Posts Tagged ‘Don’t Feed The Dark’

~~~

“Someone’s coming!” one of the armed men declared from the door.

The lead captor hesitated with the knife at Tony’s throat. “Fuck!” he hissed.

Alysa turned. This was the first time she’d heard fear in the man’s voice. She looked past Tony and the lead captor, beyond the anxiously pacing armed men at the door, and saw faint flashlight beams approaching. She could hear the footfalls of several people descending what she assumed was the flight of stairs which led them down here. Something’s wrong, she thought. Something unexpected is about to happen. She locked eyes with Tony. His surprised expression echoed her own thoughts.

The sounds of the new arrivals were getting closer. A voice suddenly boomed from down the hall, “Thompson! Where the hell are you? Don’t make me hunt you down, Goddamnit! Or I swear, I’ll shoot you on sight!”

“Fuck, we’re in deep shit,” another armed man said from behind Alysa. “That rat, Gibbs, dimed us out!”

“Sounds like he brought everybody,” the second man near the door said.

“Relax,” the man Alysa assumed was Thompson, said. “He’s not going to do anything. He can’t… and he knows it.” He gave Alysa one last challenging look.

She wisely looked away. The knife was still pressed against Tony’s neck.

“Don’t think for a moment that we’re done here,” he promised her. Thompson lowered the knife and stood up with a heavy sigh. He walked over to the closest captor and handed him the knife. “Get rid of that… after.”

The man quickly tucked the knife in the back of his pants.

“Everybody stay calm. You were all acting on my orders and we’ve done nothing wrong. I’ll handle this,” Thompson said.

The other armed men resembled bad actors given the improv word: relax; they couldn’t stop fidgeting.

Alysa studied Thompson’s erratic body language. He, too, was clearly not at ease, and she began to wonder how she could turn this to their advantage. She smiled like the devil as the next thought struck. So much for ‘god’. Perhaps he’s a demi-god for I sense the wrath of ‘his’ god approaching. She considered saying this to Thompson, but opted to play the wounded animal instead. Alysa sensed that whoever was coming would certainly not approve of Thompson’s present, clearly unauthorized, activities.

There was more light in the hallway. Men were shouting. New guns were being charged and raised.

The armed, masked captors lowered their weapons to the floor and raised their hands, all except Thompson who stood there with his arms folded, waiting impatiently for this scene to play out.

Two men, dressed in the same camos as Alysa’s abductors, entered the room with their automatic weapons at the low ready and quickly scanned the space. These men were not wearing ski masks. She believed this was an encouraging sign.

“All clear!” one of the new men shouted back into the hallway.

The other man nodded sheepishly at Thompson, clearly not wanting to be there.

Thompson nodded back.

And then a taller man, dressed in camos, entered. Like Thompson, he only had a handgun holstered at his side. The bigger man stormed into the room, hands at his waist. He looked at Tony, then Alysa, the disgust evident on his red face. The tall man turned and stood in front of Thompson, his hard eyes falling heavily on the man. His angry frown sat on top of a well-trimmed blond beard. Like his beard, his blond flat-top hair was also well-groomed.

To Alysa, it was easily apparent who the real man in charge was.

“Sarge,” Thompson greeted with a nod.

“Take those ridiculous masks off… now!”

Thompson and the other captors did so, looking a little like scolded children.

Again, Alysa tried hard to hide her amusement.

Thompson was the last to remove his ski mask, revealing a dark-haired, younger face. He was clearly not appreciating being embarrassment in front of his prisoners.

Alysa could tell by that face that this was the kind of man who enjoyed inflicting pain on small animals… as long as they didn’t bite back. She took note of Thompson’s cold, compassionless face with his sadistic grin so she could clearly locate and destroy him later.

“Explain… this?” the tall man demanded.

“Explain what?” Thompson pushed back. “We brought the prisoners down here and threw them in the dark, just like you ordered. You wanted them ‘compliant for questioning’ if I recall correctly. Well… that’s exactly what we’re-”

The tall man waved a finger in Thompson’s face. “Cut the shit, Thompson! You know damn well that I didn’t authorize this little torture excursion we just interrupted! I said, lock ‘em up and let them sit in the dark for a while… that’s it!”

“Well… these two needed a bit more persuasion. Especially the woman. Sometimes leaving them alone in the dark isn’t enough. These two hard-asses needed to know we were serious.”

The tall man gave him a hard look. He then turned to Alysa and asked, “What happened here?”

“Don’t listen to that bitch!” Thompson said. “She’s just going to lie her ass off!”

The tall man ignored him. “Well?”

Alysa was going to enjoy this part. Suddenly, she started to weep, unable to maintain her composure any longer. She sobbed, “It’s a good thing you… you all came. These evil men just dragged us in here, without any explanation. This one… this one right here… threatened to kill my friend, while holding a knife to his throat the whole time… if I didn’t…” she looked to the floor and finished, “…if I didn’t call him… ‘god’… and then he made me do things… despicable things… while the rest of them just sat there and watched.”

Thompson looked right at her and laughed. “She’s quite the little actress, this one.” He turned. “Come on, Sarge. You can’t be buying this shit?”

Alysa burst out, “He made me… made me suck his cock! Called me his dirty little whore and said that if I didn’t… he’d murder my friend right in front of me… so… so I did!” She looked away, putting on her best mask of shame.”

The other captors started talking over each other, denying it.

“You lying bitch!” Thompson hissed, taking a threatening step toward her.

“Be still!” the tall man ordered. “All of you, just shut your damn pie holes!”

“It’s true,” Tony added meekly. “I couldn’t help her… they… they forced me to watch and then they all started groping her in front of me. Fucking animals! I kept asking what they wanted, but they just laughed. They never told us what they wanted or what we did wrong…” Tony stopped abruptly, staring at his feet.

Thompson stared between them and shook his head. “My, you two make quite the pair.” He turned back to the tall man. “Are we done here? Or do you want to listen to more of this bullshit?”

“The one by the door,” Alysa said. “He has my knife… the one they threatened us with. Right before you came, this monster told that one to hide it.”

The tall man looked toward the disarmed captors near the door. “Where is it?” he said.

One of them looked to Thompson.

“Just hand the fucking knife over!” the tall man said.

The captor reached behind his back and retrieved the hunting knife.

The tall man took it, shaking his head. “You’ve crossed the line, Thompson,” he said. “This is not who we are!”

“What line is that, Sarge?” Thompson said. “As I recall, that line’s been moved around quite a bit since the good old days. You and I both know you can’t take the moral high ground here. I’m telling you, these two are lying their asses off. We were just putting a little fear into them… that’s it.”

“Maybe,” he said. “But you’re lying as much as they are. We’ll get to the truth… but not now.”

“Suit yourself, Sarge,” Thompson said, approaching the door. “If we’re done here, me and my men have next watch and we haven’t eaten yet.”

“Correction… they’re my men.”

Thompson nodded. “Of course. I didn’t mean it like-”

“Gibbs!” the tall man called.

A short man, clearly one of the youngest, appeared in the doorway.

“Bring the other prisoners to me. Then, take these four and lock them in there.”

“Sarge?” Gibbs asked hesitantly.

“You heard me.”

“You can’t do that,” Thompson said.

The tall man ignored him. “Lock them up, while I decide what to do with them. Then make sure they get fed. Those are your orders.”

Gibbs nodded and left.

“You’re making a big mistake, Sarge,” Thompson said.

“Wouldn’t be the first time. Now… hand over your sidearm.”

Thompson hesitated and then retrieved the weapon, handing it to the tall man with the pistol grip facing out.

Several more armed men entered the room.

“Last chance, Sarge. You’re blowing this out of proportion. Don’t do something you’ll regret,” Thompson said with a laugh.

“Don’t threaten me, shit-bag.” He nodded toward his men. “Take them.”

With reluctance, they took the four men into custody with Thompson shaking his head in disbelief and amusement as they escorted him into the hall.

When the tall man was left alone in the room with Alysa and Tony, he lowered his voice and said to the woman, “No more bullshit. He’s a sick man, but I know he didn’t do what you said he did. Am I correct?”

Alysa could tell that the tall man was out of patience. “No. I made up the blowjob bit. But he did threaten to torture me and rape me later just so the others would hear it… even promised to take my eyes out so that my friends would submit.”

Tony stared at her in surprise. “Fucking monsters.”

She turned to Tony and finished, “And he did hold my friend at knife point, and was about to cut his throat open before you showed up.”

The tall man studied her face and nodded. “I believe you. God only knows what that man would’ve done with another hour or two alone down here with all of you.” He started pacing. “When your friends get back here we’ll take you upstairs, get you fed, and then have a civilized discussion. And I will expect straightforward, honest answers, understood?”

Both Tony and Alysa nodded.

The tall man then looked away and shook his head. “I’m responsible for that man’s mess. On behalf of my little dysfunctional unit, I apologize for the harsh treatment you and yours received. That was never supposed to happen.” He then looked back at them and finished. “Cooperate with me and I will personally see to your safety from here on out… at least while you’re at this station. But if you try anything underhanded, I will lock you all up and leave you down here in the dark. And that’s a promise.”

Tony and Alysa nodded again.

“Very well,” the tall man said. “I’ll have you taken upstairs shortly to eat and we’ll chat more then. I’m Sergeant Richard Hash, the man in charge of this shit-hole operation. If you need anything-”

Tony started to laugh abruptly, startling both Alysa and Hash.

“Something funny?” Hash asked, unamused.

“Sorry,” Tony said, regaining control. “It’s been a long apocalypse. I was just surprised to hear that name.”

“Come again?” Hash asked.

Tony stared at him. “Are you the same Sergeant Hash from the National Guard posted at the Percy Power Plant when all this started before last winter?”

Hash raised his eyebrows in surprise. “Were you… there?”

“No, not personally,” he said. “But I know someone who told me all about it. Someone you found on the beach before the plant fell to the dead.”

Hash waited.

“Her name is Gina.” It pained him to say her name. “Gina Melborn. Maybe you remember her? Long red hair, green eyes, a fiery temper to match? I remember her speaking quite highly of you. From what she told me, you weren’t anything like… all this.”

Hash frowned, the horrific memory of that day resurfacing on his face. “Did she travel with an older woman prone to seizures?”

“That would be Meredith. Yes, I think we’re talking about the same person.”

“And… is Gina with you now?”

“No. I don’t know where she is,” Tony added sadly.

Hash nodded but offered nothing more. He exited the room abruptly without another word.

~~~

Chapter 42 will continue on Thursday…

Previous Episode 42-4

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-5: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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~~~

Alysa completed her three days of Isolation without incident. She had not heard from Christina again in that time. When she reached the recruit cafeteria for breakfast, she sat down at her and Christina’s usual table, prepared to let the obnoxious young woman ramble on about everything irrelevant, but Christina was still absent.

Stupid girl. Probably got herself killed with her foolish plan. Alysa was surprised at how much the thought of Christina’s death troubled her. They were not friends. What did it matter?

She didn’t have long to ponder the foolish girl’s fate.

Donovan entered the cafeteria wearing his usual dark hoody which concealed his unshaven face.

The unexpected arrival of one of their lead instructors caused a minor panic as all the recruits scrambled to stand at attention, including Alysa.

“At ease,” he said, ignoring them, and walking directly over to Alysa.

The others sat down promptly and pretended not to watch his every move.

Alysa also sat down and started eating.

Donovan stopped at her table and waited.

Alysa pretended he wasn’t there.

“Why am I here?” he finally said.

She looked up from her meal and glared at him. “To take me on another swimming lesson, I suppose,” she answered sarcastically, being mindful to keep her voice down. To publicly disrespect an instructor was met with harsh consequences.

Once again, Donovan regretted their familiarity. He smiled down at her and said, “You’ve been summoned to the Kill Room. Breakfast is over.”

Many of the recruits overheard this and tensed up immediately.

Donovan’s tone left no room for disobedience. Alysa could clearly tell that her instructor was here on official matters. She quickly rose to her feet and stood at attention. “I await your orders,” she said.

“Follow.” Donovan turned toward the exit with Alysa right behind him.

When they reached the hallway, he said, “I’ve warned you about speaking out of turn when we’re around others. Do that again and I’ll have your head removed. Understood?”

She wisely remained silent and simply nodded. Alysa stole a glance into her instructor’s face. She’d never seen him so uptight when they were alone. After a long silence, she asked, “Permission to speak?”

“No,” he said. “Clear your head. Much will be expected of you today.”

She stared at him. It’s time, she thought. My second trial has begun. From all she’d learned, it was unusual to face back-to-back trials so quickly, but it wasn’t unheard of. She thought of the Kill Room and smiled. Trial by combat. She stood up straighter as they walked, chin held high. Although not at a hundred percent, she felt confident that she was up for the challenge. Combat was something she understood well.

They turned left at the next corner. Two large steel double doors appeared at the end of a long dimly lit hallway.

Donovan stopped them before the door. He turned to face her, placing his hands behind his back. “Ready?”
“I am always ready,” she responded defiantly, locking gazes with her instructor.

He grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “An adversary has many faces. What lies beyond this door is a face you’ve not seen. That is all I can tell you.” He moved to the side, waving her forward.

Alysa nodded and stepped up to the doors. She opened one steel door. The Kill Room was pitch black within.
“I will miss you, recruit,” Donovan said.

She turned, puzzled by the strange comment.

Donovan started walking away. He never looked back.

Alysa turned back toward the dark room. She took a deep breath to steady herself, and then entered, closing the door behind her.

When she reached the center of the large, dark room, Alysa stopped, took up a fighting stance, and prepared herself for an attack from any and every direction. They’d often trained in this gymnasium sized room in the darkness, fine-tuning their other senses when the eyes became useless. But this somehow felt different. The silence was unnerving.

“Who are you?” someone whispered in her right ear.

Alysa spun around, crouched low in the dark, and swept her leg in an arc toward an adversary who wasn’t there.

She was alarmed. None of the other recruits were ever able to sneak up that close, and then slip away just as quickly… and without making a sound.

That was not a recruit! That was something else!

Cold metal slashed across her right arm.

Alysa recoiled in pain, covering a shallow cut with her left hand. She turned, but was met with silence.

“Who are you?” This time the whisper came from behind her.

Alysa turned in time to receive another quick slash across her left thigh.

She did not dare cry out. The pain only infuriated her. “I am Alysa!” she answered. “Born of fire and blood. Face me!”

Suddenly several overhead lights came on, lighting up the Kill Room.

Alysa shielded her eyes with her hand, until they adjusted. She quickly took advantage of the light and gasped.

Surrounding her at the edge of the light, were twelve masked Ama-Eskua warriors, in full light armor, standing twenty feet away from her. They all carried various weapons and stood as still as statues.

Alysa felt intimidated but refused to let it show. She stood up straight, releasing pressure on her wounds, and scanned the elite fighters’ faces.

What an honor! she thought, excitedly. I get to prove myself against the Ama-Eskua! She clearly understood that she was no match against all twelve at once, but she could challenge each one separately, which she assumed must be her second trial. The only question was whether she would have to face all twelve of them, one at a time, or just the strongest one among them, as was their tradition.

She waited for the warriors to make the first move while scanning the Kill Room. Displayed along every wall were various weapons. She’d used many of them and had trained hard in this room, earning her bloody uniforms. She looked toward the blood-stained hardwood floor and smiled. Yes, the Kill Room had earned its name.

Alysa knelt down in the center of the circle to clear her mind and conserve her strength, while waiting for the combat to commence.

At the other end of the room, another door burst open. A short bald man entered wearing Ama-Eskua armor, but with no mask. He wore a recognizable katana blade sheathed to his side.

Copperfield, her primary weapons instructor, stopped at the edge of the warrior circle.

Alysa was already on her feet, standing at attention.

Copperfield’s eyes bore into her with such intensity that Alysa almost looked away… almost. He was a man of few words in normal circles, but when he assumed his role of Combat Instructor, especially in this place, the quiet man had plenty to say… and the wise listened.

“Who were you?” he suddenly asked.

“I was a victim,” she answered immediately. “Dead in a dying world, destined to perish.”

Copperfield mercifully looked away, satisfied with her answer. He stared up at the closest wall of weapons. “Choose.”

She nodded, understanding what was expected. She turned to look along the walls of weapons until she spotted a long black bow with a loaded black quiver mounted next to it. She smiled at the weapon like an old friend. Not today, she thought. The bow is my favorite, and they know it. They will think me weak and incapable of fighting without it. She deliberately looked away from the bow, scanning the weapons until she found a katana sword, much like Copperfield’s. She didn’t pick the weapon to please Copperfield. Of all the weapons she’d mastered, her skill with the katana made it her least efficient weapon. Choosing the sword over the bow would send a loud and clear message: I am a strong warrior, and can defeat my foe with my pinky.

“Choose,” Copperfield repeated.

Alysa pointed toward the katana.

The hint of a smile broke through his stone face. “Very well. Prepare yourself.”

Alysa nodded and turned to retrieve the katana from the wall. When she neared the ring of Ama-Eskua warriors, she stopped, waiting for the closest one to stand aside.

The warrior towered over her, holding a long black spear. He refused to move and allow her access to the weapon.

Alysa looked back toward Copperfield, confused.

The little man said, “Today… I choose for you.”

She was surprised by the unorthodox breach in protocol. Alysa had every right, before combat, to select her own weapon. To choose one’s path toward Death by electing the weapon, a symbolic gesture of the warrior’s first steps to meet Death, herself, was how they trained, lived, and died. But to have one choose a weapon for you… especially during the trials… was… humiliating.

“No!” she protested. “I have chosen!” She turned back toward the Ama-Eskua with the spear. “Stand aside… now!”

The warrior would not budge.

Copperfield sighed impatiently and commanded, “Down.”

The warrior with the spear moved quick. The spear whirled around in a flash, knocking Alysa right off her feet.

Before she could react, he had the tip of his spear aimed an inch from her neck.

Alysa fought with all she had to stay calm. She wanted to tear the warrior apart. Instead, she looked back at Copperfield. “I… I don’t understand! Why do you shame me, teacher? By right, the choice is mine!”

Copperfield pointed at her. “Only warriors get a choice!” he shouted. “Today… in this place… you are the Accused… and we will discover just what you really are!”

Accused? Alysa’s mind was spinning. What the hell is happening?

“Up!” the little man commanded her.

The warrior with the spear stepped back into position, removing the spear from her neck.

Alysa got to her feet and returned to the center of the circle. She had no idea what to expect now. Perhaps that’s the point of this trial, she reasoned. They want me confused, angry, and off-balanced. She tried to steel herself with this knowledge, but nothing about this trial felt right. She couldn’t help thinking about the last words Christina said to her:

“These fuckers don’t have your back. They never will.”

Copperfield stared at her blood-stained uniform in disgust. “You are unworthy to stand among the elite looking like that. Remove those rags… immediately,” he ordered.

She was shaking with anger now. “How fucking dare you speak to me like that! After all I’ve given! After all the blood I’ve spilled to be here!”

“You’re mouth reveals your insolence,” Copperfield said. “What else will we learn when the Truth is done with you… hmm?” She looked toward the Ama-Eskua with the spear and nodded.

All at once, the twelve armored warriors turned and replaced their various weapons along the wall. They then walked over to a rack in a dark corner of the room behind Copperfield and retrieved what looked like long narrow wooden bats.

Alysa immediately recognized the weapons. Her face went pale. She had not seen such weapons since the beginning of her training, when pain was her first adversary. She tensed up immediately.

The Ama-Eskua returned to their position, each holding a wooden stick that was shaped like a slithering snake. The curves in the wooden weapons were designed to inflict the most pain to the muscles, inducing heavy bruising, but not breaking the skin. Every first month recruit knew this weapon well. It was a torturer’s weapon used to extract the truth from an enemy… or for disciplinary actions. It was simply called, the Balato, which loosely translated, meant ‘Broken Soul’. It was a weapon, not considered worthy of being called a ‘weapon’, reserved for the unworthy who were considered too inferior for real combat.

Alysa looked toward her feet with an equal mix of disgust and horror. She could still remember the pain inflicted on her by such base weapons.

Why are they doing this to me! I am scorned at every turn!

“I said remove them!” Copperfield demanded, dropping his hand to the hilt of his sword.

She looked at the little but lethal man, understanding that he would not repeat this command again. When he spoke next, it would be to command someone else to clean up her headless remains.

Her eyes were on fire as she stared at Copperfield with more defiance than she thought capable. Whatever trial this was, she had to dig deep and endure every humiliation. Perhaps that was the point.

She wisely averted her eyes and started removing her uniform until she stood naked.

“Prepare yourself for… combat,” he said, mockingly putting emphasis on the final word as if it disgusted him to even say it. As a final insult, Copperfield turned his back to her, making it clear that what occurred next was not fit for his attention.

She wanted to murder her former weapons instructor. And that was the kindest thought that ran through her mind.
The Ama-Eskua warriors raised their wooden weapons toward her.

Unarmed and completely stripped of her honor, Alysa raised her fists at them, understanding that she had no chance to survive this battle. But what she had left burned behind her eyes as she gazed around the circle, making sure each warrior knew who she was before they beat her to death… and without a single drop of her blood spilled, they would remove all memory of her demise from the Kill Room as if she never existed.

She braced herself for the pain. She would not cry out for mercy as she did when first tortured by the Balato, and that had been just one of them, wielded by Copperfield himself back at the beginning of her training. This would prolong her suffering before her body gave in to the pain… eventually… but to beg for mercy would complete her shame and was considered unworthy for any Ama-Eskua.

“Finish,” she hissed over at Copperfield. “I am owed that much.”

Copperfield looked over his left shoulder, but not at her, and laughed. “Very well.” He finished the three-part question. “Who will you be?”

She smiled, raising her head proudly. Before she could answer, she was struck on the right side of the face, knocking her to the ground. She immediately rose to her feet in time to receive eleven more blows in rapid succession. Three across the legs, three on her arms, two to the back, two more across her bare chest, and then a final blow across her left cheek. The pain was almost unbearable as Alysa collapsed to the ground, refusing to cry out. There was a slight pause as the twelve warriors waited deliberately for her wounds to throb so intensely that the next round would either force her to scream for mercy or cause her body to shut down, going into shock before death.

She tried to get up but failed. She started crawling instead, anything to avoid giving in to the pain.

The Ama-Eskua moved in to finish her off.

“Stop!” Copperfield commanded.

The Ama-Eskua immediately retreated to their positions in the circle, awaiting instructions.

Alysa was in too much pain to question the halted attack as she barely registered the sound of two men rushing into the room, raising her arms, and lifting her up. The facility medics dragged her to a wheel chair that a third medic had rolled to the center of the room. They lowered her roughly into the chair and bound her wrists and ankles to the chair with zip ties. The medics immediately departed, leaving Alysa’s swollen naked body slouched in the chair. Her body slumped to the right like liquid as she started to black out, but she managed to stay conscious and sit up straight.

After a few minutes, the pain started to pass. She wanted to ask why she was not allowed to die, perhaps even that dignity being stolen from her, but her bruised and swollen face made it difficult to speak. She focused on staying alive instead, forcing the air in and out of her lungs, feeling like someone had permanently strapped an anchor to her chest.

Her mind and vision were blurry from the attack. She blinked rapidly and tried to focus on Copperfield’s position but was surprised to find another occupied wheel chair instead, twenty feet in front of her. When she regained focus, Alysa stopped breathing for a moment.

Christina, or what was left of her, sat naked and strapped in the chair, a bloody mess. Her face was so bruised from multiple punches that she was almost unrecognizable. Alysa could tell that she’d been tortured for at least two or three days. Numerous lacerations and puncture wounds ran down her arms and legs, the finger nails on her right hand were completely ripped out, and she was missing three fingers on her left hand. The nipple on her right breast had been sliced off, causing Alysa to shake involuntarily. There was a large amount of dried up blood on her inner thighs.

Why did you try to run? she thought. Stupid fucking girl!

Copperfield stepped out from the behind Christina, his katana drawn, as he circled around the tortured woman, staring down at her like a vulture before the kill.

Christina was clearly terrified. Her chest rose and fell rapidly. Tears streamed down her bruised and bloody cheeks.

The little man finally turned to Alysa with an unreadable expression on his stone face. “This traitor broke down shortly after we captured her trying to escape. She told us everything immediately, like a babbling brook… even begged us to kill her before we began our interrogation.” He shook his head, looking at Christina in disgust. “I believed everything she said, of course… it was pathetic… so I insisted that the interrogators not believe a word of it for two long and grueling days. By the end of it, she would’ve said anything we wanted to get them to put her down.” He looked back at Alysa and asked, “Were we… cruel… in our punishment of this traitor… hmm? Perhaps if we showed you what we did to the traitors who helped her, you might not think so.”

Alysa waited for the tortured woman to look at her, and when she did, and then quickly looked away, Alysa understood her own harsh treatment. It was clear that Christina had implicated her, as well as the men she’d fucked that helped her escape.

By just confiding in me, she’s killed us both, Alysa thought. She wanted to be angry with Christina, but all she felt was pity. The girl had clearly suffered enough.

“This worm,” Copperfield continued, “betrayed you, recruit, by the end of the first day. Told us everything about your… conversation. It’s sad really. She had nothing to gain by throwing you under the bus… but she did it anyway, perhaps hoping we’d focus our attention on you and end her miserable existence. I suppose, in a way, it could be considered commendable that she used her own fate to try and take down another adversary… if not for the sad fact that there was nothing cunning in her calling you out. It was clearly the fear of torture that drove her to it. And that is a despicable and unforgiving act.”

Alysa remained silent. Where is this going? They already know everything. Christina made sure of that.

Copperfield read her mind. “So why are the two of you here, in this room, when the both of you have clearly betrayed your own? I’m sure that you must know that keeping this worm’s futile plan to yourself, instead of coming forward with the truth immediately, makes you just as guilty as those who actively participated in her failed escape? Wouldn’t you agree?”

Alysa nodded.

