“Something malevolent has awoken in Northeast Ohio. Former acquaintances, neighbors, loved ones—all at random—transform into flesh-craving monsters hell bent on devouring the living. Corpses are rising from their places of unrest. Nocturnal animal-man hybrids hunt in packs. The dead are awakening from within the living…

By morning, the sun weeps over streets splattered blood-red as an unsettling silence soon follows, lulling the broken remains of society into believing the blood bath is over.

As a second wave approaches, a handful of survivors from all walks of life must put aside their differences and band together to escape the pending slaughter while storm clouds begin to gather from within their fragile community. Some who were once respectable in the eyes of society will devolve into madness while the despicable rise to the occasion in a world no longer respecting of persons.

It is their world now. The dead are hungry and do not discriminate.”

-From Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares

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Hello,

My name is Scott Scherr, part-time poet and fiction writer. I want to welcome all of you and thank you for giving my story a read.

Don’t Feed The Dark is an apocalyptic serial novel that I started posting back in the spring of 2014. It has since grown into a rather long work consisting of five completed novels (sixth one in pre-production) totaling more than 939,000 words so far, and 281 episodes online. In addition, there are currently four spin-off tales and an online talk show titled, After The Dark.

Some might call this a zombie story. But I assure you, it’s a lot more than that. I prefer to think of this as a character-driven survival story with all sorts of mysteries and monsters both within and without.

For as long as it takes for me to complete this dark saga, I will always make it available to read for free online. You can click right here to start reading from the beginning, or simply refer to my sidebar for chapter links, spin-off stories, online interviews, reviews, etc. Also, to find out more about me, my various publications, or the latest DFTD updates, please refer to this sticky page or the tabs at the top of the home page.

For readers who are returning and want a refresher synopsis of the first five books in the series you can refer to the tab at the top of the homepage or just click Returning Readers (Refresher).

If you’ve been enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark, please help support the cause by liking it on facebook, following along on twitter, and voting for it once a week on Top Web Fiction. You can also write reviews for it on Web Fiction Guide and Royal Road, or just help spread the word via social media. Every little bit helps in getting this long dark tale known.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you in the comments and that I might find some of you with me when this story eventually comes to an end.

-Scott

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will begin on Halloween…

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 10/15/18

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 8/15/18

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 7/15/18

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 6/12/18

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 4/3/18

Don’t Feed The Dark Updates: 3/13/18

~~~

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~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent until after reading Chapter 35: Dead Dolls.

~~~

Spring 1970:

She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Several times while trying to organize her notes, Candice Forrester nearly dropped them on the well-buffed linoleum floor. She looked around at the large lobby of the Administration Building and wanted to vomit. She’d never needed to share the same air with the college Big Wigs before, let alone, having to speak directly to the Board. And now, she was under their microscope.

“Relax,” Michael told her again. He placed her hands in his to stop the explosion of paperwork. “Honestly, you won’t need these,” he said, laughing lightly to diffuse the tension etched upon her face. “They won’t understand a word of it anyway. These types only understand profit margins, pie charts, and golf outings.”

Candice gave him a weak smile, removed the glasses from her tired eyes, and then tugged nervously on her tightly braided brown ponytail. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you’re not the one with your life’s work on the line. If they start questioning what we’ve been doing with the research grant…”

“…Then you will finally have a chance to blow their socks off with your brilliance,” Michael finished. “Just tell them about it, like you’ve told me. Speak passionately and with conviction, and they’ll know the funding has been well spent.” Michael Finch laid back in the uncomfortable lounge chair and stretched. His long and curly red ponytail slipped out of the back of his suit and hung down behind the chair.

Candice let out a giddy laugh at the sight of her hippy-looking boyfriend in the suit. She rarely saw him dressed in his ‘professional’ attire and was surprised to see him out of his flip-flops for once.

Michael replaced his ponytail back down his jacket. “What… do I amuse you this morning?”

“I’m just trying to figure out when my boyfriend was eaten by the corporate suit-and-tie monster,” she poked.

“Back before my days as an entertainer of business wares, I once had lofty aspirations to become a lawyer,” he reminded her while dusting lint off his well-pressed, outdated suit. “These fine articles of clothing are a result of those days. Besides, it’s easier to sell anything with confidence… and that’s what a good suit does for a man.”

“I know, I know. I better stop now before you try to sell me the suit off your back, right?” she teased.

Michael laughed. “You know me too well. I just wish I could sell you a bottle of calm-the-hell-down and make you drink ‘till your drunk on the stuff.” He looked her in the eyes and finished, “No matter what happens, it’s going to be alright. You know that, don’t you?”

Candice shook her head. “I need this, Michael. I’m too damn close. If they stop funding, I’ll go rogue, take over the lab, and barricade myself in until I’m finished! I can’t start over… I won’t!” She stood up and stopped herself from stomping on the floor.

Michael covered his mouth to hide his amusement at her borderline tantrum.

She shook her head and nervously laughed. “And I’m supposed to be some kind of neurologist with a Master’s Degree and everything. Just look at what I’ve been reduced to.” She sat back down. “I don’t have time for this. The work is at a critical stage.”

“You’re kind of cute—in a geeky mad scientist kind of way—when you get all fired up,” Michael offered.

She gave him a stern look and was about to speak.

Two large doors opened at the other end of the lounge and a tall, pretty secretary, with far too much leg showing in Candice’s professional opinion, approached them, clicking her high heel shoes on the tiles just to drive her nuts with the sound. “Miss Forrester?” Legs asked.

“That’s Dr. Forrester,” Candice corrected.

“My apologies. The Board of Directors will see you now.” Legs turned toward the double doors. “Just follow me, please.”

Click… Clack… Click… Clack…

Candice stood up and felt dizzy. Holy shit! This is really happening! She turned to Michael.

