Gina said nothing.

“So… what’s your name?”

“Who the hell was chasing you, John Sterling?” Gina leaned forward, her fiery green eyes falling on him. “Let’s start with their names.”

John smiled. “Not the trusting type, I assume.”

“And you’re stalling.” Gina raised the handgun. “I could just shoot you right now… John… like the damn savage that I am, or you can start telling me what I want to know.”

“Whoa… just… relax! I’m not trying to stall. Really, I’m not. I’m just trying to… absorb… this fucked-up situation, and why I’m tied up as your prisoner when all I was trying to do was get away.”

Gina leaned back and nodded. She put the handgun down. “Okay. We’ll… relax. My name’s Janet. There, does that make you feel more at ease?”

“It’s a start,” John said. “Why did you knock me out and take me prisoner, Janet?”

Gina smiled. “Because I don’t know if you were really running from anything, John. I saw that airport full of armed people. They looked organized. For all I know, you’re some damn spy sent to check me out. That’s why we’re surrounded by the dead right now. I figure your friends are still terrified of my friends.”

John gave her a strange look. “You keep calling these things your friends. Just how long have you been out here?”

Gina shifted uncomfortably. “Just a figure of speech. Doesn’t matter. Point is, I had to take you somewhere I believed was safe. So far, I haven’t seen anybody chasing after you with automatic weapons, so either they’re afraid to follow you into these monster-infested woods, or you’re lying to me.”

John frowned. “I’m not lying, I wish I were.” He leaned forward. “Those people you saw at the airport, they’re fucking dangerous, Janet. I don’t know where we are, but you better believe they’ll be searching for me in the morning.”

“They won’t find us searching this far in, not unless they want the dead following them back to their base. I assume they’re smarter than that.”

John was shaking his head. “Won’t matter. They’re not worried about the dead. My people… those people… know how to handle themselves.”

Gina laughed lightly. “That’s what all stupid people say right before they make the menu. Sure, these dead-heads are manageable when you isolate them, if you know what you’re doing. But get them riled up, attract enough of them, they’re relentless.” She scowled at the man. “But I’m sure you already know that, John.”

“I’m no spy, Janet. I meant what I said. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to run… and I took it.” John leaned back, looked around into the darkness, and finished, “Of course, now I’m starting to wonder if I reacted prematurely. This wasn’t what I had in mind.”

Gina nodded. “How many people are at the airport?”

John hesitated, then said, “Twenty-five… I think. Close to that, anyway.”

“And how long have you all been at that airport?”

“We relocated there just before that horrible winter. Before that, we were on the move for a while.”

Gina considered this. “A large group, heavily armed and organized.” She stared at the man’s clothing. “I would say military… but you don’t look like the military type.”

John laughed. “No. We’re definitely not that.”

“Then where the fuck did you all come from, John?”

John felt the weight of Gina’s eyes. He treaded carefully. “We…. my former group… we’ve been around a while.”

“What does that even mean?”

“It means we were prepared…well… as prepared as anyone could be, when the shit hit.”

“What? Are you some sort of survivalist group?”

“Something like that,” John said. “We were ready when the time came.”

Gina shifted. “You’re being suspiciously vague.”

“Well, Janet, let’s just say I don’t trust you any more than you trust me. For all I know, you are part of some larger group getting ready to attack the airport. Why should I tell you anything?”

“For someone who’s lucky to still be alive and claiming to be escaping from some dangerous fucking assholes, you sure don’t act like it,” Gina said. “What’s going on at that airport?”

John shook his head. “I’ve said enough. Yes, I’m trying to get away from these people, but that doesn’t make me a traitor. They took care of me. They’re the reason I’ve stayed alive this long… so… I owe them that, at least.”

Gina shook her head and smiled. “You run but claim loyalty. Maybe you’re just some low-life they found trying to steal their shit. Hell, there’s lots of people like that now. Maybe instead of putting a bullet in your head, like you deserved, they took you in all winter, then, you managed to slip away.”

John gave her a hard look. “Well, remind me never to steal from your people’s camp, if that’s what you believe.”

“Shut the fuck up!” Gina moved in to strike the man, then restrained herself. “You don’t know anything about me, or my people, you fucking piece of shit!”

John scooted back, staring up at the top of the valley. “You… you might want to lower your voice. I think some of your ‘friends’ can hear you.”

Gina stared up toward the top of the valley and calmed down. I’m letting this asshole get into my head. Settle down, before you prove him right. Gina took a few breaths and said, “Sorry. I don’t… interact with very many people these days. I imagine it’s starting to show.”

John looked back at his bound hands, then smiled at Gina. “Well… your first impressions might need a little improvement.”

Gina laughed at that. “I’m a survivor, John. I’ve learned that if you hand out trust like fucking candy, you don’t stay alive very long.”

“I get that,” John nodded. “People have become… unpredictable… these days. Hell, that’s one thing you can appreciate about these, what did you call them? Dead-heads?”

Gina nodded.

“Well, dead-heads don’t hide their cards. You know exactly what they want the moment you see them. People, however, can be downright evil these days, hiding their intent until it’s too late to see it.”

Gina looked at him and smiled. “For a moment, you sounded just like an old friend of mine.”

“A good friend I hope,” John laughed.

Gina looked away. “No. Just another dead one.”

“Sorry.” John shifted. “I hope after we clear up this misunderstanding, we might be friends. In case you haven’t noticed, I just ran away from mine.”

