~~~

Nine had never seen anything like it. The dead started pouring over the top of the walls like flood water. The scattered Lunatics who had stood their ground along the perimeter were overwhelmed in moments. The sound of frantic rifle fire was replaced by horrendous screams as the yellow-eyed demons violently ripped into the face-painted soldiers, tearing their limbs from their bodies and feasting on the remains like wild dogs fighting over unattended turkeys on Thanksgiving. While the first rank of the dead fed on the soldiers, the second, third, and fourth ranks spilling over the walls stormed toward the crowded streets.

And more kept coming over the walls.

Panicked citizens went insane with fear as they trampled over one another, screaming and shouting, but having nowhere to run due to the large crowds congesting the streets.

Nine had made it as far as the eastern end of the marketplace district when the gunfire started. He’d been driven by an irrational compulsion to locate Diane, but had no idea where to begin, so he’d searched every face in the crowd, hoping he’d see her… or any of his friends.

When the dead arrived, he was turned back around by the frenzied crowd running north and west to get away from the main entrance into New Cleveland from the south.

After clearing the walls, the yellow-eyed beasts invaded the town, seeming to strike out at the living from everywhere.

Nine did all he could just to stay afloat in the center of the manic crowd.

The dead were not only slaughtering unfortunate citizens caught at the outer edges of the crowd, but they were also using the crowd as concealment to avoid being shot down by Lunatics high up on the coaster. The blood-thirsty savages maneuvered in smaller packs, moving in and out among the sheep and disappearing down alleyways and barging into storefronts.

Nine was shoved and assaulted repeatedly by terrified citizens just trying to get away and was pushed into an alley by the scattering crowd. He was knocked down in front of a trailer as several feet kicked him in the face, stepped on his hands and legs—someone even jumped on his back. The young man, with the wind knocked out of him, had managed to roll beneath the trailer crawlspace. As he attempted to breathe, Nine saw frantic feet running by, as well as filthy and bloody bare feet accompanied by the raw inhuman groans of hunger as the dead lashed out at the living. He watched bodies fall in bloody heaps as more citizens trampled over the corpses to get away. Nine moved as far back beneath the small trailer as he could.

A woman suddenly fell in front of the trailer, turned, and saw Nine hiding. To Nine she looked half-dead already. The woman’s face was bloody. Patches of her long brown hair had been ripped out. But it was her eyes—her large bulging eyes—that captured the woman’s terrifying plight from the dead. Nine had a chilling thought: All our eyes will look like that before the end of the day… recording each of our unspoken horror stories as we lie dead in our own blood.

Nine waved a shaky hand toward the woman. “Come on!” he whispered. “Get in here before they see you!”

The woman seemed unresponsive at first, on the verge of either crying or screaming… or both. Then she started to crawl beneath the trailer.

Nine reached out his hands to her. “Come on! Hurry!”

The woman reached for his hands.

Something grabbed the woman’s legs and forcefully dragged her out from beneath the trailer.

Nine could do nothing but listen to the woman’s chilling screams as three dead savages tore the woman to pieces in front of the trailer. Two ran off after the crowd and one stayed behind to feed, slowly dragging the woman’s corpse behind it.

Nine could see the woman’s eyes before she was gutted.

Her dead, horrific eyes.

The screams from the living mixed with the cries of the dead continued. They were too much. Nine closed his eyes and covered his ears, bringing his legs up to his chest beneath the small space like a frightened child.

He started to wonder what story his dead eyes would tell by the end of that bloody day.

~~~

“What the fuck are you talking about, Brianna? ‘Leave the city’? I will do no such thing!” Candyman was irate.

The Lunatic leader was frantic. “You don’t get it! You haven’t seen what’s happening up there! It’s a fucking blood-fest!”

Candyman collected himself and ran a hand through his slicked-back hair. “Accompany me to my trailer,” he told her.

Briana laughed. “You’re fucking kidding, right? Have you not-”

“Say one more word about abandoning your post… or suggesting I do the same… and I’ll have your fucking head. Are we clear?”

Briana raised an eyebrow and put her hands to her hips. “Okay… but we could get out right now-”

“Are we clear?” Candyman’s face left no room for debate.

