ghost-345716_640

~~~

There was no time to understand the flesh covered haunted houses that grabbed her arms with cold, pale hands, binding her limbs before the church altar. There were no words to adequately describe the horrors she was forced to witness through metallic stained windows into tainted souls. They are madness dressed as men and woman. They are pestilence wrapped in the illusion of the living. There was insatiable hunger at war with conscious thought; fear, repulsion and desperation wrestling to maintain the surface while rotting hearts have mutated into savage claws pulling at the ankles of identity until the beasts within have taken them below the waters of humanity and swallowed them whole.

Meredith can see them, can see their inner turmoil. She is drowning in their darkness.

The church bells resound mercifully, like an audible beacon, allowing her a chance to come up for air and open her eyes.

All of them tower over her with nothing but anxiousness and agony attempting to breach their indifferent stares. They regard her as a means to an end. She is the Sacrifice.

“Must we wait?” a teenage boy asks. He’s holding a saw. His hands refuse to stop shaking.

“Patience, Carman,” an older woman says. “Wait for the others. They’ve every right to be present.”

Meredith notices that none of them look at her with any recognition. They regard her as meat on a cutting board as they wait for permission to carve her into portions fit for consumption.

She knows she’s dead but can’t help pitying them.

That could’ve been you just as easily, Meredith reasons. They are only doing what the madness commands them to do.

“I’m… I’m so sorry,” Meredith manages to say through tears. “I’m sorry this… happened to you.”

They look at the tied up creature as if she speaks a language they’ve never heard before.

The dead cannot comprehend the living… and they are more dead than alive now.

Another man steps forward. He is holding the sharp instrument that will end Meredith’s suffering. “Let’s be done with it,” he says and steps forward to slit her throat.

“No,” another says, causing the man to stop and lower his knife. “She has not been presented yet. You’ll only spoil the meat.”

And there it is:

You’ll only spoil the meat.

“Please… just let me go,” Meredith begs. “I can see that you are all being… torn apart within, but you can still resist it. There’s still a small part of who you were that remains.”

This only agitates them.

“Just do it,” another girl says. “Her words are like acid in my ears.”

No one disagrees. No one stops the man with the knife this time as he approaches for the kill.

Meredith closes her eyes. She refuses to despise them, even now.

It’s not their fault!

She is at peace, knowing that there is no hatred she will take to the grave.

The doors of the church burst inward. Meredith can hear footsteps racing up the aisle.

“Get the fuck away from her you freaks!”

Meredith smiles. It is Gina.

Everything happens very quickly. The half-dead charge the intruder coming from the back of the church. The shotgun goes off five times followed by a loud click. There is blood on Meredith’s face as the man with the knife falls backward, most of his face now decorating the wall behind him.

And then she is there. Her arms, her warm, living arms, are around her shoulders, embracing her.

“Are you alright? I thought you were dead,” Gina says through tears.

Meredith welcomes her light like the rising sun. “I’m fine now, honey. Please get me out of here.”

“Can you walk?”

“I’ll crawl out of here if that’s what it takes. Just… just get me outside. This place is… there’s just too much, Gina. There’s just too much death here.”

Gina helps the older woman to her feet and they walk toward the door.

Once outside, the sun is no more.

The rest of Harpersfield’s residents are waiting for them…

~~~

Gina held the empty shotgun up toward the crowd of grey-eyed men and women that stood between them and the park. Some formed a small circle around the corpse of Ezekiel, staring down at him as if trying to understand why the old man refused to stand up and join them.

You’re so fucked, girl, Gina thought, while trying to keep one arm around Meredith and the other aiming the shotgun.

She scanned the pale faces of the quiet crowd that numbered at least forty strong, and felt the coals of her anger quickly growing cold. They looked like ghosts of their former selves, neither living nor dead, just volatile vessels carrying the unknown disease that had killed so many, and left others waiting to die. Gina had seen the madness at work behind those mercury-filled eyes and silently wished that they were more like the mindless dead-heads that held nothing back and relentlessly charged. At least then, she’d know what she was up against, rather than dealing with monsters that still thought and spoke like the living. She forced herself to stare into those veiled grey eyes, wanting them to know only one thing before they attacked: That she despised them intensely.

