Posts Tagged ‘Phantoms’


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

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


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


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

(The audience roars their approval.)

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

(The crowd voices their agreement.)

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks for having me.”

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hell no” Tony says.

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

Tony smiles. “You know I can’t.”

“Shit… well… of course you can’t.”

(The crowd laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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


“And will Alysa be joining them?”


“Anything else you can add?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

“Thanks for having me,” Tony says.

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

(The crowd gets to their feet and applauds.)

Tony waves enthusiastically.

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


Next Episode:
After The Dark (#15) – Mother

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

Thank you,



Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to check in once more before the Book Five premiere. Just a quick reminder: Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains, will start next Monday, August 28th. From that point on, new episodes will be posted every Monday and Thursday until the holiday break around the middle of November.

As far as where I’m at with the new story, I’m currently finishing up Chapter 2. I’ve already written over 50,000 words in two chapters, so… yes… this is shaping up to be another long book. I can’t tell you too much, but Book Five will cover two story arcs, the first being five chapters long. The first chapter is six episodes, and the second is eight episodes. I expect chapter three to be even longer… lol. So basically, the first seven weeks of the serial are nearly completed.

Aside from that, I will continue to post new episodes of After The Dark at the conclusion of each chapter (time permitting), and I’ll let John loose to interview some new characters from the story and field any questions you may have.

For returning readers who would like a brief refresher course on the past four books before starting Book Five, I’ve updated my synopsis page and you can check it out HERE or on my sticky post.

And don’t forget to keep on voting for DFTD at Top Web Fiction to keep me listed. You can vote every seven days (more than that if you vote from different devices). I would love to see my story climb the charts for a little while. Thanks for supporting the cause and helping more readers find out about this series. Here’s the link: Vote Now. You can also vote by clicking on the kitty up in the upper left hand corner of my home page.

I can’t really talk about story details at the moment without getting into spoilers, so I’ll just stop there. I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you next week.



the living


***SPOILER ALERT*** If this if your first time reading Don’t Feed The Dark then I strongly encourage you to skip this article. Major events in the storyline will be discussed.


So here’s your refresher course, and my attempt to summarize some of the main points in the first four books. I know it’s been a while. I hope this helps trigger some memories from previous reading. I’ve divided this synopsis up by each book, so you can read up to whatever book in the series you finished off at without fear of reading spoilers for the books that follow it. Just be sure to stop reading this summary at the point you stopped… or else you risk having unread material spoiled for you.


Book One:  Southbound Nightmares Our story began early Saturday Morning, October 2nd, 2010, with a catastrophic event known as The Change, sometimes referred to as The Madness. This unknown outbreak struck the population, randomly turning people into flesh-craving monsters with fierce yellow eyes. As adequately described in Chapter 8, “It was estimated that one out of every five people simply lost their minds and turned on the living.” Along with this, were other abominations which returned to hunt the flesh of Mankind.

Book One detailed the horrific story of several characters in different locations throughout Northeast Ohio as they attempted to survive that first long night. We were thrown into several different stories happening at that same time as The Change was occurring. Some of the cast we’ve met: Russell Bower- a serial killer; Gina Melborn- a stripper; Stephen Eddington- a history teacher; Charlie Ottermeyer- a professional asshole; Amanda Howard- an alcoholic; Frank Carman- a convict.

Eventually all their stories merged at one of the last known places of refuge, the Percy Power Plant. From there we were introduced to the remainder of our group: Meredith Montgomery- a medium, Doug McFarlane- a baseball player, Greg Dermont- a handyman; Ashley Dermont- Greg’s teenage daughter; Marcus Dempsey- an apocalyptic philosopher.

After an all-out attack on the power plant, these original ten survivors barely escaped the massacre and decided to head for the coast to find a boat, via, a southbound route along an abandoned railway into nowhere. They were met with opposition from their new hostile world, as well as from each other, and they eventually made it to the marina in Fairport Harbor. From there, everything quickly fell apart as our survivors were overwhelmed by a horde of the reanimated dead, while discovering a strange three-pronged symbol, representing a mysterious group believed to be responsible for the attack.

The boat plan failed miserably and our survivors were split up. Douglas was torn to pieces at the marina, and they also lose Greg’s daughter, Ashley, who was bitten trying to get away.

