Posts Tagged ‘Amusement’

~~~

The next chapter of Don’t Feed The Dark will start next Monday, May 27th.

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

Advertisements

~~~

Here’s the latest everyone:

We’ve just finished the first chapter of the New Cleveland three-part arc, and as you can tell, there’s a lot going on. The next chapter, The Desperation Factor, is just about complete. It will run six episodes setting up the final chapter, tentatively titled, Sodom. I’ll let you ponder the implications of that title, and if it gives you a very bad feeling… you’re probably right. The last chapter of this arc is going to be what I call an ‘intense shit-storm all over the damn place’.

I’ve been enjoying writing this arc and digging below the surface of this depraved town to highlight various stories surrounding our main characters, as well as introducing new characters and elaborating further on some characters we’ve already met. The first chapter was intended to scatter our main cast and get more detailed glimpses into New Cleveland from each of their perspectives. Chapter two will start to pick up the pace. By the last chapter, we won’t have time to slow down… and that’s all I’ll say on that.

Unfortunately, due to some personal matters going on at home, I won’t be starting the next chapter until next Monday, May 27th. But from there on I’ll continue posting twice a week.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll keep you updated as the story progresses.

-Scott

~~~

If you haven’t done so already, please vote for Don’t Feed The Dark at topwebfiction . You can vote every seven days to help keep my story listed, which helps new readers discover this long dark tale. Thanks for your continued support and for reading.

~~~

Late night in New Cleveland. Long after most businesses had closed, all but a few of the town’s generators were shut off to conserve fuel. This was considered by most to be a very dangerous time to be out and about, wandering the dark streets. Although no official curfew was enforced during these hours, the added darkness served to discourage citizens from straying too far from wherever they’d found to sleep in large numbers—the only deterrent to keep from mysteriously disappearing before dawn. Sometimes, the occasional visitor might overstay their welcome in one of the many establishments set up to indulge the bleaker side of humanity, only to find themselves kicked out at closing time, alone and lost in one of New Cleveland’s dark crack districts where predators of all kinds had set up their playgrounds in the after-hours.

A big man, concealed in a large hooded robe, cautiously crept down one of these cracks, being mindful not to let the moonlight above expose him while cleaving to shadows in an alley formed by several long trailers. Any other time, the man would’ve been grateful for the precious ambient light, giving him an advantage over those waiting in dark corners like traps for weaker prey, but not tonight. The last thing he needed was to get spotted by anyone, whether it was a Lunatic patrol or just someone looking to make a profit by reporting suspicious activity to shop owners about strange robed men lurking about their establishments.

The big man continued to creep about the quiet town, one of the few times he could appreciate the silent, yet deadly, calm present in a place usually full of wild animals in a cageless zoo of debauchery. But now, everything about New Cleveland had been sedated by the night, like a large dark blanket temporarily thrown over the eyes, acting as a veil concealing every permanent blood stain the town had accumulated, along with each horror story that went along with them.

But even now, the darkness could not command all to remain still. While most places in town went to sleep, others were just awakening as ghosts mingled with monsters, with little to distinguish them. Various amusement park relics left abandoned in remote areas of New Cleveland sat like silent beasts pretending to be long dead while the town was built up around them. And in such places, it was rumored that voices from the past spoke in whispers, and one could feel a thousand eyes upon them as if standing in a crowd that was not there.

The man was headed to such a place to meet his shady contact.

To the west of the fight pits sat the remains of a kid’s playground built within a small pool. Splash Landing, as it was called in a previous life, was once a pirate ship jungle gym where kids could climb her decks, pretend to set sail on imaginative adventures, or just jump overboard from planks, or barrel down small slides into uncharted waters to finally get bombarded by cannons that soaked them to their playful ends.

The man arrived just to the south of Splash Landing and removed his hood, revealing his hard, bruised face beneath a tangled mop of dark hair. Tony took a deep breath to steady his nerves as he gazed upon the former kid’s attraction. The once magnificent pirate ship lay partially submerged in a sickening green pool of long stagnant water, resembling a small swamp. Tall weeds had grown up around the pool, as well as within it. The smell of muck, shit and urine overwhelmed his nostrils as he covered his nose and mouth, trying not to gag. New Cleveland had no working sewage system and places like Splash Landing had been converted into gathering grounds for the town’s waste.

Tony continued to stare at the wreck within the pool. He could hear the faint laughter of children like echoes breaking through the silence. His faraway tired eyes were dark and haunted, like this place.

From the other side of Splash Landing, Tony could see a faint light coming from beyond the pirate ship, behind a wall of weeds at the edge of the pool.

That was the signal.

Tony cautiously moved through the tall grass until revealing the source of the light.

His contact sat buried in the weeds, wearing an old dirty bath robe. His mangy grey hair hung over his shoulders, blending in with his long beard. His eyes were covered by thick brown glasses. His legs were crossed, his back straight, looking like some homeless Buddha.

“That’s close enough, Tony,” the contact said in a pleasant voice that seemed to belong to anyone else. “Please, sit with me. We’ve much to discuss.”

Tony sat down in the weeds, twenty feet from the strange man. He looked around and said, “You pick the best places to meet. This place smells like I’ve just crawled up inside New Cleveland’s asshole.”

The contact smiled, revealing his stained teeth.

For a moment, Tony thought the man’s teeth resembled fangs. He dismissed it, blaming this disturbing meeting place for firing up his imagination.

“Sorry for the… strong aroma,” the strange man said. “Besides being a discreet location to meet, I’ve never minded the smell. It’s sufficiently distracting for someone like myself.”

“I have no idea what that means,” Tony said, shifting uncomfortably. “I hope you have something useful to tell me this time, Taven. These late-night rendezvous are getting harder to pull off without attracting notice.”

This was the third meeting Taven had arranged since introducing himself to Tony after his first fight. Tony had wandered off alone away from the fight pits, wounded within and without, needing space to deal with his conflicting emotions after killing his first man for sport.

Taven had crept up on him with ease, startling the big man. Tony had originally dismissed the filthy man as some homeless nut when he’d approached, until the man had said, “I know why you’re here, Tony. A group of strangers seeking strangers like themselves. I can help you find them. I can help you free them. There is a time and a place for everything, if one can master the art of patience.”

Tony had hit a low point, not knowing how he was going to get any of his friends out of this mess, feeling like New Cleveland’s prize murderer in the arena. Taven’s timing could not have been better for holding out a shred of hope. Tony had desperately snatched it up, believing the strange man could help him… could help all of them.

So far, Taven, who seemed to know a lot about him and his friends, including Orosco’s group, had only offered hints as answers to Tony’s questions, providing just enough for the big man to believe that these meetings would yield results in time. And since Tony had no other solutions, he had nothing to lose by trusting the odd man.

“I’ve been patient,” Tony began from the weeds. “But so far, you haven’t given me anything I can use to help my friends. I’m starting to doubt whether you’re of any use at all, or, if you’re just tricking me into confiding in you so you can go back and tell Candyman everything I’ve said.”

“Oh, but I have good news today, Tony,” Taven said. “I’ve known for some time where your missing group of friends were. I was simply waiting on the right when.”

Tony’s eyes lit up. “You’ve found them? Orosco, and his people? They’re still alive?”

“Yes… yes… and yes,” Taven said. “Timing is everything in New Cleveland. You just have to wait for the right moment to present itself… a moment that opens up a multitude of possibilities… and I believe that moment approaches.”

Tony sighed. “Speak plainly for once. If you’ve found them then tell me where they are. I can’t help them with riddles.”

Taven laughed. “Not riddles, my friend. It’s more a matter of routines than riddles. I’ve learned to wait, and watch, and understand the patterns in things. Some consider me a seer of sorts because I can predict the patterns in such a way… and anticipate the outcomes… or in this case… many outcomes.”

The big man balled his fists. “You’re doing it again! Tell me something that makes sense, or these little meetings stop right now! I’m far too tired for your bullshit. You told me last time that you’d have answers for me after my ninth fight… and that it would be the last time I’d spill blood in that fucking pit of death!”

Taven held up his hands. “Yes… and it shall come to pass! But the bloodshed is far from finished. Up until now, every moment you’ve spent in the pits have been preparing you for the one moment that comes… a moment which will require a killer’s precision… without hesitation.”

Tony did not like the sound of that. He settled down. “What are you getting me involved with, Taven?”

“What are you willing to get involved with to save the ones you care about?” the strange man shot back. “Would you kill for them? Once more?”

Tony closed his eyes. He could still picture every death replay in his mind, each victory in the pit—a bitter pill to swallow—but buying him and his friends time while he kept suspicious eyes focused on himself, allowing the others to gain whatever information they could while their leader continued to abide by the rules of ownership, requiring him to spill blood… again and again. “You know I would,” he said sadly. “You know that I have.”

“Indeed!” Taven said excitedly. “Yes, you have! But now, your moment has arrived! A moment full of choices and outcomes! The time has come to fight—not in the pits—but in the world that would watch your friends suffer. One last fight! Will you? Can you? Or is there nothing left behind those suffering eyes?”

Tony glared at the man. “I’m not giving up, if that’s what you’re asking. This town has stolen a lot from me, parts of me I may never get back, but not what’s vital. Are you hearing me, Taven?”

Taven smiled, flashing his sharp, toothy smile. “Yes… I am hearing you clearly, my friend.”

Tony could see his sharpened teeth now. “What are you?” he whispered. He’d always suspected that there was something wrong with the man but had chosen to overlook it.

Taven laughed. “I am the future.”

He shook his head and looked away. “More fucking riddles. Let’s get on with this.” He locked eyes with Taven and said, “Fuck what you are, or what I can or can’t do. Talk to me about this… moment. Just give me something… anything… point me in the right direction, and if it’s another fight that’s required, then so be it!”

Taven nodded with satisfaction. “You are ready. Your friends… they are also ready to fight. I’ve seen their suffering, too.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Not important now. They are ready to join you in the moment that comes. And that moment is nigh.”

“Could you be a little more specific?” Tony growled.

Taven smiled. “Two mornings from now, at dawn, a convoy leaves New Cleveland, heading east. Orosco, and the others will be on those trucks.”

Tony tensed up. “Where’s the convoy going?”

“You know this already.”

Tony’s face grew dark. “Mosquito Creek.”

“Yes,” Taven hissed like a snake. He leaned forward and whispered, “But it will never arrive. The convoy will depart New Cleveland and head in an entirely different direction. Do you know why?”

Tony’s face was a stone. “Because you’re going to tell me where they keep this convoy?”

“Yes.”

Tony nodded. “And I’m going to be the reason it never makes it to Mosquito Creek.”

“Bloodshed,” Taven hissed. “Bloodshed fit for a true champion.”

“Don’t ever call me that again,” Tony warned.

“As you wish.” Taven leaned back. “I will now tell you where it is, how to get close without being seen, but most importantly… when to attack it. And the when is what matters most. Understand?”

“Yes,” Tony said. “I understand.”

“And we will need a sufficient distraction, which I’ve provided.” Taven revealed a crate sitting beside him. He removed the lid. “Come see.”

Tony moved in closer to inspect the contents of the crate. His eyes went wide.

Within the crate were various blunt weapons, a small crossbow, a wrapped bundle of dynamite, and a detonator.

“Fuck me,” Tony whispered. “Where did you get all this?”

“We’ve much to discuss,” Taven said, ignoring the question. “There isn’t much time before you will be missed.”

“Just one thing, first,” Tony said.

Taven gave him a curious look.

“What’s in this for you? I know you don’t give a shit about what happens to me or my friends. So, what is it? If I’ve learned anything about New Cleveland, it’s that everyone’s playing an angle… and everyone’s looking for a profit.”

Taven giggled, lightly clapping his hands in delight.

Tony was trying to decide when it was he’d put his trust in a madman.

“Wise Tony! Tony the Wise! That is what I shall call you.”

“I’d rather you not. I’ve done my share of stupid… these little meetings included.”

“Fair enough. But you deserve to know. A worthwhile question… well timed… deserves its answer.”

“For Christ’s sake… enough with the fucking riddles!”

All the humor left Taven’s face. For once, he spoke plainly. “You will intercept the trucks and save your friends. What happens after will be up to you. But when the convoy fails to arrive at Mosquito Creek… on time… the truce between Sodom and its Destroyers will cease… and what follows will be glorious!”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You asked why I’m helping you. You have your answer.”

Tony’s eyes went wide. “What happens when Mosquito Creek doesn’t receive that convoy?”

Taven smiled. “You know the answer to that, as well.” The strange man leaned in and gave Tony a scrutinizing gaze. “Bloodshed will beget bloodshed. Are you prepared for the consequences of your actions, Tony? Are your friends worth what will follow?”

Tony considered everything he and his friends had seen and suffered because of New Cleveland. Surprising himself with how little he felt, or the lack of hesitation, Tony nodded. “Yeah… I’m fine with those ‘consequences’ you mentioned. Just help me get my people out of here. As far as what happens after, I don’t care if this fucking place burns to the ground.”

Taven laughed. “You have become a hard man, Tony. Sometimes it takes a hard man to do hard things, make difficult choices… and sometimes… make sacrifices.”

“Lets’ just get on with the plan,” Tony said, averting his gaze and shifting uncomfortably.

Taven hesitated, staring at the big man with a crazy smile.

“What?” Tony said.

Taven smiled. “Do you know what I am, Tony? Why I wear these dark sunglasses in the middle of the night?”

Tony didn’t look at the man. “I have my suspicions,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter. If you can help me get my people to safety, I don’t care what you are behind those glasses.”

Taven laughed, then got serious. “And If I told you that I was a devil?”

Tony shook his head and laughed. “Then I guess I’ll eventually regret this deal I’ve made with you.”

Taven nodded with a playful chant, “Wise Tony, Tony the Wise.”