Gina was exhausted. Living with the dead, alone in these woods, seemed easy compared to conversing with this stranger. And yet, the thought of having a friend, a real living friend again, did appeal to her on some desperate level. She sighed and said, “Look, John, it’s late. I’m… tired of trying to figure you out. And honestly, I’m way out of practice. If you could just start trusting me a little, tell me what I need to know, then I could start trusting you, too.”

John nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Tell you what, since you have me at the disadvantage, seeing that you’re the one holding me prisoner, how about you give a little first. Does that sound fair?”

Gina nodded. “I’m alone, John. As you can tell by my appearance… and behavior, I’ve been out here a while. There’s really nothing more to know about me.”

“You said something about ‘your’ people. What happened to them?”

Gina felt herself becoming defensive again. But her mental fatigue won out. “I don’t… I don’t have ‘people’ anymore.”

John frowned. “Are they all… dead?”

“No… no… nothing like that,” Gina struggled. “Let’s just say we didn’t see things the same way. I wanted us to survive and they wanted to live. As a result, they… kicked me out of the club.”

John gave her a puzzled look but wisely chose not to push. “Okay,” he said. “That’s good enough for me. Sounds like you got the shit end of the stick. Me too. You were forced out of your group… and I had to run from mine.”

“Why did you run?”

John looked struck. He lowered his head and said, “People change, Janet. I’m sure you know that as well as any one. No one can still be alive this long without understanding that fact.”

Gina averted her eyes, feeling like she’d left a crack into her soul exposed. She silently nodded.

“Anyway, let’s just say that the people I started out with… I really believed in what they were doing. They had a cause, a mission… hell, the only mission that still mattered. Then, things changed. Things got dark, and then they got darker.”

Gina stared at the man. “I get that, John. Go on.”

“Well, sometimes you just don’t realize how bad circumstances can get, how dark your fucking soul can get, because you’re surrounded by so much of it… and then one day, something happens. Something that just shakes your foundation and eats away at you until you can barely stand looking at yourself in the mirror.” John stopped, struggling for words.

“I’ve been there,” Gina whispered. “Hell, I think I’m still there.”

John looked up into the savage woman’s haunted eyes and saw that she meant it. He nodded with a half-hearted smile. “Anyway, someone died… horribly. And I couldn’t stop it from happening. She was just a girl, a mouthy fucking teenage girl, who did what all dumb rebellious teens do, even in the apocalypse. Well, it got her killed. Her name was Debra and she was… slaughtered by the leader of my group, made a pointless example of, never to live out her stupid teenage years…” John stopped and sighed heavily. “Anyway, I was never the same after that. All that I’d believed was bullshit. They were bullshit. So, I crawled into my shell, waiting to die, while I went through the motions of believing in their bullshit, too terrified to run away because I still valued my pathetic existence on some level, until I’d finally had enough.” He looked at Gina and finished, “That was when you found me. You see, I had one last chance to run. By now, no one in my camp looked at me twice. I was… forgettable. I’d reached rock bottom, but once I was presented a final chance to run, I no longer cared about the consequences of getting caught. That made me free, for a just a moment, to face my fears and risk all to get away.”

Gina stared at John long and hard. She finally said, “It’s sounds like you’ve been their prisoner for a long time.”

John laughed. “Yeah, a prisoner of fear and self-loathing.” He looked back. “I don’t know, Janet. Have you ever reached the place when you fear yourself more than anything anyone could do to you?”

Gina absolutely refused to answer that question.

“Well, that’s what it took. And that’s why I ran.” John let out a heavy sigh. “And that’s why I’m out here in these woods with you now.”

Gina nodded. She was wrestling with the ghosts of her past that this man’s story brought out in her. It took incredible effort to force it all back down and raise her defenses. Doesn’t matter. None of it matters. His people, your people, what they did, what he did… what you did… pointless.

“This leader you spoke of,” Gina pushed. “Is this the person who intends to hunt you down in the morning?”

John nodded. “Yes. She will look at my actions as direct defiance. She will know that if I get away with this, it will set a bad example for the others who are already wavering.” John stared at Gina with terrified eyes. “Fear brings compliance, Janet. And my so-called leader expects… no… demands compliance. She won’t rest until I’m found, brought back, and punished publicly for everyone to watch. And I’ll die in some horrible way you or I couldn’t possibly imagine.”

“What’s her name?” she asked.

“Excuse me?”

“This leader you spoke of. What’s her name?”

John looked terrified to even speak it. “Does it matter?”

“It matters to me. Should I ever cross paths with that bitch out here, I want to know the name of this despicable child-killing person before I stick this axe blade in her skull.”

John saw the fire in this savage woman’s eyes and knew that she meant it. His face went pale as he whispered, “Her name is Lady Clementine.” He looked around nervously as if invoking the name would suddenly make her materialize in front of them. “Trust me, Janet, you don’t ever want to meet her. She’s a monster.”

“I’ve killed monsters,” Gina said. It takes a monster to kill a monster. The thought caught her off guard and made her tremble.

“I believe you,” John said. “But I wouldn’t wish such an encounter on anyone, including you. She’s the worst kind of monster in this world—made for it—and you’d be wise to steer clear.”

“If your monster hunts us down out here, I may not have a choice,” Gina said.

John looked irked. “Of course, you do! You run… like me! Get the hell out of these fucking woods and never look back! You run while there’s still time!”

“What do you mean by that?”