Among some of the stranger events that occur in this book: Meredith has a connection with the dead that allows her to sense when they’re near. Charlie discovers he has an ability to control the dead with his voice, and Stephen is visited by Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard. It is unclear whether he is seeing a ghost… or if he’s losing his mind.

The surviving eight eventually reunited, under Gina’s leadership, and decided to head east/northeast along the Grand River towards a mysterious radio broadcast promising sanctuary, while ultimately aiming for the mountains and a possible refuge in Pennsylvania.


Book Two: Almost Dead  In the first book, Gina and her group were hiding out in a boathouse prior to being attacked at the marina, and they heard a CB radio broadcast. Book Two started on the other end of that broadcast where we discovered that Tony Marcuchi, Gina’s friend and bouncer at the strip club from back in Chapter Two, had not perished in a bonfire but was taken prisoner by a deranged, infected half-dead individual known only as the ‘Bad Man’. Tony eventually escaped and was determined to make it back to Gina. Along the way he met a survivor at a truck stop and tried to help her. He ended up fleeing for his life and getting lost in a strange wilderness preserve where we are first introduced to the mysterious and deadly Shadow Dead. Afterwards, he is captured by a former police officer, Samantha Petroskovich, the same cop Frank threw off a rooftop in Book One, and he is introduced to a futuristic looking camp run by a madman named Micom, and an insane machine called Micolad, which is considered the ‘god’ of the camp.

Meanwhile, Gina’s survivors fight their way through a horde of the dark-eyed reanimated in the city of Painesville; a cult of half-dead grey-eyed monsters in the quaint village of Harpersfied; and then deal with one of their own near the town of Austinburg as Charlie, who possesses a power to control the dead, has taken Amanda hostage, revealing to the others how very dangerous he truly is.

They ended up leaving Charlie behind and headed southeast toward the town of Jefferson where they met a small community, run by a man named Rusty. During their stay with Rusty’s people, Gina considered joining them shortly before finding out that a large group of the yellow-eyed demons had been tracking them since the power plant. While they fended off the attack, Amanda perished saving Stephen’s life for the sake of her dead daughter, Marie (Nicole). After the battle, and suffering loses, Rusty kicked Gina’s group out when his group discovered what Meredith did to save them and believed she was a witch.

Gina’s group licked their wounds and headed farther south to the town of Andover where Greg is shot down dead by a rooftop sniper from another group of survivors. Gina vowed vengeance as she prepared to go after this unknown group, planning to kill them all.


Book Three: Recruits At the start of this story arc, we go back to the afternoon, prior to the outbreak, where we met a survivalist group in training who appear to have foreknowledge of the pending epidemic. They are also affiliated with the strange three-pronged symbol, which we then learn means, Mother. After the outbreak, they are led by a mysterious man named, Donovan, to a pre-designated ‘safe house’ where they are told to wait for further instructions. After a few startling revelations, we followed this group’s journey to the point where we found out that they are the snipers on the rooftop who murdered Greg.

Gina led an attack on this group, killing most of them and taking Megan, a pregnant girl, hostage. They eventually let Megan go and then have to deal with another larger group moving into town. They are intercepted by the larger group, who is run by the former police officer, Samantha, and that’s when Tony and Gina are reunited. Frank is placed in jail for the attempted murder of the police officer. Gina eventually decides to go rescue the pregnant girl, Megan, after finding out that she is going to the place in the wilderness preserve run by the psychotic machine, Micolad. She is accompanied by Frank and they both allowed themselves to be captured in the hope of infiltrating the wilderness preserve facility and end up being tortured instead.

After Tony makes a stand to defend the town of Andover from a presumed Shadow Dead attack, they end up going after Gina. Charlie has returned with an army of the reanimated. All hell broke loose at the wilderness preserve, ending with an explosion, as Micolad self-detonated, destroying much of the forest. The survivors reunited in an underground facility, behind a waterfall, and decided to make it their new home for the winter. Our serial killer, Russell Bower, is finally revealed as Marcus Dempsey when he murders Frank by a river.


