Mary approached the assembly area with her mop and rolling bucket and nodded meekly to Micom’s men who kept people from entering the area and getting too close to Micolad. They were presently engaged in a heated debate over last year’s NBA Playoffs as if the futility of such a conversation never occurred to them.

Both guards gave her an annoyed look and waved her through, not appreciating having their discussion interrupted. They were all familiar with Mary. When she wasn’t playing nurse or food attendant, Mary moonlighted as the inner-circle janitor. She was always quiet, submissive, and easy to forget that she was even in the room until you looked up and saw her. That was just Mary’s way.

No one in Micom’s ranks ever became suspicious of her and it was no surprise that she wasn’t on Micolad’s list alongside Sam and the others.

Mary moved over toward the blood-stained concrete slab, in front of the bleachers, and began cleaning up the remains of the mother who was murdered at the Gathering earlier this evening. As she mopped up the blood, she wore an unreadable blank face as she thought about Billy.

“I know how they’re getting in, Mary,” Billy had told her. “Phil Thompson’s kids were playing in one of the vacant domes—hide and seek. Anyway, his youngest boy went to hide beneath one of the beds and damn near fell though the floor. Someone dug a tunnel right beneath that dome. This has all been an elaborate set up! That bastard’s letting them in!”

Billy, Mary’s husband, had wanted to leave after the first day in the strange camp. He never liked Micom and always told her that his gut said he was bad. After the camp was first attacked, Billy only got worse, threatening to leave with or without her.

Their marriage had been in jeopardy long before the world they knew ended. He’d had an affair just three weeks before the dead began attacking the living. She had been considering a divorce right before the blood bath started. They’d been fighting ever since and couldn’t agree on anything. He’d wanted to leave, and of course, she’d wanted to stay. Mary had wanted to be a part of this wonderful new community and believed all the lies Micom told. Besides, she’d also seen the camp as a way to distance herself from her bad marriage.

In the end, Billy had planned to leave with the original group of refugees who had made a break for the main gate to the south. Believing that Billy and the others were only putting the camp at risk, Mary had met Micom in private and turned her husband in. As it turned out, that move had saved Billy from being turned with the others and left to rot, tied to the trees. But her betrayal had not spared Billy when the first river walks were ordered by Micolad as a way to appease the Shadow Dead and keep them from attacking the camp.

Micom had assured her that he would protect him… and she bought it. But she knew better now. Micom and Micolad had made an example of him.

The night he was sentenced, Billy had turned to her with a look of pure hatred in his eyes. “What have you done?” he’d accused, and those were the last words he’d said.

After Billy was banished to walk the river at dawn, his head was returned that evening, mounted on a pole just outside the fences.

Micom had rewarded her loyalty by making her a nurse and giving her free reign within the inner circle of camp. She had faked gratitude but inside she burned, her nightmare infested sleep always replaying the look Billy gave her before the end.

Fortunately, she had never revealed Billy’s knowledge of the tunnel beneath the dome. Later, she’d told Orosco, who in turn told Samantha…

Mary turned and looked up the platform.

Micolad sat motionless… meaningless. Every now and then she heard it chirp and beep as through the monstrous machine were sleeping and experiencing artificial dreams. She could imagine what dreams Micolad had… blood and death.

She rolled her mop bucket to the edge of a ramp that led up the platform. She turned to the guards and asked, “Is it alright if I clean up there?”

“Just keep a respectful distance from Micolad… and be quick about it,” one said.

Mary started pushing the bucket up the ramp.

“Hold on!” the other guard said.

Mary froze. After a moment, she finally turned.

“Not too close or you’ll wake him up. He’s been known to bite little girls like yourself,” the guard said, elbowing the other until they both began chuckling.

Mary nodded and smiled weakly. She continued to push the bucket up the ramp until she reached the top of the platform, making sure she gave Micolad a wide berth.

She waited until the guards seemed satisfied and ignored her again.

