hands-984032_640

~~~

Tony wandered into a dense wooded area which seemed to stretch on for miles. He lost his sense of direction but managed to keep his flashlight and used it frequently to search for anything like a trail or a river that might lead him out and back toward civilization. For the last hour he’d found nothing to aid him.

What made matters worse was that the moon had gone into hiding and his light was flickering badly. If he could hold on until sunrise, Tony was convinced he could regain his bearings and find a road.

For the moment, all he wanted to do was avoid being seen by anyone, especially out here where he felt vulnerable and helpless.

“If a man dies in the woods and nobody’s around to see it, does he still make a screaming sound?” he asked himself.

Tony’s tired mind wandered into all sorts of dark humor, anything to keep calm and preoccupied. He found himself talking out loud more frequently to ease his mind from focusing on all the areas he could not see with his weak flashlight.

The landscape began to change and Tony was forced to travel uphill, resorting to grabbing on to small trees to keep from slipping back down steep rises near the top. When he reached the first ridge, he saw a higher one behind it. Tony believed he would find a highway, farm, transmission lines—anything man-made—if he could just reach the top of the next ridge.

Halfway to the top his flashlight died. The darkness was smothering, throwing Tony into panic mode and leading his imagination to fearful images which owned every sound in his vicinity. He’d gone through too much of this while being chained in that basement. But this was much worse because the wilderness was much larger. He forced himself to focus on reaching the top of the ridge since he could still make out some ambient light up there. The trick was not slipping back down to the bottom where he would be forced to wait until dawn before making another attempt.

The going was painstakingly slow, but Tony managed to reach the top of the ridge. He hoped to find a way out but was met with more forest instead. The good news was that it looked like the woods were thinning out some. He could just make out some larger trees just past the thick foliage ahead. They stood out like taller, darker forms against the night. He thought that if he could make it into those trees, he’d be able to wait for sunrise with a little more room to breathe.

As he neared the first shadowy tree, something reached out at him with a guttural growl and tried to grab his face. It was as if the tree had come to life. Tony knew better. They’d found him. He backed away from the tree and heard another monster from behind him. He turned just in time to avoid the arms of the second beast hiding behind another tree. All at once the whole forest seemed to come alive as several more dead things reached out for him. He ran from tree to tree, looking for somewhere to hide. Tony placed his hands over his face as several decrepit limbs brushed his cheeks and hair, or bumped his shoulders trying to grab him.

Tony fell forward, striking the ground hard. He was surprised when nothing leapt upon his back to rip his head off. He continued to hear them, surrounding him in the dark, but none of them had found him yet. Tony got back up and tried to find a breach in the blackness where he did not hear them. When he found a spot, he made a run for it.

Suddenly, one of them had his foot as Tony felt the ground rapidly depart from beneath him. He struck the earth hard with the back of his head, knocking him out, before being dragged away.

~~~

Tony regained consciousness an hour later. His head was pounding. He opened his eyes and watched the ground spin through hazy vision. He could still hear them—they sounded close. Their savage howls rushed him quickly beyond his disorientation as his mind cleared and he made out several upside-down horrific faces in the early morning twilight. They reached out for him, but something was keeping them from achieving their meal.

He tried to get away from them, but found he couldn’t move his feet. Tony looked up and saw the snare which held him suspended off the ground, like a piece of dangling meat, less than five feet from the nearest dead man.

Fucking trap! I must have stepped into something which triggered it. But who set the trap and why am I not dead yet?

First things first. He needed to get free and manage not to fall into the arms of the nearest monster. Tony was fortunate that he was still wearing his pack and that the small pocket knife he’d acquired from an abandoned car was located in an outer pocket. He reached behind his back and found the pocket. Carefully, he unzipped it and wrapped his fingers around the knife before it fell to the ground.

Tony opened the blade, placed it in his mouth and reached upward with sore muscles until he got one hand around the rope. With the other, he grabbed the knife and began slicing.

The knife was sharper than expected. Tony quickly fell to the ground as his weight caused the frayed line to snap. He landed on his broad shoulders which saved him from breaking his neck.

Three of the monsters were already reaching down for him as Tony lifted his arms to defend himself, swinging the blade madly at the air.

That’s when he noticed they were bound around the waist to the trees.

What the fuck?

Tony easily deduced their range of movement and was able to crawl out and into an area where the trees held no surprises.

He rose to his feet, feeling dizzy, and used the nearest tree to support himself. The dead continued to reach toward him, oblivious of their futility, driven only by their insane hunger for flesh.