Many of them were carrying hand held weapons and only a small handful carried guns—mainly hunting rifles. No one seemed to know what to do now that Ezekiel was gone. But it was clear that no one would let Gina and Meredith pass.

“You should’ve left us alone,” Gina said, raising her voice. “Ezekiel threatened my family and he… paid the price. We didn’t do anything to you! We’ve been running for so fucking long and found this town… all we wanted was a safe place to stop and breathe and feel safe for five minutes… but you are all no different than the horrors we’ve faced out there! You and your dressed up little house of horrors! What’s wrong with you? Are you all so far gone that you can’t remember what it meant to be human… to be decent people? How can you look into each other’s faces and not be horrified by what you’ve become?”

A teenage girl with a long knife in her hand stepped forward and said, “Place your weapon on the ground, leave the sacrifice… and we’ll let the rest of you go. It’s been decided that we are being punished by the Enlightened for acting out of our baser needs. We accept that now. But you must leave the woman. She belongs to the Enlightened. The rest of you are free to leave. But you must never come back here.”

Gina held her ground. “You fucking cannibals can’t have my friend! Fuck you, and your Enlightened!”

The girl with the knife frowned, tightening her grip on the knife. She looked like she was on the verge of charging up the church steps and stabbing Gina in the face. Instead, she turned and spoke to the small group standing around Ezekiel.

“Gina,” Meredith said weakly, “they are lost. You can’t reason with them. They are following a fantasy created by one man, and that man is dead now. It’s all they will hear… it’s the only thing slowing down the monsters that eat at them within. I believe they mean what they say. As long as there is a sacrifice… they feel justified in feeding… almost like it’s not their choice, but required. Leave me, find the others and get out of here. I’ll only slow you down.”

“Meredith, I respect you tremendously, but right now, you need to shut the hell up. I’m not leaving you here with these wolves. Do you honestly think I could live with that?”

“You’re going to have to, honey. Being a leader means making the tough calls. If you fight them, we both die… and so does everyone else counting on you right now.”

“Get stuffed.”

Meredith frowned. “If it makes it any easier, they’ve really left you no choice. It’s either all of us now, or just me.”

“That’s not acceptable.”

“Frankly, honey, I’m tired of feeling the dead crawling around inside of me day after day and feeling so damn helpless to do anything about it. It’s probably better that I go now, before I’m forced to run into more…variations of this sickness. This one—these poor souls—have it the worst. The sorrow I would carry after today would be too much for me anyway. This was enough to almost kill my hope completely… if not for the rest of you reminding me that I wasn’t alone. Let me leave this life with that little bit of hope, knowing that I gave the rest of you a fighting chance… please.”

Gina looked into the older woman’s eyes and saw a deep sadness surface that frightened her. For the first time, Meredith held nothing back and let Gina witness the true suffering she’d been carrying.

“My strength fizzled out when my Hannah died,” Meredith said. “The dead are always with me no matter where we go. There is no safe haven for me… just echoes of the world that once was through the imprisoned souls of the living trapped between here and elsewhere.” She smiled and finished, “It’s because of you and the others that I’ve been able to push on this long. You’ve all been a tremendous blessing to me and have carried me farther than you will ever know. But now, I’m exhausted and I can’t carry this load any longer. I’m spent, honey, and my road ends here one way or the other.”

Gina stopped listening, but it changed nothing. She felt her tears surface and hated herself for them. She hated that she could not find a way to save her friend… but worse… that she’d never saw the signs of the cancer-like ailment that afflicted the woman’s heart, mind and soul caused by her unique sensitivity to the dead. But more than anything, she hated feeling so fucking helpless, and always at the mercy of an infected world that offered no insight as to why or how anyone could or should bother surviving in it. What was the point if she had to slowly watch the rest of humanity die around her until she was finally alone… especially if alone was the latest version of hell?

