Unknown235

~~~

Frank and Charlie entered the quarantined toy store with guns drawn and flashlights on. The very first thing they noticed was a large wall of thick plastic sheeting that hung across the front of the large store, obscuring their view of the interior.

“Shit,” Charlie said. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. Looks like this might be the only ‘clean’ area if there really is something infectious in here.”

“Relax,” Frank said. “There’s no air tight seals. Looks more like a renovation project to me. Construction crews hang this type of plastic when sand blasting or working with asbestos—anything that would require a respirator. Toy store owner was probably fixing up the place when the world went mad.” He turned toward the front window. “Look at that.”

The window was completely covered with plywood that was screwed into the wall.

“So they painted the interior side of the windows black and then reinforced them.” Charlie said, turning to check out the door. “The door’s the same. Looks like they were serious about keeping people out but just as serious about keeping the town looking aesthetically pleasing. What a waste of time.”

“I’m not so sure keeping people out was all they intended here,” Frank added.

“All this trouble, and yet, they were careless enough to leave a door unlocked. It doesn’t add up,” Charlie said. “Perhaps they started getting complacent.”

“Perhaps. Just keep your eyes open and your gun close. We’ll give this place a quick look and maybe learn something more about this fucked up Mayberry… and try not to shoot me in the damn leg.”

Charlie rolled his eyes and followed Frank to a split in the plastic curtain. They ducked under and scanned the dark with their flashlights.

They immediately discovered a large group of people staring at them from the back of the store. The long room was completely clear of all else: no furniture, no shelves, no toys.

“Fuck me,” Charlie said, aiming a shaking handgun at the group.

“Hold on!” Frank said. “They’re not real.”

Charlie shined his light from face to face, looking for any movement among the still figures that were standing in various poses and outfits. There were at least four rows of artificial men, women and children frozen in time. “Fucking mannequins?”

“I’ve always wondered where the department store dummies hung out after work,” Frank joked, failing to hide the nervousness in his voice.

“And I thought you were creepy, Frank. Compared to the strange shit going on in this town, you’re starting to look rather normal to me. What the fuck is this?”

“It’s definitely not a toy store. Let’s get a closer look.”

“Let’s not,” Charlie suggested. “Unless you’re looking for some friends that are great listeners, I think we’ve seen enough.”

“Just calm down. I want to know what those name tags they’re all wearing say. The print is too small to make out.”

Charlie just noticed the tags. “I’ll just hang back here and guard the exit while you play with the life-sized dolls.”

Frank shook his head. “Alright, tough guy. Just try not to wet your pants.” He walked toward the mannequins. In the shifting light, it almost looked like they’re heads turned slightly to follow him.

Okay, so they are a little fucking creepy, he thought and then realized he still had the M16 raised. Calm down you big fucking pussy. This isn’t an episode of The Twilight Zone.

He stopped five feet from the first row of plastic people and read the tag on what appeared to be a teenage boy dressed in a white tank top and jeans:

Tommy Jenkins
1254 Chestnut Ave.
(Parking lot prop
west side of park)

Each of the mannequins in the first row also had first and last names, an address and a location.

Frank was slowly seeing the picture. “They weren’t finished yet,” he called back. “I think these dummies were supposed to be set up in the park.”

“For what?” Charlie asked.

“To finish the appearance of a normal town by creating the illusion of a population.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“Not if you’re trying to make this place feel more inviting,” Frank said. “Think about it. What was the one thing that tipped us off that something was definitely wrong about this place when we crossed the bridge? The one thing that almost made us turn right around and keep going?”

Charlie thought about it and then connected the dots. “No fucking people. They wanted us to come here! If anyone considered entering Harpersfield, but wanted to check it out from a safe distance, they’d see these dummies set up all over the park and think this place was thriving.”

“Exactly.”

“Then that would mean…”

“That would mean that we are exactly where they want us to be,” Frank finished. “I think it’s time to get out of Dodge.” He turned toward Charlie.

Charlie looked back at the mannequins and for a split second he thought he saw an arm move in the second row. “Frank,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm. “One of these things is not like the others.”

Frank gave Charlie a puzzled look and then caught the hint a moment too late.

“Shit,” he muttered and whirled around just as four figures rushed at him, pushing the first row of mannequins straight into him. Someone stabbed him in the left thigh. Frank cried out, dropping both the flashlight and rifle, as he fell into the dark.

Charlie struggled to locate him with his narrow beam of light while trying to aim the handgun at the same time. He failed to hear the intruders that crept up behind him.

Suddenly, Charlie was tangled in plastic as several individuals forced him to the ground. Something heavy struck the back of his head. He began to black out as he felt himself being dragged toward the front of the store.

“Mother fuckers!” Frank cried out as he wrestled a knife out of someone’s hand. He heard the weapon hit the floor. Frank grabbed the attacker by the throat and pushed him away. Someone grabbed his leg. He kicked out hard with the other until his boot struck a face.

More were approaching fast from the dark.

Frank rolled to the right, putting pressure directly on his leg wound. The pain fueled his anger. He staggered to his feet and let out a roar as he charged blindly in the dark like a linebacker until his left shoulder struck another attacker, knocking him to the ground. Frank reached out for anything his hands could find. He found the dismembered arm of a mannequin and began using it to bash the face of the stunned attacker. Someone wrapped their arms around his neck from behind. Frank quickly ripped the arms loose and then forcefully swung his head back, striking the nose of the next attacker. Another got in close and sliced his left forearm. Frank swung the mannequin arm 360 degrees until it struck another attacker.

The rest gave up and ran toward the front of the store.

Frank dove and caught one by the ankle. The assailant fell forward and Frank dragged him back within range of his odd weapon. He smashed the attacker’s face in with four powerful downward swings.

He slowly got to his feet, feeling the caged animal of pure rage take over, as he limped toward the front door. By the time he exited the store, his remaining attackers were gone… and so was Charlie.

“FUCK… YOU!” he shouted. “BETTER BRING AN ARMY NEXT TIME, YOU COWARDLY BITCHES!”

He saw a piece of the plastic curtain four buildings to his left. Still holding the bloody mannequin arm like a club, Frank limped in that direction to find Charlie.

