Chapter 28-4: The Den

Posted: May 26, 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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~~~

For the last two hours Tony and his four hunters crept up the bank of the river as it wound its way around and into the eastern half of the wilderness preserve. The moon had moved from one side of the evening sky into the other as they were beginning to lose its light. So far, the river had masked their movements from whatever remained lurking in the woods. With the exception of the river, the forest remained silent as if waiting for the perfect opportunity to devour them. They were all unsettled, but kept their focus on moving upstream.

Elongated shadows stretched across the forest floor on both sides of the river as the hunters scanned the dense trees for movement. They were all grateful that they’d stopped seeing the hunkered over dormant dead which were scattered all along the woods, first appearing like large rocks until they saw some of them up close. It gave them all chills to discover that the yellow-eyed ones were kneeling with their faces looking up toward the sky, as if they were praying to the night itself. They had tried not to think about what would happen if those demons had suddenly stopped praying.

Tony continued to stare off toward their right and into the dense trees for the luminescent glow of the domes he’d first seen as a prisoner in that strange camp. He knew they were getting close, but the camp remained just out of reach.

There was no warning when something big and silent slipped out of the shadows and sprinted past the hunter, Gorman, at the rear of their line.

Everyone turned around as they heard Gorman’s rifle fall to the ground. The old hunter stood up straight and made a strange gurgling sound as he staggered like the dead toward the river, gripping his throat with both hands. His hands were covered in blood.

“Gorman?” Michael whispered. He started to approach and then raised his rifle instead as he noticed Gorman’s bloody shirt.

The old hunter bled profusely as he stopped at the edge of the river, dropped to his knees, and then fell face first into the water.

A shadow sped away from behind a large rock near the dead hunter, disappearing within the blind spots of nearby trees.

“Shit!” Michael hissed. He tried to track the shadow but it had moved off too quickly. “Can anyone see it?”

They were all suddenly on high alert as guns aimed in all directions, but no one had a target.

“Where is it?” Chris asked nervously.

“It’s coming around!” Michael yelled. “Be ready for it!”

“Did you see what it did to Gorman? Christ! It came up right behind us without a sound!” Paul crouched down over a flat rock and tried to steady his scope.

“It’s the Shadow Dead! They’re fucking toying with us!” Chris shouted.

Tony was trying to watch his hunters and the woods at the same time. “Keep it together!” he hissed. “They’re trying to rattle us.”

“It’s working!” Michael barked.

Something struck a tree from the opposite direction.

Chris turned and started firing into the woods.

Something sprinted toward the closest hunter from back the other direction as Michael started firing. Whatever it was had ducked back behind the trees.

“You get him?” Paul asked, stepping up near Michael and covering his flank.

“No… it’s like the bastard expected it,” Michael responded. He asked over his shoulder toward Tony, “What kind of damn zombies act like this?”

Tony moved closer to Chris who’d finally stopped firing into the shadows. “Relax,” he whispered to the tense young hunter. “Don’t waste your ammo shooting at ghosts.”

Chris nodded and continued to scan the forest.

Tony became aware of something. He smiled and told the others, “It can’t be more than a couple of them or else they could just come out and overpower us…. so keep your heads clear.”

Paul and Michael nodded.

The woods became quiet again.

“It could be anywhere now,” Paul said. He was sweating profusely. “It’s using the river to hide its movements, just like we are.”

Tony looked up toward the moon. It was a few minutes from setting behind the trees. “We need to keep moving,” he said. “They’re just waiting for us to lose the light.”

Everyone agreed. They quickly decided to move in toward the trees to flush them out, while hoping they could lure them away from the river.

“Stay close,” Michael said, “but not too close. Pick a side and keep your eyes on it.”

They formed a tight square with guns facing outward in all four directions as they slowly moved together fifty yards into the woods.

The heard a loud splash from the river.

“It’s behind us!” Chris said.

“Be quiet!” Tony hissed. “Fucking misdirection. It’s probably right ahead of us.”

Suddenly, loud screams and moans assaulted them from the trees directly overhead.

“They’re coming down from the trees!” Paul yelled. Everyone raised their guns up while scattering away from their tight formation.

Something big stormed out of the trees to their left. It entered the moonlight with long pale limbs outstretched and long claws on each hand as it sped in between Michael and Paul.

Paul turned in time to see a hideous large skull for a head with glowing red eyes. The tall creature with long black tangles of hair and torn clothing which matched the color of the trees, opened its mouth challengingly as Paul lifted the rifle and aimed.

The creature suddenly dropped and rolled to the left as Paul fired, putting three rounds into Michael’s face. “Fuck!” he shouted as he tried to track the beast who was already up and low-crawling toward him with its clawed left hand retracted.

Paul managed to hit it in the shoulder as the creature fell back slightly but not before it reached upward and impaled the hunter on his clawed hand.

Chris started firing at the cow-skull beast. The beast used Paul as a shield as it got small behind the dead man and then pulled its hand free.

