Chapter 34-6: Secrets

Posted: November 18, 2016 in Apocalypse, books, creative writing, drama, Free Online Novel, free zombie books, Horror, horror fiction, Interviews/Reviews, killing zombies, living dead, monsters, mystery, novels, serial novels, Survival, suspense, thriller, Uncategorized, walking dead, zombie books, Zombies
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night-storm

~~~

“This is so very fucking stupid and reckless!”

Diane’s last words to him echoed in his head like an omen. Nine continued to walk deeper into the forest, trying to pretend that he was unaware of the yellow-eyed beast’s presence just a hundred feet off to his left. The creature was using the trees as cover, inching closer and closer to its intended prey.

When the hell did these things get so damn smart? he wondered. She’s supposed to charge right for me like Tony on meth… not act all ninja-like with all this lurking crap.

Nine dared another glance over his left shoulder, just long enough to spot Helen’s shadow creeping toward him. “I think she’s right,” he mumbled to himself. “‘Stupid and reckless’, but with a light sprinkling of heroism if this actually works.”

Helen had closed the gap between them. She would attack at any moment.

Nine stared directly ahead, rehearsing his numbered steps in his head.

It was Diane who had discovered that they were being followed after Tony departed and they’d headed back downstream to figure out what to do next. She almost missed her tracks… almost. By the time they’d finished deliberately circling the area, Diane had located the bad man’s dead wife. At first, it seemed content to watch them from deeper in the woods, as if it were waiting for something.

That’s when Nine had opened his big mouth and whispered, “We can save them both if we catch this thing.”

Diane had given him ‘the look’.

“I mean it. We capture Helen, threaten to shoot his zombie lover’s brains out, and then arrange a prisoner exchange.”

“A fucking what?”

“You know… a prisoner exchange… like what they do in all those cheesy action flicks when-”

“Nine.”

“Yes, my angel.”

“Shut up.”

From there, he’d actually talked her into attempting it… and now… he was the bait.

Think I got the short straw on this one. Nine was about to glance back once more.

The brush suddenly came alive behind him as Helen charged.

Nine sprinted through the trees like his ass had just caught fire.

Diane had gone ahead and circled around behind the creature, allowing her time to prepare her part of Nine’s foolhardy plan. They’d decided on setting the trap in between two tall trees they’d spotted on their first trip around the area. The two trees had bowed toward each other near their tops, seeming to join in what looked like an arch. They’d both agreed that it was easy to spot from a distance. All Nine had to do was circle around and lead the beast between them.

Nine counted his steps as he ran.

One, two, three! He sidestepped left just in time to avoid Helen’s swing.

…Five, six, seven! He ducked to the right and then back to the left causing Helen to run into a tree.

He continued to count his manic strides, reacting to various numbers as if they somehow afforded him mathematical hindsight as he avoided being cornered by the surprisingly fast dead woman several times.

Nine could see the arch. Come on, Diane. I can’t keep this up. Please be ready!

He sprinted toward the gap between the trees.

One, two…

Helen was right on his heels, howling in frustration at her elusive prey.

…Three, four…

All he had to do was jump within the arch. Diane would handle the trap.

…Five, six… jump… wait! Not fucking six!

Nine sprinted through the arch just as Diane pulled back hard on the black nylon cord she’d tied to the opposite tree. It went tight, a foot above the ground. Nine struck it and tripped, falling forward on his forearms.

Fuck… it definitely works as intended, he thought.

A moment later Helen stormed through the arch and tripped over Nine, falling over and ahead of him.

“Shit!” Diane yelled, quickly getting to her feet.

Nine and Helen both got to their knees at the same time. She turned quickly and hissed at him, like a tiger getting ready to pounce.

“Ah… sorry about the trip… lady… Ma’am… whatever you are,” Nine slowly backed away on hands and knees. “Just… just take it easy. This has all been one big misunderstanding.”