The Lunatic gunslinger threw her hands in the air. “Fine! You wanna go see the show for yourself? Let’s go, then.”

“How many men do we have available?”

“As many as you still have down here,” she answered, leading Candyman and his two Lunatic escorts out of the lab.

Briana turned back and stared at the sedated prisoners lying on the floor and barely hanging on to consciousness. “Want me to execute them?”

Candyman turned back, stared into their faces, and then frowned like a sulking child robbed of his playtime. “No,” he said. “Just leave them here and lock the door.” He smiled and finished, “They’re dead already.”

~~~

They’re dead already.

Sergeant Hash could still hear Candyman’s final words echoing through his skull long after the madman departed. Every part of him wanted to give up—just close his eyes and embrace a permanent sleep. But he refused to give the prick the final words… even if they were true.

Move, you soft little bitch! After everything you’ve been through down here, a fucking sleeping pill’s going to be your end? I don’t think so.

It took incredible effort, but the tortured man sat up. He focused on his fading friends.

“Hey,” he meant to shout, but it came out as a whisper. “Hey! Wake the fuck up!” A little louder that time.

He saw the big man stir from the prone position and turn his head. “Still here,” Tony whispered.

Hash nodded. He looked at Diane.

She’d managed to maintain a kneeling position, resting her head on the floor. She raised her only hand… slightly… but enough to let him know that she, too, was not done yet.

“Good on both of you,” Hash said. “Now keep your damn eyes open. If we die… you want to look Death in the eyes. Remember that.”

He looked over at Wendy. She was still sitting up, her head tilted forward and resting on her chest. The girl hadn’t said a word or moved since receiving the sedative. “Hey! Wendy! Get up! You don’t get to check out… not after you just murdered a man in cold blood.”

His words struck hard, as intended. Wendy partially opened her eyes.

“There you go,” he said. “Welcome back. Now… stay awake. You don’t get to sleep that guilty conscience away. Trust me… I’ve been trying for years.”

Wendy opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.

“It’s okay,” Hash said, shaking his head to fight the tidal wave of exhaustion multiplied by the sedative. “You don’t have to say anything, little lady. Just… just try to hold on.”

She was staring at him now. Her eyes revealed a defeated young woman who was ready to die. Hash knew that faraway stare very well. He’d seen the same on so many survivors’ faces the first few months after escaping the power plant.

They’re dead already.

The words reminded him of how very little time they had left.

One of them was going to turn. It didn’t matter who. But it did matter that they face it… together.

Tony and Diane understood this as much as he did. But the young woman… she was checking out early.

“Wendy,” he said, noticing the girl starting to slip away again.

She opened her eyes.

“You asked if God can forgive you… for what you’ve done. Well, I can’t speak for the Big Man… but I forgive you.”

She continued to stare.

Hash closed his eyes and then forced them back open. “I’ve killed a lot of people… and I’ve been paying for it ever since. But you… It’s not too late for you. You still feel that horrible rotting pain in your heart from a single regrettable action. You’re already paying for what you’ve done… suffering for it… But you can still turn this around.”

“I forgive… forgive you, Wendy,” Tony said.

“Me, too,” Diane said.

“See?” Hash said, with a laugh. “If they can forgive you, and I can forgive you… then all you have to do is forgive yourself.”

Wendy closed her eyes.

“And I bet,” Hash continued, “that the Big Man has already forgiven you. You just don’t feel… forgiven… not yet. But you will.”

Hash stopped. Shit, maybe I needed to hear that, too.

“Wendy?” Tony said. “Stay with us.”

The young woman’s eyes stayed closed.

Diane managed to turn herself around She attempted to kick the girl next to her, but only brushed against her shoe. “Wake up,” she said.

Nothing.

Diane tried to kick her again. She hit Wendy in the leg.

Wendy’s eyes shot open.

They were black as night.

~~~

Nine had no idea how he was still alive. He just continued to keep moving, following the closest path of the dead that had stormed through the alleyways leaving a massacre of blood and screams in their wake. He’d pushed down each narrow street until the alarming sounds of fleeing citizens approached, and then he’d rushed into whatever broken down doorways were closest and hid within structures already ravaged by the dead until the sounds of panic were replaced by more screams. He waited in agony as the yellow-eyed monsters hunted the living, selfishly grateful that it wasn’t him each time.

