Posts Tagged ‘The Kill Room’

~~~

Hash quickly searched the dead soldiers until he found keys for one of the F-150s. “Let’s move!” he shouted at the others, breaking up their victory reunion. After Hash insisted that they take Gibbs’s body with them, Tony and Nine helped him respectfully place the dead private into the back of the truck. The good sergeant then jumped into the driver seat of the large white Ford while Tony sat shotgun. The others piled up into the back, armed with the dead soldiers’ weapons, and watched the surrounding street corners for more of Thompson’s men returning. Fortunately, no one else showed up.

The trucked revved to life and Hash drove west through the barricaded downtown of West Farmington Village. They traveled in silence through each intersection, staring at the makeshift vehicle barricades and improvised fencing that separated the main road from the veins of side streets leading into the most desolate parts of town. The town felt long abandoned the farther away they moved from the hospital. It was as though even the dead could sense the lack of life in West Farmington and had decided to relocate anywhere their might still be a pulse.

Diane and Nine found an old tarp in the back and covered Gibbs’s body as best they could. Alysa, Mark and Wendy kept low, rifles raised at the intersection of each quiet street they passed.

Mark suddenly started laughing as the morning breeze messed up his hair.

Wendy shook her head at him. “What’s so damn funny?”

He looked at her and smiled, pointing beneath him at the flatbed. “Finally, we have wheels!” he said. “I’m so happy I can hardly stand it.” He laughed again, feeling giddy. “If I had to walk one more damn mile in this apocalypse, I think you would’ve seen me break down in the middle of the street back there.”

Wendy laughed and nodded. “This almost feels… normal… if there is such a thing anymore.”

“I don’t care if we’re driving right off a cliff in the next few minutes as long as I can enjoy this a bit longer,” Mark said.

Within the cab of the truck, Tony kept stealing glances at the good sergeant’s emotionless face. “I’m sorry,” he finally said.

Hash looked over.

“I’m sorry you lost your man. I wish we could’ve moved a bit sooner. I know what it feels like to lose people.”

Hash nodded. “Thanks for that. Gibbs wasn’t the best soldier… before… but after this ‘Hell on Earth’ shit started, he really stepped up. He was loyal and had my back… that’s hard to find these days.”

Tony nodded letting a moment of silence pass between them. “What’s the plan?” he asked, shifting away from the heaviness.

“There’s an indiscreet warehouse near the western barricade. That’s where we store our supplies.”

“The spoils of war?” Tony said in jest.

“Something like that. There’s guns, ammo, food, water. Anyway, if we’re quick, we can hitch up a trailer to the back of this thing and be gone before anyone else has to die.”

“And go where?” Tony asked.

“Anywhere outside of this God-forsaken shit-hole town. We’ll put a few miles behind us, find a nice quiet spot to rest and figure it out from there. We’ll exit the west barricade after the warehouse. Should only be one man there.”

Tony sighed. “I was afraid of that. Will he let us leave?”

“I hope so. I’ve had my fill of killing the living for one day, haven’t you?”

Tony shook his head. “The day I don’t have to carry another gun, sleep with one eye open, or stare at another human being, wondering when he or she will stick a knife in my back, can’t come soon enough. There was a time I thought the dead was the real enemy. But now, I see enemies everywhere.”

Hash gave him a sideway glance and said, “You care about your people. I can tell it weighs heavily on you. They’re lucky to have you, Tony.”

“Well… I’ve watched too many of my ‘people’ die. That shit never gets easier.”

“Pray that it never does,” Hash said with a haunted look in his eyes. “We’re here.”

The good sergeant turned right down an alley between two old brick buildings. At the other end of the alley, a large parking lot opened up in front of a tall brick building with four large roll-up doors at the top of four ramps. Hash backed up onto the second ramp and stopped before the door. “This used to be some airplane machine shop. Looked like they built parts and shipped them out from here for smaller fixed-wing crafts. We’ve repurposed it since we got here.”

Everyone got out of the truck as Hash went up to the roll-up door and opened it.

“Shit!” Nine said, staring at the numerous pallets of supplies in shrink wrap. “You’ve all been busy!”

There were twenty-five pallets full of canned goods, bottled water, medical supplies, and weapons.

Hash walked past his stunned guests and pointed toward a small horse trailer in the back. “That’s what we want. The rest of this shit we store up and slowly distribute to those Lunatic assholes when they come through. They get they’re cut, fuck with us a little, but then leave us alone. And that was the deal.” He put his hand on the trailer and finished, “But this here, we kept loaded and ready for that day those crazy bastards turned on us.”

“Bet you didn’t think you’d have to use the emergency escape trailer to get away from your own men, did you?” Diane asked.

Hash frowned. “Me and Gibbs, we talked about that very thing long before you all got here. It was just a matter of time before Thompson or the Lunatics tried to fuck us. Having this here helped us both sleep better each night.”

“What’s in it?” Mark asked.

“A little bit of this and that,” Hash said. “Enough to live on comfortably for a good while.” He was moving again. “All we need to do now is hitch this thing up to that truck and get the hell out of here.”

The others were equally motivated to move.

While Diane, Alysa, Nine and Wendy stood watch over the front, the others worked together to get the truck inside and hitch up the trailer. Within thirty minutes they were ready to go.

After they were back on the main road traveling through downtown, they headed for the western barricade at a much slower speed due to their large load. They all felt exposed, wondering where and when the next sniper would start firing on them.

“It’s just up ahead,” Hash said to Tony as they neared the western barricade. As expected, one armed soldier, surprised by the truck and trailer, stepped out in front of the barricade. Just behind him, beyond the sandbag reinforced chain link fence with razor ribbon spanning the top, were at least twenty deadheads screaming for entry as they pushed against the fence.

“I was afraid of that,” Hash said. “All the gunfire drew them out of the residential areas. They’ll disperse after a while if the men stay out of sight. But those hungry bastards know we’re here now… and they’ll be coming in larger groups before the end of the day. That man there… Private Barry… he’s in over his head on the west side. This is normally a three-person post.”

Tony nodded. “And do you get along with Mr. Barry, or does he have it in for you, too?”

Hash smiled. “We played poker once a week. He’s absolutely useless when it comes to the game, but I let him win enough to keep him happy.”

Tony laughed. “Always working on the moral of your troops. So, what are the odds of us winning this hand without a confrontation?”

Hash put the truck in park, fifty feet from the barricade. “I’m about to find out,” he said, stepping out of the truck. “I’ll explain the situation to him, assuming he lets me get that close.”

“And what situation would that be?’

“I’m going to tell him Thompson’s dead, as well as most of the others. I’m guessing that when he finds out that between the six of them that are left to stand these watches, especially when the rest of the dead show up at nightfall, he might want to visit that warehouse, grab some shit, and split.”

“I’m starting to understand why you liked Gibbs so much,” Tony said. “Seems like all these guys are out for themselves.”

“More or less,” Hash confirmed. “I’m hoping to bank on that now and show Private Barry that it’s in his best interest to let us pass.”

“And if not?”

Hash smiled at him. “Well… then I’ll be too damn dead to worry about it. You’ll have to take care of it the hard way if things go south here.”

“Understood,” Tony said with a sigh.

Hash reached his hand into the window. “If this is the end, it’s been… refreshing… meeting you and your people, Tony. I don’t know if I can believe in the things you still do… but it’s good to know that someone does. Good luck.”

“Same to you, Sergeant Hash. I hope to see you back here in a few minutes.”

Hash laughed. “There you go again. Well, here’s to hoping.” And with that, Hash stepped out toward the armed Private Barry with his hands held up submissively.

Alysa tapped on the sliding rear-window. Tony opened it.

“He takes an unnecessary risk,” Alysa said. “It would be more prudent to just drive up and shoot the man.”

Tony nodded, watching Hash like a hawk. “How’s the arm?”

“Bullet went through clean,” she said. “How’s his chances?”

Tony smiled as he watched the young private lower his weapon, letting his former sergeant speak. “So far, his chances look good at coming out of this one… clean.”

A few minutes later, Private Barry saluted Hash, shouldered his rifle around his back, and started walking briskly away from his post, passing them all in the truck with a cautious glance. The others watched the soldier break out running once he was well clear of the truck.

Hash came back.

“What did you tell him?” Tony asked.

“In so many words, I gave him a choice between looking like a piñata full of bullet holes dangling out in front of the gate or just letting me take over the watch while he got himself cleaned up and rested before his next patrol.” The sergeant smiled. “He seemed real receptive to my second option, especially when I told him how silly he’d look tomorrow morning hanging out here, especially since he probably wasn’t going to get relieved for a long time.”

“And that’s that,” Tony said, shaking his head. He looked toward the slowly building horde at the front gate. “What about them?”

“Oh… well… we’re gonna have to be a little more persuasive with them, I think. We’ll just take the diplomatic approach and let the front end of this truck do the talking. But I believe they’ll let us pass, too, especially after I invite them all inside by leaving that gate open.”

“Your men won’t like that.”

“Yeah,” Hash said with a devilish gleam in his eye. “But they all have it coming.”

~~~

After the breakfast-ruining crunching sounds beneath the F-150, when the small gathering of the reanimated refused to yield just outside the western gate, Hash pushed the truck with the trailer in tow another three miles down Route 88 before turning right off the two-lane highway and onto a long private drive. He’d spotted a fenced-in open field, hidden behind the tree line, and hoped the temporary detour would sufficiently hide them in case anyone from his former unit decided to pursue them.

The long narrow drive curved to the left and opened up before a burnt down farmhouse to the right. There was nothing living or dead in the immediate area, so they decided to stop at the edge of the large field and gather their bearings.

Mark and Wendy were the first to exit the back of the truck. Mark looked like he was going to throw up.

“Are you alright?” Wendy asked.

Mark laughed at himself. “Between sharing that flatbed with a corpse and counting the bumps beneath it when we slammed into those deadheads, I’m already sick of driving.”

She patted his shoulder with a nod, trying not to show her amusement.

“I thought the crunching bone sounds and that black blood splattering up over the grill really brought the experience home for me,” Nine said, poking fun at the young man while jumping down from the truck.

Mark shook his head at him. “You are an asshole.”

He smiled. “I try.”

Diane was the last to get down, finding it frustratingly difficult to climb out of the flatbed with one arm. Alysa offered her a hand, but she refused to accept it, choosing to jump down awkwardly and landing on her ass.

Nine couldn’t resist. “Plus two cool points for the attempt… but minus five for the landing.”

Diane glared at him. “Yeah… but look who’s sleeping alone tonight.”

“Ouch,” he said, helping her up. “Minus ten for my big damn mouth.”

Alysa ignored them. She was examining the condition of the trailer while stealing glances over at the good sergeant and Tony who had departed the truck and were staring off into the field.

Tony waited patiently while Hash seemed intent on studying the field. Finally, he asked, “Having second thoughts about this place? Want to keep moving?”

“No. I think we’re good here,” Hash said. “We’ll be able to spot anything coming at us. I just need a moment to get used to the idea again.”

“And what would that be?” Tony asked.

Hash turned and let out an exhausted smile. “The thought of being out here… exposed… to whatever this shit-hole world throws at us next to try and kill us. It’s been a while.”

Tony laughed. “Yeah. That feeling never really goes away, but it is nice to pretend when you’ve got a few walls up and some people to watch them. We had that illusion for a little while, hiding in an underground facility that turned into a tomb.” Tony quickly changed the subject. “What’s on your mind, Sergeant.”

Hash pointed toward the field. “I’m going to bury Private Gibbs over there, say a few words that don’t really matter anymore, and then see if there’s a bottle of anything hard to drink in that damn trailer. After that… well… I haven’t thought that far yet. Maybe I’ll just get drunk and set this world on fire. Want to help?”

Tony shrugged his shoulders. “Too tired for the fire, but I’ll help you bury your friend.”

“Appreciate that,” the good sergeant said, trying hard to fight back the sorrow that was finally catching up to him. “That’s the hard part anyway.” Hash turned and started for the truck to retrieve a couple of shovels from the assortment of tools laying in the flatbed.

The others quickly caught on and offered to help move Gibbs from the truck while Hash and Tony went on ahead to start digging.

Alysa grabbed a rifle, wanting to distance herself from the improvised funeral, and told the others she was going to set and guard a small perimeter around them.

The others, sensing her discomfort, let her be. Mark and Nine carefully brought Private Gibbs down from the flatbed, while Wendy and Diane shook out the old tarp, laying it on the ground, to wrap him up better.

“We never had a chance to… you know… properly say goodbye to Beverly or Matthew,” Wendy said, after they finished the unfortunate task of preparing the soldier’s body. “Never had time to bury them.” She wiped tears from her face.

Mark frowned, watching Tony and Hash dig the grave. “Never had much of a chance for anything since we fled the compound. Seems like living and dying are equally inconvenient these days.” The young man was surprisingly somber. “All there’s time for is… survival… whatever the fuck that means.”

Diane, Nine and Wendy stared at him, feeling the heavy silence-inducing moment wrap them up in their own death shrouds, each wondering when it would be their turn to either bury the other, or become one with the earth beneath them.

“They know we miss them,” Nine said, all joking aside. “Every one of them we’ve lost, we carry them around, every day, and hope we give their deaths meaning by making it through all this… somehow. We go on for their sake, to remember them, talk about them, laugh fondly at those awesome memories with them, and cry for the shitty ones, too. They continue to live for as long as we do. When it’s all said and done, that has to be enough.”

Diane gave him a surprised look, causing Nine to look away with a half-hearted smile. She wrapped her arm around him and hugged him fiercely, feeling her own emotions needing somewhere safe to hide.

“I like that,” Wendy said, freely crying now. “It’s… comforting to think that they’re still with us.”

“Sometimes you say something really profound, when the rest of what you’re saying shuts the hell up,” Mark said with a smile.

This made them all laugh, freeing them of the heaviness.

Thirty minutes later, Hash and Tony returned.

The good sergeant saw Private Gibbs’s modified shroud and said through choked up words, “Thank you all for… allowing me this. I won’t forget it.”

They all nodded sheepishly.

“Let’s go take care of your friend, Sergeant,” Tony said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “It’s not often we get a chance to do this the right way.”

Hash nodded appreciatively.

Tony looked around for Alysa.

“She’s watching our backs,” Nine quickly said. “I don’t think she’s the funeral type.”

Tony nodded at him, then turned back to Hash. “Okay then. You ready?”

“No… but let’s do this anyway, before I forget how sober I am and how shitty that feels right now.”

Without another word, they carried the dead soldier into the field and laid him to rest. Hash spoke a few words about the young man’s short life.

The others listened intently and added the memory of Private Andy Gibbs to their necessary survival baggage.

