Archive for the ‘creative writing’ Category

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And here we are, folks… after five books completed in this long, dark series, and we’re still pushing onward. All I can say is “Whew! That was a long one!” In fact, Book Five: Remains ended up clocking in at just over 250,000 words, officially becoming the longest book in the series (I sure hope this isn’t a trend… lol). So, by the numbers, we’re now at 47 chapters, 281 episodes, and over 939,000 words completed… with three books to go until the series finale. That’s right, believe it or not, there is an end scheduled… but not yet.

So, as you’ve gathered, we now have our survivors effectively scattered throughout Northeast Ohio. Tony’s group is currently stuck in shady New Cleveland in the south, Marcus and Alysa are visiting the Shadow Dead up north, and Gina’s on her way across Lake Erie to vacation on the “Mother” of all islands. That just leaves finding out what happened to Meredith and company on the other side of that mysterious underground door.

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, is slated for three arcs, starting with what happened to Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan, after the Shadow Dead attack on the compound. We’ll go back and pick up where we last left them, and find out what happened. All I can say right now is that the first arc will be a strong departure from what we’ve experienced so far, dabbling much more into “spiritual” territory as we finally start staring into the faces of all the DFTD mysteries and tackling them head-on. I’ll talk more about Book Six in the coming days.

As far as a release date for Book Six, I don’t have anything specific yet, but it will definitely start this fall.

As for what’s going on during the break, I have a new DFTD Spin-off story near completion that will tie in heavily with Book Six. It’s going to be called, The Scientist, The Salesman, and The Serpent. More on that later. Also, I have some additional “teasers” planned, and maybe a new episode or two of After The Dark, before the Book Six premiere kicks off.

Moving on to some behind the scenes logistics, you may have noticed that I’ve removed the links to all my DFTD print publications. After a lot of deliberation, I’ve decided to discontinue the first three print books in the series. The reasons behind this are my extreme disappointment in the arrangement retailers like Amazon have with the company I currently use to self-publish. They have jacked-up the prices of my books so high, leaving me little control of the pricing, that I’ve decided to suspend publication until I find a better way to produce DFTD in print. Also, I had decided that I wasn’t going to print any more books in the series until I’ve completed the story. When I took more than a year off to edit and produce the first three books in the series, I lost a lot of readership, neglecting the serial for too long. I’ll not make that mistake again. And honestly, it’s not fair to the readers waiting for Book Four and beyond to go to print, so it’s better just to stop it all now. My apologies to anyone who has purchased the first three books, preferring to read the print editions, and are waiting for the rest. My priority is finishing the series. The print editions will have to wait until after. Hopefully by then I’ll have figured all this out, including the e-book thing, as well.

I’ve also removed the audio book edition of DFTD. Due to real life commitments, Jerimiah Vega, the talented young man who was narrating my story, is unable to continue at this time.

I’ve also included two new tabs at the top of my homepage. One is an easy access tab for returning readers to get a quick refresher on material they’ve already read, but may have forgotten. The other is for a timeline of events that I’m currently working on since so many of my characters are separated from each other at the moment, and there’s been quite a bit of time jumping. Hopefully, when I’m finished, this will help readers get a better sense of when things are happening between groups and other major events that have occurred in the DFTD timeline.

That’s it for now. I’ll start writing Book Six shortly, after some much needed rest, and I’m looking forward to jumping right back into the fray.

More to come.

-Scott

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If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

Here’s an easy way to do so:

Please consider voting for DFTD over at topwebfiction No registration is required. just click and vote. You can vote for DFTD every seven days to help keep it listed.

Anything you can do to help me get Don’t Feed The Dark to the readers is appreciated. Be sure to spread the word on all your social media sites as well.

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

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Exiled – Day 27

Eight heavily manned vehicles, a combination of black blazers, jeeps and F-150s, pulled on to the final back road, just above Andover, headed north toward the ruins of the wilderness topside compound once run by a maniac and his psychotic machine.

Gina sat quietly in the back seat of one of the blazers, the second vehicle in the slow-moving convoy, staring out the window at the route that she and Frank Carman had first traveled to get to the entrance of the compound. That had felt like so long ago now. She stared up at the fresh morning light appearing over the treetops as the new day marched across an indifferent sky.

“Penny for your thoughts.” Lady Clementine sat in the back seat next to Gina, trying to appear comfortable in her long red robe and looking much smaller sitting in the cramped seat. “You’re not having doubts about all this, are you?”

Gina turned to the old woman. “No. I’m just… I’ve been this way before. Brings back some memories.”

“I see.” Clementine stared forward, lost in thought. “I’m sorry we have to come this way, child, but it’s the only road that will bring us close enough to reach the underground facility by foot.” She shook her head as the beginning of charred tree tops came into view. “Micom proved just how much he’d lost control when he destroyed half the forest and everyone in the vicinity. You and your friends were fortunate to get away before the explosion.”

“Yeah, I guess we were.” Gina was thinking about Frank. They had spent one of their last evenings together out in these woods before foolishly trying to infiltrate Micom’s camp. That was the night she’d chopped her hair off. She was one of the few people who understood the ex-convict and experienced how much he’d fought for her before the end. I don’t care what anyone says, Frank… you were one of the good ones.

She could feel Clementine’s eyes on the back of her head. Gina turned before the old woman asked any more uncomfortable questions. “I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but… what difference is your convoy full of armed men going to make against the Shadow Dead? We have an armory of weapons and plenty of trained people to use them. If that’s not good enough to stop them then what’s a few more soldiers going to matter?”

The old woman smiled. “You are absolutely correct, Gina. Our numbers and toys aren’t going to make a difference in this fight. When the Shadow Dead return, they will come with everything they have, and it won’t be guns that will stop them.”

“Then what’s the point to all this?”

“We want to make a good impression with your people and show them that Mother has the means to fight with them on their level… even if what we show them doesn’t matter.”

Gina was confused. “But if all this doesn’t matter, then why come fully armed to the teeth? Aren’t you worried that my people will view your presence as a hostile act?”

“No, child. Not as long as you’re with us. When we arrive at the topside ruins, the majority of my troops will remain there while a small group of us will proceed to meet up with your people.”

Gina still had her suspicions. “How do I know you’re just not using me to get my friends to lower their guard? Maybe your only intent is to take back the compound by force and kill my friends.”

Clementine chuckled. “If that was what we wanted to do, child, we would’ve done so by now. No, as I’ve said, we’re here to show that Mother cares about the rest of humanity. We’re here to make our presence known and to finally do something to help.”

Gina nodded. “Yes, to save face and clear Mother’s name… I heard all that.”

“But… you still don’t believe?”

“I haven’t survived this long by believing every word I hear,” Gina said.

Clementine nodded. “Yes. I completely understand.”

“So, tell me again how Mother is going to help us stop the Shadow Dead if none of our weapons matter?”

Clementine took a deep breath, smiled, and said, “In time, child. I will explain everything when we’ve come together and made peace. Some things are much harder to convey with mere words. Even in a world where monsters walk among us, there are still a great many things left that could challenge our beliefs.”

Gina stared at the old woman and finally nodded. “Okay. Peace first. But then I want to hear the rest.”

“And you shall, child. You shall.”

The old woman’s driver slowed down as the lead vehicle came to a stop.

“Is there a problem?” she asked her driver.

“We have a horde blocking the road,” the driver responded. “We’re already on it.”

Clementine looked over at Gina and gave her a wicked little smile. “No, driver. Tell the others to stand down.”

The driver turned, was about to protest, then understood. “Yes, Lady Clementine. I’ll notify the others.” The driver got on a CB radio and told the rest of the convoy to remain with the vehicles.

By now, Gina could hear them. The dead were coming straight toward the convoy. “Shouldn’t we… do something? Maybe turn around?”

Clementine laughed and said, “Just pay attention, child. I’m about to show you something that might help you understand what Mother brings to the table.” Before Gina could protest, the old woman exited the vehicle and started walking toward the lead car.

Gina turned to the driver. “Well… aren’t your men going to do something?”

The driver ignored her.

“Unbelievable!” Gina exited the car and quickly stepped up behind the red-robed woman who nonchalantly approached the oncoming horde of at least fifty dead-heads.

She stepped up next to Clementine, who finally stopped, and said, “Now might not be a good time to observe the local dead population.”

The dead looked famished and crazier than usual. They were pulling and pushing at each other, moving as fast as their decrepit legs would allow, hoping to reach the convoy and feast. They would reach Gina and Clementine at the front of the convoy in less than a minute.

Gina started to look around for anything she could use as a weapon but found nothing. “In thirty seconds it will be too late for the trucks to back out of here,” she said. “You might want to get your men to-”

“Just relax, child,” Clementine said. She kept her attention focused on the oncoming savages, her hood was pulled up over her head, her arms were crossed and hidden beneath the folds of her robe as if she appeared more concerned about catching a cold.

Gina was starting to panic as the dead were almost upon them. Their loud hungry cries almost made her run in the opposite direction. And still, the old woman remained motionless, staring at the horde with a crooked smile on her face. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, whatever point you’re trying to make, it’s lost on me right now. Tell one of your men to hand me a rifle at least.”

“Shhh,” Clementine said, raising a finger to her mouth. She closed her eyes and let her arms drop to her sides.

“Shit,” Gina hissed as the hungry mob was less than ten seconds from ripping them apart.

Clementine raised her arms dramatically and then balled her hands into fists.

The horde stopped abruptly, less than ten feet in front of the two blood bags. They looked confused as if suddenly forgetting what they were doing. Their ravenous, murderous eyes were no longer fixed on Gina and the old woman. Instead, they all started staring up toward the sky as if hearing a sound only the dead could register.

Gina was about to speak.

Clementine turned her head toward her, put her finger back up toward her mouth, and shook her head.

Gina remained still.

Clementine brought her outstretched arms in slowly toward her chest as if she were about to clap, then violently ripped them back apart as if she were trying to separate the air directly in front of her.

That’s when the dead did something Gina had never seen before.

The entire herd pushed to the left and the right directly at the center until the roadway was clear. The dead remained in that befuddled state, staring up at the sky standing at the sides of the road, appearing to no longer be aware of any of them.

Gina’s eyes went wide with surprise. In her head, she could hear Frank saying, “It’s just like Moses parting the fucking Red Sea!”

She put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing.

Clementine turned to her and lowered her arms. She smiled, gave Gina a wink and then nodded back toward their vehicle.

Gina followed the old woman back to the car, repeatedly staring back at the oblivious horde that continued to stand along the left and right shoulder.

Once back inside the blazer, Gina said, “Holy fuck! What was that?”

Clementine leaned over and told her driver, “We can proceed now. Please notify the front car.”

“Yes, Lady Clementine,” the driver said, reaching for the radio receiver.

Gina stared from the driver, back to Clementine. She raised her arms in disbelief. “Am I the only one here blown away by what just happened?”

The old woman gave her a smile and said, “Like I said, child, there are some things in this world that still defy belief. You’ve just seen with your own eyes what Mother can do. Let’s just take this one step at a time for now. As much as you’ve just witnessed, I still can’t make your people stop hating us. That will require a bit of magic from you, I ‘m afraid.”

Gina leaned back in her seat as the convoy started to resume. She stared out her window at the dead as they allowed all ten vehicles to pass. “Fucking magic, she says,” Gina shook her head. “I need a damn drink… after I’m done shitting myself.”

