Finale Photo

~~~

Gina slowly opened her eyes to discover florescent lights hanging high over her head. To her left, she could hear a humming sound coming from behind a metal wall. She lifted her hand and touched it. The wall vibrated beneath her fingers.

She was in a bed… more like a cot, if she had to guess, and someone had cleaned her up and dressed her many wounds.

Hospital? she wondered. Gina turned to her right and smiled.

Tony was sitting in a chair with a book in his lap. He had fallen asleep.

She decided not to wake him… not yet. Gina slowly lifted herself up in the bed, feeling every muscle in her body ache and was blown away by the gymnasium-sized open area she found herself in. There were cots lined up in rows that ran the entire room, reminding her of an emergency shelter for people who had lost their homes after a tornado or some other major catastrophe. There had to be at least a hundred cots set up if not more.

“You’re awake,” Tony said with a wide smile running across his face. He groggily sat up. “How do you feel?”

Gina reached over and took his hand and smiled. “Better now… just a bit confused at the moment. Where are we?”

“Well… we’re not dead. That was the question on everyone’s mind yesterday when the bomb blew up half of the wilderness preserve.”

Gina still looked confused.

“How much do you remember?” Tony asked.

“I remember being tortured and hung on a tree. I remember that asshole, Micom, was about to inject me with something to turn me into a zombie. I remember Charlie showing up with a horde and the camp was attacked… and then Marcus was there trying to get me out… and you were there, too. Although, I thought I dreamed you up at the time. I guess I was wrong.” She smiled and squeezed his hand. And then her heart sank as she remembered the bag. “Frank’s dead. They cut off his head and…” She stopped short as a flood of horrific memories surfaced.

It was Tony’s turn to look confused. “Oh… no, Gina… Frank is very much alive. He was pretty beat up when they found us… but still in better shape than you.”

Gina wiped the forming tears out of her eyes. She was overjoyed by the news. “You said ‘they’?”

“Yes. Meredith, Stephen, Frank, Marcus and one of my hunters who you haven’t met yet, named Diane… they all survived the blast.”

She had a million questions. “They all… came?”

Tony smiled. “Yes, Gina. We all came to rescue you and Frank after we found out where you two went.” He filled her in on everything that had happened since they left Andover, leading up to the blast.

Gina sat and listened, completely stunned by Tony’s tale. She was especially concerned when she found out that Samantha had been murdered.

“I guess Frank’s told you about what happened to us,” she said.

Tony frowned and said, “I’m so sorry, Gina. I think Frank spared me the worst parts… but he told me enough… and those bastards even cut your hair off?”

Gina laughed and said, “No… that butchery was my own doing. So much for going incognito.”

He ran a hand through her short hair and said, “It will take a little getting used to… but I like it.”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” she said, shaking her head. “Just keep the mirrors away from me and I’ll eventually get used to it, too.”

Tony beat her to the obvious questions. “After Micolad detonated, we felt the ground shake above us and thought the tunnel was just going to collapse. And then it was over. Marcus and I pulled you out of the tunnel and found a scorched forest and that evil camp was up in flames. We headed south out of the preserve just in case the explosion attracted more zombies to the area and set up camp where you and Frank spent your last night. Marcus stayed to watch over you and I went back to find out what happened to the others near the waterfall cave… and that’s when I ran into the others.”

Gina covered her mouth in horror as she thought about the destroyed camp. “They were being treated like dogs… all those people in the camp… Micom had them all locked up in cages. My God, Tony, they were so miserable and wanting to die. I guess they got what they wanted.”

They both fell silent as they considered the implications after the explosion.

And then Gina’s eyes went wide. “We never found her! We never found Megan, the pregnant girl!” She slammed her fist into the wall and finished, “After everything we went through… she probably perished in that camp with all the others.”

Tony’s face changed.

“What… what is it?”

“She’s here, Gina,” he finally said.

“What?… Where?… and just where exactly is ‘here’, anyway?”

Tony sighed and finished. “The others found this facility at the back of the cavern. They were here when the bomb went off. According to Frank, they thought they were dead. As best as he could figure, this place was part bomb shelter as well as a few other things. The facility held. The blast collapsed the tunnel that led them in here, killing off the yellow-eyed monsters that had followed them in. But they eventually found another way out… and that’s also when they found Megan.”

Gina looked concerned. “What is it… is she dead?”

Tony looked away. “If you’re able… I’ll show you the rest of this place. It’s easier to see than it is to explain. And then I’ll try to answer any other questions you have. Besides, some of it I’m still trying to piece together.”

She couldn’t look away from Tony’s disturbed face as she got dressed in some kind of one-piece tan jump suit he’d provided.

After painfully getting in to the jump suit, she asked, “Tony… just tell me… is Megan dead? I need to know.”

He finally looked her in the eyes and said, “Yes… and no.”

~~~

Tony led her out of the sleeping quarters large enough to accommodate a small army and they turned right down a faded-white hallway that led back into the main room where the control console stood silent.

Aside from feeling disorientated by her strange surroundings, Gina quickly dismissed it all when she saw Frank and Stephen sitting in leather chairs, along with the young woman she assumed was Diane.

