~~~

“Tony!” Nine yelled, trying to be heard over the gunfire and the resuming Shadow Dead howls. “I think Bear’s down!”

“Just stay low and keep your eyes on the fucking pass!” Tony shouted. The remaining men lay in the prone position at the top of the pass, trying to target the fast-moving shadows that attempted to draw their fire from the small clearing below. Black arrows continued to rain down around them. Whether by sheer luck or divine intervention, they all missed their mark.

After the initial volley, Abraham Spinner, laid motionless half-way down the pass after taking an arrow through the side of his head and tumbling forward… dead.

Nine tried not to look at the dead man, tried not think of Diane who he hadn’t seen since the attack started. Instead, he focused on his gun sights and remembering Gina’s lessons on when to stop breathing, when to pull the trigger, and most importantly… when to breathe again before he hyperventilated. There was no time to consider who was still left and who would get struck by the next arrow. They were all dead if the Shadow Dead made it up the pass.

“Those fuckers are just waiting us out, Tony,” Fred said. “We’ll exhaust our ammo shooting into shadows and then it’s over.”

“When we run out of bullets, we’ll club them with our rifles.” Tony was an inconsolable stone. He refused to let the fear in and cede defeat. The others cleaved to his resolve, drawing strength from the big man’s denial that they were clearly overmatched. “And when we’ve shattered our rifles over their heads, we’ll choke them out with our bare hands—bite into their fucking faces with our teeth—whatever it takes to hold this position!”

“Something’s happening,” John said.

From the tree line surrounding the low-lit clearing below, Stephen’s five-man scouting party, infected and left tied undead from the trees, started falling to the ground.

“Oh, that’s definitely not good,” Nine said.

The man once named Frederick, stood up on dead legs, as if trying them out for the first time. He, as well as the others, turned their attention toward the sound of gunfire.

Frederick’s yellow eyes burned with hatred and intense longing as he saw the source of the sound… the blood which he craved… the light from the living that he despised… and together the hungry dead charged toward the pass with savage intensity.

“Fuck,” Tony said. “Target the scout party! Head shots! Fucking head shots!”

The undead scout party charged up the pass.

Tony and the others managed to take down the first three, but because the pass was so narrow, the dead lined up and they were unable to target the last two.

They had no choice but to move, risking arrows to avoid being ripped apart by infected teeth.

Tony was up just as the first of the dead reached them. He swung his rifle around, letting loose a rage-filled war cry, and brought the gun down, crushing the skull of the first zombie, shattering his rifle in the process. The dead thing fell limp to the ground.

The second one targeted Fred Harris, who held his rifle between his hands, to stop the savage’s teeth from reaching his flesh.

Nine put his rifle barrel to the dead thing’s temple and pulled the trigger.

“Shit!” Fred said, spitting out blood. Two black arrows struck him in the back.

Before the man could fall, a razor claw came up from behind the dead zombie and penetrated upward through Fred’s chin and into his brain before retracting.

“Fuck! Fuck!” John Turner was trying to target the first Shadow Dead when a second one came up from the darkness and ripped his throat out with a deadly side swipe from his clawed gauntlet.

The first Shadow Dead was already going for Nine, who tried desperately to raise his rifle and get off a shot. His off-balance shot went awry, striking the creature in the leg and knocking Nine over as a black arrow just missed the back of his head and bounced off the chest plate of the wounded Shadow Dead. The creature stopped, stunned by both hits.

Tony let loose another infuriated cry and charged both Shadow Dead, using his momentum to tackle the first one from the side, knocking them both into the second one, as man and monsters tumbled down the pass.

“Tony!” Nine shouted. He got up, grabbed his rifle, and ran down after them.

~~~

John Calloway was prepared to shit himself after the Shadow Dead attacked the barricades. He could hear the screams of his friends just outside the hatch room door as it sounded like they were being massacred. Instead of joining the fight, he remained at his post, the only defender left with a rifle still aimed up toward the hatch at the top of the ladder.

When the hatch suddenly burst open, letting in outside ambient light down into his dark grave-like position, the young man believed that Tony had arrived with re-enforcements. He made the mistake of lowering his weapon for just an instant, a nervous smile of relief crossing his face. He called up nervously, “To…Tony?”

A large shape fell from the top of the ladder and landed on top of him like a rock.

John struck the floor hard, disoriented, struggling to breathe, as it felt like the hatch door had fallen on top of him. He retrieved his flashlight and shined it into the face of Abraham’s corpse, the man’s lifeless face mirroring his own terror right before Death claimed him.

John tried to cry out, but words failed.

And then they were there, quickly descending the ladder, razors raised toward his shaky flashlight beam.

