Chapter 27-2: The Stand

Posted: May 12, 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 night dragged on forever as eight exhausted souls waited and watched the streets below for any signs of activity. Tony had them rotate in shifts, four at a time to watch all sides of the building while the other four managed whatever rest they could, sitting around the roof access door. Sleep was far from everyone’s reach.

The bonfires below were slowly dying. Tony suspected that the Shadow Dead were waiting for the lights to go out and then they would come when everyone was the most tired and capable of making mistakes, such as failing to spot the enemy slip into the diner. For all he knew, they were already downstairs. He’d decided to let the fires burn as long as they could rather than risk anyone’s life going below to keep them burning. He knew their enemy was cunning and stealthy. Their only advantage was staying together and trying to wait them out. But the waiting was slowly wearing them out.

He stood up from near the access door and walked the roof perimeter for the hundredth time—anything was better than sitting still. Sitting still meant worrying about Gina out there… and that was something he could not afford to do right now. He needed to stay sharp and focused. If and when the Shadow Dead struck, it would be fast and deadly.

Tony relieved Diane from her perch near the side of the diner which overlooked the tall office building across the way. Its dark form dominated the north end of town, inviting the imagination to wonder what madness lurked within its womb. The building was large enough to hide an entire army of monsters which could have easily slipped into town from the woods behind the tall structure. And of course, there were already dark secrets lurking inside that building, secrets which Gina was not yet able to talk with him about.

What happened in there, Gina? What did you do to make you so desperate to get away?

These were questions that he needed answered because the answers were what made Gina keep him at a distance.

“Am I interrupting anything?” Meredith asked, stepping up from behind him.

Tony smiled at the older woman. “No… of course not. I’d appreciate the company. Are you okay?”

Meredith looked at the dark building and shivered. “Considering that we’re still here to talk about it, I’d say we’re doing better than ‘okay’ at the moment. How are you holding up?”

“I’m managing,” he said. “Part of me wishes that these things would go ahead and attack already. The waiting only makes the anticipation ten times worse. Know what I mean?”

“Yes, I do.” Meredith looked beyond the buildings below and asked, “Has Gina spoken with you about me… specifically, about what I can do?”

Tony nodded. “She told me that you can… sense… when the dead are close by and that it takes an incredible toll on you.”

Meredith smiled. “I think she was being very generic in her description on purpose. She probably didn’t want you or Sam to toss me out of your camp.”

“Why would we do that?” he asked. “I’ll admit, it seemed strange listening to her describe some of the things you did. But I have to tell you, I was probably one of the last to find out what was happening out here. By the time I saw my first zombie, I was running for my life with little time to process anything. I’ve since seen all sorts of things that made my brain want to explode. In light of all this, believing in what you can do no longer seems like such a stretch.”

Meredith laughed. “Well that’s comforting to hear. The last place we were at, I was treated like a witch and told to leave because I frightened people.”

Tony shook his head. “You don’t have to worry about me. Doesn’t matter if you’re capable of doing the things Gina described. The fact that she thinks so highly of you is enough for me.”

Meredith looked relieved and smiled. “You know, I was there when Gina first arrived at the power plant. She looked so lost and afraid after just hiking in from the beach. I could tell she was trying to stay strong and hold on… but she was hurting. After a while, we warmed up to each other and she told me all about you. She thought you were gone and we comforted one another. I had lost my Hannah… and Gina was a great help to me.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Tony said. He shook his head as a lump formed in his throat. “I… I should’ve been there for her… but I wasn’t paying attention and got carried away with the party we were attending. They drugged us… at least I think that’s what happened. It’s still a bit foggy. All I know is that I ended up wandering around in the dark, got hit by a car, and then picked up by a maniac who locked me in a basement. I came to find out later that the world had gone insane that very night and when I finally escaped… Gina seemed so far away. I didn’t even know how to get back to her or where she might have gone. But I refused to believe she was dead… I couldn’t.”

“And now you’ve found each other out here,” Meredith said. “Like it was meant to be.”

“Yeah,” Tony said half-heartedly and looked back out into the night. “We found each other just to find out that all this darkness stole something from us… something vital. Gina’s not the same anymore. Neither am I. And now she’s out there facing God-knows-what, and she didn’t even come to me about it. I would have gone with her… but these people… I couldn’t just leave, not after what happened to Sam.”

Meredith placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder. He immediately tensed up. “You are a good man, Tony. That’s why you’re still here. I can see why she cares so much about you. Everything will work out. She just needs time… you both do. Sometimes more faith is required from one, when the other is unable to hold on to it. So you just keep the fire alive, Tony, and when she’s able, Gina will come back to you.” Meredith stared out into the night and finished, “I believe she’s trying to save the pregnant girl because she believes she’ll be able to save herself, too. And maybe she just couldn’t involve you in that because she loves you too much.”

