~~~

The cold rushing water swept across her face keeping Diane from passing out. She was drenched. The numbing liquid kept her from feeling the pain from several scrapes and bruises after bouncing hard down the cliffside and landing hard into the river. She tried to stand but discovered that the water had pushed her downstream, pinning her legs beneath a large rock. This probably saved her from drowning since she hadn’t been pushed into the deeper part of the river, sweeping her corpse away into oblivion. She used her arms to keep her face above water, feeling blood from a gash in her forehead drip into her mouth. Her exhausted limbs shook from the effort as she collapsed back into the stream, desperately trying not to swallow anymore water.

I have to move… get out of the water before I die of hypothermia. Yes, she could already feel it, the cold causing her to become lethargic and dulling her senses. She tried to gain her bearings but the darkness and the hypnotic sound of the river made it difficult.

Diane helplessly let her head slip back down below the water, her arms had become useless. And then she was beneath—the cold, wet, blackness lulling her to cease her struggles. She couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She started to lose consciousness.

Someone grabbed the back of her hair, hard, and pulled her above the water. Diane started coughing fiercely as she was dragged free of the rock and out of the river. Before she could thank her rescuer, two large hands wrapped themselves around her throat and lifted her off the ground.

Diane had barely caught her breath as her eyes adjusted to the ambient light reflected in the hideous yellow eyes of the brute who was now choking her.

Bear’s mouth hung open as the dead thing prepared to bite into her face.

Diane didn’t have the strength left to fight, her legs dangling from the monster’s choke hold like being hung from a noose, strung up on the strong branch of some enormous tree.
She closed her eyes as the monster moved in for the kill.

Please, God, let it be quick… please… just let it be over…

Before the dead thing could feed, someone struck it from behind, causing Bear’s hands to open, the precious air rushing back into Diane’s lungs as she fell limp to the ground.

Diane turned and watched the monster swing its large massive arms around at the new threat, barely missing Barney who just managed to dodge the blow.

The old soaked soldier stumbled and then regained his balance, holding what looked like a broken rifle in his hands like a baseball bat. “Come on, you nasty fuck!” he challenged.

Bear howled at him, his frustration at being interrupted from his snack clearly enraging the beast.

Barney swung the broken rifle up and into Bear’s chin, causing the monster’s head to snap back. This might have killed a normal man… but this was no normal man.

Bear grabbed the end of the rifle and yanked it from Barney’s hands, causing the old soldier to fall forward at his feet.

Barney flashed Diane a look and shouted, “RUN, GIRL!”

Diane wanted to move, but her legs were still numb from being in the water. She reached out to Barney with a useless arm, too far away for him to grab it.

The old man raised his arms to defend himself as Bear lifted a foot to smash his skull into the earth.

“No!” Diane cried out, hoping to distract the creature. “Not him, you fucking asshole! Over here!”

The creature ignored his soon-to-be-resumed snack and… stopped.

A dark shaft whizzed across the night and struck the beast in the neck, causing him to stumble back and just miss crushing Barney’s head. A second arrow immediately followed the first, striking the brute in the temple. Bear turned, wobbled back toward the river, and then toppled over into the water. The monster was still.

Diane turned as another large form approached, she swung her arms widely in a frenzy as two warm hands caught her wrists. “Diane… it’s me. You’re okay, now.”

Diane was staring into Tony’s face. “Are you… are you…” Before she could finish, the young woman collapsed into Tony’s arms.

Tony turned toward Barney, who was being helped up by Nine. He then looked back at the Shadow Dead woman holding the black bow with another arrow at the ready. He begrudgingly nodded to her.

Alysa stood there, her face an unreadable stone. She stared back at Tony and nodded in response.

“Tony.” Nine was holding Barney’s arm around his neck, as he helped the old soldier limp over. “He’s hurt.”

“I’m… fine,” the old man lied.

Tony gently laid Diane down and then approached Barney. He noticed part of a black arrow sticking through his right ankle.

“Looks… looks worse than it… than it feels,” Barney said with a smile. “When I… when I took that tumble… down the hill… I got tangled up… tangled up with the big fellow. One of those… one of those arrows stickin’ in his chest must have… must have come out… and caught me in the ankle. How’s the… how’s the girl?”

Tony was staring into the Barney’s face. The old man looked pale… and his eyes… his eyes looked wrong.

Before he could address it, Alysa walked over and said to the old man, “You fought bravely. I’m truly sorry for this.”

Barney’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as the Shadow Dead raised her bow with lightning speed and launched an arrow into his forehead.

Nine, unprepared for the deadly move, stepped away from the dead man as Barney’s corpse hit the ground. “What… what the fuck?” he said, staring at Barney’s killer.

Alysa quickly lowered her bow and held out her hand. “Wait!”

Too late.

Tony charged the woman.

Alysa moved to the side, easily avoiding his emotionally driven and clumsy charge.

Tony stumbled to the ground.

Alysa wisely took several steps back while reloading her bow. She aimed it at Nine. “Don’t,” she advised.

Nine raised his hands but shot her with a contemptuous stare.

Tony turned with murder in his eyes.

Alysa aimed at Tony and shook her head. “Your friend,” she quickly said, “he was infected. The arrows my former brothers are using are what turned the big man lying dead in the river. His… change… was immediate because he was struck in the chest, several times. The proximity of the wound to the heart determines how fast it happens. The old man… he had a bit longer, but it was happening. You saw it, I know you did.”

“Infection-spreading arrows?” Nine said, staring at his dead friend. He looked back at the killer. “What kind of people are you?”

When Alysa was certain that Tony wasn’t going to charge, she lowered her bow. She stared at the dead man in disgust. “My people were never authorized to use these kinds of weapons. They’re forbidden for obvious reasons. The fact that they’re using them now vexes me.”

“Your… people,” Tony spat, “are murderers and monsters… just like you.”

Alysa gave him a grave look. “Yes… you’re absolutely right.”

