~~~

“You want to do what?!” Tony looked like he wanted to throw Nine across the library lounge. The others sat on the couches with equal disbelief at what the young man had just proposed.

Diane was shaking her head at him. “Unbelievable,” she said. “This is what you and Jim have been up to all morning?”

Nine raised his hands, refusing to let the others deflate his enthusiasm. “Just hear me out,” he pleaded. “We’ve been banging our heads for three days, trying to figure out how to distract the dead, scare them off, throw them a fucking Halloween party… anything… to give us an opening to get out of this library. But there’s nothing we can do. They’re relentless… and they’re not going anywhere. That’s why we have to go through them.”

“Yeah… I heard that part,” Tony said. He started to pace. “So… you think we should just arm up, open the damn door, and fight our way through that fucking horde? Have you lost all sense?”

Nine looked over at Jim, who stood sheepishly toward the back of the lounge, holding several large books. He waved him over to one of the coffee tables.

Jim placed the books down on the floor beside the table as Nine quickly grabbed one. He opened the book and laid it out on the table, revealing several pictures of what looked like knights in full armor from different time periods. “This is what we need to do,” the young man said. “Myself and Jim have been going through these old history books all morning, and we agreed that we can make these… not actual suits of armor… but something that will work the same.”

Tony stared over Nine’s shoulder as Nine flipped through the pages.

The others got up and surrounded the coffee table.

“This is a joke… right?” Wendy, who was usually never this vocal about such matters, was surprisingly resistant.

Diane sighed and sat back down, mumbling something Nine was fortunate he couldn’t hear.

Tony took a step back and ran his fingers through his hair. He took a deep breath and said, “Look, I appreciate your efforts to find a solution, but rather than waste any more time on fantasies, we need a solid plan.”

“This is a solid plan!” Nine was trying not to get upset. “You all aren’t thinking outside the box… and that’s why we’re still here!” He turned to Jim. “Did you bring it?”

Jim nodded with a smile and retrieved a rolled-up paper that was tucked in the back of his pants. He handed it to Nine.

Nine unrolled the paper and pointed at it. “Look! We can make these. I know we can. It may not be the real deal… but it will keep those monsters from penetrating our skin. We already have the materials we need, right here in the library.”

Everyone, except for Diane, looked at what appeared to be a rough sketch of a man wearing a suit of armor, constructed entirely out of library books, magazines, and duct tape.

“We’ve been reading about various battles… real ones… fought by knights in similar circumstances. The battle tactics are sound and proven. In various instances, they fought in tight formations against large numbers and essentially… punched through their adversaries!” He stared into their faces for understanding and continued to find doubt.

Nine flipped the paper over, revealing a second sketch. This one showed a battle formation involving some sort of large shield or barricade with a slight bend in the center, forming a wide arrow tip, that was being carried by one knight, while several others surrounded him from the sides and the rear with smaller shields. “I know the drawing sucks, but the tactics are legit. We build one large… ramming device… something big enough, but light enough to carry… and we defend it from all sides… just like this! Hell, we already have actual shields for the rear defense. Tell them, Jim.”

“Yes, yes, they’re hanging up on the walls on the second floor. There’s at least three family crest shields. I can’t recall the family names or emblems, but they were all significant families that made considerable contributions to this town, and especially the library. They’re meant to be decorative, but I believe they still function as… well… shields.”

“See!” Nine said. “We already have a head start!”

“Nine!” Diane said. “Enough already! You’re being ridiculous.”

“This is crazy,” Wendy added, shaking her head and waving a dismissive hand at the drawing. “I don’t even know why we’re still talking about this. Wasn’t one suicide enough?”

Tony was about to agree and close the matter, until Alysa spoke up.

“He’s right,” she said, surprising everyone, including Nine.

While the others stared at the archer, she smiled and nodded at Nine. “Go on,” she encouraged. “I want to hear the rest.”

Nine nodded with gratitude, took a deep breath, and said, “I know it looks nuts… but it will work. This formation-”

“The Arrow Formation,” Jim corrected with a wink.