This made Clementine laugh hard.

~~~

Gina stood at the edge of the large crater overlooking the ruins of the topside camp. Everything had collapsed after the explosion, merging below into one massive charred junkyard. She felt fortunate that the vehicles could go no farther, and that Clementine did not desire to explore the ruins.

Too many fucking ghosts down there, Gina thought with a chill, turning away from the crater. She started walking back to the convoy where Clementine was giving her soldiers instructions.

The old woman abruptly stopped as Gina approached. “This is as far as we’re going,” she said, staring over Gina’s shoulder in disgust. “Just the sight of this dismal place reminds me why we should’ve intervened much sooner.”

“Yeah,” Gina said. “I’m not a fan of this fucking graveyard. Too many bad vibes here. We initially came back before the winter to see if the Shadow Dead were lurking around, but we found nothing.”

Clementine nodded. “I’m not surprised. Once the Shadow Dead departed this area, I’m sure they retreated to an alternate camp for the winter.” The old lady lifted her nose and squinted her eyes. “You can smell it. All that death and destruction. It’s like a stain that never goes away.” She looked up at the charred tree tops surrounding the whole area. “What a waste. Even nature hasn’t bothered to return to this horrible place. Are the woods much the same over where your people are?”

“Only to the east of the waterfall. Lots of dead trees between here and there… and a whole of silence. It can be a bit unnerving at times. My people rarely come out this way unless we have a good reason.”

Clementine considered this. “I’ve sent a handful of my best scouts ahead to check out the area.”

“Why did you do that?” Gina was getting angry. “I thought we were going together? You know, so that my people would have a chance to talk to me first.”

“And they will,” the old woman assured her. “No one will see my scouts. They’re very good a remaining hidden.”

“Like your Shadow Dead?”

Clementine took the shot. “Yes, but not that good. Again, Gina, we are nothing like them. They’ve… they’ve lost their way, as did the fool who ran this place and the people who followed him.”

Gina stared long and hard at Clementine, and then said, “I’m hoping that I’m not the fool now for trusting you enough to try this. But if I suspect a double-cross of any kind, I will do everything I can to warn my people about your presence… and they will retaliate.”

Clementine smiled. “I admire your loyalty. Even if it is misplaced. If I recall correctly, did these people not exile you?”

Gina averted her eyes. “They had their reasons, and I don’t fault them for it. I would still give my life to protect them… no matter what.”

“I’m glad you’re with us, Gina. We need more people like you.”

Gina’s eyes shot up. “Who said I was with you? I may not be with my people anymore but that doesn’t mean I’m one of yours either.”

“Forgive me, Gina.” Clementine laughed. “Bad wording… and a little premature optimism on my part. I guess I’m hoping that when all the dust clears you might consider finding a home with us… since you no longer have one. I would hate to think that after everything, Gina Melborn simply disappears back into the wilderness. I don’t like thinking of you as some nomad. You have strength and a whole lot of heart. It would be a waste to see you going back to living alone.”

Gina didn’t know how to take the compliment. “I don’t mind alone,” she lied. “It’s easier to know who to trust when there’s no one else around.”

Clementine smiled and put a hand on Gina’s shoulder. “Well, I want you to know that you will always have a place here, with us… and that we’d never abandon you. Mother looks after her own.” She nodded toward one of her soldiers. A man wearing similar forest-green coveralls came over and handed Lady Clementine an assault rifle. Clementine nodded to the man, who bowed, and quickly returned.

The old woman handed Gina the rifle. “When my scouts come back, you and I, and six others will head out to meet your group. We will all be armed, for protection, but so will you. If at any time you believe I’m up to no good, you’ll be able to shoot me down and complete your original mission.”

Gina stared at the rifle. “Why would you put your life in my hands? As you’ve said, I was on my way to murder you before my… friend… decided to kill me.”

“Because I believe in you, Gina. I believe there’s so much more to you than living out in the woods among the dead, barely surviving, and desperately searching for any cause to right the wrongs in this new world. And I consider myself a good judge of character. Please, take it.”

Gina reluctantly took the assault rifle, checked to make sure it was loaded, then strapped it around her back. “Okay. What now?”

“When my scouts return, they will tell me how close we can get before being detected. Then, we’ll walk that far… and allow you to continue alone from there. You can talk to your leadership on our behalf, and hopefully… they’ll agree to speak with us.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Then we’ll leave. But it will fall on you to make sure that we leave in peace.”

Gina nodded.

Clementine laughed lightly. “Relax. You’ve been so tense all this time. This isn’t a war we’re trying to start. We… Mother… is here to take care of these renegade Shadow Dead. We will do it alone if need be. But we are not here to take back the compound. I assure you, there’s nothing there that Mother can’t do without. Your people have made it a home… and we intend to honor that, regardless of the outcome today.”

Gina stared at her feet and let out a heavy sigh. “I really want to believe you.”

“I know you do, child. Why don’t you get some rest. There’s nothing left to do right now but wait. The back of the blazer is all yours.”

Gina smiled. “Yeah, I’m feeling pretty exhausted.”

“I’ll wake you the moment my scouts return.”

Gina nodded and started toward the vehicle.

“Oh… and Gina,”

She turned.

Clementine smiled. “Even if your people decide not to speak with us, my invite remains the same. You are more than welcome to return with us. I’m certain we could use your help bringing those Shadow Dead monsters to justice.”

Gina laughed. “Well… maybe after I’ve had a nap and a cup of coffee. Does Mother believe in coffee?”

Clementine gave her a disbelieving look. “Dear child, what on earth are we fighting for if not to restore order… and the freedom to enjoy a good cup of java?” The old woman winked again.

Gina turned and shook her head. I really want to believe this woman. But I still want to kill her, too. Gina crawled into the backseat of the blazer and locked the doors. She glanced once at the numerous soldiers securing the perimeter around the vehicles, watching as the red-robed woman moved among them. She placed the rifle along the floorboard within easy reach, then laid down across the seat, closed her eyes, and was asleep within twenty seconds.

~~~

The old woman slowly approached what was left of the grotesque looking willow tree. It was charred black with its entire upper portion blown away after the explosion. She stared at it with contempt, as if it were still alive and watching her every move. “What have you done?” she whispered accusingly. Whether she was talking to the tree or the spirits of the dead… it was uncertain.

She stared at Copperfield’s black blade sticking out of the base of the tree. It was still exactly where she’d left it when she first stepped foot into the ruins after her group arrived at the airport. Clementine walked up to the sword and shook her head in disgust, staring at the charred hilt. “So much was given to all of you… and now… this is all that remains? What a waste.” She reached out her hands, grabbing the hilt of the sword, and then removed it from the tree. She held it up for a moment, her face crumpling up as if she’d just picked up a foul dead carcass by the tail, and then she quickly discarded it.

Lady Clementine backed away from the tree and then stared at it, her eyes scanning upward along the burnt trunk and stopping at a long black shard reaching up to pierce the sky.

Her thoughts drifted elsewhere. The day she’d inserted that sword into the tree was the day she’d killed everyone in the underground compound. When the Shadow Dead discovered it after the long winter, they’d immediately understood the message and began preparations to attack. Now that the nasty deed was done, she was glad to dispose of the vile weapon.

Lady Clementine closed her eyes and focused on her plans. She needed to win Gina’s trust and get her on their side… or more specifically… on her side.

After the scouting party returned with visual verification that Meredith had made it out of the compound, and that they’d sealed the main entrance with a forced cave-in, their work here would be finished.

The old woman sighed at the prospect of returning. She had stalled for as long as possible at the airport, long after Toby’s plan to push Meredith out of the compound had occurred. She did not look forward to seeing him again.

She about Alysa. Hopefully she’d get the Ama-Eskua back on track. They had been out here in these desolate woods, unsupervised for far too long. It was risky allowing Alysa to shoot the volatile red-headed woman, but necessary to tame the savage beast that she wanted to keep alive. Clementine would use that killer as leverage over her wayward daughter… as she would eventually use Gina as leverage over Meredith… assuming her old friend ever made it back.

Many plans were already in motion.

There was nothing left to do but emotionally destroy the former leader of these pathetic people who had the audacity to remain, stealing what did not belong to them. Mother had made examples of them. But now, Mother needed to embrace the nomad and comfort her during this next difficult phase.

Clementine shook her dark thoughts away and turned her back on the tree.

Time to deliver the fatal blow, she thought with a smile. The next arrow will not miss the intended target.

~~~

“Gina?”

Gina opens her eyes and sits up with a start. “Frank?”

Her old friend is sitting in the driver seat, smiling back at her like the Cheshire Cat. “I’m so glad you found the time to get a nap in and all… but… playtime’s over.”

“What… how the hell are you here?” Gina’s rational mind is telling her this is a dream, but it feels so real.

“Doesn’t matter. You need to wake up now and put on your best damn poker face. Game’s about to start and you need to learn the house rules pretty fucking fast.”

She smiles at him. “I miss you, asshole.”

“Yeah… well, you look like shit,” he adds with a smile.

Gina laughs, then sighs. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there… you know… when you died.”

Frank shakes his head. “There you go again, acting like you can stop all the big bad events in the world… and when you don’t… it’s because you weren’t there. Talk about a fucking ego.”

“What happened to you?”

Frank gives her a serious look. “You know what happened. Piece it together, smart girl… and you’ll know exactly what happened.”

Gina’s eyes go wide when the latter-than-hell realization finally hits her. “Marcus.”

Frank laughs and turns. He stares out the windshield and says, “Time’s up. Remember what I said about your game face. Shit’s about to get real… and you ain’t gonna like it. Stay strong, Gina… and remember, no matter what, that you are alone in the Big Game now. Don’t trust anyone.”

She starts to reach out for the big man. “No. Wait…”

~~~

… “Gina?”

Gina opened her eyes and sighed.

Clementine was sitting in the front seat of the blazer, leaning back, and trying to wake her. The interior lights of the vehicle were on. It was dark outside.

“Holy fuck!” Gina said, grabbing the sides of her head. “How long have I been out?” She tried to move too fast, crying out as she felt her injuries.

“Be still, Gina,” the old woman said in a strange voice. “We’re not going anywhere, not tonight at least. We dare not roam about in these woods after the sun goes down. That’s their time.”

“But… I don’t understand. Why the hell did you let me sleep so long? Your scouts should’ve reported back hours ago and-”

“Gina,” Clementine said, letting out a heavy sigh. “They have come back. I didn’t wake you because I wanted you to get as much rest as you could… before I told you the news.”

Gina noticed how much it pained the old woman to speak. “Something’s happened. What’s wrong?”

Clementine closed her eyes, then opened them. She gave the young woman a serious look and then reached out her bony hands.

Gina didn’t know how to respond to the queer gesture. She simply took the old woman’s hands and Clementine held them firmly. “What I have to tell you will be hard to hear. I need you to steady yourself… right now. Can you do that?”

Gina nodded. “Yes… please… just tell me what’s going on.”

Clementine looked at Gina’s hands, frowned, and said, “There’s no easy way to say this, child, so I’m just going to say it, okay?”

Gina waited.

The old woman looked her in the eyes. “My scouts came back with terrible news. If only we’d responded sooner…”

Gina took a deep breath. “Just… tell me.”

Clementine nodded. “They’re all dead, Gina.”

Gina froze. “Excuse me? What did you say?”

“From what my scouts gathered, the Shadow Dead struck their camp a few weeks ago. They came in force, probably during the night. They killed everyone.”

Gina pulled her hands free. “What… what are you fucking telling me? Are you saying that all my… that all my friends are… dead?”

“Yes, dear. What I’m trying to tell you is that we’re too late. I’m… truly sorry.”

Gina felt dizzy. She suddenly needed out of the vehicle. She frantically grabbed for the door handle. “I need… I need some air…”

“Gina, please… don’t try anything… Gina?”

She quickly pushed open the door and stumbled out of the blazer.

Several of Clementine’s people stared at the frantic red-headed woman, wondering how to proceed.

“Leave her be,” Clementine ordered, following Gina out of the car. “Just… give her space, everyone. Please.”