He was already up and moving beside her. “I’m right here. We’ll get through this… I promise.”

~~~

“So, help us understand, Dr. Forrester. What, exactly, have you and your team been researching these last two years?” Dean Stockwell shuffled through a stack of papers on the table as the remaining Board members stared at her as if trying to probe her thoughts. “If I’m understanding correctly, your field of study specified under the conditions of your grant have something to do with analyzing patterns in brain activity with patients suffering various sleep disorders and categorizing REM states over long periods. You claimed that if you could find the common irregular “frequency” in the dream state, that various disorders could be treatable, perhaps preventable. But what you’re telling us doesn’t sound like a sleep study at all. Could you explain to us, in layman’s terms, where you are in your study?”

Candice swallowed hard, then took a sip from her water glass. She looked over at Michael who gave her an encouraging nod. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board,” she started, “while it is true that my primary field of research consisted of documenting dream patterns… my work has since evolved into something far more important, something much more vital than simply studying patterns in REM sleep.”

They all waited.

She took another sip from her glass, silently wishing she could drown herself in it. “While studying the patterns in certain dream states, we began to realize that there were similarities between the most vivid dreams and actual conscious thought, especially within the brain patterns of people who suffered extreme night terrors or those prone to excessive episodes of sleep walking. Comparing those brain patterns with people who were actually awake… well… the evidence showed us that in those extreme cases, it was the unconscious minds which were more ‘active’ than those who were conscious. That’s when we started considering the possibility that unconsciousness may actually be another state of consciousness altogether, rather than just the mind’s way of processing stimuli experienced previously in the conscious state.”

“So what are your saying then?” a stern, hawk-nosed older woman asked. She reminded Candice of every teacher she hated in high school all rolled into one. “Are we supposed to believe that you and your team have managed to uncover and redefine the conscious and unconscious mind based upon your assumption that dreams are… what… real?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes.” Candice stood up. “What I’m saying is that we’ve found far too much evidence of higher brain function activity in many unconscious minds which suggested that some patients, while dreaming, actually believed that the dreams were as real as all of us believe we are sitting here today. The brain patterns were no different from the patterns of those who were wide awake.”

“That isn’t anything new,” an older, robust man with white hair said. “Everyone’s had a dream on occasion that’s felt so real that when they wake, they were surprised they were still in bed. Even the unconscious mind can make a fictional place seem real. That doesn’t make it so.”

“It’s more than that,” Candice defended. “When I said there were no differences in the patterns, I meant more than just believing in the dream itself. There was evidence of self-awareness, responding to experiences… memory recall. It was as though the dreamers were fully awake… and aware… but were elsewhere at the same time. That’s what led us to the real discovery. It’s not about whether the dreams are real or not… it’s about what they really are… or more accurately… what they contain.”

“And that is?” the hawk-nosed woman pushed.

Candice looked to Michael and smiled. She turned back and said, “The dreams are ‘us’. Specifically, they are the place, for lack of a better word, which holds everything about us—who we are, our memories, our personality, beliefs… our very identity. Our dreams are not the playground in which our minds use to process day-to-day activity in an unconscious state. The dreams themselves are the place in which our consciousness originates from. It is this discovery that has altered our aim and led our research to the brink of an extraordinary place… one we simply call, ‘Elsewhere’.”

“That’s not science talking, that’s science fiction!” another older man with a cane and a large grey beard interrupted. “You are making incredible leaps based upon brain wave data which is inconclusive and highly subjective. Regardless of your wild theories, I want to know what all of this has to do with real science and who gave you authorization to include working with coma patients? You have clearly exceeded the mandate of your grant and it’s apparent that the college has been funding your wild goose chase long enough!”

“Alright, alright, let’s keep this civil,” Stockwell said, addressing them all. He turned to Candice. “We could debate theories all day, Dr. Forrester, but that’s not the point of this meeting today. I think it’s clear that, regardless of your findings, you’ve clearly moved your research outside the bounds of your authorized grant, and without prior approval. As it has been pointed out, it was your work with the coma patients that brought you to our attention. Do you deny this?”

Candice looked away. “No, I don’t deny that. But we had to. Working in the coma ward was the next logical step. It was the only way to gain any ground if what we had discovered was true.”

“Well I’ve heard enough,” the bearded man said. “The only logical conclusion after Dr. Forrester’s admission, is to deny any further funds to aid in her… misguided research.”

“Dr. Forrester,” Stockwell said, “Could you please step outside, we will call you back in shortly.”

The Board members started speaking to each other.

Candice felt defeated. She started to rise.

Michael put his hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. You’ve done enough.”

Before she could protest, Michael stood up, straightened his suit, and then walked over toward a large window and peered outside. He then raised his voice just loud enough to gain the Boards’ attention. “It’s hard to believe we did it. I mean… we all heard it… we were all a part of it… but it’s still hard to believe.”

Dean Stockwell said, “Excuse me, young man, did you have something to add?”

Michael turned and smiled. “It was just last summer… July 20… 1969… I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was washing my car, listening to the radio when NASA put those guys up there on that floating chunk of rock. It was an incredible day.”

Stockwell nodded. “Yes, we will all certainly remember that extraordinary event, probably for the rest of our lives. But back to the matter at hand-”

“I remember what I was thinking about, washing that car, when Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon,” Michael said. He started getting animated with his hands. “It was like I was in shock… you know… something like that happening… defying all belief. I immediately fell back in time to when I was a kid and my dad and I used to go out on his boat at night. We’d stare up at that moon and he’d tell me stories about men in rocket ships and aliens in outer space. I remember asking him, ‘Dad, do you think anyone could ever walk on the moon?’ He’d laughed at me and messed up my hair. Then he’d said, ‘You keep dreaming hard enough and the impossible might just become improbable. And if you work towards those dreams hard enough, that’s when the improbable becomes possible.’ I didn’t understand that until I was out washing my car last July. Was a hell of a feeling.”

He had their attention.

Michael started pacing the room. “I hear they have these elaborate computers over there at NASA. Fancy technological do-dads the size of my garage that act like big old robots with brains bigger than anyone in this room. Some people say, dreamers mainly, that we’ll all have computers one day that will be as small as televisions… can you imagine that? Anyway, these same people say that these computers will do just about anything eventually, and they’ll even be so small that you’ll hold them in your hand… crazy talk, right? But wait… we did just put two men on the moon… so who knows?”

He walked around the table, looking into all their eyes. “Now, I don’t pretend to know how those big old fancy computers work, but I’m told their brains will get bigger and bigger as the technology that holds them gets smaller and smaller, until one day, those brains will be so small that you can take it out of one computer and put it in another. Now, before you cut me off, I would like to point out that Dr. Forrester’s theory on dreams is much like those computers. You see… we are all a bit like those fancy computers. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but we all have a brain. And just like those fancy computer brains, our brains are a mystery. But let’s suppose for a minute that there’s a place in our minds where everything is stored… like those computers… and then let’s suppose that the only place large enough to hold an entire human being’s inner most thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences would have to be in a place that’s as unlimited as we are. If that’s the case, then why not the dreamscape buried deep within our own minds? And that… my friends… is what Dr. Forrester has attempted to explain to you. But you won’t listen… you won’t hear her out… you won’t believe.”

“What you are suggesting,” hawk-nosed woman said, “is impossible. You want us to believe that Dr. Forrester’s research will prove that dreams house our identity? That the dreams are what… our souls? You’re out of your mind, Sir.”

“Exactly!” Michael was getting animated. “Just last summer, we put two men up on the moon,” Michael reminded them. “Now… that was impossible, too, right? But we went and did it anyway.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Stockwell said. “Should we continue to fund Dr. Forrester’s research just in case she manages to turn water into wine?”

“No,” Michael said. “I’m not asking anyone to believe… I’m just asking that you allow this incredible woman time to continue believing long enough to put another man on the moon, despite the odds of her actually pulling off the impossible… and what it would mean for this University if she did.”

The Board members got up, walked toward the window, and started talking again.

Michael sat back down.

Candice turned to him and whispered, “That was awesome. Regardless of what they decide, thank you for trying. There’s no way I could’ve made them listen like you just did.” She kissed him on the cheek.

He smiled and said, “Nothing but the best pitch I can muster for the woman I love. Besides, that was easy. You’ve already made a believer out of me, Armstrong.”

After a few minutes they returned.

“Regardless of whether we believe or don’t believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, and honestly, I can’t say that we understand it,” Stockwell began, “this University is not in the business of funding the impossible. So I regret to inform you that your grant extension request has been den-”

“Improbable,” a short middle-aged man with silver hair interrupted. He was the only Board member who had remained silent until now.

“Come again, Mr. Bawle?” Stockwell said.

Mr. Bawle walked over to Michael and Candice and said, “Not all of us believe as wholeheartedly as the two of you, but not all of us wholeheartedly denounce your research either.” He gave them a wink.

“Mr. Bawle, we’ve discussed this already,” Stockwell said. “Their grant has been turned down.”

“Yes, yes, but unlike the rest of you, not only am I a Board member, but the organization in which I represent is a substantial financial contributor to this University… among other things.” Mr. Bawle turned to the other Board members and said, “You may all leave now. This matter is now above your station.”

The other Board members grudgingly departed without another word.

“Shit,” Candice whispered to Michael. “What just happened?”

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

Mr. Bawle turned to them, his hands neatly folded behind his back. “It seems that I am the deciding vote on whether or not your research gains further funding, Dr. Forrester.”

Candice didn’t know what to say.

The little man smiled. “Now, before this enthusiastic young man you brought with you today tries to convince me that the sky is indeed not blue, Dr. Forrester, I will settle this matter. Yes, you have your funding.”

Candice’s knees gave way as Michael caught her. “Thank you, Mr. Bawle,” she said. “You won’t regret it.”

Mr. Bawle lifted one eyebrow and said, “Oh, I am sure to regret a great many things in the days to come. But that is no concern of yours. Now tell me, why the coma ward? If you hadn’t gone and got them involved, you wouldn’t be here today.”

Michael and Candice gave each other a look.

“Come on,” Mr. Bawle said, “out with it. No more secrets.”

Candice sighed heavily and said, “We haven’t been as forthcoming about ‘all’ the research yet. Some of it might be considered… unethical.”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “Well… if it makes you feel any better, you can just tell me and I’ll forget to mention it to the rest of the Board. Acceptable?”

Candice nodded.

“Go ahead and tell the man,” Michael said. “He’s holding the pocketbook, after all.”

“It’s not the coma patients we’re interested in,” Candice said. “Our research involves the others who share the same ward.”

“And who might that be?” Mr. Bawle asked.

“The patients who are being kept alive on life support,” Candice said.

“Excuse my ignorance,” Mr. Bawle said, “but aren’t we still talking about coma patients?”

“Not exactly,” Michael said.

“No,” Candice added. “Coma patients, like those who are in a vegetative state, still have lower brain function, but the others on life support only, have lost all neurological function.”

Mr. Bawle still looked confused.

Candice shook her head in frustration. “The patients included in our research have clinically been declared deceased… brain dead, is the term. But they’re not… and my research will prove it.”

“They’re ‘Elsewhere’,” Michael added.

Mr. Bawle turned toward the window.

Shit… we’ve said too much, Candice thought.

“So let me get this straight,” he finally said. “The patients involved in your research are essentially dead… correct?”

“In laymen’s terms… yes,” Candice conceded.

“But you’re telling me that you can prove that they are not?”

Candice felt like the roof was about to collapse on her head. She looked at Michael. “Like my… colleague… tried to illustrate with the computer analogy, the data can be retrieved from a built in back-up system… even after the primary system has essentially… crashed.”

Mr. Bawle turned with his eyebrows raised. “I’m confused, Dr. Forrester. Either they are dead, or they are not. Which is it?”

Candice took a deep breath. “In order to adequately explain what we’ve discovered, I’m reluctant to answer that question without opening up a big old can of worms on the afterlife, Sir. Let me just say that if our research-”

“Fine. Fine. So… if I’m understanding where this is going, you want me to believe that you can prove that regardless of where the deceased have gone—Heaven, Hell…‘Elsewhere’—that you can… what… bring back the dead?”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” she started. “It’s not a matter of-”

“Yes or no?” Mr. Bawle interrupted.

Candice let out a nervous little laugh. “Well… Sir… in a rudimentary sense… yes.”

This time it was Michael who gave her a surprised look.

Mr. Bawle smiled at her, then nodded at them both, before turning back toward the window.

Candice and Michael gave each other a confused glance.

“I appreciate you being straight forward with me, Dr. Forrester. I’m equally appreciative that you withheld what you just told me from the others.” He turned back around. “They would not understand or be as open-minded to such… possibilities… as my employer would be.”

Candice didn’t know how to respond.

“As I’ve said, your funding has been approved… for now.”

“With all due respect… what does that mean?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle placed his hands on the table and stared at his feet. “It’s just a matter of time before someone at the University brings your research back into question. And I’m afraid that should the information you’ve shared with me gets out… there will be no way to protect you from the backlash.”

Candice nodded and said, “I’m aware of the risks. We’ve been careful to keep our true research hidden. We’ll just have to be more care-”

“How long do you think it will take for someone to connect the dots, Dr. Forrester?” Bawle interrupted.

Candice looked confused. “What… what do you mean by that?”

Mr. Bawle laughed lightly, shook his head, and approached them again. “What I mean is… I’m having a difficult time believing that the connection you share with one of the… brain-dead patients… is coincidental. Or, did you just forget to mention the rest in all the excitement?”

Michael sighed heavily. “Tell him,” he urged. “He already knows.”

Candice nodded and stared at the floor in front of Mr. Bawle’s feet. “Yes, one of the patients happens to be a relative of mine… but that in no way diminishes the results of my research. I didn’t mention it because-”

“You didn’t mention it because if anyone thought that your research was connected to your younger brother’s… condition… they would immediately dismiss your project and declare you emotionally unfit to continue,” Mr. Bawle finished. “Does that about cover it?”

“It’s not like that!” Michael stepped in. “If anything, she’s more motivated to succeed because of it!”

Candice placed her hand on Michael’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It was going to come out eventually… we both knew that.”

Michael frowned and nodded, stepping back.

Mr. Bawle returned his hands behind his back, waiting patiently for the young man’s temper to subside. He gave Candice a well-practiced concerned face, and continued, “I mean no disrespect to you… or your delicate situation. I merely wanted to point out that the truth will come out eventually… and sooner than you think. That’s why I want to offer you a better arrangement so that you can continue your research uninhibited by the University.”

This got both their attention.

Mr. Bawle smiled. “The organization I represent has vested interests all around the globe. Many are not very exciting, I can assure you, but on occasion… we dabble in some, how shall I put it, ‘off the books’ projects that some might consider… ‘impossible’.”

Candice smiled. “You mean ‘improbable’… right?”

Mr. Bawle laughed and pointed at her. “You got me.” He turned and started walking back toward the window. “As it turns out, we have a current long-running project that’s struck a wall. I believe that your research, and the current project my organization has spent considerable resources exploring, might mutually benefit from each other.”

“What are you proposing?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle turned and gave her a serious face. “My organization is prepared to fund your research indefinitely, meaning, you will no longer need to rely upon the University… at all. You will be free to continue your research without fear of being found out or shut down prematurely by… unbelievers.” He gave Michael a wink.

Michael shifted uncomfortably.

“What’s the catch?” Candice asked.

“Well… my organization wants you to succeed, of course, but we also want shared rights to all your discoveries, including the actual application of your work to our current project. And need I remind you, this arrangement is entirely fair, since we are covering all the costs. You would retain all rights to your own work, of course, and could back out whenever you wish. But I believe when you find out what my organization has already achieved, and can apply it to your own work, you will be highly motivated to continue.”

“What could your organization possibly be involved in that would benefit from my research, or vice versa?”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “We can discuss that in more detail after we’ve relocated you off campus and given you a more private and secure location to continue your work.”

Michael and Candice shared a concerned look.

Candice sighed. “What about my patients? I can’t… I can’t leave them here.”

Mr. Bawle nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, you can’t. We will arrange to have them relocated, as well.”

“You can do that?” Michael said.

“Consider it done… should you both agree to our arrangement.” Mr. Bawle raised his hands and finished, “Please, talk it over. But I’ll need to know your answer before the end of the day. We’ve a lot of logistics to take care of and I’d like to get my team started on it.”

“Who do you work for, exactly?” Candice asked.

“Let me just say, I work for an organization that will make sure nothing can hinder your research… ever again. But I’m afraid that’s all I can say… for now. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity presented to you today. I strongly suggest you put aside your doubts and take it.”

“We’ll think about it,” Michael was quick to chime in, staring suspiciously at the short man with the devilish grin.

“Very good,” Mr. Bawle said, putting his hands together. “I have a few more appointments to get in today. Let’s say we meet back together for dinner. Seven o’clock sound good?”

“Sure. That would be great,” Candice said, too quickly.

“Splendid! I’ll have my driver pick you up. I really do hope you accept my organization’s generous offer, Dr. Forrester. You won’t regret it.” Mr. Bawle was about to exit the room, stopped, then turned. “Oh… I’ve one more question for the both of you. Might sound a bit strange.”

“Ask away,” Michael said. “Strange has been the theme today.”

Mr. Bawle laughed mechanically and then said, “Do either of you have any objections to working with children? Specifically, young girls?”

~~~

Author’s Note: As a refresher, this story takes place three years prior to Candice Forrester and Michael Finch’s involvement with the mysterious orphanage (which isn’t really an orphanage) where Meredith spent some time at back in Chapter 35: Dead Dolls. This story hopefully sheds a little light on Candice and Michael’s initial involvement with the organization (a.k.a. Mother if you’re reading between the lines) as Candice decides to ‘deal with the devil’ to further her research.

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***SPOILER ALERT*** If this if your first time reading Don’t Feed The Dark then I strongly encourage you to skip this article. Major events in the storyline will be discussed.

~~~

So here’s your refresher course, and my attempt to summarize some of the main points in the first five books. I know it’s been a while. I hope this helps trigger some memories from previous reading. I’ve divided this synopsis up by each book, so you can read up to whatever book in the series you finished off at without fear of reading spoilers for the books that follow it. Just be sure to stop reading this summary at the point you stopped… or else you risk having unread material spoiled for you.

~~~

Book One: Southbound Nightmares Our story began early Saturday Morning, October 2nd, 2010, with a catastrophic event known as The Change, sometimes referred to as The Madness. This unknown outbreak struck the population, randomly turning people into flesh-craving monsters with fierce yellow eyes. As adequately described in Chapter 8, “It was estimated that one out of every five people simply lost their minds and turned on the living.” Along with this, were other abominations which returned to hunt the flesh of Mankind.

Book One detailed the horrific story of several characters in different locations throughout Northeast Ohio as they attempted to survive that first long night. We were thrown into several different stories happening at that same time as The Change was occurring. Some of the cast we’ve met: Russell Bower- a serial killer; Gina Melborn- a stripper; Stephen Eddington- a history teacher; Charlie Ottermeyer- a professional asshole; Amanda Howard- an alcoholic; Frank Carman- a convict.

Eventually all their stories merged at one of the last known places of refuge, the Percy Power Plant. From there we were introduced to the remainder of our group: Meredith Montgomery- a medium; Doug McFarlane- a baseball player; Greg Dermont- a handyman; Ashley Dermont- Greg’s teenage daughter; Marcus Dempsey- an apocalyptic philosopher.

After an all-out attack on the power plant, these original ten survivors barely escaped the massacre and decided to head for the coast to find a boat, via, a southbound route along an abandoned railway into nowhere. They were met with opposition from their new hostile world, as well as from each other, and they eventually made it to the marina in Fairport Harbor. From there, everything quickly fell apart as our survivors were overwhelmed by a horde of the reanimated dead, while discovering a strange three-pronged symbol, representing a mysterious group believed to be responsible for the attack.

The boat plan failed miserably and our survivors were split up. Douglas was torn to pieces at the marina, and they also lose Greg’s daughter, Ashley, who was bitten trying to get away.

Among some of the stranger events that occur in this book: Meredith has a connection with the dead that allows her to sense when they’re near. Charlie discovers he has an ability to control the dead with his voice, and Stephen is visited by Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard. It is unclear whether he is seeing a ghost… or if he’s losing his mind.

The surviving eight eventually reunited, under Gina’s leadership, and decided to head east/northeast along the Grand River towards a mysterious radio broadcast promising sanctuary, while ultimately aiming for the mountains and a possible refuge in Pennsylvania.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK TWO)

Book Two: Almost Dead In the first book, Gina and her group were hiding out in a boathouse prior to being attacked at the marina, and they heard a CB radio broadcast. Book Two started on the other end of that broadcast where we discovered that Tony Marcuchi, Gina’s friend and bouncer at the strip club from back in Chapter Two, had not perished in a bonfire but was taken prisoner by a deranged, infected half-dead individual known only as the ‘Bad Man’. Tony eventually escaped and was determined to make it back to Gina. Along the way he met a survivor at a truck stop and tried to help her. He ended up fleeing for his life and getting lost in a strange wilderness preserve where we are first introduced to the mysterious and deadly Shadow Dead. Afterwards, he is captured by a former police officer, Samantha Petroskovich, the same cop Frank threw off a rooftop in Book One, and he is introduced to a futuristic looking camp run by a madman named Micom, and an insane machine called Micolad, which is considered the ‘god’ of the camp.

Meanwhile, Gina’s survivors fight their way through a horde of the dark-eyed reanimated in the city of Painesville; a cult of half-dead grey-eyed monsters in the quaint village of Harpersfield; and then deal with the treachery of one of their own near the town of Austinburg as Charlie, who possesses a power to control the dead, has taken Amanda hostage, revealing to the others how very dangerous he truly is.