Nine laughed. “That’s right… we call it ‘The Arrow’… anyway, it works on a momentum principle. What you do is get this thing moving, defend it, and then… plow through the enemy, in this case, the dead. All we need to do is build up enough force from the start, strike the dead head on… and they won’t be ready for it. They’ll get pushed to the sides, or simply fall over because we’re pushing with more force than they’re resisting with. By the time they get back up and come after us, they’ll be striking from behind… essentially pushing against our flank and, helping us build more momentum. It will work.”

“You’ll still need to distract them,” Alysa said. “Or the ones in the front will get riled up before you make it half way through that mess, and then they’ll start pushing back, becoming a wall.”

Nine nodded. “That’s what we came up with, too. And there’s another problem as well.”

“Are we seriously considering this?” Wendy interrupted.

Tony shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently… we are.” He looked at the archer as if trying to figure out if she’d bumped her head on something.

Alysa ignored them. She said to Nine, “If this… ‘Arrow’… stops, or the ones carrying it trip and fall over… then we’re all dead.”

Nine frowned. “Exactly. There’s definitely some risks… but we’ve been living with risks since day one of this damn apocalypse. But the only way we have a chance with this, is if we do it together. It will require all of us to keep the dead off our backs.”

Alysa nodded and said. “Agreed.” She stepped back, folded her arms across her chest, and studied the young man. “And… you two came up with this from all your books?”

Nine looked to Jim and laughed. “Jim was a big help on the history. Add in a little creativity from our mutual love of King Arthur stories, plus all the damn movies I’ve seen, and a shit load of wasted hours spent playing video games, and… well…”

Alysa laughed hard, surprising everyone again. “Well done,” she said to the beaming young man who looked like he’d just won first prize at the Unbeliever’s Ball. She stared at Tony and said. “He’s right. This is possible, with a high degree of failure… but it’s a solid plan, and the best we’ve come up with so far. I’m in.”

“We’re not doing this,” Tony said.

Alysa raised her eyebrows at the big pouting man.

Nine was about to object.

“No,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard what you have to say, and that’s that. We’ll find another way that doesn’t involve risking all our lives on a… slim chance.”

Nine sat down on the coffee table, looking defeated.

Diane came over and put her hand on his shoulder.

He shrugged it off and said, “Not now,” refusing to look at her.

“The one thing we have an abundance right now is time,” Tony stated. “Yes… none of us want to be here one day longer, but I have to believe we’ll come up with something a little less… intense… if we keep trying out different ideas. Something we’ll come together. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon.” He looked at the dejected young man and finished, “Nine, I’m sorry. We’ve lost too much already. I don’t want to put all our remaining chips into this risky plan. We could all die out there with one mistake made.”

Nine nodded. “I… understand… I guess.”

He addressed the others. “I’m not prepared to lose any of you. The cost is too damn high to face what’s out there without a sure plan. In the meantime, as much as I hate being here—no offense, Jim—maybe we need to start considering staying for the long haul, and what that will mean.”

The others started staring around the once large library that had suddenly become much smaller.

“If staying here, means staying alive… well… I’d rather wake up and see all your disgruntled faces a day from now, a week from now, maybe even much longer, than putting you in harm’s way. I don’t think my heart could take it.” Tony looked at his feet, avoiding the scrutinizing gaze of the archer who looked like she wanted to call ‘bullshit’. “We’ll find another way out of this mess… but we’ll also find another way to live while we get there. Again, we have time-”

“Excuse me,” Jim said. “May I speak?”

“Of course,” Tony said.

“I need to ask a question first.”

“Go ahead, Jim.”

“Are… are those monsters outside really there? I seem to have forgotten what’s real again.”

Tony laughed. “It’s okay, Jim. Unfortunately, they are real, and they have us surrounded.”

Jim nodded. “Thanks. In that case, I should point out that although I have plenty of provisions for all of us—probably a year’s worth a more—I still need to point out that ‘time’ is not in equal abundance.”

“What does that mean?” Wendy asked.

Jim looked confused, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Today, there is probably close to two thousand monsters outside. That’s double what we had when we started, how many days ago?”

“Three,” Nine said.

“Well,” Jim said, stroking his beard. “I think the math speaks for itself. By the end of the week, there might be four-thousand outside… nearly ten thousand mid-way through the month… twenty thousand by-”

“We got it, Jim,” Mark said. “Thanks for ruining lunch.”

