Chapter 32-1: Wasteland

Posted: September 14, 2016 in Apocalypse, books, contests, 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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wasteland4

~~~

April 25, 2013
10:05pm

Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by victors”. Konrad Adenauer – “History is the sum total of things that could have been avoided”. Then, of course, there’s “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” by George Santayana. I won’t leave out the good man, Martin Luther King, who said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history”. And lastly, my all-time favorite… “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice” by Mark Twain. I could go on… but what’s the point.

So where does that leave us now? Who will look back at these dark days and provide the inspirational proverbs, catchy idioms, and amusing anecdotes, teaching us about our flawed past as we once dove head first into the future with all the recklessness of a species who once behaved as though immortal?

I fear there may be little left of Man’s arrogance, and that the only words which may still be relevant now, and in the short future, might have been best prophesied by Jim Morrison – “This is the end, my only friend, the end…”

The great words of the dead… the words which held meaning… substance… have always echoed across the void until reaching those with ears to hear them and act. Then, once made manifest within the hearts and minds of a new generation, the dead became alive again… within us.

But what if the living have become ghosts roaming a dead world? What good are the great words then? Can the dead inspire the dead?

I can only offer this pointless idiom: Time will tell.

Speaking of history, I suppose that I’m obligated to keep at this written record. If, by chance, there is still such a thing as ‘the future of Mankind’, then it will be important to provide them with as much accurate information as possible about what happened when the old world came to an end and Man was dethroned.

Somehow, I have become our dysfunctional group’s historian. My, doesn’t that sound regal? Historian. I can appreciate the irony if nothing else: I used to teach from history books, and now, I am the sole person in charge of writing them. I could add a slant or two, make us look bigger in the eyes of our adversaries. Prepare a nice little propaganda package for future generations desiring to seek inspiration from our noble and courageous cause.

However, I think there’s already been enough falsehood written. So let me just kill a few fictions right now: There are no more heroes. There are no saints. There are no good people left in the world. Black and white are obsolete notions. There is only Us and Them… and we are not the victors.

It has been over six months since The Change occurred. Sometimes called The Madness, The Sickness… hell… pick any synonym you wish, it’s all bad. I still remember the exact day: October 10, 2012. And that’s about it for your history lesson on dates of relevance. Every day between then and now has been the same and is summed up by one exhausting and loathsome word: Survival.

Will we be here tomorrow? That question is no longer spoken out loud. It is the forbidden question which unravels the threads of faith, hope, love. It is the question that has long been the source of too many nightmares and too much grief.

We, the survivors of the new world, do not trouble ourselves any longer with questions about the future. “There is enough evil in one day to contend with”. (Yes, I’m quoting or paraphrasing again, but I believe that’s from The Bible.) Either way, it’s sound advice that we, as a community, adhere to… especially down here in the compound, which has protected us from the yellow-eyed devils and the devastating beast of winter that followed.

But this large grave beneath the ground also harms us in ways that neither the dead nor the cold could do. Down here, we are forced to deal with each other’s anger and despair, much like being forced to look into a mirror and finding nowhere to run from the grief which is reflected back at you. It has become… suffocating… insufferable at times.

I sometimes long for a quick and violent death from the monsters above. Down here, the monsters work much slower, stabbing you in the heart with memories of deceased loved ones and lives no longer salvageable. It is an emotional poison which has had all winter to fester and infect so many… so very many…

Some have chosen a third option. Too afraid to face the hungry beasts above, too afraid to face the pain which hungers below… they have taken their own lives.

Surviving our first winter together beneath the Wasteland has been extremely difficult…

~~~

…Stephen Eddington stopped writing, tossed his pen on top of the large book, and then leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh. He rubbed his tired eyes and looked around the control room.

The large broken monitors above the old console continued to broadcast their eternal silence above the many lifeless buttons which promised nothing but obsolete functionality. Stephen always imagined that this place was once alive and buzzing with activity as the minions of the mysteries group known as Mother sat back in these same chairs and… what… conducted surveillance on everyone and everything in the world?

Stephen suspected he would never know the answer because the ones who used to operate this place were either destroyed in the explosion above, that turned the sinister wilderness preserve into a mostly dead forest, or, they had simply moved on to some other remote location to observe the woes of Mankind.

