~~~

Gina covered her nose and mouth. The overpowering smell of rotting corpses in the unventilated den was almost unbearable. She forced herself to raise her flashlight and scan their bloody faces, desperately needing to understand what had happened.

A bloody woman sat motionless on the couch. Her head was tilted all the way back with her long black hair hanging over the back of the sofa. Her throat had been cut open.

A young man with blond hair had been sitting beside her. It was clear that he’d attempted to get up off the couch but had only made it to the arm rest where his body hung limp over the side, a large crimson stain was centered on the back of his blue t-shirt.

A blond-haired woman in a bath robe left a blood trail as she’d tried to make it down a dark hallway and died in a pool of her own congealed blood just before making it there. Multiple puncture wounds riddled her back and lower legs.

A thin man wearing glasses was lying on his side on the floor, partially exposed beneath a coffee table he’d attempted to hide beneath. One of the lenses in his glasses was shattered, his eye punctured by something sharp and lethal.

Another man with a large girth and a bald head lay spread eagle across the floor at the back of the couch. Someone had ripped into his chest, leaving a shredded mess of blood, torn clothing, and the man’s heart sitting on the floor beside him.

The last corpse was another woman with short brown hair. She was sitting straight up in a blood-soaked love seat holding her own severed head in her lap.

Gina looked away and tried to control her breathing before she hyperventilated. Her entire body felt numb and her mind was unable to process the grim scene. Finally, something clicked. Look at their eyes! her mind demanded. Look at them!

She did… and then she saw it. In every one of these so-called monsters’ faces, Gina could clearly see the one thing every corpse had in common.

They were fucking terrified!

And then she started to process the rest.

None of them have weapons… and none of them look like they’d know how to use them if they did.

“What the fuck happened here?” she said out loud, needing to silence the imagined screams echoing from the last moments of the deceased. Taking a closer look at the bodies, Gina realized something else. “They’ve been dead for a long time.”

Her mind desperately tried to fit any piece she could into this deranged puzzle. “One of them got infected and then… and then came back and attacked the others.” But she knew that piece was no good. No one in the den looked devoured. All these people were brutally attacked and murdered.

And then the irrational kicked in. Gina held up her hunting knife defensively and stared down toward the front hall, past the bloody girl who’d left a trail, and toward the unseen dark rooms beyond. Whoever did this might still be here… just waiting…

But that didn’t make sense. Whoever did this was long gone. There were only ghosts here now.

Gina shivered uncontrollably as if some tortured phantom just walked right through her.

“Get moving, girl,” she told herself. “Eyes forward, clear the house… and fuck the rest.” She forced her legs to start moving as she approached the dark hall. She carefully stepped over the blond-haired woman and then stopped.

Something’s in here with me! I can… I can sense it… behind me! She tightened her grip around the knife hilt and then spun around, retracting the weapon, and started scanning the den for a target.

“Good, you found me that time.” It was Marcus. He was standing half in, half out of the garage door.

“Marcus,” Gina said, lowering her weapon. “Fuck… what are you doing here? I almost-”

“They’re all dead, Gina,” he interrupted in a voice that sounded cold. “I killed them all when I first found them. Twenty-five, if I recall the count, spread out in both houses.”

“You did… you did what?”

“Some screamed, some wept, some begged me to spare them, but they’re all silent now,” he continued, stepping slowly into the den.

Gina took an unconscious step back into the hall and raised her knife back up. “Explain this to me, Marcus. Tell me it’s not what it looks like.”

Russell smiled, took another step forward toward the couch, and then stopped. “And what does it look like, Gina?”

She noticed the knife in his hand and took another step back into the hall. “You told me… you told me these people were monsters. Nothing I’ve seen here suggests that in any way.”

“You are correct. I found no monsters here when I arrived. Just frightened, oblivious little piggies full of futile dreams of bringing back what once was. How I hate that. At least the monsters of this world have accepted it—embraced it—but these fools… they were dead long before I finished them off.”

