~~~

Early morning sunlight penetrated the living room, quickly chasing off last night’s shadows, but leaving behind the horrific stains of Annie Greenman’s unspeakable actions.

Wendy, Matt and Mark sat on the couch near the window. They looked scared, exhausted and defeated. Wendy’s face was still red from tears, as the shock of losing Beverly and seeing what happened to Diane, still played out in her mind.

Diane was currently sleeping in Nine’s arms on the far couch. She was feverish, a sweaty mess, breathing erratic, her head turning back and forth as she fought off whatever hellish nightmare that was trying to wake her for another round of intense pain caused by her missing arm.

Nine felt helpless as he tried to keep her cool by applying a wet kitchen rag to her forehead. He gazed over at Tony with a sad, faraway look in his eyes.

Tony shamefully looked away from the young man’s gaze. He sat in Annie’s chair, stared out the front window at what promised to be a sunny day, and knew that it was just another lie designed to lower their guard just long enough to kill them—like Annie Greenman and her hospitality almost did.

Will we ever be able to trust anything or anyone again? Tony wondered, as his thoughts drifted off into a very dark place.

When Annie’s drugs finally wore off, the others went from feeling weak, groggy and confused to despondent and angry. It was Alysa who had saved them. She found them tied up and laid out in an old chicken coop near the bunker out back, waiting helplessly for their turn to be slaughtered—turned into food for Annie’s dead family… just like Beverly.

Tony felt smothered by the small living room and the looks on everyone’s faces. He needed to move before he lost it. He struggled to his feet and made his way out to the Greenman porch for some air. The effort required to get from the chair to the porch made him feel winded and faint. He reached out for one of the pillars for support.

“You need to rest,” Alysa said from his right. “All of you do.”

Tony turned. “Lot of good that did the first time,” he said bitterly. He stared into the archer’s stone face. She had a dark bruise running down the left side of her face and a gash across her forehead. “How are you doing?”

Alysa managed a weak smile. “Better than the rest of you. I’ve been through much worse.”

Tony was still trying to process everything. Alysa had told him most of what happened but said very little about her own encounter with the Pendleton son across the street. “What happened to you over there?”

Alysa turned the ranch house across the street. She folded her arms across her chest and leaned against the house. “Like the rest of you, I underestimated the enemy.”

Tony took the shot. He deserved it.

She shook her head, disgusted by her own admission. “They’ve done this before, enough times to get good at it. The one I found over there… he was the lookout. Probably saw us all coming before we ever reached Wick. Everything else was just bait to get us into this woman’s house.”

Tony frowned and looked over at the ranch. “Annie played us from the beginning… and I just let us all walk into her fucking web.”

“Yes, you did. But it’s over now. Her plan failed.”

Tony turned. “Beverly’s dead. Diane’s close to it. I wouldn’t call that a ‘failure’.”

“Could have been much worse,” Alysa said matter-of-factly. “The rest doesn’t matter.”

“‘Doesn’t matter’?” Tony was getting angry. “Of course it fucking matters! I don’t know what it was like being part of the Shadow Dead… but out here… every life matters!”

Alysa scowled at him. She took a step toward the big man, before reigning in her own anger slightly. “You sure didn’t act like that yesterday… in Andover… when you let that girl shoot that dead waitress in front of the diner. What were you thinking, then? The sound of that gun going off could have brought every dead thing in that town right to us! Where the hell was your ‘every life matters’ stance when you foolishly led us into your dead friend’s camp where we could’ve been ambushed on that peninsula, while you sat feeling sorry for yourself over a pile of dead bodies? And what the hell were you thinking when you walked up to this damn porch, allowing that woman to point a gun in your face… and then decided to get drunk with your ‘every life matters’ friends in this stranger’s house? Don’t you dare speak to me with that tone when I’ve been watching all your backs since we left those fucking woods and covering for your ‘half-assed’ leadership since then!” She turned away before she really lost her temper.

Tony’s fists were balled. He wanted to punch this Shadow Dead bitch repeatedly until all his anger was satisfied. Instead he took a deep breath and stepped back.

“It doesn’t matter… because it can’t matter… or else every death slows us down and makes us more vulnerable to the next attack. That’s all I meant,” Alysa said. Then added much more softly, “For all your faults, I screwed up, too. Beverly’s death is on me. I knew better when the rest of you didn’t… and I still failed to recognize the threat.”