The woman formerly known as Helen Gorman slowly crawled toward Nine. Her once long blond hair, now dark and damp with blood and dirt, hung over her face and down her tattered and soiled nightgown. Her face was a mask of mud and madness as her bloody teeth seemed to form a distorted smile. Her demoralizing hate-filled eyes dominated all else, making it hard for Nine to remember breathing.

The hideous witch-like monster lifted its scarecrow arms to reach in for him, the dark nails on her long fingers seeming like mini-daggers.

Nine raised his arms defensively. “Now… just hold on…”

Helen opened her mouth wide, a syrupy strand of crimson saliva dripped down her chin. She let loose an agonizing scream that made Nine want to crawl into a hole and die.

I’m so fucked, Nine thought.

Just as Helen thrusted forward for the kill, a black rope appeared around her neck. Diane pulled back and down on the cord with all her might, dragging the dead thing back and away from Nine. She continued to pull until the creature was suspended from a thick branch she thrown the rope over. Diane continued pull down on the rope as it struggled to get free of the noose, its feet dangling just a couple of inches off the ground.

Nine simply watched, awestruck by Diane’s overpowering of the creature.

“Get… off… your… ass… and… HELP ME!” she shouted at him.

“Fuck… right!” Nine got up and grabbed the end of the rope alongside Diane.

“Keep pulling!” she barked. “Don’t let that thing have any slack.”

Nine nodded.

Diane quickly took the end of the nylon cord and got beneath the creature’s swinging arms. She tied Helen’s feet together. “Now when I tell you to let go-”

“Let go? Are you sure?”

“Wait!”

Nine released the line causing the creature to fall over on its face.

Diane, who had just managed to get out of the way, shot Nine a murderous look.

“Sorry,” he mouthed.

The young hunter got up and kicked Helen’s rising arms out from under her as it tried to get up. She then got on the creature’s back to keep it down. She turned to Nine. “Pull the rope back until it’s tight, then run it through the slip knot I left binding its feet. Hurry! I don’t want these flailing arms anywhere near my skin.”

Nine did as instructed and then handed Diane what was left of the rope.

She carefully grabbed one of Helen’s boney wrists and brought her arm back. She quickly secured the hand with the rope. She then did the same to the other, being mindful of the monster’s infectious long nails. Once the creature’s hands were tied together, she quickly got up and moved away, struggling for breath. “Fucking thing’s ripe as hell,” she said, covering her mouth.

Nine looked at Diane’s handiwork. Helen’s hands, feet and neck were securely pinned behind the creature’s back. The more it struggled, the tighter its bindings became.

“Damn,” Nine said. “We did it!”

I did it,” she quickly corrected. “You almost got yourself killed! Why the hell didn’t you fucking jump!”

Nine looked away. “The count was wrong,” he mumbled.

“What was that?”

“I couldn’t jump on six… nothing good would have come out of it if I had.”

Diane raised her arms wide. “What the hell does that mean, Nine? Speak fucking English?”

“Doesn’t matter. Point is, the plan worked. We have our hostage.”

“And she fucking stinks! When we get back, I’ll be needing a two-hour shower… minimum.”

Nine watched as Diane removed his brother’s jacket, revealing a rare glimpse of her slender form contained within the tank top beneath. “Perhaps we could share that shower… you know… for the sake of water conservation and all.”

She glared at him.

“Never mind… just my nerves talking… I crack jokes after stressful situations. Unless, you think it’s a good idea… well, then-”

“Shut up.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Diane put Nine’s jacket back on to his displeasure, grabbed her gear and rifle, and then picked up what was left of the rope. “Now comes the hard labor. We still need to drag this thing upriver.”

Nine looked at Helen. The crazed beast continued to fight against its restraints. “That looks uncomfortable as hell.”

“I don’t think it cares. It’s dead.”

“Good point. Too bad we didn’t have a car. We could’ve just dragged her from the bumper.”

Diane sighed. “Unbelievable.” She held out the rope. “You gonna keep dreaming about me in my tank top, or are you going to help me drag her?”

“Well… considering the choices you’ve presented, I’m going to have to say-”

“Nine?”

“Yes, my angel?”

“Rope… now!”

Nine moved in beside her and grabbed the rope.

“I hope this plan works,” Diane said.

“It will,” Nine said. “It has to… right?”

She smiled half-heartedly. “Let’s go.”