“What are we doing here, Marcus? Why did you lead me to a house full of corpses?” Gina desperately needed to understand. She needed her friend to tell her anything that made sense and would put her at ease. There’s something wrong with him, her mind rationalized. He… snapped… for whatever reason, and-

Russell laughed. “Gina… your face… you should see what I’m seeing now. You have the look of someone who can’t believe… who refuses to believe… that her friend is capable of such unexplainable horror.” He took another step closer.

Gina held her ground. “I forgive you, Marcus. If that’s why you brought me here… then you have it. We’ve all done things. Just tell me… tell me you had a good reason for killing all these people.”

“I killed them because I enjoy it.”

Gina’s heart skipped a beat. She had not expected that response. She took another step back. “Was anything you told me about this place the truth?”

“No.” He took another step toward her. “I didn’t even know these people. I killed them because that’s what I do… that’s what I’ve always done.” He twirled his hunting knife around his fingers. “I killed the three who told me about this place, too. They were equally not fit for this new and glorious world.”

Gina held out her knife toward him. “Whatever this is… whatever game you’re playing… I need you to stop! Back out that fucking garage door and we’ll return to camp and… and figure this all out.”

Russell shook his head and took another step forward. “I can’t do that, Gina. Not anymore. I’ve protected you for as long as I could. But now, it’s time to finish this.”

“Back the fuck off, Marcus!” she took another step back. “I mean it!”

Russell held his arms out wide and smiled like a lunatic. “Isn’t this glorious, Gina! I mean… shit! It’s been so long since I could just… just be me. And now, you finally see me, the real me. I feel so liberated right now. So free! Do you see me, Gina?”

“I see someone I thought I knew,” Gina said. “Someone I cared about who I thought cared about me. But whatever this is… whoever this is… I don’t like it! All I see is some sick fuck playing some twisted game!”

“I’ve come to bring you peace, Gina. I have saved you time and time again just to bring us together for this one… final… moment. Destiny has brought us together. I know your pain… I’ve seen it… felt it… held it for you when I’ve had to… and yet… you’ve always overcome. Know that the Lady is extremely proud of all you’ve accomplished. I am honored to be the one to deliver you… to bring you that peace… to bring you the salvation you’ve always wanted!”

The awful truth broke through and screamed into Gina’s thoughts like a fatal wound to the heart: He brought me here to… to kill me!

She gripped the knife in both hands and swung it threateningly toward her friend. “Stay the fuck away from me!”

Russell stopped and lowered his arms. They were now ten feet from each other. “It’s alright, Gina. You don’t have to fight this anymore. I know, deep down, you understand what this is… what we are… and what we will become when the Lady has arrived in all her glory. This is our vital moment… our time to be the most alive we’ve ever been… at the edge of Death.” He raised his knife and took an offensive stance. “I have protected you, nurtured you, trained you… loved you from the beginning… and all for this one moment between our final breaths.”

Gina took another step back and felt her heart being ripped from her chest. Tears streamed from her eyes as a mixture of deep sadness and intense rage poured into her. “You… you lied to me… lied to me about everything! Who you are… and God knows what else. For that, I can’t forgive you. You don’t know me, you sonofabitch!” She took up an offensive stance. “I’m warning you. Take one step closer… and I will fucking kill you!”

Russell smiled like a proud father. “Tonight, we will bleed for one another, Gina. And however this turns out… know that the Lady, that Death herself, is watching with anticipation. We will prove our worth in her eyes… together.”

Gina’s eyes filled with fire. “Fuck you… and your damn Lady! I don’t serve Death… and I won’t fulfill this sick fucked-up fantasy of yours any longer.” Gina suddenly turned and sprinted down the hallway into the darkness.

Russell frowned in disappointment, letting out a heavy sigh. He shouted after her, “Why are you running away, Gina? You can’t stop this! Do you hear me? YOU CAN’T FIGHT DESTINY!

Time for the bloodbath, boss. I wanna be there when you look into that golden bitch’s eyes and I wanna see the lights go out… permanently.

Russell shook with an unusual rage that coursed through him. He closed his eyes and started calculating as he murdered the emotions within.

“There will be blood, savage. You best stay the hell out of my way.”

Oh, I wouldn’t dream of interfering now, boss. Go get some.

Russell opened his eyes and followed Gina down the dark hallway.

