image2

~~~

Meredith opened her eyes and immediately felt them crawling into her consciousness like a thousand madmen. The thick and heavy darkness fell upon her, crushing her chest. She couldn’t breathe as she tried to cry out but was overwhelmed by so much death.

Ashley woke up to the bed shaking. Meredith was convulsing violently. She scurried off the bed and called out, “Help me!”

Gina woke, already reaching for her gun, before she stopped and took in what was happening.

“It’s Meredith!” Ashley cried. “Something’s wrong with her!”

Gina went to the older woman, touched her arm. “Meredith, wake up. Wake up!”

Meredith responded to her voice, turned and grabbed Gina’s arm.

Oh, God, it’s happening again!

“Meredith, are we in trouble?” she asked.

The older woman gripped her arm so tight that Gina grimaced in pain.

Still struggling to breathe, Meredith managed to nod and pointed toward the window.

Marcus appeared in the doorway. “Is… is she alright?”

Gina turned to him. “Go wake Doug! Tell him Meredith’s doing it again. Tell him… they’re coming!”

~~~

Doug McFarlane is standing in the on-deck circle staring off at the outfield lights. He’s pretending not to be concerned about the final playoff game or that his team is still down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth with only two outs to spare. Johnson’s taking a large lead off second base. Conway’s tap dancing around first as the exhausted pitcher continues to stall with another throw to first to keep him close. Jeffrey’s at the plate. He’s 0-3 tonight and his only job is to move the base runners forward. Doug’s 3-3 with two homers and a double.

The stadium’s packed with playoff hungry fans rising to their feet with excitement. It’s the largest turnout for a Friday night home game in over two years.

Jeffrey stresses about hitting into a double-play, looks at too many pitches hoping for the walk, as the pitcher finds the outside corner of the plate.

“STEERIKE THREE!” the umpire yells.

The crowd roars their disapproval at the call.

Jeffrey is swearing at his bat as he passes McFarlane. “Go get ‘em Big Guns!” He pats him on the ass to fire Doug up.

The crowd forgets there are two outs as McFarlane steps up to the plate. They’re back on their feet, chanting his name, screaming for a home run win.

Doug feels empowered by their energy. He’s in the zone and understands what’s required. All eyes are on him. The pressure mounts.

He steps into the batter’s box.

The pitcher squares up and throws a fast ball way outside.

Doug’s not taking the bait. Ball One.

They can’t intentionally walk him. Conner is on deck with a .360 batting average, third best in the minors with three consecutive singles this evening.

The pitching coach jogs to the mound, speaks with the pitcher, and then signals for the bullpen for their closer.

On the surface, Doug remains calm and focused as Raven, one of the best relievers in the league with a fast ball exceeding 100 miles per hour, jogs out of the bullpen. Inside, Doug is scared shitless. He’s struck out every time he’s faced Raven this year.

Raven’s ready.

McFarlane steps back into the batter’s box.

Raven throws to first base.

Conway eats dirt but makes it back in time.

That was close. Too close.

Doug takes a few warm up swings.

“You’ll need to swing a lot faster than that,” the catcher mocks from behind him. “Of course he’s got that nasty slider, too. Wonder which he’s gonna use this time.”

Doug ignores him.

Raven squares up to the plate and fires.

Doug lets it pass.

Fastball. Straight up the middle. 98 mph.

“STEERIKE ONE!”

“Damn, that son-of-a-bitch hurt like hell!” the catcher teases, throwing the ball back to the mound.

“Good,” Doug says with a smile.

Raven’s ready.

Doug’s back in the box.

Fastball again. Straight up the middle. 100 mph.

Doug swings high and misses.

“STEERIKE TWO!”

“Whoa! Easy! The ball’s right here, slugger!” the catcher says standing, firing the ball back to Raven with an enthusiastic nod.

Doug knows better, but starts to grit his teeth anyway. He wants to shove his bat up the catcher’s ass.

Just calm down! Wait for your fucking pitch. You know he’s gonna try to get you to chase with two strikes.

Raven’s ready.

Doug’s ready.

Fastball again. Way inside. 102 mph.

