branches-238379_640

~~~

EIGHTEEN HOURS EARLIER:

… “Initially, they’ll test us. If they’re not ruthless from the start, they may give us the opportunity to explain ourselves, while they pretend to be civil. They’ll want to piece together the various answers we give them to their trick questions as to what led us to their camp. At this early stage of the interrogation, they’ll be curious about us. Again, they will test our story and try to poke holes in our first ruse. They could do this in a number of ways without ever laying a hand upon us. They might separate us to see if our stories match; they might make us wait around in silence for hours, hoping that we’ll crack and start speaking to each other when we think they’re not listening; they might try to confuse us and knock us off balance in some psychological way to see if we trip ourselves up… they may try to scare us into submission, hoping the truth will come out. The trick to defeating all of these mind-games is to simply stay in character and assume they’re watching and listening no matter what”…

The bright, overhead spotlights came on causing both Gina and Frank to wake abruptly and shield their eyes from the painful light. After a few moments, their eyes adjusted and the disorientation lifted. That’s when they noticed a man in well-pressed military-type attire with a matching green ball-cap sitting in a metal chair on a walkway the circled the top of the fifteen-foot tall tank.

The man stroked his beard as he sat with his legs crossed, studying a clipboard in his lap.

Gina and Frank sat up groggily and gave each other a cautious glance when they noticed the man’s name etched above the front pocket of his uniform: MICOM. They waited patiently for their captor to address them.

“Debra and… Jeremy?” the man finally asked without looking up from the clipboard.

“Yes,” Gina dared. “Are we in some kind of trouble? I know at first you all thought we were trespassing… but we showed you the flyer. That makes us invited… right?”

The man raised his eyebrows and looked down at the woman in the tank. “Invited… hmmm… that is an interesting perspective.” He then stood up and walked over to the edge with his arms folded behind his back. “You are right, of course. Although the flyer that you presented was posted before the world… changed, and was intended for that particular time, I guess it would seem as an open-ended invite if one was found today. I suppose we just didn’t expect there would be anyone left around to read it.” He crouched down and studied their faces, making them both look away uncomfortably. The man laughed and said, “Forgive my staring and bad manners.” He stood up and started pacing the walkway around the thirty-foot wide tank. “My name is Micom. I am in charge of overseeing the affairs of this camp.”

“Is this how you treat everyone that comes here?” Frank asked with the right amount of expected irritation. “We’ve been sitting in this for hours, stumbling around in the dark. We were starting to think you all shut off the lights and just left us down here to die.”

“Jeremy!” Gina scolded him. “Leave the man alone. I’m sure they have a reasonable explanation for quarantining us.” She turned to Micom and finished, “That is what this metal tank’s for, right? You all had to make sure we weren’t infected before you could approach us. Some kind of protocol for new arrivals?”

Micom looked amused. “Something like that.”

Gina shook her head at Frank. “See! I told you that’s what they’re doing. They can’t just let anyone stroll on in here. That means these people are smart,” Gina said, trying her best to continue her role of trusting-to-a-fault Debra, who was too excited by the prospect of finding more people that her character was unwilling to see beyond the obvious: That they might be in serious shit. It was their hope that ‘Debra’ would come off as incredibly naïve but pliable to their cause. She turned back up to Micom. “You’ll have to forgive Jeremy. He doesn’t trust anyone anymore. He didn’t want us to come in the first place but I told him that we couldn’t keep trying to do this alone. It was just a matter of time before the dead got all the loners.” She then put on her best kiss-ass smile and finished, “That’s why I was excited when I stumbled across your flyer. It sounded like paradise compared to how we’ve been living.”

Micom nodded and smiled. “Well… Debra… you have a remarkably upbeat attitude considering your present predicament. I find your willingness to be here very refreshing since so many under my care have become so grim and despondent.”

Gina smiled up at the devil and continued to play oblivious. “Well, thank you. I just keep telling myself that things will get better eventually. We can’t lose hope. I mean, we made it here after all.”

“Indeed,” Micom added. He turned to Frank. “Could I inquiry about something, Jeremy?”

