~~~

They had spent most of the morning moving north through and around Orwell, trying to stay ahead of the dead and avoid notice. By noon, Tony and his small band of survivors had circled around the eastern edge of town, eventually connecting with Route 45, heading south, hopefully resuming the month-old trail of the diabolical Lunatics.

After they’d traveled south a couple of miles they slowed their pace, believing the horde had given up the hunt, losing their scent, and then simply returned to surround the library.

“That sucks for Jim,” Nine remarked. Orwell was now five miles behind them. “He probably could’ve escaped when the dead came for us, but I imagine he just sat back down and started reading his next book.”

“He probably forgot about them right after we left,” Mark said, shaking his head. “That was one crazy sonofabitch.”

“Crazy or not, we couldn’t have made it out of there without him,” Nine defended. He stopped and looked north up the road. “I’m gonna miss that guy.”

“We all will,” Diane added, squeezing Nine’s shoulder. “You know he had a chance to leave with us… and he refused. Siege or no siege, I believe Jim’s right where he wants to be until this nightmare’s over.”

Nine nodded with a smile. “The world could be zombie-free a year from now and Jim wouldn’t notice until someone came to re-open the damn library on a Monday morning. I can already see that skeptical look on his face when the staff come in, surprised to find him living there, and then Jim just says, ‘Are you real library people?’” A frown appeared. “He’s not going to make it is he?”

Wendy stepped up beside him. “He’s made it this long. I wouldn’t count Jim out. He’s got a book for every occasion… and then some.” She laughed as a thought struck her. “For all we know, Jim’s hard at work right now chronicling our incredible escape from the zombie horde… giving himself an honorable mention in the book, of course.”

Nine laughed. “Of course. He’ll probably embellish quite a bit… make himself out to be the hero.”

Diane kissed him lightly on the cheek and smiled.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“Only the real hero gets the kiss from the girl. It was your plan, after all… and we all gave you shit for it.”

Mark and Wendy both nodded.

Nine blushed. “Well… when I write my edition of this remarkable escape from the dreaded zombie siege, I’ll definitely include the kiss… I’ll just have to add a famous movie star or something.”

She punched him in the shoulder, causing the others to laugh.

“I meant… to play your part in the blockbuster movie… of course.”

“Break’s over,” Tony called back from farther up the road with Alysa. “You’re going to want to see this.”

The others caught up and immediately noticed a narrow two-lane road off to the left, running into the woods and then disappearing around a sharp bend to the right. The road was packed with abandoned vehicles, filling both lanes, all heading into the forest.

Diane noticed the sign at the edge of the road:

Mosquito Creek Lake

“So, they made it?” she asked.

After a closer inspection of the first few vehicles, they looked ancient—a winter’s worth of filth was layered on the exterior of all the cars, reminding them of the vehicles they saw in the church parking lot in Wayne.

“Well… apparently their cars didn’t make it,” Tony said. “Looks like they had to walk in.”

“Walk where?” Nine said. “Jim mentioned something about following the Army, and if that didn’t work out, hiding out in caves and trying to beat out the winter storms… and the dead.”

“You’re guess is as good as mine,” Tony added. “We should find out what happened here. Maybe there’s survivors. They might have information about the Lunatics.”

“Or supplies,” Alysa added.

Tony nodded. “Let’s go find the townspeople of Orwell.”

~~~

The northern end of Mosquito Creek Lake was a nine thousand acre protected area made up of swamps, grasslands and woods. The southern end of the large but narrow lake spanned three miles, and was open to the public for fishing, camping and hunting.

Tony led the others cautiously between the abandoned cars, east into the northern edge of the protected area, following a two-lane bridge over the wetlands. The bridge curved to the southeast and emptied into a small parking lot in a wooded area, jammed pack with more vehicles. From there the bridge continued east through another swamp.

They stopped in the parking area to examine a map on a tall information billboard.