~~~

Greg and Amanda remained still, aiming their weapons toward the front door of the bar.

Amanda was a sweaty mess; her hands kept slipping around the 9mm grip. She couldn’t stop shaking.

“Just stay calm, girl,” Greg whispered. “Take a breath or two, focus on your breathing.”

“What are they doing out there? Are they fucking with us?”

“They might be trying to draw us out in the open ‘cause they know we’re packing. Just keep cool.”

Another shadow sprinted across the gloom, stopping near the door.

“Fuck me,” Amanda whispered. She almost pulled the trigger.

It happened quickly. The door was kicked inward, letting in more afternoon light. No one approached the doorway.

Greg placed a hand over top of Amanda’s. “Relax. We don’t know their intention. Maybe they just want to scare us a little.”

Suddenly two smoking objects were tossed through the door, rolling toward them.

Greg recognized the hissing sound immediately. “Tear gas!” he shouted. “Back of the bar, now!” He grabbed her by the arm and dragged Amanda toward the kitchen door.

Amanda’s eyes began to burn. “This fucking hurts! I can’t see.”

“Don’t breathe in!” Greg led her through the kitchen, trying to keep his own eyes from closing up. He could just make out the blurry back door. “Almost there!” He kicked the back door wide open, letting in the bright light that stung their eyes.

Amanda was already on the ground, coughing and struggling to breathe.

Greg felt his nose, eyes and throat burn. “Get up! We have to find a place- ”

Something struck him in the back of the leg. Greg fell to the ground.

“Greg!” Amanda shouted.

He could just make out four blurry shapes standing over her swinging long stick-like objects over Amanda. She cried out as each blow struck and she tried to roll into a ball.

Something struck Greg in the back of the head. There were more blows. He looked up to see several more shapes circling him like vultures, beating him down to the ground. Someone stripped the AK from his hands. Greg lifted his arms to fend of the blows. He felt his forearms go numb.

Please, God, he thought, not like this!

He began to black out with the sound of Amanda’s screams filling his ears.

Then the blows ceased.

He heard more violence nearby. Greg tried to look up but his eyes burned in the light. He could just make out a larger shape holding what appeared to be an arm as a big man swung it at several smaller figures.

Then he heard a familiar voice.

“Mother fuckers! You better run!”

It was Frank.