Doug hits the dirt to avoid being hit in the face. He glares at the pitcher as Raven walks off the mound.

Cocky fucker did that on purpose!

Doug slowly gets up and takes a step toward the mound.

Raven turns, steps up on the mound and defiantly stares back… with hideous yellow eyes.

Doug stops and immediately goes cold.

“Get your head back in the game, Douglas,” a familiar voice says from behind him. Doug turns and sees Meredith staring back up at him behind a catcher’s mask. “Don’t miss this time or we’ll all die tonight. The game rests on you. All our lives rest on you.”

Doug is trembling as he returns to the batting box.

Raven hisses at him from the mound, revealing two rows of blood-stained teeth.

Doug steps away from the plate and calls, “Time!” He looks back at the umpire and finds Gina.

“Get us to the boat, Doug,” she says. “We’re all counting on you to keep us alive.” She points back toward the plate.

Doug steps back in. He’s now holding his bat with bloody nails.

Raven fires.

Doug swings wild, barely catching a piece of the ball on the inner portion of the bat as the ball soars foul down the first base side.

The crowd’s getting anxious. They begin to growl in disapproval. Their yellow eyes are on fire with contempt toward the living. They want to tear Doug to pieces and will do so as soon as they hear strike three called.

“Why are we still here, asshole?” This time it is Frank from the on-deck circle. “They’re coming and you’re still sleeping. This house is a death trap. Now go hit that fucking ball and get us out of here!”

Raven’s ready.

Doug turns.

Raven fires. Straight down the middle. 500 mph.

Doug screams as he swings, making contact with the ball. His bat is instantly shattered into pieces as he feels his arms ripping right out of their sockets. He can’t help staring after it as the baseball soars toward the center field wall, but disintegrates in mid-air.

“STEERIKE THREE!” the umpire yells in a guttural voice. Its yellow eyes are afire with intense hunger.

“No!” Doug protests. “I made contact. It’s a foul fucking ball! I get another chance.”

“Doug, how could you let this happen?” Amanda moans from the dugout. He turns to discover his team mates devouring the Percy group. “You’ve killed us!” she accuses before her vocal chords are torn out.

The crowd grows savage, jumping down into the field from the stands. They storm toward home plate from all directions. Raven reaches Doug first and knocks him to the ground.

He screams as he feels the former pitcher’s teeth tearing into his neck. His blood splatters over home plate as the monstrous mob reaches him and begins to rip Doug’s flesh into several pieces spread out across the infield…

~~~

…Doug woke up in the darkness, drenched in sweat. His heart felt like it was about to explode right out of his chest. He looked around the room until his eyes adjusted to the moonlight. He saw Stephen sleeping soundly in the bunk bed next to him.

“At least one of us is getting some good sleep,” he declared, followed by a heavy sigh. He sat still and wrestled with his fears brought on by the dream.

What the hell am I doing here? He thought of the long road ahead—not just reaching the marina, but afterwards. Would they really be able to find a place where these walking nightmares hadn’t infested already? Are we just delaying our eventual death by a few more days?

“Enough!” He took back control of his faculties and shoved his doubts back into the closet of his mind. He began to get dressed.

Marcus stormed in through the bedroom doorway. “Doug, something’s wrong with Meredith! Gina told me to tell you, ‘they’re coming’.”

The hauntingly familiar warning replayed in Doug’s mind immediately: They’re coming and you’re still sleeping.

~~~

Greg Dermont’s brain was swarming with more thoughts than he’d thought possible. He longed to be out and up in some deer stand just wasting a morning away without a care in the world. But now, there were nothing but cares and so much he was responsible for. Between keeping his teenage daughter safe from all those people who turned sick in the head, to just keeping her clear of all the tension which hung thick over the group, he was already spent. On top of it, Doug leaned on him heavily for knowledge of the area and advice on a wide array of various subjects.