They ended up leaving Charlie behind and headed southeast toward the town of Jefferson where they met a small community, run by a man named Rusty. During their stay with Rusty’s people, Gina considered joining them shortly before finding out that a large group of the yellow-eyed demons had been tracking them since the power plant. While they fended off the attack, Amanda perished saving Stephen’s life for the sake of her dead daughter, Marie (Nicole). After the battle, and suffering loses, Rusty kicked Gina’s group out when his group discovered what Meredith did to save them and believed she was a witch.

Gina’s group licked their wounds and headed farther south to the town of Andover where Greg is shot down dead by a rooftop sniper from another group of survivors. Gina vowed vengeance as she prepared to go after this unknown group, planning to kill them all.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK THREE)

Book Three: Recruits At the start of this story arc, we go back to the afternoon, prior to the outbreak, where we met a survivalist group in training who appear to have foreknowledge of the pending epidemic. They are also affiliated with the strange three-pronged symbol, which we then learn means, Mother. After the outbreak, they are led by a mysterious man named, Donovan, to a pre-designated ‘safe house’ where they are told to wait for further instructions. After a few startling revelations, we followed this group’s journey to the point where we found out that they are the snipers on the rooftop who murdered Greg.

Gina led an attack on this group, killing most of them and taking Megan, a pregnant girl, hostage. They eventually let Megan go and then have to deal with another larger group moving into town. They are intercepted by the larger group, who is run by the former police officer, Samantha, and that’s when Tony and Gina are reunited. Frank is placed in jail for the attempted murder of the police officer. Gina eventually decides to go rescue the pregnant girl, Megan, after finding out that she is going to the place in the wilderness preserve run by the psychotic machine, Micolad. She is accompanied by Frank and they both allowed themselves to be captured in the hope of infiltrating the wilderness preserve facility and end up being tortured instead.

After Tony makes a stand to defend the town of Andover from a presumed Shadow Dead attack, they end up going after Gina. Charlie returned with an army of the reanimated. All hell broke loose at the wilderness preserve, ending with an explosion, as Micolad self-detonated, destroying much of the forest. The survivors reunited in an underground facility, behind a waterfall, and decided to make it their new home for the winter. Our serial killer, Russell Bower, is finally revealed as Marcus Dempsey when he murders Frank by a river.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK FOUR)

Book Four: Phantoms Book Four begins almost six months later, at the end of a long winter. We are brought back to the ‘Bad Man’s’ ranch, where Tony was once held prisoner, and discover a strange man named Marvin living in the Bad Man’s house. Gina has put together a small attack group, which includes: Tony, Diane Conley- the surviving hunter at the end of Book Three, a strange young man named, Nine Lives, who is obsessed with numbers, and Marcus Dempsey (a.k.a. Russell Bower). Together they intend to seize the Bad Man and free any prisoners he might still be holding. Shit goes south very quickly. The yellow-eyed dead show up and they have changed significantly. After escaping the ranch house, Gina and her group are pursued by both the dead, led by the Bad Man’s wife, Helen, and the Bad Man, himself. Marcus ends up falling off a quarry cliff while trying to lead a pack of the red-eyed animal beasts away from his group. The Bad Man, who we learn is named Walter, captures Gina and wants Tony to turn himself over to him. Things end with the death of the Bad Man at the hands of his wife. Gina and her group head home to the compound beneath the wilderness preserve.

Back at the compound in the partially scorched wilderness preserve, called The Wasteland, Stephen is left in charge. He has become the self-appointed historian of their community as he gives a written account of the past few months. Stephen is also in a relationship with Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard (Don’t ask me to explain that…lol). Gina is under suspicion for the murder of two community members. The community has split with a third of the people leaving with James Orosco. An uprising occurs shortly before Gina’s return, which result in Gina’s arrest. Stephen is eventually voted in as the new community leader. We are also introduced to a strange preacher, named Logan McCalister, who has a shady gang-related past.

Meanwhile, Meredith and Doctor Arnold Cooper- the same doctor Meredith meets in Andover, are attempting to treat the half-dead Megan. The first of two major flashback stories begin with a long look into Meredith’s past, and her connection with the mysterious group known only as Mother.

We discover that Marcus has survived the fall off the cliff and has been treated by a strange young woman, named Alysa Monroe, who has actually been slowly drugging Marcus and interrogating him without his knowledge. After three weeks of being tricked by this strange woman, Marcus has an opportunity to kill Alysa, but decides to flee instead. We discover that Alysa is actually a Shadow Dead.

Near the end of Book Four, Gina is exiled. Marcus returns and goes out to find her. The Shadow Dead have returned in full force in what looks like the beginning of an all-out attack on the survivors… and that’s where we find ourselves at the very end of Book Four.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK FIVE)

Book Five: Remains Book Five picks up where we left off at the end of Book Four with the pending Shadow Dead attack. The Wasteland compound is viciously attacked as archers assault Tony’s defenses topside while infiltrating the compound through secret entrances. While Tony, Nine and Diane hold off the attack above, Stephen and Logan are dealing with the invading force from within. The power goes out as chaos and a whole lot of death begins. Most of the compound community is slaughtered. Stephen, Logan, Meredith and Megan manage to escape via the mysterious door, only to discover another stairwell descending into the unknown dark.

Topside, Tony, Diane and Nine fight for their lives and discover four teens who had been hiding in Cubicle City when the Shadow Dead came up through the floor. Matthew, Mark, Wendy and Beverly had used the Shadow Dead passage to make it back outside and meet up with the others. Tony and Nine are surrounded by Shadow Dead, who begin tormenting them, until the mysterious Alysa Monroe, former Shadow Dead, rescues them. This is the same Alysa who held Marcus captive in the cabin in Book Four.

After escaping the Wasteland wilderness, and believing everyone else has perished, Tony leads his new group south toward Orosco’s camp, hoping to reunite what’s left of the community. They eventually reach Orosco’s peninsula camp only to discover that most of Orosco’s group has been either slaughtered or captured by some new group with painted faces that they later learn call themselves the Lunatics.

After deciding to follow the Lunatics’ trail in an attempt to rescue what’s left of Orosco’s people, they encounter a strange, sadistic older woman, named Annie Greenman, and her neighbors in the small town of Wick, who have been keeping their dead relatives chained up in the basement and feeding them whoever they manage to capture. Beverly is killed and fed to the dead relatives and Diane loses her arm. Alysa is temporarily delayed at the neighbor’s house, but escapes and rescues the others.

From there, they follow the Lunatics’ trail west, ending up at the town of Orwell, where they are invited into the town library and meet a strange man named Jim who has been alone too long and has trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what’s not. Things go badly as Matthew, who has been suffering severe depression, decides to kill himself by releasing a horde of zombies being held at the high school stadium. Everyone manages to get back to the library as the massive horde surround it. After a several day siege, Nine and Jim come up with an ingenious way to escape, but Jim decides to remain behind.

After Orwell, Tony and the others end up at Mosquito Creek, a large protected swampland, where they discover a massive horde of dormant yellow-eyed zombies that have been gathering for some time. They estimate that there’s more than 5,000 of them.

From there, our survivors end up in the town of West Farmington where they are captured by a small group of mercenaries who run the town out of the local hospital. We discover that Sergeant Richard Hash, the same Hash who was at the Percy Power Plant way back in chapter ten, is leading this group made up of members of his former unit. After an unauthorized interrogation on Alysa, leading into a flashback story of Alysa’s days becoming a Shadow Dead, Hash stops the interrogation, putting him at odds with his second-in-command, Thompson, who he ends up jailing along with his followers. Hash eventually decides to release Tony and his friends, but this forces a confrontation between himself and Thompson, resulting in a gun fight in the middle of the street. Hash and the others survive the confrontation and Hash decides to join Tony on his mission to save what’s left of Orosco’s people.

Our final destination for Tony and his friends take them to the former amusement park, Geauga Lake, which has been converted into a shady black market town called New Cleveland. This is where they finally meet up with the Lunatics, as well as their leader, who goes by the name Candyman. After a bar room brawl, Tony and the others end up going into an auction to save their own lives, and this is where the first long arc of Book Five concludes.

The second arc takes us back to Gina Melborn as we discover what happened to her after getting exiled. After spending too much time alone in the wild, Gina ends up befriending a stray teenage zombie girl, who resembles Ashley, as she begins to confess her sins to the dead girl. After a series of events in the wilderness, Gina eventually discovers a small airport occupied by a small army. Gina captures one of these mystery people trying to get away and finds out that the airport group is a branch of Mother. Obsessed with confronting this group, Gina loses control and kills her hostage.

Meanwhile, Marcus has been tracking Gina and witnesses her murdering the hostage. All hell breaks looses rather quickly and Gina ends up wandering the forest at night, leading her to a farm house by dawn with the dead on her trail. Gina manages to take shelter in the house and Marcus rescues her from the dead.

Afterwards, Gina convinces Marcus that they need to attack the Mother group at the airport but Marcus insists that Gina be trained first. Marcus trains her while secretly setting up his own agenda. When the day comes to attack the airport camp, Marcus creates a detour toward a housing development site where he intends to finally kill her. Things do not go according to plan as Marcus is interrupted by Alysa, who shoots Gina in the chest with an arrow. Marcus, believing Gina is dead, breaks down and Alysa takes him into custody, intending to escort him to the Shadow Dead camp.

Gina wakes up at the airport and meets Clementine. Clementine attempts to convince Gina that Mother is not the evil group Gina believes it is and she takes her back to the Wasteland compound to prove it in the hope that she can convince Gina’s friends that they’re here to help. Clementine breaks the news that everyone at the compound is dead. Clementine, taking advantage of Gina’s vulnerable state, convinces her to join the group and come back with her to the island headquarters across Lake Erie. They depart the airport via Helicopter… and that’s where Book Five finishes.

~~~

And that’s about it (in a nutshell). There’s a lot of things that have happened that I’m not specifically addressing, as well as many more characters I could talk about that we’ve met along the way or who are coming in the days ahead, but I wanted to just touch on some of the major players and moments from the series. Hopefully this serves as a bit of a refresher going into Book Six and beyond. I look forward to reading your comments again as we embark on another volume in this long series.

-Scott

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will begin on Halloween!

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:

Please consider voting for DFTD over at topwebfiction No registration is required. just click and vote. You can vote for DFTD every seven days to help keep it listed.

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

~~~

~~~

Hello Everyone. Sorry for the long silence but I’ve been extremely busy the last couple of months. I wanted to swim up to the surface long enough to update you on what’s happening with Don’t Feed The Dark.

Starting next week, I will be releasing the fifth DFTD spin-off story, titled, Elsewhere, which ties in with The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent (the fourth spin-off story that I released last month). Both stories add some additional information to existing storylines as well as setting up tales to come in Book Six.

Additionally, I will be posting a new episode of After The Dark, my DFTD talk show, which will feature our favorite post-apocalyptic medium, Meredith Montgomery, who will join our host, John Ecko as they discuss further details of what to expect from the first arc of Book Six.

There are also some bonus teasers planned primarily dealing with former teacher, Stephen Eddington, and what he discovered in the pages of a certain notebook written by Nicole Howard near the conclusion of Book Four. The teaser segments will be titled, A Higher Education: The Continuing Tales of My Rebirth

That’s right, we’re going to be jumping around all over the place in Book Six, with the first arc, titled, Revelations, taking us back to where we left off in the first chapter of Book Five, when Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan barely survived the Shadow Dead attack on the compound by escaping through the mystery door. That first arc will be delving into all sorts of creepy stuff, and as the title of the arc suggests, we’re going to get some answers to the many questions that have been surrounding the dark organization known as Mother.

The premiere episode of Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother is slated for Halloween… and the first chapter is perfectly suited for it since we will be descending into some very dark and haunted places from the very start of this new book.

Due to how busy my life has been over the last few months, it’s been hard to get as much writing completed as I’ve wanted (it’s also taking quite a bit of time to scrutinize each of these new episodes to make sure I’ve covered everything). I almost opted to postpone the premiere until January, but have decided on altering my posting schedule instead. So… until further notice, I will be posting new episodes once a week, every Wednesday after the premiere. But not to worry, each episode will be of considerable length. I’m hoping to go back up to twice a week starting in January.

I would appreciate it if you all could help me get back listed on Top Web Fiction by resuming to vote every seven days for DFTD. You can click this link here To Vote, or just click the cat in the corner of the homepage.

Well, that’s all for now. I want to thank you all for your patience during these necessary breaks, and I hope you enjoy the next leg in this long, dark journey. See you soon.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent until after reading Chapter 35: Dead Dolls.

~~~

Spring 1970:

She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Several times while trying to organize her notes, Candice Forrester nearly dropped them on the well-buffed linoleum floor. She looked around at the large lobby of the Administration Building and wanted to vomit. She’d never needed to share the same air with the college Big Wigs before, let alone, having to speak directly to the Board. And now, she was under their microscope.

“Relax,” Michael told her again. He placed her hands in his to stop the explosion of paperwork. “Honestly, you won’t need these,” he said, laughing lightly to diffuse the tension etched upon her face. “They won’t understand a word of it anyway. These types only understand profit margins, pie charts, and golf outings.”

Candice gave him a weak smile, removed the glasses from her tired eyes, and then tugged nervously on her tightly braided brown ponytail. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you’re not the one with your life’s work on the line. If they start questioning what we’ve been doing with the research grant…”

“…Then you will finally have a chance to blow their socks off with your brilliance,” Michael finished. “Just tell them about it, like you’ve told me. Speak passionately and with conviction, and they’ll know the funding has been well spent.” Michael Finch laid back in the uncomfortable lounge chair and stretched. His long and curly red ponytail slipped out of the back of his suit and hung down behind the chair.