“Then you do not deny that this worm confided in you the night before her escape?”

Alysa was about to confess but stopped. Christina looked up, her eyes full of pain and regret. She silently mouthed the words, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then quickly looked away.

Alysa closed her eyes and let out an exhausted sigh. The only reason we’re here, now, is that Copperfield wants me to confirm the deeper treachery… that Christina gave me up out of fear. If I give them that, they will never let her die. They’ll torture her again and again, keeping her alive, rolling her out of some dark hole where she’ll clearly succumb to madness, as they parade her around as an example of the price of giving in to fear.

Copperfield was getting agitated. “Speak up! Did this worm confide in you of her plans to escape?”

A part of her wanted to give Copperfield the truth. Christina deserved whatever happened to her, especially after the disgrace she suffered because of her foolish plan. But, whether it was from the weakness of just being beaten, or that some part of her did consider Christina a ‘friend’, Alysa hesitated. If she didn’t give Copperfield the truth, they would probably torture her far worse than what they did to Christina. One way or the other, one of them was going to die, while the other would suffer for years.

And then a light came on. Alysa smiled as she understood what to do. There was only one choice to make. The honorable one.

She struggled to get the words out. “The worm lies,” she said. “The plan was mine. I knew she was weak and wanted out, but I also knew that she was cunning and manipulative. That’s how she’d survived this long. So, as a way of removing a cunning opponent, I carefully planted the idea into her brain. The inception of escape was mine. She simply ran with it, believing it was her own idea.” She turned to Christina. “She implicates me only to protect me, when she knew that I was the one who suggested it.”

Copperfield’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “So, she withheld the whole truth, giving the torturers just enough when she knew she could no longer resist not naming you?”

“Yes,” Alysa said. “Christina did not give in to fear. She was only trying to uphold her honor and take responsibility. The plan was originally mine.”

“If what you’re saying is true, then it is you who deserve her fate… and those we emasculated who helped her,” Copperfield said. “Mark your words carefully. If what you say is the truth, then you will not be allowed to die, and we will make you suffer in her place.”

“It is the truth,” Alysa lied. “Christina has suffered enough. I am responsible for the root cause of this betrayal. It is mine and mine alone to endure.”

Copperfield stared long at Alysa, and then finally nodded. “So be it.” He lifted his katana and placed the tip inches from Christina’s neck. He said to her, “You acted honorably by not giving in to fear and betraying one of your own. To protect your brothers and sisters at the expense of your own life, is redeemable. For that, you will be granted the mercy of a swift death for your previous actions,” he told her. “For the crime of treachery, which was prompted by another, you will die immediately,” he declared.

Christina looked at Alysa with immense gratitude and respect.

Alysa nodded at her. Go on, finish this. Before I regain my senses, she thought.

“Commit to the truth now.” Copperfield said.

Christina swallowed hard and lied. “Yes, it was Alysa who first approached me with the idea to escape. When I knew I couldn’t hide her name from the torturers any longer, I confessed, but took responsibility for her plan, to grant her an expedient death.”

Alysa closed her eyes again. There. It’s done. I will retain my honor and take the punishment she deserves, and she will be granted my honorable death. She started preparing herself for the long days and nights of torture which would follow, trying to get used to the idea of losing various body parts.

Copperfield retracted his sword for the fatal blow that would remove Christina’s head.

Alysa wondered, Is this what mercy feels like? To shield the dishonor of another with your own honor? Is this what protecting a friend means? She smiled at the thought, surprised by her own ability to show… what… compassion? She did not know. It was a foreign sensation that she would simply enjoy in the moment. There would be no time for reflection once her suffering commenced.

Alysa waited for the sound of steel slicing through flesh, and the single thud of her head striking the floor, as Christina would finally get what she wanted through death… her freedom.

Those sounds never came.

Alysa opened her eyes as Copperfield sheathed his sword.

Christina looked up at him, confused.

Copperfield looked down at her in disgust. “Even now, worm, with a final chance to come clean and face your fear, you choose to let Alysa die for your crimes. We’ve known all along why you gave her up. We’ve known about your meeting with her, and that it was you who approached her with the suggestion of leaving.”

Christina looked to Alysa and then back to Copperfield. “Please… No more! I just want to die… please…”

“Take this disgusting thing away,” he said, as the medics appeared and started rolling Christina away. “And resume her suffering immediately… staring with the removal of her tongue.”

Christina screamed all the way out of the Kill Room.

Alysa could do nothing but watch. Her heart sank. It was all for nothing. They’ll make her suffer worse than before… and me along with her.

Copperfield approached, his hands behind his back.

Alysa looked up with tears she could not fight back. “Why?” she asked. “Why… if you knew the truth all along?”

Copperfield smiled. “She was only here for your benefit, recruit. Yes, we knew that you kept her secret, that you even tried to talk her out of it… and that’s why you suffered today for your inaction to come forward.”

Alysa waited, stunned.

“The rest was about what you would do if faced with a chance to prolong the suffering of another, and give in to anger. You chose mercy, at the expense of suffering in her stead.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Anger… is another face of fear. We have had that problem with you since the beginning. But you overcame it in this moment, sacrificing yourself for one of your own. And that is a redeemable quality that can’t be dismissed so easily. To be Ama-Eskua means to die for your brothers and sisters, even under the worst conditions, whether you are being tortured, facing extermination… or dishonor. To die alone, at the expense of a lie, to save the whole… is honorable. To know when to grant mercy to your brothers and sisters… is also honorable.”

Alysa looked past him, toward the door where the medics were rolling the screaming woman away. She looked back and said, “But… but she will suffer anyway. It was for nothing.”

“No,” he corrected. “That worm is not your sister any longer. She is a slave to fear, and all the worms of the world will suffer. It has been foretold: ‘For the unworthy, the Lions bring death’. She will pay severely for the price of her treachery… and yours.”

“But you just said-”

“You redeemed yourself… and passed the second trial. But you still withheld the truth from Mother when you should have come forward. But as you have shown, Mother has also shown mercy to you.” Copperfield looked back toward the door and finished. “But mercy has its limits… and treachery demands payment.”

Alysa said no more.

Copperfield drew his sword like lightning and cut her restraints with three quick slices before sheathing his katana again. “Now, go see the medics and have them tend to your injuries.” He turned to leave. The Ama-Eskua broke ranks and started to follow.

“May… may I ask one more question?” Alysa dared.

Copperfield turned, surprised. “Is not Mother’s mercy this day enough for you?”

She immediately looked down.

“Yes… ask your question,” he said impatiently.

“If I had told the truth from the start, giving her what she deserved… what would have happened?”

Copperfield laughed. “It’s best not to dwell on such matters. But I will tell you one thing, and take this to heart.”

She waited.

“Anger, like a double-edged sword, can be a very destructive force if wielded with skill and cunning. But it can cut just as deep into the one who wields it, revealing the truth of who we really are. And fear has many faces, such as anger, madness, and an uncontrollable thirst for blood.”

Alysa wished she had not spoken.

Copperfield smiled, placed his hands behind his back and then asked, “Who will you be, recruit?”

She opened her mouth to speak, surprised by her own hesitation.

He laughed again and turned to leave. “Very good. It is not a question that should be taken lightly, or easily answered. There may be hope for you,” he called back. “Perhaps you’ve seen more within yourself today than just an ability to express mercy… perhaps you’ve caught a glimpse of the monster, as well.”

When everyone left, Alysa sat alone in the Kill Room for a long time…

~~~

… “I think we started on the wrong foot. Let’s try to put some of this unpleasant business behind us, shall we?” The lead captor walked between them, twirling the hunting knife through his fingers. He looked over at Tony. “I assume that you are the leader of this group. Would that be correct?”

Tony glared at the man and reluctantly nodded.

The lead captor laughed. “It’s alright. You have my permission to speak. And your name is?”

“Tony.” He stared over at Alysa. “Are you okay. Did they… hurt you?”

Alysa stared at the lead captor who was patiently allowing their exchange.

He stopped twirling the knife and said, “Well, go on… answer the man.”

“I’m fine,” she said. “They haven’t asked me anything. The only point to this-”

“Okay… that’s enough,” the lead captor said. “And what is your name?”

“Alysa.”

“Very good,” he said. “Now that I know who I’m speaking with, you may both refer to me as ‘God’. Now… I know that may seem egotistical or sacrilegious, depending on your beliefs, but I’m here to inform you both… Tony, Alysa… that whoever you were, and whatever you believed, ended the moment you arrived here. The sooner you both understand this fact and cooperate, the easier this will all be. Whatever remains of your lives, as well as your friends lives in the next room, will depend entirely on your acceptance that I am in complete control, hence, the term: God. Have I made myself clear?” He looked to Tony.

“Yes,” he said.

The lead captor walked in front of Alysa, waving the hunting knife in front of her face. “What was that?” he asked Tony.

“Yes… god,” he finished, staring at his feet.

The lead captor turned to Alysa. “Very good. And now you, Alysa. Do you have something you’d like to say to me?”

She stared over at Tony. He looked like he wanted to crawl out of his own skin as he struggled to keep his temper in check. His hands were balled up into tight fists. When he looked up into her eyes, Alysa saw a deep pain mixed with compassion there that immediately made her uncomfortable.

If I give this monster what he wants, and speak his lies, he’ll take Tony away believing that they’ve broken me. Everything that will follow will crush him and the others into submission. My slow death will destroy their spirit… but spare their lives.

She thought about Christina. She’d tried to protect her friend and failed by choosing to take her place, to live her agonizing existence without honor, without meaning, so that Christina might die honorably… and it was all for nothing. Her mercy… her compassion for her friend… had betrayed them both.

“Knowing when to engage in a battle, when it is advantageous to wage war, is easy for any warrior. But accepting that some battles guarantee defeat, and resisting the need to engage, has mistakenly been called… Cowardice. The wise know when not to fight, and achieve another kind of victory.”

Copperfield had said that a long time ago, at the beginning of her combat training in the Kill Room, before a drop of her own blood, or the blood she would spill later, ever touched the floor. She never understood it… until now.
“You’re wearing down my patience,” the lead captor told her. “As we’ve discussed, I can make life extremely difficult for one of you. The choice is yours. But make it… now… or I will execute every one of you, starting with your leader, Tony.”

Alysa looked at the big man across the room. She was startled by a new look in his eyes. It was something she couldn’t put into words, other than she felt like she was staring into two precious mirrors. He sees it, too! He understands how hard this is… that I… care. And he’s trying to share the load with me… to ease my true suffering… and… help me choose…

Not to engage.

“Last chance.” The lead captor walked behind Tony and put the knife to his throat. “I’ll skip the whole torture thing with this one, let you watch his blood spill, and then we’ll try again with another one. Is that what you want?”

Alysa felt a sharp foreign pain rip through her heart, seeing the knife at Tony’s throat. And yet, his eyes never wavered—there was no condemnation found there, no pressure to comply and save them all… and no fear.

Finally, she tore herself away, looked defiantly up into the lead captor’s face, and said, “Go ahead. Slit his throat. Then kill the rest and get your violations on my flesh over with. None of it matters. I… we… will not play this game.”

The lead captor was finally caught off-guard. Even the other captors stared at each other, clearly confused, and betraying their hands.

Alysa wanted to laugh. They never intended to kill any of us, she thought. It was all a ruse.

“I warned you,” the lead captor said.

Alysa could see the masked man’s hand shake.

She frowned. I called his bluff in front of his men. Now, he’ll have to kill Tony just to save face.

She closed her eyes and said, “Do what you have to do… monster. This ends now, on our terms, not yours. We will not submit to your control. We will leave this place, dead or alive, doesn’t matter… because our lives are still our own.” She took a deep breath and finished, “You’re just going to have to kill us all, or let us go, but I’m not going to be coerced into making any choice. I choose nothing. My conscience is clear.”

She took one last look at Tony.

He was actually… smiling.

Alysa turned away, refusing to acknowledge the lead captor, or any of them. She was no longer there, in this new Kill Room, or the one from her past, because she chose not to be.

“Stupid woman!” the lead captor shouted. He tightened his grip around the hilt of the hunting knife. “You think I’m playing games? I warned you! Well… this man’s blood is on you, bitch!”

Alysa closed her eyes. She thought about their deaths and looked forward to seeing them all on the other side, especially the big man sitting across from her in the wheel chair who smiled at her.

That fearless smile which released her from the fight, her honor intact.

If she were capable, Alysa believed she could’ve loved that man in that one fearless moment.

~~~

Next Episode 42-5

Previous Episode 42-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-4: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Their captors kept them hooded as they were handcuffed, lined up, and escorted into what Alysa assumed was the central hub of West Farmington Village. Once there, they were led into an unknown building where they were forced down several flights of stairs, the daylight quickly diminishing through their hoods, before several flashlights came on. They were walked down a dark hallway and then shoved into a room. Their captors never said a word as they slammed a heavy door shut behind them, the sound of a lock securing was amplified within the small empty space.

They were left hooded and handcuffed in the darkness. Tony tried to keep them calm but Alysa could hear the doubt in his trembling voice.