And that had to be enough.

~~~

When the funeral was finished, Alysa returned and told them that the farmstead, as well as the highway, appeared quiet. She found no evidence of recent activity, living or dead, and they decided to risk a fire and stay the night while they decided what to do next.

Hash brought out some canned goods from the trailer, which they ate cold, as they sat huddled around their small fire, armed… and a little more at ease.

“Now that you’re all free again, and I’m now unemployed,” Hash started, “I was hoping to talk you all out of that suicide mission you told me about back at the hospital.”

Tony shook his head. “If you mean tucking tail and running, well, we can’t do that. Our people are still out there and we mean to find them. Nothing’s changed in that regard.”

Hash kept trying. “So, if I reminded you all that there’s enough supplies in that trailer for all of us to live comfortably for a good while, and that I was willing to share it with you, as well as sharing a secure route south out of the Territories, you’d still not be interested?”

“We’re decided, Sergeant,” Wendy said. “We’ve been through this, we know the risks, and we’re prepared to face whatever’s waiting if there’s a chance to find our friends.”

Hash shook his head in frustration. “Look. I get what you’re trying to do. Really, I do. But I’m telling you, if you’re friends are still alive there’s only one place they could be. And New Cleveland is a dangerous place where good people like yourselves have no business being.”

“If that’s where they are, then that’s where we’re going,” Tony said. “If you could just point the way, we’ll part ways in the morning and-”

“It’s about twenty miles west of here.” Hash was clearly irritated. “It won’t be hard to find, trust me. Chances are, you’ll be stopped long before you reach it anyway, by some Lunatic patrol that will probably gun you down for just saying ‘hello’. Don’t you get it? When I say ‘dangerous’, I mean, imagine a town where every kind of criminal left in this God-forsaken world has a place to thrive unchecked. That’s what you’ll find there. Murderers, rapists, drug dealers, human traffickers, pedophiles, hate gangs… are you hearing what I’m saying yet? It’s a thriving black-market where the most heinous activities and perverse dealings are conducted out in the open! New Cleveland is a place where the kind of shit that never made the six-o’clock news because it would make your skin crawl and your stomach turn, happens on a regular basis. Fucking makes Sodom and Gomorrah look like a damn Bible camp!”

No one said anything for a minute as they let Hash’s strong warning sink in.

Nine clapped his hands together and said, “So, what are we waiting for? Let’s go! I’ll finally get to go somewhere and rip those tempting little labels off mattresses without anyone giving me shit about it. Hell… sounds like they’d encourage it in New Cleveland!”

Diane hid her face in her hands and shook her head.

Hash looked to Tony. “Is there something… wrong with him? He can’t be serious, right?”

Mark laughed.

“Yes and no,” Tony said, frowning at Nine. “But don’t worry, he’ll grow on you.”

“Like a damn wart,” Mark said.

“Actually,” Wendy chimed in. “It’s only illegal for a seller to rip the label off. Once you buy a mattress, you can do what you want.”

Nine smiled at her. “And I bet you ripped the hell out of those tags, didn’t you?”

Wendy let out a guilty smile. “Of course.”

“None of this is helping,” Alysa chimed in, looking like she wanted to kill everyone. She gave Tony a pleading look.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s stay on track here.” Tony looked to Hash. “I think you’ve made it clear what we’re getting into. But I’m telling you, Sergeant, we’re not giving up.”

“Yeah!” Nine said. “So, go on! Tell is more about this evil town full of devils and debauchery! Death and destruction promised! Minimal chance of making it inside without a good ass-raping!”

“Nine!” Diane yelled, hitting him hard in the shoulder.

By now, Mark was rolling with laughter.

The good sergeant raised his hands. “You’ve all lost your fucking minds! I’m already talking to dead people!” He was about to get up.

“Sergeant,” Tony said. “Please sit back down. They’re not making light of what you’re saying. They’re just… processing it. Each in their own way. You’ve just told us that we’re going to die if we enter this place, and probably in the worst ways imaginable. And I’m telling you, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Hash sat back down and sighed heavily. He looked hard into each of their faces and shook his head. “Damn fools, the whole lot of you.”

“Agreed,” Alysa said, dramatically rolling her eyes.

This unexpected display of frustration made Tony laugh which made the warrior laugh, followed by Nine, Mark, Wendy, and even Diane.

“Maybe I was wrong,” Hash said, raising an eyebrow at their odd behavior. “You might just get inside New Cleveland by just painting your damn faces, ‘cause no one would ever know you weren’t LUNATICS!”

This just made them all laugh harder.

Even Hash started to give in to their infectious behavior, then stopped, scolding himself for snickering with these death-wish driven idiots. But then again, how long had it been since he’d laughed like this? With real people who genuinely cared about each other? They’ve been wound up so tight, for so long, nothing can scare them anymore, he thought. Death comes delivering another sweet promise… and they respond with a little madness driven laughter, even when there’s nothing to laugh about. They’ll happily dive off the cliff come morning… as long as they can do it together.

Considering the morally depraved people he’d surrounded himself with since the world turned to shit, Hash began to wonder who the real idiot truly was.

If Gibbs were here, he’d be laughing, too. This thought made him smile briefly, before the bitterness set in. “Ah, hell!” he blurted out, finally getting them to calm down. “I suppose letting off a little steam is expected. I can tell you’ve all been living on edge for some time now. But, if you’re all determined to jump into the flames, well, then you need to know that even if you manage to make it there unharmed, there’s no way you’re getting in the front door empty handed. They’ll take one look at all of you and think you’re as mad as I do.”

“Okay,” Tony said. “Explain?”

“No one gets into New Cleveland without paying the admission price. Hell, it used to be a damn amusement park for Christ’s sake.”

“And what price might that be?” Alysa asked.

Hash shook his head at them as if dealing with children. “That place may be a den of darkness, but it’s still run like a business venture. I’ve never met the man in charge personally, but his reputation precedes him. He goes by the name Candyman… hell if I know why.”

“‘Candyman’ like Willy Wonka, or, like the horror movie?” Nine asked.

The good sergeant ignored him. “From what I’ve gathered, he’s ruthless, a fucking sadist, but above all, he’s still a businessman and that means he’s about profits. Candyman’s the one who hired me and my men and sent us out here.”

“But you’ve never met him?” Diane said.

“Nope. But I’ve met plenty of his damn Lunatics when we first stumbled across the place. They may appear to run the show, but’s it’s Candyman who pulls the strings. He sent Briana to deal with us after we arrived and told her to offer us West Farmington Village. If we hadn’t agreed to the deal, we’d be dead already. Initially, we thought, ‘Just tell these freaks what they want to hear. Then after, we could split’. But that guy knew how to make the deal profitable on both ends, and we went for the carrot. That’s what guys like that do. They see potential and capitalize upon it. Candyman saw that we were ex-military, which translated into hired muscle, and he’d dealt with our kind before, so he knew how to speak our language.”

“So, he essentially made you rulers of West Farmington Village, assuming you could claim it and clear it out, in exchange for a percentage of anything in the town,” Tony said. “And by the time you all arrived there, after all the shit you and your men went through, how could refuse such a sweet deal, right?”

“Exactly,” he said. “The man knew what buttons to push and we became his damn dogs. But as for all of you, showing up and looking like you do now, he’d let you in just long enough to feed the dead, or just string your corpses outside the main gate to discourage others like you from just showing up with nothing to offer. There’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch’ in New Cleveland.”

“‘Pay the Lunatics, or feed the dead’,” Wendy said.

“Yes,” Hash said. “And you aren’t getting in that town without paying a high price. Believe me, I know all about it.” He refused to elaborate.

Tony looked discouraged. “Well… we will find a way, Sergeant. We have to.”

Hash nodded at the big man. “Of course, you’ll try. It’s a good thing I’m coming with you.”

They all looked confused.

Hash laughed and pointed back toward the trailer. “That there was my ‘carrot’ to try to change your minds, but if you didn’t, and I suspected you wouldn’t if you were the decent but very stupid people I thought you might be, then there was always ‘Plan B’.

Tony smiled. “And what is ‘Plan B’?”

“I know what’s valuable in New Cleveland, and what’s not,” Hash said. “I made sure to load up that trailer with enough prescription drugs to keep the locals in that place high as kites for a good long time.”

“Of course,” Alysa said, standing up. “And is it any wonder why your world goes extinct when it’s people still crave the same shit that helped kill it to begin with?” She looked at Tony. “I’ll do whatever you all decide. But I’ll hear no more of this ‘deal’. Excuse me.” She stormed off.

“That one’s got a fire that won’t be easily extinguished,” Hash said.

“You got that right,” Tony said, watching Alysa leave. He turned back to Hash. “So, you’re willing to come with us and give up the contents of your trailer to help get our friends back?”

“That trailer will get us inside, if we’re lucky. The rest is on us, ‘when’ and ‘if’ we get in.”

“Fair enough,” Tony said. “Why the change of heart?”

Hash laughed. “Let’s just say you all won me over. It’s been a long time since a cause worth a damn meant anything to me. Even a cause as reckless as this one. Besides, if I go back out there alone, chances are I’ll just stumble across all the wrong people again, and without Gibbs this time to keep me in check… who knows how far down the next hole I’ll descend into. Maybe one too deep to climb out of.”

“Then we do this,” Tony said, rising to his feet. He looked at the others. “But only if the rest of you still believe we should.”

Nine, Diane, Wendy and Mark all exchanged glances, then stared up at Tony.

“Nothing’s changed,” Mark said. “We all want this, more than we wanted it before. Our lives mean shit if we can’t push back against the darkness… and hell, I just love the sound of that.”

Wendy gave him an approving glance. “Agreed.”

Diane looked to Nine and they both nodded. “We’re still in,” she said.

Tony looked to Hash. “I need to hear you say it with us, Sergeant.”

Hash shook his head. “I’m with you. But we’ve a lot to discuss before the fire dies out if we want to survive New Cleveland.”

Tony nodded.

Alysa returned.

Tony looked at her.

“You don’t even have to ask,” she said with a smile.

Tony nodded and stared at all of them with a hint of pride behind his eyes. “We’re about to put ourselves in over our heads again,” he said. “We may not have much of value to these assholes, apart from what’s in the trailer. But we have something far more valuable to us. We have heart… and we have each other. When we get inside that lion’s den, we’ll find our friends.” He turned to Hash and finished, “And if necessary, we will set this world on fire, to get them out of there. That’s a promise.”

~~~

Next Episode 43-1

Previous Episode 42-11

~~~

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“Chapter 42-12: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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~~~

~~~

Corporal Carl Thompson was out of patience. He placed his hands behind his back and paced back and forth behind the two Ford F-150’s he’d ordered moved to the other side of the street, facing the hospital doors. He had two armed men lying prone beneath the trucks, two more along the side of the building near the doors, and a sniper on the hardware store roof behind him. The last man stood behind the trucks watching Gibbs who was handcuffed and on his knees.

Private Gibbs was smirking at him.

Thompson ran a hand through his short black hair and stared at him. “What’s so funny, Private?”

“You look nervous, Thompson,” he said. “If I can see it, you better believe these guys can all see it. Why don’t you call it a day before you lose control of the situation… you know… like down in the basement last night.”

Thompson nodded at him. Little fucker’s trying to unravel the men. He knows they’re listening. He nodded at the big man watching Gibbs.

The big man, Gordon, smiled and then struck Gibbs in the back of the head with the butt of his rifle, knocking the loud-mouthed private to the pavement. Gibbs was out.

“That’s ‘Corporal’ to you, shit bag!” Thompson hissed. “You may have been Hash’s bitch all winter, but I still outrank you. Best not forget that if you want to be alive at the end of the day.”

The big man laughed.

There, he thought. All it takes is a little display of force and authority, and these guys know who’s really in charge. But still, the longer Hash stalled, the more he looked like an idiot standing out here. Gibbs was right. He needed to take control quickly. That had originally been the plan. Take ‘em quick in the street and catch the fucker in the act of freeing the prisoners, Thompson thought. That way, I secure my right to take over after they all see his shady shit.

But Hash had figured him out… fucker… and now he had to improvise.

“How much longer?” Gordon asked. “We should just go in and-”

“Don’t question me, Private,” Thompson barked. “I have this under control.”

The big private rolled his eyes and sighed.

Shit. It’s already starting. I don’t know how Sarge kept them all in line this long. He had to move to the alternate plan. Thompson had no interest in confronting the sergeant on his terms. Outgunned or not, Hash was a clever man.

He stepped back around one of the trucks and yelled, “Alright, Sarge! I’m done being nice. So, here’s how this is going to happen. You come out right fucking now, with all those prisoners, or I will put my gun to Private Gibbs’s head and execute him for treason. You have five minutes.”

Gordon nodded, a satisfied grin highlighting his dull face.

Thompson smiled back. After this is over, I’m going to personally see to it that this big asshole has an accident at the North Barricade. Fewer men means fewer insubordinate mouths to deal with.

The next four and a half minutes moved painfully slow. Thompson was sweating.

Damn you, Sarge! Don’t force my hand here! You know you can’t win, so stop being so fucking stubborn!

“Private Gordon! Bring that traitor out in front of the trucks.”

Gordon started smacking Gibbs around, until he came awake, and then the big man dragged him into the street.

“Get him back up on his knees,” Thompson said, calmly retrieving his handgun. “I want to make sure they all see this.” He’d meant his own men as much as Hash and the prisoners.

Gibbs looked up at Thompson. “Don’t do this. It won’t end well.”

Thompson ignored him and shouted toward the hospital entrance. “Sarge! Time’s up! You come out right now or-”

From within the hospital lobby, they heard several shots fired.

Thompson and Gordon retreated behind the trucks dragging Gibbs with them.

The sniper from the rooftop yelled down, “I don’t see anyone! Inside only!”

“What the fuck?” Thompson said. “I told those two idiots to watch the exits, not storm the fucking place!”

One of the gunmen beneath the truck called up. “I see movement near the doors. Should I-”

“No. Hold on,” Thompson said. “We don’t know what’s happening yet.”

Suddenly, Sergeant Hash yelled out from the lobby, “Thompson! Hold your damn fire! I’m coming out with a prisoner!”

Thompson motioned for Gordon to move Gibbs back out in the street. He came out around the trucks and held his handgun to Gibb’s temple. “No one does a fucking thing until I see how this plays out,” he hissed at his men.

The front doors of the hospital came open as Hash stepped out into the sunlight. He was storming toward Thompson, chest puffed out like a raging bull, dragging one of the female prisoners roughly by the arm. When they reached the edge of the street, Thompson could see that it was Alysa, the woman who made his life hell recently, looking like she’d been roughed up. There was a large bruise across her left cheek.

“That’s close enough, Sarge,” Thompson ordered.

Hash stopped and stared at Thompson, then at Gibbs. He then glared at the three confused men near the truck and lastly up at the sniper, his face red with explosive anger. “Relax. I’m not armed. Here, take this fucking bitch,” he barked, pushing the wounded woman into the street.

Alysa fell painfully to the pavement, tried to get up, but then collapsed on her stomach.

“I took care of the rest,” Hash said. “Saved you this one to make up for my… error in judgment.”