“Fuck that,” Tony said. “Like you said, I’m the damn leader, whether I wanted to be or not. It’s all on me.”

She turned. “You’re very good at taking responsibility. If only your decision making were just as good.”

Tony laughed. “You don’t pull any punches, do you? That’s fine. Just let it all out. I can take it.”

Alysa shook her head at the big man. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. If my words make you angry… than perhaps you still have a little life left in you.” She walked over to him and finished. “You carry around something… or someone… that’s causing you pain… and that’s what’s keeping you from being a better leader.”

Tony retreated from her words. “You don’t know me.”

She smiled. “I don’t. But I know pain when I see it. Your eyes tell me enough.” She paused and said, “Whoever she is, let the bitch go, before you get us all killed. She’s not worth it. And something tells me, despite your piss-poor leadership so far, that you could be a great man one day… if you allow yourself to be.” She turned, suddenly feeling uncomfortable under Tony’s gaze and betrayed by her own abundance of words.

Tony stared at the peculiar woman who saw right through him. Her words struck him harder than a punch across the jaw. And then he saw something in Alysa. “What happened to you over there?”

“I’ve said enough.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen you… out of control.”

She turned, her eyes ablaze. “Don’t push me. Let it go. I’ve saved your lives… again. You owe me that much.”

He saw something in Alysa’s eyes that clearly showed that this tough woman was struggling with more than her disappointment in him. Something had happened across the street, something Alysa was trying to put past her very quickly… and it made her vulnerable. Tony nodded, sensing that things were getting very uncomfortable between them. “Fair enough,” he said. “Thank you for watching our backs… and for covering ‘my ass’… again.”

Alysa averted her eyes, quickly changing the subject. “Annie’s got enough supplies in her bunker to sustain us for a while… that, and a few rifles. I suggest that we pack what we can and-”

“Put this hell house miles behind us,” Tony finished. He looked over at the ranch. “We should probably search the Pendleton place, too.”

“Don’t bother,” she quickly said. “There’s nothing over there.”

“You sure? It was dark when you were-”

“I said, forget it!” she snapped. “There’s nothing over there… by madness and death.”

“Okay,” he said, sensing her discomfort. “Then we pack, wait for Diane to get better-”

“She might die,” Alysa interrupted. “They cauterized her wound… but it might be infected. There’s some anti-biotics in Annie’s stash, but it will be up to Diane in the end.”

Tony nodded. “She’s a fighter. She’ll get better.”

“Tony… she lost her right arm, her shooting arm,” Alysa said with a frown. “When she realizes what that means…”

“She’ll be fine,” Tony added with annoyance. “One thing at a time.”

Alysa let it go. “What do you want to do with the woman?”

When Alysa had escaped the basement of the Pendleton ranch, she had barely made it back in time to stop Annie and Wayne from finishing the job they’d started on Diane. Wayne had tried to stop her and failed. Annie had collapsed into a weeping mess when Alysa killed her zombie family. Rather than put her down with the rest, Alysa had decided to keep her alive, not knowing at the time if she needed more information about what she’d injected into the others. She’d gagged and bound the old woman and put her in the chicken coop where she’d found Tony and the others.

Tony wasn’t ready to deal with Annie yet. “Let me worry about Annie,” he said. “Let’s go take care of our friends first and get the others busy packing. They need to get their minds off what happened to Beverly.”

Alysa nodded, but wouldn’t let the matter rest. “She’s still a very dangerous woman, bound or not. Now that we don’t need her, I could… take care of it… if you want?”

“What? No! Don’t ask me that.” Tony didn’t want to think about Annie Greenman… ever again. “I’ll handle it,” he said crossly.

“Will you?” Alysa challenged.

Tony sighed. “I said-”

“Consider this,” she interrupted. “If you let that woman live, you’re responsible for whoever she tricks next time.”

Tony gave her a hard look. Suddenly, he was thinking about Walter, the Bad Man. But this is different! he tried to reason. Walter was… infected. He was already a monster when we took him down. Annie’s just an old woman, and she’s still… human? He closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. I don’t need this shit. A part of him wanted to let Alysa ‘handle it’, but he knew he couldn’t allow that. He couldn’t just sanction the murder of this woman in cold blood, no matter what she did. This is your mess, Marcuchi. So, man up and own it. He repeated, “Like I said, I’ll handle it.”

Alysa stared into him for a moment, frowned, and then turned and headed inside.

Tony remained on the porch a bit longer, staring across at the Pendleton ranch, while he dealt with his own heavy thoughts. All he knew for certain was that he wanted to throw up.