The move by Chris and the creature’s briefly stuck hand, allowed Tony the seconds he needed to come at it from the side and slam the crowbar down hard on the monster’s skulled head. Tony screamed like a savage as he shattered the monster’s skull with one huge blow, sending sharp bone fragments deep into the top of the creature’s head.

The lone Shadow Dead looked stunned for a moment, quickly turned toward Tony, and swung a sharp clawed hand toward him.

Tony dodged the swing… barely.

The creature grabbed Tony’s legs and pulled him to the ground. It was about to pounce on him.

Chris came at it with his handgun and emptied eight rounds at point blank range into the side of the monster’s large head.

The beast with red-devil eyes fell over and remained still.

Tony quickly rose to this feet, grabbed Paul’s rifle and joined Chris as they stood back to back, circling the dark woods for signs of the next creature.

The screaming from above suddenly stopped.

Tony stared into the grotesque face of the Shadow Dead and noticed its red eyes flicker from within deep sockets. It reminded him of blinking Christmas tree lights. And then the creature’s eyes went completely dark.

What the hell was that? Tony thought.

After a few minutes, they understood that this was the only attacker.

They cautiously walked up to the dead creature. After it had stopped moving, they both noticed something odd about it.

“Did you see its eyes?” Tony asked. “They just… went out.”

“It doesn’t look real,” Chris said. He gave Tony a wide-eyed look and finished, “It looks like an elaborate costume.”

Tony nodded. “Cover me,” he said. “If it twitches… fill it with holes.”

The young hunter raised his rifle.

Tony bent down above the monster’s cracked head. “This is not a skull… it’s some kind of fancy helmet or mask.”

“Its claws don’t look real either,” Chris said. “They look like modified medieval gloves… with knives for fingers!”

Tony stood up after examining the rest of it. “I think you have it right, Chris. This whole get-up looks like some kind of modified, light-weight body armor, covered with clothes and hair and whatever else these sick fucks could think up. He kicked at the broken skull helmet/mask until it fell apart… and found a man’s dark-painted, bloody face staring lifelessly up at him.

“What the fuck is this?” Chris whispered.

Tony could see the inside of the mask now. It was loaded with various wires and circuit boards and some kind of high-tech goggles surrounded the eyes. He suspected it was probably night vision with infrared capabilities, which might explain the reddish eyes. That’s how they move around so well in the dark, he thought. It’s all a big fucking farce… but why?

“Where are all the rest of them?” Chris asked nervously as he resumed scanning the dark forest.

“I don’t know,” Tony got up and checked the fallen hunters. They were all dead. “But if there had been any more… we’d all probably be dead right now.”

“They’re like some kind of fucked-up Zombie Special Forces… except they’re not zombies at all,” Chris observed. “Why would anyone pretend to be the dead? It’s fucking sick!”