John averted his eyes. “This is bigger than you or me… bigger than everything out here. This group is part of something much larger, something much more dangerous than just fighting off dead-heads in the woods. Fuck! She can make the dead… do things!”

The alarms were going off in Gina’s mind. “Who is this woman, John? Who is she really? And who are these people that make you want to shit your pants right now?”

John looked into her eyes and said, “They started the whole fucking thing, Janet! Everything that’s happened starts with them… and they’ve been preparing for it for a very long time.”

Gina forgot to breathe. “Are you talking about… Mother?”

John’s eyes went wide with surprise.

~~~

Next Episode 44-7

Previous Episode 44-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 44-6: 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.

~~~

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 44-6

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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Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

Exiled – Day 8

Gina could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she sprinted through the forest. She ducked under a low branch, then jumped over a dead tree. Finally, she stopped behind the cover of a large oak to catch her breath. The moans and the erratic movements of the excited dead came at her from everywhere. She couldn’t help but smile as she sucked in air, feeling like some giddy child playing a horrific game of hide and seek. The truth was, Gina never felt more alive.

She ducked down and peered around the tree.

The dead were still following, as fast as their lethargic legs could carry them, stumbling through nature’s obstacle course and into each other. They were growing more and more manic since the fresh blood bag with the red hair had revealed itself a few hours ago.

Gina had spent most of the morning luring them together from several locations in the woods with a combination of sounds and visual stimuli, letting them get a good look at her when they slowed down and started to scatter.

She watched the lead zombies slow down again. Time to rile ‘em up, she thought. Gina lifted her hand axe, turned the flat end toward the tree, and knocked on the trunk five times.

The closest dead-heads, appearing to fall asleep while standing, heard the new sounds, turned toward Gina’s location and started to push through the brush.

Gina waited until enough of them were moving again, then sprinted across the forest less than ten feet in front of the lead zombies, causing them all to get agitated and charge toward her. Gina doubled back through the trees, dodging and weaving away from the frustrated corpses, stopping just long enough to knock on several more trees, and then resuming her dash through the forest.

When she was satisfied that enough of them were chasing her again, Gina led them toward the stream. She stopped at the bank and looked back. The dead were still charging toward her location. She estimated that there were at least thirty of them now, all united in one sole purpose to tear her apart.

Gina rechecked the sling on her shotgun, making sure it hung snug down her back and over her soiled coat, and then started crossing the stream until the water rose just below her knees. She could hear the dead getting close as she stepped out and on to the other side. She turned just as the first of the dead reached the opposite bank and stopped. They were swinging their bloody limbs toward her and hissing and snarling and pushing at each other, but none of them entered the water.

Gina smiled at them, waving her axe. “Well done!” she called over. “Now… just stay over there and try to keep up, you dumb fucking dead things… alright?”

More and more of the dead began to gather along the bank, spreading out and howling fiercely at their prey just on the other side of the stream.

Thank you, Stephen, Gina thought. He’d once told her that the dead didn’t like water. God only knew why. He’d said that when he’d been sick in Fairport Harbor with the dead pursuing him through the woods, he’d only survived because he’d managed to get across the Grand River… and the dead hadn’t pursued him into the water.

Stephen’s theory was panning out perfectly now as Gina walked along the stream, keeping an eye open for any dead stragglers on her side of the water, while the dead on the other side kept pace with her.

“This is too damn easy,” she said, jumping over a rock and continuing upstream. She looked across and counted the small herd. “Forty fuckers and counting!” she said. “You guys have more hungry friends than I thought.” She focused on the stream ahead. It was staring to get wider and straighter as they approached the edge of the woods. All she had to do now was lead them just beyond that edge, and then…

Gina suddenly stopped as a woman appeared between two large rocks, standing up on her side of the stream. The woman wore a green bandana around her head.

Gina ducked down. Shit! Almost ran right into her!

It was the grave-digging woman from earlier. The woman stared across the stream at the herd and let loose a horrific scream.

The dead responded by ignoring Gina and moved toward the woman.

Gina watched as the panicked woman back-stepped away from the stream and fell into the mud near the bank.

If she runs farther into the forest, back towards me, the dead will get turned around! Gina stood up and approached the terrified survivor. The woman got to her feet, turned, and saw Gina storming toward her. The woman yelled and then backed into the stream, slipping into the water. She was now trapped between Gina and the herd on the opposite bank.

“Calm down before you get too close to them!” Gina said.

The woman stopped, stared at Gina with the widest eyes, and then pointed. “They… they can fucking talk now? What the fuck?”

Gina gave the woman a puzzled glance, then stared at her dirty hand holding the axe. She thinks I’m one of them! Fuck me, I need a bath.

“Stay away from me!” the woman shouted, managing not to cross the stream and become the herd’s lunch. The woman reached the bank on Gina’s side, struggling to get up.

Gina was out of patience. She raised her arms toward the woman, attempting her best imitation at shambling forward with her legs, and hissed, “Me… hungry! Me want… BRAINS!”

The woman shrieked, somehow getting to her feet without falling, and ran like a lunatic upstream toward the edge of the woods.

The dead started after her from their side of the stream.

Gina shook her head and followed. “That was the worst fucking zombie imitation… ever! Did I really just say ‘Brains’?”

The crazed woman exited the woods just ahead of the dead. She stumbled across the stream toward her camp, yelling between breaths. “They’re… coming! They can… they can… speak! We’re so fucked!”

