~~~

…Russell stopped speaking and closed his eyes. For a moment he forgot about Alysa staring in shocked silence beside him as he tried to shut out the confusion of that day in the junkyard, and the ancient memories of his youth that came out with it. He risked betraying his partial story if he couldn’t reclaim his usual detachment.

That damn girl made you soft, boss. It was good she died when she did. And you know it. Fuckin’ kids have always been your kryptonite.

Russell let it go.

“He was training them,” Alysa finally said with a heavy sigh.

Russell opened his eyes and stared at her.

“Your friend, this Frank guy, he was trying to prepare them to protect themselves.”

“He was trying to turn them into killers,” Russell sternly corrected. “There’s a difference.”

“Is there?” Alysa looked away and leaned back in her chair.

To Russell, she seemed lost in her own memories. “Have you… killed?”

Her eyes came up quickly, fiercely, and then softened. “I’ve put down my share of those creepy bastards… sure. I think anyone who’s still around today has had to at some point. Haven’t you?”

Russell took it further. “I wasn’t referring to those dead things.”

Alysa’s face went blank. She wouldn’t offer anything.

Russell smiled. “Okay… me first. I’ve killed people. People who tried to hurt us… we lost one of our own in an unprovoked attack. Sniper on a roof top.”

“But you were defending yourself… your group.”

Russell laughed and shook his head. “No… we were in the clear. We could’ve escaped, but we chose not to.”

Alysa raised her eyebrows. “So it’s an ‘Eye for an Eye’, then? You don’t strike me as the revenge type.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“True.” She folded her hands in her lap. “But you don’t strike me as the killer type.”

Now that’s some funny shit, boss.

“So you believe there’s no blood on my hands? Do I come off as someone who would lie about something as serious as killing a human being?” Russell said.

“What I mean is,” she elaborated, “I believe you’re capable of taking another life, and that you have, but not for something as pointless as revenge. I think you’re far too complex a person to settle for that.”

Russell was caught off guard. “And what would you know of my motivations?”

Alysa smiled and leaned forward, placing her chin in her hands. “You strike me as someone who weighs everything and then decides to commit to an action only if it’s important. Killing seems… well… beneath you. Someone must have made you commit, someone important enough to kill for.”

She can see right through you, boss. Like a fuckin’ open book. Who is this bitch? Maybe she really is a damn witch.

Who indeed.

Alysa leaned back and laughed. “Sorry… there I go again getting way too personal. Believe it or not, in a morbid-as-hell sort of way, that was intended as a compliment.”

Russell scrutinized the woman with his intense gaze. He needed to know what she was hiding… and she was definitely holding something back. He decided to offer a bit more. “You’re right. I don’t care for revenge and I don’t take killing lightly. I was forced to retaliate-”

“Who did you kill for?” she cut in.

Careful, boss. She’s baiting you again.

Russell smiled and deflected. “I think we’re getting off track here. I’ve been honest enough on the matter. Now why don’t you tell me who you killed… but more importantly, why?”

Alysa feigned disappointment and laughed. “Almost had you there. Fair enough. Yes, I’ve killed people. But only because I had to.” She picked up her soup cup and took a sip. “It’s another reason I’ve chosen to stay the hell away from everyone.”

“You’re being annoyingly vague.”

“And you’re being equally persistent,” she countered. She frowned and said, “Truth is, I’ve only killed one person. But he had it coming. He had every opportunity to stay my hand, but he pushed me to the brink… pushed me to the point where my life was in danger if I didn’t stop him. And so I did.”

“But there’s more to it, isn’t there?”

She smiled and said, “There’s always more, Marcus. But let’s get back to your story before it gets any later. I was beginning to sense that you all were close to finding that marina.”

Russell gave up. It was clear that Alysa would volunteer nothing more.

She’s like a fuckin’ bad phone trace, boss. You know, like the ones in every thriller where the cops have the psycho on the line and need just another few seconds to locate the bitch… but then she hangs up every time.

Russell smiled at the fitting analogy.

“What was that?” she said, noticing his face. “Inside joke?”

“You could say that,” he finished. “After the junkyard, we cleared the tracks and made it to the river. From there, we found a boathouse to hide out in for the night. And then it rained like a bad omen. Everything quickly went to shit the following day.”

“The dead found you?” she asked.

“Another group went to great lengths to set up a trap when we neared the marina. All along the river, every boat had been destroyed. That should have been our first clue to turn around. But our leader had summit fever by then.”

“Summit fever?”

“It’s a term mountain climbers use to describe people who don’t have enough oxygen or strength to make it to the top. They see the peak and abandon reason, and their lives, obsessed to finish the climb.”

“And you were a mountain climber back in the day?”