~~~

Nine and Diane approached the cottage. The silence felt frightening, threatening to kill off they’re fragile hope like a noose around their necks as both of them expected the worst. They dragged Helen in front of the bad man’s van and Diane tied the end of the rope around one of the rear tires.

Diane held her rifle toward the dead woman, expecting the seemingly submissive thing to charge them at any moment. But Helen only stared at the hunter, her arms and legs still firmly secured behind her.

Nine, out of breath, quickly took in their surroundings, noticing Tony’s gear along with the hand-held radio laying in a pile on the front porch. “Tony’s inside,” he said. “God only knows what that maniac’s doing to them right now.” He turned toward Diane.

The hunter was becoming unnerved by the staring creature. “I wish it would stop that,” she whispered. “I feel like it’s sizing me up, trying to look for an advantage.”

“You give it too much credit,” Nine said coming over. He gazed into the creature’s eyes. “It just wants to eat you… same as all the rest.”

Helen turned her head toward Nine and continued to stare.

“Yeah… I know that look,” he said. “I have the same damn look when the pizza delivery guy shows up and pulls that steaming pie out of the-”

“Nine.”

“Yes.”

“Please shut up.”

Nine looked at her pleading face and nodded.

“Now what?” Diane said.

Nine cautiously walked back toward the porch and retrieved Tony’s gear and the radio. “He’s made this a lot easier for us with this.” He held up the hand-held and finished. “Now… we make contact and state our demands.”

Diane frowned. “You’ve seen one too many spy films. Nothing’s ever that easy.”

Nine swallowed hard. “Easy? Damn… I’m scared shitless right now. I’ve never seen anyone in those films about to wet themselves.”

“Thanks for sharing. Do you really think Gina’s dead?”

“I don’t know. Only one way to find out.” Nine took a deep breath, cleared his throat, and then hit the transmit button on the radio. “Attention, attention. To the fucking lunatic who has my friends and insists on broadcasting messages with the words ‘Waffle House’ in it, causing me to constantly crave pancakes I can’t have… stop what you’re doing and fucking listen.” He stopped transmitting for dramatic effect.

“Are you fucking serious?” Diane said. “All those movies and that’s the best you can come up with?”

“Sorry… I babble when I’m nervous.” He hit the transmit button again and spoke in a deeper voice, hoping to sound more threatening. “I have your zombie. You have exactly five minute to release my friends.”

Diane rolled her eyes and shook her head. “‘I have your zombie’? Really?” she whispered.

“Cut me some slack!” he hissed. He then continued to broadcast. “If I don’t see them both on the Sampson’s front porch, alive and well… I’m going to put a bullet in Helen’s head.”

Nine winced, releasing the transmit button. “I sounded ridiculous,” he scolded himself. “Was it enough?”

“If you were going for ‘let’s see if I can make him laugh himself to death’, then yes… you did wonderful.”

“You’re sarcasm isn’t making this any easier,” Nine snipped.

“Sorry… you babble… I bite. This fucking thing keeps eye-balling me like I’m a rare steak.”

Suddenly, the radio came to life. “I gave you and your woman a chance to run. If I were you, I would take a long look at the meat you love and try to imagine the skin stripped from her flesh, hanging from my stables. That’s what I’m going to do to her when I come up… and I’ll make you watch me do it. Last chance. Leave now, and you both may still make it out of here before I hunt you down.”

Nine was terrified. He transmitted with as much bravado as he could muster. “Time’s ticking asshole. Bring my friends up… now!”

The bad man did not respond.

Nine started pacing.

“What do we do?” Diane asked, nervously swinging her rifle from Helen to the cabin front windows. “He knows we’re here now and he’s armed. This isn’t going to work.”

Nine looked at Helen and then at Diane’s rifle. “You’re… you’re going to have to shoot it.”

“What? After we dragged this thing all the way up here?”

“Don’t kill it! I mean… you know… make it scream.” Nine held the radio up and nodded. “Wait for me to transmit. Three… Two… One… ”

Diane gave him a weary look and nodded. She aimed for the creature’s right leg and fired two silenced rounds into its flesh as Nine transmitted.

Neither of them knew if the dead could feel pain, but the rounds successfully roused the creature as it screamed at Diane and pulled so hard against its restraints that Diane backed up, believing it might break free. “Shit!” she said. “I liked her better before.”

The dead thing’s glare was as penetrating as a bloody set of teeth. She’d never seen so much hatred… in anything… directed toward her.

“If you hurt her… there’s no end to the suffering I will put you through,” came the bad man’s reply, sending chills up Nine’s spine.

“He sounded scared! I could hear it in his voice,” Nine said.

Diane nodded, keeping the scope of her rifle on Helen’s forehead. “Just get on with it… and hurry.”

Nine transmitted. “No more bullshit. Get out here, or we kill Helen. Final warning.”