Book Four: Phantoms Book Four begins almost six months later, at the end of a long winter. We are brought back to the ‘Bad Man’s’ ranch, where Tony was once held prisoner, and discover a strange man named Marvin living in the Bad Man’s house. Gina has put together a small attack group, which includes: Tony, Diane Conley- the surviving hunter at the end of Book Three, a strange young man named, Nine Lives, who is obsessed with numbers, and Marcus Dempsey (a.k.a. Russell Bower). Together they intend to seize the Bad Man and free any prisoners he might still be holding. Shit goes south very quickly. The yellow-eyed dead show up and they have changed significantly. After escaping the ranch house, Gina and her group are pursued by both the dead, led by the Bad Man’s wife, Helen, and the Bad Man, himself. Marcus ends up falling off a quarry cliff while trying to lead a pack of the red-eyed animal beasts away from his group. The Bad Man, who we learn is named Walter, captures Gina and wants Tony to turn himself over to him. Things end with the death of the Bad Man at the hands of his wife. Gina and her group head home to the compound beneath the wilderness preserve.

Back at the compound in the partially scorched wilderness preserve, called The Wasteland, Stephen is left in charge. He has become the self-appointed historian of their community as he gives a written account of the past few months. Stephen is also in a relationship with Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard (Don’t ask me to explain that…lol). Gina is under suspicion for the murder of two community members. The community has split with a third of the people leaving with James Orosco. An uprising occurs shortly before Gina’s return, which result in Gina’s arrest. Stephen is eventually voted in as the new community leader. We are also introduced to a strange preacher, named Logan McAlister, who has a shady gang-related past.

Meanwhile, Meredith and Doctor Arnold Cooper- the same doctor Meredith meets in Andover, are attempting to treat the half-dead Megan. The first of two major flashback stories begin with a long look into Meredith’s past, and her connection with the mysterious group known only as Mother.

We discover that Marcus has survived the fall off the cliff and has been treated by a strange young woman, named Alysa Monroe, who has actually been slowly drugging Marcus and interrogating him without his knowledge. After three weeks of being tricked by this strange woman, Marcus has an opportunity to kill Alysa, but decides to flee instead. We discover that Alysa is actually a Shadow Dead.

Near the end of Book Four, Gina is exiled. Marcus returns and goes out to find her. The Shadow Dead have returned in full force in what looks like the beginning of an all-out attack on the survivors… and that’s where we find ourselves at the very end of Book Four.

Book Five: Remains is currently in progress online with the first of two major story arcs already completed.

And that’s about it (in a nutshell).  There’s a lot of things that have happened that I’m not specifically addressing, as well as many more characters I could talk about that we’ve met along the way or who are coming in the days ahead, but I wanted to just touch on some of the major players and moments from the series. Hopefully this serves as a bit of a refresher going into Book Five. I look forward to reading your comments again as we embark on another volume in this long series.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



After the Dark1 (2)


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Agreed,” Marcus says.

(For a moment everyone gets quiet.)

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


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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because of Gina?”


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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, she let you go, then?”

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

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

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

“So… has Marcus Dempsey met his match?”

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

Marcus laughs. “It is very interesting.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs nervously.)

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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


Next Episode:
After The Dark (#14) – Remains

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

Thank you,


The multiplication of voices resounding,
Sanity’s drowning in background destroyed.
All words that once rescued from sirens surrounding,
Lost in dark frequencies, death by white noise.

I’m deaf to their footsteps now masked by tone madness,
Legions of audio demons proceed.
My senses betray me, I dance in the darkness,
Sound works in silence, infecting my dreams.

I wake in the false light, subliminal phantoms
Guide me like piper, completely deceived.
To do what they tell me, and think that I fathom
The reason my hands are now red, while you bleed.

My conscience now muted, as well as your screams,
Lost in the background, where I used to be.


“White Noise” Copyright © 2010 Scott Scherr. All rights reserved.

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


After the Dark1 (2)


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

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


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

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

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

(The audience voices their approval.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs… nervously.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

“Why Gina? What made her so special?”

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

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

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

“Next question.”

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

“And what process is that?”

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

(The crowd reluctantly puts their hands together.)

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


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

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

Thank you,





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

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

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

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

So, what can I tell you about Book Five?

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

This made Meredith giggle uncontrollably as she covered her mouth.

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

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

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

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

Marcus stared at his feet.

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

“Shit!” Nine said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The room was filled with an uncomfortable silence.

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

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

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

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

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

“And you believed her?” Tony said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen turned. “‘Marked’?”

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

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

Everyone’s eyes were suddenly on Stephen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony stepped forward. “And what about Gina?”

