~~~

Daryl Johnson, a.k.a., Candyman, stood at his second-floor window wearing a red silk bath robe, his long silver hair hanging over his shoulders, watching the evening roll in over the courtyard of trailers that made up his inner sanctum within New Cleveland. Aside from his self-made security force of Lunatics who lived and protected this area, and a handful of elite staff members, no one was allowed in the courtyard without his express permission.

Anyone who violated this sacred law was immediately put to death.

The former long-term felon of the Cuyahoga County Penitentiary, near North Royalton, smiled at his modest empire. He appreciated all he’d accomplished so far restoring civilization to this desolate new world full of predators, and the pathetic remains of humanity, rendered useless and soft—his old world had made them all that way.

He took a sip from his wine glass and laughed. And they called me a murderer in the old world? he thought. What does that make all of them—those fucking politicians and so-called leaders of the ‘free world’ who did nothing to prepare anyone for this slaughter? They created a society of lazy people too dependent on the wheels of their fragile system never breaking down, and lulled the public to sleep, turning most of them into sheep… If that’s not premeditated mass-murder, then nothing is.

He stared at his gloved right hand holding the glass, a proverbial thorn in his side, and sighed. No matter how profitable someone becomes, he thought, there’s always a debt involved to someone else.

“Hey, you,” a tired woman’s voice called. “Come back to bed.”

Candyman, grateful for the distraction, turned and smiled.

The tall, blond-haired bartender from earlier was lying seductively in his king-sized bed, naked, and sipping from her own wine glass.

Candyman marveled at the sleek form of the beautiful short-haired woman as she stretched like a cat; her large breasts, long legs, and perfect ass fluidly twisting over the silk sheets. He sipped from his wine glass and said, “You know what I love about you the most, Nadia?”

Nadia smiled. “I can think of a few things.”

“Yes, I’m sure you can. But seriously, what I love the most about you is that you know how to play your part.”

“My ‘part’?” she asked, playfully teasing the leader of New Cleveland by running the back of her hand over her left breast.

“We all have a role to play,” Candyman continued. “If everyone plays their parts, as intended, then everything falls into place the way it should. Running things in the prison was much the same way.”

“And what’s my role?” she said.

Candyman’s smile faltered. “Don’t play coy,” he said. “It doesn’t suit you. Right now, you’re nothing more than a snake that I allow into my bed. I’m aware that you could bite me because I leave myself vulnerable to you, but you’re smart enough to know that I’m aware of this… and what it would mean for you should I ever be discovered with my throat slit, or some equally unfortunate end.”

Nadia looked away, trying her best to maintain her cool composure. She took another sip from her wine glass.

“You’re a very desirable woman, and you know it… you’ve always known it,” he said. “You use what you have, make it profitable—and that’s commendable. But you also have the wisdom to know your limitations.”

“Limitations?” she asked, being careful not to insult this wretched man. She stretched seductively again and finished, “Oh, there’s no limitations on what we could do together… and I’ve got quite the imagination.”

Candyman laughed. “Of this, I’m sure. But that’s not the limits I was referring to.” He put his wine glass down on a small table near the window, and then sat down on the bed, placing his hand on her right thigh and gently caressing it. “You will bear me a son one day, when the time is right.”

Nadia was genuinely pleased at the prospect. “Can you imagine? A baby? In this world? It’s been so long since I’ve even seen a child.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “You will bear my son and become a mother.”

Nadia smiled from ear to ear.

“And when that day comes, your tits and ass will sag, your hips will expand, you’ll have a jelly belly that will never return to its former firmness, and your youthful face will melt with wrinkles as your desirable days come to an end, replaced by sleepless nights raising our child. And then, of course, I’ll have to find another pretty girl to fuck.”

Nadia frowned.

Candyman laughed at her shocked expression and playfully squeezed her thigh. “As I said, ‘limitations’.”

There was a light knock on the bedroom door.

Candyman rolled his eyes and sighed. “What is it?” he called.

“Briana caught an intruder in the courtyard,” a muffled male voice said from the other side of the door. “She just strolled on in, demanding to speak with you. Should we dispose of her?”

Candyman’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Stay there,” he called to the messenger. Forgetting Nadia even existed, he nonchalantly got up from the bed, re-wrapped his robe around his waist, and looked out his window.

Briana, as well as a dozen other armed Lunatics, stood in a tight circle around a familiar woman with braided hair.

The woman’s hands had been secured behind her back. She simply stood there, neither impatient nor afraid.

“She appears… determined to die,” Candyman said with a laugh. “Here’s a perfect example of what happens when someone doesn’t play their part.”

Briana, wearing that god-awful trench coat that always made him feel hot looking at her, appeared highly agitated as she paced around the intruder, saying things that Candyman could not overhear.

Nadia had quickly dressed in another robe and came over to the window.

“Who is that?” Candyman asked her.

“That’s the bitch Briana told you about,” Nadia said. “The mouthy one that came in with Sergeant Hash.”

He remembered her now. “Yes. She was brooding when Briana put the gun to that… what’s his name?”

“Tony.”

“That’s right.” A curious smile formed on his face.

“You should kill her,” Nadia suggested. “I thought she looked like trouble the moment I saw her.”

Candyman gave her a disbelieving look. “Did I promote you to counsel last time we had sex?”

She wisely remained silent.

“Curious woman,” he said to no one. He walked over to the door and commanded, “Bring her in. Set the usual precautions. I’ll be down shortly to speak with our… guest.”