The rest of the survivors camped near the underpass stood up alarmed, nervously staring at each other. Two of them went to help the bandana woman out of the stream who was pointing back behind her like she was trying to stab the air with her finger. She was so out of breath she collapsed in the grass.

The dead exited the forest, following the stream directly toward the survivors’ camp.

Some were barking orders. Others started screaming. Most were running toward the underpass, trying to grab their gear as they fled.

Gina silently watched from the edge of the woods as the herd of forty dead invaded the camp. She was nervously biting one dirty thumbnail. This was dangerous. What was I thinking?

Fortunately, all the panicked survivors made it to the underpass, fleeing just ahead of the dead.

The dead continued to pursue them beneath the freeway until the camp was completely clear of both the living and the dead.

“It worked,” she whispered. “They all got away.”

Of course, she would never really know.

“Doesn’t matter. They’re gone.” For a moment, a chill seized her. Her own voice sounded hollow… void of compassion.

Gina walked down into the abandoned camp. She ignored the scattered bags and clothing and stopped in front of the wheel barrels full of food. Two had been tipped over in the panic, but all of it had been left behind.

Gina smiled liked the devil.

~~~

She stared up at the full moon through the tops of the pine trees. Gina silently wished the clouds would take it away, killing off the extra light that produced shadows everywhere like large long fingers covered in darkness, smeared across the forest. The night felt warm. There was no breeze. Everything was… still.

She looked back at the opened can of beef raviolis in her hand, her third can, held it up over her mouth, and tapped the bottom of the can until the cold, wet pasta filled her mouth. She absently tossed the empty can into the woods. Her belly full—an ancient sensation—Gina sluggishly leaned back, feeling the heat from her fire caress her cheeks.

She stared over at the tied-up zombie girl. The Ashley-thing stared weakly over a Gina, looking neither curious, nor threatening. It just looked dead. Now that the leg Gina had provided it was gone, the creature was starving again.

“You missed all the action earlier,” Gina told it. “I have to hand it to your friends, they did the job. Scared the hell out of those idiots. You should’ve seen them run… my God… it was hysterical.”

The creature did not laugh.

Gina shook her head at it. “You’re a real fucking buzz kill, you know that? We scored ‘big time’ today. I’ve got enough food hidden away out here for a couple of months now. No more freeway trips. No more leaving the woods… and no more meddlers hanging out in my forest. All in all, I’d say this was a fucking great day.”

The zombie had no response.

Gina frowned at it. “I’d offer you some food, but you’d just waste it. Sorry, no bloody human steaks are available. Just the one in front of you, and unfortunately, I’m still off the menu.”

It continued to stare at her.

“Stop staring at me like that. I didn’t hurt anyone. I just… scared them off. It was for their own good. It’s not my fault they left all their shit behind.”

The Ashley-zombie snorted.

“What was that? Oh… you’re going to judge me? A fucking dead flesh eater’s going to make me feel bad? Oh, that’s rich! I suppose you think I stole their food. That it? Well… fine! Maybe I did! Maybe they should’ve tried harder to keep their shit together, or… or… maybe next time they should make better preparations when they decide to camp all ‘la-de-da’ out in the middle of nowhere! Far as I’m concerned, I did them a fucking favor! Next time, they’ll be smarter… and if not… they’ll be dead!”

The zombie continued to stare silently.

“You know what? Fuck you! You’re just a stupid girl, Ashley. You’re so stupid… so stupid you got yourself killed! So, where the hell do you get off judging me? Huh? I’m still alive! You’re fucking dead and I’m still…”

Alone.

The creature lowered its head and remained still.

“That’s what I thought,” Gina finished weakly. She reached for her full food bag and then knocked it over in a fit of rage. “That was fucking pointless, dumbass,” she scolded herself, starting to pick up canned items that fell from the bag. She looked back over at Ashley.

There was no one there but a dead thing who didn’t care.

Gina turned away, still angry. “Fine,” she whispered.

The full moon caught her attention again.

Gina stared up at it, feeling exposed. “And what about you, God?” Gina whispered toward the celestial orb. “Are you going to judge me, too? Or have you given up on us a long time ago?”

The moon had no response.

~~~

Sometime later, between Gina’s restless sleep and the dawn, one of the shadowy fingers moved across the pine trees… slowly… ever so slowly… until it passed the embers of Gina’s failing fire and fell across the filthy woman’s exhausted face.

The finger hovered over that face—a face clearly expressing some nightmarish affair occurring just on the other side of two closed eyelids as Gina eyes shot back and forth, searching the macabre dreamscape for elusive meaning.

The finger moved closer… closer…

The weakened zombie girl bolted up, its deteriorated body tensing against its restraints. It ferociously howled into the night, causing the finger to flee. Even the moon above shuddered at the beast’s intense growls, ducking in and out of the clouds.

Gina’s eyes shot open. She knew immediately that something was wrong.

She reached over for her silenced handgun, sat up, and started firing in a wide arc into the night. Every shadow had become an enemy. Gina stopped only when her clip ran out. She continued to dry fire her handgun several more times before her rational mind reclaimed control.

Gina dropped the gun, reached over and picked up her axe, and started scanning her dark surroundings. She was breathing hard. She was sweating profusely.

Something was here! her mind insisted.

But there was nothing. The night was still.

She stared over at Ashley.

The dead thing did not move. It hung limp from the rope around its neck with two black bullet holes in the side of its grotesque head.

For a moment, Gina felt… well… she didn’t know what she felt. The dead thing was gone now. That meant she was officially alone.

Gina continued to scan the darkness while reloading her handgun.

