~~~

Another burst of lightning illuminated the cabin. Thunder cracked outside. The rain continued to blow through the open doorway as the wind gusted and whistled through the open portal. And then the room grew darker.

Russell turned his head toward the fireplace. The fire was dying out.

He began to shiver involuntarily as the cabin temperature dropped rapidly.

Russell had many questions storming though his mind about the true intentions of his host. But all of them were irrelevant at the moment. He needed to get out of the cold. Russell strained himself trying to move his arms and legs. He would’ve settled for rolling right off the bed if possible. But his limbs were still uncooperative. He was now a sweaty mess.

In my feverish state, I could easily die of exposure. If I pass out, that might be enough to finish me off. He kept looking toward the open doorway, expecting Alysa to return. She did not.

And then a new consideration entered his tired mind. What if those creatures approach the cabin seeking shelter from the storm? The open door might make them curious and bold enough to take a chance on scoring easy prey. Again, there was no point on dwelling on anything he couldn’t change.

Russell took a few deep breaths. He would give it one more concentrated effort to try and move. He focused all his remaining strength on trying to lift his sluggish arms. Russell let out an excruciating growl as he managed to lift his left arm several inches. And then his right. He felt like he was trying to lift a tracker trailer off his chest. And then he was spent. His arms fell, limp and useless. He struggled to breathe. He could feel himself blacking out as his eye lids became large skyscrapers collapsing. His body wanted to shut down immediately and fall once more into the trap of sleep.

Stay awake! Stay the fuck awake!

His eyes tried to close repeatedly as he forced them open. Each time, he felt himself going under a little longer, losing the battle for consciousness.

He turned his attention back toward the door, needing something to focus his attention on.

Someone was standing against the wall halfway between the door and the fireplace, blending into shadow.

“Who… Who’s there?” He tried to raise his voice in a threatening manner. Was it Alysa? He could not tell.

The shadowy form did not respond to his voice.

It’s not the dead, they would’ve charged by now… ripped me to pieces. Yes. That much was certain. But who knew what else lurked in the darkness these days.

“Alysa… please… I’m sorry for hurting you. Could we talk about it? Could you at least close the door? I’m… I’m not fairing too well right now.”

The intruder remained still.

Russell never felt so vulnerable. Not even when he was a whimpering boy terrified by the monsters who were his parents. All he had left was the strength to string together words in the hope of making the stranger second guess his invasion.

“Whatever… whatever you’re considering… I’ll give you just a few more seconds to turn your ass around and get out of here. After that… I’m going to kill you.” And he meant it.

From the shadows came a deep, dark laugh, followed by mock applause.

Definitely not Alysa.

The stranger stopped and said, “Bravo. It’s good to know you’ve grown a fuckin’ backbone since I last saw you, Russ.”

That voice…

He recognized it immediately.

…and he knows my name.

But he couldn’t be here. It was impossible.

“It’s good to know my lessons stuck with you, boy. But I think you need a few more licks to get it into your fuckin’ head.”

No. He is not here!

Another flash of lightning momentarily lit up the cabin… and then he saw him, standing there with his arms crossed, a malicious grin and loveless eyes boring into his soul.

Russell turned away, refusing to let the madness enter.

His father stood there… and laughed… and laughed.

Thunder rocked the night, drowning out all sound.

Russell dared another glace toward the shadow of the dead man.

He was gone.

For the second time since believing the ghost of Sarah had returned to find him from that ravine, Russell felt fear.

“Well I bet that sucked,” came another familiar voice standing near the overturned nightstand. “I’m not a big fan of family reunions either.”

Russell snapped his head toward the new voice.

A short man with a mostly bald head and a disfigured nose, reached down, retrieved the lantern and then lit it.

“Charlie?” Russell was dumbfounded.

Charlie Ottermeyer sat down in Alysa’s chair, holding the lantern in his lap. He wore a smug smile on his very pale face. “Hello, Marcus… Russell… whatever the fuck your name is. I bet you’re not too happy to see me right now. That’s okay, no one’s ever really happy to see me. I think I bring it on myself.”

Russell quickly started calculating. Ghost, hallucination, insanity… didn’t matter. He desperately needed to regain his composure. “Charlie, it’s fucking great to see you. We thought you died in the explosion. I don’t know how you found me, but-”