After another long pause, the bad man responded. “I’m coming up. Just… just leave her alone.”

“Get ready,” Nine told Diane. He retrieved the handgun she’d given him, moved just behind the dead things legs, and then held the gun aimed at Helen’s head. He squatted down trying to use as much of the zombie’s body as cover.

Diane took her cue, and got into the prone position behind the van, exposing just enough of herself to cover the front porch and windows of the cottage. “Don’t get too close to that thing,” she cautioned. “It’s clever if nothing else.”

Nine nodded.

A few minutes later, the front door of the cabin burst open.

Tony came out, wearing only his pants. Gina’s arm was around his shoulder as he helped her walk out onto the porch. They both looked terrible. Gina’s leg looked like some wild animal had torn it up.

The bad man, anticipating a trap, was crouched down behind them, using his captives as cover. He stopped them at the edge of the porch.

“I don’t have a clear shot,” Diane said in frustration.

“Understand. So much for plan A.” Nine yelled over to the porch. “Alright… we see you back there! Step out into the open or I waste this bitch!”

“Drop your weapons,” the bad man said. “If you don’t, I’ll kill one of them right now!”

Nine refused to budge. “Don’t do it! If you care about this… woman… then let my friends go! We’ll all just walk away and never come back!”

“I mean it!” The bad man yelled. “I only need one of them!”

Tony shouted, “Nine… Diane… if this fucker shoots either one of us… you kill Helen immediately… no matter what!”

“Understood!” Diane yelled back, making sure the bad man could see her rifle aimed toward the porch.

The bad man pressed the barrel of his rifle into Tony’s back. He could see Helen bound like an animal with the young meat holding a gun to her head. He could also see the woman with the rifle trying to get a clear shot. He was in agony. Part of him, the man trapped within the monster, wanted to simply run out to Helen and keep her safe, but the madness dominated him. The creature who Walter had become wanted to tear into his hostages’ flesh and rip them apart with his teeth… feeding the ravenous hunger… even if it meant his and Helen’s immediate death.

Tony felt the warning nudge of the rifle. He looked over at Gina. She was in great pain, but the anger behind her eyes kept her from acknowledging her condition. She needed to get her leg tended to before she lost any more blood. He looked out at Nine and Diane and smiled. Should have known that if you wanted today’s youth to do what they’re told, you have to tell them the opposite. His eyes connected with the yellow-eyed savage, who seemed to calm down considerably when it noticed him. You poor woman. All you wanted to do was help me… and now all this.

Tony spoke softly over his shoulder. “Walter, are you still in there?”

The bad man said nothing.

“You know now what you did,” Tony pressed. “You know what you did to Helen. Look at her. Is this what you want? Hasn’t she been through enough?”

“I did everything for her. EVERYTHING!” The bad man was losing it. “Of course I don’t want this! I want her to be happy. I want… what’s best for my Helen. She… she needs me now more than she ever did. I take care of her… I make the pain go away when she screams and screams and fucking screams for the blood! I feed her and it all goes away. That’s all I ever wanted.”

“Then fight it,” Tony said. “Fight the madness and do right by your wife. This can all end right now if you surrender peacefully. No one else has to get hurt.”

Gina gave him a puzzled look.

“Bullshit!” The bad man fought back. “There’s nothing but the blood now. I can’t… I can’t stop it! Best thing to do is just… just give it what it wants.”

“Then your wife will die,” Tony said. “She’ll die like a pig all tied up, lying face down in the dirt with a bullet through her brain. No one to mourn her. No one to bury her. No one to remember her.” He looked at the pitiful creature and finished. “She saved my life, Walter. Believe me, I hate to see her like this. Just let us go and I give you my word that I’ll let the two of you leave. You can find a new place to live, and take care of her.”

The bad man remained silent.

Tony looked to Gina. She was frowning at him with a look of confusion, fire, and hatred all rolled together plastered upon her face. My God, even now, her anger consumes all else. He had to keep trying. “Walter, are you still there?”

“Yes… yes.”

“She needs you, Walter. Who else will care for her if you’re gone? No one will understand. They’ll just see another monster and shoot her down. But they don’t see… they don’t know what we know.”

“What do we know?”

“We know that this poor woman is Helen Gorman, and she deserves better than this.”

“Yes… she does.”

“If she can forgive you for what you did to her, Walter, and I assume she still remembers you because in all this time since she escaped, she hasn’t come back to kill you, then I can forgive you, too. For Helen’s sake.”