He listened to the faint hum of unseen machinery that continued to operate faithfully behind the walls and beneath the floor, providing them with electricity, heat, air-conditioning, running potable water, and apparently some sort of air-recirculation system, all promoting the illusion of the old way of life with its creature comforts.

But all anyone had to do was remember what was topside and out beyond the Wasteland, as the preserve was now referred to as, and all thoughts of a normal life quickly disappeared. In its place, the common fear of death either by the hands of the elements or the unnatural beasts which hunted the blood of man… forever.

“Why the long face, my love?”

Stephen smiled and turned toward the familiar voice.

Nicole Howard, former dead girl returned to life only in Stephen’s mind, sat in one of the empty leather chairs behind him at the center of the dimly lit room.

She looked lovelier than ever with her long brown hair tied back into an elaborate braid, wearing a loose-fitting white blouse and comfortable jeans. She sat back with her hands behind her head, legs fully extended, her feet crossed as she waved one sandaled foot at him.

Stephen laughed. “You always look so damn relaxed. I envy you for that.”

“I’m with the man I love in a place of safety… why wouldn’t I be relaxed?” she teased.

He shook his head. Stephen had given up questioning the dead girl’s existence months ago when he’d burned Nicole’s diary and finally accepted her presence as real… or, in this case, as real as the rules of the known physical universe would allow. He no longer cared if Nicole was a product of his decaying mental faculties, a ghost, or the manifestation of his own guilt for murdering her. Once he’d accepted her completely all the rest became irrelevant. They loved each other as completely as their love allowed. And no one could restrain the boundaries of that love. Stephen believed he had become whole once he’d given in to whatever this was, and they were now a part of one another… period.

“I haven’t seen you all day,” Stephen said. “Where have you been hiding?”

Nicole laughed. It was their inside joke. “I’ve been around.” She stood up and walked over to the chair beside him and sat down. She looked at the big book and frowned. “You should take longer breaks away from that thing. You always end up reliving the pain from the past and it makes you… distant.”

“I know,” he admitted. “I wish I could approach this assignment with some kind of professional detachment, but it’s damn difficult for me.”

“And there’s no talking you out of doing it, is there?”

Stephen sighed. “Maybe one day… but not now. It’s important that everything gets documented. Just in case-”

“Just in case we all die tomorrow, right?”

Stephen rolled his eyes. “Well… I wouldn’t get that dramatic about it. But you never know. I just don’t want us all to be forgotten, and the hell we went through to get us here, when the world rights itself again.”

She smiled. “You said ‘when’ this time. Are you starting to believe we might survive after all?”

Stephen laughed. “It think it’s knowing that the winter is finally over and that we can start going topside again that’s starting to make me more optimistic.” He frowned. “This place… and I am grateful for it because it’s saved our lives… but this place is starting to feel more and more like a tomb.”

“Relax, my love. We won’t be down here much longer. Maybe then we could just leave, go our own way, find a nice quiet cabin somewhere and live out our days together.”

Stephen smiled. “That does sound… refreshing.”

Nicole gave him a hard look. “You look tired. Put that monstrous book away and get some sleep.”

“Soon,” he promised. “Just need to finish up.”

She gave him a questioning look.

Stephen laughed. “I mean it this time. Just another page or two and I’ll call it a night. It is night, right? Hard to tell down here.” He looked at his watch. 11:05pm.

When he looked back up, Nicole was gone.

“Always coming and going in dramatic fashion,” he told the empty control room. He laughed at himself and whispered, “Goodnight… my love.”

Stephen yawned and thought, Seems like no matter how much sleep I get, I’m always tired. Think I’m just getting used to being exhausted all the time.

Before resuming, Stephen looked at the only portion of the control console that Marcus had managed to partially fix. He turned the volume up on the complicated communication system long enough to hear the continual crunch of meaningless white noise.

They still couldn’t transmit over any of the channels on this large glorified CB radio system, but they could now listen outward toward the emptiness.

That’s the new voice of our dead world… static.