Gina stared around at the camp of car headlights and the silhouettes standing in front of them. She reeled around, feeling like her head was going to explode. “I… I have to… I need to get to them,” she said.

“Gina, just calm down,” Clementine said from behind her. “We’ll take you there in the morning. But you need to settle down now. You’re not looking well.”

Gina tried to speak but nothing came out.

They’re all dead.

She suddenly vomited beside the blazer. Gina lost her balance and fell backwards to the ground. She could hear voices all around her.

Clementine bent down beside her. “Gina… just be still now, child. You’re having a panic attack of some kind.”

Gina stared into the old woman’s face and didn’t recognize her. “Get away from me!”

Clementine held up her hands and backed off.

She stared around at the faceless forms moving in around her. “All of you… stay the fuck away from me!” Gina tried to get up, but the ground was spinning too fast.

They’re all dead.

Gina put her hands over her ears, then rolled up into a ball. “Just… leave me… leave me alone!”

Clementine backed up near the front of the blazer, holding her hand up toward her people. “Just leave the girl alone,” she said. “She needs a minute.”

Something came loose inside of her. Gina felt like her mind was about to crash and her heart had just imploded. Suddenly, she started screaming and sobbing, causing everyone to take an uncomfortable step back.

Clementine simply stood there, her arms folded up within her robe.

As Gina’s emotions exploded in a torturous display of grief, deep within the shadow of her hooded face, the old woman was smiling.

~~~

A fire of mourning lit the eastern sky ablaze, penetrating tree tops, somber souls, and finally settling upon the surface of the large river pool. The calm, debris-filled waters reflected the dawn above, casting soft, red light mixed with shadow until the illusion of a funeral pyre was made complete—light and fire upon water—making the numerous corpses floating in the pond seem more like little ships sailing off to Valhalla, rather than the discarded remains of a futile battle.

The woman approached the pool, staring at the crumbled vestiges of a once magnificent waterfall, now, as silent as all the rest. She waited for the others to assemble around her, deliberately letting the moment linger, before finally retrieving the list from her robe.

She glanced at the written names, cleared her throat, and began her eulogy:

“We’ve come here today to pay our respects for those who have perished… for those who have fought against the long night, but did not prevail… may they now rest in peace.” The woman paused for dramatic effect as she glanced down at the list. “To the gods of this world, we commit the following souls into your care. May they find their way across the darkness, beyond all pain, terror, loss and confusion left behind in the wake of the Day of Deliverance. Had these poor souls known what was coming, they might have rejoiced at the eve of enlightenment, and not trembled at the end of the dark.” The woman paused and closed her eyes, appearing to pray for a moment. She opened her eyes, smiled at everyone in attendance, and then continued. “We’re here to remember the dead, to honor their sacrifice, and wish them good tidings on their journey into the Beyond. They are free now. They are one.” Lady Clementine started reading off the names on her long list. “Diane Carol Conley, dead at age 20, of Ashtabula County, former farmer…”

Gina sat on her knees at the edge of the pool, staring unflinchingly at the decomposed bodies. Her face was damp with tears. Her mind, heart and soul… gone. As the old woman read off each name, Gina allowed herself to feel each fresh wound… insisting on suffering through it all. It was the least she could do for them. It was the only thing she had left to do.

When Clementine finished reading off the last of the names, she bent down next to Gina and said, “Is there anything you’d like to say, Gina? I know this isn’t easy, and I can’t imagine the pain you’re feeling right now. But maybe saying goodbye would help in some small way.”

Gina shook her head. “I should be with them,” she whispered, fresh tears streaming down her face. “I want to be with them.”

The old woman nodded respectfully. She then leaned in close and said, “We will get them, Gina. We’ll make them all pay for this. You have my word, child.”

Gina turned to Clementine. “Thank you. Thank you for all of it… for this service.”

Clementine put a hand on her shoulder. “This is hard for me, too. I came here hoping to be reunited with my long-lost sister. Meredith meant the world to me… as she did to you.”

Gina wiped the tears from her face. “I lost… everything today. Are you sure they all died? Maybe-”

“No, child,” Clementine said. “We were thorough. No one outside would’ve survived the night. Anyone trapped in that hole in the ground were slain when the Shadow Dead got inside… or they burned in the fire. The entrance collapsed shortly after my scouts got out. They’re lucky they didn’t join them. And even if we could dig our way down there… I’m afraid your heart wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

Gina stared into the old woman’s eyes, saw her deep concern, and then finally nodded. “You’re right. If I went down there, I’d never want to come back up again.”

“You will get past this, child. I’ll help you.” Clementine grabbed her gently by the chin and finished, “And then… well… then we’ll go get them all. We’ll burn those fuckers up in the largest bonfire this world has ever seen. This I promise you. How does that sound, Gina?”

Gina’s eyes blazed up. “Yes. I would very much like to be there for that.”

Clementine got to her feet and held out her hand. “Then let’s get out of this dead place, child. There’s nothing left for you here now… and you need time to heal. Come back with me and I’ll show you what Mother can do… and how much those murderers will tremble when we return to hunt them down.”

Gina stared back at the ruined waterfall. They’re all gone. Tony, Stephen, Meredith… all of them. I’ve been betrayed by Marcus. And I attempted to kill this woman who came here to help us. She looked back up at the strong old woman in the red robe. I’ve been wrong about a great many things… including being alone. Perhaps I’ve been wrong about Mother, too. She reached up and took Clementine’s hand and rose to her feet.

Clementine put her hands on the broken woman’s shoulders and said, “I’m so very sorry this happened. With all the power I possess… I still can’t change something like this. I can’t bring any of them back in a world where the dead returning seems very ordinary. It’s a bitter bit of irony to swallow, I’m afraid. But we can bring justice… or we can bring vengeance. Will you join us… for their sake?”

“Yes,” Gina said, without hesitation.

Clementine smiled and then embraced the fragile young woman.

Gina held on fiercely, weeping into the folds of the old woman’s robe.

~~~

The drive back to the airport was uneventful, allowing Gina time to process and lock her grief away beneath the furnace of rage that burned brightly within. She refused to fight the darkness anymore. She needed every bit of it to keep on wanting to breathe—her need to destroy the Shadow Dead was all she had left.

As the convoy approached the old runway, she could see the tall terminal tower. Gina turned to Clementine and asked, “So what’s the deal with this place, anyway? Why are we back here and not out there hunting down the Shadow Dead?”

Clementine turned and smiled. “I told you we’d take care of them after you healed. Besides, we need Mother’s help.”

“I don’t understand. I thought you all were here on Mother’s behalf?”

“Yes… but we’ll need a bit more help, now that we don’t have your people to aid us.”

Gina nodded with a frown. “So, there’s more people and weapons here, I assume.”

Clementine gave her an amused look and said, “This place was always more than just our base of operations, child. It’s an extraction point, as well.”

“Extraction point?”

Clementine smiled. “I said we’re going to get more help. There’s only place left to go, Gina.”

Before she could inquire further, Gina was silenced by what she saw as they arrived at the airport.

~~~

Just before sunset, the skies above the airport came alive with the loud whirling buzz of machinery that had not been heard since before the outbreak.

Five black helicopters, resembling large dragonflies, took to the skies, flying north over the vast forest tree tops. This was the first of three runs to evacuate the airport of all personnel.

Gina stared down through the open doorway from her strapped in position. She was being flown back with the medical crew on the first run while Clementine managed affairs on the ground. Gina was glad to be away from the old woman for a little while, allowing her time to process… everything.

The wind whipped across her face. She stared down, completely in awe from seeing where she’d lived, fought, and bled since The Change began, speeding by below her, hidden beneath a sea of forest green. She thought of her friends—no—her family, and allowed herself one last moment to feel them in her darkening heart.

“Goodbye,” she finally said.

She looked up and saw an expanse of blue quickly approaching.

They were headed north, over Lake Erie.

To Mother.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

~~~

DON’T FEED THE DARK WILL RETURN FALL 2018…

Previous Episode 47-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-7: 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.

~~~

Russell Bower pushed through the thick forest brush with his good shoulder. His hands were still zip-tied around his back. He made no effort to shield himself from the prickly branches that whipped across his face. His oblivion-filled dark eyes stared dejectedly past the monotonous trees, into the void that only he could perceive.

“How’s the shoulder?” his captor asked from ten feet behind him. Alysa kept her bow notched but held it low. “We could stop if you need to rest.”

Russell was unresponsive. He just continued walking, eyes forward, detached from everything around, including Alysa and the pain throbbing throughout his wounded and exhausted flesh.

Alysa, who usually appreciated the lack of conversation, was unnerved by this predator’s silence. They had been pushing hard, heading north through the forest since early this morning. It was now midday and Russell had not spoken a word since last night, after witnessing Gina’s death. He wouldn’t even acknowledge the warrior with a murderous glare. To Russell, the woods and everyone in it, had ceased to exist. To her, Russell seemed content to just keep walking until his body gave out or until he walked off the edge of the world.

Alysa scanned the surrounding forest for signs that they were being watched. They were still miles away from Shadow Dead country, but just heading in their direction filled the former Ama-Eskua warrior with trepidation.

“If it’s any comfort to you,” Alysa started, hearing the strain in her own voice, “we are both prisoners today. Where we’re going is the last place I ever wanted to go.” She waited for a response of any kind and received nothing. “Do you even care about anything other than your precious red-headed dead girl?” She’d hoped poking at the bear might provoke a response.

Russell continued to ignore her.

Alysa was getting frustrated. “Is this all you are now? Just some hollowed out tree waiting to collapse in the forest? When we first met, I had no idea your entire purpose for living revolved around that broken woman. Perhaps I overestimated you.”

Russell continued to shamble forward like one of dead.

The warrior shook her head in disappointment. “Not that you care, but I put my ass on the line for you. In fact, you’re the reason I’m in this fix now. Not that I expect your damn gratitude, but a word or two showing me that I still exist in your disturbed little world would be acceptable. I’m the only reason you’re still alive.”

Still nothing.

She tried something else. “They’re all dead, you know. Your friends at the compound. The Shadow Dead attacked shortly after you ran after the red-headed cunt! They slaughtered every-”

Russell finally stopped. He turned, gave Alysa an icy glance, then said, “It can all burn. You… your Shadow Dead… my friends… none of it matters. It’s all irrelevant.”

“All except your precious Gina, right?”

Russell turned away. He started to walk again, then lost his balance as he collapsed, falling forward on his face.

“Shit,” Alysa hissed. She rushed over to attend to the wounded serial killer.

She retrieved her knife, hesitated, then bent down to cut his wrist restraints. As she cautiously turned him over on his back, she hissed, “If this is a ruse, it’s a foolish one.”

The warrior was not prepared for what she found on the killer’s face. She stood up as if just discovering a poisonous animal and then took a step back, feeling suddenly ill-equipped to handle her prisoner.

Russell Bower was weeping.

~~~

Alysa took advantage of Russell’s breakdown and decided to set up camp. They both needed the rest, but she wanted more time to prepare her mind before the undesirable reunion with her former Order. If Lady Clementine’s directions were correct, they would reach the Shadow Dead camp by noon tomorrow, which meant, they would have eyes on them sometime tomorrow morning.

She made a small fire just a few feet from where Russell had collapsed as nightfall moved in abruptly within the dense forest. Alysa stared over at the sleeping man as the last of the day faded. She could see the slow rise and fall of his chest, proving he was still alive… if that was the word for it.

Alysa stared into the fire, her own tired thoughts beginning to drift. She thought of Tony and the others back in New Cleveland as a frown formed on her face. A part of her that still felt foreign regretted leaving them there and she wrestled with the ashes of guilt that remained. Like Russell’s tears, these unaccustomed emotions were also difficult to manage. What have you let them do to you? she silently wondered. These thoughts are folly, just a new weakness to exploit that you better have resolved before tomorrow. If the Ama-Eskua—no—Shadow Dead is a better name for these beasts with no honor. If the Shadow Dead discover your new vulnerability-

Her thoughts were interrupted by the weak laughter of her prisoner.

