~~~

Tony opened his eyes in the darkness. He was sitting. The hood over his head made him feel like he was suffocating, and he immediately tensed up, yanking on the handcuffs that secured his arms behind his back and through the tight chain that was attached to a metallic ring mounted into the wall.

“Tony is that you?”

It was Diane, whispering from his right side. The shame was immediate. She was there because of his impulsive, stupid plan. They all were.

“Yeah,” he said. “Sorry, I passed out.”

“We’re all exhausted,” she said. Diane paused. “Wendy? You still there?”

“Yes,” came a weak voice from Diane’s right. She said nothing else.

Tony turned to his left. “Sergeant?”

Hash’s voice sounded like gravel. “Still here. Think they’ll ever turn the damn lights back on?”

“They’re trying to intimidate us,” Tony said.

“Yeah, they’ve done worse things in this place,” Hash added with a cough. “Different room, same shitty accommodations. Feel like I’ve been living down here forever.”

“Herbie’s not back,” Wendy said in a defeated tone. “I’ve been waiting… but I don’t think he’s coming back.”

“Try not to think about it,” Tony advised. “They’re probably questioning him first to see what he’ll tell them. They’ll probably do the same with the rest of us… eventually.”

“So, there’s a good chance they haven’t found him yet,” Diane said, more to herself.

“Looks that way,” Tony added. “Nine’s resourceful. I’m sure he found somewhere to hide once he figured out what happened.”

“Assuming he’s not already dead… and Herbie, too,” Wendy said.

Silence in the darkness.

“Sorry,” she added. “That comment didn’t help anyone.”

“How are you fairing, Sergeant?” Tony asked, listening to the man cough several more times.

Hash laughed. They could all hear his pain in doing so. “They’ve beat me more times than I can count. This last one was the worst. I pissed off Mr. Candy-pants last time we had a chat.”

“Can you move if there’s a chance to-”

“There’s no escaping this place,” Hash interrupted. “Believe me, I’ve tried. Wherever this is, it’s underground and guarded well.”

“What is this place?” Diane said.

“I think it’s this madman’s lab… you know… the one he mentioned when we first got here? I was in a cell down the hall… at least… that’s where I think it is. All I ever heard was screaming coming from somewhere nearby. When I asked that asshole about it, he pretty much gave it away by what he didn’t say.”

“So, is this room… one of the labs?” Wendy said.

“Don’t know,” Hash admitted. “But this cold-ass linoleum floor and that strong odor of bleach we keep smelling makes me believe that it is. Add this convenient little row of rings along the wall they’ve got us all fastened to, and I’d say that this was one of the rooms I’d heard those screams coming from.” They could all hear him shifting in the dark space. “Okay,” he added with frustration, “so, it’s lights out. What the fuck’s the purpose of the damn hoods, then?”

No one bothered answering.

After their arrest in the parking garage, Tony, Wendy, Diane and Herbie had all been hooded and escorted to this room. The lights had been on long enough for the Lunatics to secure them to the wall, but afterwards, the lights had remained off. The hoods had remained on. After a time, they’d figured out who was in the room, including Hash, and had brought each other up to speed on recent events.

Aside from Herbie being violently escorted from the room a few hours ago, no one else had visited them.

“Hurry up and wait,” Hash had said with a laugh. “That’s Candyman’s favorite game. Get you all riled up like you’re about to get taken before a firing squad, then just have you sit there and wait while your mind has too much time to consider all the horrible ways you could die.”

“Did… did a woman ever come down to see you?” Diane asked. “A tall blond-haired woman?”

“I wish,” Hash said with a laugh. “No… they just moved me from my cell and placed me in this one… without a word.”

Diane said nothing more.

Tony hated the long silences in the dark. It gave him too much time to consider how much he’d failed them. “I think it was Taven,” he announced.

“Come again?’ Diane said.

“As much as I hate to admit it, I think Taven set us up. I was wrong to trust him. He used us to distract the Lunatics long enough to blow up that theater… with everyone in it. He never wanted us to succeed. All we did was buy him the time he needed to plant the explosives…” Tony looked toward the floor and finished, “… and kill Orosco and the others.”