Stephen turned it back down. He cursed the day Marcus got it working just in time to hear the haunting words he’d first heard on the way to Fairport Harbor so long ago. The message from the so-called Ashtabula Survivors Group had all been a farce just for some sadistic madman to capture people, like what happened to Tony, and do unspeakable things to them. He received a chill just thinking about how close they came to falling prey to that very same message on their way toward the mountains. He wondered how many more deceptive broadcasts they might pick up, producing false hope of rescue while hiding the promise of death beneath. And now, Gina, Tony, Marcus… most of the few surviving members of his original group… were out there, trying to put an end to one lie, leaving him in charge of this volatile community. He silently prayed they would all make it back safely… and soon.

He picked up his pen, turned to a fresh page in the book, and started writing again…

~~~

…Nicole came by to see me this evening. She looked so lovely… no… radiant! She is the best thing that’s ever happened to me in this new terrifying life… or since my old terrifying life ended. She is my one ray of light in this gloomy dungeon and she always reminds me to not give up. She is the embodiment of everything I hope for after this long, long night is over. And one day… we will escape together and it doesn’t matter where we go as long as we have each other…

~~~

…Stephen stopped and let out a heavy sigh as he read the words. “It’s a damn shame that History will never remember us, Nicole. But it’s better off this way. No one would ever understand.”

He read the words once more and then ripped the page out of the book. He folded up the page and placed it in his pocket.

Stephen picked up the pen and stared at the exhausting blank page before him.

“Now what do I write about?” he wondered. “That was the best part.”

Stephen thought back to the beginning, as he often did when the words wouldn’t come or when present day events were either too depressing or monotonous. He believed the more he wrote about the same events, some overlooked detail would emerge and make it to the pages offering some merit in repeating the account.