Thompson’s eyebrow went up. He smiled and said, “Let me get this straight. Are you telling me that you just gunned down the prisoners?”

“They were playing me, just like you said.” Hash shook his head. “After I put you and the men in lock up, they must have sensed the friction between you and I,” he looked down at Alysa in disgust. “This one here, she was feeding them all the right things to say. Had me falling for it, too.”

Thompson crossed his arms and stared down at Alysa. “And just what did they say?”

“They told me some bull about the Lunatics they’d met up with in Bristolville. Remember that place?”

Thompson nodded. They were all aware of what happened there. Last time a Lunatic raiding party came through from the east, they couldn’t stop boasting about it. Those freaks enjoyed describing their kills to make Hash and the rest as uncomfortable as possible.

“Well this one here convinced me that they were working for them. She spoke specifically about Briana, that painted-face psycho with the two handguns.”

Thompson frowned. Yes, they all knew who that was. She was the worst of the lot, and their leader. “Go on.”

“Anyway, that big one… Tony… he said that they were sent over to infiltrate us and gather information about how we really ran things here, to see if we were hoarding supplies instead of turning over the arranged percentage of goods, that kind of shit. When I called him out, this bitch here just looked at me with that devious little fucking smile she was giving you downstairs, and she said that if we didn’t let them leave immediately, that Briana would be back to settle matters.”

“She knew her by name?” Thompson said, staring down at Alysa. “She actually called her ‘Briana’?”

“Yeah,” Hash said, putting on the performance of his life. “That’s when I got nervous. I started wondering how many more of these ‘spies’ were roaming about. So, I told Gibbs to get their shit and meet me at the bridge. I was just going to send them on their way… you know… just in case that bitch there was telling the truth.”

Thompson stared down at Gibbs. “Is that the truth?”

Gibbs nodded, staring at his sergeant and quickly adapting to his new acting role. “Yeah, that’s the gist of it. Sarge ordered me to keep the details between us.”

Good job, soldier, Hash thought with relief.

Thompson studied the man’s face and nodded. “Hell, I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re always doing what he commands like a good little puppy.”

Gibbs gave him a ‘fuck you’ look.

Thompson started to pace. “You should’ve let me out immediately” he said. “I could’ve helped you, Sarge! But no, you went to this worm instead.”

Hash sighed. “I’d already fucked up by putting you and the boys in that cell. I knew you were pissed. So… I figured I could handle this first, then let you out.”

Thompson laughed and looked at his men. “In other words, you fucked up twice, and tried to cover your own ass. Isn’t that correct?”

Hash looked pissed, but he relented. “If it makes you feel better for my bad call, then yes, I fucked up royally.”

Thompson smiled smugly. “So, what just happened in there? And why is this one still alive?”

Hash closed his eyes. “When you and the boys worked out your own escape and surrounded the place, they got indignant with me. Especially the big man, Tony. They accused me of setting them up and threatened me with all sorts of Lunatic retaliation threats. They actually thought I was sending them outside to get executed so they wouldn’t report back about how we treated them last night.”

Thompson shifted uncomfortably.

“Well, things got a bit heated in there. You boys out here didn’t help matters. So… they tried to jump me… and I… took care of the problem.”

Thompson was nodding. “Of course, you did. What else could you do, right?” He walked over to Alysa and finished. “And this one, here? Why did you leave her alive?”

Hash frowned. “As much as it pains me to say it… and you’ve been trying to get me to see it all along… I’ve been too… lenient… when it comes to outsiders. If these fuckers really are spies, well, we could’ve discovered this much sooner and dealt with it.”

“You mean, if you had allowed me to finish my interrogation, right? Is that what you’re telling me, Sarge?” Thompson was enjoying himself.

Hash nodded. “Yes. I was wrong. You were right all along. But I killed those fuckers, and that’s not going to sit well when those freaks come back. I figured you could get the rest out of this slippery-tongued devil bitch and give us some kind of advantage before they roll into town. But we need to settle things, you and I, right now, before shit gets worse.”

“You mean, we need to clean up your fucking mess.”

“That about covers it,” Hash grumbled.

Thompson laughed and holstered his gun. He stared at the good sergeant and said, “Well… we all make mistakes. Your real fuck-up was not trusting in me.”

“I realize that,” Hash agreed, staring around at the armed men. “Do what you need to do with the girl. Call it a peace offering. Either way, she needs to be as dead as the others before the Lunatics get here. I suggest-”

“I suggest you stand down, Sarge, and step aside,” Thompson said. “No, actually, I insist.” He placed his hand beneath his chin, stared down at the prisoner, and then back at Hash. “Here’s what I’ll do. You surrender all authority to me from here on out, help me clean up your mess, and apologize to me in front of all the men… and I’ll let this little misunderstanding slide. Deal?”

Hash nodded. “Deal. Now, can we just… wait… what are you-”

Thompson was quick. He retrieved his handgun, walked up to Gibbs, and put a bullet through his brain.

The young private collapsed in a pool of his own blood.

Hash stared at the young soldier, then turned and scowled at Thompson. His acting job was finished.

The other armed men were stunned. The two beneath the vehicle had already moved out to stand near the trucks next to Gordon. The sniper on the roof stood up to get a clear view of what just happened below.

Thompson laughed, staring into Hash’s intense face. “Oh, come on, Sarge! You knew I couldn’t just let you off the hook that easy. Somebody had to pay for all of this! We’ll just let the late Private Gibbs be a reminder of what happens when someone goes up against me. Believe me, he’s no great loss. It was either him… or you.”

Hash took a threatening step forward.

Thompson turned the gun on him, causing the bull-of-a-man to stop. “Just settle down, Sarge. All is forgiven now. We can start fresh under new management, deal with this mess, and hell… if we need to… we can take out those fucking Lunatics, too. It’s a brand new day, Sarge, full of possibilities.”

“Thompson,” the good sergeant said. “Do you remember what I told you that day at the power plant… you know… when you stopped me from helping those defenseless people from getting slaughtered?”

Thompson’s good humor departed. “Can’t say that I do, Sarge. That shit seems like a thousand years ago. Why don’t you refresh my memory.”

A wicked little smile appeared on the sergeant’s face, causing Thompson to sweat. “You pulled a gun on me that day, too.”

Thompson’s eyes went wide with understanding. Before he could pull the trigger, the corporal felt a sharp pain in his leg as Alysa stabbed him with a long syringe.

Thompson stumbled back, firing his gun wildly into the air. He fell to the ground and crawled back behind the trucks to collect himself. “Shoot them! Kill them all!” he yelled.

Hash dropped to the ground just as Alysa rolled over and quickly tossed the good sergeant his handgun she’d hid in her clothes.

Before the other armed men could react, the sound of automatic rifle fire burst forth from a second-floor hospital window as Tony targeted the roof sniper, catching him unaware, and hitting him in the throat. The sniper was no more.

The two men in front of the hospital doors looked up, trying to get a clear shot at Tony.

The hospital doors burst open as Mark charged the first armed man with Hash’s second rifle, firing into his chest at point-blank range. The first soldier went down.

Diane and Nine charged the second soldier with the blunt weapons they’d made from the hospital room beds and knocked him to the ground. They bashed his face in repeatedly.

Wendy came out last, waving her arms at the soldiers across the street, hoping to distract them and draw their fire.

Before anyone could react fast enough, Alysa was quicker. She sprung to her feet and jumped right into Private Gordon’s arms, knocking him to the ground with her momentum. Before the dull private could do anything, Alysa punched him hard in the windpipe, and then jammed his nose up and in with a powerful thrust of her palm, sending bone fragments into his brain. The big man died instantly.

Hash took advantage of the chaos, got down into the prone position, and fired several rounds at one of the two remaining gunmen half-exposed behind the truck. The gunman went down.

The last soldier started firing wildly at the crazed woman who just rolled off Gordon’s chest. Alysa sprung to her feet, dodged and weaved the clumsy close-quarters attack and ducked in under the barrel of his rifle and struck him hard in the groin. Before the soldier could register the pain, Alysa slipped in between his legs, got behind him, and kicked the gunman behind his knees, causing him to stumble forward and fall. She quickly got on his back, put the struggling man in a choke hold and snapped his neck.

Alysa felt the round enter the back of her right arm and exit the front. She spun around and off the dead soldier, using the pain to fuel her rage.

“Die you fucking bitch!” Thompson yelled as he fired several more times at her, missing his mark. Alysa rolled into one of the trucks, giving the corporal a clear shot.

Alysa stared defiantly up into the monster’s face and spat, “You better pray that Death keeps me from hunting you down.”

“Stupid fucking bitch,” Thompson said, aiming for her face.

The final gunshot struck the side of Thompson’s head, sending brain matter out the other side as Hash finished him the same way Thompson had executed Private Gibbs.

“I told you the next time you pointed a gun at me, you better pull that fucking trigger, or I’d kill you… and I meant it,” he hissed into the lifeless corporal’s face. Hash turned to Alysa and offered a hand. “You okay, soldier?”

“I’ll live,” she said, holding her free hand over her bullet wound. She reached up and took the good sergeant’s hand. He helped her to her feet.

Mark, Nine, Diane and Wendy were running over as Tony just exited the hospital.

Hash smiled at them and said to Alysa, “They all made it. Your friends are some tough sons-a-bitches. Sorry about the face.”

Alysa grimaced through the pain and said, “That was my idea, remember? Besides, you punch like a pussy.”

Sergeant Hash turned to her, eyebrows raised, and laughed hard.

~~~

Next Episode 42-12

Previous Episode 42-10

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-11: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

… “Young lady?”

Alysa’s eyes shot open. She turned her groggy head and saw the tall older man with the blond flat-top haircut standing four feet from her at the edge of the small hospital waiting room lounge.

Shit! Alysa pushed her heavy body up into the sitting position. At some point, she’d fallen asleep on one of the two couches.

Sergeant Hash, dressed in his old National Guard uniform, was leaning up against the wall, smiling at her from behind the coffee cup he sipped. And this time, he wore a side arm. “Looks like the both of you were in no shape to stand watch,” he said, nodding over at Tony who had fallen asleep in the sitting position on the other couch.

She looked over at Tony, stretched her leg out, and kicked the big man awake.

Aren’t we the pathetic ones, she thought. So much for the plan.

Tony came awake with a start and stared over at Alysa with blood shot eyes.

We’re both beyond exhausted, she thought, staring into Tony’s confused face. She nodded over his shoulder.

Tony turned, saw Hash saluting him with his coffee cup, and then said, “Fuck!”

“It’s alright,” the soldier said. “I get it. You’re watching over your unit… or at least, trying to. But you both look like shit and even good soldiers still need to sleep… eventually.”

Tony shook his head apologetically at Alysa who looked equally embarrassed, and then rose to his feet.

Alysa did the same.

Hash moved his free hand cautiously toward his gun holster. “Relax. I’m not here to stuff your heads back into sacks and escort you to the basement. But… I will need you both to get moving, wake your friends, and come with me.”

“Come with you where?” Tony asked.

Hash took another sip of his coffee, looked at the cup, and then said, “It’s not this town I’ll miss… but the coffee… well, hell… I’ll miss that, I suppose. I’m tired of the ‘Apocalyptic Hospital Shit’ blend, but it’s been a real life saver.” He looked to them. “I imagine, all our days will be cut short here if what you’ve all shared with me about that large party of dead things hiding out at Mosquito Creek is true. So, against my better judgment, I’ve decided that the best thing I can do, is get you all the hell out of my town as fast as possible… so I can deal with the rest of what’s on my plate this morning.”

“You’re letting us go?” Alysa asked suspiciously.

“I figure it’s easier to do that, then having to keep stopping Thompson and the others from trying to kill you… and I need those misguided idiots back on watch. But we need to leave… immediately.”

Tony was scrambling. He looked to Alysa with a big old smile that clearly said, See, I told you.

She glared at him as if to say, We’ll see. She hesitated and asked, “How do we know you aren’t lying to us to get us outside? For all we know the Lunatics are waiting to jump us.”

Hash laughed and then looked at Tony. “She always this… trusting?”

“Always,” he said. “But she’s had our backs on more than one occasion.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he said. He turned back to the archer. “Truth is, young lady, you don’t know. But I’d like to think that I’ve treated you all hospitably… and I will be catching a considerable amount of shit for locking those boys up on account of all of you. So, if you could please hold off on all your suspicions and help me, help you, I’d appreciate it. We have a limited amount of time to get this done.”

Alysa looked to Tony. “Make the call.”

“Okay, we’ll trust you,” Tony told Hash. “I’ll just need one solid show of faith from you before we go.”

Hash rolled his eyes and sighed. “Here we go. What’s that?”

“Give me what’s left of that coffee and I’ll bear your children.”

The good sergeant gave him a strange look, unprepared for the joke, and then laughed.

Tony smiled.

Hash held out the cup, shaking his head. “It’s yours… but I’m sure this shit’s made me sterile by now, so let’s just forget that second part.”

Tony chuckled. Now both men were infected with laughter.

Alysa raised an eyebrow, staring back and forth between them. “Unbelievable.”

This just made them laugh harder.

~~~

After Tony and Alysa woke the others, Sergeant Hash led the tired and very confused prisoners down to the main floor of the hospital, explaining the plan on the way.

“I’ve got Gibbs, a good soldier, running interference for me long enough to get you and your people out of here,” Hash said to Tony. “Everyone else not in their racks will be spread out on the north, south and west ends of town, keeping them preoccupied. That leaves the east end open. Gibbs will be there to meet us at the bridge where you all came in. He’ll have your weapons with him and-”

“We can’t go back, Sergeant,” Tony said.

Hash stopped. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“We’ve already explained this. We’re looking for our friends, and those Lunatics have them.”

Hash ran a hand impatiently through his hair. “What are you trying to do here? Do you want to die? I’m trying to get you out of Lunatic territory… and you want to run right into the devil’s den? You have no idea what you’ve gotten yourselves into here.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Tony said. “We’re not giving up on our people. I’m sure you can understand that.”

Hash squared up to Tony, put his hands to his side, and said, “Look… I get it. But they’re dead. And if they’re not, then you better start praying they die soon. If the Lunatics got ‘em, then that’s it! End of story! You’re not going to do anything but get the rest of your people killed… or much worse.”

Tony refused to back down. “We’re going to find our friends… with or without your help.”

Hash could tell by the big man’s angry glare that this stone would not budge. He laughed and shook his head. “You’d make a good soldier, Tony. You’ve just enough stubbornness mixed with a lack of good common sense to stare down the devil himself to win your war… but I’m telling you… that war is a lost cause. Your friends… well… there’s no coming back from where they are.” He turned away with a haunted look in his eyes.

“We have to try,” Wendy chimed in.

Hash looked at the young woman.

Wendy continued. “We’ve lost so much just getting this far. So many of our friends are dead. This world is an awful place, but if it’s done anything, it’s shown us how valuable the ones we care about are… and if we give up on them, we might us well lie down and let the dead have at us.”