Candice let out a giddy laugh at the sight of her hippy-looking boyfriend in the suit. She rarely saw him dressed in his ‘professional’ attire and was surprised to see him out of his flip-flops for once.

Michael replaced his ponytail back down his jacket. “What… do I amuse you this morning?”

“I’m just trying to figure out when my boyfriend was eaten by the corporate suit-and-tie monster,” she poked.

“Back before my days as an entertainer of business wares, I once had lofty aspirations to become a lawyer,” he reminded her while dusting lint off his well-pressed, outdated suit. “These fine articles of clothing are a result of those days. Besides, it’s easier to sell anything with confidence… and that’s what a good suit does for a man.”

“I know, I know. I better stop now before you try to sell me the suit off your back, right?” she teased.

Michael laughed. “You know me too well. I just wish I could sell you a bottle of calm-the-hell-down and make you drink ‘till your drunk on the stuff.” He looked her in the eyes and finished, “No matter what happens, it’s going to be alright. You know that, don’t you?”

Candice shook her head. “I need this, Michael. I’m too damn close. If they stop funding, I’ll go rogue, take over the lab, and barricade myself in until I’m finished! I can’t start over… I won’t!” She stood up and stopped herself from stomping on the floor.

Michael covered his mouth to hide his amusement at her borderline tantrum.

She shook her head and nervously laughed. “And I’m supposed to be some kind of neurologist with a Master’s Degree and everything. Just look at what I’ve been reduced to.” She sat back down. “I don’t have time for this. The work is at a critical stage.”

“You’re kind of cute—in a geeky mad scientist kind of way—when you get all fired up,” Michael offered.

She gave him a stern look and was about to speak.

Two large doors opened at the other end of the lounge and a tall, pretty secretary, with far too much leg showing in Candice’s professional opinion, approached them, clicking her high heel shoes on the tiles just to drive her nuts with the sound. “Miss Forrester?” Legs asked.

“That’s Dr. Forrester,” Candice corrected.

“My apologies. The Board of Directors will see you now.” Legs turned toward the double doors. “Just follow me, please.”

Click… Clack… Click… Clack…

Candice stood up and felt dizzy. Holy shit! This is really happening! She turned to Michael.

He was already up and moving beside her. “I’m right here. We’ll get through this… I promise.”

~~~

“So, help us understand, Dr. Forrester. What, exactly, have you and your team been researching these last two years?” Dean Stockwell shuffled through a stack of papers on the table as the remaining Board members stared at her as if trying to probe her thoughts. “If I’m understanding correctly, your field of study specified under the conditions of your grant have something to do with analyzing patterns in brain activity with patients suffering various sleep disorders and categorizing REM states over long periods. You claimed that if you could find the common irregular “frequency” in the dream state, that various disorders could be treatable, perhaps preventable. But what you’re telling us doesn’t sound like a sleep study at all. Could you explain to us, in layman’s terms, where you are in your study?”

Candice swallowed hard, then took a sip from her water glass. She looked over at Michael who gave her an encouraging nod. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board,” she started, “while it is true that my primary field of research consisted of documenting dream patterns… my work has since evolved into something far more important, something much more vital than simply studying patterns in REM sleep.”

They all waited.

She took another sip from her glass, silently wishing she could drown herself in it. “While studying the patterns in certain dream states, we began to realize that there were similarities between the most vivid dreams and actual conscious thought, especially within the brain patterns of people who suffered extreme night terrors or those prone to excessive episodes of sleep walking. Comparing those brain patterns with people who were actually awake… well… the evidence showed us that in those extreme cases, it was the unconscious minds which were more ‘active’ than those who were conscious. That’s when we started considering the possibility that unconsciousness may actually be another state of consciousness altogether, rather than just the mind’s way of processing stimuli experienced previously in the conscious state.”

“So what are your saying then?” a stern, hawk-nosed older woman asked. She reminded Candice of every teacher she hated in high school all rolled into one. “Are we supposed to believe that you and your team have managed to uncover and redefine the conscious and unconscious mind based upon your assumption that dreams are… what… real?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes.” Candice stood up. “What I’m saying is that we’ve found far too much evidence of higher brain function activity in many unconscious minds which suggested that some patients, while dreaming, actually believed that the dreams were as real as all of us believe we are sitting here today. The brain patterns were no different from the patterns of those who were wide awake.”

“That isn’t anything new,” an older, robust man with white hair said. “Everyone’s had a dream on occasion that’s felt so real that when they wake, they were surprised they were still in bed. Even the unconscious mind can make a fictional place seem real. That doesn’t make it so.”

“It’s more than that,” Candice defended. “When I said there were no differences in the patterns, I meant more than just believing in the dream itself. There was evidence of self-awareness, responding to experiences… memory recall. It was as though the dreamers were fully awake… and aware… but were elsewhere at the same time. That’s what led us to the real discovery. It’s not about whether the dreams are real or not… it’s about what they really are… or more accurately… what they contain.”

“And that is?” the hawk-nosed woman pushed.

Candice looked to Michael and smiled. She turned back and said, “The dreams are ‘us’. Specifically, they are the place, for lack of a better word, which holds everything about us—who we are, our memories, our personality, beliefs… our very identity. Our dreams are not the playground in which our minds use to process day-to-day activity in an unconscious state. The dreams themselves are the place in which our consciousness originates from. It is this discovery that has altered our aim and led our research to the brink of an extraordinary place… one we simply call, ‘Elsewhere’.”

“That’s not science talking, that’s science fiction!” another older man with a cane and a large grey beard interrupted. “You are making incredible leaps based upon brain wave data which is inconclusive and highly subjective. Regardless of your wild theories, I want to know what all of this has to do with real science and who gave you authorization to include working with coma patients? You have clearly exceeded the mandate of your grant and it’s apparent that the college has been funding your wild goose chase long enough!”

“Alright, alright, let’s keep this civil,” Stockwell said, addressing them all. He turned to Candice. “We could debate theories all day, Dr. Forrester, but that’s not the point of this meeting today. I think it’s clear that, regardless of your findings, you’ve clearly moved your research outside the bounds of your authorized grant, and without prior approval. As it has been pointed out, it was your work with the coma patients that brought you to our attention. Do you deny this?”

Candice looked away. “No, I don’t deny that. But we had to. Working in the coma ward was the next logical step. It was the only way to gain any ground if what we had discovered was true.”

“Well I’ve heard enough,” the bearded man said. “The only logical conclusion after Dr. Forrester’s admission, is to deny any further funds to aid in her… misguided research.”

“Dr. Forrester,” Stockwell said, “Could you please step outside, we will call you back in shortly.”

The Board members started speaking to each other.

Candice felt defeated. She started to rise.

Michael put his hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. You’ve done enough.”

Before she could protest, Michael stood up, straightened his suit, and then walked over toward a large window and peered outside. He then raised his voice just loud enough to gain the Boards’ attention. “It’s hard to believe we did it. I mean… we all heard it… we were all a part of it… but it’s still hard to believe.”

Dean Stockwell said, “Excuse me, young man, did you have something to add?”

Michael turned and smiled. “It was just last summer… July 20… 1969… I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was washing my car, listening to the radio when NASA put those guys up there on that floating chunk of rock. It was an incredible day.”

Stockwell nodded. “Yes, we will all certainly remember that extraordinary event, probably for the rest of our lives. But back to the matter at hand-”

“I remember what I was thinking about, washing that car, when Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon,” Michael said. He started getting animated with his hands. “It was like I was in shock… you know… something like that happening… defying all belief. I immediately fell back in time to when I was a kid and my dad and I used to go out on his boat at night. We’d stare up at that moon and he’d tell me stories about men in rocket ships and aliens in outer space. I remember asking him, ‘Dad, do you think anyone could ever walk on the moon?’ He’d laughed at me and messed up my hair. Then he’d said, ‘You keep dreaming hard enough and the impossible might just become improbable. And if you work towards those dreams hard enough, that’s when the improbable becomes possible.’ I didn’t understand that until I was out washing my car last July. Was a hell of a feeling.”

He had their attention.

Michael started pacing the room. “I hear they have these elaborate computers over there at NASA. Fancy technological do-dads the size of my garage that act like big old robots with brains bigger than anyone in this room. Some people say, dreamers mainly, that we’ll all have computers one day that will be as small as televisions… can you imagine that? Anyway, these same people say that these computers will do just about anything eventually, and they’ll even be so small that you’ll hold them in your hand… crazy talk, right? But wait… we did just put two men on the moon… so who knows?”

He walked around the table, looking into all their eyes. “Now, I don’t pretend to know how those big old fancy computers work, but I’m told their brains will get bigger and bigger as the technology that holds them gets smaller and smaller, until one day, those brains will be so small that you can take it out of one computer and put it in another. Now, before you cut me off, I would like to point out that Dr. Forrester’s theory on dreams is much like those computers. You see… we are all a bit like those fancy computers. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but we all have a brain. And just like those fancy computer brains, our brains are a mystery. But let’s suppose for a minute that there’s a place in our minds where everything is stored… like those computers… and then let’s suppose that the only place large enough to hold an entire human being’s inner most thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences would have to be in a place that’s as unlimited as we are. If that’s the case, then why not the dreamscape buried deep within our own minds? And that… my friends… is what Dr. Forrester has attempted to explain to you. But you won’t listen… you won’t hear her out… you won’t believe.”

“What you are suggesting,” hawk-nosed woman said, “is impossible. You want us to believe that Dr. Forrester’s research will prove that dreams house our identity? That the dreams are what… our souls? You’re out of your mind, Sir.”

“Exactly!” Michael was getting animated. “Just last summer, we put two men up on the moon,” Michael reminded them. “Now… that was impossible, too, right? But we went and did it anyway.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Stockwell said. “Should we continue to fund Dr. Forrester’s research just in case she manages to turn water into wine?”

“No,” Michael said. “I’m not asking anyone to believe… I’m just asking that you allow this incredible woman time to continue believing long enough to put another man on the moon, despite the odds of her actually pulling off the impossible… and what it would mean for this University if she did.”

The Board members got up, walked toward the window, and started talking again.

Michael sat back down.

Candice turned to him and whispered, “That was awesome. Regardless of what they decide, thank you for trying. There’s no way I could’ve made them listen like you just did.” She kissed him on the cheek.

He smiled and said, “Nothing but the best pitch I can muster for the woman I love. Besides, that was easy. You’ve already made a believer out of me, Armstrong.”

After a few minutes they returned.

“Regardless of whether we believe or don’t believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, and honestly, I can’t say that we understand it,” Stockwell began, “this University is not in the business of funding the impossible. So I regret to inform you that your grant extension request has been den-”

“Improbable,” a short middle-aged man with silver hair interrupted. He was the only Board member who had remained silent until now.

“Come again, Mr. Bawle?” Stockwell said.

Mr. Bawle walked over to Michael and Candice and said, “Not all of us believe as wholeheartedly as the two of you, but not all of us wholeheartedly denounce your research either.” He gave them a wink.

“Mr. Bawle, we’ve discussed this already,” Stockwell said. “Their grant has been turned down.”

“Yes, yes, but unlike the rest of you, not only am I a Board member, but the organization in which I represent is a substantial financial contributor to this University… among other things.” Mr. Bawle turned to the other Board members and said, “You may all leave now. This matter is now above your station.”

The other Board members grudgingly departed without another word.

“Shit,” Candice whispered to Michael. “What just happened?”

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

Mr. Bawle turned to them, his hands neatly folded behind his back. “It seems that I am the deciding vote on whether or not your research gains further funding, Dr. Forrester.”

Candice didn’t know what to say.

The little man smiled. “Now, before this enthusiastic young man you brought with you today tries to convince me that the sky is indeed not blue, Dr. Forrester, I will settle this matter. Yes, you have your funding.”

Candice’s knees gave way as Michael caught her. “Thank you, Mr. Bawle,” she said. “You won’t regret it.”

Mr. Bawle lifted one eyebrow and said, “Oh, I am sure to regret a great many things in the days to come. But that is no concern of yours. Now tell me, why the coma ward? If you hadn’t gone and got them involved, you wouldn’t be here today.”

Michael and Candice gave each other a look.

“Come on,” Mr. Bawle said, “out with it. No more secrets.”

Candice sighed heavily and said, “We haven’t been as forthcoming about ‘all’ the research yet. Some of it might be considered… unethical.”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “Well… if it makes you feel any better, you can just tell me and I’ll forget to mention it to the rest of the Board. Acceptable?”

Candice nodded.

“Go ahead and tell the man,” Michael said. “He’s holding the pocketbook, after all.”

“It’s not the coma patients we’re interested in,” Candice said. “Our research involves the others who share the same ward.”

“And who might that be?” Mr. Bawle asked.

“The patients who are being kept alive on life support,” Candice said.

“Excuse my ignorance,” Mr. Bawle said, “but aren’t we still talking about coma patients?”

“Not exactly,” Michael said.

“No,” Candice added. “Coma patients, like those who are in a vegetative state, still have lower brain function, but the others on life support only, have lost all neurological function.”

Mr. Bawle still looked confused.

Candice shook her head in frustration. “The patients included in our research have clinically been declared deceased… brain dead, is the term. But they’re not… and my research will prove it.”

“They’re ‘Elsewhere’,” Michael added.

Mr. Bawle turned toward the window.

Shit… we’ve said too much, Candice thought.

“So let me get this straight,” he finally said. “The patients involved in your research are essentially dead… correct?”

“In laymen’s terms… yes,” Candice conceded.

“But you’re telling me that you can prove that they are not?”

Candice felt like the roof was about to collapse on her head. She looked at Michael. “Like my… colleague… tried to illustrate with the computer analogy, the data can be retrieved from a built in back-up system… even after the primary system has essentially… crashed.”

Mr. Bawle turned with his eyebrows raised. “I’m confused, Dr. Forrester. Either they are dead, or they are not. Which is it?”

Candice took a deep breath. “In order to adequately explain what we’ve discovered, I’m reluctant to answer that question without opening up a big old can of worms on the afterlife, Sir. Let me just say that if our research-”

“Fine. Fine. So… if I’m understanding where this is going, you want me to believe that you can prove that regardless of where the deceased have gone—Heaven, Hell…‘Elsewhere’—that you can… what… bring back the dead?”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” she started. “It’s not a matter of-”

“Yes or no?” Mr. Bawle interrupted.

Candice let out a nervous little laugh. “Well… Sir… in a rudimentary sense… yes.”

This time it was Michael who gave her a surprised look.

Mr. Bawle smiled at her, then nodded at them both, before turning back toward the window.

Candice and Michael gave each other a confused glance.

“I appreciate you being straight forward with me, Dr. Forrester. I’m equally appreciative that you withheld what you just told me from the others.” He turned back around. “They would not understand or be as open-minded to such… possibilities… as my employer would be.”

Candice didn’t know how to respond.

“As I’ve said, your funding has been approved… for now.”

“With all due respect… what does that mean?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle placed his hands on the table and stared at his feet. “It’s just a matter of time before someone at the University brings your research back into question. And I’m afraid that should the information you’ve shared with me gets out… there will be no way to protect you from the backlash.”

Candice nodded and said, “I’m aware of the risks. We’ve been careful to keep our true research hidden. We’ll just have to be more care-”

“How long do you think it will take for someone to connect the dots, Dr. Forrester?” Bawle interrupted.

Candice looked confused. “What… what do you mean by that?”

Mr. Bawle laughed lightly, shook his head, and approached them again. “What I mean is… I’m having a difficult time believing that the connection you share with one of the… brain-dead patients… is coincidental. Or, did you just forget to mention the rest in all the excitement?”

Michael sighed heavily. “Tell him,” he urged. “He already knows.”

Candice nodded and stared at the floor in front of Mr. Bawle’s feet. “Yes, one of the patients happens to be a relative of mine… but that in no way diminishes the results of my research. I didn’t mention it because-”

“You didn’t mention it because if anyone thought that your research was connected to your younger brother’s… condition… they would immediately dismiss your project and declare you emotionally unfit to continue,” Mr. Bawle finished. “Does that about cover it?”

“It’s not like that!” Michael stepped in. “If anything, she’s more motivated to succeed because of it!”

Candice placed her hand on Michael’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It was going to come out eventually… we both knew that.”

Michael frowned and nodded, stepping back.

Mr. Bawle returned his hands behind his back, waiting patiently for the young man’s temper to subside. He gave Candice a well-practiced concerned face, and continued, “I mean no disrespect to you… or your delicate situation. I merely wanted to point out that the truth will come out eventually… and sooner than you think. That’s why I want to offer you a better arrangement so that you can continue your research uninhibited by the University.”

This got both their attention.

Mr. Bawle smiled. “The organization I represent has vested interests all around the globe. Many are not very exciting, I can assure you, but on occasion… we dabble in some, how shall I put it, ‘off the books’ projects that some might consider… ‘impossible’.”

Candice smiled. “You mean ‘improbable’… right?”

Mr. Bawle laughed and pointed at her. “You got me.” He turned and started walking back toward the window. “As it turns out, we have a current long-running project that’s struck a wall. I believe that your research, and the current project my organization has spent considerable resources exploring, might mutually benefit from each other.”

“What are you proposing?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle turned and gave her a serious face. “My organization is prepared to fund your research indefinitely, meaning, you will no longer need to rely upon the University… at all. You will be free to continue your research without fear of being found out or shut down prematurely by… unbelievers.” He gave Michael a wink.

Michael shifted uncomfortably.

“What’s the catch?” Candice asked.

“Well… my organization wants you to succeed, of course, but we also want shared rights to all your discoveries, including the actual application of your work to our current project. And need I remind you, this arrangement is entirely fair, since we are covering all the costs. You would retain all rights to your own work, of course, and could back out whenever you wish. But I believe when you find out what my organization has already achieved, and can apply it to your own work, you will be highly motivated to continue.”

“What could your organization possibly be involved in that would benefit from my research, or vice versa?”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “We can discuss that in more detail after we’ve relocated you off campus and given you a more private and secure location to continue your work.”

Michael and Candice shared a concerned look.

Candice sighed. “What about my patients? I can’t… I can’t leave them here.”

Mr. Bawle nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, you can’t. We will arrange to have them relocated, as well.”

“You can do that?” Michael said.

“Consider it done… should you both agree to our arrangement.” Mr. Bawle raised his hands and finished, “Please, talk it over. But I’ll need to know your answer before the end of the day. We’ve a lot of logistics to take care of and I’d like to get my team started on it.”

“Who do you work for, exactly?” Candice asked.

“Let me just say, I work for an organization that will make sure nothing can hinder your research… ever again. But I’m afraid that’s all I can say… for now. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity presented to you today. I strongly suggest you put aside your doubts and take it.”

“We’ll think about it,” Michael was quick to chime in, staring suspiciously at the short man with the devilish grin.

“Very good,” Mr. Bawle said, putting his hands together. “I have a few more appointments to get in today. Let’s say we meet back together for dinner. Seven o’clock sound good?”

“Sure. That would be great,” Candice said, too quickly.

“Splendid! I’ll have my driver pick you up. I really do hope you accept my organization’s generous offer, Dr. Forrester. You won’t regret it.” Mr. Bawle was about to exit the room, stopped, then turned. “Oh… I’ve one more question for the both of you. Might sound a bit strange.”

“Ask away,” Michael said. “Strange has been the theme today.”

Mr. Bawle laughed mechanically and then said, “Do either of you have any objections to working with children? Specifically, young girls?”

