Posts Tagged ‘Don’t Feed The Dark’

~~~

It took Tony and Diane longer than expected to find the private drive, which led to a peninsula off the southern portion of Lake Pymatuning, where they had originally discovered the four large vacation homes that had gone unnoticed after the world went mad. Diane was the last to visit the lake before the winter, when she had left Frank Carman and Marcus behind, to retrieve their community, not yet split. That was back when Gina had seized the compound, deciding that it would be their new home. But that was months ago, and now, everything looked different… older. It was as if every month that passed since The Change, equaled a year out in places abandoned, where mother nature ruled with a vengeance and chose to wipe out all traces of mankind as fast as possible.

They found the private drive entrance by late morning, hidden behind overgrown weeds and vegetation. It hadn’t looked used in a long time.

“Orosco’s a clever man,” Tony reminded her. “He probably abandoned the roadway to help hide the camp.”

Diane wasn’t convinced, but said nothing.

They started up the small private drive, rounding a heavily wood bend, and came across a wall of fortified automobiles, parked sideways across the road, extending on both sides of the property to neatly block easy access into the peninsula. Each vehicle’s windows facing them were boarded up with thick plywood, with gun ports cut into them.

“Your man’s been busy,” Alysa remarked, admiring the vehicle blockade. “The plywood’s shit for stopping bullets, but effective for keeping the dead out… and adding a little concealment.”

Tony smiled at the largest vehicle, an old school bus, which must have served as the main gate since it was positioned just behind two other vehicles, allowing it to move in reverse for entry if needed. The windows of the bus were all covered with more plywood, with more gun ports built into them.

“Where is everybody?” Nine asked, surprised that they hadn’t been greeted yet. “What good’s a wall without guards?”

Tony tried to peer between the vehicles without alarming anyone on the other side. But the low-hanging foliage on tree branches blocked his view.

“There’s room to crawl beneath the bus,” Mark said. “Looks like someone forgot to put whatever barriers they were using back in place.”

“It’s too quiet,” Alysa added, staring up into the trees. “Something’s… off.” She made her bow ready.

“Calm down,” Tony said. “Maybe they heard us coming and are waiting in the houses. If I remember correctly, you could see in all directions from the second-floor windows.”

“He’s right,” Diane added. “This wall of cars was probably just to keep the dead out. I’m sure Orosco has a secondary plan to deal with other potentially hostile survivors. They could watch anyone approaching from those windows with snipers in place, keep everyone hidden inside to make the place look deserted, while deciding what to do from there.”

“That’s exactly what I’d do,” Tony said with a smile. “And I taught the man everything he knows.” He added a playful wink.

Diane rolled her eyes and retrieved her handgun. “Let’s send someone under to let them know we’re friendly… someone who dresses funny that they’d easily recognize.” She immediately looked at Nine.

This caused Beverly and Wendy to laugh.

Nine shook his head at Diane. “Make fun of me… that’s fine… but make fun of these awesome threads… well, now you’re crossing the line.” He failed to keep a straight face as he tried to puff out his chest and straighten the collar, proudly drawing attention to his favorite jean jacket with the ‘80’s bands stenciled in.

“I guess you told me, Caption Retro,” Diane laughed, affectionately messing up his hair.

Now Mark and Matt were both chuckling.

Tony just shook his head and smiled. “I’m too tired to appreciate the absurdity that is ‘You’, my young friend,” he said to Nine. “But your girlfriend is correct… you stand out like a sore thumb.”

Nine smiled like an idiot and lightly elbowed Diane. “You see, everyone knows the truth, even Tony.”

“What… that your fashion sense is as outdated as your jokes?”

He leaned in and whispered, “No… that you’re my girlfriend.”

“Go,” she pointed to the bus.

“She’s so in to me,” he laughed, strutting toward the vehicle. He leaned down to crawl under, turned back, and said to them, “You’re all my witnesses. Even in the apocalypse, it’s never too late for the one you love to throw you under the bus.” He gave Diane a mock pouty face.

This caused Beverly to snort hysterically, drawing everyone’s attention.

The laughter was infectious, as they all let their exhaustion get the better of them… but it felt good.

Alysa was the only one who didn’t join in, standing back with her bow in hand, and staring at all of them as if wondering if they’d all been gassed or if they’d just gone insane.

“Get your ass under that bus,” Diane said through tears, failing to regain her composure.

He mockingly saluted and then disappeared beneath the bus.

When the laughter ran its course, Tony wiped tears from his eyes and said, “I guess we needed that… more than we know.” They all started to feel better knowing that they were one bus away from being reunited with friends they hadn’t seen since before the winter. Considering what they’d just lost, the need to be reunited with their people again, was overwhelming. They needed to mourn or cry or shout against God… but they needed to do it together.

Nine reappeared from beneath the bus two minutes later. His shoulders dropped, his face was pale, and his eyes red from wiping tears away.

All jubilation faded away like a mist that never was.

Diane came over. “What… what’s the matter? Did you make contact?”

Nine’s eyes started to water up as he looked at her and said, “They’re… all gone.”

Tony came over and gently put a hand on Nine’s shoulder. “What do you mean?”

Nine stared into Tony’s frightened face. “Everything… it’s all… gone!”

~~~

When they all cleared the bus, and walked up what remained of the private drive, exiting the canopy of trees, they stopped as the peninsula came into full view. Nine’s words could not capture the horror their eyes revealed.

The burnt down remains of four large vacation homes sat like neighboring graveyards in a half-circle at the edge of the peninsula. There was hardly anything left, except for their foundations, a few charred first floor walls, and the collapsed rubble that the rest was leaning inward against.

At the center of the half-circle, in the large front yard all four houses once shared, was the ancient remains of a small bonfire surrounded by weeds and tall grass. Burned up bodies, long past the point of recognition, were stacked unceremoniously on top of each other. Around the old fire were numerous empty beer cans and food trash, completing the grim scene of some sort of after-slaughter party.

Tony dropped to his knees before the bonfire, feeling like the wind was just knocked out of him.

Beverly and Wendy started to weep.

Matt and Mark just stood there… shocked into silence.

Diane turned away, burying her face into Nine’s shoulder.

Alysa was already moving about the ruins, making sure they were alone.

“Who… who would do something like this?” Tony was close to breaking. They had already lost so much… and now this? “What kind of sick fucking world is this?” he whispered to himself.

The others started disbanding, heading toward the peninsula beach at the rear of the homes. They needed to be anywhere but near those hideous remains. Once on the beach, Nine and Diane, holding each other close, walked off to the left; Wendy, Beverly, Matt and Mark all wandered to the right. They all needed time to process and grieve in their own way.

Tony remained before the bonfire, refusing to look away. He was too exhausted to cry or yell out in anger. He felt nothing. Numb. When he couldn’t make out their faces, Tony started counting the bodies.

“The area’s clear. We’re safe, for now,” Alysa squatted down beside him.

“What? What was that?” Tony was in shock.

The archer stared at the big man, into his eyes, and saw the depths of his sadness. “May I sit with you?” she asked.

Tony looked away from the bodies and down toward the grass.

Alysa sat down three feet to Tony’s right, placed the bow beside her, and then rested her arms on her knees. She stared around at the ruins and remained respectfully quiet.

“Why are you still here?” Tony finally said, still staring at the ground. His tone was not accusatory. It was just a worthless question, like so many others he could ask now.

Alysa stared thoughtfully at the big sad man. “I’m sorry for your loss… both now… and before. I meant to say that earlier, but-”

“Did the Shadow Dead do this?” Tony asked. His voice sounded weak and void of emotion.

Alysa’s eyebrows went up in surprise. That was the first time he hadn’t associated her with them. “No,” she quickly said. “Of that much, I’m sure. This is not their way.”

Tony partially turned his head. “And what is your ‘way’?”

Alysa smiled weakly. “That is… complicated.”

“Of course, it is. So, why are you still here? As you can see, all our people are dead. We’re alone now, and by the look of things, we’d all just like to lie down and die with them.”

Alysa gave him a puzzled look. She couldn’t decide if he was joking. “I came to find and help a mutual friend,” she said. “When I realized Marcus was gone, I chose to do the next best thing and help his friends.”

“That’s mighty big of you,” he said sarcastically.

Alysa frowned, regretting opening up a little to this man and his group that would never accept her. She rose to her feet, grabbing her bow, and said, “When I shot and killed the Shadow Dead who was about to kill you, I became dead to them. I can no longer be reunited with my people… and that makes me just as alone as the rest of you.” She started to walk away.

Tony turned to watch her go.

“You need your privacy,” she said over her shoulder. “I’ll leave you in peace. Sorry for disturbing you.”

“Alysa,” Tony called out.

She stopped and turned, surprised that he addressed her by name.

“Don’t wander away,” he said. “None of us can make it very far… alone.” He forced a smile.

Alysa offered one in return and nodded. “I’m going to walk around a bit and see what there is to see. Perhaps we can try to talk again when I return?”

“We can try,” Tony offered. “And… thank you for saving my ass back in those woods. We wouldn’t have made it this far without you.”

The former Shadow Dead offered an awkward smile, unprepared for the big man’s gratitude. She then turned and headed toward the vehicle wall.

~~~

Beverly sat near the edge of the beach, letting the water rush over her bare toes. She’d rolled up her jeans a little, grateful to have those awful running shoes off for a moment, and then started untying her knotted long hair. “I’d kill for a brush,” she said over her shoulder. She wiped sand on her soiled jeans and added, “And a laundry machine.”

Wendy sat behind her, staring despondently out across the lake.

Matt and Mark were standing off to the right, skipping large stones across the lake’s surface.

Mark turned and addressed Wendy. “Cheer up, girl. It could have been worse. You might have been here when those murderers showed up and extra-crispy fried our friends. We all know how damn worthless you would have been then.”

“Oh… gross!” Beverly said. “Show some respect for the dead, asshole!”

Wendy scowled at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nice shooting, by the way, Legs. You have bigger balls than Matt over here.”

Matt ignored the jab.

“Shut up, creep!” Beverly said. I don’t want to talk about that… ever.”

“What the hell did you mean, Mark?” Wendy pushed.

Mark smiled. “Come on, Velma! You can’t even shoot a damn zombie without crying out in behalf of their rights to be… what… dead?”

She shook her head. “They were just like us not too long ago. How would you feel if someone made me shoot you in the head after you turned, just to find out later that there’s a cure that could’ve saved you?”

Mark stopped throwing stones. “You really think there’s a cure? Even after all this time?”

“Why not?” Wendy said. “Just because we don’t know about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there.”

“Please… wake… up… Velma! What’s happening in the world can’t be cured. It’s the predetermined extermination of Mankind, designed by God, or Mother Nature, or the damn universe… to finally rid the earth of all our bullshit. Just look at this damn camp! Look at what just happened at our own little safe haven! We can’t escape it. We are being eliminated one day at a time.”

Wendy shook her head. “Why do you hate your own kind so much? What the hell happened to you that made you this way?”

Mark turned away. “Doesn’t matter. None of us matter, Velma.”

“Stop calling me that!”

“Or what? You gonna go all pacifist on my ass?”

Wendy’s face turned beat red. She took a deep breath to calm down. “If you don’t start treating people better, especially since you’re quickly running out of friends who will put up with your cynical shit, you’ll wake up one day worse than being dead.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

She smiled. “You’ll be alone.”

Mark was getting upset. “Fuck you, Velma. Fuck all of you.”

“I have an idea,” Matt said.

They all turned to look at him.

Matt reached down and pretended to pick up a glass. “I’ve been thinking about poor Joe. He was a goofy guy, but his heart was always in the right place. He never judged us, even when the rest of the community labeled us as extra baggage. Joe was one of the good ones. He stood up to those Shadow Bastards… protected us…” His voice cracked. Matt raised his pretend glass, cuing the others to follow suit. Wendy and Beverly raised their glasses. Even Mark reluctantly played along. “Here’s to Joe. May he rest easy, along with all our lost friends, far from this hellish place.”

“To Joe,” Mark agreed.

“To Joe,” Wendy said.

Beverly’s emotions got the better of her as she started to cry. She raised her glass and nodded.

Matt raised his glass and finished, “To Joe. May we all find a way to escape this place… and join you… wherever that is.”

This was followed by a heavy silence.

~~~

Nine and Diane found a large piece of driftwood and sat down together.

Diane shivered from a breeze blowing in from the lake and Nine placed his favorite jacket around her shoulders.

She looked at him and tried to smile. “I’m not good at this.”

Nine laughed. “Yeah, we both know I’m the romantic one. That’s okay. You try.”

“No,” she said, elbowing him. “I mean… I’m not good at these long dark moments that make me question everything. It scares the hell out of me. There’s so much uncertainty in the world now, and every time it looks like we have a handle on it… something bad happens.”

Nine nodded, appreciating this vulnerable moment. They hardly had time to talk, really talk. He just wished their dire circumstances didn’t force them into such moments. He looked down the beach at the four young rookies who were damn lucky to still be alive… and have each other. He envied their naïve innocence and their ability to draw strength from the past. It still bothered him that he now referred to everything prior to The Change as the past. “I know what you mean,” he said. “A minute ago, there was Gina, then Stephen… the compound… the hope of finding Orosco in this graveyard… and now… it’s all gone.”

She looked at him.

“What do we do with this now? What does it mean?” he continued. “I feel like some homeless guy, except that they had carts with cool stuff, and warm boxes to sleep in. They could just squat anywhere they wanted, surrounded by people who just ignored them… and then there’s me… the bum that everyone wants to turn into a meal. That’s messed up, don’t you think? I mean… who eats the smelly ass homeless guy, right?”

Diane laughed. “I hear you. In your own warped way… I hear you.”

Nine reached in and kissed her gently on the lips.

“What was that for?”

“That was just another slow attempt to wear you down in the hope that you’d share my cardboard box with me someday.”

“You are an ass,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m glad you’re here. This would be… unbearable… if I’d lost you, too.” She quickly looked at her feet.

“Ditto,” he said, reaching in to squeeze her hand. “That’s a ridiculous, anti-romantic word, by the way. Who the hell says, ‘Ditto’? It’s almost like-”

She leaned in to kiss him.

“What was that for?”

“It’s the only way I know to shut you up,” she laughed.

“You know my weakness, woman,” he said with a laugh. “But seriously, now that we’re technically ‘homeless’, why don’t we just take off… you and me… and find somewhere far from all this… insanity.”

“What are you suggesting?” she asked. “You want to just… leave? Where the hell would we go?”

“Anywhere! Everywhere! Doesn’t matter. I know! Since I’m a rock god and you’re a farmer, we could go find a farm where the dead hate roosters and cow shit. You can teach me how to farm the land while I bitch about it constantly, and I’ll teach you how to play rhythm guitar for the new band I’ll form.”

“Shut up,” she laughed.

“Seriously! Think of the possibilities! Eventually we’ll have crops growing out our ass and I’ll teach you how to dance naked in our very own cornfield while we howl at the moon together!”

Diane shook her head.

“And then we could, I don’t know, live happily ever after… just the two of us… for as long as we can… maybe have some kids and stuff-”

“Hold on!” she interrupted. “Did you just say ‘kids’?”

“I… uh… I meant goats… isn’t that what they call baby goats on the farm?”

“You’re impossible,” she laughed. “My mother always warned me about you dreamer types.” She continued in a mock motherly voice, “She’d say, ‘Their heads are full of strange ideas. They always sow in the clouds and reap rainbows from a unicorn’s ass’.”

Nine couldn’t stop laughing. “She really said that? That’s awesome. She’s absolutely right, of course.”

When Diane calmed down, she gently stroked his cheek. “Thanks for making me feel better. But seriously, you know we can’t leave. Maybe someday, but not now.”

Nine sighed. “Spoken like a good soldier. War’s over, babe… we lost. I think Tony can make do without you since he’s got nothing left to command.”

“Well,” she said, “We’re all soldiers now.”

“Doesn’t mean we have to be,” Nine offered. “We don’t have to keep fighting against whatever all this is. We could just try to make the most of it and live the life we choose.”

“Until the dead come along… or something worse… and snatches it away. That’s why we have to keep fighting. We fight until we don’t have to anymore… then… who knows. Maybe I’ll run naked with you in that cornfield.”

“Promises, promises.” He looked back toward the rookies. “So… let’s assess the current line-up. We have Commander Tony, who looks like one exhausted large muscle; one stylish and handsome young adventurer (that would be me); and then there’s you, a deadly vixen, hiding in plain sight; four youngsters who look like they’re fighting for who gets dibs on the next video game-”

“Oh, please!” she laughed. “Those ‘youngsters’ are all older than you.”

“Yes, but in ‘apocalyptic years’ I’m an old man compared to them. Hell, they make me look like I know what the I’m doing.”

“Fair enough. We’ll have to remedy that before one or all of them get themselves killed, or someone else. Especially that short-haired young lady. She needs to understand what the threats are now.”

“Just go easy on them, soldier,” Nine teased. “They’re still holding on to the old world, feeding on nostalgia, while the rest of us fight.”

“That’s what I mean,” she said. “They won’t survive on their own, living in the past. It’s going to catch up with them and crush them.”

“Maybe so, but they also represent what we hope to get back one day. What good will all this fighting do if we forget all the good things that made us who we were? I don’t want to be remembered, or only remember, how well I ‘survived’.”

Diane nodded. “Okay. I get it. I could go a little easier on them.”

“There you go,” Nine said. “I think they’ll come along better at their own speed. But if you force them into the fire too soon, at the cost of all those precious memories, they’ll crack…”

“…Becoming worthless steel that breaks under pressure. Damn… you just pulled a forge analogy on me.”

“I’m full of surprises, aren’t I?”

“You’re full of something,” she teased.

Nine turned as Alysa stepped on to the beach and walked toward the water. “And then there’s her. Don’t know what to make of that yet. I’m still not convinced she won’t try to eat me when I’m sleeping.”

Diane’s composure changed immediately. She stood up and drew her gun.

“What are you doing?” Nine asked.

“What I should’ve done long before now,” she said. “It’s time to be a soldier.”

“Wait.” Nine got up. “Don’t do something stupid.”

Diane tuned him out. She approached the Shadow Dead woman, seeing only red, and a target for her vengeance.

~~~

Chapter 40 continues on Monday…

Previous Episode 40-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 40-2: Wick” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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~~~

They exited the wilderness preserve and walked south for the remainder of the night. Tony set a deliberately slow pace along the familiar two-lane backroad between the Wasteland and Andover, which by day, was surrounded by old fields, forests and farms, and had always been zombie-free. But now, everything was swallowed up in darkness as the last cool evenings of a defiant winter still lingered, the indifferent wind biting at their exposed skin.

Tony knew they were all exhausted and suffering various injuries. No one, except the murderous archer, were in any shape to face new threats, so they stopped often to rest and wait for dawn, huddled up in a circle for warmth in the center of the cold roadway. They took turns watching the night in silence with concrete slabs replacing eyelids as they all struggled to stay alert. Some had asked to build a fire but Diane was quick to suggest that they not attract attention to themselves and keep moving as much as possible.

Alysa wisely kept her distance, understanding that the broken remains of this community were hurt and angry, and that it was her kind that had caused them so much pain. When they’d exited the wilderness preserve, she had quickly discarded the rest of her Shadow Dead armor, revealing a slender young dark-skinned woman, roughly Gina’s age, who was now wearing skin-tight black stretch pants and a light black fleece jacket.

Nine had cracked a joke to Diane. “All she needs is some whiskers, pointy ears, and a long black tail and she’d be ready for Halloween.”

Diane, who had slowly regained her strength before exiting the Wasteland, had found no humor in Nine’s remarks. After finding out what this bitch had done to Barney, she stared at Alysa constantly, stewing in silence, as she also wrestled with her grief.

The Shadow Dead archer would walk a perimeter around them each time they stopped to rest, holding her bow out at the ready. Sometimes, she blended into the night so efficiently, that the others lost sight of her, and then Alysa would reappear suddenly at another angle, like a shadow sliding across shadows. She had told Tony that she could see in the dark much better than the average human, volunteering to keep watch over them.

Tony had begrudgingly agreed, understanding that in their present state, if Alysa wanted them dead, she could easily manage it.