He shook his head, took a deep breath, and labored on…

~~~

…It was one of the most tragic and celebratory days when Marcus Dempsey and Diane Conley returned with the rest of the Andover community. It was uplifting to discover that James Orosco had led the others to a safe place and that they were all still accounted for. However, it was heavy blow to our hearts to find out that Frank Carman had not survived the journey back.

The dead claimed our friend and we all cursed the sun for it.

Frank Carman, the man who had survived being a prisoner of the madman, Micom, and his murderous machine, Micolad… the man who had saved our lives countless times on our dark journey… had been caught off-guard by the ravenous dead and dragged away.

Gina Melborn, our leader, took the news the hardest, and blamed herself for allowing Frank to leave while he was still recovering from injuries. But Frank could not be dissuaded and would never allow anyone to count him out of anything, injured or not. Frank always did what he wanted to do, and often had you thinking it was your idea. But even knowing this, Gina couldn’t let it go.

Marcus took full responsibility and said it was his fault for going to retrieve water and leaving Frank alone. But Gina refused to let him take that burden. And she bore it silently.

What added salt to the wound was that we had no body to bury, and like so many others we had lost, we were forced to dig another empty grave for another meaningless death.

Meredith Montgomery, currently our prisoner, took it very hard. Gina refused to let her go topside to attend the funeral, when we still observed funerals, because she feared what Meredith might do with her ‘abilities’. Since moving into the compound, for whatever reason, Meredith’s powers have apparently been blocked. Meredith appeared very understanding, but I could tell she was hurt by Gina’s decision.

After the dust of Frank’s death had settled and the rest of our people became situated, Gina wasted no time as she started a campaign to train as many people as possible to fight, should the Shadow Dead return. She recruited Marcus, Tony and Diane to help her and they began taking small groups topside and training them in firearms familiarization and hand-to-hand combat.

After a couple of weeks, we were as combat ready as we were going to be. The compound armory was well-stocked with various weapons and now we had people marginally trained to use them.

Thankfully, the Shadow Dead never came back.

But that’s when the trouble started.

Our common fear of the impending attack initially united us. We had a goal. We had things to do… a battle to prepare for. But as the weeks wore on, and the enemy never came, complacency took over. And with the illusion of safety falling over the people like a thick fog, no one was prepared for the real war which overtook us.

With nothing left but time to wait, everyone became restless and started dwelling on everything and everyone they’d lost. The tension created by so much pent-up grief and anger, along with the close-quarters we were all confined to, birthed hostility.

And then came The Incident that changed everything.

After only a month beneath the ground, with the first signs of a harsh winter upon our doorstep, fights became common place as people turned on each other, letting loose their aggression on the first available target. Most conflicts were resolved, but one in particular became extremely violent resulting in the accidental stabbing of a young woman who stood in between two raging bulls in an attempt to stop the fight. The young woman’s injuries were beyond our doctor’s ability to heal and she died shortly after.

When Gina had returned to discover what had happened, she looked like she wanted to kill… everyone.

Tony Marcuchi, our second-in-command, quickly pulled her aside until she calmed down.

Afterwards, she arrested the two men, Jim Tyler and David Brannigan, and held them under guard until she could figure out what to do with them. She had called a meeting in the general living area (Cubicle City), the gymnasium-sized room where most of us attempted sleep when it was possible, to talk to everyone. I can’t recall the whole thing, but Gina had generally admonished the whole community for allowing their emotions to undermine the group while she was trying so hard to get everyone ready to fight the ‘real’ enemy.

What I will always remember are her final words of warning, which still give me chills to this day. She had said, ‘We can’t allow this kind of behavior… ever. We don’t need to do the monsters’ work for them by becoming monsters ourselves! Unacceptable! From now on, anyone who attacks another down here will be severely dealt with. I’ve half a mind to put these two beasts up against a tree for target practice after what they did to that poor girl!’

I remember the whole room became quiet after her veiled threat, which felt more like a promise. People began talking after that. Some said Gina had crossed the line with her comments while others praised her for her willingness to administer swift justice.

In the end, while everyone slept, Gina took Tyler and Brannigan topside, in the midst of our first winter storm. I was there to see her off, as requested.

When I asked where she was taking them, Gina only said, ‘They can’t stay here. I won’t harbor murderers.’

It was so cold that night, and darker than most evenings since the wintry sky had swallowed up the moon. I stood guard at the top of the hatch with two other men while we waited for the blizzard to pass.

An hour later, Gina had returned… alone.

When I asked about Tyler and Brannigan, she glared at me, and said, ‘They are no longer your concern. Justice has been served.’ She then told the three of us, ‘I expect all of you to forget what you witnessed tonight… are we clear?’

We all nodded.

Gina looked once more at me with a sad, faraway look in her eyes, and said, “Goodnight, Stephen.” Then she said no more.

By the next afternoon, word had spread throughout the community until everyone knew about Gina’s late night escorting of the two men (I never said anything, but the others on guard duty would not stay silent).

Gina told Tony that she had ‘banished’ them… and offered little more.

It was Orosco who had the hardest time accepting Tony’s brief explanation about the whereabouts of the two men when Gina refused to address questions about it.

Orosco had wanted to know what gave Gina the right to make such an important decision by herself, since those two men had first been with him in Andover. He’d also told Tony that he wasn’t interested in living under a dictatorship, especially with one who refused to be present and actually ‘lead’.

Bless Tony’s heart, he tried to defuse the situation. But Gina’s avoidance of the issue just made things worse.

And then there were whispers. Some had said that Gina never exiled those two men at all, and that she’d followed through with her threat and executed them in the darkness above, out in the Wastelands.

Orosco finally confronted her about it and asked, ‘Did you kill those two men?’

Gina, out of anger, had replied, ‘No… but I should have.’

It wasn’t long after that Orosco, and all who were dissatisfied with Gina’s leadership, which was a third of the community, decided to leave the Wasteland. They took weapons and other provisions with the intent of returning to the peninsula, south of Lake Pymatuning, before the storms made travelling impossible. Orosco told Tony that he intended to wait out the winter there and invited him to come and lead them. He even said that Gina could come too, providing she stepped down. Tony refused, of course, and wished them well. It really hurt us to lose Orosco. He was a very level-headed man who helped keep things together.

Gina had been so upset by the decision (again, she had been absent when Orosco made his move), but she was more upset with Tony who had let them take weapons and stores without consulting her. Gina came close to going after them, but Tony persuaded her to just let them go.

To this day, no one really knows what happened to those two men. But a growing faction of the community who are becoming restless with Gina’s authority, continue to spread falsehoods and assert that Gina murdered them.

Of all the things to survive the old world, rumors continue to cause damage by defaming good people like Gina, who try their best to keep us alive. I have heard many things mentioned, that under normal circumstances would make me laugh, but today… they are a source of constant worry.

Some have said that Gina took those men and hung them on the trees in the western woods. Others have said that she is in league with the Shadow Dead, and that she handed those men over to them to keep them from coming after us. And still others whisper that she simply put a silencer on her handgun and shot them dead in the back of their heads…

