~~~

After inspecting the contents of the trailer, the leader of the Lunatics seemed satisfied, and a little less irritated, with Sergeant Hash. She provided them an escort to New Cleveland, insisting that they make it to the main gate with Candyman’s supplies safely and without delay.

This made Hash frown the remainder of the drive, understanding that Briana enjoyed continuing his discomfort with her presence.

The four lunatic vehicles surrounded the truck and trailer with Briana’s Caddy leading the way.

“Well… that could have gone a lot worse I suppose,” Tony said.

Hash grumbled something under his breath, gripping the steering wheel tightly with both hands, as he stared ahead, considering their next move.

From what Tony could make out it sounded like Hash wanted to tie the Lunatic leader naked to the bumper of the truck and drag her for about ten miles at seventy miles an hour. Tony covered his mouth to hide his amusement. He stared out his window, making eye contact with the clown-faced driver in the vehicle next to him. Tony nodded at the strange looking driver.

The driver smiled, then raised his hand, making the shape of a gun with his fingers, and pretended to shoot him in the face.

“Nice bunch,” Tony said, turning away from the window. “I think this one really likes me.”

“If we’d been any farther away from New Cleveland when that bitch found us,” Hash said, staring up at the looming roller coaster coming into full view, “they would’ve shot us all dead in the street. So, I guess we caught a break.”

“Well… they might have tried,” Tony corrected, causing the good sergeant to laugh.

“Indeed, they might have ‘tried’. I like you, Tony. That was good thinking back there with your mouthy friend. You diffused that situation perfectly.”

Tony looked back through the rear window. Alysa was staring off behind them, her face unreadable. “Yeah, but I’m going to pay for that little love tap later.”

Hash laughed. “Of course, you will.”

Tony gave him a look. “Hey, you hit her, too, remember?”

“Yeah, but that was her idea. Besides, she’s not all googly-eyed over me.”

Tony shook his head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” the good sergeant said. “But it’s plain as day that woman cares for you.”

Tony said nothing else. He looked back once more at the distant warrior, hoping to catch her attention. But Alysa was elsewhere. She’s probably planning out how to kill all these Lunatics the moment we stop, Tony thought. His gaze lingered.

Hash huffed, causing Tony to stare at him. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Hash said, with a shit-eating grin. “Just wondering how many more times you’re going to stare back at that woman is if she’s about to fall out of the truck. I could slow down a little if you want?”

“Just drive,” the big man snapped, turning his attention back toward the road.

“Anything you say, loverboy.”

Alysa had turned and was staring at the back of Tony’s head through the rear window. Her face was a mask hiding all emotion.

~~~

The truck slowed down as the Lunatics led them around a long bend to the left.

Nine and Diane sat low toward the back of the flatbed while Wendy and Mark sat just beneath the rear window. None of them, except Alysa, had any interest in staring back at the Lunatic vehicles. She watched them like a hawk.

Nine stared up at the ancient roller coaster. They were close enough now to make out details, such as several phone-booth sized shacks placed on various portions of the old wooden tracks and within the wooden structure beneath it. There were armed individuals occupying several of the shacks. But most disturbing where the bodies hanging suspended upside down from the highest portions of the coaster, in full display of anyone in the town below it.

“This is not the Geauga Lake that I remember as a kid,” Nine said, staring up at the bodies.

Diane rubbed his shoulder. “We’ll be okay,” she said. “Hash and Tony have a plan.”

“I know,” he said. “I’m just a little freaked out right now. I mean… shit… we’re driving toward a damn roller coaster that looks like it came right out of some Mad Max movie, being escorted by armed clowns to visit the ruler of Candyland—not’s the kid’s version—and packing enough illegal drugs in the back to spend the rest of our lives in prison. What’s not to like about all that, I guess.”

Diane laughed. “It all does seem… surreal.” She stared up at the coaster. “After all we’ve seen, this should be business-as-usual, but it’s so damn strange.”

Nine looked at her and said, “I guess when the day comes that none of this seems strange anymore, that’s when we’ll know we’ve been alive too damn long.”

She smiled at him. “Amen, to that.”

The truck slowed down to a crawl as they approached the entrance into New Cleveland. They abruptly came to a halt as the other three Lunatic vehicles drove ahead of them and through a chain-link fence.

