~~~

The gymnasium-sized living area, commonly referred to as Cubicle City, sat eerily quiet beneath the low-lighting above, and was the only location in the compound still configured for evening hours. Makeshift cubicles made from bed sheets, extended across thin lines of rope, were hanging askew or swaying slightly off the linoleum floor, casting distorted shadows along the walls. Every cot in every cubicle was empty. Bedding and clothing lay scattered across the floor in a panic, as every available body was awoken from complacent slumber to face a nightmare. Everyone was rushed into action when word came down from topside that the once-believed fictional Shadow Dead had finally come.

Joe Lauder, a robust man in a sweat-stained white t-shirt, wearing a white cowboy hat, which was far too big for his head, sat huddled with four other armed community members near the back of Cubicle City, in front of the prayer wall with a lit lantern as an additional light source. The three men and two women were charged to keep the area secure, and act as a back-up reserve should things go from bad to worse. None of them, except Joe, had any real experience with a firearm, and they were now wishing they’d spent more time paying attention to Gina’s instruction when their former leader had tried to prepare them for this dreadful day.

They all listened intently to the anxiety-filled voices over the single hand-held radio—the volume turned down low as if they feared the dead might hear it and find them. They recognized their leader’s voice, Stephen Eddington, frantically talking with Tony and Logan as they scrambling to prepare last-minute defenses from the imminent attack. None of them would admit it, but what they were really waiting to hear was that the hatch leading down into their safe little compound had been breached… and if that happened… they all believed they would die.

Beverly Buchanon, a tall woman with long curly brown hair, tied back, had once been a magazine fashion model. She often reminisced with anyone who would listen about her previous booming social life and spacious studio apartment with a view of Cleveland’s active downtown area. Before the Change, she’d been a semi-recognizable local star, frequenting some of the biggest city events at local night clubs, fashion shows, sporting events, and even the occasional art show opening. But since the apocalypse, her ‘attractive’ skill set had become obsolete overnight, reducing her to compound maid and kitchen help.

Beverly sat in the small semi-circle with the other misfits, listening intently to the radio chatter. She wore long skin-tight designer jeans and a loose-fitting white blouse that was designed to make her look bigger in the chest region (one of many fashion tricks she’d learned along the way). It didn’t keep obnoxious Mark Banner from giving her demeaning nick names such as ‘Legs’ or ‘Clothes Hanger Girl’, but she took it in stride. Understanding what the situation called for, she didn’t wear her usual high-heeled sandals, which would have completed her casual attire, and tried not to cringe at her boring running shoes she’d thrown on instead. She constantly kept staring up at the massive prayer wall, at all the photos of misplaced loved ones, or the deceased, as her mind drifted off to life before hiding from the dead in large underground bunkers. She was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. “Do you guys ever wonder if somewhere, photos of us are posted on someone else’s wall?”

“Of course not,” Matthew Spander, a moody young man with short blond hair said. “What are the odds that other people like ourselves found a place like this to survive the winter? And even if they’re out there, the chances that anyone who might remember us is slim to none.” Matthew wasn’t a pessimist, but he lacked the imagination to believe anything beyond the facts. And for him, the facts were leaning heavily in favor of the dead.

Beverly would not be shut down. “I’m just saying, with all the people there are in the world, it’s possible, don’t you think?”

Matthew just shrugged his shoulders, already tiring of the model’s misplaced optimism.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Wendy Meseler offered. She was a short, thoughtful woman who lived vicariously through Beverly’s stories of the ‘Big City’ life when living below became downright depressing. Wendy’s short-cropped black hair matched her black thick-framed Lennon-style glasses. She often wore baggy clothes to hide her big-boned form, winning her the nick name, Velma, from Scooby Doo (thanks, Mark). She deliberately never wore anything orange, because of it.

Before the apocalypse, Wendy abhorred violence of any kind, and was once a fervent activist against anything that threatened her idealistic notions of world peace. Since the dead took over, Wendy continued to hold to her strong anti-violence beliefs, earning her the scornful name of “Hippy Girl” throughout the compound. Wendy had embraced the nickname. She once told Gina, when invited to combat training, that she could not raise arms against the dead without betraying who they used to be, and that it wasn’t possible to destroy the dead without becoming just like them.

Gina had responded with a rare instance of surprised laughter, and had never spoken with her again.