Tony looked gratefully at the older woman. “Thank you. If we survive the night, I’ll take your advice to heart and try to be more patient.”

Meredith nodded. “That’s a hard one for all of us.” She then said, “For what it’s worth, in regards to surviving the night, I… opened myself up to the dead again a little while ago. Just a crack in the door, mind you, but I tried to find out if I could sense your Shadow Dead in the area… and I got nothing.”

“And that’s a good thing, right?”

The older woman frowned. “I would love to tell you that the Shadow Dead are nowhere around… but they’re new to me, which means they might be able to hide themselves from my ability to find them… and, I don’t know what to look for.”

“In other words, we’re back to square one.”

“Yes and no,” she clarified. “If they’re split up or traveling in a small group, I might not know it at all. I do believe that if they were advancing toward us in numbers, I’d still be able to sense something.”

Tony laughed. “What you do doesn’t seem like a lot of fun.”

“Now who’s the psychic?” she kidded. “I just wanted to tell you that it’s possible I don’t sense them because they’re not here at all.”

“But you’re telling me that I shouldn’t count on it, right?”

“Yes… unfortunately,” she said.

Tony nodded. “Okay. I do appreciate the heads up though. I guess we’ll find out one way or the other by dawn.”

Meredith laughed at the man’s ease in accepting her words. “And that’s it? You have no more questions about ‘it’?”

“Like I said, Meredith, Gina thinks the world of you. That’s enough for me. If she says you can do the things you do… well, then I believe it.”

“And it doesn’t frighten you?”

Tony turned. “I saw a woman chained to a bed with insane yellow eyes. She was eating my friend. The maniac who was holding us prisoner, he had these crazy silver eyes. Now that scene still gives me nightmares to this day. I’ll take a little witchcraft over that, any day of the week.” He gave her a sly smile and a wink.

She smiled. “Thank you, Tony. I’m used to being bombarded with a thousand questions and stared at suspiciously when my back is turned. You just made sharing really easy.”

“Well, I’m glad I could put you at ease. Could I ask you something unrelated?”

“Please do.”

“This Frank Carman guy… is he really a criminal?”

“He was,” Meredith said, “but not any longer. If you’re worried about him being alone with Gina, you should be thankful he’s with her instead. Frank will do whatever it takes to keep her safe… we all would.”

“Thank you for that. I’m glad she’s not alone out there… and that she’s with someone she can trust.”

“May I trust you with something, Tony?”

“Yes.”

She reached into her pocket and pulled out Gina’s letter. “In case we’re separated by whatever happens next, I want to make sure I keep a promise I made. When Gina gave me this to give to you, I got the impression that she didn’t want you to have it right away. Now that I understand what she’s doing and where she’s headed, I think this was intended for you only if she didn’t make it back.”

“She wrote that… for me?”

She continued. “I think Gina believed we would be far from here by the time her mission failed or succeeded and not in our present situation. In light of what may be coming, I don’t think she’d mind if you read it early. But that’s entirely up to you.” She handed him the letter. “Just know that there are probably words mentioned in there that might be better received when you see her again.”

Tony took the letter and stared at it. He finally said, “I understand. These are her final words.”

“That’s what I believe the letter is, Tony.”

He nodded and then quickly placed the letter in his pocket to avoid tearing it open immediately. He looked at Meredith and said, “Thank you for trusting me with this. I’ll ask her about it myself when I see her again.” He smiled.

Meredith smiled back. “That sounds like faith talking, Tony.”

“It is. I didn’t believe she was still alive all this time to finally find her and then settle for words on a piece of paper. The letter can wait.”

“Yes… I believe you are right.” She started to turn. “I’ll leave you to your watch now.”

And then he remembered another matter, “Hey, what happened to your other friend? Marcus… was it?

She turned back and gave him a mischievous smile. “Like I said before, any of us would be out there with her right now if we could. I strongly suspect that Marcus went after Gina the moment he found out about her plan.”

“I was wondering what happened to him. He just disappeared after all the chaos in town earlier. Do you really believe he went after them alone and in the dark?”

Meredith smiled. “Sometimes I think Marcus is Gina’s guardian angel. He’s saved her life on several occasions. I believe that once he found out where she went, Marcus didn’t hesitate. He packed his bags and headed out after her.”

“But what about running into the Shadow Dead? How could he escape them?”