John turned off his flashlight and started to weep, hoping the darkness would somehow give him a merciful death as the Shadow Dead ripped him to pieces.

It did not.

~~~

Once the remaining three monsters breached the barriers, Logan’s defenders were overwhelmed by the close-quarters savagery of the Shadow Dead who tore into them like coyotes in the center of a chicken coup. They fired wildly into the dark, as flashlights fell, defenders shooting each other or simply trying to crawl over each other to get away to avoid the next bloody swing from razors that penetrated flesh, splattering blood into each other’s faces, causing screams of pain which only aided in masking the monsters’ next bloody kill.

Logan and a few others managed to fall back into the secondary hallway, toward Stephen’s position, using the narrow hall as a choke point and relying on muzzle flashes to try and distinguish their friends from the enemy.

“They’ve breached the hatch!” Cynthia Davis called out. Several more Shadow Dead invaded the front hall, attacking defenders from behind.

Logan watched helplessly as Cynthia’s back was sliced open, her body quickly falling limp into the accumulating pile of flesh at the barriers. He fired his handgun until it ran dry, quickly reloaded, fired again, the gun running hot. His mind was in another place now, somewhere between total panic and insanity as he simply reacted to the carnage in front of him. There was no time to think, to shout out warnings, to pray to his God… they would all be dead in the next few minutes if he or any of them stopped fighting with all they had left.

~~~

Stephen and his defenders felt their resolve slip away as the Shadow Dead bombarded them with the body parts of their slaughtered friends.

The panic was instantaneous as they broke ranks, many of them fleeing toward the hall, some simply dropping to the floor and cowering, others firing wildly into the dark, forgetting to aim, while others tried not to shoot their friends who were crossing in front of their fields of fire.

Five shadows bolted out of the cafeteria hallway and ran in opposite directions across the control room, drawing gunfire in all directions.

“Retreat to the fucking hallway!” Stephen called out.

The Shadow Dead were ruthless, cutting into the first defenders they saw, Stephen barely made it out of the control room as the savage deaths of his friends bought him the precious seconds he needed to make it into the hall and attempt to regroup his remaining defenders.

Once in front of the mystery door, he and a handful of defenders turned their attention toward the control room and started firing at anything that moved.

Stephen took a deep breath before he passed out. He could smell fire from somewhere close. He looked behind him and up the hall, past the clinic, and saw Logan and what was left of his group, desperately trying to hold the other end of the hallway.

We’re penned in! How the hell did this happen? Stephen had no time to consider this as he heard young April shout, “Don’t leave us! You fucking cowards!”

Three men broke ranks and bolted for the Cubicle City entrance.

They were cut off as more shadows came out of Cubicle City, entering the hallway, and sliced the fleeing men to pieces.

“They’ve taken Cubicle City!” someone shouted.

“There’s too fucking many!” someone else called out.

Suddenly Stephen’s forces were split in two directions, shooting toward the control room and toward the Cubicle City entrance.

This is it! Stephen thought. We lose this hallway and it’s all over!

Stephen called out behind him, “Logan! We’re overrun! Defend this fucking hallway! It’s all we have left!”

Logan was far too busy to respond.

What the fuck do we do? WHAT THE FUCK CAN WE DO?

Stephen mustered all he had left to maintain control. They needed him.

“You know what you need to do, my love. It’s staring you right in the face.”

Stephen turned toward the enemy’s voice.

Nicole was standing there—torn up bloody tank top, bruised flesh, cuts running down her legs, her long brown hair was a disheveled mess of dried up blood and dirt. Her face was pale. Her one good eye stared into him, like a portal opening up between two versions of hell.

Stephen was too tired for this. He frowned at the monster and said, “Get out of my head… and don’t come back.”

Nicole simply nodded, dropped her head, and then finished, “I’m only here to help you.” She then backed up, disappearing behind one of the defenders that got in between them… and then she was gone.

His eyes fell on the mystery door, where Nicole was just standing. He felt a small glimmer of hope surface when he realized what Nicole wanted him to see. It’s all we have left, his mind pleaded as he knew what he had to do now. He then turned back down the hall, toward the clinic. Yes, if Logan can hold his end of the hall… we might make it!

He turned back and found April. “Hold this position, no matter what!” he commanded, and then nodded toward the door.

April nodded in understanding, an inspiring look of determination highlighting her face. “Do what you have to do,” she said. “We’ll hold them back!”