~~~

Nine stared over at the door as the early evening crowd started pouring into Ollie’s Oasis. From the looks of the thirsty new patrons, the bar would be packed within half-an-hour. He glanced to his right and saw Diane shifting uncomfortably in her chair. To his left, Mark looked miserable. Wendy sat directly across from him at the tall table, looking irritated that her feet dangled off the high-back stool. He smiled and said, “Now aren’t we just a fun bunch. You’d think we’d never been in a bar before, or someone’s about to come over and demand to check our ages on our I.D.’s.”

“I can feel eyes on me every time I’m not staring at this crowd,” Diane said. She looked over at Hash and Tony who were still talking to that loathsome bartender. “I wish they’d hurry up. This is not where I want to be after the sun goes down.”

“Were you hoping for a room at the Holiday Inn?” Mark sarcastically added.

She gave him a dirty look. “I’ll take a carboard box near the lake if it means a little distance from these people.”

“Come on,” Nine laughed. “They’re not that bad. At least they’re alive. And I haven’t seen a dead person walking around since we got here. That’s a bonus.”

“I don’t know how we’re going to find Orosco and the others in this place.” Wendy sounded defeated. “Everyone we’ve talked to, who didn’t tell us to rudely leave them alone, had nothing to tell us. They looked at us like we were the crazy or speaking some foreign language. They’re all so… oblivious… to whatever’s happening behind the scenes here. Just as long as they can drink, get high, have sex, and do whatever else they do here… no one seems to care about anything, or anyone.” She looked around at the new faces entering the bar. By now, Ollie’s additional help had arrived. A man and a woman—they both looked underage—were tending the bar while Ollie entertained his guests. “They all act like everything’s normal. Just another night drinking in some shitty bar while the world around them is full of monsters.”

Mark laughed. “That’s just how we were… remember? As long as we felt safe down in that compound, we could forget the rest while Gina and the others took care of the hard stuff. I feel like such a tool, looking back. We really served no purpose, just like these poor saps, while the world turned to shit.”

Wendy started to protest but stopped. She knew Mark was right. She stared at her half empty glass of booze, suddenly despising the sight of it.

One of the young bartenders placed an old boom box on the counter and hit play on the CD player. Moments later, Sympathy for the Devil, by The Rolling Stones started in with a tribal-sounding drum beat.

“Now that’s more like it.” Nine leaned back, relaxing to the music. He scanned the crowded bar full of shadowed faces barely lit up by a handful of low-wattage light fixtures along the walls. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovered, barely masking the scent of stale beer. A collective of conversations started to get louder as the booze flowed, drowning out the music which had become background noise. “I wonder what the hell they talk about now,” Nine said. “‘Hey, Johnny,’” he said in a fake voice, “‘You gonna make it to the auction tomorrow night? I hear there’s gonna be a new hanging off the Dipper on Sunday.’” He then pretended to respond in another voice. “‘Fuck that, I’ve got front row seats at the fight pits. Gonna bring that hooker I met last week, Sally Something… I hear she gets wild after a good fight, and she knows a guy that knows a guy with a deal on a good crack pipe. Afterwards, we might do a little window shopping at the local death shops-’”

Diane put her hand over his mouth and shook her head.

Mark and Wendy were laughing.

“Just trying to lighten the mood,” Nine said with a shrug.

“You’re an idiot,” Diane declared.

Nine leaned over and kissed her on the cheek, causing Diane to laugh.