Wendy looked to Tony. “He can’t be serious, right? Could there be that many of the dead out there, and would they all come… here?”

Tony didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t considered it.

“He’s right,” Alysa said. “The dead have already showed a tendency to come together, especially near food sources. Eventually, as the food sources dwindle, more will find their way here… especially if they’re drawn by the sound of the others, which will only get louder as their numbers increase.”

“Fuck me,” Mark said.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Tony said, glaring at the archer. “They may start moving this way, but it will take them a lot longer to get here, especially over greater distances.”

“But they will… eventually,” Nine said. “Might as well put out a big flashing neon sign that says, ‘FRESH FOOD INSIDE’, thanks to the ones already here doing all the advertising. Jim’s math might not be factoring in all the variables, but it still amounts to the same thing… the number of the dead outside will continue to grow.”

Tony looked to Jim, who had lost interest and was already looking though one of his books.

We’re fucked either way, he thought. And if we don’t make some attempt to get out now, while the numbers are barely manageable, they’ll eventually surround the town… and we’ll all die here.

“I can tell by your facial expressions, and from our previous conversation, that you aren’t convinced that staying is any safer than Nine’s plan,” Alysa said, putting Tony on the spot.

He frowned at the archer and then turned to the others. “Earlier, I was talking with Alysa, and hinted that the two of us should risk going out while the rest of you stayed. That way… if we failed… you all could live on.”

“Your plan sucks compared to mine,” Nine said. “And I won’t let you two do that, not alone.”

Alysa stared at the young man and smiled.

Tony laughed and nodded. “I know. I only bring it up now to show you how desperate I am about getting out of this library. Some of us, like myself and Alysa, feel like staying is impossible. I start crawling out of my skin every time I consider it. But the rest of you, you all still have time, and each other. And with enough time I’m sure you all could figure out a better plan… a safer plan. Hell, if things went the way I’d hoped, Me and Alysa would lure the dead after us while the rest of you got out.”

“But you’re not doing that,” Wendy said. “Right?”

Tony laughed. “Probably not.”

“Tony,” Diane said. “Stop sugar coating this mess and tell us what you really think. I know you. You’d say and do anything to keep us safe… even if it meant doing something stupid yourself.”

“Guilty as charged,” Tony said, shaking his head. He sighed heavily and then finished. “It’s a risk to attempt an escape… and it’s a risk to stay here and try to live like this.”

“As prisoners,” Alysa clarified.

Tony nodded to her. “Yes… as prisoners. But it’s still living as opposed to being dead.”

“I think the word ‘prisoner’ is a bit harsh,” Jim nonchalantly said. “I’ve been doing just fine all this time. You will, too, once you get used to it.”

Nine laughed at Jim. “And what exactly is ‘it’?”

Jim smiled and pointed at his book. “Adventures beyond your wildest dreams, my young friend. No one can imprison the mind.”

“You got me there, Jim,” Nine said. He looked to Tony and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe crazy isn’t so bad.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, staring at Jim who started reading again. If that’s our fate before the dead overrun this place… He shuddered at the thought.

Tony put his hands in his pockets, let his shoulders drop, and said, “Take the rest of the day, all of you, and consider what it will mean to stay… for an extended period.” He looked over at Nine. “But also, consider Nine’s plan… as crazy as it sounds. We’ll meet back up in the lounge tonight and vote on it. As Nine’s already mentioned, it will take all of us to pull off this ‘arrow’ thing… so… unless it’s a unanimous vote… than I guess we should get used to the idea of staying put for a while. Think it over.” He then looked down at his feet and finished. “I can’t protect you from this world… I never could.”

Hearing the rare admission from Tony struck the others as surprising… and a little unnerving.

“The loss of Beverly, Matthew, and everyone else back home, should be making that very clear to me, like a barrage of bricks to the face… but I’m stubborn.” He looked back into their faces. “I need to stop trying to shield you all from the storms… it’s wearing me down fast. But like that day at Orosco’s camp, when we all decided to come this far together, maybe now is another one of those times that I can’t decide things for you. So think about it, talk to each other, and make a decision. We’ll meet back up tonight to decide together which risk is worth taking… and whether we stay or try to escape… we’ll do it together.”

Alysa gave him a doubtful look.

He returned it with a smile and repeated, “Together.”