The hunter, who still had the freedom of her left arm, their captors obviously not considering her a threat, removed her hood and then helped take off the others’ hoods. She then started to search the room for anything she could use as a weapon. This only resulted in her swearing in frustration as she physically confirmed that the room was empty.

Alysa could hear Wendy weeping softly somewhere while some of the others continued wasting energy moving around in the dark. The only thing they could deduce was that they were in some sort of padded cell, probably in the lower level of a hospital, perhaps the psychiatric wing. There was a small window built into the door, but the hallway provided no light and was just as dark as their cell.

The former Shadow Dead could appreciate the psychological tactic of their enemy, leaving them locked in the darkness and wondering if their captors would return, or if they would all die rotting away, forgotten in this cell. This was an obvious attempt at making the prisoners more submissive and compliant to what came next.

Thirty minutes later, the cell door abruptly opened as a bright spotlight stung their eyes.

“Move to the back of the room immediately with your faces to the wall!” It was the voice of the man in charge from the bridge. “Do it now, or one of you dies!” This was reinforced by the sound of several automatic weapons charging.

“Do it,” Tony told the others through gritted teeth. They all complied.

“Take the woman,” the lead captor said. “And watch out for her… I’m sure she fucking bites.”

“Leave her alone!” Tony barked.

The lead captor sighed and said, “Last warning. You speak again… I shoot the one-armed gimp.”

Tony remained silent.

Two men moved toward Alysa. She considered turning and charging them, using the advantage of the small space to temporarily block the others line of fire, but opted to wait instead. She was confident she could get one to the ground and snap his neck with her legs before they mowed them all down with automatic gunfire. Not yet, she thought. Seize a better opportunity to kill more of them first. If it’s time to meet Death… than take a few more with you.

Tony looked over at her with a pained expression on his face.

She smiled wickedly at him as if to say, Relax, Tony. Do you not understand yet who I am?

Alysa allowed her captors to roughly pull her out of the room as they replaced her sack over her head.

“Next time we come back and find another head uncovered, we’re going to splatter those melons all over the walls,” the lead captor told them, before slamming the door shut, and locking it.

~~~

After twenty minutes, someone finally ripped the sack from her head. Alysa squinted, turning her eyes away from the stationary spotlight pointed directly at her face.

She was sitting in what appeared to be a lobby waiting room chair. After removing her from the cell, they had gone a short distance down the hall and entered another room. They had removed her handcuffs, roughly forced her into the chair, and then secured her wrists and ankles to the arms and legs of the chair with duct tape.

Alysa quickly sized up the situation. She was in another padded cell. There were four armed men, all wearing army-type uniforms and black ski masks. Two stood by the door, another behind her, the last one stood in front of her with his arms folded across his chest. The others had rifles but this one had only a holstered sidearm on his right side.

This one will lead the interrogation, she thought, understanding exactly what this situation was. They remain masked to intimidate and create an illusion of hope that I might have a chance to leave this room alive, since I can’t identify them. She found the situation absurd considering there were no authorities left to identify her captors to. They are amateurs or simply lack imagination, she assessed, believing this was the result of watching one too many bad spy films. Alysa was no stranger to interrogations. Her Order had trained her to endure many hardships, torture included, if this came to that.

The lead captor continued to stand there in front of her, just close enough to make her uncomfortable, but not too close to make himself uncomfortable. She followed his eyes behind the mask as he stood silently, staring from her breasts to down between her legs, and then back up again, as if considering where to begin.

She made silent calculations, preparing herself for various degrees of pain and possible humiliations, and then decided to make the first move to throw them off and make plain that her fear was nothing they could exploit. “You’re doing this wrong,” she said, staring defiantly into the lead captor’s eyes. “If you’re going to stand there and eye-fuck me, you should’ve ripped my clothes off first, maybe struck me a few times, then strapped me in. That way, you clearly establish that I’m a woman in room full of armed men, forced to consider how far you intend to take this since violating my flesh in any way to get what you want is of no consequence to you.”

She studied the lead captor’s reaction. He didn’t flinch.

Okay… maybe not amateurs, she thought, concluding that this could get ugly.

Finally, the lead captor turned toward the door and nodded.

One of the armed men exited the room.

The lead captor retrieved a hunting knife, her hunting knife, from where he’d placed it in his belt at the back of his pants. He started twirling the knife through his fingers while pacing back and forth in front of her, seeming to lose interest in the woman. He finally said, “This isn’t an interrogation. There’s no information that you or any of your friends possess that matters to me. This is only about one thing. Can you guess what that is… hmm?”

Alysa’s face grew hard. She stared down at her captor’s feet and said, “Control.”

“That’s right.” He pointed the knife at her and continued. “You… and your smart-ass mouth… are now mine to do with as I see fit. We chose you to make an acceptable example for the others, since you are clearly the most defiant.” He walked over and knelt down in front of her. “I’m not going to ask you a damn thing. I’m not going to torture you either. Torture and interrogation are means to get something I want by doing things to you that you don’t want. And I strongly suspect that I won’t get much for my efforts… and I hate wasting time.”

He got up and started walking again, twirling the knife between his fingers. “But what I am going to do is this: I’m going leave this door open, and then open the door at the end of the hall so that your friends will hear everything that’s about to happen to you in this room. Then, I’m going to hurt you for a while with this knife, so that they will hear you scream. Then, I’m going to bring in the squeakiest bed I can find from upstairs, let the boys rape you a bit, so they’ll hear that, too. Then… I’m going to remove your eyes so I don’t have to keep staring at them plotting to kill me… and, I must confess, I’ll enjoy that part. Then lastly, I’ll throw you back into that room to die, and they will give me exactly what I want after I’ve plucked the fiery wings off their warrior dragonfly. Because, as you’ve already figured out, this is only about control. And making an example out of the ‘hard ass’, guarantees compliance from the rest of you.”

Alysa scoffed, continuing to stare back defiantly. She leaned toward the lead captor, as far as her restraints would allow, and promised, “This is what will really happen: I will not scream when you pierce me with that blade, and I will laugh when your little boys pierce me with their thin pencil dicks. And I will smile when you cut out my eyes because I have welcomed the darkness since birth. And then, when you do place me back into that room, and they see what you’ve done, they will know what pussies you were and attack you with all they have for your grave miscalculation. And I will be right there with them, a phantom with no eyes, but I will smell your cowardice out, find you, and rip your wee little dick off with my teeth and spit it back into your worthless face before I gut you… with that very knife… slowly.”

The lead captor considered her a moment, then laughed. “Wow… I am really going to enjoy our time together. Thank you for… well… just being you.”

“Look carefully into these eyes,” she hissed. “Come closer… and understand the magnitude of your death found within them. If you dare.”

“Perhaps,” he said with a longing smile, considering the strange and remarkable woman. “But not yet. There’s still one other thing we gotta do first, before our little dance begins.” He nodded to the other armed man remaining at the door. The man exited into the hall.

This has all been for show, she hoped. They were testing my resolve. Now… they will reveal their true intent. Be ready, warrior, she reminded herself.

The lead captor placed his hands behind his back. “Now, I said I wouldn’t question or torture you, and I meant that. However, I will need one thing from you… for his sake. A simple thing, really. I’ll just need you to say in front of your… leader… one little line. Say it convincingly, and I won’t have to torture your friend. Just look me in the eyes and say, ‘We thank you for your mercy, and we humbly submit to your service.’ Again, simple, right? Hell… between you and I, you don’t even have to mean it, as long as he believes you do. It would go a long way as a convincing prelude to the show that will follow, you know, the matter we discussed already. We can send him on back and he’ll tell the others. Do you think you can do that… for your friend?”

“Fuck you,” she spat.

She could hear a familiar sound coming from down the hallway.

He showed her the knife again and shook his head. “I wonder if his resolve to die so valiantly is as strong as yours. I really didn’t want to kill him, although, we are authorized to execute the leaders of any groups we capture. We could just kill you instead and just tell our employers that you were the one who was really in charge… and I think we both know that this is the truth.” He added a wink.

Both armed men entered, escorting a wheel chair.

Tony was securely strapped to the chair.

When they locked eyes, she could clearly see a mixture of fear, anger and confusion in Tony’s gaze.

Alysa frowned. For a moment, she didn’t see Tony in the chair. Instead, she saw a badly tortured woman, bloody and bruised, naked and humiliated.

This is just like before, she thought.

And just like before, she was surprised to discover a familiar weakness—that she once again cared about another person whose life was now in her hands.

She closed her eyes and was abruptly thrown back into her hellish past…

~~~

…After her first trial, Alysa had spent her first night back at the training facility under observation in the clinic. She’d been treated for hyperthermia and pneumonia after spending hours alone in the frigid waters of Lake Erie. Donovan had returned with the boat to retrieve the pale and near-death woman from the hazard buoy that had saved her life. She had survived the trial, but it was now up to Mother’s doctors to find out if she would survive the night.

The Ama-Eskua recruit had proven herself strong again, surviving her illness with no permanent physical injuries. She’d been cleared from the clinic the next morning and confined to Isolation for the next three days before continuing her training.

When Alysa reached the doorway to her small quarters, she quickly entered, closed the metal door, and then collapsed to her knees as a level of exhaustion she hadn’t experienced since her first weeks in training fell upon her immediately. She’d made sure to hide it in front of the others, as the other recruits welcomed her back with cold and professional detachment, each clearly trying to discover any new weaknesses to exploit in their competition. She despised most of them, not because they pretended to care, but because they were weak, and many of them would be dead before graduation… assuming she passed all three of her trials and was still around to find out if she was correct.

She crawled over to her bed, her body still fighting the lingering after-effects of her illness, and pulled herself up to the thin, single-sized mattress, rolling over on her back and sweating profusely from the effort.

Alysa scanned her dull grey surrounding. The walls were void of photographs, letters from home, posters, or anything else resembling individuality. She turned and examined the only other piece of furniture in the room. A small grey table held her training bow with a full quiver of arrows and a small basin of water for cleaning purposes. There was no memorabilia from her former life, no ties to attachments of any kind. She was just another weapon, like the bow, her small bed serving to house it for those times the body needed rest. Built into the table was a drawer with fresh grey uniforms. They were clean although the blood stains never came out. No matter. Those crimson stains were looked upon as badges of accomplishment. There was no greater honor than to proudly wear the blood of your enemies… and her uniforms were more crimson than grey.

She turned away, staring toward the dull ceiling, and managed a weak smile of appreciation for the simplicity of her comfortable surroundings. Isolation was the closest thing they had to personal time set aside for rest and reflection… or in her case… recovery for the next round of grueling training.

She considered her present state. If any of the other recruits were assigned to murder her in her sleep, she figured that now would be the best time. Hopefully, she’d kept up appearances and showed herself physically strong, dissuading any such attempts, at least for now. But she had to be prepared since there were no locks on any of their doors.

She placed her hands under her pillow, found the comforting hilt of her personal dagger, and then allowed herself to fall into a half-sleep, a poor substitute for the real thing, but sufficient enough for her frail body to do its job and repair itself while remaining ready for battle.

Alysa finally allowed the bricks above her eyes to close as she immediately fell asleep. If her ruse had worked, the others would leave her be. If not, she expected to wake just before her throat was slit open.

Two hours later, she awoke to a light knock on her door.

Alysa rolled her eyes. That could only be one person.

“Come in, Christina,” she said. It took real effort to raise her voice.

A tall woman with short-cropped brown hair entered. She was wearing all grey, not a good sign, and a sheathed dagger attached to her black belt. Christina was smiling from ear to ear. Alysa hated that.

“Welcome back,” Christina said. The tall woman closed the door and then sat down in front of it, as was custom. No one ever entered another’s quarters without permission, and no one dared to come within three feet of another without risking a combat situation.

“Stop smiling at me like we’re friends,” Alysa grumbled. “You know I hate that.”

Christina waved her off and laughed. “You sound just like your old anti-social self. I’m relieved.”

“What do you want?”

“Just checking in on my ‘ally’.” Christina always thought the use of that word to carefully conceal their unauthorized friendship was funny. Alysa never understood why.

“I am well. Now… if there’s nothing else…”

“I guess congratulations are in order.”

Alysa’s face grew hard. “I don’t know what you’re talking about… and neither do you since it’s forbidden to talk about The Trials.”

“Who said anything about that?” Christina added dramatically. “You know… it’s not forbidden to have a conversation in here. You should try it more often.”

Alysa shook her head at the foolish girl. “And you should try to talk less rather than make friends with potential threats. You know we could be ordered to kill each other at any time… don’t you?”

“Yeah… yeah,” Christina said in her familiar ‘I’m bored already’ tone. “Just because we’re training to be killers doesn’t mean we have to walk around here like we’re dead already.”

“We’re not training to be killers. Stop saying that!”

“Oh… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend.” Christina laughed. “Really, Alysa, you need to lighten up. We train to carry out the ‘missions’… is that better?”

“Yes.”

“Although all the missions use words like ‘execute’, ‘eradicate’, ‘exterminate’, ‘assassinate’-”

“Again, what do you want?” Alysa was getting annoyed.