“I guess this could be worse,” Wendy admitted. “At least we’re with friends.”

“You are so corny,” Mark told her. “I bet you’re one of them happy drunks that get all gushy after a couple of drinks.”

Wendy raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, you’d like to believe that. I’ll have you know that when it comes to drinking games, I’m always the one left standing.” She forced herself to pick up the glass of nasty whiskey and chugged the rest. A moment later she coughed, causing all of them to laugh.

“I have a great idea,” Nine said.

“No… you don’t,” Diane corrected, seeing the mischievous gleam in her boyfriend’s eyes.

“Seriously, since we’re just waiting around, I’ll go get us a pitcher of warm beer, or whatever they have here, and we can take the edge off with a New Cleveland buzz! Hell… it just might change our moods if nothing else.”

“That sounds like a horrible idea,” Diane cautioned.

“See, that’s exactly the wrong attitude I’m talking about,” Nine said.

“A little liquid courage never hurt anyone,” Mark added.

“My man! Now we’re talking.”

Wendy and Diane looked at each other, understanding they were just promoted to the ‘reasonable’ ones of this group.

“One beer?” Diane asked her.

Wendy reluctantly nodded. “Sure. It might take the taste of this horrible whiskey away, if nothing else.”

“All right!” Nine started getting up. “I’ll be right back with some brews.”

“Tony won’t like it,” Mark advised.

“Are you kidding me,” Nine said. “They’re probably already drunk. Have you seen how many shots Hash has already plowed down?”

Mark raised his hands in surrender and smiled. “Hurry back.”

Nine stood and turned toward the bar.

Several new faces just entered the front door.

He turned toward the door, stopped, and sighed. Nine then returned to his seat.

“Where’s the beers, Captain Morgan?” Diane teased.

Nine leaned toward Mark and whispered, “Look toward the entrance, but try not to be obvious about it. Is that who I think it is?”

Mark looked over his shoulder and saw a familiar man laughing with several of his pals. He turned back and looked at Wendy. “Shit.”

“What is it?” she asked.

“Mr. Silver just came in.”

“You mean that fucker who propositioned Wendy earlier?” Diane said, turning back to locate the creep.

“That’s the guy,” Mark said. “Just… ignore him. He’ll probably not even notice-”

“He’s looking right at me!” Wendy hissed, trying to lean over the table and bury her face in her arms.

“What’s he doing now?” Nine asked.

Diane never stopped staring at the man. “He’s coming over. And his friends are, too.”

“Just take it easy,” Mark said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want any trouble. Not after what Tony did to him in the street.”

Nine looked over at him in disbelief and laughed. “You don’t know much about confrontations, do you? He’s back… with his friends… and they’re all drinking. That’s all the courage he’ll need to be stupid again.”

