~~~

Mid-morning in New Cleveland. For ten long life-altering seconds, not one disgruntled citizen exchanged an angry word among the mobs that had been forming since the explosion. No one was pushing or shoving another in frustration. There were no tears brought on by uncertainty or from the loss of loved ones arrested or now hanging high above their heads. There were no outspoken voices in the streets—once whispers in the alleys—spreading fear and discontent. And there was certainly no shopping being conducted in the busy marketplace district. Business-as-usual had just been obliterated.

From one crowded corner to the next, heads turned in all directions, looking toward the sky as if it were about to collapse upon their heads. The most terrifying sound anyone had ever heard echoed down the streets.

New Cleveland went suddenly silent for ten chilling seconds.

When the chorus of more than five-thousand yellow-eyed haters of Mankind ceased, New Cleveland fell into chaos. Citizens started running everywhere, seeking shelter from what could only be described as… The End.

In the middle of the panicked crowd, Nine was nearly trampled to death as he managed to get to his feet and was pushed forward for several blocks and then off toward the right of the street, where he was slammed against a closed storefront wall. He managed to crawl into the front door alcove, avoiding being swept back up into the rushing crowd and overwhelmed by the raging river of terrified humanity.

He looked around for the Lunatic patrol that had attempted to seize him before the audible nightmare, but they were gone. He raised his head and noticed several Lunatics up in their phone booth sized lookout stations, high up on the rollercoaster, scanning the walls of New Cleveland with binoculars. Several of them were shouting across to other stations. Lunatics were frantically moving along the makeshift bridges built along the tracks, relaying communications via messengers. From what he could observe, it was clear the panic had reached them, too.

Nine was still in shock. His body was banged up, bloodied and bruised from the manic crowd. His mind and heart felt useless. The beyond exhausted young man sat down in the alcove and closed his eyes, putting his hands over his face. He wanted to sleep and escape to a different dream in which his friends were not captured or dead and Diane would be there lying beside him, far from this horrible place, when he finally awoke.

Diane.

Nine opened his eyes. He didn’t care about the crowds, the Lunatic patrols, or the approaching monsters from Mosquito Creek. “I’ll find you,” he whispered. “I’m coming.” He forced his heavy limbs to move, rose to his feet, and found a break in the crowd. Nine stepped into the moving mass of citizens and pushed his weary legs to keep up, searching desperately for anything that might help him find Diane.

Don’t think about the rest, he thought. Put it away. Put all the damn pain away. Nothing else matters until you find her… or until someone or something finally kills you.

~~~

One Lunatic approached him with the syringe while the second kept his rifle raised. Tony yanked hard on the handcuffs binding his arms behind his back and to the ring along the wall. He stared at the first Lunatic and promised, “You come any closer with that thing and I’ll bite your fucking face off!”

The Lunatic holding the syringe stopped and looked back at Candyman.

The leader of new Cleveland sighed impatiently from his chair and rolled his eyes. “Aim the gun at the woman next to him,” he ordered.

The Lunatic holding the rifle aimed at Diane.

Tony turned to her and saw the fear and frustration in the hunter’s eyes.

“Now,” Candyman continued, as if instructing children, “if Tony doesn’t cooperate, shoot his friend.”

Diane turned to the one holding the syringe. “Stay the fuck away from him, asshole!” She tugged on the handcuffs binding her one arm to the ring.

“Diane,” Tony said calmly. “It’s okay.” He relaxed and glared at the Lunatic holding the syringe. “Do it,” he said. “Just lower the damn gun from my friend.”

She turned to him. “No… this isn’t okay!” She glared at Candyman. “You’re a fucking coward! Big man playing games! If your people saw you like this, they’d remove you immediately for the monster that you are!”

Candyman laughed. “Perhaps,” he admitted. “But don’t underestimate the power of a good illusion. Those… sheep… feel safe here. They feel protected. You might be surprised at how much they’d be willing to tolerate as long as they could remain within these walls.”