You’re not alone, Gina… not yet. The thought felt foreign in her mind.

Whether a premonition or an indifferent promise… it felt like the truth.

~~~

Next Episode 44-5

Previous Episode 44-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 44-4: 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.

~~~

Before dusk, Gina had retrieved her weapons bag and traveled deeper into what she considered her forest, moving farther south through the thick woods and avoiding small packs of the dead, until she’d found a copse of pine trees up on a small ridge. With the advantage of higher ground, and the additional concealment the pines afforded, as well as masking her scent, Gina had decided to set up camp among the pines.

Sitting before a small fire, Gina inhaled the second half of a bag of beef jerky, and a bottle of water—both provided by the dead man’s backpack. There were also three small packs of peanuts, and a box of Slim Jims, along with three more bottles of water. The food had been an immediate relief, providing her the needed fuel to safely get away and find a new camp before nightfall… but it wouldn’t last long.

Two days tops, she calculated with a shrug. Doesn’t matter. Each day out here could be her last, food or no food, and there were many wondrous new ways to die in this dangerous world. Starvation seemed almost a merciful way to go considering the alternatives.

For now, she chose to savor a dry evening before a warm fire, relishing the salty taste of the dried meat that made her eyes roll to the back of her head with each bite. This is better than sex… almost, she thought with a smile.

Gina stood up, grabbed the dead man’s pack, and sat back down before the fire.

“Thanks for the jerky orgasm, dead guy, but what else did you pack?” She started pulling out items and then stopped as a fit of laughter seized her. “‘Jerky orgasm’… now that’s a bit redundant.” This just made her laugh harder as she wiped tears from her eyes and then settled down. She nervously looked around the dark trees, not expecting the dead, but feeling self-conscious, speaking out loud and laughing with no one. “I guess this is what the beginning of madness looks like,” she said, feeling more and more comfortable talking to herself. She ate another piece of jerky and smiled. “It was funny, though… guess you had to be there.” She returned to the backpack.

There wasn’t much else of any use aside from a cheap pocket knife, some spare clothes, a small pack of band-aids, and a spool of nylon rope. The rest of the pack was full of more memorabilia poison. Gina pulled out a small picture frame. It was the man, looking much more alive, standing next to a woman holding a baby. In the background, Gina could see the ocean.

“Must have been nice… that life.” She removed the picture from the frame, tossed the frame aside, and then stared at the photograph as if trying to place herself on that beach. She then frowned and tossed the picture into the fire. “Goodbye,” she whispered, not really knowing why.

Fortunately, there were no more photographs, just trinkets that once held significance, now as meaningless as the man who once carried them. She burned what would burn, discarding the rest. And that’s it.

Gina returned the useful items to the backpack, merging what she could from her gun bag… minus the shotgun. “Well, it’s good pack,” she said to no one. “Now I just need-”

Something was crawling toward her from the darkness, through the thick brush beneath the pine trees.

Seriously? These fucking things never quit!

Gina cautiously backed up, keeping the fire between herself and the intruder, while she took aim with her silenced handgun. Better not be more than one… I’d hate to waste the ammo.

Something crawled into the firelight, raised its sickly and lethargic head up toward Gina and hissed… weakly.

Shit! Gina raised the gun to keep from firing, startled by the sight of a young zombie girl.

It was an emaciated teenage girl with tangled long black hair with faded blond highlights. The girl was wearing some torn-to-shreds, bloody concert t-shirt with some band or emblem that could no longer be identified.

The dead thing tried to lift itself up and charge at Gina, but it lacked the strength to do so, only managing to get its hair tangled up in a low pine tree branch. The thing was immediately pulled back by the bouncing branch as it struggled to get free, flailing its stick-like arms and screeching at the pine tree in vain as if caught in the middle of some teenage zombie tantrum.

She looks… she looks just like Ashley!

Yes, the resemblance was there. But it wasn’t Greg’s dead daughter.

Gina frowned at the frail thing. For a zombie, it didn’t look like it had eaten much since turning. But it had somehow managed to survive the winter.

Survive? Is that something the dead… do?

The teenage thing continued to howl in frustration at the pine. Every few seconds, it would forget its hair was snagged, charge toward Gina again, and then repeat the cycle of being pulled back by the indifferent pine as the pitiful creature swore at it in zombie tongue.

“Well, you certainly act like her,” Gina said with a laugh, putting down her gun and retrieving her hunting knife.

The Ashley-like zombie turned toward Gina’s voice and stopped struggling for a moment.

Gina stared at it and raised her eyebrows. “You’re a creepy little fucker, aren’t you?”

The zombie thing just stared back in response.

Gina shook her head. “For a moment, I thought you were going to say something. Yeah… I’m definitely starting to fucking lose it out here.” Gina moved forward with her knife to put the thing down.

As soon as she moved, the teenage zombie charged again, swinging its arms toward Gina’s face, before the pine tree pulled it back in place.

“Calm down you little shit-head,” Gina spat, trying to get close enough to stab the psychotic teen. “That tree is thoroughly kicking your ass, by the way.”

The zombie girl stopped struggling again and stared at her.

Gina paused. “Stop doing that. It’s hard enough to do this nasty business without you acting like you understand me, or something.”

The zombie girl continued to stare.

“Do you understand me?” Gina asked. She took a step closer to the girl, moving very slowly, knife ready for its charge.

But the zombie teen just sat there, staring into Gina’s face. Gina swore it even cocked its head like some dog trying to understand a strange sound.

