Archive for the ‘Zombies’ Category

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Hello everyone! It’s almost time to embark on another horrific journey into the darkness (Now, doesn’t that sound inviting?). In just a few more weeks, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains, will commence. I can now release the premiere date: Monday, August 28th.

So, what can I share about the new story arc so far? I can tell you that the premiere chapter will pick up right where we left off at the end of Book Four, and that it’s going to be very intense right out of the gate. The Shadow Dead have come… and that is not good news for our survivors. The first chapter will be titled, Obituaries… and yes, there will be death… lots of death. The second chapter will be titled, Wick, and will tell a creepy little thriller of a tale. Sorry I can’t say more.

Looking at the new arc from a wider perspective, Book Five will take us back out into what’s left of Northeast Ohio, and give us a much bigger picture as far as what’s happened ‘out there’ since our survivors went into hiding beneath the Wasteland during the long winter. Book Five will take us into unfamiliar territory as we visit new places, meet new people, and of course, discover just what the hell the dead have been up to. Book Five will also bring us closer to understanding the mysterious forces at work in the world that led us to the horrific event, known as The Change. There will be two new additional flashback story chapters centered around the origin of the Shadow Dead, and a continuation of the strange happenings occurring at an orphanage (which is not an orphanage). We will find out what happened to Gina. We will hear strange words whispered like, ‘Alpha Zombie’ and ‘The Nomad’. There’s a lot more, but of course, I can’t talk about it… lol.

I had a lot of fun writing during the month of July, accelerating through more than 30,000 words. I intend to keep writing like a madman going into August to find out how far I can get before crashing into a highway horde… lol.

If you haven’t discovered them yet, I started a collection of stand-alone stories and poems of a dark nature that I will continue to post on occasion, located in the top tab under ‘Other Short Works’. So, if you want to read some other dark offerings I’ve written over the years, be sure to check those out.

Time permitting, I hope to have one more episode of After The Dark, my DFTD talk show, ready shortly before the premiere to help us kick off Book Five.

That’s it for now. I’ll tell you more when I can. I hope to hear from you all after the premiere.

-Scott

~~~


Note: This short sci-fi horror story is unrelated to Don’t Feed The Dark.

~~~

It was the beginning of the end of life as Tommy knew it. Nothing could prepare him or the rest of his high school senior class for Career Day, and nothing would ever be the same for any of them again.

Tommy resisted attending, as was common, but he remained the good son, unwilling to embarrass his family name by giving in to fear. Besides, attending Career Day was not only a mandatory requirement to graduate high school, but it was required by Federal Law in order to work anywhere legally within the United States. There was also the penalty of imprisonment and steep fines for parents who were found deliberately withholding their children from attending–a deterrent against the radicals of society that continued to cleave to archaic and obsolete principles from long ago.

The turnout was huge this year as Tommy and his parents waited their turn in line to speak to his appointed career counselor. Up until now, Tommy’s dreams of becoming a professional football player seemed within reach. He had already attracted the notice of several college team scouts last year and his potential for becoming one of the youngest rising star quarterbacks seemed inevitable.

But by 2030, nothing was inevitable or unpredictable. Horrific advances in medical technology had made it so.

As Tommy watched the thinning line of students ahead of him, he wanted so desperately to run and never look back. Another student went in and Tommy wondered what his face would look like when he exited–how many years, more or less, would be reflected there. Of course, no one was allowed to witness this transition, for things did not turn out so well for some.

He could feel his father’s shaky hand on his shoulder. “It will be alright, Son.”

Tommy gave him a sharp look and responded, “There’s no way you can know that.”

The future was once a terrifying and beautiful mystery, but that was all about to change today. For on Career Day, each student’s date of death was revealed for the first time, initially calculated at birth and kept hidden until educated on how to handle the shock of such news, and with it, the unraveling of many dreams.

Tommy knew that if his date of death was anything less than thirty years, he’d never be able to pick up a football scholarship. Scouts wanted athletes, and anyone projected to die in their late thirties to early forties raised a red flag toward possible early hereditary health issues, which would make Tommy an insurance liability that no football team owner would consider.

Of course, there were other careers Tommy could pursue, dependent upon his longevity. If time permitted, he could continue a short-term degree in a less exciting profession; spend what time he had working for corporations that preferred “short-termers” because they could cut down on long-term retirement expenses and save companies money. Of course, anyone working for them would have to sign special wavers absolving corporations from covering death expenses. But Tommy loved football–had a real gift for it. He found it so unfair that his fate, after all his hard work, could be decided by one lousy day, one day that had already been decided long ago.

Tommy’s thoughts were interrupted as the sound of a mother’s tears could be heard following a student exiting the Career Day booth from three lines over. He could just make out a young boy and his family, quickly escorted out by security to private offices on the other side.

Some were left devastated, finding out that they had only a handful of years left to live, while others–a lifetime. Career paths were broadened or narrowed considerably, according to each outcome. Short-term counselors awaited to provide emotional support and a much shorter list of alternatives for the remainder of some student’s lives.

Tommy couldn’t shake the chill that seized him. That boy could be me, he thought.

“Next,” a counselor called toward him.

Tommy looked back at his mother. Her face was always so radiant with hope, even now. “Go on, Tommy,” she encouraged. “It will be alright, one way or the other. We’ll still be here to love you no matter what you find out.”

Tommy smiled then reluctantly turned and walked toward the booth to discover his fate. All he could do was hope for the best and throw one final pass toward heaven asking God to let him play ball. But as he considered the mother’s cries from three lines over that continued to echo in his thoughts, Tommy realized that being prohibited from playing football was not the worst thing he could find out today. He began to feel his own mortality weighing him down with each anxious and heavy step.

~~~

“Career Day” Copyright © 2010 Scott Scherr. All rights reserved.

If you’re new to my blog and want to read something a bit longer, feel free to check out my ongoing serial novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, and tell me what you think: DFTD Chapter 1-1: Demon Night

~~~

After the Dark1 (2)

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“Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of After The Dark. I’m your host, John Ecko, and this is the Don’t Feed The Dark after-show that will attempt to answer your burning questions while we shine a light into some of the darkest corners of this chilling apocalyptic serial to see what we can uncover.

Each episode we will explore a diverse range of topics as we sit down with our featured special guests who have come right out of the pages of this dark serial novel to enlighten us and hopefully give us some additional insights into their characters, as well as what we can expect in the days ahead.

***SPOILER ALERT***

At this time, I must advise you, avid readers, that from here on in, there will be major spoilers discussed. So in the event that you haven’t read the first 38 chapters of Don’t Feed The Dark, I strongly suggest that you don’t continue on with us until after you’ve caught up. Consider yourself warned.”

~~~

Both John and Marcus are seated before the audience. John gets up, hands raised, and begins. “Welcome back, ladies and gentleman. It’s now time for part two of our exciting, and a little unnerving, interview with our special guest, Marcus Dempsey, a.k.a. Russell Bower. Please put your hands together and let’s make Marcus feel welcome.”

(Most of the audience stand and put their hands together. The rest sink in their seats to escape notice.)

John sits. “Well, Marcus. Welcome back to the show. I’m looking forward in continuing our discussion to find out what’s in store for our resident serial killer.”

“You should probably stop calling me that, now,” Marcus says with a smile. “In this new environment, I’ve seen enough murder and mayhem by the rest of humanity to convince me that the term ‘Survivor’ is just another synonym for ‘Killer’.”

“That’s very true,” John says with a nod. “Hell, by the old standards, looking at what folks are getting away with after The Change, I guess anyone could be classified a ‘serial killer’.”

“Exactly,” Marcus says. “Besides, I think my purpose has evolved beyond the typical slice-and-dice murder crime scenes. All things considering, I think my character has shown consider restraint. Don’t you?”

“Yes, you’re right,” John says. “With the exception of catering to the savage, or The Other One, I was starting to think that you were done with killing. In fact, it really seemed like you were staring to become one among the community of survivors. They certainly value having you around.”

Marcus laughs. “Yes, no one minds having someone around who can keep them safe. Most people don’t even care how you do it, just as long as they can keep on breathing. I guess that puts me in a very unique position. I can be both protector and predator, dependent on the circumstances.”

“But… I started to sense, especially in your latest tale, that you even shared something more with this group, or at least, the core group that you traveled with. A sense of belonging, perhaps?”

Marcus rubs his chin and takes a moment to consider the question. “‘Attachment’ is probably a better word. I think I simply got used to operating within this group, functioning on some level to address the concerns of the whole, but ultimately, serving my own agenda… which is always… The Lady. As long as one does not come into conflict with the other, I could always serve both ends.”

“Meaning, you could be both Russell and Marcus. Embracing your new persona while still holding true to the former. Is that a correct assessment?”

“Yes, and no,” Marcus says. “I believe I could entertain an alternate existence as Marcus… if not for the savage who is constantly there to remind me that it’s all a farce. Believe me, that blood-thirsty maniac is constantly challenging the confines of are delicate arrangement. For that brute, I am holding him back, or, holding us both back from truly indulging in the apocalypse… and he despises me for it.”

“But you are the one in control, correct?”

“Most of the time,” Marcus says, and then sighs heavily. “Honestly, John, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the savage. I think he’s growing stronger within… and I sometimes wonder who will prevail in the end… and what that will mean?”

“That’s a truly disturbing thought,” John admits. “I think we are all bothered by your present character’s motives. But a Marcus Dempsey controlled by the savage… well… that would be disastrous.”

“Agreed,” Marcus says.

(For a moment everyone gets quiet.)

“Well, enough of that,” John says. “Let’s shift the topic, shall we?”

“Gladly.”

“Let’s talk about the mysterious Alysa. How does she make you feel?”

Marcus laughs. “You sound like a therapist I once killed.”

(The audience laughs.)

“Seriously though,” John continues, “that young woman seems very enamoured with you. Any thoughts?”

Marcus shifts uncomfortably in his chair, and everyone notices. “This… woman… finds me half dead after my unfortunate fall from the cliff, then pretends to be my savior as she nurses me back to health, all the while hoping to validate her worthless existence, hiding away from the world, by taking advantage of my injuries, knowing that I’m temporarily reliant upon her. Of course, this was what I thought at first… and then she pulled the rug right out from under me. My thoughts? I don’t think I’ve ever wanted someone dead more that that woman in the woods.”

“Clearly,” John says, sensing Marcus’ agitation. “So… she tries to belittle you, tries to seduce you, has been drugging you since the beginning, leading to all sorts of strange hallucinations… is there anything we can take at face value from this woman?”

“Absolutely not,” Marcus says. “If I’ve learned any one thing that is true about Alysa, it’s that she’s very dangerous.”

“You had a chance to kill her at the cabin. Why didn’t you attempt it?”

Marcus smiles. “I didn’t bother because it was a power-play. Alysa wanted me to know that she wasn’t afraid of me, so she put on a show of vulnerability to see what I’d do. Although I was no longer a prisoner in that bed, she was very much still in control. There was only one option… and that was leaving… as she intended.”

“Interesting,” John says. “How much do you think she knows about the real you?”

“I think she knows enough, and revealed just enough, to let me know that I was vulnerable.”

“Because of Gina?”

“Yes.”

“So what do you suppose she really wanted from you if everything else was an act?”

Marcus shook his head. “That’s a very good question. Truth is, I hope I never find out. I believe Alysa understands the value of information. Anyone can learn how and where to cut someone with a sharp enough weapon to do the most damage. It takes real skill to know how deep to cut to kill quickly and how shallow to prolong pain. But only a master knows how to do the most damage to someone with nothing but your tongue. Possessing and wielding information effectively is the most devastating weapon available.”

John nods. “And that’s what you’ve done a lot of, if I’m correct. How you devastated Tony before leaving the community seems like a perfect example of what you’re talking about.”

“Precisely. Knowledge waits, like a patient predator, for the most opportune time to strike.”

“And you’re saying that Alysa understands this as much as you do?”

Marcus sighs. “She may be more deadly with it than I could ever be. I wasn’t about to stick around and find out.”

“So, she let you go, then?”

“I believe she gave me a choice. A test. Whether I passed it or not is beyond me. But either way, she was prepared for whatever I chose.”

John shakes his head. “So, what was it about you that made her go through all this trouble? Why all the games and deception?”

“I believe she acquired enough information from the drugs to arouse her curiosity. The hell if I know for sure. She was able to hide herself from me… and that is not something most can do. I usually find a crack in most people, something to exploit… but not this woman.”

“So… has Marcus Dempsey met his match?”

Marcus smiled like the devil. “I certainly hope so.”

(The audience laughs.)

“We are almost out time,” John says. “I want to ask a few more questions before we finish. Near the end of the episode, Alysa opens a large chest, presumably full of her personal belongings. What’s described to us is a bow. Beneath the bow, a dark metallic suit, two gauntlets with razors for fingers, and a large cow-skull looking helmet. I don’t have to tell my audience what all that added together sounds like.”

Marcus laughs. “It is very interesting.”

“So I’ll just ask the million dollar question: Is Alysa a Shadow Dead?”

Marcus raises his arms and says, “I was long gone before that scene. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Damn it!” John says. “I knew you were going to say something like that. Okay, next question. Will we see Alysa again in the near future?”

“Not if I kill her first,” Marcus says, and adds nothing else.

“Okay… okay… how about we just address the elephant in the room. What can you tell us about your next encounter with Gina… assuming, of course, that you find her?”

“All I’m permitted to say is that there’s a special kind of bond between myself and Gina… and a special kind of blood, which runs within us both. One way or the other, we’ll be exploring that blood in a very intimate way.”

“I don’t like the sound of that at all,” John admits. “Well, we’re just about out of time. Is there anything else you can tell us about the next story arc found in Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains?”

Marcus consider this, and then says, “There’s going to be a lot of death… and you all know how excited that makes me.” He adds a wink.

(The audience laughs nervously.)

“Well, Marcus, it’s been great finally having you on the show. I sincerely hope you never find Gina… but if you do… I hope she’s a much faster runner than you.”

(The audience laughs.)

“It’s been a pleasure,” Marcus lies. He could really care less.

John turns to the audience. “And that’s a wrap for this episode of After The Dark. As always, if anyone has any additional questions they would like to ask Marcus about his character, story line, or anything else Don’t Feed The Dark related, we will endeavor to answer your questions, if possible. How about a big hand for our special guest!”

(The audience stands and applauds… ecstatic to see the serial killer depart.)

“Just a reminder: Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains, will begin in August. If possible, the author has informed us that we may have one more episode of After The Dark to kick off the premiere. See you all next time!”