~~~

Stephen slammed his hand repeatedly on the clinic door. “Meredith! Cooper! Open up!”

Coop reluctantly opened the door, allowing Stephen to slip in, and then quickly shut it and locked it. The old doctor stared in shock at their young leader who looked like he just arrived from hell. “It’s that bad?” he asked.

Stephen’s eyes said it all. He had the look of a man who wasn’t sure where he was, only that wherever he turned there was darkness, blood and death. He put a hand on Coop’s shoulder, trying to catch his breath. “We’re in serious trouble.”

Meredith was there, looking over her friend like a worried mother. “My goodness… Stephen… are you alright?”

He turned to her, a mixture of intense emotions clearly evident on his face. “We’re about to lose the compound.” Hearing himself admit the truth out loud flooded him with immediate sadness. He fought off tears and finished. “So many are already dead. We’ve lost all contact topside… all we have left is the hallway… and we’re about to lose that, too.”

Meredith covered her mouth and looked at Coop.

Coop reached out and grabbed her hand. “What… what can we do to help?” the doctor asked Stephen.

“We’ve only one option left. We run,” Stephen replied. “But that all depends on you, Meredith.”

She let go of Coop’s hand and took a step back.

“The Shadow Dead will kill the rest of the defenders, take the hall… and then finish off anyone else trying to hide,” he said. “Meredith, I know you’re firmly against it… but that damn door is all we have left. The last of my fighters are giving all they have just to give us a chance at reaching it before those monsters overwhelm us.”

She nodded. “I understand.” Meredith tried her best to mask her bitterness. She sighed heavily, looked to Coop, and then back at Stephen. “It’s come down to running into the fire to flee the frying pan.”

Stephen had no time or patience to inquire about her comment. “Meredith… please… can you… will you open that door?”

She immediately thought of Toby, who had orchestrated this from the very start.

“Yes… yes, of course,” she said.

Coop gave her a surprised look, that she deliberately ignored.