Frank got up with a huge smile on his face. “Well… I’m glad to see you got your beauty sleep out of the way… although, it probably wouldn’t hurt to catch another hour or two.”

“Fuck you, too, asshole,” she said and gave Frank a big hug.

Frank embraced her back with a wince. “Watch it! I’m still a little tender from the torture-fest yesterday.”

“I thought you were dead,” she said through tears. “They held up a bag and told me your head was in it… I never felt more alone in that moment.”

“Well,” Frank said, “as you can see, my head is still firmly attached… for now, anyway.”

She looked at Stephen and smiled.

Stephen looked like he was about to cry as he stood up and said, “I… I don’t know what to say… we thought…”

Gina hugged the ex-school teacher and said, “Thank you. Thank you for coming for us.”

Stephen simply nodded and let the tears fall.

Diane got to her feet and nodded toward Gina. “I’m glad you’re okay. You must be tough as nails. Frank told me what you two went through.”

Gina felt like a blubbering idiot. She walked over to the female hunter and hugged her as well, catching Diane completely off guard. Gina said, “Thank you. I’m sorry about the other hunters that died trying to get us out.”

Diane got a little choked up, and uncomfortably returned Gina’s embrace.

This got Tony chuckling. He’d never seen Diane so close to vulnerable.

Gina let her go and looked around. “Where’s Meredith… Marcus?”

Frank shot Tony a quick glance.

Tony sighed and said, “Gina… I haven’t told you everything yet. I didn’t want to overwhelm you.”

“What? Just tell me already.”

Frank took over. “Meredith’s back in the lab. Marcus is trying to get her to talk… but she stopped talking shortly after she tended to your wounds.”

Gina looked confused.

Diane spoke up. “I insisted that Meredith be placed under… observation… until we could understand how she knows about this place.”

Gina looked angry and confused now. “I don’t what’s going on. Just take me to this lab. Is that where Megan is, too?”

No one said a word.

“I’ll take you,” Tony said.

He led her back down the main hall as the others lagged behind. They turned to the door on the right that led down a second narrow hallway with large protective glass observation windows on both sides, providing an open view into both rooms on either side.

The room on the right appeared padded and empty except for a bloody overturned cot lying in the center of the room. There were streaks of blood on padded walls that ran along the back as well as well as blood on the floor. It looked like someone had died very violently in that room.

“Meredith?” Gina asked concerned.

Tony pointed to the left. “It’s okay, she’s in there.”

On the left, was the room where Meredith was being held. The older woman was sitting in a chair staring down at the floor while Marcus appeared to be speaking with her as he sat on a cot in front of her. The room was filled with all sorts of medical equipment.

Meredith looked up and saw Gina and smiled.

Gina smiled back and touched the glass.

“Before I lose my fucking mind over this, please tell me why my friend is being treated like a prisoner and being interrogated, Tony?”

Marcus turned and nodded to Gina. He got up and started toward the door that opened up at the other end of the hall.

“Gina… she’s not a prisoner. In fact, after Diane expressed her concerns, Meredith was the one who insisted they lock her in here.”

“And why would she do that?” Gina asked, staring at the woman who was now staring back at the floor.

“Because when we were trapped in the tunnel that’s now collapsed,” Frank said, “there was a security door that led into this place. When we couldn’t get it open on our own… Meredith provided the code and got us inside.”

Gina turned to Frank. “She did what?”

“It’s true,” Stephen added. “The door not only required an access code, but it also required hand verification. Gina, not only did the security system accept her code… it recognized her hand print. She would’ve had to have been in the database long before we got here, which means, at some point, Meredith had been enrolled into the program that allowed restricted access.”

Gina was stunned. “You do realize what you’re implying, don’t you? You’re saying that our Meredith… the woman in that room that’s saved our asses more than I can count… is somehow involved with these people? That’s she’s part of this fucked up nightmare organization that goes by the name of Mother?”

Frank looked away and remained silent.

Stephen lifted his arms and said, “I’m as shocked as you are, Gina. But… she was authorized to gain access. In her defense, if Meredith hadn’t let us in, we’d all be dead right now.”

Marcus joined them in the hall. “I’m glad you’re alright, Gina.”

She turned and hugged the strange man and said, “Thank you, Marcus… again.”

He nodded and told them all, “I’ve tried to reason with her. She refuses to speak of anything related to this place or the people behind it.”

Gina shook her head. “This is too much. Where is Meg- ”

Just then, a woman in a bloody-white gown with disheveled blond hair jumped up above the partition between wall and glass from the opposite room and started hammering the glass with her fists, causing Gina to step back.

The woman was clearly insane as she screamed at her.

Gina went pale as she recognized the woman. And then she saw the woman’s eyes… her mercury-colored eyes.

Gina fell to the floor and placed her hands over her face. She couldn’t look at Megan anymore… not like this. Not ever again. “No… no… NO!” she shouted.