The others looked to Wendy and nodded.

Hash could clearly see there was no stopping them. He shook his head and said, “I’m encouraged by this strength you all possess together. I felt that once, long ago, but now… the world has changed. Heroism was the first thing to die off… believe me… I’ve seen it. Now, we do what we must to keep on breathing. Survival is our new god, and she’s a mean-spirited bitch!”

Nine laughed. “Trust us, Sergeant. We know this all too well. That’s why we were striving to build something better than that… but we need to do it together. We’re missing people, we must get them back, or die trying. Call that foolish or suicidal, but that’s who we are.”

Hash was getting frustrated. He started them moving again. “Well, do what you want after you’re out of my damn town! But we are heading for that bridge!”

They approached the front doors of the hospital. The morning light shining in through the glass double doors never looked more inviting to the others.

Hash stopped them immediately.

“What wrong?” Diane asked.

Hash motioned for them to drop down ten feet before the door. He whispered, “Something feels… off.”

Mark looked around nervously. “Are we-”

Hash shushed him, placing his pointer finger over the young man’s mouth. “Quiet,” he hissed.

“He’s right,” Alysa whispered, stepping back into the closest shadow. “The silence is forced.”

The good sergeant immediately drew his handgun and stared intently toward the front doors.

A moment later, a head quickly appeared, peeking around the outside corner of the left door, and then disappeared.

“Shit,” hash hissed. “They’re loose.”

“Who’s loose?” Tony asked.

Hash closed his eyes and shook his head. “Thompson,” he whispered. “The rest of those fucking idiots must have let him out. Probably caught wind that Gibbs was up to something. That kid’s a good soldier… but a horrible actor.”

“What’s our next move, Sergeant?” Tony asked.

“We wait,” he said. “They’re obviously hoping to catch us outside… out in the open. They probably have a sniper aimed at the front.”

“Are you saying that your own men are trying to kill you?” Matt asked.

“That all depends on what bullshit Thompson fed them this time. That man—I should have put that dog down—has been gunning for an opportunity to take over. He thinks more like those damn Lunatics than a real man. And those fuckers are cold as ice. Last night, I gave him his opportunity. I knew it wouldn’t sit well with the others, locking them up… but I didn’t think they’d take it this far.”

“You’re in danger now, Sergeant,” Tony said. “If we can get out of this mess, you need to come with us.”

Hash gave him a strange look and nodded. “I appreciate that… but… like you, I have at least one man out there who’s still loyal. And I won’t leave him to these dogs.”

“Gibbs?” Diane asked.

Hash nodded.

“Isn’t he at the bridge?” Wendy chimed in.

“Hey, Sergeant!” a voice shouted from outside.

It was Thompson.

“C’mon, Sarge, let’s not do this the hard way! This cat-and-mouse shit’s going to get old fast. Just come on out, bring the prisoners with you, and we’ll talk about this… situation.”

Hash frowned. “Most of them have about as much morals as the rest of you any damn sense, and Thompson’s void of even that much. But what they do have are guns… and they’re really efficient at using them.”

“How many?” Alysa asked.

Hash ran a hand through his hair. “Assuming he wasn’t foolish enough to leave the barricades undefended, that would mean leaving four men out… gives him nine total.”

“Nine armed men… soldiers… this should be easy,” Mark said sarcastically. “Let me go grab a sharp cotton swab from the nurse’s station, and I’ll be good to go.”

“We have to draw them inside,” Alysa advised. “That’s our only chance… and they know it.”

“Agreed, young lady,” Hash said.

“Are there any weapons in here?” Diane asked.

Hash smiled and raised his handgun.

“We’re fucked,” Matt concluded.

“Don’t count us out yet,” Hash said. “I haven’t maintained my leadership with these goons by closing the eyes in the back of my head. I keep a couple of automatic rifles stashed above the ceiling tiles in my quarters. As it turns out, those rifles were never accounted for. We’ll have to make it back up to the second floor to get them.”

“Any other exits?” Tony asked. “Or can we assume they’re being watched?”

“Only two that are still accessible, but they’ll be expecting that,” he said. “No, Thompson knows me enough to know how this will play out. They’ll have to come inside, now that I know what they’re up to.”

“So, two exits with at least one man watching each of those, correct?” Alysa asked.

“That’s a fair assessment,” Hash said.

“Then he’s down to seven out front,” Nine said with a smile. He looked to Tony. “That’s a good number… in our favor.”

Alysa raised an eyebrow at the strange young man.

Tony shook his head. “One of these days you’re going to have to explain that to me.”

“This isn’t a numbers game. They still clearly have the firepower advantage,” Hash said.

“Look, Sarge.” Thompson again. “Let’s not do this. Just come out and I’ll forgive our little misunderstanding from last night. In fact, just let me have the prisoners and I’ll make sure you’re treated well. I just want those troublemakers, Sarge! They’re the reason we’re in this mess!”

“He wants to finish what he started,” Tony said, staring at Hash.

Hash nodded. “Yeah… and the sooner the better. He’ll want some of you to hand over to the Lunatics, the little ass-kisser that he is, but the rest of you… he’ll make examples of… and save me for last.”

“What kind of monsters have you been associating with?” Diane accused.

Hash glared at her. “Haven’t you heard? Monsters rule this world now,” he said bitterly. “And judging by your own afflictions, I’d say you have a sober understanding of that.”

Diane looked away.

“We should move,” Alysa said. “Get those weapons, and the ones we made earlier, and wait for the enemy’s patience to work against them.”

Hash looked to the archer and then to Tony. “‘Weapons you made earlier’?”

“Yeah,” Tony said sheepishly. “Believe it or not, we were hypothetically considering taking you hostage earlier… but that was before you shared your coffee.” He added a wink.

Hash shook his head with a smile. “So much for winning you all over with my hospitality. But the young lady is correct. Thompson will tire of this and come for us. We’ll need to be ready. My only concern is whether Thompson’s already found-”

“Alright, Sarge!” Thompson yelled. “I’m done being nice. So, here’s how this is going to happen. You come out right fucking now, with all those prisoners, or I will put my gun to Private Gibbs head and execute him for treason. You have five minutes.”

Hash’s shoulders slumped. “I was afraid of that.”

Tony took a deep breath. “Don’t worry, Sergeant. We won’t let it come to that.”

Everyone, including Hash gave him a puzzled look.

“Tell Thompson that you’ll hand me over in exchange for your man’s life. I’m the leader. He’ll accept that. It’ll buy us some time.”

“Fuck that!” Diane said. “No offense, but we’re not giving up Tony for one of the men responsible for us being here. I don’t care whose side Gibbs is on!”

The others, except for Alysa who remained quiet, were equally adamant against this.

Hash was about to protest.

“There’s another way,” Alysa chimed in.

She had their attention.

“Give Thompson someone he really wants,” she continued. “Give him me.”

“Absolutely not!” Tony said.

“But you haven’t heard my plan yet,” she added, a devious little smile appearing on her face.

~~~

Next Episode 42-11

Previous Episode 42-9

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-10: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Evening on the mainland seemed foreign to her now. The false, late-night quiet felt unnatural and was much more threatening in the brief lulls between what these sheep called sleeping and waking. This temporal illusion of a world where the pretentious slept and dreamt of successes driven by misguided aspirations seeded by their fragile god, the Almighty Dollar, would come to an end. The Lions would expose the lies for what they were. Soon.

The few short years she’d spent training within the island facility, and the surrounding forests hidden away behind by the continuous roar of the lake, had become her entire life. Everything from before, her past life and sins, had all been buried by the indifferent sea, ancient shipwrecks on the lake bottom, never to be disturbed or discovered again.

But now, she was back among them, although nothing like them, slipping between the shadows as the moonlight danced between the tall trees surrounding the secluded cabin.

“You will leave here, today, and face the third trial. It is designed specifically for you to fail.”

Donovan’s words cleaved to her, like a demon whispering the poison of apprehension into her ear, infecting her heart. As she sat in the darkness, observing the low light escaping the small cabin’s windows, it vexed her, wondering if her first real mission, one which no Ama-Eskua recruit had any right conducting, would be her final mission.

On the surface, the test was simple: Within the walls of that remote cabin were several enemies of the Order. Who they were or what they’d specifically done to warrant the attention of Mother’s elite to eliminate them quickly and quietly were of no concern to her. All Alysa knew was that they were branded as a threat to the cause and it was her mission to dispose of them.

Maybe they know about us? Alysa pondered. Maybe they had become aware of Mother and got too close, ensuring their deaths? Sure, it was possible. Mother’s reach was far and wide… anyone who was paying attention might have connected some of the dots leading them to one of Mother’s remote operations. They might not know much, but just enough to put their lives in jeopardy, and probably without knowing they’d done so. That’s probably why they’re out here hiding, she speculated. Maybe they found out enough to know what was coming and thought they could wait out the storm?

Alysa forced the questions from her head. Again, it wasn’t her place to understand. She had a mission to complete… and that was it.

“But it will be the most difficult test you will ever endure. You will suffer. You will want to end your own life. But you will prevail.”

More poison again, infecting her resolve.

You know what this is, she reminded herself. The third trial. So, whatever this seems to be, will certainly get you killed if you underestimate the enemy.

The only problem with that reasoning, was that Alysa no longer knew who the enemy really was. According to Donovan, Mother needed her, but the Ama-Eskua had already washed their hands of her. If her teacher’s words could be trusted, then this third trial was nothing but a farce.

The hesitation weighed heavily on her mind. You could run. You’re on the mainland now. They will hunt you, but you can avoid them… for a while… maybe. Eventually, the Lions will come and they will forget about you. She immediate shook her head at the disgusting, cowardly thoughts, understanding what it was immediately. It was the voice of Christina and the countless others who had failed along the way—it was the voice of fear.

“No,” she told herself firmly. “Whatever this is, my end or my new beginning, I will face it as a warrior.”

With that, she forced the doubts aside, and moved toward the cabin with renewed determination. Either Donovan had filled her head with lies, or, the Ama-Eskua had already rejected her. It no longer mattered. If it was her time to die, then at least she could die on her terms, and attempt to carry out the mission, and not linger like a frightened child.

She moved with ease up to the closest cabin window, wearing an all-black one-piece suit and mask designed for stealth. She slowly lifted her head to stare into the cabin window. The dying embers from a fire left in a fire place was the only source of light. She could just make out several forms appearing to be asleep, scattered throughout the large open space. They all slept in sleeping bags. She counted seven of them. No one standing guard. No visible weapons of any kind. Several large hiking backpacks were lined up against a far wall.

Alysa ducked back down and retrieved her katana, the weapon she chose knowing that she would be going into a close-quarter combat situation.

She’d already assessed from her initial surveillance of the area that there was no discernible access to the cabin by car. Whoever they were, they would’ve hiked in from elsewhere. She had met no resistance on the way in to these secluded woods. No guards within, or without. And she found this very disconcerting. Nearby was a quarry cliff that she’d used to gain a wider view of the area. There was nothing for miles around.

Why are they out here? she wondered. They’re completely cut off. No vehicles, weapons, sentries of any kind. No easy escape routes. They’re essentially trapped here. If they were hiding from what is to come, then where are their additional supplies? What makes these foolish sheep so damn dangerous?

Again, the doubts crept in. She closed her eyes and tried to steel her mind for what came next. Am I just supposed to storm in and slaughter them in their sleep? That’s too easy. What’s the catch? What am I not seeing?

She considered if the cabin’s occupants already knew she was coming. Could they just be waiting for her to step aside, before springing their trap?

They could all be Ama-Eskua, pretending to be asleep, she thought. That would explain the lack of obvious weapons. Seven of them could finish me off with their bare hands if need be. Is that the trap? Is that how I’m supposed to fail?

Alysa took a deep breath. She concluded that this was the most likely scenario. If they weren’t Ama-Eskua, then they had to be contracted killers. Either way, she had to assume this was a set up. She would have to be quick and fierce once she entered the cabin. If she hesitated for a moment, she would be dead.

She crept toward the front door of the cabin, crouched down, blade at the ready. She reached up and grabbed the cold doorknob of a sturdy wooden door. It won’t be locked. There will be just enough sound from the door to cue them to attack. They will have trained to that sound, expecting my charge.

Alysa turned the knob and opened the door, quickly moving to the side of the entrance.

The door opened with a loud creak.

There it is.

The first shotgun blast disintegrated a piece of the door frame next to Alysa’s face. A sharp fragment of wood scratched her left cheek.

The warrior held her blade straight up as four more rounds blared from the cabin, before she heard the loud click of an empty chamber.

“I… I think I got it!” a man yelled.

Alysa heard shuffling feet from within the cabin.

That was her cue.

She spun around the shattered door frame and charged her attacker.

A young man holding a handful of shotgun shells, his back up against the wall next to the fireplace, had just enough time to raise and point the empty shotgun at her before the blade connected with his neck, sending the man’s head spinning off his shoulders.

There was movement from all over. Shadows were stepping over each other in a panic. A woman was screaming. Another man shouted, “Fucker got Michael! Get him!”

Alysa made out the muzzle flashes of two handguns as she quickly hit the floor and rolled toward the next attacker on the right. Both attackers were men and they missed their marks, aiming too high.

Her katana penetrated the chest of the next gunman. She used his body as a shield as she pushed the dead attacker toward the other, retrieved her sword, and quickly cut off the extended hand holding the second handgun.

The third attacker fell the ground screaming. Alysa slit his throat open.

The remaining four were scrambling around in the darkness, trying to avoid the crazed swordsman. Three of them were women, the fourth—another man cowering behind one of the women along the back wall.

Alysa showed no hesitation, expecting more gunfire, as she thrust her blade into the stomach of a long-haired woman trying to flee past her.

“Lana!” another woman yelled.

She quickly retracted her sword and sent it into the right eye of a short-haired woman charging at her with a fire poker.

Of the remaining two attackers, one managed to turn on a bright flashlight and aimed it at her face, temporarily blinding Alysa.

The warrior closed her eyes, as the last man tried to tackle her from the right side.

Alysa ducked down, avoiding the clumsy maneuver, as the man stumbled over her, slamming his head into the wall and snapping his neck.

The last attacker screamed at her and charged with nothing but the flashlight for a weapon. Alysa, turned in time to catch a young woman’s angry face as her attacker attempted to bash her in the head with the flashlight.

Alysa reacted, sending the sharp blade up under the woman’s chin, the blade exiting the back of her throat. The woman collapsed to the floor, dropping the flashlight. It rolled and stopped, illuminating the dying woman’s face as she choked to death on her own blood.

Alysa looked down into the woman’s face and froze. It was an older face, one she did not recognize right away, since she hadn’t seen it in years. But then recognition came… hard.

The katana weighed a thousand pounds as the warrior dropped it to the floor and collapsed to her knees in front of the dying woman.

It was Eva.

“NO!” she shouted, ripping the mask from her face. She gently grabbed her dying sister’s chin and cried, “How… This is not possible! You can’t be… this can’t be happening!”

Eva stared up at her attacker in horror as recognition set it. She tried to speak but spit out blood. Her eyes started to drift… and then she was gone.

Alysa felt her mind about to snap. She caught a glimpse of a monster reflected in a pool of her sister’s blood. It was frightening face that she would never forget.

“What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE!”

Alysa cradled her dead sister in her arms, sobbing and screaming, her grip on sanity… on anything… gone.

