Hangar Six (A DFTD Spin-Off Tale)

Posted: December 27, 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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old-woman

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Hangar Six until after reading the first 14 chapters.

~~~

The cool and silent space was comforting. She welcomed the darkness like a warm blanket she could wrap about herself. The woman patiently sat in the center of the room and closed her eyes. She listened to the sound of her own deep breathing… in… out… in… out. She could hear her steady heartbeat, like a muffled knock on the door within fading flesh; like an old, consistent friend waiting to be invited in for another game of living in an ever-changing world. The woman smiled and welcomed the rare moment of stillness–the bliss of simply existing–as she shut out the steady sound of the rain… and the hunger.

The hangar door began to rise, letting in the intrusive light of another dreary demanding day.

A man dressed in wet dark raingear entered and cautiously took a step toward her.

The woman sighed and opened her eyes. “What is it?”

“Lady Clementine, we’ve done everything you’ve instructed.” The man took a nervous glance around the hangar but tried not to show his fear. “All the boats in the harbor have been destroyed… except for the one staged at the marina.”

“And did you paint all the hangar doors with the invitation symbols as instructed?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She hated it when they called her that. It reminded her of the only thing she was powerless to stop. Her old bones ached as a constant reminder of her frail frame, despite the immense power and control she wielded over this new world. It had taken most of her youth to master her abilities. She’d given up everything to be ready for the final days, but it had taken its toll.

“I assume your team has swept the area for candidates,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am. We found no survivors. Fairport Harbor has been completely overrun.”

She scowled at the man. “What have I told you about that word?”

The man immediately corrected himself. “Sorry, Ma’am. You’re right. I meant ‘candidates’.”

“Has not Mother made it abundantly clear to you that there are no ‘survivors’? The world belongs to them now. We, who have prepared long in advance for the end, know what is at stake. As for the rest… Mother is not cruel. They will all be afforded a chance, just as we were given a chance. That is why we test them… all of them.”

The man looked down at his feet. “Of course, Ma’am. Please forgive my poor choice of words. There are no survivors, only candidates and fodder.”

Candidates and fodder. Lady Clementine could not help but laugh at the irony found in such a simple statement. The majority of the human race, in all its former glory and self-importance, had been reduced to nothing more than prey to a replacement species. She cringed at the thought. Now, only a select few, those who had been chosen to pave the way for the new world, would have a place in it… or so they’d been promised. What it all boiled down to was a choice: Candidate or Fodder.

“What do they call you?” she asked the man.

“Sterling,” he said, looking up and nervously shuffling his feet.

“Your full name?” she asked again, her impatience clearly evident.

“John… John Sterling.”

She removed the red hood from her head, revealing her long white mane with a few black streaks from her former hair color. From her cross-legged sitting position, Lady Clementine looked up and let her full gaze fall on John.

John did all he could to minimize his trembling.

“Well… that’s a fine name, a name that commands respect. Don’t you think?”

John hesitated. He understood the question for what it was. It was a test. He’d screwed up and now his life had immediately been called into question.

She laughed lightly. Yes, she had his complete attention now. That was good. A little fear in the ranks from the top down was always productive. She continued. “‘John Sterling’… just the sound of it rings of importance. I bet your parents are proud of you, aren’t they?”

John looked away, trying to hide his pain from the emotional shot. He already knew that Lady Clementine was well aware that his parents were dead. He chose his words with care. “My… my parents are fodder. They were found unworthy and perished.”

Lady Clementine feigned compassion. “Oh… I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to rip open old wounds,” she lied. “Come,” she motioned to a vacant space in front of her. “Come, sit with me.”

John looked around the hangar again as if she’d just invited him to step into a burning fire. Nearly a hundred of the re-animated lay in various positions, stacked on top of each other, surrounding the dangerous woman. There was a narrow path starting from where he stood and leading up to a small ring of clear space where Lady Clementine sat. And just like all the rest, when Lady Clementine first summoned the dead down from Fairport Harbor with her ‘abilities’ and commanded them to enter the hangars, they all appeared to be… asleep. But John knew better. ‘Dormant’ was the word she used. If she stopped whatever it was she was doing, the dead would rise up and charge him immediately.

She laughed. “Don’t be afraid. You’ve nothing to fear… unless you’ve something to hide.” She stared at him challengingly.