Christina’s face grew soft. “Like I said, I just wanted to see if you were okay?”

“And like I said, I’m fine. Now why are you really here?”

She laughed again. “There’s just no fooling you, girl. ‘Everyone’s got an agenda even when no one has an agenda’,” Christina mocked, referring to one of their teachings.

“That’s right. So, what’s yours?”

“I’m leaving.”

Alysa eyebrows shot up. “What does that even mean? You’ve not even been here long enough to… you know.”

Christina let out a heavy sigh. “No, I’m not facing The Trials… there… I said it. Just relax. I’m only here to say goodbye, you paranoid freak!”

Alysa waited.

“You’ve been kind to me… in your own way. And don’t worry, I won’t dare tell anyone. I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated it. Our talks made me feel less like a machine all the time.”

“You’re talking nonsense,” Alysa said. “No one just… leaves… and we aren’t machines. We’re weapons.”

“Yeah… yeah… you say ‘to-may-to’, I say ‘to-mot-to’. Doesn’t matter now. I’m telling you, I’m out. No more of this bullshit for me.”

“You could be executed for such insolence.”

Christina shook her head. “There you go… always the warrior.”

“And what are you? I see no stains on your clothes. I don’t know how you’ve survived this long-”

“Without getting my hands dirty?” Christina mocked. “There’s other ways to kill your opponent, Alysa. I prefer a more ‘cunt-ing’ approach.”

Alysa looked confused. “You mean, ‘cunning’?”

Christina laughed. “‘Cunt-ing’… oh come on! That’s funny!”

“I don’t understand you.”

“You poor girl.” She looked over at Alysa’s bow. “You’ve been playing with that toy for so long you’ve long since forgotten the weapon God gave you… right… down… here…” She grabbed her crotch.

Alysa caught on. “You’re disgusting.”

“Say what you want but every sword needs a sheath… and I can sheath like no other.”

Alysa shifted uncomfortably.

Christina laughed at her prude friend. “Okay… sorry. Whatever you think is probably best for you, Alysa. But for me, I’ve fucked my way to the top… and now, I’m on the next boat out of here.”

Alysa couldn’t fathom the possibility. “But… how? No one leaves… not unless you’re dead or until you’ve faced The Trials… and you’re far from being ready for that.”

“True. True. But like I said, I’ve got an ‘out’. In fact, you nailed it.”

Alysa waited.

Christina broke protocol and moved in next to Alysa’s bed, causing the injured warrior to tense up and nearly draw her dagger from beneath her pillow. The tall woman looked around and whispered excitedly, “Someone will be coming to kill me tonight, and I’ll die peacefully in my sleep with a nice crimson smile beneath my chin. It’s been arranged. Except, I won’t really be dead. They’ll bag me up and transport my body to the incinerator room, except I won’t make it that far. My corpse will end up on the next boat out of here.”

“You’re insane!” Alysa sat up. “They’ll catch you.”

“Not if they don’t know I’m alive.”

Alysa shook her head. “It’s impossible. They will find out.”

“No… they won’t.”

Alysa gave her a stern look. “Then why tell me? You know that I have to turn you in.”

“You will do no such thing!” Christina’s face grew hard. “By doing so they will see you as an accomplice… and you’ll be dead, too.”

Alysa considered this and then frowned at the foolish girl. “You do want something from me. Or else you wouldn’t have told me.”

Christina smiled. “I told you because I want you to come with me. We can both be free of this horrible place. You think you’re one of them, but you’re not. They know it, and that’s why they hoped you’d drown in the damn lake!”

“How could you possibly know about that?”

“Doesn’t matter how I know, Alysa! You’re a liability, a loose cannon, and they want you gone!”

“What do you mean ‘loose cannon’?”

Christina was getting frustrated. “You’re dangerous, girl, and not in the way they want you to be.”

“Explain that?”

“None of us were saints when they pulled us into this… we were all damaged goods left out in the darkness a bit too long. They want to harness that darkness and forge us into their precious weapons… but some of us are beyond shaping. You, ally, are where you are because they didn’t make you a killer. You already were one.”

Alysa wanted to stab Christina in the eye. “Get out,” she said.

“Come with me. The arrangement can be modified for two.”

“I said get out of here… and if I see you again… I will kill you.”

Christina saw something in Alysa’s gaze… something crazy. She wisely backed toward the door. “Okay, I’m leaving. I tried to help you because… well… I knew what they were up to… and I care about you, believe it or not.”

“Then you’re a fool,” Alysa accused. “I’m in training to be an Ama-Eskua warrior, something you will never be or understand. Now get out of my sight before I bloody that nice, clean uniform of yours!”

Christina looked hurt. “Okay. But I mean it. You can’t say anything, not without incriminating yourself.”

“I will do what I must. Now… get out of here… while you still can.”

Christina nodded. “Goodbye, Alysa. I wish you well… I really do. Just know that I tried to help you… and warn you. These fuckers don’t have your back. They never will.”

When the tall woman finally departed, Alysa took a deep breath, trying to calm the tempest within her. Christina’s words had threatened to unravel everything she’d tried so hard to overcome.

“I know who I am… who I was… and who I will be.” She repeated the mantra several times while trying not to picture Christina’s blood all over her hands.

~~~

Next Episode 42-4

Previous Episode 42-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-3: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

They all woke at first light to a chilly morning as they huddled around their small fire for warmth. Diane and Nine sat close together staring into the fire, looking like hangover victims. Mark was gathering wood. Wendy was pacing and staring up toward the top of the small valley.

Tony and Alysa had been the last to rise. After being relieved from watch late last night, they’d continued talking until passing out right next to each other, providing Nine with some amusement after they’d quickly put several feet between them after waking.

“Long night?” Nine asked them both with a shit-eating grin.

Alysa scowled at him. “Something funny?”

“Nothing,” he said. “My face always looks like this.”

Tony ignored him, placing his hands over the fire for warmth. “I’m never going to become a fan of camping,” he grumbled, rubbing his stiff neck.

“The perimeter’s still clear,” Wendy anxiously chimed in.

“Sit down, girl. You’re making me dizzy.” Diane yawned. “Who do I need to kill for coffee?”

Nine looked at her and then back toward the others. “She’s such a grumpy-ass bear in the mornings.”

This earned him the middle finger of her only hand.

He blew her a kiss.

Wendy laughed, finally relaxing a little as she sat down next to Tony.

“We should talk about… yesterday.” Mark came over and dropped a pile of branches near the fire before sitting down next to Nine. “You know… Bristolville?”

After departing Mosquito Creek Lake three days ago, they had continued south wanting as much distance between themselves and the over five-thousand dormant yellow-eyed dead as possible. Two days later, they had found another clue to the whereabouts of the Lunatics in the township of Bristolville, another intersection-sized town along the highway, located near the southwestern edge of Mosquito Creek.

That’s where they had discovered the badly burned body of a man, hung just outside an old brick fire station that had been set on fire from the inside. Attached to the corpse was a crudely made sign with month old words stained in blood:

PAY THE LUNATICS OR FEED THE DEAD

Even Nine couldn’t find humor in the irony of the burnt man in front of the fire station after a more detailed inspection revealed at least twelve more bodies inside the brick structure, all badly burned. All the exits had been blocked from the outside by vehicles and the windows were either completely broken out, left spidered by automatic gunfire, or blackened from the smoke within. Between Diane and Alysa, they quickly deduced that whoever took shelter in the fire station apparently displeased the Lunatics, perhaps even tried to keep them out, and as a result, they were locked inside as the place was set on fire. The Lunatics surrounded the station to watch it burn and listen to the screams within, shooting anyone trying to escape out a window.

With minds still reeling from the horrific discovery at Mosquito Creek, they quickly found another beer-can trail heading west along Route 88, into the forest where they now camped. The Lunatics, never caring to conceal their whereabouts, were consistently marking the trail with bodies and booze.

“What’s left to discuss?” Alysa asked. “Did you discover something we overlooked?”

Mark gave her a what-the-fuck look. “Am I the only one seeing the big picture here?”

“What are you getting at, Mark?” Tony was in no mood for this. He, too, just wanted a damn cup of coffee and a moment of peace.

“Oh… I don’t know,” he said sarcastically, “maybe my math isn’t so great these days, but it seems like the longer we pursue these fuckers, the higher the body count gets.”

Tony sighed. “And?”

“And… maybe we’re in just a little bit over our heads here. We really don’t have a clue what we’re up against.”

“So, you want to give up?” Wendy said.

“I’m not saying that,” Mark said. “I’m just suggesting that we stop being the damn hard chargers, racing to catch up to this murderous group, before we know the facts… or else we’ll just run right into them and probably end up as dead as the rest.”

Tony nodded. “Point taken. We definitely can’t afford to underestimate these people. But other than following their trail, I don’t know what else we can do. Information is scarce these days. And as you pointed out, anyone we could ask, is already dead by the time we catch up to them.”

“What do you suppose it means?” Nine interrupted. “That whole ‘pay the Lunatics or feed the dead’ thing? And will they accept all major credit cards as payment? Because I still think I’ve got an American Express card that isn’t maxed out yet.”

Mark shook his head at him.

“Nine,” Diane said.

“Yes, my angel?”

She was about to finish, paused, and then said, “Never mind. I’m too damn tired for this.”

“Look,” Mark said. “I’m with you guys. I know it doesn’t sound like it at times with all my ‘Doubting Thomas’ bullshit, but I’m still down with the rescue mission… even if there’s no one left to rescue. I just think we’re running on empty, chasing echoes, and blindly going about this without a plan… and we really need one before we find these clown-faced fuckers.”

This made Nine snicker. “Can I use that for the name of my first alternative/rock album?”

“He’s right,” Alysa said. “We’re clearly outnumbered and without an advantage of any kind, or a plan, we’re going to stumble across these Lunatics one day soon… and wish we hadn’t.”

Tony nodded. “Okay, then. We’ll work out a plan… but not this morning.”

“We do know a couple of things about them,” Wendy said, wiping her glasses on her shirt. She looked up into their expectant faces, not realizing she had their attention. “Well… what I mean is… we know that as far as murderers or psychopaths go, they’re at least… reasonable.”

“Explain that,” Diane said.

“I’m just going off the only evidence we have,” Wendy continued. “Twice now, we’ve come across that message. The message itself clearly expresses that these Lunatics presented their victims with a choice: pay or die. We’ve seen the death part. Now we just have to figure out what they want or acquire something worth wanting, I suppose. Perhaps that’s the advantage we’re looking for.”

Alysa’s eyebrows shot up. She smiled at the girl and then looked to Tony.

“Not bad for a rookie,” Nine said. “I knew there was a reason we brought you along.” He winked at her, causing Wendy to laugh.

“Not bad at all,” Tony agreed. “Well done, Wendy.”

The young woman blushed, putting on her glasses.

“We already know what they want!” Nine said, standing up. “All we need to do is track down the closest liquor store, locate the Lunatics’ favorite roadside-discarded beer of choice, stock up on the shit, and pay them bitches!”

“Nine.”

“Yes, my angel?”

“SHUT UP!” they all said together.

~~~

The Grand River Wilderness Area covered ten square miles, separated right down the center by the Grand River, itself, which entered from the north end and continued to snake south, exiting the woods, where it continued south for many more miles. Route 88 ran west, right through the center of the forest, exiting at West Farmington Village on the other end of the woods. Aside from two other highways that ran parallel at the north and south ends of the wilderness area, Route 88 was the only other road with a bridge that crossed the wide and turbulent river, which served as a natural barrier, keeping the dead limited to the eastern side of the forest. The only way anyone could cross at this point, living or dead, was by the bridge.

When Tony and the others arrived at the old bridge, they weren’t surprised to find a barricade of long abandoned vehicles, facing sideways, five rows deep, successfully blocking access. At the edge of the bridge, where the West Farmington town limit sign used to be, someone had replaced the metallic sign with a generic plywood sign with large bold but faded words spray painted on it:

WEST FARMINGTON VILLAGE.
STRANGERS ARE NOT WELCOME.
TURN AROUND.
THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING.
TRESSPASSERS WILL BE SHOT ON SIGHT.

“Sounds inviting,” Nine said, staring through a pair of binoculars at the sign. He handed them to Tony.

They all hunkered down near the bridge but off the roadway and at the edge of the woods to check for hostiles on the bridge.

“Everything looks ancient,” he said, handing the binos to the hunter. “Whoever defended the bridge is probably long gone, maybe before the winter.”

“At least someone had the sense to block off the bridge at the beginning. Might have kept them alive for a little while,” Diane said, scanning the bridge for signs of recent activity. She shook her head. “No. I’m with Tony. There’s nothing up there but a bunch of rusted out vehicles… and all that unnerving silence.”

Diane handed Alysa the binoculars and the archer started scanning beneath the bridge. When she was satisfied she handed the binos back to Tony. “Bottom is just as quiet. No way to cross down there, not without taking a swim. But no ambush either.”

Tony nodded. A sharp crack caused him to look back.

All morning, they heard the occasional snapping branch or shuffling brush from some wandering dead-head, hidden somewhere in the forest behind them. Some were also scattered along Route 88, but too few to be a real threat.

