Chapter 23-8: Recruits

Posted: March 17, 2016 in Apocalypse, books, creative writing, drama, Free Online Novel, free zombie books, Horror, horror fiction, killing zombies, living dead, monsters, mystery, novels, serial novels, Survival, suspense, thriller, Uncategorized, walking dead, zombie books, Zombies
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~~~

The trip back through the forest was bitter-sweet. None of them would miss the barn, but now that their shack providing the illusion of safety was gone, they could feel the hungry eyes of this foreign and silent new world watching them closely, waiting for the right moment to snatch one of them away if they fell behind.

So far, Jonathan had offered no plan other than to get back to the four-wheelers and head north. He was silently considering making a run for Headquarters whether they were ready to receive them or not. He pulled out the pager for the hundredth time. There were still no messages. What if H.Q. is gone? he silently wondered. Jonathan refused to entertain the thought because if he was right, then they were in real trouble.

The recruits had distanced themselves from Megan and Lucas after Megan had caused a scene by putting down the dead woman. Since then, Jonathan had hardly spoken a word to any of them.

Megan, being made to feel like a whistle-blower, was the target of Violet’s threatening glares. She held her ground and stared right back, refusing to let the sick bitch bully her. Megan felt both angry and afraid, but chose to hide her fear. She could still hear Violet’s threatening words from back at the barn, “Get out, or you’re next!” Megan believed she meant it. If given another four to five days cooped up with Violet in that barn… Megan shook the thoughts away as she started seeing flashes of Lucas being tortured in that dreadful stall.

“Is everything… okay?” Lucas asked.

“Do you mean, ‘is everything okay with me’ or are you more concerned that I got you kicked out of the zombie club?” She regretted her harsh tone immediately. The last few days had been tense between them and now emotions were boiling over. “I’m … sorry,” she said.

“That’s alright. She may not have been a real woman, but shooting anything like that can mess with your head.”

Megan gave him a puzzled look. “Telling myself that I shot a zombie and not a living, breathing human being doesn’t make it any easier to handle. I blew her face off, Lucas. I can’t shake the image from my mind. It felt so… wrong. And then we just left it hanging there…”

“But it was already dead, babe. You just have to remember that these things aren’t people anymore and try to forget about it. That’s just the way of things now.”

Megan was getting irritated by Lucas’s inability to feel anything toward the dead woman. “Is that what you told yourself before you cut off that woman’s ear? Did you think that just because she wasn’t herself that you could act like a savage and it would be okay? When has it ever been ‘okay’ to act like that?”

Lucas felt like he just took a hard punch across the jaw. “Excuse me,” he told her coldly. “I need to talk to my brother and find out what the hell we’re doing next.” He stormed off before she could protest.

She stared after him, feeling her heart sink. Is this where we’re heading now? The longer this madness goes on, the farther apart we seem to get. Or have I just been wrong about the man I thought I knew all this time?

“I see our rides!” Dwayne declared, pointing through the trees. Finding the four-wheelers was a small boost in morale.

When they cleared the trees, Donovan was there to greet them. He was sitting on his quad, hoody up over his head and hands in his pocket. “Well… look who finally decided to show up,” he said with a smile.

“Where have you been?” Jonathan asked. “We started to believe the worst.”

“I’ve been… around,” Donovan responded cryptically. He hoped off the four-wheeler and did a quick head count. “Well done, Jonathan. You’ve kept them all alive.”

“We were attacked at your damn safe house,” Megan said, not at all happy to see the strange man again. “If we hadn’t had to wait around for you for four days, we might have avoided them altogether.”

Donovan ignored her outburst. “Where’s my zombie?” he asked, turning toward Jonathan with raised eyebrows.

Before he could respond, Lucas rescued him. “It tried to get Megan,” he lied. “We had just been attacked and everyone was on edge. So she put it down.”

Megan shot him a quick look and then remained silent.

Donovan considered his words for a moment. Finally he said, “That’s too bad.” He walked over to Violet, locked eyes with her, and said, “I’ll assume you all got enough out of the interrogation.”

Violet averted her eyes until he walked away.

“We haven’t heard anything from H.Q.,” Jonathan said. “Perhaps all their communications were lost, including the pager system. Regardless, we had to evacuate the barn, but we saved the supplies.”