She turned toward Russell. He was staring at her.

“You find something amusing about all of this?” She quickly reeled in her anger and the rest of her unwanted emotions.

Russell ceased laughing and turned his face toward the tops of the trees. “Your eyes betray you. You’re as lost as I am,” he said with a wicked smile.

Alysa scowled at him. She’d left herself vulnerable and he knew it. Since this morning all she’d wanted was for this man to talk, but now, he could remain silent forever. “At last, he speaks. Please… elaborate. Why am I lost?”

He turned back. “At the cabin, you were dead inside. It provided you with an illusion of strength, I suppose. But since then you’ve found something vital.” He turned away and laughed again. “Of course, you’ve lost whatever that is, and your eyes clearly show the absence of it.”

Alysa’s face was stone. “You speak nonsense. You’re just a broken man with a fragile dream… shattered with one damn arrow. You’re the one who is lost. You just want to take me down with you. I assure you, I am aware of how lethal the tongue can be when sharpened and placed in the appropriate place.”

Russell’s smile was unnerving. “Even now, your abundance of words betrays you… and deep down, you know it. Yes, I am lost. You’ve made sure of that… but so are you.”

“And you find… what… something rewarding in that?” Alysa gave up guarding the obvious. “Are you seeking a little payback on the way to hell… is that it?”

Russell’s smile faded. He looked away. “No. I don’t care about revenge. What would I possibly gain in your death? You are as much a tool in this world as I’ve been.”

“And yet, you weep,” Alysa pushed. “You weep for the woman you tried to murder… the woman that I mercifully put an end to with one arrow. And by doing so, I attempted to put a merciful end to your delusional quest, as well.”

Russell’s smile returned. “My failures are my own. That is something you and I do not share when it comes to loss. You search for blame. I accept my fate. I weep for the disappointment I’ve caused.”

“What… to your precious Lady Death? Is that it?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head. “Rubbish! Even if Death gave a shit about you, it’s only to serve her own ends. Even you must understand that.”

Russell let that go. He shifted gears. “I did not laugh to spite you. I’m just surprised that you found… life… now that we’re both close to the end of it. I laugh because Irony tells the best jokes.”

This made Alysa chuckle. “Yes, on that we wholeheartedly agree.”

Russell gave her a puzzled look. “Curious. What was it that made you lose everything you’d gained to be out here with me now?”

Alysa laughed. “That’s a complicated question.”

“Not really. However you and I see Death differently, you have to hand it to her, she makes everything plain as the end approaches.”

“Okay,” Alysa said with a nod. “Then I suppose the short answer is this: It’s the past that has me out here… in part, anyway.”

“Ah… the unresolved.”

“Yes,” she said. “That may not be relevant to you, but it is to me.”

Russell nodded. “Fair enough. But still, your god is behind us, while mine is just up ahead. How do our deaths reconcile matters between you and The Past?”

“That’s a good question, Russell… or do you prefer Marcus?”

Russell ignored that.

“Fine,” she said. “I guess the truth is, I don’t really know yet. I’m hoping that your god shows mercy, or at least stays the fuck out of my way long enough to figure it out. Either way, when we meet up with the Shadow Dead tomorrow, your god will have ample opportunities to snuff us out.”

“Yes, there is that, at least.” Russell laughed again. “Perhaps, this is what she always intended… for the both of us.”

Alysa smiled. “It’s good to see you back, Russell. I was starting to believe you’d died with Gina.”

Russell’s face grew grave. “You misunderstand me. Doesn’t matter what happens tomorrow. I am already dead. Dead to this world. Dead to my futile quest. Dead to any need to seek vengeance on you or anyone else.” He leaned in, causing Alysa to shift uncomfortably. “It took me a while to understand… to process the events of last night… but I’m starting to see the bigger picture.”

“And what picture is that?”

Russell smiled like the devil. “You may have inadvertently brought me closer to my god than you intended with your arrow. I don’t fear Death. I embrace it. And if tomorrow places us on the edge of it… then so be it. I will be closer to the Lady than I’ve ever been… even if I don’t know what that means anymore, or if I’m found unworthy to gaze upon her face.”

Alysa nodded. “Then we’re both headed for our uncertain destinies.”

“Yes. It would appear so.”

“Then perhaps you could put a good word in with your god and maybe she’ll grant us favor,” Alysa kidded.

Russell laughed and shook his head. “No. I wouldn’t dare ask for leniency, not for myself, and definitely not for you.”

“Well, then prepare to die a most horrific prolonged death at the Shadow Dead’s hands, because if things go badly, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Russell rolled back over, turning his back toward the warrior. “That’s fine. I wouldn’t have it any other way… especially for you.”

~~~

They started moving again at first light. After two hours, they entered an unfamiliar pine forest, farther north than either had been before. There was very little light that broke through the canopy above, keeping the dense forest dark. An unsettling silence seemed to close in on them with each reluctant step forward. Conversation had ended between them as both killer and warrior understood the need to remain invisible for as long as possible.

“They’re here,” Russell whispered. He continued to push forward unconcerned.

Alysa gave him a sideways glance as her muscles tensed. She knew he was right but was surprised that he’d realized it. Perhaps her former brothers and sisters had grown complacent and careless out in these woods for so long. Or, maybe Russell was just-

The former Shadow Dead warrior reacted with a speed that even surprised Russell as she quickly charged toward him.

Before Russell could turn, Alysa was tackling him to the ground.

Three black arrows whizzed past the killer’s location, striking the nearby trees.

Alysa was on Russell’s back. She hissed, “Stay down! Don’t move… or you’re dead.”

Russell simply shrugged his shoulders beneath her and responded, “Okay… but don’t expect me to cower before these pitiful people hiding behind masks.”

She shook her head at him. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Just… be still.”

Russell relaxed beneath her and said no more.

By the time Alysa had risen to a crouching position, she had already located several of them as she appeared to aim her bow at nothing and everything. They were surrounded by at least twelve Shadow Dead. We’re already finished, she thought, not out of fear, but as a fact. She acted quickly. “Hold!” she yelled into the forest with as much authority as she could muster. “I am Alysa Monroe of the Ama-” She quickly caught herself. “I am here under the direct orders of Lady Clementine, herself… and under her protection! You are bound by honor and sworn by Mother to lower your arms and allow me safe passage! I will not repeat myself! Harm us… if you dare… and face the consequences for your actions!”

Russell snickered to her left. “This should be interesting.”

“Be still,” she hissed, refusing to look at him. “They will stand down.”

“Unless your precious Lady Clementine ordered them to kill you,” Russell added. “Bet you didn’t consider that one.”

Alysa ignored him. The truth was, she had. The former Shadow Dead warrior wouldn’t put it past Clementine to dispose of her… but she didn’t believe the old witch would need to go to all this trouble to do it.

Here’s to hoping I haven’t worn out my usefulness yet, she thought, and then lowered her bow. Now we see if Russell’s god has it in for me or not.

After an unnerving two minutes of silence, the Ama-Eskua stepped out from the cover of the trees. They were dressed in their familiar armor, layered in bones and blood—their cow mask helmets hiding advanced electronics within, completing their grotesque and horrifying appearance as the dead creatures closed in around them. Several were carrying black long bows, others were brandishing spears. Some opted to stay traditional, revealing their clawed gauntlets.

All twelve beasts stepped within ten feet, stopped, and formed a circle around them. None of them spoke.

Alysa slowly stood. She stared into each of their faces, chin held high, eyes fiercely locked in on each of their faces to let them know who she was… and that she did not fear them, but respected them, and demanded the same in return. Finally, she said, “You are ordered to take me back to your camp. We’ve much to discuss. I bring plans from Lady Clem-”

One of the tallest beasts raised his spear toward her and brought it within an inch of Alysa’s face.

She did not flinch but continued to stare beyond the sharp spear and into the Shadow Dead’s eyes. “As I said, we’ve much to discuss. Do that again and see what happens.”

The Shadow Dead withdrew the spear and then turned to look at her prisoner on the ground. He pointed toward Russell and stared at Alysa.

“No,” she said, taking a defiant step forward. “You will not harm him.”

The Shadow Dead pointed at Russell more fiercely, stepping forward with equal defiance.

“No!” She raised her voice and stepped in front of the pointing finger. “You cannot harm him!”

The tall Shadow Dead lowered his finger, then looked past Alysa toward one of the beasts with claws.

The clawed Shadow Dead quickly moved toward Russell… but Alysa was a step faster.

Before the clawed beast could reach Russell and rip out his throat, Alysa stepped in front of Russell, retrieved her hunting knife, and stabbed it in the swinging arm of the clawed creature.

As the others moved in to retaliate, Alysa quickly bent down, grabbed Russell’s right hand, and removed his glove. She raised his branded hand for all of them to see. The eye above a three-pronged symbol stared back at them. Alysa shouted, “HE IS MARKED! HE IS MINE!”

The charging Shadow Dead stopped. The last one with Alysa’s knife sticking in its arm almost struck them both down anyway, until the tall one with the spear pointed at him.

The clawed Shadow Dead stopped, then reluctantly backed off, glaring at Alysa with an intensity that rivaled her own.

She smiled at him and nodded. “You’ll get your chance… but not today,” she promised. Alysa turned back toward the tall Shadow Dead warrior and said, “It’s within my right. He is mine. He bears Mother’s Mark. You are sworn as her Hand… if you still have honor left… to leave him be. This one is mine. We are bound together in this life. And I am accountable for his death. He serves me… and I serve Mother… as do you all.”

The tall Shadow Dead stared at her for a few moments, then stared around at the others. He nodded once, and they all started to disperse back into the forest, quickly disappearing.

The tall one gave Alysa one last look, then pointed north. Then he, too, disappeared into the forest.

Alysa waited a few minutes then let her shoulders drop, letting out a heavy sigh.

“That was… intense,” Russell said with a smile, slowly putting his glove back on. “Does this mean we’ve been given a pass to continue, or should I expect another attempt on my life?”

She turned toward the amused serial killer. “I just saved your life… again,” she spat. “How about a little gratitude now?”

“Fuck you,” he said, refusing to look at her. “I’m alive because it’s not my time to die… yet. Perhaps that’s my punishment for failure. Close enough to smell it… but never being allowed to taste real freedom. Either way, I owe you nothing.”

Alysa retrieved her bow and aimed an arrow in his face. “Fine!” she said. “I owe you nothing… but you will show me respect!”

Russell finally turned, rolling his eyes. “Or what? You’ll shoot me? You’ll kill me?” He painfully got to his feet and took a step toward her arrow. “Do I look like I care about your threats? Shoot me, if you can’t control your primitive emotions, or if I’ve injured your equally worthless honor. Go ahead, Shadow Girl, be done with it.”

Alysa regained control and lowered her bow. She smiled and said, “Nice try, Russell. You are good at pushing the right buttons, but I’m better than that. You’ll not get your wish today.”

Russell laughed. “Oh, just give me time. I’ll find a better button to push. You can’t keep your guard up forever. One day, I’ll find a crack… and then you’ll wish you’d shot me today.”

“Promises, promises,” she said. She waved her hand north. “Shall we go, then?”

Russell gave her a final scrutinizing gaze, raised his gloved right hand, and then said, “Clever girl. You don’t play by their rules, but you made sure to study the playbook.”

“It comes in handy.”

“I’m sure it does,” he said with a laugh. “As you probably know already, I’m a bit of a rule breaker myself. You don’t get away with the things I’ve done in the old world without understanding how to play along with the other sheep.”

Alysa frowned.

Russell started walking north. He laughed again and finished, “Perhaps I’ll have a chance to sneak a peek into your Shadow Dead playbook, too. I’m a fast learner, especially when it comes to an advantage.”

Alysa Monroe silently stepped in several feet behind Russell. She had much to consider and prepare herself for once reaching the Shadow Dead camp. She would need to prove herself worthy of the Ama-Eskua again, and there would be blood… it was unavoidable. But for the first time she wondered if Russell Bower was really a kindred spirit bound by darkness, that she could mentor… or, if he had already evolved into something much darker than she ever could have imagined.