~~~

Please show your support for Don’t Feed The Dark by voting for it at topwebfiction Just click and vote. Nothing else required. You can vote every seven days to help me keep this series listed.

Thank you,
-Scott

~~~

~~~

Just checking in with the latest news.

I’ve been busy working on the premiere chapter to the fifth book in this epic series. I now have a title for the book: Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. When I looked up the definition for this word on my phone and read: Remains – the parts left over after other parts have been removed, used, or destroyed I knew immediately that this was going to be a strong primary theme for the next arc of this series.

The first chapter will tentatively be titled: Obituaries. Considering where we left off at the end of Book Four, that doesn’t sound very hopeful… lol. This has been a challenging premiere chapter to write in that this is the first time I’ve written a premiere that will also feel like a finale… and that’s all I can say about it.

Here’s a tidbit about Book Five that I can mention. For all you Northeast Ohio readers out there getting a kick out of the various local settings that I’ve been writing in, Geauga Lake will be one of the locations featured in Book Five. That chapter’s going to be a blast to get into. For those unfamiliar, Geauga Lake was a popular amusement park that was closed down back in 2007, but its remains are still there today… looking very much like the perfect post-apocalyptic setting.

As far as what lies ahead, I am now seeing the eventual finish line of this long, long tale and can tell you that Don’t Feed The Dark will conclude with Book Eight. So I guess you can say we’re a little past the half-way mark. I am already neck-deep into three separate plot lines that will span the next two book in this series, setting up, in part, the last two books. It’s going to be a wild ride to the end. Here are the title teasers for the next three books:

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains
Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother
Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Seven: The Prophet

I, of course, will not spoil anything, but there’s a lot going on and I’ve been waiting a very long time to tell various stories found in the next three novels. It’s exciting!

On to other news: The editing of Book Four: Phantoms has been postponed while I’m writing new material, but I’ll try to get it in print as soon as possible. Also, later this month, I’ll have the second part of the two-part interview with Russell Bower for the next After The Dark episode.

As mentioned last month, I’ve started a separate tab at the top of the page for other various dark stories, poems, etc., that I’ve been posting over the month of June. Just click on the “Other Short Works” tab to read any of it. I’ve included all three DFTD spin-off stories there as well.

That’s it for now. I’ll post more updates as we get closer to the premiere.

-Scott

~~~


“The Cure” Copyright © 2010 John Ecko.  All rights reserved.

If you’re new to my blog and want to read something a bit longer, feel free to check out my ongoing serial novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, and tell me what you think: DFTD Chapter 1-1: Demon Night

~~~


Note: This short horror story is unrelated to Don’t Feed The Dark.

~~~

Good old Sunday afternoon. There was nothing like kicking back with the boy and watching football in the fall. Especially when we had the place to ourselves. My wife, Susan, went to visit her mother in Akron.

We had all our required equipment at the ready: Popcorn, chips and salsa; chicken wings and pizza to be delivered shortly. We’d been conserving our voices all week for this one game and now we were ready to cheer our team on or heckle if need be (the Browns were notorious for screwing up a good football game). Either way, it would be a good time for us.

Brandon walked over to the window again, looked out and frowned.

“What, no pizza?” I asked.

My son considered his next words carefully and answered, “Sorry, Dad, I forgot. Now it’s too late, he’s coming over again.”

In our household there was no mistaking what was meant by “He”. It was our estranged neighbor, Mr. Thompson. “Please tell me you didn’t forget to rake the front yard this morning, tell me anything else but that,” I said sternly to my son.

Brandon’s eyes immediately rolled toward the floor. That was answer enough. “I said I was sorry. I meant to. I just got excited about the game and forgot.”

Before I could scold him further, Mr. Thompson began knocking on our front door.

I gave my son ‘the look’ and said, “We’ll talk about this later. You know I can’t stand talking to this guy.”

“So just don’t answer the door,” Brandon offered, then realized too late the folly in that suggestion. As an afterthought he added, “That guy gives me the creeps.”

My son was right, of course. Under normal circumstances his suggestion would have been sound, but Mr. Thompson was anything but ‘normal’. Last time we were graced by such a visit and tried to ignore the door, he knocked for over twenty minutes. Now mind you, it wasn’t a frustrated, angry or impatient knock, but a creepy, steady, almost rhythmic knock that suggested he could keep at it all day until we either answered it, or our heads imploded.

I remembered my irritation the last time I answered and how ready I was to chew my persistent neighbor a new asshole. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the man’s unnerving kindness and cheer as would surely be the case now. It’s hard to stay angry at someone who’s smothering you to death with platitudes and neighborly good will without seeming like the overreacting one. Besides, I knew enough about having bad relations with neighbors from previous homes that taught me the importance of maintaining diplomacy with people who lived that close to you. The alternatives were never pleasant.

Before opening the door, I joked with my son as Mr. Thomson continued to knock, “Sounds a little like a ZZ Top song if you listen to it long enough – Like he’s knocking to Velcro Fly all slowed down.”

“Dad,” my teenage son reminded me in typical sarcastic fashion. “You keep forgetting I’m not ancient like you. I have no idea who you’re talking about.” Then changing the subject and looking out the window toward our neighbor’s yard, Brandon smiled and said, “Dad, he got every single one! How does he do that? There’s not a single leaf left in the yard. You know what that means.”

Oh wonderful. This would be about the leaves again. There’s nothing like having a pre-game discussion about raking leaves before kick off. I could hardly wait for the half-time show. “Yeah, it means you should have done what I told you to do in the first place,” I barked. “And ZZ Top is classic rock which means everyone still remembers who they are.”

“Exactly my point, Beethoven,” Brandon laughed. “Classic rock translation: old-as-shit. Didn’t they play a concert after one of the first pyramids was built?”

“Funny man, keep it up,” I laughed. “Watch your mouth or I’ll introduce you to some ancient soap.” I couldn’t stall the inevitable any longer, so I took a deep breath and opened the door, hoping to get him off my porch as quick as possible.

As soon as I opened Pandora’s Box I was immediately assaulted with kindness. “Hello, Tom! Beautiful day today isn’t it? I know you and Brandon are looking forward to the game… should be a great one, too! How is everyone?”

I hated it when he called me by my first name. It somehow brought our relationship too close for comfort. “Hey, Mr. Thompson, yeah looks to be a beauty today, ” I rambled, then quickly got to the point. “Game is getting ready to start soon. What can I do for you?”

Mr. Thompson’s ear-to-ear smile could have been plastered on his face. He was a little man standing just over five feet tall. His unkempt hair was graying in several spots and his clothes always had the look of stains never quite coming out in the wash. He was a man who spent a lot of time in his yard and was always working on some home project. In fact, he had installed several flood lights strategically around his house so that he could work through the night if need be. There was nothing more bizarre than watching Mr. Thompson raking those damn leaves at night. That was how he kept his yard so immaculate and leaf proof. If one could look past the man’s obsession with keeping those leaves off his grass, it might be considered mildly amazing how Thompson managed to win the war of autumn leaves every year and keep his yard free of them. But for me and my son, we found it ludicrous and a waste of time. It was obvious why he was here. He was worried about the leaves… not his, mind you… but ours.

“You always get right to the point, Tom, I admire that,” Thompson responded. “Well, you know I hate to be a bother, but when I saw that Brandon forget to rake the leaves this morning, I just wanted to come by and make sure everything was okay. I am a creature of habit and routine and I got used to timing some of my yard projects around some of yours, namely the leaves–little buggers that they are. Not Brandon of course, but those leaves. No matter how many times you do it, seems those trees keep dropping more. No rest for the weary I suppose.” Thompson laughed. It was an eerie laugh that always sent a chill up my spine. The man was creepy. “I just wanted to know when Brandon was going to rake today so I could schedule my raking in, and knock out those leaves–little buggers that they are.”

“Mr. Thompson,” I started patiently, trying to get a word in. “My son forgot to do it this morning. Teenagers, you know how they can be. Fact is, between the game this afternoon and other plans, Brandon probably won’t get around to it again until tomorrow.”

For a moment, there was a slight crack in the plaster of that man’s smile. It was only there a second, but I saw it, and it made me uncomfortable.

“I see,” Thompson said as he looked toward the border of our leaf infested yard kissing his.

He was obviously troubled by this. I thought to say something funny to make light of the whole leaf issue, but that look that crossed his face made me think twice and I stayed silent.

Then that plaster smile returned as Thompson said, “Well, sometimes it just can’t be helped, I suppose.” He looked back at me and asked in what almost felt like an interrogator demanding an answer from his captive tone, “Will he be back on schedule with the leaves tomorrow then?”

I was beginning to get irritated by the pushy little man. However, I did not desire to start an argument about those silly leaves, and the game was about to start, so I gave Thompson whatever he needed to get him off my porch. I lied and said, “Oh yeah, sure thing. Brandon will be raking them tomorrow. Not to worry.”

That seemed to please the leaf nut as he looked back toward his yard and said, “Very good then. You know, I heard on the weather channel they’re calling for a windy evening. That’s just the kind of weather that gets all those little buggers blowing everywhere. Can’t have that now, can we?” Mr. Thompson laughed again. He had a way of speaking as if he forgot you were there and sounding like he was having a conversation with himself. He was definitely a creepy guy. Thomson finished, “I’ll get out of your hair now, I’m sure the game is waiting. Say hello to Susan for me.”

Thompson departed and I thankfully closed the door and commended myself for not losing my cool.

“What’s with those silly leaves?” Brandon asked, watching from the window.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Some people just have their ways is all. He doesn’t like leaves, like we don’t like the Ravens, now let’s watch some football!”

“Sounds good. I called the pizza guy again, they should be here soon.”

As I walked by the window, I stopped long enough to see Mr. Thompson standing at the edge or our lawns, staring up at the clouds rolling in. Again, the plaster smile was gone.

“Dad, I guess that means I’m raking tomorrow then?”

I looked away for a moment, then returned to the window. Thompson was now staring right at me with a look that could kill a man. Fucking creepy. The wind was increasing as our leaves began to trespass into his yard. Thompson noticed this, looked away, and began to scoop them up and place them in a leaf bag.

I closed the curtains and responded, “Screw those leaves! They can wait and that nut can just deal with a few of our leaves blowing on to his precious lawn.” We laughed the matter off and turned on the game.