~~~

The first traces of dawn split open the eastern sky, spilling out brilliant pink and blue streaks against the fading night. The sun started to warm up the day and their weary limbs as they pushed south, waiting for the light to illuminate their surroundings. As the early morning approached, the countryside opened up around them. No one felt at ease as the unsettling silence of last night continued to travel with them, making everything around them feel hollow and less real. The world had clearly become more void of life in the half-year they’d been hiding beneath it.

They arrived in the town of Andover two hours later to discover more of Winter’s devastation. What was once their community’s temporary camp and the place where Tony and Gina had finally found each other, was now a town slowly being reclaimed by the elements. What they all noticed immediately after entering the small public square was the repulsive smell of sewage. More than half of the downtown area was under water. Since all public services had gone extinct, accumulated rainfall followed by the thawing ice and snow had backed up the entire sewer system causing it to fail and flood the streets. Weeds had already begun to spring up through roadway cracks and sidewalks. The walls of buildings were covered in green vines. The grass was several feet tall. Andover had essentially become a swamp. Nature wasn’t the only culprit. The doors of several buildings were left hanging open on broken hinges. Windows shattered. Trash tossed about the streets. The town had been assaulted by desperation, looted thoroughly, and then left for dead.

“This place is depressing,” Tony said. They had intended on stopping just long enough to gather some supplies. They ended up finding three cans of soup, four bottles of water, and a fire axe that Tony picked up, gratefully abandoning the black spear.

They approached the diner on their way south out of town. All the windows had been destroyed and the furniture within had been ripped out and thrown into the street as if someone had just gutted it and discarded the innards everywhere.

“That place looks like it has an apartment above it,” Nine remarked. “Might be worth a-”

“There’s nothing up there but death,” Tony quickly said. “Let’s move on and get to Orosco’s camp.” He remembered all too well that this was where Samantha, the police officer and their former leader, had been brutally murdered. The big man did not need to visit the crime scene again.

With the help of several harsh looks from the others, Nine slowly pieced it together. “Shit… sorry, Tony. That happened before my time.”

Tony nodded. “It’s okay. Just bad memories.”

“Where’s the dead?” Beverly asked. “You’d think we would have seen them by now?”

“Winter cares very little about the living or the dead,” Alysa offered. “I imagine she came this time in full force, knowing that nothing was standing in her way… and destroyed them equally.”

Nine laughed. “My… you’re just a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”

Alysa smiled at the young man. “No… I just hate that cold bitter bitch. Once she gets inside of you, it seems like it takes forever to get your bones warm again.”

“That’s comical coming from a cold-blooded creature such as yourself,” Diane snapped, causing Nine to give her a wide-eyed look.

Alysa turned to the hunter. “My apologies. I should have remained quiet. It’s clear that I’m not yet welcome among you.”

“You got that right,” Diane said. “And fuck the ‘yet’ part. Not gonna happen.”

Alysa looked away and nodded with a submissive smile. She then put some distance between herself and the hunter, moving toward the head of the line near Tony.

“That was a bit rude,” Nine whispered. “I think she was just trying to break the ice… no pun intended.”

Diane gave him a hard look. “Attractive or not, you should stop worrying about that dead woman.”

“Who said anything about finding her attract-”

“Shut up, please.”

“Damn… you’re in a mood,” Nine said with a laugh. “And why do you call her a dead woman? Is that a Shadow Dead pun?”

Diane didn’t answer. Instead, she stabbed Alysa in the back with her eyes.

“Hey!” Matt was getting animated, pointing toward the debris in front of the diner. “Do you guys see that?” Something was moving from beneath a pile of discarded booths. A badly deteriorated hand punched out from beneath the ruble, causing Matt to step back. “Shit! Someone’s trapped under there!” He started toward the pile.

“Matt! Hold up!” Tony called out.

Wendy grabbed the young man’s shoulder, causing him to stop and turn. She sadly shook her head at him.

Matt turned back and covered his nose and mouth immediately as the stench of the dead thing assaulted him. Two disfigured limbs appeared as something barely recognizable as human crawled out from beneath the booths. The zombie’s dirty rotting skin was stretched so thin over the thing’s back that it tore as it struggled to free itself, revealing black bloody covered bones beneath a ripped soiled blouse, it’s original color unknown. From what remained of its long blond hair on a torn scalp, it used to be a woman.

“Fuck me,” Matt said, backing up further until he nearly knocked Beverly over. He turned toward the edge of the road and vomited.

The dead thing, hearing their voices, turned and looked right at Wendy. Its dark eyes had retreated into the sockets, but we’re clearly fixed on the young woman. Wendy covered her mouth. To her, its face looked like a dirty flesh-colored balloon wrapped around a skull. The thing opened its mouth to snap at the air in Wendy’s direction, but it’s jaw fell off instead. “Oh God, someone please… help her,” Wendy begged.

The others stared at her, stunned.

Alysa stood further back. She appeared more interested in how the others would handle the situation.

“She’s in pain,” Wendy continued. “Can’t we do something for her?”

Diane walked up next to Wendy and stared at the beast.

It started to crawl toward them now, eyes still locked in on Wendy, as it ripped itself in half, trying to get free of the debris and to the girl.

“Look at it,” Diane said. “It doesn’t even realize that it can’t bite into you without its jaw… but that doesn’t stop it from craving your flesh.”

Wendy noticed something dangling on the front of the creature’s soiled blouse. It was a name tag. From there, she could piece together the rest of the woman’s outfit. “I think she is a waitress. Probably from this very diner.”

“You mean ‘was’,” Diane corrected.

“I can just make out her name: Marge. Her name is Marge.”

Diane stared at Wendy in disbelief. She then turned to Tony.

Tony immediately turned away from the dead waitress, and thought, The dead come home. He caught Diane’s gaze and shrugged his shoulders at her. It was clear that Wendy, and probably a few of the others, had not seen many zombies, or had forgotten as much as possible since living sheltered for so long. Tony sighed, reaching for a weapon that wasn’t there. He turned toward Alysa. “Do you have a knife?”

Alysa shook her head. “No, and I’m not wasting an arrow… or the effort. It’s harmless. We should leave it be.”

He nodded and turned toward Mark, who was holding one of their two handguns.

Before he could ask for it, Mark put his hand on his holster and said, “I’ll do it.”

Tony gave him a questionable look. “Do you even know how to shoot that thing? I don’t recall ever seeing you, or your friends, in Gina’s firearm classes.”

“I’ll… I’ll get in close.”

Tony sized up the young man. “Make it quick. One to the head.”

Mark nodded.

“Just one shot,” Tony repeated. “We don’t need to wake the rest of these things, and we certainly can’t waste the ammo. Understand?”

“I understand.”

Tony turned and met Alysa’s disapproving gaze. He laughed and said, “Some of them are new to the whole killing thing. They need… experience.”

“Whatever you say,” Alysa said, turning away. “I’ll watch the road.”

“You do that.” Tony turned to watch Mark step beside Wendy and Diane.

“What are you going to do?” Wendy asked him.

“What’s it look like?” he added sourly, lifting the gun.

Wendy gave the weapon a disapproving look. “That could be someone’s mother,” she said. “Maybe someone’s looking for her.”

Diane laughed. “Then we’re doing someone a favor by putting this creature down. Would you want to find your mother looking like that?”

“Of course not, but… we don’t have the right to just… kill it.”

Diane raised her eyebrows. “Wow. You don’t have a fucking clue, do you? Of course we have the right! Where the hell have you been these last few months?”

“She’s a pacifist,” Mark said, earning him a scowl from Wendy.

“A what? A fucking what? You’ve got to be shitting me?”

“She doesn’t believe in violence… of any kind,” Mark said, staring at Wendy. “Go on, tell her.”

“Doesn’t matter what I am. All I know is that Marge… that’s her name, by the way… is a human being,” Wendy said. “A very sick human being… but still a human being. She has a life, and a family out there somewhere that loves her. We don’t just get to shoot it because she’s… different… now.”

“Careful, Diane,” Mark laughed. “She’ll pull the racist card out on you next.”

Diane stared at the waitress zombie. It continued to crawl, very slowly, toward them. Diane shook her head. “I can’t believe we’re having this discussion. Marge wants you dead, Wendy. Marge wants us all dead. Just look at the damn thing!”

Wendy did. “Doesn’t matter. She’s not well. We kill her now… and then someone finds a cure… then what are we? Murderers?”

Diane’s face grew cold. “Survivors.”

Mark took a step back. “It’s… it’s starting to get uncomfortably close. Should I… shoot it now?”

Diane held out her hand. “Give it to me.”

“But-”

“Now!”

Mark reluctantly handed over the weapon.

Diane took it, racked the slide back sending a round into the chamber, and then said to Wendy. “You do it.” She held out the gun.

Wendy took a step back. “No! I can’t… I won’t!”

“You will… and you’ll do it right fucking now!” Diane’s eyes left no room for debate.

Nine approached Tony, who was standing back, allowing Diane to handle the situation. He said, “You going to stop this any time soon?”

“Stop what?” Tony said.

Nine gave him a puzzled look. “That girl is clearly scared out of her head. She doesn’t want to shoot the damn zombie.”

“And that’s a problem,” Tony said. “In case you haven’t noticed, we’re real short on fighters right now and those four kids missed the training window months ago.”

Nine was getting upset. “So… we just shit on each other’s beliefs if they’re contrary to killing the dead?”

Tony scowled at him. “Yes… that’s exactly what we do. I would rather have that pacifist girl hate my ass tomorrow for making her shoot that fucking zombie, if it means keeping her alive today!”

Nine didn’t know what to say. Finally, he shook his head. “You’ve changed, Tony. This shit sounds like something Gina would pull.” He walked off, leaving Tony fuming.

Alysa pretended not to hear the exchange. She focused on the zombie matter. The dead waitress had crawled within ten feet… and they were still arguing about who was going to shoot it.

Wendy refused to touch the weapon.

Diane refused to back down.

Five feet…

“I won’t do it!” Wendy shouted.

“You will, you self-righteous little brat!” Diane shouted back.

Two feet…

This is ridiculous. How did they ever survive this long? Alysa thought, quickly loading her bow, the black arrow aimed for the dead waitress’s temple. She then stopped and smiled, lowering her weapon.

The gunshot surprised both Wendy and Diane.

Beverly dropped the second gun as though it were a snake. She put her hands to her mouth, horrified by what she’d just done.

The mutilated former waitress lay silent on its side, bullet hole penetrating its caved in skull, one mangled arm fully extended, its grotesque fingers an inch from Wendy’s left foot, its dead eyes never wavering rom the call to feed… ever.

The tall girl started to cry. “Did I… did I… kill her?”

“No!” Diane said, losing all patience. She gave Wendy a disapproving glare, holstered the other gun, and then turned away. “They’re already fucking dead!” she yelled back over her shoulder.

Wendy looked at her tear-streaked friend and smiled gratefully.

The girl with the long legs smiled back. “I couldn’t let you… you know.”

“I know,” Wendy said, stepping toward her and getting up on her tippy toes. The other bent down to embrace the shorter woman. “Thank you,” Wendy said, letting her own tears fall.

Nine picked up the discarded gun and holstered it. “Well… it looks like Survival School 101 has officially begun,” he said sarcastically to no one. “Count me out… I hear the course really sucks.” He walked past Diane and said, “I love you… but between you and that big block head over there… I don’t know which of you sucks-the-big-one more right now.”

“What the hell does that even mean?” Diane said to his back.

Nine flicked her off in response.

“Really?” she laughed. “Grow the fuck up!”

They all turned to the sound of a trashcan falling over along the side of the diner.

Several bloated looking dead things with wet rags hanging loosely over their skeletal frames started toward them, the hunger driving them forward and bordering a frenzy.

“Time to go,” Tony said, motioning the others to follow. “The sooner we get to Orosco’s camp, the sooner we can regroup, get armed, and figure out how to go back and save our friends.” He started south with his axe, deliberately ignoring Alysa’s futile gaze.

The others followed behind, easily out-pacing the struggling dead, thankful to put the ruins of Andover behind them.

~~~

Next Episode 40-2

Previous Episode 39-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 40-1: Wick” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

***SPOILER ALERT***

At this time, I must advise you, avid readers, that from here on in, there will be major spoilers discussed. So in the event that you haven’t read the first 39 chapters of Don’t Feed The Dark, I strongly suggest that you don’t continue on with us until after you’ve caught up. Consider yourself warned.”

~~~

John stands, hands raised, before the studio audience as the crowd applauds excitedly. “Now… how the hell was that for a premiere chapter? That was some crazy shit!”

(The audience roars their approval.)

“We’ve just finished the first chapter and already… death and mayhem abound!” John continues. “Were any of you as much on edge as I was during these first six episodes?”

(The crowd voices their agreement.)

“Well… we’ve got a whole lot to discuss this episode. So, let’s get started! Ladies and Gents, please put your hands together for returning special guest, Tony Marcuchi!”

Tony walks in to a warm reception as he waves and smiles at the audience before sitting down with John.

“Welcome back, Tony,” John begins. “It’s good to see that you’re still alive and kicking… although your damn name listed on the obituary says otherwise.”

Tony laughs. “Yeah… I’m glad to still be a ‘living’ guest on your show, for as long as I’m allowed.”

“We’re glad you’re back, Tony. And thanks for sitting with us once more.”

“Thanks for having me.”

John settles in. “So, speaking of that list. What the hell was that all about, anyway? I think many of us were under the impression from the very beginning, that all of you were already dead.”

Tony nods. “I can see how this chapter’s presentation would make the readers think so. I believe that the author wanted to create an immediate reaction by starting off with the reading of an obituary, listing all our names, as if everything that followed the opening paragraphs was just a flashback showing how we all died. But as we’ve just discovered, the list is not accurate… some of us survived the Shadow Dead attack.”

“So… was the gathering in the opening paragraphs near the broken waterfall actually a glimpse into the future, then? And if so, who was giving the eulogy? And who were these people?”

Tony shrugs his shoulders. “That’s out of my range of knowledge. Sorry… I just work here.”

(The audience laughs.)

John shakes his head. “Why am I not surprised by your response? I should know better by now.”

“You had to try,” Tony encourages with a smile.

John laughs. “Okay… you can’t tell us anything about that strange future encounter… if that’s what it was. Can we expect to find out more about that opening moment later on in the story.”

Tony looks like he’s about to deny an answer, laughs, and then says, “Ooh… I’m allowed to answer that one. Yes. We will find out more about that moment later.”

“Now… do you mean ‘same book’ later… or ‘several books’ later?”

(The audience laughs.)

Tony smiles and nods. “We’ll find out about that mystery eulogy later on in this book… I promise. But that’s all I can say.”

“Fair enough.” John sits back and takes a deep breath. “Okay, so, obviously you all just had your asses handed to you by the Shadow Dead. I think it’s clear at this point that they could’ve seized the compound any time they wished. So why now? What’s the motivation behind this sudden attack? And was this mysterious Toby character floating around in Meredith’s mind responsible for it all?”

Tony sits back and sighs. “If I had to guess, I would say that the powers-to-be got tired of sitting around waiting for Meredith to do what she was supposed to do… so they forced her hand.”

“You’re talking about Mother and the mystery door, right?”

Tony nods. “Yes. It’s always been strange that Meredith had access to this facility to begin with. I would guess that she was permitted to enter the compound at the end of Book Three, perhaps even by this mysterious ‘Toby’ character, with the sole purpose of using the underground facility to further Mother’s objectives. Once those objectives were met, they used the attack to force Meredith into a life or death choice, resulting in getting her exactly where they wanted her.”

John nods. “So, the attack was all about Meredith? I think this is the first time since learning about Toby from Meredith’s flashback story at the orphanage in Book Four, that we can connect him directly to Mother. Can you elaborate on this at all?”

“Hell no” Tony says.

(The audience laughs.)

“But I can say that we will start seeing more and more connections to Mother as this series draws closer to conclusion,” Tony continues. “As far as the attack, I think the rest of us were just a means-to-an-end, but putting Meredith on the other side of that door was the real objective.”

“What a mind fuck that’s going to be when Meredith realizes how badly she was played,” John says. “So, Meredith, Stephen, Logan and Megan end up on the other side of that door. Can you tell us what’s down there?”

Tony smiles. “You know I can’t.”

“Shit… well… of course you can’t.”

(The crowd laughs.)

Tony nods. “But I will add that the author originally debated on stopping what happened inside the compound long before the others made it to the door, surrounded and trapped in that hallway, and leaving the readers to wonder if anyone else did make it out alive. In the end, the author decided to give us some hope for those characters by extending the scenes just beyond some of them making it through the door… but no further.”

“So when can we expect to hear from Meredith and the others again and can we assume that Gina and Marcus made it safely away before the attack?”

Tony nods. “Yes, Gina and Marcus were long gone before the attack. But that’s all I can tell you about that, so don’t bother asking.” Tony pauses, and then adds, “But we will return to them in the next story arc to find out what happened after Marcus started hunting Gina down.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” John says. “And the others behind the door?”

Tony smiles and shakes his head. “Sorry… I’ve no information available to tell you.”

“Shit,” John says and shakes his head at the audience.

(The audience laughs.)

“So,” John continues, “it looks like our characters have now been divided up in three different directions. Is there anything you can tell us about when they might reconnect again?”

“John, I can’t even tell you if anyone will still be alive long enough for that to happen. So much is about to occur for all three groups, in their present circumstances, that a reunion might take a while.”

“That’s unfortunate and a little exciting,” John admits. “It sounds like our story is about to expand in several different directions now.”

“That would seem to be the case,” Tony confirms.

“So what about your band of survivors, +1 Shadow Dead woman? Are they headed for James Orosco’s camp on that peninsula just south of Andover?”

“Yes.”

“And will Alysa be joining them?”

“Yes.”

“Anything else you can add?”

Tony takes a deep breath. “The little group I end up with will be facing some challenges they haven’t had to deal with before. The winter is over. it’s been months since they had to deal with the outside world… and everything that’s changed along with them. The remainder of this first story arc will center on those challenges.”

“Damn,” John says, shaking his head. “Is there anything you can tell us about the next chapter?”

“It won’t be as chaotic as Chapter One,” Tony says. “It’s called, Wick, and the author describes it as a thriller story contained within a chapter.”

“Sounds intriguing,” John says. “We’re almost out of time. Is there anything else you can tease us with about what’s coming in the days ahead?”

John nods. “We all may be split up at the moment. But this story is on a collision course with Mother… that is certain. There’s just a bit more story to tell before then… and then quite a lot still left after that eventual climax. Good enough?”

John sighs. “I guess.” He turns to the studio audience. “It looks like we’re all about to jump on the crazy horse again, folks, and see where we end up.”

(The audience laughs.)

John returns to Tony. “Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing what you could. We all hope you return to this stage one day, still in one piece, to speak with us again.”

“Thanks for having me,” Tony says.

“Let’s give our special guest a big hand, folks!”

(The crowd gets to their feet and applauds.)

Tony waves enthusiastically.