Tony was there. He wrapped his big arms around her as Gina wept for a very long time.

~~~

They all relocated back to the control room after Gina collected herself. She felt immediately better as soon as she was away from that hellish room where the half-dead creature and the traitor resided. After expelling all the sadness that threatened to take her down, Gina was rescued by what always remained… the cold, emotionless darkness that had kept her alive for so long… if you could call it living.

She sat silently in a chair and laughed at herself. I came all the way out here, put myself and Frank through hell, risked all their lives, lost people in the process… and all for what? Just to find out that the girl we came to save has been a fucking zombie the whole time. Unbelievable! And all I wanted to do was something good… something noble and right… and now Megan is dead and I’m still just as much a monster as she is… maybe worse. And to top it all off, Samantha’s dead, and they’ll all look to me again for answers I don’t fucking have! Where’s the justice in all of this? Who wins in the end? Okay… so we’re still alive. Big fucking deal! Not a damn thing has changed!

As the others stood around, looking for anything else to talk about other than the elephant in the room, Stephen filled Gina in on the rest of what they’d found in this strange underground facility.

“Other than the sleeping quarters, the lab area is full of first-aid supplies and medicines, there’s a fully stocked pantry, and a small armory with several of those strange suits the Shadow Dead wore. So on the bright side, we’ve struck gold here. Once we get this stuff back to our people outside of Andover, we can get moving toward the mountains again… or maybe we could just stay put in Andover.”

“There’s one door at the end of the hall that’s still locked,” Diane added. “I’d love to know what’s hiding in there. Maybe there’s some real answers hidden in there that might explain all this.”

Gina half-listened as the others speculated on the purpose of this place and how it must have been where the Shadow Dead lived and operated until they were forced out or killed by the yellow-eyed horde that entered the western woods. For all they knew now, since the explosion, they were the only ones left in the area. The wilderness preserve was now mostly a wasteland as hardly anything had survived the blast.

“There’s still the matter of two murders that need to be addressed when we get back,” Frank said. “I don’t think anyone will feel completely safe until we have that mystery resolved.”

“Do you think it was Charlie?” Stephen asked. “He was obviously watching us for a while, building up his army discreetly or else Meredith would’ve known…”

And there it was again… the elephant.

“We have a lot to sort out,” Tony said. “But the first thing we should do is reconnect with our people and let them know we’re okay. I’m sure they saw the explosion and Orosco’s probably getting a search party together as we speak. I suggest we take just what we can carry and head back for now.” He then turned and looked to Gina, as did everyone else.

Why me? Why do they all continue to look to me? Gina wanted to scream. It’s all part of this huge cosmic joke that I can’t get away from no matter what I do. I don’t want to play follow-the-fucking-leader again! I just want to know why this all had to happen… why it all feels like such a fucking waste! And then it dawned on her. There was only one thing they could do to make everything they sacrificed matter somehow. But first, she had to deal with Megan… and Meredith.

“I want to talk to Meredith… alone,” she said.

They all looked at her.

“Gina… are you alright?” Tony asked.

She turned to him and answered, “The girl I came to rescue is a raving lunatic in the next room and the woman I thought was my friend, who I trusted, has been keeping secrets from us since the day I met her—secrets that probably got that girl killed, as well as everyone we’ve lost up until now… so… no, Tony… I am definitely not alright.”

~~~

Gina pulled up a chair in front of the quiet woman who smiled at her and said, “I’m so glad that you’re okay, Gina. You had me worried when they brought you back here.”

Gina leaned over, placed her elbows on her knees and ran her hands through her short hair. She wanted to forget everything she’d found out about her friend… but the screaming young woman from the next room made it impossible for her to just let it all go.

She sighed heavily and asked the older woman, “How long have you known about these… people?”

Meredith’s face changed. She became guarded. “Gina, before you ask me questions that I may not be able to answer, I just want to tell you that I have never done anything deliberately to harm you or the others. I am not affiliated with these… people… any longer. I haven’t been for many, many years.”

“But you’re a part of it somehow… right? You know what Mother is… you’ve known from the first moment we came across those damn symbols spray-painted on those hanger doors in Fairport Harbor?”

Meredith refused to answer.

“I don’t understand. Why won’t you talk to us? Did you know we were headed into a trap that day we tried to make it to the harbor? Did you fucking get Doug killed?”

Meredith looked up and snapped, “Of course I didn’t know! If I’d known what they were planning… do you really think I would’ve just let it happen? When I saw those symbols, I tried to warn you all… but it was too late by then.”

“But you still kept your damn secrets… even after. I want to know why you’re protecting this organization. You say you’re not part of it anymore, so why not tell us what’s happening? Why keep us in the dark?”

“Because you’re not ready to hear about it!” Meredith snapped. “I’ve spent too much time trying to get away from these people and make them think I’m dead. It took me a long time to pull that off. The last thing I’m going to do is get any of you involved with them.”

“We’re already involved!” Gina said, rising to her feet. “Have you taken a good look around lately? This whole damn place from this lab to the camp where me and Frank were tortured to the fucking Shadow Dead all reek of your old friends! And still… you guard their precious secrets!”

“They’re not my friends,” Meredith spat. “And yes… for your own sakes… I will keep all of you in the dark for as long as I can. If I tell you what I know, you’ll want to find them because I know you, Gina. That’s what you do. You can’t just leave the matter alone and move on. So view my silence any way you wish, but know that I’m trying to protect all of you.”

