Archive for the ‘suspense’ Category

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Just checking in folks. Sorry for the delayed final two episodes of Chapter Three: Siege last week. I was dealing with sickness and a busier than usual week (talk about bad timing).

Well, we’ve reached the holiday season once more and this is where I like taking a brief hiatus from the serial while I prepare for the next run in January. It’s also super busy around the holidays, as I’m sure you all know, so we’ll just call this the mid-season break. As mentioned in my last post, Don’t Feed The Dark will resume on Monday, January 1st, 2018, and will continue until the completion of Book Five.

Starting in January, we will finish up the last two chapters in the current story arc, All Is Lost. What I can tell you about the final two chapters is that Tony and his odd assortment of travelling companions, after the shocking discovery of what they stumbled into out at Mosquito Creek Lake, will arrive several days later at the town of West Farmington, in what could be considered ‘hostile territory’… or more hostile territory… lol. They will find out quite a bit about their current quest to locate the notorious Lunatics, as well as some other things. During their stay, we will take a trip into the past through Alysa Monroe’s perspective, and delve into the mysterious Shadow Dead, for a flashback story.

Afterwards, the final chapter of this arc will conclude with our survivors finding the Lunatics… and they’ll probably wish they hadn’t. For those familiar with northeast Ohio, that final confrontation will take place at the former amusement park, Geauga Lake. And that’s all I can say about it.

Immediately following the conclusion of this arc, we will move on into the next arc, and the final arc for Book Five, titled, The Nomad. The story time line will pick up roughly a month after Gina was exiled, as we discover what happened to her… as well as what happened when Marcus, a.k.a. Russell Bower, finally caught up with her. There will be a few other surprises as well, nothing I can mention of course, but it will be… crazy.

And for those of you who are asking, “What the hell happened to Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan, when they entered the mysterious door during the Shadow Dead attack?” The quick answer is: Book Six: Mother… and that’s all I can say on that for now.

Other than that, I was astonished to discover that the first three chapters of this book are already 97,000 words, pushing the total word count for this series past 780,000 words spread out over 234 episodes! Damn, this is getting long… lol. When we hit the one million mark, which I feel confident that we will, we’ll have to celebrate it somehow.

Well, that’s it for now. As always, I’ll try to get another episode or two of After The Dark, my online DFTD talk show, out before we return in January (time dependent).

I want to thank everyone for reading and continuing to support the cause in any way you can by spreading the word about Don’t Feed The Dark.

As always, please keep voting for The Dark as often as you can (at least once a week) over at Top Web Fiction to help keep my serial listed and find new readers. The longer I remain on that list the more visibility my story receives. All you have to do is click the link above and vote… that’s it.

That’s all for now. I hope to see you all back in January. If I don’t hear from you by then, I hope you all enjoy your holidays.

-Scott

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They had spent most of the morning moving north through and around Orwell, trying to stay ahead of the dead and avoid notice. By noon, Tony and his small band of survivors had circled around the eastern edge of town, eventually connecting with Route 45, heading south, hopefully resuming the month-old trail of the diabolical Lunatics.

After they’d traveled south a couple of miles they slowed their pace, believing the horde had given up the hunt, losing their scent, and then simply returned to surround the library.

“That sucks for Jim,” Nine remarked. Orwell was now five miles behind them. “He probably could’ve escaped when the dead came for us, but I imagine he just sat back down and started reading his next book.”

“He probably forgot about them right after we left,” Mark said, shaking his head. “That was one crazy sonofabitch.”

“Crazy or not, we couldn’t have made it out of there without him,” Nine defended. He stopped and looked north up the road. “I’m gonna miss that guy.”

“We all will,” Diane added, squeezing Nine’s shoulder. “You know he had a chance to leave with us… and he refused. Siege or no siege, I believe Jim’s right where he wants to be until this nightmare’s over.”

Nine nodded with a smile. “The world could be zombie-free a year from now and Jim wouldn’t notice until someone came to re-open the damn library on a Monday morning. I can already see that skeptical look on his face when the staff come in, surprised to find him living there, and then Jim just says, ‘Are you real library people?’” A frown appeared. “He’s not going to make it is he?”

Wendy stepped up beside him. “He’s made it this long. I wouldn’t count Jim out. He’s got a book for every occasion… and then some.” She laughed as a thought struck her. “For all we know, Jim’s hard at work right now chronicling our incredible escape from the zombie horde… giving himself an honorable mention in the book, of course.”

Nine laughed. “Of course. He’ll probably embellish quite a bit… make himself out to be the hero.”

Diane kissed him lightly on the cheek and smiled.

“What was that for?” he asked.

“Only the real hero gets the kiss from the girl. It was your plan, after all… and we all gave you shit for it.”

Mark and Wendy both nodded.

Nine blushed. “Well… when I write my edition of this remarkable escape from the dreaded zombie siege, I’ll definitely include the kiss… I’ll just have to add a famous movie star or something.”

She punched him in the shoulder, causing the others to laugh.

“I meant… to play your part in the blockbuster movie… of course.”

“Break’s over,” Tony called back from farther up the road with Alysa. “You’re going to want to see this.”

The others caught up and immediately noticed a narrow two-lane road off to the left, running into the woods and then disappearing around a sharp bend to the right. The road was packed with abandoned vehicles, filling both lanes, all heading into the forest.

Diane noticed the sign at the edge of the road:

Mosquito Creek Lake

“So, they made it?” she asked.

After a closer inspection of the first few vehicles, they looked ancient—a winter’s worth of filth was layered on the exterior of all the cars, reminding them of the vehicles they saw in the church parking lot in Wayne.

“Well… apparently their cars didn’t make it,” Tony said. “Looks like they had to walk in.”

“Walk where?” Nine said. “Jim mentioned something about following the Army, and if that didn’t work out, hiding out in caves and trying to beat out the winter storms… and the dead.”

“You’re guess is as good as mine,” Tony added. “We should find out what happened here. Maybe there’s survivors. They might have information about the Lunatics.”

“Or supplies,” Alysa added.

Tony nodded. “Let’s go find the townspeople of Orwell.”

~~~

The northern end of Mosquito Creek Lake was a nine thousand acre protected area made up of swamps, grasslands and woods. The southern end of the large but narrow lake spanned three miles, and was open to the public for fishing, camping and hunting.

Tony led the others cautiously between the abandoned cars, east into the northern edge of the protected area, following a two-lane bridge over the wetlands. The bridge curved to the southeast and emptied into a small parking lot in a wooded area, jammed pack with more vehicles. From there the bridge continued east through another swamp.

They stopped in the parking area to examine a map on a tall information billboard.

“According to this, there’s a trail to an overlook just up that hill.” Alysa pointed away from the bridge road and over at the back end of the parking lot where the wooded area sloped upward. The trail hadn’t been maintained for a long time but it was still there. “Might be worth getting a better vantage point of this place before we venture further.”

“Agreed,” Tony said, staring back at the line of jammed cars that continued over the swamp bridge. “I’d like to know what happened here, and why everyone just left their vehicles in the roadway.”

“This place is too damn quiet,” Diane said. “I don’t know if it’s just a lack of wildlife… but it feels wrong here… like something horrible happened before the winter, just at the other end of where these cars were trying to make it to.”

Tony nodded. “I feel it, too.”

“The hunter’s correct,” Alysa said. “The vibe here probably explains why we’re all whispering. These woods feel… alive… for lack of a better description.”

No one noticed they’d lowered their voices considerably after entering Mosquito Creek until the archer pointed it out. She was right. The place felt like a presence rather than a place, with eyes on them… from everywhere.

“Just once I’d like to go anywhere that didn’t feel like a trap for anyone walking around on two legs… and breathing,” Mark said, nervously staring up at the trees.

“This place is starting to make Mark miss the library,” Nine added, winking at the unamused young man. “Hell, At least there, we knew exactly where the enemies were.”

“Let’s get up that hill and get a better look.” Tony quickened his pace, suddenly wanting nothing more to do with Mosquito Creek.

A winding trail led them up one hill and then farther up a second steeper hill toward the overlook. Ten minutes later, they reached the top. A dull grey sky came into full view as the tree line ended, just before a fenced-off cliff.

They all stepped up to the fence and stared down into the large valley.

They observed the panoramic view of the terrain shifts below. The narrow bridge road continued over a large patch of swamp where the traffic jam ended at a point where the bridge had collapsed.

“That bridge was never intended to hold the weight of so many vehicles all at once,” Tony said.

“So… what?” Nine started. “The road collapsed and then they just hiked the rest of the way?”

“What the hell are those large dark rocks doing in the swamp?” Wendy asked, pointing toward either side of the collapsed bridge.

Once the focus shifted to the strange rock formations scattered all around the large swamp and into an adjacent field of tall grass, Tony gasped and whispered, “Those aren’t rocks, Wendy.”

“They’re all over the place,” Mark said. “I can see them at the edge of the wood line, too!”

“Those almost look like…” Nine stopped, his face turning white.

“We need to leave… now,” Diane said, exchanging a terrified look with Tony.

Alysa’s eyes went wide with recognition. She turned to Tony.

“It’s them,” he said. “The yellow-eyed monsters. They’ve gone into dormant mode.”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Mark said, staggering back from the cliff edge. “There must be… thousands of them down there.”

“It’s a state these bastards go into when they’re… full,” Tony said.

Wendy raised her hands to her mouth. “Orwell?”

“Yes.” He left the assumption unspoken. “Time to go. There will be no survivors to find.”

“How long do you think they’ve been like that?” Diane whispered. “All winter? Like some form of hibernation?”

Tony shivered at the thought. “Whatever’s going on down there is something… big. It looks like they’ve been gathering here for quite some time.”

“It’s an army… a massive army,” Alysa said. “And one that size, should it wake up, could destroy anything in its path.”

Tony nodded. “Time to go. Back the way we came without another damn word. If they wake while we’re still here…”

“Game over,” Nine finished.

They turned back down the trail, the mind-blowing image of so many yellow-eyed beasts gathered together in the nine thousand acres of Mosquito Creek, was more than they could comprehend.

From below, the dead continued to lie dormant in the murky swamps, concealed within the tall grasses of the fields, and nestled deep within the shadows of the forests—their grotesque blood and mud covered pale flesh hunched over in the kneeling position as if praying to an unknown god who would deliver the rest of humanity to them upon waking… and the feast would begin.

More than five thousand savages waited, eyes closed, perhaps dreaming of bathing in rivers rich with human blood, standing by for the appointed time of the promised harvest.

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark will return after the holidays on Monday, January 1st, 2018…

Previous Episode 41-9

~~~

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 41-10: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.


Zombie Horde by luca540

~~~

Morning number five. The first traces of unobstructed light streaked across the horizon, as dawn approached from beneath the canopy of dark grey clouds, setting their bases on fire and glowing luminescent gold.

Silhouetted rotting faces slowly turned toward the east, the nameless mass of former humanity momentarily distracted by the sun’s radiance. They did not comprehend, or were inspired by, the majestic arrival of a new day, but the dead could sense the light and it resembled what they detested shining forth from the living, only without the promise of blood—dawn, unfortunately, was not a suitable placebo, or perhaps they could’ve chased that sphere forever until either their temporal shells betrayed them, or their corneas simply burned out staring up into it.

As was the case with moonlight, lightning storms, and twilight times, the dead became calm during these periods of natural soft light, as if disconnected or disrupted for a short time from the maddening drive to feast upon the living. No one could explain this ‘state’, but perhaps the time for such inquiries was long past, leaving just another strange mystery behind in an alien world where all questions were slowly fading into the background, like echoes, until silence consumed them all.

The collective dead looked almost… peaceful… swaying back and forth, staring off into the east, thoughtless, emotionless, as natural in an unnatural world as trees, plants, or the flowing and ebbing tides once were in ours. They were now just another attraction to behold—not a threat, but not an invitation, either. Just part of the unnatural scenery, playing out before an indifferent morning on a distant planet… void of life.

From the rooftop facing north, above the back of the library, one lone shadow stared off toward the nearest structure, seventy-five yards away. Three quarters of a football field’s length full of the dead, stood between the back entrance of the library and the neighboring office building plaza, specifically one designated alley running down the center of it, which would serve as the escape route… should everything go according to plan.

At the back of the alley, was a chain link fence with a dumpster in front of it. The plan was to make it to that dumpster, use it to scale the fence, and safely escape on the other side. The alley would serve as a bottle neck, as the horde pushed in behind them, jamming the narrow space between brick walls with the dead, and hopefully reducing the number of savages they had to manage until everyone was free.

Crazy Jim stared down at the countdown timer on his wristwatch. Tony had set it for ten minutes before sending him up to the roof.

“Three minutes!” he muttered to himself, excitedly. He stood there for a moment, confused, and trying to remember what the timer was for, or what he was so damn excited about.

Then he remembered. “The books! Of course!” He scurried over to the first of three large library return bins full of outdated encyclopedias and every law book he could find. Each bin was resting on the narrow ledge of the building, one to the far left, one to the right, and the last one directly above the rear library door. Sitting near the center bin was a full gallon gas can and a large box of matches. He grabbed the gas can and matches, ran over to the bin on the left, and started pouring gasoline into the first bin. “Just remember what Tony said,” he reminded himself. “Everything is real and so is the plan.” He quickly doused the remaining two bins with gasoline and then looked at his timer again.

“Sixty seconds!”

Jim was delighted when Tony told him his part in the plan. He laughed like a giddy school kid as he ran over to the left bin and removed a match from the box. He looked at the timer again.

“Ten seconds! Nine… eight… seven…”

When he counted down to five seconds, Jim lit the match and dropped it into the bin. The books lit up immediately. He waited just long enough for the flames to start rising out of the bin and then he gave it a healthy shove until the bin tipped over the edge, spilling burning books over the side of the library and on to the heads of the unsuspecting dead. The burning bin came crashing down last, right on top of an old woman, setting the ancient zombie on fire. There were several others also on fire as the dead waved burning limbs into the air, igniting the clothing of some standing next to them. Several of the dead’s heads were ablaze.

The second bin on the right came crashing down fifteen seconds later, having the same effect.

The first few ranks of the dead at the front began to move off toward the right and left, distracted by the flames and irritated moans of the burning dead.

That’s when the third and final bin came crashing down directly in front of the library door, causing the dead to scamper back, the first rank already on fire.

Jim leaned over the edge and yelled down, toward the open second floor windows as instructed. “Operation Book Bombs Complete!”

The rear door to the library opened and Alysa stormed out, bowed raised at the closest dead. She started firing arrows in an arc to keep the dead away from the door as the others pushed the barricade vertically through the doorway until it was clear, and then laid it on the ground.

Tony was the second one outside as he immediately began picking up the heavy barricade from beneath. “Alysa! To me!” he shouted.

The archer ran back and quickly helped put the barricade straps over Tony’s large shoulders. “Okay, go!” he said, letting her know he had it balanced.

“Ready!” she called back through the doorway, as she stepped in front of the barricade to launch more arrows into the distracted herd. Her assault, as well as the burning book bombs were keeping a fifteen-foot space clear in front of the door.

The other four exited the doorway dressed from head to toe in duct taped book armor. Mark, Wendy and Nine were all carrying the family crest shields in one hand, and modified coat rack spears in the other. Diane was the only one armed with a gun. In fact, she had four loaded handguns taped to the front of her book fashioned breastplate, all within easy reach and disposable.

“Get in formation!” Nine yelled. “Just like we practiced! Don’t look at them! Stay focused or we’re dead!”

“We’re out of time!” Alysa yelled back.

The smoke and flames from the smoldering dead began to clear as the dead started to reform their ranks.

“Let’s go!” Tony shouted. The bulk of the weight from the arrow barricade was now resting on his shoulders as he lifted it up just above his knees, leaning into it as designed, using the built-in handles to lift it upward, with his forearms resting flat against the inside wall of the barrier. From within the arrow, it looked like Tony was hunched over with his fists raised in a backhanded boxing position.

Alysa stopped firing, slung her bow behind her back and stepped inside the arrow barricade with Tony. She leaned her shoulder in to help him push as she drew a long hunting knife to fend off anything slipping beneath the barricade. Herself and Tony were the only two who were not in full book armor, opting for mobility, rather than protection, they were only covered in book armor from the knees down.

The others quickly pushed in behind the arrow barricade with Diane at the center, back to back with Tony.

The other three brought their shields together, one left, one right, and one directly at the rear, leaving just enough room for their spears, extending outward, to push back against the dead trying to rip the shields away.

“We’re in position!” Nine shouted back from the rear shield. “Go!”

Alysa looked over at Tony. “I hope you’re as strong as you look.”

“Lady… you have no idea,” he said with a wicked smile. Tony looked over the top of the five-foot tall barricade with the built-in wedge that spanned eight feet across, ironically resembling a large open book with the spine facing outward to form the arrow, and let his eyes adjust to twilight shadows coming through the smoke as the dead started reforming their ranks. Fuck me. I’m so close to shitting my pants! This is insane.

“The smoke will conceal our initial charge, giving us the element of surprise… and hopefully mask our scent.” Alysa was speaking more for Tony’s benefit, clearly seeing the terror fill his eyes.

He nodded and crouched down. “On three!” he shouted.

The others moved in tight behind the barricade, connecting their long shields together, and preparing to move backwards into Tony, providing additional force from the rear. Diane became immediately claustrophobic as she was securely pinned in between the shield bearers and the arrow.

“One!” Tony braced his feet to get a running start. There were no rear stairs to contend with or any other obstructions, other than the dead, to interfere with their charge.

“Two!”

Wendy, Nine, and Mark were holding their shield straps and spears so tight, their hands started to go numb.

“Three!”

Tony let loose a growl and pushed the arrow forward with surprising strength.

Alysa pushed beside him.

Diane tapped her one hand on Nine’s shoulder to signal them to move in tandem as they marched backwards, keeping their formation as tight as possible. The hunter did what she could to turn on the move and keep from getting crushed in the middle but still able to reach her handguns tapped across her chest armor.

They could hear the moaning dead before they struck the first rank.

The arrow barricade started plowing through them as Tony picked up good speed. The dead either fell back as the barricade pushed against them, or they bounced off the wedge and were spun off to the side. At first the resistance was minimal, like a car striking pedestrians in the roadway. The dead were still scattered in the front from the book bombs. Tony tried to keep the barricade as low as possible as he pushed forward like a raging bull. The primary concern was if any of them fell beneath the barricade, causing them to stumble over the dead and lose momentum.

“This is working!” Nine yelled over his shoulder.

“Stay focused!” Alysa yelled back. “We’re about to hit the central horde!”

Tony didn’t like the sound of that. He didn’t dare look up over the barricade again, fearing he’d slow down at the sight. Instead, he continued to push with everything he had.

The moment they struck the congested dead toward the middle, Tony felt like he was now pushing a car out of the mud. They slowed down considerably, but were still pushing through the horde. Tony thighs were burning from the effort.

The dead were bouncing hard against the barricade now, getting riled up and screaming at the strange device disrupting their twilight calm.

“Holy shit!” Tony grunted. “I can feel them moving against it now!”

“We’re more than half-way there,” Alysa said, sweating from pushing. “Just keep charging! We stop… it’s over!”

The dead were violently thrown to the sides of the barricade and into the crowd. The dead pushed back against their off-balanced comrades as they hissed and growled at the shield bearers, slamming into their shields with incredible ferocity.

Several rotted arms started penetrating the gaps between shields as Mark, Wendy and Nine were not quite prepared for the first assault from the rear.

“Shit!” Wendy screamed, almost having her shield stripped from her as several frantic hands grabbed it and pulled. She held on tightly and pulled back, losing her spear to do so.

The gap between Wendy’s shield and Nine’s was increasing. They dead were pressing their distorted faces into the gap, gnashing their teeth violently at them like rabid dogs trying to breach a hole in a fence.

And then Diane was there, gun raised at point-blank range, firing into the faces of the dead until she’d emptied the magazine of the first handgun. She dropped it, grabbed another, and continued to fire.

This was enough for Wendy to regain control of her shield and close the gap.

Nine and Mark were thrusting their spears into dead flesh, trying to keep the savages off their shields.

Tony was sweating profusely as it now felt like he was pushing against an armored car, his legs going numb from the effort. And then he felt a strong push from behind as the dead slammed into the rear guard, giving Tony the illusion of super strength as the resistance waned and his charge intensified. “Keep it together!” he shouted. “They’re working against each other!”

Alysa was preoccupied with pushing and keeping the dead off the front of the barricade. She stabbed at several hands that had managed to grab on to the front, pulling the barricade down closer to the ground and leaving Tony exposed. Each time this happened, Tony felt all the weight on his shoulders, as he grunted and struggled to keep the barricade off the ground.

The dead were frenzied now. The ruse was up. They fought against the sides of the barricade and each other to get to the blood bags just beyond their reach. Fortunately, the bulk of the attack was coming from the rear as the sea of the dead before them were still caught unaware of the attack until the arrow penetrated their ranks.

And then all at once, Tony felt no resistance.

“We’re through!” Alysa yelled.

Tony dared a look, but continued to push his legs forward, fearing that if he slowed down, he’d stop completely as his legs cramped up. He could see the opening to the alley, just twenty yards ahead and off to the right. The dead were more spread out near the back of the horde, easily avoided, as Tony maneuvered the arrow among them, until he was aiming toward the mouth of the alley.

Once they reached the shopping plaza, Tony dropped to a knee, his exhausted leg and shoulder muscles screaming in pain. He was breathing heavily as Alysa quickly removed the shoulder straps so he could get out.

The others were still holding their shields up as the rear of the horde now became the front of their disorganized charge.

Diane was firing round after round into the dead, making sure they were within ten feet before firing, to insure accurate one-handed head shots.

When Tony was free, Alysa turned, quickly armed her bow and started firing arrows into the dead.

“Let’s move!” Tony shouted. “Into the alley!” He had already retrieved the rifle he’d slung around his back before the charge, scanning the alley ahead for any surprises. It was clear.

Mark, Wendy and Nine abandoned their shields and spears and started running awkwardly into the alley, ripping away their bulky book armor that was slowing them down.

“Go!” Alysa shouted toward Diane, who was still wearing her book armor.

The hunter nodded, understanding her limitations. Diane turned into the alley, running clumsily toward Nine, who was there to help her get the book armor off.

Alysa started backing into the alley, firing arrow after arrow into the coming horde that slammed into the narrow opening.

Tony was already at the dumpster before the fence, helping Wendy and Mark get up and over.

Nine and Diane were the next to arrive.

That left just Alysa to fend off the reduced, but still substantial number of the dead, pouring into the narrow alley.

Tony shouted over to her. “Alysa! Let’s go!”

“I’ll hold them back!” she shouted. “Get them all over!”

Alysa was a killing machine, each arrow connecting with deadly accuracy.

She reached back into an empty quiver.

Perfect! she thought, a devilish smile lighting up her face.

She had just enough time to raise her bow, holding it in two hands like a staff, as a large zombie reached in to bite her face, and bit into the bow instead. The archer released the bow and stepped back, her hunting knife already drawn as she stabbed the next one in the forehead, losing her knife. She was now fighting hand to hand combat with the dead as she punched and kicked against them, her martial arts skills just as lethal and fast as her ability with the bow. But she was clearly outnumbered.

They swung their arms, tried to grab, scratch and pierce her flesh with rotting teeth. She was quickly running out of steam. In a few moments, they’d overwhelm her. “So be it!” she screamed into the cannibals’ determined faces, preparing herself for one more glorious final charge.

Tony was there, firing his hunting rifle right beside her. He managed four shots before the dead were just too close. The big man growled like a maniac and started swinging the rifle down on the heads of the dead. He swung the rifle around again and again, somehow managing to stall the dead enough to allow Alysa to catch her breath.

For a moment, she just stood there, amazed by the incredible force the clearly exhausted man was exerting.

Tony yelled back, “Go! Now!” He screamed again at the dead and swung the rifle around so hard that it shattered on the jaw of a zombie twice Tony’s size. Tony then kicked the stunned zombie in the gut, knocking him back against the front of the line. Tony was about to charge again, but Alysa grabbed his right shoulder.

He turned, fist raised, eyes only seeing red.

“Down, soldier!” she said. “We have to move!”

He nodded as the dead resumed their charge.

Tony and Alysa ran to the dumpster, and helped each other up, barely avoiding the tangle of frantic arms that tried to grab at their legs.

From the other side of the chain link fence, the others were calling out to them while trying to distract the dead. Diane was firing what she had left from her handguns.

Both Alysa and Tony looked spent but managed to scale the fence and fall off the other side.

The others helped them to their feet and they ran, never looking back.

The dead quickly filled the back of the alley and pushed against the fence.

Minutes later the fence fell over and the dead poured through like flood waters breaching a dam.

But those precious few minutes were enough. They had escaped.