~~~

Her heart was pounding in her ears. Perspiration dripped down her forehead as she felt the hot oppressive house close in on her. She made herself small in the corner of one of the second-floor bedrooms, trying to become invisible within a blind spot just behind an open closet door. Gina held the hunting knife pressed against her chest, constantly shifting her sweaty grip around the hilt. She focused on one of the two large windows facing the front of the house as the shadows of indistinguishable objects from outside projected on the walls around her.

She desperately wanted to shatter one of those windows and let the fresh night air strike her face and take the stench of decay out of her nostrils. The dark and silent house felt like being in the belly of some monstrous organism that fed upon the flesh of the living—swallowing them whole. Gina tried not to stare at the young couple lying motionless on the bed, their bodies left to rot in unnatural positions on blood-stained sheets. They’d been brutally stabbed multiple times, barely having time to register what was happening to them as the first knife blows roused them from slumber.

What a horrible way to die, she thought with a shudder. She could look no longer as she frowned and finished, Marcus did this… my friend. He did this to all of them… and enjoyed it.

She’d stumbled across several more bodies in route to the second floor. Everyone in this hell house had died horrific and violent deaths. There was blood everywhere.

She forced her eyes shut and tried to keep herself from screaming in the dark. The waiting to be discovered was worse than the thought of a confrontation with the man she’d trusted… but not by much. Gina needed to get away from this madness and process what the fuck was happening. This is too much! She stared up toward the dark ceiling and silently prayed.

God, please… just get me out of here. I don’t want to confront him. Part of me is terrified that he really means to kill me… like all these people… and he will. Part of me is terrified that I’ll have to fight back and attempt to hurt him. And another part of me, the darkest part of me, wants to hurt him badly. Please… just help me get away… far, far away.

Something shifted in the darkness on the other side of the bed. At first, she thought the dead young man on the bed was about to get up. She nearly dropped her knife.

Don’t trust your eyes, you dumb bitch! She immediately reached out with all her senses, until she found something in the silence that wasn’t what it was supposed to be.

Fuck! She had just enough time to react as Russell crept out from around the foot of the bed and charged toward her like a shadow jumping off the wall.

Gina rolled out of the corner as Russell’s blade penetrated the wall where her head had just been. She was already on her feet by the time Russell retrieved his knife and turned. “Very good,” he said, the tone of admiration in his voice was genuine. “I’ve bloodied my blade on many piggies who never saw that attack coming.”

“You’re a sick fuck,” she hissed, raising her knife. “Like the damn world wasn’t bad enough without including psychopaths!”

Russell took the advantage and leapt from the corner, coming in low, and slicing into her left leg.

Gina cried out, her anger ignited, and she kicked Marcus under his jaw with her right foot. He fell to his knees, stunned. She immediately thrust her knife toward his turned left ear, letting loose a primal scream.

Russell easily deflected the knife by grabbing Gina’s wrists. He used her forward momentum to flip her over his body and she landed on her back… hard.

He leaned in to slit her throat. Gina thrust her knife up and into his left shoulder before he could do so. Russell winced and backed away.

Gina got back to her feet and attempted to bolt for the bedroom door.

Russell grabbed her by the left foot, causing Gina to fall forward and strike her face on the door frame. Before she could recover, in a sweeping upward arc motion, he brought his knife down into the back of her left thigh.

Gina cried out in pain.

Russell flipped her over on to her back and attempted to crawl on top of her legs. She caught his next attack by locking her legs around Russell’s head. Still holding her own hunting knife, she leaned forward to shove her blade into Marcus’s exposed forehead. Marcus bit down on the inner portion of Gina’s right thigh, causing her to cry out and release her grip around his head.