The big man added nothing as he silently considered this crazy man. Devil or not, trusting this creature has got to be one of the most ‘unwise’ choices I’ve ever made.

Over the next thirty minutes Taven shared the details of his dark plan.

And Tony listened intently to the devil’s every word.

~~~

Next Episode 51-1

Previous Episode 50-8

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-9: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Diane quickly rose from the couch. If not for the coffee table between herself and the despicable man, she believed she would’ve closed the distance between them, broke his scotch glass, and then jammed a piece of it into his throat. Fortunately, she reined in her temper before losing control.

Candyman hadn’t even flinched as he stared across the table at the angry woman, an amused expression painted on his face.

Diane’s one hand was balled into a fist. She stared defiantly into the lowly creature’s face, trying to get her breathing under control. Settle down, she reminded herself. He’s pushing again… and it’s working.

Candyman leaned back in his chair, his hands folded over his lap with a devilish gleam in his eyes. “Well… I’m waiting.”

“You seriously expect me to strip naked and carry on a civil conversation?” she said. “Especially after threatening my friends?”

He shook his head at her as if dealing with a child. “I don’t expect anything, Diane. I demand, and then there’s compliance with said demands. I’m tolerating your insolence only because you’re still so very new here and have yet to understand the way things work. But… I am encouraged by this honest exchange between us. I suspect that from here on out, we will establish a better understanding of our relationship.” He took another sip of scotch, then put the glass down. “Now, take off the fucking gown. I won’t say it again.”

“No,” she said. “I won’t. You want to talk, then fine, let’s talk. But save the perverted games for your bitch upstairs.”

He laughed at her. “Oh, please. Do you really believe this is sexual? I find you only as attractive as the control I maintain in this room, which, I feel I must remind you… is absolute.”

“I’m not taking off this gown,” she challenged, glaring at the man. “You’ve pushed me as far as I’m going to allow with all this bullshit. Understand that.”

Candyman’s face looked like a tempest about to explode behind his amused expression as he gave her an equally challenging glare and folded his hands beneath his chin. “Let’s talk about… Nine… is that right? What a peculiar name.”

Diane stumbled. “What… what about him?”

He looked away and continued. “I’ve been informed that he is currently in the service of John Harper, a well-respected businessman in our community. Quite honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t ended up in one of our murder shops by now—truly horrendous places, so I’m told—but, as luck would have it, your friend was purchased at auction by some very bad men and then sold three times, until finally landing under John’s… protection. I’d say that your friend has done rather well for himself… considering the odds.”

Diane said nothing.

Candyman leaned in and continued. “If I were to tell you that I’d… interfered… with the auction in question, allowing your dear friend, Nine, to end up in John’s employment, then that would be very naughty of me since my involvement in the auctions is not permitted.” He paused and poked fun at Diane. “Kind of reminds me of another situation currently.” He added a wink.

She said nothing.

“Anyway, back to your friend. Hypothetically speaking, of course, since John Harper and I have a very mutually beneficial business arrangement in town, he might have been persuaded to purchase your friend, Nine, as a favor… to me. Which, in turn, would be a very big favor that I performed for you, would it not?”

Diane looked toward her feet, feeling defeated. “Yes. That would be.”

“That is just a story, of course,” Candyman said, waving a dismissive hand in the air. “There’s plenty of stories in this town, some true, some not so true—thus is the nature of stories. But, for the sake of the story I just mentioned, it is not out of the realm of possibility for your friend to find himself back under the ownership of some truly horrible people. Are you understanding that, Diane?”

She stared at him. “Yes,” she hissed. “Loud and clear.”

“Then are we going to continue wasting words and time over trivial matters such as clothing, or do you still consider that silly silk gown, and whether it’s on or off your trembling flesh, worth Nine’s current protected position?”

Diane closed her eyes and let her shoulders slump. He’ll keep going, she thought. That fucker will keep reminding me of all the cards he’s holding over my friends and how easily he could change everything. And in the end, he’ll make it my decision and not his as to how they all end up mysteriously dead by tomorrow. She opened her eyes and stared less defiantly at the monster. “Is it that important to someone like you to flaunt your position of power just to get the girl in the silk dress to do what you say? Are you that petty?”

He smiled. “I’ll counter with an equally perceptive question: Is your warrior pride worth the same? I mean, seriously, what does it matter if I see you in your birthday suit… hmm? I practically have you there now and I’ve seen better.”

“Fuck you,” she added exhaustedly.

He laughed. “I could bed any woman in this town, including you. This is not about sex… it’s about control. It’s about compliance, plain and simple… and I will have it… or I’ll have Nine’s head delivered to me after I’ve arranged the murder shops to purchase him, and then I’ll have you stripped naked and paraded around New Cleveland on your next shopping errand as an example to others like you.”

Diane’s defiance blazed up briefly. With eyes full of hate aimed at the despicable man, she said, “I’ve seen things out in the real world… monsters… that pale in comparison to you.”

Candyman’s eyebrows shot up.

“But I also know what happens to monsters eventually,” she continued. “Sooner or later, more monsters come along that are much worse—me and my friends have already seen them—and they’ll take you, your shit-hole town, and your worthless control away right before they bite your fucking head off.”

Candyman unconsciously stared down at his gloved right hand. She’d been referring to the dead army of yellow-eyed haters out at Mosquito Creek, but Candyman had other monsters in mind. Without realizing it, Diane had struck a nerve.

“More threats,” he said. “How cute. Shall we move on now, or will I need to do something ‘monstrous’ to remind you who is in control? All things considered, you’re getting off easy tonight. All I’m asking for is silk, the blood is up to you.”

“Fine,” she said. “You win.” Diane raised her shaky left hand toward the thin straps over her shoulders. She moved each one down over her arms until the silk top dropped over her exposed breasts. For a moment, she stopped, her humiliation complete as she tried to cover her chest with her one arm, the other, entirely useless.

Candyman sat back in his chair with his gloved hand over his mouth, staring at the woman’s flesh as if studying an old shelf full of books he’d read a hundred times. “Keep going,” he said with disinterest. “Remove the rest of it.”

Diane shook so fiercely it took incredible effort to get the silk gown down over the rest as she had to bend over to get it down past her legs. For the first time since wearing the whore’s clothing, she felt like one, and hated herself for feeling so helpless to stop it.

When the deed was done, she stood up straight, leaving her chest exposed but covering her lower area as best she could. Diane refused to look at the man, choosing to stare at one of the city scene pictures on the wall, instead.

“The arm please,” he said with annoyance.

Diane let her arm fall until she was completely exposed. She made a fist so tight her nails were digging in, as blood trickled to the floor.

“There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She refused to speak. In her mind, Diane envisioned her own brand of murder shop, picturing the numerous ways she wanted to make this pig suffer. You’re doing this for Nine, she thought. For all of them. Whatever it takes to keep them alive a little longer… to keep the plan alive. There are far worse things you’ve done to protect the ones you care about. But in truth, she was having trouble believing that in this moment.

“Now, look me in the eyes,” he said, “and let me see all of it.”

She turned her fiery gaze upon him.

Candyman stared into her eyes, troubled by what he found there. “This is unacceptable,” he said, his irritation evident. “You are still not getting this… at all.”

“What more do you want?” she hissed. “Isn’t my complete humiliation enough? I would have killed anyone else ten times over for even suggesting what you’ve just made me do.”

He pointed accusingly at her face. “It’s all right there,” he said. “Your eyes, your face… your fucking mouth full of bile! I thought this little demonstration might break that contemptuous attitude of yours… but your defiance is… tiresome.”

Diane raised an eyebrow. He was hoping I’d bend like a little girl, crying in the corner after assaulting my dignity. Guess I’m not like the girls he’s used to dehumanizing in here. She took extreme pleasure in that fact.

Then she made a fatal mistake.

Diane smiled at him. It wasn’t a seductive smile, a sheepish smile, but a taunting one.

One that clearly told the leader of New Cleveland who still had control.

Candyman rose up out of his chair, stood eye to eye with the naked woman, then put his arms behind his back, shaking his head. “No, no… NO!” he snapped. “This is unacceptable!”

“What’s the matter?” Diane pushed, unable to stop herself. “Not the broken girl you expected? Are my tits not round enough? I always felt that one was slighter bigger than the other. Or maybe my nipples aren’t standing at attention enough for you?”

“Stop it,” he said.

“Too much bush down below? I know I haven’t shaved in a while, but I thought it went well with this whole ‘70’s vibe you’ve got going on in here.”

“Enough,” he cautioned.

“Come on,” she taunted, reaching her one arm across the coffee table and touching the man’s robe, causing him to flinch and step back. “I know the other arm isn’t much to look at, but my left arm’s super strong now… I could probably jerk you off in ten sec-”

He backhanded her across the face with surprising force, knocking her back down on the couch.

Diane reached up to the corner of her mouth, felt the blood, and stared back in surprise. She spat a wad of crimson-colored saliva onto the floor, leaned over and laughed, “Who’s in control now, bitch!”

Candyman stared threateningly down at the woman, out of breath. He looked like he wanted to jump over table and strangle Diane.

She dared him with her eyes to try it.

Sensing he’d crossed some line he wasn’t willing to cross, Candyman immediately regained his composure, straightening his robe and running a hand through his silver hair. “This was a grave miscalculation on my part,” he said more to himself. “I’ve clearly shown you too much tolerance.”

“What’s next,” she said, completely losing her shit. “You going to fuck me now? Go ahead, asshole. I’ll even act like I’m enjoying it, if you want. Maybe I’ll make all those loud moans and groans Nadia’s always doing to make you feel like a real man! She’s quite the actress as I’m sure you already know.”

Candyman smiled at her and shook his head. “You just don’t know when to quit, do you?”

“You started this, asshole.”

“Yes,” he said. “And I’m ending it… now.” Candyman started pacing around the room. “After I’ve summoned half a dozen of my Lunatics to come in here, I’ll sit back down with my drink and watch them penetrate you repeatedly… and you will scream… no acting. Then, after you’re so raw you can barely sit on that couch, we will continue our discussion, while you try to bite back all the pain you’re about to receive. Let’s see how much defiance I discover in your eyes then… hmm?”

Diane closed her eyes. I’m not leaving this room alive. She made peace with the thought, understanding that she’d pushed this real lunatic too far. She opened her eyes, smiled at that madman, and said, “Well… you better pour yourself a tall damn drink, you sick fuck, and then double the number of goons you’re sending in to break me, because after I’ve fucked them all to death… I’m going to do things to you, you can’t imagine… and I’m not talking about anything sexual, either.”

Candyman stared at her in disbelief, trying to understand this strange creature. “As amusing as this has been, I grow tired of your company this evening. I think I’ll just let my men play with you for a while, and then we’ll see what remains of that warrior spirit come tomorrow evening.” He was about to call the Lunatics in.

“What’s taking you so long?” Nadia said, surprising Candyman with her unannounced appearance near the end of the long bar.

Candyman turned to scold the woman, then stopped.

Nadia stood naked, leaning against the bar while gently stroking the space between her slender breasts with her free hand. “All this time you spend down here, talking with… her… leaving me alone upstairs. Now I see there’s something more going on than talking.” Nadia stared at Diane’s naked body. “If I didn’t know any better, I might have cause to be jealous. Should I be jealous?”

The leader of New Cleveland was clearly thrown off-balance by the attractive blond woman. “There’s nothing to be concerned about, dear. This matter doesn’t concern you. Please, return to our quarters and wait for me to join you.”

“Join me now,” she teased, moving her hand slowly down toward her well-trimmed lower area. “That worthless woman can wait. But I can’t. Hasn’t that bitch taken up enough of our time together?”

Candyman laughed. “You make an excellent point, especially now.”

Diane could clearly see the arousal in the man’s eyes as he stared at his favorite whore. Thank God for scotch and tall blonds, she thought, feeling like she might have been rescued, for the moment, from her own stupidity.

“You look tense,” she told him, strolling over with a seductive walk. “I don’t like it when you’re this tense. It’s not good for you.”

Candyman looked embarrassed. “I… well… I guess a break from business down here might be in order.”

Nadia wrapped her arms around his shoulders, letting her firm breasts brush up against his partially exposed chest while pushing her hips against his groin. “I know what’s good for you,” she teased. “Leave the little twat down here. She’s not going anywhere, right?”

“You are correct,” he said. “I just need to-”

Nadia placed a long finger over his mouth while reaching for his other hand and placing it between her legs. “You were saying?”

Candyman smiled. “What was I saying?”

“You were saying,” she teased, “that you’re coming upstairs now so that I can take care of you proper. I can think of far better ways for you to release that tension.”

“When you’re right, you’re right,” he said with a laugh. Candyman glanced over at Diane and said, “We’ll have to continue our discussion another time. Have them escort you back and we’ll talk again tomorrow. I suggest you use the time to reconsider the many things we’ve discussed and change your attitude.”

Diane simply nodded.

“Let’s go,” Nadia said, pulling the leader of New Cleveland toward the bedroom stairs. “Fuck with the new girl later. You’re fucking me now.”

And just like that, Diane was left alone.

She stared toward the empty stairs in shock and disbelief. It took her five long minutes to move from the couch after she stopped shaking and calmed her nerves enough to believe that the Lunatics weren’t about to burst into the room and gang rape her.

Nadia had just earned a whole new level of respect from her, perhaps risking her own life to intervene on her behalf.

Are men really that easy to manipulate? she wondered. Nadia had taken control of the entire situation in seconds. It must all be in the hips. I’ll get her to explain that one to me. Diane looked down at her awkwardly shaped body, compared to Nadia’s perfect-ten figure, and slowly started putting the silk gown back on. As she dressed, she half-expected to hear a voice boom down from upstairs to remove the clothes.

Diane was shaking again.

He’s fucked you up, a little bit, she thought. Get over it quickly.

It was a nerve-wrecking walk back to her trailer in the dark. She still expecting to be jumped by her two-man escort, or worse, to get back to her trailer and find a Lunatic sex party waiting to receive her.

When she was finally alone, Diane removed the hideous silk gown and put on a pair of jeans and a black t-shirt. The hunter reached beneath her mattress and removed the homemade knife—a jagged piece of metal with a sharp tip, three inches long, with a taped-up handle at one end. It wasn’t much, but it offered some small comfort.

Diane crawled into her bed and buried herself in blankets, keeping the crude blade firmly in her hand. She stayed awake for a long time, staring at the trailer door, waiting for the assault that never came. The damage had already been done.

Eventually, she relaxed a little, and finally removed her warrior armor. She wept in the darkness, longing for Nine’s comforting arms to keep her from shaking.