~~~

Next Episode 41-10

Previous Episode 41-8

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-9: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

“You want to do what?!” Tony looked like he wanted to throw Nine across the library lounge. The others sat on the couches with equal disbelief at what the young man had just proposed.

Diane was shaking her head at him. “Unbelievable,” she said. “This is what you and Jim have been up to all morning?”

Nine raised his hands, refusing to let the others deflate his enthusiasm. “Just hear me out,” he pleaded. “We’ve been banging our heads for three days, trying to figure out how to distract the dead, scare them off, throw them a fucking Halloween party… anything… to give us an opening to get out of this library. But there’s nothing we can do. They’re relentless… and they’re not going anywhere. That’s why we have to go through them.”

“Yeah… I heard that part,” Tony said. He started to pace. “So… you think we should just arm up, open the damn door, and fight our way through that fucking horde? Have you lost all sense?”

Nine looked over at Jim, who stood sheepishly toward the back of the lounge, holding several large books. He waved him over to one of the coffee tables.

Jim placed the books down on the floor beside the table as Nine quickly grabbed one. He opened the book and laid it out on the table, revealing several pictures of what looked like knights in full armor from different time periods. “This is what we need to do,” the young man said. “Myself and Jim have been going through these old history books all morning, and we agreed that we can make these… not actual suits of armor… but something that will work the same.”

Tony stared over Nine’s shoulder as Nine flipped through the pages.

The others got up and surrounded the coffee table.

“This is a joke… right?” Wendy, who was usually never this vocal about such matters, was surprisingly resistant.

Diane sighed and sat back down, mumbling something Nine was fortunate he couldn’t hear.

Tony took a step back and ran his fingers through his hair. He took a deep breath and said, “Look, I appreciate your efforts to find a solution, but rather than waste any more time on fantasies, we need a solid plan.”

“This is a solid plan!” Nine was trying not to get upset. “You all aren’t thinking outside the box… and that’s why we’re still here!” He turned to Jim. “Did you bring it?”

Jim nodded with a smile and retrieved a rolled-up paper that was tucked in the back of his pants. He handed it to Nine.

Nine unrolled the paper and pointed at it. “Look! We can make these. I know we can. It may not be the real deal… but it will keep those monsters from penetrating our skin. We already have the materials we need, right here in the library.”

Everyone, except for Diane, looked at what appeared to be a rough sketch of a man wearing a suit of armor, constructed entirely out of library books, magazines, and duct tape.

“We’ve been reading about various battles… real ones… fought by knights in similar circumstances. The battle tactics are sound and proven. In various instances, they fought in tight formations against large numbers and essentially… punched through their adversaries!” He stared into their faces for understanding and continued to find doubt.

Nine flipped the paper over, revealing a second sketch. This one showed a battle formation involving some sort of large shield or barricade with a slight bend in the center, forming a wide arrow tip, that was being carried by one knight, while several others surrounded him from the sides and the rear with smaller shields. “I know the drawing sucks, but the tactics are legit. We build one large… ramming device… something big enough, but light enough to carry… and we defend it from all sides… just like this! Hell, we already have actual shields for the rear defense. Tell them, Jim.”

“Yes, yes, they’re hanging up on the walls on the second floor. There’s at least three family crest shields. I can’t recall the family names or emblems, but they were all significant families that made considerable contributions to this town, and especially the library. They’re meant to be decorative, but I believe they still function as… well… shields.”

“See!” Nine said. “We already have a head start!”

“Nine!” Diane said. “Enough already! You’re being ridiculous.”

“This is crazy,” Wendy added, shaking her head and waving a dismissive hand at the drawing. “I don’t even know why we’re still talking about this. Wasn’t one suicide enough?”

Tony was about to agree and close the matter, until Alysa spoke up.

“He’s right,” she said, surprising everyone, including Nine.

While the others stared at the archer, she smiled and nodded at Nine. “Go on,” she encouraged. “I want to hear the rest.”

Nine nodded with gratitude, took a deep breath, and said, “I know it looks nuts… but it will work. This formation-”

“The Arrow Formation,” Jim corrected with a wink.

Nine laughed. “That’s right… we call it ‘The Arrow’… anyway, it works on a momentum principle. What you do is get this thing moving, defend it, and then… plow through the enemy, in this case, the dead. All we need to do is build up enough force from the start, strike the dead head on… and they won’t be ready for it. They’ll get pushed to the sides, or simply fall over because we’re pushing with more force than they’re resisting with. By the time they get back up and come after us, they’ll be striking from behind… essentially pushing against our flank and, helping us build more momentum. It will work.”

“You’ll still need to distract them,” Alysa said. “Or the ones in the front will get riled up before you make it half way through that mess, and then they’ll start pushing back, becoming a wall.”

Nine nodded. “That’s what we came up with, too. And there’s another problem as well.”

“Are we seriously considering this?” Wendy interrupted.

Tony shrugged his shoulders. “Apparently… we are.” He looked at the archer as if trying to figure out if she’d bumped her head on something.

Alysa ignored them. She said to Nine, “If this… ‘Arrow’… stops, or the ones carrying it trip and fall over… then we’re all dead.”

Nine frowned. “Exactly. There’s definitely some risks… but we’ve been living with risks since day one of this damn apocalypse. But the only way we have a chance with this, is if we do it together. It will require all of us to keep the dead off our backs.”

Alysa nodded and said. “Agreed.” She stepped back, folded her arms across her chest, and studied the young man. “And… you two came up with this from all your books?”

Nine looked to Jim and laughed. “Jim was a big help on the history. Add in a little creativity from our mutual love of King Arthur stories, plus all the damn movies I’ve seen, and a shit load of wasted hours spent playing video games, and… well…”

Alysa laughed hard, surprising everyone again. “Well done,” she said to the beaming young man who looked like he’d just won first prize at the Unbeliever’s Ball. She stared at Tony and said. “He’s right. This is possible, with a high degree of failure… but it’s a solid plan, and the best we’ve come up with so far. I’m in.”

“We’re not doing this,” Tony said.

Alysa raised her eyebrows at the big pouting man.

Nine was about to object.

“No,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard what you have to say, and that’s that. We’ll find another way that doesn’t involve risking all our lives on a… slim chance.”

Nine sat down on the coffee table, looking defeated.

Diane came over and put her hand on his shoulder.

He shrugged it off and said, “Not now,” refusing to look at her.

“The one thing we have an abundance right now is time,” Tony stated. “Yes… none of us want to be here one day longer, but I have to believe we’ll come up with something a little less… intense… if we keep trying out different ideas. Something we’ll come together. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon.” He looked at the dejected young man and finished, “Nine, I’m sorry. We’ve lost too much already. I don’t want to put all our remaining chips into this risky plan. We could all die out there with one mistake made.”

Nine nodded. “I… understand… I guess.”

He addressed the others. “I’m not prepared to lose any of you. The cost is too damn high to face what’s out there without a sure plan. In the meantime, as much as I hate being here—no offense, Jim—maybe we need to start considering staying for the long haul, and what that will mean.”

The others started staring around the once large library that had suddenly become much smaller.

“If staying here, means staying alive… well… I’d rather wake up and see all your disgruntled faces a day from now, a week from now, maybe even much longer, than putting you in harm’s way. I don’t think my heart could take it.” Tony looked at his feet, avoiding the scrutinizing gaze of the archer who looked like she wanted to call ‘bullshit’. “We’ll find another way out of this mess… but we’ll also find another way to live while we get there. Again, we have time-”

“Excuse me,” Jim said. “May I speak?”

“Of course,” Tony said.

“I need to ask a question first.”

“Go ahead, Jim.”

“Are… are those monsters outside really there? I seem to have forgotten what’s real again.”

Tony laughed. “It’s okay, Jim. Unfortunately, they are real, and they have us surrounded.”

Jim nodded. “Thanks. In that case, I should point out that although I have plenty of provisions for all of us—probably a year’s worth a more—I still need to point out that ‘time’ is not in equal abundance.”

“What does that mean?” Wendy asked.

Jim looked confused, as if the answer should have been obvious. “Today, there is probably close to two thousand monsters outside. That’s double what we had when we started, how many days ago?”

“Three,” Nine said.

“Well,” Jim said, stroking his beard. “I think the math speaks for itself. By the end of the week, there might be four-thousand outside… nearly ten thousand mid-way through the month… twenty thousand by-”

“We got it, Jim,” Mark said. “Thanks for ruining lunch.”

Wendy looked to Tony. “He can’t be serious, right? Could there be that many of the dead out there, and would they all come… here?”

Tony didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t considered it.

“He’s right,” Alysa said. “The dead have already showed a tendency to come together, especially near food sources. Eventually, as the food sources dwindle, more will find their way here… especially if they’re drawn by the sound of the others, which will only get louder as their numbers increase.”

“Fuck me,” Mark said.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Tony said, glaring at the archer. “They may start moving this way, but it will take them a lot longer to get here, especially over greater distances.”

“But they will… eventually,” Nine said. “Might as well put out a big flashing neon sign that says, ‘FRESH FOOD INSIDE’, thanks to the ones already here doing all the advertising. Jim’s math might not be factoring in all the variables, but it still amounts to the same thing… the number of the dead outside will continue to grow.”

Tony looked to Jim, who had lost interest and was already looking though one of his books.

We’re fucked either way, he thought. And if we don’t make some attempt to get out now, while the numbers are barely manageable, they’ll eventually surround the town… and we’ll all die here.

“I can tell by your facial expressions, and from our previous conversation, that you aren’t convinced that staying is any safer than Nine’s plan,” Alysa said, putting Tony on the spot.

He frowned at the archer and then turned to the others. “Earlier, I was talking with Alysa, and hinted that the two of us should risk going out while the rest of you stayed. That way… if we failed… you all could live on.”

“Your plan sucks compared to mine,” Nine said. “And I won’t let you two do that, not alone.”

Alysa stared at the young man and smiled.

Tony laughed and nodded. “I know. I only bring it up now to show you how desperate I am about getting out of this library. Some of us, like myself and Alysa, feel like staying is impossible. I start crawling out of my skin every time I consider it. But the rest of you, you all still have time, and each other. And with enough time I’m sure you all could figure out a better plan… a safer plan. Hell, if things went the way I’d hoped, Me and Alysa would lure the dead after us while the rest of you got out.”

“But you’re not doing that,” Wendy said. “Right?”

Tony laughed. “Probably not.”

“Tony,” Diane said. “Stop sugar coating this mess and tell us what you really think. I know you. You’d say and do anything to keep us safe… even if it meant doing something stupid yourself.”

“Guilty as charged,” Tony said, shaking his head. He sighed heavily and then finished. “It’s a risk to attempt an escape… and it’s a risk to stay here and try to live like this.”

“As prisoners,” Alysa clarified.

Tony nodded to her. “Yes… as prisoners. But it’s still living as opposed to being dead.”

“I think the word ‘prisoner’ is a bit harsh,” Jim nonchalantly said. “I’ve been doing just fine all this time. You will, too, once you get used to it.”

Nine laughed at Jim. “And what exactly is ‘it’?”

Jim smiled and pointed at his book. “Adventures beyond your wildest dreams, my young friend. No one can imprison the mind.”

