dark man

~~~

It’s night. They’re running to the sailboat. Everyone’s exhausted. Everyone’s just so damn tired of running. The marina closes in behind them as the horde of yellow-eyed dead men rush in to taste living flesh.

They’ve been following Gina and her fellow survivors down the tracks ever since leaving the plant; lurking just out of sight—waiting for the right moment to jump from the shadows and devour them when the terror of what was not seen—but felt—exudes from every pore like a savory seasoning which the undead hunger for the most.

Frank is already on board starting the engine. He is determined to reach the island. They all are. As the rest climb aboard, Charlie and Doug are removing the mooring lines.

The engine roars to life as the distance between dock and deck is measured in shimmering blue—they are almost free, saved by liquid highways no zombies can travel.

The yellow-eyed beasts stop at the edge of the pier, howling in frustration while their meals float away.

Frank turns the boat around, aiming for the open sea. The dead men jump in and sink to the bottom of the lake. They are unable to continue their pursuit.

The island comes into view as the moon hovers above it, illuminating their course in shimmering gold across the surface of the lake.

By dawn they reach the deserted shores of Put-In-Bay Island. After dropping the anchor a hundred yards out, they jump into the lake and swim for a large beach. The beach is empty—clean—like a fresh piece of paper waiting to be scrawled upon by hands or footprints. Either will suffice.

Gina is the first to crawl out of the lake, standing up to feel the wet sand beneath her feet.

From behind the dunes directly ahead, a man is walking toward them. He’s familiar.

As he gets closer, Gina says, “Hello! We’re survivors from the mainland.”

The stranger is unresponsive but continues toward them. She recognizes him now.

Tony?

Gina is overcome with emotion as she stumbles up the beach. Her wet clothes are making it difficult to move.

Tony is rushing toward her. He recognizes her and is eager to be reunited.

“Tony! Oh, God, Tony! I thought you were dead-”

Tony is growling. His yellow eyes are full of hatred and insatiable hunger driving him toward his former love.

Gina screams and rushes back toward the lake.

From behind the sand dunes, the rest of them appear—thousands of the undead who have eaten the island’s few inhabitants and now they slowly starve. They are insane beasts who can remember nothing of their old lives and have only one united desire: To tear the flesh off the living and feast upon the meat, blood and bone that remain.

Gina tries to find the others. They are gone. The sailboat is gone. Tony is… gone.

She reaches the water and plunges in head first.

The yellow-eyed dead follow.

Gina swims out into the lake. Her arms grow tired very quickly as the adrenaline wears off and the fatigue sets in.

Tony is the first to reach her. He pulls her down into the lake, down to where the water gets colder and limbs grow numb.

Gina is drowning. She is surrounded in her own blood.

She catches a glimpse of Tony smiling up at her from the dark depths.

Gina tries to scream as the water fills her lungs. Tony is feasting upon her legs…

~~~

…Gina bolted upward from the bed. The darkness struck her immediately like being smothered in thick, heavy shadow. It’s not her own screams that roused her.

Ashley was whimpering.

“Hush now, honey, you’re just having a bad dream.” Meredith was lying beside the girl in the king-sized bed. Her voice was like a soothing balm in the disorienting darkness of the upstairs master bedroom. The women had decided to bunk in one room—safety in numbers—moving two additional mattresses from a bunk bed in the adjoining children’s room for both Gina and Amanda.

Amanda was absent, presumably raiding a liquor cabinet, leaving Gina and Meredith to watch over Ashley.

Stephen entered the room with his flashlight on. He remembered to aim low and keep the light dim by covering it with his hand. Doug wanted them to be invisible until dawn and hopefully escape notice. Stephen was assigned first watch on the upstairs landing. “Is everything alright?”

Gina waved him off, wiping sleep from her eyes. “Just a nightmare. We’re okay here.”

Stephen nodded and quickly turned the light off, allowing their eyes to readjust to the moonlight pouring in through the windows.

