~~~

Diane felt like her body was a thousand pounds, descending into a bottomless chasm. As she struggled to the surface of consciousness, she heard sounds… horrific, sticky, squishy sounds and rattling chains. She opened her eyes, everything started to spin rapidly. Her vision was blurry. There was dull light, some sort of overhead lamp maybe. In the background, behind the horrific, sticky, squishy sounds and chains, she heard a steady muffled humming.

Generator, her mind managed. Yes, the background sound was clearly a generator. She tried to lift her head but was unable to control anything beyond her heavy eyelids. She tried to focus. The room started to slow down and she could now make out several blurry forms in front of her. Their movements gave them away.

I’m lying down, she thought, as her vision started to clear. She was on her back, head tilted to the right. What the hell happened? She had meant to ask the question out loud but couldn’t make her mouth respond.

It was Annie… and that man! They injected me with something!

There was a new sound, somewhere in the direction of her feet. Footsteps. Coming closer.

Again, Diane tried to move her head, but failed. She could only stare toward the blurry forms as she struggled to make them out.

When her eyes suddenly cleared, Diane wanted to scream but could not.

Four dead people in various states of decay, skin brown, rotting and stretched tight over skeletal frames beneath, their clothes ripped, blood and dirt stained—barely passable as clothing at all, were sitting on one side of a blood-stained picnic table, facing Diane’s direction. They were all wearing chains padlocked around their wrists and chests, the other end of the chains were fastened to the wall behind them. There was enough slack in the chains to allow them minimal movement as all four of them were oblivious to Diane as they fought against each, reaching into a large aluminum tray full of what looked like barbecue chicken… at least, that’s what Diane made herself believe it was.

A shadow appeared in front of her, mercifully blocking out the nightmarish scene.

And then a voice spoke from the shadow, sounding far off, like the echo at the end of a tunnel. It was Annie Greenman’s voice.

“Oh my, child. I’m sorry ya’ had ta’ see that. You weren’t supposed to wake up for a few hours yet… and by then… it would’ve all been over.”

The old woman was standing over her… but her voice… her voice still sounded farther away. What did you do to me, you old bitch? Again, Diane could only think the question.

As if hearing her thoughts, Annie said, “The drug’s powerful, so I kept the dose low. Should have been enough, but I didn’t want ta’ go too heavy on the dosage. Figured the alcohol would’ve helped. Old Annie got it wrong, child. But don’t ya’ worry, you’ll be back under soon. I can already tell by the look in your eyes that it’s kickin’ your ass just to stay up this long.”

Diane struggled to speak but only managed to twitch her lower lip.

Annie laughed. “Don’t bother, child. Ya’ don’t have any motor function control… at least… not enough to move those lips and scream out for help… not that it would matter if ya’ did.”

She could clearly see Annie now as the old woman backed up a couple of steps. She was wearing a bloody apron and bloody latex gloves on her hands. There was also a surgical mask around her mouth. What the fuck have you done? her mind accused.

Annie saw it in her eyes and frowned. “You must think I’m a monster… that it, child? All this blood and ya’ think ya’ have old Annie figured out… hmm?”

Diane was unable to respond.

“I treated y’all well… can’t say that Annie Greenman didn’t, neither. So just take those condemnin’ eyes and look elsewhere! I let y’all into my home, made ya’ supper, gave ya’ drinks… hell… by the looks of it, old Annie gave y’all the best time you’ve had since the ‘pocalypse started. Made y’all feel like kings and queens… like royalty… considerin’ the state of things these days. What kind a monster would care enough ta’ do that, child?”

Diane remained motionless… except for her eyes.

Annie moved in close and whispered, “Child, I did a good thing… yes, I did. I let y’all have one good time as regular folks again. Gave ya’ a moment to hold on to… and then ya’ woke up. But if ya’ hadn’t… you’d be thankin’ old Annie on the other side when it was all done. Now… just close those hateful eyes and let Annie take all your pain away, child. Not that you can feel pain right now… old Annie made sure of that. Just trust old Annie, close your eyes, and sleep.”

Diane closed her eyes and lost consciousness. She was falling… falling…

~~~

…SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Her eyes opened. The new sound was more terrifying than all the rest. Again, the sensation of falling, of immense weight, the inability to move her body. Vision blurry. I’m in hell! her mind proclaimed. Diane had never felt so helpless. She desperately wanted control of her own body, but she felt like a stranger travelling within her useless flesh and could do nothing.