“You got me there, Jim,” Nine said. He looked to Tony and shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe crazy isn’t so bad.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, staring at Jim who started reading again. If that’s our fate before the dead overrun this place… He shuddered at the thought.

Tony put his hands in his pockets, let his shoulders drop, and said, “Take the rest of the day, all of you, and consider what it will mean to stay… for an extended period.” He looked over at Nine. “But also, consider Nine’s plan… as crazy as it sounds. We’ll meet back up in the lounge tonight and vote on it. As Nine’s already mentioned, it will take all of us to pull off this ‘arrow’ thing… so… unless it’s a unanimous vote… than I guess we should get used to the idea of staying put for a while. Think it over.” He then looked down at his feet and finished. “I can’t protect you from this world… I never could.”

Hearing the rare admission from Tony struck the others as surprising… and a little unnerving.

“The loss of Beverly, Matthew, and everyone else back home, should be making that very clear to me, like a barrage of bricks to the face… but I’m stubborn.” He looked back into their faces. “I need to stop trying to shield you all from the storms… it’s wearing me down fast. But like that day at Orosco’s camp, when we all decided to come this far together, maybe now is another one of those times that I can’t decide things for you. So think about it, talk to each other, and make a decision. We’ll meet back up tonight to decide together which risk is worth taking… and whether we stay or try to escape… we’ll do it together.”

Alysa gave him a doubtful look.

He returned it with a smile and repeated, “Together.”

~~~

“And if they choose to stay, you intend to stay right here with them… for the long haul.” Once the others scattered and she had Tony to herself again, they relocated back upstairs. Alysa was quick to call him out. “I find that difficult to believe.”

“Believe what you want,” he said. “Just stop stabbing me with those sideway glares. I didn’t say I’d enjoy it if the final decision went that way.” He turned toward her. “But it sure beats watching them all get torn to pieces in front of me. So for that, I’ll have to deal with my own discomfort being trapped in this place.”

“I see,” she said, unconvinced.

“And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“You’ll have to suffer right along with me.” He smiled.

The archer scoffed. “I have no intention of slowly rotting away here. I’ll find a way out… or die trying.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s the warrior’s way and all that bullshit,” he said. “But you’re one of us now, too. I think it’s time you start acting like it.”

Alysa said nothing. She turned toward the closest window and stared out into the massive horde.

The dead things were covered in a winter’s worth of muck and dried-up blood, soiled clothing barely staying in place over their frail skeletal frames, skin stretched tight over rotting organs, eyes sunken back into their skulls, purpose—reduced to a single collective impulse to feed.

She watched as they continued to moan and sway into each other, oblivious of the horrific mirrors surrounding them, and completely unaware of ‘self’. Sometimes she envied the dead. What they didn’t have to deal with were the complicated myriad of emotions and conflicting thoughts left behind for the rest of the human race to contend with. She let out a heavy sigh. “You are a very indecisive man at times,” she said. “You let your heart dictate when it is your head that should be making the calls.”

“Okay,” he said, stepping up beside her. “So you think I’m letting my emotions get in the way?”

“Precisely. Those things down there don’t care if we stay here and slowly rot away with them or we make a run for it. They won’t care if we grow old here. They won’t care if we get away. They won’t care if they catch us. But they will stay put, while their numbers increase, and when something bad happens, some typical human emotion that leads to another ‘Matthew’ incident, they will get inside this place and kill all of us… and they won’t care afterwards. They’ll depart and follow another blood trail… not caring where they’re going or when they’ll get there.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah, I get it. We stay. We die here… eventually.”

She looked at him, puzzled. “And this doesn’t trouble you?”

“Of course it does. But if we attempt Nine’s crazy plan, we might die anyway, much sooner.” He shook his head. “Since this all started, life has been reduced to a series of coin tosses—uncertainty on one side, but death, death is always on the other side of that damn coin, regardless.” He laughed. “I’m starting to think the death part might be the easier fate.”

She considered this and stared back out the window. “So, you’re saying that getting through that horde will just lead us to another choice?”

“I’m saying that as long as we’re still alive, uncertainty will always be there. Whether we stay in this library for as long as possible, or we manage to escape. Death is the easy way out.”

She turned back. “Like Matthew?”

“Yes… like Matthew… in a way,” he said. “But more than that. It takes something… extraordinary… something more than ourselves, something that moves us past ourselves and into an unknown place, in order to live each and every day now. Something worth pushing forward regardless of all that uncertainty. What’s death in comparison to discovering a reason to… live?” He looked hard at the archer and finished, “You’re a warrior. Tell me, warrior, which fight would truly prove more challenging in the end? Facing death head on, where the outcome is always the same: black or white, live or die… or actually doing something with the whole ‘living’ part, other than desperately searching for the next opportunity to trade it in for a chance at death?

Alysa remained silent.

~~~

“So… are you just going to stay mad at me and sulk the rest of the day away?” Diane said, sitting down next to the brooding young man on the rooftop. “And why are we back up here again?” she asked. “It’s not even our watch.”

“I’m not… sulking, I’m thinking,” Nine said. “Sure, I was pissed at you a little, but I’m over it. It was a good plan that got shot down by all that fear in the room.” He shot her a quick glance and turned away.

“Ouch,” she said. “Okay, I suppose I deserve that… and you’re right… I was opposed to it immediately. As were the others, except for that insane Shadow Dead bitch, of course. You do know how crazy that plan sounded, right?”

“Of course,” he said. “But we needed a way out of here and I provided us one, a real one… but no one could hear anything beyond the risky parts, except for Alysa.”

Diane frowned. “You admire her, don’t you?”

“She doesn’t let fear factor in to her decisions,” Nine said. “She could clearly see the tactical side to my plan… and didn’t ridicule me for it. So yes, I admire that, if nothing else. Although she may still eat all of us in our sleep… eventually.”

“And Tony?” she pushed. “Was he giving in to fear, too?”

“Absolutely,” he said. “Tony’s the leader, and with that comes the responsibility for all our lives. He has to weigh all outcomes… and make the hard calls. If he wasn’t afraid to put our lives at risk, then I’d really be worried about his leadership.”

Diane laughed. “Can’t argue with you on that one.”

Nine went back to brooding.

Diane was always telling him to shut up for all the ridiculous things that poured out of his endless pie hole, but now, she couldn’t stand the silence between them. “So… what are you thinking about?”

Nine sighed and showed her a serious face, full of worry and exhaustion. She didn’t like it. “To answer your other question, I told Wendy and Mark we’d take their watch so I could be with you in the one place that didn’t remind me of all the hell around us.”

She looked away with a smile. “You’re talking about what we did this morning, right?”

“That was… totally fucking awesome… but, no, I didn’t mean that.”

“Then… what do you mean?”

“How we were last night, all night, and how magically our watch ended, showed me how much I had to lose… I mean… really lose, for the first time.”

She waited.

“While the rest of you were afraid because of my ‘crazy plan’, I spent all morning with Jim coming up with it because I was… afraid… the moment I left you this morning.”

“What are you afraid of?”

Nine’s shoulders fell. He looked down and said, “You and I have built something together, through all that mess out there, something that shouldn’t be possible… not now. But we fell in love with each other anyway.”

She smiled at him. “Yes, we did, didn’t we?”

He looked at her and smiled back. “Yes, my angel, we certainly did. I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. It just took you a little longer to catch up.” He added a wink.

“Asshole,” she laughed.

“Anyway, I started thinking about that… a lot… and what would happen to us if we were trapped in this damn place. That’s when I got afraid. And that’s why I came up with this escape plan.”

“So… let me get this straight. We have a wonderful evening together, make love, and then you decided to come up with a plan that will probably get us all killed? Could you help me understand that… please?”

He gave her the serious face again, making her shift uncomfortably. “This library prison will kill what we have together. Not at first, but when the days run long, one after the other, and we’re still trapped here, surrounded by the dead, we’ll turn on each other like a bunch of caged rats, slowly starving to death.”

“But… Jim has plenty of food and water-”

“I’m not talking about any of that. We’ll starve from being alive long before the food runs out… and I’m talking about being out there, free to make our own decisions, good or bad, go where we want, do what we want—fucking really living! Eventually, we’ll take it out on each other, probably start hating each other… and then do the dead’s job for them.”

Diane didn’t know what to say.

He smiled when he saw her worried face. “Look, you know me. I’m not a pessimist. Don’t I always try to keep it light?”

“Yes, you’re definitely not Mr. Doom and Gloom.”

“Then trust me when I say that if we stay here, we’re dead, and it will be a long painful death. We’re not meant to be caged up… just look at what living in that compound for six months did to our community long before the Shadow Dead showed up. How much longer do you think we could’ve kept that up?”

“You’re right,” Diane admitted. “That’s why I volunteered to go out on every mission with Gina. I hated being in that damn place.”

“This will be no different,” Nine said. “That’s why, as crazy and as risky as my plan seems, we have to try and get out of here.” He looked away. “If we stay… and when we lose ourselves in here, and we will… you’ll all be wishing we’d tried my crazy plan… when we still cared enough about each other to pull it off.”

“You really are afraid, aren’t you?”

“To stay here? Absolutely. There’s nothing I fear more. I can’t lose you. In here… I will. We’ll all lose and become as dead as those things outside.”

Diane was quick to respond. “Then we go.”

Nine looked up. “What?”

She was nodding vigorously before she could change her mind. “Fine. You’re right. Let’s do this crazy thing and get the hell out of here.”

Nine smiled. “I love you, Diane Conley.”

“Well, you better. Because agreeing to this insanity has shown me how crazy I’ve fallen for you, too.”

~~~

“You were surprisingly quiet tonight,” Wendy said, staring over at Mark. Once more, they shared the watch. Currently they were patrolling the perimeter of the first floor, stopping at each window to gaze outside.

Mark shrugged his shoulders in response, hands in his pockets, eyes staring absently toward the floor.

“I finally speak out against something that you would normally chime in on… and you… you just sat there like you could care less. What’s up?”

“I’m distracted by other things,” Mark said. His tone was surprisingly soft.

Wendy frowned at him. “You’re still thinking about it… aren’t you?”

“And you’re not?” he countered. “Ever since he let those monsters out… and how Matt just stood there, like he wanted them to… I don’t know… accept him, or something, I just can’t shake the way he just gave up.”

Wendy nodded. “I know. I was there, too. It was awful, but you can’t dwell on it.”

“It just doesn’t make sense, you know? I mean, he was actually smiling when he broke the lock off that gate. Fucking smiling! I just can’t grasp why anyone would do something like that… and then he died so horribly… there was so much fucking blood-” Mark stopped and took a deep breath. “I mean… it was like he wanted to be one of those fucking things.”

Wendy reached out to put a hand on Mark’s shoulder, hesitated, and then did it anyway.

He let her.

“Matthew was messed up in the head. We all saw it. I think… I think he just snapped and wanted a way out… just like Alysa said.”

He looked at her. “You mean he wanted to die?”

She nodded.

Mark looked back down at the floor and said, “I thought I wanted to die… that I wanted all of us to die because we had it coming. I’m so full of shit. That was all just my way of disconnecting from it all… all that fucking madness. It made it easier to believe that we were being… I don’t know… punished for all that bad shit we ever did to each other. But when I saw what those things did to Matt… my God… no one deserves that!”

Wendy was stunned by Mark’s admission. For the first time, she believed she was seeing the real man behind all those snide remarks as the unraveling of his ‘asshole’ front came down like a wall made of sand before the tide. Witnessing Matt die so savagely had broken him. “It didn’t seem real to me, not at first,” Wendy said. “I mean, I’d never seen someone get torn to pieces like that. It’s the kind of thing you see in a really bad horror film, and then turn it off or say something like, ‘that’s not even real blood’. But it was real… and it happened right in front of us. I’m still trying hard not to see it in my head. I just tune it out like turning off that bad movie. Maybe you should do the same.”

“I’m trying,” he said. Matt’s eyes began to water up. “I’m trying, but… Matt’s death… it shook me up. Beverly’s death was rough but I didn’t see it. Kind of like ‘out of sight, out of mind’, so it wasn’t as bad. Her absence was harder to deal with than her death, know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Even when Joe got killed in Cubicle City, there was that sheet blocking our view. He just went down and never got back up… that’s what I told myself… and then shit got crazy fast.” He paused and took another breath. “Those monsters ripped Matt to pieces, Wendy. They just tore into him like he was paper, like his entire life wasn’t even worth a moment’s consideration… they just…”

“Stop,” Wendy whispered.

Mark started wiping tears from his eyes.

Wendy stood up on her tip toes and hugged the taller man.

Mark bent down and let her.

“Remember when we were hiding under those bunks at the compound?” he whispered.

“Yes,” Wendy responded.

“I had… I had that gun. I was actually trying to talk myself into using it… you know… on us… if the Shadow Dead found us.”

Wendy didn’t know what to say.

“There’s no way I would have… maybe Matt… but not me. Because I know I’m just a coward.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. “And you’re not a coward for not going through with it. Even if those monsters slaughtered us one at a time… I still would’ve wanted to fight… to live. Only a coward would’ve gone that route, Mark. I’m sure you know that now. Especially after what Matt did.”

“Yeah… you’re right. But I’m still a coward. I talk all tough about facing the death we all deserve… but I don’t know shit. Truth is, I’m a shitty person. I’ve treated people badly all my life to make myself feel better about… me. I’m the only one who deserves what’s coming. I deserve what happened to Matt.”

“That’s bullshit,” Wendy said. “Matt made a choice. So did you. When the dead killed him, I froze. I couldn’t move. If you hadn’t grabbed my arm and made me run… I’d be dead, too. You weren’t a coward then.”

Mark pulled away gently and smiled. “Thanks for saying that. It means a lot, especially from you.”

“Why me?”

“Because I’ve treated you the worst when all you’ve tried to do is be good to me. I targeted you to make myself feel better. And that’s a fucked-up thing to do… especially when there are so few of us left.”

Wendy smiled. “Well, you’re treating me pretty good right now. Hell, keep it up, and you might make the bottom of my favorite people list.”

Mark laughed and wiped tears from his face. “I must seem like a giant pussy right now, huh?”

“Not what I would’ve said. More like, Drama Queen.”

Mark tipped his head back and laughed louder.

This made Wendy giggle. “All better now?”

“For now,” he said with a sigh. “Thanks. You’re good people, Wendy… and I’m glad I got to say that while we’re both still here.”

She smiled. “Well, before you make me blush, maybe we should get to that decision.”

“What was that?”

“You know, whether or not we want to stay, or go along with Nine’s crazy plan.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’ve already decided.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “And…?”

“I want to help him. I think he’s right, we need to get the hell out of here.”

Wendy took a step back. “You did hear that crazy plan, right?”

He nodded.

“So… you want to go out there in the middle of that horde and die like Matthew?”

“I think it will work. The archer thinks so, too. But they need all of us to pull it off… and we need to get out of here while we still can.”

“But the plan is nuts!” Wendy was beside herself. “Of all the times… I can’t believe you’re for this!”

Mark looked out the closest window. “I don’t want to be here knowing that those things are just waiting outside for a chance to do to me what they did to Matt.”

“But that’s exactly what going outside will mean? You do realize that, don’t you?”

Mark’s expression was void of all pretense. Only honesty remained. “No… it’s not the same. We can either go at them first, catch them off guard, and fight like hell to get away. Or, we stay here, and wait for them to slaughter us after we’ve forgotten how to fight back. Eventually, we’ll start thinking we’re untouchable in here, like we thought at the compound when we were sheltered from everything. And then just like before, when death came, we’ll cower and hide. People will die to keep us safe, and we’ll get lucky and escape. I don’t ever want to feel that helpless again… or cowardly… or unworthy of another chance when so many people bled for me already.”

Wendy averted her eyes and said nothing.

“I think this place is bad for us, Wendy. I think we may have grown a little as survivors… actual survivors… when we realize that there’s no greater liar than that sonofabitch who moved in here last winter called, Safety.”

~~~

Nine, Mark and Wendy paced impatiently around the library lounge, waiting for Tony to arrive.

“Would you all sit the hell down,” Diane said from one of the couches. “He’ll be here soon.”

The archer stood near the back of the lounge, leaning up against a wall. She kept staring toward the back of the library, a rare look of distress on her face.

Diane caught it. “What is it?”

Alysa turned. “We talked a bit more after this morning. When we were finished, Tony excused himself and said he wanted to talk to Jim about… options. I haven’t seen him or the strange librarian since.”

“They’re probably hanging out in Jim’s super-awesome bedroom. If you haven’t seen it yet… it’s really something,” Nine said.

“Yes,” Alysa said. “I do know that Tony went down there. But that was a while ago.”

“But he is still down there… right?” Diane asked.

The archer looked uncertain. “I assumed so… but now…”

“Well, where the hell else could he be?” Matt chimed in.

The archer frowned. “I think Diane said it best earlier when she mentioned that Tony would do anything to keep us safe… even if it meant something stupid. I’m starting to believe that Tony-”

“That Tony might not be here!” Diane finished, rising to her feet.

“Come on,” Nine said. “Let’s check the basement.”

They all followed Nine down into Jim’s fantasy world and were surprised to hear the muffled sound of the generator running, along with what sounded like power tools, coming from the sound-proofed room off to the left of the stairs.

Nine opened the door to the small room, letting out the noise. He immediately covered his ears… and smiled.

Tony and Jim looked up in surprise. They were both wearing safety goggles and ear plugs. Tony had a power drill in one hand. Jim was working with some sort of electric saw. They were both hovering over the modified remains of a large table that had been reshaped and reinforced by a combination of various items salvaged from the spare furniture from the opposite side of the basement. What stood out the most was the new shape of the former table. It resembled a large arrow.

Tony removed his goggles and plugs. “Shit. What time is it?”

“It’s long past the time you tell us what the hell you’re doing down here?” Diane said.

Nine just laughed and clapped his hands, excitedly. “Isn’t it obvious?” he said to Diane.

Tony smiled and raised his hands in mock surrender. “Busted,” he said. “I just got talking with Jim earlier about how to make this damn arrow thing, since I’d be the obvious choice to carry it. Well… one thing led to another… and… here we are.”