~~~

“And if they choose to stay, you intend to stay right here with them… for the long haul.” Once the others scattered and she had Tony to herself again, they relocated back upstairs. Alysa was quick to call him out. “I find that difficult to believe.”

“Believe what you want,” he said. “Just stop stabbing me with those sideway glares. I didn’t say I’d enjoy it if the final decision went that way.” He turned toward her. “But it sure beats watching them all get torn to pieces in front of me. So for that, I’ll have to deal with my own discomfort being trapped in this place.”

“I see,” she said, unconvinced.

“And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’ll have to suffer right along with me.” He smiled.

The archer scoffed. “I have no intention of slowly rotting away here. I’ll find a way out… or die trying.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s the warrior’s way and all that bullshit,” he said. “But you’re one of us now, too. I think it’s time you start acting like it.”

Alysa said nothing. She turned toward the closest window and stared out into the massive horde.

The dead things were covered in a winter’s worth of muck and dried-up blood, soiled clothing barely staying in place over their frail skeletal frames, skin stretched tight over rotting organs, eyes sunken back into their skulls, purpose—reduced to a single collective impulse to feed.

She watched as they continued to moan and sway into each other, oblivious of the horrific mirrors surrounding them, and completely unaware of ‘self’. Sometimes she envied the dead. What they didn’t have to deal with were the complicated myriad of emotions and conflicting thoughts left behind for the rest of the human race to contend with. She let out a heavy sigh. “You are a very indecisive man at times,” she said. “You let your heart dictate when it is your head that should be making the calls.”

“Okay,” he said, stepping up beside her. “So you think I’m letting my emotions get in the way?”

“Precisely. Those things down there don’t care if we stay here and slowly rot away with them or we make a run for it. They won’t care if we grow old here. They won’t care if we get away. They won’t care if they catch us. But they will stay put, while their numbers increase, and when something bad happens, some typical human emotion that leads to another ‘Matthew’ incident, they will get inside this place and kill all of us… and they won’t care afterwards. They’ll depart and follow another blood trail… not caring where they’re going or when they’ll get there.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah, I get it. We stay. We die here… eventually.”

She looked at him, puzzled. “And this doesn’t trouble you?”

“Of course it does. But if we attempt Nine’s crazy plan, we might die anyway, much sooner.” He shook his head. “Since this all started, life has been reduced to a series of coin tosses—uncertainty on one side, but death, death is always on the other side of that damn coin, regardless.” He laughed. “I’m starting to think the death part might be the easier fate.”

She considered this and stared back out the window. “So, you’re saying that getting through that horde will just lead us to another choice?”

“I’m saying that as long as we’re still alive, uncertainty will always be there. Whether we stay in this library for as long as possible, or we manage to escape. Death is the easy way out.”

She turned back. “Like Matthew?”

“Yes… like Matthew… in a way,” he said. “But more than that. It takes something… extraordinary… something more than ourselves, something that moves us past ourselves and into an unknown place, in order to live each and every day now. Something worth pushing forward regardless of all that uncertainty. What’s death in comparison to discovering a reason to… live?” He looked hard at the archer and finished, “You’re a warrior. Tell me, warrior, which fight would truly prove more challenging in the end? Facing death head on, where the outcome is always the same: black or white, live or die… or actually doing something with the whole ‘living’ part, other than desperately searching for the next opportunity to trade it in for a chance at death?