“Diane, look at me.”

She turned to Tony.

He smiled. “You’re one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. It’s been an honor fighting alongside you. I mean that.”

The Lunatic approached Tony’s right arm and injected him with the syringe.

Tony winced and closed his eyes as he felt the fluid enter his veins.

Tears started streaming down the hunter’s eyes. “This is bullshit!” she hissed.

The Lunatic stepped away to retrieve another syringe.

Tony opened his eyes. “I’m sorry I kept the truth from you about Taven. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”

“It’s okay,” she said, forcing a smile. “We’ve all made some bad calls in this place.”

The Lunatic returned with another syringe. It was Diane’s turn.

She didn’t fight it.

“I trusted Nadia,” she continued, keeping her eyes on the big man. “She gave us up.”

The Lunatic injected her with the syringe.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Tony assured her. “You took a chance on someone, someone who’s help we needed. I would’ve done the same. If we don’t try to trust people in this damaged world… well… then what’s the fucking point, right?”

She nodded, letting more tears fall.

“That was… touching,” Candyman mocked. “In your defense, Diane, Nadia is one of the best actors I know. She almost had me convinced once that she actually cared about me.”

Diane turned to the despicable man. “Go fuck yourself,” she said. “You’re going to get what’s coming. Maybe not today… but you will.”

Candyman’s face changed.

“You might manage to survive for a while, surrounded by your bullshit empire, but you’ve already lost anything that matters,” Tony added, refusing to look at the man.

“Well, that’s enlightening, coming from someone who will die in this room,” Candyman said.

“Yeah, but you’re going to die alone,” Tony said. He turned and smiled at the man. “There’s nothing worse than that.”

Candyman shot him a puzzled look.

The Lunatic with the syringe just injected Sergeant Hash. He put up no fight. He was staring at the pompous man in the chair. “I tried to tell him, Tony,” he said. “Trust me, this prick’s afraid of his own damn shadow… or the things hiding within them.”

Candyman turned to the good sergeant.

Hash winked at him with a smile.

Candyman wasn’t smiling.

Wendy had no reaction when the Lunatic approached her with the last syringe and injected her. She didn’t even look up as she stared despondently at the floor.

“You okay?” Tony asked her.

“No, Tony,” she said, slowly meeting his gaze. “I feel like… I feel like I’m already dead.”

The Lunatics returned to their leader. He whispered something to them, and they stepped back along the wall behind him. “Now,” he said. “We wait and see what happens!”