“And that’s a wrap, ladies and gentlemen,” John says, standing with Tony. “Once again, before we go, if anyone out there has additional questions they’re dying to ask, please feel free to ask away in the comments section, and myself or Tony will try to answer them, if possible. Other than that, just a quick reminder that Don’t Feed The Dark will post new episodes every Monday and Thursday up until the Holiday break somewhere around mid-November. After The Dark episodes will usually follow each new chapter, time dependent. So hopefully, we’ll see you all again after Chapter Two. So long, everyone!”

~~~

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

Thank you,
-Scott

~~~

~~~

The cold rushing water swept across her face keeping Diane from passing out. She was drenched. The numbing liquid kept her from feeling the pain from several scrapes and bruises after bouncing hard down the cliffside and landing hard into the river. She tried to stand but discovered that the water had pushed her downstream, pinning her legs beneath a large rock. This probably saved her from drowning since she hadn’t been pushed into the deeper part of the river, sweeping her corpse away into oblivion. She used her arms to keep her face above water, feeling blood from a gash in her forehead drip into her mouth. Her exhausted limbs shook from the effort as she collapsed back into the stream, desperately trying not to swallow anymore water.

I have to move… get out of the water before I die of hypothermia. Yes, she could already feel it, the cold causing her to become lethargic and dulling her senses. She tried to gain her bearings but the darkness and the hypnotic sound of the river made it difficult.

Diane helplessly let her head slip back down below the water, her arms had become useless. And then she was beneath—the cold, wet, blackness lulling her to cease her struggles. She couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She started to lose consciousness.

Someone grabbed the back of her hair, hard, and pulled her above the water. Diane started coughing fiercely as she was dragged free of the rock and out of the river. Before she could thank her rescuer, two large hands wrapped themselves around her throat and lifted her off the ground.

Diane had barely caught her breath as her eyes adjusted to the ambient light reflected in the hideous yellow eyes of the brute who was now choking her.

Bear’s mouth hung open as the dead thing prepared to bite into her face.

Diane didn’t have the strength left to fight, her legs dangling from the monster’s choke hold like being hung from a noose, strung up on the strong branch of some enormous tree.
She closed her eyes as the monster moved in for the kill.

Please, God, let it be quick… please… just let it be over…

Before the dead thing could feed, someone struck it from behind, causing Bear’s hands to open, the precious air rushing back into Diane’s lungs as she fell limp to the ground.

Diane turned and watched the monster swing its large massive arms around at the new threat, barely missing Barney who just managed to dodge the blow.

The old soaked soldier stumbled and then regained his balance, holding what looked like a broken rifle in his hands like a baseball bat. “Come on, you nasty fuck!” he challenged.

Bear howled at him, his frustration at being interrupted from his snack clearly enraging the beast.

Barney swung the broken rifle up and into Bear’s chin, causing the monster’s head to snap back. This might have killed a normal man… but this was no normal man.

Bear grabbed the end of the rifle and yanked it from Barney’s hands, causing the old soldier to fall forward at his feet.

Barney flashed Diane a look and shouted, “RUN, GIRL!”

Diane wanted to move, but her legs were still numb from being in the water. She reached out to Barney with a useless arm, too far away for him to grab it.

The old man raised his arms to defend himself as Bear lifted a foot to smash his skull into the earth.

“No!” Diane cried out, hoping to distract the creature. “Not him, you fucking asshole! Over here!”

The creature ignored his soon-to-be-resumed snack and… stopped.

A dark shaft whizzed across the night and struck the beast in the neck, causing him to stumble back and just miss crushing Barney’s head. A second arrow immediately followed the first, striking the brute in the temple. Bear turned, wobbled back toward the river, and then toppled over into the water. The monster was still.

Diane turned as another large form approached, she swung her arms widely in a frenzy as two warm hands caught her wrists. “Diane… it’s me. You’re okay, now.”

Diane was staring into Tony’s face. “Are you… are you…” Before she could finish, the young woman collapsed into Tony’s arms.

Tony turned toward Barney, who was being helped up by Nine. He then looked back at the Shadow Dead woman holding the black bow with another arrow at the ready. He begrudgingly nodded to her.

Alysa stood there, her face an unreadable stone. She stared back at Tony and nodded in response.

“Tony.” Nine was holding Barney’s arm around his neck, as he helped the old soldier limp over. “He’s hurt.”

“I’m… fine,” the old man lied.

Tony gently laid Diane down and then approached Barney. He noticed part of a black arrow sticking through his right ankle.

“Looks… looks worse than it… than it feels,” Barney said with a smile. “When I… when I took that tumble… down the hill… I got tangled up… tangled up with the big fellow. One of those… one of those arrows stickin’ in his chest must have… must have come out… and caught me in the ankle. How’s the… how’s the girl?”

Tony was staring into the Barney’s face. The old man looked pale… and his eyes… his eyes looked wrong.

Before he could address it, Alysa walked over and said to the old man, “You fought bravely. I’m truly sorry for this.”

Barney’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as the Shadow Dead raised her bow with lightning speed and launched an arrow into his forehead.

Nine, unprepared for the deadly move, stepped away from the dead man as Barney’s corpse hit the ground. “What… what the fuck?” he said, staring at Barney’s killer.

Alysa quickly lowered her bow and held out her hand. “Wait!”

Too late.

Tony charged the woman.

Alysa moved to the side, easily avoiding his emotionally driven and clumsy charge.

Tony stumbled to the ground.

Alysa wisely took several steps back while reloading her bow. She aimed it at Nine. “Don’t,” she advised.

Nine raised his hands but shot her with a contemptuous stare.

Tony turned with murder in his eyes.

Alysa aimed at Tony and shook her head. “Your friend,” she quickly said, “he was infected. The arrows my former brothers are using are what turned the big man lying dead in the river. His… change… was immediate because he was struck in the chest, several times. The proximity of the wound to the heart determines how fast it happens. The old man… he had a bit longer, but it was happening. You saw it, I know you did.”

“Infection-spreading arrows?” Nine said, staring at his dead friend. He looked back at the killer. “What kind of people are you?”

When Alysa was certain that Tony wasn’t going to charge, she lowered her bow. She stared at the dead man in disgust. “My people were never authorized to use these kinds of weapons. They’re forbidden for obvious reasons. The fact that they’re using them now vexes me.”

“Your… people,” Tony spat, “are murderers and monsters… just like you.”

Alysa gave him a grave look. “Yes… you’re absolutely right.”

~~~

Stephen slammed his hand repeatedly on the clinic door. “Meredith! Cooper! Open up!”

Coop reluctantly opened the door, allowing Stephen to slip in, and then quickly shut it and locked it. The old doctor stared in shock at their young leader who looked like he just arrived from hell. “It’s that bad?” he asked.

Stephen’s eyes said it all. He had the look of a man who wasn’t sure where he was, only that wherever he turned there was darkness, blood and death. He put a hand on Coop’s shoulder, trying to catch his breath. “We’re in serious trouble.”

Meredith was there, looking over her friend like a worried mother. “My goodness… Stephen… are you alright?”

He turned to her, a mixture of intense emotions clearly evident on his face. “We’re about to lose the compound.” Hearing himself admit the truth out loud flooded him with immediate sadness. He fought off tears and finished. “So many are already dead. We’ve lost all contact topside… all we have left is the hallway… and we’re about to lose that, too.”

Meredith covered her mouth and looked at Coop.

Coop reached out and grabbed her hand. “What… what can we do to help?” the doctor asked Stephen.

“We’ve only one option left. We run,” Stephen replied. “But that all depends on you, Meredith.”

She let go of Coop’s hand and took a step back.

“The Shadow Dead will kill the rest of the defenders, take the hall… and then finish off anyone else trying to hide,” he said. “Meredith, I know you’re firmly against it… but that damn door is all we have left. The last of my fighters are giving all they have just to give us a chance at reaching it before those monsters overwhelm us.”

She nodded. “I understand.” Meredith tried her best to mask her bitterness. She sighed heavily, looked to Coop, and then back at Stephen. “It’s come down to running into the fire to flee the frying pan.”

Stephen had no time or patience to inquire about her comment. “Meredith… please… can you… will you open that door?”

She immediately thought of Toby, who had orchestrated this from the very start.

“Yes… yes, of course,” she said.

Coop gave her a surprised look, that she deliberately ignored.

“We have to go… right now,” Stephen urged.

Meredith turned toward the damaged young woman in the cell. Megan was on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth as if she expected, or hoped, the ceiling would collapse.

Coop read her mind. “Meredith, there’s no time. You’re going to have to leave her behind.”

Meredith ignored him and rushed to her cot. She grabbed a pillow, removed the pillowcase and then approached the plexiglass room door.

Megan raised her head to look at her.

“What are you doing?” Coop moved toward her with alarm.

She unlocked the door and grabbed the handle. “I’m not leaving her.”

“Meredith… don’t let her out!” Stephen said. “We’ve enough to worry about without-”

“Stephen,” she interrupted. “Listen carefully. The door is voice activated. Stand near it and say the following phrase verbatim: The Lions are sleeping, but we always stand guard. Did you get all of that?”

Stephen nodded.

“That will open it… and God help us. Now take Coop and go. If I’m not there in five minutes…” She stared into Megan’s mercury eyes and finished, “…then I’m already dead.”

“Meredith?” Stephen gave her a pleading look.

She smiled at him and said, “I can’t leave her, Stephen. I have to try.”

“Not by your damn self, you’re not,” Coop said, moving in beside her. He looked over at Stephen. “Go, young man. While you still have time. We’ll take necessary precautions and hopefully meet you there.”

Stephen simply nodded, gave them both a final glance, and forced himself to exit the clinic.

By now, Megan was slowly rising to her feet, sensing what Meredith was about to do.

Meredith stared into the young woman’s eyes, trying to remember that she was, in part, still a woman. “You are a stubborn man,” she said to Coop. “I wanted to spare you this if my rescue attempt ended… badly.”

“Shut up and do it already,” he said. “Whether we die in that cage, out in the hall, or just past the scary door, it matters very little to me as long as we’re together. I refuse to let this go down any other way.”

Meredith smiled at him. “I love you.”

Coop smiled back and then stared down at the pillowcase. “So… we walk in… ask her to play nice… and then put that over her head to keep her from biting the hell out of us?”

“Something like that,” she said with a frown.

“We could sedate her?”

“You know there’s no time for that,” she said. “Besides, it doesn’t sound like we have time to carry her down the hall.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Coop sighed. “Okay. I’ll try to grab her hands and pin them behind her back, and then you can put the pillowcase-”

“Megan, honey,” Meredith interrupted. “I know you understand what’s happening. Myself and Dr. Cooper want to get you out of here. I know you’re… hungry… and a part of you wants to attack us the moment we open this door, but I’m asking you to fight against it… okay?”

“Or… we could just ask the young, part-zombie lady to cooperate,” Coop said sarcastically. “I should’ve thought of that.”

“Don’t… don’t do it,” Megan said. “Leave… me here.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Meredith said. “I know you’re fighting what feels like an impossible war within, but I believe in you, Megan. I believe in you so much that I’m willing to come in there and that you won’t harm us… or anyone else.”

“I’ll… I’ll kill you,” she threatened. “I… I mean it. I can’t stop this! Don’t make me hurt you!”

“I love you, Megan,” Meredith said. “And because I love you… I won’t leave you here to die. And I know you love me, too. That’s why you won’t harm us. That love we share will help me overcome my fear and open this door. That love will help you overcome your need to feed… and let us help you.”

Megan was violently shaking her head.

“Just hold on to that hope, Megan. We’ll get through this… together.”

Meredith shot a silent prayer to the God of her old friend, Gregory:

Dear God, I’m told that you sometimes favor the fool. I’ve heard that you are merciful. I ask for your grace now to help me rescue this child. To the world, I’m just a detestable witch and Megan’s a monster, but I understand that you know us by our hearts, and if we are worth anything more than what we appear to be… then please, help us.

Before Megan or Cooper could object, Meredith opened the door and entered the lion’s den.

~~~

Logan, and a handful of defenders still able to fight, pushed back against the Shadow Dead. The monsters continued to dodge their bullets, using the darkness against them, while coming in close to stab, pierce or dismember flesh in quick precise attacks, before rushing back behind cover.

The big preacher’s wide intense eyes made him look insane as he fired whatever weapons he could pick up and run dry as his defenders went down one by one, their blood splattering the walls, floors and all over what remained of the living.

His hands hurt, his head was pounding, his heart… racing. No matter how hard they pushed back, the Shadow Dead would not stop… ever. If he’d had time to think, Logan would’ve realized that the enemy was holding back, simply waiting for his defenders to drop from exhaustion, lower their guards, or run out of ammunition. Time was clearly on their side.

Logan felt a fresh wave of anger overcome him as his present rifle ran out. One of the monsters, sensing an opportunity, tried to charge him, but the big man turned the rifle around and swung it full force into the skull helmet of the attacker, knocking the beast off-balance, and forcing the creature back into the shadows to wait for another opportunity to strike.

The others were inspired by the preacher’s stand, and gave everything they had to hold the hallway.

Between attacks, when Logan caught his breath, he recited scripture into the darkness, which either confused the enemy or made Logan appear ten-feet tall to them in those moments, because the big man fought like a savage driven by the power of his God.

“‘O’ Lord, how many are my foes!’” Logan picked up another handgun and fired into the barricades, forcing one of them to dive for cover. “‘How many rise up against me!’” He struck the arm of another Shadow Dead with the empty handgun, blocking a fatal blow from its clawed hand. He then raised his leg and kicked the monster back. “‘Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’. But you are a shield around me, O’ lord…’” The big man ducked, avoiding the sneak attack of another creature. He picked up another rifle from a pile of the dead and fired upward into the creature’s skulled mask at point-blank range. The Shadow Dead fell. “‘You bestow glory on me and lift up he head.’” Another Shadow Dead threw a spear toward the big man, but a defender deflected it away from Logan with his rifle. “‘To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill!’”

They had won that charge. The Shadow Dead slid back into the darkness to regroup.

“‘I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side. Arise, O’ Lord! Deliver me, O’ my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked!’ Do you hear me shadow fuckers?” Logan challenged the darkness.

For the moment, the predators in the dark remained still.

Some defenders reloaded as fast as possible while others kept their weapons up, ready to resume.

The pause was brief as the Shadow Dead raised clawed weapons to attack.

Logan smiled, raised another gun, and whispered, “‘The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?’”

The defenders opened fire again. They had enough ammo left to withstand one final charge.

~~~

Stephen re-entered the hallway to chaos. He turned to the right and saw Logan and his defenders fighting with such ferocity. They were only five of them left.

“Logan?” he called out.

The big preacher had no time to look back. He managed to shout, “We fought the good fight, little brother! No matter how this ends, always remember that!”

Stephen heard him clearly. Logan was saying goodbye.

No… no… NO! This isn’t over! Stephen turned left and headed toward the mystery door. April and seven others were still holding the line, just three feet beyond the door. The young woman was leading the charge. She was determined to keep the Shadow Dead back if it meant running out of bullets and then attacking with her bare hands. The monsters were bidding their time, hiding in the darkness, and waiting for their guns and strength to fail.

We’ve lost just about everyone, Stephen thought with horror, as he stared at the defenders’ backs, feeling like he’d led them all to this… that he led them all to the grave. There’s no time for regrets… we fight for every second… every damn breath.

Stephen forced himself to focus only on the imposing door. He got as close to it as he could and shouted over the gunfire, “The Lions are sleeping, but we always stand guard!”

His heart skipped a beat when nothing happened.

Suddenly, he heard the ancient mechanism behind the door. It began to move, inward. A crack. Then a foot. A dull pulsating red light began to spill out into the hallway from beyond the door.

The Shadow Dead at both ends of the hall, stopped their latest assault as the strange red light caught their attention.

Now’s our only chance! Stephen shouted back toward the preacher. “Logan! Fall back to our position! We’re getting out of here!” He couldn’t tell if the preacher heard him. They were still firing into the darkness.

He turned back to the door. The five-inch think steel portal continued to move. It was now wide enough for them to slip through.

Stephen turned back. Meredith, where the hell are you?

“We’re almost out of ammo!” April shouted back.

The strange door was now completely open.

“Can you hold them back for another minute!” Stephen said.

The young soldier nodded.

Stephen turned toward the clinic and stopped. Meredith and Cooper entered the hall. Megan stood between them wearing a hood.

Shit!

“This way!” he shouted.

Meredith looked toward him and nodded. The three of them started toward the door.

“Run!” Logan shouted from just behind Meredith. He was falling back, fast, firing his weapon into the dark. “They’re coming!”

“Move it!” Stephen yelled. Meredith, Cooper, Megan, and Logan were the only ones left at the end of the hall.

“Stephen!” It was April. “They’re charging hard! We can’t hold them much longer!”

“Shit!” Stephen picked up a rifle from the closest dead defender and started firing next to April. “Get to the damn door… NOW!” he shouted over his shoulder.

And then the door did something unexpected. It started to slowly close on its own.

What the hell?

He shouted out the pass phrase again but nothing happened.

April dropped her rifle and pulled out her handgun and continued firing. She had no reloads left. “Go!” she yelled. “Our leader needs to live!”

Stephen ran for the door and started pushing against it. He managed to slow it down, but the strong door continued to close. He looked back down the hall.

Meredith was down. Cooper was dragging her toward the door. Beyond them, all he saw were the Shadow Dead.

~~~

When Logan’s gun ran dry, the enemy attacked. The preacher swung his rifle hard at the first one’s clawed hand, just barely deflecting a fatal blow to his neck. A second one charged in with a spear held out in both of its hands. Logan caught it, and struggled against the monster. He was pushed back into the Meredith, slamming her head into the wall and knocking her down. Cooper stumbled the other direction, letting go of Megan, who simply fell to her knees.

The young woman immediately smelled the blood dripping from a cut on Meredith’s head, causing her to lose control. She ripped the hood off her head and looked down at the injured woman who was struggling to stay conscious.

“Megan!” It was Cooper. “No!”

She whipped her head toward the doctor, breathing rapidly.

Coop was leaning against the wall, trying to catch his breath. He held his hands out to her. “Megan… please… don’t.”

The young woman hissed at him, was about to charge, and then heard Logan’s voice behind her.

The preacher had managed to rip the spear from the Shadow Dead’s hands. With almost super-human strength, he swung the spear down on the Shadow Dead’s skull helmet, shattering the spear. The creature fell, stunned. Logan shouted into its face, “Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world!” He then kicked the beast hard in the head, until it fell over. Logan fell to one knee, exhaustion becoming the enemy.

Another Shadow Dead stormed past the second, to finish Logan off, but stopped abruptly as Megan shrieked at him, running at a full sprint. The crazed woman leaped over a surprised Logan and on to the Shadow Dead’s chest, knocking the beast on his back. Before the Shadow Dead could counter, Megan had ripped the beast’s helmet off. Megan stared into a startled black-painted face, and bit the monster’s nose off.

Three more Shadow Dead halted immediately when they recognized the new attacker.

Megan jumped up onto the chest of the dead creature and swung her arms at the enemy, daring them to attack with an intense hungry howl.

What manner of devilry is this? Logan thought, as he struggled to his feet.

“Logan! Move your ass right now!”

The preacher turned back to the sound of Stephen’s voice. He could see the good doctor dragging Meredith toward some strange red light. Then he saw Stephen, waving frantically at him from the infamous door. The young leader was struggling to keep it open.

Logan understood. He turned toward them, but stopped when he heard Megan howl again. He looked back. The strange half-dead woman, the very same that he had encouraged Meredith to put down in an act of mercy, had just saved them. And now, she was single-handedly holding the enemy back.

My God, I don’t know what this child is anymore… but maybe… just maybe… Meredith was right. Maybe there’s a little light left in her.

Before the young woman charged the Shadow Dead, which would surely mean her death… or her second death… Logan called out to her. “Megan! Come with me now, child!”

Megan turned toward the new voice, her dark grey eyes boring into the preacher, her bloody teeth ready to indulge in more madness.

Logan started backing up toward the door. He beckoned her to follow, like calling a dog. “Come on, Megan. Come to me, child.”

Megan turned back toward the enemy and hissed at them, causing them to pause again.

Logan called out once more. “Come! Come to me, Megan! If God can love a man like me… than he can certainly love a woman… like you.” He had no idea if the young savage understood, or if she simply desired his blood over her latest kill. Either way, Megan leapt off the Shadow Dead and ran after Logan.

Logan turned toward the red light, hoping to beat the devilish girl to the door before she pounced on him.

Megan moved, oblivious to the charging Shadow Dead behind her.

~~~

Stephen had placed his rifle in the door to slow it down while he continued to push against it.

April and the four defenders still standing had just run out of bullets. They were getting slaughtered, but continued to stand in between the enemy and the door.

And then Cooper and Meredith were there.

“Go, Doc!” Stephen yelled. “Get her inside!”

Meredith was regaining consciousness as Cooper got her to her feet and pushed her through the doorway. She turned, disoriented, as Coop was helping Stephen and April hold the line with whatever empty guns were available, now turned into blunt weapons.

And then Logan was there. The big man turned back. Megan had stopped once more to challenge the relentless Shadow Dead, buying them precious seconds.

“Everyone fall back to the door… right now!” Stephen commanded. The rifle wedged within the door had just snapped.