“We have to go… right now,” Stephen urged.

Meredith turned toward the damaged young woman in the cell. Megan was on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth as if she expected, or hoped, the ceiling would collapse.

Coop read her mind. “Meredith, there’s no time. You’re going to have to leave her behind.”

Meredith ignored him and rushed to her cot. She grabbed a pillow, removed the pillowcase and then approached the plexiglass room door.

Megan raised her head to look at her.

“What are you doing?” Coop moved toward her with alarm.

She unlocked the door and grabbed the handle. “I’m not leaving her.”

“Meredith… don’t let her out!” Stephen said. “We’ve enough to worry about without-”

“Stephen,” she interrupted. “Listen carefully. The door is voice activated. Stand near it and say the following phrase verbatim: The Lions are sleeping, but we always stand guard. Did you get all of that?”

Stephen nodded.

“That will open it… and God help us. Now take Coop and go. If I’m not there in five minutes…” She stared into Megan’s mercury eyes and finished, “…then I’m already dead.”

“Meredith?” Stephen gave her a pleading look.

She smiled at him and said, “I can’t leave her, Stephen. I have to try.”

“Not by your damn self, you’re not,” Coop said, moving in beside her. He looked over at Stephen. “Go, young man. While you still have time. We’ll take necessary precautions and hopefully meet you there.”

Stephen simply nodded, gave them both a final glance, and forced himself to exit the clinic.

By now, Megan was slowly rising to her feet, sensing what Meredith was about to do.

Meredith stared into the young woman’s eyes, trying to remember that she was, in part, still a woman. “You are a stubborn man,” she said to Coop. “I wanted to spare you this if my rescue attempt ended… badly.”

“Shut up and do it already,” he said. “Whether we die in that cage, out in the hall, or just past the scary door, it matters very little to me as long as we’re together. I refuse to let this go down any other way.”

Meredith smiled at him. “I love you.”

Coop smiled back and then stared down at the pillowcase. “So… we walk in… ask her to play nice… and then put that over her head to keep her from biting the hell out of us?”

“Something like that,” she said with a frown.

“We could sedate her?”

“You know there’s no time for that,” she said. “Besides, it doesn’t sound like we have time to carry her down the hall.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Coop sighed. “Okay. I’ll try to grab her hands and pin them behind her back, and then you can put the pillowcase-”

“Megan, honey,” Meredith interrupted. “I know you understand what’s happening. Myself and Dr. Cooper want to get you out of here. I know you’re… hungry… and a part of you wants to attack us the moment we open this door, but I’m asking you to fight against it… okay?”

“Or… we could just ask the young, part-zombie lady to cooperate,” Coop said sarcastically. “I should’ve thought of that.”

“Don’t… don’t do it,” Megan said. “Leave… me here.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Meredith said. “I know you’re fighting what feels like an impossible war within, but I believe in you, Megan. I believe in you so much that I’m willing to come in there and that you won’t harm us… or anyone else.”

“I’ll… I’ll kill you,” she threatened. “I… I mean it. I can’t stop this! Don’t make me hurt you!”

“I love you, Megan,” Meredith said. “And because I love you… I won’t leave you here to die. And I know you love me, too. That’s why you won’t harm us. That love we share will help me overcome my fear and open this door. That love will help you overcome your need to feed… and let us help you.”

Megan was violently shaking her head.

“Just hold on to that hope, Megan. We’ll get through this… together.”

Meredith shot a silent prayer to the God of her old friend, Gregory:

Dear God, I’m told that you sometimes favor the fool. I’ve heard that you are merciful. I ask for your grace now to help me rescue this child. To the world, I’m just a detestable witch and Megan’s a monster, but I understand that you know us by our hearts, and if we are worth anything more than what we appear to be… then please, help us.

