~~~

Tony and Alysa returned in time to catch a question from Wendy. “So… Annie… how did you manage to survive all this time while the world went crazy? Weren’t you afraid that the dead would find you, all alone in this house?”

Annie laughed and then took a sip of water from her glass. She shook her head, looking up and around at her living room, a deep sense of pride beaming forth from her face. “Child,” she started, “I’ve lived here, in this house, my entire life. This was my daddy’s home, and his daddy’s home before him. There’s always been hardships—can’t escape it. No matter where ya’ go, there’s always somethin’ awful starin’ ya’ in the face, tryin’ ta’ make ya’ stumble. And that’s just life. Can’t just up n’ leave every time some bad storm comes rollin’ in. We Greenmans are built tough. That’s why old Annie is still alive and kickin’ after everything.” She laughed and winked at the young woman.

Wendy laughed and shook her head. “Well, I don’t think I would’ve lasted five minutes out here. I think you’re an amazing woman to have stayed when so many ran off. Weren’t you afraid?”

“If I’ve learned anything about livin’ in Wick, it’s that nothin’ changes in places like this.” Annie laughed. “Change has always blown through here. Nothin’, not even Change, has time to slow down and notice this place. I think that’s why I love it so much. The years come and go, like the people who speed by in their cars have always come and gone… why would the ‘pocalypse be any different? There’s no need ta’ run and hide from a world, good or bad, that’s already forgotten about ya’. And for the most part, old Annie has survived the ‘pocalypse, ‘cause even that horrible mess has forgotten ‘bout old Annie.”

Tony sat back down on the couch.

“Well,” Wendy finished, “I still think you’re one brave woman.”

Alysa returned to her position, standing between the living room and the front door, trying to appear less intense by removing her bow and quiver, standing them up against the wall beside her, and then awkwardly leaning against the wall with her arms folded.

Annie smiled at the archer and then looked back at Wendy. “I thank ya’ kindly for sayin’ so, child. Truth is, I’m not brave… just stubborn. When the world went topsy-turvy, I just thought about my family—how I needed ta’ stay strong for them, not knowin’ where they were… and just too darn old ta’ go out in that chaos and try ta’ find ‘em. So… I dug in, did what I could ta’ prepare for the worst, like all good Greenmans do, and made sure my home was still a home. Ain’t nothin’ worse in this ever-changin’ world than being away, thinkin’ ‘bout the strangeness of everythin’ around ya’, knowin’ that ya’ just wanna get home… to find it all gone. So, I waited for them ta’ come back.”

“You… stayed to wait for your family to come back?” Matt, who had very little to say since leaving the Wasteland, seemed astonished. “But, you must know that they’re all gone, right?”

Beverly and Wendy gave him a hard look, silently scolding him for his lack of sensitivity.

Annie smiled at the young man. “Son, let me tell ya’ somethin’ ‘bout us Greenmans.” She got up from her chair and walked over to one of the walls loaded with family portraits. She pointed to one and said, “This here’s my granddaddy. He was a soldier, like his son after him. He served in the Great War, out on the front lines in the worst of it. I remember hearin’ stories as a child ‘bout how my grandma waited for him to get back from that horrible mess ‘cross the ocean. She told me ‘bout how awful it was, waitin’ and waitin’, expectin’ to hear the worst. But she never lost faith, never let that lamp of hope burn out. Then, after all that waitin’, my granddaddy came home when it looked like he never would. Same was for my daddy, who fought in the Second War. But he eventually came home, too. I remember huggin’ him so fiercely right outside, right there on that front porch, when my daddy showed up dressed in his uniform. And we never gave up believing then, neither.” She walked over to a small frame on top of the television, picked it up and frowned at it. Her face then changed to one of pride again. She handed it to Tony to pass on to the others.

Tony stared at it. It was a portrait of Annie’s family. He recognized the younger version of their host standing beside a taller man with three children in front of them–two boys and an older girl.

He passed the picture frame to Diane with reverence while Annie continued:

“Now David, my husband, he wasn’t a soldier… but he fought a war just the same. He was… stricken’ by a devil found in the bottom of every darn bottle of whiskey he could get his hands on… and it followed him relentless. He wasn’t a kind man, but he wasn’t cruel, neither. He’d disappear for weeks at a time, chasin’ after that devil, or being chased by it. One time, he was gone so long we started thinkin’ that devil finally caught him, and that we were gonna get that phone call, the one that told us that my husband was found dead in some back-alley bar somewhere. But you know what? I didn’t give up hope then, neither. I knew that if we waited, and kept on believin’, that somehow, some way, David would come home, too. And he did. Turned out he ended up in the hospital for alcohol poisoning, got some help, spend time in a rehab center, and then just came home one day, free of that damn devil. Never touched another drop of whiskey again.”