~~~

Next Episode 47-7

Previous Episode 47-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-6: 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.

~~~

If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

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Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

The fragrant garden flowers fill her nostrils with the scent of new beginnings. The tree tops gently sway in the cool breeze, playing peekaboo with the sunlight. It is spring, her favorite season.

Gina runs her hands nervously down the front of her dress. It is not a bad nervousness, like when a horde of the dead pass your hiding place and you wait to find out if they’ve detected you. No. It is the anticipation of something long sought after, finally arriving, causing her stomach to dance.

She is happy.

“You ready for this?” says the big man to her left. She turns and finds Frank grinning from ear to ear. He is wearing a suit that looks too big for his shoulders. He ignores his discomfort, too excited for his friend.

Gina smiles up at him and nods.

“Then let’s do it… and it’s about damn time, by the way,” he says with a wink. Frank offers up his arm and Gina takes it.

Together they walk through the park, entering a large rose garden with a fountain at its center. Running water pours from the outstretched hands and the mouth of some angelic statue standing in the pool.

Another one of her friends greet her at a podium just beyond the fountain. It’s Logan, the street preacher. He, too, is sporting a suit and laughs delightedly when he sees her approach. His laugher is infectious, causing Gina to giggle then snort through her nose.

“Well, that’s attractive,” Frank teases.

Gina lightly punches him in the shoulder as they stop before the podium.

“You look absolutely radiant, Gina,” Logan says. “Very beautiful.”

She becomes self-conscious in her long white wedding dress, her now long red hair flowing down the back. She blushes. “Thank you.”

There are others in attendance. Greg is there with his daughter, Ashley. They are clapping, hooting and hollering. Meredith is there. She can barely keep the tears of joy off her face with her handkerchief. Amanda smiles and raises a wine glass toward her, standing next to Stephen who can’t stop grinning. Nine and Diane are there, embracing each other. Nine will deny that he was the emotional one later. There are so many others; familiar faces from the compound. They’ve all shown up to honor her on this very special day.

She is not alone.

And then he approaches.

Tony walks toward the podium. He looks dashing in his tuxedo. His eyes are full of life and she’s never seen him so excited.

He stops before the podium, nods to Logan, and then turns to Gina. He is on the verge of joyous tears but smiles instead.

Gina is overwhelmed by all the emotion emanating from his face. She wants to reach out and embrace him forever… but not yet.

“We’re ready. If you two are,” Logan says.

They both nod to the preacher, then turn to each other.

Tony takes Gina’s hands in his.

Gina can feel his heart long for her through the warmth of his touch and his eyes. She can’t stop smiling. Gina’s heart beats differently now, like a child running excitedly through rain puddles after a spring storm.

She is in love.

Logan smiles at them as he opens his Bible, retrieving his notes. He stares out at the assembly and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today, in the sight of God, to bring these two precious souls together as one, in holy matrimony. If there is anyone in attendance who would object to this union, please step forward and speak your peace.”

Gina half expects to be exiled from her own wedding, but then shakes the foolish thought away. She is not in that horrible place any longer. She is in a better place. A place where all dreams come true, exactly the way they were intended. A place where no monsters can come and tear up all your friends, and where no monsters within can rip you apart from the inside out. Gina is free… free to be all the things she could not be in that dire place. Free to let her heart soar and-

Gina is pushed hard from behind.

She stumbles forward, tripping over the front of her long dress and then slams her forehead into the corner of the podium.

Blood drips from a long gash across her bangs, turning the front of her dress crimson. Gina turns and stares in shock at her attacker.

“Doug?” she says. “You… you can’t be here! Not like this!”

The pale-skinned, rotting former baseball player growls at her, points accusingly, and says in a gruff voice, “Get up!”

Gina looks around for help. Tony’s gone. Frank’s gone. Logan’s gone. She is alone… except for this monster. “Get out of here! This is my wedding day, you fucking asshole! Don’t you dare ruin this for me!”

Doug charges toward her, grabs Gina by the hair, and then drags her kicking and screaming toward the angelic fountain.

“Let me go!” she yells. “I want this. Do you hear? I WANT THIS!”

Doug shakes his head at her and then plunges Gina’s face into the fountain water.

When he lets up, Gina rushes to the surface, coughing and struggling to breathe. “Stop it! This is my day! Get out! GET… OUT!”

Doug shakes his head and then shoves her head back beneath the pool. The angel made of stone watches indifferently. This time, Doug does not stop, but continues to hold her head beneath the water.

Gina struggles to get to the surface, but the dead thing that resembles her old friend will not release its grip.

I’m going to drown… on my own wedding day! she thinks while swallowing fountain water.

And then it strikes her… hard, like Doug’s bat.

I’m not dead… and there is no wedding. None of this is real.

Doug let’s her back up to the surface and whispers in her ear, “You can’t stay here.”

Gina starts to weep as she turns her head to the side and discovers a pained expression on her dead friend’s pale face. Then the monster returns. “Don’t come back,” he growls, plunging her head back into the cold water.

Gina closes her eyes and stops struggling. She realizes that the only way to come back up to the surface, is to go straight down to the bottom… back into the darkness… back into that depressing lonely world…

~~~

…Gina opened her eyes to faint light. Elongated shadows danced across a very high arched and paneled ceiling. She was lying on a bed in the corner of a very large and dark space. Everything beyond the limited range of the small lantern sitting on a nightstand beside her was swallowed up in blackness. Aside from the bed and the nightstand, there was an old chest pushed up against the wall.

If I’m dead, then these are the best accommodations left in hell, I suppose.

She tried to sit up. The pain in her chest was immediate.

“Oh… fuck,” she cried out, lying back down. She pulled back the thin blanket and examined the bloody bandage placed just above her heart beneath a roll of gauze wrapped several times around her chest. The realization that she’d been stripped down to her underwear came next as she pulled the blanket back up.

I should be dead, she thought. That strange bitch shot me in the chest with an arrow! The pain she was experiencing made it very clear that she wasn’t in hell, yet. So… where the fuck am I? And who patched me up?

“Try not to move too much, dear,” an elderly voice advised from somewhere in the darkness. “Your wounds are still fresh.”

Gina strained her eyes to follow the voice. She heard someone approaching.

A woman emerged from the dark, wearing a long red robe with her hood pulled up to conceal her face. The woman was carrying a fold-up chair in one hand and some sort of pitcher in the other.

Initially, Gina thought this woman was a witch. Shit… I am dead! This crazy old crone found me and cast some voodoo spell over me to bring me back to do her unholy bidding!

Gina wanted to laugh out loud. Partially due to her nerves, but mainly because she’d thought the words ‘unholy bidding’. Nine would be so proud. I’m acting like some half-dressed sacrificial lamb in a B-rated cult film from the ‘70’s… with the worst lines ever. What’s next, my cleavage shot?

The robed woman set up the chair near Gina’s bed and sat down, placing the pitcher on the floor. She pulled back her hood, revealing an old woman with black and white streaked hair, more white than black. “Relax, child. I’m not gonna cook you up in my cauldron, if that’s what you’re thinking… well… at least not yet.”

Gina didn’t appreciate the joke. She’d just figured out who this was. “You’re Lady Clementine,” she stated. Her tone was loaded with contempt.

The old woman raised an eyebrow at her, then reached down to retrieve the pitcher and a clean cloth. She poured some water on the rag and reached toward Gina’s face, stopping when the young woman flinched.

“I just want to keep you cool, child. You were burning up when we brought you in. Do you mind?”

Gina relented.

The old woman placed the rag on Gina’s forehead. “Better?”

“Yes… thank you.”

Clementine leaned back in her chair and placed her hands in her lap. She smiled and said, “Not the scary confrontation you’d thought this would be… hmm?”

Gina didn’t know how to respond to that. “Why am I here?”

“You were hurt. We couldn’t just leave you out there to die.”

“But… your archer… she was the one who shot me.”

Clementine nodded with a smile. “Yes. An inch lower and you’d be dead. Fortunately for you, that woman is an excellent archer. She doesn’t miss… unless she intends to. It was a risky move… that I did not sanction… but it worked. As far as your psychotic friend is concerned, he believes your wound was fatal. The strong sedative delivered by the arrow took care of the rest. When your… friend… was removed from the area, Alysa quickly tended to your wound and brought you back here. But it was a close call.”

Gina turned away from the woman. “Doesn’t matter. That archer bitch works for you. She’s one of your people.”

“No, child. That woman is not one of my people. She was there for your friend, the intense one who wanted you dead. I wanted you alive, so we struck a deal. When your friend’s true intentions became apparent, and we were short on time, we needed Alysa to get to you quickly and stop him, and she used us to get what she wanted.”

“Bullshit.” Gina tried to move again, but the pain forbade it.

Clementine shook her head. “You keep getting riled up like this, I’ll have to call my medic back in. Please… for your own sake… try to stay calm.”

Gina took a deep breath. There’s absolutely nothing you can do right now… and this bitch knows it. Just play along and wait for an opportunity.

Clementine was studying the red-headed woman’s face. “You are a bit intense as well. Would that have anything to do with your failed attempt to murder me?”

Shit… she knows. Gina stared at the old woman. “What’s your game here, lady? Information? You patch me up and pretend to give a shit until I’ve told you what you want… then you’ll kill me?”

Clementine laughed out loud. “Intense… and paranoid. That’s a lethal combination. No, child, I’m not interested in anything you have to tell me—or rather—I am interested… but not for any tactical advantage you could provide.”

“What did you do to my… where is he?”

“You mean that scary man who tried to kill you? What do you care?”

“Is he dead?”

The old woman sighed. “I wish he were, child. But no. The ones you call The Shadow Dead control his fate now.”

Gina tensed up. “Explain that.”

Clementine patiently continued. “The woman who shot you, Alysa, she was on her way back to her Order. She’d been out here hunting for your friend for quite some time. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t have an answer.”

“You’re saying that the archer… that she’s… one of the Shadow Dead?”

“Up until recently, Alysa has been our… liaison… between us and them. When we discovered you and your friend hiding out in the forest, and identified exactly who the two of you were, as I said, we struck a deal. Alysa offered to assist me getting to you on the condition that your friend become her prisoner. I thought the bargain was fair, so I foolishly accepted it. Then she betrayed me and shot you with that arrow. That was not part of the plan.”

“‘Part of the plan’?” Gina said. “And what plan was that? And just what do you mean ‘identified’?”

Clementine smiled. “You are Gina Melborn, are you not? Your friend… you know him as Marcus Dempsey, but his real name is Russell Bower.”

Gina looked away.

“Shit, I’m sorry. You didn’t know, did you?”

“There’s a great many things I don’t know these days,” Gina added sadly. She turned back toward Clementine. “But I do know who you, and your fucking Shadow Dead serve… and that’s why we came to kill you.”

Clementine rolled her eyes. “Bravo. You’ve seen the symbol, probably read the flyers, too. But do you really know what you’re talking about?” She leaned in and finished, “Do you even know what Mother is?”

“I know that every time your people came around, I had to watch my friends die,” Gina hissed. “That’s all I need to know.”

The old woman nodded thoughtfully. “I understand.”