~~~

…Stephen stopped, leaned back in his chair with a heavy yawn, and then turned to his left to stare at the steel door, which once led into a long tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel there once was a cave hidden behind a waterfall. Since the explosion that laid waste to most of the wilderness preserve, including collapsing the tunnel on the other side of the door, Stephen had fallen asleep on many nights in the control room with nightmares of yellow-eyed monsters barging in through that door to finish him off. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one frequented by nightmares since most of the community avoided spending time in the control room, believing it to be haunted.

Some said that the relentless dead which were buried in the tunnel beyond the door were still there, slowly clawing their way through rock and rubble, looking for an opportunity to reach the door and finish them off. Others simply hated staring at the lifeless control panels, believing that if they stayed too long, the panels would come to life, and like Micolad, they might hear its insane laughter amplified through a speaker system pretending to lay dormant as the sleeping machines came to life to begin a new countdown clock to their destruction.

Stephen smiled at the absurdity of such thinking, but could not find fault with their fears. They had all learned the hard way that there were indeed, many strange things in this world determined to destroy them.

Other than their leadership council meetings and whoever was unfortunate enough to find it was their turn to keep watch and monitor the radio static, no one but Stephen spent any additional time in the control room. He liked the isolation it afforded him to write, and of course, to have time alone with Nicole.

Stephen turned around and glanced at three more doors, opposite the control panel, which led into three more hallways. The armory, pantry and a decent sized mess hall were behind those doors. The two hallways leading to the pantry and armory were always guarded by one of Logan’s men on rotating shifts.

When the mess hall wasn’t open for serving meals, various members of the community congregated there to read, socialize, conspire… There was an alternate access to the mess hall from another section of the compound, which made it easy for most people to avoid passing through the control room. But the pantry and armory could only be accessed through the control room and down two isolated hallways, which made these locations easy to secure.

Aside from those three doors, and the dreadful scary door into the collapsed tunnel, there was a long hallway to Stephen’s right that led into the hub of the community, which included a medical facility, small library, the main living quarters, and a public shower and restroom among other things.

Stephen was always amazed by size and thought that went into the planning of this underground facility, and he wondered just how many more places like this one that Mother had invested time and money building prior to the end of the known world.

How long? he thought. Just how long has this group known that the end was coming?

There were no answers for him from the ghosts which still resided here, only the steady hum of unknown machinery behind the walls and beneath the floor in an area of the compound that no one had yet been able to access. And there was still one lone door at the end of the main hallway that they were not able to breach, no matter what they tried. Short of attempting to blow it up and risk collapsing the roof over their heads, the large steel mystery door, which was always under guard, seemed impenetrable. There was no access panel on the door, like the one used by Meredith to gain entry into the compound. There was also no door knob or handle of any kind. If there was a way to access the door, the answer lay on the other side only.

Stephen yawned again. A reminder to hurry up and finish.

He picked up his pen and continued…

~~~

…After Orosco and the others left, Gina shifted her focus from training to recruitment, understanding that we did not have enough people any longer to effectively fight against the Shadow Dead.

Gina was obsessed with some Shadow Dead war that never came.

She started leading small groups north, beyond the Wasteland, to find as many survivors as possible and bring them back.

A little bit at a time, she found them hiding in remote houses, camped beneath bridges and on abandoned farms. Gina had found enough people before the winter storms sealed us in, bringing our numbers back up. What I found disheartening were the lack of children. Gina’s scouting parties never found a single child.

One group in particular, led by a self-proclaimed preacher named, Logan (he never told us his last name), caused quite a stir when Gina brought his group of twenty men back with her. They looked like a motorcycle gang.

Gina accepted the preacher and his people with open arms. And in return, Logan offered his men as ‘security’ for the compound.

This only complicated matters within the community as many viewed Gina’s decision to invite Logan’s people down here with us as her means of enforcing her brand of peace. It wasn’t official, but it felt like a form of ‘Martial Law’ had been put into effect. She made them her personal guard dogs, watching the compound with a continual presence, while she continued go topside and personally lead every away mission, as much as possible.

The crazy thing was that many of Logan’s people despised her and were simply waiting for Logan to say the word, and they would gladly take over.

But Logan wasn’t interested in power, and as far as appearances went, his loyalty was to Gina, which made Logan’s people begrudgingly follow her leadership.