“What’s the call?” Alysa asked.

Tony stared at the bridge barricade and then nodded behind them. “I know there’s just a few of them wandering around out here, but it’s unnerving. Only takes one to catch us by surprise and bite one of us.” He nodded toward the bridge. “Those cars would still keep the dead out and the river does the rest. Would be nice to sleep somewhere without the dead nearby for once. Let’s get across this bridge… carefully.”

They stepped out on the road, feeling immediately exposed. As one, they rushed up to the abandoned barricade, with a couple of rifles and their few remaining handguns, scanning for hostiles hiding within the vehicles, or just beyond them.

They easily climbed over the car barricade, landing uneventfully on the other side.

“Now, let’s get to this West Farmington and find-”

Tony was cut off as Mark tapped him on the shoulder and pointed up ahead along the roadway.

There were at least six dead-heads, still a safe distance away, shambling toward them, drawn by the sounds created by their climbing over the popping aluminum tops of the vehicles.

“Shit,” Tony said with a frown. “They’re like fucking cockroaches. They always find a way in.”

“Could have come from the west,” Mark said. “Town might only be protected on this side. Who knows where those things came from.”

“They could have already infested the town,” Diane added. “This could all be for nothing.”

Tony nodded, staring at the dead in disgust.

They dead were moving faster now, obviously picking up the fresh blood scent.

“Let’s get off the bridge before those things get all riled up, and get back off the road and into the western end of these fucking woods. I’d rather not waste the effort or the bullets on these guys.”

They moved toward the western end of the bridge, staring briefly off to the right and down upon the Grand River.

“Where did they go?” Wendy was the first to gaze back toward the roadway.

They all stopped, alarmed. All six zombies were gone.

Alysa’s eyes immediately darted toward both sides of the street, up toward the wood line. She was reaching for an arrow, before realizing she’d spent them all in Orwell. “Shit. Take cover!”

Before anyone could respond, silenced bullets started bouncing off the cars behind them.

“We’re fucking exposed! Get off the bridge!” Tony shouted.

Before they could move any further, several shots struck the asphalt in front of them.

The dead stormed out of the woods… armed to the teeth.

“What the fuck?” Tony cried out.

“We’ve been tricked,” Alysa said, shaking her head in disgust for not spotting the ruse. “They just wanted us to lower our guard until they got close.” Alysa said.

Six people dressed in filthy blood-stained rags, wearing pale-colored ski masks painted to look like the dead, cut them off at the edge of the bridge with automatic weapons raised at their faces.

“Drop the weapons!” one of them yelled. “Drop them… or we open fire!”

Alysa considered charging with her hunting knife. She could kill one or two at this range before the others mowed her down.

“No,” Tony whispered to her, catching her intent. “Stand down.” He turned to the rest. “All of you… just… stand down.”

Diane slowly lowered her handgun.

Matt also had one out. He lowered his as well.

Nine never had a chance to charge the rifle he was carrying.

Tony laid his own rifle on the ground and raised his hands. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “We surrender.”

“On your knees! Now!” the same one commanded.

Tony nodded toward the others and got down on his knees. The others reluctantly did the same, being mindful to keep their hands up.

Alysa just stood there, staring defiantly at the armed men.

“You, too,” a masked attacker ordered. He looked at the hunting knife in her hand and added, “I’m sure you think you’re fast enough with that blade… but a bullet’s faster. Let’s not find out. Get the fuck on your knees with the others… NOW!”

“Alysa!” Tony hissed. “Now is not the fucking time for your lone warrior bullshit!”

She saw the pleading look in his eyes, sighed with a frown, and then absently dropped the hunting knife, staring at her enemies with murderous intent. Finally, she got down on her knees and placed her hands behind her head, never flinching from the armed masked men.

The armed six moved in as one, quickly kicking their prisoners’ weapons away, and surrounding them, safely adding another foot or two of distance from the violent looking woman with the bow strapped to her back.

Another man who appeared to be in charge, walked up to Tony and tossed a pack of dark sacks at his feet. “Get them to put these on,” the man said. “Especially that crazy bitch with the bow. I’m tired of looking at my death in her eyes.”

“Hold up,” Tony said. “None of this is necessary. We’re just… we had no idea anyone still occupied this area. Just… let us go back the way we came and-”

“Shut up… and do what I said,” the masked speaker commanded. “Another word… and we’ll just kill one of you right here and leave the body for the dead to gnaw on. Understand?”

Tony responded with a nod.

“Good answer,” the man said.

Tony looked down at the sacks, grabbed one, and then passed the others on.

They all reluctantly put the sacks over their heads.

“Good. Very good,” the man said. “Now… I will talk… you will listen. Should any of you, especially that pissed off archer woman, decide to confront us, talk, plead for your lives… whatever… we will one of you. It’s in your best interest to be cooperative, and that means keeping your mouths shut.”

The man started walking around them. “I would say… welcome to West Farmington Village… except that no one is welcome here… and apparently, none of you can read.”

Tony wanted to protest, but wisely remained still.

“Trespassing is normally a crime punishable by death in our little township, but since West Farmington Village currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Lunatics… I’m not authorized to terminate you… yet.”

Fuck! Tony thought. Just like that… the Lunatics have us. I’m a damn fool for leading them all here.

The man finished. “That’s enough talk. I’ll have questions for each of you, but only after I’ve given you permission to speak.” He walked over and stripped the bow and quiver off the archer’s back and then spotted her blade. He picked up Alysa’s hunting knife and started twirling it between his fingers. “Let me make this as clear as possible before we take you… elsewhere: Someone lies, someone dies. I want you all to consider that very carefully while we walk. Now get the hell on your feet!”

No one said a word as they slowly stood with the sacks over their heads. They could all feel the weight of the predicament they were in.

The armed men lined them up and started marching them toward town.

~~~

Next Episode 42-3

Previous Episode 42-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-2: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

The three-foot swells rolled beneath the yacht. Waves reached up like large white hands and crashed against the bow, causing the vessel to seesaw across the rippling dark water.

Alysa grabbed on to the port side railing, struggling to maintain her balance on the small four-foot walkway of the main deck as both the gusting wind and splashing water conspired to bully her off her feet. “I hate this shit,” she mumbled, trying to ignore the knife in her stomach and the brick strapped to her head. “There’s nothing natural about traveling over water.” The motion sickness was kicking her ass, but she wouldn’t dare throw up, not in front of him, although her pale and sweaty face betrayed her need.

A hooded man chuckled from just within the ladder well alcove leading up to the second deck. He took another hit from his cigarette, briefly lighting up his beard stubble and amused expression. The man was leaning up against the stairs, arms folded across his chest, and appearing to have no problem adjusting to the moving ship. He stared at the dark-skinned and slender young recruit, her once tightly braided long hair, now a disheveled mess due to the wind. The man stared at her ass fondly. He was foolish to have slept with the woman, even if it had only been once. Ever since, there was a familiarity between them that shouldn’t be there, making it harder for him to teach her with the strictness her other instructors benefited from. Not to mention his transgression gave her leverage should she ever decide to use it against him.

She turned and glared at him, her sharp dark brown eyes never losing their edge.

Yes… foolish and stupid, he thought with a smile. Once she realizes what her deadliest weapon is, nothing will stop her from getting what she wants.

“Enjoying yourself, Donovan?” she asked. “Is that why you asked me to come out here, so you could observe my love of the fucking sea?”

He took another drag off his cigarette. They shouldn’t be on a first name basis. Again, that annoying familiarity… but he allowed it, when they were alone. He smiled and said, “It amuses me… a little. But no. And it’s a lake, albeit a rather large one.”

“Figure of speech.”

He moved out of the alcove, removing his hood to reveal his thick brown air, and flicked his cigarette butt into the darkness of Lake Erie before joining her at the rail. He stared out at the shimmering lights they could just make out along the coastline. “I like it out here,” he said. “We’re totally at the mercy of a force that could immediately kill us, and yet, here we are… floating peacefully in the darkness. I find that contradiction comforting.”

“You have a strange notion of ‘peaceful’,” she snapped. Alysa stared out toward the coastline. “It’s hard to believe that all those lights will go out once the Lions arrive.” She turned toward Donovan. “How much longer?”

“Not long,” he said. “Perhaps two years, maybe three. Mother will show us signs as the time draws near.”

“And… this will all be… gone?”

Donovan turned to her with a smile. “Will you miss them, recruit? Perhaps you’ve already forgotten the state these pathetic creatures left you in before Mother found you… hmm? Have you come so far these last two years just to forget who you were… and your… incarceration?”

“Fuck them,” she said. “I was only curious.” She stared back out at the lights. “It’s just hard to fathom death on such a massive scale.”

“Yes… and we will not be immune from it, either. The Lions will come to devour us all. Only the Chosen will be saved.”

“The Chosen?”

Donovan refused to elaborate. “You ask too many questions before their time, recruit. Stay focused on your training. Mother has huge plans for us.”

“And the Lions… will Death devour all of them by the sword?”

Donovan laughed. “Spoken like a true warrior. No. Not by the sword.” His face went grave as Donovan drifted. “The Lions will come and tear up the unworthy from the inside out.”

“Explain that?”

Donovan turned to her. “I wish I could. But knowing will not matter. We will all be judged… and then we will either be cast out into the coming darkness, or delivered. Time will tell all.”

Alysa stopped there. She looked down into the dark waters as a chill seized her, causing her to grip the rails a bit tighter. “Why are we out here?” She was out of patience.

“You know I can’t tell you about The Trials,” he said. “And you should know better than to ask. I’ve trained you better than that.”

“I’m not asking about that… I just want to know where we’re going.”

“Are you in that much of a hurry to face Death?” Donovan asked. “Relax. Enjoy the moment. You never know when it will be your last.”

“Was that a threat?”

“You tell me?” Donovan teased. “Haven’t you learned to recognize them yet?”

She smiled and shook her head. “You have an annoying habit of answering questions with questions.”

“And you should stop fishing with them. Ask the wrong thing at the wrong time with the wrong person… you’ll never know what you’ll catch.”

“Understood.” Something caught her eye up ahead. Alysa strained to see what it was.

“What do you see?” Donovan was leaning forward against the rail, staring into his hands. He tried to conceal his frown.

“There’s a flashing red light. It’s faint… but I can see it.”

“Distance?”

She took a moment. “Quarter-mile… maybe. It’s hard to tell. I keep losing it behind the swells.”

“It’s a hazard buoy,” Donovan said.

She looked at him for clarification.

“Sometimes they’re lit up. Sometimes they have a bell attached. They let mariners know when there’s something just beneath the water they could possibly run aground on.”

“Wonderful,” she said. “Like the shit above the water wasn’t bad enough.”

“How long did you think you could keep it from us?” he asked abruptly.

“Excuse me?”

He turned to face her, all humor gone. “By not being upfront about it at the beginning, when you tried to hide it and hope it would just… go away… you showed us your fear of having us exploit it early on… as we should have.”

“What are you talking about? I fear nothing!” She shuffled her feet slightly.

He shook his head, clearly disappointed. “Even now… the fear of it makes you lie to my face. In fact, you’ve probably lied to yourself about it enough times that you’ve convinced yourself that the lie is true… and now… the fear has gained a foothold… and it makes you weak. And Ama-Eskua will not tolerate weakness.”

Alysa stood up straight, hearing the name of their Order spoken in the old tongue, and lifted her chin proudly. “I’ve nothing to hide,” she said confidently. “I am not weak… you know this more than anyone. I have trained hard and long and-”

“YOU LIE!” he shouted into her face.

Alysa stumbled back as another wave struck the bow.

Before she could right herself, Donovan moved in quick, quicker than she thought him capable. He backhanded her across the face, causing her to stumble toward the rail. She reached out to catch it, but Donovan grabbed her from behind and pushed her over the railing.

Alysa fell into the cold water and immediately started to panic.

Donovan looked over the railing and shouted over the wind, “Death has named you this night! She desires to claim you for your arrogance! Defend yourself! You have all the training you require to face her… unless the fear is stronger!”

Alysa flailed her arms in a panic as the waves came crashing down above her. She started to sink beneath the cold waters as she exerted far too much energy fighting the cold… and herself.

Donovan continued to stare at her from the rail, the vessel getting smaller as it moved away.

“Wait!” she cried out. Another wave crashed down over her head, pushing her back down into the cold, wet, blackness. As she struggled to breathe, water filled her mouth, burned in her nostrils. She surfaced again, spitting out water. Her arms were getting numb and tired. Another wave came down. She sank again. She tried to scream into the blackness, but there was no sound, just air bubbles, as she felt her chest get tight from lack of oxygen.

“…the fear has gained a foothold… and it makes you weak.”

Understanding came much too late. This was the first trial.

She started swallowing water. She closed her eyes as she sank deeper. Her lungs were about to burst…

~~~

… Alysa’s eyes shot open. Suddenly she could breathe again as the Pendleton son removed his strong fingers from around her throat, the precious air fiercely filling her lungs. She started coughing violently.