Gina braced her feet, anticipating the frail thing’s charge. She would use its crazed momentum against it, get inside, and stab it in the ear. But it wasn’t charging.

“Come on! What the hell are you waiting for… and invitation to dinner?” Gina swung her blade in front of its face.

This got it to stir. The zombie teen started to charge again but one of the bones in its left leg snapped, causing it to fall over on its face.

Gina was unprepared for the clumsy maneuver. She backed up three steps.

“You’re one pathetic zombie,” Gina said, staring at the dead thing’s broken leg. “How the hell did you make it this long?”

The zombie girl stared down at her useless leg, not comprehending why she couldn’t get back up. It didn’t stop her from trying to jump at Gina again. This time, it toppled over sideways and bashed its head into the pine tree’s trunk.

“Well… you had to try… I guess,” Gina said. She was starting to feel sorry for the lousy zombie girl. “Why don’t you just lie there and let me finish this. You’ll save yourself so much more embarrassment.”

Colliding with the bully-like pine tree seemed to stun the beast. It didn’t move much and was slow to regroup for another pointless attack at human flesh.

To Gina, the creature reminded her of a wasp she’d found when she was a child. It had managed to stick around well into the winter months as young Gina found it dying near a floor vent. She’d screamed her head off until her grandfather came in and they both watched it struggle. It couldn’t fly… couldn’t sting… it just slowly crawled beneath her grandfather’s raised shoe, oblivious to the crushing that followed.

Gina watched the dead thing try to get up, but it kept falling back down. Eventually, it rose to its knees and raised its head toward Gina again. This time, it didn’t seem all that eager to tear its teeth into the red-headed blood bag. It attempted to hiss at her, but it came out as a low groan.

“Okay. Let’s get this over with.” Gina approached the dead thing again. This time it didn’t charge. It just stared at her with that intense desire in its eyes, lacking the will to heed its compulsion for blood.

The zombie girl let Gina get within striking distance as it continued to stare.

Gina was about to bring the blade down directly through the top of its head.

But she stopped.

~~~

The next afternoon, Gina reluctantly decided to return to the freeway for a second attempt at foraging supplies. She moved farther east this time, hoping the horde she’d seen had continued west along the interstate.

Before exiting the forest, Gina heard hushed voices coming from the other side of a large group of trees off to her right. She ducked down to avoid being seen and started crawling toward the voices, using the trees for cover.

She stopped when a man and woman came into view through the foliage. They were both wearing t-shirts with small packs on their backs. The man, who was wearing a dirty ball cap over his eyes, bent over to pick up a shovel and then just stood there. “Any last words?” he said.

The woman had a green hoody wrapped around her waist and a matching bandana around her forehead, holding her long hair out of her face. She shook her head. “Let’s just… let’s just finish this.”

The man started moving dirt from a small pile into what appeared to be a grave.

Gina turned her head back toward the way she’d come. The freeway was close enough to make out through the tree line. What are they doing out here? Gina thought with annoyance. She concluded that they must have come from the other side of the highway, deciding to stop in her woods to bury one of their own. This is bullshit! She was vaguely aware of how insensitive she was behaving, but it changed nothing. They didn’t belong here. Is it just these two or are they part of a larger group? she wondered. After further inspection of the man and woman, Gina shook her head after realizing they were unarmed. Fucking tourists. They think that just because they’re in the woods that they’re safe. She started fidgeting as she tightened her grip on the shotgun. Since living out in this forest, Gina was aware that the dead occupying these woods tended to avoid the freeway, just as the freeway dead never ventured away from the highway. She didn’t understand why that was, assuming that the dead, on some level, behaved with territorial tendencies. This mutual understanding between the dead created a zombie-free zone near the freeway, just inside the woods to the south… unless there were living idiots foolish enough to set up camp in the area.

Gina took a deep breath, considering her options. She could reveal herself to these two, warn them to move on. But then their group would know she was living in the woods, and perhaps, follow her deeper into the forest.

Fuck! The last thing I need are survivors stirring up the local dead population any more than they already are! She decided to wait. Perhaps they would return to some camp on the other side of the freeway and move on.

The man stopped and leaned against the shovel. “Well, that’s that.”

“Did you… you know… make sure he was really dead?” the woman said.

“Yeah. I bashed his skull in with my axe first.”

“I didn’t need to know that.”

“You asked.”

Gina rolled her eyes impatiently. Come on… just leave already.

“We should get back,” the woman said. “Brandon’s gonna have a cow if we’re gone too long.”

The man laughed. “He’s going to have a heart attack if he keeps worrying about everything. Josh got bit two days ago following that idiot’s orders.”

“Don’t remind me.” The woman looked around the woods. “This place creeps me out. I feel like I’m being watched.”

Gina made herself smaller behind the tree.

“He’s talking about staying here a few days,” the man said, moving toward the woman. They both started walking east together, parallel to the freeway. “He thinks we could score big searching all those cars before crossing back.”

“You can’t be serious?”

“Brandon thinks that underpass is a perfect place to set up a base.”

Gina considered their words. Underpass? That explains it. They crossed beneath the freeway, somewhere they feel protected from what’s above them.

When the two strangers were far enough ahead and out of earshot, Gina started following them to their camp. She had to know what she was dealing with.

Ten minutes later, Gina found the rest of their group. There were at least fifteen of them hanging out near a stream that emptied out beneath the freeway and ran into the woods. Rather than safely remaining hidden within the low convex-shaped cave built into the concrete underpass, they were all performing various chores out in the tall grass near the water. Some were washing clothes while others were eating. Some were just lying out in the sun, and others were laughing next to a small fire pit.

Gina looked up toward the freeway. She could see no movement in between the tops of condensed cars.

Those morons have been damn lucky to escape notice so far, she thought. If they’d pulled this shit a day earlier, the horde would be raining on top of them right now. Once again, Gina looked for weapons. Other than a few wielding baseball bats and one carrying a golf club, she didn’t see one gun among them. None of them seemed concerned enough to watch for dead-heads, all assuming they’d found a secure and secluded place.

“Fucking retards!” Gina hissed to herself. “Just leave! Get the hell out of here before you ruin everything!” Gina wasn’t worried about these fools as much as what it would mean if the freeway dead discovered them down there. After falling from the overpass to feed, the dead could conceivably wander off into the woods afterward, too stupid to figure out how to get back up on the freeway, increasing the dead population in the forest considerably.

She was about to turn and leave when she spotted something curious in the middle of the idiots’ camp. Gina moved in as close as she could without risking exposure until she identified four covered wheel barrels. That’s odd, she thought. A gust of wind suddenly blew one of the tarps off a wheel barrel overloaded with a variety of food supplies. It looks like these fools raided some grocery store and tossed whatever they could into the wheel barrels. Gina was getting more and more upset the longer she watched them. They have enough food to last them weeks! And yet, they risk everything just to get more.

Gina started back before she emptied her shotgun into the air above their heads. She needed to return to the pine trees, gather up her meager supplies, and head farther south and away from these… people.

While backtracking, she nearly stumbled over the freshly dug grave. Gina stood there and shook her head. The body was half in, half out of a poorly dug hole that was way too shallow for the scrunched-up body dumped into it.

“Josh, I presume,” Gina said. The majority of the dirt mercifully covered the man’s face, leaving much of the rest of the body exposed beneath a flimsy layer of earth. “They buried him like they could give a shit,” Gina said. “That Brandon probably ordered them to do it.” She noticed the blade of a hand axe sticking out of what was left of the dirt pile next to the body. Gina bent down and picked it up. “Add ‘careless’ to the rest of these idiots’ survival resume. This was probably the best weapon they had.”

Gina started wiping the bloody blade off in the grass. She then stopped, remembering something. She turned and looked at the body.