“So… he told Candyman about our plans?” Wendy said.

“No,” Diane said. “Nadia did.”

“Are they working together, then? This Taven and Nadia?” Hash said.

“I don’t think so,” Tony said. “Somehow, Taven knew what would happen when everything fell into place. Don’t ask me how… I’ve no damn clue… about much of anything, apparently.” He sighed heavily. “But I did know something else. Taven was infected.”

“What do you mean, ‘infected’?” Diane said.

“He wore those sunglasses to hide his silver eyes,” Tony said. “He was a… half-dead.”

Diane wanted to look into Tony’s eyes more than anything. She couldn’t believe her ears. “And… and you kept that from us? Why?”

“Because I thought if you all knew… you wouldn’t help me,” he said. “I was so desperate for a way out of this mess, and I was out of options. Taven came along at the perfect time, when I was about to give up hope… and I foolishly fell right into his trap.”

Diane was furious. She wanted to speak… she wanted to scream in Tony’s face… but a part of her understood why he did it—the desperate part of herself. “You should have trusted us,” she spat.

“Yes,” Tony admitted. “Yes, I should have.”

More silence.

Hash shifted in the dark. “I don’t mean to be all doom-and-gloomy here… but… whatever happens next, you better believe Candyman will be bringing his games with him.”

“He’s absolutely correct,” Diane said. “That fucker loves his games.”

“Yeah,” Hash continued, “he certainly does. Anyway, when he comes… and he will… I suggest you all make your peace with God and be prepared to die.”

Tony wanted to object but stopped himself. The man’s right. Who am I kidding? We’re going to die in this room.

Hash continued. “He’ll use whatever he can to get under your skin and get you to talk… including using each of us against the other. So… if you want to keep Nine out of that lunatic’s grasp… be prepared to watch everyone in this room die in front of you.”

Wendy stated to cry in the dark.

“Wendy,” Tony said. “You okay? The sergeant was just trying to prepare us for the worst-case-scenario. Doesn’t mean it will happen.”

“Mark is dead,” she said. “That asshole from the bar, the one who got us into all that trouble—he’s the one who told us that Mark was in the Murder Shop.”

Silence.

“We… we went there… me, Herbie, a co-worker at the bar named Sheila—she’s dead now. Anyway, Herbie set it all up. Mr. Silver, that’s what we called him, he was already in the room with Sheila, strapped into this horrible torture machine. Herbie arranged for us to do to Mr. Silver what he’d boasted he’d done to Mark if he didn’t tell us the truth.” Wendy paused, and took a deep breath. “Eventually, he did tell us the truth. He didn’t torture anyone, but he’d watched it happen. He watched Mark die. He told us everything, but we hurt him… we hurt him and made that man scream and scream until he did. No one, not even Mr. Silver, deserved what we did to him… the amount of suffering we inflicted. Sheila took it too far… and I didn’t stop her. When that evil man started telling us everything… I was so… so enraged! After he told us all the horrible things that Mark suffered and how long he was kept alive just so it could happen again… I… I lost it! Herbie was going to make Sheila put that monster down, but I stopped him. I wanted him to suffer… like Mark suffered… so, I let Sheila torture him. And… and I watched!” She took another moment to collect herself. “I enjoyed watching that man in pain!”

“Wendy,” Tony said gently. “It’s okay. We’ve… we’ve just been in this town too damn long. I think… I think we’ve all gotten a little bit lost in this place.”

“What I did to Mr. Silver was unspeakable… even sitting here in the dark,” she said. “I just… I just wanted to say it, to someone, anyone, so that I could be held accountable… you know… in case this is the end. And… I’m truly sorry for what I did. What happened to Mark was wrong… but what I did was no different than what was done to him!”

Tony had no idea what to say.

“Sheila eventually killed him. That was always the intention after we were finished.”

No one said anything.

“Can God forgive me, Tony? If I’m truly sorry, in my heart, for what I did… do you think it’s still forgivable?”

No one sitting in the darkness felt qualified to answer that loaded question.

Fortunately, the lights finally came back on.

