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~~~

The camp was placed on high alert as Micom’s soldiers scrambled to fortify the perimeter fences. A large number of the dead had been lured into the southern woods by an unknown terrorist group determined to cause chaos in an attempt to assassinate their beloved Micolad. That was the official report that was trickled down to the troops. Unofficially, Micom had no idea what was happening, but he suspected that Samantha and Orosco were at the heart of this unusual situation.

Micom and Copperfield approached the rear of a heavily armed group of soldiers with assault rifles, and stopped as he saw the large wall of the reanimated dead standing just inside the wood line, spanning the entire southern perimeter.

Copperfield kept his hand on his sword hilt, scanning the faces of the nervous soldiers who continued to watch the mob with their guns aimed. They all desperately wanted to be told how to proceed.

Micom stroked his beard while maintaining his cool composure, but inside he was deeply concerned. “How is this possible?” he asked no one in particular. “Why do these monsters simply wait within the woods when they know we’re here?”

“There’s a man out there,” one of the soldier’s answered. “We thought it was the dead speaking… damn near startled us when we heard the voice… but then we realized someone was using a megaphone.”

Micom’s eyebrows shot up. “So it’s true. Someone is out there among the dead… controlling them?”

“As far as we can tell,” the soldier answered. “Every now and then we hear him barking out orders when it looks like those things are about to charge, but we can’t get a fix on him to snipe him out. He’s hiding behind them.”

“And you’re sure that it’s just one man out there?” Micom asked.

“We’ve only heard one voice… and we haven’t seen anyone else. Just the dead.”

Copperfield gave Micom a serious look. “We should get you to safety. If those things charge, our fences and guns won’t keep them out. There’s too many of them.”

Micom gave him an irritated glance and said, “Yes, yes, I am sure you are correct, my overprotective friend, but let’s find out what this is about first.” Micom boldly stepped forward and out in front of the line of armed soldiers. He stopped within three feet of the gate to get a clear view.

The closest dead saw him and began to moan collectively for a taste of this morsel as men, woman and children from all ages and all walks of their former lives clawed at the air toward him but remained still as if being held back by an invisible force, just one-hundred feet away.

“Astonishing,” he remarked with a smile as Copperfield moved in nervously beside him. “It’s evident that these mindless brutes want to attack us, and yet, they are still under control. Now, how the hell does one manage that?”

“I don’t care much for whatever witchcraft is at work here,” Copperfield said. “All I know is that this ‘man’ has the upper hand, if he chooses to use it. Again, I strongly encourage that we get you to a safe place.”

Micom shook his head and spoke loud enough for only the little man to hear. “No… if we tuck tail and run, we lose everything we’ve established here. Everyone must believe that Micolad is still firmly in control, and it’s our job to make this work to our advantage. This is no witchcraft, but it is indeed quite a display. I will stay and hear this man out. If he or his group wanted a confrontation, it would’ve happened by now.”

“As you wish,” Copperfield responded, standing ready to strike like a viper at a moment’s notice.

Micom stood up straight, cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled, “Hello! To the man who wished to speak with me… I am Micom, the leader of this camp. Who, may I ask, am I addressing?”

An amplified voice responded, “Where is the red-headed woman? I told you to bring her to me and I don’t see anything but guns aimed at my army. This is your final warning, bring her to me or this will end very badly for all of you!”

“I am more the willing to hand the woman over to you, my mysterious friend, but I would like to talk first,” Micom pressed.

There was a pause and then an order was issued across the wall of the dead, “MOVE!” it yelled.

As one, the reanimated army took several steps forward and out of the wood line, getting more excited as Charlie brought his large herd within fifty feet of the gate. He then yelled, “STOP!”

And the dead… stopped.

“Impressive,” Micom whispered, taking an involuntary step back.

The amplified voice then said, “Last warning! Next time they move… they will not stop! Get me the girl… NOW!”

Copperfield’s sword was already drawn. He turned to give the soldiers the order to fire.

“Wait!” Micom said. “Not yet! Our friend just wants us to know how serious he is. Look at them… they’ve all stopped again.” He then shouted out into the woods, “We will do as you ask. Please… just allow us some time to retrieve her.”

“You have thirty minutes!” the voice boomed.

“Can you imagine the effort it must take to maintain this type of control?” Micom mused. “And for a single man to possess this ability… incredible!”

Copperfield did not share in his leader’s enthusiasm. He turned to the soldiers and asked, “Can anyone see him yet?”

“No,” the first soldier responded. “He’s hiding well. That elusive fucker thought this through. He’s anticipated our guns.”

“Indeed,” Micom said. His thoughts were already far away. “We must possess this ability.” He turned to Copperfield and finished, “Mother must have it!”

Copperfield stared at his leader as if the man had just lost his mind. He shook his head and sheathed his sword. “But how?” he asked.