“Not quite,” he laughed. “Discovery Channel.”

“Of course. Ahh… the good old days.”

“Anyway, reaching the boat had blinded Doug from seeing the danger all around us. We were so close but never had a chance. There were these large hangars that were loaded with the dead. When we reached the center of the hangars, they opened the doors and let them all out. That was when we lost Doug and everything went to shit.”

“And who were they?”

Russell shook his head. “There were symbols spray-painted on the hangar doors. A three-pronged symbol with an eye at the top. Later, we discovered the meaning of the symbol. It meant Mother. But that’s a much longer story and I’m way too tired to get into it.”

“So what happened after Doug’s death?”

“We got separated by the horde. Eventually we found each other again along the river. But it wasn’t a happy reunion.” Russell paused, his eyes going distant as the memory of that last tragic and glorious day surfaced. He continued. “We lost one more person. Everyone took it hard.”

“Was it… Gina?”

Russell looked at her. He detected a hint of hopefulness in her tone. “No. It was Greg’s daughter, Ashley. She’d been bitten by one of those dark-eyed beasts… the reanimated ones. She passed very quickly and Greg finished what needed to be done.”

Alysa looked away. “Yes… there was that to deal with. Like it wasn’t bad enough to watch them die, but then to watch them… come back. She quickly shifted gears. “Thirsty?”

“Yes, please.” Russell watched her leave to retrieve water. He appreciated the moment alone.

Try it again, boss.

Well… almost alone.

Russell looked down at his right arm and began to lift it. He was able to raise it a few inches and clench his fist before he started to perspire from the effort. It took all he had to exert any effort into moving, but it was getting easier.

Alysa was returning.

He tried his best to look calm and tired rather than a man who just felt like he’d come back from sprinting five miles. Whatever fever this is, it’s kicking my ass. Perhaps all the normal bugs from the old world have mutated into something much worse since The Change. He found the irony comical since it probably wouldn’t be the dead which finished off the human race… but a zombie version of the common cold.

She stopped before his bed with a plastic cup, noticing beads of perspiration on his forehead. She frowned. “You should stop being so damn stubborn, Marcus.” Alysa leaned in and helped him take a sip of water from the cup.

The water tasted luke-warm and old. “Excuse me?” he said.

“I wish I understood better what’s happening inside of you, but I don’t,” she said. “All I can deduce is that your body is working overtime to fight off some nasty infection from the fall. That’s why you have no strength. But every time you ignore my advice to let it run its course and let your body take care of it by getting lots of rest, I believe you’re just making it worse.”

Russell smiled. “Sorry, Doc. I’m a horrible patient, aren’t I?”

She helped him drink the rest of the water and then put the cup on the nightstand. She sat back down and smiled. “No… you’re just frustrated. I completely get it. I’d hate to be dependent on anyone, too. Especially these days. But I’d like to think that I’ve earned your trust by now.”

Russell saw an opportunity and seized it. “I want to trust you, Alysa. But this new world has made me suspicious of everyone and everything. It’s how I’ve survived this long. I’m sure you can appreciate that.”

She looked puzzled. “Yes… but… we are friends, aren’t we? I mean, I’m not Gina or Amanda, and we certainly haven’t known each other that long, but haven’t I been good to you? We’ve talked. We’ve laughed. We’ve overcome the occasional spat along the way…” She trailed off and laughed at herself. “Listen to me, I’m starting to sound like we’re in a relationship or something. You must find me very foolish.”

There it is, boss. There’s your angle. She’s not only crazy from all that alone time… she’s wants your dick! Even a woman has needs and you fit the fucking bill. It’s a simple fuckin’ equation: Prolonged isolation + animalistic desires suppressed = one horny toad. It’s human nature to fuck, boss. Why don’t you cut to the chase and ask how often she mastur-

“I don’t think you’re foolish, Alysa,” he said gently. “I just think you’ve been alone for far too long and that’s made you… guarded. I’ve done everything to remain open. I’ve been telling you my story. But every time I try to get to know you, you shut the door on me whenever I start asking the hard questions. It would go a long way toward me trusting you if you’d start trusting me, too.”

Realizing she’d left herself vulnerable, Alysa started to raise her shields. She wrapped her arms around her coat and said, “I can’t ever shake this damn cold. Anyway, I should let you finish. So what happened after the girl died?”

Missed your chance, boss. Now she’ll keep the goods locked up tight. She’s only wearin’ that damn cloak to keep ya’ from seein’ her built in lie detectors from giving her away. I bet her damn nipples are pointin’ at you right now like a fuckin’ junk-hungry divining rod.

You really are disgusting, Russell thought back.

The other one laughed.

“After Ashley’s death, it was clear that we needed a new leader; someone who could keep us focused and working together toward whatever came next.”