~~~

Tony approached the chicken coop with a cup of water in his hand.

Annie was sitting up against the cage, murdering him with her eyes.

He was thankful she was bound. Tony hesitated near the coop door and said, “I’m coming in to give you some water. Please don’t try anything stupid.”

Annie just sat there, staring at him.

Tony opened the door and crawled inside. He slowly reached toward Annie’s gag and she let him pull it away from her mouth. He held up the water. “Here. You have to be thirsty.”

When he tried to put the cup to her lips, Annie defiantly turned her head away. “Don’t want your damn help or your pity,” she hissed. “Just… leave me alone. Y’all done your damage. Now, steal my supplies and get the hell off my property!”

Tony sighed and put the cup down. “Fine. Don’t drink. But you and I are going to talk.”

“I’ve nothin’ ta’ say to you fuckers,” she spat. “Ya’ all murdered my family. What’s left ta’ say?”

Tony was getting angry. “You drugged us, killed a young girl, cut her up and fed her to your ‘family’. You’ve chopped off Diane’s arm and now she’ll never be the same. How dare you accuse us of murder?”

She whipped her head back and spit in Tony’s face. “Fuck all a ya’!” she screamed. “I invited you into my home, fed ya’, gave ya’ beds to sleep in—even gave ya’ my wine—and this is the thanks I get?”

Tony wiped his face with his arm, took a deep breath to calm down, and then shook his head. “You’re insane.”

“‘Insane’ ya’ say?” Annie laughed. “Maybe so. But family comes first no matter what… I only did what I had ta’ to keep my family alive.”

“They were already fucking dead!” Tony shouted. “Beverly was a vibrant, beautiful young lady. You took her life as though she were nothing more than a piece of meat! Your damn daughter was her age once. How could you do such a horrible thing and act like we wronged you?”

Annie shook her head. “No… no… NO!” she shouted back. “You don’t understand nothin’! My family is everything. That’s why I stayed put and waited for ‘em to come home. Where the hell were you when your family needed you? Hmm? Out here, wandering where you don’t belong? Miles away from your homes? People like the lot of ya’ only think of yourselves. You’ve long forgotten the meaning of the word. But not old Annie… Annie knows better than that.”

Tony gave up. There was no reasoning with this lunatic. He shifted gears. “What am I supposed to do with you, now? It’s been suggested that I kill you before we leave because you’re dangerous.”

“Dangerous ta’ you for sure. I’ll kill every one of you fuckers for what ya’ all did! Make it my mission in life, too!”

Tony dismissed the threat. “You’re not making this easy. I came to talk and find any reason to let you live, and then head out on our way. You deserve to die… but that doesn’t make me qualified to pass sentence on you.”