Mary looked at the machine and thought, All this trouble you’ve caused… all this murder… and for what? So we can feel safe at the expense of another? We all deserve to die. But YOU… YOU deserve hell!

She thought of her dead husband’s eyes again and finished, I deserve hell right along with you.

She looked at the guards once more. They had their backs turned.

Mary slowly rolled the bucket closer… closer… closer to the sleeping dragon. When she was within five feet of Micolad, something strange happened.

The machine woke up.

A huge red eye lit up as Micolad chirped to life.

“Hey! Get away from there!” one of the guards yelled.

Mary gave them a confused look. “Sor… Sorry.” She started backing away. “I’m coming down now.”

The guard shook his head and resumed his discussion with the other.

Mary stopped and looked into the monster’s red eye. It knows I’m here. Somehow, it just knows.

Now that she knew how close she could get before it reacted, Mary took a deep breath as she laid the mop down on the platform and positioned herself behind the bucket. She looked once more at the distracted guards, and then back to the machine.

“This is for Billy, you devil,” she hissed as she bent down behind the bucket and pushed it within two feet of Micolad.

Loud alarms were already going off.

“Shit! Stop her!” The guards were moving.

Mary picked up the mop bucket, knowing that her next action guaranteed her death, and poured the water all over the front of the machine.

Micolad began to arc and spark as smoke drifted up from the main console.


She was caught off guard when the machine spoke… when it spoke her name.


“Fuck you!” she spat at the machine.

One of the guards struck her in the head with a baton.

Mary fell limp to the platform.



Sam looked over at Tony. His anxiety was clearly evident, mirroring her own. “Stop looking so damn miserable. This will work,” she said, trying to convince herself.

Tony took a deep breath. “I’m still hoping I wake up from this fucking nightmare any moment now.”

Sam smiled. “You and me both.” After a moment, she added, “I had to do it, you know. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry I fucked you all up.”

Tony gave her a look of stone and said, “When we’re free of this place, we part ways. If I ever see you again, I’m going to forget my no-hit-girls rule and beat you within an inch of your life. Are we clear?”

Sam smiled and said, “I like you, Tony. You’re my kind of people.”

“And you’re a piece-of-shit cop with no business wearing that uniform.”

Tony’s words struck her like a fist. Sam felt the old anger rising to the surface, but checked herself in time. “I deserved that. Feel better?”

“I don’t know, did it hurt?”

“A little.”

“Then yes, I feel better.”

She opened the detention dome door again and stared out into the night sky. The stars seemed less inviting now and much farther away. The moon was nowhere in sight. She looked at her watch. “Another two hours before dawn. When we get out there, the darkness will either be our best friend or our worst enemy if we’re discovered.”


Sam laughed. “You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?”

“No… just the fucking monsters who own it these days.” Tony started pacing. “Will your girl be able to pull this off? I’m totally not a fan of you throwing her to the wolves like that, by the way. What if they already caught her and she’s telling them everything right now?”

Sam shrugged. “I could always tie you back up and put the bag back on your head if you’re having second thoughts.”

“Hell no. I’m just saying-”

A sharp piercing alarm echoed across the night from the center of camp.

“Son-of-a-bitch, she actually did it.” Tony moved toward the door.

Sam looked back out the door toward the neighboring domes. Everyone was waking up and stepping outside to investigate. Their confusion and fear made them gather like frightened chickens in a pen.

“She actually caused some damage by the sound of it. Time to go,” she said.

Tony moved in front of Sam. She placed the handcuffs loosely around his wrists so that he could easily slip out of them.

“Just remember to keep your head down and don’t draw attention to yourself,” she said. “You’re a stranger and strangers attract questions.”

“Got it.”

Sam picked a path between the domes and through the center of the gathering crowd. “Okay. Let’s do this quickly.” They exited the detention dome and cut through the crowd.