Matt ended up with the portrait. He handed it back to Annie.

She smiled at him. “Like I said, Greenmans are no stranger to hardships. But we’re known for our great faith and patience in overcomin’ anything life throws our way.” She sat back down, scanned each of their tired faces, and finished. “And then the ‘pocalpse came along, scattered my family ta’ God-knows where—just like all of your families.” She took another sip of water. “So, you know what old Annie did? She did what all Greenmans do, the one darn thing all Greenmans are good at… she relit that lamp of hope, got her house in order, and waited. Because no matter what it is, be it some crazy war, demon, or the ‘pocalypse, Annie knows that eventually, everyone comes home to those who don’t give up—who don’t stop believin’.”

Beverly was softly weeping. “Wendy’s right,” she said. “You are an amazing woman. If I had someone waiting at home for me, believing as hard as you do that I was still alive, then I’d run home and nothing would stop me from getting there.”

“Well, child, how do ya’ know someone isn’t waitin’?”

The tall woman’s eyes fell to the floor with a frown. “I already know my folks are gone,” Beverly said. “They died in a plane crash.”

Wendy put a hand on her shoulder.

Beverly wiped tears away and nodded. “And since I was an only child… that’s just leaves me.”

“I’m sorry, young lady. That must have been difficult on ya’.” Annie stared hard and long at the young woman, beginning to make her uncomfortable.

“It’s okay.” Beverly tried to smile. “That was a long time ago… long before all of this happened. Besides, at least I know one way or the other. So many don’t have a clue where their loved ones are.”

A heavy silence invaded the room as Annie’s guests allowed a moment to consider their loved ones, out there, in this new hellish world. Were they long gone? Were they waiting at home, like Annie, or in some other safe place, for them to return? Or were they now… monsters? The last alternative was much too difficult for any of them to consider, and was the primary reason so many of them had forced themselves to stop thinking about lost love ones… period.

“Now, stop with all those long faces,” Annie said with a laugh. “There’s a time for sorrow. But as long as there’s still questions ‘bout the ones we care about, then mourning’s just a wasted effort. There’s too much livin’ left ta’ do, with far too much work ta’ keep on livin’. That’s what old Annie says, anyway.”

“Everyone is already dead,” Matt said, staring at his feet. “The rest of us just don’t know it yet.”

They all looked to him. Even Mark, who considered Mankind an endangered species and getting what it deserved, raised his eyebrows at such a dire statement.

“Maybe so, young man,” Annie added. “But that doesn’t change the here and now. Right now, livin’ is hard work… believin’s even harder… but I won’t wait for Death ta’ come knockin’. He isn’t worth that much attention. You should take that ta’ heart if nothin’ else.”

Matt simply nodded and continued to stare at his feet.

“We do what we must ta’ get by,” she finished, leaning back in her seat. “It’s always been, always will be. Damn ‘pocaylpse don’t change that fact. We hold the ones we love close, and when times get real tough, we hold them even closer.”

“Amen,” Nine chimed in, exchanging a long look with Diane.

The hunter smiled at him.

Tony glanced at the two young lovers and smiled. They need this moment, he thought. Any damn moment they can get, because it won’t last. Tony looked away with a heavy sigh. He hated that his own thoughts sounded more like something Gina would say. Just let them have it for as long as they can… for as long as any of us can. Tony turned to Annie, desperately desiring an opportunity to change the subject. “Annie, what can you tell us about your neighbor across the street? We noticed the other house on the way in.”

Alysa’s ears perked up.

Annie turned to the big man and took another sip of her water. “That would be Wayne Pendleton’s place,” she said with a faraway look. “The Pendletons have lived there for as long as I can remember. They’ve always been a bit… odd… as I recall. Keep to themselves, mostly. When the ‘pocalypse started, and everyone was tryin’ ta’ get to nowhere as fast as they could, the Pendletons stayed put, like old Annie. In the years I’ve owned this house, I’ve seen Wayne, or his two boys, a handful of times, always when I needed help managing things. I think they always knew that I was doin’ too much for a woman my age, and Wayne would send the boys over from time ta’ time, when they noticed my yardwork was gettin’ too much to handle. They’d offer ta’ help me chop firewood for my stove, mow the lawn on occasion, shovel the driveway… that kinda’ thing. The Pendletons have always been good like that.