Every sound threatened to betray his position. From the frantic footfalls of the living trying to pull together in small groups, to the moans and groans of the savage dead consuming the flesh of the slain—even his own rapid heartbeat threatened to give him away at every turn.

He cut through destroyed buildings, exited shattered windows, sprinted down exposed alleys until reaching the next structure, barely avoiding notice each time as the dead spread their violence and bloodshed all over New Cleveland with a fresh coat of fatal crimson.

At one point, he’d hid between two large tractor trailers as a horde of the dead rushed past his position, dragging ripped apart corpses behind them like game hunters collecting their spoils. Nine noticed this trend throughout the town. The dead would slaughter and claim their kills while the rest continued to hunt, leaving nothing behind.

They won’t let them turn, Nine had thought. They’re devouring them as soon as the living go down… or they’re ripping them to pieces… to save for later. The thought chilled him to the core. He’d seen this pattern again and again out in the world. The yellow-eyed haters never wasted anything… and their appetite for human flesh bordered gluttony and was the reason why they hunted and consumed continuously until they were full, and finally went dormant.

Nine’s last thought motived him to move with more urgency: How long does it take to fill the bellies of five-thousand monsters?

After pressing his luck for over an hour, Nine found himself at the back door of Ollie’s Oasis. The door was wide open.

Wendy?

The move was futile. She had to be long gone by now, captured… or dead already. But he had to know. Besides, he was exhausted and Nine needed somewhere he could rest for longer than a few minutes while he tried to figure out his next move.

The weary young man rushed toward the back door, waiting to be jumped by the dead at any moment. He made it inside and quickly closed the door. Before turning, he shook his head at his own stupidity and slowly opened the door, leaving it the way he found it.

Keep it looking like they’ve already hit the place, dumbass, he scolded himself.

He turned around. The backroom of Ollie’s was a mess. Barrels were overturned, shelves tipped over, and the stale smell of beer permeated the air. He stepped forward into the gloomy space as light from outside spilled in from the open door and between cracks in the walls, helping him to identify the shadows lurking all around him. So far, the bar was empty.

When he exited the backroom and entered the bar, he was astounded by the brutality and destructive level of the savages. The long bar counter had been completely tipped over. There were broken bottles and glass scattered across the floor. Bloody tables and chairs were overturned and shattered. The walls were streaked in blood. Toward the back, the dancefloor looked like someone had splattered mutilated human organs all over it.

But again, no bodies.

The horror show made Nine gag and cover his mouth.

A lot of people died in here, he thought. They thought they were hiding… and then became lunch.

Nine fell to one knee. He felt faint, fatigued, and overwhelmed by a sudden wave of hopelessness. “We’re all going to die in this All-You-Can-Eat buffet,” he whispered without his usual humor.

From one of the back corners of the bar, he heard something shift from behind what looked like a pile of overturned tables.

Nine saw a broken bottle and grabbed it. He slowly rose to his feet and stared into the dark corner. If that’s even one of those fucking things… I’m dead. “Who’s… Who’s in here?” he dared to raise his voice.

No response.

From outside he heard a muffled woman’s scream from close by, causing him to duck.

A chair fell over making him jump.

He turned back toward the dark corner. “Whoever’s back there, you better speak up and let me know you’re human… or I’m gonna light this bar up right before I leave.”

“Alright,” someone hissed, raising their hands from behind a table. It was a man’s voice. “We just had to make sure… make sure you were… one of us.”

Nine raised the bottle threateningly. “Who is ‘we’?”

A man, along with three other men, and two women stood up from a makeshift hiding space from the back of the bar. The first man continued to speak, “We… we were just hiding. Please… either get the hell out of here… or come back and join us.”

A woman spoke up in a terrified voice. “They’re going to see you standing there… or smell you… or whatever they do… and then they’ll find us, too.”

Nine considered the woman’s words, lowering the bottle. “Were you all here when they attacked this place?”

“No,” another man said. “We just came in like you and saw the door open. We thought they might not come back in here… you know… a second time.”

Nine nodded, still trying to make out the figures in the back of the bar. “Any of you armed?”