Tony counted fifty creatures, strapped strategically to the trees, forming a sort of wall along the entire ridge. He also noticed several more improvised traps within that wall of rotting flesh.

It became clear that someone, or some group, had gone to great lengths to dissuade anyone from coming up the ridge.

“Where the hell am I?” Tony whispered. If not for such extreme measures to keep people away, he would have been encouraged that there might be a group of survivors nearby. He couldn’t shake that he was now trespassing, and that he might have more to fear from the living than the dead out in these woods.

Tony took a deep breath, turned and started away from the ridge, hoping he would not find more traps up ahead… or worse.

~~~

He walked for two more hours through the eerie untamed wilderness. Tony was starting to believe he’d never find a road and that he’d never escape this forest. He’d finished up the remainder of his food and water and was in desperate need of rest. He was encouraged when he heard the faint rush of a stream somewhere off to his left.

Tony followed the sound until he came upon a cliff which overlooked a fast-moving river some forty feet below. He followed it along the cliff, looking for a way down, until the river took a tight ‘U’ bend toward him, becoming a majestic ten-foot waterfall which emptied into a larger pool before winding off out of view to God-knows-where.

From where he stood, the cliff gradually sloped downward and Tony believed he could shimmy down safely toward the pool.

He was about to give it a try until he saw a dozen monsters come into view from the other end of the river, approaching the pool. Tony quickly ducked down and watched the strange procession of creatures enter the pool until they were waddling through waist-high water. They were the most terrifying things he’d seen so far, looking far less human than the others he’d run into. They had very pale skin—almost white—and very large heads which resembled bloody cow skulls that had penetrated frail flesh. Their ragged clothes were blood-stained and ripped. He couldn’t see their eyes due to the fact that they all had long, black, matted hair which hung down into their faces.

What Tony found most odd was how they moved. They seemed to be traveling in a single line, headed straight for the waterfall as if getting ready to perform some strange ritual.

The first one stopped before the waterfall and looked around suspiciously, signaling the others to do so as well. Tony made himself as small as he could, fearing they would see him gawking from the cliff. He was shocked when he watched the first one enter the waterfall and the others quickly followed until all the monsters were gone.

Where the hell did they go?

Tony did not want to stick around for an answer. He thought about the dead men strapped to the trees and the traps. Could these things be responsible? Do the dead possess the ability to think, improvise traps and… hunt? Are they attacking their own kind?

A chill seized him as Tony wanted far away from this den of devils. He continued walking the cliff, watching carefully for any more water monsters, and decided to connect up with the river farther down. He would replenish his water supply and follow the river out of this crazy place. All his questions could remain unanswered if he could only escape and find some way back to Gina.

He wrestled with his own thoughts. It was bad enough that dead things wanted to tear him apart and eat his flesh, dead things which used to be… people. But now, add the fact that they showed signs of intelligence as well—Tony longed for his normal, mundane life more than ever before.

~~~

Tony followed the river the rest of the morning and long into the afternoon. He hadn’t seen anyone or anything since the waterfall and was starting to believe that he would die out here before finding civilization again.

As he neared a bend, he caught a glimpse of something red beneath an overturned tree which crossed the river. At first he thought it was a small inflatable raft which got caught in the tree branches. Tony became excited, believing he’d found the first hard evidence of people nearby. As he moved closer to the object, he could see that it wasn’t a raft. The object was near his side of the river. He stepped into the cold water up to his knees, just before the tree, and walked out toward the object.

It looked much smaller up close, lodged beneath the tree. The strong current must have pushed it there.

Tony reached for it, and recoiled immediately as the object turned in the water, revealing the pale remains of a small boy wearing a red jacket who had been submerged beneath the water. His lifeless eyes stared at him through the tree branches. There was a large hole in the boy’s forehead.

“Fuck!” he cried out, taking several steps back and almost falling into the water.

The lifeless boy continued to stare at him.

Tony covered his mouth to keep from vomiting and climbed out of the river.

He was breathing hard, feeling the fatigue catching up with him.

What kind of nightmare world is this? Tony got to his feet and tried not to look at the dead boy.

He used the large tree trunk for support and followed it to the massive stump. He then walked around it to the other side.

Tony froze in place as he stared into a large pool of water pushing up against the tree. There were twenty-five bodies floating face-down in the pool, aiding in damning up the river at the tree.

Men, women, children… all dead.

Tony did vomit this time. He immediately began to black out, falling on his ass. He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing, refusing to look at the corpses.

I’m in hell and I’m never getting out of here!