I used ta’ be the town vet in my younger days. Once, I had ta’ go over there and tend to a sick horse. It was the late Mrs. Pendleton’s favorite. They treated that old mare like it was Mrs. Pendleton, herself.  After I nursed it back to health, I could tell that Wayne was grateful. Not a man of many words, but I could see it in his eyes. Ever since then, that family has been watchin’ over me… from a distance. As much as they kept things private, I think it made them feel good ta’ know that old Annie was still up and runnin’.

Anyway, after The Change, as you put it, Wayne came over. He had this sad look in his eyes when he told me his boys were missin’. My boys were already grown and livin’ elsewhere, but my daughter and grandson were still livin’ with me when they went missin’, so I invited him inside and I told him what I told all of ya’, ‘bout just waitin’ and believin’ they’d come home. I think he really appreciated it. Since then, he started comin’ over often ta’ make sure I had what I needed ta’ get by.”

Annie slowly got up and moved toward the front window. She looked out across her porch and toward the old ranch. “Well, his younger boy, Micah—a strange child—turned up shortly after that ‘pocalyspe started. He’d been at the Jefferson house, two miles up the road, the whole time… can you imagine? Never did explain what he was doin’ or who he was with.” She turned to her guests. “Then, just after the winter let up, Wayne’s oldest boy came home, too! We were so excited ‘cause we’d both been waitin’ for what felt like an eternity. It was quite the encouragement for me, I can tell ya’.”

The old woman paused at the window for so long that Tony stared at the others, believing that Annie had either finished her story abruptly, or simply nodded off standing there.

She finally turned away from the window and returned to her chair. “Anyhow, that was the last time I saw Wayne. There was no rhyme or reason, he just stopped comin’ over. I just assumed that they’d forgotten about old Annie across the way. But like I said… them Pendletons have always been odd.”

“Do you think something bad happened to them?” Diane asked.

She looked over at the hunter and smiled. “Child, I’m too old to worry ‘bout such things. I could worry the days away if I chose… but then my chores would never get done. I suspect Wayne and his boys are getting’ by just fine over there.” She paused to take another sip of her water. “Things just change, is all. After Wayne got his oldest boy back, I imagine the relief he felt was overwhelmin’. That’s the type of thing that happens after you pray and wait and fight off all those worst fears that keep ya’ up at night, and then when it happens… when ya’ get one back… one precious child… ya’ just force the rest of that cold cruel world out, because it tried ta’ steal what was precious. I reckon’ Wayne was done with everythin’ after that. He’s probably guardin’ them boys night and day, waitin’ for the world to right itself. Hell… that’s what I’d do.  And there ‘ain’t nothin’ I wouldn’t do ta’ keep them safe!”

The room got quiet.

Annie laughed, getting up. “But enough of all that. I’ve been slow-cookin’ a bean soup since you all arrived. Anyone hungry?”

They all nodded eagerly.

“Been a while since I had a chance ta’ cook for so many… and don’t worry… I have plenty. One advantage ta’ comin’ from a military family is that the survival mentality never stays on the battlefield. Took them ages to finish it, but my granddaddy and his son built a bunker out back, fully stocked with canned goods and everthin’ old Annie needs to get by durin’ any ‘pocalypse.” She winked at them, causing several to laugh. “Y’all stay put and I’ll whip up some supper before it gets dark. Then we’ll talk about sleepin’ arrangements for the night, ‘cause old Annie’s not gonna feed ya’, then send ya’ all back out into the darkness. My mama raised me better than that.”

Tony got up as the fast, old woman started for the kitchen. “Annie?” he said.

She turned back.

Tony looked around the room, the look of relief on his friends’ faces spoke volumes. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that your kindness… despite so much cruelty out there… is just the boost we needed. I know you’ve just met us… but it’s been a rough road as of late. You are a very bright light in a very dark place. Thank you… for everything.”

Annie was grinning from ear to ear. “My, you really are a charmer, aren’t ya’? All that sweet-talkin’ might just get you a second helpin’ of Annie’s soup.”

Tony looked away, embarrassed.

She turned to the brooding young woman with the bow. “And you… don’t let this one go. He may be a charmer, but I suspect ya’ need a little charmin’ in your life. It might just bring the woman out of ya’.”

Alysa was stunned into silence. She shook her head and turned toward the window.

Nine couldn’t stop laughing.

