~~~

Alysa was about to leap from the couch.

“Stop!” Candyman ordered. “I want to hear this man.”

Briana nearly pulled the trigger. Instead, she slowly retracted the gun and holstered it. She nodded toward Candyman and retreated toward the wall.

The other Lunatics relaxed slightly, taking a few steps back, but keeping their guns out and ready.

Hash and the rest looked pale and ready to crawl out of their skin as everyone knew how close they’d just come to dying in this trailer.

Alysa stared at Briana; her eyes were daggers.

Tony leaned forward on the couch and kept his gaze on Candyman. Now that he had this smug prick’s complete attention, he intended to take advantage of it.

Candyman leaned back in his chair. His smile resurfaced as he studied the big man as if trying to identify his species. “Speak, friend. If what you have to say is of any real value, you may have bought yourself some more time to live.”

Tony was finished playing this game. He was exhausted, pissed off, and near his breaking point. He had come within moments of death in the past day…twice! First by Thompson’s knife, and now, by the crazy woman’s gun aimed at his head. “Look,” he started. “I’m done trying to understand why everyone wants to kill everyone, now that the dead have come and made us all an endangered species. I can tell by what I’ve seen so far here, that you have quite the empire, but that won’t mean shit when those yellow-eyed haters decide to wake up and find all of you here. When that does happen, we all need to come together as a fucking human race to fight them… or we’ll just be food at the end of the day.”

Candyman laughed and said to Hash, “This one has spirit and balls! I can see why he’s on your crew.”

Hash looked to Tony and smiled. “Yes, Tony and his friends have surprised me more than once since I’ve met them.”

“Indeed,” Candyman said, turning back to Tony. “I applaud your boldness but find your idealism naive. It didn’t work in the world before, and it certainly won’t work now. It’s a ‘dog eats dog’ world out there, probably always was beneath the surface of things, and only the strong, the powerful, will survive. That may seem cliché as hell, but no less true. Now, tell me about these five thousand monsters right outside my eastern door.”

Tony sighed heavily. “We found them dormant at the northern end of Mosquito Creek Lake, like some massive army getting ready for the final war. We suspect they’ve been gathering there for most of the winter, and now that the winter is over, it’s just a matter of time before they wake up… hungry as hell… and devour anything in their path. But, I suspect you knew some of this already, and that’s why you’ve hired people like Sergeant Hash to occupy the Border Towns. You wanted an early warning system in place, especially on the east side of the Territories, so you’d have time to prepare your defenses. But I’m telling you, when the dead come, your walls, guns, numbers… none of it will matter against an enemy without fear, or the ability to reason, show mercy, or make a business arrangement with. You, your people, my people, and everyone else, won’t stand a damn chance against a horde that size that desires to see us dead more than we desire to live.”

“Idealistic and dramatic,” Candyman said, picking up his glass and taking a sip. “You’re partially correct. I’ve known about Mosquito Creek for a few months now. Information is part of my trade and I’ve heard enough about that place to keep an eye on it. The difficult thing about information is filtering out the facts buried in rumors. I’ve heard stories of people disappearing near that lake. Stories of entire small towns on the edges swallowed up by monsters coming out of the night. I’ve even sent patrols in there that haven’t reported back yet. But it’s a dangerous world out there. People and places disappear all the time now, and I can’t afford to jump every time I hear another scary story.” He put his drink back down on the table. “However, I’ve heard enough stories about that place to exercise caution. Yes, the Border Towns were established primarily as a buffer zone, but they also serve to keep the Territories from being overrun by hostile forces, whether living or dead, that would desire to take what is mine. Sergeant Hash has failed in that regard, and by association with him, so have you.”

Tony shook his head. “Haven’t you been listening? I just told you that five thousand-”

“You’ve told me another story,” Candyman interrupted. “Albeit, if your information is correct, then it’s the closest I’ve come to understanding just how large a threat Mosquito Creek possesses to my operations. But why should I believe you at all? Should I jump at your story? Close up shop and evacuate New Cleveland before the big bad monsters arrive?”

“Yes,” Tony said plainly. “That’s exactly what you should do… and get as far away from here as you can, while you still can.”

“Perhaps,” Candyman said, considering the seriousness of Tony’s words. “But that’s my business and not yours. The real question at the moment is what to do with all of you. As far as threats go, I am the only threat you and your friends need to consider. And I assure you, I can be reasonable, or I can be… monstrous.”

Tony decided to throw out the script. He was out of patience. “Fine, you can kill us all now, and there’s nothing we can do to stop you. But, from a business perspective, you would be foolish not to take advantage of what we know about an enemy that may or may not be five thousand strong in your damn backyard.”

Candyman smiled. “There’s more? Tell me, friend, what information could you possibly have about that world ‘out there’ that I haven’t already heard? I see people coming through here from all over the damn place… and they all claim that their stories are valuable. Hell, they’ll say anything and everything to get me to let them stay here for one more day, for one more fix, fuck, or fantasy; for more chance at escaping whatever hellish existence they’ve been living since this new world started. What makes anything you have to say any different? What does it profit me to keep you alive, aside from the trailer full of stuff that I already possess?”

