After the half-dead girl sent small groups to recover the remaining intruders, she boldly walked up toward the foot of the church steps.

“That’s close enough,” Gina said, aiming the empty shotgun at the girl who stood less than ten feet away.

The girl stopped and crouched down. She began scrawling in the dirt with her knife. She looked up at Gina with those wide-eye mercury orbs—her thoughts hidden deep beneath her dead stare.

Gina was growing increasingly nervous, unconvinced that these things would live up to their end of the bargain. Who could fathom, from one moment to the next, what insane thoughts motivated this girl and her estranged community. Perhaps every word the teenage girl had said was a lie and her friends were being hunted down and slaughtered. Nothing was certain.

“Why did you kill him?” the girl finally asked.

Gina didn’t know how to safely answer. “Ezekiel threatened my friends. He distracted me while the rest of you grabbed Meredith from right under my nose.”

“Yes… but why did you kill him?” The girl sounded agitated.

“He… he told me Meredith was dead. I was angry because I thought… I thought he’d already murdered her.”

“He was unarmed and you stabbed him while he was on his knees,” the girl said. “He begged you to spare his life and you killed him anyway.”

Meredith looked at Gina but said nothing.

Gina was getting angry again. “It wasn’t like that! He… he pushed me to it. If Ezekiel had just helped me get her back-”

“You murdered him, and the ones inside the church,” the girl said.

“Well… you’ll get your revenge soon enough,” Gina finished.

The girl wasn’t satisfied. “I want you to admit it.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

The girl started stabbing at the dirt.

Meredith squeezed Gina’s shoulder to catch her attention, and then said to the girl, “Did you know him? Ezekiel?”

The girl said nothing.

Meredith continued, “The town seems to look to you now. I’d wager it’s because you and Ezekiel were related. Was he… your father?”

“Grandfather,” the girl spat.

Shit, Gina thought. Of course! Nice one, Gina. This isn’t town business anymore. This is personal.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Meredith said.

The girl looked to the older woman, genuinely confused.

“We’ve all lost so much since the world… went bad,” Meredith said. “I’m sure your grandfather was a good man before everything changed.”

Gina could tell that the girl was about to charge Meredith. “Yes… yes… alright… I murdered him, and the others inside. If it’s any consolation, I never wanted things to get so… out of hand.”

The girl looked to Gina again and said, “If it were only up to me, I’d line all of you up and slit your throats—watch you bleed out with a smile on my face.”

Gina believed her.

“But Grandfather made me promise to obey—made me promise not to kill all of you. He said the Enlightened would punish him if I disobeyed. He was sensitive to the Enlightened, more than the rest of us. For Grandfather’s sake, we dare not desecrate the sacrifice by indulging the hunger. He said we were no different from the Unclean if we did.”

“Why are you telling us all this?” Gina asked.

The girl’s face turned dark. “I just wanted you to know that it’s only because of the man you murdered, that any of you are allowed to leave. How’s that for irony?” She lifted up the knife and finished, “I also wanted you to know that I will take extreme pleasure in gutting you myself.”

Gina imagined the half-dead girl’s head exploding like a melon after pulling the trigger of the shotgun. The thought immediately frightened her.

What the hell is wrong with me?

The girl could see Gina’s longing written clearly on her face. The girl smiled, inviting the red-headed woman to come down from the porch and do something about it.

Gina tensed up, preparing to bash the evil girl’s head in with the butt of the shotgun… repeatedly.

“Gina…no!” Meredith said. “She’s taunting you because she knows she can’t kill you outright. If you attack her, she can kill you in self-defense.”

Gina relaxed slightly.

The girl looked disappointed. “You’ll be dead soon, sacrifice or no sacrifice,” she told Gina, getting to her feet. “None of you are worthy of this world any longer. It’s just a matter of time before the Enlightened Ones finish off the rest of your kind.”

Gina was about to protest, but stopped.

From behind them, the crowd began murmuring and pointing toward the edge of the park.

“Don’t move,” the girl warned Gina and Meredith, and then she retreated toward her people to find out what the commotion was all about.

“What’s going on?” Meredith asked.