~~~

Later that night, my son woke me from a sound sleep at 3:15 in the morning.

“Brandon, what’s the matter?”

“Dad,” Brandon whispered. “That guy’s got all his flood lights on. I can’t sleep cause one’s shining right in my window. I looked outside and all the leaves were gone.”

Rubbing sleep from my eyes and shaking off disorientation, I said, “Okay, just go down and sleep on the couch, I’ll talk to him tomorrow about the light thing. Just get some-”

“No, Dad,” Brandon interrupted. “You’re not hearing me. When I said all the leaves are gone, I meant our leaves are gone, too! That creepy guy has been up all night raking leaves in our yard as well as his. Don’t you find that strange?”

“Is he still out there?” I asked.

Brandon looked scared. He walked over to the bedroom door to grab something I hadn’t noticed before. He came back and laid it at the foot of my bed.

“Where did you find that?” I asked him as we both looked at Mr. Thompson’s rake.

My son hesitated, then whispered, “Dad, I found it in my room!”

~~~

“Mr. Thompson’s Obsession” Copyright © 2012 Scott Scherr. All rights reserved.

If you’re new to my blog and want to read something a bit longer, feel free to check out my ongoing serial novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, and tell me what you think: DFTD Chapter 1-1: Demon Night

~~~

~~~

Hello Everyone,

Just a quick update from behind the scenes.

I’m slowly working on the first chapter for DFTD Book 5 (currently untitled), while enjoying some much needed rest. I’m also planning on editing Book 4 over the summer, time permitting.

If you haven’t found out already, I’ve removed the “Updates” tab on the top of the main page and replaced it with the “Other Short Works” tab. This will now be the place where I post links to additional short stories I’ve written that aren’t DFTD related, as well as some dark poetry, etc., that I will update as I post more material.

Also, the newest episode of After The Dark is now available, titled: The Killer Cut (Part One). This is part one of a two part episode featuring our latest special guest, Marcus Dempsey (a.k.a. Russell Bower). I’ll be posting the second part of this intriguing interview as soon as it becomes available.

In case you missed it on the main sticky page, a special thanks goes out to author, Michael Fitzgerald (Rev. Fitz), for featuring Don’t Feed The Dark on his, 31 Days of First Impressions Challenge, which he has now completed. I encourage you all to come on over to Michael’s website and read all about it. Also, Michael is currently writing a fascinating serial novel, titled, Existential Terror and Breakfast. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far and it’s definitely worth a read.

Lastly, the latest update link, as well as any additional news, will be posted on the bottom of the sticky post on the main page from now on.

That’s all for now. I’ll check back in a little later.

-Scott

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After the Dark1 (2)

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“Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of After The Dark. I’m your host, John Ecko, and this is the Don’t Feed The Dark after-show that will attempt to answer your burning questions while we shine a light into some of the darkest corners of this chilling apocalyptic serial to see what we can uncover.

Each episode we will explore a diverse range of topics as we sit down with our featured special guests who have come right out of the pages of this dark serial novel to enlighten us and hopefully give us some additional insights into their characters, as well as what we can expect in the days ahead.

***SPOILER ALERT***

At this time, I must advise you, avid readers, that from here on in, there will be major spoilers discussed. So in the event that you haven’t read the first 38 chapters of Don’t Feed The Dark, I strongly suggest that you don’t continue on with us until after you’ve caught up. Consider yourself warned.”

John enters with his arms wide as the audience rises to their feet and makes a lot of noise.

“So how about that, ladies and gentlemen!” John begins. “We’ve reached the end of another exciting volume in this long, dark saga. Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Four: Phantoms has broken the record for longest book in the series so far, clocking in at over 225,000 words and 62 more online episodes. And I have to say, this book really took a departure from the norm and opened up a lot of new developments to think about.”

(The audience voices their approval.)

“Well, let me waste no time introducing our next guest. It’s been a long time coming… but hell yes! We finally have none other than Marcus Dempsey, a.k.a. Russell Bower, here on our show today. Please put your hands together and welcome our favorite serial killer!”

(Most of the crowd roars their approval. Some boo. Others wisely choose to sit back down, hoping to escape notice.)

Marcus walks across the platform dressed in an un-tucked black button-down shirt, jeans, and wearing a pair of dark sunglasses. He ignores the audience as John motions for him to sit in the open chair. Marcus sits and John immediately follows.

When the crowd settles down, John says, “Welcome to the show, Marcus… or would you prefer Russell?”

Marcus half smiles and answers, “Marcus is fine.”

“I think I can speak for all of us here and say that we’re finally glad to snag you for the show. You are certainly a hard man to get a hold of.”

“I’ve had years of practice escaping notice… John.”

“Indeed.” John scoots his chair to the side, creating a little distance between himself and his guest. “You’ll understand if I’d like a little more… space… between us, right Marcus? It’s not everyday I get a chance to interview a serial killer.”

(John’s overdramatic motions of discomfort cause the crowd to laugh.)

Marcus adds a laugh of his own, which feels more contemptuous than accommodating.

John shifts uncomfortably. “Anyway, it’s good to have you with us, Marcus. I have a shit-load of questions to ask you, so why don’t we just jump right in. Okay?”

“Certainly,” Marcus adds, adjusting his glasses to hide his eyes.

“Is your… friend… with you today?” John asks.

“No. I gave that savage the day off,” Marcus starts. “It probably wouldn’t go well to have him here with all these fine people in attendance.”

(The audience laughs… nervously.)

John laughs and says, “Well, that puts me at ease. I’m not afraid to admit it. So, let me ask the most obvious question. Why the hell did the author choose to keep you under wraps for so damn long?”

Marcus nods. “That’s a good one. I suspect the author didn’t want me killing off most of the main cast in the first book by leaving me out in the open… especially in this new free-for-all environment.”

“That’s a good point,” John says. “But seriously, why so long?”

“From the author’s perspective, when my story started all the way back in Chapter 1, with the hunting of Janet Schuler, I was one of many characters introduced. At that time, the author wanted to create an impression with the characters, leaving the readers a glimpse into their lives before The Change in the form of mini-stories, and then he wanted to leave us all in a state of uncertainty as to ‘when’ and ‘if’ any of us would return later on. In my case, the author told and completed the story of what happened between predator and prey during that insane night the dead came to visit. With the death of Janet Schuler, the author finished that particular tale, and then wanted the readers to forget about me by getting them engrossed in other character stories, especially when some of them started finding each other, while hiding me in plain sight. The author knew that some readers would forget about me, others wouldn’t suspect the ruse but would still be waiting for me to return, and then still others would have me pegged right away… but would never really know for sure, until the author revealed who I was and how. In all cases, he wanted an insider threat within the group, sitting patiently like a timed explosion, and only the author knew when that bomb would go off.”

“Very interesting,” John says. “And with everything else going on, I can easily see how you’ve been able to escape the reader’s notice for so long. And then what? That bomb goes off with the death of Frank Carman at the end of Book Three?”

“Exactly. Even the readers who long suspected who I was by then, couldn’t see that coming.”

“And so after waiting through three volumes to finally discover who you really were, we get this one long damn chapter which is loaded with… well… everything.”

Marcus laughs. “The author calls Chapter 37, a ‘novella within a novel’. He wanted to reward the patience of the readers by giving them ample make-up time with yours truly… and one hell of a story to go with it. Through the Eyes of a Devil was the very first chapter the author wrote for Book Four, long before the premiere, and he put a lot of thought and time into it, based in part, on things he’s been seeding for a while now… and things yet to come.”

“Fascinating,” John says with a nod. “Before we dig into that awesome tale, I have to ask: How far in advance did the author know when you would be returning? Was your reveal coinciding with Frank’s death planned well in advance?”

“In many instances, the author is just as surprised by events as the readers are since the outline can change rather suddenly. But in this case, yes, Frank’s death was in the works since Marcus was born. Several times, as that moment came closer, the author entertained changing the script to keep Frank alive, only because, like so many readers, the author also fell in love with that character. But it couldn’t be changed. The author had gone through great lengths to keep my character and Frank apart, and for good reason, because Frank always suspected there was something ‘off’ about me. The closer are moment came, the more the author understood that for me to continue to exist with these survivors, one of us had to go. The author knew that keeping Frank alive would have been a betrayal to the story’s intended course, much like if he had chosen to keep Janet Schuler alive, which he debated doing for a while, just to give the readers that predictable plot dynamic between predator and prey teaming up in the apocalypse. So, we had our destined dance together by that river, and I prevailed.”

John shakes his head. “And does our author have your death planned well in advance?”

Marcus smiles. “Nice try. I won’t bite on that one.”

“Well… no offense… but I hope the author puts an end to you soon. I don’t like the thought of you killing any more of my favorite characters.”

(The audience laughs.)

“I understand completely,” Marcus says. “At least I’m nowhere near any of them right now… well… maybe just one.”

“And we’ll get into that,” John injects. “But first, let’s talk about your story. I found it interesting that we got to revisit specific chapters from back in the first book to get your perspective on events. And then we even got to go back further and find out how you ended up at the Percy Power Plant, and how you came up with your new name. Also, I found it intriguing how you met Amanda Howard, who we might not have met at all if a certain savage had been in charge.”

Marcus nods. “Yes, Amanda was the latest mission, up until my character started having doubts. And then, of course, I met Gina… and that changed everything.”

“Why Gina? What made her so special?”

“I knew right away that there was tremendous potential in her to become something beautiful born of darkness.”

John scowls. “And what the hell does that mean?”

Marcus raises an eyebrow and answers, “I could tell you… but then I’d have to kill you.”

“Next question.”

(The audience laughs.)

“So, answer me this one: Obviously, you attacked the three scientists because they boasted they could cure the epidemic. And nice twist, by the way, discovering that the woman in the ravine was your handiwork. I guess I’m trying to figure out if you really love this new zombie-infested world, or you just hate the old world more. I get the impression that you might do anything to sabotage efforts in restoring law and order, or anything associated with ‘civilized’. So which is it?”

Marcus sighs. “My character appreciates what this new hostile world has given to everyone still breathing. And that is, a second chance to live without pretense, without fear, and without dipping into the stagnant pool of dead living. Everything else related to the past… all irrelevant now. My character firmly believes that everything that’s happened since The Change is progress… maybe even an evolution of a sort. In any case, he will do his best to interfere with anything attempting to put people back to sleep, content in their automatic lives.”

John nods. “So, we’ll get more into Chapter 37 in our next segment. But let’s talk about your childhood. That was some warped shit. Were you… the serial killer… caused by your awful parents, or were you always a bit… ‘off’?”

Marcus raises an eyebrow. “Yes, I suppose my lovely home life had a little to do with my blood lust. But in truth, I think I was like this long before all that. If anything, my wonderful parents simply accelerated the process.”

“And what process is that?”

“My understanding of the liberating power of death, first for myself, and then for others.”

“And… is that who you mean when you refer to The Lady?

Marcus smiles. “She is my destiny. She is Death… but not in the limited sense that the rest of you see her as.”

John shakes his head and smiles. “Well… I guess we’ll just have to take your word on that one.” He turns and addresses the audience. “And on that note, we’ll have to conclude for the day, folks. But not to worry, our second part of this interview will continue our discussion.” He turns back to Marcus. “I want to thank you for joining us today, Marcus… and for not killing anyone… especially me.”

(The audience laughs.)

“It was my pleasure,” Marcus says. “And I look forward to sharing more with your lovely audience.” He turns and scans the crowd with a menacing stare.

(Many cower down a bit lower in their seats.)

John laughs. “Well, we’ll definitely be talking more next time.” He turns to the audience. “For now, if anyone has any burning questions they’d like to ask, please feel free to ask away and we’ll try to answer them, if possible. If not, we’ll see you next time for part two of this discussion. How about a big hand for our special guest.”

(The crowd reluctantly puts their hands together.)

John stands. “In case anyone missed it. Book Five will be starting August 2017. We hope to see you all back then!”