Tony shook his head. He had no reasonable answer to offer. He looked toward the top of the trees to the east. Faint pre-dawn light was beginning to pierce the evening sky. “We can speculate later, Chris. Right now, we have to move.” He pointed to the east. “We’re running out of time.”

~~~

Meredith slowly opened her eyes to find Stephen grinning from ear to ear.

“Welcome back,” he said, and then added, “It is… you… right?”

She smiled and answered, “Yes, Stephen, it’s me.” She got up on her elbows, turned her head and saw the stone walls of the cavern lit up by their flashlights. She looked around and saw the hunter named Diane standing nervously near the tunnel entrance. Everyone else was gone. “How long?” she asked.

“You’ve been under for over two hours now.” He reached out his hand. “Can you stand?”

Meredith took Stephen’s hand and stood up groggily. “I could sleep for a hundred years,” she said.

Diane turned. “Is she able to move?”

“Let’s give her a minute,” Stephen said.

Meredith was troubled by the woman’s urgency. “What’s happened?”

“Tony and the others went up river after you collapsed,” Stephen explained. “We were supposed to be long gone by now but we decided to take a chance and wait until dawn. Neither of us liked the idea of trying to carry you out of here in the dark… too many unknowns in the woods at the moment. Not to mention the pool outside is full of those yellow-eyed monsters.”

“Meredith,” Diane said, coming over, “do you have any idea how long they’ll stay dormant?”

The older woman shook her head. “Sorry… but I really have no idea. It depends on how full they are.”

“Full?” Stephen asked.

“Yes,” Meredith frowned. “I satisfied their blood lust by flooding their minds with… death. These particular creatures feed on the blood… or in this case… the memories of the slain, and then their bodies shut down for a time to rebuild themselves after exerting so much energy. They think they are refueling¸ but I only gave them an illusion of a ‘full tank’ to trick them into going dormant. They’ll eventually have to heed to the hunger that drives them when their bodies are able to do so… I would estimate that it takes them several hours.”

They all got quiet as they heard the sound of gunfire coming from up the river to the east. It sounded faint, but it was clear that the others had run into trouble.

Diane said, “We need to move. It has to be close to dawn now. I say we push ahead and try to catch up to Tony. It sounds like they need our help. ”

“Shadow Dead?” Stephen asked.

Diane nodded. “It has to be.” She moved over to the tunnel entrance and shook her head in frustration. “Damn! I knew I should’ve gone with them!”

“I can walk,” Meredith said to Stephen. “Diane’s right. We should leave. If these things wake up I won’t be able to stop them again. It drained everything from me to shut them down.”

Stephen nodded. He turned to Diane who met his gaze.

The gunfire stopped.

“I’m sure they’re okay,” he said.

“Yeah.” Diane did not sound convinced. “Let’s get out of here. We can walk around the edge of the pool, hit the bank, and try to make up the time as the sun starts to rise.”

The others nodded in agreement as they started gathering their things.

They heard the sound of a bone pile toppling over from the back of the cavern.

Diane turned with her rifle aimed toward the sound. The back of the cave was buried in shadows. “Find some cover,” she whispered. “Hurry.”

Meredith and Stephen rushed behind a large rock sticking out of the wall. Diane moved over to join them. “Something’s in here with us.” The hunter picked up the closest flashlight and scanned the dark wall along the back of the cavern.

Stephen and Meredith had their handguns drawn.

“How did we miss that before?” Stephen said, pointing toward a large crack within the wall, wide enough to slip through.

“We didn’t,” Diane said, shining her light toward the crack. “That wasn’t there before.”

They couldn’t see anything within the opening. It was pitch black.

“A minor cave-in, maybe?” Stephen suggested. “It’s probably just a small gap in the wall.”

“It looks like a door,” Meredith said.

Stephen and Diane turned to her.

“I don’t sense anything dead in there… but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel that there’s definitely something wrong about this.”

“Agreed,” Diane said. “Be ready for anything.”

Suddenly, a bright white light shot out of the crack, momentarily blinding their dark-adjusted eyes.

Diane lifted a hand to shield her eyes as two large creatures with skull-heads and fire for eyes quickly slid through the crack and bolted toward her.

“Fuck!” she yelled as she blindly opened fire.

The first monster grabbed the barrel of her rifle with long metallic claws for hands as Diane’s shots went astray.

If she hadn’t let go of the gun and fallen backwards, the beast would’ve ripped her throat open as it swung wide, inches from her face.

Stephen and Meredith were firing at the hideous things, but the first one had already rolled to the left, while the other had slipped into a shadow off to the right. The one on the left had picked up a flashlight positioned on a rock, and thrown it toward Stephen and Meredith as it struck the wall over their hands and went out. They lost sight of the first creature as that side of the cavern turned dark.

Diane quickly reached behind her back and retrieved a handgun as she scanned the cave from the sitting position. Fuck! Where are they? She started firing in a wide arc, hoping to catch a glimpse of either creature in the brief muzzle flashes.

The first creature was slinking along the wall, trying to strike her from the side.

Meredith and Stephen were already firing at the other one which zigzagged toward them to throw off their aim.

The first creature charged at Diane, quickly closing the gap between them.

Four feet.

She fired four rounds into the beast’s chest.

Three feet.

She fired five more rounds.

Two feet.

Click… click… click…

Diane was screaming by the time the Shadow Dead lifted its clawed hands to finish her off.

From the opening in the tunnel entrance, the sound of automatic rifle fire resounded loudly throughout the cavern as the first beast’s skulled head fell apart. The Shadow Dead fell limp on top of Diane.

The second Shadow Dead turned just in time to see the big, shaggy-haired man moving directly toward it as Frank emptied his magazine into the second beast’s head.

When the gun ran dry, Frank swung the rifle across the side of the staggering creature’s head with a primal scream, knocking the beast to the ground. It did not move again.

“Ugly mother-fuckers!” he shouted.

Out of breath, Frank walked over to the first creature and kicked it off Diane. He reached out his hand to her. “You okay?”

Diane looked up into the former prisoner’s face with gratitude and took his hand.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” Stephen said. “You’re alive!”

“Nice to see you, too,” Frank said. He nodded to Meredith and frowned as he quickly reloaded his assault rifle. “I hate to be the rude prick, but I hope you have another way out of this hole.”

Meredith’s eyes went wide as she sensed them. “Oh, no!” she gasped. “They’re waking up!”

“That’s the fucking understatement of the year,” Frank said. He noticed the light coming out of the hole in the back of the cave. “That better be what I think it is,” he muttered to himself.

They heard the zombie mob climbing up toward the waterfall.

“Time to go,” he said, not waiting for any objections. He helped Stephen get Meredith toward the crack.

Diane already had her rifle and was walking backward toward the light, keeping her sights on the waterfall tunnel.

Stephen had just enough time to say, “The Shadow Dead came from in there.”

He nodded and stepped in front with his rifle at the ready. “Perfect… assholes behind us, assholes in front of us.” He called out to the hunter, “You ready for this?”

“No,” Diane said. “Just keep moving because these things sound fucking hungry!”

Frank stepped into the crack as the others followed him out of the cavern of darkness and into the unknown light.

~~~

Next Episode 29-1

Previous Episode 28-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 28-4: The Den” 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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