“Oh… just… shut… the… fuck up!” Charlie snapped. “Please… spare me your bullshit, you god damn charlatan! I think I’ve had my fill of your lies to last me a lifetime… providing I had one left.”

Russell was at a loss. What could he possibly say to an apparition? He chose the truth. “Okay, Charlie, no more lies. I’m in no position, mentally or physically, to risk upsetting you. What do you want from me?”

Charlie smiled. “Now that’s much better. Straight to the fucking point for once.”

Russell waited.

Charlie leaned forward. “What I want to know, con-man, is how long were you feeding me my own bullshit in order to get me to think of you as an ally?”

Russell’s face went blank. “Since the car lot in Painesville.”

Charlie nodded and laughed. “I figured as much. You knew all along what I wanted… Amanda… leadership… Gina’s fucking head on a platter… and you did nothing but stand aside while coaxing me forward and up the steps toward the gallows. You didn’t put that rope over my neck, you just pointed me toward the noose and watched me hang myself… and all the while acting like the perfect fucking cheerleader while I did it.” Charlie’s face went dark. “Why did you do it? Why did you play me against the others? And don’t tell me you did if for ‘love’. I deserve an honest answer.”

Russell sighed. “Your petty ambitions were your weakness, your vulnerability. Your pride made you blind to all else. I knew how smart you were… how lethal your abilities were becoming. If you ever stopped to consider anything outside of your realm of existence, you would have figured it all out… and found us all expendable. I needed only to encourage you to act upon your own impatience by swearing allegiance to your cause. You did the rest all by yourself. Bottom line, Charlie… I considered you very dangerous and I wanted you gone.” Russell told him a half-truth. He hoped it was enough.

Charlie nodded. “And that morning at the vineyard, when you fed me all that bullshit, that was your idea, too, wasn’t it? You placated me. Gave me a way to save face with that fucking bitch when all you were doing was trying to put some space between me and the group. You knew that if I stayed I would’ve killed all of you eventually.”

Russell was exhausted. “Yes. But you don’t need me to tell you any of that now. You knew this already. Why are you really here, Charlie? Payback?”

Charlie leaned back and smiled. “I came for the show, Marcus. I came to watch you die.”

“So you are here to kill me?”

“Not exactly.”

Russell did not know what else to say. Before he could ask further, a woman’s voice addressed him from the other side of the bed.

“What the little prick is trying to say, is that you’re already dying, Marcus.” Amanda Howard walked around the foot of the bed and stared at his exposed penis. “Speaking of little pricks, you should cover up before your friend catches a cold,” she teased.

Charlie laughed obnoxiously.

Russell stared at the pale dead woman who nonchalantly walked about the cabin. Her hair was a mess. She wore a black tank top that looked ripped in several places.

He closed his eyes and declared, “Neither of you are real. You’re just hallucinations brought on by my fever… nothing more.”

Amanda walked over and laughed. “Denial’s the first sign of a problem, Marcus. That’s what those idiots at the AA meetings always told me… not that it matters much now.”

“What… what do you want, Amanda?”

Her face was filled with loathing. “I was getting better, asshole!” she snapped. “After we left the tracks and headed into Painesville, I was kicking the bottle and going through withdrawal like you wouldn’t believe… but I was winning. I was trying to not be so fucking helpless and a burden. But you… you wouldn’t let me. You held on to that grenade and waited for the perfect moment to set it off, knowing damn well that it would destroy me… especially when I started to relapse after what that fucker Charlie tried to do to me.”

Russell looked toward the chair.

Charlie was gone.

She stepped up to the bed and stared at him. “I hate you. I hate you for poisoning me more than the bottle ever did. You came to me when I was the most vulnerable by that pond, after Austinburg, and you dropped my dead daughter’s diary in my lap like you were doing me some fucking favor. You knew! You knew what it would do to me! Why would you allow me to become so… angry?”

Russell swallowed hard. “Because I needed you out of my way. You were always watching me… watching me watching Gina… and I found it… troublesome. The more sober you became, the more I knew that you would piece enough of it together to cause problems between Gina and I. You were a jealous and petty woman, Amanda. You would’ve spooked her and told her lies about me just to be vindictive. I couldn’t have you sabotaging what I’d built with her.”