“According to this, there’s a trail to an overlook just up that hill.” Alysa pointed away from the bridge road and over at the back end of the parking lot where the wooded area sloped upward. The trail hadn’t been maintained for a long time but it was still there. “Might be worth getting a better vantage point of this place before we venture further.”

“Agreed,” Tony said, staring back at the line of jammed cars that continued over the swamp bridge. “I’d like to know what happened here, and why everyone just left their vehicles in the roadway.”

“This place is too damn quiet,” Diane said. “I don’t know if it’s just a lack of wildlife… but it feels wrong here… like something horrible happened before the winter, just at the other end of where these cars were trying to make it to.”

Tony nodded. “I feel it, too.”

“The hunter’s correct,” Alysa said. “The vibe here probably explains why we’re all whispering. These woods feel… alive… for lack of a better description.”

No one noticed they’d lowered their voices considerably after entering Mosquito Creek until the archer pointed it out. She was right. The place felt like a presence rather than a place, with eyes on them… from everywhere.

“Just once I’d like to go anywhere that didn’t feel like a trap for anyone walking around on two legs… and breathing,” Mark said, nervously staring up at the trees.

“This place is starting to make Mark miss the library,” Nine added, winking at the unamused young man. “Hell, At least there, we knew exactly where the enemies were.”

“Let’s get up that hill and get a better look.” Tony quickened his pace, suddenly wanting nothing more to do with Mosquito Creek.

A winding trail led them up one hill and then farther up a second steeper hill toward the overlook. Ten minutes later, they reached the top. A dull grey sky came into full view as the tree line ended, just before a fenced-off cliff.

They all stepped up to the fence and stared down into the large valley.

They observed the panoramic view of the terrain shifts below. The narrow bridge road continued over a large patch of swamp where the traffic jam ended at a point where the bridge had collapsed.

“That bridge was never intended to hold the weight of so many vehicles all at once,” Tony said.

“So… what?” Nine started. “The road collapsed and then they just hiked the rest of the way?”

“What the hell are those large dark rocks doing in the swamp?” Wendy asked, pointing toward either side of the collapsed bridge.

Once the focus shifted to the strange rock formations scattered all around the large swamp and into an adjacent field of tall grass, Tony gasped and whispered, “Those aren’t rocks, Wendy.”

“They’re all over the place,” Mark said. “I can see them at the edge of the wood line, too!”

“Those almost look like…” Nine stopped, his face turning white.

“We need to leave… now,” Diane said, exchanging a terrified look with Tony.

Alysa’s eyes went wide with recognition. She turned to Tony.

“It’s them,” he said. “The yellow-eyed monsters. They’ve gone into dormant mode.”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Mark said, staggering back from the cliff edge. “There must be… thousands of them down there.”

“It’s a state these bastards go into when they’re… full,” Tony said.

Wendy raised her hands to her mouth. “Orwell?”

“Yes.” He left the assumption unspoken. “Time to go. There will be no survivors to find.”

“How long do you think they’ve been like that?” Diane whispered. “All winter? Like some form of hibernation?”

Tony shivered at the thought. “Whatever’s going on down there is something… big. It looks like they’ve been gathering here for quite some time.”

“It’s an army… a massive army,” Alysa said. “And one that size, should it wake up, could destroy anything in its path.”

Tony nodded. “Time to go. Back the way we came without another damn word. If they wake while we’re still here…”

“Game over,” Nine finished.

They turned back down the trail, the mind-blowing image of so many yellow-eyed beasts gathered together in the nine thousand acres of Mosquito Creek, was more than they could comprehend.

From below, the dead continued to lie dormant in the murky swamps, concealed within the tall grasses of the fields, and nestled deep within the shadows of the forests—their grotesque blood and mud covered pale flesh hunched over in the kneeling position as if praying to an unknown god who would deliver the rest of humanity to them upon waking… and the feast would begin.

More than five thousand savages waited, eyes closed, perhaps dreaming of bathing in rivers rich with human blood, standing by for the appointed time of the promised harvest.

~~~

Next Episode 42-1

Previous Episode 41-9

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-10: 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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