Stephen turned and pushed Logan through the doorway before he could object. He looked for Cooper. The old doctor was calling out to Megan, reaching into his small first-aid pack. Stephen attempted to grab Coop’s arm, but someone pushed him through the doorway, instead. He turned and saw the sixteen-year-old fighter, April Baxter. “You have to live!” she reminded him.

A steel claw penetrated her back and exited her chest.

Stephen reached out for her hand but a monster pulled her back into the darkness. “No!” he shouted, as the door continued to close.

“Where’s… where’s Coop? Megan?” Meredith was frantic. She was about to head back out into the hall but Logan held her back.

And then Coop was there, with Megan. He shoved her through the doorway… barely. “It’s alright, I sedated her!” he said.

Meredith grabbed Megan’s arm and sat her down before she passed out.

The old doctor attempted to slip through the crack in the door, but couldn’t fit.

“Coop!” Meredith screamed.

Coop quickly shoved his pack through the door.

“No! No! NO! Logan! Help me!” Stephen pulled on the door to try to get it open. Logan was there, pulling with all he had left.

But the door continued to close.

Meredith was there.

There was just enough time for Coop to reach his hand inside and embrace hers. “It’s alright. Sorry. I had to go get her. You know I did.”

Meredith was nodding through tears. “You did good, my love. You did good.”

Coop let go of her hand and pulled it away.

The door was about to close.

“I love you, Meredith Montgomery. I wouldn’t change a thing. You made me a better man.”

“I love you,” she said, watching his face slip away.

Something tore him away from the door.

“Coop!” she yelled.

The door shut, cutting off the doctor’s screams.

Logan and Stephen collapsed before the door.

“I’ll open it back up!” Stephen said. “I’ll say the magic words again and open it and then we can get Coop and April and-”

Logan put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “You know we can’t do that, little brother. They’ll get in.”

Stephen’s face was a mixture of shame and anger. He slammed his hands on the door and screamed in frustration.

Meredith moved over to Megan, collapsed, and then placed the sedated woman’s head in her lap. She gently stroked Megan’s hair and stared off into a lonely place.

“Meredith, I’m so very sorry…” Logan knew all words were inadequate.

She ignored his words and continued to stroke Megan’s hair.

Stephen couldn’t look at her… couldn’t stand himself.

Get it together, Eddington. You can hate yourself later. Stephen wiped the tears from his face and turned toward the source of the pulsating red light, coming from the bottom of a long flight of concrete steps. They were sitting on a large landing surrounded by what looked like cavern walls and a ceiling.

“So… I guess we’re headed down there,” Logan said. “Are you okay, little brother?”

“I have to be,” he said.

“What do you think is down there?”

Stephen looked at the preacher and then back down the steps. “Hell,” was all he said.

~~~

Tony was pacing near the large debris infested pool before the collapsed waterfall. They decided to regroup on the south side and away from the focal point of the Shadow Dead assault until they could plan their next move. He looked back to where Nine was holding Diane, wrapped in his coat, as he tried to keep her warm. “How is she?” he asked.

Nine nodded. “She’ll be okay. She wasn’t in the water that long.” Nine glanced suspiciously at Alysa.

The strange woman sat still on a log, bow laying at the ready across her lap, as she stared up into the trees as though expecting them to speak. “Whatever you’re thinking… Tony, is it?”

Tony turned and nodded.

Alysa smiled. “Well… Tony… whatever’s going on inside your head can’t be good. You have a very desperate look… and desperate people do foolish things. In fact, I’m willing to wager that you’re about to get the rest of your people killed.”

“Shut up,” he said bluntly, showing her his back. “Whatever gratitude you gained from us, died the moment you shot my friend in the head.” He turned. “In fact, I don’t even know why you’re still here. Is it your job to finish the rest of us off after you corral us all together?”

Alysa ignored him and looked back to the trees. “You’re not safe here. You all should leave right now, while there’s still time. Head south and out of these woods. They won’t follow you.”

“Why do you even care?” Tony asked. “Just… go.”

Alysa shook her head at the stubborn man. “You need my help. Whether you want to admit it, changes nothing.”

“We don’t need shit from you!” Tony said.

Alysa made eye contact with Nine and laughed. “Your present assault force of two young people, one beat up and the other ill, and no weapons, isn’t going to help anyone.” She looked at Tony who picked up the spear. “And you… well… you’re too emotionally compromised to think clearly… and you’re hurt.”

Tony caught himself using the spear to hold himself up. He tossed the spear down, wanted to lash out at the woman, but said nothing. “I have to help them.”

“They’re already dead,” Alysa said flatly.

“You don’t’ know that,” Nine chimed in. “You don’t know our people. They can fight.”

“Yes,” Alysa agreed. “I’m sure they can. But my people have trained quite considerably for missions like this. I’m telling you, this battle is lost.”

Tony turned. “They train you to be so fucking arrogant, too?”

Alysa scowled at the dumb man. “‘Arrogant’? Is that what you think I am?” She stood up. “Look, they’ve known about all of you hiding down in that hole since the beginning. They’ve monitored your comings and goings, your habits, patterns… numbers. The Shadow Dead, as you call them, could have snatched this place from you at any time. Truth is, your community was never much of a concern, or a threat. So, they left you alone… until it was convenient to finish you off.”

“It’s more than that,” Tony said. “You know it is.”

Alysa shrugged. “The hell with what I know. I went rogue a few months back. Been living on my own in a cabin all winter… until your friend found me. I don’t pretend to know their motives any longer.”

“But you knew they were coming for us,” Nine said. “That’s why you warned Marcus.”

Alysa frowned at the young man. “Yes. I knew that much.”

“Why did you warn us?” Nine asked. “I mean, you didn’t have to do… anything. And yet, here you are.”

Alysa smiled at him and said, “Yes, here I am. Let’s just say that my motives are my own.”

“That, lady, sounds like the first bit of truth you’ve told us,” Tony snapped.

Before she could respond, Alysa dropped to a knee and hissed, “Get down!” She had her bow up, arrow aimed toward the nearby brush.

“Don’t shoot… please!” came a frightened woman’s voice.

Tony raised a cautious hand toward Alysa.

The archer lowered her weapon… slightly.

“Come out of there,” Tony said.

Four people stepped out of the shadows with their hands raised. Their clothing looked burned, ripped and soiled in several places. Black soot and blood streaked their faces.
“Wendy, is that you?” Nine asked a short woman.

“Yes… as well as Matthew, Beverly and Mark,” she said.

They all stopped and gawked in disbelief at the woman wearing Shadow Dead armor, carrying the black bow.

“Relax,” Tony said. “She’s… she’s with us.”

Alysa raised an eyebrow at Tony.

“How did you all get out?” Tony asked.

Mark answered, “There’s…. they used a tunnel to get into Cubicle City. After they set it on fire-”

“What?” Tony was frantic.

“Not the whole compound, just Cubicle City,” Beverly clarified. “They set the sheets on fire and then just left us there.”

“I guess when we ran and hid under the cots like frightened children, they thought we weren’t worth slashing up,” Matthew said. “We managed to get to the hole in the floor and crawl out the way they came in before the whole place caught fire.”

“That was heads-up thinking,” Nine said. “Wasn’t Joe with you guys?”

“They cut his throat,” Mark said, staring as his feet. “We watched him die.”

Tony was scratching his head. “A tunnel? Are you guys telling me that while we were fighting our asses off… that… that they just sneaked in behind us?”

“We never made it to the hall, Tony,” Beverly said sheepishly. “But we heard lots of gunfire. It sounded bad.”

“Take me back to the tunnel,” Tony said. “I’ll use it to get back-”

“Are you not even hearing your own people?” Alysa said.

Tony turned, barely restraining his anger.

“While my people distracted you topside, drawing as many guns away from down below as possible, they used two tunnels to infiltrate the compound and catch your people off-guard.”

“How can you know-”

She interrupted Tony and continued. “There were two tunnels created when the place was constructed. One was in the floor beneath the barracks, the other… in one of the storage rooms. The flooring was laid over the holes and reinforced from beneath, rendering them undiscoverable to outsiders such as yourselves. They were originally designed as emergency escape routes, should the electronic doors fail, the hatch was ever compromised, or if a hostile force ever gained entry.” She stopped and stared into their dumbfounded faces. “Seriously, did you all think that you could just steal someone else’s house, and then when the owners returned, they wouldn’t know more about it than you?”

Tony sat down on Alysa’s log. He looked ill. “Finish it,” he said.

“Excuse me-”

“Finish telling us the rest of the plan!”

Alysa nodded. “Once inside, they would kill the power, confuse communications by jamming your radios… and then use a variety of psychological terror tactics to spread panic, disorder, fear… separating the ranks and then exterminating every one of you.”

“Shit… don’t sugar coat it at all,” Nine said sarcastically. “And… And that’s what happened tonight?” He looked to Tony.

Tony didn’t know what to say.

“It’s true, Tony,” Wendy sounded defeated. “It’s just like she said. We lost the lights right before they came in. The gunfire stared shortly after.”

“They’re all dead,” Alysa said with cold detachment. “And when they finish sweeping the rooms to find anyone they might have missed, they’ll focus on the rest of you out here. That’s why it’s time to go.”

Tony searched the faces around him. They all looked spent and broken. They had a couple of handguns that Matthew and Mark managed to salvage, and a worthless spear. They had no food, water, or any other supplies.

They only had each other.

Tony turned toward the broken waterfall, clenched his fists, and then relaxed them.
He turned back and said, “It’s time to go. There’s nothing else we can do… not like this.”

“But… where?” Nine asked, gently helping Diane to her feet.

The big man ran his hands through his hair and then said, “We’re going to gather the rest of our people, come back here and finish off these fuckers, and save our friends.”

The others exchanged confused glances.

Tony finished. “We’re going to find Orosco.”

~~~

Next Episode 40-1

Previous Episode 39-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-6: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

“Tony!” Nine yelled, trying to be heard over the gunfire and the resuming Shadow Dead howls. “I think Bear’s down!”

“Just stay low and keep your eyes on the fucking pass!” Tony shouted. The remaining men lay in the prone position at the top of the pass, trying to target the fast-moving shadows that attempted to draw their fire from the small clearing below. Black arrows continued to rain down around them. Whether by sheer luck or divine intervention, they all missed their mark.

After the initial volley, Abraham Spinner, laid motionless half-way down the pass after taking an arrow through the side of his head and tumbling forward… dead.

Nine tried not to look at the dead man, tried not think of Diane who he hadn’t seen since the attack started. Instead, he focused on his gun sights and remembering Gina’s lessons on when to stop breathing, when to pull the trigger, and most importantly… when to breathe again before he hyperventilated. There was no time to consider who was still left and who would get struck by the next arrow. They were all dead if the Shadow Dead made it up the pass.

“Those fuckers are just waiting us out, Tony,” Fred said. “We’ll exhaust our ammo shooting into shadows and then it’s over.”

“When we run out of bullets, we’ll club them with our rifles.” Tony was an inconsolable stone. He refused to let the fear in and cede defeat. The others cleaved to his resolve, drawing strength from the big man’s denial that they were clearly overmatched. “And when we’ve shattered our rifles over their heads, we’ll choke them out with our bare hands—bite into their fucking faces with our teeth—whatever it takes to hold this position!”

“Something’s happening,” John said.

From the tree line surrounding the low-lit clearing below, Stephen’s five-man scouting party, infected and left tied undead from the trees, started falling to the ground.

“Oh, that’s definitely not good,” Nine said.

The man once named Frederick, stood up on dead legs, as if trying them out for the first time. He, as well as the others, turned their attention toward the sound of gunfire.

Frederick’s yellow eyes burned with hatred and intense longing as he saw the source of the sound… the blood which he craved… the light from the living that he despised… and together the hungry dead charged toward the pass with savage intensity.

“Fuck,” Tony said. “Target the scout party! Head shots! Fucking head shots!”

The undead scout party charged up the pass.

Tony and the others managed to take down the first three, but because the pass was so narrow, the dead lined up and they were unable to target the last two.

They had no choice but to move, risking arrows to avoid being ripped apart by infected teeth.

Tony was up just as the first of the dead reached them. He swung his rifle around, letting loose a rage-filled war cry, and brought the gun down, crushing the skull of the first zombie, shattering his rifle in the process. The dead thing fell limp to the ground.

The second one targeted Fred Harris, who held his rifle between his hands, to stop the savage’s teeth from reaching his flesh.

Nine put his rifle barrel to the dead thing’s temple and pulled the trigger.

“Shit!” Fred said, spitting out blood. Two black arrows struck him in the back.

Before the man could fall, a razor claw came up from behind the dead zombie and penetrated upward through Fred’s chin and into his brain before retracting.

“Fuck! Fuck!” John Turner was trying to target the first Shadow Dead when a second one came up from the darkness and ripped his throat out with a deadly side swipe from his clawed gauntlet.

The first Shadow Dead was already going for Nine, who tried desperately to raise his rifle and get off a shot. His off-balance shot went awry, striking the creature in the leg and knocking Nine over as a black arrow just missed the back of his head and bounced off the chest plate of the wounded Shadow Dead. The creature stopped, stunned by both hits.

Tony let loose another infuriated cry and charged both Shadow Dead, using his momentum to tackle the first one from the side, knocking them both into the second one, as man and monsters tumbled down the pass.

“Tony!” Nine shouted. He got up, grabbed his rifle, and ran down after them.

~~~

John Calloway was prepared to shit himself after the Shadow Dead attacked the barricades. He could hear the screams of his friends just outside the hatch room door as it sounded like they were being massacred. Instead of joining the fight, he remained at his post, the only defender left with a rifle still aimed up toward the hatch at the top of the ladder.

When the hatch suddenly burst open, letting in outside ambient light down into his dark grave-like position, the young man believed that Tony had arrived with re-enforcements. He made the mistake of lowering his weapon for just an instant, a nervous smile of relief crossing his face. He called up nervously, “To…Tony?”

A large shape fell from the top of the ladder and landed on top of him like a rock.

John struck the floor hard, disoriented, struggling to breathe, as it felt like the hatch door had fallen on top of him. He retrieved his flashlight and shined it into the face of Abraham’s corpse, the man’s lifeless face mirroring his own terror right before Death claimed him.

John tried to cry out, but words failed.

And then they were there, quickly descending the ladder, razors raised toward his shaky flashlight beam.

John turned off his flashlight and started to weep, hoping the darkness would somehow give him a merciful death as the Shadow Dead ripped him to pieces.

It did not.

~~~

Once the remaining three monsters breached the barriers, Logan’s defenders were overwhelmed by the close-quarters savagery of the Shadow Dead who tore into them like coyotes in the center of a chicken coup. They fired wildly into the dark, as flashlights fell, defenders shooting each other or simply trying to crawl over each other to get away to avoid the next bloody swing from razors that penetrated flesh, splattering blood into each other’s faces, causing screams of pain which only aided in masking the monsters’ next bloody kill.

Logan and a few others managed to fall back into the secondary hallway, toward Stephen’s position, using the narrow hall as a choke point and relying on muzzle flashes to try and distinguish their friends from the enemy.

“They’ve breached the hatch!” Cynthia Davis called out. Several more Shadow Dead invaded the front hall, attacking defenders from behind.

Logan watched helplessly as Cynthia’s back was sliced open, her body quickly falling limp into the accumulating pile of flesh at the barriers. He fired his handgun until it ran dry, quickly reloaded, fired again, the gun running hot. His mind was in another place now, somewhere between total panic and insanity as he simply reacted to the carnage in front of him. There was no time to think, to shout out warnings, to pray to his God… they would all be dead in the next few minutes if he or any of them stopped fighting with all they had left.

~~~

Stephen and his defenders felt their resolve slip away as the Shadow Dead bombarded them with the body parts of their slaughtered friends.

The panic was instantaneous as they broke ranks, many of them fleeing toward the hall, some simply dropping to the floor and cowering, others firing wildly into the dark, forgetting to aim, while others tried not to shoot their friends who were crossing in front of their fields of fire.

Five shadows bolted out of the cafeteria hallway and ran in opposite directions across the control room, drawing gunfire in all directions.

“Retreat to the fucking hallway!” Stephen called out.

The Shadow Dead were ruthless, cutting into the first defenders they saw, Stephen barely made it out of the control room as the savage deaths of his friends bought him the precious seconds he needed to make it into the hall and attempt to regroup his remaining defenders.

Once in front of the mystery door, he and a handful of defenders turned their attention toward the control room and started firing at anything that moved.

Stephen took a deep breath before he passed out. He could smell fire from somewhere close. He looked behind him and up the hall, past the clinic, and saw Logan and what was left of his group, desperately trying to hold the other end of the hallway.

We’re penned in! How the hell did this happen? Stephen had no time to consider this as he heard young April shout, “Don’t leave us! You fucking cowards!”

Three men broke ranks and bolted for the Cubicle City entrance.

They were cut off as more shadows came out of Cubicle City, entering the hallway, and sliced the fleeing men to pieces.

“They’ve taken Cubicle City!” someone shouted.

“There’s too fucking many!” someone else called out.

Suddenly Stephen’s forces were split in two directions, shooting toward the control room and toward the Cubicle City entrance.

This is it! Stephen thought. We lose this hallway and it’s all over!

Stephen called out behind him, “Logan! We’re overrun! Defend this fucking hallway! It’s all we have left!”

Logan was far too busy to respond.

What the fuck do we do? WHAT THE FUCK CAN WE DO?

Stephen mustered all he had left to maintain control. They needed him.

“You know what you need to do, my love. It’s staring you right in the face.”

Stephen turned toward the enemy’s voice.

Nicole was standing there—torn up bloody tank top, bruised flesh, cuts running down her legs, her long brown hair was a disheveled mess of dried up blood and dirt. Her face was pale. Her one good eye stared into him, like a portal opening up between two versions of hell.

Stephen was too tired for this. He frowned at the monster and said, “Get out of my head… and don’t come back.”

Nicole simply nodded, dropped her head, and then finished, “I’m only here to help you.” She then backed up, disappearing behind one of the defenders that got in between them… and then she was gone.

His eyes fell on the mystery door, where Nicole was just standing. He felt a small glimmer of hope surface when he realized what Nicole wanted him to see. It’s all we have left, his mind pleaded as he knew what he had to do now. He then turned back down the hall, toward the clinic. Yes, if Logan can hold his end of the hall… we might make it!

He turned back and found April. “Hold this position, no matter what!” he commanded, and then nodded toward the door.

April nodded in understanding, an inspiring look of determination highlighting her face. “Do what you have to do,” she said. “We’ll hold them back!”

Stephen sprinted toward the clinic.

~~~

Tony opened his eyes and attempted to focus in the dark. The left side of his felt numb from lying on the cool earth. His body ached in multiple places after falling down the pass. Well, I’m not dead yet. That counts for something.

Someone groaned in pain nearby. It sounded like Nine.

The light from the fire above helped his eyes adjust as he made out several dark forms moving about. One of them kicked Nine lying on the ground, causing the young man to cry out again.
“Leave him alone!” Tony tried to get up. A heavy foot came down hard, putting pressure on his head. Someone kicked him in the stomach.

No. It doesn’t end like this, Tony thought. Ignoring the pain, he reached up with his arms and grabbed the foot, pushing the Shadow Dead off balance and away from him. Tony got to one knee as another creature lowered what looked like a black spear at his face. He stared back defiantly and shouted, “Do it! Kill me, you cowardly bitch, but don’t think I’m going to let you humiliate us.”

The Shadow Dead holding the spear, cocked its strange masked head and then backed away with indifference. Unlike the others who wore animal skulls, this one wore a helmet, partially obscured by some black scarf, that appeared to be made out of a human skull. Tony noticed that the creature was limping from a bullet wound to the leg.

The Shadow Dead’s hesitation allowed Tony a chance to size up their situation. There were six of them, slowly walking in a circle around himself and Nine as if deciding what to do with them. He looked at Nine who was crawled up into a ball, trying to protect his face and head. It looked like the Shadow Dead had ganged up on him.

Time to pick a fight, he thought, hoping to buy Nine some time before they beat him again.