Alysa remained silent.

~~~

“So… are you just going to stay mad at me and sulk the rest of the day away?” Diane said, sitting down next to the brooding young man on the rooftop. “And why are we back up here again?” she asked. “It’s not even our watch.”

“I’m not… sulking, I’m thinking,” Nine said. “Sure, I was pissed at you a little, but I’m over it. It was a good plan that got shot down by all that fear in the room.” He shot her a quick glance and turned away.

“Ouch,” she said. “Okay, I suppose I deserve that… and you’re right… I was opposed to it immediately. As were the others, except for that insane Shadow Dead bitch, of course. You do know how crazy that plan sounded, right?”

“Of course,” he said. “But we needed a way out of here and I provided us one, a real one… but no one could hear anything beyond the risky parts, except for Alysa.”

Diane frowned. “You admire her, don’t you?”

“She doesn’t let fear factor in to her decisions,” Nine said. “She could clearly see the tactical side to my plan… and didn’t ridicule me for it. So yes, I admire that, if nothing else. Although she may still eat all of us in our sleep… eventually.”

“And Tony?” she pushed. “Was he giving in to fear, too?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Tony’s the leader, and with that comes the responsibility for all our lives. He has to weigh all outcomes… and make the hard calls. If he wasn’t afraid to put our lives at risk, then I’d really be worried about his leadership.”

Diane laughed. “Can’t argue with you on that one.”

Nine went back to brooding.

Diane was always telling him to shut up for all the ridiculous things that poured out of his endless pie hole, but now, she couldn’t stand the silence between them. “So… what are you thinking about?”

Nine sighed and showed her a serious face, full of worry and exhaustion. She didn’t like it. “To answer your other question, I told Wendy and Mark we’d take their watch so I could be with you in the one place that didn’t remind me of all the hell around us.”

She looked away with a smile. “You’re talking about what we did this morning, right?”

“That was… totally fucking awesome… but, no, I didn’t mean that.”

“Then… what do you mean?”

“How we were last night, all night, and how magically our watch ended, showed me how much I had to lose… I mean… really lose, for the first time.”

She waited.

“While the rest of you were afraid because of my ‘crazy plan’, I spent all morning with Jim coming up with it because I was… afraid… the moment I left you this morning.”

“What are you afraid of?”

Nine’s shoulders fell. He looked down and said, “You and I have built something together, through all that mess out there, something that shouldn’t be possible… not now. But we fell in love with each other anyway.”

She smiled at him. “Yes, we did, didn’t we?”

He looked at her and smiled back. “Yes, my angel, we certainly did. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. It just took you a little longer to catch up.” He added a wink.

“Asshole,” she laughed.

“Anyway, I started thinking about that… a lot… and what would happen to us if we were trapped in this damn place. That’s when I got afraid. And that’s why I came up with this escape plan.”

“So… let me get this straight. We have a wonderful evening together, make love, and then you decided to come up with a plan that will probably get us all killed? Could you help me understand that… please?”

He gave her the serious face again, making her shift uncomfortably. “This library prison will kill what we have together. Not at first, but when the days run long, one after the other, and we’re still trapped here, surrounded by the dead, we’ll turn on each other like a bunch of caged rats, slowly starving to death.”

“But… Jim has plenty of food and water-”

“I’m not talking about any of that. We’ll starve from being alive long before the food runs out… and I’m talking about being out there, free to make our own decisions, good or bad, go where we want, do what we want—fucking really living! Eventually, we’ll take it out on each other, probably start hating each other… and then do the dead’s job for them.”

Diane didn’t know what to say.

He smiled when he saw her worried face. “Look, you know me. I’m not a pessimist. Don’t I always try to keep it light?”

“Yes, you’re definitely not Mr. Doom and Gloom.”

“Then trust me when I say that if we stay here, we’re dead, and it will be a long painful death. We’re not meant to be caged up… just look at what living in that compound for six months did to our community long before the Shadow Dead showed up. How much longer do you think we could’ve kept that up?”

“You’re right,” Diane admitted. “That’s why I volunteered to go out on every mission with Gina. I hated being in that damn place.”

“This will be no different,” Nine said. “That’s why, as crazy and as risky as my plan seems, we have to try and get out of here.” He looked away. “If we stay… and when we lose ourselves in here, and we will… you’ll all be wishing we’d tried my crazy plan… when we still cared enough about each other to pull it off.”

“You really are afraid, aren’t you?”

“To stay here? Absolutely. There’s nothing I fear more. I can’t lose you. In here… I will. We’ll all lose and become as dead as those things outside.”

Diane was quick to respond. “Then we go.”

Nine looked up. “What?”

She was nodding vigorously before she could change her mind. “Fine. You’re right. Let’s do this crazy thing and get the hell out of here.”

Nine smiled. “I love you, Diane Conley.”

“Well, you better. Because agreeing to this insanity has shown me how crazy I’ve fallen for you, too.”