~~~

Next Episode 50-9

Previous Episode 50-7

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-8: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

I’m almost completed with the next chapter. It should run six episodes unless something unexpected develops (and with this story, it happens often… lol). I hope you’re enjoying the New Cleveland arc. I’ll have a new episode of DFTD out on Friday.

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

The competitors all scattered like ants after the hill was struck. The crowd above them came alive with noise.

In a panic, the girl started running in front of the closest competitors who nearly plowed her over. Nine grabbed her arm. “Wait!” he hissed. “Not yet!”

Seven of them ran to the left, the other three ran to the right.

Most of them went left. We go right, odds are better the dead won’t get as riled up.

The girl desperately stared up at him. Nine was about to pull her to the right, then stopped. Wait, those seven that went left… they knew exactly what they wanted to do. The others nearly trampled over the girl just to go the other way. Besides, seven is always better than three.

“Screw the odds,” he told her. “Those idiots that went right are going to get us killed… maybe even on purpose.”

Nine pulled the girl to the left, following the other seven competitors.

Within seconds, they were out of the spotlight and plunged into the darkness as their eyes adjusted to the ambient light above.

From just beyond the first set of obstacles, they heard a man scream from behind several tall wooden shipping crates that were positioned to form three narrow walkways granting access into what appeared to be a small crate maze.

“One, two, three, left to right,” Nine mumbled to himself, pulling the girl cautiously toward the three paths. “Or is it right to left?”

“Be quiet!” the girl hissed.

“Doesn’t matter!” he said, still talking to himself. “It has to be two!”

“Which way?”

“The middle one!” he said. “We go right down the middle!”

Nine took the lead through the narrow middle aisle, keeping the girl directly behind him. They had to turn sideways to slip between the crates.

They heard a woman cry out this time from further ahead in the darkness.

Once within the aisle, Nine immediately realized the trap as he noticed the crates had slats build in them just wide enough for-

“Watch out!” the girl cried out.

Several dead arms pushed through the slats, reaching out for them. The girl ducked down on all fours, pulling Nine down with her.

Nine rolled over on his back. He looked up and saw four deadhead faces pushed up against the slats, their pale heads turned and sticking out just enough for their flailing arms to grab at anything and pull them toward their snapping mouths. “Be still,” Nine whispered to the girl lying flat beneath his legs. She’d dropped her head into her hands, refusing to look up at the monsters reaching down to grab at her. Nine tilted his head back until he had an upside-down view of the narrow aisle ahead. He expected the dead to come storming around the corner and finish them.

Nothing happened.

“We crawl,” he told her, “all the way out of the aisle.”

“I can’t… I can’t move,” she said. “They’ll get me.”

“You’re fine. Just stay on the ground. They’re arms can’t reach down that far. Okay?”

She managed to look at him and nodded.

From somewhere ahead, another contestant screamed. It sounded like he was being eaten alive.

The girl covered her ears with her hands.

“Don’t think about that,” Nine told her. “Just focus on me.” He carefully rolled over on his stomach and started to crawl forward. The girl reluctantly followed.

Nine poked his head out of the end of the aisle, looking left, then right, to make sure another surprised re-animated wasn’t chained up and waiting to jump out at them. So far, they were clear. He looked forward, scanning the labyrinth of wooden crates stacked in various configurations. Some were designed to be climbed over, others formed low ceilings requiring ducking beneath. There were more narrow aisles, with sharp corners, easily concealing the dead. They had choices, and each one could be fatal. It’s like a damn haunted house in here, he thought.

The girl managed to crawl in next to him. “What now?” she whispered, getting a good look at the dark wooden maze of crates before them. “We have to get through all of that?”

Nine put a finger to his mouth and then whispered, “Listen.”

They could hear the hungry cries of the re-animated from behind them, and a few moans from up ahead along with the rattling of chains.

“They can’t be stealthy,” he whispered. “Not once they’re riled up, and the competition has already done that. We just need to stop trusting our eyes and use our ears. Okay?”

She nodded. The girl pointed toward a random crate. “Any more in those?” she whispered.

Nine nodded. “Probably. We’ll just have to be super careful, and quiet. It’s the ones outside the crates we need to worry about. I don’t know how much chain they have to play with. Let’s move.”

They slowly got up and approached a dark wooden archway. Nine held her up. “I have an idea,” he whispered, and then removed one of his shoes. He tossed it underhanded through the arch and watched his sneaker strike another crate on the other side. They heard the clanking chain before they saw the deteriorated beast rush in front of their view from the left, attempting to grab at the sneaker. The chain went tight around the monster’s head, causing the beast to get jerked back. It fell backwards, just out of reach of the shoe.

Nine smiled at the girl. “Stay to the right,” he whispered.

She smiled back with a nod.

They quickly ducked under the arch and turned right while the creature was distracted by the frustrating chain.

The veteran pick-pocketer was mindful to snag Nine’s loose sneaker right before they turned the corner.

Moving painfully slow, they maneuvered around the next three corners using the moans of the dead, the scratching sounds or their chains on the concrete, or the cries of their dying competitors to pick alternate paths through the maze. They stopped only at the threat of silence, using their shoe-detectors to rouse the inactive dead that had not been startled, yet.

Everything was going well until they found the first body.

In between another aisle of crates, much like the first one, a woman’s body had been yanked across the aisle, her head down, body facing them like a twisted human barrier. Opposing beasts had engaged in a human tug-of-war from their crates. Pale arms from both sides of the aisle continued to pull at each of the woman’s arms, trying to get to the more ‘meatier’ portions of their prize, yanking the dead woman toward one side and then the other, making the woman appear more puppet-like than human. The dead were stuck in a bizarre stalemate as neither side refused to give up the prize and continued pulling on the unfortunate woman’s gnawed on arms.

The girl stared in horror as Nine started to pull her toward another aisle.

The woman slowly lifted her head, her horrified face in full view, her eyes going wide when she saw the girl. The woman tried to call out for help, but blood flowed from her mouth.

The girl covered her mouth to stifle a scream.

Nine stared down the aisle at the woman they thought was dead and cringed. He looked away. “We need to move,” he whispered to the girl. “We can’t help her. You don’t need to see this.”

Before Nine could move the girl away, she bent down, removed both of her shoes and then stepped forward into the aisle, throwing each shoe toward one side of the crates, then the other, until the creatures were distracted. They released their grip on the woman’s arms and rushed toward the girl. The woman fell limp to the ground and did not move again.

The girl quickly stepped back out of the aisle, staring in satisfaction at the frustrated, howling beasts, reaching out through the crate slats toward her, their prize stolen from them.

Nine stared at the girl, then toward the dying woman lying limp in the center of the aisle. “You know we can’t save her, right? She’ll turn… eventually.”

The girl nodded, still staring at the savage faces pressed up against the crate slates. Her eyes looked haunted and far off. “They’re just like the rest of them,” she said. “Fighting for a piece of everyone stuck in this shitty place, until we’re all pulled apart and useless to them.”

Nine didn’t know what to say. He was overwhelmed by a moment of compassion for the girl who had seen far too much horror in New Cleveland long before this moment, and by monsters much worse. He gently placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Come on,” he urged softly. “This isn’t over yet.”

She looked up at him with glazed eyes. Her face, her real face, displayed a stone frown full of old pain. And then it was gone, replaced by a forced smile. “Okay,” she whispered.

Nine stared down at her bare feet and laughed. “Well, I guess we’ll have to find you some shoes after this.”

“I’ll just take yours later,” she added with a wink.

He rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Come on.”

They maneuvered through the remainder of the crate maze, climbing over, ducking under, crawling through aisles, and carefully approaching corners, until the cleared the crates. They’d come across two more bodies in the maze with the dead feeding distractedly upon them as they quietly went around each one as if not wanting to disturb the final resting places of the slain.

With the maze behind them, and Nine also losing both of his shoes, the next section of the course was all an uphill climb around a sharp winding path that led up toward what was once the top of the original water rapids ride. The concrete chute became much narrower as they ascended. The dead were fastened to large concrete blocks with longer chains, scattered in plain view.

Nine and the girl studied the newest obstacle from a distance, watching as one of the male contestants attempted to maneuver through the blocks of chained dead. The man made it half-way up the winding chute before miscalculating the length of one zombie’s chain to get away from another. He was blindsided from behind as the savage bit down into his shoulder, causing the man to fall back down the chute and into the waiting arms of the famished beasts in the center of the course.

They looked away as the dead swarmed on top of the man, digging greedily into him—his screams—a quick reminder of their own mortality.

Nine had already made a head count. “Twenty,” he told the girl. “I counted twenty of them scattered up the chute. That number could work either way for us. We’ve no advantage in it.”

She gave the strange man a look, then pointed at the newest dead man. “We should go now. While the first group is distracted. Look. You can see how long their chains extend. They’re all in the middle of feeding. We could slip right around their blocks and out of their reach.”

Nine stared out at the dead and nodded. “We just need to make sure we stay out of reach of the ones after. That’s how that poor man bit the bullet. If we sneak around the feeders on the left and then run our asses back to the right, we should be good.”

The girl nodded. “Then let’s go… before they finish.”

“We’ll use their blocks for concealment,” Nine said. “But if one looks up and sees us… we’ll be stuck against the wall.”

“Then we make sure they don’t see us,” the girl said with confidence. “Let me take the lead on this. I have some experience on being sneaky.”

Nine smiled. “Yeah, I imagine you do. Okay… just remember, we’re trying to sneak around them, not right behind them if you spot a shiny trinket in one of those dead thing’s back pocket.”

She rolled her eyes at the joke. “Got it, smart ass. But if I see a zombie with anything chocolate on his person… you’re on your own.” She added a wink.

Nine shook his head. “Let’s go.”

The girl took the lead taking them up the winding slope. Nine marveled at how stealthy she was as the young girl appeared to move them with ease from block to block, timing each move perfectly as if keeping one eye on the path and one eye constantly on the distracted dead. Of the five feeding zombies, three of their blocks were on the left, the other two were on the right.

Everything went without a hitch until they reached the third block above them.

One zombie they had not seen, his block placed above the first five and just around a bend and out of sight, just happened to be shambling out from around the corner, dragging his chain behind him. The tall, half-naked man wore ripped jeans and what looked like fresh intestines dripping from around his neck and hanging proudly across his sunken chest like the zombie-version of ‘bling’.

When the girl led Nine to the north side of the last block, and momentarily hidden from the feeding frenzy below, they failed to spot the new deadhead until it cried out from behind them.

Nine turned. “Shit!” he hissed.

The new zombie started to rush toward them, then stepped forward on a dangling intestine, slipping backward to the ground and getting its legs tangled up in the bloody entrails.

“That’s a new one,” Nine said at the disgusting sight. The girl yanked at his shirt, causing him to turn.

The dead below had been alerted. They started rushing toward the block, the sounds of their chains scratching at the concrete like an audible omen.

The three farthest away were yanked back by their chains, but the last two could reach them, as well as the tangled deadhead, who was now getting up.

Nine fought off the panic. “To the left!” he shouted. “All the way to the left!”

They ran across and into the open, causing all three zombies to chase them. A fourth one up ahead, his block positioned to the left but much farther away, started to come down the slope.

Fuck me! Nine thought, as they rushed to the left wall. If even one of them reaches us, were dead!

Four zombies.

Between forced breathes he wondered if the number four would save them now.

Fours could go either way… according to Nine’s rules on numbers.

They reached the left wall and moved upward to escape the bling zombie’s range and not step into the fourth zombie’s reach.

The farthest feeder below them hit the limit of its chain and fell back.

That left three.

The next one who’s block they’d hid behind also hit its limit as it pulled at the chain around its neck in vain but stopped.

Two.

A fifth zombie from a block all the way to the right, behind the bling zombie, rushed toward them now. It was unclear whether its chain would reach. It didn’t matter. They had nowhere left to go but up along the wall.

Noises from above made the girl look up. At the top of the wall, several spectators started shouting down at them. Even an armed lunatic standing guard over this stretch of the course was getting involved in the excitement as he waved down at them. It was unclear whether they were all supporting the survivors or encouraging the dead to finish them off.

Nine suddenly stopped as the fourth zombie along the left side of the wall was closing in.

The girl ran right into him. “Why are we stopping?”

“We’re out of room,” Nine said. He looked to his right at the fifth zombie from the far right. It was also just about there.

The girl turned around to stare at the bling zombie. Dragging a trail of bloody intestines behind it, bling zombie was finally yanked back. The thing had reached its chain’s limit, five feet behind them. “There’s only two now!” she said.

Nine raised his arms defensively as the last two zombies raised its arms toward him. “Get behind me!” he shouted. Without a weapon, the odds of fending off both frantic beasts without getting scratched or bitten was slim. Just buy the girl time to get past them, asshole, he scolded himself. That’s your only damn job now. He buttoned the wrist sleeves of his jean jacket, wishing he’d been wearing leather instead. Nine raised his right forearm toward the closest zombie’s snapping jaw. This is going to hurt like a sonofabitch!

“When the first one reaches me, you run behind me and around!” he told the girl.

“What?”