~~~

Alysa failed to return at the appointed time and place for extraction after her mission.

Eight hours later, Donovan found the broken woman kneeling at the edge of the quarry cliff, staring off into oblivion. He observed her from a safe distance for thirty minutes, understanding her volatile state, until the recruit finally spoke.

“You’re not as quiet as you think you are,” she finally said, refusing to turn around.

Donovan laughed. “If I didn’t want you to know I was here, recruit, you wouldn’t. I was giving you time to process your successful mission. I suppose congratulations are in order.”

Alysa finally turned. Her eyes were filled with pain and fire. “‘Successful mission’?” she spat with disgust. “And which mission was that? The one where I slaughtered a cabin full of kids… or the one where I murdered my own sister?”

Donovan frowned. “I prepared you as best I could… as much as I was allowed.”

“You knew,” she accused. “You knew… Eva… would be here… and you sent me in blindly, anyway.”

“Yes, I did. But that was not my decision to make.”

“Kill my sister… and then take my own life.” She shook her head. “That was the intent all along, wasn’t it?”

Donovan hesitated. “I told you that your trial was designed for you to fail. Have you failed, Alysa?”

“You all disgust me!” she said. “You, Ama-Eskua, Mother… none of you have any fucking honor!”

“Mind your tongue, recruit,” Donovan warned. “I’m patient with you now because of your loss… but that patience only extends so far.”

“You are a liar,” she said. “I trusted you. First, you tried to drown me in the lake… and now… is it your intention that I drown in my own sorrow?”

Donovan sighed. “Go ahead, then. Get it out of your system. Ask your questions.”

“Why was Eva here, Donovan? Why were any of those children out here?”

“They were recruited, just as you were. They were one of many cell groups that Mother has placed throughout the region.”

“Cell groups?”

“Yes. When the Lions come, it will challenge all of us. Mother does not want all her people together in one place when the time comes.” He dared a few more steps toward her. “So, we have been tasked with recruiting young, impressionable people to join our cause and prepare them for that day.”

Alysa shook her head. “I don’t understand. Eva’s nothing like me. She’s a good kid. She’d never-”

“Your sister was never the same after you were incarcerated. She blamed herself for what happened to you.”

Alysa turned. “More games? Do you really believe I can suffer anything further than the hell you just put me through?”

Donovan smiled. “No games, Alysa. But… yes… we will all suffer in the days ahead.”

“Good. I hope we all rot in hell.”

“As far as your sister… I speak plainly. After you murdered your stepfather, your sister struggled. She left your mother’s house and… lost herself. And then when you mysteriously died in prison… she descended further.”

Alysa closed her eyes. As a condition for her release from prison, Alysa could never contact her family again. Mother had arranged a prison riot resulting in an unfortunate lethal stabbing of one inmate. Alysa’s body had been secretly removed from the prison. Her wound had been superficial… just barely. After securing her release, Mother had nursed her back to health before throwing her to the wolves known as Ama-Eskua. “I don’t want to hear this,” she said.

“Your sister met the wrong people. Turned to drugs to escape her pain. Heroin became her god… and that god consumed her in many despicable ways.”

“You are evil, Donovan. Just… leave me be. Ama-Eskua wins. I am thoroughly destroyed.”

“Mother intervened on her behalf,” Donovan continued, stepping up beside the wrecked recruit. “Spared her from being swallowed up by this sick world… and offered your sister an ‘out’.”

Alysa said nothing.

“She was offered the hope of being reunited with her sister. She was told the truth, in part, and that you were safe and far away from the mess that brought you both to us.”

Alysa looked up at him. “She was trying to find me?”

Donovan looked down compassionately. “Yes. She got clean… with our help… and joined the cause.”

“The ‘cause’.” Alysa laughed. “What a fucking joke.”

“Careful, recruit.”

“Lies! All of it! You all filled me with that same hope… and then took it away!”

“I’ve never lied to you, Alysa.”

“You withheld the truth! Gave me bits and pieces, just enough to never see a clear picture! That’s no different than a lie, and you know it!”

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But it was for your own good.”

“Who were the others?”

“They are of no consequence. Just troubled souls in need of a reason to go on… like your sister.”

“And now she’s dead, betrayed by your fucking cause and her own sister.”

Donovan took a deep breath. “Your sister found you. Her hope was satisfied.”

“How can you say that?”

He gave her a stern look. “Have you not learned anything? Be thankful that she died by your hand, mercifully, as opposed to choking in her own vomit on some cold street corner! She was spared… for your sake. Mother did that for you! Your sister, and those she shared that cell with, were offered a less cruel death than the one that’s coming for all of them!”

Alysa was stunned. “So, I should feel… what… gratitude? I just buried my sister down in those fucking woods this morning! No one will ever know her or what happened to her. No one will ever see her kind face, or hear her gentle laugh ever again! She was better than all of this! Better than all of us!”

Donovan eased up. He nodded and said, “I understand that your pain has clouded your judgment. But you will come to understand that the death of your sister, now, by your own hand, was an act of mercy… for both of you.”

“That’s insane.”

“Is it?” Donovan challenged. “Very soon, your eyes will be opened to the horrors coming to devour this world. When that time comes, you will at least know that your sister never had to face it.”

Alysa had no response to that. She shifted gears. “They knew I was coming last night. Those kids tried to kill me.”

Donovan nodded. “They’ve been in training since your second trial a year ago. As a part of their initiation, they were told to come here and prepare themselves for the battle of their lives.”

Alysa waited.

Donovan was running out of patience. “As with all the cell groups, they were informed that the world would change, and with it, there would be… monsters… coming to test them, to see if they were worthy for the next step.”

“Monsters? You mean… me… right?”

Donovan ignored this. “There are monsters coming, Alysa. And as I’ve told you, Mother needs monsters to face monsters. Just know that the necessary seeds were planted, whether by exaggeration of partial truths, and those recruits in that cabin were properly motivated. They knew exactly when you were coming.”

Alysa shook her head. “I’ve seen enough ‘monsters’ to last me a lifetime.”

“You haven’t seen anything,” Donovan corrected. “But you will.”

“No,” she corrected. “I believe I’m done. Just go away, Donovan, and let me finish my ‘mission’. I’m supposed to fail, remember?”

“You’ve already passed the third trial, Alysa. Walk away from this cliff and know that there’s nothing any of them can do to stop your ascension.”

She gave him a puzzled look.

“You will become Ama-Eskua, as Mother has predicted… against the odds.”

She laughed. “Like I give a shit now.”

Donovan frowned. “So, you will just throw yourself off this cliff, and throw it all away?”

“Something like that.”

“Then the life of your sister, who helped you get here… you’ll throw that away, as well.”

“It’s your turn to be careful,” she hissed.

Donovan shook his head. “A lot has gone into your training. More than you will ever know. Don’t take the coward’s way out, Alysa. You’re better than that… and destined for so much more. Die as an Ama-Eskua warrior, preparing for the real battle ahead, even if you despise the very Order, itself.”

“Now who’s the one sounding blasphemous?” she asked.

“I am… unorthodox in my methods. But I don’t need to justify myself to the likes of you, recruit. I have been at this game much longer than you.”

“So, it is a game.”

“Figure of speech.”

“Whatever. Just leave. Please.”

Donovan shook his head in disappointment. “As you wish.” He started walking off, then turned. “It was I who recruited your sister, just as I recruited you.”

She turned. “What did you say?”

“I was the one who trained this particular cell and they are my responsibility… not yours. So, if anyone is responsible for your sister’s death, it’s me.”

Alysa slowly rose to her feet and turned toward him. “I should kill you, right now.”

Donovan smiled. “Become Ama-Eskua, and you might get your chance… but not today.” He looked past her and finished, “Or, just jump off that cliff like another foolish girl who was told exactly how to think and what to believe.”

Alysa’s eyes blazed. She wanted to charge her instructor and rip him to pieces with her bare hands.

“There it is,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the warrior I remember.”

“I’m a killer… remember? I was already a killer when you found me.”

“Yes… you are certainly that, too. But your sister, however, was not. And it is only because of her death, that you should overcome the odds and become what you were meant to be… even if you deserve the fate of a killer.”

Alysa closed her eyes and considered the snake’s words.

“Die here, if you must. Or, choose to live… for the sacrifice your sister made.”

I’m so sorry, Eva, she thought. I’m so sorry I got you mixed up in all this… madness.

“I’ll go back with you,” she said. “I’ll become Ama-Eskua… for Eva’s sake… and then I’ll find a way to destroy every one of you involved in setting up my sister’s death… even if that means destroying Ama-Eskua to do it.”

Donovan smiled like the devil. “Well, come on then. It sounds like you’ve much to get started. Mother will be pleased with your decision.” Donovan stared walking away.

And I’ll take you down too, Mother… for Eva.

Her fire defeated her pain. Alysa Monroe, and her sister, Eva, died together in that bloody cabin.

Shortly after, she became Ama-Eskua to the extreme displeasure of the higher ups in the Order, who could not refuse her after sacrificing her own blood, for the cause.

Shortly before her ascension, Alysa wept once more for Eva, promising to make things right.

It was the last time she shed a tear for anything or anyone in the old world.

Two years later, the Lions came and devoured it…

~~~

Next Episode 42-10

Previous Episode 42-8

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-9: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

After working out the details of a desperate plan with the others, should the good sergeant be discovered working against them, Alysa was quick to excuse herself, volunteering to take the first watch out in a small reception area just across the hall. This allowed her to keep an eye on the hallway, unseen, should the others receive an unexpected armed visit outside their hospital room doors during the night. But more importantly, the former Shadow Dead warrior needed space and some time to clear her head of all the unwanted memories and the conflicting emotions that were surfacing because of them.

Alysa slowly paced at the back of the reception area, along a large window that offered another useless view out into the darkness beyond. Her own low-lit reflection stared tauntingly back at her. She wore out the floor behind two long couches with a small coffee table between them. There were several obsolete fashion, sports, and gossip magazines fanned out across the table like ancient relics from a commercialistic society long gone. Those plastic smiling faces on the covers now seemed alien and out of place.

She stopped and smiled at the frivolous magazines, imagining the voice of Donovan responding to such vanities:

“They have been asleep for a very long time. When the Lions come for them, they will meet their end with an oblivious look of terror, lying in beds of their own blood, as they are finally consumed by the truth of their meaningless lives.”

Yes, what had been generically referred to as, The Change, had arrived and wiped out that self-important world very quickly—and only Mother had known it was coming… and her children who had been preparing for it. They called it The Change. She knew it for what it really was… The Lions.

Alysa turned back toward the window, catching a glimpse of her frail ghost image—those dark eyes reflecting the hard, exhausting truth of this uncertain new world. She was not among those who had been asleep, although The Change might have claimed her just as easily since it did not discriminate between those who were prepared and those who were not. She was simply one among the Chosen, as were Tony and her traveling companions, as were Hash and his men, even that sadistic Thompson. But what did any of that mean now?

There were few left who could answer that question.

As she’d been trained, it was not her place to question the wisdom of Mother. All would be revealed in its proper time… and those who persevered… would bear witness, partaking of the fruit of that glorious transformation… whatever the hell that meant.

She shook her head in disgust. Since the Lions had arrived, there had only been darkness followed by the promise of death. The only thing that Alysa was certain of now was that this new world, or the transitional world as she heard it referred to, was much quieter, making it almost impossible to fight off the maddening introspection that accompanied the so-called Chosen, who were merely exiles from the old world, forming a small race of humans called, Alone.

“You look like you could use some company.”

Alysa turned and found the big man staring at her with a tired smile.

Well… not alone yet, she thought with a smile.

Tony Marcuchi, the big man with the big heart and compassionate eyes. According to her former training, his kind should have gone extinct within the first few months after the Lions devoured the world.

Perhaps Mother does not know everything after all. She allowed the blasphemous thought.

“Are you… okay?” he asked, feeling like he’d caught her off-guard. “Maybe you need some alone time?”

“Hell no,” she quickly blurted out. “I was just…” she stared back to the window, catching her ghost image staring her in the face. “…reflecting,” she finished, spitting out the last word with contempt. “Apparently that’s what a warrior does with these annoying long silences between battles.”

Tony laughed. “I get it. I think it’s the lack of chitter-chatter I miss most about everything that’s gone now.”

Alysa raised an eyebrow at him. “Explain?”

He walked over to the table, picked up a magazine with an amused expression. and repeated, “Chitter-chatter.”

Alysa laughed.

He dropped the magazine on the table and shook his head. “Back in the old days I always bitched about how much distraction polluted the world. But now, there’s way too much fucking ‘me’ time… and I’d kill for a distraction or two. Know what I mean?”

Alysa nodded with a smile. “Yes. I know exactly what you mean.”

“May I join you?”

“Of course.”

Tony walked up next to her, crossed his arms, and leaned back against the window. “I guess we’re as ready as we can be. There wasn’t much, but we stripped the base of one of the beds for a few flat pieces of metal to use as weapons. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to using them.”

“And if it does,” Alysa finished, “then we take Hash hostage, assuming he comes alone and unarmed again, and we use him to bargain our way out of here.”

Tony didn’t like the look on her face. “What? You don’t like the plan?”

“No more than you do, but for different reasons. Are you still counting on a little light left in the good sergeant?” she asked.

“Yes. I still have hope that Gina didn’t misjudge the man.”

“Gina,” she said, as if not enjoying the taste of her name in her mouth. “The woman you, yourself, misjudged.”

He scowled at her. “Back when she told me about Hash, Gina was still… herself,” he defended.

“And yet, she became… dark. Why her, and not Hash?”

Tony nodded. “I see your point. But I think this is different. I can’t explain it, but I could just see it in his eyes. I can tell the man was thrown for a loop when I mentioned Gina… when I brought up the power plant. If there wasn’t something there to reach out for, he would’ve just given us that cold, blank stare… you know… like the one you sometimes have when I try to reach out to you.”

“I am a warrior. That may come off as cold detachment at times, but that doesn’t mean I don’t bleed like the rest of you.” Tony’s redirection caught her by surprise, as did her own emotional response.

Tony frowned. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. I’ve gotten used to speaking to you so bluntly… that I forget that you still have feelings.”

Alysa raised her eyebrows at the comment.

“And that didn’t sound any better,” he said with a laugh.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I have been… emotionally distracted… a lot as of late. My past has made frequent visits, forcing me to… deal with it.” It continued to surprise her how vulnerable she allowed herself to be with Tony. She would have to remedy that very quickly.

Tony nodded with a smile. “It’s a real sonofabitch the way fucking memories just invade at all the most inopportune times.” He gave her a thoughtful look. “Anything you want to get off your chest?”

“I tried that already. But you showed no interest in the removing of my clothes.”

Tony squirmed until he saw her wicked little smile. He shook his head. “You enjoyed that.”

“Yes… I did.”

“Seriously, what’s on your mind? Sometimes, just talking about the past might help those pesky visitors from showing up so often.”

Alysa considered this and nodded. “I have been thinking a lot about my trials, prior to becoming Ama-Eskua.”

He gave her a confused look.

She smiled. “That is the true name of my previous Order. It means, ‘Mother’s Hand’.”

Tony smiled. “I guess ‘Shadow Dead’ sounds more terrifying.”

“Yes. It served the purpose,” she said, dismissing the matter with a shake of her head. She changed subjects. “You did very well down in the basement. You looked Death in the eye and held your ground with that worm, Thompson.”

The compliment surprised him. “This wonderful new world of ours has given me plenty of practice to warm up to the idea of dying. I guess it’s getting easier to accept the possibility, especially when all my friends keep dying around me.”

She considered this for a moment and stared at the floor. “If Hash had not shown up… I would’ve let Thompson kill you rather than give him what he wanted. I suppose that doesn’t make me much of a ‘friend’.”

“It wasn’t your choice to make,” Tony said. “You made that very clear when you refused to play Thompson’s game. I thought you handled yourself… admirably… considering the circumstances. You and I know there was no good outcome downstairs.”

She looked back and found no blame in Tony’s eyes. She smiled and said, “For a foolish man, you sometimes surprise me, Tony Marcuchi.”

“I try,” he laughed. “Truth between us though, after I stopped being angry down there, I was terrified. But when I looked over at you… well… I forgot that I was afraid. You were the one who inspired me to be brave in the end. If I’d been alone down there, I don’t know if I could’ve handled myself so well.”

She shook her head. “No. I believe you would’ve died well. Your compassion for the people you care about… I once considered it a weakness to exploit. In many others it would be. But not for you. For you, it becomes a fire, and one should wisely mind their distance when it blazes up. You were prepared to die for us without question. I consider that… honorable.”

“Well… I like the sound of that,” Tony said, scratching his head. “And… thank you.”

She nodded. “Anyone can kill with the proper conditioning. Some are drawn to it like a moth to a flame while others must learn to live with the blood on their hands. But, it is another thing entirely to know how to die.”

Tony didn’t know how to respond.

“Forgive me,” Alysa said, feeling like she’d spoken out of turn. “I must be catching your disease.”

“And what would that be?”

“Your ‘wagging of the tongue’ disease,” she said with a smile.

This made Tony laugh hard. “Well… I must inform you… there’s no fucking cure for it once you start talking. It’s best just to let it run its course.”

“Apparently.”
He stared at the Shadow Dead warrior and said, “I almost forget sometimes who you are when we’re like… this.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“I meant that in a good way,” he clarified. “So, don’t get your warrior side all bent out of shape. All I meant was that’s it’s good to find the woman behind the warrior… and she’s not that bad. I’d normally say, you should let your hair down more often and let the others see it, but in your case, I’ll settle for your shield.”

Alysa laughed at the analogy. “Well, it’s been a long time since I was accused of being a ‘woman’. I must confess, it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, providing you don’t make a habit of it.”

Tony raised his hands in mock surrender. “I’m not that foolish,” he said with a teasing smile.

Alysa laughed.

Before Tony realized he was doing it, he reached over and gently touched Alysa’s left cheek, causing her to turn and look at him.

Her face changed immediately as she tensed up.

He lowered his hand, recognizing that he just crossed some invisible barrier between them, and said, “I’m… I’m really glad you’re here.”

She eased up. Their eyes continued to test that barrier, lingering just long enough to become dangerous.
They both looked away.

“I’m… I’m going to go check on the others,” Tony said. “Unless you need me to-”

“No. I’m fine,” she quickly blurted out. “I’ll just finish the watch. I’ve still got some… I need to get my mind clear for the morning.”

Tony nodded and walked off.

Alysa watched him go. She was trembling. What the hell is this?

She turned back toward the window as her ghost reflection betrayed her. Her face had changed to one she had not seen in a very long time. It was a face full of uncertainty and doubt. A face filled with emotional turmoil that immediately brought into question everything she believed, as it had done only one time before…

