Unknown233

~~~

Harpersfield Public Hall stood hauntingly silent at the north end of the park. The three story red-brick building was the biggest and one of the tallest visible structures in the immediate area that held the town’s post office, police station, fire department and a community center. At the top of town hall was an old clock tower. Its large arms stood motionless. At some point the large clock had died at 9:05.

At every entrance into the large building, Frank and Charlie found a small sign with the words:

BUILDING QUARANTINED.
DUE TO PUBLIC HEALTH RISK,
PLEASE AVOID THIS AREA.

They tried several doors anyway, with no success. Town Hall was locked up tight.

“So much for police assistance,” Frank said sarcastically. He looked back for Charlie and found him staring into one of the first floor windows. “Anything?”

Charlie stepped back, shaking his head. “No, it’s all dark like the others I checked.” He looked puzzled. “In fact, it’s almost too dark.” He stared up at the sun that cast shadows along the side of the building.

“What is it?” Frank asked coming over.

“Obviously there’s no power in town,” Charlie started, “but there should be sunlight getting in these windows to let me see something. At first I thought the windows were tinted, but that’s not it.”

Frank moved toward the window and looked inside. “Someone’s painted the interior windows black.”

“Exactly.”

Frank turned away from the hall and faced the quiet main street that ran east and west. Like the public park, everything looked clean and undisturbed. Nearby buildings almost felt alive as if watching the two intruders and conspiring while their backs were turned, and now trying to fake that they were inanimate and ordinary as every window felt like another eye upon them. “I see you, shit-hole town,” he whispered.

“What was that?” Charlie asked, wanting to kill the unnerving silence.

Frank ignored the question, nervously clicking the safety on and off on the M-16.

“Why the quarantine?” Charlie asked. “Do these clowns know something we don’t?”

“Oh, you can be sure of that,” Frank laughed. “There’s nothing but secrets in this fucking place. You can feel it like thick syrup oozing all over this white-washed bullshit.”

“For once, we are in agreement,” Charlie said.

“Let’s check out some of these other fine establishments and get back already.”

They crossed the street and headed west, discovering several more locked and blacked-out buildings under quarantine.

“I’m sensing a trend,” Frank said. “Nice and pretty on the outside, dark and foreboding within. Reminds me of a girl I knew once. If not for the feeling of being watched like a hawk, I’d say smash a window in and solve the mystery.”

“So you think the quarantine is bullshit?” Charlie asked.

“Don’t you, smart guy?”

Charlie shook his head. “I just don’t give a shit. This is just more time wasted. These crazy fucks are probably hiding the good stuff in these closed off buildings, effectively keeping us from their supplies. Think about it. Ezekiel tells us to look around and take what we need to appear helpful while he knows we’ll find jack squat. We should have made him show us their supplies at gunpoint and been done with this already.”

“That would go over well to improve our peaceful standing among this fine community,” Frank teased.

“Well, that’s the difference between me and Queen Bitch. She’s too concerned about making friends with everyone to avoid the inevitable while I choose to knock fucking Inevitable to the ground, take all he has and survive another day.”

Frank snorted. “When did you get so ruthless, Charlie? Just a little while ago you were using all of us as human shields to hide your cowardice. And now, you have it all figured out.”

Charlie turned and shot Frank a stern look. “Mock me all you want, it doesn’t matter—you, the others, Ezekiel—don’t matter. Truth is, I’m not the expendable one anymore. I’m probably the only one left that can do anything to stop Mr. Inevitable.”

“And who’s he?”

“The extinction of our pathetic human race.”

Frank laughed and said, “Well that’s a tall order. And what can you possibly do to stop old Inevitable from coming?”

Charlie gave him a devious smile. “Just you wait and see.”

Frank slowed down, suddenly desiring a little more space between himself and the little man.

He’s as crazy as that lame fuck, Ezekiel. He really believes everything he’s saying.

It wasn’t in Frank’s nature to show a vulnerability of any kind so he continued to push. “Maybe that’s why Queen Bitch really wanted to leave you behind in Painesville. Ever think of that? Perhaps she doesn’t like the ‘new you’.”

He struck a nerve, as intended. Charlie turned, his face turning red, and then he caught himself and smiled. “Nice try, Frank. I’m not biting today. Besides, I know exactly what that was about.”

“Oh, do tell?”

“I’m a threat to her authority. Painesville was an opportunity for her to eliminate the competition for command. In a strange I’m-still-glad-I’m-not-dead kind of way, I found her attempt to let the horde have me flattering.”

Frank was shocked. “You’re a real piece of work, Charlie. Setting aside the fact that you’re quickly nurturing a monster god-complex, do you really believe she’s that devious?

“If Gina’s got anything going for her, besides her physical attributes, it’s that she’s got the potential to be ten times more ruthless than I could ever be. If she wasn’t a woman, there’d be nothing holding her back. But as it is, she’s governed by weaker emotions inherent of her gender, which renders her indecisive and lacking the aggressiveness needed to survive in this fucked up world now.”

Frank continued to push. “I suppose that’s why your girlfriend, Amanda, was the first to back Gina’s play. She was pretty adamant about leaving you behind. Talk about a bad break-up.”

“That is a personal matter between Miss Howard and myself that I will be rectifying shortly. Let’s drop the subject.” Charlie walked up to the closest door, in need of a distraction. He ignored the “Quarantine” sign and reached for the door knob to verify it was locked.

The knob turned and the door came open. Charlie quickly closed it and looked at Frank. “What is this place?”

Frank found the store sign. “Unless we find a way to convert plastic into food, I think this place is a bust.”

Charlie looked at the sign and rolled his eyes. It read: Hilda’s House of Toys.

“Feel like testing your theory, Charlie? I personally want to know what gets a toy store quarantined.”

Charlie looked at the front window of the shop. It was painted black like the rest. “Why the hell not,” he said and pulled the door open.