Jim smiled back sheepishly and waved at them.

“You knew,” Wendy said with a smile. “You knew we’d decide to go.”

Tony nodded. “I… guessed.”

“Well, that was very presumptuous of you,” Wendy said, in a teasing tone.

Tony laughed and turned to Jim. “We figured, that if the vote went another way, we could always turn this thing into a fancy looking bookshelf or something. Sorry for being late. We just sort of… got carried away down here, and lost track of time.”

“I’ll say,” Nine laughed. “It looks great guys.”

Tony and Jim looked at each other and smiled. “Jim’s made me a believer in the power of the written word,” Tony said. “When we started looking through the ‘How To’ books… well… I haven’t had this much fun making shit since Shop class back in high school. Jim’s really responsible for most of it. He’s quite handy.”

“I owe it all to my nonfiction writer friends,” Jim said. “I’d already read most of the books in the ‘Do It Yourself’ section of the library several times.” He added a wink that made Tony laugh.

“The vote was unanimous,” Alysa confirmed. She, too, wore a conservative little smile. “All in favor of Operation Crazy Arrow.”

Nine turned to her and laughed. “I like that!”

“You would,” Diane said, elbowing him.

Tony nodded. “Sounds good. Give me and Jim another hour or so to finish this up. We’ve got some fancy harness system and handles to install, and we’ll have this mostly done. I’ll come up and we can work out the details to Nine’s plan.” He started to put his goggles back on.

The others departed and headed back upstairs.

Diane looked over at Nine who was grinning ear to ear. “Stop that. It’s irritating as shit.”

“Sorry… I’m just excited.”

And then something occurred to her, something she was sure Nine had overlooked. She hesitated, not knowing if she should bring it up. “You know… there will be six of us out there trying to do this… right? Jim’s made it clear that he’s not coming.”

“Of course.”

“Well, isn’t that like the worst fucking number? You’re always going on about how awful number six is.”

Nine smiled and corrected her. “It’s seven, babe. Jim may not be going, but without him, this never would’ve worked. He’s also going to help us from here… like our own ‘inside man’.”

“And that’s… good… right?”

Nine nodded. “Seven’s a done deal. Seven is the number of completion, like when God made the world, or how many days in a week, or-”

“Got it,” she said, shaking her head. “Why am I not surprised?”

“We’re getting out of here, my angel. Can’t you feel it?” He started dancing around her like an idiot.

This made Mark and Wendy laugh.

Diane shook her head. “Sure. Now stop that.”

“Then say it!” he said. “Say it like you mean it!”

“Fuck off, crazy man.”

“Say it… or I’ll start singing our victory song,” he threatened. “Trust me, no one wants to hear my singing.”

“Please… don’t let him start singing,” Mark advised.

“I’m sure if the dead start hearing that… they might just leave,” Wendy teased.

Diane laughed. “Oh, God, no… okay… we’re getting out of here.”

Nine jumped up on one of the coffee tables. “One more time, everyone! Say it with emotion!” he encouraged, sounding like a game show host.

The others gave in to his madness and shouted, “We’re getting out of here!”

Alysa stood toward the back of the lounge. She was already thinking about tactics to discuss with Tony later. She watched the four excited young people prematurely celebrate before the battle, considered sobering them up by mentioning the slim odds of their success, and then decided against it. We need every bit of confidence, however false, she thought.

While the others continued carrying on, the archer started formulating a future plan on how to pick up the broken pieces of Tony Marcuchi after suffering the loss of several of his children… assuming any of them survived at all.

~~~

Next Episode 41-9

Previous Episode 41-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-8: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

The sunrise exploded beneath the overcast grey clouds, appearing to set them on fire from beneath. It was as if the coming day was attempting to break free of the gloom which had settled over the town of Orwell. But like the only living survivors on the ground, who shared an intense desire to break free, the daylight was soon swallowed up by monotonous grey, keeping the light to a minimum, much like the hope of those below.

Nine and Diane sat together and held each other close on the rooftop, watching the light extinguish to the east and savoring the wondrous distraction, before having to return to the reality of their third morning of imprisonment within the library.

Nine closed his eyes and tried to shut out the collective low hum of the dead from the streets. During morning and evening twilight, they seemed… calmer… distracted by something other than their continuous need to rip the living apart, driven by an insatiable hunger that even the dead could not understand.

“What are you thinking about?” Diane asked, pulling the young man in closer.

Nine smiled and opened his eyes. He looked at the beautiful brown-haired woman wrapped in his favorite jean jacket. He marveled at how twilight, much look moonlight, magnified a person’s aura, rather than exposing every harsh blemish and detail normal light often did. Her long hair was cascading over her shoulders as a light breeze blew from behind them. He loved it when she wore her hair down. It made her more vulnerable, and less guarded—honest. He could feel the warmth of her body, her steady heartbeat, her gentle breathing on his neck. “Not a damn thing,” he finally said. “I’m just enjoying… this.”

She cocked her head up toward him and smiled.

“There’s just moments that need to be appreciated without ruining them with inadequate words.”

“Now that coming out of you is surprising,” she teased.

He laughed. “You know what I mean.”

“Of course.”

A comfortable moment of silence passed between them.

“I love you, Diane Conley.”

For a moment, he felt her tense up, and then relax, as if winning some war within herself. He could feel her heartbeat increase rapidly. Nine knew he was taking a risk by saying the words, but he meant them. And if this place was where they would meet their end together, and this moment was the last they might have that was untainted by all the rest, then he wanted to make it count. No more bullshit.

And then she said them. “I love you… Seymour Patterson.”

He winced a little, hearing his real name, the one he despised from a childhood loaded with incessant bullying. But the words that came before it were like gold rain washing away the pain of the past. When the world he sprung from had come to an abrupt end, he had vowed to let that name die, and all those memories, die with it, opting for the nickname his brother had given him, instead. He had told only Diane his real name and she vowed never to reveal it. Now that’s trust, he had told her afterwards.

Diane stared at him sheepishly. Her eyes clearly showing how hard it was to reach the point of saying those words, as hard as it was for him to hear that old name.

But some moments, in order to make them genuine, required all pretense to disappear.

She raised her eyebrows expectantly.

He lightly laughed, and then leaned in and kissed her.

Gold.

They stayed there, completing the end of their evening watch, surrounded by a sea of monsters below and an oppressive dark grey hand pushing down on them from above… and made love to each other.

Among the many incredible things they had all been forced to believe since The Change, a second sunrise in the same morning, though as brief as the first, was one Nine and Diane embraced with a passion—a hunger—that burned with more intensity than the hunger of the dead.

~~~

Tony woke just before dawn and started his third morning the same way he approached the previous two. He let out an exhausted heavy sigh as if dreaming was now better than living. He sluggishly got dressed, walked upstairs, being mindful not to wake the others, and stopped at the same large library window facing south toward the roadway out of Orwell. Unlike the first two mornings, when he still possessed a hint of hopeful expectation that the dead would be gone, Tony simply stared and frowned at the massive horde of dark, disfigured faces and mangled forms, pressed together like zealous fans at a rock concert trying to get to the front of the stage.

Why won’t they just… leave! he thought in frustration. Do they just fucking expect us to open the damn door and invite them in to eat? He slammed his fist on the window sill causing a few tortured faces to stare up at him eagerly, like well-behaved dogs expectantly waiting to be thrown a bone. “Fuck all of you,” he hissed, and then looked up past the mob toward the road south, hoping once again to find some solution that eluded him.

“Good morning.”

Tony closed his eyes and shook his head. It was the archer, again, always catching him off-guard at his finest moments. He turned and saw Alysa standing near the stairwell, close enough to keep an eye on him, but at a respectable distance, until he invited her over.

“Still sleeping through the night, I see,” he joked.

“I slept… some,” she said with a smile. “May I join you?”

Tony half-heartedly waved her over toward a couple of chairs that had become their morning spot to talk about all things pointless.

They sat down across from each other, but away from the window.

Alysa laid her bow across her lap and studied the stressed-out man rubbing sleep from his eyes.

He lurched over in the small chair, which was much too big for his broad frame, resting his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands together. He laughed lightly at Alysa’s calm and cool demeanor. “Nothing ever rattles you, does it?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, uncertain of the question.

“You seem to thrive in these life-or-death situations,” he clarified. “Me, on the other hand, I’m doing all I can not to rush out the front door and strangle the first dead-head I see.”

Alysa nodded with a half-smile. “It’s hard to do nothing,” she said thoughtfully. “Or rather, it’s hard to know what to do when there’s nothing to do.”

“You sound like every shitty fortune cookie I’ve ever received when you talk like that,” he joked.

She tried again. “What I’m trying to say is that you’re taking on too much. This isn’t your fault or your responsibility. Not alone, anyway. It’s keeping you from thinking clearly.”

Tony sighed. “We are completely surrounded by over a thousand dead things that want to consume us, and so far, it looks like they’re here to stay. We’re the best meal in town… apparently.”

“Actually, it’s probably closer to fifteen hundred by now, since we drew in more from the surrounding areas with our gunfire rescuing the children,” she said the last word with disdain. “And I’m sure that number increases daily.”

“Gee, thanks for that.”

“Just keeping it real.”

“And for the record, I wouldn’t change a thing. These children are our family now. You were wrong for not waking me immediately the moment Mark and Wendy left. And why was that again?”

Alysa didn’t appreciate the deflection. “They were… a liability. I told them to let Matthew go, that he was already desiring death, but they went after him anyway. Since they all wanted to die so eagerly, why should I risk the rest of you for their folly?”

“Because it wasn’t your damn call to make!” Tony barked.

Alysa’s temper was staring to rise, but she wisely remained silent, not wanting to incite a bull.

“Look, they’re young, stupid, and inexperienced, I’ll give you that. Matthew… he was troubled… I won’t pretend to understand what he did, letting all those things loose, and then…” Tony stopped himself, trying not to picture that gruesome death described by Wendy and Mark. “None of them have ever faced these kinds of horrors before. They’ve been sheltered for most of it. It’s a lot to digest all at once. But we’ve all been there. They just need more time to adjust… to learn.”

“Meanwhile, two of them are already dead. And Matthew created this mess for the rest of us,” Alysa defended. “I did what I did to protect us. They made their own decision. It wasn’t my place to stop them… but I wasn’t going to let them get the rest of you killed, too.”

“You still don’t get it,” Tony said. “They’re just kids! They need us, even when they make the wrong call. Haven’t you ever had adults in your life that bailed you out of all the stupid shit you did as a teen?”

Alysa said nothing.

“Yes, they shouldn’t have gone after Matthew, not alone, at least. But your hesitation to tell me what they were doing cost us time. Perhaps the outcome would’ve been different-” he stopped himself and averted his eyes.

“So, you’re blaming me for Matthew’s death? Am I also responsible for this siege, as well?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. Your eyes said enough.”

He looked at her and sternly said, “I’m not blaming you for what went down. But I am pissed at you for making a decision that wasn’t yours to make.”

The archer sighed. “Fair enough. What’s done is done. None of this helps our present-”

“Don’t do it again,” Tony warned.

Alysa saw the uncompromising look in Tony’s eyes and nodded. “I apologize… for not telling you sooner. You’re right. Not my call. Can we move on now, or would you like me to leave the group?”

“Stop being so dramatic,” Tony said.

“I’m serious,” she said, standing up. “If you want me out. I’ll leave. In my Order, if one of us overstepped, like I did with you, our death was immediate. I’ll walk out the front door and try to lure the dead away. Maybe I can hold them off long enough for the rest of you-”

“Alysa?”

“Yes.”

“Shut the hell up. You’re not one of them. You’re one of us. You’re family, too. We’ve all made mistakes, and I’m sure we’ll make more. But we do it together. If we can’t learn to forgive each other, then none of this surviving bullshit will matter. We might as well just kill each other off and save a whole hell of a lot of time.”

She sat back down.

“You made a bad call. Just don’t do it again. I already know I can count on you in a fight… but I need to know that you have my back, even when the fight goes south. Do you understand that?”

Alysa thought about it. “Yes. I think I understand.”

“Good. Now, what were you saying? You think I’m taking on too much?”

Alysa smiled. “Yes. And that you can’t do it alone. Apparently, I needed to hear that, too.”

Tony laughed and stood up. He stared out the window and said, “Okay, I’ll share the load with you. I’m stumped for ideas anyway. I’m convinced that we can’t wait these fuckers out. I think they’re here to stay. Would you agree with that?”

Alysa nodded. “I believe you are correct. The one thing the dead have in their favor, and in abundance, is persistence. They’ve caught our scent—our blood—and they won’t leave until they have it.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah. That leaves us with two choices. One, we fight our way out. Perhaps we can catch them by surprise and punch a hole through their ranks enough for some of us to get out, but people are going to die. I’m certain of it.”

“Agreed.”

“Option number 2: We sit tight and wait this out for as long as it takes, or until Jim’s supplies run out. I’ve seen what the Army’s left behind. It’s considerable—meant to sustain the entire town. There’s enough supplies to keep us all alive for months, maybe a couple of years. So, we could roll the dice on time, maybe the dead find something else to chase, maybe the world somehow rights itself by then… who knows. Or, maybe we all just slowly go crazy like Jim and forget that the dead are even real. What do you think?”

Alysa smiled. “I don’t think you or I would last a week like that. Maybe the others, for a time, but not us.”

Tony gave her a hard look. “Yeah, you’re right. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Go on,” she said.

“You and I… I don’t know… we could, break out of here together, but keep the others out of it. That way, if shit goes badly, everyone else gets to live for a while. I was thinking we could start with-”

Alysa laughed lightly.

“What is it?”

“You asked if we were thinking about the same thing… apparently not.”

Tony gave her a puzzled look.

“I originally came up here to talk with you about your stress, and how you didn’t have to deal with it alone. I know it’s tough to lead… and to know what to do when there’s nothing to do.”

“Yes, the fortune cookie crap, I remember. Did I miss something?”

Alysa put down her bow. “While patrolling earlier, I went to check on Diane and Nine on the roof. They had found a… creative… means to deal with the present situation that I thought might help you as well.”

“And what’s that?”

Alysa smiled, stood up, and then started unbuttoning her pants.

“Umm…” Tony was completely caught off guard.

The archer quickly pulled her pants all the way down to her ankles, revealing her long slender dark legs and the fact that she wore no underwear.

“Whoa… what’s this?” Tony took a step back.

She put her hands to her sides, confused. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Well… yeah… but…” Tony was getting flustered. He couldn’t stop staring at her bare, shaved lower regions. Well, there’s no doubting her true hair color now, he thought nervously, and then looked toward the window.

“Do you find me… unattractive?” Alysa asked, stepping out of her pants.

“No… that’s not it,” Tony said. “Please… just… put your clothes back on.”

And then she understood. She took a step forward. “There’s no need to feel the usual romantic obligations associated with sex during times like this. It is not uncommon, especially during times of prolonged warfare, for soldiers to seek… physical comfort… from one another. Nine and Diane reminded me of this fact.”

Tony stepped back, bumping into a library shelf. “It’s not that… and… I do find you attractive…”

She took another step forward, and reached down to remove her top. “I never had the opportunity or the need, myself… but there were some in my Order who often fucked before battles. And, although it’s not necessary, I also find you physically attractive-”

“Okay… just stop!” Tony held his arms out, keeping the mostly nude Shadow Dead just out of reach.

She stopped removing her shirt, looking confused. “Do you prefer… men?”

“No! God, no!” Tony took a deep breath. “I’m… I’m with someone,” he said. “Or… I was. Doesn’t matter. This can’t happen… okay? It’s not you… it’s me.”

Alysa studied Tony’s pained expression and then nodded. She turned around to retrieve her pants, bending over to reveal her well-rounded buttocks.

Marcuchi, you are one stupid son-of-a-bitch, he scolded himself, forcing himself to look elsewhere again.

“I understand now,” Alysa said, pulling up her pants. “You are in a prison of another kind.” She turned around. “Is she the one who holds you back from your true potential?”

Tony felt backhanded by her words. “You don’t ever stop, do you? You just keep pushing.”

She picked up her bow. “Sorry. You are not the first to reject me in this way. I may be a warrior, but I’m still a woman… who apparently doesn’t know how to please a man.”

Tony sighed. “Again, it’s not you, Alysa. I think you’re… stunning.” You’re an idiot. He tried again. “What I mean is… I would love to… I mean… shit… but I can’t.”

She gave him her half smile and said, “Well… whoever she is, she doesn’t deserve you. I’d wager that she has done nothing but cause you pain and heartache.”

Tony wisely said nothing.

“Does your prison have a name?”

“Yes.”

“You’ve seen me naked. I think you owe me that much.”

“Her name’s Gina.”

“Do you love this… Gina?”

“I don’t know anymore. I loved her once. But she’s different now.”

“So, you love the idea of Gina?”

Tony said nothing.

Alysa shook her head. “We live in a different world today, Tony. Up is down, down is up, and love… well, love… is a ridiculous ‘idea’ that does nothing but get people killed.”

“I don’t believe that.” Tony stepped forward, challengingly. “Love is the only thing worth a damn. You’re a warrior, right?”

“Yes. Without question?”

“Well… what the hell are you fighting for, warrior? If not for love… then what?”

Alysa started to answer, then realized she didn’t have one.

Tony stepped right up to her, causing the archer to step back. “Love is all that matters. It’s what’s going to be here when all this bullshit is finally over. It’s what’s going to sustain us and help us rebuild our world the right way, when the fighting is done. And if it’s just a fucking idea, a dream, or a puff of smoke, then so be it, because that idea is worth fighting for, even if I never know it again!”

Alysa saw an intensity in Tony’s eyes that rivaled anything she ever saw in her opponents’ eyes on the battlefield. She found it intimidating. She had only known blood. But this man believed in something much more powerful. She turned away from his gaze. “Well, all I know is that you, and your ‘idea’, just ruined a perfectly good fuck.” She started downstairs.