“So you turned me back into the town fucking drunk.” She was shaking her head. “You knew that if I never got better, no one would take me seriously… and eventually, they’d tire of me and send me away. Right?”

“It was nothing personal, Amanda.” Russell held nothing back. He saw no point in deception… not now. “I would’ve saved you the first night we met… in the tent, back at the power plant. But you were already lost.”

“So you fucked me instead… and then you fucked me some more!” Amanda turned her back on him. “And Stephen… were you trying to fuck him, too?”

Russell averted his eyes. “After Charlie… I needed to remove as many of you as possible, but not in a way that would’ve aroused suspicion. I set you and Stephen on a collision course. You were volatile and unpredictable. Stephen was a depressing anchor. Both of you had outlived your usefulness… but Gina loved you both in a way one loves both the good and the ugly in someone. She felt responsible for all of you… and that turned you both into liabilities.”

“It took you fucking long enough to make your move on me,” came a gruff male voice from where Amanda was standing.

Russell looked up and found Frank Carman standing there, sneering at him, with his arms folded. He looked as pale as the others.

Amanda was gone.

“You never would’ve slipped that blade in past me if I’d been healthy at the time. But I guess that’s how snakes like you have survived this long.” Frank walked toward the closest window and stared out into the stormy night. “I never could quite figure out your end game… but I would’ve figured it out eventually.”

Russell smiled at the dead man. “And that’s what made me both weary and appreciative of your presence within the group. I knew you knew what I was… that I’ve killed before. I saw it in you, too. But you kept your distance and I was glad to keep mine. I figured we had a silent understanding that we were both not who we claimed to be, and that we overlooked it for as long as we could.”

Frank turned. “Anyone could see that you were dangerous… if they wanted to see it. If we’d been back in the old world, you would’ve had to go back under the rock you crawled out from. But you and I, we were needed in this world. I’d thought about confronting you quietly many times along the way, but then you kept saving Gina’s ass… so I let it go. Even thought about telling her about my suspicions, but then things got crazy, and then they got crazier, and I figured we needed you… for a while. But I never stopped paying attention. And once you killed Sam, I knew you’d crossed the line and needed to be gone. Creatures like you can only curve your appetite for blood for so long. I just never understood why you chose such a high-profile person to get your fix.”

“The police officer was… killing Gina,” Russell said. “As long as Samantha was in charge, Gina had no purpose, nothing to keep her mind from wandering into very dark places. At first, I believed Tony would be enough to stop her, but he wasn’t. She needed to be in charge of the Andover community… but then she became reckless, or so I thought at the time, and went after the pregnant girl.”

“So you murdered Samantha for nothing.” Frank laughed. “I’ve always known that we’re all living on borrowed time. I was fine with that. But Samantha… man… what a shitty way to end in this world. There was no profit in her death… and I find that sad, even for that bitch.” Frank shook his head. “And the Andover man hung on the wall with the message scrawled over his head in his own blood? That was you, too, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Russell confirmed. “People like myself don’t escape notice for very long in a stagnant place. My… darker impulses were pushing me to make a mistake. I needed the Andover community disrupted. Everyone was getting far too comfortable there. So I fed the Shadow Dead myth… brought it close… and then let their fears take care of the rest.”

“You are one conniving sonofabitch,” Frank said, with a hint of admiration. “And I thought I played games.”

“Just so you know, Frank,” Russell started, “it was not my intention of killing you that day. You forced my hand. I, too, understood the silent pact we shared. It was you who violated it in the end. But either way, one of us would’ve had to go at some point.”

Frank stared at him. He was a stone.

“I respected our… relationship… Frank. We served our own agendas individually, but collectively, we protected all interests involved. You were a valuable asset and helped in keeping Gina safe. That was worth the risk of exposure. Hell… you kept me on my toes and reminded me to never get complacent or else I’d tip my hand and allow you to see too much. I really miss you, Frank. Do you resent that I struck first? No, of course you don’t.”