~~~

Candyman sat in a fold up chair along the opposite wall with his legs crossed. He had his reading glasses on and was writing something in his notebook. He ignored the heated gazes of his four chained-up prisoners, who now had their hoods off.

Both Tony and Diane were covered in blood with their Lunatic face paint smeared by sweat. Wendy looked like she’d been silently weeping. Sergeant Hash looked the worst of all of them. He was much thinner and paler, wearing what looked like bloody hospital pajamas.

The room’s former white walls were covered in smeared blood stains from regular use, but the linoleum floor looked recently mopped and clean. The rest of the room was bare. Two large luminescent lights hung down from the ceiling. There wasn’t anything resembling a laboratory, other than the strong odor of bleach and the brightness of the room.

After five minutes, Wendy could not stop herself. “Where’s Herbie?” she demanded.

The leader of New Cleveland stopped scribbling in his notebook, looked up, and gazed at the young woman over his reading glasses. He smiled at her, took a deep breath, then closed his notebook. He then purposefully dropped it on the floor, letting the snapping sound bring them all to attention. He scanned their tired faces then rested his gaze on Tony. “Do you know what that is?” he asked, pointing down toward his notebook.

Tony glanced at the notebook then back into the man’s eyes and sighed. “Look, if this is some game that I’m supposed to play, I can tell you right fucking now… I’m not in the mood.”

Candyman’s eyebrows shot up. “Game? What game? I asked a simple question.”

“Answer Wendy’s first,” Tony said. “What did you do with Herbie?”

“Fine,” Candyman said. “He’s dead.”

Wendy gasped.

Everyone else shifted uncomfortably.

“There. You see how easy that was? A simple question. A simple answer.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Tony said. “He wasn’t involved in any of this.”

Candyman looked impatient. His usual jovial demeanor was absent. “He’s dead, along with nineteen other people I hung this morning,” he said. “Do you know why?”

Tony waited.

“Of course, you don’t,” Candyman said. “Twenty people are hanging from that hideous wooden monstrosity in the center of my town because you killed them.”

“Don’t put that shit on me!” Tony snapped.

“I most certainly will!” Candyman pushed back. “Now. Ask me how many people you killed when you blew up my theater?”

Tony looked away.

“Okay. I’ll tell you. One-hundred and twenty-five people… all documented in this notebook.”

Tony looked back up.

“That’s right,” Candyman said with a nod. He pointed in Tony’s face. “That’s all on you. Plus the twenty this morning… and five of my men from the parking garage. You know what that would make you back in the old world? A fucking mass-murderer! Perhaps a domestic terrorist, even!”

“Go fuck yourself!” Tony spat.

“What I don’t understand is the ‘why’?” he continued. “Did the Ama Eskua put you up to it? Are they trying to sabotage my efforts to keep the peace?”

“As I told that bitch with the guns when she was bringing us here,” Tony stated, “you need to talk to Taven. He’s a creepy half-dead man who’s been wandering around your town for God-knows how long. He set this whole thing up… and set us up in the process. You should be out looking for him.”

“Yes, Briana told me about that. I find it hard to believe that one man, dressed in a bath robe and sunglasses has the means to pull something like this off… not without a lot of help on the inside.” Candyman calmed down and smiled. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. He stared at each of them and shook his head. “Well, I’ll get to the bottom of it eventually. Relax. I’m not here to torture you until you tell me where your missing friend is. Frankly, I don’t care this morning. We’ll find him eventually… and anyone else involved. I’ve enough to deal with today in the aftermath of the shitstorm you’ve created in my town.”

They all remained silent.

“Do you have any idea what ‘shitstorm’ I’m talking about, Tony?”

Tony stared back defiantly, refusing to answer.

“That’s how it’s going to be? Fine!” Candyman said, rising to his feet. He started pacing in front of them. “Thanks to you and your friends, I’ve had to send a lot of men and extra resources to my border towns to redirect the re-animated away from here after that explosion. And on top of that, I’ve had to turn my town upside down, arresting everyone and their mother, until I’ve enough people gathered to replace the ones you blew up. The hangings were intended to remind the people who was in control… but it’s only made things worse!”

“I’m not interested in your problems out at Mosquito Creek,” Tony said. “That’s a deal you never should’ve made to begin with.”

“So, you do understand,” Candyman said. “Well, then understand this: If I don’t continue to deliver shipments, and maintain the peace, then New Cleveland and everyone in it is in jeopardy. And that’s more deaths that will fall on your head. How do you feel about that?”

