Skulls

~~~

After the mad machine announced the death sentences of the two outsiders, and Micom reassured the crowd that the Shadow Dead was pleased with the outcome of tonight’s Gathering, armed soldiers escorted the terrorized refugees back to their cages.

Micom departed the assembly area with a younger soldier beside him. They walked over to the edge of the domes where Micom stopped, folded his arms behind his back and stared out across the heavily guarded area. Without looking over at the soldier who appeared uncomfortable in his new uniform, he asked, “So tell me, Jonathan, what are your impressions after attending your first Gathering?”
Jonathan was caught off guard by the question. He was still in shock after seeing the remaining camp survivors for the first time and how poorly they were treated. Up until this evening, he’d thought this was a military camp since all he saw were soldiers since arriving. After the horror show had ended, he’d wanted to disappear beneath the platform and vomit. “Sir, please forgive my hesitation, there’s a lot I’m still trying to process,” he carefully stated. “I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all.” He hoped that was a safe answer.

Micom turned and smiled at the young man. “Yes, I imagine you would be. The Gatherings are hard to understand until you’ve been here long enough to appreciate the safety they afford. It’s a nasty business, for sure… but a necessity to keep the peace between ourselves and the darkness beyond these fences that would swallow up the remains of humanity if we didn’t conduct these nightly sacrifices to satisfy the blood-lust of the dead. If not for Micolad, we would’ve been slaughtered like cattle… like the savages out in that old, dying world. In here, there is a truce between us and them, and because we are no longer the dominant species, unfortunately… we must provide the rulers of this world the blood that they require.”

Jonathan did not know what to say.

“Relax, son, you’ll understand in time. Besides, it will not be like this forever. After the Shadow Dead have finished testing our loyalty in providing what they need… without questioning them… they will eventually come to the conclusion that not all of us are for food and sport. As Micolad has forseen, they will come to appreciate us here and see the value in having allies among men. When that day comes, we will be free to leave this preserve and walk out among the dead without fear.”

This guy is fucking insane. I should’ve listened to them when I had the chance. And now… it’s far too late. “May I have your permission to speak freely, Sir?” Jonathan asked.

“Of course,” Micom said. “I know you have loads of questions. And I know you’ve made sacrifices to be here that I will not soon forget. So please, ask away.”

“When we’ve… proven ourselves… and can leave this preserve to walk among the dead, why would they keep us around? I mean… what would make us valuable enough for them to let us live? I’ve seen the devastation of the dead out there… beyond the preserve. I mean no disrespect to you or Micolad,” he lied, “but the dead seem to be doing just fine without us.”

Micom laughed. “I can see why Donovan liked you from the start, Jonathan. I can already tell you’re a natural leader who considers the right questions because you have the ability to perceive the bigger picture. The answer to your question is rather simple, but very relevant: After the Shadow Dead have found us worthy, they will need us to help them find what I like to call, ‘clever food sources’.”

Jonathan looked confused.

“Like us, the dead are also looking toward the bigger picture. They understand that the remaining population of Man will eventually become scarce and as more and more survivors become smaller groups, they will also be much harder to find. When that time comes, they will need allies that can think like their prey to help locate them. As the food source diminishes, we will be able to draw them out of hiding… and then the dead will feast on them with gratitude in their hearts for those like us that continue to support their existence.” He then turned away and finished, “And of course, there our other ways that we become valuable to them. Such as our ability to breed and replenish the food source they require.”

Oh, God! What have I done? He immediately thought of Megan, and the devil’s deal he’d made to bring her here in exchange for his brother’s safety. Jonathan mustered all the strength he could to maintain his ruse and hide his contempt for this monster that stood before him. He looked out at the domes and told the monster what he wanted to hear. “I believe Micolad is very wise. It would appear that he has found the means to keep the human race alive… even if it means sacrificing the majority of us to keep the rest of us from perishing as well. It’s a hard world out there now. As my cell group already found out, there are people willing to murder people just to stay alive for one more day. I remember watching helplessly as that woman who was sentenced tonight, tossed the bodies of my friends off a rooftop just to feed the dead and save two of their own. It was so… inhumane. It wasn’t enough that they killed my friends in cold blood, but then they flaunted their corpses for the rest of us to see their handiwork… it was so wrong.” He turned to Micom and finished, “If that’s what the majority of my kind have in store for me these days… then to hell with all of them! They deserve to be wiped out!” He quickly collected himself and said, “My apologies, Sir. I’ve spoken out of turn.”