~~~

Annie brought them all bowls of soup… and it was delicious. Everyone’s moods lifted as Annie took the focus off herself and listened to the others talk a little about themselves and what they’d been doing since the ‘pocalypse started. The old woman was fascinated by the fact that so many people were living beneath the ground all winter in a bunker that made hers seem like an outhouse by comparison. And then they shared the tragic events that eventually led them to her doorstep.

The sun was setting behind the tree line causing a noticeable shift in light. Evening shadows started filling the living room as the last vestiges of the day fought in vain to keep the cozy space lit and vibrant with details and life, and not the usual gloom that preceded the night, swallowing up all tangible memory of the living with taunting darkness. Annie’s house guests turned toward the front window, absorbing the last of the sunlight with their eyes, and dreading the approach of another long evening of hushed voices and bodies huddled together around the dying artificial light produced by flashlights or candles.

“Well, old Annie knows a thing or two ‘bout dealin’ with heavy hearts and troublin’ thoughts,” the old woman said with a laugh, rising from her chair. “I don’t normally squander resources… but it ‘ain’t often that I have guests anymore, and as the old sayin’ goes… the night is still young.”

Tony and the others watched the strange old woman exit the living room. They shared amused expressions, wondering what Annie was up to.

Five minutes later, the living room lights flickered and then came to life.

Beverly let out a delighted laugh and clapped her hands together three times. “She has power!”

“She mentioned a generator,” Diane said, looking at Tony. “I can’t even hear it.”

Tony nodded, looking concerned. “That’s a good thing. If we can’t hear it… the dead can’t either.”

“When night settles, we will be lit up for miles around,” Alysa said, staring cautiously out the window. “She’s being foolish… and wasteful. Anyone or anything in the area will know that we’re here.”

“I’m sure Annie knows what she’s doing,” Wendy chimed in, sounding more like she was trying to convince herself.

“I’ll talk to her,” Tony said. “I’m sure she has candles or-” He stopped as they heard Annie’s footsteps approaching.

The old woman entered with her hands behind her back. Her face was lit up brighter than the room. “Now… isn’t that much better? It almost feels like the way it was when folks could keep on talkin’ and laughin’ the nights away.”