He continued to stand within the doorway as Meredith brushed the girl’s hair with her hand, soothing her back to sleep. The girl was exhausted and fell back to sleep almost immediately.

“Finding a bed to sleep in is doing her some justice,” Stephen said. “Children need that—a comfy bed and a roof over their heads. My wife… Claudette… we tried having children. Just wasn’t in the cards. She wasn’t able to have kids.”

There was an awkward moment of silence.

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t know why I mentioned that. My mind just drifted for a second. Guess, we could all use a little normalcy right now.”

Meredith smiled at him. “Yes, it’s good that we found this place before nightfall. Even better that it was set back in the woods and on the outskirts of Percy. Is her father still on watch? She was asking for him earlier.”

“Yeah, I think he’s searching the house for anything we could use. Told me he knew the family who lived here and that the father owned a rifle or two. That’s how Greg knew about this place. That poor man hasn’t had a moment to himself since this mess went down. He’s probably down there trying to figure out how he’s going to keep Ashley safe. Can you imagine having to watch over a child twenty-four-seven with those things out there?”

Gina immediately thought about the little girl and her father on the sailboat. Megan… that was her name.

Stephen continued, “Anyway, I think Greg was expecting to find his friends sitting at the dinner table waiting for us when we got here. I know how it feels to go home to an empty house and not knowing if the people you expected to find made it to safety or not.” He shifted uncomfortably.

“How are you holding up?” Gina asked. “Want me to take over?”

“Oh, no… please… get some rest,” Stephen insisted. “Excuse my chattiness. I’m fine for now. I’ll catch a few hours before dawn.”

Gina couldn’t argue. She’d been without a solid night’s sleep for a few days and her body felt like dead weight. “Well… goodnight then.”

“Goodnight.” Stephen walked back out and down the hall.

“He has a good soul,” Meredith said. “A bit withdrawn, as can be expected, but I’m sure he’ll come around eventually. He’s talking a lot more now. Stephen hardly said a word when we met up at the camp.”

Gina smiled at the woman who she’d become fond of in such a short time. It felt good to have her calming words back. “Meredith, what happened back there? What happened to you? How did you know about the attack?”

Meredith laughed. “You fire off them questions faster than bullets, honey. We’ll talk later, when we have the light of day on our side and a good night’s rest. Alright?”

“Sounds good.” Gina yawned. She lay back down. “Meredith, it’s been a strange last few days when you start thinking about everything.”

“You could definitely say that.”

“I mean, here we are sleeping in some dark room out in the middle of nowhere with a house full of strangers who have become sort of like some fucked-up family out of necessity. And then, being hunted by people who used to be like us, you know, people we met in passing that never gave us the time of day, out doing their busy routines, coexisting together without a single word being exchanged. And now, we’re hiding out hoping no one finds us because the living have become the minority. If you really think about it, we all used to share this life like oblivious zombies going about our business without giving anyone around us a second glance. And now there really are… zombies… It’s really mind-boggling, know what I mean?”

Meredith responded with a light snore.

Gina laughed. “Yeah, I get it. Talking about zombies used to put me to sleep, too—that fucking pig, Charlie’s got me calling them that now, by the way.”

More snoring.