Before Megan or Cooper could object, Meredith opened the door and entered the lion’s den.

~~~

Logan, and a handful of defenders still able to fight, pushed back against the Shadow Dead. The monsters continued to dodge their bullets, using the darkness against them, while coming in close to stab, pierce or dismember flesh in quick precise attacks, before rushing back behind cover.

The big preacher’s wide intense eyes made him look insane as he fired whatever weapons he could pick up and run dry as his defenders went down one by one, their blood splattering the walls, floors and all over what remained of the living.

His hands hurt, his head was pounding, his heart… racing. No matter how hard they pushed back, the Shadow Dead would not stop… ever. If he’d had time to think, Logan would’ve realized that the enemy was holding back, simply waiting for his defenders to drop from exhaustion, lower their guards, or run out of ammunition. Time was clearly on their side.

Logan felt a fresh wave of anger overcome him as his present rifle ran out. One of the monsters, sensing an opportunity, tried to charge him, but the big man turned the rifle around and swung it full force into the skull helmet of the attacker, knocking the beast off-balance, and forcing the creature back into the shadows to wait for another opportunity to strike.

The others were inspired by the preacher’s stand, and gave everything they had to hold the hallway.

Between attacks, when Logan caught his breath, he recited scripture into the darkness, which either confused the enemy or made Logan appear ten-feet tall to them in those moments, because the big man fought like a savage driven by the power of his God.

“‘O’ Lord, how many are my foes!’” Logan picked up another handgun and fired into the barricades, forcing one of them to dive for cover. “‘How many rise up against me!’” He struck the arm of another Shadow Dead with the empty handgun, blocking a fatal blow from its clawed hand. He then raised his leg and kicked the monster back. “‘Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’. But you are a shield around me, O’ lord…’” The big man ducked, avoiding the sneak attack of another creature. He picked up another rifle from a pile of the dead and fired upward into the creature’s skulled mask at point-blank range. The Shadow Dead fell. “‘You bestow glory on me and lift up he head.’” Another Shadow Dead threw a spear toward the big man, but a defender deflected it away from Logan with his rifle. “‘To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill!’”

They had won that charge. The Shadow Dead slid back into the darkness to regroup.

“‘I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Arise, O’ Lord! Deliver me, O’ my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked!’ Do you hear me shadow fuckers?” Logan challenged the darkness.

For the moment, the predators in the dark remained still.

Some defenders reloaded as fast as possible while others kept their weapons up, ready to resume.

The pause was brief as the Shadow Dead raised clawed weapons to attack.

Logan smiled, raised another gun, and whispered, “‘The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?’”

The defenders opened fire again. They had enough ammo left to withstand one final charge.

~~~

Stephen re-entered the hallway to chaos. He turned to the right and saw Logan and his defenders fighting with such ferocity. They were only five of them left.

“Logan?” he called out.

The big preacher had no time to look back. He managed to shout, “We fought the good fight, little brother! No matter how this ends, always remember that!”

Stephen heard him clearly. Logan was saying goodbye.

No… no… NO! This isn’t over! Stephen turned left and headed toward the mystery door. April and seven others were still holding the line, just three feet beyond the door. The young woman was leading the charge. She was determined to keep the Shadow Dead back if it meant running out of bullets and then attacking with her bare hands. The monsters were bidding their time, hiding in the darkness, and waiting for their guns and strength to fail.

We’ve lost just about everyone, Stephen thought with horror, as he stared at the defenders’ backs, feeling like he’d led them all to this… that he led them all to the grave. There’s no time for regrets… we fight for every second… every damn breath.

Stephen forced himself to focus only on the imposing door. He got as close to it as he could and shouted over the gunfire, “The Lions are sleeping, but we always stand guard!”

His heart skipped a beat when nothing happened.

Suddenly, he heard the ancient mechanism behind the door. It began to move, inward. A crack. Then a foot. A dull pulsating red light began to spill out into the hallway from beyond the door.

The Shadow Dead at both ends of the hall, stopped their latest assault as the strange red light caught their attention.