Donovan walked over to the edge of the woods. “There never was a pager system. I grabbed that outdated thing from a dresser drawer at my place. I don’t even know if it works properly. I gave it some fresh batteries and added it to the supplies when I came through here on my way to your campsite on Thursday.”

Everyone was stunned.

“Let me get this straight,” Megan said. “You stopped by that old barn on Thursday just to stage a bogus pager with the supplies? I don’t get it.”

He ignored her. Donovan focused on Jonathan.

“So if you planted a bogus pager, then what have we been doing all this time?” Jonathan was deeply confused. “Are you saying we waited around for nothing?”

Donovan laughed. “Of course not! I was able to gleam quite a bit of insight into your group’s behaviors over the last few days… and all of it documented.” He then deliberately looked at the recruits and finished, “And I do mean… all.”

Simon and Dwayne looked to Violet.

She wisely remained silent.

Megan immediately thought of the notebooks she’d found along with the other supplies. “Let me see if I’m grasping this… are you trying to say that you’ve been observing us for the last four days?”

Donovan looked to Lucas and smiled. “She’s smart as a whip, but I can see why you find her so exhausting.”

“What?” Lucas got defensive. “I never said that! I don’t know what you’re talking-”

Donovan lifted his hand and continued. “It doesn’t matter.” He addressed them all, “Not that I’m required to offer any of you an explanation for my actions since my mission was well established prior to meeting up with you, but know that I’m being open and honest with you now so that you will understand that from here on out, I have nothing else up my sleeves. My mission is over. The experiment has run its course.”

“What the hell is he talking about, Jonathan?” Megan was getting upset. “I thought this was a fucking camping trip… what the hell is really going on?”

Jonathan sighed heavily. He was staring at his feet as the light went on inside his head… finally. “He’s talking about the safe house, Megan. What Donovan is saying, is that there never was a safe house.”

“‘Never was a safe house’? What does that mean?” Violet asked.

The others were equally astonished.

Jonathan looked to Donovan.

“Go ahead,” Donovan said. “Explain it to them.”

Jonathan looked defeated. He shook his head, disappointed with himself, and said, “It was all right there in front of my face. I should’ve seen it that first night when he told us about being chained to the damn tree. Hell, he practically pointed us to the obvious.”

“Go on,” Megan said, folding her arms.

Jonathan continued. “H.Q. knew the outbreak was coming… but what wasn’t known was how it would affect the population. So, Mother gave instructions to the cell founders, like Donovan, to stand back and observe the cells, providing that they themselves weren’t affected.” Jonathan looked to Donovan. “Am I right?”

Donovan said, “Mother instructed us to restrain ourselves and wait out the initial storm. If we were unaffected, phase two was to monitor the cell groups and document the results of the outbreak so that we might better understand the symptoms at the onset.”

“We were your fucking lab rats?” Megan was furious. “So, you could’ve done something to save Justin and Andrew, but your job was to stand back and watch them die instead. Is that it?”

“What happened to Andrew was unfortunate,” Donovan said. “I was still chained up when that occurred. I only became aware that something had happened when I heard you running through the woods. I barely got to you in time, Megan.”

She said nothing.

“As far as Justin, there was nothing anyone could do. He was chosen.”

“Chosen?” Lucas said. “That’s a chilling word choice to describe what happened to that kid. You make it sound like the outbreak deliberately selected him and not the rest of us.”

Donovan would not elaborate. “Phase Two was to monitor the control group for secondary signs and symptoms. So far, it seems that the rest of you, myself included, are immune to whatever happened on the first night. That seems to indicate that the outbreak was a one-time occurrence and not sporadic over time.”

“And Phase Three?” Violet asked.

Donovan smiled at her. “Monitor the cells under isolated conditions to evaluate the psychological effects, such as, sleep deprivation, prolonged stress, and fear, to name a few. Mother needs to know who will crack under the various pressures of being cut off from…well… everyone.”

“Are you saying that you brought us to that fucking barn… and then left us there… just to run an experiment?” Megan was furious.

Donovan looked to Jonathan. “Explain it to her.”

Jonathan was still shaking his head. “In the event that a cell group gets separated and loses contact with H.Q. during an outbreak, certain… protocols… have been established to test the loyalty, adaptability, and overall psychological condition of the group.”

