Chapter 7 – Frank McCormick
This was bad timing. Very bad. It was always hard explaining this place to newcomers, but there was usually at least some time for them to understand everything before the Empty People showed up. Now, Frank was surrounded by a group of strangers who not only didn’t understand where they were, but they had no idea what it was that was coming after them. And to top it all off: he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen more than four of the Empty People. Eight? This could turn sour really fast.
Rushed steps in the kitchen sounded behind him, and he turned to see the four who had joined Eliza return with some tools and boards for weapons. As they passed them out, Carter waved a dismissive hand at Michael holding out a hammer and pulled out a handgun from under his jacket. Michael eyed him for a second with some suspicion before passing the hammer to the next man.
Frank looked back at the kitchen and watched Eliza, his dear wife, flip the switch, removing the rest of the light coming from inside. Now, the only light came from the soft glow of the clouded moon outside.
“What the hell,” shouted one of the women.
“Quiet,” Frank hissed. “Everyone duck behind the counter.” As they all ducked down, Frank took one last look at the Empty People outside—now only twenty feet away and much more spread out—before he did so himself and rested his back against the counter.
“Will they not be able to see us,” Carter whispered beside Frank.
“They already know we’re here. And, they can see pretty well in the dark. But, without the light, they might not get too agitated.” Frank whispered a little more loudly so the others could hear. “Just stay quiet, and don’t make any sudden movements. If they don’t get over-excited, they’ll hopefully leave before long.”
“Hopefully,” Carter questioned beside him. A sound outside grabbed their attention before Frank could answer.
A nail dragged along a board, slowly and deliberately. Soon, a second joined in. As the two moved from the front of the diner around to opposite sides, the deep heaving and wolf-like growling of the Empty People escalated. The breaths of the people around Frank became shorter and more frantic as the things neared. He heard a few whimpers but couldn’t see whom they were coming from. Once the grey static of the two’s eyes appeared on either side of the counter, one girl let out a soft cry but quickly muffled it. Then, the tapping started.
That damn tapping. Light, little taps with the tips of each nail on the boards. Just one of them with its ten fingers was unnerving. With a couple of them, the sound could drive you insane. Now, there were eight of them, each adding to the cacophony that had more than one of the people inside weeping. Frank gripped the bat in hands tighter.
He peered into the kitchen across from him, barely able to make out his wife. It was always hard to make her out in the dark with her flickering, but he saw her silhouette against the back wall, still holding the shotgun. Good. He wanted her to have the best weapon. Frank hoped everyone around him made it. He truly did. But, when it came down to it, his loyalty was to his beloved wife. As far as he was concerned, 29 years still wasn’t enough with her, and he’d let each of the others be taken before he let them get to her.
The tapping outside turned into long scrapes up and down the boards. They quickened and surged before the Empty outside started darting around, bringing the symphony to a crescendo. A couple people gasped as they saw it.
“What the fuck,” exclaimed one of the girls. Frank hushed her, but everyone else was losing their composure as well.
“Frank,” whispered Carter, “how do they do that? I’ve never seen anything move that fast.”
Dammit! He’d forgotten to tell them some of the details of the Empty People, including how fast and agile they were. All he’d managed to explain was to aim for the head. That’s why he needed more time: none of this was easy to understand right away. Oh well. The scraping outside was pretty loud, and he was sure he could whisper out in a way that the others could hear and the Empty wouldn’t. Besides, if this did go south, he needed people around him that had at least some idea of what they were up against.
“They’re stronger, faster, and more agile than us. It’s almost impossible to take one by yourself. Stick together, and like I said before: only go for their heads, and do not let them get their hands on you.”
“What happens if they do,” asked Michael.
“They’ll drag you into the fog.”
“What happens th—”
“Ssh!” The scraping had stopped, leaving a dead silence. Sweat dripped down Frank’s face as his mouth dried. Then, he heard the last sound he ever wanted to hear.
One of the Empty let out a deafening howl, and started pounding on the boards, a slight cracking sound sending a chill down Frank’s spine. Something had them very agitated.
“Eliza,” he hollered, and she flipped on the switch of the kitchen. Light flooded into the diner, blinding him only for a second while he stood up. He turned and looked down at everyone.
“Alright, everyone,” he commanded. He didn’t need to worry about keeping quiet anymore. “We’re gonna have a fight on our hands.” Carter was already up beside him, and the others struggled against the sudden light.
As Frank turned around, it finally dawned on him why there were so many Empty and why they were so riled up: whoever had brought these people here must have been a powerful psychic.