Gina gasped in disbelief. “‘Understand’? Is that all you can say for the deaths your fucking organization is responsible for?”

“I understand from your perspective… Gina… that there isn’t any other way you can feel about Mother. But I assure you, you’ve got it all wrong.”

Gina wanted to bite back, but her chest started hurting again.

“We should talk about this later,” Clementine advised, getting up. “Get some more rest… please.”

Gina refused to look at her.

The old woman nodded and started walking off. She turned back. “Gina?”

Gina glared at her.

“All I ask is that you hear me out. Mother has been gravely misunderstood since this… epidemic… started. That’s partly our own fault for remaining in the background for far too long. But that’s about to change. When you’re able, I would like the chance to prove that Mother is actually on your side.”

Gina smiled and shook her head. “Sure. Prove to me that the whole lot of you aren’t just a bunch of mass fucking murderers taking advantage of what’s left of the world. I dare you to prove that!”

Clementine smiled. “Splendid! I accept the challenge.” She then appeared to glide across the floor in her long robe, moving toward Gina, and finished, “And if I can’t prove that Mother is not what you think… then I’ll let you finish what you came to do.”

“Excuse me?”

The old woman raised an eyebrow. “Have you forgotten already? You did intend to kill me, didn’t you?”

Gina remained silent.

“No matter,” Clementine said with a laugh while turning away. “If I can’t prove to you that Mother is not the evil empire you’ve come to believe… then I’ll let you have your chance.”

~~~

Several hours later, Gina was roused from a deep sleep by the sounds of revving vehicles, barking voices, and bright headlights breaching every crack in the old hangar walls and partially covered windows. She cursed herself for her weakened condition, failing to seize an opportunity to escape.

“They probably drugged me,” she smugly defended, making another attempt to sit up. This time, the pain in her chest was manageable. She took advantage of the activity outside to getter a better view of the surrounding hangar interior. The place was big and empty. What surprised her the most was finding no one guarding her while whatever was happening outside clearly seemed urgent.

Gina stripped the blanket off her body to assess the rest of the damage. There was another bandage and a strip of gauze around her left thigh where she’d been stabbed. There were multiple cuts and bruises up and down her entire body. The most disturbing wound was the strip of gauze that surrounded what was left of her big toe on her right foot. “Fuck me,” she whispered. “I’m a mess.”

No longer desiring to be the battered-wife version of some underwear model in a Victoria Secret catalogue, the next thing she needed was her damn clothes.

Victoria Secret my ass,” she reminded herself, glancing down at the damaged goods. “Maybe a Sears catalogue if you’re lucky.”

Her clothes were gone. She remembered the old chest.

“Okay, now I just have to get there.” Gina painfully turned her body until her feet touched the floor. She carefully applied her weight to her severed-toe foot as she stood up. She could still walk on it. “Now… just don’t stub your fucking bad toe on the bedpost on the way.”

Gina slowly walked over to the chest and reached for the lid.

“Nothing in there, dear. Just some useless shit from an older life.”

Gina rolled her eyes. Fuck. She slowly turned.

Clementine stood there, still in her red robe, holding up clean dark coveralls and a pair of sneakers. “Your clothes were unsalvageable, I’m afraid,” she said. “I hope these will suffice until we’ve time to hit the mall.”

Again, Gina did not appreciate the woman’s jokes. She walked back toward the bed as Clementine placed the clothes on the end.

“It’s good to see you up and about,” the old hag said. “You must have a strong pain threshold.”

Gina sat back down on the bed and started dressing in the forest-green coveralls. Without looking back, she absently said, “I’ve been in worse scrapes than this. It’s just something you get used to… and… thanks for the clothes.”

“You’re very welcome. May I sit?”

Gina nodded.

Clementine sat in the fold-up chair and stared while Gina dressed.

“I don’t do shows anymore,” she said, sensing the woman’s eyes on her back.

“Excuse me?” Clementine said.

Gina turned. “I was an exotic dancer before the world went to hell. Why I’m telling you that… I really don’t know.”

“Oh… I see,” the old woman laughed, catching the joke. “Well… I didn’t mean to stare. I was just wondering how a young woman like yourself ends up out in these woods… especially since you were once the leader of a much larger group… and rather successful at it, I’ll add.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Clementine smiled. “Okay, we can pretend I don’t know about your group of survivors holding out through the winter in one of Mother’s underground bunkers, or we can cut to the truth and save a lot of time.”

Gina started putting on the sneakers. “You seem to know all about me and my friends. It seems rather pointless asking me questions you already have the answer to.”

Clementine laughed lightly. “My, you sound like someone else I know. Yes, I know quite a bit about you and your people. What I don’t know is why you came out into these woods alone?”

Gina turned. “I was… exiled.” Again, she was surprised by her own openness. Maybe I’m just getting tired of hiding from what I am.

“Exiled.” Clementine said the word is if trying to decide if she liked the taste. “That doesn’t sound very pleasant.”

“It wasn’t.”

The old woman nodded and then let the matter rest.

Gina turned around on the bed. “What’s happening outside? Sounds like your group is scrambling for something big.”

“Yes. We’re getting ready to leave at dawn. I’ve got a convoy of vehicles that haven’t seen any action in a while… as well as a small army in the same condition. We’re in the process of shaking off the dust.”

“An army you say? Sounds like Mother is beginning her invasion.”

Clementine smiled. “Our primary facility, Gina… the place where Mother begins and ends… is on an island out on Lake Erie. What we have here at the airport, is enough to get things started.”

Gina was stunned by the volunteered information.

“When everything went from bad to worse shortly before the winter, most of us were recalled back to the island. A few stayed behind to keep watch over things and act as the eyes and ears for those of us back home… And then there were those who started with us, but then took advantage of the chaos to go their own way, using the organization’s name in vain.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” Gina said.

“Because I need for you to understand that the only sin Mother is truly guilty of… is the sin of inaction.”

“You go tell that bullshit to the people that I saw caged in one of Mother’s facilities where some sick machine was turned into a malicious god who tortured people! Same place where Mother’s demented soldiers, dressed like zombies, terrorized and slaughtered… and even stole children to do God-only-knows what to them! That’s what your fucking organization does!”

Clementine sighed and looked away. “Yes. You’re right, of course. What happened at that place in the forest was despicable… but that wasn’t Mother.”

Gina laughed. “Are you fucking kidding me? That place has Mother’s fingerprints all over it! How can you deny it?”

“Because the man you knew as Micom, who was originally with Mother, went rogue after the outbreak… as did a whole contingent of Shadow Dead,” Clementine patiently explained. “I told you that Mother’s only sin was the sin of doing nothing. That’s what really happened at that camp. Mother lost control of that place, as well as this entire area… and shamefully… we did nothing to restore order. That’s partially why we’re here now.”

Gina ran her fingers through her hair. “So, let me get this straight. You want me to believe that this all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing group of yours, couldn’t even see the factions sprouting up within its own organization? I find that difficult to believe.”

“Yes, as did many of us. That’s why we never saw it until it was too late. I guess I was mistaken. Mother is also guilty of the sin of pride.”

Gina shook her head. “Even if you’re telling the truth, it changes nothing. Mother’s still responsible for the monsters it released into the world… even if they lost control of them.”

“You’re absolutely right, Gina. And that’s why we’re here now.”

“What? To clean up your mess. You’re a little late. My people took care of that already.”

“Yes, they most certainly did,” Clementine said. “And you and your little band of survivors caught our attention on our safe little island. In fact, what you all achieved, taking down the rogue element, and forcing the Shadow Dead to depart was… inspiring.”

“And that’s why you and your army are here now,” Gina mocked. “You came all the way over here to thank the little people who did what you couldn’t or refused to do.” Gina shook her head. “Gee, I’m touched.”

Clementine raised an eyebrow. “Actually, we came here to do more than thank you. We came to warn you… and help you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Remember the Shadow Dead woman who shot you with that arrow?”

“Yeah, that Alysa bitch,” Gina said. “You called her your ‘liaison’.”

“That’s right. She was our eyes and ears working within the rogue Shadow Dead element. She was the one who told us what they were planning after winter passed… and that they were coming to eliminate all your people in the underground facility.”

Gina’s heart sank.

Clementine turned toward the lights outside. “What you’re hearing out there is my little army getting ready to head out at dawn, meet up with your people, and hopefully mount a combined effort to take down the rogue Shadow Dead element… and finally do some good.” She turned back to Gina. “That’s where you come in.”

Gina waited.

“It’s clear by your reaction to Mother that none of your group will accept us at face value. But if you’re there with us… maybe they’ll at least listen before it’s too late.”

Gina rubbed her temples. This was all too much. If this woman, the very woman she was preparing to assassinate, was telling the truth, then her friends would need all the help they could get to stop the Shadow Dead. But if Clementine was lying, she could be leading the enemy right to their doorstep. Finally, she said, “You’re forgetting something. They’re not my people anymore. I was exiled… and for good reason. Seeing me return with all of you might not have the reaction you hope it will.”

The old woman smiled confidently. “My dear, I believe this is the perfect opportunity for you to win back your people’s trust. As it will be for us, starting with you, your people, and everyone else suffering in this area.”

Gina considered this. “And if I don’t want to be involved. What then? Will you just let me leave?”

“Of course not. You’re in no condition to be alone… not yet. You can stay here. I’ll leave my medic behind to make sure you heal properly.”

“I see,” Gina said. “Sounds like a nice way of saying that I’ll still remain your prisoner.”

“Please,” Clementine added. “Come with us. It’s not dawn yet. You’ve some time to consider this carefully. I really believe it’s a win/win situation for you and for Mother.”

“I’ll… think about it,” Gina said.

“Splendid!” Clementine said. She turned to leave and stopped. “For the sake of being as transparent as you’ve been with me, I feel I should tell you that I have some… personal… stake in this matter.”

“What do you mean?”

Clementine looked at her. “You have one living among you that’s a sister of mine. She’s not my sister by blood… but in every other way that counts… and then some.”

“Who is it?” Gina asked.

“Meredith. Meredith Montgomery. We’ve known each other since we were kids. We shared the same home for a little while. I guess you might call it an orphanage.”

Gina was stunned. “Yes. I know her. She’s a good friend of mine… or… was.”

“When you saw her last, was she… well?”

“Yes. She was engaged.”

Clementine smiled, her thoughts a million miles away. “Imagine that.” Before Gina could inquire further, she hastily interrupted. “Well, I just wanted to get that out there. So, you see, it’s very important to me that your people let us help them. My sister’s life is at stake.”

Gina nodded. “You’ve given me a headache of things to think about.”

“Of course,” she said. “I’ll give you some privacy.” She turned to leave again. Then stopped once more. “It’s important that we do this, and that we do it together.”

“Why’s that?” Gina said.

Clementine gave her a grave look. “Because your friends can’t beat the Shadow Dead… not without Mother’s help. If you believe anything I’ve told you… believe that.”

~~~

Next Episode 47-6

Previous Episode 47-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-5: 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.

~~~

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.

~~~

If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

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Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

An unsettling silence fell upon the remains of the abandoned housing development site. The waning crescent moon above cut through the overcast sky like a razor-sharp sickle, providing just enough light to feed restless shadows, which crept into position, clothing everything familiar in nightmare black, until the objects of the day re-shaped themselves into disfigured monoliths surrounding the two lone houses on Not-So-Suburbia Street.

Gina carefully approached the right side of the large house on the left—its face hidden from view but mirrored in its three-story twin across the street. She stopped behind a large pile of lumber and stared intently into that unwelcome face, sensing that it was no longer just a house—its dark second-floor eyes, slanted at an angle, watching her every move, while pretending not to notice her and betraying her position to its neighbor across the street. For a moment, the shadowy front door appeared to grin at her as if saying: Come on, little one. We’ve been waiting oh, so, long, to have new guests. It’s been so long… and we are sooo, very hungry.