Annie laughed hard. “Ya’ know what I am… what I did… and what needs done, but you don’t have the stomach for it. That makes ya’ a coward in the ‘pocalypse.” She leaned in. “Well, Tony, I do have the stomach for it. That’s why old Annie will outlast all a ya’. Y’all nothin’ but dead men walkin’ with no real purpose. I could see that when I met ya’. I’ve seen the same thing in all the ones who came before. That’s why I treated y’all well and gave ya’ somethin’ ta’ take with you after I put you under. Don’t pity me, Tony. It’s all of you who need pitied. I knew what needed done ta’ keep my family alive. You… you’re just waitin’ ta’ die.”

“Enough,” Tony said. “You’ve lost your moral compass a long time ago. You’re a sick woman who needs to be treated somewhere… but there is no ‘somewhere’ anymore.”

“Curse you! I curse you, Tony, and all your friends! May you all find nothin’ but misery in the days ahead because that’s what your damn kind deserve! You’re all too weak and stupid and cowardly ta’ fit into this world now. But old Annie knows what she knows.”

“And what’s that?”

The old woman shook her head. “There’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do to save the ones I care about. You don’t know because you haven’t been there. Ya call them ‘monsters’ because they’re not your family members. But until you see them, like old Annie did, you haven’t a clue what your fuckin’ talking ‘bout!”

Tony shook his head. “We’re done here.” He started to replace the gag.

“What wouldn’t ya’ do for love, Tony? Hmm? Ya’ don’t know until you’ve been there.”

He stared at the old woman, haunted once again by those familiar words:

Tony quickly put the gag back over Annie’s mouth before she could say anything else. He backed out of the coop and headed toward the house, refusing to look back at the mad woman.