Gina shook her head and scanned the crowd. They looked anxious, confused… afraid? Then she saw two figures coming out of the park. “Oh…shit! What the hell are they doing?” Gina asked in disbelief.

“What is it?” Meredith struggled to see over the heads of the half-dead. “Is that…”

A voice rose up among the crowd, “The first of us! The last of us! Enlightened Ones… unite! Take the mark upon thy flesh! She is here tonight!”

“Stephen?! Is that Stephen, Gina?” Meredith was struggling to stand up on her own. “He’s going to get himself killed!”

“Meredith, I have to set you down on the step and load this thing,” Gina said, gently lowering her down.

They could see them now. Both Stephen and Marcus were walking toward the church. The half-dead parted like the Red Sea as Marcus held something out in front of him.

“Stay back!” Marcus yelled. “Do you dare defy the First One? She has sent us to bring her here… to deal with her wayward children!” He held the head of the yellow-eyed hater toward them as it hissed at the half-dead—its eyes shifting from one to the next, displaying its intense hunger for their flesh.

The grey-eyed men and women stepped back, cowering and covering their eyes, unworthy to gaze into the face of the First Enlightened. Many of them prostrated themselves on the ground. Others wept.

A small group, led by the crazy girl, stood their ground, infuriated by what the intruders had done.

The girl shouted, “Kill them! Kill them now!”

Marcus stepped straight toward her with the hideous head until its eyes locked in on hers. It spit blood, gnashing its teeth at her as it tried to take a bite out of her flesh.

The girl backed away, terrified, as those deep probing yellow eyes bore into her soul.

“How dare you raise your voice in the presence of your… GOD!” Marcus shouted. “Bow down, you worthless thing or face its wrath!”

The girl fell to her knees, as did the rest of the group.

“They’re coming!” Stephen said. “The Enlightened are coming to deal with the disobedient! Kiss the earth and beg forgiveness for your… unworthiness!”

“UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” Marcus added, spinning the head around like a talisman for all to behold.

There were none left standing by the time they reached the church steps.

Gina and Meredith were in shock. Relief mixed with absolute repulsion shook their bones.

“Come on!” Stephen hissed, grabbing one of Meredith’s arms as Gina grabbed the other.

Marcus stood ahead of them with a tight fist of twisted, bloody hair, acting as a pendulum for the monster’s dangling head which continued to spin toward the crowd, revealing its savage hunger and rage. “Any time now,” he said. “Holding this thing is very unnerving.”

Gina and Stephen picked Meredith up as they slowly followed Marcus back through the terrified crowd and toward the park.

“The First Enlightened has demanded the flesh of these creatures immediately!” Marcus called out. “Anyone else who dares to rise in her presence will drown in eternal FIRE! Be still and repent of your wickedness. Repent!”

“I can’t believe this is working,” Stephen laughed nervously.

Gina spotted the girl. She was sitting up, staring at them… no, she was staring at her. The look on her face was enough to tell her that god or no god, she would not let allow this.

“We have a problem,” she said, nodding toward the girl.

Marcus spotted her and said, “Stephen, standby. Wait until we reach the trees.”

“Oh, Christ,” he said nervously, hoping he could draw the handguns from his waist with sweaty palms.

Gina had managed to put three shells in the shotgun. She racked it with her free arm.

They reached the edge of the park with Marcus now taking up the rear, continuing to hold the head out.

Some had started to rise, including crazy girl, not understanding why the First Enlightened would remove the sacrifice from the church… the sacrifice was always received at the church.

Once the intruders were out of sight behind the closest copse of trees, the half-dead were emboldened to move, led by the granddaughter of Ezekiel. “This is wrong!” she told them. “This is not how it’s supposed to be! They have deceived us!”

The crowd raised their angry voices in agreement and began to run toward the park.

Just as the first of them neared the trees, Marcus yelled, “NOW!”

Five half-dead fell to the ground as gunfire came from the park.

“You have been warned!” Marcus yelled, throwing the hideous head out from the trees, into the air, and toward the scattering crowd.