Don’t I know it, he thought, watching the attractive archer depart. This is going to be a very long apocalypse. He turned back toward the window, waiting for the bulge in his pants to subside. The blemish on his heart refused to go away.

~~~

After Wendy and Mark relieved Nine and Diane from the rooftop, they headed downstairs, attempting to fix their disheveled clothing and hair, but were unable to remove the all-tell grins from their faces whenever they were around each other. After a quick meal, they decided to separate for a time, believing they were being too obvious and acting like giddy school kids, but the forced withdrawal only made them look more obvious.

Fortunately, the others were far too preoccupied to pay their strange behavior any notice.

Nine decided to track down Crazy Jim to learn what he could about the library and the town, hoping to find a solution to their current imprisonment by the dead.

Since taking up permanent residence in the Orwell Public Library before the winter, Jim had been busy, converting the large library basement into his own personal living quarters/emergency shelter. Initially, before slowly losing his marbles, Jim had understood the potential risks in leaving his abundant supply of Army MRE’s and cases of bottled water, and various other emergency supplies, out in the open for anyone to find. The Army had first converted the first floor of the library into a staging area to feed the town, and for treating and testing the sick to catch sudden outbreaks. Since the Army and the town departed, Jim had moved all the supplies into the basement where he’d stacked them up neatly along the walls at the furthest end of the large basement, near the dead furnace, and hidden behind a junk yard of old library shelves, furniture, and a mass of other library relics. He’d also had the foresight to forage for whatever else he might have needed from the abandoned local businesses in town to make sure he had whatever he needed for the long haul. Unfortunately, the local gun shop wasn’t on his list—he hated firearms. Crazy Jim had made his commitment to stay, and whether by sheer luck, force of will, or the mercy of God, he’d managed to remain hidden from that hostile world just outside his doors… and he had no intention of returning to that world any time soon.

Nine approached the closed basement door and knocked loudly five times. Crazy Jim had instructed them to do this if they needed anything. He’d said that he often slept through the evening hours to conserve his candles and lamp batteries (unless he was reading a good book that he couldn’t put down, of course), and that he preferred to sleep in late most mornings, which had turned him into a very deep sleeper.

“Come on down, it’s open!” Jim’s muffled voice responded from the other side of the door.

Nine reached for the doorknob to the basement door, hesitated with a smile, remembering the first time he’d visited Jim’s basement two days ago, and then opened the door. He could already see the familiar faint flickering lights coming up the staircase. Nine laughed and thought, Yeah, I tell the others I’m keeping an eye on Crazy Jim and keeping a running inventory on his supplies… but I’m really just addicted to his apocalyptic ‘man cave’. Nine started down the steps.

‘Man Cave’ was a poor description of what Jim had done with the remaining two-thirds of the large basement in the half a year he’d been hiding out in the library. As Nine descended the steps, he shook his head at the two long strands of red, yellow and blue Christmas lights that spiraled the hand rails, providing enough light to safely navigate the stairs.

At the bottom of the steps, he could hear the faint hum of the portable generator placed discreetly in a small sound-proofed store room somewhere off to his left. Aside from his minimal use in the evenings before bed, or when he stayed up all night reading books, Jim used his generator sparingly, and only to power his basement oasis. Jim had told them that the generator had saved his life over the long winter, using it to power up several space heaters stored in his basement when it got exceptionally cold.

Nine followed a series of long power cords running from beneath the generator room door to the left, then duct taped up along the wall, running off to the right of the stairs, where Nine found Jim sitting in his usual expensive-looking adjustable chair, which served as his reading chair/bed, centered in an open space surrounded by an isolated man’s creative ways to forget he was alone.

More Christmas lights ran along the top border of two connecting walls, the staircase, and along the short hallway wall to the left, that continued further back to where Jim’s supplies were kept in a second room, creating the illusion of an enclosed bedroom off to the immediate right. On all the walls and the entire ceiling, Jim had painted a continuous mural of a night time sky full of stars. The details were amazing. He’d captured various constellations, all the planets, comets, nebulas, and even parts of the milky way—all this from studying various star charts and pictures from library books. He’d made the moon large, and at the center of the ceiling, with craters and everything! And all these celestial objects were not just random splotches of white paint on a black background. He’d used several types of glow-in-the-dark paint for most of it, making these night time objects stand out as they gave off a faint luminescent glow, charged by the Christmas light. Along the bottom portion of the mural, Jim had painted an ocean—the colors mixed just right to give the waters a moonlit feel. Adding to this illusion, Jim had placed a couple of oscillating fans in two corners of the room to provide a breeze, and a small CD player in another corner played ocean sound effects in the background. But best of all… his entire bedroom floor was covered in sand!

For a moment Nine almost believed he was standing on a beach peninsula surrounded by the sea.

Crazy Jim was wrapped in a comfortable bath robe, lost in some fictional world, holding a paperback novel with a small book light attached to it. He was lying back in his recliner, bare feet kicked up, and looking like a man who was there, but not there at the same time.

Nine smiled. He’s not just a book worm… he’s the Ultimate Book Worm! Left behind only to show the rest of us amateurs how to truly appreciate a good book in style… now that we have all the time in the world to do so… at least, until that world kills us. Nine envied the man’s ability to remove himself from the apocalypse. Jim had found a way to completely immerse his entire being into the fictional realm, and forget the horrors the rest of them faced daily. Damn, maybe we’re the crazy ones trying to live in all this shit while Jimbo’s found an ‘out’.

Jim, just realizing that Nine was standing there, looked at the young man in surprise and smiled. He turned off his book lamp, placed a bookmark in his book, and then set it on a small table sitting beside his chair. “Sorry,” he said. “I was just getting to the good part. I forgot you were coming down.” He laughed at himself and pushed down the foot rest of his recliner, placing his feet in the sand and stretching his arms wide.

“All-nighter?” Nine laughed.

“Yes,” he said. “Can I tell you the secret to reading?”

Nine nodded.

Jim leaned over in his chair, looking like one of the Three Wise Men, and said, “Never read anything that puts you to sleep… especially for the sake of sleeping… there’s enough ‘boring’ in the real world to take care of that. Reading’s an adventure, a journey… not a time-killer. In fact… it’s the closest we may actually get to time-travel… at least, up here.” He tapped his noggin and added a wink that made Nine laugh.

“If you’d said that six months ago, I would have thought you’d discovered the meaning of life… but I wouldn’t describe the world today as ‘boring’. Dangerous… but definitely not boring.”

Jim gave him a puzzled look, and then shook his head. “Ah… yes… I forget what it’s like out there now. Sometimes I think that if I go outside again, I’ll still find the same old nine-to-five rat race full of mundane schedule keeping and people with busy lives spinning in circles.” He then raised his eyebrows. “What is the world out there like now?”

Nine paused. Yep, never mind, Jim’s nuts. “Oh… let’s see… the dead rule the world, they’ve turned it into one long buffet table, and the rest of us are menu items… any of this ring a bell?”

Jim laughed. “Sorry… I almost forgot.” His eyes suddenly went wide as if realizing something else he’d forgotten. “And… you and your friends… are still here?”

“Yes.”

“And… you’re still real… right?”

“Yes, again.”

Jim got up and started pacing in the sand. He tugged at his beard nervously, and said, “Nine, my young friend, I am afraid this is happening more and more.”

“What’s that?”

“Every time I sit down to read… I get lost… in there… and it’s getting harder to find my way back out again. I forget a lot of things ‘out here’ now.”

Nine had no response.

Jim turned and asked, “Tell me the truth, am I… crazy? Have I lost all… perspective?”

“I think you’ve found a way to survive that is… unique,” Nine finally said. “If I’ve learned anything about survival, it’s that we’ve all evolved into something entirely different than who we used to be. You can’t survive in this world and remain the same. It’s an insane world out there… and we’ve all had to give up a bit of sanity in order to deal with it. That’s the best answer I can give you.”

Jim laughed. “So, we’re all crazy then?”

“Probably,” Nine laughed. “If I were to take myself today—what I think, what I’ve seen, my actions and what I now believe—and then place me in the old world… they would have to lock me up.”

Jim pointed at Nine and laughed hard. “I love the way you think, my friend. Thanks. I feel a little less concerned about it.”

“Glad I could help. I’m sure you’ll forget all about it in a few minutes anyway.”

“So, what brings you down here? Do you need some more food? Water? Just name it.”

“Actually, I just wanted to get my mind off the neck-deep shit we’re in right now… and check out your cool beach,” Nine admitted with a laugh. “You really made quite the place here.”

Jim looked around with a fond smile. “Yes. It was a lot of work. But well worth it. I don’t even think I knew what I was doing when I first foraged through town. I just saw things and thought, ‘I may need that’ and grabbed as much of everything as I could. Maybe, on some subconscious level, it was all those books I read that helped me prepare for this extended stay. I wasn’t a very imaginative man before my love of reading accelerated. I believe every idea I’ve had since moving into the library has been the result of ‘too much time’ plus a lot of inspiration from the tons of books I’ve read. They saved me… and continue sustain me.”

Nine nodded. “I get that.”

“So, what is this trouble you speak of?” Jim asked.

Nine laughed again. This guy is the ‘ignorance’ before ‘bliss’. “Remember those stadium zombies you told us about?”

“Oh… yes… of course,” Jim said. “The ones you can hear from outside. What about them?”

“You do know that they’ve surrounded the library… right?”

Jim looked confused and then shook his head, frustrated with himself. “I wasn’t sure that really happened. Sorry.”

“That’s okay, Jim. It’s not like we can do a damn thing about it right now but wait… and that’s the problem. We’re trapped here. And the dead don’t look like they’re leaving any time soon.”

“So, it’s a solution you seek, then? A way to escape?”

“Bingo.”

Jim laughed, reaching for his book. “Well, why didn’t you say so. It just so happens that this library is full of escapes from our current world… believe me… I can recommend quite a few.” He tapped his current book fondly.

Nine smiled. “I appreciate the thought, Jim, but that’s not the kind of escape we’re looking for. We need a way to distract the horde, scare them off, lure them away—anything that might help us get out of here.”

“Well, my young friend, the answer is still the same,” Jim said. “There are all sorts of resource books here, as well, I’m sure in the pages of one of them-”

“Jim, what’s that book you’re reading?” Nine asked, catching part of the title written on the cover.

Jim smiled with delight. “I must confess… I’ve read this one numerous times. If you haven’t read it, then you are truly missing a classic.” He handed the old book to Nine.

Nine read the title: The Once and Future King.

“I remember this one,” Nine said. “It’s about King Arthur, the knights of the round table, and all that stuff… right?”

“Oh, yes,” Jim said. “Please, feel free to borrow it, if it helps get your mind off your troubles.”

Nine continued to stare at the cover, thinking back to his youth and his fascination with Excalibur, the sword, and of all those knights in suits of armor, and the battles fought…

“Jim,” Nine said, his eyes going wide with the wildest of ideas. “I think you’re right. The answer to our problems are in these books.”

“Oh, you have to tell me now,” Jim said. “The look on your face is speaking volumes… pardon the pun.”

Nine was getting excited. “Do you know of any more books like this… specifically about knights and battles and stuff like that? Anything with pictures would be really helpful.”

Jim walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Come with me, my young friend, I know this library and every book in it. We’ll find exactly what you need.”

“And is there a… magazine section in the library?”

“Of course.”

“And what about duct tape? Do you have any left?” Nine blurted out.

Jim gave him a curious look. “I have cases of the stuff. The local hardware store was well-stocked… and no self-respecting survivor can do without it.” He laughed. “What are you thinking, my friend?”

Nine smiled like the devil and said, “I’ll tell you on the way. Let’s start with those books.”

“You have the look of many characters I’ve read about,” Jim laughed.

“And what’s that?”

“You have the look of a man about to go on a wild adventure.”

Nine smiled. “You’re absolutely right, Jim. Wild, crazy, dangerous… and probably extremely stupid.”

~~~

Next Episode 41-8

Previous Episode 41-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-7: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

Wendy and Mark sprinted across the large stadium parking lot. The dead swarmed behind them like a thick wall of rotting flesh, crying out for blood like insane addicts who had gone too long without fulfilling the need to feed. Their collective compulsion for a human fix, along with the fact that the dead toward the back of the massive horde pushed violently toward the ones in the front, gave the blood-thirsty maniacs increased speed as the two terrified souls raced toward the rear of Grand Valley High School, their only chance of escape.

Mark spotted a set of double doors toward the center of the long brick building and pushed harder, feeling like his lungs were about to collapse. He could hear Wendy’s frantic breaths over his right shoulder as they reached the doors, and behind her, the savage howls of the dead, just fifty feet away and gaining.

He grabbed the handles of the doors and pulled.

They were locked.

“Fuck!” he shouted.

“Over there!” Wendy yelled, pointing to a single door off to the right. Ten feet. Maybe twenty feet away.
They ran for the doors, their hearts exploding in their ears.

They were trapped between the length of the school and the wall of the dead. If that final door was locked, they would be crushed before being torn apart.

Mark reached out for the door and pulled hard. The door came open quickly, nearly knocking him off balance.

Wendy grabbed his arm and pulled. “Go! Go! GO!” she screamed.

They just made it inside as the dead crashed into the back of the school. There was no time to secure the door as the monsters started spilling through behind them.

Mark and Wendy stumbled over various equipment and supplies scattered and abandoned by the Army in the large dark space, barely managing to stay on their feet as the moonlight through the open door and low first floor windows lit up a small auxiliary gymnasium.

The dead shattered the windows and started pouring inside, falling over one another as the sheer size of the horde continued to push against the front of the line.

Mark saw an exit door along the front wall, surrounded by elongated shadows of the dead storming through the windows and playing out against the white wall, as if the shadows themselves were about to come alive. Mark shivered as he reached the door. He could hear their fierce shrieks behind them, reverberating throughout the gym.

They exited the gym and slammed into a hallway wall that ran in both directions.

“Which way?” Wendy yelled.

There was no time to decide as the dead started exiting into the hallway, forcing Mark and Wendy toward the right and down the dark hall.

The further into the school they fled, the darker it became.

They struck more walls, stumbled over trashcans, school desks, and whatever else lay scattered around in the darkness. Each time they made a new sound, the dead would change directions and head straight for them. They could hear more and more of the monsters infesting the school as it sounded like they were behind them and in front of them.

They turned left into one dark hall, were cut off. Right, down another, barely escaping the dead by turning at the last second into another hallway. They passed several doors along every hall, refusing to enter any of them, knowing that their deaths were certain the moment they stopped or tried to hide within a classroom. Their only chance was to either reach the second floor or escape out the front of the school. They were disoriented. They got turned around several times.

They doubled back, raced up one flight of stairs, were met by the dead on the second floor, and then raced down another hallway where the dead cut them off at the other end. They panicked and pushed through a set of double doors and almost stumbled off a second-floor balcony before realizing they had found the school theater. The dead stormed in behind them, almost knocking them off the balcony, but the frenzied beasts pushed against each other, falling into the dark seats below.

Mark and Wendy found a narrow flight of stairs down to the first floor of the theater, ran up an aisle toward the stage as the dead continued to rain down from the balcony above. They found an exit door at the back of the stage and kept… on … running.

They almost ran back up another flight of stairs to the second floor, but the dead were already coming down from the top. They turned down another hall instead, narrowly avoiding being trapped in the stairwell.

The almost ran right into the back of another group of the dead, stopped before the creatures turned and saw them, spotted moonlight from within the narrow glass of another set of double doors to the right, entered… and ran into a large plastic curtain within what appeared to be a quarantined main gymnasium.

The dead started entering the gym behind them.

Mark and Wendy struggled to find and opening in the plastic curtain or a way around it and out the other side. Fortunately, the large gym windows provided a little light. Wendy found an opening and they slipped through the curtain as the dead started pushing into the plastic sheet, their mangled and distorted faces pressed against the plastic like some horrific scene out of a horror film where some mult-headed beast started coming out of a wall.

They turned to search for an exit and found gurney after gurney of mutilated dead things strapped down and hooked up to strange machines that were no longer functional. They cautiously walked in between the dead Army test specimens, expecting their eyes to move, their arms to reach out for them, already infecting them with a fresh wave of debilitating fear.

They reached the other end of the gym as the dead pierced the plastic curtain and were momentarily distracted by the specimens.

Mark and Wendy finally found themselves in the front hall of this madhouse and could see moonlight penetrating what had to be the entrance doors into the school. The dead saw them from the other end of the hall as Mark and Wendy pushed with all they had left, and just reached the front doors ahead of them.
They exited the dark labyrinth deathtrap, formerly a local high school, as the cool night air ripped across their faces.

They could not stop. They could not ever stop.

The dead started exiting the school behind them.

Mark and Wendy raced down the school front steps, spotted what looked like a small copse of trees in the yard, headed for them to hide… and then stopped.

Those weren’t trees.

As their eyes adjusted, a scattered group of dead things that were just standing there, staring up into the night, turned and hissed at them… and they were coming. Though much fewer out front than the massive horde that penetrated the school, there must have still been at least two-hundred of them, trickling around from both sides of the school.

“We’re trapped,” Wendy managed between breaths.

They were now running along the front of the school, to avoid the dead pouring out the front doors and the ones coming toward them from the yard.

“We have to make a break through them,” Mark said, pointing toward the yard monsters. “They’re still slower and scattered. We just have to make it beyond the yard, through the school parking lot, and then back to the road.

“I’m not going to make it,” Wendy said with tears, exhaustion finally catching up.

Mark could feel it, too. “We can do this, Wendy.” He grabbed her limp arm as she was about to stop and forced her to keep moving. They bolted toward the left and into the yard, becoming running backs as they dodged and weaved their way through the less dense group of the dead before they closed in on them.

Several rotting arms swung at them as Mark ducked and Wendy followed suit. They zig-zagged around several more and were half-way across the yard when the dead started cutting them off and slowly surrounding them.
“I can’t… I can’t breathe,” Wendy said. “Just… get out. I’m done.”

“You’re not done!” Mark yelled back and yanked harder on her arm, forcing her to keep moving. “Almost there!”