“I pity you,” Frank said. “I came back from a very dark place… made some better choices… did a few things to make amends… but you… you’re just evil through and through. No remorse. No regrets. At least I died on my own terms, and not by your fucking hands. Frank Carman… the killer… died long before you pulled that blade on me, asshole.”

Russell frowned. “Death is no respecter of persons. She comes for us all in our time. There is no right. There is no wrong. There is only… Death… and all her glory. And what I do, I do for her.”

“You’re pathetic,” Frank said. “I suspect Hell is full to the brim with your special kind of people.”

Russell lifted his head and laughed. “Heaven. Hell. What fool came up with those ridiculous concepts? That is Fear’s game… and I won’t subscribe to it.”

“But you’re there now,” another voice said, approaching from the foot of the bed.

It was Stephen. Frank was gone.

Russell was confused by the appearance of the school teacher. “I don’t understand. You are not deceased. How are you here?”

“We’re all dead,” Stephen said. “We died when The Change occurred. Our frail bodies and limited understanding just hadn’t caught up with the truth yet. We all turned days ago at the compound in the woods. But you know now… don’t you, Marcus? Can’t you feel Death working within you, too?”

Russell looked away from the visual lie. None of this was real… he had to believe that.

“We carry the seed of death within us. Some “changed” early… others will later.” It was young Ashley this time. She was circling the front of the bed.

“Those who died long before will meet up with the rest of us who “changed” after.” It was Douglas this time. “The rest will change, too. They will be the last and then we will all be FREE!”

They were all there now: Ashley, Stephen, Amanda, Frank, Greg, Charlie, Douglas… even Meredith was there, all circling his bed like vultures.

“WE HAVE CHANGED, MARCUS!” they all chanted together. And then he noticed their eyes. They all had yellow, savage eyes.

“No!” he shouted. “This isn’t real!”

“WE ALL CHANGE!” They all began to bar their teeth as veins began to pulsate beneath their pale skin. They surrounded the bed and moved in toward the fresh kill.

Russell shut his eyes tight and prepared to either wake up or be eaten alive.

Thunder resounded across the night followed by several intense flashes of lightning.

And nothing else happened.

He slowly opened his eyes. They were all gone.

“Marcus?” It was Gina’s voice. That’s right! She wasn’t standing among the others! Maybe she hadn’t undergone The Change?

Russell followed the voice toward the fireplace where he could just make out Gina’s dim form silhouetted by the dying fire. She stood hallway between the fire and the bed, and would come no closer.

“Gina, help me please,” Russell said. “I can’t get out of this bed and the strangest… the strangest shit has been happening.”

“Why did you try to stop me that day, Marcus?” Gina asked. “When I wanted to kill the rooftop snipers why did you fight against me? Why did you bother when you’ve killed the people I care about?”

“Because you’re special, Gina,” Russell said. “You’re destined for great things and I didn’t want you tainted by that form of darkness. It’s the kind of darkness that stains your soul and changes you forever. I did not want that for you… not you… my love.”

Gina stepped forward until he could see her face. Her eyes were filled with yellow hatred.

“No,” he whispered. “Not you… never you!” He had failed.

The Gina-thing smiled and said, “Everyone changes, Marcus. Everyone is already changing… either now, or later… doesn’t matter. Everyone is already dead.”

Russell could not listen to the madness any longer. He shut his eyes tight and listened only to the storm outside, ignoring the tempest which threatened his mind.

“Marcus,” he heard Gina whisper into his ear. “Do not be afraid. All is not lost. I am still with you.” Her words were gentle, soothing… warm like a blanket made of darkness that banished the cold before snuffing out the light. It was Gina… but it was also not Gina.

She is here! The Lady speaks to me now!

Russell opened his eyes.

A tall man stood menacingly above him. “Surprise, surprise, boy!”

It was his father.

No!

He was holding Doug’s spiked baseball bat. He raised it above his head. “Everyone changes, boy… everyone dies!” His father’s eyes burned with the yellowish fire.

“No!” Russell cried out.

His father laughed as he brought the bat down toward Russell’s head.

“NOOOOOO!”

~~~

Next Episode 37-12

Previous Episode 37-10

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 37-11: 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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Comments
  1. Gylion says:

    Drugged and Feverish, what a hellish combo.

    Like

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