~~~

Next Episode:
After The Dark (#13) – The Killer Cut (Part 2)

Please show your support for Don’t Feed The Dark by voting for it at topwebfiction Just click and vote. Nothing else required. You can vote every seven days to help me keep this series listed.

Thank you,
-Scott

~~~

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***SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED READING DON’T FEED THE DARK, BOOK 4: PHANTOMS, THEN I ENCOURAGE YOU TO STOP READING NOW***

~~~

We’ve reached the end of another crazy story arc. After 227,000 more words and another 62 episodes online (and a 9,000 word finale), Don’t Feed The Dark has moved much closer toward the eventual conclusion of this long tale.

We’ve learned many new things from our various characters by visiting the past quite often in Book Four, but hopefully we’ve uncovered some answers while discovering new questions. As with each book in this series so far, I have always strived to dig deeper and give each volume in this series its own character, making it stand out from the previous books. This one was aptly titled “Phantoms” since it dealt strongly with the ghosts from several of our characters’ pasts.

We’ve traveled back in time to discover more about Meredith Montgomery’s involvement with the ever-present mysterious group known as Mother, visiting her as a child at a very special orphanage (which is not an orphanage). We’ve had a glimpse behind the mask of Russell Bower and had a chance to travel with him as we relived various moments right out of Book One, not to mention, we’ve seen more from his estranged childhood. We’ve even had a chance to go back and discover what the infamous “Bad Man”, a.k.a. Walter, and his wife, Helen, were like long before we first met them as Tony Marcuchi’s captors from Book Two (And that chapter was a big surprise on my end for it was never part of the original outline… lol). We’ve had some disturbing glimpses into Gina’s dark actions during the long winter beneath the Wasteland and have experienced her struggles. We even got to read a little about one of our new characters, Logan McCalister, an unorthodox preacher and former gang member.

We’ve met some new people, and we will continue to find out more about them in the days ahead, as well as explore existing storylines surrounding veteran characters… and of course… we will find out what happened when the Shadow Dead returned. Sorry about the cliffhanger ending, but it had to be done. You can count on the very first chapter of Book Five (currently not titled) to pick up right where we’ve left off… and it’s going to be intense. I’ll just throw this one spoiler out there right now: People are going to die in the very first chapter… a lot of people.

So, what can I tell you about Book Five?

Speaking generally (and speculatively), Book Five will be taking place in several new locations throughout Northeast Ohio and it will be giving us a much wider view into the apocalypse since the winter. I’m well aware that Phantoms spent a lot more time delving into our character’s stories, placing the dead, for the most part, in stand-by mode. Book Five will remedy this. I already have a very extensive outline, looking into three different story arcs, that will span the next two books. Everything I’m seeing so far tells me that Book Five’s going to be another huge book. Of course, there’s so much I can’t talk about right now, but I will say that there will be two flashback stories included in the next arc. One will be Dead Dolls (Part 2), which will finish that particular tale. The other, will be looking into the origin of the Shadow Dead (now doesn’t that sound intriguing?). That’s all I can say about that one.

As far as the next couple of months before the premiere, I’ll be posting updates and various other surprises related to our tale. I’ll also be posting some non-DFTD short stories for your enjoyment and whatever else comes to mind. After The Dark will also return during the break and I may have an additional spin-off tale up my sleeve. Time will tell. I will also be using the down time over the summer to edit Book Four in the hopes of having it out in paperback as soon as possible. So if you find any pesky typos I’ve missed, please feel free to point them out.

I want to thank all of you for reading and for encouraging me to keep on with this long tale. If you have any questions about Book Four, or anything else I can clarify or that you’re just curious about, please ask. If it’s within my power to answer your questions, without spoiling stories that haven’t been told yet, I’ll try to do so.

I’ll talk more about the new story arc as we get closer. I hope to see you all back here in August.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

Tony entered the control room with Diane and Nine right behind him. Stephen, Logan and Meredith were all there, still staring in disbelief at one of the strangest members of their community.

Marcus was sitting in a chair with his leg propped up as Dr. Cooper tended to his sprained ankle. When he saw Tony, he attempted to rise, but Coop gave him a stern look, and he simply smiled at the big man instead. “Tony, it’s good to see you,” he said and then laughed. “Sorry I’m late. I got a little held up in those woods the other night.”

Tony let his arms fall to his side, his shoulders falling limp as he let out a big sigh of relief. He laughed and shook his head. “You, my friend, are the best piece of news we’ve had in a while. I would come over there and kiss you if the Doc wasn’t there fixing you up.” He eyes began to tear up. “Damn… it’s just good to see you.”

Marcus looked embarrassed by the big man’s display emotion. “Please, no kissing. I’m in no shape for any foreplay at the moment.”

This made Meredith giggle uncontrollably as she covered her mouth.

Nine jumped up and down like a fan at a football game. “Yes! I knew it! Way to go, Marcus!”

Diane simply smiled and shook her head. “You are just full of surprises,” she said. “Welcome back from the dead.”

Marcus nodded, feeling more thrown off by the hunter’s relief than anyone else’s. “It’s good to be… home,” he said.

Stephen stepped forward to beat the obvious questions, addressing Tony directly. “That night you were all attacked by those red-eyed savages with that fire blazing all around you, our resident hero led them in the opposite direction to allow you a chance to escape.” He looked over at Marcus like a proud father bragging on his son.

Marcus stared at his feet.

“And after getting those beasts to chase him, Marcus ran right off the top of a quarry cliff and managed to survive the fall.”

“Shit!” Nine said.

“Praise God,” Logan chimed in, shaking his head.

Marcus laughed. “I didn’t plan to do that… really. Heroism’s just a short word for stupidity mixed with a bit of luck. Damn tree saved me in the end, or so I’m told. There was a woman who found me all banged up and unconscious. She was the real hero. Anyway, long story short, this woman took care of me. She had a cabin and tended to my wounds until I was fit enough to leave. That’s where I’ve been these past weeks.”

“And this mystery woman,” Tony said, “what happened to her?”

Marcus put on his best sad face. “She… Alison, was her name… she died trying to get me back here. We were attacked by the dead. I was in no shape to help and she fought them off while I hobbled away. She’s the real hero.” Marcus looked away, pretending to wipe tears from his eyes. The sooner they moved away from discussing his captivity the better. Alysa was someone he never wanted to discuss again.