“Hell, no,” a third man said. “Only Lunatics have weapons. All we’ve got is our wits.”

Nine thought he recognized the third man’s voice.

“Did you leave the door open?” the second woman asked. “If they see it closed, they’ll know someone’s in here. That’s what they’ve been doing to mark off the places they’ve already searched.”

“They’re smart,” the first man said, “and organized. No one’s ever seen the dead act like this before.”

Nine nodded. “I agree. They’re even cleaning up as they go… taking the dead with them to make sure they don’t leave anyone infected behind.”

“That’s well and good, but how about you stop flapping your jaws out in the open, and either leave or get the hell out.” The third man again.

Nine frowned. He now knew who that voice belonged to.

“Mike?” he said. “Mike from the casino?”

At first the man didn’t answer.

“I know the sound of your asshole voice anywhere,” Nine continued. “That’s you, isn’t it?”

“Fuck… me,” Asshole Mike said. “Of all the people I could get stuck with… this damn day just went from bad to worse.”

Nine didn’t move. He felt his hand get tighter around the bottle neck. “She’s dead… but I don’t suppose that surprises you.”

“Huh?” Mike said. The others standing around him were getting anxious as Nine watched him make calming gestures with his hands. “As usual, I don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about?”

“Joe!” Nine snapped, no longer caring how loud he was getting. “You know… the girl you turned in… the one hanging from your fucking roller coaster!”

“Look,” said the first man. “Please… you’re being too loud. I don’t know what beef you have with this guy. But we’re just trying to stay alive here.”

The first woman started to weep. “They’re going to hear you,” she said through tears, making Nine settle down.

He looked around the bar and shook his head. Stay cool, he thought to himself. They’re right. You’re going to get them all killed if you don’t calm down. “Okay,” Nine said, returning to a milder voice. “Sorry. I’m coming over.”

“Hurry,” the first woman said. They were all waving him back anxiously… except Asshole Mike.

Nine reached the corner and shot Mike a menacing look.

The card shark just frowned and nodded his head.

“Hey,” the first man said, gaining Nine’s attention. He was an older man with grey hair. “What’s it like out there? Are they… are they moving away from this area?”

Nine shook his head. “They’re everywhere. I barely made it here.”

The older man looked to a short plump woman with brown hair tied up in a bun and whispered, “Relax.” He then went back to Nine. “My name’s Fred, this is my wife, Greta. We’re merchants that just arrived two days ago.”

“Sorry for your bad timing,” Nine said.

“Yeah,” Fred said. “Anyway, we ran into Harold, John and Missy in the middle of all this madness.” He pointed to two middle-aged men and a tall blond-haired woman who looked like a soccer mom. “And I guess you already know Mike.”

Nine glared at the card shark then looked away. “Yeah. We’re acquainted.”

“Anyway, we were trying to get back to our vehicles at the south gate but it’s a slaughterhouse down there. So, we ran… and somehow made it here. We’ve been hiding out, waiting for the dead to move on.”

Nine looked at their ridiculous hiding spot. They’d turned two bigger tables on their sides, leaving a rectangular crawl space behind them, and piled debris around them. “How long do you intend to wait here?”

“You heard the man,” Asshole Mike said. “After the dead are done in this area, we’ll make our next move.”

“Which is?”

They all looked at each other with uncertainty.

“That’s what I thought,” Nine said. “Look, you can’t stay here. They’ll figure out you’re here eventually.”

Fred sighed. “We’ve been out of New Cleveland more than most around here… me and Greta… and we’ve seen all sorts of strange shit out there, including a handful of these yellow-eyed devils. But they’ve never acted like this before.”

Nine nodded. “I… me and my people… we’ve seen them acting differently on our way here. I think they’ve evolving and getting smarter. The ones we encountered even had a woman zombie leading them.”

“Bullshit,” Mike said.

The sound of distant gunfire caught their attention.

Fred continued, “This woman zombie… are you talking about the ‘Alpha’ we’ve heard about?”

Nine shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know anything about that. The woman, her name was Helen, she’s dead now—I mean, dead for real. But she was leading them at the time… if that’s what you want to call it. Anyway, they were acting a lot smarter back then. Who knows what they’re capable of now.”