~~~

… Morning twilight bled across the eastern horizon. A light breeze waved its hand across the tops of the tall grass where the Ama-Eskua recruit and her instructor hid silently in a large field, lying on their backs, head to head, with both their black bows notched and resting on their chests.

“I can hear your erratic breathing,” Donovan whispered. “Is it the anticipation before the kill, or being in my presence that excites you?”

Alysa frowned. “You talk too much. It’s no wonder I’ve surpassed you with the bow.”

Donovan smiled. “So serious all the time, recruit. And… no… you haven’t bested me… not yet.”

“Stop wagging your tongue and we’ll find out,” she teased.

He closed his eyes and retrieved a small whistle from his breast pocket. “Slow it down, Alysa. You make far too much noise on the inside. That’s always been your disadvantage.”

She ignored him.

Donovan blew on the small whistle which made no sound the human ear could pick up.

A large flock of ravens scrambled out of the tops of three large oak trees to the west, flying directly over their position.

Both archers immediately bolted up above the tall grass, loosing several black arrows up and into the startled birds.

When the ravens departed, Alysa and Donovan moved toward their kill zones, counting and retrieving their black shafts from the dead birds.

“Twelve,” Alysa called over with confidence. Her long hair was braided back, hanging over her broad shoulders covered in a loose, long sleeve blouse. She turned, the breeze blowing against the unbuttoned v-line of her shirt, displaying a gracious view of her cleavage. Her skin-tight black pants accentuated her tall and slender form.

Donovan smiled. “Very good, recruit. That’s three more than last time. You’re getting much more efficient… but you could do better.”

“That’s two more than the ten you brought down last time,” Alysa defended.

Donovan laughed. “Yes, you are correct.”

She placed her hands to her hips and stared at him. “Well? What’s your count, teacher?”

“What would you like it to be?” he answered, pulling the hood of his ancient dark hoody over his head. He always wore the same hoody and jeans. Many believed Donovan owned no other clothing. He swung his bow around his back and placed his hands in his hoody pockets, nonchalantly walking back toward the expectant recruit.

Alysa tried to gleam an answer from the unshaven man’s unreadable face but gained nothing. Donovan never gave up anything until he wanted to, and then, only to leave you questioning why he did so. She tried to hide her frustration. “You’re right, of course. I could be much more efficient in the future.”

“You’re far too competitive for your own good,” he said with a smirk.

“No, I’m not.”

Donovan laughed. “And if I told you that I killed eleven birds, can you honestly say that you wouldn’t be delighted?”

She hesitated and then answered. “No. It wouldn’t matter.”

Donovan raised an eyebrow.

Alysa smiled. “If you caught me gloating, then you’d just say something like ‘I stopped just shy of twelve to make you feel better’.”

Donovan nodded with a devilish grin. “You are learning, Alysa. Truth is, nothing is as it appears to be. I could be holding back to give you false confidence, never betraying the limits of my skills. Who do you think would have the advantage in combat if I allowed you to believe that your skills with the bow far exceeded mine?”

Alysa nodded. “You would, obviously. My overconfidence would leave me exposed.”

“And if you really were the better archer?”

She smiled. “Then I would never know for certain… which is also to your advantage.”

“Correct,” he said. “That is why you always assume that your adversary is neither the better warrior, nor the worst. It is enough to know that your enemy is dangerous, and not to be underestimated. Forgetting that is how a good warrior dies before her time,” he added with a wink. “Where one’s skill may outweigh another, there is always cunning, perseverance, and treachery that can be used to even an unworthy opponent’s advantage.”

Alysa sighed heavily. “There just stupid birds that can’t fight back. None of this matters.”

“Everything matters,” he quickly corrected. “Every moment holds meaning. Revelation to some who can perceive it. Even the dull of mind can learn something from his or her own ignorance if they’re aware of it.”

Alysa let loose a wicked little smile. “Just tell me we’re not eating these fucking things, because I need no further enlightenment on the simple fact that crow tastes like shit.”

Donovan laughed hard. “Oh, I do like you, Alysa. In our time together, I hope I’ve made that much plain.”

“That’s just the sex talking,” she teased, swinging her own bow around her back.

Donovan shook his head and laughed. “That, right there, is exactly why we never had sex again.”

She gave him a puzzled look.

Donovan let his comment hang, as was his irritating way, and changed gears. “You’ve come a long way since that day I got you out of prison. Do you remember?”

“Of course,” she said, feeling immediately guarded.

“What was it again?” he asked himself. “Ah, yes, I remember. You stabbed a man in a bar with a broken bottle of beer. Multiple times. Scared the hell out of everyone, too, when you opened that pig’s throat, and just… kept… going.”

Alysa turned away. Most of the time she loathed this man. But when he picked at the scabs of her old life, and always out of the blue like now, she wanted to put an arrow through his cold, dark heart.

“You were covered in that man’s blood when the police took you away. I imagine that was quite a gruesome sight to behold.” He paused deliberately, then continued. “What was it again? Something about your mother?”

“You know it wasn’t,” she hissed.

“Yes… that man… I remember now. He was your stepfather. A drunk sonofabitch who always beat your mother, and sometimes he beat you.”

Alysa remained silent.

“But what was it that sent you over the edge? What made you follow him to that hole-in-the-wall and butcher him in front of all those people? What sort of trauma could push someone to uncontrollable rage like that, regardless of the consequences?”

Alysa clenched her fists and closed her eyes. Don’t let him push you, she reminded herself. You know that’s what they all want to find out. After three long years of bleeding to prove I belong, they all still have their doubts about me. ‘Can we tame this poor abused recruit, make her our killing machine, or is she just a rabid beast, beyond control?’

“He never assaulted me sexually,” Alysa responded, void of emotion. “My mother and I were his punching bags. But after what he did to my sister… I had to… destroy him.”

“And after you ‘destroyed’ him, with all that blood on your hands, did you… enjoy it?”

Alysa stared hard at her instructor, who stared back with equal intensity.

This is the one thing he’s never been able to figure out about me. The one thing they all absolutely need to know before they let me complete my trials.

The recruit put on her best poker face and answered, “No. I am not the blood-thirsty animal you all think I am. Did I want that bastard dead? Absolutely. Did I lose complete control after finding out what he did to Eva? Yes. But I did not enjoy it. I was terrified at what I’d done, at discovering what I was capable of doing to another living being.” She stepped up to Donovan and continued. “The inability to stop, after the first thrust of that broken bottle into that man’s throat, will haunt me forever. That is not something I ever want to experience again.”

Donovan’s scrutinizing gaze lingered. Finally, he said, “I have vouched for you. I know that seems hard to believe at times, but I have. Even now, looking into your eyes, and discovering the truth behind your words, I still defend you. I know who you are, and you will always be a cold-blooded killer.”

Alysa was stunned by Donovan’s words. Partially because he’d seen right through her and discovered the doubt she wrestled with, but mostly because she knew… somewhere deep… she always knew how much she enjoyed killing her stepfather… and how she longed for that taste again.

She took a step back. “If you really believe that… then… why? Why not put me down like some beast and be done with me?”

Donovan sighed. “Because the time is short.”

Alysa waited.

“There are dark days coming, Alysa. Dark days requiring dark measures to be put in place to ensure Mother’s cause. There’s a darkness within you that will either consume you, and everyone around you, or, you will seize control of it, harness it as a weapon fitting for the long road ahead, and prevail. I am gambling on you, recruit. I’m gambling that it will the latter.”

Alysa’s shoulders dropped. “You… you don’t want me to get better. You want me to be… the monster?”

“Mother will need monsters to face monsters,” Donovan said. “I believe there will be others, like you, who will thrive in the days ahead. And, unfortunately, there may come a time when being an Ama-Eskua warrior will not be enough to survive… and that’s what it all boils down to: Survival.”

“Then… what’s to become of me now? Am I to be Ama-Eskua… or something else?”

“You will be whatever Mother needs in the end, recruit.”

Alysa nodded. “Of course.”

“You will leave here, today, and face the third trial,” Donovan spoke plainly. “It is designed specifically for you to fail. Do you understand?”

Alysa was horrified. “Yes. I understand.”

“But you won’t fail.”

“I won’t?”

“No, you won’t,” Donovan said. “But it will be the most difficult test you will ever endure. You will suffer. You will want to end your own life. But you will prevail.”

“If… if I’m meant to fail… then doesn’t that mean I’ve already been rejected?”

Donovan smiled. “Yes.”

Alysa was confused. “Then… how could I possibly succeed?”

“You will succeed because the Order, although considering you an adversary, has already underestimated the enemy.”
Alysa tried not to let the fear win, but she was struggling. “So… I’m being set up to fail… but you’re telling me that I won’t fail?”

“I’m telling you that you absolutely cannot fail. Mother needs you in the days ahead… even if the Ama-Eskua believe they do not. I’m telling you that you will find it within yourself to endure the third and final trial, no matter how devastated it will leave you.”

Alysa was at a complete loss. She felt confused, betrayed by her own Order, and completely alone. She only had one question left to ask. “You say the Order has underestimated me, and that’s why I will succeed, no matter the cost. But how can you know this?”

Donovan gently touched Alysa’s cheek and smiled. “I know because you have a weapon within you that they don’t yet perceive.”

“And that is?”