Now’s our only chance! Stephen shouted back toward the preacher. “Logan! Fall back to our position! We’re getting out of here!” He couldn’t tell if the preacher heard him. They were still firing into the darkness.

He turned back to the door. The five-inch think steel portal continued to move. It was now wide enough for them to slip through.

Stephen turned back. Meredith, where the hell are you?

“We’re almost out of ammo!” April shouted back.

The strange door was now completely open.

“Can you hold them back for another minute!” Stephen said.

The young soldier nodded.

Stephen turned toward the clinic and stopped. Meredith and Cooper entered the hall. Megan stood between them wearing a hood.

Shit!

“This way!” he shouted.

Meredith looked toward him and nodded. The three of them started toward the door.

“Run!” Logan shouted from just behind Meredith. He was falling back, fast, firing his weapon into the dark. “They’re coming!”

“Move it!” Stephen yelled. Meredith, Cooper, Megan, and Logan were the only ones left at the end of the hall.

“Stephen!” It was April. “They’re charging hard! We can’t hold them much longer!”

“Shit!” Stephen picked up a rifle from the closest dead defender and started firing next to April. “Get to the damn door… NOW!” he shouted over his shoulder.

And then the door did something unexpected. It started to slowly close on its own.

What the hell?

He shouted out the pass phrase again but nothing happened.

April dropped her rifle and pulled out her handgun and continued firing. She had no reloads left. “Go!” she yelled. “Our leader needs to live!”

Stephen ran for the door and started pushing against it. He managed to slow it down, but the strong door continued to close. He looked back down the hall.

Meredith was down. Cooper was dragging her toward the door. Beyond them, all he saw were the Shadow Dead.

~~~

When Logan’s gun ran dry, the enemy attacked. The preacher swung his rifle hard at the first one’s clawed hand, just barely deflecting a fatal blow to his neck. A second one charged in with a spear held out in both of its hands. Logan caught it, and struggled against the monster. He was pushed back into the Meredith, slamming her head into the wall and knocking her down. Cooper stumbled the other direction, letting go of Megan, who simply fell to her knees.

The young woman immediately smelled the blood dripping from a cut on Meredith’s head, causing her to lose control. She ripped the hood off her head and looked down at the injured woman who was struggling to stay conscious.

“Megan!” It was Cooper. “No!”

She whipped her head toward the doctor, breathing rapidly.

Coop was leaning against the wall, trying to catch his breath. He held his hands out to her. “Megan… please… don’t.”

The young woman hissed at him, was about to charge, and then heard Logan’s voice behind her.

The preacher had managed to rip the spear from the Shadow Dead’s hands. With almost super-human strength, he swung the spear down on the Shadow Dead’s skull helmet, shattering the spear. The creature fell, stunned. Logan shouted into its face, “Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world!” He then kicked the beast hard in the head, until it fell over. Logan fell to one knee, exhaustion becoming the enemy.

Another Shadow Dead stormed past the second, to finish Logan off, but stopped abruptly as Megan shrieked at him, running at a full sprint. The crazed woman leaped over a surprised Logan and on to the Shadow Dead’s chest, knocking the beast on his back. Before the Shadow Dead could counter, Megan had ripped the beast’s helmet off. Megan stared into a startled black-painted face, and bit the monster’s nose off.

Three more Shadow Dead halted immediately when they recognized the new attacker.

Megan jumped up onto the chest of the dead creature and swung her arms at the enemy, daring them to attack with an intense hungry howl.

What manner of devilry is this? Logan thought, as he struggled to his feet.

“Logan! Move your ass right now!”

The preacher turned back to the sound of Stephen’s voice. He could see the good doctor dragging Meredith toward some strange red light. Then he saw Stephen, waving frantically at him from the infamous door. The young leader was struggling to keep it open.

Logan understood. He turned toward them, but stopped when he heard Megan howl again. He looked back. The strange half-dead woman, the very same that he had encouraged Meredith to put down in an act of mercy, had just saved them. And now, she was single-handedly holding the enemy back.

My God, I don’t know what this child is anymore… but maybe… just maybe… Meredith was right. Maybe there’s a little light left in her.

Before the young woman charged the Shadow Dead, which would surely mean her death… or her second death… Logan called out to her. “Megan! Come with me now, child!”

Megan turned toward the new voice, her dark grey eyes boring into the preacher, her bloody teeth ready to indulge in more madness.

Logan started backing up toward the door. He beckoned her to follow, like calling a dog. “Come on, Megan. Come to me, child.”

Megan turned back toward the enemy and hissed at them, causing them to pause again.

Logan called out once more. “Come! Come to me, Megan! If God can love a man like me… than he can certainly love a woman… like you.” He had no idea if the young savage understood, or if she simply desired his blood over her latest kill. Either way, Megan leapt off the Shadow Dead and ran after Logan.

Logan turned toward the red light, hoping to beat the devilish girl to the door before she pounced on him.

Megan moved, oblivious to the charging Shadow Dead behind her.