Megan was shaking her head and staring at the others in disbelief. “Are you kidding me, people? Don’t you find something incredibly disturbing about all of this? What your boss is saying is that we’ve been misled this whole time! He threw us all together in that fucking monkey cage disguised as a barn, just to watch us crack, while he sat back and wrote down the test results.”

Donovan laughed. “Again… she’s quick. Well done. Perhaps there’s a potential recruit in you.”

“Fuck you!” she shouted. “I’m not your damn recruit, and I’m not your damn lab rat! Just tell me one thing… did you lead those zombies to the barn?”

Even Jonathan was staring at the hooded man now. “That is a good question.”

He looked at him and snapped, “Well, of course I led them there! Really, Jonathan, you are a disappointment at times.”

“How could you do that?!” Megan was stunned.

“Look,” Donovan said, losing patience. “Once again, the real point eludes all of you. You should all count yourselves fortunate. While a whole lot of people wound up dead on night number one, you all managed to stay alive for close to five days now. And… you survived a herd without losing anyone. You all should be very proud of what you’ve achieved so quickly. What you have learned through training has been put to the test… and you’ve come out victorious. Now you have confidence in yourselves and each other. Before that attack, you were lost, waiting for good old Donovan to come back and save your sorry asses from the apocalypse. But now you stand here as true survivors—recruits no longer. You’ve proven to me, and to each other, that you need no one. And that is how we will survive… together.”

The recruits gave each other high-fives and smiled. Even Jonathan and Lucas seemed pleased as they gave each other a brotherly nod.

Donovan laughed. “That’s right… enjoy the moment. You’ve certainly earned it. As for my experiment, you’ve all proven yourselves worthy of a place at H.Q. And regardless of my controversial methods, you’ve all completed the mission. Now, we go home.”

“You mean… to Mother?” Jonathan asked.

Donovan placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “Son, they’ve been waiting for us… Mother’s been waiting for all of you to pass the final exam. And now that you have, I can take you north, as per my original orders.”

Everyone except Megan was ecstatic at the news. They had proven themselves to Mother. Now she wanted her children to come home.

“You son-on-a-bitch,” Megan hissed, dampening the celebration. “You knew all this time… and you brought us out here anyway. I don’t know what kind of sick program you or your ‘Mother’ is running, but I want no part of it!”

Donovan frowned.

“Megan,” Lucas started, “maybe now’s not the time to argue about this. We need to go north… for the baby’s sake.”

She shot him an evil look.

“Is that true, Megan?” Jonathan asked, raising his voice and pretending to act surprised. “Are you pregnant?”

This caught everyone’s attention, as Jonathan intended.

She looked uncomfortable now that all eyes were on her. She nodded reluctantly. “And that’s why we’re going to the power plant. We need to get some real help and stop playing games in the woods.”

Donovan gave her a grave look and said, “I assure you, Megan, the games are over. What’s beyond these trees is no game. The world is sick and full of monsters which want to tear us apart. You haven’t seen anything yet.”

“I’ve seen enough!” she yelled. “I’ve seen how you treat the people who blindly follow you as you lead them into danger! We could’ve died in that barn!”

“And yet, here you stand. Seriously, do you think I would’ve let any real harm come to you if I thought my cell couldn’t handle it?”

“How the hell would I know?” she said.

“Let’s just leave them here,” Violet suggested. “They obviously don’t get it. If that dumb bitch wants to think that someone’s going to help them out, other than Mother, then let them find out.”

“Now wait a damn minute…” Lucas said, taking a step toward Violet.

Jonathan stopped him. “Easy, little brother. This solves nothing.”

“Enough!” Donovan said. “Megan, you’re free to go where you please. It’s not like we’re holding you prisoner.”

Jonathan gave him an uneasy look.

“You mean it?” Megan asked.

Donovan nodded. “Go… if that’s what you want. I can’t stop you. I’m done trying to convince you of the truth. He turned his back on her and told the others, “We should go. Jonathan, get them ready, we need to be elsewhere before dark.”

Jonathan nodded sadly. He held up, looking toward Lucas.

“Lucas,” Megan said, pulling him away, “you heard him. Now’s our chance to ditch these crazy assholes.”

“Megan… I…” Lucas didn’t know what to say.

She stopped. “Are you kidding me? You want to stay?”

Lucas looked at his brother.

Megan shook her head. “This is not about him, this is about us. Jonathan’s made his choice.”