~~~

Winter arrived in full force near the end of December. The snow fell on top of us like a caretaker’s shovel piling on the last of the earth to finish our interment. It had become far too cold to keep our watch topside any longer as we repositioned them at the bottom of the ladder leading up to the hatch door located at the other end of the compound. Hopefully, Gina’s Shadow Dead were as susceptible to the bitter cold as we were and would postpone their end of the war until spring. All things considering, no one believed those monsters had survived the blast created by Micolad. That is, no one except Gina who needed a war as much as we needed to grieve for our families.

We celebrated Christmas together in an attempt to promote unity and thankfulness and… what… normality?

Logan preached for the first time and told the story of Baby Jesus. Many appreciated his tender and compassionate words, including myself. Afterwards, he led us all in prayer for our loved ones… wherever they were. He was a tremendous blessing and an immediate boost to our morale.

We had a small Christmas dinner together, provided by the fully stocked pantry, another blessing, and we shared a rare moment of vulnerability as people opened up about their families and shared stories. There wasn’t a dry eye in the compound that night.

Gina attended but was very distant and chose to simply watch from the back of the room. But even she spared a moment for all those we’d lost or who were still missing as she wept and prayed alone until Tony came over and joined her.

Even then, she would not dare show weakness of any kind. In her mind, she wasn’t allowed to lower her guard for a moment, no matter how much we needed her to.

I personally found myself in these people that night. It hit me like no other time: This is my family now. And I’m not ashamed to say that I wept like a damn baby as I prayed for Claudette and said my goodbyes. In my heart I believed she had moved on to a better place… or at least… I hoped so.

Winter dominated above and the months dragged tediously on.

On a positive note: Logan was a big help in keeping the majority of the community’s spirits up as he continued to hold services every Sunday, just like the old days.

But there were a few who found him offensive, speaking so boldly about God while serving as Gina’s hired muscle to keep their antisocial opinions to themselves. And then there was the matter of Logan’s previous life. He was once a Neo-Nazi extremist, as all the hateful tattoos branded across his body confirmed. But Logan never denied any of it, or used his past to try to intimidate anyone. Instead, he used it to show them what an awful man he used to be before Jesus saved him.

Instead of turning on each other, like before, some simply took their frustrations out on the leadership as they whispered their discontent to each other, keeping the flames of hatred alive.

They blamed Gina for bringing the hate-crimes leader into their fold. They blamed her for his God-talk. The blamed her for Logan’s Gestapo police force. They quietly accused her of harboring fugitives who were in allegiance with Mother and who practiced witchcraft in the clinic where Meredith spent most of her time under what could be called ‘house-arrest’. They accused her for unsafe practices by keeping Megan alive and locked up in the clinic, a known zombie which would love nothing more than to get loose and start eating members of the community while they slept.

And of course, they still spoke out against her murder of the two men who had accidentally killed a young woman who no one remembered anymore. All they cared about was their hate.

To make matters worse, by the end of January, four people had taken their own lives. Suicide had become preferable to slowly dying in the tomb beneath the Wasteland.

Gina, although forced to live among us, refrained from public announcements, choosing to let men like Logan and Tony do the speaking for her.

She could find nothing comforting to say about the suicides and believed that people who chose to give up were not worth another moment. These are the types of things she spoke to us in confidence that she could not express to the community… not without fanning the flames of anger further.