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus nodded with a half-hearted smile.

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

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

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

Coop and Meredith gave him a puzzled look.

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

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

Marcus nodded. “Thanks, Doc.”

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

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

“I don’t know… just… different.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

He started calculating.


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

Stephen stopped. “What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three other fallen guards laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go where?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear shrugged his shoulders again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you’ll follow me without question?”

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

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

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

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

Barney and Bear watched Lannister disappear into the distance.

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

Bear laughed.

“I assume he accepted your offer?”

They both turned as Logan approached.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Shit… I didn’t even consider that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

She needs me more.

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

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

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

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

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

Tony turned. “Excuse me?”

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

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

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

“Yes, they are.”

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

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

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

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

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

Tony said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

Tony looked confused.

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

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

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

“What did she do?”

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

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

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

Tony didn’t know what to say.

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

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

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

“That’s crazy! She’s not a monster.”

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

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

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

“What the hell are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She blames you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If you love her… then yes.”

“I can’t do that,” Tony said.

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

“Go on.”

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

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

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

Tony’s face went pale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You mean… you mean it’s time?

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

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

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

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

Marcus smiled and started down the path into the darkness.

It was time for the hunt.

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane and Nine moved in beside them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the fuck?” Nine said.

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

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

“They’re here,” Tony advised.

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

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

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

“What is it?” Nine asked.

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

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

She tried to speak but forgot to breath.

“Answer me!” Tony said.

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

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


End of Book Four:  Phantoms


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

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

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


After checking in with the topside camp, or what Stephen referred to as the “Relocation Pre-Staging Outpost”, Tony, Diane and Nine started their perimeter patrol. The outpost was a daylight operation, involving the gradual packing and moving of essential supplies from their underground compound and staging them above for the community’s exodus out of the Wasteland. The planning for the first official scouting party out of the wilderness preserve to investigate possible resettlement locations was already underway. It was decided that they would look to the southwest, just past the Pennsylvania border, at some of the smaller towns located near the Allegheny National Forest, believing that the dead might have migrated away from the mountains. The scouting party was set to leave in three days.

Tony led them west along the northwestern portion of the winding river for a quarter-mile, then south, and then finally back east along the southern perimeter to complete the northern loop along the nerve-wrecking eastern side of the wilderness preserve, which took them through a portion of the burnt forest, until finishing back at the river near the collapsed waterfall cave, which once served as the originally entrance into the compound. From here, the river wound its way east toward ground zero, where Micolad, the insane robotic god, had detonated.

No one had ventured that far east since Gina had led a group before the winter storms to explore the ruins from a distance, wanting to verify that the camp of Micom and Micolad, was destroyed. The explosion had obliterated the camp, killing everything dead or alive in those eastern woods. The greatest evidence of this was the charred trees which continued to stand like dead sentinels, and a lasting testament to the madness which had occurred in that sadistic camp.

Nine shifted uncomfortably as he stared up at the dead trees. He hated being this far east and had heard the stories of everything that had happened prior to him joining the community.

Diane took up her usual hawk-like pose, holding her rifle at the low-ready, while checking the ground for any signs of recent dead, or living, activity.

Tony stood at the bank of the large polluted pool, now filled with large rocks from a landslide caused by the cave collapse, as well as numerous burnt tree limbs deposited by the explosion. He remembered this place and how he’d first seen the Shadow Dead lining up and disappearing into the cave, which was not recognizable anymore. The once majestic waterfall had been reduced to a sickly smaller version of brown dripping sludge left over from the winter’s melting ice. As unlikely as it was, Gina had insisted on including the devastated waterfall in the patrols, making sure nothing ever tried to dig its way in. Perhaps she had feared the numerous bodies of the dead, which were now as burnt as the rest of the woods and left buried beneath the pool by all the debris, or maybe it was her nightmares of the dead re-animating beneath the water and finding their way into the tunnel just outside the control room door… either way, she made sure that the collapsed cave and the pool continued to be monitored.

“Stop looking at them if it bothers you so much,” Diane snapped, shaking her head at Nine who continued to stare at the trees as if expecting them to come back to life.