“That poor girl,” Meredith said. “We owe her our thanks for bringing you back to us.”

“Yes,” Stephen said. “Maybe we should go back to where you-”

“I took care of it,” Marcus quickly said. “After the attack, I went back to find her… body… or what was left of it. I buried her before I came back here.”

The room was filled with an uncomfortable silence.

Marcus lifted his head and smiled. “But enough of that. I hear there’s been a lot of changes around here since I’ve been away. Stephen’s been filling me in on all the details.”

Tony frowned. “Then you know what happened to Gina?”

Marcus’s face was stone. “Yes… that’s rather… unfortunate.”

Stephen let out a heavy sigh. “I don’t mean to cut you short, Marcus, but please, tell them what you told us. Tell them what Alison said about the Shadow Dead.”

Marcus nodded. “When I told her where we lived, about this wilderness preserve, she got all distant. So I pressed, because it seemed like she knew about us. That’s when she warned me about the Shadow Dead. She said that they would come for us now that the winter had passed. She wouldn’t tell me anything else, and I was too concerned to get back to push the matter. That’s when we left the cabin.”

“And you believed her?” Tony said.

Marcus gave Tony a grave look and then spoke with no further need to lie. “It’s the one thing she said that I have no doubt about. I believe her warning was valid and we should get the hell out of here.”

Diane looked pleadingly at Tony. “Tell them what we found.”

Tony nodded and looked to Stephen. “We visited the ruins today. That’s why it took so long to get back.” He looked at Marcus. “We found that old tree where Gina was hanging. Someone had stuck Copperfield’s sword in it. We don’t know what to make of it. Diane found no tracks and we didn’t see anything-”

“But we felt like we were being watched,” Nine chimed in.

Tony gave him a stern look and then finished. “Yes, it did feel like that. But we saw nothing to prove that we weren’t just letting our fear get the best of us. That place leaves an impression.”

“It was another warning,” Marcus said, stealing their attention. He smiled and clarified, “I mean, that’s what it seems like to me. Why else would anyone give up the advantage of secrecy to place that sword in the tree… unless they wanted us to find it?”

“Agreed,” Logan added. “Maybe we aren’t the only ones who survived the explosion. Sure sounds like something the old gangs I used to run with might do to let a rival gang know they’ve been… ‘marked’.”

Stephen turned. “‘Marked’?”

Logan explained. “You know, like when an offended group wants to let the other know that payback’s coming. That sword feels an awful lot like someone saying, ‘Blood for blood. Your day is coming’. That kind of thing.”

“It was aimed at Gina,” Tony said. “That’s where we found that sword.”

Everyone’s eyes were suddenly on Stephen.

Well, of course! he thought, as he started pacing across the room. This is the last damn thing we need! If Gina were here, she’d know how to handle this! The Shadow Dead was all she talked about. He already had enough to deal with after the discovery of Nicole’s new diary… and all that it contained. Fortunately, she wasn’t here now to distract him. He turned and looked into all their faces. “Nothing’s changed,” he finally said. “The threat of an attack has always been there, Shadow Dead or otherwise. We were planning on leaving anyway. This just speeds up the time table.” He said to Logan, “The scouting party, are you sure Frederick’s the man for this?”

Logan smiled. “Trust me, Frederick’s been looking for anything he can do to make up for our… misunderstanding… with all those guns pointing around in Cubicle City. He’s a good man, Stephen. Even good people can be led astray. He’s ready to lead that scouting party, and so are the others who want to go with him.”

Stephen nodded. “Well, you vouch for him… that’s good enough for me. Can they be ready to leave in under an hour? I want them out of these woods before nightfall.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes. He’ll want to know why, but given the current situation, I’m sure that will be all the motivation he needs.”

“Good. You tell him the stakes, and then get them moving. We’re going to be following behind in the morning. I just don’t want to lead an entire community out of here without knowing what’s in front of us. You tell Frederick that the mission’s changed. We’re going to be following their scouting route south out of here and that his group is to head for the first Pennsylvania town unless they run into trouble. Either way, they’re to check out the town and then meet back up with us after we get out of the Wasteland. We’ll just have to take our chances out there. I want all of us long gone from this hellish place by noon tomorrow.”

“That’s going to complicate the work topside,” Logan said. “There’s still a lot of provisions to move.”

“We’ll just have to move what we can this afternoon. Essential stuff only. We’ll leave the rest. Can Bear and Barney handle picking up the pace?”

Logan laughed. “Barney’s going to swear me a new asshole… but he’ll be okay.”

“Then it’s settled,” Stephen said. “We’ll take the warnings seriously, double-up the watches tonight, especially around that damn mystery door, and hope that tonight is no different than any other. By this time tomorrow, the Shadow Dead can have this damn place. We’ll be gone.” He looked around the room. “Does anyone have any objections?”

Tony stepped forward. “And what about Gina?”

Stephen sighed. Yes, there’s that. He looked at the big man and said, “There’s nothing we can do for her right now, Tony. With any luck, she’s already clear of these woods.”

“But… she’s alone. Exiled or not, if there’s a real chance that those fuckers are coming back… she has no idea they’re out there.”

“‘If’ they’re out there,” Stephen said. “All we have is a sword in a tree and the words of a stranger, no offence, Marcus. For all we know, if they are planning an attack, it might not be for a while yet. Or, not at all because the Shadow Dead are long gone. Either way, we must look at the bigger picture now. There’s a lot of people who could die here if we don’t get them out. There’s no time to search the woods for her, as much as I want to. If Gina were here, you know she’d agree with me.”

Tony looked like he wanted to object, then shrugged his shoulders. “Of course. You’re right.”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do this afternoon. I’ll need all you’re help to get us ready by the morning,” Stephen said. He looked to Marcus. “And you, just take it easy and rest. You’ve earned it.”

Marcus nodded with a half-hearted smile.

With that, Stephen dismissed them, leaving Marcus, Meredith and Coop in the control room.

“The leg looks good, and I did what I could about the other wounds” Coop said. “Your friend did a good job patching you up. You just need to keep the weight off the leg as much as possible and let it finish healing. Now, let’s have a look at that hand.”

Marcus pulled his bandaged hand away and said, “Not this, Doc. I’ll take care of it.”

Coop and Meredith gave him a puzzled look.

Marcus smiled. “It’s not that bad… trust me. Besides, the wound is a bit… personal.”

Coop shook his head. “Alright then. Just rest, my friend. Sounds like you’ll be doing a bit more hiking tomorrow.”

Marcus nodded. “Thanks, Doc.”

“There’s something different about you, Marcus,” Meredith said.

Marcus smiled at her. “How do you mean?”

“I don’t know… just… different.”

“Maybe all that fresh air outside of this place has added a little color to my face,” he added with a laugh.

Meredith laughed. “Maybe. It’s just good to have you back.”

“Thanks.”

Aren’t you tired of women prying into you lately like a fuckin’ crowbar, boss?

Be still, Marcus thought. We’ve more important things to think about right now.

Sure wish we had a crowbar now, boss… just sayin’.

Since his absence, everything in the compound had changed, and he was still trying to wrap his mind around it all. But Gina was gone… and that was a problem… a very big problem.

He started calculating.

~~~

Logan caught up with Stephen in the hall. “Little brother, I’ve got one more concern to address… and I know you don’t need to hear it… but…”

Stephen stopped. “What is it?”

“With all our eyes aimed outside at this Shadow Dead possibility, it’s easy to forget about the threats from within… and I think you know who I’m talking about.”

Stephen frowned and spit out the name. “Lannister.”

Logan laughed. “You know he’s still a problem. Even though we’ve stripped his power away, just having that little shit around causes division. Short of taping his mouth shut, he’s always going to stir up the pot around here.”

“Yes… I know. Hell, he’s my biggest fan right now… and he lets everybody know it. The community decided to keep him around while I wanted him gone. But it’s irrelevant now. One problem at a time. We’ve got a pretty full plate and-”

“Oh, I completely understand,” Logan clarified. “I just felt it was my responsibility… as your second in command and all… to just point out that snakes like that have a way of taking advantage of stressful situations, like the one were about to enter into, and I’d hate to see him get in the way of a smooth exodus tomorrow morning.” He patted Stephen on the back and finished, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m handling it, so don’t you give it another thought.” Logan started to walk away.

Stephen stared after him. “Logan, should I be worried?”

The preacher laughed. “No worries, little brother. I’ve got your back.”

~~~

Stephen had lost plenty of sleep during the deliberations in deciding Gina’s fate. This was not the case with Carl Lannister. After forming the various committee groups, it took only two days to decide what to do with the former loud-mouth leader of the uprising. Much to Stephen’s surprise and outrage, the community had decided to show leniency toward Lannister and let him serve out his punishment within the community.

After Stephen’s famous speech, Lannister had become the former school teacher’s greatest supporter, telling as many people who would listen how his motivations were only to get Gina removed from leadership, who was the real problem, and that he never had any intentions to hurt anyone. He repeatedly shamed the actions of his man, Sabastian, who acted on his own in his attempt to murder Meredith, while he praised Stephen for his wisdom in showing mercy toward all involved in the uprising.

When Stephen wanted to object to the community’s decision, it was already too late. Lannister’s displays of humility and shame for his actions, his pleading to be allowed to remain and atone for his foolish mistakes, and his endless verbal endorsements for their new leader, made it nearly impossible for Stephen to stand against the community’s decision without looking like a hypocrite for pardoning everyone else except Carl. What made matters worse was when Gina refused to defend herself, Lannister joined in to point fingers at her for forcing his hand and starting the uprising, swearing that he never would’ve done it if he hadn’t feared for the community under such a cruel dictator. Stephen had no choice but to abide by the community’s decision. He had learned two important lessons that day: Lannister knew how to play upon the politics surrounding his leadership, and that Carl excelled in self-preservation.

It was left up to Stephen to decide how best to punish the newly repentant Lannister. So he had decided to publicly humiliate him, assigning him to cleaning toilets, washing dishes after meals, cleaning dirty laundry, sweeping and moping the hallways… anything that would reduce him to the community janitor in everyone’s eyes, hoping that Lannister would cause a stir and show his real face. But the cunning little snake played his part perfectly, gladly accepting his fate with gratitude and false humility while he became the butt of every joke around the community.

Stephen had given up, leaving Lannister under the supervision of Logan’s fallen guard force. This was part of their punishment for following Lannister’s madness. They were assigned to watch his every move and report back if Lannister showed any hint of retaliation. They pushed Lannister hard, mocking him, spitting on him, and occasionally roughing him up when no one else was around. Although Stephen never encouraged this, he never stopped it either, still hoping Lannister might eventually break and show his true intentions, allowing Stephen a chance to expel him from the community.