He turned back to the one holding the spear, assuming it to be their leader. “I don’t know what kind of men hide behind Halloween costumes and beat up kids, but I’m not impressed with any of you. You’re all just a bunch of killers with no honor.” He looked around and gave the others a dismissive look before locking his gaze back on the one with the black spear and the leg wound. “Looks like the kid gave you a permanent limp, you fucking pussy.”

The Shadow Dead spun his spear around and whacked tony in the side of the face with it.

Tony hit the ground, hard. That fucking hurt. He slowly got back up to his knees, spit out blood, and laughed. “That the best you got, pussy? If this were a fair fucking fight, I’d shove that fucking spear up your ass until you were choking on it.”

The wounded Shadow Dead launched forward like a viper, spear extended.

Tony closed his eyes, waiting for the blow that never came. He finally opened them and saw the tip of the spear two inches from his face.

The Shadow Dead held his position for a moment and then dropped the spear in front of Tony. He then backed away and pointed at the spear and then in Tony’s face.

The big man smiled. “Okay… you want to play… that it?”

The Shadow Dead did not respond.

Well… you wanted a fight…

Tony picked up the spear and slowly rose to his feet, expecting the others to charge in and finish him off.

The others simply stopped, razor claws extended on their gloved hands, as they looked toward the wounded Shadow Dead wearing the human skull to see what he would do.

Tony looked over at Nine. The young man turned and stared at him. His face was a bloody mess. He cautiously rose to his knees, shaking, and terrified.

Hold on, kid, Tony thought. We’re not done yet. He looked back toward the wounded Shadow Dead who had retrieved another spear from the monster next to him.

At least he’s not wearing razors. Tony gripped the long spear in both hands and took up a fighting stance. Aim for the leg, Marcuchi. That’s the vulnerable-

Before he could finish his thought, the Shadow Dead spun around with his spear and struck Tony in the side, his face, and then behind his left leg, knocking the big man to the ground, deliberately avoiding using the tip of his spear to savor the kill.

Tony’s body cried out in pain. Fuck me! I never saw that coming. Whatever these things are, they’re well trained in martial arts.

Tony supported himself on his spear and stood back up, spitting out more blood. He nodded at the wounded Shadow Dead and said, “Okay. Good one, asshole. But it’s gonna take more than your fucking stick to take me out.”

The Shadow Dead retracted his spear in response, spinning it behind his head, before assuming another attack position.

“Tony…” Nine managed to get out.

He looked at the young man. Nine’s was trying to tell him something with his eyes.

Tony smiled. “Now, don’t give me any of your shit about there being six of these bastards… and how shitty that number is.”

Nine struggled to laugh.

Tony gave him a puzzled look.

“There’s seven, Tony… seven.”

What?

“And that’s a good number… right?”

“Yes, Tony,” Nine said with confidence. “That’s a very good number.”

Before he could consider what the young man was implying, the wounded Shadow Dead stepped forward and struck Tony in four places before he could even raise the spear to defend himself. Tony struck the ground again, coughing and struggling to breathe. This isn’t going to end well. Tony tried to lure the Shadow Dead in by appearing to collapse. When his attacker approached, Tony let out a growl and aimed his spear toward the monster’s wounded leg with all he had left.

The Shadow Dead easily deflected the thrust with his spear and countered with another attack, striking Tony in the right shoulder.

Fuck me… I’m spent. Tony tried to rise again, but everything was spinning around him. He managed to look up at his attacker. The Shadow Dead was finished playing. The creature retracted his spear, tip forward, for the final blow.

Before he could finish his death stroke, something whizzed through the air over Tony’s head. The Shadow Dead suddenly fell to his knees as Tony was late to register the black shaft sticking out of the left eye in the monster’s skull helmet.

The Shadow Dead fell over sideways and was still.

Holy shit! What just happened?

Tony looked over at Nine.

The young man was smiling and raising up seven fingers.

Tony turned toward the other Shadow Dead. They all broke from their vulture’s circle and were staring at someone coming out of the woods.

Neither Tony nor Nine expected to see a seventh Shadow Dead coming out of the darkness aiming a large black bow, another arrow notched, toward his own kin. This one appeared much smaller than the others, but no less lethal.

The remaining Shadow Dead gave each other a confused look, then as one, they all slowly stepped back into the forest, dragging the dead one’s body with them.

Tony crawled over in front of nine and raised his spear up toward the Shadow Dead archer. He could barely keep the spear from shaking in his own hands; his body was well past the point of total exhaustion.

The archer lowered his bow and stared at the broken mess his kind had left behind. Then it laid the bow down on the ground and held up his hands in a submissive gesture.

Tony refused to lower his guard. “What’s this shit? More games? You looking to have a go at us, too?”

In response, the seventh Shadow Dead raised his hands toward the animal skull helmet and removed it.

“Whoa,” Nine said. “Unexpected.”

They were staring into the black-painted face of a young woman, hair slicked back and tightly braided, and wearing some sort of nose ring. The Shadow Dead woman dropped her helmet beside her bow and said, “They’ll be back to kill you when they decide what to do about me. You have just one choice: Trust me, or die here.”

“Fuck off,” Tony growled.

The woman smiled. “I admire your spirit… and your ability to take a beating. But I’m losing patience quickly with your stupidity. In case you weren’t paying attention, I just saved both of you. We need to leave these woods… right now.”

Tony got to his feet. He continued to hold the spear with one arm, ready for another attack. He helped Nine up with his other arm. “Just go back where you came from, Shadow Bitch. We’re not going anywhere.”

The woman frowned. “Fine. Let me spell it out for you. While you were all distracted, focused on defending your precious hatch, my… wayward brothers… already broke into your compound, via two tunnels that none of you knew about.”

“What are you saying?” Nine said.

“I’m saying that your friends are all dead. Whoever’s left out here, in these woods, are all that’s left of your community.”

“Bullshit.” Tony refused to believe it… he couldn’t.

“Believe what you want,” the woman said. “But there’s a chance the two that fell over the cliff might have landed in the river. I had to make a choice. Save them or save you. I saved you. But we might be able to get to them if we leave right now.”

Nine looked to Tony. “Diane… she’s talking about Diane… and Barney.”

“She’s just using us as bait to catch them,” Tony said. He looked to the woman. “Why are you helping us?”

“I came to find a friend of mine. I even warned him that this would happen. Apparently, none of you listened.”

“Marcus?” Tony said.

“Yeah,” the woman said with hidden bemusement. “Marcus. Is he here… somewhere?”

“Who are you?” Tony pressed.

“My name’s Alysa… not that it matters right now.”

“Marcus never mentioned you,” Nine added. “He told us about Alison… and she’s dead.”

Alysa shook her head with a laugh. “I’m not surprised he told you that… or that he lied about my name. But that’s irrelevant right now. Do you want to save your friends or not?”

Nine gave Tony a pleading look.

Tony was torn. If this woman was telling the truth, then all was lost. He desperately needed to believe Alysa was lying… but he couldn’t.

We do what we can… save who we can, he thought with a heavy sigh.

“I don’t believe my friends are all dead. You underestimate them,” he said. “But I don’t believe we can do anything for them… not like this. But we’ll come back.”

Alysa nodded. “Fair enough,” she added diplomatically.

Begrudgingly, Tony said, “I’ll trust you… for now. But if I find out you’re full of shit, I’ll kill you.”

Alysa laughed. “Oh, I do believe you’ll certainly try.” She bent over and picked up her bow. She looked once at the skull mask, intending to pick it up, and then dismissed it with an unreadable expression on her face.

~~~

Next Episode 39-6

Previous Episode 39-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-5: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Janice, Terry, Mark and two others volunteered to investigate the power outage and secure the storage wing of the facility. Logan instructed them to attempt turning the power back on, if possible, but that they were to return immediately if they discovered any signs of intruders or additional sabotage. The power box, which controlled the ‘day’ and ‘night’ light settings, was located in one of the storage rooms along the narrow hallways, which ran the southern portion of the facility, eventually looping back around toward the cafeteria.

All five of Logan’s scouting party were armed and considered some of the most efficient shooters trained under Gina. They all carried small flashlights and used them sparingly, not wanting to give up their position as they cleaved to both sides of the hall with their weapons at the ready. They passed the cafeteria to their right and were about to turn the dark corner on their left, leaving them out of visual range of the hatch defenders watching their backs from the main hall.

As one, they turned the corner into the first storage hallway, guns aimed and lights flashing just long enough to verify the first hall was clear. They could see the open laundry room door at the end of the hall on the left and another blind spot as the corner of the next hallway stood opposite the laundry room on the right. The power box would be in the last room in the next hallway.

“I’ll take point,” Janice whispered.

They all silently lined up behind her as they shimmied down the right wall toward the next corner, lights off until the young woman had a chance to flash her light first, peer around the corner, and verify they next hall was clear.

The other four waited as Janice hooked around the corner, gun raised, flashlight out… all in one efficient movement. She turned her light on, intending to turn it right back out. Instead, she dropped her flashlight to the floor. To the others, it appeared as though she were leaning against the corner in an attempt to retrieve it.

“Janice?” Terry whispered. The woman hadn’t moved from the corner for three seconds. Terry risked turning on his flashlight. He shined it up toward Janice’s face just as the woman stumbled back and looked at him. Her face was pale from shock. She tried to speak, or breathe.

Terry shined his light down. “Holy fuck!” he said. Janice Rodney’s entire left forearm, from where she’d held up her flashlight in the backhanded position, had been cut off. Janice took a step toward him, the stub of her left arm dripping blood. She reached out with her one good arm, trying to touch Terry. And then another arm with a large blade attached to the hand, shot out of the young woman’s chest, splattering the dying woman’s blood all over Terry’s face.

Janice locked eyes with Terry, not yet registering that she was dying, until the bladed hand retracted through her chest and out her back. Everything had happened so fast, like cutting your finger off on a meat slicer, but not realizing it until you saw the missing digit and the bloody blade. Blood poured out of her mouth and nose. She tried to speak but was choking on the crimson fluid. Something from behind her spun Janice around. Her eyes went wide and she managed a tortured scream as the hideous beast, with bloody blades for hands, removed Janice’s head from her shoulders. It caught the dead woman’s head as the rest of her body fell limp to the floor.

Before the others could open fire, a beast wearing some sort of black robe over a bloody animal skull and ratted fur over what looked like a suit made of metal and bone, tossed Janice’s head at Mark, causing him to stumble backwards as he jerked the trigger on his rifle and blew the back half of Terry Collins’ head off.

Before Terry fell to the ground dead, the creature got up under Terry, using his corpse as a shield. All three men opened fire at the monster.

The beast charged the men, tossing Terry’s body at the first, knocking him back into the second. Mark’s gun ran dry. There was no time to reload as the monster sliced the other men to pieces.

Four more Shadow Dead were turning the corner now, seeming to appear out of the darkness.

Mark turned to run, realized he had no chance, and attempted to shout out and warn the others instead.

Before he could call out, a long black spear entered upward through the base of Mark Oswald’s head, the bloody point exiting between his eyebrows.

~~~

“They’re already inside!” April shouted. “That gunfire is coming from the cafeteria!”

Several of Stephen’s defenders abandoned guarding the door, believing the enemy was coming up behind them. They started scrambling toward the control room instead, led by the over-zealous young woman. Others were falling out of position and considering running for Cubicle City.

“Hold your positions!” Stephen yelled. “We can’t give up the hall! If they are inside, this confusion is exactly what they want!”

“Wait!” Someone yelled from the darkness. “I think I see them!” Those with flashlights started scanning sporadically, causing more disorientation than aiding in lighting the area.

“There! Behind us, I see shadows running right toward us!”

Stephen turned toward the cafeteria hallway. “There’s nothing there! Don’t give up your positions!”

All at once two dark forms sprinted toward them from the direction of the armory.

“Holy fuck! They’re right on us!” Someone shouted, pushing through the confused defenders and taking aim.

Stephen’s heart sank when he realized what was happening. “Wait! Hold your fire-”

It was too late.

Two of the defenders started shooting their rifles into the shadows closing in on them, this caused several others to line up beside them and open fire.

“I got ‘em!” Someone shouted. “I’ve got two down… in the armory hallway!”

“Cease fucking fire!” Stephen finally broke through. The defenders lowered their weapons as Stephen ran toward the targets, flashlight out and on.

“Oh, my God,” April whispered. She put her hands over her mouth.

Stephen’s flashlight lit up the attackers, lying still in a large pool of blood.

Josh Wellington, and Barry Batista, after hearing the woman scream followed by gunfire, had scrambled for somewhere to hide in the armory. When they realized they were trapped there, both men worked up the nerve to run back, abandoning their quest for the spotlights, and even their own flashlight, believing the Shadow Dead were about to cut them off from the others.

They died instantly when the defenders opened fire on them.

~~~

Jeremy turned away from watching the hall long enough to rub his eyes. When he looked back, five shadows sprinted across the darkness at the end of the hall and into the cafeteria. It had happened so quickly that Jeremy thought his eyes were playing tricks. He turned to the man on his right and whispered, “Did you see that?”

“Fuck!” Bernard said. “I don’t know what I saw… but I saw something.”

Before they could notify Logan, someone yelled, “They’re coming back!”

Everyone turned their attention toward the back end of the hall.

Two of Logan’s scouts were coming around the corner from the supply hallway, passing the cafeteria entrance, and approaching Logan’s barricade. They were carrying wounded over their shoulders and moving side by side.

“Shit,” John Calloway said, as the scouts neared flashlight range. “That looks like Janice Rodney and Mark Oswald, they’re carrying. We need Doc Coop-”

“Everyone, open fire! Right now!” Logan shouted.

Several defenders gave Logan a hesitant look.

“Damn it!” he shouted. “Those aren’t our people!” He pulled out his handgun and started firing down the hallway.

The Shadow Dead approached faster, realizing their ruse had been discovered, but still using their human shields to take the blunt of Logan’s gunfire.

Three more Shadow Dead, wearing dark robes and hiding behind the first two, revealed themselves, and started charging along the sides of the hall.

“IF IT’S MOVING… SHOOT IT!” Logan shouted.

The defenders started firing down the hallway.

“Logan!” it was Jeremy. “We think we saw more of them bolt into the cafeteria!”

Understanding that the radios were useless now, the preacher backed away from the barricade and ran to where the hatch hallway intersected with Stephen’s hall. He inhaled deeply and bellowed, “Stephen! The Shadow Dead are cutting through the lunchroom! Guard your backs!”

By the time Logan turned back around, one of the two Shadow Dead carrying the corpses was down. But the other one had made it close enough to the first table barrier to toss Janice’s headless body over the top, momentarily disrupting their defense. The other three were low crawling, using the front of the barrier as cover.

Something primal snapped within the big preacher, something from his old days. He fired his handgun into the skull mask of the Shadow Dead who had thrown Janice’s body, until the creature went down. “Defend yourselves!” he shouted. “It’s a fucking street fight now!”

The remaining three Shadow Dead jumped out with bloody claws drawn and leapt over the first barrier and into the defenders like savage wolves.

Logan could do nothing but watch in horror as his defenders were torn to pieces.

One just ripped Jeremy Lang’s throat out.

Another slit Bernard Ferguson down the middle; his intestines pouring out of him before he fell dead.

Dear Lord, Logan thought. These aren’t men… they’re demons!

~~~

“Stephen! The Shadow Dead are cutting through the lunchroom! Guard your backs!” Logan’s words, in the wake of more gunfire, echoed down the hall like a promise of death.

There was no time to mourn the dead, or sit horrified by his bad tactical leadership which led to fratricide. Stephen could simply react and fight or lie down and die… that was the simplicity of choices in warfare. If they survived the night, Stephen would have the rest of his short days to walk the haunted hallways of regret.

He willed himself to move. “Watch the lunchroom hall! They’re coming!”

His people scrambled to form a line to stop the enemy from reaching the control room.

“This is it,” he said, raising his rifle to lead the defense. “Fear nothing but letting those monsters make it down the hall. Nothing else matters.” He felt a surprising calmness fall over his useless emotions. He couldn’t afford to feel anything. Hesitation meant death.

Young April Baxter stood beside him, trying her best to share in Stephen’s calm void, like standing under an umbrella to keep out the rain.

His feelings would have had her go to the back of their defenses, sparing the girl from the slaughter for as long as possible. But he needed every gun now. Young or old, it didn’t matter—they’d all die today if they failed.

Whatever light they had left was shining toward the lunchroom hallway, which only allowed them to see the front end of the hall.

And then there was movement.

“Fire!” Stephen commanded.

The muzzle flash of six rifles briefly lit up the hallway… and hit nothing.

“They’re toying with us,” April whispered.

“They have been in control… until now,” Stephen said confidently. He just hoped that whatever was happening with Logan’s people—and it sounded bad—that they could hold the hatch hallway.

Stephen signaled six others to step up allowing the first group to stand back and reload.

The Shadow Dead were quick. Two of them moved into the hall from the cafeteria, backed inside, and then two more came out. Their movements were precise and efficient.

Several dark objects, lobbed from their position, started striking around the defenders.

“They’re throwing grenades!” Someone yelled.

Stephen pushed April to the floor and screamed, “Cover! Now!”

When nothing exploded, the defenders examined the floor with flashlights.