The head landed five feet from the crazy girl, rolling toward her feet. She jumped to the side as the head came to as stop—its yellow eyes still seething with rage, its mouth chomping at the air as if it could kill it.

The girl slowly walked toward the First Enlightened, gazed into its eyes, and then she raised the knife, let out a fierce cry, and let it fall into the head, stabling it several times. After it stopped moving, she got up and kicked it into the grass. She turned to shock-filled faces. “It’s all been a lie! There are no Enlightened! There is only hunger! Quickly… after the intruders. Taste their blood! DEVOUR THEM!”

Giving entirely over to the savage nature, now that the ruse of Harpersfield had failed like a fatal breach in a faulty dam, the half-dead ran into the park to… feed.


The trees granted them a few minutes of cover as they reached the wide-open picnic area. The homecoming banner swung tauntingly overhead.

Meredith was feeling better now that she was farther away from the mercury-eyed men and women who wanted her dead. She was able to move on her own, but the going was painfully slow and Gina continued to help pull her along.

“They’re coming,” Stephen said anxiously. He held both guns toward the direction of the church.

“Remember, wait until they’re almost on top of you before firing,” Marcus said. He stopped long enough to gain his bearings, spotting the large public hall building just beyond the other side of the park behind another grove of trees. “There!” he pointed. “We’ll move toward the main street and head toward the residential side of town. We can cut through backyards if necessary until we’re out. We also have the darkness on our side.”

“How far?” Gina asked.

“We made it as far as the school,” Stephen said. “It looked like another five or ten blocks after that. The road looked like a straight shot out of town.”

“And the others?” she asked.

Marcus and Stephen exchanged a concerned look.

“We didn’t see any of them on the way over here,” Stephen said.

Gina looked unsatisfied by the answer. “We’ll get out of crazy town, find Meredith a safe place to lay low, and then go back and find them.”

“What if they’re already dead?” Stephen immediately regretted asking.

“We’re not leaving anyone behind,” Gina said with finality. “We wi-”

“Gina! Watch out!” Stephen yelled.

Crazy girl bolted out from the trees, screaming like a wild animal as she charged Gina with her knife drawn.

Gina had just enough time to turn and deflect the knife away from her face with the barrel of the shotgun. The blade dug into her right arm instead. Gina cried out in pain, dropping the shotgun, as crazy girl pushed her to the ground and got on top of her. The girl pulled the knife out of Gina’s arm and slashed at her throat. Gina blocked the swing with her forearm, causing the blade to slice deeply into her right cheek instead.

The girl smiled insanely as she lifted the blade up to drive in into Gina’s chest.

Marcus came up from behind at full speed and tackled the girl, knocking her off of Gina. He rolled away from the girl, who was already up and crouching to strike. “Stephen! Shoot the bitch!” Marcus yelled.

Stephen aimed the guns clumsily at the girl.

She let out a devious laugh, rattling him further, as she stabbed at the ground.

Just as he was about to fire, two more savages jumped out of the trees to Stephen’s left. He aimed the guns toward them and emptied both magazines until the maniacs lay motionless on the ground.

The girl took advantage of the distraction and flipped the knife in her hand until she was holding the blade end. She then threw it at Stephen’s exposed side.

Marcus moved like lightning, deflecting the throw with an overhead swing of his machete, as steel struck steel, the knife landing in a nearby tree.

Crazy girl screamed ferociously and was about to charge Marcus, intending to tear him apart with her teeth. The girl stopped abruptly, her face going blank, as the blade of Meredith’s knife exited the front of her throat.

Meredith whispered into her ear from behind, “I’m sorry, dear. God help you… and forgive me.”

Crazy girl fell forward on her face, choking in her own blood until Meredith pulled out the knife and stabbed her in the ear. Crazy girl remained still.

“There’s more coming,” Stephen said. “The gunshots slowed them down, but only for a moment.”

Marcus walked over to Gina and helped her up. “She cut you deep.”

“I’m fine!” she barked, holding a hand over her cheek to control the bleeding. She picked up the shotgun in her good arm. “Let’s go!”