“Let’s go, shithead!” A bearded man named Wigren snapped at Lannister when he dropped a box of supplies. Wigren, as well as the others charged with watching Carl, had not appreciated becoming this failed uprising leader’s babysitter after all his worthless promises. “Everyone has to pull their weight around here right now… even shitheads like you.”

Carl gave Wigren a nasty look, then smiled. “Of course… I completely understand. Sorry for the delay.”

“Save the ‘kiss-ass’ crap for someone who gives a shit, Lannister. I know who you really are.”

“Anything you say. I’ll get the box.” Lannister bent over to retrieve it.

Wigren placed his boot on Lannister’s ass and pushed, knocking Carl on his face.

Three other fallen guards laughed.

Wigren just stood there, shaking his head in disgust as Lannister slowly got up and picked up the box. “Pathetic,” he said. “And to think I fell for your bullshit. Look at you, groveling to anyone who will care. You’re disgusting, shithead!”

“Anything you say,” Carl said, grinding his teeth. “Where would you like the box?”

“Topside, asshole!” another guard yelled. “We need to get as many of these supplies above before the sun goes down. So shut your pie-hole and get moving! You’re holding up progress.”

Lannister nodded and carried the heavy box toward the hatch where a line of workers formed a relay going all the way up the ladder. He joined the line and started passing supplies while the guards watched and laughed at him.

One day, he thought, maybe not today, or tomorrow… but soon, I’ll get my payback. Keep laughing, assholes. I’ve got my list and I’m taking names.

Lannister remained on the supply relay detail for the remainder of the afternoon. He ended up topside, near the front of the line, moving materials down the narrow path from the hatch to the outdoor staging area. It was the first time he’d been outside since moving down below, and he enjoyed the fresh air, shutting out the snide remarks from other community members in the line, or the constant jabs of the guards who continued to watch him. He knew he was hated by most… but not everyone despised him for his failed attempts at taking over. Some could appreciate what even his misguided uprising set into motion. Gina was still removed from leadership, Stephen was put in charge, and things were still definitely changing for the better.

That was my doing, you ungrateful assholes! I was the one who started the wheels of change and progress… and you should all be thanking me for it!

An hour before sunset, Barney and the biggest man anyone had ever seen, named Bear, were finishing up overseeing the supplies stored at the Relocation Pre-Staging Outpost. The old guard dismissed the workgroup, all except for Lannister.

“You… stay put, asshole,” Barney said. He addressed Lannister’s babysitters. “I’ve got this one. Head on back with the others.”

Lannister, who was a sweaty mess, watched as the guards who were assigned to watch over him nodded to Barney and then smiled at him, whispering among each other like a bunch of school yard bullies planning their next assault. They turned and followed the rest of the work force back toward the hatch.

“So, what I’m supposed to do with you?” Barney asked.

Lannister was sitting on the ground, back up against a tree, as he tried to catch his breath. “Excuse me?” he said. “You told me to wait-”

“Rhetorical question, asshole,” Barney said, shaking his head at Bear.

Bear simply scowled at the little man, his arms folded across his chest.

Lannister averted his eyes and wisely remained silent. Ah… a changing of the guards, he thought. Probably their turn to give me shit and get me in trouble. Not going to work, Eddington. I’ll just take the abuse and use it. One day, when I’ve found my ‘out’, I’ll hold these… abuses… over your head, right before I remove it.

Barney stared at the little man in disgust. He finally said, “Go. Get out of my sight, you piece of shit.”

Lannister sighed and then nodded. He got up and started back toward the hatch.

“Not that way, asshole!” Barney said. “Turn around.”

Carl was confused. He stopped and turned. “Is this the part where you two fuck with me before we head back. Well… go ahead. Do your best. I’m tired and I smell like shit, so please forgive my irritation and impatience toward your immature name-calling and mind fucking.”

Barney laughed and turned to Bear. “Can you believe the nuts on this guy?”

Bear shrugged his shoulders. He was a man of few words.

The old guard clarified. “We’re not here to reward you with another beating… although it might be fun. No… we’ve got different plans for you.”

Lannister’s eyebrows shot up. “Okay… something new to rile me up, then? Well… go ahead. I’ll not resist. Then you boys can go back and have your laugh at my expense later. Just please… get on with it already.”

“Did you not hear me, boy? I said, ‘Go’.” Barney’s face became stone.

“Go where?”

“Doesn’t matter to me, just as long as you’re out of my sight in the next two minutes,” Barney looked up at the trees. “Gonna be dark in an hour, so you best get moving.”

Lannister was catching on. He looked around at the forest with anxiety. “You can’t be serious? It’s a trick, right? You tell me to run and then catch me and tell your boss I tried to escape. Well, I’m not doing it.”

Barney rolled his eyes and spoke in a voice reserved for stubborn children. “Look, I get it. You’re trying to behave yourself for fear of looking bad in the eyes of these folks. But what I’m trying to tell you is that you have a few friends that are trying to do right by you, especially considering that a lot of folks are leaving this hell-hole tomorrow morning.”

Lannister got serious. “Explain? What ‘friends’ are you referring to?”

Barney smiled. “I guess ‘friends’ is a bit too generous. Let’s just say that your ‘supporters’, you know, the ones you’ve managed to win over with your present long con, have no interest in leaving this safe little place.” Barney looked to Bear and said, “We don’t want to go either. The grand exodus that the current leadership has in store feels very dangerous. So… after everyone leaves… some of us want to part ways and take this compound for ourselves. Since most of the others who feel the same don’t want the responsibility that goes along with it, they’ve all decided to hand it back to you… assuming you still want to call the plays.”

Lannister smiled. “You can’t be serious? What about the big bad Shadow Dead threat? Aren’t you afraid they’re coming to retake this place?”

Barney laughed. “That’s a bunch of horseshit. You know as well as we do that Gina played that card to keep us all in line. Stephen’s using it now to get us to do what he wants. They’re just a scary little fiction created by management to get us pawns to move around the chessboard. That’s all the Shadow Dead really are. In fact, we don’t think there ever were any damn Shadow Dead. I suspect you know that, too, or else you never would’ve fought so hard to kick Gina out. Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re not wrong,” Lannister said. “I’m just surprised that everyone isn’t falling for it.”

“Look,” Barney said with impatience. “This little meeting has been arranged. Your… supporters… approached us and made a strong case to help them keep this place. We know, as well as they know, that Stephen’s going to be leaving a lot of supplies behind in order to rush his exit out of these woods. We’ve already squirreled away a cache of firearms and other supplies that no one knows about… enough to keep things just the way they are. So let them idiots leave to God-knows-where. They’ll probably get themselves killed inside of a week. The rest of us just want to stay here where it’s safe. What’s the matter with you? We thought you’d jump all over this opportunity.”

“Can you blame me for being suspicious?” Lannister said. “Although, it does my heart good knowing that some people here aren’t complete idiots. You’re right, of course. Leaving here would be a death sentence. But I still don’t know what that has to do with me.”

“Asshole or not, you have that natural ability to lead people. You have that devil’s tongue that you’ve been wagging around since the beginning, getting people to buy into whatever bullshit you’re peddling. We’ve seen it. Hell, you’re little uprising proved it. That’s not something any of us left can pull off. We’ll need that golden tongue of yours to keep this place civil after the others depart, or else, we’ll all just be going at each other’s throats. No one wants that. And no one wants to be that, either. You fit the bill. You’re ambitious enough to do right by whoever stays, but you’re smart enough to know who put you there… if you catch my drift.”

Lannister laughed. “I understand completely.” He nodded as he saw the beauty in what was being proposed. “So, if I’m seeing the big picture correctly, my so-called ‘supporters’, sensing Stephen’s urgency to leave, will simply choose to remain. Since Stephen can’t make them leave without looking like that bitch, Gina, Stephen will have to abide by their decision and leave without them. Naturally, me being their prisoner, they will take me with them, thus, keeping me on their leash, while sadly wishing the others ‘good luck’ and carrying on with their exodus.”

Barney nodded. “See… you’ve already figured out the playbook. Stephen can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do. Bear and I will promise to watch over them and we’ll all part ways peacefully. Stephen won’t like it, but there’s nothing he can do to stop it. And that’s where you come in.”

Lannister nodded, anticipating the rest. “So after my convenient ‘escape’, followed by what essentially resembles a ‘strike’ of sorts, I’m to return after the others are long gone and take over management.”

“You got it… if you still want it, that is.”

Lannister stared into the forest. “I assume you have some accommodations for me out here somewhere?”

“We’ve given you a tent and some supplies for a day or two, just long enough for the others to be long gone from these woods. The place we’ve picked out for you is just a half-mile west of here. Just follow the river and you’ll find the campsite… unless you’re afraid of the dark or something.”

“Please,” Lannister said, trying to appear brave. “I’ve nothing to fear in these woods. We’ve been by ourselves out here for a long time now. If I can’t even camp out a night or two, then we have no business staying here to begin with.” He looked at Barney’s weapon. “I assume I’ll be armed, at least.”

“Of course,” Barney said. “We’ve left you a rifle at the campsite. But you need to get your ass over there while you’ve still got light to find it. Besides, we still need to get back and tell the boss man some bull about how you escaped. Stephen won’t like it, but he’s got more important things to worry about then chasing the compound janitor around the fucking woods. Eventually he’ll realize that you saved him the trouble of trying to get rid of you later on, if and when they find some new place to hide.”

“That’s smart,” Lannister said. “Sounds like a solid plan… if you could convince me that any of it was true.”

Barney frowned and gave Bear an impatient sigh. “Told you he wouldn’t bite,” he said to the big man. “Man’s too paranoid or too stupid to see the fucking gift horse.”

Bear shrugged his shoulders again.

Barney tuned back to Lannister. “Look, I’m not going to waste my time convincing you of shit. This is the best play we have, and if you’re too stupid to see that it’s your option as well, then good luck to you. We’re twenty strong right now. In time, we’ll find others who want what we want. And all we want is to live without risking our asses on someone’s misguided notions that the world will get better… that there’s anything better than what we already have. And we’ll protect our right to keep it. But if you think I’m yanking your chain, just head on back like a good little janitor and you can leave with the rest of them fools. It will be too late for you to change your mind when you realize that we are staying… and you won’t be. They’ll probably need an extra pack mule to carry all that shit across the Wasteland anyway. And if you don’t get massacred by the dead, or whatever else is out there, in the end, you’ll still just be Stephen’s bitch. Why don’t you take a moment and let that shit sink in.” Barney turned back to Bear as they began securing the supplies.