The Shadow Dead weren’t throwing explosives. They were throwing the human remains of their hacked-up friends.

~~~

“Is… is anybody in here?” Joe called out, taking a bold step toward the cubicles where they had heard the sounds.

As if in response, the low lighting above went completely out.

Beverly, Matthew, Wendy and Mark looked at each other for guidance. None of them knew what to do.

After a long moment of silence, Joe turned back toward the others, placing one hand on the butt of his holstered handgun while fumbling nervously with the holster strap. Joe’s gigantic gut rivaled his large cowboy hat as he had pushed his holster further back on his gun belt for comfort, sacrificing an effective draw. Between that and his sweaty hands and forehead, Joe’s attempt at appearing confident and in control failed. He half-heartedly smiled at them, still holding out the lantern in his other hand. “Relax, everyone. Nothing to worry about. Just a power outage. We probably heard the breakers pop through the walls or something. That’s all we heard.”

The others did not look convinced.

Joe picked up the hand-held radio, turned it down real low, and attached it to his belt.

“That didn’t sound like a breaker,” Matthew said. “Maybe somebody’s having a little fun with us?”

“Who’s having fun?” Wendy asked.

“Should we… I don’t know… go and investigate?” Beverly offered.

Joe raised up a shaky hand. “I’ve got this. Don’t you worry your pretty little head. You all just hang tight and let me take a peek behind those curtains. I’m sure we’re just spooking ourselves out.”

“Agreed,” Mark said. He addressed the others. “Joe’s the only one here with experience in things like this. We’ll just wait here-”

“Chicken shit,” Matthew said.

Mark shot him a stern look.

“No… no… Mark’s right,” Joe said. “I’ll go check it out. You all stay put.”

Before anyone could argue, Joe turned toward the cubicles, took a deep breath to steady his nerves, and then wiped sweat off his forehead. You can do this, Joe. Don’t be afraid of a little noise. You’ve been in far worse places and seen some shit. When he was done consoling himself, Joe moved toward the first row of hanging sheets and disappeared within the cubicles.

The others watched his lantern light cast a silhouette of the robust man on the hanging sheets.

Beverly snickered when she saw the elongated size of his shadow cowboy hat.

Wendy hit the tall woman in the arm. “Knock it off,” she whispered.

Mark was staring sideways at Matthew, still fuming for being called a coward.

“Look!” Wendy said, pointing. “What’s he doing?”

Joe’s silhouette stopped abruptly and then got smaller as he bent down toward the ground, placing the lantern on the floor beside him. “We’ll I’ll be damned!” he said.

“What do you see, Joe?” Matthew called out.

“Some kind of sinkhole… I think,” Joe said. “Looks like the floor just collapsed. I saw one of these once… it just opened up in the middle of a busy intersection and swallowed up a car.”

“This doesn’t sound right,” Wendy whispered. “Sinkholes don’t push cots around.” She called out, “Joe, just come back… please.”

They watched Joe’s shadow behind the sheets as he stood, removed his large hat, and appeared to be scratching his head. “Strangest thing though,” he said. “The tiles are all cracked around the hole… something’s off about it.”

“What do you mean?” Beverly asked.

They watched Joe’s shadow put his hat back on. “It’s like something pushed up through the damn thing… instead of it collapsing. Wait a minute! I hear something!”

“Joe, just get your ass back here!” Wendy said.

They watched Joe’s silhouette turn towards the exit and stop as another shadow—a large indistinguishable shadow—appeared behind him, as if coming up from the ground.

The new silhouette reached behind Joe with incredible speed and slit the large man’s throat, splattering the sheet wall with blood. Joe’s hat fell off his head as his shadow collapsed to the ground.

Two more unidentified shadows appeared behind the bloody sheets.

“They’re here!” Mark hissed. “Hide!”

The panic was immediate as four terrified souls dropped down to the floor and started crawling away from the prayer wall and toward the cubicles on their side. When they were beneath the first row of hung sheets, they scrambled to find the closest cots to hide beneath.

From their vantage point at ground level, they could all see the feet of more shadows crowding the area near Joe’s lantern.
They all tried to become invisible and not make a sound, hoping the Shadow Dead would overlook them.

Beverly shared a cot with Wendy. The tall girl started to cry. Wendy reached over and put a hand over her mouth until Beverly regained control.

Under the adjacent cot in the same cubicle, Mark and Matthew were fumbling around with Mark’s handgun, trying to turn off the safety in the dark. Neither of them looked willing to pick up the gun and risk giving up their position by attempting an attack.

They heard the Shadow Dead coming now, stepping out from the cubicles. One of them had picked up Joe’s lantern as the light shifted across the large space, shadows relocating as they all waited for the light to betray them.

And then the gunfire stared from down the hall.

“Shit,” Matthew whispered. “We’re so screwed.”

“Shut up,” Mark whispered back.

Beverly and Wendy stared at the feet of the Shadow Dead from beneath the sheets. They counted six pairs of feet when the monsters stopped just ten feet away from them. It was the gunfire that they seemed concerned with now.

Maybe we’ll still get out of this, Wendy thought, as the Shadow Dead turned and started toward the Cubicle City exit.

Mark focused on the gunfire and tried not to move. He was holding the handgun so tightly, his hand throbbed.

Matthew was nervously attacking his nails with his teeth.

Now I understand why they hid us back here, Mark thought. We’re a pathetic mess, moments from wetting ourselves!

The lantern light moved away from them, as the darkness returned within their cubicle.

Wendy strained her eyes to try and make out the feet of the enemy, but they were out of range, presumably gathered in front of the exit for some surprise attack on their friends. “We need to do something,” she whispered across at Mark.

Mark shook his head. “Hell no. Are you trying to get us killed?”

“They’re going to attack from behind… no one will see it coming. We have to warn them.”

“You go, then,” Mark whispered. “It was nice knowing you.”

Wendy scowled at him and mouthed, “Asshole.”

“There’s nothing… there’s nothing we can do,” Beverly whispered to Wendy. “You saw what they did to Joe… oh, my God… poor Joe.”

“Calm down,” Wendy said. “We have to warn the others.”

“No… please. Don’t let them know we’re here. Don’t leave me!” Beverly was near tears again.

Wendy nodded and grabbed the tall girl’s hand. “Okay… we’ll just… we’ll just wait.”

Mark stared across at the two women. He could barely make out their faces, but their hushed frightened voices, just like his own, was driving him crazy. He knew they were all dead. The monsters had finally arrived, and now, it was just a matter of time before they all got what they deserved.

“What are they doing?” Matthew asked. “Are they just… waiting for us to come out? Playing some fucked-up version of cat and mouse?”

The Shadow Dead had not moved for what felt like an eternity.

The gunfire down the hall began to increase. Whatever was happening, it didn’t sound good.

“Just… keep it together,” Mark said. “We’ll just wait it out. That’s all we can do.” Mark stared down at the handgun and then looked at each of them. I could end this right now. Put all of us out of our misery. At this range, even I can’t miss. As the unthinkable took root in his mind, Mark prepared himself for action. I’ll shoot Matthew first, then the girls. By the time those freaks realize where we’re at, it won’t matter. One more to the temple and then we’ll all be free… free from this shithole… and four less obstacles holding up progress. It’s they’re damn world now. We had our chance.

Suddenly the lantern light swirled erratically toward them.

The lantern struck the girls’ cot and shattered. Flames and smoke rose from the oil-covered mattress.

“Run!” Mark shouted.

The fire moved quickly, travelling across the hung bed sheets, cots, and anything else that would burn, as all four of them crawled their way back out near the prayer wall. They were coughing fiercely, they’re eyes burning.

Half of Cubicle City was already in flames.

~~~

“Meredith!” Coop yelled. “Get away from her door!”

The older woman stood at the observation room door, hands raised, trying to calm the young woman down. “Megan, it’s me… Meredith. You need to fight it, honey. Fight it with everything you-”

Megan screamed and ran full speed toward the door and rammed it with her head. The young woman stumbled backwards and fell to her knees, temporarily stunned, her forehead a bloody mess. Five minutes ago, Megan had completely lost control, ripping herself free from her duct tape restraints and escaping the wheelchair. She had started ranting about blood… so much blood… and how she could smell it, taste it, in the air. The blood lust was driving her mad.

Coop refused to give up his position near the clinic door. He had grabbed Meredith’s gun, intending on shooting anything that barged in. They could hear the gunfire from the hall… and the screams. Whatever was happening out in the hallways indicated that the Shadow Dead had somehow made it inside. What made matters worse was that the power had gone out, reducing them to a single flashlight that Coop was using to try and keep the dark observation room lit. “There’s no time for this, Meredith!” Coop shouted. “People are dying out there, if we leave right now, we might make it to Cubicle City.”

Meredith held her shaking hands over her mouth, staring at Megan’s blood dripping down from the plexiglass door where she’d struck it. “She’s hurt. I can’t leave her like this.”

“We have to go!” Coop pleaded.

“And go where?” Meredith cried out through tears. “You want to run away and go huddle up in a corner with everyone else, waiting to die in the dark? No one was there for this poor girl when those… those bastards did this to her… killed her child… and left her like this. How can I abandon her now? How, Coop? Just look at her!”

Coop forced himself to look into the observation room. Megan was breathing heavily, one hand holding her wounded forehead as blood dripped through her fingers and down the front of her gown. The girl pulled her hand away, distracted by the sight of the warm fluid. She started licking her open palm like a pathetic animal. He shined the flashlight toward Meredith, unable to look any longer. “I know it sucks,” he said. “But we can’t do anything else for her. She’s gone, Meredith. People are being slaughtered out there and all that poor girl can think about is how to get to all that blood…”

Meredith shook her head at Coop and then looked away. She knew he was right. Megan was lost. They should be out in the hall, fighting with their friends, fighting for the living… and yet, she continued to defend this sick woman, more dead than alive, who couldn’t stop licking her own blood off her hands. Does she even care? Meredith thought, suddenly getting angry at how oblivious Megan seemed. The living were being destroyed all around them and all this young girl could do was feed upon her own flesh like so many of the mindless beasts they had encountered out in this dying world who hunted them without compassion or remorse. Meredith’s face changed as she slammed her hand on the door. “Stop that!”

The Megan-thing looked up and hissed at the older woman, then went back to licking her hand.

Meredith slammed the door again. “You should be ashamed of yourself, Megan! You’re not some damn dog, panting from thirst in the heat, looking to stick your tongue into anything wet and disgusting! Stop that, I said!”

Megan howled more fiercely this time.

Surprisingly, Meredith growled right back, letting out all her pent-up frustrations, until the young woman’s eyes locked with hers. “Those things outside killed your friends… murdered your baby… turned you into a pitiful animal licking up your own blood… doesn’t anything still matter to you?”

“Meredith… please stop this.” Coop was getting increasingly uncomfortable. “She can’t hear you anymore. She’s gone-”

“I know,” she said, staring defiantly at the beast in the cage. “I know. She’s gone. Dead. Just another mindless monster waiting to be put down.”

Megan cried out in anger this time, sounding less savage and more offended.

“You would probably devour your own child without a second thought if I handed it to you, wouldn’t you? Just more blood. More… damn… blood! That’s all you are and all you’ll ever be!”

Megan stood up with surprising speed and charged toward the door, causing Meredith to back up. Instead of ramming it with her head this time, Megan stopped at the door and slammed at it with her fists, fresh tears of agony falling from mercury eyes. “I didn’t… I didn’t… ask for this! They… made me this way! I told you to… kill me… and you… won’t! WHY WON’T YOU JUST LET ME FUCKING DIE!”

Meredith boldly stepped up to the door and smiled. “Yes, that’s it, honey! See? Do you see now? You’re not dead. Dead things don’t get angry. Dead things don’t care. Dead things don’t weep. You are not dead!”

Megan closed her eyes and shook her head. “I’m… I’m pathetic… and disgusting.” She wiped blood off her mouth with the back of her arm.

“Yes,” Meredith nodded. “But you can still come back from this. You already have.”

“I’m… I’m a monster,” Megan whispered.

“Only if you choose to be, honey. That’s a choice we all have… every day. We can choose to be monsters, compassionless, numb… cold. Or we can choose to-”

“Love?” Megan said, her dark silver eyes displaying something Meredith had not seen before. Hope.

“Yes,” the older woman said through tears. “Yes. We can choose to love… in whatever way we still can.” She then looked to Coop and smiled like the sun.

Coop looked away and shook his head. “You are an amazing woman. Did I mention that already?”

“You haven’t stopped mentioning that, yet,” she said with a wink. She turned back to Megan and placed her hand on the plexiglass. Megan reached up her bloody hand and placed it near hers. “And you… you aren’t done yet. Do you hear me? You are not dead, yet. If you can still… love… then all is not lost.”

The creature in the cage, whether made calm by ingesting her own blood or by something much deeper, something much more profound than death, smiled and repeated, “If I can… if I can still love… than I am not lost.”

Meredith smiled back, and for a moment, everything else was forgotten. If the Shadow Dead killed them all before the night was finished, she wanted to retain this one hope-filled moment for as long as she could.

How very touching, Meredith.

Meredith’s face changed as the voice invaded her thoughts.

It seems you have abilities that even I have grossly underestimated.

Meredith closed her eyes, trying desperately to shut out the voice.

We’ll have to talk about this, and much more… when I see you again.

Meredith’s eyes shot wide open.

But time is short. And since you won’t let me out… you’ve forced my hand… made me go to extremes to get you out of there… to get you to come to me.

Meredith’s heart sank.

You know what you must do now. Maybe you can save some of them if you do.

“No,” she whispered.

I’ve already seized this place… all that unnecessary bloodshed to do it, too. If only you would’ve stopped fighting me and let me out… but that’s irrelevant now. You talk of choices. I give you one final option. Take it, and save some. Refuse it, and all of you will die.

Meredith started to weep.

Now… listen closely… I will remind you of the key. And after, you will have no further choices in the matter. I’ve waited long enough. I haven’t brought you all the way to this point just to let you die in vain.

Meredith listened, helpless to do anything else, as the voice of Toby retrieved the key from her dark memory.

~~~

Next Episode 39-5

Previous Episode 39-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-4: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Tony, Nine and Abraham crouched down in front of the fire, straining their eyes to catch any sudden movements from the base of the path below.

“What the hell are they doing?” Nine whispered nervously.

Tony shook his head.

“They’re trying to lull us to sleep. Make us drop our guard,” Abraham suggested.

It had been five minutes since the woods went silent. The wind brushed against the trees. They could hear or see nothing else. They all knew that these deranged men could blend into the night and the silence was working quickly to unravel them psychologically.

Tony turned to Bear, who was trying to use his height advantage to peer over and down the north side of the cliff and detect the enemy. “Stay low, big guy,” Tony cautioned.

Bear turned and nodded, attempting to make himself smaller.

Tony turned toward the other two sentries who were staring around nervously with their fingers resting on the triggers of their rifles. They looked like they were ready to open fire on their own shadows. “The fire lights us up,” he told them, trying to keep them calm. “We don’t need those fuckers knowing our numbers. Try to stay behind the fire and closer to wall.”

“This is crazy, Tony,” Fred said. “Do you really think we can keep them from getting up here?”

“The pass is all they have, and they know it,” Tony said. “If they charge, we have them where we can see them. The path is narrow enough to serve as a bottleneck straight up to us.”

“We’ll mow ‘em down, like ducks in a fuckin’ row,” John reminded his nervous partner, patting him hard on the back to get his mind off the terror of what they couldn’t see.

“John’s right,” Tony said. “They can’t get up here without exposing themselves. We can hold this position. Trust that, and don’t let these sneaky bastards get inside your head.”

Fred nodded.

“Still clear, Tony,” Nine said.

Tony nodded and called back to Diane who was standing directly in front of the small alcove in the rock where she and Barney guarded the hatch. “Diane, let Stephen know what’s going on.”

She nodded and began transmitting on her hand-held radio. “Stephen… the woods… the woods have gone silent.”

There was a brief pause of static. Stephen’s voice came over, “Are they… attacking?’

After a longer pause, Diane answered, “Nothing, Stephen. They’re doing nothing. We can’t hear a damn thing anymore. The howls were terrifying… but all this silence is ten times worse.”

“Tell Tony to come back down,” Stephen transmitted. “I don’t like that you’re all alone out there.”

Tony met Diane’s hopeful gaze. He shook his head. “We won’t give us the pass.”

“Tony won’t budge,” she transmitted. “He believes we have the advantage as long as we don’t give up the higher ground.”

“I copy,” Stephen responded. “Just keep us informed. We’re getting ready down here.”

Diane finished, “We’ll do what we can to stop them. Maybe they’ve all turned around and-”

Before she could finish, Barney tackled her hard to the ground, causing Diane to lose her grip on the radio as it slid off the cliff.

“What the fuck, Barn-” she started to cry out as the old veteran covered her with his body from several dark objects that struck rock and fell where they were just standing.

“We’re under attack!” she heard Abraham yell. She turned and watched her people scramble from several more dark objects striking the ground around the fire.

“Arrows, girl,” Barney said, rolling off the winded hunter. “They’ve got fuckin’ archers!” The old soldier started crawling toward the cliff, gun out in front, as he tried to position himself to find a target.

Diane immediately turned to find Nine as another volley of dark shafts descended upon their position. One arrow struck the dirt three feet from her face. Time to move… now!

Someone started firing near the pass.

She could hear Tony yelling at the others to find cover.

Diane got to her feet and started toward the fire, shielding her head with her rifle, fearing what felt like a black rain of death as more arrows fell from the sky all around her.

Everyone was in panic mode as she heard more gunfire from the other side of the fire. Before she could make it to Nine’s position, Diane’s path was blocked as Bear stumbled back in front of her and struck the rock wall. She fell backwards to avoid the big man and then noticed four black shafts sticking out of the dying man’s chest.

“Fuck me!” she yelled out as Bear turned to look at her before sliding down the wall in a massive heap.

“Man down!” Barney yelled out from behind her as he started to drag Diane away from Bear’s position.

More arrows of death struck the wall.

“Tony! Nine!” she cried out. “We can’t get to you! Nine! Are… are you okay?”

More gunfire from the pass. Whoever was left was fighting like hell to keep their advantage… if only just avoiding death until the next volley of arrows.

Diane couldn’t look away from the big man, pierced, and looking like he’d just been pinned into the rock face. She could see Bear’s dead face in the half-light of the fire, blood pouring from his mouth and nose, eyes closed.

Barney stepped in front of her, blocking her view. “Get over it, girl! Death ‘ain’t finished with us yet!”

She shook off her horror and locked eyes with the old man. “Find me a fucking target, Barney.”

He nodded and pointed toward the cliff edge.

She started to crawl with Barney toward the edge. They needed to find the archers and take them out. Diane looked back toward the fire and froze. “Barney! Wait!”

The old man looked back. “What the fuck?”

Bear was standing back up, staring into the fire. Arrows continued to rain down all around him. One struck his left thigh. Another, his right shoulder, causing the big man to cry out… which sounded more like a growl.

The firelight gave away the truth.

Bear’s fierce yellow eyes became large with insatiable hunger. Bulging veins started to appear along the sides of his face.

“Fuck me!” Diane said. “He’s… he’s changed!”

“You mean… The Change… right?” Barney asked in disbelief. “How the hell is that possible?”

Before she could answer, Bear turned toward the shouting voices at the pass. “No,” she said. “They’ll never see him coming. Oh, God! NO!”

As the biggest yellow-eyed monster they’d ever seen started toward their friends, Diane got to her knees, arrows or no fucking arrows, and aimed her rifle at Bear’s back. She opened fire, trying to work her way up toward the back of the monster’s head, which was obscured by its large shoulder muscles.

She almost found her target.

Bear turned instead, taking Diane’s last shot in the neck. The enraged creature howled at them looking like a zombie version of the Incredible Hulk. It started to charge, arms wide, jaw dropped, eyes ablaze.

“Fuck!” Barney shouted, trying to aim with his rifle. His shots went wide, hitting everything but the gigantic monster’s head.

Diane steadied herself for one final shot as Bear lunged toward them. She put his forehead in her sights. Got you! Diane pulled the trigger.

Click

The rifle jammed.

Fuck! Diane rose to her feet, along with Barney, who continued to shoot at the brute, point-blank-range, but missing the vital organ.

They both raised their rifles in front like sticks against the charging brute who pushed them back toward the northern edge of the cliff. The big monster swung its massive arms at them in a final lunge, causing both Barney and Diane to fall over the edge. The charging creature lost its balance and fell forward over the edge with them.

~~~

“I hear rifle fire!” a young man named John Calloway called out from the hatch room. He continued to stare up the ladder, sweating profusely, his rifle raised up toward the hatch, half-expecting the Shadow Dead to rain down from above. “It sounds bad up there!”

“Just get ready to haul ass out of there if that damn thing opens!,” Logan yelled back from the hall.

John nodded, trying to put on a brave face.

The preacher moved among his defenders, trying to keep them calm and focused. Some stood behind their lunch-table barricades, trying to remember Gina’s lessons on effective shooting. Others took one look into the eyes of the fighter next to them, saw their own fear mirrored there, and began to silently pray or weep.

Logan could feel their terror, thick in the air, pressing down on all of them, as they waited their turn to be confronted with what sounded like a slaughter above.

He moved down the hall, picked up his radio and transmitted to Stephen, “It’s happening, little brother. We can hear the gunfire… a lot of it.”

After a long pause, Stephen responded, “Copy. We’re ready here. How about your people?”

Logan turned and found the wide-eyed faces of men and women, old and young, staring back at him as if just waiting for the order to run… run anywhere… and hide until this nightmare had passed.

Logan sighed heavily and called out, “I understand that you are all afraid, my brothers and sisters! I feel it, too—all that fear trying to tear us apart from the inside out. But just remember… we are not alone! If God stands for us who will stand against us? Amen?”

Some nodded and echoed back the affirmation.

“We can fight, or we can flee,” he continued. “We can run, hide and wait to be hunted down to death, or we can face the enemy and let them know that we won’t let them have us. Do you hear me? WE WILL NOT LET THEM HAVE US!”

This time, more people, encouraged by Logan’s stand, yelled back, more in defiance against their own fear than the hand of Death striking above.

“Logan?” Stephen came over the radio. “Are they ready?”

The preacher smiled at his defenders, silently praising God for giving them the courage they needed, and then transmitted, “Yes, little brother. We are ready.”

A loud popping sound echoed down the hall from behind them, past the cafeteria, coming from the storage wing of the facility.

No one had time to consider the loud sound as heads turned and the lights went out.

The sounds of shuffling feet and terrified murmurs filled the darkness all around Logan.

What fresh hell is this? he thought, reaching into his pants for a pocket flashlight.

Others were doing the same until a dozen frantic beams of light provided enough light to see.

Jeremy Lang, an older man with a healthy mane of hair that always hung over his eyes, found him and said, “Logan, that sounded like the main breaker being tripped.” Jeremy was considered one of the compound’s handymen.

Logan gave him a confused look. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying,” Jeremy looked around nervously and then whispered, “I’m saying that it sounds like someone went to the damn breaker box and manually shut the lights off.”

Logan’s eyes went wide. “Then that would mean…”

“…that they’re already inside,” Jeremy finished.