“Sure, ask away,” he said. “Whatever it will take to get us out of this place.” Frank’s role as ‘Jeremy’ was to be overly suspicious and untrusting, a man whose actions were governed by fear and his need to stay hidden no matter what. Jeremy did not want to make the trip to the preserve but understood that finding a group meant being able to find somewhere new to lay low and hide.

“I’ve heard everything you both told my people earlier; how you two were hiding out in the top floor of an apartment building in Chardon, alone and unaware of what was happening around you, until your supplies ran out. You both eventually risked going outside to find more supplies and that’s when Debra discovered our flyer.”

“Invitation,” Debra corrected with a wink.

Micom laughed. “Yes… invitation. Anyway, Jeremy, it’s clear that you don’t trust us and that you were not as forthcoming about answering our questions as your eager traveling companion was.”

“No offense, buddy, but I’m sure you know what’s going on out there,” Frank said. “The world’s gone crazy and I want no part of it. Only reason I’m here is because Debra convinced me we were in trouble on our own… and once I had to go outside for supplies… well, it scared the shit out of me.”

“Understandable,” Micom said with a nod. “So after you both arrived here, why on earth didn’t you both turn around after you saw my Scarecrows?”

“Scarecrows?” Frank asked, shaking his head. “You mean those zombies hanging out on the trees?”

Micom was pacing again. “You both simply walked in here, and proceeded to walk right through my line of hungry warning markers. Now why on earth would you do that?”

Frank pointed to Gina and accused, “That was her crazy idea. I wanted to go around those things but she insisted that your scarecrows were some kind of initiation. I couldn’t talk her out of it. Debra kept saying that we would prove ourselves if we made it through. When she gets an idea stuck in that brain of hers, there’s no talking her down.”

“I see,” Micom said. “Perhaps my scarecrows are not as effective as I hoped.” He looked to Gina. “You believed they were a test of some kind. So that must also mean that you knew that we were watching. Now how could you possibly know that, young lady?”

Gina shot Frank an unappreciative look. Fuck, think fast, Gina! She turned to Micom and said, “They were lined up too perfectly,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “There was just enough room to squeeze by. If they’d been blocking the road, I never would have thought twice about it and tried to go around. But I saw a puzzle that needed solving and that’s when I understood that if we were afraid, you might turn us away.”

“Interesting,” Micom said, stroking his beard. He did not look convinced.

“Look, they were scary… sure. But I thought they were trophies,” Frank quickly explained. “You know, something to brag and boast about to everyone entering the preserve. I saw your scarecrows as a sign of strength. Like you were telling everybody that the dead were clearly not a threat in this area. Were they intended to make us turn around and run?”

Micom looked surprised. “Yes… and no. They serve more than one purpose. Thank you for answering my questions.”

“No problem. Can we… get out of this thing now?” Frank asked. “I’m starting to feel very not-welcome here. And what is this thing anyway?”

“The primary function for this tank was for water storage. It’s one of many tanks involved in a complicated water purification process that involves drawing water from the nearby river and making it drinkable. It’s one of the many amazing wonders and luxuries provided here.”

“Wow!” Gina added. “You guys have it all figured out. We’ve been drinking water out of the back of our toilet for the past week.”

Micom ignored this and added, “This particular tank has been made available for getting what we want from people unwilling to provide us with what we require. It’s proven most successful when dealing with uncooperative individuals. Sometimes all it takes is a few days down here in the dark. Other times, we open a few valves and fill this tank up slowly. The water temperature alone gets close to freezing in there, not to mention the thought of drowning… well, I believe you get the point.”

Gina and Frank gave each other a concerned look.

Micom waited a moment and then laughed. “I’m sorry. My sense of humor is not to everyone’s liking. I am kidding, of course. It’s just as you said, Debra, we use this tank as a sort of quarantine process. I’ll have my people lower down a rope ladder. Once you get out, I’ll take you on the thirty-second tour of the place on our way over to the mess hall. I’m sure you both are starving by now.”

Gina let out a deep breath. “Whew! You had us going there for a second. The tour sounds delightful.”

“And the meal,” Frank added with a smile.

“Yes,” Micom said. “I’ll have my men get you out of there shortly. And thank you for being so… cooperative.”