Gina was getting upset. She pointed to the room across the hall and said, “You’re responsible for what happened to that poor girl! I don’t care if you’ve cut your ties with them or not, you’re still responsible!”

Meredith looked to the floor and said, “Yes, Gina. I don’t deny it. I may not have dragged that poor woman in here or even knew this place existed, but I still knew what they were capable of.”

“And you just allowed me to let that girl go anyway! Even knowing what might happen to her! We could’ve kept her in Andover with us! Don’t you realize this? Don’t you even care?”

Meredith shook her head and said, “I believe she would’ve gone no matter what I told her… but yes, I might have been able to make her think twice about the people that ran that camp.”

“And you still said nothing!”

Meredith took a deep breath and said, “Gina… I know you’re upset with me. I can’t change that. But there’s no time for this right now. You need to get everyone away from here and far, far away from this place. Maybe in time, you’ll escape their notice… as I once did. You need to think about Tony and the others now. Please… just let it go. Some secrets are meant to be kept… no matter what.”

Gina stared at the older woman intently. She finally asked, “So what am I supposed to do with you now? Keep you locked up and under guard?”

“If that’s what it takes to make you all feel safe around me… then I’ll do whatever you wish. Just don’t ask me questions that I won’t answer. I can’t change what these people have done… or what they plan to do… but what I can do is keep the rest of you from ever going any further than you are right now. And I intend to do just that. Now, please just leave me alone. I don’t wish to talk any further.”

Gina shook her head and said, “You got it… and thanks for clearing up at least one decision for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“You said we should leave this place… right?”

Meredith nodded.

“Well… what if I tell you that I have no intention of leaving? What if I tell you that I want to be here when your old ‘friends’ come back? Hell… if you’re not going to talk to me… maybe they will.”

“Gina, please… don’t stay here.”

She got up and pulled out her handgun. “I don’t feel like talking anymore either,” Gina said. “I have a rather unpleasant task to finish in the next room. I’ve got to clean up your fucking mess!”

Meredith’s eyes went wide in understanding. “Wait, Gina.”

She turned back reluctantly.

“I know that you despise the grey-eyed ones more than any of the others… but you must understand something about them. I’ve had time since Harpersfieldto sift through the impressions left on me by those poor souls.”

“Go on,” Gina said wearily.

“If I’m convinced of anything about them, then it’s this: I believe the grey-eyed infected ones are not beyond saving. They’re at war within, slowly dying from the inside out, but they’re not completely gone either.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Gina said. “Did you see her? She’s fucking out of her mind and ready to attack the first one of us that enters that room! They’re nothing but savage animals now… dead just like all the rest!”

“But you know that’s not true,” Meredith defended. “You’ve seen it yourself. Some of them can still reason and speak and control what’s attacking them, while others are beyond control. Yes, some of them start off very bad… like Megan… but I believe some of them can retain who they were… even while they’re rotting away. They are not like the others. The others are completely gone. This is different. The grey-eyed ones are dying at a much slower rate. As long as they keep it from taking over their minds… they still have a chance.”

“A fucking chance for what? To regress later and kill us in our sleep? I don’t see it the way you do, Meredith. I think these zombies are the worst variety we’ve come across so far. It’s because they can still act like us and think like us… but still crave human flesh… that’s what makes them so fucking dangerous!”

Meredith didn’t know what else to say. She then said, “I was the first one to find Megan. I wasn’t able to sense her in this place, but what I did see required no medium to figure out. I could tell right away that she either miscarried or they… took the baby out of her.”

Gina balled her free hand into a fist.

“The longer I looked at the pitiful woman in the next room, the closer I came to understanding that she was in deep pain and agony… and not because she desired to eat me. I don’t know what happened here, but if I had to guess, Megan had lost everything and everyone she cared about. And now, even her dignity is gone. All she has left is a chance, a chance to come back from the madness that’s trying to consume her. I beg you, Gina. Please allow her time to do this. I don’t think she’s been this way for very long so it’s far too early to tell if she’s beyond saving yet.”

Gina shook her head and laughed. “And I guess that’s a big damn difference between us. What you call a ‘chance’, I call ‘suffering’. Maybe you’re no different than the people that made her like this and left her in that observation room. You want to run a fucking experiment to see what will happen to the monkey in the cage, and I just want to give that poor girl peace.”

Meredith said nothing. She was hurt my Gina’s harsh words.

“If there’s even a chance that Megan can comprehend the hell that she’s going through, then why the fuck would I allow her to slowly transform into a monster? That’s sick… and I won’t have anything to do with that!”

“She’s not dead, Gina,” Meredith added weakly. “If you go in that room and shoot her in the head… you’ll be murdering that poor girl.”

“Shut up!” Gina shouted. “She’s not alive, either!”

Meredith turned to her and finished, “Go do it then. I can’t convince you of the truth. Maybe you’ll see it for yourself when you look at her. And when you catch a hint of recognition in the poor girl’s eyes, beyond the grey, then maybe you’ll see yourself reflected there… and realize that you’re a step away from being half-dead like she is already.”