“They’re fucking creepy,” he said, turning the collar up on his jean jacket as a chill seized him. “I’d heard the stories about what went down out here… you know… Shadow Dead thingys plus yellow-eyed monsters and crazy machines that went ‘Boom’… but it was always easy to laugh that shit off. It’s seeing these damn trees that really make all those stories seem… real. It’s like this place really is…”

“What?” she said. Diane stared into Nine’s white face and smiled. “Oh, come on! Do you really think these woods are haunted?”

“Well… don’t you?” he said. “I mean… you were out here. You saw those Shadow Dead dudes. Don’t you feel it?”

Diane frowned. She looked up at the dead trees and said, “I find them… comforting.”

Nine laughed. “‘Comforting’? Really? You’ll forgive me if I don’t hold your hand all romantic-like while you connect with nature on a stroll through the apocalyptic forest.”

“That’s not what I mean, dip-shit,” she said. “I stare up at those dead trees and take comfort in knowing that if they look like ‘that’… than nothing else survived either. There was a lot of bad shit in these woods. That bomb took care of it.”

“Well… not me. I’m just glad it’s still green on our side of the forest.”

Diane turned toward Tony and stared at this back. “Just be glad you weren’t here. Some of us saw way too much of that bad shit. Some of us more than others.” She turned back to Nine. “I lost a few friends that day. Good hunters, too.”

Nine looked away. “Sorry… I forget sometimes.” He looked back up at the trees and sighed. “You know, now that you mention it, they are rather… comforting… in a creepy-as-fuck kind of way.” He looked back to Diane, his eyes going wide. “Just for future reference, please tell me that you’re not the kind of girl that likes to get all freaky in graveyards and shit?”

“What?” she said, not appreciating the shift in topic.

“I mean… I’m not totally against the idea… if that’s your thing and all-”


“Yes, my angel.”

“Stop talking now.”

“Right.” He nodded with a smile and forced himself to stop staring at the trees as he moved a little closer to Diane. “I’m just saying that if you-”

She shot him a look.

“Sorry… nerves and all… I’ll just… you know… stop talking now.”

“That’s a great idea,” she said. Diane looked back at Tony who stood like a statue before the river. “Tony? Are you okay?”

He turned and smiled weakly. “Sorry… got a little lost in thought. This place brings it all back.”

She smiled and nodded. “I get it. Want to head back?”

Tony looked east, up river. “Not yet. We’ve got plenty of daylight left.”

“What are you thinking?” she said.

“Let’s go in a bit further and see what’s out there.”

“You mean… out there?” Nine said, staring east.

“Is there a problem?” Tony asked.

“No… it’s just that… well… everyone knows those woods are all haunted and shit.”

Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “‘Haunted’?” He smiled, amused.

Diane hit Nine with her elbow and shook her head. “Don’t mind him,” she said. “He doesn’t get out much.”

“Yeah,” Nine laughed and shot Diane a ‘what-the-hell’ look while rubbing his shoulder. “Too many horror movies on weekends for me. This place just makes me think of… you know… all of them put together.”

Tony laughed. “I get it.” He looked up at the trees. “I’ve been out in these woods several times and have seen some shit I wish I could ‘un-see’.” He smiled at Nine with a wink. “Haunted is as good a word as any for this place. I’m sure there’s plenty of ghosts still lurking these woods. Let’s go.” He started east along the river.

“You’re a moron,” Diane said, shaking her head. “‘Horror movies’? Really?”

“What?” he said, raising his arms. “He was kidding about the ghosts… right?”

Diane started after Tony.

Nine looked confused. “Okay… okay… off we go into the creepy-ass woods. Sure, sounds awesome!” he said to her back. “I can’t think of anything better I’d love to do… no… this works for me.”

“You coming, or do you need to change your shorts first?” she said, without turning around.

Nine laughed. “Oh… that’s good.” He hurried to catch up. “Just got burned in the burnt forest. Perfect. I think you hurt my feelings a little with that one.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Diane teased.

“It’s alright,” he said. “I forgive you. But I think a kiss is in order, you know, just to make sure my bruised ego is still intact.”

“Sorry, not in the mood right now,” she said. “But… should we find a graveyard out here… well…” She squeezed his ass.

Nine gave her a surprised look, nearly tripping over a tree root. He saw her smile and said, “You are evil, you know that?”

She laughed. “Just trying to get your mind off these big, bad scary woods, Scooby-Doo.”