By now the main hub of the massive horde was reforming at the front of the high school, oozing out of every door, shattering and exiting every window, and around both sides of the school, until the wall of the dead was reconnected, swarming across the yard.

Mark’s legs began cramping up. He was so fixed on getting around the next zombie, and then the next, that he misjudged the scattered dead and didn’t see them closing in and cutting off any attempt to make it out of the yard. They were now out of running room, ahead and behind.

“Fuck!” he shouted. “Not like this! We’re so damn close!”

Wendy tore her arm away, forcing them both to stop.

He turned toward her. “What the hell are you doing?”

Wendy dropped to her knees and put her face in her hands. “I’m spent, Mark! Look around you… they have us!”

The dead were almost upon them. The scattered ones from the front were closest as they closed the gap to thirty feet.

The horde would plow through them shortly after the yard zombies reached them.

Stopping caused intense pain in Mark’s legs as he tried to move… but they felt like rubber. “We can’t stop, Wendy,” he pleaded. “Please get up.”

She was unresponsive.

The dead were almost to them.

Mark started spinning his head around, staring at them coming from all directions. There were so many.
We’re done, he finally relented. And only then did he understand how much he longed to live, even in a world destined to make his species extinct.

He raised his hands defensively as the first zombie approached. It was woman, her face was half gone, she was missing an eye, what was left of her conservative yellow dress and short-cropped slimy hair made her look like some ex-soccer mom, previously dropped in a vat of acid.

Whoever she was… there was no mistaking her intent as her sickly arms reached out, long dried-up dirt and blood between her chipped-painted nails, her one eye lusting for his flesh, the blood and drool dripping from her open jaw.

Soccer mom of death, he thought nervously, preparing to fight her off, but knowing that several more would already be chomping into him after that. He lowered his hands and closed his eyes instead, far too tired to fight off this one savage beast. Maybe she’ll hit a vital area on the first bite, he thought, praying for a speedy death.

He refused to think of the alternative.

And then she was there, in all her gruesome detail… teeth reaching for his throat…

Soccer mom’s face exploded, spraying black blood across Mark’s face.

He opened his eyes, reactively wiping the blood from his face with his forearm. He looked at the woman lying motionless on the ground, her face… or what was left of it… completely gone. What the fuck?

The dead in the yard were suddenly shifting direction… as was the horde coming up from behind.

Another shot rang out, and then another.

Mark was still in shock. He hadn’t registered the gunfire yet.

Wendy got up and grabbed his arm. “Look,” she said, pointing off to the left, toward the street.

Mark turned.

Tony was there, rifle raised and firing.

Nine and Diane were close behind, firing their handguns at the closest dead. They were clearing them a path toward the street by luring the dead toward them.

Alysa was firing her bow somewhere off to the right. “Come on!” she shouted, waving them toward her.

It was Wendy this time who pulled Mark’s arm, motivating him to push his dead legs forward.

They ran toward Alysa, nearly collapsing on top of her.

Tony and the others spun back around toward them. The big man got in between the exhausted teens and scooped them up with his large arms. They grabbed on to his broad shoulders and managed to stay on their feet.

Nine and Diane moved in and continued to shoot at the dead, to keep them away. “Where’s Matthew?” Nine asked.

“He’s… gone,” Wendy said.

Tony frowned and nodded. “Can you run?”

“Hell no,” Mark said, and then he smiled at Wendy. “But we will anyway.”

She smiled back.

“Okay,” the big man said. “We move now.” He then cupped his hands and shouted over to Alysa, “Fall back! We have them!”

They all made it back to the road.

The massive horde was right on their asses.

“No more shooting!” Tony barked. “It’s balls to the wall straight to the fucking library! No looking back… just move!”

No one needed a clearer explanation than one quick glance back at the ravenous horde filling the street behind them.

They ran south, Tony and Nine helped Mark and Wendy from collapsing several times.

When the library came into view, Crazy Jim was standing at the open door, waving his arms wildly.

They reached the steps as the dead started swarming around the library.

He noticed the horde and asked Tony in passing, “Are they… real?”

Tony shot him an incredulous look that spoke enough volumes to fill every shelf in his damn library.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’.” Jim was the last one inside. He slammed the robust door shut and locked it.

Moments later the dead began assaulting the door.

Tony and Nine lowered Mark and Wendy to the ground and immediately raised their weapons toward the door.

Alysa and Nine were doing the same.

“Can they get in?” Diane asked the strange librarian.

Jim casually walked over to the lounge, sat down on one of the comfy sofas, and then retrieved a book he’d been previously reading before all the commotion started.

Diane gave Tony a questioning look.

Tony looked over at the librarian, who started reading by candlelight.

“Jim!” he barked.

Jim looked up, surprised. “Tony? How are you?”

“Are we safe in here?”

“Safe from what?” Jim asked. He looked very confused.

“From the one-thousand fucking dead things outside, you crazy sonofabitch!” Mark was understandably out of patience.

“Oh,” Jim said. “Oh, yes… that really happened. Sorry. Yes… we’re quite safe in here.”

Diane relaxed and lowered her gun.

The others did the same as the dead continued to pound against the other side of the door.

Jim looked back down at his book and finished, “Of course we’re safe. We don’t even exist in that world anymore… they’ll never find us here.”

Tony looked at the crazy man and wanted to throw him outside. He turned toward the others and said, “We need eyes on the second floor. Let’s find out how extensive this mess is.”

After Nine, Diane and Alysa went up and scanned the streets from the second-floor windows, they all came down with dire looks on their faces.

Nine shared the news. “Tony… we’re completely surrounded!”

~~~

Next Episode 41-7

Previous Episode 41-5

~~~

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 41-6: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

He is walking down a narrow path, through an endless field full of rotting corpses and flies. The oppressive sun hurts his eyes, keeping him from looking away from the carnage and into the blood-red sky. The scent of decay makes his stomach turn. Matthew believes the foul stench is permanently embedded in his nostrils. The vast, grim scene reminds him of a battlefield after a bloody war where both sides have lost. It was the last war. He pinches his nostrils in vain to block out the invading odor. It is the world he smells… and it is long dead.

He feels the cold grip around his hand. Matthew looks down to his left. The boy with the blue ballcap and backpack, wearing soiled and ripped clothing, is walking beside him, holding his hand. At first, he believes he’s leading the boy, but now, it’s clear that the boy is leading him.

The pale-faced boy, with dried up blood and dirt streaked across his cheeks, lifeless eyes sunken into his skull, smiles up at him. His teeth are either rotted away or completely gone.

Matthew wants to tell him how sorry he is, how bad he feels for not being able to help him, but he knows that saying such things is pointless… everything is pointless.

Matthew fakes a smile. “What was your name?” he asks. All questions have become shallow and meaningless.

The dead boy surprises him with a response. “We are Toby,” he says, in a raspy, emotionless voice, void of all innocence.

“Toby,” he repeats with indifference.

“Yes,” the boy says. “Everything… is Toby.”

Matthew doesn’t understand, but doesn’t care. Compassion is dead. Knowledge, enlightenment or revelation—all irrelevant.

Destination?

“Where are we going, Toby?” Matthew asks.

The boy’s smile widens, giving him a ghastly inhuman expression. “You know.”

Surprisingly, Matthew does know. “The grave?” he asks.

The boy laughs. The sound is hideous. “Nooo,” he says, as if talking to a small child. “You are all already in the grave.” The boy looks around, waving his free hand. “See?”

Matthew gazes across the dead landscape. He feels nothing.

The boy laughs again.

Matthew feels the cold grip around his hand tighten.

He looks back at the boy.

Flesh and blood begin to melt away from the dead thing’s face, oozing to the ground like thick mud, until there’s nothing left but a brownish skeletal frame standing beside him.

Matthew desperately tries to free himself from the bony hand. He can feel his own flesh turning to liquid mush as he collapses to the ground, the muscles in his legs falling off his useless frame like two stripped chicken legs. He is horrified as he stares at his bony arm attached to the skeletal boy.

Matthew falls over with the dead boy, rotting away to nothingness.

He hears the boy in his exposed skull, speaking clearly, all pretense rotting away until only the awful truth remains:

“Flesh is for the grave… but the soul rots in the darkness…”

~~~

…Matthew’s eyes shot open as he sat up, gasping for air. He put his hands to his face, believing for a moment that there would be nothing but bone. “Just a damn dream,” he announced to himself, wiping cold sweat from his brow.

He looked to his left and right, disoriented by the tall imposing shadows lit up by the ambient light coming in through the second-floor window in front of him, before remembering where he’d set up the three chairs that made up his makeshift bed. He could now make out the books on the two tall shelves of the middle rows facing the front of the library.

Suddenly feeling claustrophobic, Matthew got up and approached the window. He unlocked it and opened it halfway, letting in the cool night air. Instead of relief, he regretted the move immediately as he let in the unnerving background sound of the moaning dead from the stadium to the north.

Matthew listened to their collective moans. It reminded him a little of static on an AM radio band, in between stations, with the volume turned down low. He wondered if he listened long enough, would he hear them, all of them, speaking collective words breaking through that moaning static? And if he did, Matthew felt certain that he would know exactly what the dead would say… what Toby would say.

He shook in the dark and closed the window, but he could still hear them in his head.

Matthew collapsed to the floor, closed his eyes, and covered his ears with his hands. He was tired of fighting… exhausted by the very thought of living one more day in this bleak world that had become their…

Grave?

He opened his eyes. “I have to know,” he whispered, as a desperate thought took hold and wouldn’t let go. All this time they had spent struggling to get by, searching for meaning, answers… while just waiting for their turn to die… what was the point?

We are Toby.

Matthew got up and started downstairs.

We’ve been doing this all wrong, he thought. We’ve been fighting against the inevitable… that’s what this world had been trying to tell us… that’s what it’s always been trying to tell us…

Matthew descended the stairs. He was beginning to truly understand the only message that mattered. As far as living and fighting and struggling… he doesn’t care about any of it. Compassion is dead. Knowledge, enlightenment or revelation—all irrelevant.

Destination?

He needed to get to the stadium.

~~~

Before sundown, Jim had fed them from his vast surplus of MRE’s and bottled water, left behind by the Army. He also retrieved several blankets for his guests and gave them free reign to sleep anywhere in the main library before abruptly excusing himself for the evening and retreating to his basement bedroom.

Crazy Jim, as Mark and Nine started calling him to the disapproving glares of the others, seemed relatively harmless, but had definitely been alone for far too long. He had his routines and guests or no guests, Jim intended to stick to his rituals of necessity, which included reading a good book after the sun went down. Nine theorized that Crazy Jim probably spoke to his ‘characters’ during these quiet times. The others were far too tired to ponder it.

Tony assigned pairs for four-hour shifts to patrol both floors of the library while the others tried to sleep. With the exception of Matthew, who decided to sleep on the second floor, and Alysa, who everyone just assumed never slept, Tony, Nine and Diane slept on the comfortable lounge couches.

Wendy had the misfortune of being paired up with Mark for their four hours of fun.

“I mean, it’s not like we serve any real purpose being awake right now,” Mark said, while collapsing into a chair near the front door. “Tony knows us ‘new guys’ can’t be trusted. That’s why the archer is still up.”

Wendy sat down in a chair opposite the grumbling young man, removed her glasses, and started wiping them on her shirt. “You done yet?” she asked.

“What… you don’t like my company?”

She gave him an ‘are you serious’ look. “Of all the people left on the planet, you are probably on my top ten list of least favorite people right now.”

Mark laughed. “Ah… come on, Velma. I’m not that bad.”

“Stop calling me that, asshole.”

Mark raised his hands submissively. “You win. Cease fire. I’m way too tired to mess with you tonight. I just want to get this stupid watch over with and get my ass to sleep.”

Wendy smiled. “For once, we are in agreement.”

After a long lull in the conversation, Mark changed gears. “So… how are you doing? I mean… all ‘fucking with you’ aside, are you okay?”

She answered with a puzzled expression, “Is that your attempt at genuine concern, Mark?”

Mark laughed. “I’m trying. So… is everything… cool?”

“When you want to be mean, you usually have no trouble being blunt about it… but add a little concern and you’re vague as hell.”

“You know what I mean,” Mark said. “I was talking about Legs… I mean… Beverly. I know you two were close.”

Wendy was caught off guard. She shifted uncomfortably in her chair and sighed. “I’ve not come to terms with it yet. Call it shock, denial… whatever… I’m just trying real hard not to think about it. Does that make sense?”

Mark nodded. “Yeah… I get it.” He looked at her and then quickly looked away. “I just want you to know that… well… you and I… we’re ‘it’. Matthew’s so withdrawn I don’t know how to talk to him anymore, and then Beverly… shit, I didn’t realize how much she kept us sane with all her babble… until she was gone.”

Wendy raised her eyebrows in surprise, her eyes watering up. “I think that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said… about any of us.”

“Just because I give you guys a hard time doesn’t mean I don’t care.”

Wendy was shocked to silence by the rare admission.

He rose from his seat, embarrassed. “You know what, just forget I asked. I was just trying to… you know… keep it real with you, let you know that you’re not alone in all this bullshit.”

“Thank you, Mark,” Wendy said. “I’m doing okay, for now. Thanks for asking.”

Mark nodded. “Sure. Anytime, Velma.”

Wendy rolled her eyes and smiled. “Well… it was good while it lasted.”

Mark shrugged and then stared up toward the western staircase. Matthew was coming down. “You’re a little early for watch.”

Matthew walked over to them, hands in his pocket.

“Everything okay, Matthew?” Wendy asked, rising to her feet. “What’s the matter? Can’t sleep?”

“I’ve slept enough,” he said, and then gave them both a curious look. “I just want to take a walk.”

Mark scratched his head. “That’s cool. Plenty of room to walk around in this place.”

“Outside,” he clarified.

Mark and Wendy shared a nervous glance.

“Matthew,” Wendy started. “why on earth would you want to go outside, especially in the middle of the night?”

Matthew stared at her so long that Wendy thought he was looking right through her. He finally responded, “Why are you guys giving me shit? I just want to take a walk. It’s still a free country, isn’t it?”

“Dude, you don’t know what’s out there,” Mark said, slowly moving before the door. “I think you need to think this through before you do anything stupid.”

“Move, asshole,” Matthew said. “I’m taking a walk. If I want to leave and never come back, what the hell is that to you?”

“Matthew?” Wendy said. “We’re just worried about you.”

“Well, stop worrying.” He flashed her a smile. “I just need to get outside and… move. This place is driving me stir crazy.”

Mark tried again. “Maybe you should wait for the sun to come up and-”

“Maybe you should stop treating me like some fucking prisoner and let me leave,” Matthew interrupted.

“Fine,” he said, moving away from the door. “Your funeral.”

Matthew walked past them, unlocked the door, and exited.

“Mark,” Wendy hissed. “We can’t just let him… go.”

Matt was already closing the door. “What the hell was I supposed to do? He wanted to leave.”

“You know he isn’t… himself,” Wendy said. “You said it yourself.”

Mark shrugged his shoulders. “He’s probably just standing outside getting some air. He’ll be right back.”

Wendy pushed passed him and opened the door. She could just make out Matthew’s dark shape, moving north. “He’s not getting air. He’s headed toward that awful sound… toward the stadium.”

“Even he isn’t that stupid.”

“We have to get him back,” she said. “Matthew doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Mark sighed. “I’m not waking the others over this bullshit! They’ll blame us.”

“Then we need to go get him, ourselves,” she said. “Drag his ass back here if we have to.”

“Fuck that.”

Wendy’s face turned red. She stepped up to Mark and started tapping on his chest. “You’re some piece of work!” she accused. “You act all caring and compassionate when it’s convenient, but the moment you have to actually take a real risk and put yourself on the line… you’re just a fucking coward!”

“Shut up, Velma! You don’t know shit about me! If that dumb ass wants to go out there, that’s not on me! It’s not my fault he’s all fucked in the head!”

“Is there a problem here?”

Both Wendy and Mark jumped at the sound of Alysa’s voice. The archer appeared out of the closest shadow with her arms crossed in front of her chest.

“Shit… lady!” Mark hissed. “I hate it when you do that!”

Alysa didn’t move. “Is there some tactical advantage to leaving the front door wide open that I’m not aware of?”

“Matthew’s out there,” Wendy said. “He just… left.”

Alysa stepped over to the open door and looked out. “Which way?”

“He took that road headed north,” Mark said.

“I see,” she said, slowly closing the door.

“Well… aren’t you going to go after him?” Wendy asked.

“No. I’m not.”

“See,” Mark said to Wendy. “I’m not the only one who-”

“Your friend, Matthew,” Alysa interrupted, “has been looking for a reason for quite some time… and now he’s found one.”

“A reason for what?” Wendy was clearly frustrated.

Alysa’s face was blank. “To die.”

Both Mark and Wendy had no response to that.

“If that is a road Matthew has chosen to follow, there’s nothing you or I, or anyone, can do to stop him.” Alysa started walking away. “You should both make your peace with that. Your friend already has.”

“You know what,” Wendy called out to her back. “Screw the both of you! He’s our friend, and he’s in trouble.”

Alysa stopped.

Wendy opened the door. “Both of you chicken-shits can wait here. I’ll go get him.”

Before Mark could protest, Wendy had already stepped out into the darkness. “Wait! You’re not even armed!” He watched as the night swallowed up Wendy. She turned on the road heading north. “Shit!” he hissed. Mark turned back to Alysa who was once again standing there with her arms crossed. “Give us fifteen minutes,” he said. “Maybe we can get that idiot to come back.”

“And if not?” she asked.

Mark shook his head. “I don’t know. Wake the others. Tell Tony what we did. He can yell at us later.” Before Alysa could respond, Mark followed after Wendy.

Alysa slowly approached the front door and watched them fade away into the darkness.

She shook her head, closed the door, and locked it.