“Stay against the wall! Don’t wait for me and don’t you dare look back!”

Both disgusting and disfigured creatures moved in, their long pale arms like dead tree branches reached out for Nine’s face. Their eyes, black and pushed back into their skeletal faces, showed no resemblance of life, only compulsion to feed. Their black and bloody teeth were exposed. A sickening alien-sounding moan escaped their open mouths from distorted and rotting vocal cords.

Nine raised his arm higher to cover his face. He was pushed back as close to the wall as he could manage without crushing the girl behind him.

I’m sorry, Diane. I tried. This was the best I could do.

The girl started to scream as the dead closed in.

Yank. Yank.

Both deadheads stopped a foot from Nine’s face as he lowered his arm to avoid being grabbed, their arms clawing at the air in front of his eyes. But they could go no farther.

Nine laughed nervously, staring into two pairs of savage dead eyes. They were hissing at him in frustration. They were so close he could smell they’re stale, rotted stench. The scent always reminded him of week-old garbage mixed with manure.

The girl looked cautiously out from behind Nine’s jacket. “Are… are we okay?”

The crowd at the top of the wall went wild as an answer. They were cheering down at them, some were swearing at the stupid zombies, but most were excited by the narrow escape.

“I’m starting to really hate this race,” Nine said. He stared past both monsters at the length of their chains. “They never intended anyone to get past these two,” he said. “Their chains are too long.”

“What do we do?”

“We have to move back down and out from the wall… then outrun them to the right,” he said. “We have the advantage because they’re slower, and chances are, they’ll get tangled up.”

“Okay,” the girl said. “Let’s do it. My feet are getting really cold.”

He laughed. “Want to borrow my week-old socks?”

“No… I’ve been smelling those nasty things since the maze.”

“Ouch,” he said. “Come on, they still smell better than these guys.”

“Barely,” she teased.

“Okay… time to go,” he said. “Watch out for that twisted-up intestines guy behind you. We still need to stay out of his range.”

They ran back and around, crossing from the left side of the chute over to the right. Just as Nine anticipated, the two zombies on extended chains got wrapped up in each other’s chains struggling to cross back over. They made it to the right side and climbed up past them both.

The remainder of the course was easier to maneuver as the chute leveled out near the top. There was also a spotlight in the area granting a full view of the dead spread out on shorter chains. They only needed to time their runs between them as they successfully completed the course, arriving at the top of the old ride.

The crowd cheered for them as they reached the top.
From there, they entered a small tunnel that leveled out, temporarily hiding them from the crowd. Harper’s men were already there greeting the winner of the Run, a tall man who looked half-alive, standing on a platform off to the left. No one had seen them approach yet. The girl recognized the man. He was one of the ones that had nearly run her over at the starting line and had come up the course from the other direction.

“That sucks,” the girl said. “I thought we won this thing.”

Nine hadn’t heard the girl. His attention was focused on a large door off to the right. It had a small window built into it. “Be right back,” he told her.

“Where are you going?”

Nine was already moving toward the door. There was a sign that said:

AUTHORIZED EMPLOYEES ONLY.

The door was locked. He managed to get a peek through the small window before Harper’s men noticed him. It was dark inside, but he saw concrete steps heading down. Nine smiled. Maintenance tunnel, he thought. It’s gotta go somewhere under this thing. His wheels were spinning.

“Hey!” one yelled. “Finish line’s over here!”

Nine turned and waved. “Sorry,” he called over. “We’re coming.” He quickly moved back toward the girl.

“What’s behind the door?” she asked.

Nine leaned in and said, “I’ve been wondering since before the Run how they get the dead in and out of here. I think they use that door to do it. There’s a long staircase behind it.”

“Okay. So what?”

Nine smiled. “They have to get the dead from somewhere on the outside and bring them safely in. I think what’s behind that door is how they do it.”

The girl was catching on. She nodded. “Like some kind of secret passageway into New Cleveland? Beneath the ride?”

“Or a way out,” Nine said.

“What… are you planning your great escape?” the girl teased.

Nine laughed. “Maybe.”

~~~

Once back at the pavilion, asshole Mike met them with his arms held open wide, a look of contempt barely hidden behind his fake smile.

“Well look at that,” he announced, “turns out you’re good at something after all.” Mike glanced over at his old runner and glared at her before quickly composing himself.

The girl shifted uncomfortably, staring at the ground as if surviving the Run was another bad mark against her.

Nine frowned and gently rubbed her shoulder. “Stay here,” he told her. “I’ll handle this. You’re going to be okay, I promised you that.”

The girl looked up gratefully and nodded.

Nine turned and walked up to the jerk. “And now you’ll want your money. Relax. I’ll get it for you… just, not tonight. I’m fucking shot.”

“We’re good,” the asshole said. “Was just checking up on you. You both cost me a small wager, but that’s on me. Besides, I more than made up for it with your winnings.”

Nine smiled. “Should’ve bet on the sure thing. That’s twice you’ve gone against me… and lost.”

Mike’s cheap smile fell away. “Enough of that. Let’s just get down to the business end of things, shall we?”

“Please… and hurry this up,” Nine said. “I’m so tired I might just forget myself and kick your ass… fuck the consequences.”

Mike laughed, stopping a safe five feet from him. He then looked down, bemused at Nine’s shoeless feet. “I’ll expect all your winnings tomorrow without delay. You can keep a little for yourself, of course. The shoes are on me.”

“You’re funny,” Nine said, feeling less threatening standing in his socks.

Mike frowned at the girl. “Also, there’s the matter of payment for that worthless piece of shit you rescued tonight.”

“Watch it,” Nine warned.

Mike’s smile resurfaced. “No matter. We’ll talk about that tomorrow.”

“She’s staying with me tonight,” Nine said. “You understand that, right?”

“Of course. I get it. You want to sample the goods before purchase. That’s fine. Do what you want with her tonight. I hope she’s worth something more than the bad luck she’s been to me.”

“You’re disgusting.”

Mike laughed and turned. “See you tomorrow. Don’t make me hunt you down.”

Nine gave him a fake smile than raised his middle finger to the man’s back, causing the girl to smirk. He looked over at her.

The girl immediately looked back down toward the ground, and said, “So, I guess that means I’m yours now.”

“It’s not like that,” he said. “And definitely not like what that big asshole was implying.”

“You bought me,” she said. “So, it’s definitely like everything else here.”

He caught her veiled insult and sighed heavily. “Look, we’ll talk about all that tomorrow. I’m just glad we’re still standing here. We beat that shit in there… together.”

She looked up and smiled. “We did, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, we did. You’re a good kid.” We’re going to beat the rest of this shit together, too.”

“What about right now?”

“Now,” Nine said with a laugh. “We head back to my little crappy shack and get some sleep. But first, you owe me big time and I mean to collect.”

She nodded, an emotionless look settling in on her face. “I get it. Whatever you want. Take me to your… shack… and-”

“No!” Nine said, standing up. “Hell no! I wasn’t talking about that! I’m not some freaky pervert! Man, what’s wrong with everyone in this town?”

“Then… what did you mean?”

He put his hands to his hips and said, “You owe me big time, so how about finally telling me your name?”

The girl’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s it? That’s all you wanted?”

“Yeah. That’s all I wanted… duh.”

This made the girl laugh. She nodded. “Okay. My name’s… Joelle.” She said the last as if not hearing it spoken out loud in a long time and trying it back on for the first time.

The look she gave him made Nine sad. He nodded and repeated it. “Joelle. I like that. From now on, no one’s calls you anything else… are we clear… Joe?”

She stared up at him in surprise. “My… my father… he called me that.”

“I’m sorry. Do you prefer Joelle?”

“No… Joe’s fine.”

“Okay, Joe it is.”

She smiled at him and nodded.

“And you can just call me Nine. And I don’t want to hear any more talk about that ‘me owning you crap’. No one owns you, kid. You got that?”

She flashed him a fierce smile. “Name’s Joe, not kid, asshole.”

Nine busted up laughing. “That’s the spirit!”

“Your name’s still stupid, though,” she added.

“Hey! Now, you’re pushing it,” he teased.

“What happens now?” she said.

Nine considered the question. He finally smiled and said, “Now, we get some sleep. But tomorrow, I’ll need you to do a little running for me. Can you do that?”

She looked a little offended. “Yeah, I’m the best.”

“I thought so. I have a delivery run for you and you’ll need to be… discreet about it.”

“Sounds fun,” she said.

Nine got serious. “I’ll be counting on you now. What I’ll be asking you to do from here on out could get us both in trouble. Can I trust you?”

“Yes,” she quickly said. “And… I’m getting used to the trouble part.” She added a wink.

Nine smiled. “Yeah, I guess I had that coming.”

“What’s the errand?”

“We’ll talk about it in the morning,” he said with a sly expression. “But you’ll probably not like it as much as you think, considering how me met.”

Joe gave him a suspicious look and waited for more.

“Later,” he said. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. My feet are freezing.”

~~~

Next Episode 50-8

Previous Episode 50-6

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-7: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

There were three lulls every evening at the card tables prior to each scheduled Harper’s Hell Run. This gave players a chance to cash in their winnings, make bets on the Run, or simply relocate in time for a good seat to watch the show.

Nine had just finished playing his final round of Black Jack, twenty minutes before the final Run. He sat back in his chair, watching the buzz of activity as dealers closed down tables while half-drunk customers complained about their loses or boasted about their wins—either way everyone started to collect themselves in time for the last event. Nine smiled and shook his head. Harper’s brilliant, he thought to himself. As barbaric as the Runs are, he’s timed them perfectly, using them to distract disgruntled patrons, collect his gains, and get them the hell on their way and out of his Casino Non-Royale.

He stood and stretched, looking forward to sleeping and shutting out all the numbers racing through his head. Nine turned and headed for Asshole Mike’s poker turf, hoping to check on the girl, avoid trash talking with the cocky prick, and then crashing hard. After seeing how Mike treated his young runners, especially the punk girl who had lost him a bet, Nine wasn’t taking any chances. He needed to know the unappreciative little thief was still okay since it was his fault that she’d been involved with Mike and Nine’s wager for his jacket.

Nine rolled his eyes and took a deep breath.

Asshole Mike was standing, talking to a small crowd of players at the close of his latest game, looking like he was giving them tips on how to be the best damn poker player in the world. Nine hated coming over to this side of the pavilion casino where the sharks ate sharks for dinner. Nine always did his part in making sure he won just enough to stay profitable, but he never tried to attract too much attention—not like Asshole Mike who thrived on it. He quickly scanned the area for the young runner but couldn’t find her.

Great. That means Asshole and I will have to have another quick chat. But knowing this guy, they’ll be nothing quick about it. Nine approached the card hustler, skipping the etiquette this time, and stepped right up into his little ring of fans.

The card shark glared at him, frowned, and then finished his conversation with players from his latest game. He professionally laughed with them like he was their best buddy, while encouraging the lambs to return tomorrow to finish the slaughter.

When the small crowd departed, Mike rolled his eyes, refusing to look at Nine, and said, “Did you come back to gloat? Really, you need to get over it. I have. It was just a silly side wager. Nothing to get all confident and in my face about. And may I remind you, we had a deal. You stay where you belong and the hell away from my tables.”

“Relax,” Nine said. “Games are done for the night. I’m not here to listen to your bullshit. I’m just checking in on the girl.”

“Girl? What girl are you referring to?”

“Stop fucking around. You know who I’m talking about. Your runner. I told you I’d be back to make sure you behaved. You’re a real champ for that, by the way. Big tough guy, pushing children around. Should be proud of yourself.”

“Oh,” Mike said, with a humorous smile, “that girl. Sorry, chump change, I’d already forgotten about her. And stop calling her ‘my runner’. Girl’s fucking bad luck, you saw that for yourself.”

Nine shook his head and smiled. “Wow. You lost a bet and you can’t even take responsibility for it. Blame it on the girl, right?”

“It’s late. What do you want?” Mike said impatiently.

“Where is she?”

“Oh, you’re still talking about the girl. Okay. Well… I didn’t do anything to her. After our chat, I started to see just how much trouble she was causing me, so I demoted her.”

“And… what does that mean?”

Mike finally looked at him. “It means, she’s no longer my runner. But I’ve found a way for her to make up for the trouble she’s caused and provide a little entertainment on the side.”

Nine was losing patience. “Look, asshole. I don’t want to hear it. I’m tired. Just tell me where she is so I can check up on her and I’ll be out of your hair. Unless, of course, I find a few more bruises on her that weren’t there before, then you and I are going to continue this conversation.”

“Relax. Just follow the crowd, tough guy. You’ll find her soon enough. I’m headed there now to see how she does.”

Nine looked toward the crowd slowly moving toward Harper’s Hell Run. He glared at Mike. “Tell me you didn’t put that little girl in the Run.”

Mike laughed. “That’s exactly what I did.”

Nine wanted to grab Mike, throw him to the ground, and beat the shit out of him. But that would cause a scene, and Mike knew it.

“Why the long face?” Mike said. “She didn’t even like you. Now you can go watch the annoying brat with everyone else. The crowd loves it when women or kids are involved in the Run. Don’t know why, but I don’t care. I’ve placed a side bet on that little twerp getting eaten by the second obstacle.”

Nine took a threatening step toward him. “Anywhere else, I’d knock that fucking smile off your face. Why the hell would you put a child in that horrible race? What the fuck’s wrong with you?”

Mike gave him a confused and frightened look, stepping back while trying to look like he wasn’t intimidated. “I don’t get you, pansy. What gives? She’s just a runner… and a bad one at that. Lots of players put them in the Run when they feel their luck’s gone bad. It’s a way of saving face among all our peers. Word got around fast that she cost me our little bet earlier. So… this was my way of handling it.”

“Did you not hear me, asshole? She’s just a kid! You don’t do that to children! You protect them!”