Nine shook his head and laughed. “Well… first damn ghost we see, and I don’t care what color sheet it’s wearing, I’m heading back to the Mystery Machine… and your ass is walking home.”


They reached the western edge of the obliterated camp by noon, stopping before a large drop-off where the outer chain-link fence used to be.

“Woah,” Nine whispered, staring across into what remained of the dead camp.

The drop-off was actually the outer edge of a large crater where most of the camp had collapsed on top of the underground level of tunnels, and rooms beneath. The large domes which once served as housing surrounding the outer-most perimeter were charred black and disfigured, melted into strange shapes or completely blown to pieces, scattered around the camp. Toward the center of the camp, the large hangars had also collapsed, obstructing their view beyond, as piles of metal and wood lay in large black piles of hazardous debris.

Tony let out a heavy sigh. “This was as far as we got when we came here last. Gina took one look at this mess and I watched her face go pale as every horrible thing that happened to her and Frank must have flashed through her mind. I think she wanted to get closer, but there really wasn’t time and I’ll be the first to admit it… we were still scared shitless of this place. As you can see, the explosion was effective in destroying everything.” He pointed down into the crater. “Somewhere under all that mess, Gina and Frank were tortured in some hidden facility beneath. That was main reason we came back here. Myself, Gina and Marcus survived the blast by hiding in a tunnel toward the south. I think we were damn lucky that we were already at the farthest edge of the camp. But it was reasonable to assume that others might have survived by hiding underground… well… until we came and saw all this.”

Diane shook her head at the devastation. “Why? Why would they destroy their own camp?”

“Who knows for sure,” Tony said. “Maybe when Charlie showed up with his dead army, they knew they’d lost control and wanted to hide all their fucking secrets. You’re talking about a bunch of fanatics who were out here worshipping a metal god which dictated who lived and died… and who was sacrificed… in the hopes that more psychos dressed in monster suits wouldn’t just come in and eat them. Why would anyone choose to live like that? That’s the real damn question. In any case, we were satisfied by what we saw and headed back. But Gina always wanted to return and make sure this place stayed dead. Or maybe she wanted to uncover some of those secrets.”

“Like why that bomb conveniently blew up everything except the bunker we’ve been calling home?” Diane said.

“Yeah,” Tony said. “Or if our mystery door led to other places like this one, hidden beneath the ground. Again, too many secrets and mysteries left unresolved.”

“And so here we are, the lucky ones who get to play ‘hide and seek’ within the crater, hoping that we don’t fall into some underground hell,” Nine said, looking very pale.

Tony grabbed the young man’s shoulder and said, “Relax. We’re not going to get too close. Just a quick look past those destroyed hangars… you know… just to be sure the damage was complete. This place was loaded with underground tunnels. I’ve personally been inside two of them, so I know there’s a chance that if anyone else found their way out through one, like I did…”

“Then there’s always a chance they could’ve crawled their way back in,” Diane finished. “And we want to make sure they’re not alive and well, plotting our demise on the other side of this twisted place.”

Tony nodded. “Something like that. I think Gina’s main concern was that we never saw any more of those Shadow Dead fuckers… and it was always possible that they might have come back to hide here.”

“Underground?” she asked.

Tony’s grave face answered her question. “Again, just a quick look, and we’re out of here. Last thing we need it so start relocating our camp just to get attacked because we didn’t look hard enough in our backyard first. This dead place would still make a great staging area for those sick fucks wearing masks. If they’re still hiding out in these woods at all.”

“And if we find them,” Nine said, “what then? You know there’s only three of us, right?”

Tony smiled. “We’ve got the daylight on our side. These things like the dark. I don’t think they like being exposed. Besides, if I really thought they were still out here… well… we wouldn’t be here now, because they’d sure-as-shit already know that we’re here.”

“That’s fucking comforting,” Nine laughed. “So why don’t we just walk the crater and call it a day? Do we really need to go down there?”

“Tony wants a closer look and a chance at solving some of those mysteries,” Diane said, giving the big man a suspicious glance.