Thank you, God.

~~~

The interior of the dark school showed Marcus the fate of Harpersfield’s original residents; those who had huddled together to make their last stand in the hallways or on stairwells or in the classrooms while the demolition of the dead stormed through hastily piled up desks, lunchroom tables and overturned trophy cases, obliterating every barricade with ease to reach their prey.

Marcus shined his flashlight sparingly across the rows of blood streaked lockers and broken down classroom doors. Everywhere he looked was more evidence of mass panic and failed attempts to hide from the monsters that struck the school. There were no bodies… just blood.

He found what was left of the clinic, now just another tomb where frightened souls had tried to keep the dead out, but were unsuccessful. Dried up handprints were smeared across walls and floor as someone had been dragged away after a struggle that began on a blood-stained bed sheet on a tipped over cot. The stench of death was nauseating. People had died violently in this place and the fate of their remains—a mystery that would stay hidden in the crimson-colored darkness.

Marcus spotted a First-Aid cabinet at the back of the room. As he stepped into the clinic doorway, he caught the flicker of faint light in his peripheral vision. He stopped and turned toward another dead hallway, extinguished his flashlight and saw candlelight flickering from around a corner.

Opting to take advantage of the dark, Marcus tucked his flashlight and handgun into his belt and retrieved his machete from his pack. He crept carefully down the hallway, stepping over a crushed trashcan, and slowly turned the corner into another long hall. At the end of the hallway were two closed double doors. The light was coming from two small rectangle windows built into the doors. He moved closer until he made out a sign to the right: GYMNASIUM.

Marcus peeked into a rectangular window and saw a large amount of lit candles placed directly in the center of a basketball court.

Knowing he should turn around, retrieve whatever meds he could find and depart, Marcus let his curiosity compel him to push the left door open far enough to slip into the gym and duck down into the closest shadow next to a set of bleachers. After waiting a few moments to ensure his entrance went unnoticed, he slowly moved along the side of the bleachers until the gymnasium opened up before him.

The place appeared empty except for the candles. He noticed that the candles formed a large ring surrounding a table that was also lit by candles. He noticed that all around the outside of the ring, as well as on the bleachers themselves, were vacant sleeping bags, blankets and pillows. He believed he’d discovered where Ezekiel and his people resided.

As his eyes adjusted to the gloom, Marcus could make out a shape at the center of the table; something that he deduced must be of some importance to the town.

He approached the ring of candles, expecting resistance, but the place remained still. He stopped just outside the sphere and looked down, noticing that the court within the ring was covered with spray-painted words. Most of the words he read were names, probably of the town’s deceased. Could this be a memorial of some sort? He didn’t think so.

The table was still too far away to make out the shadowy object. Marcus held his breath and entered the ring, feeling like he’d just set off some sort of ritualistic alarm system that would somehow make his trespass known to everyone hiding in Harpersfield. When nothing happened, he continued forward, carefully avoiding stepping on the names of the dead, until he reached a strange, poetic phrase that ran directly across him like a final warning line to go no further. It read:

THE FIRST OF US, THE LAST OF US, ENLIGHTENED ONES UNITE.
TAKE THE MARK UPON THY FLESH, SHE OFFERS LIFE THIS NIGHT.

Marcus was intrigued by the riddle, believing the key to understanding the bizarre town remained buried in those words.

He had no time for speculation as a candle flickered beside the mysterious object on the table, revealing two hideous yellow eyes on a woman’s rotting head.

Marcus caught his breath and took a defensive step back.

The dead thing’s eyes shifted toward him.

He stepped forward with his machete out front until he had a clear view of the abomination. If it could’ve moved, the yellow-eyed hater would have lunged for him, but all it could do instead was open its decomposed mouth and offer the promise of… enlightenment.

…Take the mark upon thy flesh…

“Interesting,” was all he could say as the truth behind Ezekiel and his strange group came to light. He suddenly knew that it was time to go. It was time for them all to go as quickly as possible.

He turned around just in time to hear the loud clatter of the trashcan from just outside the gymnasium door and down the hall.

“Marcus!” It was Stephen. “Marcus, run!”

Marcus moved toward the double doors and opened one side. He saw Stephen slide around the corner and hit the wall as he lost his bearing while staring back behind him. Marcus could hear the sound of others in the dark. “Stephen, over here! Hurry!”

Stephen ran toward him, making it inside of the gym as the first of the crazed pursuers rounded the corner. When they saw where Marcus and Stephen were, they gnashed their teeth and began to yell at them.

Marcus noted that they all had mercury-colored eyes.

Before the first of the infected could reach them, Stephen slammed the door shut as Marcus slid his machete in between the door handles to buy them a little time.