Micom stared intently at the young man and nodded. “No… you go on and get it out, son. I completely understand. I can’t imagine how horrible that must have been. But we have seen our share of horrors at the expense of wayward Man. Those… animals… you saw at the Gathering this evening, the ones sitting in the bleachers… they are no different than the ones who were sentenced. They are just like the red-headed bitch and her henchman. You weren’t here when it happened, but after the insurrection, when someone I trusted turned on us and tried to murder Micolad and nearly killed us all in the process,” he lied, “those animals were the first to applaud their escape attempt. Afterwards, I could no longer trust them. So Micolad sadly had them all imprisoned… to protect the rest of us who are trying to keep the peace… and save us all.”

Jonathan turned and stood at attention. “All hail, Micolad!” he said enthusiastically.

Micom appeared very pleased. “Yes… indeed!” He then turned back toward the domes and said, “So what do you think of your new command?” he asked, pointing toward the domes. “I’ve decided to put you in charge of my perimeter team. After completing your mission and getting the young woman safely to us, you have continued to show incredible fortitude and loyalty to the cause. Thanks to you, we identified the two that tried to infiltrate this camp… on top of having to deal with your own blood betraying you… betraying us… and informing me of their planned escape attempt… I can think of no one better to entrust with such a high honor.”

Jonathan dug deep to mask his own shame. “I’m… I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Sir. I won’t disappoint you.” He wanted to die.

Micom proudly patted his shoulder. “You will do well here, son. Of that, I’m certain.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Micom paused and then asked, “I do have a couple more questions I’d like to ask you about that unfortunate attack on your team.”

Oh, shit. “Yes, Sir?”

“It’s in regards to Donovan. After what you’ve shared with us about your misfortune, I’m still having difficulty understanding how this miserable little group of survivors managed to kill off one of our strongest assets. I’ve talked to the outsiders and I’m not convinced that they could’ve killed him as easily as they took out your team… no offense, of course… but Donovan possessed skills that far exceeded the rest of you. Could you tell me again what happened to him?”

“Certainly, Sir.” Jonathan quickly ran the lie through his head again. “It all happened very quickly. Those animals stormed the building and I’m ashamed to say that they caught all of us off guard… except for Donovan. He was the reason myself, Lucas and Megan made it out alive at all. We were cornered in the dark. He told me that the mission was all that mattered and he charged the enemy allowing us time to get out. I would’ve stayed and fought, Sir, but he was adamant on us leaving. That was the last time I saw him.” Jonathan could not tell him the truth. If Micom knew that he simply fled the building, hoping only to save his brother and that he made no attempt to discover what happened to his mentor, then Micom would know of his cowardice.

“I see,” Micom said, rubbing his small beard. “And one other question. Other than the ones you described, do you believe they might have been part of a larger group? Were there any indications that these dogs might have been an advanced scouting party of some kind?”

Jonathan caught on. “You want to know if I saw this Samantha person that the big man shouted about at the Gathering?”

“Of course not!” Micom quickly snapped. “That fool was only trying to find a way to save his sorry ass. Everyone knows that none of those original traitors who made it out into the woods ever saw the light of day again! He obviously spoke to one of the prisoners who told him the story.”

“My apologies, Sir. I misunderstood… No, I don’t believe they were with anyone else. At least, no one that we saw.”

“Very good,” Micom said. He quickly calmed down and smiled. “That will be all, soldier. Thanks again for all your help.”

“Sir,” Jonathan pressed cautiously. “May I inquire about my brother? It’s just that… well… I haven’t heard any news since the incident.”

Micom’s cool expression never faltered as he said, “Relax, son. Your brother has been escorted safely to Headquarters with Megan… as was the original arrangement. You must understand that I could not allow him to remain here after his open defiance involving the blasphemous remarks he made toward Micolad in front of all my troops. Now, I appreciate that your brother did this in ignorance, but my people would not understand that. Anyone else would have been put to death immediately. So I had to discreetly remove him but allow my people to think that he was… dealt with. Out of sight, out of mind. Do you understand?”

Jonathan was confused. “Yes… but Sir… I thought this place was Headquarters.”

Micom’s eyes went wide with amusement. He laughed and said, “Oh, this is certainly not Headquarters.

“But- ”

“I’m sorry, son, but I’ve got pressing matters to attend to,” Micom said. “Hold your questions for now and I promise to fill you in on the… bigger picture.” Micom turned and started walking back toward the barracks.

Before Jonathan could follow, Copperfield stepped out of a nearby shadow and stepped in between them. The strange little man gave him a ‘Why the fuck are you still standing there’ look and Jonathan caught the hint and turned his attention back toward the domes.

After both of them were gone, Jonathan felt a crack appear on his repulsive mask as he quickly wiped a tear from his eye. After speaking directly to the monster, he was convinced that Lucas was already dead… maybe Megan, too.

Again, he wanted to be dead.