Lannister stared at their backs. What if they’re telling the truth? This might be my ‘out’. Makes sense. They’ll need someone like me to lead them. This is obviously not the brain child of these two morons. Others had to be involved to plan something so… brilliant. But what if it’s all bullshit? What if this is some elaborate set-up designed to tempt me into running? Stephen will finally get his reason to be rid of me. The community will never let me come back. Lannister sat back down. His mind was spinning. Think! Reason this through! No… Stephen’s smart, but he’s not devious. Hell, the fucking man wears his damn heart on his sleeve. In good conscience, he’d never be able to pull this off.

He thought about the people he’d seen during his rounds, the ones who nodded to him in the halls and still appreciated him for who he was, and not for what Stephen had reduced him to. Some still went out of their way to speak with him, treating him with the respect he deserved, although he couldn’t remember their names. There were still enough of them who probably felt bad for him, leading the ones who saw Stephen’s plans as madness to make him their obvious choice to lead them. They would be afraid to stay without guidance. They were sheep without a shepherd and they needed someone to tell them what to do while they continued to live oblivious to the horrors waiting above in this decrepit world.

“Okay,” he finally said, standing up. “I’m in.”

Barney turned and smiled. “Good. Now let’s get-”

“But let me make one thing perfectly clear,” Lannister interrupted. “I will not be anyone’s ‘bitch’. Not Stephen’s, and certainly not your bitch. Are we clear on this?”

Barney nodded. “See… that’s why you’re the leader. No one’s looking for someone we can manipulate. Fuck all that. You lead us and keep everything the way it is… and we follow. We all just want to remain fat, dumb and happy. All that ‘big’ decision-making stuff… well… that’s on you.”

“And you’ll follow me without question?”

“As long as you don’t start talking about doing stupid shit that will get us killed, then we’ll follow you,” Barney finished. “Again, none of us want to leave for good reasons. We’re safe. We’ve been safe. And we don’t see the point in risking our lives on a bunch of fucking ‘What-if’s’ out there.”

Lannister laughed and walked up to them confidently. “Then I suppose this is goodbye while I resume with my escape.” He walked in between them. “Excuse me, gentlemen, it’s getting late and I’ve got a campsite to set up.” With that, Lannister headed northwest through the forest, following the sound of the river.

“We’ll send someone tomorrow, after the others are long gone,” Barney called over. “Just lay low until then.”

Lannister didn’t look back. It feels damn good to be appreciated… finally. It’s about time someone saw the value in everything I offer this community. Yeah, we’re small now, but we’ll expand, find more people… and live like kings! He laughed at his good fortune and said out loud, “Fuck Gina! Fuck Stephen! It’s finally time for someone to step up and do this the right way. Good luck dying for your lost causes. At the end of the day, we’ll be safe and you’ll all be fucking dead. Good riddance!”

Barney and Bear watched Lannister disappear into the distance.

“That’s one arrogant dumb-ass,” Barney whispered. “Just look at that peacock fluffing his feathers.”

Bear laughed.

“I assume he accepted your offer?”

They both turned as Logan approached.

“Had to do a bit of selling, but he bit that damn carrot… hard,” Barney laughed.

“Praise God,” Logan said with a laugh, stepping in between them. “Did you leave him enough supplies?”

“Yeah, he’ll be set up for a while,” Barney said. “I wonder how long he’ll sit out there before he realizes he’s become the king of jack-shit.”

“Indeed,” Logan said. “I imagine he’ll be sulking like a child long after we’re gone. Let’s just hope he doesn’t run into any problems out there.”

Barney turned. “You mean them Shadow Dead? They’re not really coming, are they?”

Logan smiled. “That is a mystery we all hope remains unsolved by our departure. I was thinking more about Gina.”

“Shit… I didn’t even consider that.”

Logan patted them both on the back. “Well done, boys. You brought us back some honor that despicable little man stole from us. This will go a long way in helping Stephen trust our boys again… eventually.” He turned and started heading back. “Finish up, and get inside before dark.”

Barney turned and said, “You know, for a preacher, that was a pretty dirty move you came up with.”

Logan turned. “I wasn’t always a preacher, Barney. You know this well.”

“That I do,” Barney said with a laugh. “You gonna tell the boss man what we did?”

“Stephen’s a good man with a lot on his plate. I’ll tell him… eventually.”

“He won’t like it,” Barney said with a sly smile. “Especially if something happens to him out there.”

Logan smiled back. “Yes… he certainly won’t. But the alternative in what that little snake might eventually do to spread his poison again is worth risking Lannister’s life. And that’s why Carl never saw this coming. He knows Stephen’s incapable of carrying out a plan like this. Good men are predictable, to a point, and are dictated by conscience. Unlike lowly preachers who resort to a little devilry to see that a good man’s dream is permitted to proceed without incident.”

“So, what does that make you then, preacher?” Barney teased.

Logan’s smile faltered. “I’m just a man, Barney. Good, bad, or otherwise. If this comes back to bite me… well… may the good Lord have mercy on my struggling soul.”

~~~

Tony stood just outside the hatch, staring into the western twilight sky. This was where he and Gina sat, just before the winter, watching the sunset together, as it had seemed like they’d finally found a moment’s peace from the hell that had been let loose in their world. They had gone through so much separately, just to finally find each other again, against the odds. They had once called this place their new home, back when being together more than compensated for this strange underground refuge, back when there had been a shred of hope within their view. But now… everything was uncertain. They were about to leave these woods, and Gina was out there, alone in the darkness, because he’d put her there.

She’ll come back, expecting to find me, and I’ll be gone. We’ll all be gone and she won’t be able to find us. He hadn’t told anyone that he’d caught up with her after her sentencing, made her promises he couldn’t keep, before handing her a bag of guns.

He closed his eyes and balled his fists. I can’t do this to her again! I’m already responsible for her exile… will I abandon her, too? She’ll come back… I know it. And when she does… God-only-knows what will be here waiting for her.

His decision had already been made down in the control room. He just needed a way to appease his guilt for leaving the community, now, when they needed him most.

She needs me more.

“You shouldn’t be up here alone, Tony.”

He turned, finding Marcus standing within a shadow near the hatch. Tony laughed. “I’ve forgotten how good you are at blending into the dark. I used to find it… unsettling.”

Marcus smiled and stepped out, struggling a little with his leg. “It’s amazing what we get used to these days.” He stood next to Tony and stared into the sky. “I suppose we’ll never take sunsets for granted… not anymore.”

Tony smiled. “You got that right. Each one we get to see now is a damn blessing. How’s the leg?”

“I’ll manage.” He took a moment to admire the view. “The sentries are ready to come up. We doubled the guard, as ordered. Should I have them wait a few minutes, allowing you time to run?”

Tony turned. “Excuse me?”

“That is why you’re up here alone, right? You’re going after her.”

Tony laughed. “I was about to ask you the same question.”

Marcus smiled. “You were right down there. Gina needs us. Or I should say, Gina needs someone to go and make sure she steers clear from here… just in case. We both know she’s quite capable of handling herself against the dead… but these men dressed in shadows… well… they’re something else entirely… and they’re very dangerous.”

“Yes, they are.”

Marcus sighed. “It would be a real disadvantage if you left, considering that only you, Diane, Stephen and Meredith are the only ones here who have fought these creatures… and survived.”

Tony turned. “Are you trying to talk me out of going after her? That’s not going to happen. She needs me.”

“Does she? Does she really need you, Tony?”

Tony was getting angry. “Speak plainly. What are you getting at?’

Marcus raised his hands. “I’m not trying to upset you. I just know that Gina needed to leave this place. There’s a darkness in her. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean.”

Tony said nothing.

“I’ve seen it. You’ve seen it. The others… well… they’ve chosen to look away from it because it’s Gina. But I know it has been eating away at you. Am I wrong?”

Tony looked away. “No. You’re not wrong. That’s why she’s out in those woods right now. I had to… I had to stop her from killing people. I saw it in her eyes when we got back here. She was… dangerous.”

“Of course,” Marcus nodded. “I saw the same signs you did, from a distance. But they were there for anyone who wanted to see them. The premeditated deaths of those men she forced out into the cold was not the first time she desired blood.”

“That’s a bit extreme. I wouldn’t call it-”

“In Andover, after those snipers shot down Greg, I tried to talk her out of it. Even knowing we could’ve escaped, she insisted we kill them all.”

Tony looked confused.

Marcus frowned. “She didn’t tell you about that?”

Tony thought about the note she’d given him, when Gina thought her visit to Micom’s camp might be a one-way ticket. He’d never read it. “What happened?”

“Maybe it’s not my place to talk about it. I just assumed she’d told you.”

“What did she do?”

Marcus sighed. “She wanted blood, Tony. She wanted them to die for what they did to Greg. So we went in and… executed those kids. Sure, they fought back, but we provoked it. Again, I tried to talk her down, but it was too late.”

Tony shook it off. “Well… that was different. They attacked you in the street with snipers. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have done anything different.”

“I watched her gun down a kid… I think his name was Dwayne. He was terrified, trying to get away. Gina unloaded on him and shot him in the face without hesitation. It was… (‘magnificent’ was the word he wanted to say)
shocking. I never knew she was capable of such brutality until that moment.”

Tony didn’t know what to say.

“I only mention that day, because it was the first time I realized how truly frightening she could be… if the darkness within her took over. I imagine those two in the woods faced similar brutality by her hand.”

“What are you trying to do?” Tony asked, obviously shook up. “I’m aware of Gina’s… problems. But that doesn’t matter now. I need to find her and keep her safe.”

“Has it occurred to you that she might want to be alone… to keep the rest of you safe?”

“That’s crazy! She’s not a monster.”

“Tell that to Marvin. You saw what she did to that sick soul.”

Tony shook his head. “Again, they attacked us. Gina may have gone a bit overboard… but she stopped herself.”

“And when she burned down the bad man’s house with Marvin still bleeding out in the basement, would you consider that ‘stopping herself’?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“She didn’t go back inside to destroy the radio. She set the house on fire. I saw the smoke before we cleared the fields.”

“No… you must have seen something else. She wouldn’t do that.”

“I bet she locked that basement door, just in case poor Marvin smelled the smoke and tried to get out. She wanted that boy dead. That’s where Gina’s head is now. That’s where it’s been for a long time.”

Tony shook his head. “Did you really see the smoke?”

“Why would I make something like that up, Tony?”

“None of it matters,” he said. “It just means she’s a lot worse off than I realized. All the more reason to find her and…”

“She blames you.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “What? What do you mean?”

“You’re the reason she can’t accept what she’s become,” Marcus explained. “You’re… light… for lack of a better word, makes her see all of it… all that darkness inside of her. I think a part of her resents you for it. Another part of her clings to that light, that good, noble soul that you possess which keeps you far from the dark. She loves you for it… but can’t survive in it… not without seeing how dark she’s become.”

“What kind of bullshit is this? You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about!” Tony took a threatening step toward the smaller man.

Again, Marcus raised his hands. He took a step back and said, “Please… just hear me out. I’m trying to tell you that if you love Gina, then you need to stay away… for her sake. Every time you’re around, she’s distracted and feels the overwhelming need to protect you… at all costs. Even if that means excusing the darkness and making you her sole reason for staying alive. She’ll never be able to look at it… and change… as long as you’re there.”

“What kind of fucked-up logic is this? You’re saying that I’m making her worse?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes. She needs to face this darkness on her own terms, without you there to distract her from the truth. As long as she has you, Gina can fool herself into thinking she’s doing good by protecting you… by protecting your goodness… and then justify whatever dark actions she takes by telling herself she does them to save you. Don’t you see?”

Tony calmed down. “So I should just… what… let her go? For her own good?”

“If you love her… then yes.”

“I can’t do that,” Tony said.

Marcus sighed. “You know, I hadn’t really considered it until now, and if you’ll permit me to touch on a sensitive subject, perhaps I can shed some further light on Gina’s… issues.”

“Go on.”

“Well, ever since she was brutally raped that night you two were in Geneva-”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

Marcus hesitated. “She… she didn’t tell you?”

Tony’s face went pale.

“Oh… fuck… that’s… I didn’t know. I’m sorry, Tony. If she kept that from you… well… there could be a lot more going on inside of her than I realized.”

“Raped?” Tony asked weakly. “You’re telling me that she was…” He started to weep.

“I don’t think she ever intended to tell us–myself and Frank. She was… not herself then, too. She… Gina had a moment where she just let it all out… maybe she finally had to get it all off her chest. I don’t know. But that night you two were separated, shortly before The Change occurred, she was drugged, gang raped, and then left to die, handcuffed naked to a bed. I can’t imagine what that kind of trauma does to someone. Perhaps, it’s the root of all that darkness. Again, I’m so sorry you had to find out from me.”

Tony fell to his knees, broken. “She blames me. I wasn’t there to protect her. That was my only fucking job that night! But I took those fucking drugs, too, and ended up chained in some lunatic’s basement while she was all alone and…”

Marcus bend down and put his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Perhaps she felt that no one could protect her ever again afterwards. Something like that must change a person… make them dig down deep, and turn to anything that might give them strength… even something dark… if it meant never being vulnerable again. It’s not your fault, Tony. But perhaps that’s another reason you need to stay away. Seeing you, on some level, must bring it all back. The helplessness, the fear… the inability to trust anyone… after that.”

“I tell her that I’ll keep her safe, while all this time she’s been holding back that I failed her while she was raped and left for dead,” Tony said through tears. “I had no idea. She couldn’t even trust me to tell me, after all this time.”

“Perhaps Gina kept it from you, and herself, because she feared that she might hate you for it… or worse… let loose her anger, and all that darkness, on you.”

Tony put a hand on Marcus’s shoulder and pleaded, “You have to go, Marcus. You have to make sure she stays safe. Only you and I understand what she’s going through… but I… I can’t go. You’re right. She must hate me as much as I hate myself right now. God! She needed me that night… and I failed her!”

“Get up, Tony,” Marcus said. “Shake this off, for her sake. You need not fail her again. There will come a time when you two will need to work through this and you need to be ready.”

Tony stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes.

Marcus nodded, offering up a reassuring face. “I’ll go and watch her back. She’s trusts me and you know that I’ve saved her life countless times before.”

“Keep her from the darkness, Marcus,” Tony said. “Just… whatever it takes.”

Marcus smiled. “You have my word, Tony. I will keep her from the darkness… whatever it takes. Now, get inside, and get some rest. These people need you strong right now… as does Gina. You can do right by her by taking care of the people she fought so hard to protect.”

Tony nodded. “Thank you, Marcus.” He took his hand. “I owe you big time for this.”

“You owe me nothing. Gina’s my friend. You are my friend. I will keep her safe.”

Tony walked back to the hatch, desperately trying to collect himself.

Damn, boss! You destroyed him! the other one chimed in. And here I thought a nice blade to the throat would’ve been preferable. But you cut that big piggy up with a sharper blade than we’re presently carrying around. You damn near cut his heart out… from the fucking inside!

I had to make sure he stayed behind, Marcus thought. He would only slow things down now.

Why not just gut the piggy on the way, boss? You coulda’ been finally done with this one.

Because Gina still needs him… alive, he thought, tiring of always having to explain the obvious to such a single-minded nuisance. She’s tethered herself too tightly on Tony’s survival. His death gains us nothing. But his presence also gains us nothing. This is for the best.

Smells like more bullshit, boss. Just another excuse to get out of skinning some of your precious friends.

When Tony descended below, Marcus turned and retrieved his pack from the shadows. He put it on his back and placed some weight on his sprained foot. The pain was considerable, but manageable. He would have to move slowly for a while, but he could catch up with Gina in a few days.

Marcus inhaled deeply, relieved to be back topside and surrounded by night. He smiled and said, “And here I thought even you with your constant need for bloodshed would be much more excited, especially since we finally get some time alone with The Prize.”

You mean… you mean it’s time?

“Yes, savage, it’s time. It’s time for the hunt we’ve been waiting our whole lives for.”

Oh, dear God, YES!!! We’re finally going after the fucking golden goddess! It’s been so damn long, boss. Too long. Tell me, what color will her blood be when it’s all over our hands? I hope it’s warm liquid gold oozing out of every precious slice! Will it be gold, boss?

“It will be glorious, savage. And the Lady will be there to watch and welcome us with open arms as she is pleased by the pleasant aroma of such a worthy sacrifice.”

Here piggy, piggy, piggy! We’re comin’ for you, golden bitch. I hope it fuckin’ rains down gold by the time we’re finished! Here’s to the glorious bloodbath of all fuckin’ bloodbaths!

Marcus smiled and started down the path into the darkness.

It was time for the hunt.

It was time to finally discover what truths were hidden behind Gina’s dying eyes.