“It’s alright, everyone,” Sam said in passing as the refugees spotted her. “Just stay calm and don’t panic. Micolad has the situation well under control.” They pushed through the crowd and around the backside of the domes, trying to avoid notice.

“Copperfield should be with Micom right now. I’m sure they’re both pissing their pants trying to figure out what happened.” Sam wanted to believe this with all her heart. The last thing she wanted was to run head on into that creepy little bastard while attempting to break into his abode.

“Are you sure there’s a tunnel in his place?” Tony asked.

“No… I’m not. But every part of me is screaming that Copperfield’s watching the northern tunnel. Hell, that’s probably how he gets around without anyone seeing him. We haven’t been able to locate a single northern tunnel anywhere else… it has to be there.”

They crossed a small road, cut between four more domes, and passed several more refugees. She stopped abruptly and told Tony to get down.

Just ahead of them was one luminescent dome which stood apart from the rest with no neighboring shelters.

“Is that it?” Tony asked. He was still trying to process everything he was seeing. There were so many people… real living people, and numerous glow-in-the-dark domes—he’d never seen anything like this place.

Sam ignored him. She was watching the front door of the dome like a hawk. “Alright, let’s move. Take the cuffs off now. If he’s in there, I’m going to need your help taking him down. Be careful… little fucker has a sword and he’s lethal with it.”

Tony almost missed his crowbar… almost.

They quietly approached Copperfield’s dome. Sam put an ear to the door. After a moment she whispered, “Watch for the others. I’ll need some time to pick this lock.”

Tony shook his head. “No. Just move out of my damn way.”

Sam gave him a puzzled look and stood clear just as Tony slammed the door open with his good shoulder.

He immediately looked around the scarcely furnished room, expecting a sword deposited in his abdomen.

The room was vacant.

Sam stepped around him. “What are you, a fucking ox?”

With the exception of a small bed and a table with a couple of chairs, the room was bare of all else. “What now?”

Sam moved to the base of the bed and pushed it to the side revealing a small square hatch in the floor. “See! I fucking knew it!”

From outside, they could hear the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps.

“Shit! It’s a trap!” Tony turned and balled his fists.

“Hold on,” Sam said, stepping toward the doorway.

Orosco and Jenkins were the first to enter.

“Mary did it,” Jenkins said. “They’re all there, trying to un-fuck whatever she did. It’s a real mess.”

Orosco looked concerned. “They caught her in the act. That crazy girl attacked Micolad! She had to have known what would happen to her if she did that.”

“We should help her,” Tony said.

“Fuck that, there’s no time. She knew the score,” Sam said.

“Again, you’re some kind of cop,” Tony said sarcastically.

Sam looked behind them and out the doorway. She was surprised by the small and nervous crowd. “How many?”

“After Micolad’s distasteful killing at the Gathering earlier, it wasn’t hard to recruit a few more people,” Jenkins said. “We’re thirty strong now.”

Sam nodded and turned toward the hatch. “Get them inside quickly and close the door. We need to move.”

While the others began cramming into the dome, Tony knelt beside Sam and they grabbed the handle.

“You sure this is a good idea?” Tony asked. “We don’t know what’s down this fucking rabbit hole.”

Sam laughed nervously. “Sure we do. It’s either freedom or a tragic end to a really bad night.”

They opened the hatch. Beneath them was a dark pipe big enough to fit one person at a time.

Sam turned on a pocket flashlight and shined it into the dark opening. It dropped down at an angle, and slowly curved toward the north. She turned to everyone in the crowded dome and said, “Looks like we’re going to have to crawl our way out. Single file. If anyone’s claustrophobic, now’s the time to get the fuck over it in a hurry. This is going to be tight. Tony and I will take the front. Jenkins and Orosco, you cover the rear. Let’s move.”

Sam took a deep breath and started down the pipe.