~~~

Directly behind the waterfall was a large dark mouth that descended at an angle into the throat of the creature’s den. Everyone had their flashlights and guns aimed into the darkness as they slowly entered the twenty-foot long tunnel that they had to duck down to traverse. Everyone expected monsters to reach out of the cold and damp shadows to finish them off. They were greeted only by the promise of death as the smell of things long dead assaulted their senses.

The tunnel ended abruptly as they stepped down into a large dome-shaped cavern that rose up twenty-feet to the ceiling. It appeared to be one large space with a length and width big enough to exceed the limited range of their flashlight beams, as they barely made out the rock walls that surrounded them.

The hunters scanned the dark nervously, checking every large rock twice to make sure that it wasn’t a beast preparing to rise up and attack them. In truth it was the cavern floor that everyone wanted to never see again. There were human bones scattered all around the cave.

“My God,” Tony whispered as he stared into the eyes of a human skull that faced him. “They brought them all here. The refugees from the river… they fed on them… in here.” He covered his mouth and nose in vain, fearing that the stench of the decomposed remains of these poor souls would never leave his nostrils.

Meredith started to weep as Stephen came over and placed his arm around her. “For once… I’m glad I cannot sense these foul creatures,” she said. “If I found myself alone in here with them… even in my own mind… I might not ever be able to make it back before I went mad.”

“All… all clear, Tony,” Diane said, as the hunters completed sweeping the large cave. “There’s a lot of blood on these walls,” she added in a haunting tone. “Looks like they’ve been torturing folks down her for a thousand years. How can anything live like this?”

“Let’s just be grateful that the owners aren’t home to ask,” he said, patting her reassuringly on the shoulder. “We caught another break, people. Let’s just leave it at that.” He turned back toward the tunnel, suddenly wanting to run back up toward the waterfall and wash off every part of his body.

“This place is big, but no so big to accommodate an army of these things,” Stephen observed. “What do you think, maybe fifty tops?”

“That’s fifty too many already,” Tony said. He looked to the youngest hunger, Chris, who couldn’t stop shaking as he stared into a pile of bones along the wall to the left. “Try not to think about it… all of you. We’re probably going to need a lot of therapy when we get out of here, but for now, this is where we’ll have to stay put.”

They all nodded as they gathered around Tony near the tunnel entrance.

Tony looked at them all and gave him his best available smile. “Remind me to never take all of your living, breathing faces for granted ever again,” he chided, trying to lighten their grim situation. He asked Meredith, “Can you still sense our yellow-eyed friends out there?”