“For Helen?”

“That’s right…for Helen.”

Silence.

“I think you know what to do, Walter. Please… don’t make Helen suffer any more. She’s had enough.”

“She… she needs me,” Walter said. “She needs me to… let you go. She’s always had a soft spot for you… Tony. Even after she… changed. I could tell. I could always tell that you were… special to her. I just couldn’t remember why. There’s so many things… I couldn’t remember.”

We might still get out of this, Tony thought.

“This is all my fault,” Walter said, lowering the rifle.

Tony heard Walter drop the gun. He turned toward Nine and Diane and shouted. “Lower the weapons. It’s over.”

Diane and Nine exchanged confused looks.

“I’m walking away now, Walter. Just… let me fix this.” Tony started moving Gina off the porch, half expecting to hear the sound of a gun followed by their deaths. Nothing happened.

The bad man sat down on the front porch steps, and rested his arms on his knees. He was staring at Helen, already forgetting about Tony and the others. When Helen met his gaze, he put his mangled face into his hands and began to weep. “I’m sorry… I’m so very sorry…”

Diane was tempted to take the shot.

“No!” Tony said. “It’s over, Diane. Help me with Gina.”

“What are you fucking doing?” Gina asked. “After everything he did… you’re going to just let him live?” She tried to break free from Tony but was surprised at how weak she felt. The blood loss was taking its toll.

“Gina, you need to let me handle this now,” Tony said.

She turned away in disgust.

Nine and Diane came over and grabbed Gina’s arms. Tony let them have her and gave them both a grateful look. “Next time I tell you to do something-”

“Sorry, Tony,” Nine chimed in. “You can’t be the hero all the damn time.”

“That’s right,” Diane said. “We just saved the fucking day.” She added a wink and a smile.

Tony laughed and ruffled the hair on both their heads. “Take her in the house and look for a first-aid kit–anything to stop the bleeding and patch up her leg” he advised them.

They nodded and started back toward the porch. Gina spit on the bad man as they passed.

Walter didn’t flinch.

When they reached the door, Nine turned when Tony didn’t follow. “You coming?”

“Just get her inside. I’ve got this. We have things to discuss.”

Nine nodded and they went into the house.

Tony retrieved Walter’s rifle and stopped. He no longer saw a monster, just a broken man being consumed by something stronger than the blood lust: his guilt.

He looked toward the van and then to Helen. Tony turned back to Walter and said, “I should kill you, promise or not, I should shoot you down right here and now.”

Walter looked up, shielding his sensitive, water streaked eyes from the sun. “I’m already damned, in more ways the one, slowly dying from the inside out. If my death means something for you, than have at it. You’d only be doing me a favor. Nothing’s worse than this… not even death.”

Tony looked back at Helen. Just as she seemed to recognize him in the woods, she also appeared to recognize her husband. I don’t know what all this means, but it can’t be good for whoever’s left of the living, Tony thought. But he would think about this another day. For now, he had to finish what he started.

Tony walked over to the dead thing and crouched down in front of her. “I don’t know if you can understand me, Helen. I don’t pretend to even understand how you’re still functioning in that dead body. But, part of me believes that you remember… maybe just a little bit. You might not remember me the way your old self used to, but still, there’s something there behind those hate-filled eyes that registers who I am to you.”

Helen stared at him, a blank expression on her dead face. Her eyes clearly spoke volumes, those eyes that demanded Tony’s blood all over her face as something foreign was barely holding back the beast from consuming flesh and blood and bone.

“Maybe that’s it,” Tony said. “Maybe the fact that I know you see me as something other than food right now, is all there is. Maybe you don’t even understand it. But it tells me that there has to be something of Helen Gorman still there, even if it’s just an impulse not to kill.” He stood up and located his gear. Tony went to his pack and retrieved his handgun with the silencer and a knife. He walked back to Helen and said, “I’m going to do something really stupid right now. When I do, I’m going to hope that I’m not wrong. But just in case I am, I just wanted to say thank you for saving my life that night. You didn’t have to stop. You could’ve just left me on the side of the road to die. But you didn’t. And it cost you everything. For that, I am grateful… and I’m truly sorry this happened to you.” Tony wiped a tear from his eye.

The dead thing continued to stare.

Tony went behind her, took a deep breath, and then cut the cord binding her legs to her neck which also freed her hands.