She looked away from both houses, foolishly hiding her small form further behind the pile to avoid that artificial gaze. Get it together girl, she reminded herself. That imagination of yours is creating more enemies than you need.

Gina closed her lying eyes and allowed her other senses to take over. She listened to the still night and felt the slight breeze caress the standing hairs on her forearms. She could almost taste the trepidation closing in around her like the humidity before a pending thunderstorm.

She forced herself to focus on the plan, desperately needing a distraction from her worked-up nerves:

“We’ll enter each home through the rear garage doors. They were the least guarded last time I was here, and the terrain already offers several blind spots of approach to both houses that way.” Marcus had said. “When we’ve both secured the garage positions, I’ll wait for your signal along the side of the house—three quick flashes from your pocket flashlight. I’ll do the same… and then… we strike each house at the same time.”

“What if the doors are locked?” Gina had said.

“They won’t be. Their overconfidence in their numbers, guns, and out-of-the-way location have made them sloppy and complacent. They believe the fence has proven sufficient to keep the dead away, and they’ve never dealt with the living… except for those they’ve brought here.” Marcus had smiled and finished, “That’s the problem with so-called survivors who have grown comfortable hiding in the darkness for as long as they have. Their victims scream, and no one comes to rescue them. There are no red and blue flashing lights surrounding their dark dens after they perform their evil deeds. They’ve become accustomed to doing whatever they want… with no consequences and no one left to stop them.”

Gina had frowned at that. “My, God, Marcus. Has the world really gone to shit so much that people like this just get to be the monsters they want to be?”

He’d smiled in response. “Well, that seems to be the case… until now.”

Gina smiled as she prepared to move toward the garage. “Until tonight… you soulless fuckers,” she hissed. She took a deep breath to collect herself, made sure her path was clear, and then sprinted across the night—both there and not there—until she reached the side of the house undetected. She crouched down low within the darker shadows, her hunting knife drawn and ready to strike. Taking advantage of her dark clothing and the mud Marcus had smeared across her face earlier, Gina merged with the aluminum siding and the night, willing herself to stillness, and then thought about the rest:

“And once we’re inside the houses,” Gina had started, “what then? Do we just start… killing everyone?”

“You use everything around you—the furniture, the noise, the darkness, their snores—until you are no longer in the house, but part of it. Do you understand?”

“I believe so,” she’d said. “And then?”

Marcus had smiled in such a way that it made Gina’s skin crawl. “Then you create so much confusion and spill so much blood until they are overwhelmed by death. And as they react to all that fear which will betray them, you will hide within it and strike again, and again, until it is too late for them to understand what’s happened and ever make you a target.”

“And you honestly believe I can do all… that?”

“If you can leave your emotions outside… then yes… you will overcome the enemy, leaving their blood in your wake.”

“That’s sounds… terrifying,”

“Yes, it does,” Marcus had finished. “And you will use every bit of it to succeed. You will not enter that house as Gina Melborn, or the wind, or the trees, or the swirling leaves in the forest. You will enter as Terror, itself.”

Gina took another moment to steady her nerves. All she had was her hunting knife—no shotgun, no handgun, not even the axe. Marcus had assured her that a good blade was all that was required if she’d been paying attention to her training.

I’ll guess we’ll finally find out, she thought. And I can’t even bring my anger in with me this time. Indeed, slicing up the dead in the forest was one thing, but to face human beings, even as evil as these people were, and then look them in the eyes before ending their lives… she didn’t know if she could do it. And that’s just more of those emotions that need to stay out of it, she reminded herself. No anger. No doubt. Just do what’s required and take out a few more monsters in this world.

Gina crept her way toward the rear garage door. No one was there to stop her. Her house, as well as the one across the street, were dark… too dark. She’d figured when she got close enough to peer into a window that she’d see faint light, but there was nothing. Maybe they’ve all moved on and these houses are abandoned. She really wanted to believe that, but her instincts were screaming that danger lurked within these dark hell houses.

She crouched down near the rear door and reached a hand up toward the door knob. It turned easily. Gina gently pulled on the door, letting it open slightly, as she prepared to strike the first thing that exited the garage.

Nothing happened.

Gina waited a whole minute, listening for the ambush that never came. Finally, she grabbed the edge of the open door and pulled it halfway open.

Still nothing.

You caught a break, girl. The garage is empty.

Gina took a deep breath, then quickly charged through the open doorway, immediately spinning to the right and out of sight. She crouched down to strike within the closest shadow, letting her eyes adjust to the ambient light pouring in from outside. The garage resembled any other garage, minus vehicles.

I don’t like this. Not one fucking bit. Gina located the door leading into the house. If Marcus was correct, that door would be unlocked. She moved toward it, quickly cutting across the light coming in from outside, and then crouched down next to the inner garage door. Once more she reached for the door knob. It turned easily.

Unlocked.

Instead of opening this one, Gina crept back toward the rear garage door, exited, and then slipped around the back of the house until she returned to the comforting shadows along the side. She crept against the siding until she was at the front corner of the house. Gina retrieved her flashlight, aimed it toward the other house, near the garage, and then quickly flashed her light three times.

Come on, Marcus! It felt like an eternity waiting at the corner. Finally, Marcus signaled her from across the street. That’s it. You’re on your own now.

Gina returned to the garage and then moved back into position beside the inner garage door. Her hands were a sweaty mess by the time she reached for the knob. Steady… steady…

She turned the knob and pulled it open. Once more she was ready to attack the darkness from the shadows.

There was nothing to attack.

Fuck this. Gina quickly moved into the house from the garage, closed the door behind her, and then stopped within a short hallway, trying not to vomit. Gina placed a hand over her nose and mouth as a strong odor assaulted her senses. My God! That’s fucking awful!

It only took a moment to realize what the odor was. The rotting smell of the dead was unmistakable.

Gina sat within the hallway, her back to the wall, and tried to process what she was getting into.

There’s no damn way anyone could be sleeping, let alone living in here with that horrid stench! What the hell happened?

Gina was instructed not to use her flashlight once she made it inside… but she had to know.

She crept up the small hallway as her eyes started to adjust to the darkness. She entered what appeared to be a den, and then turned her flashlight on and quickly scanned the room. She gasped, then turned off her light, nearly dropping it, and then retreated into the small hall.

She was trembling uncontrollably by the time she got back. Holy fuck! What the hell is this?!

When Gina had turned on her flashlight and scanned the den, she’d seen the red-splattered white walls, blood covering two large sofas, and crimson pools saturating the dull colored carpet.

And there were multiple bodies—men and women—scattered all around the room.

~~~

A shadow hidden within shadow patiently sat along the side of the second hell house across the street. Russell glanced up at the sliver of moon piercing through the overcast sky. His mud-smeared face was lit up by two orbs barely containing his excitement as a long-suppressed desire to be with the Lady had finally arrived. The hand tightly gripping the hunting knife shook with anticipation. His heart raced in his chest as the fever for the hunt consumed him. All he’d done, all his preparation from the very beginning, had led to this moment.

Can you feel it, boss? Damn… I’ve never been more exhilarated. I must admit, I doubted you. But now… fuck me… I can almost smell that bitch’s blood lingerin’ in the air like the scent of a fresh, out-of-the-oven apple fuckin’ pie sittin’ out on a windowsill.

Russell smiled at the analogy. Yes, he could almost taste it. The sweet promise of death had never been more tangible. He felt incredibly alive, dancing on the edge of that precipice… and the Lady… waited eagerly down in the darkness, to receive one more glorious offering.

I should’ve seen it coming, boss. I should’ve known when you brought us back here that you’d been up to somethin’ all along. I knew you didn’t care about those fuckers at the airport.

“They are irrelevant,” Russell whispered.

Yeah… yeah… so you’ve been sayin’ about everythin’ since the beginning. You’ve always had your heart and mind set on the prize. Every opportunity you’ve squandered in this free-for-all apocalypse—I get it now. You were aiming for somethin’ pure, somethin’ true… the noble kill. And I’m glad. I’m glad I didn’t push and that I let you bring us to this moment.

Russell closed his eyes and raised his knife toward the moon. “To you, my Lady. We have suffered long. We have done what you’ve asked and protected the sacrifice. May you be satisfied by the vitality of the blood which is to follow. We long to join you in this moment… however it turns out. May your will be done.”

Amen, boss! Hal-la-fuckin’-lujah! Tell me somethin’, boss. When we slaughtered all these little piggies, did you know then that we would be here now? Did the Lady tell ya’ what was comin’?

Russell refused to answer. The savage would never understand. But he would see the truth, just as Gina would… and then… the radiant face of the Lady would shine down upon him at last, for all he’d done—a faithful servant to the end.

Three brief flashes of light struck the corner of the house.

Russell got up, retrieved his flashlight, and signaled back.

Is it… is it time, boss?

Russell shut out his emotions and reached down deep for the cold steel that made him such an effective killer. He allowed a final smile to breach the surface, raised the instrument of his calling up toward his face, and found his dark reflection in the hungry blade.

“Yes,” he whispered. “It is time.”

He started walking across the street, in plain view of both houses. There was no one left alive in either house. He’d seen to that weeks ago after meeting the rest of Albert’s now slaughtered flock.

The stage was set. The moment had finally arrived. The only thing left to resolve was a matter of blood, salvation, and sacrifice between himself… and his red-headed pupil.

~~~

Next Episode 47-4

Previous Episode 47-2

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 47-3: 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.

~~~

Gina opened her eyes and slowly allowed her vision to focus with the new morning light. She saw Marcus sitting on the hearth with his legs crossed, chin resting on his hands, and grinning down toward her like an idiot. She tried to move her arms and legs, then winced as her sore muscles reminded her of last night’s activities. “Fuck,” she hissed, forcing herself to sit up. “Everything hurts.”

“It will pass,” Russell advised. “You used muscles last night that you probably never knew you had.”

Gina glared up at the annoying man. “Is that supposed to be funny?”

Russell’s smile widened. “From my perspective… yes.”

“Okay… well… now that you’ve been thoroughly amused by my pain, why don’t you stop staring at me and go do… something!” She looked around the ruins camp, feeling a sharp pain in her neck. “Damn… I feel like I was run over several times in my sleep!”

“The adrenaline coursing through you last night made you unaware of the strain on your body… until now.”

“No fucking shit,” she said, shaking her head toward the ground. “I remember getting back to camp, cleaning up, eating like a damn horse, and then-”

“You laid down and were asleep almost immediately,” Russell finished. “You snored so loudly I thought the dead might hear us. Fortunately, I believe it frightened them away instead.”

She glared at him again. “My, you’ve just got jokes this morning, don’t you? And… I don’t fucking snore.”

“Of course. My mistake. The forest-shattering noise coming from your area must have been some new zombie wilder-beast we’ve not seen yet. Perhaps we should-”

“You done?”

Russell smiled. “Yes. Now, I’m done.”

“So,” Gina started, ignoring her physical discomfort, “do I have to ask, or can you just tell me this time?”

Russell nodded. “Yes. We’re ready… as ready as we can be. I’ve taught you all I can in the short time we’ve had together, and it will have to suffice.”

“Seriously? You mean, I’ve graduated the Marcus101 All-You-Can-Kill training course?”

He laughed. “You’re almost there. The rest we can cover in transit to the airport.”

Gina’s face grew grave. “It’s really that time then?”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

“No… no… I just… well… shit, Marcus. You can’t just spring it on a girl like that!”

Russell jumped down from the hearth and grabbed a thin stick from out of the fireplace. He then sat down next to Gina and started drawing the layout of the airport in the dirt. “On the north side of the terminal are the three large hangars, and to the south of it are all these smaller structures. Based upon the number of patrols and the frequency of those patrols around the terminal and those hangars, I would guess that our target is either in the terminal or in one of those hangars.”

Gina nodded in agreement then started to shift uncomfortably.

“Something wrong?”

“No. I’m just a little anxious,” she lied. “Go on.” In truth, calling this Lady Clementine the ‘target’ bothered her more than she thought it would.

“We’ll head back up to the ridge where you first showed me the airport and spend the rest of the day gathering as much current information as we can from observing their activities.” He looked at Gina and finished, “After, we’ll put together our final approach plan, and sneak in there tonight. I’m assuming we’ll be able to use the smaller structures to… Gina? What is it?”

Gina was staring off into the trees; her thoughts, distant. She turned back to Marcus. “Sorry. I’m still just out of it today. I’ll shake this off on the way. Promise.”

Russell raised an eyebrow, then said, “Very well.” He stood up and ran a foot over the dirt drawing. “I’ll gather what we need while you grab a bite to eat. We’ll head out in an hour.”

Gina nodded with a smile. Once Marcus’s back was turned, she stared down at the dirt-smeared drawing of the airport with a frown, and thought, We are going to murder this woman tonight… a woman we’ve never met. She sighed heavily and finished, We will sneak in, find this woman in a vulnerable moment, and then… eliminate the ‘target’. The word didn’t work for her. It sounded like a clever lie used to water down the morality of what they intended to do.

“We’re going to take this woman’s life in any way we can… and it’s going to be horribly violent and bloody.” She found no solace in the spoken admission… but at least it was the truth.