~~~

Stephen had placed his rifle in the door to slow it down while he continued to push against it.

April and the four defenders still standing had just run out of bullets. They were getting slaughtered, but continued to stand in between the enemy and the door.

And then Cooper and Meredith were there.

“Go, Doc!” Stephen yelled. “Get her inside!”

Meredith was regaining consciousness as Cooper got her to her feet and pushed her through the doorway. She turned, disoriented, as Coop was helping Stephen and April hold the line with whatever empty guns were available, now turned into blunt weapons.

And then Logan was there. The big man turned back. Megan had stopped once more to challenge the relentless Shadow Dead, buying them precious seconds.

“Everyone fall back to the door… right now!” Stephen commanded. The rifle wedged within the door had just snapped.

Stephen turned and pushed Logan through the doorway before he could object. He looked for Cooper. The old doctor was calling out to Megan, reaching into his small first-aid pack. Stephen attempted to grab Coop’s arm, but someone pushed him through the doorway, instead. He turned and saw the sixteen-year-old fighter, April Baxter. “You have to live!” she reminded him.

A steel claw penetrated her back and exited her chest.

Stephen reached out for her hand but a monster pulled her back into the darkness. “No!” he shouted, as the door continued to close.

“Where’s… where’s Coop? Megan?” Meredith was frantic. She was about to head back out into the hall but Logan held her back.

And then Coop was there, with Megan. He shoved her through the doorway… barely. “It’s alright, I sedated her!” he said.

Meredith grabbed Megan’s arm and sat her down before she passed out.

The old doctor attempted to slip through the crack in the door, but couldn’t fit.

“Coop!” Meredith screamed.

Coop quickly shoved his pack through the door.

“No! No! NO! Logan! Help me!” Stephen pulled on the door to try to get it open. Logan was there, pulling with all he had left.

But the door continued to close.

Meredith was there.

There was just enough time for Coop to reach his hand inside and embrace hers. “It’s alright. Sorry. I had to go get her. You know I did.”

Meredith was nodding through tears. “You did good, my love. You did good.”

Coop let go of her hand and pulled it away.

The door was about to close.

“I love you, Meredith Montgomery. I wouldn’t change a thing. You made me a better man.”

“I love you,” she said, watching his face slip away.

Something tore him away from the door.

“Coop!” she yelled.

The door shut, cutting off the doctor’s screams.

Logan and Stephen collapsed before the door.

“I’ll open it back up!” Stephen said. “I’ll say the magic words again and open it and then we can get Coop and April and-”

Logan put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “You know we can’t do that, little brother. They’ll get in.”

Stephen’s face was a mixture of shame and anger. He slammed his hands on the door and screamed in frustration.

Meredith moved over to Megan, collapsed, and then placed the sedated woman’s head in her lap. She gently stroked Megan’s hair and stared off into a lonely place.

“Meredith, I’m so very sorry…” Logan knew all words were inadequate.

She ignored his words and continued to stroke Megan’s hair.

Stephen couldn’t look at her… couldn’t stand himself.