Tony laughed. “While I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of bullshit from frightened people looking for anywhere to hide, me and my friends have been ‘out there’, living and dying, while the rest of you have been getting fat in this place. Not only have we fought the dead and survived, we’ve watched them evolve. For example, we’ve learned that the yellow-eyed ones are getting… smarter. Collectively, they are changing their tactics against us. In the beginning, they were just savages driven by their hunger, but now, now they’re showing patience and stealth. We encountered a smaller horde during the winter thaw, although working much more efficiently at killing in a collective, their behavior had changed significantly. And the horde we encountered was led by one.”

Candyman’s face went dark. “You’re talking about The Alpha.”

“‘The Alpha’?”

Candyman’s face relaxed. Tony saw a hint of disappointment. “Never mind. Just more stories. Continue. What else have you seen?”

Tony leaned in closer, lowering his voice. “We’ve seen stranger things then even the dead walking around. A man who can control the dead with his voice. A woman who can make a horde… sleep… with her mind. Warriors dressed in zombie armor. Half-dead people with silver eyes. Beasts with red eyes. A machine that was programmed to be a god. Well-funded facilities built, above and below ground, long before the outbreak started, that point to something much deeper. We’ve seen signs and symbols of a darker conspiracy at the heart of everything…” Tony stopped there for dramatic effect. He leaned back and finished, “But… I’m sure you’ve heard all this before, so I won’t bore you with the details.”

Candyman’s smiled faltered. “Don’t test me, friend. My time is not something to be trifled with.”

“And neither are our lives,” Tony said. “You think I could make up shit like this? Do I look that creative to you?”

Candyman raised an eyebrow. “No. You certainly do not. I have heard some of the things you speak of, but usually by dying men and woman under extreme duress… or by the insane.”

“You say you’re in the information business. Well, it’s in your best interest to keep us around,” Tony pitched. “And when that horde does wake up, you’re going to need us to know how to fight them.”

Candyman shook his head with a laugh. “I’ve heard some crazy shit. But your stories might be some of the craziest. Tell me more.”

“Let’s deal first,” Tony said with a smile. “What’s our crazy stories worth to you?”

Candyman laughed and pointed at him. “Now that’s how you sell it! Tease me, then torture me with ‘we’ll talk more about it… after’. Whether your stories are fabricated or not, no one tries to bargain with such complete nonsense unless there’s a hint of truth in it. I find that compelling.” The Lunatic leader folded his hands and considered Tony’s offer. He finally said, “I’ll let you all live in exchange for the rest of your ‘stories’.”

Tony leaned back and crossed his arms. “No. That’s not good enough.”

“Really?” Candyman said.

Even Hash gave him a disbelieving gaze.

“No,” Tony continued. “We’ve come all this way to be here, gave up all our supplies for a chance at citizenship, and for what? Just to be thrown back outside? Might as well kill us now… but if you do… what we know dies with us.”

Candyman clapped his hands in delight. “My… oh… my… I really must hear these stories now! You, my friend, are either trying to pull off the most dangerous bluff of your life, or-”

“Or,” Tony interrupted, “what we know is ‘gold’ in the world of information. And I know for a fact, that it is.”

Candyman was enjoying this. “Alright. I’ll grant you and your information wielding friends three days in New Cleveland… and that is a generous offer. In return, I will get to hear your stories while you indulge yourselves with all my town has to offer. By the end of the three days, if I’ve decided that your stories are bullshit, I will take the same amount of time out on your flesh… and you and your friends will die slowly and painfully. But if I find truth in your words, I’ll let you live. Do we have a deal?”

Tony tried not to imagine three days of horrendous torture at the hands of the Lunatics. “Deal,” he said, before he could change his mind.

“Perfect!” Candyman rose to his feet. “Now, just one more matter to deal with.” He looked to Briana. “Take Sergeant Hash outside and execute him in the yard.”

“Wait!” Tony said, rising to his feet. “You can’t do that!”

Briana moved in quick, hands on her holstered guns, but she did not draw them. She looked to Candyman.

Candyman gave Tony a patient look, and then spoke as if speaking to a child. “You misunderstand. I’ve decided not to hold you and your friends responsible for the sergeant’s failure at West Farmington Village. Clearly you were not involved in our original deal. However, this man has a debt to pay… and the dead need feeding.”

“But our deal includes Sergeant Hash,” Tony protested. “You said, ‘you and your information wielding friends’. Sergeant Hash is my friend, and we’ve told him things. That makes him part of the deal.”

“That’s a play on words… and you know it,” Candyman said.

“A deal’s a deal,” Tony continued. “I assumed Hash was included. It’s not my fault you weren’t specific.”

Candyman sighed. “This is getting tiresome. I’ve allowed you to push as far as I’ve been entertained. This is no longer entertaining.”

“Then I offer a counter proposal,” Tony threw out.

“Go on.”

“Give the sergeant the three days you gave the rest of us. After that, you can kill him for his debt, unless I find another way to repay it. That way, both arrangements are satisfied.”

Hash gave him the craziest look.

Candyman considered this. “Done. You have him for three days… then he’s mine.”

“Unless I find another way,” Tony remined him.

“Alright,” Candyman said. “But it will be a life for a life. That’s the only way Sergeant Hash’s debt will be paid.”

Tony frowned. “Deal.”

~~~

Next Episode 43-4

Previous Episode 43-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 43-3: 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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