“You, and the darkness that comes, Alysa… are one.”

~~~

Next Episode 42-9

Previous Episode 42-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-8: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

After their conversation, Sergeant Hash had made good on his promise of a meal and better accommodations for the evening. Shortly before dusk, Tony and the others were escorted under guard to the third floor where they were assigned to three hospital rooms that had recently been cleaned. Extra beds had been rolled into the rooms from other rooms and fresh linen was provided. Their three rooms were part of a secure intensive care wing of the hospital, making it easy for two armed men to block off access from just outside two glass doors at either end of a long hallway, blocking the only exits out of the wing. Although their present situation afforded them some privacy and comfort, Hash wanted to make it clear that their upgraded ‘guest’ status was limited, and that they were still prisoners.

After confirming this fact by discreetly exploring the intensive care wing, Tony gathered his group up in one of the hospital rooms.

“They know this hospital,” Alysa said. She was the last to return. “I could find no other ways around the guards. We might be able to crudely arm ourselves with blunt weapons, but they’ll still have the advantage and see us coming long before we charge.”

Tony nodded. “I figured as much. Hash may trust us to some extent, but he’s no fool. I’m sure he knows that if the situation were reversed, he’d be trying to escape, too.”

“So, what does that mean, now?” Wendy asked. “We just wait here until the Lunatics come and then thank the good Sergeant for his hospitality before our execution?”

“Well… the coffee at dinner was a nice surprise,” Tony said with a smile.

“You’re rather chipper considering our present circumstances,” Diane said. “Are you really buying into this man’s ‘good cop, bad cop’ bullshit? For all we know Hash ordered Thompson to do everything he did to us in the basement. He might be letting that man out right now, getting ready for the next ruse.”

“Agreed,” Alysa said, staring out the large hospital room window at the darkening street below. She had already calculated that the jump from up here wouldn’t kill them, but they were high enough to break some bones in the attempt. “Thompson was no amateur. He and his men have interrogated others before. The man enjoys it, too.” She turned to Tony. “Do you really think this Sergeant Hash was unaware of what his men were doing to us?”

Tony shook his head. “I hear you. Believe me, I do. But there’s just something different about the man. He’s not like the others… or doesn’t want to be. I think we can use that to our advantage. He looked genuinely disturbed by what almost happened to us. And then when Wendy told him about Mosquito Creek, it was like all his worst fears had been confirmed. With a little more time, we might be able to get him on our side.”

“You’re just hoping for another cup of that coffee,” Nine said with a wink.

“No… I’m being serious. Gina vouched for this man. She told me that Meredith freaked out at their refugee camp back at Percy. She described it to me when she first told me what that woman could do, and how much of a toll it took on Meredith to control it. Sometimes, her ‘gift’ overwhelmed her, causing her to go into seizures, as was the case then. She was ranting and raving about the dead coming. By the time the National Guard arrived to break up the situation, Hash was there. Half the camp was already on the verge of killing Meredith, believing she’d turned. Gina pleaded her case to the good Sergeant, and he helped defuse that tense situation when I’m sure the soldier in him was clearly telling him to take Meredith down. Hell, if I’d been there, not knowing what I know of Meredith, I might have sided with the crowd at the time. But Hash didn’t overreact, and he did the right thing.”

“Yeah, but that was back at the beginning,” Mark said. “Back when all of this shit was still new to us. You heard the man. He said, ‘War changes people’. No one says things like that unless their conscience is stained.”

“He could’ve been talking about that asshole, Thompson,” Tony defended. “Hell, we’ve all done things since those early days that we never thought ourselves capable of doing.” He looked away.

“That man is clearly haunted by the past,” Alysa said, in a surprisingly soft tone.

Tony looked at her, believing at first that she was talking about him.

“There is blood on his hands. That much is clear. I have seen it many times behind the eyes of soldiers like Hash. He wrestles with it every day.” She looked back out the window. “It is easy to kill, especially in combat when the choice is out of your hands, when your life depends on it. There is no time to consider the weight of it… you just do it… or die. But it’s another thing to live with it. It is the war within the war that he speaks of.” She turned back and stared at Tony, disarming him with a rare, vulnerable gaze. “Sergeant Hash knows that he is no longer a ‘good’ man. And once someone accepts that fact, especially if he or she must kill again, and again, you raise up fortifications against yourself… you must… or else you drown in the darkness of it all.”

Tony frowned at the woman, reliving his own horror of the two rapists he’d savagely bludgeoned to death with a crowbar at a rest stop a thousand years ago, when the anger within overwhelmed him and he did not recognize himself. Yes, he could relate. Tony did not consider himself a ‘good’ man either.

Alysa smiled at him. It wasn’t a taunting smile, but an understanding one, as he, too, left himself wide open. He broke away from the uncomfortable moment. “So, you think Hash is as bad as Thompson, then?”

“No,” she said. “Thompson is a monster.” She quickly looked away, reminded of what her old instructors knew about her. “Monsters are people who allow the darkness to consume them entirely. Others, like Hash, still fight against it, as we all must.”

“So… if he’s not a good man, but not a monster like Thompson,” Diane started, “then what is he?”

Alysa looked to her and raised an eyebrow. “Sergeant Hash is a dangerous man, capable of anything.”

“Which means he can still choose,” Tony offered. “He can still choose to do the right thing, despite the many wrong things he’s done. Hell, this might be an opportunity he hasn’t had until now; a chance to jump on the right side for a change.”

Alysa nodded with a defiant little smile that she wished her old instructors could see now. “Yes. This is still possible.”

Nine laughed. “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I guess we all fit that bill now. The question remains, are we gambling on our conflicted host, or should we steal a page from the Alamo and get ready to make one hell of a ridiculously short stand in this intensive care unit when the clowns arrive?”

Tony walked over to the window and stared down at the lifeless streets. Darkness was descending quickly, sending the remains West Farmington Village into that familiar dark void of shadows and stillness that had swallowed up their old world. He took a deep breath and turned. “I say we gamble a bit longer on Hash. But let’s get those blunt weapons ready… just in case. Either way, we’re done being prisoners after tonight.”

~~~

Sergeant Richard Hash ascended the hospital stairs toward the roof top post. He was physically exhausted, they all were. Since their unit seized the town of West Farmington Village shortly after the winter thaw, the work had been considerable managing and maintaining control of the small town. On the surface, his orders seemed simple: Set up an outpost on the eastern perimeter of New Cleveland Territories by slowly clearing the town of the dead while keeping the living out. As an immediate reward for doing so, they were promised forty percent of the spoils from the town, the remaining sixty going to New Cleveland in exchange for a continued position and favor as well as the firepower the Lunatics provided to take the town. Hash had thought the deal was perfect. They could finally stop moving, set up residence within the town, and just be left alone… as long as they understood who was in charge. After the long winter, Hash’s men jumped at the opportunity. West Farmington Village proved to be a great resource since the town had not been looted yet due to the dead that originally occupied it. There was plenty of food, water, additional weapons and ammunition, but most importantly, a huge surplus of prescription drugs discovered within the hospital and local pharmacy, which was highly sought after in the Territories.

Hash stepped out onto the hospital roof, paused, and inhaled deeply.

Yes, it had all seemed so perfect on paper. When they’d first arrived, they swept the downtown area, easily destroying the lethargic and scattered dead that had offered little resistance due to their deteriorated state, but that had all changed by the time they’d reached the hospital and found the only survivors of West Farmington Village.

Hash closed his eyes, refusing to relive that horrible day.

A single armed man on the roof top turned, noticing Hash, and came over.

“What’s the good word, Sarge?” Private Gibbs who had been with him since the beginning, turned out to be a blessing. He was the only one of his men that Hash could trust with anything. Loyalty in the apocalypse had proven a much rarer commodity.

“The prisoners are secure for the night,” he said. “I’ve talked with them and they seem cooperative. I think the meal and a good night’s rest will make them more agreeable in the morning.”

“Killing them with kindness,” Gibbs said with a laugh. “Yeah, that’s always better, when it goes down that way. Much better than the last time-”

“Have you had any trouble with the others?” Hash interrupted.

Gibbs frowned. “There’s been some grumbling. The men don’t like that you locked Thompson and the others up, but they get it. That was some fucked-up shit Thompson pulled. I think they’re more pissed that they have to pick up the extra patrols.”

Hash nodded. “It can’t be helped. Thompson forced my hand.”

Gibbs started nervously scratching his head. “So, what are you going to do? About Thompson? I mean, everyone knows he’s unstable, but he’s also a good fighter… and we need him.”

Hash frowned. “He’s a piece of shit.”

“Yeah, but, since you’ve got Thompson’s four locked up, and two more watching the prisoners, that leaves too few of us out here, Sarge. The barricades will keep the dead out, for now, but with our numbers reduced, there’s too many cracks in this town left unprotected.”

Hash ran a hand through his hair. “I know.” He sighed heavily. “In the morning, I’ll consider letting those other three idiots out and put them to work on the north side of town… far from that asshole.”

“And Thompson?”

“He can stay put for now.”

Gibbs looked reluctant.

“What is it?”

“Well… Sarge… the longer you keep Thompson locked up, the more the men aren’t going to like it. Some have been saying that your coddling these particular prisoners too much.”

“After what they went through, they deserve to be shown a little humanity. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah… but…”

“I’ll deal with Thompson,” Hash said. “I want him where I can keep an eye on him for now. At least until these prisoners have been transferred.”

Gibbs nodded. “It’s your show.”

“We’ve got bigger problems anyway,” Hash added. “According to new intel, our employers might not have given us such a sweet deal here after all.”

Gibbs waited.

“Remember what we heard about Mosquito Creek Lake? About the soldiers who disappeared near there?”

“Yeah. Something about a massive army unit held up in… what the hell town was it… Orwell? Rumor had it they were fleeing south before that first massive winter storm, heading for Columbus or something. And they never made it beyond that lake. The whole damn unit just disappeared without a trace.”

“Well, according to our new friends, they’ve been to Mosquito Creek and said there’s a massive horde hiding out there.”

Gibbs’s face changed. “You’re not talking about those yellow-eyed fuckers are you, Sarge? Because if you are, there’s no fucking way we could stop them if they head west.”

“Apparently, they nearly stumbled right into their nest… and they said there’s thousands of them there, all sleeping like babies. They only do that after a massive feeding, or if they have regular supply of food coming in to keep them there.”

Gibbs shook at the thought. “Do you believe them?”

Hash hesitated. “I’ve no reason to believe they’d make that shit up. Besides, it explains why we’ve seen so few survivors moving our way from the east… including that missing Army unit. It also might explain why those painted-face freaks are the only ones allowed to go beyond the eastern borders, and why they move in much larger groups when they head that way.”

“You think they know what’s really happening at Mosquito Creek?”

“Yes,” Hash said. “I do. And if there are thousands of those devils hiding out there, like some massive dead army just waiting for some signal to move west for a fresh blood supply… then we’ve been set up to fail.”

Gibbs looked alarmed. “You’re saying that they’re keeping that information to themselves so we don’t bail?”

“Precisely,” Hash said. “It could just be that the only reason any of us have been sent out to the perimeter towns in the first place is to slow those bloody-thirsty maniacs down when the time comes for them to leave Mosquito Creek.”

“That’s fucked-up, Sarge. What do we do?”

“Right now, we do nothing. Business as usual. Those Lunatics are due to stop here in a few days. When they do, I’ll hand over the prisoners and then start asking the right questions.”

“They won’t like that. You know they can’t stand us, especially that crazy bitch.”

“Doesn’t matter. If the deal we made is a bad one, we need to know.”

“And if it is, Sarge, then what do we do?”

Hash frowned. “Then we get the hell out of here, Private. We wait for those fuckers to leave, pack up as much shit as we can carry, and get as far away from here as we can.”

Gibbs started pacing. “I don’t like this. Things just keep getting worse around here. It’s like we’re being punished for… you know… that massacre on the first floor-”

“Stop thinking about that, Private!” Hash barked. “We weren’t even here when it happened! There was nothing we could do. Thompson-”

“We could’ve stopped him a long time ago, Sarge.” Gibbs looked at his feet. “That’s what we should’ve done.”

Hash nodded. “Yes. That’s what we should’ve done.” His tone softened. “You and I know that whatever punishment we’re due… started long before we arrived here.”

Gibbs gave him a sad faraway look.

Hash broke away and finished. “Go get some rest. I’ll take the rest of this watch.”

Gibbs nodded, handing over his assault rifle.

As the young former National Guardsman started to depart, Hash turned and said, “Don’t worry, Private. A reckoning is coming. Sooner or later, we’ll all have to give an account for our actions, whether in this life or the next. Just try your best to keep your head up, learn from the past, and for Christ’s sake… don’t turn into that animal in the basement.”

Gibbs laughed. “Will do, Sarge. See you in the morning.” The young man started downstairs.

Hash stepped over to the edge of the rooftop and started scanning the dark streets below. All was quiet. Too quiet. The hospital roof was a great daytime position, offering a panoramic view of the entire town. But nights were hell up here. There was always too much time alone with all that quiet on the nightshift, inviting ghosts for company that always mocked from the darker corners of memory.

Hash thought about his guests. Tony had known Gina, the strong red-headed woman he and his men had recovered from that beach so long ago. The big man downstairs had blindsided him when he’d brought up the Percy Power Plant.

My God, I haven’t thought about that place in a very long time. But the lie wouldn’t hold. Truth was, everything he’d done since then could be connected back to that horrible final day when the dead stormed the refugee camp… and he did nothing to stop that slaughter, too.

Hash shook the dire thoughts from his tired mind. He wondered what became of that woman. Obviously, she and her strange friends survived that horrible night. For that, he was grateful.

And here you are, getting ready to hand the rest of her friends over to the Lunatics. What does that say about you now?

Back then, he would’ve stormed out of the power block, guns blazing, ensuring his death to protect those poor people left trapped outside, before the despicable order was given to gun down the dead and the living.

And now… he was about to do it all over again… willingly… killing off, by association, perhaps the last of the survivors who had escaped the power plant.

Hash closed his eyes. What does that say about you now, asshole?

But he knew there was nothing he could do. Just like before, the choices had all been removed.

The apocalypse accelerated older man, who once believed himself an honorable man, was convinced that the only sin worse than all the others… was the sin of doing nothing while evil prevailed unchecked.