Marcus pulled back and retracted his knife arm.

Gina screamed at him like a wild animal and then threw her knife toward his face. This was an attack he hadn’t taught her, but an old one Meredith had once shown her. Russell had just enough time to raise his knife hand in front of his face, catching Gina’s blade through the palm of his left hand as he dropped his own knife.

The pain was excruciating as Russell stared dumfounded at the blade that skewered his hand.

Gina took the advantage. She leaned over, grabbed Marcus’s knife from the floor, painfully returned to her feet, and immediately charged Russell.

He quickly spun his leg around, attempting to knock her off her feet. Gina jumped over the sweeping leg. She landed awkwardly as the pain in her thigh intensified. She feigned another attack and then turned toward the bedroom door and hobbled back into the hall.

Gina made it to the top landing of the spiraling foyer staircase when she felt Russell’s hand grip the back of her hair. Before she could react, Russell spun her sideways and slammed her head into the wall, bloodying Gina’s nose. Disoriented, Gina did the only thing she could do before Russell stabbed her in the throat. She kicked him in the balls.

Russell let go of her hair and hunched over in pain.

Gina raised her knife over her head and smiled. “You’re the one who said fighting wasn’t fair, fuckhead.”

“Yes, I did say that, Gina.” Russell brought his knife down hard into the toe of Gina’s right boot.

The pain shot through her body, causing her to lower her knife.

Before she could recover, Russell pushed her hard at the waist, causing Gina to fall backwards off the landing and stumble head over heels down the spiral staircase.

She attempted to protect herself by putting her hands behind her head and neck while trying to roll backwards. She slammed her elbows, knees, and lower back against the stairs three times before finally colliding with a corpse lying at the base of the steps. Gina landed head first into the bloated belly of a rotting man, the back of her head protected by the man’s dead girth and preventing her from snapping her neck on the hardwood floor.

Her head was spinning from her rapid descent into the darkness. Her body ached with numerous lacerations and bruises. She could hear Marcus descending the stairs; his creaking footsteps were slow and deliberate. Get up, Gina! She moved sluggishly. A sense of vertigo from tumbling down the steps made it difficult to sense where she needed to go in the dark. At first, she started crawling back up the stairs, like a dazed swimmer in a dark pool searching for the surface by swimming toward the bottom. She spotted Marcus’s menacing shadow above her and turned around, crawling over the life-saving corpse, and willing her exhausted body toward the front door.

Russell reached the bottom of the steps and nonchalantly stepped over the corpse. He stopped and watched his prey struggle to make it outside. He was twirling his hunting knife between the fingers of his gloved right hand.

Gina reached up for the door knob, turned it, and pulled the large door open, letting in the merciful fresh air. She refused to look back when Marcus reached the first floor. He was obviously toying with her now, but she didn’t care. If she was going to die in the next few seconds with a stab to the back or a cut across her throat, then so be it… just as long as she made it outside and away from this sickening house.

Gina rolled off the front porch steps and managed to get to her knees. She could see the evil twin house across the street, staring mockingly back at her. Reinvigorated, now that she was outside, she stood up and turned to face her killer.

Marcus was standing on the front porch with his arms crossed as if trying to figure out how to finish off this lame creature. He now held both hunting knives in his right hand, waving them in front of her like a demented bully.

“Go ahead then!” she yelled. “Finish what you fucking started!”

Russell smiled like the Devil. “All in good time, Gina,” he calmly said. He tossed Gina’s knife out to her. It landed near her feet. “You dropped this.”

Gina started to reach for the knife, then stopped. “I’m not playing your game anymore. You want to kill me… then kill me.”

Russell shrugged his shoulders. “So be it.” He started down the porch steps.

Gina lifted her arms defensively, balling her hands into fists. “Come on, asshole!” she snarled.

Russell’s face went dark as he moved in quick, intending to slice her throat.

Gina ducked beneath his swinging arm and then extended her leg and swept the murderer off his feet.

Russell fell on his ass.