Greg got up from the living room sofa and looked out the front window into what he called, ‘The Devil’s Dark’—a time in the empty hours of night that could play tricks on the mind and turn the bravest soul into a trembling child, or send the sane into a temporary state of insanity if one’s guard were down. Greg believed that wandering alone in it for too long, whether in thought or deed, allowed that old devil to be more persuasive than usual, causing all sorts of mischief in one’s life. Sometimes his tricks were apparent, sometimes, just a seed of trouble planted beneath the surface of problems pending, which could later turn disastrous when one least expected.

Greg wisely turned his thoughts elsewhere and decided to check on the barricades. He placed his axe beside the front door where a large, heavy china cabinet had been placed. With effort, the cabinet could be slid at an angle away from the door that opened inward just enough to allow access. This was tested earlier when Frank went outside to find a perch on the roof to stand his watch.

“Lord, that man’s a strange fella’, choosin’ to be all alone out there. Please keep an eye on him if you’re not too busy.” Greg had found himself talking to the Good Lord Jesus Christ more than he’d done since back when his wife, Jenny, was still alive. She used to drag him to church kicking and screaming when all he wanted to do on Sundays was watch sports or go hunting. Her strong, persistent faith had eventually infected him enough to start going to church on his own and not under duress. He’d read the Bible on and off, even committed his life to Christ and thought himself a better man for doing so. All had been well between Greg and God until his wife passed away. Going to church after her death had been hard since everyone always reminded him of how much they loved his wife and missed her. Greg’s faith in Jesus never left him, or as he’d say, ‘the Good Lord never left me’, but he did often forget to pray as he knew he should. That’s what Jenny was good for. He missed her and wished she were here now, and at the same time, he was thankful to God that she wasn’t.

My Jenny would know what to do in these dire times. She’s always had God’s ear for sure.

Greg checked on the split-level basement door. Still locked. They had gone down there only once, stacked up any available furniture against the sliding glass door and then decided to keep it off-limits since it seemed the most vulnerable area.

He couldn’t help wondering what the Good Lord Jesus would say about all this mess right now. He’d never remembered reading anything in the good book about all these dead folks running around. But as Jenny might have said, ‘Just because you haven’t found the answer yet, doesn’t mean it’s not in there. Sometimes God only tells us what we can bear, until we’re ready to hear the truth.’

Greg took a deep breath before approaching the back side of the house to check on Charlie. He’d heard Amanda go in earlier and wanted to avoid her if he could, especially in this dark house. He knew she had a demon riding on her back. Greg had seen the same demon tormenting his mama for years, back when she was a drunk. His mama had been an ill-tempered and moody woman throughout his childhood. She’d often whip him and his siblings over the smallest transgressions. Then she’d sober up for a spell and become apologetic for all she’d done, usually becoming a loving mother for a little while before the monster returned. Greg had finally distanced himself from her when he’d started a family of his own.

He approached cautiously, not wanting to startle Charlie or Amanda, and found an empty room. “Charlie,” he called out. “You alright? It’s Greg.”

He stepped into the foyer area that overlooked the porch. Charlie wasn’t out there either.

“Lord, something doesn’t feel right. Not at all.” Greg started back toward the bathroom and then stopped as he heard soft snoring coming from the couch. Charlie had passed out cold. Greg was about to wake him but recoiled from the stench of whiskey on his breath. “That devil woman got you, too.”

On cue, Amanda startled him from behind, coming out of the bathroom and bumping into the kitchen wall. “Holy shit! Was anyone ever going to get me out of there? I damn near drowned in that fucking toilet.”

Greg frowned. “Are you okay?”

“Nothing a thousand aspirins and a couple of beers can’t fix in the morning. Think I over did it tonight.” Then she asked, “How long has Batman been doing that?”

“Pardon?”

She pointed out toward the porch. “Isn’t that the fucking bat signal Charlie was talking about? He and Frank had some fucking way to communicate or something.”

Greg turned and saw the flashes. Someone was discreetly signaling the house, coming out of the woods in a hurry.

Oh no.

“Amanda, wake up Charlie… do it now,” Greg said.

“What the fuck? Where are you going?”

“Hurry! Something’s wrong!”

Greg ran to the front door to move the china cabinet.

“Need a hand?” Marcus asked coming down the stairs.

“Quick! Help me get this moved. Frank’s coming back.”