The infected pushed against the door but the makeshift lock held as steel rattled against steel.

“They’ll be through that in moments,” Marcus said, gun drawn.

“They’re all pretty pissed that we’re in their tabernacle,” Stephen managed, out of breath. He went for his weapon but it was gone. “Shit! I must have dropped my gun.”

“No matter,” Marcus said, pulling Stephen away from the door and into the ring. “By the sound of it, we don’t have enough bullets to stop all of them from charging.” Then another light went on. “Did you call this their ‘tabernacle’? Did they call it that?”

“Yeah…yeah. What do we do? Is there another way out of here?”

“No time to be stumbling around in the dark. We stay put and see what happens,” Marcus said with a smile, motioning toward Stephen’s feet.

“Stay put? Are you crazy?” Then he looked around. “What is this?” Stephen asked, noticing the ring. “Is this some kind of satanic ritual in progress?”

“Hardly. Look behind you.”

Stephen gasped when he saw the head. “What the hell? Is… is that thing still alive?”

“Now that’s a debatable question for another time,” Marcus said as the mob struck the door again, causing the machete to slide out of the handles and hit the floor. “Follow my lead, Stephen. Back up toward the center of the ring, but not too close to you-know-who back there. I think she still bites.”

The doors swung open as several grey-eyed men and woman of various ages entered the gym.

“We’re so dead,” Stephen whispered. “Look at their eyes!”

“Just stay in the damn ring,” Marcus said, lifting his handgun at the first of the infected. “That’s close enough!” he shouted.

The infected ones stopped and looked at one another. They were in shock at the desecration and unsure of how to proceed.

“We came to seek enlightenment,” Marcus said. “We’ve come to receive the mark.”

Stephen stared at him.

The girl that first approached Stephen outside, came forward to the edge of the ring, pointed her long knife accusingly, and spat, “Only the chosen can receive the mark! You’ve no right to be here! How dare you disturb the First One!

Stephen stared at the sickly looking teenager with the bulging grey eyes. “That one would sooner slice our throats,” he warned.

Marcus ignored him. He was staring at the girl’s feet, specifically, where she refused to let them go. She stopped at the edge of the ring and would go no further.

“We have every right!” he shouted. “It’s all of you that should not be here. We were… summoned to this place. She called to us and led us here… Who are we to refuse a summons from the First Enlightened One? How dare you interfere with her wishes! As you can see, we can enter the tabernacle unharmed. That is your proof!”

This caused more shock among the infected. They began whispering among themselves.

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Stephen whispered.

“We’re still alive aren’t we? Just play along. I think that monster on the table is a god to them.”

Stephen looked at the girl and had a thought. “You,” he addressed the girl. “Outside you asked me who I was talking to… remember?”

The girl nodded. “You spoke to no one. I thought you were sick.”

“Yes…yes you did,” Stephen stammered. “I couldn’t tell you before because… she… she wouldn’t let me. But it was… your master that I spoke with and she… granted us permission to approach the tabernacle.”

It was Marcus’s turn to look puzzled.

The girl said nothing. She turned to the others and they began to nod, coming into agreement. Several of them began fanning out around the ring until it was completely surrounded. The girl approached again and said, “It is decided. What you speak of must be true since you both remain in the circle. We will let you receive the mark and then see if she has truly chosen you or not.”

“Shit,” Marcus said.

“What? What does that mean?” Stephen was terrified.

Marcus leaned in close and said, “I believe these people all came here, probably under Ezekiel’s guidance, and let that thing on the table bite them. That’s why they’re all infected. How he talked an entire town into it is beyond me.”

“So you’re telling me that we either get infected ourselves, or we take our chances with the wrath of these fanatics?”

“That’s one way to put it,” Marcus said.

“So we are dead.”

“No. We’re still alive. And I think we may have another option. However, I don’t think the natives will like it.”

“I’m listening.”

Just then, the faint sound of church bells brought the mob to silence. They looked at one another and then began exiting the gym.

The girl was one of the last to depart. She continued to stare at the strangers as if still contemplating stabbing them before leaving. Then she turned to leave.

“What is that?” Stephen dared to ask her. “Where are you all going?”

Without turning back, she said, “It’s time for the sacrifice.” And then they were gone.

Stephen and Marcus stared at each other, sharing an alarming thought.

“They’re going to the church…” Stephen started.

“…where we left Gina and Meredith with Ezekiel,” Marcus finished.

~~~

Next Episode (20-7):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/chapter-20-7-welcome-home/

Previous Episode (20-5):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/chapter-20-5-welcome-home/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 20-6: 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. Sam says:

    Loving the tension. Excellent work.

    Like

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