“We’ll see,” Mark added, balling his fists beneath the table.

~~~

Alysa had departed Taven’s tube with relief. The creepy half-dead seer was no longer relevant as she’d hurried back across town to speak with Candyman. She wasn’t sure what she was getting into, but the sense of urgency in the strange homeless man’s message was apparent. She needed to leave New Cleveland immediately, and there was only one way she could pull that off.

After walking directly into the courtyard with her empty hands raised, demanding to speak with Candyman, the Lunatics seized her immediately. Briana had hurled some choice insults and threats into her face before she was granted an audience.

Briana had looked like she wanted to explode, causing the warrior to smile with delight.

They escorted her into the same trailer with the leather sofas, glass table and fake fireplace, and forced her to sit. Briana was still fuming and pacing near the back wall while she set up security within the trailer, waiting for Candyman to come down.

Briana stepped in front of her, leaned over, and pointed into her face. “As soon as he’s done with you, you’re fucking dead,” she promised, tapping the warrior hard in the forehead with her finger.

Alysa set her on fire with her eyes. “I’m going to kill you at some point.”

Briana laughed and said, “Bang, bang, bitch! I can’t wait to fill you with more holes and let my men fuck ‘em all.”

Alysa ignored the armed clown and became a stone.

Briana wasn’t done. “Oh… and after you’re dead. I’m gonna make your man… Tony… my personal sex bitch and fuck the shit out of him with your corpse in my bed with us. What do you think of that threesome? You like that? Hell, after that, maybe I’ll let him fuck your cold-ass corpse while I watch.”

Alysa stared up into the Lunatic’s eyes as if looking at a child. She smirked but said nothing.

This pissed Briana off. “I hate your face. I’m going to peel that off first before I kill you!”

Again, Alysa said nothing.

Candyman was coming down.

Briana whacked Alysa in the forehead, hard, taking one last chance to provoke her.

Alysa didn’t bite. She just stared at the pathetic clown-woman, imagining how wonderful it would be to gut her slowly, starting from the cunt’s cunt, and then continuing all the way up to her foul mouth.

“That will be all, Briana,” Candyman said, stepping out, still wearing his robe. He’d tied his hair back into a ponytail but was still carrying his wine glass.

Briana stepped back into position along the wall with the other Lunatics.

Candyman sat down in his chair, took a long deliberate time getting comfortable, and then finally addressed Alysa. “This better be good… Alysa, right?”

Alysa stared at the man but said nothing.

“Answer him, bitch!” Briana yelled. She was about to backhand Alysa in the right ear.

“Hold up,” he told the Lunatic.

Briana backed down.

“It’s okay. Let’s start again,” he said, addressing Alysa. “Would you like something to drink?”

Alysa smiled and said. “First thing you’re going to do is untie my hands. And the next time that clown-faced child touches me… I’m going to take it out on you.”

Briana drew her guns so quickly that the other Lunatics looked lethargic by the time they raised their rifles.

Candyman was laughing so hard he spit out his wine. He quickly waved Briana off. “Oh, shit! Clown-face… you should see the look Briana’s giving me right now! Priceless!”

Briana holstered her guns and quickly left the room to cool off.

“My… oh… my… I haven’t laughed that hard in a while,” he said, wiping wine off his robe. “You’ve caught me in a generous mood tonight, so I’ll just forgive the empty threat.” He stared hard at the woman. “You’ve got some real stones coming here with those intense eyes and fire shooting out your mouth. I can respect that… to a point. But don’t threaten me again.”

Alysa was ready to play her hand—the one she’d hoped to never have to use.

“How dare you speak to me like that!” she said, raising her voice sharply. “Don’t you know who I am?”

Candyman’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

The Lunatics looked confused. They didn’t know how to proceed since their boss had stopped Briana twice.

“You will untie me… NOW… or we will speak again of this incident in a place you will not like,” she promised. Before Candyman could overcome his shock, Alysa continued. “Obviously, you’ve forgotten who it was that so generously provided you with your present position, while you and your former convicts got fat on ignorance and self-indulgence!”

Candyman rose from his chair—his smile erased. His face turned beet red. He waved a finger at her. “I’m going to have your tongue ripped out if you keep pushing me!”

“You will do nothing, worm! I am Alysa Monroe of the Ama-Eskua Order! And you owe all you have to the one who owns you!”

Candyman’s legs went limp. He fell back into his chair. “No,” he hissed in disbelief.

By now, Briana had come back in. She was as confused as the rest.

“Show it to me,” Alysa demanded.

“I… I don’t know what you mean?” His nervousness betrayed him as he started scratching an itch in his right palm.

None of the Lunatics had ever seen their leader like this. It was disconcerting.

“Your mark. Show it to me… NOW!” Alysa barked. “Or so help me, I’ll have your hand removed and nailed to the other as a reminder!”

Briana stared in horror at Candyman, her hands resting on her guns, unsure of how to proceed. She turned to Alysa. It seemed like an entirely different woman on that couch now. She turned back. “What are your orders?” she asked.

Candyman didn’t hear her. He was staring at his shaking right hand. My God! They’ve come back! After all this time… why? Why now?

“Go on!” Alysa commanded. “The longer you wait, the less likely you’ll remain in charge before the end of the fucking day!”