Gina stormed out of the room before she struck the traitor across the face. How fucking dare she say that to me!

When she reached the door leading into Megan’s glass cage, she stopped short.

The blond-haired woman was no longer acting like a maniac. She was sitting in one of the corners at the end of the room with her legs rolled up into a ball.

And if Gina wasn’t mistaken, it appeared as though Megan was… weeping?

She looked down at her shaking gun hand and realized that she was gripping the gun so tight that her hand was losing circulation.

Gina continued to watch the half-dead woman as her anger started to relent and her heart calmed down enough to feel something for the wretched creature in the room.

Is this pity? she wondered. Or am I just masking the monster in a memory of the innocent and naïve girl I once met?

Gina waited by that door with her gun drawn as she contemplated the first of many hard decisions she had to make.

~~~

Gina finally returned to the control room to find the others packing bags full of supplies. They all seemed eager to get back to the others and put this place behind them.

“I’ve reached a decision,” she announced.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and gave her their undivided attention.

Gina started to pace the room. “I know we’ve all been struggling like hell to stay alive since this shit storm started over a month ago. We’ve been running from place to place and sleeping with one eye open every night because we know that wherever we end up, no matter how safe it seems, eventually the dead come or some other fucking threat, and that safety is stolen from us… and then we lose people… again and again.”

No one could disagree. Gina had the heart of it.

“Now, Tony’s got the right idea. We need to get back to the others and let them know we’re alright. We need to get everyone back together and help each other stay alive. That’s what we do… that’s all we can do. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m sick and tired of the uncertainty of the open road. I’m tired of finding temporary havens that feel like heaven compared to wandering around out there… just to watch those places turn to shit while we manage to take a breath or two before running… again.”

She then stopped and lingered as she stared into their tired faces. “You all came for me and Frank, and we came for a girl that’s probably gone. People died to get us to where we are now. And so I’m left with one empty question that’s driving me insane, ‘What did we gain through all this suffering when all we’re doing is going back out there into all that uncertainty?’ Yes, we could try to hold out in Andover. But winter’s coming, and that will present many challenges we haven’t faced yet. The same goes for the mountains, if we ever get there.”

“What are you suggesting, Gina?” Diane asked.

She smiled at the hunter and said, “I’m tired of running from the unknown just to face more unknowns up the road. It’s clear to me that the people who ran this death camp have some sort of agenda, or perhaps they are directly involved with the epidemic that killed everyone we love. The hell if I know. Either way, we have an opportunity to stop running and take control of our lives. We have everything we need right here in this place to survive the long winter without going back out there. I say we bring everyone back here and make this our new home for as long as we can.”

“But what if the Shadow Dead come back… or something worse?” Stephen asked.

“Then we’ll be waiting for them,” Gina said fiercely. “Besides, for the first time, not only do we have a place that we can make secure… we’ll also be in a position to finally get some fucking answers when and if those fuckers decide to come back and take this place. I say we make a stand… right here. Call it the spoils of victory, if that puts a better spin on it. But I say we stay here and finally stop running and start living. That’s all I’ve got to say. I’m open to anything you all want to do. I just wanted to get my two cents out there. But I believe we can make this work… right here.”

After a half-hour of discussion, everyone was an agreement.

They chose to stay.

~~~

Frank, Diane and Marcus volunteered to head back in the morning and lead the Andover survivors back to their new underground home in the scorched wilderness.

In the meantime, Gina wanted everyone to get some well-deserved rest as she set up a watch-rotation and everyone disbanded throughout the large facility for a little alone time.

She asked Tony to show her the exit door in a small room behind the lab that housed a long metal ladder that ascended upward and through a steel hatch. Once topside, Gina realized that they were at the top of a tall plateau that afforded a hell of a view down across the valley to the west as a narrow trail wound its way around three large rocks that hid them from view from the north, south, and east sides, and then spiraled down toward the ground level.

“This makes a hell of a good look-out point,” Gina remarked as she studied the surrounding plateau.

Tony sat down in the dirt, facing west, and said, “Screw all that… it’s all about the view.” He pointed toward the descending sun that started to disappear behind the tree line.

Gina sat down next to him and laughed. “You always were a hopeless romantic,” she said. “Even now, you still make time for sunsets.”

“And don’t forget kissing pretty ladies when I can get them alone long enough on secluded cliffs to watch the sunsets with me,” he chided.

She elbowed him playfully in the ribs when he moved in to kiss her cheek. “No tongue action for you after that ‘ladies’ comment. You probably take all the girls up here, don’t you?”

“When they let me,” he said with a wink. “How are you feeling now? You seemed pretty intense earlier.”

Gina sighed. “My discussion with Meredith didn’t go over very well. I’ll have to figure out what to do with her… but that can wait until tomorrow.”

“And Megan?”

“I decided to leave her be for the moment. Besides, I wanted one damn day without hearing the sound of a fucking gun.”

Tony laughed. “I really missed you, Gina. I missed being able to just chill with you again, you know, like the good old days.”

Gina frowned. “I assume that you got my letter. You weren’t supposed to read that until after I was dead.”