(…John Martin Calloway, dead at age 22, of Ashtabula County, former waiter…)
(…Jeremy James Lang, dead at age 48, of Cuyahoga County, former plumber…)

~~~

“Everyone… just stay calm!” Stephen yelled.

When the lights went out, Stephen almost lost control as his door guard unit started stepping over each other, thinking only of retreating to Cubicle City and believing that the Shadow Dead were already surrounding them in the darkness.

“We’re okay! Nothing’s happened!” Stephen retrieved his pocket flashlight and turned it on. “Anyone else with flashlights, get them out and start lighting up the area. You’ll see that we’re still safe.”

Four others with flashlights started lighting up every corner until the others calmed down.

“Josh,” Stephen said. “Are those emergency spotlights still in the armory?”

Josh Wellington, a tall man with blond hair, nodded. “Yeah… I think there’s three or four of them.”

“Go there quick and get them out here. Take Barry with you. No one goes anywhere alone.”

Another man with sweat pouring down his chubby red cheeks was breathing heavily. “Why me?” Barry Batista asked.

Stephen frowned. “It’s okay, Barry. We know the armory’s secure. We’ll be watching your backs from the control room. Just calm down before you pass out.”

Barry nodded, feeling foolish.

“The sooner we have this area lit up again, the better we’re all going to feel,” Stephen added with an encouraging laugh.

Both men, feeling relieved to have something to focus on, shared a flashlight and headed toward the armory.

As the others resumed their positions, Stephen was about to contact Logan. His radio chirped to life as Logan’s frantic voice came over first. “Little brother, you still there?”

“Yes, Logan, we’re fine. A little freaked out because of the lack of lights, but everything’s alright. Do you have-”

“Stephen, we think someone manually turned the power breaker off.”

Stephen couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He stepped away from his team to talk privately. “Logan, are you implying what I think you’re implying?”

“I can’t confirm it… but we can’t rule out the possibility.” Logan paused and finished, “The enemy may already be down here.”

Stephen suddenly felt his dim surroundings closing in on him, like a dark suffocating hand. If the Shadow Dead were already inside the compound, he had no idea what they would or could do to stop them. Stephen transmitted, “We need to know for sure, Logan.”

“Understood. We’re already investigating. I’ll call you back when-”

Just then, Stephen’s radio began to squeal, followed by the terrifying death moans of multiple monsters overlapping each other.

Stephen dropped his radio and gasped when he could still hear them, screaming loudly over the control room base radio console behind him.

Everyone heard the moaning maniacs and began to panic.

Shit! They’re jamming our radio traffic! How the hell- Stephen let the unfinished thought hang as a chilling realization struck him. If they can jam our radios… then they can monitor our traffic! They’ve been listening in this whole damn time! They know exactly where we are and what we’re doing!

Stephen rushed to the radio console and turned it off, stopping the Shadow Dead war cries from demoralizing them any further.

The defenders were talking frantically over each other, falling out of position and starting to scatter.

“Hold your positions!” Stephen commanded. “Get your shit together and calm down! You all hold your positions or so-help-me-God, I’ll kill you myself!”

Stephen’s fire got their attention.

“They’re trying to get into our heads… and it’s working!” Stephen started to pace. “These sick human beings lived here long before we ever took over, so yes… they know how to hack into our communications. But if this psychological bullshit is the best they’ve got… then… then maybe they’re afraid of us! Hell… they already know we have all their guns, right?”

The others started nodding their heads.

“Just… please… I beg you… don’t run off and leave us undefended. I know this is terrifying shit, but we need to hold the line and keep these things out. Agreed?”

Once more, Stephen managed to keep them together. Terrified or not, they began to relocate back into their fighting positions.

Stephen looked down and found his worthless radio. He was worried about Logan. Please, God, let him be wrong. Maybe it was just a power surge that knocked out the lights.

From behind them, down the secondary hallway leading into the cafeteria, they all heard a woman’s scream reverberating in the darkness… and then gunfire.

(…Josh Jacob Wellington, dead at age 34, of Lake County, former swimming instructor…)
(…Barry William Batista, dead at age 48, of Geauga County, former business executive…)

~~~

Next Episode 39-4

Previous Episode 39-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-3: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

The gymnasium-sized living area, commonly referred to as Cubicle City, sat eerily quiet beneath the low-lighting above, and was the only location in the compound still configured for evening hours. Makeshift cubicles made from bed sheets, extended across thin lines of rope, were hanging askew or swaying slightly off the linoleum floor, casting distorted shadows along the walls. Every cot in every cubicle was empty. Bedding and clothing lay scattered across the floor in a panic, as every available body was awoken from complacent slumber to face a nightmare. Everyone was rushed into action when word came down from topside that the once-believed fictional Shadow Dead had finally come.

Joe Lauder, a robust man in a sweat-stained white t-shirt, wearing a white cowboy hat, which was far too big for his head, sat huddled with four other armed community members near the back of Cubicle City, in front of the prayer wall with a lit lantern as an additional light source. The three men and two women were charged to keep the area secure, and act as a back-up reserve should things go from bad to worse. None of them, except Joe, had any real experience with a firearm, and they were now wishing they’d spent more time paying attention to Gina’s instruction when their former leader had tried to prepare them for this dreadful day.

They all listened intently to the anxiety-filled voices over the single hand-held radio—the volume turned down low as if they feared the dead might hear it and find them. They recognized their leader’s voice, Stephen Eddington, frantically talking with Tony and Logan as they scrambling to prepare last-minute defenses from the imminent attack. None of them would admit it, but what they were really waiting to hear was that the hatch leading down into their safe little compound had been breached… and if that happened… they all believed they would die.

Beverly Buchanon, a tall woman with long curly brown hair, tied back, had once been a magazine fashion model. She often reminisced with anyone who would listen about her previous booming social life and spacious studio apartment with a view of Cleveland’s active downtown area. Before the Change, she’d been a semi-recognizable local star, frequenting some of the biggest city events at local night clubs, fashion shows, sporting events, and even the occasional art show opening. But since the apocalypse, her ‘attractive’ skill set had become obsolete overnight, reducing her to compound maid and kitchen help.

Beverly sat in the small semi-circle with the other misfits, listening intently to the radio chatter. She wore long skin-tight designer jeans and a loose-fitting white blouse that was designed to make her look bigger in the chest region (one of many fashion tricks she’d learned along the way). It didn’t keep obnoxious Mark Banner from giving her demeaning nick names such as ‘Legs’ or ‘Clothes Hanger Girl’, but she took it in stride. Understanding what the situation called for, she didn’t wear her usual high-heeled sandals, which would have completed her casual attire, and tried not to cringe at her boring running shoes she’d thrown on instead. She constantly kept staring up at the massive prayer wall, at all the photos of misplaced loved ones, or the deceased, as her mind drifted off to life before hiding from the dead in large underground bunkers. She was the first to break the uncomfortable silence. “Do you guys ever wonder if somewhere, photos of us are posted on someone else’s wall?”

“Of course not,” Matthew Spander, a moody young man with short blond hair said. “What are the odds that other people like ourselves found a place like this to survive the winter? And even if they’re out there, the chances that anyone who might remember us is slim to none.” Matthew wasn’t a pessimist, but he lacked the imagination to believe anything beyond the facts. And for him, the facts were leaning heavily in favor of the dead.

Beverly would not be shut down. “I’m just saying, with all the people there are in the world, it’s possible, don’t you think?”

Matthew just shrugged his shoulders, already tiring of the model’s misplaced optimism.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Wendy Meseler offered. She was a short, thoughtful woman who lived vicariously through Beverly’s stories of the ‘Big City’ life when living below became downright depressing. Wendy’s short-cropped black hair matched her black thick-framed Lennon-style glasses. She often wore baggy clothes to hide her big-boned form, winning her the nick name, Velma, from Scooby Doo (thanks, Mark). She deliberately never wore anything orange, because of it.

Before the apocalypse, Wendy abhorred violence of any kind, and was once a fervent activist against anything that threatened her idealistic notions of world peace. Since the dead took over, Wendy continued to hold to her strong anti-violence beliefs, earning her the scornful name of “Hippy Girl” throughout the compound. Wendy had embraced the nickname. She once told Gina, when invited to combat training, that she could not raise arms against the dead without betraying who they used to be, and that it wasn’t possible to destroy the dead without becoming just like them.

Gina had responded with a rare instance of surprised laughter, and had never spoken with her again.

“Beverly, you are a dreamer, and I appreciate the hope you keep alive,” Wendy said.

Beverly smiled and lowered her eyes at the compliment.

“One day, we will find others, and rebuild our lives… back to what we were. In fact, I believe it will be better than it was before, because no one left alive will take the living for granted anymore.” Wendy seemed pleased with her own words.

“Spoken just like someone who’s never had to defend anyone they care about… you make me sick, you, and your sheltered beliefs.”

“Leave her alone, Mark,” Beverly said. “She’s just trying to keep our spirits up.”

Mark Banner smiled and gave the model the finger.

Both Beverly and Wendy shook their heads, dismissing his rude behavior.

Mark laughed and said, “Look, I don’t care if you want to believe in some new utopian society of Man, the fucking Easter Bunny, or if we’re all going to die down here tonight. Truth is, we deserve whatever’s coming. What’s happening in the world… hell… we did this. I don’t know how, but we did it. Maybe this is all just nature’s way of paying us back for fucking each other over all these years.” Mark was a believer in one thing: He hated his own kind more than the dead.

“How can you possess such a bleak outlook?” Wendy asked. “I mean… just look at how we’ve all come together down here. We’re all from different backgrounds and beliefs, but we’ve survived together when so many haven’t. That has to count for something.”

Mark shook his head. “You’re confusing survival necessity for compassion. We don’t care about each other… not really. We do what we do down here because we need each other. That’s it. If the National Guard came and rescued us tomorrow, I’m sure we’d all be happy to never see each other again.”

“Wow, and I thought I was the cynical one,” Matthew said. “You must not have had a lot of friends before the world ended.”

“Fuck friends,” Mark said. “That’s just more people to mourn. I’ll leave all that sentimental bullshit to the hippy over there and the long-legged prom queen. We were always alone in this world… I’ve just got the balls enough to admit it.”

Matthew had no response. He just waved a hand in Mark’s face.

Wendy turned to Beverly, who was wiping tears from her eyes.

“I wasn’t a prom queen, asshole. I modeled for a living. I just… I just miss my life. Is it a crime to want to talk about it? Is that okay with you?”

“That’s okay,” Wendy said, taking the tall woman’s hand. “You’re not the only one.” She turned and scowled at Mark. “Happy now?”

Mark raised his hands and laughed. “Sorry. I’m not good at chocolate-covered with sprinkles. If it tastes like shit, then it’s still shit. Welcome to the apocalypse, sweetheart.”

“You’re a jerk,” Wendy said. “And don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.”

Mark gave up.

Joe, the oldest of the five, and usually the most talkative, had been listening intently to the radio traffic. He was lost in thought, recalling every Shadow Dead story he’d ever heard.

“You all wanna hear a ghost story?” he asked, smiling like a mischievous child beneath his absurdly large cowboy hat.

“Not particularly,” Matthew said.

“Hell no,” Beverly added.

“Now’s probably not a good time for-” Wendy started.

“Oh… hell yes!” Mark interrupted, enthusiastically, winning him the contemptuous glares of the others. “Go on, Joe, tell us a scary story.”

Once Joe got started, it was almost impossible to shut him up. Mark was about to enjoy himself at the others’ expense.

“Well, alright then,” Joe said, moving in closer. “I started thinking about it all when we heard what happened to Carl Lannister. You know, all head and no body, on a stick?”

“I don’t want to talk about them,” Beverly said. “It’s bad enough they’re outside. Let’s talk about something else… please.”

“What? Like adventures prancing down the fucking runways with sparkles?” Mark poked. “Or Hippy’s tales of pacifism, protest signs, and the rotting re-animated corpse of John Lennon?”

“You are a damn bully,” Matthew said, shaking his head.

“Look, could we please just get our heads out of the sands of the ‘good old days’ for five damn minutes? We need to hear what Joe knows. What if the Shadow Dead get in? We need to know as much as we can to protect ourselves.”

“Go on, Joe,” Wendy said, shaking her head at Mark. “I think he’s just enjoying our discomfort. But I’d rather hear anything to shut this prick up.”

Mark blew her a kiss.

Joe, who looked like he was about to implode if he didn’t continue, nodded. “Alright then. Well, poor Carl—his head, that is—got me thinking about that scary damn machine, Micolad, and how the Shadow Dead would come at night for something they called the Gathering. Did you know that there used to be a cult, just up the river at that destroyed camp? Old Micolad used to translate all those howls and screams when the Shadow Dead came calling. That machine would tell the people what the monsters wanted, like a sacrifice or a fight to the death, and Micolad would draw names from a lottery.”

“Are you saying that’s what’s happening now?” Beverly asked, biting her nails.

“In a way,” Joe said. “It’s not that much different. They’re outside now, howling at us, and we’re like, the cult people, except that we ain’t prisoners. But maybe they just want another sacrifice to appease them… and then… they’ll go away.”

“That’s absurd,” Matthew said. “And even if it were true, we don’t have a damn machine to translate.”

“True. True. But what if history, is like, repeating itself?” Joe continued. “I was thinking we were more like the original cult people who started all the trouble that came later. You know, they first tried to leave, and were punished for it. That’s how the hanging dead men first started. Folks tried to escape and the Shadow Dead snatched them up right quick, turned them into zombies, and hung them from the trees… just like they did to Frederick’s group! That was like, their first warning!”

They all knew the tales of Micom and Micolad, but they had not heard the earlier stories. Joe had their complete attention.

“You see,” Joe started to whisper. “First came the hanging men, then, they left pieces of people on poles to scare them into submission. And when that wasn’t enough, they appeared in the camp, like ghosts on shadow, and took all their children… snatched them right out of the night!”

Wendy put her hand to her chest. “I don’t like this story.”

“And you shouldn’t,” Joe said. “I heard they let a girl live, after they took her eyes right out of her head. That girl came back, half-dead, insane with fear! And then later, that girl died. Guess what happened when they wrapped her up to bury her the next day?”

“What happened?” Mark shifted uncomfortably. He suddenly wished there were more lights on.

“When they went to bury that poor girl, the body was missing. But the Shadow Dead left her eyes!”

Beverly covered her ears. “I don’t want to hear this anymore!”

“It’s all bullshit,” Matthew said. “Ghost stories get exaggerated, just like this one, turning men into monsters to scare people. That’s all this is. The Shadow Dead are still men wearing… costumes. That’s all.”

“No, I know it’s true,” Joe said. “I’ve seen their handiwork, myself! I saw it in Andover when Sam, the police officer, was still alive! We had the town locked up tight. There’s no way they could’ve got in without us knowing. But sure-as-shit, I was there when they slipped in, like fucking magic, and killed poor Phillip Hampton! They got in just like they got into that camp, when they stole the kids. I was there, at the post office with that odd fellow, Marcus. We both found Phillip’s body hanging up on the wall like a wooden Jesus in church.”

They were all familiar with the mysterious murder surrounding the group’s former leader, Samantha Petroskovich. It was originally rumored that the Shadow Dead had done it, but was later ruled out, believing Charlie Ottermeyer had done it. But to this day, there was no proof either way. However, very few knew about Phillip Hampton.

“We found that man, his throat slit, hanging from the wall… like a sacrifice… like another warning! And there was this message written in blood over his head!”

“What did it say?” Mark asked.

“‘YOU KILL US. WE KILL YOU. BLOOD FOR BLOOD’.”

“That’s fucking creepy,” Matthew said.

“Yeah,” Joe said. “First Phillip… then Sam. Then we took this place… and now… here they are. Back for blood, or another sacrifice… who knows.”

They all sat silently for a moment. Appreciating the danger topside in a whole new horrific way.

“There was one mystery solved, though,” Joe said, looking puzzled. “They had these tunnels beneath their camp. That’s how they got in and out without being seen.”

“Tunnels?” Matthew asked.

“Yep,” Joe said. “Looked like they knew what they were doing long before they attacked that camp.” Joe laughed, standing up. He walked over to the lit lantern in front of the prayer wall and picked it up. “Well, some things won’t be repeating themselves, anyway.” He turned toward them, holding the lantern under his face to give himself a ghastly expression. “Unless… they already have tunnels under this place, too… BOO!”

Everyone jumped.

Joe couldn’t stop laughing as he pointed at each of them. “I got you all pretty good!”

“Yeah, Joe,” Mark said, no longer amused. He was staring into three terrified faces. “I think we’ve definitely heard enough ghost stories for the night.”

From somewhere along the opposite wall of Cubicle City, they all heard a sound… a cracking sound… followed by more cracking sounds coming from behind several hung sheets.

Joe turned with his lantern aimed toward the sounds.

The others got to their feet.

“Did anyone hear that?” Wendy asked.

“I thought we were alone in here,” Matthew added.

After a couple of minutes of dreadful silence, they all heard a new sound. There was no mistaking what it was.

They could all hear one of the many cots slowly sliding across the floor from within one of the roped off cubicles.

(…Joe Henry Lauder, dead at age 38, of Ashtabula County, former cook…)
(…Beverly Ann Buchanon, dead at age 22, of Cuyahoga County, former model…)
(…Matthew Barry Spander, dead at age 21, of Lake County, former college student…)
(…Wendy Lana Meseler, dead at age 20, of Geauga County, former activist…)
(…Mark Byron Banner, dead at age 23, of Lake County, former lifeguard…)

~~~

Next Episode 39-3

Previous Episode 39-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-2: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

~~~

Remember not to panic. Remember to breathe. Do not fucking miss…

That is what the young hunter heard repeating in her thoughts—over and over. It has become Diane Conley’s desperate momentary mantra, her focal point, as she tried to keep her rifle steady and her heart from giving in to the petrifying fear attempting to make her useless. The surrounding darkness, and the monsters within it, threaten to destroy her own sanity.

Four armed men came up behind her from the hatch. The hunter quickly turned before realizing that she was the one who called them on the hand-held radio for support.

“Whoa, girl!” It’s the old guard, Barney. “It’s just us.”

She barely heard him over the terrifying wails of the Shadow Dead below. She knows the screams are fake and amplified through some mobile sound system for the sole purpose of distraction and hiding their movements, but that does little to diminish how unnerved she is by their artificial death chants. The hunter lowered her rifle slightly and nodded.

With a tightly wrinkled face, as though he just tasted something foul, Barney stared from the frightened girl, to Tony, Bear and that strange young lad, Nine, standing near the bonfire. He tried to get his old eyes to focus but the fire light and smoke are making it hard for him to see. But he felt it. Death was coming. “You see them yet?”

She’s already turned back toward the cliff side, watching for anything climbing up behind them, no matter how unlikely. “Not yet,” she said. “They’re fucking with us… and it’s working.”

Barney signaled the other three men to join Tony. He moved over beside Diane, his own rifle raised. “Breathe easy, girl. Just remember that they’re still men. And we own the higher ground. Those fuckers down there know it, too.”

Diane frowned. “I’ve never been more terrified in all my life. Just don’t tell the others. They need me to be strong.”

“It’s okay to be scared, girl.” Barney stared down into the wilderness abyss. “I’ve seen plenty of shit in my day to be scared about—present shit included—but it all amounts to the same thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Take a moment to let it in… get a feel for all that fear. Then, picture it like the ugliest man you’ve ever seen, all naked with blubbery skin falling all over the place.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Exactly. Disgusting and smooching all up on you… getting inside you, too. Can you feel that nasty fat pig of fear, girl?”

“Yes.”

“Well, he’s a nasty old dog, plain and simple… and he’s always the same. Now that you’ve had a taste of that shit, shut that disgusting fuck down and don’t let him near you again. Fear’s nothing but a nasty bugger trying to put his paws down the front of your pants after you’ve had one too many-”

“I think I got it, Barney… and… thanks. I needed that… minus the visuals.”

Barney laughed. “Well, as long as it gets the job done. You okay now?”

Diane nodded.

“I’ll just stand here with you until these Halloween freaks either go away or decide to come up and dance.”