~~~

Author’s Note: As a refresher, this story takes place three years prior to Candice Forrester and Michael Finch’s involvement with the mysterious orphanage (which isn’t really an orphanage) where Meredith spent some time at back in Chapter 35: Dead Dolls. This story hopefully sheds a little light on Candice and Michael’s initial involvement with the organization (a.k.a. Mother if you’re reading between the lines) as Candice decides to ‘deal with the devil’ to further her research.

~~~

Hey everyone, just checking in. So, here’s what’s brewing for release starting in September.

My next DFTD spin-off story, The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent is just about ready. The story centers around two familiar characters and shows the origins of their involvement in certain ‘shady’ projects affiliated with a certain ‘shady’ organization, conducted in a familiar ‘shady’ place (I know… I know… I’m being very vague on purpose. No damn spoilers). What I can tell you is that we will be going all the way back to 1970 for this tale. This will be the first of two spin-off stories scheduled to come out before the Book Six premiere. The second story, not yet titled, will take place in 1974. Both of these spin-off stories will serve as ‘book ends’ in regards to existing material from both Books Four and Five, and will also tie in heavily with Book Six.

As far as a release date for Book Six: Mother, I’m tentatively looking at Monday, October 29th. That’s right, a pre-Halloween release. Should that date change, I’ll let you know. But I’m aiming to have the premiere chapter done in time for the witching season.

As far as the first chapter of Book Six, like I’ve already mentioned, it will take place exactly where we left off with Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan on the other side of the compound door… and it’s going to be spooky. The first chapter will be titled, Chapter 48: Hell. How’s that for a premiere title chapter? I wanted to go for something… uplifting… lol.

Anyway, I’ve got some more things planned before the premiere that I’ll get into later. Just wanted to give you all the heads up.

More to come,
Scott

~~~

~~~

And here we are, folks… after five books completed in this long, dark series, and we’re still pushing onward. All I can say is “Whew! That was a long one!” In fact, Book Five: Remains ended up clocking in at just over 250,000 words, officially becoming the longest book in the series (I sure hope this isn’t a trend… lol). So, by the numbers, we’re now at 47 chapters, 281 episodes, and over 939,000 words completed… with three books to go until the series finale. That’s right, believe it or not, there is an end scheduled… but not yet.

So, as you’ve gathered, we now have our survivors effectively scattered throughout Northeast Ohio. Tony’s group is currently stuck in shady New Cleveland in the south, Marcus and Alysa are visiting the Shadow Dead up north, and Gina’s on her way across Lake Erie to vacation on the “Mother” of all islands. That just leaves finding out what happened to Meredith and company on the other side of that mysterious underground door.

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, is slated for three arcs, starting with what happened to Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan, after the Shadow Dead attack on the compound. We’ll go back and pick up where we last left them, and find out what happened. All I can say right now is that the first arc will be a strong departure from what we’ve experienced so far, dabbling much more into “spiritual” territory as we finally start staring into the faces of all the DFTD mysteries and tackling them head-on. I’ll talk more about Book Six in the coming days.

As far as a release date for Book Six, I don’t have anything specific yet, but it will definitely start this fall.

As for what’s going on during the break, I have a new DFTD Spin-off story near completion that will tie in heavily with Book Six. It’s going to be called, The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent. More on that later. Also, I have some additional “teasers” planned, and maybe a new episode or two of After The Dark, before the Book Six premiere kicks off.

Moving on to some behind the scenes logistics, you may have noticed that I’ve removed the links to all my DFTD print publications. After a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided to discontinue the first three print books in the series. The reasons behind this are my extreme disappointment in the arrangement retailers like Amazon have with the company I currently use to self-publish. They have jacked-up the prices of my books so high, leaving me little control of the pricing, that I’ve decided to suspend publication until I find a better way to produce DFTD in print. Also, I had decided that I wasn’t going to print any more books in the series until I’ve completed the story. When I took more than a year off to edit and produce the first three books in the series, I lost a lot of readership, neglecting the serial for too long. I’ll not make that mistake again. And honestly, it’s not fair to the readers waiting for Book Four and beyond to go to print, so it’s better just to stop it all now. My apologies to anyone who has purchased the first three books, preferring to read the print editions, and are waiting for the rest. My priority is finishing the series. The print editions will have to wait until after. Hopefully by then I’ll have figured all this out, including the e-book thing, as well.

I’ve also removed the audio book edition of DFTD. Due to real life commitments, Jerimiah Vega, the talented young man who was narrating my story, is unable to continue at this time.

I’ve also included two new tabs at the top of my homepage. One is an easy access tab for returning readers to get a quick refresher on material they’ve already read, but may have forgotten. The other is for a timeline of events that I’m currently working on since so many of my characters are separated from each other at the moment, and there’s been quite a bit of time jumping. Hopefully, when I’m finished, this will help readers get a better sense of when things are happening between groups and other major events that have occurred in the DFTD timeline.

That’s it for now. I’ll start writing Book Six shortly, after some much needed rest, and I’m looking forward to jumping right back into the fray.

More to come.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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:

Please consider voting for DFTD over at topwebfiction No registration is required. just click and vote. You can vote for DFTD every seven days to help keep it listed.

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