What wouldn’t you do for love, Tony?

~~~

While Tony and Alysa pulled food supplies out of Annie’s bunker, Matt, Mark and Wendy took turns watching the old woman in the chicken coop while loading several backpacks acquired from the Annie’s home. Nine stayed inside to take care of Diane while keeping watch out the front window for any new threats.

Matt, who had become more and more despondent since leaving the relative safety of their compound in the Wasteland, stared into the mesh fence at the old woman. Annie lay motionless, her hands bound behind her back with a rag tied tightly around her mouth. She had turned over on her side with her back facing him. Aside from the slow rise and fall of her chest, the young man would’ve thought she was dead. At one time, Matt would have been appalled by the harsh treatment of the elderly, but now he felt nothing… nothing at all. After finding out what this sick old woman had done to Beverly and Diane, Matt wished he felt angry like Mark, or was able to shed tears as Wendy did, but he felt hollow and empty. Matt wanted the old woman to wake up and look at him so he could stare into her eyes and find out what was really in there, now that her act was over. But ultimately, he just wanted Annie’s attention long enough for her to admit that he was right all along, and that hope was all bullshit in the end.

Something caught his eye on the left of the chicken coop, beyond a wooden fence at the border of Annie’s property. Matt moved toward the fence and looked across a large field. Several dark shapes appeared in the distance, not yet aware of the living behind Annie’s fence. One of them was much closer and moving away from the small dead herd, slowly approaching the fence. Matt started to turn to get Wendy and Mark’s attention, but then stopped, as recognition set in.

As the figure came into full view, Matt saw a small boy with a backpack and a dirty faded blue ball cap shambling straight toward him. Matt’s heart sank as the boy he’d first seen in the field on their way into Wick spotted him, and then tried to pick up its pace, as the dead thing’s hunger took control.

“No,” Matt whispered, taking several steps back from the fence as the dead boy moved closer. He could hear it now, moaning in a child’s voice which sent chills up his body.

Annie Greenman heard it, too. The old woman sat up, her eyes going wide. She started speaking unintelligibly through the gag, trying to call out to the boy.

Matt turned toward her and immediately understood. She knew him. The dead boy was Annie’s missing grandson.

“Matt!” Wendy yelled. “Get away from the fence!”

Mark was already running toward the bunker to get Tony and Alysa.

Matt could do nothing but watch as the young, decrepit child with the dead dark eyes, covered in blood, approached. He looked over at Annie. Tears were streaming down her face as she struggled desperately to free herself.

Matt walked over to the coop and opened the gate.

“Matt, what the hell are you doing?” Wendy asked, coming over.

Matt ignored her and retrieved a newly acquired hunting knife.

When Annie saw it, she recoiled.

Matt ducked down and entered the coop.

The old woman scurried away from him.

“Hold still,” he calmly said, raising the knife.

Annie understood. She turned her back toward him and Matt cut her hands free. She then removed her gag. “Thank… thank you, young man.”

Matt ignored her, too. He stepped out of the coop, allowing Annie to scurry out behind him.

“Wait!” Wendy yelled at the old woman. She turned to Matt. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Matt just stood there, watching Annie rush toward the fence as the young boy was almost there.

Tony and Alysa exited the bunker with Mark, who was pointing toward the fence.

When Tony saw Annie, he shouted, “Alysa, shoot the boy!”

Alysa quickly loaded her bow and raised it.

Annie was part weeping, part laughing, her arms opened wide at the fence, as her grandson reached out for her from the other side.

“Now, Alysa!” Tony shouted.

The archer hesitated for a moment, then let an arrow loose… and missed.

“Come ta’ me, my precious child,” Annie beckoned through tears. “You’re home now. Come ta’ me and I’ll make everythin’ okay.”

The young boy leaped for the fence with a fierce groan and grabbed the old woman around the neck, pulling her forward and over the fence.

Tony stared at Alysa accusingly.

The archer shrugged her shoulders at him.

He grabbed a rifle and raised it, but then saw the rest of the herd standing back, oblivious to their presence. He lowered the gun.

The boy sat on the old woman’s chest. All recognition left her eyes as the monster opened its small mouth, exposing bloody teeth. Annie started to scream as her dead grandson started ripping pieces of her face off with his teeth.

Tony turned away from the gruesome sight. “Finish this,” he told Alysa.

The archer nonchalantly reloaded her bow, took aim, and then shot the young boy through his temple. It wobbled for a moment, blood dripping down its face, not understanding what was happening—only that its compulsion to feed had been interrupted.

Finally, the young boy collapsed on its right side and remained still.

Annie was struggling to breathe as she spit up blood. She tried to call out, but started choking on the crimson fluid. She was violently convulsing.

Satisfied, Alysa stepped toward the fence, leaned over, aimed her bow down at the old woman, and placed an arrow through her head. Annie stopped moving.

Tony stepped up beside her and whispered, “Why?”

“You’re always stopping me from using my bow. I was just trying to stay consistent.”

Tony glared at her.

“Look, you didn’t want me to do it… and you certainly didn’t want to do it yourself. The old woman was a problem, and you know it. I saw an opportunity and I took it.”

“What opportunity?” Tony spat.

She turned and smiled at him. “To do absolutely nothing. Some problems have a way of taking care of themselves… if you let them.”

“You’re a very cold woman.”

Alysa let loose a devious smile. “Yes… when the situation calls for it… I can be. But I didn’t create this situation.” She nodded over to Matthew. “He did.”

Tony turned to Matt. The young man had fallen to the ground and rolled up into a ball, his hands tightly covering his ears. He was weeping. Mark and Wendy were there, trying to calm him down.

Tony turned back and looked at Annie’s mangled corpse. He then stared over at the small boy and frowned. “The dead always come home,” he said with a chill.

“What was that?” Alysa asked.

Tony frowned. “I’m glad I wasn’t home when this all started. Maybe we’re better off not knowing… or waiting… for our loved ones to finally show up.”

~~~

Next Episode 41-1

Previous Episode 40-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 40-8: 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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Comments
  1. Gylion says:

    The question is, what is it that makes them go back to their homes? Instinct probably.

    Like

    • sscherr says:

      Hey Gylion, thanks for stopping by. This question is best answered in the opening of the second scene back in Chapter 23-5, when the zombie Janet Schuler is discovered. It’s like the dead have fragmented memories that mean nothing to them… and yet… they guide them to familiar places in their old lives. Creepy to think about if you’re waiting around for loved ones to come back ;)

      Liked by 1 person

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