The loud sound ceased. Diane felt something at last. In her right arm, she felt a million pins and needles poking at her flesh just above the elbow.

“She’s up again.” A new voice this time. A male voice.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” Annie sounded agitated. “Next time, full dosage. Can’t have this happen’ right in the middle of… damn it, Wayne! Ya’ need to be quick before she bleeds out!”

A figure quickly crossed Diane’s vision carrying something with a flame.

“Torch it… now!” Annie shouted.

Diane felt the pins and needles in her right arm again… much more intense this time.

Annie was suddenly in front of her again. Her blurry face level with her own. “Any pain, child?” she asked, and then laughed at herself. “Not that you could answer… foolish old woman,” she scolded herself.

Annie moved again as Diane’s vision slowly cleared.

“We should put the girl out of her misery,” the man suggested. “This seems cruel.”

Diane desperately wanted to find the owner of the male voice, but still couldn’t move. What… what are they doing to me? Why can’t I… MOVE!!!

“They like ‘em best fresh… I’ve told ya’ that, for Pete’s sake.”

“But-”

“Don’t look at me with those eyes, Wayne Pendleton! She can’t feel none of it, no how! Just… cauderize it and wait outside. Make sure the others aren’t popping up like this one and then get that son of yours over here ta’ help us with the rest of ‘em! That boy of yours is as lazy as ever! Thinkin’ all he’s got ta’ do is catch that rude one and do God-only-knows what he’s doin’ to her right now!”

“He isn’t like that!” Wayne defended. “My boy’s simple, is all. We told him to catch the archer… and he did! He gave me the signal two hours ago and it’s done!”

Diane heard Annie sigh. “All I’m sayin’, is that boy should be helpin’ more!”

“You know he doesn’t like this part!” Wayne said. “He never could stand the sight of blood, is all!”

“Just… go… I’ll call ya’ back in when she’s down again.”

The one she called Wayne stopped what he was doing and exited the room, rushing past Diane’s vision again.

Annie was laughing lightly. “Never you mind, him, child. Wayne loves his children and in a father’s eyes, they can do no damn wrong.” She moved in close. “You are a stubborn one, ‘ain’t ya’?” she asked. “Just can’t go quietly and let an old woman finish her business?”

Diane could see the monsters at the table again. This time there was no large tray… just the remains of something large and bloody sprawled out across the table that all four were sinking their bloody teeth into.

What the fuck is that? What are they eat-

“I know they’re a bit hard on the eyes, child,” Annie said, just out of Diane’s visual range. “It took some time for me to get used ta’ them, too, especially the smell… but after a while… after the shock of it all… I started ta’ see ‘em again… the way they used ta’ be.”

It’s… it’s her family! Dear, God… this woman’s lost it.

Annie came back over and kneeled down near Diane’s head. She pointed toward the first one on the far left. He was the oldest and tallest of the four reanimated… and the most decayed. To Diane, what remained of the male zombie looked more like bones wrapped in skin, resembling a mummy. “That one there… that’s my late husband, David. I told ya’ ‘bout him? Well… he was the first ta’ come home. Must have been a week after the ‘pocalypse started. David just shows up at my doorstep, still wearin’ the same funeral clothes I buried ‘em in. I know he hardly looks like the man I remember… but if you gaze into those dark eyes long enough, you can see it… everyone’s eyes give them away… windows to the soul and all.” Annie laughed. “The one next to him is Wayne’s wife, Norma. She was buried in the same cemetary as my David, just two miles up the road. Wayne already knew about my husband when Norma showed up at his door. I talked him out of shooting her… said she could stay over here with my husband. That way, we could take care of ‘em together while we waited for the others to come home.”

Diane stared in horror at what was left of Norma Pendleton. She was in slightly better condition than David since she’d died more recently, but she was still barely recognizable as human. If not for the rotting corpse’s few thin strands of knotted hair that ran down from its skull, Diane wouldn’t have recognized it as a woman. She was wearing what remained of some funeral dress that might have once been white with some sort of flower design, but was now just a torn muddy brown, mercifully concealing what was left of her decaying flesh within it. Its arms were so thin and brown that they looked more like tree limbs.

Annie sighed and continued, “Now, that young woman next to Norma… that’s my daughter, Clara. She and her little boy were livin’ with me when the ‘pocalypse started. She was out shoppin’ with my grandson when it happened… and I couldn’t find ‘em.” Annie stopped and wiped a tear from her eye. “I prayed, and prayed, and kept on believin’… then… my Clara finally came home, too.”