John swallowed hard and stepped forward. He carefully maneuvered among the dead, waiting for decrepit limbs to grab his legs and for teeth to dig into his flesh. He made it into the small ring and sat facing the old woman, who looked like she was a hundred years old, but in truth she was only in her fifties. He locked eyes with Lady Clementine and found the real fire.

“So tell me, John, do you miss your mother… and don’t start spewing out that ‘unworthy’ crap again?”

John answered carefully. “I have only one mother now.”

Clementine looked shocked. “My… that’s a horrible thing to say about the woman who gave birth to you… the woman who gave you such a fine name and a chance at a better life.”

“Like my mother, and my father… that name is just as dead. I have but one mother, and she has given me a new life… a better life.”

Clementine laughed. “Spoken like a good soldier. But anyone can parrot an answer like that. How do I know that you mean what you say? How can you prove your loyalty to me?”

John smiled smugly and answered confidently, “I have nothing to prove to myself… or to you. With all due respect, Ma’am, your name is as meaningless as my own. We are candidates, chosen to serve a higher purpose.”

Clementine pointed at him and laughed. “Very good, John. I’m glad to see you have not forgotten. Now tell me about them. How did your parents die?”

John looked away from her probing gaze. He would have to revisit the painful place. “When… when we were called…”

“Go ahead, you can use the layman’s term for it,” she said. “Most have accepted it… and so has Mother.”

John nodded. “When… The Change… occurred, my father was not chosen. When he turned, he… consumed my mother.”

“And you were there to witness it?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not telling it right, are you?”

John was having difficulty. He shifted uncomfortably as he let the memory in. “No… what I meant to say was… my father turned… and he went after me first. My mother, my old mother, got in between us and that’s when he attacked her.”

Clementine gave the young soldier a moment to let the horrific memory settle in his mind. She then reached out a pale arm and touched his shoulder. “Now, John. Think very carefully about what you say next.”

John looked up. He was repulsed by the woman’s touch but tried not to show it. This was it. The real test.

“Now, after your mother saved you, what happened?”

“My… my mother… my old mother did not save me,” he finally said. “I was spared. My father was rejected… as was my mother.”

“But how can you say such a thing, John? Didn’t your mother save you and allow you to get away from the monsters that night? Didn’t she sacrifice her life for you?”

“No… she was rejected. We were both spared and given a chance… initially. Our testing began immediately.”

Clementine retracted her arm and dug deeper with her gaze. “Explain that to me?”

John took a deep breath. “Mother had already spared us… but we were not candidates yet. When my father attacked… when my mother chose to save my life… that’s when she was rejected. Because she did not choose to value the gift she was given… and wasted it trying to save a human life… she failed the test.”

“And what did you do after your mother chose unwisely?”

John’s face became unreadable. “I… I managed to get a weapon… a baseball bat. My mother was still struggling on the floor… my father was trying to bite at her throat. She yelled at me to get away. I was tempted to help her… almost did… but then I realized what was happening… that we were being tested, just like I was always taught from the beginning. I remembered my lessons. I remembered that when the time finally arrived we were to cherish our new lives… not waste them on the living. So I left her there.”

“So because of your selfishness, you survived… and you let your mother die.” Clementine was shaking her head in disbelief. “What kind of son does that to her own blood?”

John looked away and shook his head. “No… we were chosen… my father was not. My mother died in vain and was rejected because she didn’t… couldn’t… see the truth. But I understood what was happening. Her life was not mine to save any more than it was her place to try and save me.” He looked up into Clementine’s eyes and finished. “It’s not about selfishness or selflessness. We both were spared… and died in that moment. Neither one of us survived because there’s no such thing as survival. I see that clearly now. I chose to cherish the gift that Mother gave me… so I could give it back… so I could serve.”

“And that, John, is why you are a candidate.” Clementine proudly said. “I am encouraged by your growth,” she added indifferently, not trying to hide her boredom with the conversation. In truth, she’d hoped to trick him because she despised the man, but in the end, even she could not go against the will of Mother. Apparently, John still had a purpose, although she failed to see it.

John’s shoulders sank with relief. He’d passed the test.

“John, you have learned that The Change is not something as foolish as God’s will, or a second chance to redeem oneself to help Mankind survive. Obviously, humanity in its present decaying state is doomed, and the rest of us will evolve into something quite different. But what is The Change all about? Is it random, like so many blind fools choose to believe? Is it fate? Is it really about being ‘chosen’ when so many remain untested?”

John wisely looked away. “I would not begin to attempt to answer that question, Ma’am. I’m… I’m still learning.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said so far,” Clementine said. “If you had dared to answer that question, when even I haven’t grasped it fully, I would’ve demanded your life immediately!”