Everyone got up to look toward the front, being mindful to keep their guns close, but not in hand.

“What the fuck?” Mark said.

A large billboard sign stood in front of the fence and to the left of the roadway. It had been painted red with big bold letters written neatly in white that read:

LOITERING IS PROBITED AND PUNISHIBLE BY DEATH.
IF CHARITY IS WHAT YOU SEEK, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE.
IF YOU HAVE NOT COME WITH GOODS TO SELL, BARTER, OR TRADE,
YOU ARE NOT WELCOME IN NEW CLEVELAND.
ADMISSION PRICES VARY.
PAY THE LUNATICS OR FEED THE DEAD.

“Not very inviting is it?” Wendy asked.

Mark shook his head. “I’m starting to get a real bad feeling about this place.”

Alysa was scanning the defenses just past the chain-link fence.

“Something wrong?” Nine asked.

She sighed and said, “Getting in is one thing. Getting out will be another.”

An eight-foot tall chain-link fence with barbed wire running across the top spanned the entire amusement park—presumably the original fence. Beyond the fence were several parking lots on both sides of the road, some nearly full with an assortment of vehicles. And just past that, a twelve-foot tall wall made of sheet metal that obscured the inside of the park.

“That must have taken some time and resources,” Diane remarked. “How many people did Hash say were in this place?”

Nine shrugged his shoulders. He was staring intently toward the large, white painted, stone structure where their Lunatic escorts had parked. The main entrance was the only point not blocked off by the wall. Instead, a small castle-like building stood at the end of the entrance road. On top of the castle, in between two corner towers which clearly served no purpose other than a decorative face, was a second newer structure that had been built on the roof of the older building. It was a solid looking wood structure with two windows that were steel plated. Mounted on each window was an M-60 machine gun. Both guns were manned by Lunatics and aimed at the new arrivals.

At the base of the castle, was a hole in the stone wall, rounded off at the top, where a drawbridge might have once been. A thick metal gate blocked access into it. It was wide enough to fit vehicles, one at a time, and tall enough to accommodate a box truck. On both sides of the drawbridge were several metal turnstiles, five on each side, made of the same sturdy metal as the drawbridge gate.

Once through the chain link fence, the Lunatics waved them over toward the right and into one of the bigger parking lots reserved for larger vehicles and their loads. The parking lots off toward the left of the entrance were loaded with smaller vehicles and trunks, presumably for visitors entering, or regulars living, in New Cleveland.

“This must be their version of ‘Customs’ on this side,” Tony cracked.

“More like, ‘Mine’ and ‘Yours’,” Hash said, parking, and then turning off the vehicle. “Ready for this?”

Tony nodded.

“Out!” Briana yelled. “Leave your weapons in the truck. They’re forbidden in New Cleveland. We’ll hold them for you, as well as your vehicle, until you leave.” The Lunatic leader laughed at the last part.

Tony and the others exited the truck.

Briana put her hands to her hips, shook her head at them, and then turned to Hash. “I hope you have something worth more than the bullshit coming out of your mouth to warrant the boss’s time. Actually, on second thought, I hope you don’t.”

Hash smiled at her. And fuck you, too, you crazy bitch.

As if reading his thoughts, her smile, exaggerated by her face paint, widened. She blew him a kiss. “Let’s go.” She turned, signaling her men, and the armed Lunatics closed in around Tony’s group. The lunatic leader led them toward the castle structure.

Tony looked around and found several more Lunatics standing at various distances in the parking lot and along the top of the sheet metal wall. “Security seems… sufficient.”

“There’s so many damn guns pointed at us right now, I can almost feel those sniper barrels poking at my skull,” Hash said.

Briana led them through the free-spinning turnstiles and into the castle structure. On the other side were three more while brick walls, completing the illusion of the castle interior lobby where three large portals led in different directions entering the park. Their was no ceiling, other than above the much wider entrance wall.

Nine noticed the old gift shops surrounding the lobby that had been converted into armed security stations where several more guns were aimed at them. “So much for the overpriced souvenirs,” he said. “I was really hoping for a Geauga Lake snow globe at the end of the day encouraging me to ‘come back soon’. Hell… I’d even settle for the cheap key chain.”