The former Shadow Dead had no intention of waking the others.

~~~

The partial moon crept in and out of the clouds, intermittently hiding Orwell’s local businesses, only to reappear suddenly like old brick haunted houses as moonlight presented them along both sides of northbound Route 45. Eerie elongated shadows slowly moved across empty parking lots like irregular shaped arms reaching toward the three foolish young people walking in the center of the dark roadway.

As they approached Grand Valley High School, the magnified moans of the dead became more distinct, the sounds of their collective hunger was unnerving as they turned left in front of the lifeless school, following a sign pointing toward the large, dark football stadium in the back.

“This if fucking crazy,” Mark said, trying to keep up with Matthew. “Why the hell are you so adamant about coming here?”

Matthew didn’t say a word. He continued to leisurely walk, hands in his pockets, toward the stadium parking lot.

“Matt,” Wendy said. “Please slow down and talk to us.” Her shoulders were tense, the sounds of the dead were making every hair on her body protest this folly. “We just want to understand where you’re going?”

“We need to turn around,” Mark said. “This freak’s lost his fucking mind!”

“I need to know,” Matt finally said. “I need to see them with my own eyes.”

“What the hell for?” Mark said. “Can’t you hear them? We’re getting so close that it feels like they’re slowly dying in my fucking skull!”

“What is it, Matt?” Wendy tried. “What do you hope to accomplish coming out here?”

He turned to the terrified young woman. “It’s like… like seeing pictures of the Grand Canyon and reading about it. You can appreciate the size of it through the images and the facts… but it’s not the same as actually being there… and how it makes you feel.”

“Okay,” she said, managing to get him to stop. “I get that. But… this isn’t some awe-inspiring scenic moment. There’s a thousand dead maniacs in that place just waiting to devour the living.” She looked around nervously. “And there’s probably a bunch more lurking around out here, too. Every moment we spend out here puts us at risk-”

“You didn’t have to come,” he said. “In fact, you both should just go back. I know you want to.”

“Hell yes I want to,” Mark affirmed. He turned to Wendy. “We need to go back. Matt’s got a damn death wish or something.”

“Just deal with your fear, Mark,” she said with impatience. “No one should be alone out here. We don’t just ‘leave’ people… even if they’re doing incredibly risky things.” She said the last, hoping to wake Matt up.

“I know what I’m doing,” Matt said. He turned back toward the stadium. They could now see the entrance gate across the parking lot. He started walking again.

“Come on, Matt!” Wendy said, forcing her lethargic legs to keep following. “This is close enough. Don’t do this.”

“I need to know what they’re saying,” he said. “Can’t you hear them all? I feel like… I don’t know… like… if I could just get close enough… I might just hear what they’re saying and what this all means.”

“He’s lost it,” Mark said, shaking his head at Wendy. “This fuck thinks the dead is calling his damn name!”

Wendy started to slow down as they moved within fifty feet of the long iron bars that made up the metal gate blocking the entrance. The tall iron fence surrounded the stadium, keeping the dead locked within. She could see them now, pressed against that gate. There were so many dark forms, pushed together, that it looked like they were just one huge mass of dead flesh with multiple mutilated faces. She stopped. “Matt… I can’t get any closer. I won’t. Please… just come back with us. You’ve seen them now. If you get too close… they’ll know we’re here.”

Mark stopped beside her and watched as Matt moved closer to the large gate.

Matt stopped. He turned back and said, “It’s too much… too much senseless blood and death and sorrow. There must be a reason for it all. Maybe they can tell us. Maybe they’ve been trying to tell us this whole time… but we just can’t hear it.”

Wendy intended to speak, but realized she didn’t know what to say.

“They’re not saying anything, numb nuts. They’re groaning. They’re just mindless beasts… and all they want is to kill us and eat us. Why? Who the fuck knows. Who the fuck even cares anymore?”

Matt frowned. “No. There’s a reason. Something made them this way. They can’t be like this and not know, right?”

Wendy was crying. “Matt… they’re not people anymore. Whoever they were are long gone. There’s nothing these… things… can tell you.”

Matt turned away. “We’ll see.” He walked right up to the front gate, just out of arms-reach, as the famished dead extended decayed limbs and rotting hands, attempting to snatch Matt’s vibrant flesh… and consume him and the light within the young man that drove them mad with intense desire.

The massive horde’s moans became louder and more savage, as the ones in the front spotted the blood-bag, causing a chain reaction that rippled through the throng. They started pushing hard against the gate, causing Matt to take several steps. For a moment it looked like they would breach the gate with the large chain and lock holding it in place. But the robust barrier between the barely living and the hellish dead held.

Matthew was repulsed and equally exhilarated when he considered the sheer size of such an unstoppable, relentless force. He was… overwhelmed… with conflicting emotions. He had never felt so needed in all his life, until now. The hungry creatures desperately wanted to claim the young man… but why? What drove them to slaughtering their former species? What did they gain in spilling so much blood? In digesting the flesh of their fellow man? He stared across the sea of endless faces pressed into the gate and needed to know more.

“Why are you all doing this?” he addressed the horde. “Why haven’t you… moved on? Is there an ultimate plan? A divine purpose?” He put his hands on the top of his head. Matt desperately wanted to understand.

He dared a step closer. He could feel savage fingers brushing against the front of his clothing.

“Matt!” Wendy called out.

He could barely hear her. Matt turned back and stared at his frantic friends. They were calling out to him, but due to the deafening sounds of the dead, it sounded like they were calling out from a faraway place, or from the other end of a long tunnel. They’re lost. Just like me. Just like all of us, he thought.

Matt turned back and stared into the distorted and mangled faces of the many. We’re the minority now, he thought. We’re the ones who aren’t supposed to be here.

And then he understood. At last, he could clearly hear them.

Matt whispered the only question that mattered. “Are we… Are we supposed to be… you?

The dead did not answer, because they were the answer.

Matt turned back, his eyes ablaze with revelation. He smiled at them and started to weep… tears of joy. “I’ve got it!” he called out. “I know what we have to do!”

Mark and Wendy continued to call out, but he could no longer hear them. He could only hear the answer. Matt stared at the massive lock on the gate and then started looking around for anything he could use.

He found a crowbar, lying beside an overturned trashcan.

Matt grabbed the crowbar, lifted it above his head, and then brought it down hard on the lock.

Clang!

They want us to be free! His mind rejoiced. Just like them! No more pain. No more tears. No more nightmares… not a fucking care in the world!

From fifty feet back, Mark turned to Wendy. “What the fuck is he doing?”

Wendy lifted her hands to her mouth. She felt all the blood leave her face. “My God,” she whimpered. “He’s trying to let them out!”

Matt stared disappointedly at the lock. It held.

He raised the crowbar again and took a deep breath to steady his aim. This time, he would give it everything he had. “Everything makes perfect sense now,” he said with a laugh. “Why did it take so long to finally see it?”

He brought the crowbar down on the lock.

Clang!

The lock fell obsolete to the ground. The large heavy chain uncoiled from around the stout bars like a metallic snake, and slithered toward the concrete.

This is the only way, Matthew thought. They are the next step in our evolution… they are US. This is what we are meant to become!

For Wendy and Mark, the next few seconds seemed to slow down, like the moments before a massive explosion after staring at a countdown timer running down to zero.

Matthew took a few steps back, raised his arms out, appearing like some perverse human cross. He smiled, closed his eyes, and shouted two words:

“I’m ready!”

The gate exploded open as the first wave of the stadium dead swarmed out and swallowed up the young man.

Matthew’s screams were brief as the dead tore into his flesh, ripping away limbs, his throat, his tongue, an eye fell absently into one beast’s mouth. His head briefly launched above the horde like the cork of champagne bottle violently coming off.

Pop!

Blood sprayed across the faces of the savage dead as they dug decomposed teeth into warm meat.

Wendy couldn’t move as the stadium dead were quickly expelled through the front gate, pushing and gnashing their teeth, screaming, moaning… starving.

They spotted two more blood bags and charged at Wendy and Mark.

Their pace was frantic and frighteningly fast considering their deteriorated condition after the long winter. In fact, that was the only thing that saved them. If these had been the yellow-eyed brutes instead…

Wendy was paralyzed with fear as the horde pushed toward her. She couldn’t shake the image of her friend being torn to pieces in front of her eyes… and it was so… so… quick! Her mind couldn’t process the horrors fast enough. She was going into shock.

Someone pulled her arm from behind—hard—and spun her around.

It was Mark. “Run!” he screamed into her face. “FUCKING RUN!”

~~~

Next Episode 41-6

Previous Episode 41-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-5: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

“So, let me get this straight,” Mark said. “The Army shows up with all that fire power, and instead of wiping the dead out, they gathered them all up and locked them in the football stadium? What the fuck?”

“Not all of them,” Jim said. “The Army eliminated the yellow-eyes ones in town, said they were too dangerous. But the rest of them, the…”

“The re-animated?” Nine finished.

“Yes, that’s a good name for them. The re-animated from the cemetery, and those who were bitten, along with any of the other ones that shambled into town… we all helped the military gather them up. They said they needed as many ‘fresh specimens’ they could get to test their vaccines.”

“Over at the high school, right?” Tony asked.

Jim nodded. “That’s right—where those white coats all went. Honestly, if we hadn’t been so scared at the time, and so grateful to have the Army fighting for us, we probably would’ve objected much sooner, especially after we started hearing them every night.”

“Just how many specimens are currently at this football stadium?” Alysa asked.

Jim smiled sheepishly and answered, “Before the Army abandoned us, there were over a thousand of them.”

“Holy shit!” Mark said getting up. “And you all just kept collecting them for the Army’s secret experiments? How could you ever live in a town with a horde that size, capable of wiping out the rest of you, just rotting away at your public high school? Did you ever think they might get loose?”

“Yes,” Jim said. “Myself and a few others started having doubts. We couldn’t understand why they needed so many… and our arrangement with the military was becoming uncomfortable. Still, most of the town didn’t care. We’d lived with the Army’s presence for damn near a month without incident. No one wanted to consider defending the town on our own… so… we turned a blind eye, and just did what they asked. But I started preparing for the worst and decided to hold up here, in the library. I tried… I tried to talk a few of the others into staying, but they believed if the military was leaving, then we should, too.”

“And what happened after?” Tony said. “What happened to the military? The rest of the town?”

Jim stared down at his feet. “After I started hearing disturbing rumors about the military getting ready to leave Orwell, I chose to ignore it. Even when the others tried to get me to leave with them, I refused. I had already ‘checked out’ and wanted to be left alone. I was prepared to die, in here, if the rumors were true.” He closed his eyes and continued. “It was right before the first winter storm. The military had packed up in the middle of the night and started leaving. They gave up the perimeter around the town. Even the white coats were evacuating… but no one gave us any warning.”

“What happened?” Diane asked.

“One of the soldiers must have felt sorry for us. He’d told someone, before leaving, that the yellow-eyed monsters were getting… smarter. Said there were reports that they were gathering in large herds all along Interstate 90 to the north and migrating south… and slaughtering everyone in every town in their path on a brutality level that no one had imagined them capable. Apparently, they were manageable when scattered, like what happened initially after the epidemic started. Those white-coat guys described it as ‘hive minded’, meaning, when they came together, those brutes were more organized, more cunning, and more lethal. It was enough for the Army to take seriously. They obviously felt the town was lost, long before they dead arrived… so they abandoned us… but left all the food, water, and emergency equipment. Perhaps that was their guilty consciences reacting. Doesn’t matter. Most of that stuff was already in the library, so I stayed.”

“Where is everyone else, Jim?” Tony gently pushed. “What happened to them?”

“The next morning, everyone in town packed up in a hurry, jumped in their vehicles and attempted to follow them. Of course, the winter storms were a primary concern, too. Some of them said that if they couldn’t catch up to the Army, they might try to make it to Mosquito Creek, just a few miles south of here.”

“Mosquito Creek?” Diane said.

“Yeah… it’s a large campground in the forest surrounding a large lake, lots of places to hide out if that horde came through. I think they were considering sheltering in the cave system there. Maybe they thought they could just come back after the dead passed… I don’t know. Everyone was in panic-mode by then. I tried to talk some of them into just staying here with me, but they thought I was crazy, like I had a death wish or something.”

“So, everyone fled south,” Tony said. “And I assume those yellow-eyed haters came?”

“Yes,” Jim whispered. “I… I watched them from the second floor. They came near sunset that same day. I remember it like a nightmare, permanently branded into my brain. The clouds above were all dark… and strange. Like the sky couldn’t decide if it was going to snow or thunderstorm. I remember seeing the sun break from the bottom of the clouds to the west, and it was blood-red. The air felt heavy, like it wanted to crush you, if it could. And then they came down from the northeast end of town. It was the most terrifying sight I’d ever seen. There were so many of them—flooding the streets—all crazed and bloody. I was waiting for them to scatter and storm all the houses and buildings… but they just kept going… almost like they already knew the town was vacant… like the knew exactly where everyone was!”

“Shit,” Nine said. He looked to Tony. “They were already hunting.”

Tony nodded. “So, they didn’t find you?”

Jim shook his head. “I think the storm system messed with their senses, or they just didn’t care about one lonely survivor. All I know is that they were moving so damn fast… with a single purpose… like they were in a hurry to get to wherever they were going. What made it worse was those damn re-animated ones in the stadium—thank God they were on the other side of town—but they were louder than they ever were. It’s like they knew the others were here and it got them all riled up. I remember laughing at the irony when the last of those yellow-eyed nightmares passed through town, and thought, ‘Now those stadium monsters will break out and finish me off’. But they calmed down after the others were gone.”

“And those yellow-eyed ones headed south, the same way the Army and the town left?” Wendy asked.

Jim nodded. “Right down, Route 44… straight toward Mosquito Creek.”

Diane shook her head. “And you haven’t heard from anyone since that day?”

Jim frowned. “No. I’ve been alone ever since. I’d like to think they got away, made it to those caves, or were lifted away in helicopters by the Army… but I really don’t know. Since then, I’ve been here… waiting for the world out there to right itself.” He took a deep breath and looked around fondly. “But I’ve found peace in here. This place has kept me safe… and all these books have kept me sane. I don’t know if anything out there will ever go back to the way things were… and honestly… I no longer care. There’s enough supplies left behind, an entire town’s worth, to last one lonely librarian quite a long time… or a few more of us, if you want to stay.”

Tony stared at the bearded man for a long time before answering. He’s not insane… not yet… but this poor man has abandoned the real world for a fictional one. He’ll die in this building, one day, and no one will remember he ever existed. He’ll just become another character, like the ones in all his stories, except no one will be around to write about him… so his character, and his story, will die with him. Tony smiled at the pathetic man and said, “We appreciate the offer, Jim, but we can’t. We’re looking for our friends. They were captured by a group of face-painted survivors who apparently call themselves The Lunatics. The trail’s a month old, and our odds are slim at finding them alive, but we have to try. Since you said that we’re the first people…real people… you’ve seen, I don’t suppose-”

“You mean they were real, too!” Jim rose to his feet, clearly upset. He was pacing back and forth in front of them, pulling tightly on his beard. “This is unacceptable! How’s a man supposed to live like this, not knowing the damn difference between who is and who isn’t?” The question was obviously directed at himself as Jim continued to pace, oblivious to his guests.

The others tensed up and we’re about to move, but Tony raised a hand to keep them seated. “Jim, please calm down. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Jim didn’t hear him. “I mean… I was certain they couldn’t be real. I heard the trucks pull up, woke up, looked out my window, and saw them… but… but… they looked like clowns or something… and real people don’t look like clowns, right? Of course they don’t, silly! Clowns don’t drive trucks and carry guns… they… they make people laugh at the circus.”

Alysa tightened her grip on her bow but did not raise it. She looked to Tony.

He shook his head at her and then focused on Jim. “Jim… it’s okay. These people, the ones who call themselves The Lunatics, they’re bad people, they do bad things. They probably wear face paint to scare people. If I first saw them out a window, I probably wouldn’t think they were real either.”

Jim whipped his head toward Tony. His eyes were wide, his breathing heavy like he was close to a panic attack. “You’re Tony, right? I mean… you’re still… here… right?”

“Yes, Jim. We’re all here. We’re all real and have been sitting with you… just talking… like real people do.”

Jim cocked his head and studied Tony, slowly raising a shaking hand toward the big man’s face. He was trying to work up the nerve to touch him, but was too terrified to do so, believing his hand might pass right through him. He started tugging as his beard again. Jim looked up at the library ceiling and shouted, “Jim, today might be the day, so tell me, have you lost your mind… finally?”

Jim waited for the library to answer.

Tony was done waiting. He stood up from his couch and grabbed Jim’s arm, causing him to cry out. “It’s okay, Jim. Look, I’m not a ghost. I’m flesh and blood, just like you. There’s your answer. You are not crazy.”

Jim looked at Tony’s hand on his arm. His face relaxed, his breathing slowed. “Yes… yes, of course. You’re real. Only real people can grab on to real people.” Jim let out an unnerving laugh that caused everyone to shift in their seats.

Tony released his arm and slowly sat back down. “Just sit down, Jim. You’re okay. Everything’s fine.”

Jim nodded with a smile, wiping perspiration from his brow. He finally sat back down. “Whew!” he said with a laugh. “That was close.” He looked around at the others, hoping they were all still sitting there.

“Jim,” Tony said.

The bearded man turned back.

“Let’s just focus on what you saw that day.”

Jim shook his head and wiped tears of relief mixed with regret from his face. “If I’d known… you know… that those clowns were real, I might have done something to stop it.”

“Stop what?” Tony asked.

“They… they stopped out front, got out of those trucks and then grabbed a man out of the back of a box truck… all real, of course.”

“Yes, all real,” Tony urged. “Go on.”

“Well… the man struggled with them, those clown people, and they just dragged him out to the center of the street and surrounded him like a bunch of vultures. There was one… a woman, I think. She had long hair, her face was all painted and she had two handguns. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it looked like the painted woman was asking the man questions… and she wasn’t happy with the answers. And then it happened. It was so quick. The woman shot the man in the leg. He fell in the street. And the others… my, God, they just started shooting into him. They shot him in the legs, the arms… anywhere they could not to kill him. Then that woman walked up and put the last bullet in his forehead. It was awful… more so, now… now that I know it really happened.” Jim’s tears were flowing freely. “And all I did was watch. I didn’t know… I thought I was still dreaming… or seeing things.”

