~~~

“… It was shortly after we left that woman down in the ravine when Greg and Frank returned. They found the boxcar and that’s where we spent the evening. Later that night we were attacked by your red-eyed hounds, but we fought as one and outlasted them as dawn rescued us. Apparently they don’t like light.” Russell needed to urinate. He tried to move again but was still too weak.

Alysa, coming out of some heavy thoughts, noticed his discomfort, smiled, and then gave him a pouty face. “Aw… do we need another potty break?”

“When you put it like that you make me want to throw something at you.”

She laughed lightly. “Sorry… it’s that damn humor of mine again.” She reached beneath the bed and retrieved the bed pan. “Ready?”

Russell nodded begrudgingly.

Alysa helped him turn over enough to lower his underpants and place the pan beneath him.

“This is ridiculous.” He feigned frustration. “Why am I still unable to move? I’m starting to think my condition is much worse than you claimed?”

She didn’t answer. “I’ll go get us some food while you… take care of business.” Alysa quickly departed toward the fireplace.

She’s enjoying this, boss. The bitch is payin’ you back for the cheap shot earlier. She likes reminding you how fuckin’ helpless you are.

Russell relieved his bladder while keeping an eye on Alysa. She pretended not to notice him for the sake of privacy, but her smile betrayed her amusement.

Yes, she was enjoying her illusion of control. Russell would allow it for now, until she needed to be put back in check again. As useless as his limbs were at the moment, Russell understood that there were other weapons which cut just as deep. If she became too comfortable with that control, he would bite her again with his words to keep her off-balanced.

Alysa returned with more chicken soup.

Boss, when we rid the world of this twat, I suggest we boil her face in that fuckin’ pot first.

Russell had no objections.

She placed the soup down on the nightstand and repeated the ritual, removing the bed pan this time and pulling his pants back up. “I’ll be right back.” She carefully walked the bedpan over to the front door of the cabin. She then placed it down near the door and then opened the door nonchalantly, letting in the cool night air. She bundled up her cloak and shook from the cold before tossing the contents of the bedpan outside.

She shows no caution, Russell thought, wishing he had a better angle to see outside. Anything could have been on the other side of that door.

The bitch has forgotten how dangerous the world is, boss. That’s what happens to fools like her who suck on the titty of safety. They get full and then they fuckin’ die. Good old Complacency’s been slipping her the dick for far too long.

Indeed. If their situation had been different, Russell, or anyone else he’d traveled with, would have scolded her for such stupidity. Anyone who had been ‘out there’ had learned to live with a healthy amount of paranoia and distrust, enough to keep them alive another day.

Enough not to open doors without checking out a window first, Russell concluded.

Alysa finally closed the door and came back, returning the bedpan beneath the bed. She sat down again and smiled at him. “Feel better now?”

I’d feel fun-tastic, bitch, it you’d be so kind and impale yourself on that fire poker over there, the other one suggested.

“Yes,” Russell said. “Thank you.”

Before he could inquire further on his injuries, Alysa folded her arms and began to scowl. She then said, “So… you never found out what happened to that woman… right?”

He could already tell where this was headed. Sarah had perished that same night before the red-eyed beasts attacked them at the boxcar. They all remembered hearing her scream. “No,” he lied. “I believe she died from whatever injuries she sustained.”

“But you don’t know that,” Alysa pressed. “And yet… none of you lifted a finger to help that poor girl.”

Russell frowned. “It was decided that we couldn’t reach her before nightfall and that there was nothing we could do for her… not without risking someone else.”

Alysa’s eyes lit up. “And that’s exactly why you did the right thing!”

“I wouldn’t call it the ‘right’ thing, simply the necessary thing.”

She wouldn’t let it go. “No… if that idiot, Gina, had her way, it sounds like she would’ve risked your entire group trying to rescue that girl. Maybe you would’ve found her in time to do something to help, but then the hounds would’ve found all of you down in that valley.”

“Perhaps.”

“And that’s exactly why you don’t help people anymore,” she said. “It’s not that we’re evil and lack compassion, it’s just not beneficial to survival any longer to step up and save… everyone. Some people put themselves precisely where they’re supposed to be, sooner or later. The ones not fit to survive will eventually get themselves killed… and anyone else around them.”

“I see.” Russell refused to feed this line of thinking.

Alysa was getting irritated. She stood up and started pacing. “No, Marcus, you really don’t see. The world is different now… much more harsh. There’s no room in it for the weak and foolish. Anyone still expecting their televisions and phones to work one day all deserve what they get in this life. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us should perish with them. It’s the new natural selection.”

“So,” Russell began, “the woman who called out for our help, she deserved to die?”

“Yes.”

“Because she got injured? How do you know she wasn’t thrown from that cliff by a blood-thirsty killer or rapist who would sooner come in here and do the same to you?”

Boss, you’re killing me.

Alysa frowned. “What’s your point?”