Mike still looked confused. “Look, I don’t know what world you live in. But that’s how things are done here. Once you’re no longer profitable in New Cleveland, you don’t last long. Hell, even you should know that by now.”

Nine rolled his eyes and gave up. The longer he talked with this monster the more he wanted to attack him. “Take her out,” he said.

“Excuse me?”

“The Run, asshole. Take the girl out of the race.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Mike said. “It’s all been arranged. Bets have already been made. You don’t just remove someone from the Run. Seriously, are we done here?”

Nine closed his eyes. The asshole was right. Even if Mike tried, once someone was entered into the Run, there were no ‘take backs’. To even suggest it was against New Cleveland law.

Nine opened his eyes, realizing exactly what he had to do. You can’t take someone out of a race… but if there’s enough time… new competitors can be included. “How much time?” he said.

Mike was about to leave. He turned and asked, “What was that?”

“How much time before a Run can someone be entered?”

Mike gave him a crazy look. “Race starts in fifteen. It’s too late for that. Why do you ask?”

Shit. He’s right. Nine tried something else. “You’ve got some pull around here, don’t you?”

Mike smiled, never tiring of having his ego stroked. “Yes. But what does that have-”

“Then use it and get me into that race,” Nine said.

Mike raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You? Why the hell would you want that?”

“Does it matter?” Nine said.

Mike laughed. “I’ll admit, I’m a little puzzled, and amused by the idea of seeing you in the Run… but in the end… I don’t really care. Besides, entries still require a fee. Sorry, chump. I’m not cashing in a favor for your sorry ass.”

“You can have all my winnings,” Nine said. “That should cover any fee and still give you a profit for the favor. Just get me in that damn race.”

Mike was stunned. “What’s your angle?” he said, suspiciously. “You don’t give up your winnings for a chance at dying in some stupid race. You’re up to something. What did you do, place a large bet on yourself and then realize you can’t cover it?”

Nine slapped his forehead in frustration. “Man, I’m sick and tired of talking to all of you soulless wonders around here. It’s like New Cleveland’s version of stupidity.”

Mike frowned, not appreciating the insult. “Tell me your game… or forget it. Profits or no profits, I only invest on a sure thing, and your holding cards.”

Nine was running out of time. If he did nothing to stop that girl from getting slaughtered in the Run, and over a stupid jacket, he’d never live it down. “I’m in it for the girl,” he said. “No angles. No cards. She deserves better than this—all the kids do. It’s my fault she’s in this mess, and I’m just trying to clean it up.”

Mike just stared at him, giving Nine his best poker face. Finally, the asshole smiled, and said, “I get it now. It’s a bit freaky for my taste… but hey… I’m not judging.”

It was Nine’s turn to be confused. “What?”

“My runner,” he said. “You have a… thing… for her. Okay. I don’t see it, but hell, everyone’s got their fetishes. I get it. You want to save that girl for yourself. I bet you even came over to buy her from me, right? Then, you found out what I did, and now you’re desperate. That about cover it?”

Nine was about to protest with disgust, realizing what the prick was implying. Then stopped. What the hell. Let him think whatever he wants. I’m obviously not going to appeal to any sense of right and wrong. New Cleveland’s clearly made that an obsolete notion. Nine smiled. “You figured me out.”

“Thought that was it,” Mike said, feeling proud of himself. “So… this is your way of buying out the girl, right? Should you both make it through the Run, you intend on turning things around on me and suggesting that you’d paid for her with your winnings. Is that your game?”

“As you said, she’s not ‘your runner’ anymore. If I succeed, it’s in your best interest to let me take that bit of bad luck off your hands, or… you get to watch us both get eaten by the dead. Either way, you make out with all my winnings. Sounds like a win/win.”

Mike smiled. “It does. That’s what troubles me.”

“Tell you what,” Nine said. “Just get me into the race. If I get the girl out, we can still negotiate on a price.”

“With what? I’ll have all your winnings?”

Nine laughed. “Oh, I’m sure we can still negotiate on something you want.”

Mike nodded. “Yes. You’re right about that,” he added with a sly smile. “Okay, I’ll get you in. I’ll need five minutes to arrange it… but don’t you dare run off and make me look bad.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Nine said, suddenly realizing what he was about to do.

He smiled at his own stupidity and shook his head as Mike departed. “Damn,” he whispered. He thought of his friends scattered all around town. “I really needed you guys a minute ago… to remind me to shut the hell up.”

~~~

Unlike the fight pits, requiring gold coin status to get the best seats, Harper’s Hell Run was open to the general public. The eager crowd moved in all around the top of the large winding, looped concrete ditch to watch a dozen contestants survive the obstacle course. Most of the revenue from the races came from the betting pools prior to each run. Some bets were huge, others were small, giving every New Clevelander a chance to win by betting whatever they had on whoever was favored during each of the three daily Runs. The goal for each contestant was to complete the circuit through the course, and place as high as possible, depending on how many people survived. The last Run of the evening was always after sunset, making it the most challenging event, and often leaving the fewest survivors, making the final Run the deadliest and most popular to watch.

Nine felt himself being guided toward the starting line. He could hear the other contestants all around him, and beyond that, the excited murmur of the crowd. He tried to steady his breathing, not wanting to hyperventilate due to the sack placed over his head, a requirement for all contestants to keep them from gaining an advantage prior to the race, but the added anxiety was making it difficult to stay calm.

I heard someone say there were twelve of us, he thought. That’s a good sign, as far as the numbers are concerned. That would make me number twelve since I’m the late arrival. He tried to console his nerves with his own understanding of ‘the odds’, while trying not to sweat to an early death inside the sack.

After he was put into position, someone removed his sack. He squinted as his eyes adjusted to the single spotlight aimed down at the starting line. Beyond that was the open night sky, the moon creating silhouettes of the crowd leaning over the top of what resembled a concrete half-pipe that reminded him of a large skater park. Nine stared around at his equally disoriented competitors—some men, some women, some older, some a little younger than himself, until he found the shortest one pressed up against the back of the group.

The runner girl looked nervously in both directions of the course and then moved in a little closer to the tall man standing right in front of her, attempting to make him a human shield.

Nine approached the girl, startling her with his words. “There you are,” he said. “Relax, kid. We’re going to be okay.”

Confused at first, the young girl with the punk haircut, stared up at the stranger shrouded in shadow, until she recognized the jean jacket. She frowned, letting her shoulders slump. “Oh, it’s you.”

Nine laughed. “It’s nice to see you again, too.”

The girl tried to move around another contestant, but Nine moved with her. She turned back, annoyed. “What do you want? You already got my jacket. You trying to steal my shirt, too?”

“First of all,” Nine said, “it’s my jacket. Second, in payment for the ass-whooping I spared you from, I’ll settle for your name. Mine’s Nine, by the way.”

“That’s a stupid name.”

Nine shook his head. “I see we’re off to a great start. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“Yeah… thanks for nothing, asshole. I’m in here because of you.”

“Nice language. You kiss your mother goodnight with that mouth?”

The girl said nothing.

“Okay,” Nice said, looking in both directions of the dark course. All he could see were several shadowed obstacles just outside the range of the spotlight. Beyond both dark sections, another spotlight was lit up in the distance. “We can chit-chat latter. Right now, I need you to stay close to me. We stick together, we’ll make it through this.”

“My hero,” she said sarcastically. “Is that why you’re in here?”

“Wow. You’re just oozing with gratitude. But, yeah, that’s why I’m here.”

“Don’t do me any more favors,” she said. “I think you’ve done enough.”

Nine started contemplating what on earth would possess anyone to have children. He tried again. “Look, I have a little experience with this kind of thing. I’ve been outside so I know how the dead operate. And… I’m the luckiest son-of-a-gun you’re ever going to meet.”

“Not from my perspective,” she said. The girl stared at the coat. “Well, maybe you are a little lucky.”

“How so?”

“After your dead, I can get my jacket back.”

“Nice.”

The race was about to begin. All the contestants stared at each other nervously.

“There’s no time,” Nine told her, losing the rest of his humor. “I mean it, stay close to me. I’ll get you out of this.”

For once, the girl did not bite back. Her fear was apparent. “I don’t want to do this,” she said. “I don’t think… I don’t think I can move from this spot.”

“You’ll be okay. We’ll take it one step at a time… together.”

“Don’t leave me out there,” she said, failing to retain her tough act and wiping a tear from her eye with the back of her hand. “Promise.”

Nine smiled. “You got it, kid. I promise.”

The girl nodded and smiled nervously.

“Okay,” Nine said, staring in both directions of the course. “Rules are simple enough. We can start in either direction. We can’t climb out or the Lunatics along the course will shoot us, and we just need to get all the way to the top. Easy-peasy.”

“I heard… I heard there’s traps everywhere,” the girl said. “The dead are chained up in places you don’t see them until it’s too late.” She looked around and finished, “And… it’s very dark in here. We won’t see them at all.”

Nine could feel the young girl’s panic starting to infect him. Get it together, he reminded himself. You’ve been through worse than this. He reached down and grabbed the girl’s hand. “Stay cool,” he told her. “The dead are like old dogs. They don’t know any new tricks—well, not the reanimated ones, anyway. We can outsmart them if we don’t cave to fear. Most of the time, they’re staring off into nowhere like a bunch of potheads at a Grateful Dead concert… until they see us. Then they get super clumsy, like stupid dogs going for a bone. We can use that to our advantage in here.”

“Why do you call them Grateful Dead? Is that a thing outside of here?” she asked.

“Seriously?” Nine shook his head. “Never mind. I’m just saying that the dead are predictable. We can use that. You ready?”

“No,” she said. “But, I’m short and quiet. They might not even see me, right?”

“Exactly,” Nine encouraged. “You’re starting to get it.”

“And… since you talk so much… they might eat you first, and I can get away.”

Nine scowled at her.

She smiled. “Just playing.”

He laughed. “Kid’s got jokes. Okay. That’s cool.”

“Which way?” she said.

“We’ll let the rest of these jokers decide that for us,” Nine said. “As soon as the race starts, everyone’s going to go nuts. We’ll just hang back a little, see which way most of them go, and then go the other way.”

She nodded. “Smart. Let the dead eat the competition, then just slip around them while they’re snacking on human candy-bars.”

Nine cringed. “I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… sure… if that helps you sleep at night. Did you just call them ‘human candy-bars’?”

“Sorry,” she said. “I really wanted that candy-bar I tried to steal earlier. Been thinking about it ever since.”

“O-kay.”

“And… I’m really hungry now,” she admitted. “Is that wrong, you think?”

“Only if you’re craving the human kind,” he said with a wink.

“Uh, that’s like… gross,”

Nine laughed. “I like you, kid. Don’t get eaten.”

“You, too. I really like that jacket.”

Without any fanfare or warning, someone from above shouted down to them:

“READY… SET… GO!”

~~~

Next Episode 50-7

Previous Episode 50-5

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-6: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

New episode of DFTD on Friday.

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

“You shouldn’t be here,” Wendy said. She kept her distance, waiting to throw her serving tray at the repulsive man the moment he stood from his table.

Mr. Silver flashed her a yellow-stained toothy grin. “It’s nice to see you again, too,” he said. “I’d heard you were here. Had to see it for myself. Wanted to wait, though, until things settled down a bit.”

“Haven’t you and your friends caused enough trouble in this lifetime?” she said. “Leave now, and I’ll forget your stupidity for walking in here.”

He laughed. “My, oh, my, I don’t remember you being so ballsy the last time I saw you, girl. But I must say, you wear it well.” He undressed her with his eyes.

Wendy covered her chest with her tray. “Get out, creep! Last warning.”

“Or what?” he teased. “You gonna throw me out? I’m a paying customer and I’ve still got silver. I’ve every right to be here. And it don’t look like your friends are around to save the damn day, neither.”

“You can take it up with the owner. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to find out that the asshole who started that bar brawl a couple weeks back and brought the Lunatics in his establishment just wants a beer.” She turned and started to leave.

“Now, just hold on, girl,” Silver said. “I’m not here to cause trouble. Just wanted a word with my favorite soon-to-fuck.”

She turned back and glared. “What did you call me?”

“Never you mind,” he said with a laugh. He held up his hands submissively. “Just wanted to speak my peace and I’ll leave. What I got to say won’t take long.”

Wendy sighed. “Go on. Say whatever demeaning thing you need to say to me. Then get the hell out.”

Silver laughed. “How’s your tough boyfriend doing these days? And I’m not talking about the big fella fighting in the pits. I’m talking about that world class A-hole who wouldn’t let me have a piece of that fine-”

“That’s none of your fucking business,” Wendy cut in. “You shut your foul mouth about my friends!”

“Mark, isn’t that him? Apparently, he’s no one’s business these days. Haven’t seen him around, much. Thought he’d be here sniffing around the goods.”

“You’re disgusting,” she said, shaking her head. “Are we done here?”

“Almost.” Mr. Silver stood up slowly, causing Wendy to take a step back. He walked out from behind his table, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned up against the wall. He stared at Wendy and said, “I was relieved to find out you survived after auction and all. Lots of girls like yourself don’t last very long after they get bought and poked. Some girls just break once their Twinkies get cream filled enough times-”

“Okay,” she said, “that’s enough! You don’t get to come in here and talk to me like that!”

“I tried to buy you out,” he pushed. “But the auction price was too rich for my blood. Once old Ollie put in that high bid for your piece-of-ass, he made sure good folks like me didn’t have a chance. Damn shame, too. We could have had all sorts of fun together.”

Wendy cringed at the thought of being legally sold to this man at auction. It seemed Herbie had looked out for her far more than she’d realized. “So, what is this? Did you come here to window shop for things you clearly can’t afford, or is there a point coming?”

Mr. Silver didn’t appreciate the condescending remark. His smile faltered. “I was ready to pay enough for you… way more than your worth.”

“Fuck you.”