“And here I am talking to my damn self in the dark. Goodnight, Gina.” She rolled over, prayed that her dreams would go unremembered by the morning, and closed the heavy blinds above her eyes.

~~~

Stephen sat back down on the landing next to his small backpack and let out a deep breath. He’d said too much to them. He knew that he was suppressing everything, holding down all those raw emotions which continuously tried to breach the surface and ultimately cause him to scream until the threads of sanity snapped above his head. But what choice did he have? And now, things were seeping up through the cracks between his fingers as he struggled to drown his tormented thoughts beneath the dark, dark waters. His guilt toward Claudette was one thing, but what if his conscience betrayed him and he began to speak about…

Nicole.

The last few days had left him a disconnected mess of a man going through the motions of what the rest of them would call ‘surviving’. He remembered the slow and terrifying trip down the abandoned tracks, which cut through the outskirts of Percy Township. It had become a dismal graveyard of devoured corpses, blood, and disheveled homes and cars. He remembered their departure into the woods down the long iron railway into the unknown stillness of the late afternoon which closed its invisible hand around all of them until they would suffocate with fear. Then they found this old house just off the tracks, which provided them with a new illusion of safety. But it all still felt like he was somewhere else, watching his own body follow the others and providing robotic responses when addressed.

For Stephen, it wasn’t the demons who hunted the streets that threatened to consume him, it was the demons within who were trying to break out of his defeated, frail frame and get at him. It took all he had to keep them locked away as he mimicked his fellow survivors who still gave a shit about living.

Watching over Amanda, the dead girl’s mother, had been a way to appease the monster of guilt which threatened, but Amanda quickly tired of his misguided intentions, not wanting to deal with her own demons as Stephen became a constant reminder of what she’d lost. She’d never even inquired further about Nicole’s (Marie’s) death. He had waited for it, like a man on death row, ready to tell her everything and place his fate in her hands.

Amanda had decided to save herself instead, locking her own pain outside, while she slowly drowned to death within a sound-proof bottle of bourbon, or any other flavor of poison she could find.

Stephen had respected her wishes and stepped back, leaving him with no recourse to satisfy the guilt which hunted him down night after night.

At last, in complete desperation, he turned toward Nicole, seeking absolution from a ghost by forcing himself to read the dead girl’s diary. He’d found within those pages a sanctuary for the sick of mind and dead of heart.

Her words were loaded with typical teenage angst, ranging from humorous sarcastic rants to self-loathing drama. But as he explored further, losing himself in the world which Nicole had titled, A Higher Education, Stephen had discovered gold beneath the surface of what he once assumed was just an over-developed, over-sexed teenager. Stephen had found himself in her words, or at least, the man he wanted to believe she saw in him, as Nicole described the depths of her emotions toward him, writing down her observations about his sorrowful state.

She had written about a sad but brilliant man, trapped within a societal class of puppets who demanded the shell be maintained at the cost of real living… real loving… real freedom. Nicole had written of his eyes and how she watched him stare off into the courtyard while teaching as if trying to remember a former man from his youth who still believed in living as passionately as he taught others to live. She’d believed in him long after he’d stopped believing, long after he’d given up and settled for a lesser life with a woman who resented him when she could not bear children. Claudette had become a flawed piece in a perfect marriage where children were groomed into a higher existence… and this was somehow Stephen’s fault.

Wait! Those are my thoughts. Not hers.

As Stephen continued to delve into Nicole’s world, he often found himself confused, not knowing where her thoughts began and where his ended. He found that her observations were often spot on, leading him into exploring his own behaviors for the first time in a long time. Nicole’s passionate words had reignited his former pursuit of living, although far too late to matter, he valued them for the reflections she stirred within him.

Stephen looked around to make sure he was alone, and then turned on the flashlight and opened the diary to one of his favorite passages:

…Our love was born in another time, far from the rules of this modern day where age and class have no bearing. He loved me at the beginning, when he still loved himself. When we soared high above the false pretenses that others claimed was real living… I and my beloved Stephen—oh how I love to say his name—we were truly alive!