Tony managed to get to his feet. He turned away from the river and started stumbling through the woods in what he thought was a southerly direction. He needed to be as far away from those bodies as he could.

He hiked the rest of the afternoon, until the woods began to grow dim, understanding that nightfall was approaching. He’d fallen several times, nearly twisting his ankle the last time, before deciding to stop and seek shelter for the evening.

He spotted a group of pine trees which looked good for shelter against the cool late afternoon breeze. He decided to risk a fire as he gathered up some dead sticks and made a small ring beneath the largest pine which offered the most concealment. He retrieved a lighter from his pack and was about to start the fire when he was rushed by several forms coming out from around a neighboring pine.

Tony was too slow in getting up.

A man wearing a green bandana around his head jumped at him with a large knife, knocking Tony to the ground. The man came at his face with the knife and Tony grabbed his hands just in time.

“Don’t let it bite you!” a black man yelled, coming from the rear.

“Damn thing’s putting up a fight,” Bandana man said.

“Wait!” shouted a female. “Look at him. He’s not dead!”

Bandana man eased up. “Shit. You’re right.”

Tony threw the man off of him and rose to his feet. He grabbed a thick stick from the fire pit. “Come on, then!” he shouted. “I don’t have all day. It’s fucking cold so either kill me or let me finish making this fire!”

The black man laughed and said, “Yeah, he definitely isn’t dead… not yet. Just look at him. He sure smells dead.”

“Fuck you,” Tony said.

“Sounds alive to me,” the woman said coming forward. A big-boned woman with short-cropped blond hair stood in front of Tony, sizing him up. “You going to do something with that stick, friend?”

Tony noticed that the woman was wearing a dirty police officer’s uniform. She was also wearing a sidearm. “Cop?”

“Used to be,” she said. “Don’t know what I am today. Still trying to figure that one out.”

Tony put the stick down. “Well, I’m glad to see you guys… even if you just tried to kill me.”

“Thought you were an Eater,” Bandana man said, putting his knife away. “Honest mistake.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “you’re lucky I don’t stick that knife in your ear.”

“He’s right, you know,” the cop said. “Have you seen yourself lately? You look half-dead.”

“I’ve been… on the run for a while,” Tony said.

“Where did you come from?” Bandana man asked.

Tony sighed and said, “I’m not exactly sure. It was dark when I entered the woods. I got lost in a hurry. Thought I’d find an overpass or a house… anything. I’ve been out here since last night.”

“There’s nothing out here for miles, my friend,” the woman said.

“I don’t believe him,” Bandana man said. “There’s no way he could’ve escaped notice for this long.”

“I don’t care what you fucking believe,” Tony told the little man. “If you’d seen the shit I’ve seen lately, you would have pissed yourself.”

Bandana man smiled and said, “Smart mouth on you. I can fix that real quick.” He moved in with his knife as Tony lifted the stick.

“Hold up!” the woman said. “We can sort the rest out later.”

Bandana man stood down and gave Tony a threatening look. “We’ll talk later, big mouth.”

“Anytime,” Tony invited.

The woman moved in between them. “We have a camp near here. We don’t like Eaters getting this close. They wander through from time to time. You can smell them long before you hear them. You just happened to walk into our perimeter patrol.”

“A camp? You mean with real, live people… normal people? And what the hell are ‘Eaters’?” Tony asked.

The cop smiled. “Real people, yes. Alive? Well, we’re hanging on by a shoestring but I guess we’re still kicking. As far as ‘Eaters’, it looks and sounds like you’ve met a few of them already. Were you bit or scratched?”

“No.”

The woman shook her head. “My name’s Sam Petroskovich.”

“Tony Marcuchi.”

Sam smiled and said, “Well, Tony, I’d love to let you just walk back with us… and that’s the civilized thing to do… but things aren’t so civilized anymore. Our little community doesn’t see many outsiders… in fact, you’re the first to come wandering in like this.” She pulled out her handcuffs and nodded to the black man.

The black man retrieved an old sack from his gear and said, “This is to cover that ugly mug of yours.”

“What? You have to be kidding,” Tony said.

Sam’s face turned immediately to stone. “No joke, friend. You either get on your knees and let me put these cuffs on you, or, so-help-me-God, I’ll put a bullet in your skull right now.”

~~~

Next Episode 18-1

Previous Episode 17-4

~~~

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/
http://www.top-site-list.com/zombie/vote/457627

__________________________________________
“Chapter 17-5: Dark Territory” 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.

Advertisements

Comments? I love to read them

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s