“But, like I said, I was out-bid.” He stepped away from the wall and took a bold step toward her with his hands in his pockets.

Wendy stepped back and started looking around for Herbie.

He got within five feet of her and stopped. “But then, the strangest thing happened, girl. Almost like it was meant to be.”

“What was that?”

“A couple of days after auction, I was feeling down for letting that fat fuck get you, was beating myself up for not putting up a better fight and all. So, I needed to let off a little steam, you know, get my mind right.”

Wendy rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to hear about your ‘whore’ encounters. Save that shit for your pig friends.”

“No, no, no,” he said with a laugh. “That wasn’t what I needed right then. Sometimes, when I feeling particularly down, there’s nothing better than killing someone to get you in a better mood.”

Wendy said nothing.

“So, I went over to one of my favorite murder shops, hoping to find some release, and you’ll never guess what I stumbled across, girl.”

She didn’t like where this was headed.

Mr. Silver laughed, his eyes glazing up as if remembering the punch line to some joke only he was privy to. He shook his head. “Damn,” he said. “I mean, talk about a stroke of good luck. If I’d gone in that shop an hour later… or an hour earlier… I might have missed such a sweet opportunity.”

“What are you talking about?” she said.

He stared at her and smiled. “I’m sorry. We was talking about your friend, Mark, before I lost my train of thought. How’s he been since our big blow out?”

Wendy saw something sinister in the man’s eyes that made her heart drop. She started entertaining a truly horrible possibility that she quickly shut out of her mind. No! I won’t believe that! This creep’s just playing mind games!

Mr. Silver raised his hands and stared at them with a laugh. “I never knew how much joy… if that’s the right word… a man could receive from working with his hands. I wasn’t ever good at that, back in the day. Couldn’t build or fix shit. Just didn’t have the knack, I suppose. But when I stepped into my first murder shop and heard all those screams, I thought I’d walked right into hell, without the flames. I was so terrified I nearly pissed myself.”

“Nice. Thanks for the image.”

He was still staring at his hands. “I was so scared I nearly ran from that place the first time. But I was so glad I’d stayed. You just don’t know what you’re missing until you do a thing for the first time, or what you’re really capable of… know what I mean?”

She nodded, swallowing hard.

“Anyway, the first one was hard… and messy. But I got better at it. Went back several more times when I needed to find more… release. Eventually, you know what I discovered, girl?”

“No,” she said, absently.

“I figured out that I wasn’t so bad with my hands, after all. I just hadn’t found the right motivation to fire up my creative side. It’s amazing what a little legal murder can do for your soul, as blasphemous as that sounds.”
He laughed again. “Would you like to hear how I use my hands to create masterpieces in those shops?”

She stared into his beady, cold eyes. There was nothing compassionate in them. To Wendy, she might as well had been looking into the eyes of the dead, right before one lunged at her throat. What is it about this world that makes people like this? she wondered. There’s so much violence behind his eyes. Maybe some people were always like this, hidden and full of dark desires. Maybe this world only brought out the truth in people—the darkest parts of who they truly are?

Silver lowered his hands and smiled. “Sorry, girl. Got lost there for a moment. I believe we was talking about your friend.

“No,” she said. “You were just leaving.”

“But I didn’t tell you yet about my latest adventure at the shop. You really need to hear it. It’s kind of… what’s that saying? Oh, I know! It’s kind of like a little poetic justice… or maybe fucking karma or something. Either way, I rather enjoyed myself, and I’d love to share what I’ve discovered… or should I say, ‘who’ I discovered on my last visit.”

“Get out!” she screamed in his face, drawing the attention of the few remaining patrons.

Silver laughed and took a step back. He held up his hands defensively. “Woah, girl. Just calm down.” He raised his voice deliberately for others to hear. “Don’t want to get jumped by you and your friends again. I mean, next thing you know, this place will be crawling with Lunatics and we both know what happened last time.”

Wendy lowered her voice and took a threatening step forward, surprising herself. “You need help,” she hissed. “Whatever was wrong within you before the world changed, just got worse. Maybe you can’t help being cruel and heartless because you’re in pain, or maybe you’ve just been off your medication for far too long. Maybe you’re just evil to the core, and always have been, and this world just gives your kind an excuse to be as ugly as you want to be. Doesn’t matter. I don’t know and I don’t care.”

Silver’s face changed. He was losing his good humor.

“What I do know is that me and my friends won’t tolerate your ‘dog eats dog’ excuses anymore to harm good people just because the old world isn’t looking anymore. We’ve been out there and have seen our fill of your kind, asshole… and we bite back!”

Silver smiled. “Well… I can think of one dog who isn’t biting shit these days… and I’ve got a couple of his teeth to prove it. Wanna see?” He started reaching into his front pocket.

Something snapped inside the young woman who detested violence. Wendy had spent most of her young adult life in opposition to the base tendencies buried below the surface of humanity. She’d always believed violence was a choice, no matter what the circumstances dictated to provoke it. In the end, choosing to abstain from it, and find another way to deal with the cruelty of others, promoted peace, love and light, and all that warm-feeling bullshit that once held her and the illusions of her old world together.

But this was another world now.

And Wendy was done playing nice.

Before the little monster with the beady eyes could retrieve whatever was in his pocket and confirm her worst fears, Wendy stepped forward while Silver was distracted and slammed her serving tray down hard on the top of his head.

The man looked up stunned, staggering back into the wall. “What the fuck!”

Before he could say another vile word, Wendy swung the tray sideways into the man’s jaw, causing Silver to fall to the floor, gripping the side of his face.

Again! Her mind screamed. He’ll just come back! They always come back!

Mr. Silver held one hand up toward the girl who’d lost her mind. The other was holding his swollen and bloody face.

She can could see something new in those cruel eyes now. She could see fear. And the fear fed her need for violence like gasoline added to a fire.

Finish it! Finish it now before this vile man says those words you know in your heart will destroy you forever.

Wendy had never felt such intense rage coursing through her. It was like everything she’d ever suppressed for the sake of peace just came crashing to the surface. What she experienced was the closest she’d ever come to some out-of-body sensation where the anger just consumed all… was all… as it controlled her actions now. She raised the cracked serving tray, which now had a sharp edge she wasn’t aware of, and was about to finish the pathetic excuse of a man.

“Wendy!” the voice of reason boomed. “Put that fucking tray down… NOW!” Herbie rushed over, pushing his way through a small crowd of patrons enjoying the show. He reached the young woman, pulled the tray out of her hands, then stood between her and the broken Silver, holding one outstretched arm toward Wendy.

Wendy returned to her body and placed her hands over her mouth. Her eyes went wide in shock. “What have I done?” she whispered, staring down at the man she’d almost killed.

No, she corrected. Murdered!

Herbie bent down to check on the battered patron, obstructing her view.

“Is he… alright?” Wendy managed.

Herbie turned, his eyes ablaze. “Go!” he snapped. “Get your ass in the backroom and out of my sight! And for fuck’s sake… pull your shit together!”

Wendy nodded and turned. As she walked back through the crowd, each of them giving the crazy woman a wide berth, she saw the fear and loathing in their eyes. But mostly she saw her own hypocrisy reflected back at her.

You’re no different, those half-dead eyes accused. You’re just as infected as the rest of us… just as infected by the violence.

Wendy shook her head in shame, fighting back tears until she was out of sight in the back room. She sat down in a corner created by a row of stacked kegs and the wall and wept.

What just happened to me back there?

“Could you keep the waterworks to a minimum, stupid girl?” Sheila said from the other side of the kegs. “It’s already bad enough I’ve got to close for you tonight, but I’ll be damned if you ruin my break with your woe-is-me bullshit.”

“Fuck off, Sheila,” Wendy shot back, apparently still wrestling with the violence.

This made the stripper/waitress laugh. “Take it down a notch, killer. I’m on your side. I was only hoping that fat fuck would’ve moved a little slower so you could’ve finished the little prick before he broke up the fight.”

“Don’t say that!” Wendy said. “I almost… almost killed a man!”

“Yeah, yeah, welcome to New Cleveland, stupid girl. In case you haven’t noticed, people die here… and for less reason than the one you had. I heard what that cheap bastard was saying to you. He had it coming.”

“That wasn’t me out there,” Wendy said. “I don’t… that just wasn’t me.”

There was a moment of silence from the other side of the kegs. Finally, Sheila said, “Look, stupid girl-”

“Stop calling me that!” Wendy hissed.

“Okay… whatever… killer. Just listen to me now. What you did out there, regardless of why you did it or how fucking shitty it made you feel… it gave you some ground to stand on. Those fuckers out there who watched it all go down and did nothing will remember what you did and then think twice before they grab at you again. They’ll tell their friends and they’ll all understand not to fuck with the psycho waitress with the serving tray.”

“Is that supposed to be funny?” Wendy said.

Wendy swore she heard the woman rolling her eyes. “I’m just saying, you stood up for yourself and just got promoted from ‘pushover nobody’ to ‘someone not to fuck with’. And that’s a list you need to stay on to survive in this town. So, stop crying over a little bit of blood on your hands, and be thankful that it’s not your blood on someone else’s hands tonight.”

Wendy closed her eyes and shook her head. “You’re all fucking crazy,” she said. “Every last one of you.”

“I’ll take crazy over crybaby any day,” Sheila defended. “Doesn’t matter much now, though. We all might be called something less pleasant by the end of this evening if Ollie can’t clean up your mess.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You should have finished the job, killer. If only that fat fuck had moved a little slower. I had no idea Ollie could even move that fast. Now, your mouthy fan out there, once the swelling in his face goes down and he can speak again, he’ll have grounds to have you arrested for what you did, in front of all those witnesses, too.”

“Shit,” Wendy said.

“Shit is right,” Sheila continued. “He could get us all in trouble if Ollie can’t calm him down. Did it even occur to you that your friend out there was trying to provoke you to begin with?”

“He’s not my friend,” Wendy said. “But… no. I didn’t think about it at the time. I just… lost control.”

“I heard some of the crude, piggish things he said to you, and you blew it all off. So, he must have said something beneath the words to get your goat. What was it?”

“None of your damn business,” Wendy said.

“It is now,” Sheila said. “If Ollie can’t pay the creep off and buy his silence, who do you think’s gonna have to suck his dick after Ollie’s given him free drinks for life?”

“Herbie wouldn’t do that,” Wendy said. “Besides, that little monster came in asking for trouble, just like the last time. He won’t risk standing before that scary-ass female Lunatic again.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Sheila said. “If that prick had an agenda, and I’m sure he did, who’s to say that you won’t be sold to that man before the end of the night? For all you know, he provoked you on purpose to create a scene just to get the boss to hand you over to him.”

Wendy’s eyes went wide. She’d never considered that. “Fuck. He did mention trying to buy me at auction.”

“What, that little creep said that?”

“Yes.”

“I think you’re fucked, killer. If that perv demands you for payment for his silence, you think Ollie, or Herbie, or whatever you call him, is going to have any choice but to comply?”

“I think I liked it better when you called me ‘stupid girl’,” Wendy said, shaking her head.

Sheila paused for an eternity this time.

Wendy could hear her taking drags off her cigarette behind the kegs.

“What should I do?” she finally asked. “Should I… apologize?”

Sheila laughed. “Wow, you really are a piece of work. ‘Apologize’? Really? This isn’t the old world. Apologies mean shit around here. It’s blood for blood, or something equivalent. Unless your apology involves something a little more oral than words, of course.”

“That’s not happening,” Wendy assured her.

“Then… all we can do is wait. But understand this, killer. Next time you confront someone like that, you best finish the job quickly. And I don’t want to hear about what you can and cannot do. I think you just saw for yourself that you’re already capable, so fuck your moral high ground bullshit. You and I both know better now.”

Wendy could not argue against that.

“You make sure you finish next time, if there is a next time, because dead men can’t retaliate.”

Wendy sighed. “So, Herbie’s going to have to sell me to him. I guess I better prepare myself for what that will mean.”

“Relax,” Sheila said. “Ollie’s a cunning man. He’ll probably outsmart that prick, but it’s still going to cost him, big time. I’m probably the one getting sold before the end of the evening.”

“Fuck that,” Wendy said. “I won’t let that happen.”

“Nothing you’ll be able to do about it,” Sheila said. “Ollie knows the score. He knows I can handle myself with creeps like that. He also knows that you can’t. The deal makes sense, even if the prick really wants you… he’ll settle for me.”

“That’s bullshit! You didn’t do anything wrong. This is on me.”

“Yeah, it is. But I don’t blame you for what you did. I respect what you had to do, and it’s okay. Ollie’s protecting you, that much is clear. He’s protected me, too, for as long as he could. But if flesh gets involved, he’ll let me go before he hands you over to that pig. He’s a good man like that… well… as good as it gets around here. Ollie will weigh the more acceptable loss against what his conscience can bear.”

Wendy didn’t know what to say.

“So, why don’t you tell me what it was that set you off? I think I’m entitled to know, don’t you?”

Wendy nodded to herself. “That monster was talking about the murder shops and how much he enjoys them.”

Sheila remained silent.

Wendy took a deep breath and decided to trust the girl. “My friends and I meet up when we can. We talk about where we’ve ended up and what we’ve been doing, and what we’re planning on doing to get the hell out of here. But none of my friends know what happened to two of our own. There’s been no word what became of them after auction.” Wendy paused, wiping a tear from her eye. “One of them, his name is Mark, he’s… well… I guess he’s my closest friend left. We weren’t always that way, but we lost others, and it brought us closer. Anyway, that fucking creep came in talking about those murder shops and then kept inquiring about Mark. He had this evil little smile and this excited gleam in his eyes. I started hearing what he was saying, beneath the words, and I didn’t like what I was hearing.”

“Is your friend… did Mark end up in the murder shops?” Sheila asked. There was a slight tremor in her voice, and a surprising amount of tenderness in her tone that Wendy wasn’t used to hearing. “Is that what the little fucker out there was hinting at?”