“Annie,” Tony said. “Maybe we shouldn’t turn on so many lights this close to dark-”

“Nonsense!” The old woman interrupted. “There ain’t no one left in Wick to see my house all lit up… and if there were… well…” She showed them her hands, revealing two bottles of wine. “Then I guess we’d just have to invite them to the party!”

Nine laughed and then pointed at the old woman. “Annie… you rock!”

Annie laughed at the young man and said, “Now… I don’t condone the devil’s behavior, but even the Lord, Himself, drank wine on occasion. I never did much drinkin’ while my husband was still alive, for obvious reasons, but since his departure… well… old Annie’s been known ta’ cut loose every now and again. It feels good ta’ let your hair down, laugh with friends, and celebrate!”

“I’m confused,” Mark said. “What exactly do we have to celebrate? As I recall, the world’s a pretty bleak place right about now.”

Wendy and Beverly gave him a disapproving glare.

Annie put the wine bottles on the coffee table, along with a corkscrew that she removed from a pocket in her apron. She then waved a dismissive hand in Mark’s face. “Pooh, on you, young man!” she said. “Just for that, you’re drinkin’ first. If we can’t live a little… then all we’ve got left is the dull dyin’… and I won’t stand for it! Not in my house.”

“You tell him, Annie,” Nine said, reaching for one of the bottles. “It’s never too late to cel-e-brate!”

Diane beat him to the bottle. “Hold on, Mr. Octoberfest,” she said, pushing the bottle away from him. She looked to Tony. “The lights are one thing. But getting drunk? Really?”

Nine, Beverly, and even Wendy looked expectantly at Tony. Mark just shook his head. Matt simply stared out the window. Alysa was staring at the old woman is if trying to figure out what planet she was from.

Tony stared back at them, mouth wide open to say something that never came.

Annie rescued him. “Now… who said anythin’ ’bout gettin’ drunk? I said, ‘celebrate’, not ‘inebriate’. There’s no foul in havin’ some wine followin’ a good meal. But, if y’all can’t handle it, after everthin’ you’ve been through, then I’ll just go and be fat, dumb and happy after y’all leave in the mornin’. Makes no difference to old Annie. I just thought we could share a little joy together after breakin’ bread.” She looked at Tony. “Don’t ya’ all still believe in havin’ fun wherever the heck you came from?”

Tony looked down at his hands and sighed. “Fun’s been in short supply… for a long time now.”

Annie patted him on the shoulder and said, “Well… tell ya’ what. You, and your peeps, can have a little fun with old Annie. She still remembers how. And then when y’all head out to God-knows-where tomorrow, where the fun ‘ain’t nowhere to be found for miles around, you’ll be able to look back at tonight and remember why you’re doin’ all that survivin’ in the first place.” She stared at the others with a laugh and said, “Y’all be in some dreary part of this God-forsaken world and one of ya’ will turn to the other with a smile and say, ‘Remember that time we partied with old Annie?’ And then y’all be thankful to have one new memory worth a damn… mark my words.”