“Beverly, you are a dreamer, and I appreciate the hope you keep alive,” Wendy said.

Beverly smiled and lowered her eyes at the compliment.

“One day, we will find others, and rebuild our lives… back to what we were. In fact, I believe it will be better than it was before, because no one left alive will take the living for granted anymore.” Wendy seemed pleased with her own words.

“Spoken just like someone who’s never had to defend anyone they care about… you make me sick, you, and your sheltered beliefs.”

“Leave her alone, Mark,” Beverly said. “She’s just trying to keep our spirits up.”

Mark Banner smiled and gave the model the finger.

Both Beverly and Wendy shook their heads, dismissing his rude behavior.

Mark laughed and said, “Look, I don’t care if you want to believe in some new utopian society of Man, the fucking Easter Bunny, or if we’re all going to die down here tonight. Truth is, we deserve whatever’s coming. What’s happening in the world… hell… we did this. I don’t know how, but we did it. Maybe this is all just nature’s way of paying us back for fucking each other over all these years.” Mark was a believer in one thing: He hated his own kind more than the dead.

“How can you possess such a bleak outlook?” Wendy asked. “I mean… just look at how we’ve all come together down here. We’re all from different backgrounds and beliefs, but we’ve survived together when so many haven’t. That has to count for something.”

Mark shook his head. “You’re confusing survival necessity for compassion. We don’t care about each other… not really. We do what we do down here because we need each other. That’s it. If the National Guard came and rescued us tomorrow, I’m sure we’d all be happy to never see each other again.”

“Wow, and I thought I was the cynical one,” Matthew said. “You must not have had a lot of friends before the world ended.”

“Fuck friends,” Mark said. “That’s just more people to mourn. I’ll leave all that sentimental bullshit to the hippy over there and the long-legged prom queen. We were always alone in this world… I’ve just got the balls enough to admit it.”

Matthew had no response. He just waved a hand in Mark’s face.

Wendy turned to Beverly, who was wiping tears from her eyes.

“I wasn’t a prom queen, asshole. I modeled for a living. I just… I just miss my life. Is it a crime to want to talk about it? Is that okay with you?”

“That’s okay,” Wendy said, taking the tall woman’s hand. “You’re not the only one.” She turned and scowled at Mark. “Happy now?”

Mark raised his hands and laughed. “Sorry. I’m not good at chocolate-covered with sprinkles. If it tastes like shit, then it’s still shit. Welcome to the apocalypse, sweetheart.”

“You’re a jerk,” Wendy said. “And don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.”

Mark gave up.

Joe, the oldest of the five, and usually the most talkative, had been listening intently to the radio traffic. He was lost in thought, recalling every Shadow Dead story he’d ever heard.

“You all wanna hear a ghost story?” he asked, smiling like a mischievous child beneath his absurdly large cowboy hat.

“Not particularly,” Matthew said.

“Hell no,” Beverly added.

“Now’s probably not a good time for-” Wendy started.

“Oh… hell yes!” Mark interrupted, enthusiastically, winning him the contemptuous glares of the others. “Go on, Joe, tell us a scary story.”

Once Joe got started, it was almost impossible to shut him up. Mark was about to enjoy himself at the others’ expense.

“Well, alright then,” Joe said, moving in closer. “I started thinking about it all when we heard what happened to Carl Lannister. You know, all head and no body, on a stick?”

“I don’t want to talk about them,” Beverly said. “It’s bad enough they’re outside. Let’s talk about something else… please.”

“What? Like adventures prancing down the fucking runways with sparkles?” Mark poked. “Or Hippy’s tales of pacifism, protest signs, and the rotting re-animated corpse of John Lennon?”

“You are a damn bully,” Matthew said, shaking his head.

“Look, could we please just get our heads out of the sands of the ‘good old days’ for five damn minutes? We need to hear what Joe knows. What if the Shadow Dead get in? We need to know as much as we can to protect ourselves.”

“Go on, Joe,” Wendy said, shaking her head at Mark. “I think he’s just enjoying our discomfort. But I’d rather hear anything to shut this prick up.”

Mark blew her a kiss.

Joe, who looked like he was about to implode if he didn’t continue, nodded. “Alright then. Well, poor Carl—his head, that is—got me thinking about that scary damn machine, Micolad, and how the Shadow Dead would come at night for something they called the Gathering. Did you know that there used to be a cult, just up the river at that destroyed camp? Old Micolad used to translate all those howls and screams when the Shadow Dead came calling. That machine would tell the people what the monsters wanted, like a sacrifice or a fight to the death, and Micolad would draw names from a lottery.”

“Are you saying that’s what’s happening now?” Beverly asked, biting her nails.

“In a way,” Joe said. “It’s not that much different. They’re outside now, howling at us, and we’re like, the cult people, except that we ain’t prisoners. But maybe they just want another sacrifice to appease them… and then… they’ll go away.”

“That’s absurd,” Matthew said. “And even if it were true, we don’t have a damn machine to translate.”