“It’s okay, Jim,” Diane said. “Even if you’d tried to help, they would’ve killed you, too.”

Jim shook his head at her. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve helped that poor man.”

“Jim,” Tony said. “Was the man… was he a black man?”

Jim looked confused. “Black painted?”

“No… was his skin black… was he an African American?”

“Oh… no… no he wasn’t. He was a white guy.”

Tony relaxed his tense shoulders and addressed the others. “Orosco might still be alive.”

“Not likely,” Mark said, winning him a shot to the shoulder as Wendy hit him. “What? You heard what they just did to that guy. I’m just being the realist here. We should give up on this suicide mission before we end up dead in the street with bullet holes.”

No one said a word in response.

“What happened after, Jim?” Tony pressed. “Did you see where they went?”

Jim nodded. “After all that gunfire, the stadium dead got all riled up. I could tell, because those painted people stopped and stared north. They probably thought a herd was coming right for them. They looked scared… well… most of them did. The painted woman laughed and then fired her guns one more time into the sky. I think she was enjoying herself. She then ordered everyone else back in the trucks. They even took that man’s body and tossed it in the back of the box truck. Why on earth for, is beyond me.”

“They wanted to remind their captives what happens when you cross them,” Alysa said.

The others considered this and shook.

“Thank you, Jim. Now we have a trail again,” Tony said. “I’m sorry you had to see that happen. Perhaps it was better when you thought they weren’t real.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Now I have to live with it.”

“We’ve all had to learn to live with a great many horrible things, Jim,” Tony finished.

~~~

Next Episode 41-5

Previous Episode 41-3

~~~

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 41-4: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.

~~~

Hey Everyone,

Just checking in since it’s been a while. I’ve been busy writing this latest story arc and having a lot of fun in the process. It’s been a while since our characters have hit the open road and there are lot of crazy situations they will have to face along the way. Some we’ve already experienced.

Here’s a look at the rest of the schedule for 2017:

Revised 11/3/17:

Chapter 41: Siege, will now run ten episodes and conclude on Thursday, November 16th.  This will be the final chapter of the year before the holiday break.

After the holidays, Don’t Feed The Dark will resume on Monday, January 1st and will keep on going until the completion of Book Five.

So, what can we expect in the new year? We’ll have a Shadow Dead backstory from the perspective of the mysterious and deadly Alysa Monroe, and then Tony’s group will finally catch up to the murderers who call themselves, “The Lunatics” to finish up the current story arc in an intense and unusual chapter (sorry no spoilers). After that, arc two will begin with Gina’s story as we find out what happened to the former leader turned exile and what happened after our favorite serial killer finally catches up with her… nuff said on that.

During the holiday break, I’ll try to put out another episode of After The Dark (time dependent), and we’ll take a more in depth look at what’s happened and what’s coming up, giving you all a chance to ask any questions you might have so far.

Monday’s pre-Halloween episode will be a chilling one fit for the season.

That’s it for now. If I don’t hear from you before then, Happy Halloween!

-Scott

~~~

~~~

After carefully advancing another ten miles west, they arrived in Orwell Village late in the afternoon, two days later. The countryside between Wayne and Orwell had been mostly barren farmlands and meadows, but the going had been slow due to exhaustion, Diane’s injuries, and an increase in the number of the dead along the roadway. They had spent a lot of time crossing the open fields to avoid being seen and had decided to camp out in a secluded pine grove on their first night away from Wayne, trying to get whatever rest they could.

Orwell was a welcome sight after picking pine needles out of their clothes and wearing camp fire cologne, but it was as deserted and neglected as everywhere else they’d been, creating that familiar silence that never became comfortable. A mixture of old homes and red brick buildings with the occasional sprinkling of modern fast food restaurants, dollar stores, and far too many used car lots, Orwell’s downtown district was all crammed together but its size was far from suffocating. Surprisingly, Orwell did not carry the look of a small town looted several times over, which just raised everyone’s paranoia levels.

With evening approaching, everyone agreed to find the most secure structure and get some real sleep, hoping to forage for supplies and find more clues to the whereabouts of the so-called Lunatics in the morning.

When they reached the western end of Orwell, they found an isolated two-floor brick building on a large lot that served as the town library, with ample windows on all sides to keep an eye on the town. It sat on the corner of an intersection with N. Maple Street running along the west side of the building and they’re current road running along the south. On the north and east sides were two large empty parking lots.

“This looks promising,” Tony remarked, staring at the front entrance facing the south side. “At least we know there wasn’t anyone inside when The Change occurred. Library was obviously closed.”

Diane was studying the dust-covered second-floor windows. “No snipers. Windows are all shut. Looks like they’ve stayed that way, too.”

“Roof is clear, as well,” Alysa remarked, scanning the top of the structure with her bow raised high.

“I suppose there wasn’t much of a need to loot the local library,” Nine laughed. “Unless, of course, you’ve got late fees pending and an expired library card… now’s the perfect chance for a permanent check-out on your favorite fiction titles. Although, I don’t imagine anyone frequenting the ‘Horror Fiction’ section for a good while since-”

“Nine,” Diane said.

“Yes.”

“Shut up.”

“As you wish, my angel.”

“Okay,” Mark began. “Maybe no zombies and no apparent hostiles. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t survivors hiding in there waiting to bash our heads in with encyclopedias.”

Wendy shook her head at him. “Your optimism toward the human race is never-ending.”

Mark shrugged his shoulders.

“Do you all hear that?” Alysa asked. She was staring around, trying to pinpoint a very faint sound.

They all got quiet and heard it. There was a very faint static-like sound, like water striking the shore of a beach, or loud rain striking cement. But it was so faint, no one could identify it. Once they recognized the sound was there, hiding just within the background, no one could then not hear it.

“Great, something else to worry about.” Tony let out a heavy sigh. “I’m too tired to keep being this paranoid. Strange sounds or hostile towns… doesn’t matter. Best move is to get out of the street before dark. We’ll take it slow. If anyone’s inside the library, we’ll try not to startle them… or get our heads bashed in by books.”

They approached a wide set of concrete steps leading up to a formidable looking oak door. “I’ll bet my next MRE that it’s locked,” he announced over his shoulder.

When the door suddenly opened, Tony almost fell down the steps.

A tall, lanky middle-aged man with a long scraggly red beard and a bald head stepped out and stared it them over an old set of reading glasses.

Alysa’s bow was up immediately.

The man leaned over and squinted at Tony, and then scanned the others’ faces likewise.

Tony raised his hands submissively.

The bearded man, wearing faded dress pants with holes in both knees and a soiled looking dress shirt partially tucked into his pants as if he’d just returned from the bathroom in a hurry, spoke first. “Hello there,” the man said, attempting a partial smile like he’d forgotten how. “It took all the nerve I could muster to open this door and… well… here I am.” The man appeared proud of himself. “Are you… are you really standing there… or am I just imagining you?”

Tony didn’t know how to respond to the strange question. “Hi… we’re… we mean you no harm.”

The bearded man’s eyes went wide as he took a step back, obviously startled. “Damn! You really are standing there, aren’t you?”

Tony laughed. “Yeah… we are.” He took a step back. “Name’s Tony. Are you… alright, sir?”

The man nodded vigorously and laughed. “Yes… yes… I’m doing fine. So much better than I was a minute ago when I thought I’d made the lot of you up in my head. Been surrounded by so many characters for so long that I just figured… well… you are real, in fact, aren’t you? All of you?”

Nine noticed the man was holding a hardback book and then understood. He stepped forward and said, “Yes, sir. We’re real.” He waved a hand back at Alysa to lower the bow.

She reluctantly did.

“My name’s Nine… although I suppose that sounds more like a character name in one of your stories.”

The bearded man gave him a puzzled look.

“In fact,” Nine continued. “I know just how it is when you read enough books, especially the good ones you get lost in… those characters in stories can seem just as real as anybody.”

The man nodded with a smile. “Yes! Yes, exactly!”

“But we’re the real deal, sir. You probably haven’t seen people in a good while, yes?”

The man nodded again, appearing to relax. “I guess it shows.” He laughed again and shook his head. “You all must think me strange, or crazy. Don’t blame you, not at all. These are strange and crazy times.”

“Sir,” Tony said, smiling briefly at Nine, “our understanding in the ‘strange and crazy’ department has gone through daily revisions. Compared to what we’ve seen, meeting you seems almost… normal.”

The man laughed hard and scratched his beard. “I can see your point. Well… crazy or not… you can call me Jim. I guess you could say that I’m the caretaker of this house of histories, both true and fictional.” He laughed at himself like a man used to telling and receiving the same old jokes.

To the others, Jim had clearly gone insane from loneliness.

“Are you… alone here?” Tony asked.

“No,” Jim said with a smile, holding the book up to his chest in an embrace. “Lonely, but never alone. I’ve made friends here, at the library… and we’ve traveled to so many wonderful places.”

Mark leaned in and said to Wendy, “There’s the future of humanity for you. Take a good long look.”

Wendy scowled at him.

Jim’s face became serious. “What’s the matter with me? I’ve lost my manners and good sense, it seems. Please… won’t you all come inside? It’s been too long since I’ve had guests visiting the library.”

Before anyone could object, Tony smiled and said, “Thanks for inviting us in, Jim. We’d be honored to be your guests.”

Jim got animated as he turned and waved them all inside. “I have plenty of food and water, all you can eat and drink.” He laughed at himself again as if he’d told the funniest joke. “But more than that, my new friends, I have gold and silver in abundance, found between the lines of each and every page. Come! Come!” He laughed at himself again and stepped into the library. “Just close and lock the door behind you!” he yelled back.

Nine walked up beside Tony. “Welcome to the apocalypse,” he whispered. “Home to the monstrous beast known only as… The Book Worm.”

Tony shook his head. “The world’s always been one big can of mixed nuts… we’ve just finally reached the bottom of the can.”

Nine snickered. “You sure you want to do this?”

“He seems harmless. I’ll take a little obvious crazy any day over sinister hiding behind sane.”

Alysa stepped up. “He never answered the question.”

Nine and Tony gave her a puzzled look.

She sighed. “About whether he was alone in there.”

“Sure he did,” Nine said with a devious smile. “There’s a horde of characters waiting to jump out at us from the pages of every haunted book in the place… and your arrows can’t stop a single one.” He added a wink.

Alysa sneered at the young man. “I understand what the hunter sees in you now.”

Nine smiled. “Handsome, intelligent, extremely funny, way-super cool…”

“You are continuously obnoxious and she obviously keeps you around to develop huge reserves of patience… as any good hunter needs,” she said.

Nine’s eyebrows went up. “Well… aren’t we the testy one today.”

“And if I had a sock… I’d stuff the hole on your face with it,” she finished.

Tony laughed hard. “Let’s go… before Jim comes back to read us a story on these damn steps.”

They entered the house of histories, both true and fictional, closing and securing the door behind them.

~~~

Jim led them toward a large reading lounge at the center of the first floor where several decorative, red felt sofas faced each other, each with their own corner table and small reading lamp. Rectangular wooden coffee tables were placed at the foot of each sofa to store excess books for later browsing. Surrounding the lounge were larger tables and chairs for group study and research. Every wall was lined with tall bookshelves with columns of long stand-alone shelves grouped in different sections by numeric, alphabetical, or subject listings. Two large staircases ascended the western and eastern sides of the library, leading to a U-shaped balcony with ornate looking rails for safety. From the first floor, you could look all the way up to the second and discover more walls of books, giving the library a very comfortable, open feel as it seemed much bigger within than from out on the street. The tall ceiling had several large skylights built into it, providing plenty of natural light along with the standard windows on both floors.

“Wow!” Wendy exclaimed, not prepared to hear her own echo in the large space. “I love this place.”

“No surprise there, Velma,” Mark teased. “A nerd loving a library… what a concept.”

“You probably can’t even read,” she fired back. “What’s the matter? You find all this knowledge too intimidating?”

“‘Boring’ is the word I was thinking,” Mark said with a yawn.

Matthew stood with his hands in his pockets, staring up through one of the skylights at the evening colors. Pink cumulus clouds were scattered across an indifferent sky. He wore a tranquil look upon his face and smiled when he imagined he saw a pink elephant in the clouds.

The others were more focused on their host, who had stopped and leaned up against one of several rafters with his arms folded, letting his visitors appreciate the initial impression the library left on them. They were also scanning every potential hiding spot behind bookshelves, tables, a large check-in desk, and the second-floor balcony, looking for a potential ambush.

“Marvelous, isn’t it?” Jim called out with a smile.

Wendy turned. “It’s wonderful, Jim. It looks so… clean… too. Like the apocalypse never affected this place.”

Jim laughed. “This is my home away from home. My sanctuary from the world out there. Has been since the beginning. I’ve learned to appreciate and respect what these books have done for me. The least I could do was keep the place… well… like it was.”

Wendy smiled and nodded.

Alysa walked up behind Tony and whispered, “The area appears clear. No obvious threats.”

Tony nodded. He looked to Diane and Nine coming back. They shook their heads.

Good, he thought. Maybe Jim’s legit… and we can get some damn rest.

“Come on.” Jim waved them over to the reading lounge. “We can sit and talk like regular people. Haven’t done that in so long… it’s kind of exciting.”

Mark raised his eyebrows at Nine. “Seriously? This guy needs to get out more.”

Nine laughed. “And go where? Are the local dead having an ice cream social this weekend? I don’t recommend the Friday night ‘all you can eat’ special at the infested Denny’s a couple blocks back.”

“You really are an ass,” Mark said.

They all followed Jim and spread out on the surprisingly comfy sofas.

“Wait!” Jim said excitedly. He leaned back on his sofa and put his feet up on the coffee table, crossing his feet. “That’s the best part,” he laughed. “The old librarian would scold you until tomorrow if she caught you doing that.”

Nine smiled and followed suit, grinning at Diane like the Cheshire Cat. “Feels good to break some rules… when I can.”

Diane rolled her eyes. “You’re such a rebel.”

“How long have you been here, Jim?” Tony started. “I thought I heard you say ‘since the beginning’.”

“Yes, yes,” Jim said stroking his beard. “I was here… well… not here specifically, but here in town, in my apartment, when the epidemic struck. Nasty affair that was. People went crazy, turning on each other with no warning… except for those terrifying yellow eyes and a road map of veins bulging on the skin.”

“I’m sure that was awful,” Tony said. “We’ve come to know that event as The Change. It struck everywhere.”

Jim nodded, nervously pulling on his beard and staring beyond them like a man haunted by memory. “Well, that was bad enough. But then the graveyard north of here came alive and all those dead people were spit out of the ground. I think the only thing that spared a lot of us was when the yellow-eyed ones came up against the previously dead ones… well… it became clear that both groups of the dead didn’t care for each other. Most of the yellow-eyed ones started attacking the other group, allowing the town to get over the initial shock and horror, regroup, hide or find weapons to fight. There was a lot of death and mourning those first three days. Then the Army showed up and cleared out the dead.”

“The Army?” Diane said, trying to ignore Jim gawking at her missing limb. “How did you get the Army to show up in this rinky-dink town… no offense.”

Jim laughed. “None taken. We all wondered the same thing. But at the time, no one cared. If not for those military types… we’d all be dead now. They showed up in these massive armored vehicles and over a hundred troops. They had supplies, too. Plenty to spare for everyone in town after they cleared the streets of the dead and cleaned up the… mess. There was a lot of blood.”

Tony and Diane shared a surprised glance. “So where are they now?” Tony asked.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Coming into town we didn’t see anyone. No military… nothing. In fact, it looks like most of the vehicles are gone, too.”

“Was the town evacuated?” Wendy added. “I sure hope you weren’t left behind.”

Jim raised a hand and laughed. “Please be patient with me. I’m not used to so many questions. It’s wonderful… and a bit overwhelming. Up until now, I only ever had to deal with one question.”

“And what would that be?” Alysa asked.

Jim frowned and let out a long sigh. “Every day, I asked myself, ‘Jim, have you lost your mind yet?’ And then, I’d wait and get real quiet, and just listen to the library.” He laughed and finished, “Luckily for me, I never heard an answer.”

Nine laughed nervously. “I guess that’s one clear way to gauge your sanity.”

“Let’s get back to the Army, Jim. Just tell us what you can,” Tony said.

Jim nodded. “Like I said, those Army types came in and cleared out the dead and saved us. Then they set up a base of operations up north at the high school. That’s when all the white coats started showing up.”

“‘White coats’?” Diane asked.

“Yeah, that’s what we called them. They were dressed all in white, like doctors and scientists, and they went straight to the high school. Not once did we ever see one come into town. We just figured they were working on the problem, trying to come up with a cure.”

“It doesn’t look like they succeeded,” Mark said.

“No, they certainly did not,” Jim added with a hint of sadness in his voice. “Anyway, they sent a representative to talk with us—Ajax, that was his name. Major Ajax. The Major told us they could keep the town secure but they needed our help rounding up the remaining dead in and around town. In return, they set up provisions in this very library. Tons of MREs and bottled water, enough for everyone. So, we helped them gather the dead.”

“‘Gather the dead’?” Matthew asked. “What does that even mean?”

Jim tapped his fist on his forehead. “Sorry. I take it for granted because I haven’t been outside for a long time. None of the noise gets in here, thank God. I just assumed everyone knew about them… and I didn’t expect to meet anyone from out of town.”

“‘Them’?” Tony asked.

Jim smiled and pointed to his left ear. “I’m sure you’ve been wondering what that strange background sound was when you reached the center of town? You know, the faint sound that you just can’t figure out.”

“Yeah,” Wendy said. “We were wondering about that. Some of us assumed there was a strong river flowing near the town line.”

“It’s coming from the high school football stadium. That’s where the Army locked up the dead… all of them.”

~~~

Next Episode 41-4

Previous Episode 41-2

~~~

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“Chapter 41-3: Siege” Copyright © 2017 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.