Tony smiled. “I’ll sleep like a fucking baby tonight. Fuck you, this town, and everyone in it,” he growled.

The others turned and gave him a surprised look.

Candyman laughed. “Look there. Even your friends are shocked by your cold response.”

Tony looked away.

“Doesn’t matter,” Candyman said. “No… I’m not here to interrogate. We are long past the point of questions.”

“Then what comes next?” Tony said.

“Oh, that’s a simple one,” Candyman said, sitting back down. “In a few minutes, I’m going to enjoy my lunch, and watch you all die.”

They all looked at each other, except for Tony, who glared at Candyman.

“Another game of yours?” he asked.

“No games,” Candyman said. “There’s just no damn time, I’m afraid. Too much to do today. But… I have set aside this part of the day to enjoy ‘what comes next’… as you say.” Candyman snapped his fingers.

Two Lunatics entered the room. One was armed, the other was carrying a surgical tray.

There were four loaded syringes placed on the tray. The dark fluid within them resembled blood.

Hash sighed heavily at the sight of the syringes. “Shit. You said I wouldn’t end up dead like one of your rats in this lab, remember? I thought we were buds and all.”

Candyman smiled at him. “I am sorry, Sergeant. Yes, we’ve had some delightful conversations down here… and I will miss your company. I had not intended for you to die in this fashion… but your friends have brought me to this.”

Tony watched one of the Lunatics prepare the syringes. He turned to Hash. “What is this?”

The good sergeant frowned at him. “This is the place he tests infection rates on people with whatever cocktails he’s whipped up. From all the screaming I’ve heard in here from down the hall… it never ends well.”

Candyman laughed. “Why Sergeant, don’t be so gloomy. There’s always a first time. Perhaps my new batch will take much longer to earn a reaction than previous ones.”

“You’re one sick sonofabitch,” Hash said absently.

Candyman dismissed the insult and turned toward the Lunatic with the tray. He picked up a syringe. “Just as you’ve turned these friends of yours into murderous monsters, like yourself, Tony. I too, can create monsters down here.”

Tony listened to his friends shift uncomfortably but he continued to stare at Candyman. “This won’t give you the results you seek,” Tony said. “If it’s some kind of payback or revenge you’re after-”

“Shh!” Candyman said, putting a finger to his mouth. He shook his head at Tony and said, “Stop trying to spin a new deal, Tony. This is the end… I assure you. All that remains is finding out which ending will occur.”

“‘Which ending’?”

“Yes,” Candyman said with a smile, putting the syringe back on the tray. “As you all have already deduced, I am fond of my games. But what good is a game without the elements of surprise and suspense?” Candyman turned to face them. “I’m not much of a game show host, but I’ll give it my best go.” He held up his hands for dramatic effect and cleared his throat.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Diane said. “If you intend to kill us… then get it over with!”

Candyman frowned at the interruption and continued. “Ladies and gentlemen…”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Hash said.

Candyman turned to the Lunatic holding the rifle. “The next one who speaks… shoot him or her in the face.”

The Lunatic smiled and raised his rifle.

No one else said a word.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Candyman restarted. “Behind me, I have four syringes. One of them contains a very potent dose of the infection. The other three syringes contain a very strong sedative. For our next game, I shall have all four contestants injected randomly… just like The Change. One will start to turn while the other three begin to get sleepy and start to lose all motor function and cognitive abilities. What will happen first? Can our contestants fight off the effects of the sedative before one of them turns on the others? Will they all go nighty-night before one of their own changes and feeds on them in their sleep? Will the others be able to kill their infected friend before they are killed? Stay tuned…”

“You are the worst kind of evil,” Tony hissed.

The Lunatic raised his gun to fire.

Candyman waved him off. “No. It’s alright. Let’s save it for the game.”

The Lunatic lowered his rifle.

Candyman wrapped his arms around his chest and smiled at himself. To Tony, he looked like a sadistic school kid about to set a bag of cats on fire. “This is exciting!” he said. “Is everyone ready to play?”

~~~

Next Episode 52-7

Previous Episode 52-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 52-6: Sodom” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. 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.

Comments
  1. alikolino says:

    he was kept him alive
    *keeping

    Like

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