She looked up into the pale face of the young man who sat on her thighs. He was sweating and breathing heavily from his efforts to choke her. His once empty eyes were filled with something new… something frightening. He was excited.

Alysa immediately tried to move her arms and discovered that they were bound behind her back. Her feet were also bound together.

The young man smiled down at her like a maniac. “I’m glad… I’m glad you’re not dead yet.”

Her eyes shot fire. “You’re going to wish I’d broken my neck from the fall after I’m done with you.”

The young man laughed. It was an eerie strained laugh, sounding like someone who was trying it for the first time. “I like you. I like you… a lot.”

“Fuck you, creature. Get off me before-”

His hands found her throat again. He choked her until Alysa’s face turned red, her eyes glazing over. He started rocking back and forth while humming something indistinguishable. Then he stopped again, allowing her to breathe before she passed out.

After another coughing spasm, she managed in a cracked voice, “Please… just stop. I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Oh, you will,” the young maniac laughed. “I’m gonna do this all damn day! Watch you die again and again.”

Alysa only had a moment before the Pendleton son started choking her again. She scanned her surroundings for anything she could use. She could see the battery-powered lantern sitting on the floor to her right. The basement was cluttered with toppled furniture and various relics from a family doomed to extinction. The smell of moth balls and the coppery taste of blood that had dripped into her mouth from a gash to her forehead dominated her senses. The back of her head throbbed. She’d struck something on the way down through the floor trap that had knocked her unconscious. But she didn’t know how long. Without anything presenting an opportunity, she knew she had to create one.

“Stay calm. It is only the fear of death that can hurt you. Your adversary is powerless without it.”

Where had she heard that? Copperfield? Donovan? It didn’t matter. The advice from her distant past was the only thing that could save her now.

Alysa closed her eyes and slowed her breathing to stall for time… and to create an opportunity.

The young man slapped her hard across the face, causing her eyes to open. “Don’t you dare! You don’t die until I let you die!”

“Okay,” Alysa calmly said. “Just… just please… let me catch my breath first. I feel… faint. After that, I’ll do whatever you want.” She stared down at her chest and then smiled at him. “Could you… take off my shirt? I’m feeling overheated.”

The young man gave her a disgusted look. “Dirty whore!’ he shouted. He started rocking back and forth again. “Dirty… filthy… dirty… WHORE!”

Shit. There goes that route, she thought. Think. Observe. Discover the advantage.

Before she could do anything, the young man’s fingers were around her throat again. He choked her so hard this time that she believed he was ready to finish her off.

Rather than struggling against her attacker, she remained calm, forcing her body to bypass the normal survival gag reflex and the surge of adrenaline coursing through her body that accelerated the panic. She simply forced herself to go limp, letting her muscles relax in his tight grip, imagining herself drifting away toward her death rather than drowning in it.

The look on the young man’s face changed as he relaxed his grip. To Alysa, he looked like a sadistic child who had been torturing the family pet too long, and then realizing he may have taken it too far after killing the animal, he looked immediately remorseful.

She considered letting go. She knew that she could. But her anger demanded this monster’s blood.

Once more, she sucked in the stale air, causing the young man to smile, his alarm turning to delight.

Alysa, who was no stranger to both ends of torture, started imagining the multitude of ways she could prolong this monster’s death to maximize that amount of pain he would feel.

“Water,” she whispered.

“What you say?” The young man scratched his head.

She repeated the request, much fainter this time.

The maniac looked irritated. “Can’t hear you, whore.” He leaned over to listen. Alysa now had him unbalanced. She could feel his weight shifting forward and off her legs.

This time she only mouthed the words and then feigned like she was going to pass out again.

“Hold on,” he said impatiently, turning his ear toward her mouth. “Just don’t fall asleep again.”

She waited.

Closer… closer… closer…

Alysa raised her head with whatever strength she had left, opened her mouth wide, and then bit down hard on his right ear, managing to put the entire thing in her mouth.

The young man screamed in pain as Alysa jerked her head to the left and then to the right, like a dog with a chew toy, until she’d bitten clean through the entire ear as it came off into her mouth. She spat it out.

When the young man turned to face her, she aimed, and then forced her head up fast and hard, connecting her forehead with the cartilage of his nose. She smiled when she heard the satisfying crunch of his broken nose and saw the amount of blood that quickly ran down his face.

The immense double shot of pain from both the ear and the nose proved too much for the young man to handle as he collapsed on top of her, passing out.

With most of the maniac’s weight now on her chest, Alysa was able to lift her legs upward, in tandem with her pelvis, and effectively bumped the fucker off of her, as he fell limp beside her.

She quickly rolled to her right and on to her belly. She shimmied back with her shoulders while drawing her knees in until she was in the kneeling position.

Alysa felt dizzy. Her head throbbed. She could still feel the Pendleton boy’s fingers around her throat and blood dripping down from her forehead.

“Control the flesh. You are its master.”

Yes. She knew that voice well. Copperfield had always told her that after they’d trained, after beating her to within an inch of her life and leaving her a bloody mess sprawled out on the floor in what was commonly referred to as ‘The Kill Room’. Many promising candidates had perished during combat training, and if they survived, it was only because they could still get to their feet before bleeding out in that horrible place.

She closed her eyes to steady herself, took a deep breath, and then regained control. Alysa glanced at the enemy. The Pendleton boy was still unconscious. His wounds, though serious, were not severe. He wouldn’t die from blood loss… not yet. She examined her restraints. Her hands and feet were fastened together with a thin nylon cord—her hands still secured behind her back. Alysa scanned the room. She found her discarded bow, quiver and her boots in front of a tall ancient vanity mirror.

That’s it.

Alysa gathered her strength, waiting just long enough to regain feeling in her legs, and then leaned back on her toes while pushing upward with the agility of a cat, until she was standing on wobbly legs, like a tightrope walker. She steadied herself and then hopped over to the large mirror. Alysa used her right shoulder to knock the mirror forward. It fell with a crash, leaving sharp shards scattered around her feet. She bent down and picked up one of the shards and then began cutting the nylon. Her hands were free in moments.

She cut her feet loose and then stood there over her attacker with an unreadable, emotionless expression on her face. She was holding the sharp shard in her right hand so tightly that her hand began to bleed.

If the Pendleton son had been awake, Alysa would’ve lost control. She was already picking the places on his body to cut that would prolong his death and cause the most pain.

“A savage has no place among us. We train to be fearless, ruthless, merciless… but not without purpose. A savage serves the baser impulses to kill… and a beast has no purpose but to be put down…”

Those were Donovan’s words. He knew her more than most… and what she was when they first recruited her.

She quickly turned away, disturbed by her blood-thirsty impulses.

Alarms were screaming inside her head now. This was a trap designed to remove her from the equation. And it was Annie Greenman’s math that was now laid bare: Deception + Complacency = Treachery.

Alysa grabbed her bow and quiver, not bothering with her boots, and quickly fled the Pendleton basement.

Once back outside in the comforting darkness, she could already hear what sounded like power tools coming from behind the Greenman house.

The bunker, she thought, as she sped across the night, throwing all stealth aside. Her discipline took over as she loaded her bow and scanned the darkness on the run.

She found the old woman standing just outside the bunker entrance wearing a bloody apron and gloves. She was drinking water from a tall glass container. Nearby, the archer located a chicken coop. Tony, Nine, Mark, Matt and Wendy were lying bound and unconscious inside. They appeared to be drugged… or dead. The fact that they were bound suggested the former.

Whatever this is, ends now, she thought.

Alysa came out of the shadows like a wild animal. Before Annie could cry out in surprise, the Shadow Dead dropped low with a sweep kick, easily knocking the old woman off her feet. By the time the glass shattered on the concrete before the bunker, Alysa had stuck Annie in the back of the head with her bow until the old woman lay still.

Alysa did not hesitate. She immediately moved down the bunker steps, bow back up and loaded.

“Get the fuck out of here!” Wayne Pendleton cried out when the crazed archer burst into another ‘Kill Room’. He tried to reach for Annie’s shotgun. The archer put an arrow in his head, pinning him to the wall.

Alysa did not react to the grim scene around her. She simply targeted her enemies, found the four dead things chained up against the back wall, and sent four arrows with deadly accuracy into their skulls. Only after her enemies were destroyed, did she begin to process her failures. Diane lay on a bloody gurney. Her right arm was gone. She appeared to be drugged, like the others. On a bloody picnic table before the four dead monsters… there was just enough of her remains left to identify Beverly.

Alysa dropped her bow and stood still, staring at the dead girl’s remains. She clenched her fists and tried to keep from shaking. It was not repulsion or shock that she experienced, but rather, a sickening excitement brought on by the sight and scent of all the blood in the room. She needed to kill… to keep killing.

She closed her eyes and let out a faint nervous laugh. ‘Kill’… what a nice, sane word that is… to kill… almost sounds reasonable. Alysa fought off the fever that attempted to consume her… control her… and resisted the impulse to turn and bash Diane’s face in with her bare hands until she was wearing the poor girl’s blood…

“Any… anyone… there?”

Alysa turned toward the whispering girl. The sound of Diane’s voice brought her back from the brink.

“A savage has no place among us. We train to be fearless, ruthless, merciless… but not without purpose. A savage serves the baser impulses to kill… and a beast has no purpose but to be put down… Are you still a savage, Alysa? Did we make a grave miscalculation with you?”

Alysa ignored the haunting voice of Donovan and stepped beside Diane. “Are you… awake?” she asked.

“Who… who was it?” Diane struggled to ask.

Alysa said nothing.

Diane nodded toward the table. “Nine?”

Alysa looked toward the dead and frowned. “No,” she said. She turned back and sighed. “Beverly.”

Diane started to weep. “What else… Am I missing… anything else?”

The archer was quick to respond. “No… just the arm… I’m sorry.”

Diane nodded. “Where is she? Where… is that evil old bitch?”

“She’s in custody. Don’t worry. She won’t hurt anyone else.”

“Wayne’s other son… he’s part of this, too! I heard them talking… he was still across the street…”

Alysa put a hand on Diane’s shoulder and nodded. “I took care of that sadistic shit. The threat is over. You need to rest, now. All of you do. Let the drugs wear off. I’ll keep watch.”

Diane tried to move but failed. She kept trying to use an arm that did not exist. “I need to… to get up… and kill that evil bitch! I need to be with… Nine…” Diane passed out.

Alysa stood over Diane’s vulnerable and broken body. I should put her down right now. She’ll never be the same after this… if she recovers at all.

She tried to rationalize her thoughts. Was this an act of mercy? Was it really? Or was she just looking for an excuse to…

Kill.

Alysa stepped away from the gurney, turned, and retrieved her bow. She quickly stepped out of the bunker to get some air.

Annie was still lying unconscious near her feet.

Alysa looked down at the pathetic old monster, and for a moment, she saw a mirror.

“I’m not like you, bitch,” she hissed. The words fell shallow and pointless before Annie’s feet. She wasn’t like this woman… she was much, much worse.

Alysa walked over to the chicken coop and examined the others. Everyone else looked okay, drugged, but okay. She did this while they all slept. Probably without much of a struggle. Injected them with something. She shook her head at them as if they were actual chickens rather than people. These are the faces of sheep waiting peacefully, blissfully unaware, for their turn to die at the hands of a world none of them we’re prepared for. They will all die… eventually… but not today.

She turned and reentered the bunker. In the first room were shelves of supplies. She found the drugs Annie used. They’ll be out for hours. She located a blanket and some zip-ties. Alysa went back outside, secured Annie’s hands and feet, and then left her there. She went back down and placed the blanket over Diane’s body. “Sleep well, hunter,” she said. “Your first real trial is about to begin.”

Alysa turned to leave, but stopped when she saw a table with bloody tools on it. There was an electric surgical saw that Annie or Wayne used to remove Diane’s arm. And to cut up the meat for easier consumption, she concluded. There was also a high-tension hand saw. She picked up the aluminum saw and stared at it. She was thinking about the Pendleton son she’d left alive.

“You apparently have some ‘time to kill’.”

She did not recognize the voice right away. It wasn’t anything any of her instructors would’ve said. Even Donovan, with his dark humor, wouldn’t dare make light of her previous… condition.

Oddly, it sounded like something Russell, or Marcus, might say.

“Enough,” she said, annoyed with herself.

She left the bunker, intending to move the others out of the chicken coop, and back into the Greenman house, but found herself walking toward the street instead… back toward the Pendleton house.

She found the Pendleton son conscious in the basement, lying and moaning in pain where she’d left him.

When he saw her, he raised his arms to defend himself.

Alysa gave him a curious look. She had not drawn her bow, and yet, he looked at her as if she were about to attack.

“P… please,” he said. “No… no more!”

Alysa look confused as she stared about the basement. “Why did I come here?” she asked. She saw the broken shards of glass lying on the floor, saw her fragmented reflection cast within them. The scattered bloody image of herself made her tremble, especially the way her eyes looked staring back at her from a large shard at the center of the monstrous glass puzzle. And that’s when she saw something else.

Alysa’s eyes went wide when she saw a reflected shiny object in her hand. She looked down and found the aluminum hand saw in her right hand.