Get it together, Eddington. You can hate yourself later. Stephen wiped the tears from his face and turned toward the source of the pulsating red light, coming from the bottom of a long flight of concrete steps. They were sitting on a large landing surrounded by what looked like cavern walls and a ceiling.

“So… I guess we’re headed down there,” Logan said. “Are you okay, little brother?”

“I have to be,” he said.

“What do you think is down there?”

Stephen looked at the preacher and then back down the steps. “Hell,” was all he said.

~~~

Tony was pacing near the large debris infested pool before the collapsed waterfall. They decided to regroup on the south side and away from the focal point of the Shadow Dead assault until they could plan their next move. He looked back to where Nine was holding Diane, wrapped in his coat, as he tried to keep her warm. “How is she?” he asked.

Nine nodded. “She’ll be okay. She wasn’t in the water that long.” Nine glanced suspiciously at Alysa.

The strange woman sat still on a log, bow laying at the ready across her lap, as she stared up into the trees as though expecting them to speak. “Whatever you’re thinking… Tony, is it?”

Tony turned and nodded.

Alysa smiled. “Well… Tony… whatever’s going on inside your head can’t be good. You have a very desperate look… and desperate people do foolish things. In fact, I’m willing to wager that you’re about to get the rest of your people killed.”

“Shut up,” he said bluntly, showing her his back. “Whatever gratitude you gained from us, died the moment you shot my friend in the head.” He turned. “In fact, I don’t even know why you’re still here. Is it your job to finish the rest of us off after you corral us all together?”

Alysa ignored him and looked back to the trees. “You’re not safe here. You all should leave right now, while there’s still time. Head south and out of these woods. They won’t follow you.”

“Why do you even care?” Tony asked. “Just… go.”

Alysa shook her head at the stubborn man. “You need my help. Whether you want to admit it, changes nothing.”

“We don’t need shit from you!” Tony said.

Alysa made eye contact with Nine and laughed. “Your present assault force of two young people, one beat up and the other ill, and no weapons, isn’t going to help anyone.” She looked at Tony who picked up the spear. “And you… well… you’re too emotionally compromised to think clearly… and you’re hurt.”

Tony caught himself using the spear to hold himself up. He tossed the spear down, wanted to lash out at the woman, but said nothing. “I have to help them.”

“They’re already dead,” Alysa said flatly.

“You don’t’ know that,” Nine chimed in. “You don’t know our people. They can fight.”

“Yes,” Alysa agreed. “I’m sure they can. But my people have trained quite considerably for missions like this. I’m telling you, this battle is lost.”

Tony turned. “They train you to be so fucking arrogant, too?”

Alysa scowled at the dumb man. “‘Arrogant’? Is that what you think I am?” She stood up. “Look, they’ve known about all of you hiding down in that hole since the beginning. They’ve monitored your comings and goings, your habits, patterns… numbers. The Shadow Dead, as you call them, could have snatched this place from you at any time. Truth is, your community was never much of a concern, or a threat. So, they left you alone… until it was convenient to finish you off.”

“It’s more than that,” Tony said. “You know it is.”

Alysa shrugged. “The hell with what I know. I went rogue a few months back. Been living on my own in a cabin all winter… until your friend found me. I don’t pretend to know their motives any longer.”

“But you knew they were coming for us,” Nine said. “That’s why you warned Marcus.”

Alysa frowned at the young man. “Yes. I knew that much.”

“Why did you warn us?” Nine asked. “I mean, you didn’t have to do… anything. And yet, here you are.”

Alysa smiled at him and said, “Yes, here I am. Let’s just say that my motives are my own.”

“That, lady, sounds like the first bit of truth you’ve told us,” Tony snapped.

Before she could respond, Alysa dropped to a knee and hissed, “Get down!” She had her bow up, arrow aimed toward the nearby brush.

“Don’t shoot… please!” came a frightened woman’s voice.

Tony raised a cautious hand toward Alysa.

The archer lowered her weapon… slightly.

“Come out of there,” Tony said.