Tony stared into the old woman’s eyes and smiled. He then reached out his arm toward Nine and said, “Hand me that damn corkscrew.”

~~~

For the next two hours everyone, except the brooding archer, sat around drinking wine with old Annie. She didn’t bother with wine glasses, insisting that they just pass the bottles around and that it made drinking together more personal, almost desperate, like the winos used to do it over some back-alley barrel fire on a cold night, when good conversations about better days were what really kept them warm.

The darkness murdered what was left of the day outside, but for once, that killer in a world full of killers went by unnoticed inside that living room.

Beverly broke the ice and shared stories from her former Cleveland life as Nine injected the occasional joke at the right moment, causing them all to laugh harder than they had in ages. Once the breach in the damn of the past had been made, they all opened up about their families and former lives. Even Diane and sullen Matthew, though not offering much, still appreciated the journey back, relishing the rare glimpses into their fellow survivors’ lives… back before surviving meant anything and they were just… normal people.

Annie did little talking once her guests started sharing, only asking the occasional question to keep the fire of nostalgia lit, as she absorbed their stories and continued to pass the wine bottles. For her, this was the way it was supposed to be, ‘pocalypse or not, back before the awful sound of silence drowned out the millions of voices that once filled the world with life.

Alysa remained in the background, as still as a statue, hoping to avoid being drawn into their discussions about a world that had rejected her long ago. She had no fond recollections to share, and the fire that kept her warm was one that would burn all of them alive. She did, however, pay attention to their stories as one who gathers intel for later use.

Tony had the honor of finishing the last of the wine as he held the bottle up high, and downed the warm liquid, feeling like he could sleep for a hundred years.  He, too, had shared very little, fearing that he would start gushing out all his negative emotions about Gina, but had enjoyed hearing the others talk about their glory days, and not the present gory days.

Annie, sensing a lull in the party, spoke up. “I’ve one more surprise for all of ya’. Somethin’ I only pull out when I know I’m with good company.”

“Vodka?” Nine blurted out, which was met with enthusiastic shouts and laugher. They were all feeling the intoxicating effects of the alcohol.

Alysa simply rolled her eyes and sighed, wondering what fresh hell the old woman had planned now.

Annie laughed. “Not quite. But somethin’ just as essential to every party.”

Before they could inquire further, the old woman was on the move again, exiting the living room.

“I feel heavy,” Nine said, slouched down in the couch with an idiotic grin on his face.

“You’re drunk,” Diane said and then laughed. “I think I am, too.”

Wendy and Beverly were giggling on the opposite couch, staring and pointing at Mark and Matt who had passed out. Mark had his head resting on Matt’s shoulder.

“Between the lack of sleep, full bellies, and all the wine, I think we’ll all sleep well for once,” Tony said. He immediately followed his statement with a loud burp, for emphasis.

Nine pointed at him and broke into drunk laughter, causing Tony to laugh.

“Fucking men and their ability to find humor in bodily sounds,” Diane said with a laugh.

To add to the point, Nine let loose a loud fart, causing them all to crumble with laughter.

“It’s a good thing one of us is still sober enough to stand watch while the rest of you forget… everything.” Alysa had finally lost patience.

They turned to look at her.

Nine laughed and pointed to the archer. “She wins the ‘buzz kill’ award!”

“Only if we let her,” Diane added, looking away from the Shadow Dead woman.

Nine raised his hand up to Diane for a ‘high five’.

She slapped him on the head instead. “You’re an idiot.”

“But I’m your idiot,” he said, blowing her a kiss.

“Alysa,” Tony said, feeling self-conscious and a little annoyed under her disapproving gaze. “Come join us. I think we’re safe for the moment.”

“No thank you,” she said, trying to appear more tolerant, but failing. “As much as some of you despise my presence, you may thank me later for showing… discretion.”

“Does she always stare down her nose at everyone, like that, or am I just drunk?” Beverly asked, turning to Wendy, and not realizing she’d spoken loud enough for everyone to hear.

Nine snickered, staring between Beverly and the stone-faced archer.

Alysa dismissed the comment and turned back to Tony. “How do you wish to… proceed?”

Tony, irratated that she was forcing him back into the leadership role once again, pointed at Alysa with his best mock serious face. He then burped long and loud in her direction.

Alysa’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

The others started laughing uncontrollably.

Tony watched the archer turn and head for the front door. “I’ll be outside waiting for you all to decide what’s more important: Your past lives or your present ones.”