“Nine?” Diane said.

“I know. Time to zip it. Just my nervousness talking.”

She gave him an understanding nod.

Right away, everyone noticed the large amount of activity and the sounds of people coming from the other sides of the left and right portals. The Lunatics had closed off access while processing the new arrivals, but there was clearly a lot of people in New Cleveland.

Briana quickly led them through the center portal and away from the castle façade.

“Shit,” Matt said, staring into a large courtyard surrounded by commercial trailers, forming a tight circle. Beneath their feet was an old brick walkway in much need of repair. Uneven bricks jutted up creating trip hazards with weeds sprouting up between the bricks. In the center of the courtyard was the remains of an old fountain filled with swampy stagnant water and a stone base stripped of whatever amusement park icon that once stood there.

Centered at the back of the trailer cul-de-sac was a much larger and wider trailer with a second floor build on top of it, constructed out of the same sheet metal used to build the wall outside. A single large window was added, facing directly down toward the courtyard. Two Lunatic sentries stood at the entrance with several more armed painted men vigilantly patrolling the area.

Briana stopped them near the fountain. “You’re very fortunate today,” she started. “Very few people ever step foot in this area. Personally, I have no idea why, but Candyman insisted on questioning you himself. Keep quiet unless he addresses you and if I even detect a hint of disrespect from any of you, I will slit your throats.” She said the last staring into Alysa’s eyes.

The Shadow Dead warrior met her gaze with a smile.