“I don’t know,” Wendy said. “Honestly, I don’t know if he was just fucking with me, but a part of me thought he was telling the truth, without actually coming out and saying it. That asshole just kept talking about his love for killing while throwing Mark’s name around at the same time. I started to imagine the worst-case scenario, and then… I just lost it.”

Wendy heard the young stripper take a long drag off her cigarette. “I lost a lot of my friends in those despicable places,” she said. “It’s a horrible way to die. In fact, there’s probably few ways worse to die in New Cleveland, and that’s saying a lot.”

“I didn’t say Mark was there,” Wendy defended. “Like I said, that creep never said it directly. He just hinted at it. That doesn’t mean he’s there.”

“If he is,” Wendy said. “Then Mark is dead. You must realize that.”

Wendy said nothing.

“I get it. I was once where you’re at. I couldn’t accept it either. But after seeing one of these places for myself… well… let’s just say after you’ve seen one, it leaves no room for doubt. Anyone with the misfortune of ending up in the murder shops is dead. In truth, they’re worse than dead because they’re kept alive and tortured long before they expire. I’ve seen some of this, and I can’t un-see it… ever. It’s the stuff of nightmares, Wendy. Trust me, if Mark is at one of these places, you’ll need to let him go.”

“Well,” Wendy said, shifting uncomfortably. “Like I said, I don’t know if he’s there or not. That evil man could have just been pushing my buttons, and maybe the right ones, just to get me upset. That doesn’t mean he’s even seen Mark.”

“Or, he’s not only seen your friend, but he’s had the satisfaction of torturing him, too,” Sheila said.

“Just shut up. You’re starting to sound like him.”

“I’m just preparing you for the worst,” Sheila said. “You said it yourself, none of your friends even know where Mark is. That happens a lot here, especially with people who end up in the murder shops.”

Wendy balled her fists. She was getting angry again.

“Did you… love him?”

The question surprised her. But more surprising was her immediate response. “Yes. I don’t know if he felt the same, or if I even understood what I felt at the time. Hell, there was no time to think about anything like that. We were just trying to stay alive. But, yes, I do love him, for whatever that’s worth.”

Sheila was quiet for a long time. Then she said, “If you love him… then you have to say goodbye. Maybe he’s alive, maybe he’s dead. Doesn’t matter right now. You can’t carry that around with you inside these walls. I’m not trying to be harsh. Love’s a vulnerability in here that can be used against you. You’ll need to say goodbye to Mark, then let him go.”

“Not without knowing what happened, first,” Wendy said. “I’ve lost enough friends already. But at least I know they’re gone and far from this horrible world. But the thought of leaving behind someone I care about, when they could still be alive and waiting for me to help them… well… I deserve to be dead if I can forsake them like that, just to save my own ass.”

“You might not have a choice,” Sheila said. “But… I get it.”

Wendy thought of something. “Did you lose someone you love?”

“I told you that already,” the stripper added with annoyance. “Yes, I’ve lost friends here.”

“That’s not what I asked,” Wendy pushed.

“And that is definitely no one’s business but my own.”

Wendy thought of something else. “You did, didn’t you? That’s why you’re being so nice to me now. You even called me by my name a moment ago.”

“Sorry, slip of the tongue. Get over it.”

“No, you said you saw the murder shops for yourself. Something drove you to do that. You needed to do that. What was it? Closure?”

“Doesn’t matter anymore,” Sheila said. “But if it will shut you the hell up, then yes, I lost someone I loved. It drove me insane not knowing what happened to him. So, I did a lot of dangerous things, and put myself in one of those places… and almost didn’t make it out again.”

“Did you… find what you needed?”

“No. I never did. But I knew where he ended up,” Sheila said. “And after I saw the horrible things that I saw, I knew without a doubt that he was dead. There’s nothing alive in the murder shops, Wendy. Whether it’s the victims or the predators who prey there… doesn’t matter. They’re all dead inside. That’s the one thing I remember, seared into my memory forever. Doesn’t matter if you have a heartbeat or if you’re flesh keeps on surviving the gruesome acts done to it in there, everyone is already dead in those places.”

“Do you regret it?” Wendy asked.

“Do I regret what? Going in the first place?”

“Yes.”

Sheila considered this. “No. I still needed to know.”

“Then take me to one.”

“Excuse me?”

“You said you got into one of the murder shops.”

“Yeah, but I also said it was dangerous and I almost didn’t make it out.”

“But you know how to get me in, right?”

“Fuck off, stupid girl,” Sheila said. “And that time, you deserved being called stupid. Haven’t you heard a word I said?”

“I need what you needed,” Wendy said. “That’s the only way I can let this go.”

“But you don’t know if he’s even in the murder shops. I knew. That’s the difference.”

Wendy got quiet. Finally, she admitted. “I know. That creep might not have said it, but his eyes did.” She hated saying the words out loud, but she needed to. “I attacked that man, gave into the violence I’d fought my whole life to avoid, because I knew that evil fucking beast found Mark in one of these places. Then, he used the money he’d saved to buy me, to buy him instead. He did unspeakable things to my friend. I saw that in his eyes, too. And then he came to the bar to make me suffer, probably hoping to toy with me about it for as long as he could before finally just telling me what he did to Mark.”

“You sure about all that?” Sheila said.

“Yes. I’m sure.”

Sheila got quiet again. Wendy heard her frantically trying to light up another cigarette. Finally, the young stripper said, “I can tell you how I did, stupid girl, and who to contact. But the risks are all on you. You might not get out of there. You better prepare yourself for that and ask if it’s worth the risk.”

“It is,” she said. “I need to know what Mark went through. I need to know if he had a chance to get out of a place like that, or if it was over the moment he arrived.”

“Okay,” Sheila said. “But you won’t be same after you’ve seen it, if you do get out at all.”

“So be it,” Wendy said. “Do you want to keep talking through these fucking kegs, or can I come over there and smoke a cigarette with you, first?”

Sheila laughed. “Come on over, killer… I mean… Wendy. I suspect this might be our last conversation together, one way or another.”

~~~

Next Episode 50-6

Previous Episode 50-4

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-5: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Diane Conley stood uncomfortably behind the long leather bar. She was trying to breathe in the red silk nightgown wrapped too snugly around her muscular form. She used her one good arm to pull the back of the costume down over her ass and as much of her exposed legs as she could. She also readjusted two slender straps over her broad shoulders to reduce the amount of cleavage she was never aware she had until being forced into this humiliating role as one of Candyman’s personal evening attendants. She always felt like her annoying breasts were on the verge of either popping out of the top of the low-cut material or suffocating beneath. Her long brown hair was tied up in an elaborate braid that always made her long neck feel like a flimsy stick supporting a mountain of hair. On her best days she wanted to just rip her hair out and scream.

The worst part of wearing the ridiculous lack of clothing and trying her best to appear oblivious to it under Candyman’s amused glances was the fact that it left the stub of what was left of her right arm completely exposed, making her feel like some hideous beast trying to appear sexy by exaggerating the rest of her undamaged parts.

Diane never felt sexy.

The hunter reached nervously across her chest with her left arm to cover her nipples pushing out against the silk like arrowheads—another embarrassing feature on the surface of her strange upper body she had not thought about since her awkward developing days of youth. She reached over, resting her left hand over the stump of her right arm and tried to breathe normally. She closed her eyes and forced her thoughts away from her freakshow flesh and started preparing her mind for another verbal battle against the leader of New Cleveland.

At lease Nine’s not here. I’d die if he ever caught me in these whore clothes and gave me that sad, defeated look like I… like I just stopped fighting and gave up my self-respect. How could he ever love me after seeing me like… this? The hunter balled her only fist and started to shake in anger.

The tall slender coat hanger, Nadia, who had been assigned to watch over her while in Candyman’s sickening ‘love palace’ trailer, came over and draped the red silk cape she’d mercifully acquired over Diane’s exposed shoulders, fluffing it over her absent right arm. “That better?” she asked, in that motherly tone that Diane absolutely detested. Nadia could see right through her in these moments, making her feel like the nervous, misfit teen staring at herself in the mirror before Prom night.

“Yes… thank you,” Diane said, accepting the help with more humility than she knew she was capable of. She’d had to lean heavily on Nadia these last two weeks to maintain her composure before Candyman’s nightly ‘interrogations’. As much as she was offended by the whore who seemed perfectly as ease fucking that nasty old man every night, Diane had been caught off-guard by the amount of kindness and tenderness Nadia had reserved for her.

Nadia had shaken off Diane’s initial judgmental looks and rude remarks with a patient smile while trying her best to make the hunter feel comfortable. Not only did Nadia have to dress her every evening due to Diane’s missing appendage, but the blond-haired woman took Diane’s mind off the whole humiliating affair by poking fun at both their appearances and forms, shaking her head, and making general comments about how simple men could be. Nadia often spoke of the lesser counterpart’s need to downgrade a woman’s true beauty in cheap apparel, showing how stupid they really were. Over the last two weeks, Diane started seeing the young woman in a different light, understanding that both of them were forced into servitude, and both had needed to find a way to accept their roles. Nadia had just been at it for much longer.

The real turning point between them was when the young woman had lost her temper only once, turning to her after day three, right after hearing Diane call her the town slut for the ‘umpteenth’ time, and with a serious face, had said, “Look bitch, it’s bad enough that I have to sleep with the man. Do you think I was always Candyman’s whore? You think I can’t be replaced in a moment and thrown back out in the streets? You and I could both be in far worse situations than this… especially you!”

Diane had been shocked by the woman’s sudden steel, standing there while the coat-hanger waved a threatening finger in her face.

“You should be grateful that I’m the one fucking that man every night… and that I do it well! It’s only because I’m here that you’re not having your shaky legs spread out all over those nasty sheets, or that he doesn’t have a handful of Lunatics turn you over on your stomach while he rips your ass apart! Consider that carefully the next time you disrespect me, bitch! You should be kissing my ass for all that I provide that man… and that he only wants to talk to you. All I’m trying to do is help you look that man in the eye each night while he enjoys seeing you dressed and debased like this!”

From there on, Diane had understood just how little control she really had, and that Nadia was correct. Ever since, they’d formed a bond, each helping the other play their ‘parts’ as best they could in Candyman’s fucked-up world while confiding in each other about the day’s affairs.

“What am I doing here, Nadia?” Diane said. “I mean, look at me. I’m not attractive by any stretch of the imagination, or any way you ‘stretch’ one of these thin gowns over my misshapen bumps. I’m definitely not very good a pouring the man’s fucking drinks that he makes me pour one-handed while he talks me to a slow painful death. So, what’s the man’s game?”

Nadia laughed lightly and leaned against the leather bar, looking un-lady like as she reached within her top and scratched the top her left breast. She stared into Diane’s face, squinted her eyes, then raised a hand to wipe a speck off Diane’s cheek, causing the hunter to flinch, just a little. Nadia pulled back and smiled. She reached under the bar and brought out two shot glasses. “What are you having tonight?”

Diane laughed. “Your choice this time. That shit’s all the same to me.”

Nadia laughed. “Tequila it is,” she said, reaching back and retrieving a bottle from the shelf. She filled both shot glasses. “This always takes the edge off the fastest.”

Both women grabbed their shots.

Nadia downed hers first like a professional, slamming her glass on the counter. She followed it with a very un-lady like belch that caused them both to laugh.

“One more?” she said.

“Of course,” Diane said, consuming her drink with a sour face. “But just one more… that’s shit’s horrible.”

Nadia laughed and poured.

Diane smiled at the slender woman. Under different circumstances, in a distant life before the dead destroyed their world, the hunter could picture the two of them in the small country town where she’d grown up, tearing up the local bar, getting shit-faced and arriving home late as hell. Nadia would’ve been the attractive ex-cheerleader type, getting them into trouble with the local boys while Diane would’ve been the less-attractive, but no-shit-taking friend, who would’ve shut down all their advances while keeping blonde from getting out of hand when those boys got a little too ‘touchy feely’.

Nadia downed the second shot as quickly as the first, making her eyes briefly roll to the back of her head. “Yeah,” she said. “That is awful… but the second was definitely better,” she teased.

Diane drank the second shot much slower, then shook her head in disgust. “No… you’re wrong about that. Think the first shot’s warped your perception.”

Nadia giggled. “Or the three I had earlier.” She added a wink.

Diane shook her head with a smile. “Seriously, though. Where’s this headed. I mean… the man needs you, obviously. But why I am here?”

Nadia’s good humor started to fade. She looked away and said, “You’re a smart girl. You’ve been here long enough to figure that out. It’s all about the control.”

“So, seeing me in this cheap shit costume every night when Candyman knows I could reach across the table and snap his fucking neck gives him a thrill because he gets to see me on a leash?”

Nadia nodded. “You’re like the wild animal he gets to tame,” she said. “No offense, but you aren’t cut out for those clothes, and he knows that.”

“Thanks… bitch.”

Nadia snickered, then looked at her thoughtfully and said, “It’s not about how you look, clothes on or off. It’s about what he can control. If he can make you, the fierce killer who has lived outside as long as you have, even surviving minus an arm, if he can dress you up like one of his whores and make you squirm because he knows you can’t ‘kill’ that dress as easily as you could kill him, well… then he’s tipped the scales in his favor.”

“But there’s got to be more to it than that.”

“Of course, there is,” Nadia said. “He’s pumping you for whatever information he can about what’s ‘out there’. But he’s also keeping tabs on you and your friends.”

“More control,” Diane said with a nod. “While dodging all my careful probes he’s telling me exactly what he wants to tell me, while asking me all his veiled questions.”

“He’s waiting for you to slip up and confirm something he already suspects, or, he’s simply reminding you, and your friends, that he holds all the cards. He knows your people are reluctant to play along with his rules, even if you all agreed to being auctioned. Him talking to you is both prying into your business while maintaining that unspoken threat that he could still reach out and have all your friends just… disappear… like that.” Nadia snapped her fingers for effect.

Diane frowned. “So, I’m here as his unofficial messenger, and his unintentional spy.”

“Among other things,” Nadia said. “I don’t pretend to understand everything that goes on in that man’s head. But I know enough to know that he’s always thinking several steps ahead. I’m as close to him as anyone, and I still don’t know anything more than what he intends for me to know… and he points it out to me on a regular basis that he knows that I’m not here because I want to be. No matter how hard I pretend and make him want to believe that, he knows I’m here because I have to be, just like you. A man like that, who lets dangerous women like us this close to him, without fear, is either fucking insane… or extremely dangerous.”

“Or both,” Diane said.

Nadia frowned and nodded.

They both looked up as they heard Candyman moving around on the second floor of the trailer.

“It’s show time,” Nadia said. “You ready?”

Diane nodded. “Yeah. I know how this works. Thanks, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For just… keeping it real. I didn’t always appreciate it, in the beginning and all, but… you know.”

Nadia smiled. “You’re welcome.”

They could hear Candyman approaching the second-floor landing.

“I gotta go,” Nadia said. “You’ve got your part to play down here. I’ve got mine to play… up there,” she said, nodding to the bedroom. “We’ll talk later.”

“Okay,” Diane said.

“Remember, stay on your toes during his dark moods,” Nadia advised. “Sometimes he’s just agitated, but sometimes that’s a whole different game he’s playing.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just… be careful. Play the part, but always be aware that you may have to adapt to a sudden change in the script. He could be testing you at any time.”

Diane left it at that.

Nadia walked out from behind the bar to meet Candyman on the stairs before heading up.

The hunter waited nervously for their nightly conversation.

She could hear Nadia on the stairs, laughing flirtatiously at one of Candyman’s comments. Diane smiled and shook her head. Bedroom or not, she often wondered which of them had the easier part to play.