Tony’s laughter was cut short by her cold words. Fuck it, he thought. Just this once, fuck all of it. I’m tired of all the running, hiding, fighting… and especially cold-hearted bitches who think it’s normal behavior to kill people rather than laugh with them. He suddenly realized his anger wasn’t directed toward Alysa. He sighed heavily and reached for the empty wine bottle, wishing it were full.

Annie returned with what looked like an old record player. “I had a heck of a time findin’ this thing, but I’m glad I still kept it.” She set it on the coffee table and then plugged the cord into the closest outlet.

Beverly was immediately fascinated by the archaic music machine. “Oh, I haven’t seen one of these since I was small.”

Annie laughed. “Yes, old Annie’s dating herself with this thing… never had much use for those fancy contraptions they have nowadays. But no matter. Music is music and it will survive us all.”

Beverly leaned over to stare at the label on the prehistoric vinyl record.

Bill Haley & The Comets

“You probably never heard of it, child, but I guarantee y’all can still dance to it,” Annie said as she placed the record needle down on the spinning disc.

The song, Rock Around The Clock, started blaring.

“I know this one!”  Beverly said.

They all did.  Their faces lit up as recognition mixed with wonder settled in, feeling like aliens from another planet hearing music for the first time.

As the music started playing, Annie started to sway her hips to the left and right, approaching Tony on the couch. “And if there’s music, that means there’s still dancin’… and what kinda’ party is this without dancin’?” She reached her hand out to Tony.

The big man looked at Annie and laughed. “I’m not much of a dancer. Never was.”

“Never was a lot of things, I suspect, until that ‘pocalypse came along. Still not much of a thief, though.”

Tony laughed.

“You gonna leave a girl hangin’?”

Tony looked at the others surprised faces, and then back to Annie. “Why the hell not,” he said, getting to his feet.

“That’s the spirit!” Annie grabbed the big man’s right hand and put it on her left side. She then grabbed his other hand and said, “Now, I’ll lead. Ya’ just follow to the beat and forget all that ‘never was’ stuff.”

Tony laughed and let old Annie lead him out past the couches to an open space before the kitchen door… and they danced.

Mark, waking up disoriented by the sound of the music, muttered, “What the hell?”

Beverly laughed delightedly at Tony and Annie, then reached over and grabbed Mark’s hand. “Come on,” she said. “You’ve been nominated.”

“Huh?” Mark had no time to register what was happening before Beverly pulled him up off the couch and led him over to the makeshift dancefloor, mimicking Annie’s upbeat dance moves from the 50’s.  Mark looked like he wanted to die.

“Now that’s some funny shit,” Nine said. He turned toward Diane.

“Don’t even think about asking,” she said, wrapping her arms in front of her chest.

Nine looked disappointed and then turned to Wendy. “Wanna dance?”

“Sure,” she said, getting up to join him on the dance floor.

Nine turned back to meet Diane’s sulking gaze. “You had your chance,” he said with a wink.

She gave him the finger.

Wendy and Nine joined the other two couples on the dance floor.

Diane saw how much fun they were all having. She looked once over at Matthew who was still passed out. He was snoring. “Of course,” she said, shaking her head with a laugh. She watched the others dance, unable to hide her delight at this rare breach in their usual forced apocalyptic-style kill-or-be-killed living. “This has turned into some kind of weird-ass day,” she muttered.

~~~

Alysa stared in through the window from the safety of the front porch. She huffed in disbelief when even the temperamental hunter finally got up from the couch to make a fool of herself, dancing with the other drunks. She turned away and stared into the night.  Something felt… off.  Alysa could feel it in the cool night air—almost taste it. But for now, it eluded her.

The former Shadow Dead sat down on the bottom porch step, away from the artificial light pouring out from the living room window. She leaned her back against one of the pillars, placed her bow and quiver within easy reach on the next step up, and then closed her eyes. She minimized her breathing and all other movements, trying to listen past the muffled sounds of Annie’s strange old music and her traveling companions’ laughter. She aimed her ears out into the night that was void of life, trying to locate any sounds that did not belong.

She opened her eyes and smiled as a humorous image struck her.  Alysa imagined a raven flying over Annie’s home, trying to understand the strange light below, before the creature flew up, panning slowly away from the faint pin-prick of light and muffled music coming from such an anomaly surrounded by so much overwhelming silence… and pitch-black darkness.

~~~

Next Episode 40-6

Previous Episode 40-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 40-5: Wick” 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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