~~~

~~~

Exiled – Day 27

Eight heavily manned vehicles, a combination of black blazers, jeeps and F-150s, pulled on to the final back road, just above Andover, headed north toward the ruins of the wilderness topside compound once run by a maniac and his psychotic machine.

Gina sat quietly in the back seat of one of the blazers, the second vehicle in the slow-moving convoy, staring out the window at the route that she and Frank Carman had first traveled to get to the entrance of the compound. That had felt like so long ago now. She stared up at the fresh morning light appearing over the treetops as the new day marched across an indifferent sky.

“Penny for your thoughts.” Lady Clementine sat in the back seat next to Gina, trying to appear comfortable in her long red robe and looking much smaller sitting in the cramped seat. “You’re not having doubts about all this, are you?”

Gina turned to the old woman. “No. I’m just… I’ve been this way before. Brings back some memories.”

“I see.” Clementine stared forward, lost in thought. “I’m sorry we have to come this way, child, but it’s the only road that will bring us close enough to reach the underground facility by foot.” She shook her head as the beginning of charred tree tops came into view. “Micom proved just how much he’d lost control when he destroyed half the forest and everyone in the vicinity. You and your friends were fortunate to get away before the explosion.”

“Yeah, I guess we were.” Gina was thinking about Frank. They had spent one of their last evenings together out in these woods before foolishly trying to infiltrate Micom’s camp. That was the night she’d chopped her hair off. She was one of the few people who understood the ex-convict and experienced how much he’d fought for her before the end. I don’t care what anyone says, Frank… you were one of the good ones.

She could feel Clementine’s eyes on the back of her head. Gina turned before the old woman asked any more uncomfortable questions. “I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but… what difference is your convoy full of armed men going to make against the Shadow Dead? We have an armory of weapons and plenty of trained people to use them. If that’s not good enough to stop them then what’s a few more soldiers going to matter?”

The old woman smiled. “You are absolutely correct, Gina. Our numbers and toys aren’t going to make a difference in this fight. When the Shadow Dead return, they will come with everything they have, and it won’t be guns that will stop them.”

“Then what’s the point to all this?”

“We want to make a good impression with your people and show them that Mother has the means to fight with them on their level… even if what we show them doesn’t matter.”

Gina was confused. “But if all this doesn’t matter, then why come fully armed to the teeth? Aren’t you worried that my people will view your presence as a hostile act?”

“No, child. Not as long as you’re with us. When we arrive at the topside ruins, the majority of my troops will remain there while a small group of us will proceed to meet up with your people.”

Gina still had her suspicions. “How do I know you’re just not using me to get my friends to lower their guard? Maybe your only intent is to take back the compound by force and kill my friends.”

Clementine chuckled. “If that was what we wanted to do, child, we would’ve done so by now. No, as I’ve said, we’re here to show that Mother cares about the rest of humanity. We’re here to make our presence known and to finally do something to help.”

Gina nodded. “Yes, to save face and clear Mother’s name… I heard all that.”

“But… you still don’t believe?”

“I haven’t survived this long by believing every word I hear,” Gina said.

Clementine nodded. “Yes. I completely understand.”

“So, tell me again how Mother is going to help us stop the Shadow Dead if none of our weapons matter?”

Clementine took a deep breath, smiled, and said, “In time, child. I will explain everything when we’ve come together and made peace. Some things are much harder to convey with mere words. Even in a world where monsters walk among us, there are still a great many things left that could challenge our beliefs.”

Gina stared at the old woman and finally nodded. “Okay. Peace first. But then I want to hear the rest.”

“And you shall, child. You shall.”

The old woman’s driver slowed down as the lead vehicle came to a stop.

“Is there a problem?” she asked her driver.

“We have a horde blocking the road,” the driver responded. “We’re already on it.”

Clementine looked over at Gina and gave her a wicked little smile. “No, driver. Tell the others to stand down.”

The driver turned, was about to protest, then understood. “Yes, Lady Clementine. I’ll notify the others.” The driver got on a CB radio and told the rest of the convoy to remain with the vehicles.

By now, Gina could hear them. The dead were coming straight toward the convoy. “Shouldn’t we… do something? Maybe turn around?”

Clementine laughed and said, “Just pay attention, child. I’m about to show you something that might help you understand what Mother brings to the table.” Before Gina could protest, the old woman exited the vehicle and started walking toward the lead car.

Gina turned to the driver. “Well… aren’t your men going to do something?”

The driver ignored her.

“Unbelievable!” Gina exited the car and quickly stepped up behind the red-robed woman who nonchalantly approached the oncoming horde of at least fifty dead-heads.

She stepped up next to Clementine, who finally stopped, and said, “Now might not be a good time to observe the local dead population.”

The dead looked famished and crazier than usual. They were pulling and pushing at each other, moving as fast as their decrepit legs would allow, hoping to reach the convoy and feast. They would reach Gina and Clementine at the front of the convoy in less than a minute.

Gina started to look around for anything she could use as a weapon but found nothing. “In thirty seconds it will be too late for the trucks to back out of here,” she said. “You might want to get your men to-”

“Just relax, child,” Clementine said. She kept her attention focused on the oncoming savages, her hood was pulled up over her head, her arms were crossed and hidden beneath the folds of her robe as if she appeared more concerned about catching a cold.

Gina was starting to panic as the dead were almost upon them. Their loud hungry cries almost made her run in the opposite direction. And still, the old woman remained motionless, staring at the horde with a crooked smile on her face. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, whatever point you’re trying to make, it’s lost on me right now. Tell one of your men to hand me a rifle at least.”

“Shhh,” Clementine said, raising a finger to her mouth. She closed her eyes and let her arms drop to her sides.

“Shit,” Gina hissed as the hungry mob was less than ten seconds from ripping them apart.

Clementine raised her arms dramatically and then balled her hands into fists.

The horde stopped abruptly, less than ten feet in front of the two blood bags. They looked confused as if suddenly forgetting what they were doing. Their ravenous, murderous eyes were no longer fixed on Gina and the old woman. Instead, they all started staring up toward the sky as if hearing a sound only the dead could register.

Gina was about to speak.

Clementine turned her head toward her, put her finger back up toward her mouth, and shook her head.

Gina remained still.

Clementine brought her outstretched arms in slowly toward her chest as if she were about to clap, then violently ripped them back apart as if she were trying to separate the air directly in front of her.

That’s when the dead did something Gina had never seen before.

The entire herd pushed to the left and the right directly at the center until the roadway was clear. The dead remained in that befuddled state, staring up at the sky standing at the sides of the road, appearing to no longer be aware of any of them.

Gina’s eyes went wide with surprise. In her head, she could hear Frank saying, “It’s just like Moses parting the fucking Red Sea!”

She put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

Clementine turned to her and lowered her arms. She smiled, gave Gina a wink and then nodded back toward their vehicle.

Gina followed the old woman back to the car, repeatedly staring back at the oblivious horde that continued to stand along the left and right shoulder.

Once back inside the blazer, Gina said, “Holy fuck! What was that?”

Clementine leaned over and told her driver, “We can proceed now. Please notify the front car.”

“Yes, Lady Clementine,” the driver said, reaching for the radio receiver.

Gina stared from the driver, back to Clementine. She raised her arms in disbelief. “Am I the only one here blown away by what just happened?”

The old woman gave her a smile and said, “Like I said, child, there are some things in this world that still defy belief. You’ve just seen with your own eyes what Mother can do. Let’s just take this one step at a time for now. As much as you’ve just witnessed, I still can’t make your people stop hating us. That will require a bit of magic from you, I ‘m afraid.”

Gina leaned back in her seat as the convoy started to resume. She stared out her window at the dead as they allowed all ten vehicles to pass. “Fucking magic, she says,” Gina shook her head. “I need a damn drink… after I’m done shitting myself.”

This made Clementine laugh hard.

~~~

Gina stood at the edge of the large crater overlooking the ruins of the topside camp. Everything had collapsed after the explosion, merging below into one massive charred junkyard. She felt fortunate that the vehicles could go no farther, and that Clementine did not desire to explore the ruins.

Too many fucking ghosts down there, Gina thought with a chill, turning away from the crater. She started walking back to the convoy where Clementine was giving her soldiers instructions.

The old woman abruptly stopped as Gina approached. “This is as far as we’re going,” she said, staring over Gina’s shoulder in disgust. “Just the sight of this dismal place reminds me why we should’ve intervened much sooner.”

“Yeah,” Gina said. “I’m not a fan of this fucking graveyard. Too many bad vibes here. We initially came back before the winter to see if the Shadow Dead were lurking around, but we found nothing.”

Clementine nodded. “I’m not surprised. Once the Shadow Dead departed this area, I’m sure they retreated to an alternate camp for the winter.” The old lady lifted her nose and squinted her eyes. “You can smell it. All that death and destruction. It’s like a stain that never goes away.” She looked up at the charred tree tops surrounding the whole area. “What a waste. Even nature hasn’t bothered to return to this horrible place. Are the woods much the same over where your people are?”

“Only to the east of the waterfall. Lots of dead trees between here and there… and a whole of silence. It can be a bit unnerving at times. My people rarely come out this way unless we have a good reason.”

Clementine considered this. “I’ve sent a handful of my best scouts ahead to check out the area.”

“Why did you do that?” Gina was getting angry. “I thought we were going together? You know, so that my people would have a chance to talk to me first.”

“And they will,” the old woman assured her. “No one will see my scouts. They’re very good a remaining hidden.”

“Like your Shadow Dead?”

Clementine took the shot. “Yes, but not that good. Again, Gina, we are nothing like them. They’ve… they’ve lost their way, as did the fool who ran this place and the people who followed him.”

Gina stared long and hard at Clementine, and then said, “I’m hoping that I’m not the fool now for trusting you enough to try this. But if I suspect a double-cross of any kind, I will do everything I can to warn my people about your presence… and they will retaliate.”

Clementine smiled. “I admire your loyalty. Even if it is misplaced. If I recall correctly, did these people not exile you?”

Gina averted her eyes. “They had their reasons, and I don’t fault them for it. I would still give my life to protect them… no matter what.”

“I’m glad you’re with us, Gina. We need more people like you.”

Gina’s eyes shot up. “Who said I was with you? I may not be with my people anymore but that doesn’t mean I’m one of yours either.”

“Forgive me, Gina.” Clementine laughed. “Bad wording… and a little premature optimism on my part. I guess I’m hoping that when all the dust clears you might consider finding a home with us… since you no longer have one. I would hate to think that after everything, Gina Melborn simply disappears back into the wilderness. I don’t like thinking of you as some nomad. You have strength and a whole lot of heart. It would be a waste to see you going back to living alone.”

Gina didn’t know how to take the compliment. “I don’t mind alone,” she lied. “It’s easier to know who to trust when there’s no one else around.”

Clementine smiled and put a hand on Gina’s shoulder. “Well, I want you to know that you will always have a place here, with us… and that we’d never abandon you. Mother looks after her own.” She nodded toward one of her soldiers. A man wearing similar forest-green coveralls came over and handed Lady Clementine an assault rifle. Clementine nodded to the man, who bowed, and quickly returned.

The old woman handed Gina the rifle. “When my scouts come back, you and I, and six others will head out to meet your group. We will all be armed, for protection, but so will you. If at any time you believe I’m up to no good, you’ll be able to shoot me down and complete your original mission.”

Gina stared at the rifle. “Why would you put your life in my hands? As you’ve said, I was on my way to murder you before my… friend… decided to kill me.”

“Because I believe in you, Gina. I believe there’s so much more to you than living out in the woods among the dead, barely surviving, and desperately searching for any cause to right the wrongs in this new world. And I consider myself a good judge of character. Please, take it.”

Gina reluctantly took the assault rifle, checked to make sure it was loaded, then strapped it around her back. “Okay. What now?”

“When my scouts return, they will tell me how close we can get before being detected. Then, we’ll walk that far… and allow you to continue alone from there. You can talk to your leadership on our behalf, and hopefully… they’ll agree to speak with us.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then we’ll leave. But it will fall on you to make sure that we leave in peace.”

Gina nodded.

Clementine laughed lightly. “Relax. You’ve been so tense all this time. This isn’t a war we’re trying to start. We… Mother… is here to take care of these renegade Shadow Dead. We will do it alone if need be. But we are not here to take back the compound. I assure you, there’s nothing there that Mother can’t do without. Your people have made it a home… and we intend to honor that, regardless of the outcome today.”

Gina stared at her feet and let out a heavy sigh. “I really want to believe you.”

“I know you do, child. Why don’t you get some rest. There’s nothing left to do right now but wait. The back of the blazer is all yours.”

Gina smiled. “Yeah, I’m feeling pretty exhausted.”

“I’ll wake you the moment my scouts return.”

Gina nodded and started toward the vehicle.

“Oh… and Gina,”

She turned.

Clementine smiled. “Even if your people decide not to speak with us, my invite remains the same. You are more than welcome to return with us. I’m certain we could use your help bringing those Shadow Dead monsters to justice.”

Gina laughed. “Well… maybe after I’ve had a nap and a cup of coffee. Does Mother believe in coffee?”

Clementine gave her a disbelieving look. “Dear child, what on earth are we fighting for if not to restore order… and the freedom to enjoy a good cup of java?” The old woman winked again.

Gina turned and shook her head. I really want to believe this woman. But I still want to kill her, too. Gina crawled into the backseat of the blazer and locked the doors. She glanced once at the numerous soldiers securing the perimeter around the vehicles, watching as the red-robed woman moved among them. She placed the rifle along the floorboard within easy reach, then laid down across the seat, closed her eyes, and was asleep within twenty seconds.

~~~

The old woman slowly approached what was left of the grotesque looking willow tree. It was charred black with its entire upper portion blown away after the explosion. She stared at it with contempt, as if it were still alive and watching her every move. “What have you done?” she whispered accusingly. Whether she was talking to the tree or the spirits of the dead… it was uncertain.

She stared at Copperfield’s black blade sticking out of the base of the tree. It was still exactly where she’d left it when she first stepped foot into the ruins after her group arrived at the airport. Clementine walked up to the sword and shook her head in disgust, staring at the charred hilt. “So much was given to all of you… and now… this is all that remains? What a waste.” She reached out her hands, grabbing the hilt of the sword, and then removed it from the tree. She held it up for a moment, her face crumpling up as if she’d just picked up a foul dead carcass by the tail, and then she quickly discarded it.

Lady Clementine backed away from the tree and then stared at it, her eyes scanning upward along the burnt trunk and stopping at a long black shard reaching up to pierce the sky.

Her thoughts drifted elsewhere. The day she’d inserted that sword into the tree was the day she’d killed everyone in the underground compound. When the Shadow Dead discovered it after the long winter, they’d immediately understood the message and began preparations to attack. Now that the nasty deed was done, she was glad to dispose of the vile weapon.

Lady Clementine closed her eyes and focused on her plans. She needed to win Gina’s trust and get her on their side… or more specifically… on her side.

After the scouting party returned with visual verification that Meredith had made it out of the compound, and that they’d sealed the main entrance with a forced cave-in, their work here would be finished.

The old woman sighed at the prospect of returning. She had stalled for as long as possible at the airport, long after Toby’s plan to push Meredith out of the compound had occurred. She did not look forward to seeing him again.

She about Alysa. Hopefully she’d get the Ama-Eskua back on track. They had been out here in these desolate woods, unsupervised for far too long. It was risky allowing Alysa to shoot the volatile red-headed woman, but necessary to tame the savage beast that she wanted to keep alive. Clementine would use that killer as leverage over her wayward daughter… as she would eventually use Gina as leverage over Meredith… assuming her old friend ever made it back.

Many plans were already in motion.

There was nothing left to do but emotionally destroy the former leader of these pathetic people who had the audacity to remain, stealing what did not belong to them. Mother had made examples of them. But now, Mother needed to embrace the nomad and comfort her during this next difficult phase.

Clementine shook her dark thoughts away and turned her back on the tree.

Time to deliver the fatal blow, she thought with a smile. The next arrow will not miss the intended target.

~~~

“Gina?”

Gina opens her eyes and sits up with a start. “Frank?”

Her old friend is sitting in the driver seat, smiling back at her like the Cheshire Cat. “I’m so glad you found the time to get a nap in and all… but… playtime’s over.”

“What… how the hell are you here?” Gina’s rational mind is telling her this is a dream, but it feels so real.