Marcus quickly ripped a piece off of his shirt and gave it to her. “Use this and push hard.” He then swung her bad arm over his shoulder and said, “We really need to move now.”

Gina did not protest the help.

Stephen got Meredith moving as they followed Marcus and Gina toward the Town Hall.

“They’re coming… fast!” Stephen shouted. “And I’m empty!”

The open area of the park which stood between the half-dead and the hall left them completely exposed as they could hear rifle fire behind them.

“Keep moving,” Marcus shouted back. “They can’t get a bead on us in the dark. We still have a chance.”

“Marcus!” Gina said with a gasp. “Slow down! They’re ahead of us!”

Marcus pushed them toward a solitary oak tree as more than fifty silhouettes shambled in their direction from the public hall. “How can there be so many?” he asked in disbelief.

“Gina! Marcus!” Meredith was out of breath. “That’s not them! That’s the dead… the real dead!”

“Fuck!” Gina said, looking to Meredith. “They got out.”

“What do you mean ‘they got out’?” Stephen asked.

“These freaks were starving them in the quarantined buildings. They called them ‘Unclean’—something like that. Town’s full of them.”

“And we’re just now finding out about this?” Stephen shook his head while reloading his guns.

“Be quiet,” Marcus hissed, motioning for everyone to get small behind the oak tree as the first of the dead pushed by them, distracted by their pursuers.

Gina covered her nose and mouth as flies swarmed about the rot and maggot infested flesh which almost made her vomit. They looked like frail skeletons as the starving zombies flesh was stretched tight over their bones. They bit at the air with blood-stained teeth, moaning as one like souls forever condemned to haunt the earth. They could smell blood downwind which compelled them to move their frail limbs toward the source.

There was more gunfire from behind them as the town of Harpersfield opened fire on the dead, not yet understanding what they were shooting at. When the grey-eyed infected finally came face to face with the Unclean, they gave up the chase, turned, and fled, becoming the hunted.

The dead began to move faster, driven by their suppressed hunger… and perhaps, somewhere deep, they remembered what the town of Harpersfield had done to them.

There were more coming, fanning out across the field like a search party.

“We’re not safe here,” Marcus said. “We need to move now before there’s too many to manage. These things are weak and unstable. We could probably push our way through.”

“Let’s go,” Gina said, “before I bleed to death.”

They waited for an opening and then stepped out into the field, hoping to escape notice for as long as possible.

The dead found them and moved in with more viciousness and vitality than they believed possible. Whether it was the intense hunger or some state of undead insanity brought on by being slowly starved, they came together quickly and charged Gina’s group.

They expended all their ammo and Marcus swung the machete until his arms ached, but the dead kept coming. Instead of pushing forward, they were forced farther and farther back into the park.

“I’m out!” Stephen yelled. “We’re not going to make it!”

Just before the horde of manic corpses engulfed them, the muzzle fire of an AK-47 lit up the night, tearing into decrepit flesh.

“Let’s go!” Frank boomed as he cleared a path in front of them. “This way!”

Gina and the others pushed toward Frank who continued to lead them out, shredding the undead with the assault rifle, until they reached the main street.

Amanda and Greg were already there, stepping out of their hiding spot in a nearby storefront.

When Gina reached the others, she looked alarmed. Amanda and Greg were banged up pretty good.

Greg managed to smile and say, “Took you long enough. Are you done sightseeing or do you wanna find a hotel to check in for the night?”

“No. The tour sucked and the people hate outsiders unless they can eat them. Are you two alright?”

“We were jumped in town,” Amanda said. “Frank found us and scared those fuckers off.”

Frank was coming up from the rear. “This little reunion is all well and good but I’m almost out of rounds. What’s the plan, boss?”

Gina looked at him and said, “Why did you let them loose? They almost had us back there.”

Frank looked confused. “I was about to ask you where all these dead-heads came from. We’ve been dodging them trying to get back to the park. They came out of nowhere. When we heard the gunfire, we assumed the worst and hauled ass over here. Fortunately, all the noise got their attention off of us long enough to move.”

“So… if you guys didn’t let them out… then what the hell happened?” It was Gina’s turn to look confused.