The Pendleton son started whimpering again as she held it up. “Please… I beg you… I’ll do… I’ll do anything you want. I’m so… sorry. I’m not right… not right in the head. My… my mama always said so.”

Alysa’s hand began to shake. She suddenly needed to kill something again.

“… Are you still a savage, Alysa?”

She could not hear Donovan’s words this time… didn’t want to. All she knew was that it was this piece-of-shit who attempted to reduce her to a victim. If that had happened while she was still with her former people, they would have put her to death for such weakness. And for that violation, she needed to make this creature suffer in the most horrific ways her dark heart could imagine.

“I’m not a savage,” she told the blubbering monster. “Just know that what I do next… I do with sincere purpose.” She approached the Pendleton son with the hand saw as she let the blood lust consume her.

He screamed continuously, the blood splattering Alysa’s face, as she slowly but violently cut him to pieces…

~~~

…Alysa bolted up from sleep, lying near the campfire, her hands immediately reaching up toward her face to wipe away the blood.

“Whoa! Calm down,” Tony said from beside her. “You were having one helluva dream.”

She looked up at the big man who sat cross-legged next to her with that unprotected smile lighting up his face. “You’re not… a nightmare version of yourself, about to transform into something that forces me to face some uncomfortable moment from my past… are you?”

Tony laughed. “Yeah… you must have been having one crazy dream. You were moving around so much I thought you might just get up and walk off… and no… I’m the real deal.”

“Good,” she said, her disorientation starting to lift. “In that case… stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Staring.”

Tony shook his head. “I wasn’t creeping on you while you slept. I was just… concerned, is all.”

Alysa sat up and examined the area. The others were spread out around the fire, sleeping soundly. They were surrounded by a small bowl-shaped valley that steadily ascended upward toward the ridge where they’d entered. An abundance of tall maple trees also aided in hiding their location. They hadn’t had much rest since departing Mosquito Creek Lake three days ago, and it finally caught up with them. They were now west of that horrible place, somewhere in the middle of the Grand River Wilderness Area, camped in a protected valley just north of the main road that ran through the large forest. They had decided to risk a fire, believing they were hidden enough to avoid notice.

She stretched her arms wide and let out a long yawn. “You should have woke me up. We’re both supposed to be on watch, remember?”

Tony shrugged his shoulders. “I’m far from being tired and you looked like you needed to rest. Nothing’s happened. Believe it or not, I was able to manage our little camp without you.”

She shot him a look, then let it go. Truth was, she was exhausted. This was the first night she’d slept for more than a few minutes at a time since joining this group. Her hellish dream within a dream reminded her why. She hated having her past thrown into her face while she slept and was powerless to stop it. She looked over at Tony. He’d averted his eyes, staring into the fire, allowing her a moment to gather herself. She suddenly became aware of how much cleavage her black tank top revealed. She quickly adjusted her top and then brought her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. This was the first time any of them had seen her without her usual dark fleece on since she seldom slept in front of the others. I’m getting too comfortable around them, she thought and then looked at Tony again. Especially this one.

Tony finally looked back at her, appreciating that she covered herself up. “Want to talk about it?” he asked.

Alysa raised an eyebrow. “Talk about what?”

“You know… whatever it was you were dreaming about. Sometimes it helps talking through it.”

“Were you hoping to gleam some deep, dark Shadow Dead secrets by listening to my dream babble?” she teased.

Tony laughed. “Damn… you’ve figured me out.” His face grew soft. “Seriously… I’m a pretty good listener if you want someone to vent with.”

Alysa smiled. “I’m not much of the ‘venting’ type.”

Tony nodded. “Okay, then we could just sit here and enjoy this long uncomfortable night together. The silence is the worst. I fucking hate it.”

“Obviously.”

After a pause, Tony started, “I’ve had some screwed-up dreams, too. One time, I was chased by this fucking bear that was dressed like my mother-”

“I never learned how to swim until the night I nearly drowned,” Alysa interrupted.

“Excuse me?”

“That was my dream… part of it, anyway.” She took a deep breath. “I was out on a boat with one of my instructors. I was on my way to face the first of three trials for initiation into the Shadow Dead. I’d survived everything that came before—the rigorous physical and psychological training—and it was finally time for me to prove my worth.”

“Kind of like graduating from Shadow Dead boot camp?” Tony teased.

“Something like that,” she said. “Anyway, they started figuring out my fear of the water when we first started travelling over the lake by boat. I’d completely forgotten.”

“‘They’? You mean your… instructors?”

She ignored the question, her thoughts drifting elsewhere. “In the dream, I was headed over the lake to endure my first test. Turned out that the lake itself was my trial. I was thrown overboard… and they left me to drown.”

“So, you’re saying that they, your instructors, knew you couldn’t swim… and they just tossed you into the lake to die? That’s fucked-up.”

Alysa laughed. “They accused me of hiding it, believed I’d tried to deceive them as I’d deceived myself into thinking that I was… fearless.”

“There’s no such thing,” Tony said. “We all fear something.”

She looked hard at him. “Yes. Alysa Monroe, a foolish girl who’d never learned how to swim, was afraid of the sea… but the Shadow Dead do not fear anything. One had to die to become the other. That was my first trial.”

“Why not just teach you how to fucking swim? Was it not part of the combat training curriculum?”

“I don’t expect you to understand,” she said. “You asked me about my dream… and I’m trying to share it with you.”

Tony nodded. “You’re right. I’m sorry. No more judgment… I’ll just listen.”

She stared into the fire for a long time before speaking. “I’m still not convinced that I didn’t drown in the lake that night. Perhaps a part of me did. I remember sinking into that cold darkness, swallowing so much water that I thought I would just explode… and then, the panic ceased, and with it… the pain, the desperation, the fear. I thought: Is this what death feels like?”

Tony shifted uncomfortably. “How did you get out of it? Did they come back and pull you out of the lake?”

Alysa looked over at him and smiled. “No… not for several hours. I was on my own.”

“And yet… you managed to survive. That must have been terrifying.”

“No,” she corrected. “It was liberating. Once I knew… once I felt… Death… a calmness fell over me like a warm invincible blanket. Something new took hold inside of me and said, ‘Yes, you are drowning, and you will die. Accept it… and you will understand that it is only death, and without your fear of it, Death has no bite.’”

“But… you said you couldn’t swim?”

“Yes,” she said. “That was true. But I did learn how to float that night. All the dead know how to do that… and I was as good as dead, face down, arms outstretched across the water, for almost a minute. And then I came back, coughing on the surface, sucking down air as fast as I could. I started to sink, but then remembered how to float like I was dead… and so I did… on my back this time. The whole time, I retained that comforting blanket… and the fear was gone. After my head cleared, I remembered my instructor pointing out a hazard buoy before tossing me overboard. So, I started searching the darkness around me for red blinking lights. And then I found it, less than a quarter-mile away.”

“And you floated your ass over to that buoy.” Tony shook his head. “Damn, that must have taken a long time, too.”

“Yes. Several hours,” she said. “But I didn’t care. I’d already won. I’d already passed the test. Whatever happened after that, didn’t matter.”

Tony laughed. “I imagine you savored the shocked expressions on their faces when they finally showed up and found you clinging to that buoy.”

Alysa’s eyes lit up. “Yes. I did.”

“So, what were the other trials like?” Tony asked.

“Another time,” she said. “Perhaps when I’m in need of ‘venting’ again.”

“Fair enough,” Tony said. “Can I ask you something?”

“Haven’t I said enough to combat the silence?” Alysa responded wearily.

Tony laughed. “It’s more of a concern.”

“Go on.”

He looked back toward the fire. “Not that I was ‘staring’, while you slept, but I couldn’t help noticing the marks around your neck. If not for the firelight, I probably would have missed them… being you are of a darker complexion and all.”

“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Drop the matter.”

Tony couldn’t. Wouldn’t. “You’ve been wearing that fleece most of the time, or else I might have noticed it sooner.”

“Again, let it go,” she said.

Tony stared stubbornly at her. “Did that happen in Wick?”

She didn’t answer.

“Of course, it did,” he said. “Did… did the Pendleton son do that to you?”

“He’s dead. I made sure of that. The rest is irrelevant.”

“Fuck that!” he said.

Tony’s sudden outburst caught Alysa off guard.

The big man collected himself and calmed down. “He hurt you… Did he… how far did-”

“He tried to strangle me to death… repeatedly. There, you happy now?” Alysa was surprised by her own admission. She only hoped he wouldn’t ask about the young man’s death. That, Tony would never understand.

Tony’s whole demeanor changed. To Alysa, it looked like someone just told him his favorite dog just died.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Tony shut his eyes and hung his head. “I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help you.”

She didn’t know how to respond.

“Did he…?” Tony looked at her with an intense sadness behind his eyes. And then she understood.

“No, it never came to… that,” she said with surprising discomfort. Alysa looked toward the others to make sure they were still asleep, and then finished, “He wasn’t into me… sexually.”

Tony nodded, embarrassment replacing anger at the word, and offered an awkward smile. He was having difficulty looking her in the eye. “Well… that’s good to hear… I mean… shit… not that your… not that it’s any of my business.”

Alysa smiled, touched by his genuine concern for her dignity, as if she still possessed such a thing.

And then he ruined the moment.

“Gina,” he said. “She was raped… and I never knew. She kept it from me and I… failed to protect her.”

Alysa sighed at the sudden heaviness in the conversation. Her shoulders sank. “Would you… like to ‘vent’ about it… with me?” she offered sheepishly.

Tony turned to her with tears streaming down his face.

She smiled. “I understand burdens. Tell you what… just say what you want, and I’ll listen this time.”

“I’m glad… I’m glad you’re alright, Alysa. I mean that.”

She nodded patiently. “Go on. The night is still long and the road ahead, uncertain. Perhaps this is the time and place for us both to forget the fight for the moment… and leave a few things here, beside this dying fire… before the next battle begins.” Her own words surprised her.

Tony nodded appreciatively, and started venting about Gina. He told her about the rape and everything Marcus had unloaded on him before the night of the Shadow Dead attack. And once the floodgates were opened, he told Alysa more than he intended about his former love.

She found herself enthralled by how passionately he spoke of Gina, or the ‘idea’ of her, and how openly he discussed his pain at dealing with his dark love.

As she let him talk through the remainder of their watch, Alysa discovered something else that disturbed her, brought out by this foolish man. It was an emotion she couldn’t easily pin down but later admitted, only to herself, what it had to be.

Envy.

~~~

Next Episode 42-2

Previous Episode 41-10

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-1: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Hello everyone. This will be my last update for 2017 as I work hard on finishing the final two chapters of Tony’s story arc, All Is Lost, which will resume on Monday, January 1st, 2018. As mentioned in my previous update, the next chapter, in part, will be delving into the past of our former Shadow Dead character, Alysa Monroe, to find out more about this mysterious and dangerous woman. And… as what often happens in this story, I was pleasantly surprised by a sudden change in direction for the next chapter. First, Chapter 42 (or the fourth chapter of Book Five) will now be titled, The Kill Room. I know, sounds terrifying, right? Our cast of characters will still be arriving in West Farmington Village a few days after their shocking discovery out at Mosquito Creek Lake, but everything will go to shit very rapidly. In the next chapter, we will be reacquainted with several characters we’ve met in previous story arcs, but there’s three in particular that even caught me by surprise, causing our story to turn left a bit instead of the intended right that my original plot line intended… and I love that.

Aside from that, the final chapter of Tony’s arc will be a much longer story than I originally intended, leading our characters into a very dark place full of Lunatics… and God only knows what else.

After these final two chapters, finishing up this current arc, we will immediately continue into the new arc, titled, The Nomad, centered around what happened to Gina Melborn, picking up around a month after she was exiled.

I can’t say much else without entering spoiler territory, so I’ll just stop there.

I look forward to catching up with all of you and continuing this long dark journey into the new year. Until then, I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Years.

See you soon,
-Scott

~~~

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Hello Everyone,

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

Here’s a couple easy ways you could do so:

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading. I look forward to hearing from you all on Monday, January 1st, 2018, as Don’t Feed The Dark returns for the second half of Book Five.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane kissed him lightly on the cheek and smiled.

“What was that for?” he asked.

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

Mark and Wendy both nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Diane noticed the sign at the edge of the road:

Mosquito Creek Lake

“So, they made it?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

“Or supplies,” Alysa added.

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony nodded. “I feel it, too.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Game over,” Nine finished.

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

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

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

~~~

Next Episode 42-1

Previous Episode 41-9

~~~

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

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-10: Siege” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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


Zombie Horde by luca540

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sixty seconds!”

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

“Ten seconds! Nine… eight… seven…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Two!”

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

“Three!”

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

Alysa pushed beside him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then all at once, Tony felt no resistance.

“We’re through!” Alysa yelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine and Diane were the next to arrive.

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

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

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

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

She reached back into an empty quiver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned, fist raised, eyes only seeing red.

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

He nodded as the dead resumed their charge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Next Episode 41-10

Previous Episode 41-8

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 41-9: Siege” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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