Tony took a deep breath. He scanned the exhausted faces of his friends. He closed his eyes for a moment and was startled to discover how hard he had to struggle to open them again.

~~~

The Lunatic leader stood on the upper level of the parking garage staring north over the wall. She held a pair of binoculars to her eyes and searched the area beyond an overgrown field that stretched out for a quarter mile, and into the outskirts of the abandoned suburbs. Briana waited impatiently for reports from the lookouts up on the coaster for any signs of movement in those dead neighborhoods. So far, aside from hearing what sounded like a massive build-up of the dead, no one had seen a fucking thing.

She lowered the binos and handed them to one of the twenty Lunatics arming up on the garage roof. “This is bullshit,” she hissed.

“Something, Boss?” the Lunatic taking the binos said.

Briana shook her head and stared at the face-painted man, making him avert his gaze immediately. “I said this is BULLSHIT!” she spat in his face. “Someone’s playing games with us out there, trying to get us all riled up.”

“Could be,” the man said. “What are you orders?”

Briana stared back out at the deceptively quiet rooftops and empty streets. “I should go the fuck out there and flush out whoever’s fucking with us,” she said. “This is probably some elaborate set-up designed to freak us the fuck out and get us unhinged.” She looked back at the Lunatic. “Are you freaked the fuck out, soldier?” she teased.

“No… I mean… maybe a little,” the man said.

Briana smiled at him. “Good answer, asshole. We should all be a little on edge… but not too much. Just tell the men to stay sharp. If anyone sees anything moving down there, especially in that open field, light ‘em up.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the Lunatic said with a smile.

“Now get the fuck out of my face.”

The Lunatic departed with relief.

Briana sighed heavily, then reached into her leather coat and retrieved a cigarette. She lit it up and then stared back toward the houses.

With her cigarette hanging from her mouth, the Lunatic leader drew both her handguns, lightning fast, and aimed at the rooftops. She pretending to shoot each house. “Phew! Phew! Phew!” she whispered, sounding like a small child to amuse herself.

The other Lunatics watched her out of the corner of their eyes while setting up their weapons. They were accustomed to her crazy antics and gained confidence by the woman’s unaffected demeanor.

Briana lowered her aim toward the field. “Come on,” she whispered. “Please… something fucking move out there… anything!”

But there was nothing.

She smiled, blowing a puff of smoke out of her nose. “This if fucking stupid,” she said, holstering her guns. “Someone’s playing games,” she repeated to herself. Briana raised a gloved hand to retrieve her cigarette and stopped. Her hand was shaking. She quickly lowered it and then glared back toward the others to see if they were watching.

Not one Lunatic was staring.

She laughed and turned back toward the field. Calm down, bitch, she thought. Don’t let them see how fucking unnerved you are. She grabbed the cigarette from her mouth and tossed it over the roof. She immediately lit up another one.

The sound of two M-60 machine guns erupted from the south.

Briana dropped her cigarette and drew her guns.

All the Lunatics stopped and stared toward the southern entrance.

“It’s the front gate!” someone stated. “That’s the big guns!”

“No shit, moron,” she hissed, pushing her way through the Lunatics to the southern edge of the parking garage roof. She could see nothing. They were too far north.

Suddenly, other guns were going off to the east, near the woods at the edge of the lake.

More gunfire sounded to the west.

The rooftop Lunatics were coming undone.

“Keep your shit together, shitbags!” she ordered. Briana turned back to the north and pointed. “I want every one of you watching that fucking field to the north! So, get your heads out of you asses, grow a pair, and watch the fucking perim-”

Before she could finish, Briana gazed north into the field and gasped.

A moment before, she was staring at an empty field. Now… there were hundreds of them—men, women, children—sprinting across the field and toward the northern wall. They were already half-way across the field.

“What the fuck!” she whispered. She’d never seen so many of the yellow-eyed bastards all at once… or this organized. The beasts were not running scattered… but in single file rows to hide their numbers, hovering low in the tall grass to make themselves smaller targets.

They timed that shit perfectly! she thought. It’s like they waited… waited until we looked away… waited until we focused south… then charged!

From elsewhere along the north wall, gunfire was already going off.

Every time one of the savages went down, two more seemed to come out of the tall grass to replace it.

The dead would reach the wall in less than twenty seconds.

Where the fuck did they all just come from? The Lunatic leader was gripping the holsters of her handguns too tightly, causing her hands to shake.

Briana turned toward the rooftop Lunatics who had not moved. “What are you waiting for? Get over here and kill those dead fuckers!” she shouted at her confused and terrified soldiers. She raised her guns at them. “Don’t make me repeat myself! I’ll give you something to be afraid of fuckers! Do you hear me? Now get over here and kill something! Do it… DO IT NOW!”

~~~

“Tony!” Diane yelled.

The big man had just fallen over. He was sweating profusely, forcing himself to take big breaths. Tony struggled to keep his eyes open and attempted to get back up. “FUCK YOU!” he shouted into the air.

Candyman was laughing and applauding from his chair. “Bravo, Tony! Bravo! I must confess, the sedative dosage for your specific cocktail was doubled on my request. Damn! That shit would’ve knocked out a horse by now.”

Diane turned toward Candyman and shouted, “You’re fucking dead!” She yanked so hard on her restraint she nearly dislocated her shoulder attempting to reach the seated leader of New Cleveland. Suddenly, she felt dizzy. Her eyes started to close involuntarily. “Mother fuck-” She fell over, hanging from her chain.