Micom smiled. “Leave that to me. Go fetch the woman off the tree. Clean her up as best you can and make her presentable enough for a sacrifice.”

Copperfield looked confused.

Micom was losing his patience. “Just go and get this done! We don’t want to keep this man who can control the dead waiting. He is… after all… Micolad incarnate.”

~~~

Just before dawn, Tony and Chris reached a narrow stretch in the river where large cliffs came up on both sides. Both men were on edge after their encounter with the lone Shadow Dead they’d fought and believed the others had to be nearby. It helped knowing that the monsters were no longer monsters—just men in high-tech Halloween costumes. But even knowing that men were behind the myths concocted by Micom and his deranged followers, did little to change the fact that the Shadow Dead were still very dangerous.

Tony had a good idea where they were. He kept examining the tops of the high cliffs, expecting to find rifles aimed at them as they approached the north end of the camp. This had to be the place where people were sentenced to ‘walk the river’ as punishment for their crimes. He reasoned that the cliffs on both sides made this point in the river a perfect ambush spot since there was no way to escape the river and make it to the woods. Yes, this was more than likely where people perished as the Shadow Dead easily overwhelmed them, killed them, and left various pieces of their flesh as a warning to the others not to violate the truce between machine and beast.

Chris tapped Tony on the shoulder and pointed off toward the right to where there appeared to be a small creek running off the main river and up a gap in the cliff. As they got closer, they discovered a set of man-made stairs that ran beside the small creek that gradually led up toward the camp.

“This is it,” Tony whispered. “Those stairs will take us up to the fence and into that hellish camp.” He wondered if they would find Gina up there, getting ready to take her death march down into the river. Or perhaps they had something more sinister in store for her. He shook the dark thoughts away, determined not to lose hope, now that they were so close.

“How are we going to get in there, Tony?” Chris asked. “What if they just shoot us the moment we climb up and out into the open?”

Tony already had a plan. “You’ll come with me toward the top and then we split up. I’m going to go all the way up and draw out any soldiers that are up there. But before I do, I need you to find a good spot to cover me with sniper fire. After they let me inside, I’ll need you to take out my captives quickly. After that, I’ll grab one of their weapons and find somewhere in there to hide while I figure out the next move.”

“And what if they just shoot you on sight?” Chris asked. “You’re taking an awfully big risk.”

“No more of a risk than we’ve all taken just to get this far, Chris. After the gunfire starts and assuming I’ve managed to get away, you’ll need to keep drawing their attention away from me by sniping as many as you can from out here. Can you do this?”

“No problem,” Chris said. “I’m not as good as Diane or some of the others. But in a good stationary position, I can give you all the cover fire you need.”

“With any luck,” Tony said. “Gina and her friend will be close by and I’ll try to get them back out this way. So be ready for us.”

“Do you really think that with just the two of us, we have a chance at this?” Chris said.

The big man smiled. “We survived the so-called Shadow Dead, didn’t we? Just don’t ask me again about our chances and we’ll just keep rolling the dice like we’ve done so far. Who knows, we may just pull this off.”

The young man shook his head. “My elders are always telling me I’m too reckless. Seeing as what we’re about to do is probably as reckless as it gets, I might be the best qualified to help you now.”

“That’s the spirit! Now let’s get up there and finish this.”

Both men silently crept up the steps toward the northern fence line.

~~~

Charlie peered through the gaps between the reanimated corpses that hid his position from the bearded man’s snipers. He counted forty rifles aimed toward his army.

If those idiots only knew that I’m the only thing keeping the dead from knocking down their pathetic fences and feeding, they’d stop trying to shoot me and start kissing my ass, he thought. No matter. Once they hand over Gina, I’ll slaughter all these fucking pigs… all except that fucking bearded idiot. I’ll have him turned and he can join my good buddy, Rusty, in my new collection of ‘has-been’ fucking leaders of nothing. He smiled at the thought as he imagined Gina eventually joining the collective… but not before he took out his fill of vengeance on her living flesh. He wanted to see the terror in her face as he did things to her that were unspeakable… horrible, horrible things.

The strange man with the beard stepped up toward the fence again. He was holding out his arms and waving them to get his attention.

Yeah, you fucking moron, I’m just going to step on out and say howdy-fucking-do.

The man started shouting again. “Hello… If I may humbly ask, what should I call you? Every great man, such as yourself, must have a name. You have clearly made an impression, Sir, and have our complete attention. No one here has ever seen such an awe-inspiring display of power… even in these strange times where many things defy belief.” Micom paused for dramatic effect, sounding like he was commencing the opening of another Gathering. “Surely, you have been sent to us by a… higher authority… and you are not someone to be crossed. But how will anyone honor and respect your great strength if no one knows who you are?”