“True. True. But what if history, is like, repeating itself?” Joe continued. “I was thinking we were more like the original cult people who started all the trouble that came later. You know, they first tried to leave, and were punished for it. That’s how the hanging dead men first started. Folks tried to escape and the Shadow Dead snatched them up right quick, turned them into zombies, and hung them from the trees… just like they did to Frederick’s group! That was like, their first warning!”

They all knew the tales of Micom and Micolad, but they had not heard the earlier stories. Joe had their complete attention.

“You see,” Joe started to whisper. “First came the hanging men, then, they left pieces of people on poles to scare them into submission. And when that wasn’t enough, they appeared in the camp, like ghosts on shadow, and took all their children… snatched them right out of the night!”

Wendy put her hand to her chest. “I don’t like this story.”

“And you shouldn’t,” Joe said. “I heard they let a girl live, after they took her eyes right out of her head. That girl came back, half-dead, insane with fear! And then later, that girl died. Guess what happened when they wrapped her up to bury her the next day?”

“What happened?” Mark shifted uncomfortably. He suddenly wished there were more lights on.

“When they went to bury that poor girl, the body was missing. But the Shadow Dead left her eyes!”

Beverly covered her ears. “I don’t want to hear this anymore!”

“It’s all bullshit,” Matthew said. “Ghost stories get exaggerated, just like this one, turning men into monsters to scare people. That’s all this is. The Shadow Dead are still men wearing… costumes. That’s all.”

“No, I know it’s true,” Joe said. “I’ve seen their handiwork, myself! I saw it in Andover when Sam, the police officer, was still alive! We had the town locked up tight. There’s no way they could’ve got in without us knowing. But sure-as-shit, I was there when they slipped in, like fucking magic, and killed poor Phillip Hampton! They got in just like they got into that camp, when they stole the kids. I was there, at the post office with that odd fellow, Marcus. We both found Phillip’s body hanging up on the wall like a wooden Jesus in church.”

They were all familiar with the mysterious murder surrounding the group’s former leader, Samantha Petroskovich. It was originally rumored that the Shadow Dead had done it, but was later ruled out, believing Charlie Ottermeyer had done it. But to this day, there was no proof either way. However, very few knew about Phillip Hampton.

“We found that man, his throat slit, hanging from the wall… like a sacrifice… like another warning! And there was this message written in blood over his head!”

“What did it say?” Mark asked.

“‘YOU KILL US. WE KILL YOU. BLOOD FOR BLOOD’.”

“That’s fucking creepy,” Matthew said.

“Yeah,” Joe said. “First Phillip… then Sam. Then we took this place… and now… here they are. Back for blood, or another sacrifice… who knows.”

They all sat silently for a moment. Appreciating the danger topside in a whole new horrific way.

“There was one mystery solved, though,” Joe said, looking puzzled. “They had these tunnels beneath their camp. That’s how they got in and out without being seen.”

“Tunnels?” Matthew asked.

“Yep,” Joe said. “Looked like they knew what they were doing long before they attacked that camp.” Joe laughed, standing up. He walked over to the lit lantern in front of the prayer wall and picked it up. “Well, some things won’t be repeating themselves, anyway.” He turned toward them, holding the lantern under his face to give himself a ghastly expression. “Unless… they already have tunnels under this place, too… BOO!”

Everyone jumped.

Joe couldn’t stop laughing as he pointed at each of them. “I got you all pretty good!”

“Yeah, Joe,” Mark said, no longer amused. He was staring into three terrified faces. “I think we’ve definitely heard enough ghost stories for the night.”

From somewhere along the opposite wall of Cubicle City, they all heard a sound… a cracking sound… followed by more cracking sounds coming from behind several hung sheets.

Joe turned with his lantern aimed toward the sounds.

The others got to their feet.

“Did anyone hear that?” Wendy asked.

“I thought we were alone in here,” Matthew added.

After a couple of minutes of dreadful silence, they all heard a new sound. There was no mistaking what it was.

They could all hear one of the many cots slowly sliding across the floor from within one of the roped off cubicles.

(…Joe Henry Lauder, dead at age 38, of Ashtabula County, former cook…)
(…Beverly Ann Buchanon, dead at age 22, of Cuyahoga County, former model…)
(…Matthew Barry Spander, dead at age 21, of Lake County, former college student…)
(…Wendy Lana Meseler, dead at age 20, of Geauga County, former activist…)
(…Mark Byron Banner, dead at age 23, of Lake County, former lifeguard…)

~~~

Next Episode 39-3

Previous Episode 39-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-2: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. 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:

    Oh sweet baby jesus. They are so fucked.
    Maybe a certain zombie girl will get to feast that night….

    Liked by 1 person

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