~~~

TWENTY-TWO HOURS EARLIER:

…“When we get there… and if they don’t shoot us on site, we’ll need to be ready to field their questions on the spot and under very tense conditions. They’ll want to know what we’re all about and we need to disarm their concerns and appear as potential allies. Our first ruse should show them on the surface that we are far too trusting and gullible because we’ve been sheltered for too long, or, that we’re trying to hide who we really are because we’re on the run from another group. I’ll be the suspicious one and you’ll be the trusting one. Either way, the first ruse works for us should they see through it, or accept it. I’m betting that it won’t take them long to tear it apart and force us in a corner… but our advantage is that we’ll be expecting it.”…

After hiding their weapons in the woods, a mile from the southern access road into the wilderness preserve, Gina started having second thoughts about her risky plan.

She felt naked without her guns. “This is really fucking stupid, isn’t it, Frank?” she asked, her nerves on edge as she couldn’t stop staring at the surrounding forest.

Frank sighed and said, “Oh, we’re well past stupid. If you’re having doubts because you’re starting to think the girl’s not worth it, then I’ll back your play. But if this is just your fear talking, then tell it to fuck off. Either way, stupid or not, you need to be fully committed, All-Fucking-In, or call this off. If you’re not prepared to see this through, we’re going to die in there.”

Gina gave him a hard look and nodded. “I get it. Okay, let’s keep going.”

They walked on in silence until Frank finally said, “For what’s it’s worth, if that pregnant girl’s still alive and we somehow get her out… we’ll be doing a helluva thing.”

Gina looked to the big man who winked at her. She smiled and said, “Yeah… it would be something.”

The road ended abruptly before a chain link fence gate. It was unlocked. A small one-lane gravel road winded off to the left and out of sight behind the trees.

A large rusted sign stood on the gate:

WP-27-EC
PRIVATE PROPERTY
NO TRESPASSING

Gina pulled out Megan’s flyer and read the bottom. “This is it.”

Frank was already staring through the gate and toward the woods. “It’s too damn quiet in there.”

This is fucking crazy! she thought. I’m going to get us killed. She dropped the flyer from shaking hands and quickly bent down to retrieve it. It landed face down, exposing the list of scribbled baby names on the back. Gina smiled and finished, That’s what this is all about. Somewhere in that fucking place is a child waiting to be, that deserves a chance when it comes into the world… whatever world is left by then. And that child needs to grow up with something better than all of this… and to be someone better than me.

“Ready?” Frank said. “I won’t be surprised if they already know we’re standing out here.”

“Let’s do it,” she said, stepping up to the gate and lifting the rusted latch. She pushed the gate in allowing her and Frank to slip through.

They started down the gravel lane, staring into the woods and waiting for the Boogeymen known as the Shadow Dead to come out and tear the skin off their bones.

The rounded the first bend as the front gate disappeared from view behind them.

Five minutes later, as the lane straightened out, Frank grabbed Gina by the shoulders and dragged her back behind a large tree. He pointed further up the lane. That’s when she saw them.

On both sides of the gravel road, where two lines of trees hugged the edges, several corpses hung forward listlessly, attached around the waist by what looked like chains.

“Fuck me,” Gina hissed. “Are those… people?”

“Were,” Frank corrected. “Like the ones you said Tony found.”

They waited a few moments until they saw one move a little, and then another. From their vantage point, they counted at least eight on each side. The dead seemed sluggish and weak, not like the yellow-eyed savages, but the re-animated. There appeared to be both men and women. Fortunately, there were no children.

“We could cut through the forest and go around,” Gina suggested.

“No,” Frank said. “That’s exactly what they’d expect. Remember what you said about Tony finding these things? He said they were masking traps. I bet the woods are loaded with them around here.”

“So you want to walk right down the middle of them? Who’s the stupid one now?”

“They’re not intended to block the road. Look at the chains. They’ve got a limited reach. If we stay in the center of the path, we should be fine.”

“Unless they wake up and sound the alarm. You know how much noise they make when they’re all wound up. Anyone close by we’ll know something’s wrong,” Gina said.

Frank reminded her, “I thought we wanted them to know we were here.”

“Yeah… you’re right. I just don’t like being that close to those fucking dead-heads without a weapon. Chains or not, I don’t like putting the food that close to their mouths.”

“Agreed,” Frank said. “But if your girl is hanging up there, we’ll need to know that, too.”

She had not considered that. Sam was the one that told her that one of Micolad’s ‘punishments’ was infecting people and chaining them to the trees. The grim possibility of getting bit and turning was always on the edges of any survivor’s thoughts… but this… this was just cruel and highly fucking unusual.

“They’re going to smell us before they see us,” Frank said. “It’s going to get… uncomfortable… real fast.”

“No shit. Let’s get this over with. I can already feel those dead things hands reaching out for me.”

They stepped out from behind the trees and slowly approached the dead.

The first ones slowly turned their sickening faces toward them and began to moan. This got the others riled up as Gina and Frank approached a lane of twisted, disfigured men and women in various states of decay reaching out with ghastly pale limbs or darkened flesh stretched tight over bones that flung wildly toward them as they observed a narrow four foot gap between them.

They approached the gap as the first two zombies started gnashing their teeth at them, trying desperately to tear themselves free of the trees that held them.

Frank had a fist up, ready to strike the first thing that got any closer. “Single file. I’ll go first, you follow. Just look at their faces briefly. When you know it’s not Megan, focus on my back or you’ll freak out and run right into them.”

She swallowed hard. “Got it. Fuck, every hair is standing up on my body.”

“Just don’t stare at them too long and we’ll be through in a few moments. Looks like twenty on each side with about three or four feet between trees. I see what looks like a few women up ahead… hard to tell though… most of these things are fairly rotted out.”