Four people stepped out of the shadows with their hands raised. Their clothing looked burned, ripped and soiled in several places. Black soot and blood streaked their faces.
“Wendy, is that you?” Nine asked a short woman.

“Yes… as well as Matthew, Beverly and Mark,” she said.

They all stopped and gawked in disbelief at the woman wearing Shadow Dead armor, carrying the black bow.

“Relax,” Tony said. “She’s… she’s with us.”

Alysa raised an eyebrow at Tony.

“How did you all get out?” Tony asked.

Mark answered, “There’s…. they used a tunnel to get into Cubicle City. After they set it on fire-”

“What?” Tony was frantic.

“Not the whole compound, just Cubicle City,” Beverly clarified. “They set the sheets on fire and then just left us there.”

“I guess when we ran and hid under the cots like frightened children, they thought we weren’t worth slashing up,” Matthew said. “We managed to get to the hole in the floor and crawl out the way they came in before the whole place caught fire.”

“That was heads-up thinking,” Nine said. “Wasn’t Joe with you guys?”

“They cut his throat,” Mark said, staring as his feet. “We watched him die.”

Tony was scratching his head. “A tunnel? Are you guys telling me that while we were fighting our asses off… that… that they just sneaked in behind us?”

“We never made it to the hall, Tony,” Beverly said sheepishly. “But we heard lots of gunfire. It sounded bad.”

“Take me back to the tunnel,” Tony said. “I’ll use it to get back-”

“Are you not even hearing your own people?” Alysa said.

Tony turned, barely restraining his anger.

“While my people distracted you topside, drawing as many guns away from down below as possible, they used two tunnels to infiltrate the compound and catch your people off-guard.”

“How can you know-”

She interrupted Tony and continued. “There were two tunnels created when the place was constructed. One was in the floor beneath the barracks, the other… in one of the storage rooms. The flooring was laid over the holes and reinforced from beneath, rendering them undiscoverable to outsiders such as yourselves. They were originally designed as emergency escape routes, should the electronic doors fail, the hatch was ever compromised, or if a hostile force ever gained entry.” She stopped and stared into their dumbfounded faces. “Seriously, did you all think that you could just steal someone else’s house, and then when the owners returned, they wouldn’t know more about it than you?”

Tony sat down on Alysa’s log. He looked ill. “Finish it,” he said.

“Excuse me-”

“Finish telling us the rest of the plan!”

Alysa nodded. “Once inside, they would kill the power, confuse communications by jamming your radios… and then use a variety of psychological terror tactics to spread panic, disorder, fear… separating the ranks and then exterminating every one of you.”

“Shit… don’t sugar coat it at all,” Nine said sarcastically. “And… And that’s what happened tonight?” He looked to Tony.

Tony didn’t know what to say.

“It’s true, Tony,” Wendy sounded defeated. “It’s just like she said. We lost the lights right before they came in. The gunfire stared shortly after.”

“They’re all dead,” Alysa said with cold detachment. “And when they finish sweeping the rooms to find anyone they might have missed, they’ll focus on the rest of you out here. That’s why it’s time to go.”

Tony searched the faces around him. They all looked spent and broken. They had a couple of handguns that Matthew and Mark managed to salvage, and a worthless spear. They had no food, water, or any other supplies.

They only had each other.

Tony turned toward the broken waterfall, clenched his fists, and then relaxed them.
He turned back and said, “It’s time to go. There’s nothing else we can do… not like this.”

“But… where?” Nine asked, gently helping Diane to her feet.

The big man ran his hands through his hair and then said, “We’re going to gather the rest of our people, come back here and finish off these fuckers, and save our friends.”

The others exchanged confused glances.

Tony finished. “We’re going to find Orosco.”

~~~

Next Episode 40-1

Previous Episode 39-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-6: 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:

    Welp. Megan 1 Nose 0

    Liked by 1 person

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