Tony watched her disappear into the darkness as her flashlight beam grew faint. He looked back at the fear-filled faces of the crowded room. Even Orosco and Jenkins looked terrified. “Everything will be okay,” he felt compelled to say. Tony entered the pipe.


The small shaft was big enough to travel on hands and knees. Sam tried her best to shut out all the horrific possibilities which awaited them at the end of the tunnel, from discovering the exit gate shut and locked, to running head first into the Shadow Dead crawling in from the other end. She used the flashlight sparingly, fearing the light would expose their location, but dreaded every moment the light was off as the dark pipe closed in around her.

“Just stay calm,” Tony whispered from behind her. “I can’t hear myself whimpering like a little girl over all your heavy breathing.”

Sam laughed nervously. Tony was trying real hard to keep her from crawling out of her own skin and stopping. “I don’t know what’s worse, being in the front to die first if all this goes south, or getting stuck at the rear if Micom’s men figure out we’re in here and give chase.”

“Well, hopefully the dead take their time nibbling on you first so I can get out around you,” Tony said.

“Thanks, asshole.”

“You’re very welcome. Just keep moving and try not to think about how fucking crazy this is.”

Sam could feel a draft coming from up ahead. “We’re close.”

They were in the tunnel for twenty long minutes before Sam almost fell out of the pipe. The cool night air was a welcome relief, but the pitch-black woods were unnerving. She could hear water directly ahead. Sam focused on the sound of the river to keep her bearings.

She carefully exited the pipe and was relieved to discover her feet touching the forest floor just two feet below them.

Sam sat exposed for an eternity, letting her eyes adjust as much as possible to whatever faint ambient light broke through nature’s canopy above. The night was alive with nocturnal sounds muffled by the steady roll of the river. Sam could just make out the trees, standing as darker shadows against shadows.

After she felt they were safe for the moment, she helped the others slowly escape the shaft until all the refugees sat huddled at the front of the pipe.

Focusing mainly on Orosco, Jenkins and Tony, but making sure everyone was listening, Sam instructed, “We stay calm and quiet, move toward the river and then follow it west. We might get a little more light reflected off the water and the current should help mask our movements. I can’t risk using the flashlight until we’re far enough away. We hold hands and make a human rope so no one wanders off. Just keep the river to your right, move slowly and watch for trouble. Whatever you do… don’t fucking panic and run off. We lose anyone out here, there’s no going back to find you. Tony, I don’t expect to be anywhere near your waterfall until the sun is up, but if something looks familiar that we need to avoid, you let me know.”

Tony nodded and then felt foolish for doing so. “Alright.”

“I feel like we’re dancing between the raindrops,” Orosco said. “It’s hard to believe we’re this close to the river and not dead yet.”

“You just keep remembering the ‘yet’ part and help me keep this group together,” Sam finished. “God only knows what’s going to happen when they discover where we went. Hopefully we’ll have a sizable head start and make it until dawn. Then we can really move.”

“I’ll take up position at our flank,” Jenkins said, retrieving his knife and making ready.

They proceeded toward the river at a snail’s pace and slowly turned westward.

Tony was comforted and unnerved by the two sweaty hands which completed his part of the line. Just behind him, a young woman, reduced to a shadow in the darkness, trembled violently. He could hear her praying softly.

Samantha was feeling her way forward like a blind woman, her free arm extended in front of her while she slowly moved forward, testing every step.

They continued up river without incident for another hour.

That’s when the woods came to life as the Shadow Dead filled their ears with collective howls and groans which pierced the night.

Samantha stopped and squatted. Tony followed suit, signaling the next person to do the same until the unspoken message traveled down the human train.

“Fuck,” Sam hissed. “I can’t tell where they are!”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tony said. “Nothing’s changed. Stay calm, keep moving, don’t panic. If we can’t see them, maybe they can’t see us.”

Sam looked up into the night. “It almost sounds like they’re in the trees.”

“You’re just letting the darkness fuck with you. Move your ass, officer. We can’t stay here. The longer we wait around the more likely someone is going to bolt,” Tony said.