~~~

The remainder of the morning crawled by like a morbid countdown with each passing step. Gina and Marcus packed light, carrying only enough food for their afternoon stakeout of the airport—and the lethal tools required for the dark deed ahead.

Gina tried to redirect her focus away from the heavy lingering thoughts that tried to steal from her resolve and concentrated on disappearing into the forest instead. They moved swiftly, efficiently, and blended into their surroundings with ease, wearing dark and dull colored clothing that matched their environment.

Russell took the lead and smiled to himself as they penetrated the dense brush. He seldom heard Gina at all moving stealthily behind him unless he paid close attention to the ‘tells’ in her movements. They’d trained hard over the last few days and nights and he felt confident that she possessed the skills needed to stand her ground when they time came.

This is foolishness, boss.

Russell sighed. Go away. You’re ruining the moment.

The other one chuckled in his head. As much as I’ve appreciated you two killers honing your blood thirsty skills beneath the moonlight—It’s almost fuckin’ romantic and all—I still have to point out the obvious. Like this doomed mission to kill the bitch at the airport.

Russell ignored him.

Okay… let me put it another way. There’s absolutely no profit in this venture. Who gives a shit what the Mother Bitch is doing? I know you sure don’t. And why risk your precious golden goddess getting gunned down in the first place? Hell… if it’s her death you want, I can accommodate in a much more enjoyable-

Just wait, savage, Russell interrupted. You’re not seeing the bigger picture yet. But I promise… you will. Only stay patient for a little longer… and stay out of the way.

The savage relented and went silent.

Gina stopped behind him and got low.

Russell turned, crouching down. “What is it?” he whispered.

“This isn’t right,” Gina said. “This isn’t the route to the ridge above the airport.”

Russell nodded. “Yes. You’re right.”

She gave him a what-the-fuck look.

“We need to take a detour,” he said. “Your hesitation this morning is concerning me.”

“I’m fine,” she hissed. “I’m not having second thoughts. Let’s just go.”

Russell was adamant. “You need to perform one more task to complete your training. Trust me on this. Just try to keep up and I’ll explain when we get there.” He turned away and started moving again.

“Where the hell are we… shit!” Gina could do nothing but follow.

~~~

Russell’s detour took them west of the airport, near the southern border of the large forest, just a couple miles south of the Interstate.

Gina looked up through the tree tops and observed the sun well past its midday descent. “We’ve been traveling for hours Marcus,” she said, when they stopped for a brief rest. “Where the hell are we going?”

Russell was staring off toward the edge of the forest. “We’re just about there.” He pointed to a spot where the trees were thinning out near the top of a rise. “Come see for yourself.” He started moving once more.

Gina shook her head and followed Marcus toward the rise.

Once there, Russell signaled her to get low as she crawled up beside him at the top of the hill. Her eyes went wide immediately when she realized Marcus had led them to the edge of the forest.

Below them, in a bowl-shaped valley, was an abandoned construction site surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. There were several intersecting streets and cul-de-sacs with empty lots intended for housing. On several lots were the skeletal frames of houses never finished. There were scattered piles of construction materials like wood and aluminum, four large cranes, and half a dozen bulldozers spread out through the area. There were two large completed homes sitting at the center of the site, one on each side of the most completed looking street, appearing oddly place surrounded by all that unfinished construction.

Gina turned to Marcus confused. “What’s this about? Seems like a strange time to be out here house hunting.”

Russell smiled, continuing to stare down at the two completed houses. “When I first entered these woods, I was… delayed… when a camp of three armed individuals found me in the forest. They were very insistent that I join them at their fire pit. I was exhausted, so I returned with them to their camp.”

“You’re just now telling me about this?” Gina said.

“It didn’t seem relevant at the time. Anyway, I could tell right away that they were trouble, but I just listened to their story, piecing together what I could, while I plotted my escape.” Russell continued. “Their leader, Albert, seemed particularly interested in me, especially when he realized I was armed and had managed to stay alive alone in the woods. I think his intent was to recruit me into their group.”

“You refused, of course,” Gina said. “How did you get away?”

Russell frowned, displaying the right amount of false regret in his face as he continued. “I had to… defend myself, when they wouldn’t let me leave. I killed all three of them when the situation… escalated.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Gina consoled. “You and I both know there are plenty of shit-bags still left in the world.” She stared back down at the houses. “But that doesn’t help me understand why we’re out here.”

Russell sighed. “Before I disposed of those three… and believe me… they had it coming, they told me about their base camp down there in that construction site. Apparently, they’d been acting like a gang for quite some time now, doing what they wanted, when they wanted… and to whoever they wanted.”

Gina was starting to understand. “Go on.”

“I was concerned that they might have discovered you out here and brought you back to this place. They’d told me roughly where it was, so I tracked their movements, along with their description, and found it.”

“And just what is happening here, Marcus?”

He stared at her and frowned. “I watched for a bit, from this very spot, and discovered that they’d been taking people, against their will… I heard screams late in the evenings. I believe they were torturing people, particularly women.”

Gina was getting angry. “So… what… they’ve turned those houses down there into their own little rape dens, is that what you’re telling me?”

“Among other things,” he confirmed. “Men, women, perhaps even… children. I’d learned enough to know that these people were no longer human. No one does the things they do without becoming animals.” He turned to her and finished. “You called it a den. That is exactly what this is. This group down there is a pack of blood-thirsty wolves preying on the weak. I got close enough to realize that you weren’t there, and then… shamefully… I departed.”

Gina glared at him. “You mean you just left those people alone with these savages? What the fuck, Marcus? Why didn’t you do something to stop it?”

Russell closed his eyes. “I’m not like you, Gina. I’m not driven by compassion or the need to right injustices. I calculate odds… and in this case… those odds worked against me. I was just one man against an entire pack of wolves. If I had tried to help, I would’ve been dead. Going in to one such den is hard enough, but there are two houses down there. To attack one would’ve alerted the other.”

“Yeah, but I’ve seen you fight!” Gina snapped. “You can handle that shit!”

He smiled and admitted. “I’m good, but not that good. I would’ve needed to be in two places simultaneously and attack both homes at the same time. And that is something, even with my skills, that I cannot do.”

Gina nodded with a wicked little smile surfacing on her face. “So, you brought me here to even the odds… that it?”

“After I told you what was happening here, I didn’t think you’d object to this… detour.”

She stared back down at the two horror houses, setting them on fire with her eyes. “How many?”

“Between the two houses, there are probably thirty gang members living in there… and they’re armed.”

Gina gasped. “That’s fucking crazy, Marcus! How do we even have a chance at-”

“They’re wolves but they’re not trained soldiers… not like down at the airport. If we struck them swiftly, with the element of surprise, and at each house at the same time… we could stop these beasts. I’m sure of it.”

“You’re saying that you like our odds better here… than at the airport. Is this your way of convincing me to give up on the airport plan? Give me something else to focus my anger on and then hope it’s enough? Is that what this is, Marcus?”

Russell laughed. “Perhaps I’m becoming transparent. We’ve spent entirely too much time together, so it would seem.”

“I don’t appreciate your bullshit games,” she said. “You knew I wouldn’t let this go once you brought me here… but that doesn’t mean I won’t go right back to the airport when we’re finished with this mess. I hope you understand that.”

“It was gamble. But I was prepared to return to the airport if this didn’t satisfy the tempest swirling within you.”

“Stop making this all about me,” she hissed. “You make it sound like I’ve got some blood lust need to kill people, and that’s why I’m set on killing the woman at the airport. Lady Clementine is Mother. Maybe she’s not the leader, maybe she’s just one of many leaders… but it’s still important that we take her down and cripple that sadistic organization. So, let’s not make this about me, okay?”

“Fair enough,” Russell said. “I apologize if I’ve misjudged you. It’s hard to tell with how volatile your emotions make you respond to situations. I’ve seen you react based upon those emotions, and I’ve seen the aftermath of those reactions and how they weigh upon you.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“I don’t? Was I not there and tried to warn you when you attacked the children who shot Greg in Andover? Was I not at the Bad Man’s house when you tortured and then put Marvin in the basement, and then set the house on fire?”

Gina had no response.

“I’m not judging you, Gina, but I am making judgments based upon your emotional reactions from the past, and I started to believe that maybe this was more of the same.” He sighed. “Bringing you here, to this place, was my attempt to give you a justifiable target for those rampaging emotions… and a target your conscience could clearly live with. If you’re wrong about the airport people… you won’t be able to handle the aftermath, I promise you. But what we do here, tonight… you will be able to live with.”

Gina refused to continue this discussion. “Well… we’re here now. Let’s deal with the first problem right in front of us first.” And then she reluctantly admitted, “You may be right, Marcus. Maybe I am emotionally unstable.”

“I didn’t say that,” he quickly corrected.

“Well… whatever. Maybe after we handle this, I’ll be able to hear what you’re telling me about the airport people… assuming I’m wrong about them.”

“If nothing else,” Russell countered, “this was still the right call bringing you here. You still need to prove something to me, and yourself, before you can handle what waits at the airport.”

“So, this is more training,” Gina said with a laugh. “And what do I have to prove?”

Russell’s face grew grave. “You need to prove that you can set your emotions aside and do what needs done tonight, despite what despicable things you may find inside those houses. If you go in there with your emotions out of control… our odds of success will greatly diminish.”

“And that’s what you’ve been trying to get into my thick head all along, right?”

Russell smiled. “Like I said… transparent.”

“Okay, then,” Gina said, staring once more down at the two houses down on Not-So-Suburbia Street. “I assume you have a plan?”

“Of course,” Russell said with a wicked little smile. “I’m always calculating. Let’s get back a bit and discuss it. We’re going in well after dark.”

As Gina and Russell moved back down off the hill, the savage could no longer remain quiet.

Pardon the interruption, boss. But what the hell are we doing back here? As I recall, we had quite the time down there. It was… how should I put it… ‘A beautiful day in the neighborhood’.

Russell did not respond.

Really, the silent treatment? C’mon! Ya’ gotta give me somethin’?

Russell finally thought back, Prepare yourself for this evening, savage. Tonight… we will finally get to reap from what we’ve patiently sown.

~~~

Next Episode 47-3

Previous Episode 47-1

~~~

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“Chapter 47-2: 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.