“Yeah… I figured.” He pulled out the note and handed it to her. “That’s why I never read it.”

She gave him a surprised look.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I never gave up believing we’d find you. It just seemed wrong to read it… like I was throwing in the towel if I did. Besides, now you don’t have to get all weird about it.”

“But I bet you’re still dying to know what I wrote, aren’t you?”

Tony smiled. “Guilty as charged. But hey, you take your time and get your head on straight. I’ve waited this long, I can wait a bit longer. Just tell me what you can, when you can, alright?”

She leaned over and kissed the big man on the lips.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“We already waited long enough for that,” she said teasingly. “Thank you for coming after me.”

“Next time you bail on me like that… I’m going to chain you to my side.”

“Fair enough,” she laughed.

“So what now?” Tony asked. “Do we crawl into our new hole, wait out the winter and hope the world’s been fixed by the time we surface again?”

“I don’t think the world’s going to be fixed anytime soon.”

Tony frowned. “Neither do I. I’m just not ready to accept it yet, I suppose.”

Gina let that comment go. She watched the sun disappear behind the trees as the sky turned to gold behind it, “I’m ready for a fucking change… anything… just as long as it doesn’t involve running anymore. I’m done with that.”

“I hear you, Gina. I think something’s got to give eventually. There’s only so much grief this world can take. Who knows, maybe after the thaw, the dead will be gone and then we can start putting the pieces back together again.”

“Maybe,” Gina said. “For now, I’ll just take sitting next to you and watching this sunset with the feel of your lips still fresh on mine, and count my blessings.”

“I bet you say that to all the guys you drag up here,” he said.

“Only the ones that will let me,” she responded with a smile.

They held each other in comfortable silence and stayed until the twilight sky began to fade. For once, Gina allowed a moment of vulnerability to settle in as she felt herself slip back into the woman Tony remembered… for his sake. She knew that eventually the darkness would reclaim her… as it always did. She also knew that in order to lead again, she’d need to be tougher than she’d ever been before… for their sake.

But for now, she allowed one more beautiful moment to claim her as she pulled Tony in close and felt his heart beat pressed up against her.

Soon, there would be no more time for beautiful moments and romantic interludes. After losing Megan and Meredith—her hope and her anchor—she believed that it was just a matter of time before she lost Tony, too. And when that happened, she would have nothing left but the darkness.