~~~

Marcus and Stephen traveled east along the main street for five short blocks, exiting the business district which merged into a small residential area of old two-story houses crammed in tight on both sides of the street.

Stephen watched the windows and every screen door on vacant porches, expecting someone—anyone—to come out and resume their late afternoon routines. Perhaps the sound of running water and the sight of a woman in a flower printed sundress cleaning dishes after supper; a grandmother calling out for the kids playing imaginary wars in the front yard as she placed a pitcher of lemonade and glasses on the table near her rocking chair to enjoy the autumn colors; a man in a tank top washing his car out in the driveway while his wife was out walking the dog with a neighbor; the mailman, finishing his last run for the day, walking up each yard and greeting the residents by name as he handed them their correspondence…

“This is a dead place,” Marcus said, ripping Stephen out of the past. “It may not look it, but it’s a graveyard all the same. You best not forget that.”

Stephen looked at the hard-faced man and frowned. Marcus refused to look at anything but the road ahead of them as if believing acknowledging the town’s existence would render a curse upon him. He was right, of course. Though the yards smelled of freshly cut grass before Monday Night Football, and the streets were clear of abandoned vehicles, corpses, and anything else representing the present state of chaos everywhere else, the one ugly stain that could not be covered over by a fresh coat of paint and memories was the absence of the living. Other than the occasional mounted American flag blowing in the breeze, nothing else moved in Harpersfield.

Although none of the houses were closed up with quarantine signs, like the store fronts they had passed, they both agreed to stay clear of the homes, convinced that this was where the town’s remaining residents might be holding up. Marcus had also reasoned that although Ezekiel hadn’t forbade it, perhaps this was deliberate on his part in order to set a trap and ambush them while navigating some tight hallway or basement.

“It’s easy to forget,” Stephen said with a chill. “It’s like everyone just stopped what they were doing and left this place. Why do you suppose Ezekiel and his people bother keeping it… like it was?”

Marcus sighed deeply and said, “Because they are afraid, Stephen. They’re afraid of looking at the truth… hell, they’re probably afraid of their own reflection—anything that would make them own up to what’s gone now—and that’s why they keep the lie intact.”

“You really don’t care for this place, do you?”

“No. I don’t. I find it offensive… and pointless. This place reeks of fear, and death is coming to claim these poor delusional people whether they dress it up in yesterday or not. To live in this new world means burying the old… and all its obsolete ways. If it were up to me, I’d burn this place to the ground for what it represents. This place is poison.”

Stephen was shocked. “Isn’t that a bit harsh? Maybe they’re just trying to hold on to something before the world turns to dust. Our memories are all we have left. If order is never restored, we will eventually have nothing—no blueprint—to build from again if we don’t keep some part of the past alive.”

Marcus laughed. “Who says we should rebuild anything? We should embrace this opportunity to start fresh—wipe the slate clean and do something entirely different. All those old ideals, social structures, and the numerous distractions we invented to simply waste life should all die with the past. What we need now is adaptability and to embrace being truly alive and to thrive in each moment as though it might be our last, because now, that is no longer a catchy phrase on a bumper sticker—it’s the truth. We’ve neglected real living for so long that we were much more like those dead things wandering around… but now, we are awake and aware of our own mortality, which makes breathing second to none. What we don’t need is dreams of returning to the same dust that got us in this mess to begin with. I say, let the dead have the dead… all of it.”

Stephen shook his head. “Well, I just can’t believe it was all so bad. Sure, I get what you’re saying about a wasted life—hell, I’ve done my fair share of wasting—but when I see a town like this, I’m reminded of what I took for granted and I would give anything to have a second chance at making better choices…” He trailed off before his memories betrayed him, returning him to dark and guarded places within.

Marcus stopped and looked at him. “My friend, look around you. Look beyond the smoke screen of the past and really take it all in. This is all about second chances. Why else would we still be alive when so many are rotting away? We are no longer in charge of this world. We had our chance and blew it. But now, we get to witness what’s coming and I feel honored to be a part of it, even if that means our eventual demise. Doesn’t matter as long we let go and live. I believe there’s only one thing left that’s keeping us from knowing true freedom. All the other chains have become irrelevant.”