The yellow-eyed beast immediately struggled to its feet as Tony backed up, gun raised.

Helen turned to charge, but then stopped, locking eyes with Tony.

Walter was also up on his feet. “Don’t hurt her!” he pleaded. “You promised!”

Helen heard Walter’s voice and whipped her head around toward him. She hissed at him and then stormed toward Walter. Just when it looked like she was about to attack, she stopped right in front of him and stared into the familiar madness she found in his eyes.

Walter had his hands up. He lowered them and smiled. “You… you remember, don’t you, my love?”

The monster did not respond. She was panting heavily as if struggling with some inner turmoil that prevented her from slaughtering anything with a pulse.

Tony cautiously approached, his gun held much lower as to not appear threatening.

“Do you know what this is?” he asked Walter. “Does she… remember you?”

Walter smiled. “That night you escaped, she could’ve devoured me, but she didn’t. I’d lied to myself and said that she’d done it before… and that she’d infected me. The lie made me stupid… overconfident. She let me live after she attacked, after she tasted my flesh… and remembered me.”

Tony was stunned to silence as he watched Helen stare into Walter’s eyes as if caught in a trance she couldn’t comprehend.

“Now I understand,” Walter continued. “I did the same thing when I attacked her. I was able to stop myself from consuming my Helen because I tasted her and remembered.”

“So… are you saying there’s something in our blood that triggers… familiarity?”

“Yes… there has to be,” Walter said. “Something that made her stop because, on some level, she recognized me as her husband.”

“And she let you feed her,” Tony finished, remembering who the real monster standing before him was.

“Yes,” Walter said with a fond smile. “For the first time, Helen needed me to take care of her. So I did. And in her own special way, she has loved me ever since.”

Tony looked at his feet. “You murder people and feed them to your dead wife. How is this love?”

Walter turned to him. “What wouldn’t you do for love, Tony?” He looked back at the zombie. “Just look at her! See how she resists the almost overwhelming desire to kill? What else could stop something like that, if not love?”

“You’re fucking sick,” Tony said. “That’s the madness inside of you talking.”

“Maybe,” Walter conceded. “But it’s what we have left… what we share in common.”

“The blood lust?”

“Love.”

“I promised I’d let you both leave,” Tony said. “But that doesn’t get you off the hook.”

“What does that mean?”

Tony looked to Helen. “Your fate’s in her hands now.”

Before Walter could inquire further, Tony reached into his back pocket and retrieved the city photograph of Helen and Brian. He unfolded it and held it up in front of Helen.

“What are you doing?” Walter asked with fear in his voice.

Tony ignored him. The yellow-eyed beast stared at the photo. “Remember, Helen,” Tony said. “Whatever part of you that can… remember everything that this monster in front of you did.”

Helen raised her eyes and met Tony’s sad expression.

For a moment, Tony swore he saw a hint of recognition and horror strike that pale, dead face.

Helen turned to Walter and screamed in his face.

“Now… wait, my love!” Walter started backing up. “I know what I did to you… but… we’re passed that now!”

Tony slowly backed away.

Before the bad man could speak another word, Helen pounced on top of him, knocking him to the ground. She immediately leaned in and tore the other side of his face off with her teeth.

The bad man began screaming as Tony turned away, unable to stomach the gruesome sight.

Diane and Nine ran out on to the porch.

“What the hell?” Nine said, stunned by the bloody mess that was once Walter Gorman.

Diane lowered her rifle with a smile. “That’s my girl,” she whispered.

Helen continued to feed on her former maniac husband, oblivious to everyone else, covered in Walter’s blood.

Tony cautiously walked over with his gun raised to the back of Helen’s head. “I promised I would let you leave,” he told her. “You’ve been a prisoner long enough.”

Helen turned and howled at Tony, all recognition absent from her savage glare as the blood lust consumed her.

Tony sighed and then fired one round into her forehead.

Helen fell still atop the unrecognizable pile that was her husband.

The big man lowered the gun as his shoulders sank. He felt a wave of deep sadness strike him as tears fell freely from his eyes. “Now… you’re free, Helen,” he whispered. “Now you’re finally free.”

Gina had watched everything play out from the living room window. Her face was an expressionless mask.

Diane and Nine came over.

“You okay, Tony?” Nine asked.