Briana chuckled and turned, leading them toward Candyman’s trailer.

~~~

The interior of the trailer was much larger than it appeared from outside. The first floor of the industrial-sized lunchroom trailer had been converted into a large carpeted living room. All the walls were paneled with some sort of brown wood siding, giving the place a 70’s vibe. There were light fixtures along the walls, all lit.

Various pictures lined the walls with elaborate frames. Wendy examined the artwork, most of it displaying busy city scenes with exquisite detail of the people captured in them. She immediately recognized some of artwork from museums she’d visited in downtown Cleveland.

Along one wall was a long leather bar with a gracious looking glass liquor cabinet behind it. A tall attractive woman with short blond hair stood patiently at the bar, giving them a curious look. She wore a silver and silk nightgown which hung loose around her low neckline but hugged her bosom snugly, leaving little to the imagination for what was beneath.

A mock fireplace had been installed, which was an elaborate electric heater, making the room temperature very comfortable.

Three long leather sofas sat centered in the room before a long glass coffee table. At the head of the table, the back of a large rotating swivel chair aimed for maximum comfort faced them.

“Please,” a deep melodic voice said, “come in and sit down.” The swivel chair turned to face them revealing an older man with long silver hair tied back into a ponytail. He wore thin glasses above a long, but well-trimmed silver beard. The man wore a thin blue turtleneck sweater and khakis, completing the image of someone’s grandfather at the beginning of retirement, sipping on a glass of scotch or bourbon before either going golfing or about to tell some long boring tale from his glory days. He even wore what looked like a black golfing glove on his right hand.

The man smiled at their hesitant, stunned faces. “Not what you expected?” He motioned toward the couches. “Sit. Relax.”

Briana shoved Hash from behind. “You heard the man, asshole,” she hissed in his ear. “Do it.”

They all sat down on the sofas while the Lunatics hung back along the walls.

Candyman leaned forward in his chair until his long legs hit the floor. He placed his glass on the table and then rested his arms on his knees, folded his hands together, and studied his guests, never losing the grin from his face.

Tony and the others leaned back against the sofas, trying to hide how tense they felt under Candyman’s gaze.

Hash finally spoke. “It’s a… an honor to finally meet you… Sir. Last time I was here, I didn’t get a chance to-”

“These aren’t your men, Sergeant Hash,” Candyman interrupted, never losing that unnerving grin. “I know who you are… but who are they?”

“Right. Straight to the point,” the good sergeant said. He shifted in his seat and started to introduce the others.

“Young lady,” Candyman said, cutting off Hash again and addressing Diane. “I don’t mean to be harsh, but my time is valuable. So, you’ll have to forgive me for being overly direct.”

Diane looked to Tony and then turned back with a nod. “Of course.”

“Your arm,” he continued. “How did that happen to you, dear?”

“I… uh…”

“Were you bitten?”

“No. Nothing like that,” she said.

Nine grabbed her hand and squeezed lightly, trying to calm her down.

“We were attacked east of your Territories, before Sergeant Hash found us. But not by the dead. I lost my arm as a result.” Diane kept it short and sweet, hoping a lack of details wouldn’t invite more questions.

“Yes, well… shit happens.”

Diane was stunned by his cold response.

Candyman leaned back in his chair with a sigh. “That’s too bad, really. If you’d been bitten, that information would have been valuable to me. I haven’t met anyone who’s actually survived an attack from those dead things. I’ve been trying to compile as much information about infection rates as I can, but the results seem… varied. Volunteers I’ve received for the experiments have either turned immediately or over the course of a few hours. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

“Volunteers?” Diane asked, horrified.

Candyman ignored the question. “It’s been a frustrating and fruitless endeavor so far. From a medical standpoint, however, should we ever find a common denominator, or a pattern, that information would be worth a lot… assuming anyone out there is still looking for a cure. Not that I think there is one, but for those who would try… there’s a profit to be made there.”

Diane looked away to hide her disgust.

Candyman took another sip of his drink, appearing less enthusiastic about the rest of his questions. “So, Sergeant, I assume you have a good reason for being here, and not watching over my investment like we agreed upon?”

Hash cleared his throat and lied, “My men… Thompson… he tried to take over. He thought the arrangement was a bad deal. When I confronted him about it, he turned on me, tried to kill me with the intent of taking all our supplies… including your cut… and fleeing town. Fortunately, I found these people out on the eastern border. In exchange for their help taking down Thompson and the others, and helping me get supplies back to New Cleveland, I offered them a chance at citizenship, here in the Territories. I couldn’t hold the town after my men betrayed me. So, I came back with as much as I could transport, to make up for any losses on your end. You’ll see from the trailer we’ve brought that it’s significantly more than our agreed arrangement.”

“But you’ve lost my town,” Candyman said.

“And that’s also why I’m here,” Hash continued. “It’s my hope that you’ll let me recruit some more help and then let me return to reclaim West Farmington Village, and keep our arrangement intact. I just need a day or two in town, to find more people. Then, I’ll go back and-”

“Meanwhile,” Candyman interrupted, staring into his drink glass, “while you’re here trying to kiss my ass with a trailer full of stuff, my eastern border stands unprotected, meaning, New Cleveland stands unprotected from anyone or anything wandering in from there.” He stared at the sergeant, his smile was gone. “If you couldn’t protect it the first time, then why the hell should I trust you the second time?”

Hash didn’t know what to say.

Candyman put his glass down. “More wasted time. I let you in, hoping there would be more to this ‘story’. You’re what I call a ‘bad business investment’. Now I’ll have to decide how to best clean up your mess. It will require additional resources and planning, which translates into time that I don’t have to waste on such trivial matters. And that, sergeant, is completely unacceptable.”

“But… I said I’d-”

“Briana,” Candyman said. “Take these people out into the yard, shoot them, and then hang them from the Dipper. I’ll gladly find the time to watch the executions from my window.”

Briana smiled. “Yes, Sir.”

“There are over five-thousand monsters with yellow eyes lying dormant not far from your precious eastern border… and we’ve seen them,” Tony quickly chimed in before the Lunatics moved in to seize them. “I’m to understand that information is valuable here. Will you make time to hear me out?”

Candyman held up his hand, stopping the Lunatics. He looked right at the big man, all humor gone from his face. “If this is a desperate trick to save your lives… I’ll have you tortured while your friends watch. And then they’ll know what will happen to them next.”

“No tricks,” Tony said. “But if you’re just going to kill us anyway… then fuck you and your damn town! I’ll die with what I know and just hope you choke on that drink when you look up one morning… very soon… and see what those monsters do when they get here.”

Briana drew one of her guns like lightning and placed it to Tony’s head. “I warned you about disrespect,” she hissed, placing her finger on the trigger.

~~~

Next Episode 43-3

Previous Episode 43-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 43-2: Feed The Dead” Copyright © 2018 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.

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