“What would that be, Marcus?”

“Fear, my friend. That’s all that matters now—that’s all that remains. It is our last enemy and liberator rolled into one.”

“I’m scared shitless twenty-four seven now,” Stephen said. “So are you actually saying that this is a good thing?”

“It’s the necessary thing, Stephen. Once we embrace the fear and adapt to it, we’ll no longer be enslaved by it as we once were when we could not see it coming behind our once confusing lives. This new world grants us clarity. We know what it means to fear the dark and understand it because the dark has come out into daylight to be seen in all its horror, within and without. What’s different now is that we have an opportunity to rule that fear and be free of it.”

“I don’t understand you, Marcus. Are you saying that when we stop fearing the dead, we’ll be free from them? That makes no sense.”

“What makes us alive, Stephen? What makes the dead ones pursue us relentlessly but keeps them from turning on each other?”

“They’re dead and we’re still breathing.”

“Look deeper. Is it our flesh they seek, or do they sense something else that draws them to us?”

Stephen said nothing.

“They smell our fear, Stephen. We reek of it. When we’ve learned to let go of the fear, that will make us like them and they will stop hunting us.”

Stephen tried to wrap his brain around Marcus’s concept, but just couldn’t see it. To him, it was simple: Zombies eat people, and they, unfortunately, were people.

They walked on in silence for another ten minutes until they stopped abruptly in front of Harpersfield High School, the only structure in town that did not belong in this postcard-perfect town.

The front of the school looked like ground zero for whatever happened in town. The two-story brick building stood in the middle of tall grass and weeds as if Mother Nature were slowly swallowing it up. Overturned trashcans lay silent on a nearby basketball court behind an eight foot tall chain-link fence. Trash had blown up against the fence as well as all across the front yard and small U-shaped parking lot. The bricks on the right corner of the building had turned black, indicating a fire had occurred. A charred patch of grass below confirmed it. Almost every window had been broken. One of the double doors at the entrance hung at an angle, ripped off its upper hinge. Even some of the school letters had fallen free of the large sign above the entrance.

“Now that’s more like it,” Marcus said with a smile. “There’s no pretense in this place. Welcome to the real Harpersfield, Stephen.”

“I don’t get it. Why would they leave the school in shambles… and only the school?” Stephen felt like he was staring at a large puzzle piece that belonged to another puzzle.

“Maybe they’ve something to fear in this place, something that scares them enough to leave it alone.” Marcus was intrigued. “Ready?”

Stephen raised his eyebrows. “What… you want to go in there? That place is off limits. Ezekiel was quite clear about it. He said the school and the church.”

“He didn’t say which school,” Marcus teased. “He could’ve meant the elementary school across town for all we know. It’s not my fault he wasn’t specific.”

Stephen rolled his eyes. “I think it’s obvious he meant this one… and perhaps for good reason. Look at this place.”

“There’s a clinic in there,” Marcus said. “It’s probably loaded with stronger meds than we could get anywhere else. I don’t recall seeing a hospital anywhere…do you? Think of Meredith.”

“You do realize we’re probably being watched right now.”

“Yep.”

“But you want to go in anyway. What if Ezekiel’s people come out of hiding all pissed off?”

“Then we’ll be able to report back where they are, as instructed. Besides, I suspect they won’t come anywhere near this place. Looks like they haven’t for quite a while.”

Stephen sighed. “There’s no persuading you to abandon this foolishness, is there?”

Marcus laughed. “You are a very intuitive person, Stephen. Are you ready now?”

Stephen looked up at the school and felt the panic creeping in. “I… I can’t. You must understand, Marcus… that used to be me. Everything in there would bring it all back.”

Marcus nodded. “Say no more, my friend. I get it. There’s a bench near the entrance. Why don’t you stand guard while I duck inside for a few minutes. In and out, I promise. The clinic is probably near the office. Both will be near the entrance.”

“Okay. But since you’re looking for more than medication, you better watch your ass in there. You might find more than you bargained for.”

Marcus looked surprised.

“Intuitive, remember? Besides, I know you’re just dying to prove me wrong about this nice little town.”

“I just don’t like being held hostage by so many secrets,” Marcus said. “This town reeks of deception.”

Stephen nodded. “In and out,” he reminded him.

“Like lightning,” Marcus smiled.

They both drew their handguns and walked toward the entrance.

With a mischievous wink, Marcus disappeared through the dark front entrance, leaving Stephen to watch the grounds.

~~~

Next Episode (20-4):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/chapter-20-4-welcome-home/

Previous Episode (20-2):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/chapter-20-2-welcome-home/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 20-3: Welcome Home” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

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

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

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Comments
  1. Artcp says:

    Hey Scott, here are some more typos:

    “our eventually demise.”
    eventual

    “that we’ll make us like them”
    will

    “In an out”
    and

    “Like lightening”
    lightning

    ;D

    Like

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