~~~

Midnight.

Diane continued to scan the surrounding darkness just outside the hatch door. The crescent moon hanging in a mostly clear sky provided some ambient light. She hadn’t decided if they possessed the advantage of higher ground, as she kept her eyes on the dark terrain below, or if the moonlight simply lit them up, their silhouettes giving away their position to anything watching for them.

Tony, Nine and Bear sat near the unlit small bonfire erected toward the top of the small path, the only clear route of approach, should the surrounding shadows come to life and attack. Everyone was armed up and waiting for the long night to be done.

The bonfire was Tony’s suggestion, remembering how they stood their ground on the rooftop in Andover when they had believed that Shadow Dead were coming. They had lit several bonfires surrounding the diner in the hope that the working theory still held, and that these deranged men dressed in monster attire did not like being exposed in the light. Perhaps this was their only real advantage in stopping them. Tony would light the fire as a last resort, not wanting to reveal their position until necessary.

Nine got up and joined Diane. “You’re missing out on some sensational conversation,” he whispered sarcastically. “That Bear guy hardly speaks anyway, but I swear Tony’s entered into a contest with him to see who speaks the fewest words. He’s been unusually gloomy all evening.”

“It’s probably because they want to hear our enemy coming long before we see them, Mr. Chatty Kathy,” she whispered back. “Let’s just finish our watch while we pretend we’ll actually get some sleep later.”

“Do you think what Marcus’s friend said is legit? Are they coming?”

Diane sighed. “Yes… I think it’s just a matter of time. Let’s just hope it’s not tonight.” She then frowned. “I’d say ask that strange man yourself what he thinks, but Marcus was in too big a hurry to leave us as soon as he got back.”

“He’s looking for Gina. Someone should be, right?” Nine said.

“Yeah… but he seemed a little too eager to volunteer for the job,” Diane added suspiciously. “I mean, I’m glad he’s okay. But that guy always gave me the creeps.”

Nine laughed. “You just hate it when he sneaks up on you and you never hear him coming. That must drive the hunter in you bonkers.”

“That and he’s always staring like he’s trying to read my damn mind, asking questions and throwing around that shit-eating grin.”

“Marcus is just curious like that. You’re not exactly the most open person, you know,” Nine said. “It took a book of failed conversations before you finally gave in to my charms.”

Diane snorted. “Please… you’re anything but charming. You pestered me so much that I had to talk to you.”

Nine smiled. “Yes… and I annoyed my way right into your heart.”

She smiled and shook her head. “You just keep telling yourself that.”

Something in the darkness from down the path moved as the rustling of leaves gave it away.

Tony and Bear were on their feet immediately, guns raised.

Diane and Nine moved in beside them.

Tony lifted his finger to his mouth, signaling for silence, as they all listened to the darkness.

They heard more movement followed by what sounded like… moans.

Diane moved up next to Tony’s ear and whispered, “Sounds like something… dead.”

Tony nodded in agreement. He tried to peer into the darkness at the end of the path but could see nothing. He turned to Nine. “Light the fire. Now!”

Nine bend down and lit an entire box of matches. He tossed it into the small bonfire which was saturated in cooking grease.

The others moved to the side of the blaze as the fire lit up the surrounding night.

Tony looked down at the base of the path and saw them… five dead things standing in front of the trees.

“Shit!” Tony cursed. “Watch out for more of them!” None of the dead were moving up the path yet. “As soon as they see the flames, they’ll be coming up!”

Diane stared at them through her rifle scope. “They’re… they’re tied to the trees!”

“What the fuck?” Nine said.

Tony turned toward her, his face revealing something horrifying familiar. “Do you… do you recognize them?”

Diane peered through the scope and shook. “My God,” she whispered. “It’s… Frederick!” She scanned the tortured faces of the suspended dead until identifying the entire scouting party. “It’s all of them, Tony!”

“They’re here,” Tony advised.

Those two words filled them with a stomach dropping dread, like the realization that every terrifying nightmare had just been confirmed real.

“Everyone back up, slowly,” Tony managed. “Watch everything. Stay in the light. Something moves up that path… light it up immediately.”

Diane desperately tried to keep her arms still as she continued to scan the shadows for movement. Then she spotted something in her scope that she’d overlooked initially. Something much smaller, standing directly ahead of the suspended corpses at the very bottom of the narrow path. She gasped and looked away, almost dropping her rifle.

“What is it?” Nine asked.

Diane’s face had paled. She looked like she was going to be sick. “It’s… it’s a pole… sticking in the ground at the base of the path! There’s a… there’s a head mounted on it!”

Tony looked like Diane had just stabbed him in the chest. “Is it… is it Gina?”

She tried to speak but forgot to breath.

“Answer me!” Tony said.

She violently shook her head. “Oh, God… no… I… I think it’s… Carl Lannister!”

The night suddenly erupted with the horrific cries of a thousand maniacs, rising up from all around them in the darkness.

(TO BE CONTINUED…)

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark will return with Book Five in August, 2017…

Previous Episode 38-5

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“Chapter 38-6: Healing” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Four: Phantoms. 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.