Stephen sprinted toward the clinic.

~~~

Tony opened his eyes and attempted to focus in the dark. The left side of his felt numb from lying on the cool earth. His body ached in multiple places after falling down the pass. Well, I’m not dead yet. That counts for something.

Someone groaned in pain nearby. It sounded like Nine.

The light from the fire above helped his eyes adjust as he made out several dark forms moving about. One of them kicked Nine lying on the ground, causing the young man to cry out again.
“Leave him alone!” Tony tried to get up. A heavy foot came down hard, putting pressure on his head. Someone kicked him in the stomach.

No. It doesn’t end like this, Tony thought. Ignoring the pain, he reached up with his arms and grabbed the foot, pushing the Shadow Dead off balance and away from him. Tony got to one knee as another creature lowered what looked like a black spear at his face. He stared back defiantly and shouted, “Do it! Kill me, you cowardly bitch, but don’t think I’m going to let you humiliate us.”

The Shadow Dead holding the spear, cocked its strange masked head and then backed away with indifference. Unlike the others who wore animal skulls, this one wore a helmet, partially obscured by some black scarf, that appeared to be made out of a human skull. Tony noticed that the creature was limping from a bullet wound to the leg.

The Shadow Dead’s hesitation allowed Tony a chance to size up their situation. There were six of them, slowly walking in a circle around himself and Nine as if deciding what to do with them. He looked at Nine who was crawled up into a ball, trying to protect his face and head. It looked like the Shadow Dead had ganged up on him.

Time to pick a fight, he thought, hoping to buy Nine some time before they beat him again.

He turned back to the one holding the spear, assuming it to be their leader. “I don’t know what kind of men hide behind Halloween costumes and beat up kids, but I’m not impressed with any of you. You’re all just a bunch of killers with no honor.” He looked around and gave the others a dismissive look before locking his gaze back on the one with the black spear and the leg wound. “Looks like the kid gave you a permanent limp, you fucking pussy.”

The Shadow Dead spun his spear around and whacked tony in the side of the face with it.

Tony hit the ground, hard. That fucking hurt. He slowly got back up to his knees, spit out blood, and laughed. “That the best you got, pussy? If this were a fair fucking fight, I’d shove that fucking spear up your ass until you were choking on it.”

The wounded Shadow Dead launched forward like a viper, spear extended.

Tony closed his eyes, waiting for the blow that never came. He finally opened them and saw the tip of the spear two inches from his face.

The Shadow Dead held his position for a moment and then dropped the spear in front of Tony. He then backed away and pointed at the spear and then in Tony’s face.

The big man smiled. “Okay… you want to play… that it?”

The Shadow Dead did not respond.

Well… you wanted a fight…

Tony picked up the spear and slowly rose to his feet, expecting the others to charge in and finish him off.

The others simply stopped, razor claws extended on their gloved hands, as they looked toward the wounded Shadow Dead wearing the human skull to see what he would do.

Tony looked over at Nine. The young man turned and stared at him. His face was a bloody mess. He cautiously rose to his knees, shaking, and terrified.

Hold on, kid, Tony thought. We’re not done yet. He looked back toward the wounded Shadow Dead who had retrieved another spear from the monster next to him.

At least he’s not wearing razors. Tony gripped the long spear in both hands and took up a fighting stance. Aim for the leg, Marcuchi. That’s the vulnerable-

Before he could finish his thought, the Shadow Dead spun around with his spear and struck Tony in the side, his face, and then behind his left leg, knocking the big man to the ground, deliberately avoiding using the tip of his spear to savor the kill.

Tony’s body cried out in pain. Fuck me! I never saw that coming. Whatever these things are, they’re well trained in martial arts.

Tony supported himself on his spear and stood back up, spitting out more blood. He nodded at the wounded Shadow Dead and said, “Okay. Good one, asshole. But it’s gonna take more than your fucking stick to take me out.”

The Shadow Dead retracted his spear in response, spinning it behind his head, before assuming another attack position.

“Tony…” Nine managed to get out.

He looked at the young man. Nine’s was trying to tell him something with his eyes.

Tony smiled. “Now, don’t give me any of your shit about there being six of these bastards… and how shitty that number is.”

Nine struggled to laugh.

Tony gave him a puzzled look.

“There’s seven, Tony… seven.”

What?

“And that’s a good number… right?”

“Yes, Tony,” Nine said with confidence. “That’s a very good number.”

Before he could consider what the young man was implying, the wounded Shadow Dead stepped forward and struck Tony in four places before he could even raise the spear to defend himself. Tony struck the ground again, coughing and struggling to breathe. This isn’t going to end well. Tony tried to lure the Shadow Dead in by appearing to collapse. When his attacker approached, Tony let out a growl and aimed his spear toward the monster’s wounded leg with all he had left.