He tried to turn his thoughts elsewhere and on to more pressing matters. But sometimes the ghosts were persistent.

~~~

Next Episode 42-8

Previous Episode 42-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-7: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

After Sergeant Hash secured Thompson and his accomplices in the very room his second-in-command was holding Tony’s group, he had his men escort the prisoners to the second-floor cafeteria of the four-story medical center where they were told to wait, sitting at a large round table near the windows facing the south side of town. This gave Tony and his group their first glimpse at West Farmington Village.

The cafeteria was clean and spacious filled with round tables and adjustable chairs giving it a modern look. An ancient Starbucks kiosk stood desolate next to a traditional buffet style island where once-upon-a-time patients and visitors to the hospital would line up for their choice of overpriced breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

Diane pointed up toward the decorative dome-shaped lighting fixtures. They were on. “They have power here,” she said.

“Hospital generators,” Tony assumed. “They must be using them sparingly, lighting up certain areas. I suspect they all live here.”

Nine stared out one of the tall windows as evening twilight descended over the unremarkable town of West Farmington Village. From what he could see, this was just another old town merged with modern development, like this hospital. The empty brick buildings across the street stood dark and lifeless, overlooking the downtown area. From what he could see, it looked like most of the downtown area was cut off from the rest of town. There were several barricades erected at intersecting streets that flowed away like veins into dark residential areas where the restless dead assuredly owned the abandoned corners of town. It was clear the hospital was of strategic importance, standing as one of the tallest structures in town.

“This place is bigger than a lot of towns we’ve passed though,” Nine said. “It’s too bad it suffers from another zero-population problem. Not counting these handful of soldiers, of course. I wonder how many men this Sergeant Hash actually commands. I don’t see a whole lot of activity down there.”

Tony stepped up beside him, and stared down at the empty streets. “That might be a good thing if Thompson is any indication of the quality of ‘men’ in Hash’s unit.”

“Do you think we’ll ever find a place that isn’t on the verge of being another ghost town, Tony? They can’t all be like… this… can they?”

Tony frowned. “God, I hope not.”

Ten minutes later, Hash appeared at the guarded entrance into the cafeteria, whispering something to their lunch room jailer before approaching Tony and the others with his hands in his uniform pant pockets, trying to appear less threatening. He wasn’t wearing his gun belt or any other noticeable weapons, but was carrying a folder. The tall man sat down in a vacant seat between Tony and Diane, placing the folder down in front of him, and folded his hands together, setting his arms on top of the folder. Hash took a deep breath and scanned their faces. Staring clockwise to his left sat Tony, Wendy, Mark, Alysa, Nine and Diane to his right.

The others just glanced at one another anxiously, wondering if they should speak, or wait to be addressed. In light of their previous treatment, they all chose the latter.

“You can relax now,” Hash finally said with a broken smile. “You all have the look of death row inmates wondering who’s going to the chamber first.” He meant this as a joke, but no one was laughing. “I’ll have some food sent in shortly. I just wanted to talk to you all first. Once more, I apologize for Corporal Thompson’s harsh treatment. I will deal with him after I’ve dealt with all of you.”

“Why are we being dealt with at all?” Tony dared to ask. “We’ve done nothing to you or your men.”

Hash nodded, refusing to make eye contact, and opened his folder to reveal a blank notepad. “Yes, you did nothing but disregard our warning sign at the bridge, attempting to enter my town armed. You were fortunate we didn’t just shoot you on sight.” He stopped and scanned their tired faces. “I’ve seen your kind before. All of you have been out in this screwed-up world long enough to know how reckless such actions are… but you crossed our boundary anyway. That means you’re either too desperate to care, or just dangerous.”

“Coming from a man whose men were about to rape me, and kill one of us just to make an example, I think it’s clear where the danger exists,” Alysa shot back, folding her arms defiantly.

Hash stared at her and sighed. “Yes… we’ve covered that unfortunate incident.” He retrieved a ball point pen from his breast pocket and looked down at the notepad. “Let’s get down to it. Names?”

“What… are you starting a census?” Mark said sarcastically. “A little late for that, don’t you think?”

Hash smiled at the young man. “That is exactly what I’m doing. I don’t know where you all came from, and frankly, I don’t care. But around here, survivors entering New Cleveland Territories are accounted for. If anyone is discovered west of the woods we found you in, they better have a good reason to be here and on somebody’s list. If not, they are considered criminals. Gone are the days of trespassing with minor consequences. Or haven’t you heard that it’s a whole new world out there now?”

Mark shook his head, confused. He looked at Tony. “This is bullshit.”

“What exactly is New Cleveland Territories, and why are we considered ‘criminals’? We haven’t done anything,” Tony said.

Hash nodded. “Okay. Considering our unfortunate misunderstanding downstairs, I’ll allow you a few questions if that will put you all at ease. But after, I expect your complete cooperation. New Cleveland Territories extend from the woods we found you in, this side of the Grand River, all the way west to New Cleveland itself, about twenty-five miles from here, on what used to be the old abandoned amusement park, Geauga Lake. And everything in between here and there, including several towns to the north and south, fall within the Territories. No one living is allowed into this area without proper authorization. The people who live within the Territories are under the protection of the Lunatics. The dead are manageable, but the living… well… there are many desperate people out there prepared to do all manner of lawless acts to stay alive. That is not tolerated here. The Lunatics enforce The Law and The Law keeps everyone… civil.”

“‘Pay the Lunatics or feed the dead’,” Wendy said.

Hash raised his eyebrows. “Yes. Precisely.”

“So… are all of you… Lunatics?” Nine asked, laughing at how that sounded.

Hash laughed. “Hell no. We work with those face-painted freaks. Our job is to watch the eastern border, here in West Farmington. There are other groups assigned to various towns to the north, south, and west. West Farmington Village is under my jurisdiction.”

“Are you all military?” Diane asked, looking at his faded by clean uniform.

“They were part of the National Guard,” Tony answered. He turned and frowned at Hash. “This man, at least, was stationed at the Percy Power Plant to protect the public at the beginning of the outbreak. Gina was there when the plant fell to the dead. She told me this one here was a good man. Apparently, some things have changed.”

He ignored the shot. “There is no more ‘National Guard’,” he said. “No old government of any kind to lead them, either. Good, bad, doesn’t matter. No one’s coming to save the day or fix the world. You’re either alive or dead. The rest is all gone.”

“Mercenaries,” Alysa spat with disgust. “That’s all you and your kind are now. You traded in your honor for a paycheck, but still wear the uniforms to look the part of authority.”

Hash glared at her, fighting off the urge to reach across the table and punch her in the face. He calmed down, and turned back to the notepad. “Alright. My turn. Tell me your names or you can all go back downstairs in the dark. My patience is not without limits.”

Tony went around the table and introduced them while Hash scribbled down their names. “Very good,” he said. “Now, state your business?”

“Excuse me?’ Tony asked.

“Why are you all here? We don’t see very many people moving in groups anymore, not since before the winter. Most have gone into hiding, too terrified to wander about.”

“We’re looking for our friends,” Tony said. “They had a community near Lake Pymatuning… but most of them are dead now.” He looked at Alysa who glared back cautiously. He turned back to Hash. “We’ve good reason to believe that some survivors from that community came this way. Perhaps they’ve made it on to one of your lists?”

“Not ours,” Hash said, studying them suspiciously. “They could have come in from the north, I suppose.”

“Yes, that’s a possibility-”

“Where did this woman hear those words… The Law?” Hash interrupted, pointing at Wendy. “Tell me the truth, now. Are you all from one of the Wild Towns to the east?”

“Wild towns?” Diane asked.

“Yes. Only the Lunatics venture outside our borders, and usually in large groups,” Hash explained. “They run routine patrols through the border towns, like this one, to gather supplies and information. Then they venture out to recruit new people from hostile towns that fall outside the Territories… a.k.a., the Wild Towns. They are considered very dangerous and unruly places.” He then stared at Tony. “Did you all receive a visit from the Lunatics in one of these towns? Is that how you heard The Law?”

Tony saw no point in hiding the truth. “We first read ‘The Law’ scribbled on the back wall of an archery range in Wayne, after these Lunatics killed a bunch of people. They even put a few up on archery targets and filled them with arrows.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” Hash said, shifting uncomfortably. “They’re not out there murdering people. They only kill when they have to. That’s not their-”

“Familiar with Bristolville?” Alysa asked. “It’s just on the other side of these woods. If you don’t believe us, go see for yourself what your precious Lunatics did there. They trapped a bunch of people hiding out in a fire station and burned them alive. They even hung a charred corpse right out front of the station. He was holding a sign with The Law written on it.”

Sergeant Hash looked confused.

Tony saw doubt in the man’s eyes. “Truth is, Sergeant, our people were attacked by these same Lunatics. They killed just about everyone, burned their corpses in a bonfire while they had a party to celebrate it. Some of our friends were captured by them. And we’ve been following their trail ever since. That’s what led us here.”

“Bullshit,” Hash said. “You could just as easily be making all this up.”

“Are you familiar with a woman with a painted face who carries two handguns?” Tony asked.

Hash looked surprised. “Go on.”

“We believe she’s the one in charge of these butchers. They have our friends and we intend to get them back.”

Hash stood up and moved toward the windows. He stared out, letting his shoulders sag. “I am familiar with this woman you speak of. Her name’s Briana, a real crazy bitch. She oversees eastern operations, both here in town… and in the Wild Towns beyond. They often come back from ‘out there’ with… prisoners.”

“We’ve seen their handiwork,” Alysa said. “It’s clear that they raid towns for supplies, terrorize people into submission, and murder everyone who resists. These are the people you work for.”

“Bullshit.”

“Maybe they don’t do it here, in the Territories, but out there… where no one is watching… they’re savages,” Tony said. “Why would we make this up?”

“We take a risk in even telling you about it,” Alysa added, giving Tony a scrutinizing gaze. She stared at the tall man. “We’ve no guarantee that you won’t turn us over to them immediately, isn’t that right?”

Hash said nothing.

“We have something of value,” Wendy said, causing all of them to turn to her. “I don’t believe it’s of value to these… Lunatics… but I believe it’s valuable to you, Sergeant Hash.”

“And what would that be?” Hash said.

“First, give us your word that you’ll release us and let us go back the way we came. No harm. No foul.”

Hash smiled. “I will consider your request. That’s the best I can do… assuming what you have to say is valuable.”
Wendy took a deep breath and tried not to look over at the surprised glances of her friends. “You said your people were placed her to watch the eastern border. I think you’ve been lied to. I can tell you why your employer really stationed you out here. Is that valuable enough?”

“I’m all ears, young lady,” Hash said, folding his arms with amusement. “Please… tell me why I’m out here rotting away in this God-forsaken shit-hole town.”

Wendy removed her glasses, wiped them on her shirt, and then put them back on with a smile. “Mosquito Creek Lake.”

Hash’s face turned to stone. “What about it?”

Tony smiled. That a girl!

Even Alysa looked pleased.

Wendy continued. “Do you know what’s going on out there? Do you know about the thousands of dormant yellow-eyed monsters that are moments from waking up?”

Hash didn’t know what to say.

“It’s true,” Tony jumped in. “We almost walked right into the hellish den. Their numbers are staggering. You speak of the dead being manageable… well… what’s lurking in that place is unstoppable. Should those things wake up and head this way…”

“…They’ll slaughter everyone in your little border towns,” Alysa continued. “And they won’t stop there. They’ll devour everything living, from the east to the west, north to south… everything.”

“I don’t mean to be harsh,” Wendy said. “But it seems to me that the only reason you and your men are here, as well as those in the other border towns, is to act as a… well… to act as an early warning system, letting your employers know when to run, while the rest of you on the border get… slaughtered.”

“Especially since Mosquito Creek Lake is less than ten miles east of here,” Hash said, sitting back down. He looked over at the guard posted near the door, then leaned in and whispered. “I have heard rumors about that place… but nothing as substantial as this.” He looked over at Wendy. “Thank you, young lady. Your information is… helpful.”

She smiled from ear to ear.

“So, does that mean we’ve been pardoned?” Nine asked.

Hash sighed. “My orders are to hold and question all trespassers until the Lunatics make their next visit. From there, you become their responsibility.”

“You know what they’ll do to us,” Tony said. “I can see it in your face. You’ve always suspected they were doing bad things, but you turned a blind eye, didn’t you?”

“That’s irrelevant,” Hash said. “My orders are clear. I risk my entire unit if I defy them.”

“Bullshit,” Tony pushed. “Gina told me you were a good man. I can tell that you aren’t like the others. I also know that you didn’t have to stop Thompson, and that because you did, you’re going to take some heat for it. Am I right?”

Hash laughed. “I can deal with Thompson.”

“But you did stop him. Why?”

“Because we aren’t savages!” Hash barked. He immediately lowered his voice and calmed down. “We’re not monsters… not yet. And I won’t allow what Thompson tried to do to all of you, not on my watch.”

“But you’ll turn us over to the monsters you work for,” Alysa said. “We’ve seen what they do. You might as well let Thompson and his goons have a go at me and finish cutting Tony’s throat. I suspect these Lunatics will do far worse.”

“Look,” Hash said raising his hands. His frustration was evident. “You all seem like good folks. And I’d like to believe that I can still tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones. I wish you all hadn’t crossed that damn bridge, but you did. I don’t have options here. I let you go and my men will turn on me to save their own skins. Nothing would make Thompson happier, by the way. But I can put in a good word for you when the Lunatics arrive. I can tell them how cooperative you’ve been and tell them what you told me about Mosquito Creek Lake. That’s a significant threat to New Cleveland. Maybe they’ll go easier on you, make you citizens, or maybe it won’t matter. But I can try.” He stood up and stepped back. “In the meantime, I’ll get you fed and have my men take you upstairs to the third floor where you can get a good night’s sleep.”

Tony shook his head. “You turn us over to the Lunatics, you’re just as guilty as Thompson.”
“You’ve no idea what you’ve gotten into here,” Hash said. “You say you’re trying to find your friends… well… if they’re alive there’s only one place they could be. And if you’re dead set on chasing after those face-painted freaks to rescue them… you’re going to die anyway. I’ll have dinner brought to you.” He started to turn.

Tony stood up. “I don’t believe you.”

Hash turned. “You don’t believe what?”

“I don’t believe you’ll hand us over to the Lunatics.”

Hash smiled, took a step toward the big man, and sized him up. “I know you, Tony. I admire your passion and can tell that these folks mean as much to you as the look on your archer friend’s face tells me she’d like to murder me in my sleep.” He shook his head at him and continued. “Hell, you’d probably die for them if you had to. But here’s something I also know about you: You’re an endangered species. There’s no place left in this world for ‘good guys’. The sooner you get a hold of that the better.”

“That’s bullshit, Sergeant,” Tony said. “And somewhere beneath all that hardship between the power plant leading up to now, you know it.”

Hash laughed. “You don’t give up, do you?”

“Not in me, Sergeant. Why don’t you help us?”

Hash ran his hand through his short-cropped hair. “War changes people, Tony. And this is the war to end all wars, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes.”

“Sometimes you just can’t take it back,” Hash continued. “Sometimes you just go too far and can’t take any of it back. And then it stains you, from the inside out.”

“I get that,” Tony said sadly. “Believe me, I do.”

“Then you know I can’t help you, Tony. I’m truly sorry. Now, I’ll make your stay as comfortable as I can, but in the end, I’m turning you over. Best to make your peace with that.”

~~~

Next Episode 42-7

Previous Episode 42-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 42-6: The Kill Room” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thompson nodded back.

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

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

“Sarge,” Thompson greeted with a nod.

“Take those ridiculous masks off… now!”

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

Again, Alysa tried hard to hide her amusement.

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

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

“Explain… this?” the tall man demanded.

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

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

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

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

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

The tall man ignored him. “Well?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of them looked to Thompson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Correction… they’re my men.”

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

“Gibbs!” the tall man called.

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

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

“Sarge?” Gibbs asked hesitantly.

“You heard me.”

“You can’t do that,” Thompson said.

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

Gibbs nodded and left.

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

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

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

Several more armed men entered the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both Tony and Alysa nodded.

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

Tony and Alysa nodded again.

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

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

“Something funny?” Hash asked, unamused.

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

“Come again?” Hash asked.

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

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

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

Hash waited.

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

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

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

“And… is Gina with you now?”

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

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

~~~

(Author’s Note: Sergeant Hash, Corporal Thompson and Private Gibbs have all returned. You may remember them from all the way back in Book 1, Chapter 10. I know, it’s been a while. I always intended to bring these characters back much sooner. Then events changed, and I thought we wouldn’t see them until much later. I was pleasantly surprised to find them showing up here. More to come.)

~~~

Next Episode 42-6

Previous Episode 42-4

~~~

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

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

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