Marcus started over and then stopped abruptly before the front window. “Just Frank?”

Greg looked out the window and saw several shaded forms coming out of the woods from the west, moving like phantoms.

“Go wake Doug and the others!” Greg said.

“They’re awake,” Marcus said. “The older woman’s got everybody bouncing off the walls. Looks like she’s having a seizure or something.”

Frank slipped in through the front door and quickly helped Greg push the cabinet back.

“Frank, is it true? Meredith’s going nuts upstairs,” Doug said, groggily coming down the steps.

“There’s a shit-storm of those things passing through the area,” Frank said. “I don’t think we’re on the menu just yet. They’re interested in something farther east from here. Maybe the plant. We just happen to be in their travel path. We need to get everyone upstairs and get fucking quiet… right now!”

Doug nodded. “Everyone upstairs.”

Marcus had already gone back up.

Amanda and Charlie followed up behind as the main level was evacuated.

The upstairs hallway became crowded with a barrage of nervous questions.

Doug had has hands up trying to calm them down enough to think clearly. They were bordering on a full-blown panic.

Frank was the last up the stairs. He lost patience with all the frightened chatter. “Everyone, shut your ever-loving pie-holes and listen! There’s a damn army of those things outside. They can track by scent and their hearing’s just fine! What we need to do right now is stay upwind and get as quiet as possible… become invisible. If we’re damn lucky, they’ll walk right past us. But if even one of those things realizes we’re here and decides to try to get in, the rest of them will do the same. If that happens, we’re dead. Period.”

~~~

Quickly but quietly, some gathered up their few belongings, unwilling to give up hope of escape even knowing that they were surrounded and at any instant the monsters outside might enter. Some decided to spend their last uncertain moments huddled together in Meredith’s bedroom, reassuring each other as best they could in the tension-filled silence. Some stood vigil on the stairwell landing, watching moonlit windows fill with passing shadows of the undead, which they wisely gave up counting. Some even prayed in silence to be spared one more night, offering up empty promises to God that they would change their ways.

For once, arguments had ceased, differences became irrelevant, and all ten survivors were grateful to have one another to brave the Devil’s Dark together as the massive horde moved across the night, just a few feet from their fear-stricken souls. The minutes passed like hours, measured only in erratic heartbeats which they hoped would go unnoticed.

Outside, more than five-hundred men, women and children, from all walks of former life and from various periods of time, continued their blood pilgrimage east, driven by the overwhelming scent of the recently slain which saturated the air above the Percy Power Plant. The wind had delivered the message further inland until the wandering dead, recently awoken from their places of rest, or recently infected, had come to answer the call which now drove their decrepit brains to push forward—to feed on flesh.

They came upon the tomb in the woods, formerly a home, and moved around it. They were oblivious to the ten terrified ghosts trapped within, shaking in the darkness. They did not feel fear. They did not perceive darkness. They could not love or mourn the loss of their lives and the people they once knew. They were void of the ability to reason or realize that this house was once an abode for the living. They only understood the language of blood. The pulse of the living called to them, compelling them to satisfy the hunger which burned within their long-dead hearts. Once divided by individualism, the nameless dead advanced through the Devil’s Dark like an emotionless machine designed for a single purpose: To Feed.

A young boy in shredded clothes, his mangled face mercifully hidden in shadows, shambled near the basement glass door as he caught his reflection in the moonlit glass. For a moment he stared into the glass as the tormented dead boy stared back at him.

It did not feel repulsion, horror, pain, fear… loneliness. It felt nothing. The dead boy was distracted by his own ghastly image long enough to dismiss the scent of the living huddled in the upstairs darkness. After a long moment, it turned and rejoined the procession across the woods—now just another murdered memory ripped from the pages of a life once filled with innocent laughter and love, shambling into the void of a dying world.

~~~

Next Episode 13-1:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/30/chapter-13-1-railway-exodus-2/

Previous Episode 12-3:
https://freezombienovel.wordpress.com/2015/08/25/chapter-12-3-the-devils-dark-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 :)

http://topwebfiction.com/
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__________________________________________
“Chapter 12-4: 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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