Meredith nodded with confidence. “If they’re out there, and if anyone can slip past those monsters undetected, it would be Marcus. I wouldn’t be surprised…

~~~

…if the three of them are already together again.”

After Orosco had announced in the diner that Gina and Frank had departed, Tony was not the only one upset by the news. At the first opportunity, Marcus had pulled Orosco aside and discovered exactly which route they took out of town. He’d gone back into the diner and upstairs, carefully avoiding the room with the dead woman in it, and quickly packed a small backpack, pulling items from their group’s supplies, and then he had slipped out the kitchen door and never looked back.

Marcus was heading north through the woods outside of Andover when the sun went down. The darkness quickly surrounded him as he had stopped long enough to retrieve an item from his backpack. He had turned on the night vision goggles they’d acquired from the ammo shop in Painesville, adjusted the lenses and placed them over his head and eyes. The forest became a dull, fuzzy green image all around him as the sophisticated gadget pulled in whatever surrounding ambient light was available to give him eyes in the darkness. If the moon had been available, he would not have needed them, but the goggles would suffice. He’d quickly reestablished his bearings and continued north through the woods until finally reaching the road Gina and Frank had used.

Marcus had pushed ahead for several hours, using the night vision to periodically monitor the woods on either side of the road. That was how he eventually found their small camp fire as the goggles momentarily became brighter, drawing in light from their fire.

He had approached the fire cautiously and quietly, hoping he had found them and also not wanting to startle them if he did.

When Marcus was within range of their voices, he had decided to stop within the shadow of a large tree, intrigued by their present conversation:

“…Should the first and second ruse fail, and those bastards are convinced we’re either going to break or accept death, that’s when you hold out the most, refuse to tell them the rest, because that’s the only way they’ll believe the last ruse is the truth. They need to believe that the lie you’re saving for last is what you believe is the only thing that really matters… more than dying. You wait for that absolute last moment, when they’ve given up trying to bleed it out of you, and that’s when you tell them what we talked about. When it looks like you’ve chosen to reveal it on your terms, at just the right moment, they’ll have to believe it and decide if killing you will only hurt them. And that’s the only real weapon you’ll have to save your life among these monsters who play games. It’s what you say and when you say it… that will save you. And whatever you do… never tell them about Megan. Never tell them the truth,” Frank said.

“I… I understand,” Gina responded.

Marcus listened intently as they continued to discuss an elaborate and risky plan to deceive their captors after walking into this strange camp in the wilderness and turning themselves in.

They are planning on facing these Masters of Death head on, he marveled in thought. It’s a foolish, and yet, very noble mission. They are preparing each other to accept its possibility… and then to move beyond the eyes of Death, and place their true cause far from her sight.

Marcus continued to feed upon their conversation, until he was caught up to speed on the entire nature of the three-part ruse to hide the truth. That’s when he understood the nature of his own mission and decided he could serve their plan better by not revealing himself.

After Frank and Gina finished discussing the philosophy behind their plan, and they began to rehearse their roles, Marcus quietly slipped away from their fire to wait out the morning. He was well aware, as were Gina and Frank, that they might both die horribly trying to succeed with their mission… and he envied them for this.

If they succeed in facing you in such an admirable way, my Lady… they will have earned your respect. Gina, I have sorely underestimated your limitations… and you have far exceeded my expectations this night.

He would not join them to face the enemy head-on in the morning. That was their hand to play. Marcus would become the wild-card, should all their ruses fail them, and he would catch these Masters of Death by surprise while their focus remained entirely on Frank and Gina.

Marcus smiled in the darkness, understanding that everything up to now had been in preparation for this moment.

Perhaps after tomorrow, we will all be found worthy at last.

~~~

He felt a hand shake his arm. Tony came awake with a start, reaching for his crowbar and stopping when he looked up into the worried face of Diane.

“Tony, it’s me. We have a problem,” she said.

Tony stood up slowly from where he’d fallen asleep in the sitting position near the access door. “How… how long was I out?”

Diane ignored the question and led him over to the closest roof edge. She pointed down toward the bonfire. It had gone out. “There’s only one left that’s still smoldering. I’d give it another thirty minutes before that one’s gone, too.”

“Shit,” he hissed and turned toward the others. “Alright, everyone, I know you’re tired but we have to pull it together now. The fires are out. If those bastards are coming, it’s going to be now.” He looked for Meredith.

She was already stepping toward him. “No, Tony. I still sense nothing.”

He nodded. “Stay sharp, people. This isn’t over yet.”

All his hunters were up, aiming rifles down toward the streets. But the new problem was that they could see nothing below.