Tony’s eyes were far away. He finally said, “I owe it to Gina to take this place as seriously as she did. Everyone else thinks she wasted a lot of time, keeping us on edge at the threat of a Shadow Dead attack that never came. It was probably the one thing that made it easy for the community to kick her out when the opportunity arrived,” he added with a bitter tone. “The truth is, we were never attacked, and have been living fat beneath the ground while God-only-knows what the rest of the world is going through. We’ve seen a small taste of that. Most of the community have never had to worry, because Gina kept it from them. It worked against her in the end… but she still did her best to keep these… people… safe. Stephen’s doing a great job in her absence… and we need his type of leadership now. But I don’t blame Gina for keeping us ready, even if it kept us in that hole for too long. But now that she’s been kicked out, I need to know that it all meant something. That all her effort wasn’t in vain.” He looked at the two of them and finished, “I brought you two with me because I’m sure you feel the same way I do.”

Nine chimed in, “Yeah… that was all bullshit. Gina may have been a bit of a hard-ass, but I always felt she was protecting us. Keeping us on edge was just her way of keeping us alive. I don’t fault her for that. She deserved better.”

“Agreed,” Diane said. “There may come a time when all those complainers might wish Gina was still among us… especially if we’re caught with our complacent pants down.”

“And that’s why we’re here,” Tony said. “To make sure we don’t forget that there are still horrors in this world trying to kill us… even if they’re not here at the moment.” He looked down into the crater. “If she were here now, Gina would be ready for anything down there. As for myself, I just want something… anything… to take back and show these fools that Gina was right.” He took a deep breath. “Even if she was wrong about a great many other things.”

Diane and Nine left that alone.

Nine quickly changed the subject. “So… let’s go down there and get some answers… or maybe we’ll get lucky and find an extra-crispy Shadow Dead souvenir corpse that we can haul back. Then, Tony, you can say, ‘Look, Fuckers, this is why Gina needs to be here’.”

Tony and Diane both laughed. “I like you’re line of thinking and your enthusiasm” Tony said. “But I’d settle for one of those extra-crispy cow-head helmets… less to carry back.” He added a wink. “Let’s do this. In and out. Nothing stupid.”

Diane looked to Nine and repeated, “Yeah… nothing stupid.”

“What? Me? Stupid? I’d never think of it,” he said with a smile.

They carefully descended into the crater and walked across a former war zone between the living and the dead, being mindful of every step. As they maneuvered through and around debris and charred corpses, the real concern was falling through the ground level and into the collapsed cavern below. Fortunately, they made it to the center of the dead camp without incident.

Everywhere he looked, Tony was reminded of the chaos of the battle between Charlie’s dead army and Micom’s fanatical minions. He tried not to stare too long at the remains of so much death and destruction. The explosion, followed by a winter’s worth of decay, had successfully diminished the contorted shapes of bodies that were almost unrecognizable. Wood, steel, flesh and ash had all merged into one catastrophic scene as the eyes could not process the scale of so much destruction.

Tony stopped them briefly before the remains of the large hangars when he realized that they were standing in the former assembly area, where the maniac machine, Micolad, once stood on a raised platform, issuing out decrees of life and death to a defeated remnant of humanity. All that remained now was a cleared out large black patch of earth, slightly deeper than the surrounding ground—the lack of anything organic or inorganic—a clear sign of the absolute destruction which occurred in this assumed sacred area at ground zero… the legacy of Micom and Micolad, reduced to dust, ash, and nothingness. Just as it always was.

Sam would have loved to see this, Tony thought sadly.

They found a small path through the demolished hangars, being mindful of every nerve-wrecking blind spot and shadow that could hide a potential attack, until they safely made it through to the eastern side of the camp.

“Now that is some creepy shit,” Nine remarked as all three of them stopped short before the large object that dominated their view.

Surrounded on all sides by more remains of the hangars, stood a charred black willow tree, it’s entire upper half had been blown away leaving a jagged spire of black decaying wood, standing defiantly against the explosion which had ripped most of the life right out of it. Rooted deep within the earth, Mother Nature had apparently made her stand against the destructive power of man, refusing to give up its original place long before Micom, Micolad, or any of the other abominations which had manifested since The Change. But the large tree had paid a price for its defiance, now just a sickening shell of its former woodland majesty, as the dying tree now stood as a symbolic landmark of what was slowly happening to everything living in a dying world. Stripped of its former identity, it too, had become an abomination, refusing to die… or perhaps it had… but was returning to join a horde of another kind.

For Tony, this tree had been poisoned long before the explosion. All he saw was his love, chained to the tree, slowly dying, as he had nearly lost his mind with rage trying to get to Gina in time as Charlie’s horde had moved in to claim her. He and Marcus had fought hard in that place… while the cursed willow held Gina tightly.