And when that day finally came, Gina silently prayed that death would claim her quickly.

~~~

By mid-morning the following day, Frank and Marcus were half-way back to Andover. Diane had not made the trip after discovering a bottle of scotch in the pantry the night before and accidentally drinking way too much of it.

They stopped near a river to fill their canteens and rest.

As Marcus bent over the river, he glanced at his reflection as if it had engaged in conversation with him.

Frank stepped up from behind and said, “Now that I’ve finally caught a moment alone with you, maybe you could satisfy my curiosity about a few things.”

Marcus smiled but did not turn around. “And now, after all this time together, you’re finally speaking with me. I’m honored. Ask away.”

Frank got serious. “For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. So I’m just going to throw it out there: Why did you kill the cop?”

Marcus’s face changed. “She was getting in the way, among other things. She was making our group too… comfortable… in that nice, little town. Besides, you should thank me. That pig was planning on pinning the murder of the other one I killed on you and Gina. That cop must really have it in for you.”

“We’ve had some problems in the past,” Frank said, slowly pulling out his handgun. “So how long are you going to keep up this charade of yours?”

“Excuse me?” Marcus said, finally turning around.

Frank had his gun aimed at him. “You wouldn’t know, of course, but I was pretty good at reading people long before the world took a dump. I had you figured out since before we left the power plant.”

Marcus smiled. “And what is Frank Carman’s assessment of me?”

“I knew right away that you were dangerous. I could see it your eyes. I’ve seen the way you look at Gina when you think no one is watching. But I’m always watching. At first, I thought you were planning on harming her, but then you kept coming to her rescue time and time again. That’s when I knew that you were up to something much worse. What is it?”

“You wouldn’t begin to understand,” Marcus said. “She’s very special… to me.”

Frank saw it then and understood that he was looking at a stone-cold killer. “Out of respect for what you’ve done in keeping us alive, I’m not going to shoot you. But you are going to go away… far, far away… and if I ever see you again, I won’t hesitate to put a bullet in your head.”

“Such hostility from someone claiming to be one thing, and turning out to be another. Were you ever going to tell us that you were an escaped convict? A fugitive running from the law?”

“That just didn’t seem to be relevant anymore after the world ended,” Frank said. “But if asked, I would’ve come clean about it.”

“I see,” Marcus said, standing up.

Frank stepped back. “Don’t try anything. I know just how deadly you are, but I bet you’re still not fast enough to dodge a bullet.”

Marcus held his arms out and laughed. “Frank… is this really necessary? I have nothing but the best intentions toward Gina. I think I’ve proven that time and time again. Don’t you?”

“What I think is fucking irrelevant,” Frank said. “And it’s time for you to go.”

“I’ve always liked you, Frank,” Marcus said. “Even though I could never get you to like me… I still respected your keen eye for things. It’s an underappreciated talent that can easily be misunderstood.”

“I can spot a killer when I see one. Believe me, I know the type, and you fit the bill.”

“You could easily say that we are all ‘killers’ now. It’s the way of the new world. I’ve just been doing it a lot longer than the rest of you.”

“Fair enough. Now start walking. And if you follow me back to Andover, I’ll tell them who killed their leader… and then I’ll tell Gina what kind of man you reallyare.”

Marcus was growing tired of this. “It’s only fair that I tell you, that I would’ve killed you off eventually. But you were valuable while we were on the run. But now… sharing that facility with you for the winter does not seem very profitable to me anymore. Perhaps it’s for the best that we settle this now.”

Frank raised the gun to his head. “I’ll not tell you again. Leave or die.”

Marcus let out a heavy sigh. “Fine. I’ll go. Just let me grab my pack.”

“No… you don’t need it. And I would rather keep you separated from your weapons.”

“Okay,” Marcus said. “You win.” He turned back toward the river and finished, “I’m going to stay right here. I suggest you grab your things and go.” He put his hands in front of him and retrieved a utility knife from his left sleeve. “Shoot me in the back or walk away. Do what you need to do, Frank, but I’m staying right here.”

Frank hesitated. If he had been his old self, he would’ve shot the man in the back and let the river carry him away. But Frank was different now. He was not the murderer he once was.

He was not this man before him.

“Suit yourself,” Frank said and started to back away.

The moment he heard the big man move, Marcus spun around and charged. He knew he could get to Frank before he fired, especially since he was still recovering from his injuries.

Frank turned the gun on Marcus and began to fire.

Marcus was already up under him as he sliced the big man’s gun arm.

Frank cried out and dropped the gun.

Marcus was already moving in for the kill.

Frank managed to get his hands around the smaller man’s throat as he felt the utility blade slice his neck wide open.

Frank fell to his knees, still squeezing Marcus’s neck as he began to bleed out.

Marcus was trying to free himself as he felt his air supply cut off. And then it was over. He felt Frank’s grip loosen and he kicked the big man over on to his back.

He watched Frank bleed out as his eyes went blank.

Marcus was desperately trying to draw air as he bent down next to the dying man and watched his light slip away. When he was finally able to breathe again, he said, “I will miss you, Frank. You were… a friend.”

Marcus turned around and headed back to the river. He knelt down and splashed water on his face. He then stared at his reflection.

It’s about damn time, boss, the other one said. I was startin’ to think you’d become a decent man and we both know good-and-well that their ain’t a decent bone in you.

“You know I told you to stay silent!” Marcus said. “I have a plan… and that plan includes you staying the hell out of my way!”

Yeah… yeah… I know, boss. You got that plan of yours. I just wish it didn’t take so damn long to get to all that blood we’ve been missin’ out on.

“You’ll get your fill soon enough. Now go away!”

Anythin’ you say, boss. Just wake me up when you’re finally ready to spill that red-head’s sweet blood all over ‘ya. I don’t wanna miss that for the world!

“Gina is not ready yet. She’s special… she’s the one we’ve been waiting our whole lives for.”

Ya’ don’t have to sell me, boss. I’ve been watchin’ you sow them clever fuckin’ seeds all over that bitch’s cunt, makin’ her ripe and ready for the final fuckin’ harvest!

“Then you know that we need to stay patient.”

Yeah… patient.

Russell Bower was puzzled by the reflection staring back at him from the river. He saw a man he hardly recognized. He wondered if Russell was looking down into the water, or if Marcus was looking up at him from beneath.

Time would tell.

But for now… Russell, or Marcus, had to remain patient…

~~~

The End

(So ends the first two volumes of Don’t Feed The Dark. Rest assured, there is a whole lot more story to come in this series. We are only just beginning…)

~~~

Previous Episode (27-14):
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/01/02/chapter-27-14-end-game/

~~~

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________________________________________________
“Chapter 27-15: End Game (Finale)” 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. Shelli says:

    SPOILER!!!
    Ok.. I’m mad as hell Frank died!! It was not at all expected!!! Marcus was.. Well is the most crazy of them all! Great read! Great way to head into the next one… Although I’m seriously pissed over Frank!!! Nevertheless… Wonderful read!

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Shelli, yes… it sucks that Frank died, but his story isn’t finished. He will be involved in a backstory that will be in the next book. Thanks for reading and I hope you’re still around for the next installment :)

      Like

  2. Gary steffens says:

    I got to admit I though frank was Russell and meredith had killed his dad

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hello Gary. Thanks for following along on this long ride into the apocalypse. I hope you enjoyed this installment, albeit, the end was rather abrupt. Lots of things planned for the next one. Hope to see you around then :)

      Like

  3. mel says:

    Really. That’s how u end it. Horrible is all I can say. Felt like I wasted my time reading all those chapters for not

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hello Mel, I’m sorry you were dissapointed by the conclusion of this installment. It is not the end of this series if I gave you the impression that it was. I don’t know if that helps, but there is a larger story still to come.

      Like

  4. Chris says:

    Good book, but are we going to have any resolution to what Meredith knows and why all of this happened?