Tony smiled at them through tears. “We came all the way out here to free prisoners. That sonofabitch held Helen in captivity longer than the rest of us.” He looked at the dead woman, finally at rest. “Mission accomplished.”

~~~

They located the bad man’s van keys. Diane drove while Nine sat shotgun to help navigate. Tony sat beside Gina in the back of the van as they tried to make her as comfortable as possible. They’d managed to stop the bleeding in her leg but she had developed a fever, falling in and out of consciousness–her body working overtime to fight off an infection.

After finding a main road, they headed south, weaving around stranded vehicles. They were fortunate that the road remained clear enough for most of the drive toward the western border of the Wasteland. From there, they would have to hike in on foot.

Diane ran over a long deteriorated dead-head which felt like hitting a pothole to Tony. He yelled over his shoulder, “Take it easy up there!”

“All my fault, Tony,” Nine called back. “I forgot to tell this crazy hunter chick that we weren’t trying to hit the damn dead things on purpose. She may be able to shoot, but she drives like shit.”

Diane gave him the finger.

“Promises… promises…” Nine mumbled, which earned him a punch to the shoulder.

“Sorry, Tony,” Diane added. “I’ll drive around it next time.”

Tony looked back down at Gina.

Her eyes were wide open.

“How you feeling?” he asked.

“Better. Where are we?”

Tony scratched his messy hair. “Maybe half-way back to the western woods.”

She nodded.

Tony looked toward the back of the van, struggling to find something to say.

“Just spit it out,” she said. “What’s the problem?”

He frowned. “I’m glad you’re alright, Gina. But you bailed on us. What the hell were you thinking?”

Gina turned away. “You know what I was thinking.”

“I think you damn near got us both killed with your recklessness.”

She turned back. “It was my call and I made it. I chose to protect you and Diane… but I had no idea what I was getting into. I see that now. I fucked up.”

“Together, Gina. That was the deal. We fight together and that’s how we get to go home.”

She didn’t respond.

Tony wasn’t finished. “You put everyone at risk. You’re supposed to lead us, not fucking lie to us.”

Gina felt the sting. “You were playing right into that maniac’s hands,” she defended. “If I hadn’t made another play, he would’ve had you in the basement instead of me, demanding your life for Nine’s. I wasn’t going to allow that.”

Tony let the matter go before his anger level rose any higher.

“Speaking of plays,” she said, attempting to change the subject. “I saw how you handled things outside, how you turned Helen into a weapon against him. That was gutsy… and a little stupid… but it worked. I imagine that was very satisfying.”

Tony gave her a puzzled look. “‘Satisfying’?”

“You know… letting Helen get a little payback, too. After carrying around that horrible experience all this time, after what the both of you experienced, I bet that felt good. Seeing that asshole get what was coming… and from his own wife, not that’s perfect.”

“I didn’t do it for ‘payback’, Gina. I gave Helen a choice and helped her remember what that sick man did. Honestly, I didn’t know what she would do, or if she’d even remember… but she did. I think justice is a better word here.”

“Justice, revenge, whatever… I’m just glad she gave that asshole what he deserved.”

“And if she had chosen to let him go, even after I showed her the picture, what would you have thought then?”

It was Gina’s turn to look confused. “‘Let him go’? Seriously? That never would’ve happened. I would’ve shot them both down before I let them walk out of here. That’s why I’m glad it all worked out.”

Tony turned away again. Her words reminded him of the memory he’d had earlier. “I wonder what we deserve?”

“What was that?”

“Never mind.”

“We’ll need to destroy Megan now,” Gina said. “I don’t care what Meredith is trying to do… that thing cannot be allowed to exist.”

“Megan’s no threat to anyone. Meredith and Dr. Cooper are always careful.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Gina said. “Those silver-eyed half-deads can infect the living… they can bring back The Change all over again with just a single bite. We’d never considered this before because it’s never happened. Usually those sick fucks just eat the living, go crazy and die, or pretend they’re still human for a while. But now we know how dangerous they really are. Megan can’t be allowed-”

“What do you want to do?” Tony interrupted. “Do you want to escort her into the woods and just put her down like a dog?” His tone was harsher than intended.

“What are you getting at?” she bit back. “Sounds like you’re mad at me for something else now.”

He tried to calm down, but now he was hearing Walter’s words in his head:

What wouldn’t you do for love, Tony?

“Go on,” she pushed. “What are you so pissed about?”

He looked her dead in the eyes and said, “Tell me again what you told me that night after the first storm. Tell me what happened when you walked those two men out into the cold and then came back alone.”

Gina retreated immediately. Her shields went up. “Why are you bringing that up… now? We’ve already talked about it, and you know it still bothers me.”

“You let them go… right? They wanted to come back, but you made them keep going?”

She nodded, a terrifying look surfaced on her face.

“And that’s it?” Tony challenged.

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” she said. “We’ve got more than enough things to worry about-”

“Just tell me what you told me then. Is that so damn hard to do now?”

Gina was shocked and deeply hurt by his words. How long has he been holding on to this? she wondered. Gina took a deep breath and said, “Like I told you before, I watched them disappear into the snowstorm, watched them head west until I couldn’t stand the cold any longer. Then I turned around and came back. You know I feel bad about leaving them out there, but I couldn’t bring them back… not after what they did to that girl.”

Tony shook his head. “What they did was wrong, Gina. No one questions that. That poor girl got in the way trying to keep the peace, and then got stabbed. But those men were remorseful.”

“So now you question my decision to kick them out. Is that it? Why now? Why bring this up after all this time?”

Tony looked away.

Gina sighed. “What are you holding back, Tony?”

He closed his eyes and thought of those damning words again:

What wouldn’t you do for love, Tony?

“You’re right,” he finally said. “Now’s not the time. I’m sorry I brought it up. I’m just… really tired right now.”

She didn’t believe him but was more than eager to let the matter rest. “You will talk to me, later… right?”

He nodded with a smile. “Sure. I’m just glad you’re alright. It’s been a rough mission.”

Gina frowned and thought of the others who hadn’t made it. “Marcus has saved my life so many times…” She started to softly weep.

Tony lied down next to her and held her close.

“I’m tired of all this death, Tony. So fucking tired,” she said.

“I know. We all are.”

“I’m really starting to believe there’s nothing else,” she confessed. “And the only thing I’m getting really good at is accelerating the process…”

He chose to let her strange comment go as Gina fell back to sleep.

Tony’s thoughts drifted back to the night after the first winter storm…