“That’s… that’s very sad,” Diane said, in an unusually softer tone while staring at that sick wood. “It’s like it tried to hold on… and now… it’s just slowly rotting away. It would’ve been better if the explosion had knocked it down.”

“Fuck that tree. That’s where I found her,” Tony said, dismissing Diane’s sentiment. “Those sick fucks beat the life out of her, tied Gina half-naked to it, and were about to inject her and turn her into one of those poor souls we’ve found fastened to several of the trees surrounding the wilderness preserve.”

“So what the fuck?” Nine said. “We’re these losers worshipping that tree, too? What kind of sick Wiccan/Robot/Zombie worshipping religion did they practice here? Never mind… I don’t want to know.”

Diane pointed toward the base of the willow. “What’s that? Something’s sticking out of the tree.”

They moved in closer, clearing the debris field, until they were standing before the willow.

Nine stood a healthy twenty feet back, not caring if they made fun of him for it. The tree terrified him.

Tony and Diane moved in to investigate the object sticking out of the tree. Tony recognized it and froze. A blackened blade with a mangled hilt was sticking into the tree, approximately in the spot he pictured Gina’s heart would have been, if she were still hanging there.

“That’s Copperfield’s sword,” he said. “He was Micom’s right-hand man. Marcus and Gina killed that little bastard right here. Gina took the sword and used it to fight off the dead when we headed south. It shouldn’t be here, sticking in that fucking tree.”

Diane had already lost interest in the sword as she started studying the ash and dirt surrounding the tree.

“What is it?” Tony asked.

Diane gave him a puzzled look. “I’m not sure,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the absence of tracks that give tracks away. Looks old now, but definitely since the thaw… but if I had to guess… someone was here, and then brushed at the ash to hide it. It’s the way the ash sits different than the rest that gives it away.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

Diane shook her head. “No. I could just be letting this place make me paranoid.”

Tony frowned. “I’d trust your paranoid interpretation of signs, there are not, any day, hunter,” he said. Tony looked again at the sword. He was beginning to get a real bad feeling, the kind you get that makes your stomach drop right before death arrives. “We came her for answers and found more fucking mysteries. It’s time to go.”

“Oh, Christ yes!” Nine chimed in. “There’s too many dead eyes staring at me. Can’t you feel it?”

They both turned to the young man.

“He’s right,” Diane said. “Something feels ‘off’ here. Especially with this tree.”

Nine’s started to pace nervously. “Shit, girl. You’re not supposed to agree with me! Now I know this fucking place is haunted.”

“Let’s go,” Tony said. “Haunted or not, we’ll discuss it once we get the fuck out of this crater and back on our side of the woods.”


Two hours later, they reached the topside camp. They’d spoken very little about what they’d discovered, wanting only distance between themselves and that dead place. Also, Tony wanted to make sure they weren’t followed back as he and Diane deliberately altered their course several times in an attempt to throw off any potential pursuers and hide their tracks. Imagined or not, their visit into the eastern portion of the Wasteland had left them all uneasy.

“Now, don’t go blabbing to anyone about haunted woods, swords sticking in trees, or any other damn thing,” he said specifically to Nine. “We don’t need to scare people if-”

“Tony,” Diane interrupted, pointing in the direction of one of the armed sentries coming out to greet them from the topside camp. It was one of Logan’s men, Barney.

The old guard came out, puffing for air and holding a tree to catch his breath.

“Take it easy, Barney,” Tony said. “What’s the matter?”

“Stephen told me to fetch you as soon as you came back… and you all took your sweet damn time about it, too. Anyway, he wanted me to tell you the news, all ‘ASAP’ and shit, so here I am. Haven’t run like that in years, so you make sure you tell that bugger that you saw me running when I found you-”

“Barney,” Tony broke in. “The news?”

“Shit… sorry. Yeah, he wanted me to tell you that your boy, Marcus, is back. Looked like he fought the devil or something, but he’s alive. Showed up a couple hours ago. They’re waiting for you in the control room.”

Tony’s eyes lit up. He turned and found Diane and Nine’s equally surprised smiles.


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“Chapter 38-5: Healing” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Four: Phantoms. All Rights Reserved.

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

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