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Chris, I hope you enjoyed this book and are still around for the next one. There will indeed be resolution to what Meredith knows, as well as many other things in the next book. This was just an appropriate place to end this part of the tale. I hope you’re still around for the next installment and thanks for reading :)

      Like

      • Chris says:

        I really did enjoy your book. Where you decided to end the book caused me to start cussing. My wife thought I had lost my mind.

        How long until the next part of the book comes out?

        Like

      • sscherr says:

        Lol!… Well, it’s good to know that I wasn’t the only one swearing profusely at the end. I liked Frank… a lot. I remember how I felt after writing the chapter where Gina and Frank were sitting by the fire having a heart to heart, and I thought, ‘Maybe I can save Frank somehow?’ But his fate could not be changed. I’m glad you enjoyed this long book. As far as the next one, it’s too early to predict dates, but I will keep you informed with frequent updates on this site :)

        Like

  5. Anonymous says:

    Scott, loved it. Thank you for all your hard work. Looking forward to more of your writing.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      You are very welcome. Thanks for reading and for your support and encouragement. It means a lot to hear when readers are still following this tale as much as I am. Thanks again. See you at the next point in this journey :)

      Like

  6. I hate it when a good book ends lol. Can’t wait for new one. Lots of fun waiting for next chapter. Good job!!

    Like

  7. amber says:

    Bravo!!! I am ,as always, left with many conflicting emotions. I knew that our dear favorite seriel killer was hiding behind the mask of Marcus, yet you still surprised me at his timing to poke back through!!
    Ohhhh , I will miss Frank. He was indeed my favorite character, breaks my heart, yet I also must say it was an amazing end to your first two books. My my bravo!!! Can not wait to see your side stories and more of our beloved Gena!! Best wishes

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Thanks for reading and for your enthusiastic responses Amber. Yes, it sucks that Frank had to go, but rest assured, his story is not over yet. I look forward to seeing you at the next arc of this journey. Peace ;)

      Like

  8. Alex says:

    Dude great read,I dont think I’m old enough to read it Awsome I want more

    Like

  9. Davvvooo says:

    Stumbled across your book looking for zombie related stuff e.g Walking dead. Wow great read. Can’t wa for the next series. How will we now when there ready???thanks for making my travels to work enjoyable.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hello, Davvvooo, I’m glad you found your way over to The Dark while looking for zombies and that you’ve enjoyed this long tale so far. At the moment, I’m currently editing existing material but I will be starting up writing the next part this summer. Check back in occasionally for updates. Thanks for reading and for your encouraging comments :)

      Like

  10. Keith M says:

    Very good. I thank you for sharing and giving my quiet a few nights of reading enjoyment. Looking forward to reading how it continues.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hello Keith, thanks for reading and for commenting. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this long tale so far. There’s a lot more to come. Don’t forget to read the spin-off stories (I’ve two posted so far), you may gleam additional insights from them. Hopefully, you’ll still be around for Chapter 28 ;)

      Like

  11. Ronan says:

    Read it all in one night , very pleasant.
    Except maybe some character like Amanda who were just annoying ( couldn’t get why frank or Markus/Russell didn’t kill the bitch ) , and I’m a liltle bit sad that you choosed to keep Russel in the shadow till the end. His inside voice and difficulty struggling with it had me on edge in the first chapters . Stephen was a good one too , loved the guilt burning him.
    Meredith was disappointing , would’ve killed her early since she was drawing zs and almost changing to one but you needed her to last I get it. Samantha was a bitch clearly , Gina was lwell constructed and interesting to follow. Charlie was just Charlie made me think a bit of Murphy for his Zcontrol but as the small man he was , he lacked the stature to use his god like power and met his end like a pig in a slaughterhouse.
    Frank was on the redeem path and I enjoyed his view of the world and jokes . He died like I expected him to.
    Greg Greg Greg , ha , he played the old man part really well , suffered his daughter loss but still clutching to his faith until his head burst open . I liked him

    overall story is 7.5/10 great score on my zombie scale trust me . But sometimes I didn’t feel the emotional breakdown of several characters. And the part of the story where it goes 3 hours earlier then 5 ,10 ,30 just keeping the natural order was good with a few flashback to keep the reader surprised . And too many dreams/nightmare. That’s where you lost points , I’m not rating misspelling or other shitty grammar English is not my native language .
    description of people and place were sufficient to give me an overall picture , and I appreciated the time spend describing few character that didn’t last long .

    well hope that my “review” wasn’t a killjoy but heh , you kept me reading for at least 15 hours straight so that much should show you how I liked your work. Thanks for the story seeya

    Liked by 1 person

    • sscherr says:

      Hello Ronan, thanks for reading and for sharing this great review. I enjoy reading what people liked/disliked and especially which characters carried the story best. I am sorry about your disappointment with Russell remaining in the dark for so long but it was necessary for what’s coming next. The next book in this series will take us on a journey through Russell’s eyes as well as taking a deeper look into Meredith’s character. It will be quite a ride. Be sure to stop back on occasion for updates. Thanks again for your honest review and I’m glad you enjoyed this tale overall :)

      Like

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