“My point is, you and I know nothing about that woman,” he lied. “Who she was, what she did, what she could’ve become… and yet, you say, she got exactly what she deserved. How do we know she wasn’t playing it safe… just like you… until the wrong people finally found her?”

“If she was foolish enough to surround herself with bad company, then that’s her own fault. Survival doesn’t mean we should align ourselves with just anyone. There were plenty of bad people before the world fell. It should be no surprise to find them in abundance out there today.”

“And what about the bad people who prey upon the weak? Do they deserve to live?”

Alysa shook her head. “You’re speaking in extremes and missing the point.”

“I don’t believe that I am, Alysa. You said it yourself: ‘natural selection’. To me that means that the criminals, who have always been better at adapting to their environments out of necessity, would rise up and devour those who no longer have a system in place to protect them. The killers and rapists would no longer have any moral or legal hindrances to stop them from doing anything while the rest are still governed by their consciences. That would make them the ‘weak’ ones.”

“You’re being overdramatic,” Alysa said. “Besides, there is no clear cut black or white anymore. No right or wrong. There’s only survival.”

Russell smiled like the devil. “Okay. Let’s say, hypothetically of course, that I want everything you have here. You have food, shelter, relative safety in the woods…” He eyeballed her from the coat down. “… everything that I need for survival.”

Alysa appeared uncomfortable.

“What if I were faking my injuries and I was just waiting for the right opportunity to sneak up behind you and slit your throat? Am I justified in taking what I want, when I want it, no matter what the price… to ensure my survival? Or does your world of ‘grey’ boundaries have its limits?”

Alysa’s face was stone. After a few moments, she released a wicked smile, leaned forward, and said, “If I was foolish enough to let the kind of man that you described into my home, after taking care of him, feeding him, encouraging him as best I could… just to find out that he was lying to me the whole time in order to ‘take’ from me… then absolutely… I deserve whatever’s coming for being so fucking stupid and unfit for survival of any kind.”

Russell didn’t like what he saw in Alysa’s eyes.

“However,” Alysa continued, leaning back in her seat, “let’s assume that I’ve already anticipated everything such a man was scheming, and I, in turn, wanted to ‘take’ everything he had by slowly learning about his travels, but more importantly, the location of the people in his stories, so that I could go find them, dispose of them, and take all of their things of value, to ensure my survival… well, that would make such a man very stupid for underestimating his host.”

Boss… something’s ‘off’ here.

Alysa smiled. “Hypothetically speaking, of course.” She met his probing gaze with a cool, unconcerned look. She then lost it and laughed. “I’m sorry… I had to do it. You were taking this conversation WAY too seriously. I couldn’t resist fucking with you again, Marcus.” She started rolling in her seat.

Russell let out an uncomfortable laugh.

The bitch be crazy, boss!

Alysa calmed down and took a sip from her soup cup. “To answer your question, Marcus. I don’t have an answer. Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I haven’t thought this philosophy through. All I know is that the rules have changed now, and I’m learning them as I go. Could we agree on that point?”

Russell smiled. “Yes… I suppose that’s fair.”

“It was still the right move, no matter how you choose to swallow it.”

“What’s that?” Russell asked.

“The girl in the ravine… there’s was nothing to do except what you all did.”

Russell let the matter rest. He needed to move them away from this toxic topic. “Should I continue with my story? Or is that getting as old as the chicken noodle soup?”

She waved her hand at him. “No, please, continue. Your adventures have been the highlight of my isolation. I find it fascinating how you’ve all survived this long, considering how diverse you all are. I’m surprised you didn’t kill each other at some point.”

“I have long wondered that, myself,” Russell added.

“But seriously, you have all experienced so much out there. I find it very… informative… and humbling. The more I listen, the more I realize just how much I haven’t a clue about. You’ve given me a lot to consider, Marcus, so please continue.”

I smell bullshit, boss.

Yes. Russell would have to reassess a few things. He had grossly underestimated this woman.

“So… what happened after the boxcar incident?” she asked.

Russell remembered very vividly what came next. It was the moment he nearly lost complete control of the other one, and the moment that almost destroyed his faith in everything he’d done in the name of the Lady.

He took a deep breath and said, “Doug and Frank found a junkyard near the end of the tracks. One of the yellow-eyed monsters was trapped there. Instead of passing it up, as we should have, Frank had talked Doug into a very reckless and risky plan that nearly ended our journey.”

He had Alysa’s attention. “What happened at this junkyard?”

Russell looked at her sadly and said, “That was the day we all had to face a formidable enemy. We had to face ourselves…”

~~~

Next Episode 37-8

Previous Episode 37-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 37-7: Through the Eyes of a Devil” Copyright © 2017 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Four: Phantoms. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

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