“And that’s when you took charge,” she said confidently.

Russell smiled. “I’m flattered… but no. I’m not the ‘leader’ type. We all agreed that it should be Gina.”

Alysa made no effort to hide rolling her eyes. “And that’s why I’m alone now. When people get desperate, they’ll look to anyone to tell them what to do. Let me guess, since she obviously had Doug in her pocket, Gina figured she was entitled to the position. Is that about right?”

“Hardly.” Russell was amused. “In fact, Gina didn’t want anything to do with it. That’s why, I believe, she made a great leader. She genuinely cared for the group and brought us all together as a… family… for lack of a better term. She didn’t consider herself worthy to lead but her actions since then have proven otherwise.”

Alysa wisely remained silent.

Russell got lost in the moment. He remembered that day when she stood up and gave a brief speech. It wasn’t so much what she said that moved him, but it was the conviction he saw in her eyes. That was the moment everything changed and he began to see her finally move toward her destiny… and he had vowed to do everything in his power to make sure Gina became that woman, no matter what the cost. That day, Russell had seen his new purpose revealed as the fiery red-head took over leadership. He had believed it was his purpose to make her rise up out of the ashes of her former self and stand up, unafraid… as a worthy offering to Death herself. But after that moment, Russell understood that he was staring at a future queen of the new world. It was a glorious revelation and a humbling honor the Lady had bestowed upon him. Eventually, he would remove her from this life and deliver Gina to the other side, but not until the Lady’s purposes were fulfilled.

She had been anointed by Death to rule before the glorious end.

“She can’t love you,” Alysa said, noticing his illuminated face.

Russell turned. “What was that?”

“Gina… she can’t give you what you want in return, no matter how high a pedestal you place her on.”

You’re a damn fool, boss! You risk everything by exposing the only thing you fuckin’ care about to this crazy bitch. All our hard work, and my longsuffering patience, put at risk because you can’t hide your fascination for the fuckin’ Golden Goddess.

Doesn’t matter, Russell thought. Gina is far from here and this ‘thing’ pretending to live and breathe while rotting away in this tomb, will never leave this forest. And that was assured long before we ever arrived.

You just make sure, boss. If Gina is so fuckin’ important, then you make sure this bitch’s blood is spilled before we ever leave this place. Because now, she knows how to get to you.

Russell smiled. When we get our strength back, I will let you do whatever you wish to Alysa. Call it compensation for your cooperation all these long months.

You mean that, boss? I can have this one?

Russell turned to Alysa, making her uncomfortable with his lingering stare, and thought back, I would not have it any other way.

He could feel the other one’s savage excitement.

“Sorry,” Alysa said. “Again, I’m overstepping, aren’t I?”

“That’s alright,” he said. “You don’t know Gina as I do. You could never know.”

Alysa was puzzled by the comment.

He realized why he despised this woman. She was nothing but a fraud, pretending to show strength while living in a perpetual state of fear. Even now, she lavished in the illusion of control over a man who she thought she could manipulate due to his injuries. Alysa was nothing more than a vulture within this place, and a frightened child running from the world outside of these walls. This was who Gina could become if Russell allowed her to wallow in her pain.

Gina was Alysa… if he failed.

“You do love her, right?” Alysa pushed.

Russell had never considered the question before. Love, in the sense that so many of these fools understood it to be, was insignificant and the useless byproduct of emotional and physical impulses… nothing more. He would not reduce what he held for Gina to the same standard. What the sheep called ‘Love’, he called dung. However, he did love her. Russell loved Gina more than anything in this life, except for the Lady. He loved her as the Lady also loved her. And that was something he would never be able to convey to the animals of this world.

“No,” he finally said. “I do not love Gina. She means a great deal to me… but not in the way you think.”

Alysa didn’t know how to take the comment. “Well, that’s good to hear because, like I said, she can’t love you back.”

“Why do you keep saying that?’

Alysa’s face turned hard again. She stared at him and finished, “Because love is dead. I know this more than I know anything else about this fucked-up new world.”

“That seems a bit harsh.”

“It’s the truth, Marcus. And the sooner you accept it… nothing… and I mean nothing… will ever be a threat to you.”

~~~

Next Episode 37-10

Previous Episode 37-8

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 37-9: Through the Eyes of a Devil” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Four: Phantoms. 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. nashmcgowan says:

    This conversation is creepy as hell.

    Liked by 1 person

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