“But… what if they’re right?”

Megan frowned. She was near tears. “You’re breaking my heart, Lucas. Have you already forgotten what they made you do? That’s not you. I’m afraid… I ‘m afraid of what they’ll turn you into. Or worse, what they’ll do to you when your brother isn’t looking. Violet’s already gunning for me after the barn. I don’t feel safe with them.”

Lucas was shaking his head.

“Do you still love me?” She placed her hands in front of her mouth, shocking herself with the question.

Lucas looked stricken. “Of course I do. How could you even ask that?”

“Then let’s leave… right now. You have a gun. We have the quad. We’ll find other people… other normal people. Please… just come with me.”

He had never seen so much pain and fear in her eyes. Lucas forced a smile and said, “Alright. I’m with you, babe. Just… please… stop looking at me like that. I can’t take it.”

She smiled and hugged him fiercely.

“Little brother,” Jonathan said. “We have to go. Why don’t you and Megan ride close to me today.”

Lucas turned and gave him a sad, faraway look. “We’re leaving, Jon. We’re going to try for the power plant.”

Jonathan was shaking his head. “Not a good idea, little brother. I get the logic, but we’re safer if we stick together now. You saw what happened at the barn.”

“We’re leaving, Jonathan,” Megan said. “For once in your life, do the right thing, and leave your brother out of this mess you’re tied in with.”

Jonathan wanted to strangle her. “Damn it, Megan! Please don’t do this. There’s only one safe place anymore for you, my brother… the baby-”

“Stop throwing the baby in my face!” she spat. “I know what’s best for my baby. And this isn’t it. You saw what they did to that poor woman! What they made Lucas do! Is that what you want for him?”

Jonathan hesitated. He looked away to collect his thoughts and met Donovan’s scrutinizing gaze. He motioned him over.

Jonathan turned back and said, “Just wait, Lucas. Let me work this out.” He walked over to Donovan.

Donovan leaned in close so only Jonathan could hear. “You need to try harder,” he warned. “Try harder, or this is going to become an unpleasant situation. You know your mission. The girl is coming with us and that’s the end of it… Make it happen or I will make it happen.”

Jonathan nodded. He returned to his brother and said, “Alright, I’ve talked it over with Donovan and we’ve come up with a compromise that he’s willing to accept.” He turned briefly to the hooded man who was smiling like the devil.

This ought to be good, Donovan thought.

Jonathan continued. “Come with us to H.Q. If you still don’t feel safe there, I’ll leave with the two of you. We’ll all get out together.” Telling that lie was the hardest thing he ever had to do.

Lucas was choked up. “You mean it? You’ll come with us?”

Jonathan smiled and said, “Absolutely. I’m not about to let the two of you go wandering off on your own in this God-forsaken world. You’re all the family I have left, little brother.”

Megan stepped forward. “I want your word, Jonathan. Right here, right now, in front of your precious recruits. If we go with you and decide to leave, I want you to promise that you’ll come with us and help us reach the power plant.”

Jonathan put on his best performance. “You have it, Megan. I promise I’ll see you both safely to the power plant,” he lied. “And if that’s not an option, we’ll find somewhere else—somewhere safe.”

Lucas turned to Megan. “What do you think? It sounds reasonable. I love you, babe, but I don’t want to leave my brother behind. You do understand, don’t you?”

She looked into Lucas’s pleading face. I know I’m going to regret this. She smiled and said, “Alright. We go. But the moment… and I mean the second things start going wrong… we leave. With or without your brother.”

Lucas nodded and kissed her. “Thank you,” he said. He turned to Jonathan. “We’ll go as far as H.Q. and give it a shot.”

Jonathan was relieved. “Okay then, let’s roll!”

They all quietly finished packing, sat on their four-wheelers, and then headed north along the trails.

In between the trails and the wilderness preserve mentioned on the flyers, the outbreak flooded populated areas like a large black wave which crashed down upon the living. Most never knew what hit them as their blood flowed freely upon the feasting tables of the dead.

~~~

Next Episode 23-9

Previous Episode 23-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 23-8: Recruits” Copyright © 2014, 2016 Scott Scherr. From the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Three: Recruits”.

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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Comments
  1. Zaca says:

    Lucas is a pussy. I still liked the fact that he chose Megan over the recruits though.

    Like

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