“And I would give it wholeheartedly… for Mother,” John added.

Clementine was seething with rage. She stared into the pathetic man’s face, hoping to find a hint of defiance, especially after that last remark, but found nothing. She wanted to invade his puny mind, like she knew that she could, and release a portion of the dark plague which infested her thoughts so that he’d go insane with nightmares for the remainder of his short existence. Let’s see if this fool could handle the stress of a horde of cannibalistic maniacs infesting his mind! she thought.

The dead began to stir restlessly as her anger disrupted the immense amount of concentration it required to keep the beasts submissive. She took a deep breath and calmed down, reestablishing her control.

“You may go,” she finally said. “Be mindful of your words in the future. Mother may be merciful… but I am not.”

John nodded respectfully and quickly got up and started toward the door.

“One more thing… John Sterling.”

He exited the hangar and quickly turned back.

“Bring the girl to me. I wish to speak with her.”

John’s face turned pale.

“Is there a problem?” she asked, noticing John’s hesitation.

“I… I don’t want to offend-”

“Oh, just come out with it, you terrified little man!” she barked. “You hold back your thoughts as if I couldn’t get in there with the slightest amount of effort and rip them out of you… or have you forgotten what I can do?” She tapped on the side of her head for emphasis.

“No, Ma’am, it’s just… well… she’s just a foolish child who doesn’t know any better. Children say stupid and impulsive things. We’ve already disciplined her and she’s been compliant.”

“I hope there’s a point coming.”

John wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “We are currently… reeducating her… on what it means to serve… and how fortunate she is to-”

Clementine laughed hard. “My goodness, John. What on earth do you take me for? I simply wish to speak with the child. I’m not going to eat her! Or do you think I’m just like these pitiful shells of former humanity?” She waved a sweeping arm across the dormant dead.

“No… I didn’t mean anything-”

“Bring her to me… now.”

John nodded and departed.

I’m still going to destroy that fucking idiot, she promised herself.

Lady Clementine quickly dismissed all trivial matters and focused her attention on the remaining hangars full of the dead. It didn’t take her long to quiet them all down. The reanimated were not like the others with the feverish yellow fire for eyes. They were extremely difficult to control, especially in a horde. Fortunately the dark-eyed ones roaming the remains of Fairport Harbor were sufficient for the experiment. She closed her eyes and thought about her present station within the many-layered organization known as Mother.

Three days before The Change, Mother had activated all the cell groups with a single coded message:

The Lions are loose.

Clementine had known exactly what that meant as her particular cell, the largest in Northeast Ohio, had gathered in a large beach home near Fairport Harbor to wait for the coming storm. It had been a tense three days of waiting as members of her cell had watched each other suspiciously, wondering who would turn and who would be chosen.

After The Change, when her cell lost twenty members who had been rejected and turned to yellow-eyed savages, she had quickly asserted her leadership over the panicked cell by helping to slow down the beasts which had turned and attempted to destroy them from within.

Donovan had been with them on the first day to deliver the news that her group would be in charge of the Fairport Harbor testing. Like herself, he also had a cell to watch over, albeit a much smaller one, but no less important in the eyes of Mother. She outranked him, of course. Just as she also outranked that insane sonofabitch, Micom, who was put in charge of a sanctuary testing facility near Ashtabula. She had only heard rumors of what that madman was doing out there–something to do with religious effects on a populace–but it was enough to keep a watchful eye on Donovan, since he had come from there.

Fortunately, his stay had been a brief one as he departed for an undisclosed location (all the cells were deliberately kept in the dark about what the others cells were doing). And now, she had no idea who was left outside her own cell, and that they were to continue testing on the chosen and separate the candidates from the fodder until Mother sent word of what to do next.

I should be there, she bitterly thought. I should be at ground zero where my skills are best suited, and not here, doing the bitch work.

Early on, Mother had come up with many projection models, determining the most likely places the living might try to reach. Fairport Harbor, and places like it along the waterfront, were ideal locations for testing, since many would try to seek refuge by fleeing the coast. Her unique abilities made her the perfect choice to conduct the marina experiments. The plan was to funnel groups of the living to this boat storage facility along the river by dangling a single ‘carrot’ ahead of them. In this case, the carrot being the only functioning boat remaining in Fairport Harbor at the marina on the other side of the storage facility. Once lured into the vicinity of the hangars, the controlled experiment required a catalyst to induce the necessary conflict required to essentially destroy the unity of a group and wait for them to turn on each other and save themselves once the dead were unleashed upon them.