“Doesn’t matter. You need to wake up now and put on your best damn poker face. Game’s about to start and you need to learn the house rules pretty fucking fast.”

She smiles at him. “I miss you, asshole.”

“Yeah… well, you look like shit,” he adds with a smile.

Gina laughs, then sighs. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there… you know… when you died.”

Frank shakes his head. “There you go again, acting like you can stop all the big bad events in the world… and when you don’t… it’s because you weren’t there. Talk about a fucking ego.”

“What happened to you?”

Frank gives her a serious look. “You know what happened. Piece it together, smart girl… and you’ll know exactly what happened.”

Gina’s eyes go wide when the latter-than-hell realization finally hits her. “Marcus.”

Frank laughs and turns. He stares out the windshield and says, “Time’s up. Remember what I said about your game face. Shit’s about to get real… and you ain’t gonna like it. Stay strong, Gina… and remember, no matter what, that you are alone in the Big Game now. Don’t trust anyone.”

She starts to reach out for the big man. “No. Wait…”

~~~

… “Gina?”

Gina opened her eyes and sighed.

Clementine was sitting in the front seat of the blazer, leaning back, and trying to wake her. The interior lights of the vehicle were on. It was dark outside.

“Holy fuck!” Gina said, grabbing the sides of her head. “How long have I been out?” She tried to move too fast, crying out as she felt her injuries.

“Be still, Gina,” the old woman said in a strange voice. “We’re not going anywhere, not tonight at least. We dare not roam about in these woods after the sun goes down. That’s their time.”

“But… I don’t understand. Why the hell did you let me sleep so long? Your scouts should’ve reported back hours ago and-”

“Gina,” Clementine said, letting out a heavy sigh. “They have come back. I didn’t wake you because I wanted you to get as much rest as you could… before I told you the news.”

Gina noticed how much it pained the old woman to speak. “Something’s happened. What’s wrong?”

Clementine closed her eyes, then opened them. She gave the young woman a serious look and then reached out her bony hands.

Gina didn’t know how to respond to the queer gesture. She simply took the old woman’s hands and Clementine held them firmly. “What I have to tell you will be hard to hear. I need you to steady yourself… right now. Can you do that?”

Gina nodded. “Yes… please… just tell me what’s going on.”

Clementine looked at Gina’s hands, frowned, and said, “There’s no easy way to say this, child, so I’m just going to say it, okay?”

Gina waited.

The old woman looked her in the eyes. “My scouts came back with terrible news. If only we’d responded sooner…”

Gina took a deep breath. “Just… tell me.”

Clementine nodded. “They’re all dead, Gina.”

Gina froze. “Excuse me? What did you say?”

“From what my scouts gathered, the Shadow Dead struck their camp a few weeks ago. They came in force, probably during the night. They killed everyone.”

Gina pulled her hands free. “What… what are you fucking telling me? Are you saying that all my… that all my friends are… dead?”

“Yes, dear. What I’m trying to tell you is that we’re too late. I’m… truly sorry.”

Gina felt dizzy. She suddenly needed out of the vehicle. She frantically grabbed for the door handle. “I need… I need some air…”

“Gina, please… don’t try anything… Gina?”

She quickly pushed open the door and stumbled out of the blazer.

Several of Clementine’s people stared at the frantic red-headed woman, wondering how to proceed.

“Leave her be,” Clementine ordered, following Gina out of the car. “Just… give her space, everyone. Please.”

Gina stared around at the camp of car headlights and the silhouettes standing in front of them. She reeled around, feeling like her head was going to explode. “I… I have to… I need to get to them,” she said.

“Gina, just calm down,” Clementine said from behind her. “We’ll take you there in the morning. But you need to settle down now. You’re not looking well.”

Gina tried to speak but nothing came out.

They’re all dead.

She suddenly vomited beside the blazer. Gina lost her balance and fell backwards to the ground. She could hear voices all around her.

Clementine bent down beside her. “Gina… just be still now, child. You’re having a panic attack of some kind.”

Gina stared into the old woman’s face and didn’t recognize her. “Get away from me!”

Clementine held up her hands and backed off.

She stared around at the faceless forms moving in around her. “All of you… stay the fuck away from me!” Gina tried to get up, but the ground was spinning too fast.

They’re all dead.

Gina put her hands over her ears, then rolled up into a ball. “Just… leave me… leave me alone!”

Clementine backed up near the front of the blazer, holding her hand up toward her people. “Just leave the girl alone,” she said. “She needs a minute.”

Something came loose inside of her. Gina felt like her mind was about to crash and her heart had just imploded. Suddenly, she started screaming and sobbing, causing everyone to take an uncomfortable step back.

Clementine simply stood there, her arms folded up within her robe.

As Gina’s emotions exploded in a torturous display of grief, deep within the shadow of her hooded face, the old woman was smiling.

~~~

A fire of mourning lit the eastern sky ablaze, penetrating tree tops, somber souls, and finally settling upon the surface of the large river pool. The calm, debris-filled waters reflected the dawn above, casting soft, red light mixed with shadow until the illusion of a funeral pyre was made complete—light and fire upon water—making the numerous corpses floating in the pond seem more like little ships sailing off to Valhalla, rather than the discarded remains of a futile battle.

The woman approached the pool, staring at the crumbled vestiges of a once magnificent waterfall, now, as silent as all the rest. She waited for the others to assemble around her, deliberately letting the moment linger, before finally retrieving the list from her robe.

She glanced at the written names, cleared her throat, and began her eulogy:

“We’ve come here today to pay our respects for those who have perished… for those who have fought against the long night, but did not prevail… may they now rest in peace.” The woman paused for dramatic effect as she glanced down at the list. “To the gods of this world, we commit the following souls into your care. May they find their way across the darkness, beyond all pain, terror, loss and confusion left behind in the wake of the Day of Deliverance. Had these poor souls known what was coming, they might have rejoiced at the eve of enlightenment, and not trembled at the end of the dark.” The woman paused and closed her eyes, appearing to pray for a moment. She opened her eyes, smiled at everyone in attendance, and then continued. “We’re here to remember the dead, to honor their sacrifice, and wish them good tidings on their journey into the Beyond. They are free now. They are one.” Lady Clementine started reading off the names on her long list. “Diane Carol Conley, dead at age 20, of Ashtabula County, former farmer…”

Gina sat on her knees at the edge of the pool, staring unflinchingly at the decomposed bodies. Her face was damp with tears. Her mind, heart and soul… gone. As the old woman read off each name, Gina allowed herself to feel each fresh wound… insisting on suffering through it all. It was the least she could do for them. It was the only thing she had left to do.

When Clementine finished reading off the last of the names, she bent down next to Gina and said, “Is there anything you’d like to say, Gina? I know this isn’t easy, and I can’t imagine the pain you’re feeling right now. But maybe saying goodbye would help in some small way.”

Gina shook her head. “I should be with them,” she whispered, fresh tears streaming down her face. “I want to be with them.”

The old woman nodded respectfully. She then leaned in close and said, “We will get them, Gina. We’ll make them all pay for this. You have my word, child.”

Gina turned to Clementine. “Thank you. Thank you for all of it… for this service.”

Clementine put a hand on her shoulder. “This is hard for me, too. I came here hoping to be reunited with my long-lost sister. Meredith meant the world to me… as she did to you.”

Gina wiped the tears from her face. “I lost… everything today. Are you sure they all died? Maybe-”

“No, child,” Clementine said. “We were thorough. No one outside would’ve survived the night. Anyone trapped in that hole in the ground were slain when the Shadow Dead got inside… or they burned in the fire. The entrance collapsed shortly after my scouts got out. They’re lucky they didn’t join them. And even if we could dig our way down there… I’m afraid your heart wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

Gina stared into the old woman’s eyes, saw her deep concern, and then finally nodded. “You’re right. If I went down there, I’d never want to come back up again.”

“You will get past this, child. I’ll help you.” Clementine grabbed her gently by the chin and finished, “And then… well… then we’ll go get them all. We’ll burn those fuckers up in the largest bonfire this world has ever seen. This I promise you. How does that sound, Gina?”

Gina’s eyes blazed up. “Yes. I would very much like to be there for that.”

Clementine got to her feet and held out her hand. “Then let’s get out of this dead place, child. There’s nothing left for you here now… and you need time to heal. Come back with me and I’ll show you what Mother can do… and how much those murderers will tremble when we return to hunt them down.”

Gina stared back at the ruined waterfall. They’re all gone. Tony, Stephen, Meredith… all of them. I’ve been betrayed by Marcus. And I attempted to kill this woman who came here to help us. She looked back up at the strong old woman in the red robe. I’ve been wrong about a great many things… including being alone. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about Mother, too. She reached up and took Clementine’s hand and rose to her feet.

Clementine put her hands on the broken woman’s shoulders and said, “I’m so very sorry this happened. With all the power I possess… I still can’t change something like this. I can’t bring any of them back in a world where the dead returning seems very ordinary. It’s a bitter bit of irony to swallow, I’m afraid. But we can bring justice… or we can bring vengeance. Will you join us… for their sake?”

“Yes,” Gina said, without hesitation.

Clementine smiled and then embraced the fragile young woman.

Gina held on fiercely, weeping into the folds of the old woman’s robe.

~~~

The drive back to the airport was uneventful, allowing Gina time to process and lock her grief away beneath the furnace of rage that burned brightly within. She refused to fight the darkness anymore. She needed every bit of it to keep on wanting to breathe—her need to destroy the Shadow Dead was all she had left.

As the convoy approached the old runway, she could see the tall terminal tower. Gina turned to Clementine and asked, “So what’s the deal with this place, anyway? Why are we back here and not out there hunting down the Shadow Dead?”

Clementine turned and smiled. “I told you we’d take care of them after you healed. Besides, we need Mother’s help.”

“I don’t understand. I thought you all were here on Mother’s behalf?”

“Yes… but we’ll need a bit more help, now that we don’t have your people to aid us.”

Gina nodded with a frown. “So, there’s more people and weapons here, I assume.”

Clementine gave her an amused look and said, “This place was always more than just our base of operations, child. It’s an extraction point, as well.”

“Extraction point?”

Clementine smiled. “I said we’re going to get more help. There’s only place left to go, Gina.”

Before she could inquire further, Gina was silenced by what she saw as they arrived at the airport.

~~~

Just before sunset, the skies above the airport came alive with the loud whirling buzz of machinery that had not been heard since before the outbreak.

Five black helicopters, resembling large dragonflies, took to the skies, flying north over the vast forest tree tops. This was the first of three runs to evacuate the airport of all personnel.

Gina stared down through the open doorway from her strapped in position. She was being flown back with the medical crew on the first run while Clementine managed affairs on the ground. Gina was glad to be away from the old woman for a little while, allowing her time to process… everything.

The wind whipped across her face. She stared down, completely in awe from seeing where she’d lived, fought, and bled since The Change began, speeding by below her, hidden beneath a sea of forest green. She thought of her friends—no—her family, and allowed herself one last moment to feel them in her darkening heart.

“Goodbye,” she finally said.

She looked up and saw an expanse of blue quickly approaching.

They were headed north, over Lake Erie.

To Mother.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

~~~

DON’T FEED THE DARK WILL RETURN FALL 2018…

Previous Episode 47-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-7: The Enemy” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Russell Bower pushed through the thick forest brush with his good shoulder. His hands were still zip-tied around his back. He made no effort to shield himself from the prickly branches that whipped across his face. His oblivion-filled dark eyes stared dejectedly past the monotonous trees, into the void that only he could perceive.

“How’s the shoulder?” his captor asked from ten feet behind him. Alysa kept her bow notched but held it low. “We could stop if you need to rest.”

Russell was unresponsive. He just continued walking, eyes forward, detached from everything around, including Alysa and the pain throbbing throughout his wounded and exhausted flesh.

Alysa, who usually appreciated the lack of conversation, was unnerved by this predator’s silence. They had been pushing hard, heading north through the forest since early this morning. It was now midday and Russell had not spoken a word since last night, after witnessing Gina’s death. He wouldn’t even acknowledge the warrior with a murderous glare. To Russell, the woods and everyone in it, had ceased to exist. To her, Russell seemed content to just keep walking until his body gave out or until he walked off the edge of the world.

Alysa scanned the surrounding forest for signs that they were being watched. They were still miles away from Shadow Dead country, but just heading in their direction filled the former Ama-Eskua warrior with trepidation.

“If it’s any comfort to you,” Alysa started, hearing the strain in her own voice, “we are both prisoners today. Where we’re going is the last place I ever wanted to go.” She waited for a response of any kind and received nothing. “Do you even care about anything other than your precious red-headed dead girl?” She’d hoped poking at the bear might provoke a response.

Russell continued to ignore her.

Alysa was getting frustrated. “Is this all you are now? Just some hollowed out tree waiting to collapse in the forest? When we first met, I had no idea your entire purpose for living revolved around that broken woman. Perhaps I overestimated you.”

Russell continued to shamble forward like one of dead.

The warrior shook her head in disappointment. “Not that you care, but I put my ass on the line for you. In fact, you’re the reason I’m in this fix now. Not that I expect your damn gratitude, but a word or two showing me that I still exist in your disturbed little world would be acceptable. I’m the only reason you’re still alive.”

Still nothing.

She tried something else. “They’re all dead, you know. Your friends at the compound. The Shadow Dead attacked shortly after you ran after the red-headed cunt! They slaughtered every-”

Russell finally stopped. He turned, gave Alysa an icy glance, then said, “It can all burn. You… your Shadow Dead… my friends… none of it matters. It’s all irrelevant.”

“All except your precious Gina, right?”

Russell turned away. He started to walk again, then lost his balance as he collapsed, falling forward on his face.

“Shit,” Alysa hissed. She rushed over to attend to the wounded serial killer.

She retrieved her knife, hesitated, then bent down to cut his wrist restraints. As she cautiously turned him over on his back, she hissed, “If this is a ruse, it’s a foolish one.”

The warrior was not prepared for what she found on the killer’s face. She stood up as if just discovering a poisonous animal and then took a step back, feeling suddenly ill-equipped to handle her prisoner.

Russell Bower was weeping.