Gina had already retrieved her hunting knife. She charged the maniac, letting loose a scream with her knife raised high.

Russell tried to roll to his left, but Gina brought down the knife, penetrating the back of his left shoulder. Russell cried out in pain, turned, and quickly back handed Gina across the cheek with his free hand.

Gina felt like he’d struck her in the face with a sledgehammer. She started to black out but pushed herself back to her feet, taking deep breaths. She tried not to think of the pain and created as much distance as she could between them.

Russell got to his feet and turned toward her. He was breathing heavily and holding his bloody left shoulder with his right hand. His face was flush with anger—his eyes—lusting for her death.

Gina stumbled back, barely able to keep her balance on damaged legs and her throbbing foot. She couldn’t get away, not in the open. She could only face him… or die. She’d managed to retain her knife. Gina smiled at the wounded beast and waved her bloody knife at him. “How’s the shoulder, you fucking psycho?”

Russell was past the point of verbal taunting. She’d hurt him good. Now, all he wanted was to finish this, and soak his hands in Gina’s blood. He stumbled toward her, knife drawn back, his intense eyes focused on the prey.

“Come on!” Gina screamed into the savage’s face, cutting at the air with her knife as she tried to maintain some distance between them. But he was closing in fast.

I’ll get one more thrust… if I’m lucky… then, I’m dead. Gina prepared herself to strike as her crazed former friend moved within five feet of his target.

He gripped the hilt of his knife so tightly that his finger nails started digging into his skin, drawing blood.

Finish the bitch, boss! the savage encouraged. I wanna wear this piggy’s flesh after you’re done slashin’.

Russell felt like a violent storm. The pain in his body diminished as the blood lust consumed him. He stared into Gina’s defiant green eyes and found the fear lying just behind them. She knew this was it. Fighting to the bitter end, he thought with a smile. Well done, Gina. My Lady will be so very proud of you.

Russell could clearly see what her last attack was. He would counter it very quickly and stab her in the throat. He could already see her dying quite painfully as she choked to death on her own blood… and he would embrace her and watch the light depart from her eyes, finally guiding her to a better place where she could lay down her arms at last.

“Goodbye, Gina,” he said, moving in to strike.

“Fuck you, prick,” she hissed back, raising her knife defensively. The weapon suddenly felt twenty pounds heavier as her body began to shake and betray her from too much blood loss. I’m… I’m done, she admitted to herself.

Gina dropped the knife and let her heavy arms fall limp.

Russell was now in striking range. He retracted his weapon for the fatal blow and…

The overhead spotlights from a large black truck roaring into view clicked to life, blinding both Gina and Russell. Russell stopped, took three steps away from Gina, and shielded his eyes. Gina did the same.

“What the hell?” she whispered as the vehicle came to a screeching halt ten feet from them.

“Russell! Russell Bower!” The voice came from behind him, from just out front of the second house.

Gina looked confused. A woman came into view, dressed in black and stopping twenty feet behind Marcus. She was holding a large black bow aimed right at the back of his head.

Russell immediately recognized the voice.

What the hell is this, boss?

“Not now,” he growled to himself. Without turning, he shouted back, “What do you want… Alysa?”

Alysa Monroe smiled. “You do remember me. I’m touched… really.”

Russell was already calculating as several men dressed like soldiers jumped out of the back of the large truck. They were all armed… like the men from the airport.

“I need to talk with you, Russell,” Alysa said. “I need you to drop the knife, back away from Gina, and sit down on your fucking hands. Can you do that?”

Russell stared over at Gina.

She glared back at him, confused and a little relieved. “Russell? Who the fuck are you?” she hissed. “And how does this woman know me?”

Russell ignored her. He called over his shoulder. “I’m… I’m a little busy, Alysa. Please tell your friends to turn off their spotlights, get back in their truck, and drive away, before I do something… terrible… to them.”

Alysa smiled. “That’s not going to happen, Russell. Do as I say… right now… or I’ll make you regret it.”