~~~

She held her hands over the small fire for warmth, noticing how filthy they were. She stared into her palms with a weak smile, understanding that those grimy hands might as well had been a mirror to how the rest of her must’ve looked. Gina stared up into the clear night, the smell of pines dominating the cool but comfortable evening. She’d decided to spend one more night in the pines before heading south in the morning. “You’re looking pretty savage, girl,” she told herself. “Keep this up and someone’s going to mistake you for a dead-head.”

In response, the creature with the broken leg, now securely tied to the base of the pine tree that once held it, looked up toward Gina with a look of puzzlement, then dipped its bloody mouth back into its meal.

Gina gave it a sideways glance just long enough to make sure the nylon rope was still secure around its neck, then averted her eyes. She couldn’t stand to watch it feed. Gina stared into the fire with a frown and said, “Hurry that up you sick fucking thing. I can’t listen to that shit all night.”

The Ashley-looking zombie ignored her and continued to bite into the meaty portions of the human leg.

Gina closed her eyes and shook her head. Why are you keeping it alive? You should’ve put it down last night and moved on. Yes, Gina had surprised herself when she’s attempted to put her blade into the pathetic creature’s skull, and then stopped when it looked up at her with those miserable eyes.

What is this? Pity? Are you that hard-up for company that you actually feel sorry for the flesh eater?

Gina looked back at it.

The Ashley-thing stopped feeding and stared at her.

“Don’t thank me for the meal… thank Josh.” She immediately regretted the joke.

Gina lightly laughed at the absurdity of it all. “Here I am, in the middle of fucking nowhere, looking like I need a permanent shower,” she started. “I just desecrated a grave today and now I’m talking to a killer corpse who looks a little like a girl I once knew… Maybe I am crazy.”

The zombie continued to stare at her, blood dripping from its chin.

Gina leaned forward toward the creature. “Do you even understand anything I’m saying? Or am I just some food source you can’t quite get to yet?”

The zombie had no response.

“You do look better this evening… well… as much as you can for being dead.” Gina reached over to grab another stick for the fire.

The Ashley-thing hissed at her.

“Shut up, dead meat. Haven’t you ever heard the expression, ‘don’t bite the fucking hand that feeds you’?” This made Gina laugh. “If you weren’t a fucking stupid cannibal, I think you’d find that hilarious right now.”

The zombie growled at her this time.

“Okay. Maybe not so funny. You’re a touchy little carnivore, aren’t you?”

The zombie put its face down and resumed eating the leg.

Gina just watched the dead girl this time, as if staring curiously at the strange habits of some pet. “Are you even aware of where you are, what’s happened to the world, or that you’re fucking dead? Or, are all the lights out in that rotting skull of yours except the one that keeps buzzing like some fucking bug lamp every time you bite into flesh?”

The zombie continued to feed.

Gina stared at the girl’s filthy hair, and then into her bloody grey face, marveling again at how much she resembled Ashley. Gina leaned back with a grunt. “I keep expecting you to glare at me and say something smart-ass to one of my lame dead jokes. I suppose you’d have to still be human to feel offended.”