~~~

THEN:

…His exhausted mind started to wander as Tony felt a sudden chill travel up his spine after considering how deep the snow was… and how anything could be hiding beneath it. He imagined a horde of the rotting dead buried beneath the ice, stirring, as Tony’s feet sunk deep enough for frozen limbs to reach up and grab him. He purposefully increased his speed.

Tony heard the sound of the river, muffled by layers of ice above it, as it continued to flow, not yet cold enough for winter to claim its vitality.

He was almost there.

Just before he cleared the last of the frozen forest on his side of the river, Tony abruptly stopped and gasped, feeling all the blood leave his face.

Sticking up out of the snow were two frozen distorted limbs, their black and blue hands permanently reaching out for him. For a second, he swore those hands were moving.

“Oh no,” he whispered. He walked toward the hand statues. When he was certain that whoever it was had not reanimated, Tony bent down and began digging up the snow around those hands.

When he revealed their frozen faces, Tony fell back and put his hands over his mouth.

Brannigan and Tyler’s faces were locked in horrific poses, their eyes wide open, their foreheads clearly revealing how they died. Tony couldn’t stop staring at the dark bullet wounds as he tried to deny what those heinous marks meant.

He forced himself to his feet and headed back toward the compound, his mind was already racing around a desperate plan which involved returning with a shovel, and the time required to relocate the bodies.

What wouldn’t you do for love, Tony?

~~~

Next Episode 35-1

Previous Episode 34-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 34-6: Secrets” 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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Comments
  1. Gylion says:

    Diane and Nine did what I thought Marcus would do to save them. Now I’m really worried where he is prowling around…
    Thanks for the Chapter and I’m really curious now about what made Helen remember. Was it really the blood? Or did she like “Level Up” from eating so many people? Absorb Souls maybe?
    So many Questions and every Answer just gives us more.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Gylion. Thanks for commenting. Yeah, Helen’s a strange one. All I can say at the moment is, like our survivors, the dead continue to evolve as well. As for Marcus, stand by…

      Like

  2. alikolino says:

    When will they ever get a break? D:

    Good job by the way, keep up the excellent story. :)

    Like

  3. Gylion says:

    I’m completely out of reading material. Any Internet Novels you would recommend Mr. Author?

    Like

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