Sam slowly rose to her feet, feeling like a pendulum was about to swing down and take her head clean off.

She got the train moving again as she tried to block out the Shadow Dead screams and focused on the river. They’re trying to flush us out with all that noise. Tony’s right, as long as we don’t panic-

Suddenly, a tortured male scream traveled up from the back of their line, followed by a second scream from a woman.

Was that Jenkins? Sam thought.

“Shit, they’ve found us,” Tony said.

People were running now. A couple ran past Sam while others broke away in different directions.

“Fuck!” Sam didn’t know what to do.

More screams from down the line.

“Turn around and keep moving, Sam!” Tony said.

Sam froze.

Tony turned around and shouted, “Everyone, spread out and run! Keep the sound of the river to your right and RUN!”

Their line broke as the panic took over. A few more refugees ran past them into the dark night.

Tony gave Sam a healthy shove forward, breaking her paralysis. “Move!”

Sam turned around and started to sprint through the woods as the adrenaline took over.

More screams from behind them.

Fuck! They’re getting slaughtered back there! She could hear movement from all around her as the remaining survivors raced through the woods. Some struck trees and fell while others simply ran over top of the fallen. Some turned toward the river while others became disoriented and headed back south. She lost Tony and Orosco. She suddenly felt alone. Focus on the sound of the river! The fucking river!

There was nothing left to do but try to outrun the darkness which consumed them as unseen branches slashed across her face. Their only hope for survival now was that the slowest among them would afford the rest a few more labored breaths in the obstacle-infested woods.


Dawn slowly bled over the treetops like an omen.

Micom stood before the northern gate which overlooked the river. He stroked his beard and considered his next move while Copperfield waited patiently five feet behind him.

After Micolad had been attended to, they’d called an emergency Gathering, mainly to get a head count. It hadn’t taken long to figure out what Samantha had done, her and the rest of the traitors. If they had tried the obvious and fled toward the southern gate, using the night as cover, well… they would be dead by now. The Shadow Dead had long established patrols in that area. But still… he wondered.

If she’d known about the tunnels, then she must also have known how foolish an escape attempt would’ve been. Why? Why bother?

He looked down at what remained of Ralph Emerson, his fly-infested head staring stupidly back at him, from the mounted pole just on the other side of the fence.

What did you tell her… hmm? What did you say to make Samantha try such a desperate and futile move?

And that’s when the word struck him: Desperate.

“Did you check the north tunnel?” he asked.

Copperfield seemed surprised by the question.

Micom turned and smiled toward the little man. “Of course you didn’t. Why would you?” He looked back to Ralph and said, “Gutsy move, I’ll have to give her credit for that play. Somehow she knew we wouldn’t be looking in that direction. Sam… Sam… Sam… you certainly gave it a try. Doesn’t matter. There’s plenty of contingencies in place along the river… even if you manage to elude them for a while.”

“Shall I check the tunnel?” Copperfield asked.

“Not yet,” he said. Micom turned to the other pole newly erected besides Ralph’s. He frowned and sighed heavily. “I’m so very disappointed in you, Mary. From the others I expected such treachery… but you… how could you? How dare you! I gave you my heart and this is how you repay me!”

Copperfield shifted uncomfortably behind him.

Micom turned and said, “It’s time we teach these cattle some proper respect. When word gets out about the escape attempt and what this pathetic girl tried to do to Micolad… well… I think we’ve coddled them for far too long. It’s time to up the ante.”

Copperfield nodded.

Micom placed his arms behind his back and left the fence with Copperfield in tow. The front of his well-pressed uniform was covered in blood.

The little man looked back at the fence, at the woman’s heart, which was placed on the pole, and shuddered.

He’d never seen Micom so enraged.


Next Episode 19-1

Previous Episode 18-3


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“Chapter 18-4: Micom and Micolad” 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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