It was Tony who shouldered the burden of speaking publicly about their hardships while waiting out the winter, promising that things would get better once the thaw came and they could go topside again. Meanwhile, he did all he could behind the scenes to keep Gina from caving to her anger at the criticism she continually received behind her back…

~~~

…Stephen closed the book and then stood up and stretched, feeling the bulge of his holstered handgun digging into his side. He hated carrying one but Gina insisted that everyone in her small circle of leadership always carry one. To date, he was last in the chain of command, following Gina, Tony, Marcus and Diane, but he wasn’t offended. In fact, Stephen felt humbled to even be included in the chain, believing that there were more qualified people who could fill his position. But Gina had insisted, reminding him time and time again, that it took more than being an able fighter to lead and she felt that Stephen was one of the most level-headed and liked people in the community. She’d told him that he was an easy choice.

Other than the elite five, the only other members of the community allowed to carry weapons were Logan’s men, who were in charge of all security matters. This was one of many decisions Gina had made that was met with criticism and suspicion. Even Tony believed that Gina was far too trusting of Logan and his men, but Gina would not change her mind.

Stephen tucked his history book under his arm and checked on the sentries at the armory and the pantry and then started down the main hall to finish his rounds and wake his relief.

At the end of the long hallway, he found an older man with long grey hair tied back in a ponytail sitting in a fold-up metal chair with his head leaning against the mystery door. His assault rifle was propped up in the corner as the man continued to give away his position with loud snoring.

Stephen shook his head and smiled at the older man. Well… none of us are security experts I suppose. He knew this man. His name was Barney and they had occasional played chess together in their down time.

Most of Logan’s men didn’t care much for anyone outside their group, especially Gina and her people. Although Logan claimed to be one of Gina’s faithful supporters, his men were not. They answered only to Logan.

They only tolerated Stephen’s presence for as long as required, since they failed to understand why Gina would put a history teacher in a command position. But Barney was the exception. He was an equal-opportunity curmudgeon who would bitch and moan to anyone that would listen.

Stephen opened his big book and slammed it back shut causing Barney to nearly fall out of his chair as he reached for his rifle in the opposite corner beside the door.

Stephen grabbed the rifle from the other corner and held it out to him. “Looking for this, Barney?” he said with a laugh.

Barney rubbed sleep out of his eyes and huffed, “I was awake, damn it! No need to be a bugger about it!” He grabbed the rifle and put it back in the corner.

“It’s alright, old man,” Stephen said. “Your secret’s safe with me. Besides, if something had come through that door, it would’ve knocked you right over on your ass first and probably tripped all over you.”

Barney finally cracked a smile. “You got jokes… alright then. It’s not like I’m getting paid for this shit anyway.”

Stephen smiled. “Maybe you should start a union?”

“Maybe you should go fuck yourself before I shove that big book up your ass.”

Stephen raised his hands. “I surrender! I’ll let you get back to… whatever it was you were doing.” He winked.

“Bah!” Barney said and waved him off.

Stephen laughed as he turned right toward the clinic.

“Hey! Almost forgot what day it was,” Barney said. “You coming to the service tomorrow?”

Stephen forgot as well. He turned back and said, “I’ll be there. Was never much for church before, but there are so very few distractions these days. Besides, that man can talk.”

“Amen to that,” Barney said. “He’s a natural-born preacher, he is.”

Stephen smiled. “Goodnight, Barney.”

“Yeah… yeah… night.” Barney was already repositioning his head against the door.

Stephen shook his head. I have to find that man a new job. Maybe he could guard the extra pillows in storage. Of course, sleeping on duty or not, if push came to shove, Stephen had no doubts that the old man could use his rifle. And that’s what matters in Gina’s War against the enemies mounting in our leader’s dread-filled imagination.

“Better safe than sorry,” Stephen reminded himself, feeling bad for silently mocking her.

Again, it had been a long, long winter.

~~~

Next Episode 32-2

Previous Episode 31-5

~~~

Don’t forget, a new episode of After The Dark, my DFTD talk show, will resume on Thursday this week because I will be out of town this weekend. Special Guest Tony Marcuchi will be joining us.

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 32-1: Wasteland” Copyright © 2016 Scott Scherr. All Rights Reserved.

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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