Candyman reluctantly removed the glove from his right hand. He never took it off until now. Everyone in New Cleveland had just assumed it was an old burn wound—the glove—a vanity issue.

There was a three-pronged symbol with an eye branded across his palm.

Briana and the other Lunatics saw the mark and were shocked.

“I’ve seen that mark before,” Briana said. “There’s whispers about a secret order up north… and stories. That’s means ‘Mother’. But I’ve never seen it branded on someone.” She looked to Candyman. “Why is that on your hand?”

“Because they own me,” Candyman said in defeat, sinking back into his chair and rubbing his temples.

“What does that even me?” Briana asked.

Candyman stared at her and shook his head. “What? Did you really think I could’ve achieved all this without help?” He raised his hand to the Lunatic. “I made a deal with the Devil. Then the world went insane, and I thought-”

“You thought Mother had forgotten all about you,” Alysa finished. “You’re a fool for ever entertaining that.”

“So, they own you?” Briana asked her boss.

Alysa turned to her and corrected. “You all belong to Mother… as does New Cleveland. Now untie me.”

“Do it,” Candyman said.

Briana nodded to one of her men. The Lunatic cut Alysa’s bindings.

Alysa rubbed her wrists together then stood up. She stared down at the leader of New Cleveland who suddenly seemed much smaller than before. “There will be questions when I get back to my people. They’ll want to know what you’ve been doing out here all this time… and why.”

“You’re leaving?” he said.

“Yes. I’ve seen all I need to see here. Mother will be expecting my report.”

“And what will you… report?”

Alysa smiled. “That all depends on you, Candyman. How profitable is this place? What will Mother receive for her investments? And did Mother make a huge mistake putting you in power?”

“No… no… this place is profitable. You can tell Mother that for sure. You’ve seen this place for yourself.”

“I’m not impressed,” Alysa said.

Candyman looked offended.

“Mother will be sending more agents… like myself… to better assess this place,” she lied. Alysa knew what Mother was doing here. New Cleveland, like other places, was just another experiment. Beyond that, Mother had no interest in who or how New Cleveland was run. But she hoped to scare this pathetic man enough to secure her departure.

Candyman sighed heavily. “How many more?”

“That’s Mother’s business, worm.”

“Of course.”

“I’ll need a few things before I go,” Alysa said.

“Just name it.” Candyman looked eager to get on Alysa’s good side and get her the hell out of his town.

“I’ll need a good road map of Northeast Ohio, a vehicle, and a specialty weapon.”

Candyman stood up. “Sure. What kind of weapon are we talking about?”

She smiled. “I’ll need a good bow… the kind my people are accustomed to.”

“We can arrange for all that,” he said. “Anything else?”

She looked down at her severed boot.

Candyman looked at the boot, scratched his head, and smiled. “I won’t ask. We’ll get you some better footwear.”

“I’ll be needing to leave as soon as possible.”

“We’ll have it all for you within the hour,” he promised. “Anything else?”

Alysa turned and walked up to Briana. “Yes… I want this one’s head.”

Briana tensed up and stared at her boss.

“Excuse me?” Candyman asked nervously.

Alysa smiled at the clown woman. “Just kidding.”

Briana’s hands bore down on her pistol grips so hard, they started to go numb. The Lunatics eyes were screaming for blood as she tried not to insult the Ama-Eskua any more than she’d already done.

Alysa laughed in the Lunatic’s face. She turned to Candyman and said, “The others that I arrived with. I want them released, as well.”

Surprisingly, Candyman resisted. “No. I can’t do that. They owe me a debt, just as I owe your employer a debt. Mother must understand that. It’s a matter of honor… and all debts need to be paid.”

Alysa considered pushing the matter, but it would create suspicion. Mother would care nothing for anyone or anything one of her children needed to achieve a mission. Her defending the others would seem out of character for an Ama-Eskua warrior (and it was). “What will you do with them?”

Candyman smiled. “Well… that’s New Cleveland’s business. What does it matter to you? Are they also part of your Order?”

“Of course not,” Alysa said. “But Mother is not finished with them yet.”

“Then I’ll keep them here until Mother’s business with them is settled. Then… I’ll collect what they owe me.”

Alysa was getting nowhere fast. The more she drew attention to her friends, the tighter Candyman’s fist around them became.

“Very well,” she said. “I’ll leave them in your custody. But… you can’t kill them.”

“Eventually… I may need to.”

“You won’t,” she pushed. “And I’ll not say that again. Do you understand?”

Candyman look at her suspiciously. “Okay. I won’t kill them… if that’s what Mother wants.”

“It is,” Alysa finished. “Now… fulfill the rest of my requests so I can get the hell out of this shithole town.”

Just then, two Lunatics barged in and approached Briana. She took them to the side as they whispered their report.

“Well?” Candyman asked impatiently. “What’s this all about?”

Briana flashed Alysa a shit-eating grin, then addressed her leader. “Apparently there’s a disturbance over at the Oasis—some kind of brawl.” She deliberately left out who was involved.

Alysa did her best to hide her concern behind an indifferent glare.

Candyman seemed more annoyed by the news than anything else. “Well… handle it!” he barked. “We’ve more important matters on our plate right now.”

Briana bowed and said, “As you wish.” She then winked at Alysa and finished, “I’ll take care of it… personally.”

~~~

Next Episode 43-8

Previous Episode 43-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 43-7: 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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