Fuck! If they come now, we won’t even get any clear shots from up here. They’ll storm the access door until we’re overwhelmed!

“Can anyone see or hear anything down there?” he asked.

He was answered by several nervous head shakes.

“Alright, keep trying,” he ordered, as he started pacing the roof.

Stephen had an ear to the access door. “I don’t hear anything down there.”

“That’s good,” Tony said. “Just keep listening, Stephen. Let us know the moment you hear anything… anything at all.”

Stephen nodded.

Tony went back to the roof edge which faced the office building. He strained his eyes against the night, trying to see if anything was moving from there. He could see nothing.

Diane was scanning the streets with her hunting rifle to Tony’s left, but she could make out nothing in her scope. “It’s too damn dark down there,” she said, the frustration clearly heard in her voice.

“Just keep trying,” Tony said. He turned back toward the center of the roof. Not knowing what else to do, he unconsciously pulled out Gina’s letter. If this is it, then I need to know.

He turned on his flashlight and cupped it over the letter as he knelt down. He stared at the folded piece of paper with his name on it and was about to open it.

“Look!” one of the hunters cried out.

Tony turned and fell on his ass.

The hunter who yelled was pointing toward the eastern sky. Just above the wood line was a reddish pink hue which illuminated the lower portion of the clouds.

The others were starting to get excited.

“Tony,” Diane said, “tell me that’s not an illusion? Is that what I think it is?”

He gave her a big smile, nodded, and then started to laugh.

Diane’s face lit up.

“We made it!” Stephen said from behind him. “That’s the most gorgeous sunrise I’ve ever seen!” He walked up to Meredith and gave her a big hug.

As the sun started gaining elevation, more of the clouds were set on fire as morning twilight started chasing off the darkness.

Tony and Meredith exchanged a look as he lifted up the note towards her and then put it back in his pocket.

She nodded and let out a giddy laugh.

For once, there were no monsters hiding in the darkness waiting to destroy them. Samantha had been wrong and the Shadow Dead were not coming. They had survived the long night without incident in a world full of predators which preyed upon the living… but not this morning.

While the others continued to shake off the tension of the night, Tony suddenly had a sobering thought: If it wasn’t the Shadow Dead… then who murdered Sam and Phillip?

This was a troubling mystery that needed solving. But for now, Tony got up and joined his exhausted but celebrating fighters and silently thanked God for the lucky break.

~~~

From the third floor office building window, he sat in his chair, staring through binoculars at their foolish celebration on the diner rooftop. Charlie did not share in their amusement. He was clearly the joke.

He angrily tossed the binos on a nearby desk, then stood up and started pacing.

“It was that fucking witch!” he shouted into the dark. “I don’t know how she sensed them… the factory was far enough away to avoid her notice… but somehow, she knew! How? HOW DID SHE FUCKING KNOW WHAT I WAS PLANNING?!”

Charlie sat back down and tried to calm himself. He had returned before sunset last night to finalize his attack route on the town only to discover that his targets were all up in arms and scrambling about. Something had happened. The big man seemed to be the center of attention as he had barked orders while the others had quickly prepared to depart the town. Frantically, Charlie had tried to locate Gina, but failed to find her.

Where the fuck did she go?

Charlie had located all the others, except for Frank and Gina. And then they’d split up. The bulk of the community had fled south out of town while eight of them had stayed behind to defend the diner.

But why?

Charlie had been so vexed that he’d stayed near the window all night long trying to identify what he’d done wrong to tip them off about his scheduled late night attack.

He took a deep breath, sat back down, and leaned back in his chair. “Relax, Charlie-boy. Patience. You’ll get them sooner or later. All the witch knows is that they were nearby. She has no idea who is controlling them. That’s one damn thing she can’t fucking sense. She can’t tell them what old Charlie-boy’s planning. They’ll obviously leave now and catch up to the others. And when they do, you can take the town and add to your numbers by wandering down by that nice big lake which reeks of death. The place practically draws them like flies to shit. Eventually, not even Meredith’s abilities will matter because my army will simply overwhelm them… wherever they’re hiding.”

He’d considered attacking the diner last night anyway, just to kill Meredith, but he had bigger fish to fry. He wanted Gina and he needed these fools to lead the way.

“And after I find her, nothing is going to stop me from slaughtering every last one of them… except her. No, definitely not her…”

He smiled and picked up the binoculars. Charlie continued to patiently observe, waiting for them to vacate the town.

~~~

Next Episode 27-3

Previous Episode 27-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 27-2: The Stand” 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:

    This is gonna be really fun. Charlie vs. Gina’s group vs. Mother.

    Like

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