The zombie continued to feed.

Gina turned away, tossing her hands out, and feeling ridiculous. “Look at me, seeking acknowledgement from the dead. Hell… I’m still talking out loud to myself.” She turned to look at the dead thing and finished, “I guess the one thing I have in abundance out here is the privacy to lose my shit in any way I choose without worrying about what anyone will think.”

The dead thing stopped and stared at her again.

Gina’s eyes glazed over as she stared past the dead girl. “I’m alone out here. Probably going to die alone. Doesn’t matter how I look, or what I say… or do… not anymore.”

The dead thing grunted, drawing Gina out of the darkness.

She smiled at it and said, “That’s right. Fuck it all! If I want to talk to a dead girl for a little while… then… so what? You’re certainly not going to judge me, right?”

The zombie continued to stare back.

Gina’s face changed. “And… and if I wanted to… pretend… for a little while… that you are Ashley… you’re not going to mind… right?”

The zombie had no response.

Gina closed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let you down, little girl. I wasn’t there to watch over you. I lied to you back then… back on the tracks. I made you believe it was okay to still just be a kid, and that you’d always be safe… and that the world would go back to normal. But it didn’t, and it wasn’t okay… and you died. Then I let your dad die, too.” Gina stopped, wiping tears away from her dirty face. “Anyway… I just wanted to say that I… I’m very sorry, Ashley. I’m sorry I let you down… that I wasn’t strong enough back then… and that you died because of it.” She looked at the dead thing.

The zombie had resumed feeding.

Gina smiled. “Man… I’m losing my shit out here. Get it together, girl, before you start seeing all your friends in the faces of the dead.” She took a deep breath and forced all the emotions back down into the darkness… where they belonged. She shook her head at the zombie. “So, aside from me losing my fucking mind… I ran into some survivors today. That’s why you’re eating good tonight.”

The dead thing looked back up.

“That’s right. Anyway, I wanted to scare them off because they’re just like so many others in this world now. They’re already dead, but they don’t know it yet. But I know. I can tell. People like that don’t last long out here. How they survived the winter I’ll never know. Probably got lucky and found a hole in the ground somewhere like we did. In a way, I’m glad you weren’t around for that, Ashley. You would’ve hated being stuck in that underground prison. I know I did.” Gina turned back toward the fire. “Anyway, these people, they’re here now and we’ve… I mean… I’ve got to leave these woods. Get far away before they fuck this all up… and they will.”

Gina looked toward the dead girl who continued to stare back. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that if I’m so fucking lonely out here then why don’t I just join up with them. Makes sense, right? But it doesn’t. Trust me. I’ll end up getting them killed because they’re not fit for this world. If I joined them, I’d forget they’re already dead. I’d start acting like them, too. Then I’d get complacent, lower my guard just once, and that’s when it would happen. The dead would come… people would die… and that blood would be on me. All on me.”

The zombie continued to stare.

“So, you see,” Gina finished, “I’m not good for them, and they’re not good for me. Whenever I’m around the living, I just get people killed. My heart can’t take that anymore, Ashley. It makes me weak. Makes me vulnerable. And you can’t be weak in this world if you want to win… if you want to survive!”

The Ashley-thing growled at her as Gina raised her voice.

“That’s right!” Gina said. “You get what I’m saying, don’t you, Ash? That’s why we’re leaving tomorrow. Those fucking people are going to get themselves killed… and us, too, if we stay. Although, I guess you don’t have to worry about that.”

The dead girl grunted.

“I just wish we didn’t have to go. I mean, we could make this work out here. There’s plenty of room for all your friends and myself. I already know the routines of the dead-heads in these woods. I’m already recognizing the regulars wandering around out here. Their habits and behaviors are predictable. If you and I can sit here like this and not kill each other, then maybe I can do the same with the others. But it won’t work if the living start stumbling through our forest… those greedy fuckers! There’s nothing out here for them!”

The zombie was getting more excited, aroused by Gina’s anger.

“You want them gone, don’t you? I can see it in your dead fucking face. Maybe… maybe I’ll go back tomorrow morning, check to see if they’re still there. It’s possible they gave up and left. But if they are still there…”

Gina’s face lit up as a horrific idea struck her.

She quickly shook her head. “No. That would be crazy. Risky as fuck… especially if it backfired.”

But the more she considered her idea, the more it excited her. Gina got up and retrieved the hand axe from her pack. She walked over to the nearest pine tree, turned the axe so the flat side was facing out, and then struck the tree trunk hard one time.

The Ashley-thing dropped the leg, responding to the knocking sound, completely unaware that Gina had caused it. It leaned forward toward the tree until the rope went tight around its neck, then it fell back, howling in frustration. A moment later, the creature re-discovered the human leg as if seeing it for the first time, and then resumed feeding.

Stupid fucking things… but sound sensitive, Gina thought. I can use that.

Gina sat back down and began drawing in the dirt with a stick. She started mapping out where most of the dead in her woods hung out… and then she drew an ‘X’ signifying where the survivor’s camp by the stream was.

Go check first, she thought. Find out if those idiots are still there… and how far away the next freeway herd is.

Gina had already scanned the interstate this afternoon before heading back, believing most of the freeway dead had already moved west. Tonight, those people were safe. But tomorrow… unknown.

If they were still camped there come morning. Gina would have to leave.

Or, resort to something… crazy.

~~~

Next Episode 44-4

Previous Episode 44-2

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“Chapter 44-3: The Nomad” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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