The experiment could end in one of three ways: The group could immediately be overrun by the dead, causing the experiment to reset. The group could scatter immediately as those valuing their lives, and essentially the gift given them by Mother, might sacrifice the weaker members to reach the boat instead, a.k.a., a dog-eats-dog mentality. This, of course, was the desired outcome. Should self-preservation win over group preservation, whoever made it to the boat would be allowed to leave the marina and would eventually be intercepted by Mother for possible candidacy under the ruse of rescue. Lastly, should an entire group stay together and fight their way through the horde and make it to the boat. They would immediately be gunned down at the boat by Clementine’s cell group for failing the test. And as a fail-safe, should such a group manage to elude the firing squad, there were sufficient explosives planted within the boat to detonate it once they reached an appropriate distance from shore. This, of course, would end the experiment entirely.

If only… Clementine shook her head with a smile. I guess what we’re doing could be considered just as insane to those lunatics over in Ashtabula.

If Clementine had learned anything about Mother in all the years she’d served, it was that you never questioned Mother, and that testing the motives and resolve of post-apocalyptic Mankind was high priority.

The sound of splashing footfalls approached. My, how I love the sound of urgency, she thought with a satisfied smile.

Two men, escorting a young girl with wet long black hair, stopped before Hangar Six.

Without looking their way, Clementine addressed the men. “Leave her and go. I’ll take it from here.”

The men were quick to oblige, leaving the frightened girl of thirteen, shivering in the cold. They had roused her from sleep, barely giving her enough time to get dressed, and dragged her here.

The girl sneezed and covered her mouth.

This caused Clementine to look up at the wet dog standing out in the rain with the first real genuine surprise she’d experienced in a very long time. My God! She looks just like… her!

The girl tried to maintain a respectful posture, head down, hands at her side, waiting to be addressed but not willing to initiate anything for fear of further disciplining.

“What is your name, child?” Clementine finally asked.

“Debra Crawford, Ma’am.” The girl sneezed again.

Well, of course, Clementine thought. Did you really expect another name, you silly old fool? The ghosts in my head are one thing… but to be visited by ghosts here in the flesh… well… that would be very unsettling.

“Well… Debra… why don’t you step inside and sit down with me before you sneeze to death.”

Debra nodded gratefully and entered the hangar.

Clementine was amused by the girl’s almost oblivious attitude toward the dead things beneath her feet as she stepped past them without hesitation and sat down in front of her.

“Better?” she asked the girl.

“Yes, thank you,” Debra said, continuing to look down.

Clementine considered the child. “You look so much like someone I knew a long, long time ago,” she said. “The resemblance is uncanny.”

“Whatever you say,” the wet girl said.

Clementine raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You know, for someone who’s in quite a bit of trouble, you don’t seem to appreciate the gravity of it. Even now, you speak to me in a disrespectful tone.”

“I mean no disrespect,” Debra said. “I’m just cold, tired and cranky.”

“Fair enough,” Clementine said with a laugh. “I appreciate your candor if nothing else. Do you know why you’re here?”

Debra sighed. “When we were out sinking a boat in the harbor yesterday, I ran off when no one was paying attention. Some of the soldiers wasted hours trying to locate me. They found me eating stale donuts and warm pop in a boathouse down river.”

“And then what happened?”

Debra shot Clementine a quick glance through the bangs of her wet hair and then looked away. “When the soldiers caught me, they started to yell at me. I got mad and said a bunch of nasty things.”

The old woman became serious. “And what did you say, Debra?”

“I… I said that what we were all doing here was stupid and a big waste of time. I’m sure you already know the rest.”

“Go on. I want to hear it from you.”

“I… I also said that you were old and senile and that Mother was just something you made up in your crazy head.”

Clementine snorted so abruptly that she had to cover her mouth.

Debra looked up in surprise at the crazy woman.

Looking into Debra’s confused face just made it worse. Clementine started to giggle uncontrollably. She waved at Debra to hold on while she tried to regain her composure. “My… I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. That’s exactly the kind of thing my old friend might have said to me when she got pissed. She was always so polite until she got mad… and then… blam… out came the verbal punches.” Clementine giggled again.

Debra actually smiled at the old woman’s unexpected outbursts, but she wisely remained silent.