Diane looked at Clara. The young woman was missing a piece of her neck and half her face looked like it had been ripped off with teeth. It was clear that Clara had been jumped by several of the dead, infected, and then turned. Diane tried not to think of Clara’s son and what happened to him.

“Last one on the right is Wayne’s oldest boy, Pete. He was the one I told ya’ ‘bout who came home just recently. I kept tellin’ Wayne when his younger boy came home that Pete would come home, too. He just had to keep on believin’.”

Pete Pendleton looked to be no older than nineteen. Most of his hair was gone. His skin was pale and bloody. His eyes, dark and sunken in. To Diane, Pete looked like he’d spent most of the winter wandering around in the elements until finally finding his way home.

Annie stood up. “So ya’ see… old Annie was right all along. Old Annie knew that if you kept on believin’ and waitin’… that they’d all find their way home eventually. My two boys live out of state, but I reckon’ they’ll show up at my door any day now… and my grandson, too.”

Diane watched as what was left of the Greenmans and Pendletons devoured the bloody carcass of what she assumed must have been a deer. And then it struck here: There are no more deer!

And then she saw it, hidden behind Pete Pendleton’s frail hands.

A bloody human foot.

Who… who is that? Her heartbeat started leaping in her chest. Who the hell is that?

Annie stepped over toward the picnic table, blocking her view of the monsters again. The old woman was holding something. “I’m sorry ‘bout all this, child. You weren’t supposed to see any of it… and for that… I’m truly sorry. I can’t imagine what’s goin’ through your head right now… but… my family needs ta’ eat. What kinda’ woman would I be if let my family starve… after all the hell they’ve been through ta’ get back home?”

Who is that? WHO IS THAT? Diane wanted to scream the question, but could not move.

“I’m careful ‘bout the dosages… but sometimes… the heart stops, and old Annie can’t get the heart goin’ again. Your friend’s heart stopped and I had to hurry… had to hurry and feed my children while your friend’s blood was still warm. Still… I hate that you had to see it. Old Annie never intended that.”

My friend? Which friend? Nine? Tony? WHO IS THAT, YOU FUCKING MONSTER?!

Diane almost got her mouth to twitch again.

Annie turned to look at her. She was holding a severed right arm.

The tingling sensation immediately returned in Diane’s right arm, just above the elbow.

“Now, child, I need you ta’ go back ta’ sleep and let old Annie finish. You weren’t supposed ta’ see this… any of it. But, I promise, you won’t ever feel a thing.”

In her mind, Diane screamed… and continued to scream… until she was falling… falling…

~~~

…New sounds. Voices yelling. Furniture tipping. Shattered glass. The monsters are howling, growling… silence.

Diane opened her eyes. This time her vision was clear. The zombies were laying still, hunched over the table with black arrows sticking in their heads. There was a man pinned against the back wall by another arrow through his forehead. Wayne?

She could move a little now. Her face, her lips, her mouth. “Any…anyone… there?” she managed to whisper. Diane could feel her right arm. There was a dull throbbing pain. She managed to turn her head enough to confirm the awful truth. Her arm, from the elbow down, was gone. No… NO… NO!

Alysa stepped beside her. The archer looked like hell. “Are you… awake?” she asked.

“Who… who was it?” Diane struggled to ask.

The Shadow Dead looked confused.

Diane nodded toward the table. “Nine?” She could feel her heart about to burst, the anticipation of finding out was worse than not knowing.

Alysa looked toward the dead and frowned. “No,” she said. She turned back and sighed. “Beverly.”

Diane started to weep. Before she lost it, she had to know. “What else… Am I missing… anything else?”

The archer was quick to respond. “No… just the arm… I’m sorry.”

Diane nodded. “Where is she? Where… is that evil old bitch?”

“She’s in custody. Don’t worry. She won’t hurt anyone else.”

“Wayne’s other son… he’s part of this, too! I heard them talking… he was still across the street…”

Alysa put a hand on Diane’s shoulder and nodded. “I took care of that sadistic shit. The threat is over. You need to rest, now. All of you do. Let the drugs wear off. I’ll keep watch.”

Diane tried to move but failed. She kept trying to use an arm that did not exist. “I need to… to get up… and kill that evil bitch! I need to be with… Nine…” the more she struggled the worse she felt. The heaviness returned. The room started to spin. Diane collapsed on top of the gurney… and was falling… falling…

~~~

Next Episode 40-8

Previous Episode 40-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 40-7: 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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