The Shadow Dead easily deflected the thrust with his spear and countered with another attack, striking Tony in the right shoulder.

Fuck me… I’m spent. Tony tried to rise again, but everything was spinning around him. He managed to look up at his attacker. The Shadow Dead was finished playing. The creature retracted his spear, tip forward, for the final blow.

Before he could finish his death stroke, something whizzed through the air over Tony’s head. The Shadow Dead suddenly fell to his knees as Tony was late to register the black shaft sticking out of the left eye in the monster’s skull helmet.

The Shadow Dead fell over sideways and was still.

Holy shit! What just happened?

Tony looked over at Nine.

The young man was smiling and raising up seven fingers.

Tony turned toward the other Shadow Dead. They all broke from their vulture’s circle and were staring at someone coming out of the woods.

Neither Tony nor Nine expected to see a seventh Shadow Dead coming out of the darkness aiming a large black bow, another arrow notched, toward his own kin. This one appeared much smaller than the others, but no less lethal.

The remaining Shadow Dead gave each other a confused look, then as one, they all slowly stepped back into the forest, dragging the dead one’s body with them.

Tony crawled over in front of nine and raised his spear up toward the Shadow Dead archer. He could barely keep the spear from shaking in his own hands; his body was well past the point of total exhaustion.

The archer lowered his bow and stared at the broken mess his kind had left behind. Then it laid the bow down on the ground and held up his hands in a submissive gesture.

Tony refused to lower his guard. “What’s this shit? More games? You looking to have a go at us, too?”

In response, the seventh Shadow Dead raised his hands toward the animal skull helmet and removed it.

“Whoa,” Nine said. “Unexpected.”

They were staring into the black-painted face of a young woman, hair slicked back and tightly braided, and wearing some sort of nose ring. The Shadow Dead woman dropped her helmet beside her bow and said, “They’ll be back to kill you when they decide what to do about me. You have just one choice: Trust me, or die here.”

“Fuck off,” Tony growled.

The woman smiled. “I admire your spirit… and your ability to take a beating. But I’m losing patience quickly with your stupidity. In case you weren’t paying attention, I just saved both of you. We need to leave these woods… right now.”

Tony got to his feet. He continued to hold the spear with one arm, ready for another attack. He helped Nine up with his other arm. “Just go back where you came from, Shadow Bitch. We’re not going anywhere.”

The woman frowned. “Fine. Let me spell it out for you. While you were all distracted, focused on defending your precious hatch, my… wayward brothers… already broke into your compound, via two tunnels that none of you knew about.”

“What are you saying?” Nine said.

“I’m saying that your friends are all dead. Whoever’s left out here, in these woods, are all that’s left of your community.”

“Bullshit.” Tony refused to believe it… he couldn’t.

“Believe what you want,” the woman said. “But there’s a chance the two that fell over the cliff might have landed in the river. I had to make a choice. Save them or save you. I saved you. But we might be able to get to them if we leave right now.”

Nine looked to Tony. “Diane… she’s talking about Diane… and Barney.”

“She’s just using us as bait to catch them,” Tony said. He looked to the woman. “Why are you helping us?”

“I came to find a friend of mine. I even warned him that this would happen. Apparently, none of you listened.”

“Marcus?” Tony said.

“Yeah,” the woman said with hidden bemusement. “Marcus. Is he here… somewhere?”

“Who are you?” Tony pressed.

“My name’s Alysa… not that it matters right now.”

“Marcus never mentioned you,” Nine added. “He told us about Alison… and she’s dead.”

Alysa shook her head with a laugh. “I’m not surprised he told you that… or that he lied about my name. But that’s irrelevant right now. Do you want to save your friends or not?”

Nine gave Tony a pleading look.

Tony was torn. If this woman was telling the truth, then all was lost. He desperately needed to believe Alysa was lying… but he couldn’t.

We do what we can… save who we can, he thought with a heavy sigh.

“I don’t believe my friends are all dead. You underestimate them,” he said. “But I don’t believe we can do anything for them… not like this. But we’ll come back.”

Alysa nodded. “Fair enough,” she added diplomatically.

Begrudgingly, Tony said, “I’ll trust you… for now. But if I find out you’re full of shit, I’ll kill you.”

Alysa laughed. “Oh, I do believe you’ll certainly try.” She bent over and picked up her bow. She looked once at the skull mask, intending to pick it up, and then dismissed it with an unreadable expression on her face.

~~~

Next Episode 39-6

Previous Episode 39-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-5: 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:

    And the first Shadow Dead Kill of the day goeeesss toooooo. Another Shadow Dead. *Slow Clap.

    Liked by 1 person

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