Clementine collected herself again and tried to get back on track. “Okay… sorry about that. I guess I find you… refreshing… since everyone else speaks to me with that I’m-about-to-piss-my-pants tone.”

“I’m… I’m sorry I said what I said. I didn’t mean it. I was just… frustrated.”

“Well, of course you’re sorry,” Clementine said. “And I’m sure the others made you pay for your rude comments… so I’ll spare you any further disciplining.”

“Thank you,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

“‘May I go now?’” Clementine repeated. “Wow, you really are something else, Debra. The insulting things you said about me… well… I could let that slide easily enough. But what am I supposed to do with someone in my ranks, a candidate, who doesn’t even believe in the cause? Can you see the problem with this?”

Debra’s smile quickly faded. “I really didn’t mean anything. I was just mad. I do believe… it’s just hard sometimes.”

“Excuse me for a moment, child. I’ve been sitting too long and my old bones need to stretch.” Clementine stood up and walked toward the front of the hangar, her long red robe stroking the faces of the dead. She pulled up her hood as she felt the steady rain strike her face. “I want to believe you, Debra. I really do. Hell…we’ve had a good laugh or two, and I think I could really come to like you.”

The girl turned and smiled. “I feel the same way. I was wrong about you. You’re actually a lot nicer than I thought you’d be.”

Clementine laughed. “Not what you expected from the crazy old loon, right?”

“That’s not what I-”

“Shut up, child. I know what you meant.”

Clementine’s cold tone made Debra flinch.

“Why did you run?”

“Excuse me?”

“At the boat, when my soldiers were distracted, why did you really run away?”

Debra didn’t know how to safely answer. She finally said, “I think I ran because I was afraid.”

“Afraid of me?”

“In part. But… I’ve been afraid for so long that I could’ve run away for any reason.”

“I see.”

“I am really sorry… and I won’t run again.”

“Yes… yes… you’re sorry. I get it.” Clementine sighed, crossed her arms, and stared out into the rain. Her gaze fell on the three-pronged symbol spray-painted on the hangar door directly across from them. She sighed at it with disgust, and thought, Every time I see it, I feel the weight of all those empty years.

“Honestly, child,” she said. “Whether you believe in Mother or not hardly concerns me. In fact, believe whatever you want. I truly don’t care.”

Debra was shocked. She stood up, reassuming her submissive stance, and waited to be scolded or excused.

“What really troubles me as how much you remind me of things I’d rather forget. I loved her, you know. We were best friends. She was afraid of me, too. They all were… eventually.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, child. Just stand there and listen to this crazy old woman talk about her irrelevant past for a few damn moments. Can you do that much?”

“Yes… yes, Ma’am.”

“My best friend, the one you remind me of, she betrayed me. She hurt me in a way I never thought anyone could. She ran away, too. Well… she tried to once. But that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all water under the bridge. Isn’t that the saying?”

“I suppose so,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

Clementine laughed again. “‘May I go now?’ That’s priceless.” She turned to look at the pitiful girl. “You know, I never even got to tell her goodbye. Everything happened so fast back then. When she tried to abandon me, everything changed. We had something… special. Then my so-called best friend ruined everything.”

Debra looked at the crazy woman, looked into her eyes, and for the first time she felt truly afraid.

Clementine walked over to a mechanism on wall and hit a button.

The hangar door began to close.

“Wait! What are you doing?” Debra said.

“Goodbye, Debra,” Clementine said. She then whispered, “Goodbye… Meredith.”

Before Debra could react, the old crazy woman released her hold on the dead within the hangar.

They were very, very hungry.

Lady Clementine waited outside the closed door for the child’s screams to cease.

~~~

Author’s Note:

For those who don’t remember, this spin-off takes place before Gina and her group arrive in Fairport Harbor back in Chapter 14. While attempting to secure a boat, they are ambushed by the dead in a dry-dock facility directly behind the marina. While passing between several large hangars marked with the strange three-pronged symbol, the hangar doors open and the dead pour out of them and attack. Doug, the group’s leader at that time, is torn apart and the group scatters. This story, in part, tells what occurred prior to their arrival, introducing us to Lady Clementine who we will also find out more about in Chapter 35.

Don’t forget to come back on Thursday for an all new episode of After The Dark, the DFTD talk show, this Thursday, just in time for the return of Don’t Feed The Dark next Monday. Exciting times ;)

________________________________________________
“Hangar Six” Copyright © 2016 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014-2016 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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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