~~~

“You were surprisingly quiet tonight,” Wendy said, staring over at Mark. Once more, they shared the watch. Currently they were patrolling the perimeter of the first floor, stopping at each window to gaze outside.

Mark shrugged his shoulders in response, hands in his pockets, eyes staring absently toward the floor.

“I finally speak out against something that you would normally chime in on… and you… you just sat there like you could care less. What’s up?”

“I’m distracted by other things,” Mark said. His tone was surprisingly soft.

Wendy frowned at him. “You’re still thinking about it… aren’t you?”

“And you’re not?” he countered. “Ever since he let those monsters out… and how Matt just stood there, like he wanted them to… I don’t know… accept him, or something, I just can’t shake the way he just gave up.”

Wendy nodded. “I know. I was there, too. It was awful, but you can’t dwell on it.”

“It just doesn’t make sense, you know? I mean, he was actually smiling when he broke the lock off that gate. Fucking smiling! I just can’t grasp why anyone would do something like that… and then he died so horribly… there was so much fucking blood-” Mark stopped and took a deep breath. “I mean… it was like he wanted to be one of those fucking things.”

Wendy reached out to put a hand on Mark’s shoulder, hesitated, and then did it anyway.

He let her.

“Matthew was messed up in the head. We all saw it. I think… I think he just snapped and wanted a way out… just like Alysa said.”

He looked at her. “You mean he wanted to die?”

She nodded.

Mark looked back down at the floor and said, “I thought I wanted to die… that I wanted all of us to die because we had it coming. I’m so full of shit. That was all just my way of disconnecting from it all… all that fucking madness. It made it easier to believe that we were being… I don’t know… punished for all that bad shit we ever did to each other. But when I saw what those things did to Matt… my God… no one deserves that!”

Wendy was stunned by Mark’s admission. For the first time, she believed she was seeing the real man behind all those snide remarks as the unraveling of his ‘asshole’ front came down like a wall made of sand before the tide. Witnessing Matt die so savagely had broken him. “It didn’t seem real to me, not at first,” Wendy said. “I mean, I’d never seen someone get torn to pieces like that. It’s the kind of thing you see in a really bad horror film, and then turn it off or say something like, ‘that’s not even real blood’. But it was real… and it happened right in front of us. I’m still trying hard not to see it in my head. I just tune it out like turning off that bad movie. Maybe you should do the same.”

“I’m trying,” he said. Matt’s eyes began to water up. “I’m trying, but… Matt’s death… it shook me up. Beverly’s death was rough but I didn’t see it. Kind of like ‘out of sight, out of mind’, so it wasn’t as bad. Her absence was harder to deal with than her death, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Even when Joe got killed in Cubicle City, there was that sheet blocking our view. He just went down and never got back up… that’s what I told myself… and then shit got crazy fast.” He paused and took another breath. “Those monsters ripped Matt to pieces, Wendy. They just tore into him like he was paper, like his entire life wasn’t even worth a moment’s consideration… they just…”

“Stop,” Wendy whispered.

Mark started wiping tears from his eyes.

Wendy stood up on her tip toes and hugged the taller man.

Mark bent down and let her.

“Remember when we were hiding under those bunks at the compound?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Wendy responded.

“I had… I had that gun. I was actually trying to talk myself into using it… you know… on us… if the Shadow Dead found us.”

Wendy didn’t know what to say.

“There’s no way I would have… maybe Matt… but not me. Because I know I’m just a coward.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. “And you’re not a coward for not going through with it. Even if those monsters slaughtered us one at a time… I still would’ve wanted to fight… to live. Only a coward would’ve gone that route, Mark. I’m sure you know that now. Especially after what Matt did.”

“Yeah… you’re right. But I’m still a coward. I talk all tough about facing the death we all deserve… but I don’t know shit. Truth is, I’m a shitty person. I’ve treated people badly all my life to make myself feel better about… me. I’m the only one who deserves what’s coming. I deserve what happened to Matt.”

“That’s bullshit,” Wendy said. “Matt made a choice. So did you. When the dead killed him, I froze. I couldn’t move. If you hadn’t grabbed my arm and made me run… I’d be dead, too. You weren’t a coward then.”