Gina was feeling sick. “Thanks for that. I feel so much better.”

They stepped into the gap.

The dead reached out, frantically trying to claw at them in the hopes of landing a lucky grab to pull them in toward the tree line for a taste of the blood they desperately craved.

Being this close, made the dead sound like they were all around as they screamed, howled and moaned, snapping their teeth at them. Frank felt like he was walking through a horde of mental patients in the worst nut-house imaginable. He quickly scanned each tortured and mangled face, trying to avoid staring into their dark, empty eyes, void of all else but the hunger that made them mad.

Gina struggled with the smell. They reeked of rotting organs, filth, and blood-stained leather left out in the sun for far too long. She wanted to vomit but held it down. She glanced into their nightmare faces and wanted to scream. Hands reached out, inches from her flesh as she imagined one grabbing at her hair and pulling her into its hideous embrace. She already felt infected, her skin contaminated by such close proximity. This is what death smells like—feels like. I’m just like them, but rotting much slower, she thought and then immediately cast the thought far from her mind.

Frank stopped suddenly as she nearly ran into his back. “Get moving you big fucker. This is not fun for me,” she snapped.

“Can’t,” he said. “Trip wire. Waist high. Almost missed it.”

“Shit!”

“Back up slowly. We’ll have to duck under.”

Gina turned around and stepped back toward the monsters. She was sweating so badly she could not tell if her own stink was the same as theirs. She desperately needed a shower or new skin.

“Stay here,” he told her.

“Fuck that!”

“I need to get clear and make sure there isn’t any more of them. Just think happy thoughts.”

“Fuck that and fuck you!” she hissed.

Frank got down on his knees and crawled beneath the thin wire, scanning the gravel like a hawk. When he was certain they were safe, he slowly got back up, trying to maintain his balance as the dead offered to give him a hand.

Gina focused on Frank, trying to ignore the monsters while expecting one to break free and bite into the back of her neck.

“Your turn,” he said.

Gina got down on all fours and started crawling as the dead kicked out at her with their feet. She heard a sickening sound of flesh being ripped apart behind her followed by something landing in the gravel and a chain falling loose against a tree.

“Gina, move!” Frank barked.

She did not look back. She crawled forward and under the wire.

“Don’t bother getting up… keep crawling!” Frank said. “Hurry!”

She looked up at Frank who had cleared the horrid line of the dead. He was looking behind her.

Something grabbed at her foot, causing a burst of adrenaline to surge through her limbs. She quickly cleared the last set of zombies and turned on her back. She lifted her legs to kick at the severely deteriorated face of what barely resembled a man as it lunged out for her.

Frank’s boot crushed its head into the gravel as he smashed it three times.

She started kicking at the mangled mush as Frank grabbed her beneath the arms and pulled her up.

Gina turned toward the zombie that had rotted through the waist and had been severed in half by the chain that held it. Its legs had fallen useless near the base of the tree as the rest of it had crawled after Gina, leaving a trail of black guts behind it before Frank smashed its skull in.

She pulled herself free of Frank and ran to the edge of the woods and hurled.

Before she could regain her bearings, soul-piercing screams filled the woods as the forest foliage shook violently all around her.

“Fra…Frank!” she whispered, turning around.

The big man was being dragged back into the underbrush behind a copse of pine trees. She couldn’t tell if he was already dead or not.

“Frank!” she screamed.

Something was coming out of the woods behind her… lots of ‘somethings’… fast.

She turned and her world went dark.

~~~

Next Episode (26-5):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/chapter-26-5-further-actions-pending/

Previous Episode (26-3):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/chapter-26-3-further-actions-pending/

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction to help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required, just a click next to my listed title. You can vote for it every 7 days. Every lit bit helps. Thanks for your support and for reading :)
http://topwebfiction.com/

________________________________________________
“Chapter 26-4: Further Actions Pending…” 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. Tracy says:

    Hi Scott,
    Don’t Feed The Dark was #20 on Topwebfiction.com it’s climbed to #12.
    READERS PLEASE KEEP VOTING!
    Don’t Feed The Dark will be #1 soon!

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    This story is great, and should be much higher up on the list. You are a very good writer, and i have glanced at some of the stories with more votes, and feel your story is leagues above theirs.. I would have to rate you right up there with one of my favorites of all time adrian’s undead diary .
    I am not sure i understand the logic, or lack there of from some of the readers on this site and the way they vote I feel you have a marketable book / ebook here in the making for sure. One of your biggest fans.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Thank you for the encouraging response. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Adrian’s Undead Diary but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. It feels good to know that you think my story is right up there with that one. Just one more chapter to go :)

      Like

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