~~~

Alysa took advantage of Russell’s breakdown and decided to set up camp. They both needed the rest, but she wanted more time to prepare her mind before the undesirable reunion with her former Order. If Lady Clementine’s directions were correct, they would reach the Shadow Dead camp by noon tomorrow, which meant, they would have eyes on them sometime tomorrow morning.

She made a small fire just a few feet from where Russell had collapsed as nightfall moved in abruptly within the dense forest. Alysa stared over at the sleeping man as the last of the day faded. She could see the slow rise and fall of his chest, proving he was still alive… if that was the word for it.

Alysa stared into the fire, her own tired thoughts beginning to drift. She thought of Tony and the others back in New Cleveland as a frown formed on her face. A part of her that still felt foreign regretted leaving them there and she wrestled with the ashes of guilt that remained. Like Russell’s tears, these unaccustomed emotions were also difficult to manage. What have you let them do to you? she silently wondered. These thoughts are folly, just a new weakness to exploit that you better have resolved before tomorrow. If the Ama-Eskua—no—Shadow Dead is a better name for these beasts with no honor. If the Shadow Dead discover your new vulnerability-

Her thoughts were interrupted by the weak laughter of her prisoner.

She turned toward Russell. He was staring at her.

“You find something amusing about all of this?” She quickly reeled in her anger and the rest of her unwanted emotions.

Russell ceased laughing and turned his face toward the tops of the trees. “Your eyes betray you. You’re as lost as I am,” he said with a wicked smile.

Alysa scowled at him. She’d left herself vulnerable and he knew it. Since this morning all she’d wanted was for this man to talk, but now, he could remain silent forever. “At last, he speaks. Please… elaborate. Why am I lost?”

He turned back. “At the cabin, you were dead inside. It provided you with an illusion of strength, I suppose. But since then you’ve found something vital.” He turned away and laughed again. “Of course, you’ve lost whatever that is, and your eyes clearly show the absence of it.”

Alysa’s face was stone. “You speak nonsense. You’re just a broken man with a fragile dream… shattered with one damn arrow. You’re the one who is lost. You just want to take me down with you. I assure you, I am aware of how lethal the tongue can be when sharpened and placed in the appropriate place.”

Russell’s smile was unnerving. “Even now, your abundance of words betrays you… and deep down, you know it. Yes, I am lost. You’ve made sure of that… but so are you.”

“And you find… what… something rewarding in that?” Alysa gave up guarding the obvious. “Are you seeking a little payback on the way to hell… is that it?”

Russell’s smile faded. He looked away. “No. I don’t care about revenge. What would I possibly gain in your death? You are as much a tool in this world as I’ve been.”

“And yet, you weep,” Alysa pushed. “You weep for the woman you tried to murder… the woman that I mercifully put an end to with one arrow. And by doing so, I attempted to put a merciful end to your delusional quest, as well.”

Russell’s smile returned. “My failures are my own. That is something you and I do not share when it comes to loss. You search for blame. I accept my fate. I weep for the disappointment I’ve caused.”

“What… to your precious Lady Death? Is that it?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head. “Rubbish! Even if Death gave a shit about you, it’s only to serve her own ends. Even you must understand that.”

Russell let that go. He shifted gears. “I did not laugh to spite you. I’m just surprised that you found… life… now that we’re both close to the end of it. I laugh because Irony tells the best jokes.”

This made Alysa chuckle. “Yes, on that we wholeheartedly agree.”

Russell gave her a puzzled look. “Curious. What was it that made you lose everything you’d gained to be out here with me now?”

Alysa laughed. “That’s a complicated question.”

“Not really. However you and I see Death differently, you have to hand it to her, she makes everything plain as the end approaches.”

“Okay,” Alysa said with a nod. “Then I suppose the short answer is this: It’s the past that has me out here… in part, anyway.”

“Ah… the unresolved.”

“Yes,” she said. “That may not be relevant to you, but it is to me.”

Russell nodded. “Fair enough. But still, your god is behind us, while mine is just up ahead. How do our deaths reconcile matters between you and The Past?”

“That’s a good question, Russell… or do you prefer Marcus?”

Russell ignored that.

“Fine,” she said. “I guess the truth is, I don’t really know yet. I’m hoping that your god shows mercy, or at least stays the fuck out of my way long enough to figure it out. Either way, when we meet up with the Shadow Dead tomorrow, your god will have ample opportunities to snuff us out.”

“Yes, there is that, at least.” Russell laughed again. “Perhaps, this is what she always intended… for the both of us.”

Alysa smiled. “It’s good to see you back, Russell. I was starting to believe you’d died with Gina.”

Russell’s face grew grave. “You misunderstand me. Doesn’t matter what happens tomorrow. I am already dead. Dead to this world. Dead to my futile quest. Dead to any need to seek vengeance on you or anyone else.” He leaned in, causing Alysa to shift uncomfortably. “It took me a while to understand… to process the events of last night… but I’m starting to see the bigger picture.”

“And what picture is that?”

Russell smiled like the devil. “You may have inadvertently brought me closer to my god than you intended with your arrow. I don’t fear Death. I embrace it. And if tomorrow places us on the edge of it… then so be it. I will be closer to the Lady than I’ve ever been… even if I don’t know what that means anymore, or if I’m found unworthy to gaze upon her face.”

Alysa nodded. “Then we’re both headed for our uncertain destinies.”

“Yes. It would appear so.”

“Then perhaps you could put a good word in with your god and maybe she’ll grant us favor,” Alysa kidded.

Russell laughed and shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t dare ask for leniency, not for myself, and definitely not for you.”

“Well, then prepare to die a most horrific prolonged death at the Shadow Dead’s hands, because if things go badly, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Russell rolled back over, turning his back toward the warrior. “That’s fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way… especially for you.”

~~~

They started moving again at first light. After two hours, they entered an unfamiliar pine forest, farther north than either had been before. There was very little light that broke through the canopy above, keeping the dense forest dark. An unsettling silence seemed to close in on them with each reluctant step forward. Conversation had ended between them as both killer and warrior understood the need to remain invisible for as long as possible.

“They’re here,” Russell whispered. He continued to push forward unconcerned.

Alysa gave him a sideways glance as her muscles tensed. She knew he was right but was surprised that he’d realized it. Perhaps her former brothers and sisters had grown complacent and careless out in these woods for so long. Or, maybe Russell was just-

The former Shadow Dead warrior reacted with a speed that even surprised Russell as she quickly charged toward him.

Before Russell could turn, Alysa was tackling him to the ground.

Three black arrows whizzed past the killer’s location, striking the nearby trees.

Alysa was on Russell’s back. She hissed, “Stay down! Don’t move… or you’re dead.”

Russell simply shrugged his shoulders beneath her and responded, “Okay… but don’t expect me to cower before these pitiful people hiding behind masks.”

She shook her head at him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Just… be still.”

Russell relaxed beneath her and said no more.

By the time Alysa had risen to a crouching position, she had already located several of them as she appeared to aim her bow at nothing and everything. They were surrounded by at least twelve Shadow Dead. We’re already finished, she thought, not out of fear, but as a fact. She acted quickly. “Hold!” she yelled into the forest with as much authority as she could muster. “I am Alysa Monroe of the Ama-” She quickly caught herself. “I am here under the direct orders of Lady Clementine, herself… and under her protection! You are bound by honor and sworn by Mother to lower your arms and allow me safe passage! I will not repeat myself! Harm us… if you dare… and face the consequences for your actions!”

Russell snickered to her left. “This should be interesting.”

“Be still,” she hissed, refusing to look at him. “They will stand down.”

“Unless your precious Lady Clementine ordered them to kill you,” Russell added. “Bet you didn’t consider that one.”

Alysa ignored him. The truth was, she had. The former Shadow Dead warrior wouldn’t put it past Clementine to dispose of her… but she didn’t believe the old witch would need to go to all this trouble to do it.

Here’s to hoping I haven’t worn out my usefulness yet, she thought, and then lowered her bow. Now we see if Russell’s god has it in for me or not.

After an unnerving two minutes of silence, the Ama-Eskua stepped out from the cover of the trees. They were dressed in their familiar armor, layered in bones and blood—their cow mask helmets hiding advanced electronics within, completing their grotesque and horrifying appearance as the dead creatures closed in around them. Several were carrying black long bows, others were brandishing spears. Some opted to stay traditional, revealing their clawed gauntlets.

All twelve beasts stepped within ten feet, stopped, and formed a circle around them. None of them spoke.

Alysa slowly stood. She stared into each of their faces, chin held high, eyes fiercely locked in on each of their faces to let them know who she was… and that she did not fear them, but respected them, and demanded the same in return. Finally, she said, “You are ordered to take me back to your camp. We’ve much to discuss. I bring plans from Lady Clem-”

One of the tallest beasts raised his spear toward her and brought it within an inch of Alysa’s face.

She did not flinch but continued to stare beyond the sharp spear and into the Shadow Dead’s eyes. “As I said, we’ve much to discuss. Do that again and see what happens.”

The Shadow Dead withdrew the spear and then turned to look at her prisoner on the ground. He pointed toward Russell and stared at Alysa.

“No,” she said, taking a defiant step forward. “You will not harm him.”

The Shadow Dead pointed at Russell more fiercely, stepping forward with equal defiance.

“No!” She raised her voice and stepped in front of the pointing finger. “You cannot harm him!”

The tall Shadow Dead lowered his finger, then looked past Alysa toward one of the beasts with claws.

The clawed Shadow Dead quickly moved toward Russell… but Alysa was a step faster.

Before the clawed beast could reach Russell and rip out his throat, Alysa stepped in front of Russell, retrieved her hunting knife, and stabbed it in the swinging arm of the clawed creature.

As the others moved in to retaliate, Alysa quickly bent down, grabbed Russell’s right hand, and removed his glove. She raised his branded hand for all of them to see. The eye above a three-pronged symbol stared back at them. Alysa shouted, “HE IS MARKED! HE IS MINE!”

The charging Shadow Dead stopped. The last one with Alysa’s knife sticking in its arm almost struck them both down anyway, until the tall one with the spear pointed at him.

The clawed Shadow Dead stopped, then reluctantly backed off, glaring at Alysa with an intensity that rivaled her own.

She smiled at him and nodded. “You’ll get your chance… but not today,” she promised. Alysa turned back toward the tall Shadow Dead warrior and said, “It’s within my right. He is mine. He bears Mother’s Mark. You are sworn as her Hand… if you still have honor left… to leave him be. This one is mine. We are bound together in this life. And I am accountable for his death. He serves me… and I serve Mother… as do you all.”

The tall Shadow Dead stared at her for a few moments, then stared around at the others. He nodded once, and they all started to disperse back into the forest, quickly disappearing.

The tall one gave Alysa one last look, then pointed north. Then he, too, disappeared into the forest.

Alysa waited a few minutes then let her shoulders drop, letting out a heavy sigh.

“That was… intense,” Russell said with a smile, slowly putting his glove back on. “Does this mean we’ve been given a pass to continue, or should I expect another attempt on my life?”

She turned toward the amused serial killer. “I just saved your life… again,” she spat. “How about a little gratitude now?”

“Fuck you,” he said, refusing to look at her. “I’m alive because it’s not my time to die… yet. Perhaps that’s my punishment for failure. Close enough to smell it… but never being allowed to taste real freedom. Either way, I owe you nothing.”

Alysa retrieved her bow and aimed an arrow in his face. “Fine!” she said. “I owe you nothing… but you will show me respect!”

Russell finally turned, rolling his eyes. “Or what? You’ll shoot me? You’ll kill me?” He painfully got to his feet and took a step toward her arrow. “Do I look like I care about your threats? Shoot me, if you can’t control your primitive emotions, or if I’ve injured your equally worthless honor. Go ahead, Shadow Girl, be done with it.”

Alysa regained control and lowered her bow. She smiled and said, “Nice try, Russell. You are good at pushing the right buttons, but I’m better than that. You’ll not get your wish today.”

Russell laughed. “Oh, just give me time. I’ll find a better button to push. You can’t keep your guard up forever. One day, I’ll find a crack… and then you’ll wish you’d shot me today.”

“Promises, promises,” she said. She waved her hand north. “Shall we go, then?”

Russell gave her a final scrutinizing gaze, raised his gloved right hand, and then said, “Clever girl. You don’t play by their rules, but you made sure to study the playbook.”

“It comes in handy.”

“I’m sure it does,” he said with a laugh. “As you probably know already, I’m a bit of a rule breaker myself. You don’t get away with the things I’ve done in the old world without understanding how to play along with the other sheep.”

Alysa frowned.

Russell started walking north. He laughed again and finished, “Perhaps I’ll have a chance to sneak a peek into your Shadow Dead playbook, too. I’m a fast learner, especially when it comes to an advantage.”

Alysa Monroe silently stepped in several feet behind Russell. She had much to consider and prepare herself for once reaching the Shadow Dead camp. She would need to prove herself worthy of the Ama-Eskua again, and there would be blood… it was unavoidable. But for the first time she wondered if Russell Bower was really a kindred spirit bound by darkness, that she could mentor… or, if he had already evolved into something much darker than she ever could have imagined.

~~~

Next Episode 47-7

Previous Episode 47-5

~~~

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“Chapter 47-6: The Enemy” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.