Mark pulled away gently and smiled. “Thanks for saying that. It means a lot, especially from you.”

“Why me?”

“Because I’ve treated you the worst when all you’ve tried to do is be good to me. I targeted you to make myself feel better. And that’s a fucked-up thing to do… especially when there are so few of us left.”

Wendy smiled. “Well, you’re treating me pretty good right now. Hell, keep it up, and you might make the bottom of my favorite people list.”

Mark laughed and wiped tears from his face. “I must seem like a giant pussy right now, huh?”

“Not what I would’ve said. More like, Drama Queen.”

Mark tipped his head back and laughed louder.

This made Wendy giggle. “All better now?”

“For now,” he said with a sigh. “Thanks. You’re good people, Wendy… and I’m glad I got to say that while we’re both still here.”

She smiled. “Well, before you make me blush, maybe we should get to that decision.”

“What was that?”

“You know, whether or not we want to stay, or go along with Nine’s crazy plan.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’ve already decided.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “And…?”

“I want to help him. I think he’s right, we need to get the hell out of here.”

Wendy took a step back. “You did hear that crazy plan, right?”

He nodded.

“So… you want to go out there in the middle of that horde and die like Matthew?”

“I think it will work. The archer thinks so, too. But they need all of us to pull it off… and we need to get out of here while we still can.”

“But the plan is nuts!” Wendy was beside herself. “Of all the times… I can’t believe you’re for this!”

Mark looked out the closest window. “I don’t want to be here knowing that those things are just waiting outside for a chance to do to me what they did to Matt.”

“But that’s exactly what going outside will mean? You do realize that, don’t you?”

Mark’s expression was void of all pretense. Only honesty remained. “No… it’s not the same. We can either go at them first, catch them off guard, and fight like hell to get away. Or, we stay here, and wait for them to slaughter us after we’ve forgotten how to fight back. Eventually, we’ll start thinking we’re untouchable in here, like we thought at the compound when we were sheltered from everything. And then just like before, when death came, we’ll cower and hide. People will die to keep us safe, and we’ll get lucky and escape. I don’t ever want to feel that helpless again… or cowardly… or unworthy of another chance when so many people bled for me already.”

Wendy averted her eyes and said nothing.