“Stay awake, Diane!” Tony shouted. “Stay awake!”

The hunter shook her head violently and then bit herself in the arm. The pain ripped through her and make her scream… but it helped her fight the effects of the sedative a little longer.

Candyman stood up and laughed. “This is far more entertaining than I imagined.” He stared over at the good sergeant and then back over at Wendy. Both were still feeling no effects from their injections. “Looks like we have a couple of winners!” Candyman announced in his game-show voice. “It would appear that Tony and Diane have not been infected! Unless, of course, I’ve mixed sedatives in with this particular strain.”

Tony set his murderous gaze on Candyman. “You’re out of your fucking mind!” he shouted. The big man managed to sit up, let loose a frustrated cry, and then yanked against his restraints so hard that it looked like the ring on the wall was about to come loose.

Both Lunatics behind Candyman stepped up beside their leader, about to raise their weapons.

Candyman waved them off. “Relax, gentlemen,” he said. “You have to admire the man’s determination. Damn! Now I understand how you became the Champion of New Cleveland!”

“Fuck you… monster,” Tony spat, and then fell back down. The extra exertion on his system was catching up with him as the sedative started to win.

“Stay with me, Tony,” Diane said. “Just… stay…with…” She started to pass out.

Sergeant Hash nearly fell forward on his face. “Shit,” he hissed. “You’ll need to do better than that, asshole. I’ve had stronger drinks fail to take me down.”

Wendy started to nod off. She put up no fight.

Candyman nodded with satisfaction. “Yes… yes… I do believe the sedatives are working all the way around.” He turned toward one of the Lunatics and finished, “Now… hurry up and release the slack on their chains. I want them to be able to reach each other… especially when the lucky one turns.”

The Lunatic moved over to a winch along the wall and unlocked a lever. The sound of chains running slack through the rings behind them roused them all back to the edge of consciousness.

Tony and Diane both tried to move but it took all they had just to stay awake.

“Don’t bother trying to fight it, my friends,” Candyman said. “We’re almost there. Once you all go under, we should find out which one of you feels the effects of something much stronger than the sedative. In all our research, the only thing we’ve managed to do is slow down the infection rate by the heavy use of sedatives. But in all cases, the infection eventually wins.” He stood up. “One of you will turn and tear the others to pieces. I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with you… well… not the being ‘eaten alive’ part. Just know that I will be here to watch the look of shock and fear cross your faces when one of your own comes to end your pitiful existences. I can’t imagine who it will be worse for: The one who turns and then devours his or her friends… or being devoured. Either way, I shall enjoy this moment. And as you betrayed my trust… I will watch as your trust in each other is equally betrayed.” Candyman watched as all four contestants struggled to hold on. He shook his head and finished, “Now… as they say at the end of the final round-”

Just then, Briana burst into the room, looking terrified and out of breath. She was about to speak and then noticed the four prisoners on the floor.

“Briana?” he said, trying to stay calm. “Have you ever heard of knocking before entering a fucking room?”

She gave the leader of New Cleveland a disbelieving look. “I would’ve sent a messenger… but I need every gun I have… so I came myself. From the looks of it, you don’t have a clue what’s going on topside, do you?”

Candyman sighed and glared at her. “Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something? I said no interruptions until-”

“The fucking town’s under attack!” she said. “Haven’t you heard the fucking gunfire?”

“Excuse me?”

Briana stepped forward. “It’s Mosquito Creek… they’re here.”

Candyman’s face changed. “What do you mean ‘they’re here’?”

Briana shook her head impatiently and shouted, “All of them! And they’ve just breached the fucking city walls!”

~~~

Next Episode 52-8

Previous Episode 52-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 52-7: 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.

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Comments
  1. alikolino says:

    Not get the fuck out of my face.

    *Now

    Like

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