“Yes, Tony. They’re getting closer,” she said. “It’s starting to get really… crowded up here,” she said pointing to her forehead.

“Okay, I’ll need you to do what you do and keep the updates regular.”

She nodded. “I’m going to need Stephen to stay close to me.”

Tony gave her a confused look.

She smiled and said, “When they’re together, especially this type of the dead, it’s like a building tidal wave getting ready to wash over me. I’ve gotten much better at handling the intensity and the strain of it all… but when they get close, it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep them out… and they will try to overpower me.”

“Shit,” Tony said. “What can we do to help you?”

She patted Stephen on the arm. “Stephen’s seen it before. He can help. I’ll try to leave what I call ‘the door in my mind’ open as long as possible. But when they get close enough, I’m going to have to put up one heck of a fight just slamming that door shut and forcing them out. If I can’t do that, they might find us.”

Stephen nodded and then said to Tony, “I’ve got this. If it gets bad and beyond her control… you’re all going to know it. I’m going to have to hold her down.”

“More than that, Stephen,” she said. “If I can’t kick them out… you’re going to have to knock me out.”

He frowned. “I was afraid you might say that. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to me hitting a lady.”

She winked. “I’ll still think of you as a perfect gentleman when I wake up.”

Tony nodded. “Okay. I’ll leave you two to handle… that. We’re going to have our hands full with the rest. I’m hoping the dead cross paths before one group or the other figure out that we’re in here, but we’ll need to set up a defensive fighting position targeting the tunnel just in case.”

“There’s plenty of larger rocks we can set up behind to snipe at them from a distance,” the hunter named Michael suggested. “We can pick them off coming out of the tunnel.”

“That’s sounds promising,” Tony said. “Diane, I’ll leave the details on how best to defend this place with you and your hunters.”

“We’ll get right on it,” she said and gathered the hunters together to explore the tactical advantages and disadvantages of the cavern.

Meredith and Stephen were talking off to the side.

Tony could tell that everyone was grateful for something to put their minds on other than staring at the blood-stained rock walls. As for himself, he picked a spot near the tunnel entrance, set up his tire-iron and handgun within easy reach and took up watch, staring into the cascading water at the other end of the tunnel.

He allowed himself to focus entirely on Gina, now that the waiting had begun. He felt her note burning in his pocket but continued to fight the temptation to read it, believing that to do so would be an admission that they were going to die in this cave.

Tony began to speculate on her and Frank’s fate and no matter how hard he wanted to believe that they were safe somewhere, in his gut, he knew that if they were still in the wilderness preserve, then that psychopath had them. And that inevitable conclusion meant that they would face the same fate as anyone in that horrible camp: They would be placed before the machine and sentenced to death at sunrise.

So Tony did all he had left to do: He prayed in earnest for God to grant him a miraculous way to rescue Gina before dawn.

~~~

Next Episode (27-6):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/chapter-27-6-end-game/

Previous Episode (27-4):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/chapter-27-4-end-game/

~~~

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 :)
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________________________________________________
“Chapter 27-5: End Game” 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. Anonymous says:

    excellent as always, great chapter. the suspense builds.

    Like

  2. Tracy says:

    Hi Scott:
    Loved the photo from 27-4 The eye with the waterfall actually thought it was a beautiful photo!
    Great Chapter!
    I still have a funny feeling about the Shadow Dead, Could they actually be people (animals) from the preserve Micom sent out there a sick plan he’s worked out long ago to get rid of everyone he doesn’t want, which is everyone, and to scare people into submission!
    Could the Shadow Dead be Micom’s people!
    I’m still hoping the Shadow Dead are Creatures and not people!
    Just an observation!
    I’ll definitely keep reading to find out! And Keep Voting!!!

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Thanks Tracy. I too loved that photo and was looking forward to finding any excuse to use it. It’s loaded with so much symbolism that applies to my tale. I was fortunate to come across it. Your theory on the Shadow Dead is very interesting… but of course, I can’t say anything. Sorry. Rest assured you will discover the truth very shortly ;)

      Like

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