The sickly looking girl approached once more. “It’s been decided that we’ve been harsh. You may think that we’re nothing but savages, but that is not the case. We prove it to you now by offering you another option, one that would allow your conscience peace while also satisfying our need to please the Enlightened.”

Gina said nothing.

The girl continued. “You may elect to let your friend go and stand in her place. Same conditions apply. They will all still be allowed to leave.”

Gina did not hesitate. “Fine. I’ll be your fucking sacrifice.”

The girl smiled a little too eagerly. “This is acceptable.”

“Gina, no!” Meredith hissed.

Gina quickly said, “No one touches me until I see all of my friends unharmed and walking out of this crazy town or the deal’s off.”

The girl nodded and then turned to her group to make arrangements to retrieve the other intruders from town.

“Gina, don’t do this.” Meredith sounded defeated.

Gina felt a monstrous weight roll right off her heart. All it took was her death sentence to do it. “Whether I’m making the wrong, impractical or unpopular decision is irrelevant,” she said. “In my world, if you can save the ones you love… you do it. If that means taking a bullet… then you fucking take it. Meredith, I love you, and you’re not going to die today.”

Meredith looked at her through tears.

“Not today,” Gina finished with a smile, wiping the tears from the older woman’s eyes.

~~~

Stephen watched the creepy girl with the long knife giving orders and pointing away from the church. A dozen former men and women started back toward town, taking many of the rifles with them. “Something’s happening,” he whispered, stepping back within the shadows beneath the large stage where they’d first met Ezekiel. Two of the savages rushed by but failed to notice his hiding spot. “Gina and Meredith are still okay. Why haven’t they attacked them yet? They clearly have the numbers. Gina’s got the shotgun out and they’re all just… standing there.”

“Now might be a good time while they are distracted,” Marcus said from behind him.

Stephen frowned. “Your plan is crazy… you know that, don’t you?”

Marcus smiled. “Show me something in this town that isn’t crazy.”

“If it doesn’t work, we’re all dead.”

“Probably,” Marcus agreed, assessing the town’s numbers surrounding the church. “You can leave if you want, I won’t hold it against you. Might be better if one of us were out there looking for the others.”

Stephen shook his head. “No, the odds are bad enough without me taking off and making it worse.”

“But we have the element of surprise, my friend,” Marcus said. “If this doesn’t knock the wind out of them nothing will.”

Stephen looked at the bag in Marcus’s hand and said, “This is absolutely insane.”

“Ready?” Marcus asked.

Stephen nodded.

“You know what to say when the time comes, right?”

“I got the idea. Just make sure you keep us far away from that creepy girl with the knife. Looks like she’s taking charge. It’s bad enough that I’ll be having nightmares about her weeks if we survive this thing.”

Marcus laughed. “What’s the matter? I thought this was your kind of town? Besides, she’s kind of cute in a freaky, ghoulish sort of way.”

“Yeah, you won’t be saying that when she goes all ape-shit with that knife she’s carrying. When she gave me that I-want-to cut-your-eyes-out look at the school, I almost wet myself.”

Marcus smiled and retrieved his machete. “What did she mean when she said ‘you spoke to no one’? You and crazy girl acted like you spoke to someone outside the school—even referred to a ‘her’ if I’m not mistaken.”

“That was nothing,” Stephen lied. “I was just feeding her crazy talk to buy us some time.” The last thing he wanted to do was tell Marcus that he spoke to Nicole on a regular basis. Marcus would only push further until he eventually cracked and confessed his murder.

Marcus studied his face for a moment, and then dropped the matter. “Try not to lose it again,” he said, noticing Stephen tucking both his and Marcus’s handgun in the waistband beneath his shirt. “Remember, don’t pull those out until we’re right in the middle of the pack. Let them get good and close. Much harder to miss when they’re right up on you.”

“Let’s do this before I lose my nerve… or shoot my foot off,” Stephen said.

~~~

Next Episode (20-8):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/chapter-20-8-welcome-home/

Previous Episode (20-6):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/chapter-20-6-welcome-home/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 20-7: 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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