Know this, my love, I don’t hate her for keeping you from me. She is your wife, and for that, Claudette is not to blame. But also know that I will despise any woman who does not make you feel as alive as I do! Your eyes tell me the truth. No woman who truly loves you would ever allow such sorrow to reside there. She does not love you, she loves what you represent, and that is not you at all. But I love you, Stephen. I have always loved you.

If Time had not been so envious of our love, so bitter and resentful, then we would be together now, but that bitter bitch has separated us by lifetimes. But one day, perhaps long after Time no longer has sway, somewhere beyond the place where Death cannot keep up, we will be together again. Until then, I will always love you, now as always, even should Death come between us again, and Time should get her way once more, I will be waiting for you.

Perhaps in death, we will be free to soar again. We will be free to love again. We will be alive again…

“Perhaps,” Stephen whispered. “I’m so sorry, Nicole. I was wrong about you. I was wrong about so many things.”

“Judging by our present circumstances, I think we were all wrong about quite a few things, my friend,” said the voice from behind him.

Stephen jumped, nearly dropping the diary down the stairs. He quickly closed it and turned, discovering Marcus walking down the other end of the hall toward him. He stuffed the book in his back pack. “You scared the shit out of me! Where did you come from?”

Marcus moved up beside him and took a seat on the landing. He began putting on his hiking boots. “Sorry about that. I didn’t know how to approach without startling you either way. Figured I better say something first.”

“How long were you standing back there?”

“I just came out of the other bedroom. The big guy talks in his sleep. I think he’s practicing giving out orders for tomorrow. Anyway, figured with all that ruckus I might as well get up and relieve you a little early.”

Stephen relaxed a little and laughed at the image. “Doug does like being in charge.”

“So, I think you and I got off on the wrong foot,” Marcus said. “The whole ‘Amanda’ thing and all. My apologies if I messed up your game plan. I really had no idea she was with someone.”

“You get right to the point, don’t you?” Stephen asked. “And no, she wasn’t with me. It wasn’t like that.”

Marcus sighed with relief. “Well, that’s good. She’s already pissed at me for whatever I did that put me in hot water. Since I’m the new guy here, I figured I don’t need anyone else in this group upset with me. I’d hate to be kicked out of the club right after getting in.”

Stephen laughed. “I think you’ll be alright. You did save Gina’s ass at the fence. As Ashley would say… you’ve earned some cool points for that one. I was in the front row and saw what you did. That took some balls. I certainly couldn’t have done that.”

“I wouldn’t count yourself out just yet, Stephen. Truth is, we’re only just discovering what we’re capable of. Ask me a week ago if I could’ve chopped a man’s head off with a machete, you know what I would have said?”

“What’s that?”

“I would have said, ‘What the hell’s a machete?’”

Stephen gawked. “You’re awfully jovial considering the fact that you’re sitting in the dark next to a man you don’t know and wondering if you just slept with his woman.”

Marcus laughed. “Point taken. Truth is, I can’t help it. Some people go hysterical. I make light of the situation. That’s how I cope.” Nodding toward Stephen’s backpack, he added, “And I suppose you write? Looked like a notebook I saw you with.”

Stephen shifted uncomfortably. “That’s a personal matter I don’t care to discuss.”

“Fair enough. I’m glad we had a chance to clear the air. Now I just have to stay clear of the laser beams glaring out of Amanda’s eyes and figure out what I did.”

Stephen smiled. “Well, I’m sure she’ll get over it in a hundred years or so.”

“That’s comforting.” Marcus got up. “Are you ready for a few hours of disturbing nightmare-infested sleep?”

“Wow, you really know how to sell it. Yeah, I’ll give it a go. Thanks for coming out early.” Stephen got up, retrieved his pack and headed for the bedroom where Doug slept.

“Hey, I almost forgot,” Marcus said. “What’s the story with the gorgeous red-head with the emerald eyes? She single?”

Stephen shook his head and laughed. “Now I’m starting to understand the hot water you’ve fallen into, my mischievous friend. Goodnight.” He headed down the hall.

Marcus appeared puzzled by the comment. “I wonder what he meant by that,” he said with a smile.

~~~

Next Episode 12-2:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/chapter-12-2-the-devils-dark-2/

Previous Episode 11-6:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/chapter-11-6-nowhere-safe-2/

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 12-1: The Devil’s Dark” Copyright © 2014, 2015 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book One: Southbound Nightmares”.

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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