“Let them out?” Frank was catching on. “Do you mean the quarantined buildings? Is that what they’ve been doing here?”

Gina nodded. “I’ll fill you in later. We have to get out of town.”

“Where’s Charlie?” Stephen asked.

“I lost the little fucker when we were attacked by mannequins,” Frank said, causing confused looks. “Long story. Anyway, I was certain they grabbed him and brought him back to the church.”

“We haven’t seen him either,” Marcus added. “We heard the church bells go off and the whole town came running. We thought the same thing, and that we’d find all of you at the church.”

“I hate to say it, but Charlie’s probably dead,” Greg said, looking to Gina. “If not… he could be anywhere.”

“Agreed,” Gina said. “We can’t wait for Charlie, not with a town full of psychopaths and zombies trying to either eat us or fucking sacrifice us to yellow-eyed gods. We’ll have to come back, if we can.”

No one was in any shape to argue.

“Marcus, Stephen, get us through the residential area and out on the highway. We don’t stop until I see the town limits sign at our backs.”

Stephen looked back toward the park.

“We can’t do anything more for Charlie tonight, Stephen. We need to tend to our wounds, regroup, and wait for dawn. We’ll find a house along the highway and set up a watch along the road. Maybe we’ll spot him, or maybe he’s already long gone.”

Stephen nodded reluctantly. He knew she was right. There was nothing more they could do like this.

They fled through the residential area, deciding to stay on the road, and rely on the darkness to hide them. When they neared the school, Marcus and Stephen encouraged everyone to move faster. Fortunately, they encountered no resistance as they rounded a steep bend up a hill and stopped at an overlook just at the edge of town. They were all drawn toward the only light which dominated the not-so-sleepy town of Harpersfield laid out below them.

The church was completely engulfed in flames which seemed to reach up and burn the sky like a devil’s finger.

Meredith couldn’t look away as she felt them… all of them… drifting from their tormented half-dead state to an undefined hell which awaited their kind. “They retreated to the church,” she told them. “The dead pursued them, surrounded them, and they all perished in there.”

No one said anything. They all just wanted to keep moving and put the memory of Harpersfield behind them.

Stephen finally spoke. “Did they… I mean… did those people—if that’s what they are at all—did they set themselves on fire?”

Meredith turned and said, “I don’t know, Stephen.”

“Bad tactics, hiding in the church. Someone probably knocked over a candle,” Frank added, without his usual full-on sarcasm. He was exhausted.

“That’s a horrible way to die… even for them,” Amanda chimed in.

Meredith turned back and said, “Yes… even for them. Well, at least those poor souls are free now.”

Gina huffed, and turned back. She’d had enough. She walked over to the overlook and said, “I hope they burn slow. I hope the whole town burns to the ground. Those things deserve it!”

Meredith watched Gina walk away, too shocked by her cold response to say anything.

“Time to go,” Gina added walking away. “We’ve wasted enough time here.”

“Someone’s coming,” Marcus said, lifting his machete toward the dark road behind them.

They all tensed, grabbing their weapons as the sounds of heavy breathing and foot falls could be heard shuffling out of the dark.

“Wait… don’t shoot!” It was Charlie. He came up beside them, struggling for air as he appeared a sweaty mess. “I thought I’d never catch up.”

“Where have you been, Charlie?” Gina asked. “We thought… we thought you were gone.”

Charlie ignored the question and took a moment to collect himself. He finally said, “Had some things to take care of before leaving. Thanks for waiting for me, assholes! Did you even try to find me? Never mind. Shall we go, or would you rather just stand there gawking at me until dawn?”

Frank snickered. “Well, Charlie, aren’t you full of surprises. How did you get out of there?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” he said, glaring. “You’re on my shit list for leaving me, Mr. Creepy. All of you are. But I’ll forgive you this time.” Charlie walked off.

Frank shook his head, bemused, and then stopped as he was surprised by the mean-tempered little man yet again.

For a moment, he swore he smelled a hint of gasoline on his clothes.


Next Episode 21-1

Previous Episode 20-7


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“Chapter 20-8: Welcome Home” 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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