Russell laughed. “Threats… really? Did you not learn anything about me other than my fucking name?”

Alysa’s face turned to stone. “Actually,” she said. “I learned more than you think.”

Russell finally turned toward her.

Alysa winked at him, then aimed her bow at Gina.

“What… the… fuck?” Gina said, stepping back.

For the first time since Alysa had found him, she saw a look of fear on the serial killer’s face.

“Don’t,” he cautioned.

Alysa lowered the weapon slightly. “Then… you’ll do as I say?”

“Yes,” he hissed. “Just… leave Gina alone.”

Alysa stared at him disappointingly and shook her head. “You poor fucking fool. Does she really matter that much?”

“You know she does,” he admitted.

“Yes,” she said, sadly. “I do know.” She raised her bow back toward Gina.

Gina tried to move. “Wait… don’t… STOP!!!”

Alysa let loose a single black shaft that struck Gina in the chest.

Gina stared at the arrow, her eyes going wide with shock. She fell to her knees.

Russell turned back and found Gina’s condemning gaze.

“NO! NOT LIKE THIS! THIS IS ALL… WRONG!” Russell fell to his knees as Gina collapsed on to her back. He reached out toward her, tears streaming down his face.

Alysa cautiously approached.

“What have you done?” he whispered.

Alysa couldn’t tell if he was addressing her, or himself. “I’ve done what was needed, Russell. One day you will understand.”

Russell ignored her.

She nodded toward the soldiers and walked toward the dying woman.

The soldiers came in from behind and grabbed Russell, pinning him to the ground.

He offered no resistance as he watched Alysa step over toward Gina and stare down at her body. “What have you done?” he whispered again… this time… to himself. The soldiers zip-tied Russell’s hands and feet together and they carried him back to the truck under armed guard.

The former Shadow Dead stared down at the red-headed mess lying on the ground, fighting to stay conscious. Finally, she said, “I don’t know what all the fuss was about you.”

Gina turned toward the woman’s voice.

“The way this one… and the other one talked about you… I really expected so much more.”

Gina opened her mouth to speak but was unable.

“Don’t bother. There’s nothing I can tell you about any of this… just as there’s clearly nothing you can tell me about what made you so damn special.” She shook her head and finished, “Frankly, finally meeting you has been a truly underwhelming experience.” Alysa walked off.

Gina turned her gaze up toward the night sky, feeling herself slipping away. She no longer felt the pain in her body as a cold blanket fell over her flesh. Soon, even the cold departed. She felt… numb… nothing… nothingness.

So, this is how it ends for me, she thought. Lying in a pool of blood, a broken mess—a meaningless death? Maybe that’s what I deserve. Hell… that’s all I deserve.

Her final thoughts drifted to Meredith, Stephen, Frank, Greg, Ashley, Doug, Amanda… and even Charlie and Marcus—before they became monsters—and before she, herself, had turned into one. She smiled as she thought of her original travel companions. She could see their faces. Each of them, in their own way, had helped her get this far. She never would have made it without them. Thank you… all off you… for loving me, tolerating me, and putting me in my place. If we had stayed together, somehow… just our original ten… then maybe I could’ve avoided the darkness…

Gina’s thoughts turned to Tony. I’m sorry I let you down. I’m sorry I couldn’t be what you needed me to be. But mostly, I’m sorry I couldn’t love you. I think you knew that already… but you loved me anyway. She closed her eyes tightly to fight back tears.

She started to black out. Gina opened her eyes and stared back up into the night. God… I’m sorry. You know I tried to be good… and I know you tried to help me in any way you could. Thanks for never giving up on me… even after I gave up…

Gina felt her breaths getting heavier. She spotted a star breaking through the overcast sky above and smiled as one of her favorite memories came back. “Drops of gold,” she whispered to the night.

She no longer fought back the tears. She let them fall and kept her gaze fixed on that one lone star. She stayed that way until she closed her eyes for the last time.

~~~

Next Episode 47-5

Previous Episode 47-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-4: The Enemy” 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.

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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