“I think this place is bad for us, Wendy. I think we may have grown a little as survivors… actual survivors… when we realize that there’s no greater liar than that sonofabitch who moved in here last winter called, Safety.”

~~~

Nine, Mark and Wendy paced impatiently around the library lounge, waiting for Tony to arrive.

“Would you all sit the hell down,” Diane said from one of the couches. “He’ll be here soon.”

The archer stood near the back of the lounge, leaning up against a wall. She kept staring toward the back of the library, a rare look of distress on her face.

Diane caught it. “What is it?”

Alysa turned. “We talked a bit more after this morning. When we were finished, Tony excused himself and said he wanted to talk to Jim about… options. I haven’t seen him or the strange librarian since.”

“They’re probably hanging out in Jim’s super-awesome bedroom. If you haven’t seen it yet… it’s really something,” Nine said.

“Yes,” Alysa said. “I do know that Tony went down there. But that was a while ago.”

“But he is still down there… right?” Diane asked.

The archer looked uncertain. “I assumed so… but now…”

“Well, where the hell else could he be?” Matt chimed in.

The archer frowned. “I think Diane said it best earlier when she mentioned that Tony would do anything to keep us safe… even if it meant something stupid. I’m starting to believe that Tony-”

“That Tony might not be here!” Diane finished, rising to her feet.

“Come on,” Nine said. “Let’s check the basement.”

They all followed Nine down into Jim’s fantasy world and were surprised to hear the muffled sound of the generator running, along with what sounded like power tools, coming from the sound-proofed room off to the left of the stairs.

Nine opened the door to the small room, letting out the noise. He immediately covered his ears… and smiled.

Tony and Jim looked up in surprise. They were both wearing safety goggles and ear plugs. Tony had a power drill in one hand. Jim was working with some sort of electric saw. They were both hovering over the modified remains of a large table that had been reshaped and reinforced by a combination of various items salvaged from the spare furniture from the opposite side of the basement. What stood out the most was the new shape of the former table. It resembled a large arrow.

Tony removed his goggles and plugs. “Shit. What time is it?”

“It’s long past the time you tell us what the hell you’re doing down here?” Diane said.

Nine just laughed and clapped his hands, excitedly. “Isn’t it obvious?” he said to Diane.

Tony smiled and raised his hands in mock surrender. “Busted,” he said. “I just got talking with Jim earlier about how to make this damn arrow thing, since I’d be the obvious choice to carry it. Well… one thing led to another… and… here we are.”

Jim smiled back sheepishly and waved at them.

“You knew,” Wendy said with a smile. “You knew we’d decide to go.”

Tony nodded. “I… guessed.”

“Well, that was very presumptuous of you,” Wendy said, in a teasing tone.

Tony laughed and turned to Jim. “We figured, that if the vote went another way, we could always turn this thing into a fancy looking bookshelf or something. Sorry for being late. We just sort of… got carried away down here, and lost track of time.”

“I’ll say,” Nine laughed. “It looks great guys.”

Tony and Jim looked at each other and smiled. “Jim’s made me a believer in the power of the written word,” Tony said. “When we started looking through the ‘How To’ books… well… I haven’t had this much fun making shit since Shop class back in high school. Jim’s really responsible for most of it. He’s quite handy.”

“I owe it all to my nonfiction writer friends,” Jim said. “I’d already read most of the books in the ‘Do It Yourself’ section of the library several times.” He added a wink that made Tony laugh.

“The vote was unanimous,” Alysa confirmed. She, too, wore a conservative little smile. “All in favor of Operation Crazy Arrow.”

Nine turned to her and laughed. “I like that!”

“You would,” Diane said, elbowing him.

Tony nodded. “Sounds good. Give me and Jim another hour or so to finish this up. We’ve got some fancy harness system and handles to install, and we’ll have this mostly done. I’ll come up and we can work out the details to Nine’s plan.” He started to put his goggles back on.

The others departed and headed back upstairs.

Diane looked over at Nine who was grinning ear to ear. “Stop that. It’s irritating as shit.”

“Sorry… I’m just excited.”

And then something occurred to her, something she was sure Nine had overlooked. She hesitated, not knowing if she should bring it up. “You know… there will be six of us out there trying to do this… right? Jim’s made it clear that he’s not coming.”

“Of course.”

“Well, isn’t that like the worst fucking number? You’re always going on about how awful number six is.”

Nine smiled and corrected her. “It’s seven, babe. Jim may not be going, but without him, this never would’ve worked. He’s also going to help us from here… like our own ‘inside man’.”

“And that’s… good… right?”

Nine nodded. “Seven’s a done deal. Seven is the number of completion, like when God made the world, or how many days in a week, or-”

“Got it,” she said, shaking her head. “Why am I not surprised?”

“We’re getting out of here, my angel. Can’t you feel it?” He started dancing around her like an idiot.

This made Mark and Wendy laugh.

Diane shook her head. “Sure. Now stop that.”

“Then say it!” he said. “Say it like you mean it!”

“Fuck off, crazy man.”

“Say it… or I’ll start singing our victory song,” he threatened. “Trust me, no one wants to hear my singing.”

“Please… don’t let him start singing,” Mark advised.

“I’m sure if the dead start hearing that… they might just leave,” Wendy teased.

Diane laughed. “Oh, God, no… okay… we’re getting out of here.”

Nine jumped up on one of the coffee tables. “One more time, everyone! Say it with emotion!” he encouraged, sounding like a game show host.

The others gave in to his madness and shouted, “We’re getting out of here!”

Alysa stood toward the back of the lounge. She was already thinking about tactics to discuss with Tony later. She watched the four excited young people prematurely celebrate before the battle, considered sobering them up by mentioning the slim odds of their success, and then decided against it. We need every bit of confidence, however false, she thought.

While the others continued carrying on, the archer started formulating a future plan on how to pick up the broken pieces of Tony Marcuchi after suffering the loss of several of his children… assuming any of them survived at all.

~~~

Next Episode 41-9

Previous Episode 41-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-8: Siege” 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. alikolino says:

    “I’m want to help him. I think he’s right, we need to get the hell out of here.”

    *I want to help him.

    Like

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