(…Diane Carol Conley, dead at age 20, of Ashtabula County, former farmer…)
(…Barney Wilson McGee, dead at age 69, of Cuyahoga County, former US Army veteran…)

~~~

Tony Marcuchi stared down the narrow path, waiting for the attack that doesn’t come. He’s too angry to let the fear in. He’s frustrated in himself for failing at so many things of late that all he wants now is to take it all out on something. Come on, fuckers! Either kill us and be done with it… or go the hell away!

“Why are they doing this?” the trembling young man asked from Tony’s left. “I mean, isn’t there enough bad shit in the world now without going out of the way to make it worse?”

Tony smiled. “I hear you, Nine.” As an afterthought he added, “Look, you don’t have to do this. Go back with Diane and get somewhere safe.”

“And where would that be? I’d rather make my stand here than hide in a hole and hope these things don’t get in.” He looked back at Diane. “She won’t leave the fight no matter how scared she is right now. How could I do any less? I may not be much of a fighter, like the rest of you, but I’ll be damned if I go hide while she fights for us.”

Tony frowned. “When they come… it’s going to get ugly. People are going to die.”

Nine laughed. “Well, then you’ll need all the luck you can get right now. In case you haven’t heard, I’m Mr. Lucky.”

“That you are,” Tony said.

In an unusual move by the biggest man any of them had ever seen, Logan’s man, the one they call Bear, reached around from Tony’s right and rubbed the top of Nine’s head… for luck.

The three men who came up with Barney took up fighting positions near the others.

Tony nodded at them appreciatively.

They nodded back sheepishly, guns raised, obviously disturbed by the animalistic war cries coming from below. They are all Logan’s men, the ones who joined Lannister’s uprising, now desiring to find some way to make up for their mistakes. When they saw the zombified scouting party tied to the trees and Lannister’s bloody head on a pole, they suddenly looked like children who have just seen the boogeyman.

Tony saw the terror on their faces, the hopelessness filling their eyes. He’d seen enough. He stepped forward to the edge of the path, took a deep breath and shouted, “Alright, enough of your bullshit! Do you hear me? Attack and get it over with, or fucking turn around and leave! Either way, stop with the games because we’ve all had our fill! I don’t care what you are… Shadow Dead or just a bunch of cowards hiding in the trees… doesn’t matter to me. I’ve faced your bullshit before and I’ll face it again! So, come on up and we’ll settle this as men… if you still remember how to act like fucking MEN!”

Just then, the monstrous cries ceased. The woods went silent.

(…Tony Joseph Marcuchi, dead at age 32, of Ashtabula County, former nightclub bouncer…)
(…Seymour Simon Patterson, a.k.a. Nine Lives, dead at age 18, of Ashtabula County, former musician…)
(…Bill Walter Stevenson, a.k.a. Bear, dead at age 42, from Cuyahoga County, former fisherman…)
(…Fred Wally Harris, dead at age 45, of Cuyahoga County, former machinist…)
(…Abraham John Spinner, dead at age 38, of Lake County, former construction worker…)
(…John Lee Turner, dead at age 33, of Geauga County, former tattoo artist…)

~~~

“Hurry up, Janice! I’ve got the damn heavy end of this thing, for crying out loud.” Terry Collins, pumped up on adrenaline and the compound’s version of coffee, was out of breath and sweating profusely when his table carrying partner dropped her end of one of the long cafeteria tables just within the back hallway.

Janice Rodney, a small but muscular woman, shot the out-of-shape man a dirty look. “Terry! Slow the hell down! These tables are heavy.”

From all around them, people were rushing up and down the hallway with weapons and ammunition. There were several others also moving tables ahead of them into the halls to help fortify improvised fighting positions. No one dared stop for a second to consider what it would mean if the madmen topside made it into the hatch. Most were still disorientated from being roused out of sleep and rushed into panic mode. All anyone knew was that the Shadow Dead had finally arrived, and that translated, via the community grapevine, into:

We’re all dead if even one of them makes it down here.

“I’m sorry, Janice.” Terry put his hands on his knees and took a deep breath. “I’m just… you know… pretty freaked out right now.”

She smiled. “I got it. Just don’t have a heart attack, okay? I’m sure Dr. Cooper doesn’t need the extra worry.”

Terry waved his hand in submission and gave her his best ‘everything will be alright’ face… unsuccessfully.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I’m gonna have to be.” He bent over to pick up his end of the table. “Let’s just put one foot in front of the other and try not to think about the rest. Deal?”

“Sounds good to me,” Janice said.

“You ready?”

Janice picked up her end of the table in response. They turned left down the hall, toward the hatch access barricade.

(…Terry Francis Collins, dead at age 52, of Ashtabula County, former truck driver…)
(…Janice Pamela Rodney, dead at age 33, of Lake County, former yoga instructor…)

~~~

Logan McCalister was assigned to oversee defenses near the hatch. While community members hustled to their positions, looking unsure of themselves while holding cold steel, others tried to maneuver around them and set up whatever they could find to reinforce several barricaded positions. The tension was high as people started yelling at each other, acting out their overstressed emotional states.

The preacher stepped in among them, carrying a rifle slung around his shoulder and a hand-held radio in his hand. “Brothers, sisters! Take heart!” he called out. “Please… don’t give these evil men what they want. They are trying to scare us into submission and cause us to cower in the darkness and turn on each other. We are strong! We are a force to be reckoned with, standing as one against those who would try and claim our lives! Have we overcome so much just to lie down and wait for death? I say not!”

Some were encouraged by the preacher’s words. Others still looked confused and terrified.

“We’re not soldiers, preacher,” an older man named Mark Oswald said. “Sure, we’ve had some training on how to shoot these guns… but that doesn’t make us ready for those… assassins… outside! We’ve all heard the stories. The Shadow Dead are deadly. They’re not like fighting the dead… these are trained killers we’re talking about!”

Others nodded in agreement.

“We should commit ourselves to God,” a respected older woman named Cynthia Davis said. She was one of the quietest members of their community, and most listened when she finally had something to say. “Instead of fighting and guns and bloodshed… we should go wait in Cubicle City, talk this out like reasonable human beings, and pray for guidance.”

Cynthia’s words appealed to several who did not want to stand and face the Shadow Dead. Others mocked her words and called it cowardice.

“Fuck all that!” a burly man named Bernard Ferguson shouted. “I say we fight! We have the numbers, the guns, and all we need is a little bit of courage!”

Fewer people voiced their approval while others shouted back, stating that fighting was plain suicide.

Logan’s voice carried over the noise. “God will help us defeat this enemy! He will deliver them into our hands… can you say, ‘Amen’?”

Several voiced their approval.

“We have each other and we have the promises of God, brothers and sisters,” Logan continued. “We are what is left of the world, the world that once believed in love, hope, faith. Neither the dead nor the living will succeed against us if we but hold on to one another, cleave unto God, and believe that we will survive this evil night, like all the ones that came before. What are the Shadow Dead? What are they in comparison to our united heart, forming a tight fist of resistance against the darkness? I say we stand! We stand together! We stand with God! And we show these… shadow things… we show these mother-fuckers that they cannot triumph in our collective light!”

The community members started cheering.

Logan needed their emotions on fire, and as far from afraid as possible. He silently thanked God for the boldness surfacing from his own fear and uncertainty, while continuing to pray, not for victory, but for mercy… and a chance to survive the night against what was certainly an overwhelming and cunning adversary.

(…Mark Louis Oswald, dead at age 48, of Lake County, former business consultant…)
(…Cynthia Donna Davis, dead at age 62, of Geauga County, former secretary…)
(…Bernard Harold Ferguson, dead at age 42, of Ashtabula County, former sales executive…)
(…Logan Peter McCalister, dead at age 42, of Cuyahoga County, former minister…)

~~~

Dr. Albert Cooper was trying to steady his shaking hands while stuffing a backpack full of as much medical supplies as he could carry and still function effectively as the community’s only doctor turned medic. He knew how bad circumstances might become if the lunatics outside made it down here and the thought of being thrown into a ‘mass casualties’ situation made his face turn pale. He stopped and stared across the clinic at Meredith. The older woman stood at the clinic door, her newly assigned holstered handgun placed on a small metal table within easy reach. Coop knew she would not hesitate to use the weapon, if it came down to it, but until that time came, Meredith would not touch it. Stephen had stopped by thirty minutes ago to give her the weapon for their own protection, but the secondary unspoken intent was obvious.

Meredith Montgomery turned and stared into the plexiglass room where Megan sat strapped into her wheelchair, partially sedated to keep her calm.

The young half-dead woman with the mercury eyes stared back at her with a deep dark sadness. She was speaking more now as Megan’s understanding and memory began to surface. But the monster within was always there, trying to reclaim her. Megan didn’t care about what was happening outside. She had enough horrors within to deal with and she’d pleaded several times since, ‘coming back’, as Meredith was fond of saying, for the older woman to just put her down like the rabid animal she’d become.

Meredith had refused to let her give up as she’d continued to encourage the poor girl as best she could. But now, Meredith wondered how long she could keep Megan safe with the Shadow Dead approaching. Or worse, she worried about how she could keep the others safe from Megan should she get loose during an attack and what would happen if Megan’s savage side took over again. Meredith looked over at the gun. Yes, Stephen was trusting her to do what needed done if things got bad. Stephen knew that she would give her life for Megan, but he also knew that Megan could not be allowed to get loose, no matter what. Stephen had placed that sole responsibility on her.

“You okay?” Coop asked coming over.

Meredith turned to him and smiled. “Yes… I’m just… my mind is all over the place.”

“Understandable,” the older man said, putting on his backpack and trying to get comfortable. “I’m far too old to be playing wartime medic, running across the frontlines to patch up souls.”

“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” she added.

Coop nodded and turned to look at Megan. “Does she… does she understand what’s happening?”

Meredith frowned with a sigh. “She understands that something bad is coming, but since she hasn’t asked, I didn’t see the point in giving her anything else to worry about. Megan’s got her own battle to deal with.”

Coop looked toward the gun and quickly averted his eyes. “You know… if those monsters get in…”

“I know,” Meredith said crossly. “If they get down here, it’s going to get crazy. You’ll have to go and help people, so I’ll stay here and… keep her safe.”

“You may have to leave her, Meredith. You know that… right?”

Meredith scowled at him. “I will do no such thing!”

Coop shook his head. “Damn, woman, I love you, but you need to stop being so stubborn! You need to consider the bigger picture.”

“And what’s that?”

Coop looked grave. “If those things get down here, there’s going to be a lot of death. They’re going to overwhelm us, rather quickly. You won’t be doing yourself or Megan any good trying to play hero.”

“I’ll move her to Cubicle City before it gets that bad. Isn’t that the plan? Everyone fall back for a last line of defense there?”

“Yes… but…”

“I know, I know, Coop. If we get cut off, I’ll handle it.”

Coop raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Promise me.”

“Promise you what?”

“You promise me that if there’s no time to get Megan out, that you’ll put that poor girl out of her misery and haul your ass to Cubicle City.”

“I can’t. I won’t!”

“You will!” Coop said. “Look, I don’t mean to be insensitive, but Megan’s still dangerous, not to mention, she’s already half-dead-”

“But she’s half-alive, too!”

Coop shook his head. “Promise me you’ll put your emotions in check, and use that gun, if it comes down to protecting yourself… and the rest of us. Last thing we need is another threat to worry about.”

“She’s not a threat!”

Cooper looked over at the girl in the wheelchair. “Not yet… but you know what might happen if she gets loose. Promise me.”

Meredith folded her arms defiantly. “I’ll… consider it. Now go do something useful before you get me really upset.”

Coop laughed and kissed her on the cheek. “I’m going to make my rounds and come right back.” He wisely departed to let her cool off.

“He’s… he’s right,” came a weak voice from the observation room.

Meredith turned and shook her head, realizing that they’d left the vents open, allowing Megan to hear their conversation. “I’m sorry, honey. You weren’t supposed to hear any of that.”

Megan’s head twitched. She let out a frustrated growl, trying to maintain control. “Not… not for me,” she said.

Meredith moved closer. “What was that?”

Megan stared hard at the older woman. “I’m… I’m dead already. You can’t risk your life for me… or… or anyone else’s. He’s right. If I… If I get loose… I’ll… I’ll hurt someone… I’ll… I’ll… FEED!”

Meredith stepped back. “It won’t come to that.”

“Shoot me.”

“What?”

“You… you will shoot me… in the head. If the monsters get in… shoot me.”

“No!”

Megan howled in frustration, struggling against her restraints and almost toppling the wheelchair.

Meredith raised her hands. “Calm down, honey! I don’t want to sedate you again.”

Megan stopped suddenly, giving Meredith a predator’s glare causing the older woman to shutter. “If… if you don’t shoot me… when the monsters come… I’ll kill you first… then I’ll kill all the rest.”

“No… no you won’t,” Meredith said. “You’ve more control than that. I know you do. We’ve been working so hard on-”

Megan growled again and said, “I… I will choose… choose to let the monster loose… make you… shoot me… before I let you… let you save me!”

Meredith didn’t know what to say. Finally, her shoulders sank. “Okay,” she whispered. “If it gets bad down here… I’ll…”

“SHOOT ME!” Megan screamed.

“Yes,” Meredith relented with a heavy sigh. “I’ll do it. I will… shoot you.”

(…Albert Eugene Cooper, dead at age 60, of Stark County, former physician…)
(…Meredith… Meredith Montgomery, dead at age 50, of Lake County, former fortune teller…)

~~~

Stephen Eddington, leader of the Wasteland Community, stood in the center of the large control room surrounded by frantic activity. Every available man and woman who was competent enough to shoot a firearm was either with him, preparing to defend the back hallway centered around the mysterious door, or they were with Logan, setting up defenses around the hatch entranceway into the compound at the intersecting hallway just beyond the clinic.

His people were instructed to set up fighting positions on both ends of the hall, in front of the Cubicle City entrance and in front of the clinic, and directly within the control room, which provided a clear field of fire toward the only door in the compound without a handle, access panel, or any other means to gain entry. Since Meredith still refused to volunteer any information about the door, Stephen was left to assume that the Shadow Dead might use it to gain entry into the underground facility.

Stephen stared at the mystery door, trying to shut out the fear and a multitude of frightening possibilities, should the enemy make it inside. Instead, he thought of Nicole.

How long have you known? he thought. How long have you known that these monsters were coming… and how much more were you hiding from me? Since waking in a storeroom with no knowledge as to how he got there, and then finding Nicole’s diary, followed by the Shadow Dead arrival, Stephen’s world had lost all semblance of sane. He’d read enough from Nicole’s notebook to discover that the woman he’d once murdered and then fell in love with, was not a woman at all. And when and if they survived the night, he’d have to either confront this thing posing as Nicole and find out the truth… or accept the fact that he was a lunatic, directly involved in several deaths that were made to look like suicides by his or Nicole’s hand. He shook all thoughts of Nicole away, understanding that none of it mattered now. The Shadow Dead were here. Gina was long gone. And it was up to him to save these people… or die trying.

A young woman, carrying several loaded rifle magazines, accidentally bumped into him, dropping most of her ammunition. “Shit!” she cried out, immediately bending over to pick up the magazines. “I’m sorry… Sir. I was distracted.”

Stephen bent down to help the young woman with the long braided blond hair. He recognized her. “Your name is April, right?”

The woman’s faced turned red with embarrassment as she scrambled to pick up her load. “Yes, Sir. I’m sorry for being so damn clumsy.”

April Baxter was one of the youngest members of their community. “Stop calling me, Sir, and I’ll overlook the clumsiness,” he said with a smile.

April laughed. “Deal.” She stood up with an arm full of magazines.

“If I’m correct,” he said, before she could leave. “Gina trained you herself. Said that you were one of her most promising students and that you were a natural with the handgun.”

April looked down. “I’m an okay shot. That’s why I insisted on being out here and not hiding in Cubicle City with those… with the others.” She said the last with disdain.

Stephen shook his head at the young girl. “How old are you? Seventeen? Eighteen?”

“Sixteen,” she corrected, and then quickly added, “But like you said, I’m a good shooter… so please… don’t hold it over my head, okay? I want to fight. You need me.”

Stephen held up his hands. “Relax. I’m not going to send you away. We need every decent shot we can get. I just wish… hell… I shouldn’t be sending young girls to fight monsters. You should be attending proms and going out on dates.”

April didn’t know how to respond.

Stephen, sensing the awkwardness caused by his remarks, nodded, and said, “Sorry, soldier. Carry on.”

“Yes, Sir… I mean… shit… sorry.”

Stephen laughed. “Just do me a favor, April.”

She waited.

“If they get in. Don’t miss. I… just don’t miss.”

April let loose a wicked smile. “I won’t.” She quickly departed.

Stephen watched her rush off with a heavy heart as he finished to himself, “Don’t miss, April. I don’t want to bury a sixteen-year-old in the morning.”

Stephen’s radio chirped to life, causing him to jump.

“Stephen, are you there?”

It was Diane.

Stephen removed the hand-held radio from his belt and transmitted. “Yes, I’m here. Is everything okay up there? Do you need more people?”

“Stephen… the woods… the woods have gone silent.”

He could hear the fear in her voice. “Are they… attacking?’

There was a long pause. Finally, Diane answered, “Nothing, Stephen. They’re doing nothing. We can’t hear a damn thing anymore. The howls were terrifying… but all this silence is ten times worse.”

“Tell Tony to come back down,” he transmitted. “I don’t like that you’re all alone out there.”

“Tony won’t budge,” she said. “He believes we have the advantage as long as we don’t give up the higher ground.”

“I copy. Just keep us informed. We’re getting ready down here.”

Diane finished, “We’ll do what we can to stop them. Maybe they’ve all turned around and-”

Diane’s transmission was cut off.

“Diane, are you still there?” Stephen was gripping the radio so hard his hand shook. “Diane?”

“Stephen, I think we need to assume the worst.” This time it was Logan, who was monitoring the radio traffic on his own radio.

Stephen nodded at the radio and transmitted, “Copy, Logan. Get your people ready.”

It’s beginning… fuck me… this is really happening!

“Stephen, go with God, my friend, and don’t lose heart. We will stand and face this evil together.”

“Thank you, Logan,” Stephen said. “Please pray to your God for our friends topside. I think they’re going to need it.”

“Will do, little brother.”

Stephen put the radio back on his belt and moved in front of his defenders. “Get ready, everyone,” he said, staring into their tired, confused, and frightened faces. “We’ve lost communications with our friends outside. But that doesn’t mean they’re gone. I know that they’ll fight for us with everything they’ve got! We will do the same down here. We will survive this because we fight for each other!”

(…April Josephine Baxter, dead at age 16, of Lake County, former Highschool student…)
(…Stephen William Eddington, dead at age 32, of Lake County, former history teacher…)

~~~

Next Episode 39-2

Previous Episode 38-6

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 39-1: Obituaries” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to check in once more before the Book Five premiere. Just a quick reminder: Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains, will start next Monday, August 28th. From that point on, new episodes will be posted every Monday and Thursday until the holiday break around the middle of November.

As far as where I’m at with the new story, I’m currently finishing up Chapter 2. I’ve already written over 50,000 words in two chapters, so… yes… this is shaping up to be another long book. I can’t tell you too much, but Book Five will cover two story arcs, the first being five chapters long. The first chapter is six episodes, and the second is eight episodes. I expect chapter three to be even longer… lol. So basically, the first seven weeks of the serial are nearly completed.

Aside from that, I will continue to post new episodes of After The Dark at the conclusion of each chapter (time permitting), and I’ll let John loose to interview some new characters from the story and field any questions you may have.

For returning readers who would like a brief refresher course on the past four books before starting Book Five, I’ve updated my synopsis page and you can check it out HERE or on my sticky post.

And don’t forget to keep on voting for DFTD at Top Web Fiction to keep me listed. You can vote every seven days (more than that if you vote from different devices). I would love to see my story climb the charts for a little while. Thanks for supporting the cause and helping more readers find out about this series. Here’s the link: Vote Now. You can also vote by clicking on the kitty up in the upper left hand corner of my home page.

I can’t really talk about story details at the moment without getting into spoilers, so I’ll just stop there. I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you next week.

-Scott

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