Several of the soldiers stared at Micom. Some started to wonder if they were in way over their heads.

Is this freak for real? Charlie thought. I threaten to destroy his little camp and he wants to… honor me?

Micom continued. “I know you don’t know us, Sir, but up until your arrival today, we served a mighty entity known as Micolad, who has chosen to reveal himself through a machine of great power.” Micom paused again. “And now, as Micolad, himself has forseen, someone greater than him has arrived to show us the way… to lead us through the madness of the new world. Surely, you must be that man.”

Everyone in earshot of Micom was stunned. Could there be anyone greater than Micolad? And if so, why were they on the verge of going to war against someone more powerful than their very own protector?

Charlie laughed and turned to the old zombie, Rusty. “Do you hear that? This lunatic thinks I’m some kind of god. I think these idiots have been isolated out here for far too long.”

Rusty simply gnashed his teeth at him, caring only to rip Charlie’s throat out.

“BE STILL,” he reminded the old man. “You’re all so fucking worthless. None of you understand anything but feeding. Is it any wonder why I find the whole lot of you so damn tedious!”

He stood up and said through his megaphone: “You may call me… Charlie. Now get me what I want before I run out of fucking patience, you babbling idiot!”

“Yes… Charlie… it will be done,” Micom said. “The woman is being cleaned up and made presentable for you as we speak. I hope you find her a worthy sacrifice… a fitting offering… that shows you our sincere devotion and willingness to submit. I hope you will consider my proposal.”

Charlie had only been half-listening. “What fucking proposal?” he asked.

Micom smiled and said, “Why… to lead us… of course. We stand ready to serve.”

Are you fucking kidding me? Charlie was beside himself. I’ve been trying to get those losers that ditched me to understand… to respect me and appreciate me… to yield to my leadership… and now, I finally find respect, out here in the middle of nowhere?

He had to admit, the strange man had struck a chord with him. Perhaps he wouldn’t need to kill these idiots after all… maybe just a few to keep them in line. As for the rest, well, it would be nice to have actual living, breathing people finally giving him what he was due.

Charlie looked to Rusty. The old man showed no recognition, no respect… only hunger for his flesh, barely contained by a verbal leash.

I must have more than… this! he thought. Sure, I’ll have my revenge of Gina and I can command an army of these dead things… but what comes after? The dead don’t care about Charlie Ottermeyer. They’re like fucking obedient dogs. As long as I throw them a bone, they’ll keep rolling over and playing ‘fetch’ every time I command it. But that’s it!

Part of him wanted to believe that this Micom character was legit. But it was too early to believe anything. This could all just be a clever ruse to get him to lower his guard.

Just be patient, Charlie-boy. Get the red-headed bitch first… and then we’ll see what happens next.

He lifted the megaphone and said, “After I’ve received my… sacrifice… I will consider your terms of surrender and submission to my leadership. Now stop fucking talking and get me the girl!”

~~~

Micom was pleased with himself. He now had the attention of this mysterious man named, Charlie. “I look forward to meeting you, Mr. Charlie,” he said to himself as he paced before the fence with his arms behind his back. Yes, there was a chance that Gina was in league with this man, but Micom wasn’t convinced. Charlie sounded like he desired to harm her, not help her. Perhaps she had wronged him, perhaps she was an old lover… no matter… as long as Charlie got what he wanted, Micom could get what he wanted in return.

I will show them all that Charlie is a new manifestation of Micolad! If this man would lead us… we could go anywhere… do anything… and nothing would stop us. Now, if Copperfield would just hurry up-

One of the soldiers started opening fire on Charlie’s horde.

“What?” Micom turned in the direction of the shots. “Who is firing?” he shouted.

The effect spread like wildfire. Once one of the soldiers started shooting, several others began opening fire as well.

“No! Stop!” Micom shouted.

Already on edge, more soldiers started firing into the horde.

No one could hear Micom’s protests as more than three-fourths of the soldiers were now tearing into the first rank of the dead.

Charlie was so caught off guard by the unprovoked attack, that he hit the ground, fearing for his own life.

The dead began falling out of rank, giving in to the frenzy as they moved forward toward the fences, seeking blood and flesh.

“Mother fuckers!” Charlie screamed. “Lying mother fuckers!”

Several of the dead fell all around him. And then he realized he was exposed as several shots hit the dirt near his legs.

“No… no… NO!”

Charlie quickly got up and moved in behind three tall zombies as he tried to control his own fear. He looked down and noticed he was still holding the megaphone. He put it to his mouth and shouted:

“ATTACK! ATTACK! KILL THEM ALL!”

~~~

Next Episode (27-12):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/chapter-27-12-end-game/

Previous Episode (27-10):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/chapter-27-10-end-game/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 27-11: 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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