~~~

The long silences were the worst.

Three long leather sofas, centered in the large trailer, formed a ‘u’ pattern before a long glass coffee table. Candyman sat in his swivel chair, its long back facing her, as he continued to stare at his fake fireplace heater. All she could see of the older man was his right arm holding the half-full glass of scotch.

Diane waited uncomfortably on the middle couch, directly opposite the man’s chair on the other side of the table, the bottle of scotch at the ready should he need a refill. She was sitting up, legs together, trying to will the too-short silk gown over her trembling knees but only managing to keep her one hand resting in her lap to keep the thin material still at the base of her thighs. She stared at the paneled walls, trying to kill the time by pretending to admire the various artwork for the thousandth time, hoping she at least appeared calm.

On the inside, her mind was on overload, trying to anticipate the various verbal landmines Candyman might pose when and if he decided to speak to her at all. Sometimes he just sat in his chair for an hour, forgetting she was in the room. Other times, he’d stare at her from behind the scotch glass as if examining this strange creature sitting before him for the first time, asking questions that seemed to come from all over the place, always threatening to throw her off-guard and get her to say too much, or too little.

And then there was the exhausting role play when he was feeling amused and wanted to toy with her. It was no big secret that Candyman had illegally purchased her at auction, using another of his associates to buy her out in his stead. During the day, Diane ran errands in town for her fake owner, who she’d never met, that went by the name, Mr. Johnson. She’d been placed in a small trailer, near Candyman’s courtyard, presumably owned by Mr. Johnson. Every morning two rough looking men showed up at her trailer door with a list of incidental items for her to shop for in town. The men, mercenaries for hire like Sergeant Hash, were her assigned escort and protection. They never spoke to her. She was expected to parade herself in town with her escorts to maintain the illusion that she was Mr. Johnson’s errand girl, attempting to throw off the town gossipers who suspected the truth but didn’t dare speak it out loud. In truth, Diane never knew if any of the items she was sent to retrieve mattered, or if it was all just part of the ruse. One benefit to getting to walk around town was that it gave her a better sense of the town and where everything was. Each day, when her assigned runs were complete, the two men left her trailer, and she was free to do as she pleased until the men returned late in the evening to escort her to Candyman’s trailer. In her down time, Diane busily scribbled down every detail she could remember on a rough map she was putting together, hidden within her trailer.

Diane closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she thought about the rest of the ruse.

Each night, after being escorted discreetly to Candyman’s trailer, she’d spend time with Nadia until it was time for her nightly conversations. The remainder of the role play involved her sneaking away in the night to presumably meet up with Candyman, who had worked out a quiet arrangement with Mr. Johnson to use the one-armed errand girl for sex, and God-only-knew what else. This also gave the gossipers something to chew on since this was a common practice between owners who wanted to do favors for their powerful friends.

The humiliating part of the whole ruse was Candyman’s insistence that she ‘practice’ her end of the fiction by making it seem as though she were grateful for the honor to be Candyman’s secret girl, provided by the gracious Mr. Johnson as a nightly gift, in the hope that one day Candyman might ask her to remain, rather than have to return to her owner. This, of course, could not happen, but was for the benefit of the occasional guests that Candyman entertained in his trailer, who also suspected the truth about the auction, but had also heard the rumors about Candyman’s bizarre attraction to the one-armed girl. He insisted that she needed to keep playing the part so that they would return to their lots, laughing with each other about the leader of New Cleveland’s latest girl.

“It’s all about appearances, Diane,” Candyman had told her the first night he’d spent talking to her about the ruse. “Everyone plays their parts and does what’s expected, and the rest falls into place.”

Since then, he was adamant that she put on a convincing performance, proving to him that she really did want to be there, even when it was just the two of them, so that she would be just as convincing in front of all those prying eyes, and wagging tongues, when such occasions occurred.

But Diane knew the truth. Candyman simply enjoyed watching her squirm, playing the secret mistress that Candyman might one day keep at his side, should she prove worthy.

Diane started to fidget.

Candyman continued to ignore her from his chair.

Say something! Say anything! her mind screamed at him.

The silences were the hardest games to deal with. She never knew if she was expected to speak first, and failed, or, if Candyman had finally figured out what she and the others were up to when they secretly met together.

Fortunately, tonight was not one of those nights.

“So, how was your day?” he said in that deep melodic voice, laced with poison. Candyman finally turned around in his chair. He was wearing one of his bath robes, exposing the top his hairy old chest just beneath that sly old face and cunning stare behind his thin glasses. He held his glass of scotch up in front of him, turned the glass in a short circle to watch the fluid within move, and then took a slow slip, never breaking eye contact with Diane.

Diane smiled at the old asshole. She really believed she was getting better at it. “Oh, the usual,” she said, understanding immediately from the indifferent question about her day, which was nothing more than a cue, what was expected. “Did a little shopping in town. How was your day… dear?” That last bit she always struggled with no matter how many times she rehearsed it with Nadia.

Candyman smiled, placing the glass on the table. He ran a hand through his tied back silver hair and yawned. “It’s never easy running this town, but somehow… I managed to survive another day,” he said, in a jovial tone.

Diane laughed lightly, something else she’d had to practice. She immediately went to refill the man’s glass with scotch. “Same old shit, different day, I assume.” She filled the glass from the bottle.

“Something like that,” he said, retrieving the glass. “Thank you, honey.” He took another sip and then paused for effect. “Some days are just particularly trying.”

“That bad?” she said, leaning back on the couch and trying to look relaxed as she crossed her legs. The next part always made her want to crawl out of her own skin. “Is there anything I could do to help you relax?” A crooked smile was all she could manage.

Candyman raised an eyebrow at her and then laughed. “No. No thank you. The scotch and the company are fine.”

“Anything you want to talk about, then? You know I’m… here for you.”

“That’s nice to hear. But you really don’t mean that.”

“You know that I do,” she said, putting her shaky legs up on the couch in an attempt at appearing more at ease. She leaned against the arm of the sofa. “I’m all ears. What’s troubling you?”

He smirked at the girl and said, “You know I can’t keep you here forever. Johnson’s a good friend, allowing us this time together and all… but… I fear he may not be getting his money’s worth from you while I steal you away every night.”

“It’s no bother… really. I like spending time with you. It’s the highlight of my day, in truth. My owner, as much as I appreciate what he does for me, he practically ignores me. When I get to come here, and talk with you, I feel so much better.”

“So, you’re happy in New Cleveland? He treats you well?”

“You treat me better,” she added with another awkward smile. “Maybe I could just… you know… stay here?”

“Okay,” he said. “That’s enough.”

“Excuse me?”

“Lower the act, Diane.” His pleasant tone was replaced by an irritated one.

She immediately tensed up as she sat back up on the couch. Shit, now what?

“Did I… did I do something wrong?” she said.

He ignored her question. “You’ve gotten a little better with Nadia’s help. But you’re far from convincing. It might help if you didn’t shake constantly and learned how to smile. You’re horrendous at it.”

The ruse was up. Diane exhaled deeply and let her shoulders drop. “Maybe if you didn’t force me to wear these sickening whore clothes, I’d have something to smile about.”

This made Candyman crack up. “There she is,” he said through laughter. “Now that’s real!”

Diane waited. She knew he appreciated her bluntness, if not her acting skills. But she also knew that she had to tread very carefully.

“My discomfort never fails to provide you with amusement, does it?” she said.

He smiled at her behind his glass. “You are correct. Seeing you like this does provide me some entertainment at the end of the long day. I do thank you for that.”

She gave him her best ‘fuck you’ smile. Also, genuine.

He laughed again. “Oh, Diane. How long will we do this, I wonder. I guess that depends on whether I continue to find you amusing.”

She said nothing.

He stared at her gown, making her feel miserable as she pulled in vain at the fabric to cover what she could. “I suppose, in your own sort of way, you are a woman beneath all that silk. But I struggle to discover it.”

She glared at him, but remained silent, surprising herself.

He leaned over and put his chin in his hands. “But there is something alluring behind those dark eyes of yours. Yes… even now… there’s a fire there that I find particularly arousing.”

Diane averted her eyes.

“Relax. That was merely an observation.” He sat back in his chair and stared at her thoughtfully. “I wonder if I’ve taken the wrong course of action with someone like yourself.”

She looked up. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’d hoped by now that our conversations would be a little more… forthcoming… considering the amount of tolerance I’ve shown you and your friends. But maybe the fault lies with me.”

She said nothing.

“You clearly lack in ways other woman have learned to master. Not that you’re physically unattractive, don’t get me wrong, but it takes more than parts. There’s something to be said about a woman who has learned how to wield what they possess. Don’t you agree?”

“I’ve never given it much thought,” she spat.

“And it shows.”

“Thank you.”

“But there is definitely something about you, something the typical woman doesn’t possess. Albeit, you’re certainly not pleasant on the eyes, no matter how much silk is applied, but there is still… something. You have a certain, caged animal-like quality that when pushed into a corner, you thrive at the game. And whether a woman is like Nadia, or someone like you, both of you play your version of the game very well.”

Again, Diane remained silent.

“But I digress. My point is, I had hoped our conversations would have evolved beyond this ‘cat and mouse’ scenario by now… and again… I believe I’m to blame. You and I talk around every subject and neither of us achieve what we want. And that waste of time and effort, is costly. I intended to strip you of your weapons, steal your ‘cutting edge’, so to speak, by dressing you up like my little doll and removing you entirely from your element of battle and blood and depositing you in silk and skin… to throw you off-balance and tip the scales to my advantage. That has not worked out since I’ve only pushed you further into that proverbial corner where the wild animal thrives.” Candyman paused, taking a deep breath. “How do you suppose we overcome this barrier, Diane, and stop speaking in circles?”

Diane considered the baited question carefully. “For starters,” she said, “we might be able to reach common ground if you started showing me some respect, as a woman or otherwise, by giving me my clothes back and stop holding this silk to my throat like your weapon.”

Candyman raised an eyebrow. “Indeed. Please, go on. What else?”

“Second, your veiled threats against my friends, that’s not going to get you what you want. If you want honest dialogue between us, leave them out of it. You’re trying to get me to tell you that we’re up to something behind your back when all we’re trying to do is honor our agreement and eventually, leave your town.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

Diane paused, and said, “Make a promise to me now, in writing so that its binding by your own rules, that you will release us when our debts are paid… and I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

“Interesting,” Candyman said, leaning back in his chair. “And that’s all I needed to do to get us to share a more meaningful exchange all this time?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Diane,” he said. “This time, I believe you. It’s very clear to me now what matters to you, and why I’ve failed to reach you. But most importantly, I now understand where I’ve wasted the most time.”

Shit… I fucked up!

He took another sip of his scotch. “I’m sorry to say that I can’t help you with your latter requests, but I can remedy the weapon at your throat. Your right, of course, it’s not been very productive.”

“Where is this going?” she said.

He gave her a puzzled look. “I’m talking about the silk. I’ll not force you to wear it any longer. Please, stand up and remove it immediately.”

“Excuse me?” Diane’s attempt at maintaining her calm composure was slipping. Candyman had enjoyed watching her squirm, unbalanced in the uncomfortable ensembles he forced her to wear, but he’d never taken it any further, until now.

He looked away as if already bored with the whole affair. He took another sip from his glass and said, “Don’t make me repeat myself, Diane. I’m trying to honor your first request. You’ve stated that these clothes that I’ve dressed you in have been a source of strain on our discussions. I now see your point. We’ll remedy that this instant.”

“That’s not what I meant!”

Candyman leaned forward and gave her a hard look. “The gown… stand up and remove it… now… or you’ll force me to get nasty for wasting more of my valuable time. Or, if you prefer, I could take out my frustrations for your insolence on something you do value—like your friends—for something as trivial as the removal of a silly scrap of silk.”

~~~

Next Episode 50-5

Previous Episode 50-3

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 50-4: Amusement” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.