Fred nodded. “So… they won’t just leave when they’ve… eaten? They usually keep moving after they feed. At least, the ones we’ve come across.”

“I don’t think they have any intention of leaving,” Nine said. “That’s an army out there. They’ll probably make this place the next spot they go dormant in… after they’ve eaten everyone in this damn town.”

“What… what do we do then?” the blond woman said.

“We can’t stay here, hiding behind a few flimsy tables,” Nine said. The smell of that piss-poor beer spilled all over the back room is what’s keeping them away for now… but they will catch your scent, eventually. We need to keep moving and find a way out of here.”

“No,” Mike said. “We’re better off staying put. The dead have already been here. I say we just wait this out. Candyman’s going to restore order. You’ll see.”

Nine ignored him. He focused on Fred. “You’ve been out there. So have I. Don’t listen to this institutionalized prick. He’s already responsible for the death of a young girl… a friend of mine. I’m telling you, if you stay, you’re all going to die in this shitty bar. New Cleveland is gone.”

Fred nodded. “He’s right,” he told the others. “We should get out of here.”

The others looked split on what to do.

Nine shook his head. “I’m headed for the Harper’s Run,” he told them. “There’s an access door at the top, leading below the ride. I’m almost certain there’s an exit out of town down there. If nothing else, it’s probably safer getting underground then staying up here. I remember a ladder they used to bring us back down after the Run.”

“Can we get to it?” another man asked.

“Hell, no, we can’t get to it!” Mike protested. “This guy’s going to get us killed! Harper’s Run is a death trap! We’d have to cut back through the casino pavilion to reach it… and that’s completely exposed.”

“We can move up around the lake, follow the shoreline, and come at Harper’s Run directly from the east,” Nine said. “All we have to do is go north and get the hell off these streets and into the fields on the other side.”

“It’s suicide!” Mike said. “This fucker’s trying to get us killed so he can take our spot! There’s nothing at Harper’s Run but death! That door he mentioned… I know it… it leads down to Candyman’s secret lab! It’s heavily guarded and full of monsters!”

“Did you just say something about a lab?” Nine asked.

“Yeah… I know things… more than I should… but that’s Candyman’s lab under that damn ride. We’ve no business messing around down there.”

Nine smiled. How about that. This asshole might have just told me where my friends are.

“Fuck your damn spot, you can have it!” Nine hissed. “You just don’t want to die alone, which is what you’re asking these people to do by staying here with you. Maybe you should stay here. When the dead find you, that might buy the rest of us a little time to get away.”

Mike was about to speak, then remained silent, running out of argument.

“Give us a minute,” Fred implored.

Nine nodded.

The others stepped aside and were talking among themselves.

Asshole Mike remained where he was. He was glaring at Nine.

Nine leaned in and said, “I don’t know if you intended on getting that girl strung up on that fucking coaster, and if I thought you did, I’d shove this glass into your throat right now.”

Mike shifted uncomfortably, looking over at the others.

“All I know is that you killed that little girl. That’s on you, you fucking worthless piece of shit!” Nine hissed. “Say one more word to scare these people into staying here, and I’ll throw you the fuck outside for bait.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” Mike said. “You’re not that kind of person. You’re the kind of moron that gets himself entered into a death race to save a worthless girl’s life. You’ve got some kind of stupid hero complex or something. Regardless, people like you can’t hurt people like me… and live with themselves afterwards.”

Nine smiled like the devil. “Push me, and we’ll see if you’re right. You want to bet on it, asshole? Go ahead. But I swear to you, say one more word to keep these people here, and I will drag your ass outside, then stab you in the leg so you can’t run. The dead will hear you scream, because that’s what bitches like you do, and when they’re munching on your flesh, we’ll use your death to get away.” Nine stood back and smiled. “I guess that would make you the hero, sacrificing his life to save the rest of us. I like the irony in that.”

They others were coming back. Mike could already tell what they’d decided. He shook his head at Nine. His face was beat red. “You’re going to get us all killed,” he hissed.

“Hopefully, just you,” he said with a wink.

~~~

Next Episode 52-9

Previous Episode 52-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 52-8: 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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