~~~

The fire went out.

The cabin fell to darkness.

Russell could hear the faint rumblings of the dying storm outside. Nothing else. No voices. Nothing.

He waited for his heart to slow down and for his eyes to adjust to whatever ambient light was available. He saw nothing. Nothing was very, very good right now.

He heard a light cough from the chair next to his bed.

So much for nothing.

And then a match was lit as Russell observed Alysa lighting the lantern and placing it on the righted nightstand.

What the hell? Russell was at a loss. He noticed that his bedsheet had been pulled up over him, with an additional blanket thrown over that, providing much needed warmth.

I never even heard her come back inside.

Alysa sat back down. She was still wearing her large cloak. Her hood was up. She was completely soaked as Russell listened to drops of water striking the hard-wood floor. Alysa absently stared down at the floor. “I’m sorry I left you all alone,” she finally said. “I was… confused… but I’m better now.”

You and me both, Russell thought. As the lantern came to life, Russell looked around the cabin for ghosts, especially ones who resembled dead family members with blunt instruments. He was relieved to find nothing.

She looked up at him. “Are… are you warm enough?”

“I’m fine. Thanks for coming back. I was starting to really lose it because of the storm. Had all sorts of crazy fever dreams.”

She smiled. “Yes… the long silences can play tricks on you in this place. But after a while you get used to it… or simply pretend to.”

Russell dismissed the strange comment. “Alysa, I’m sorry I upset you earlier. I don’t know what came over me.”

She nodded with disinterest. She crossed her arms around her chest, oblivious to the soaked cloak. “I hate the winters. They’re always so cold. No matter what I do I just can’t shake the chill from my bones.”

Russell studied the crazy woman. He needed to be careful now. Nothing was as it seemed. He remembered something from earlier. “Alysa, my chest wounds were all healed. I remember seeing the bloody bandages three nights ago… or what I thought was three nights ago. How long have I really been here?”

Alysa looked irritated. “Don’t you trust me, Marcus?”

“Absolutely.”

“Then what’s it matter?”

Russell treaded carefully. “I was just curious, is all. Maybe we can talk more about it in the morning. There are mornings here, right?” He tried to inject his question with a little light humor.

Alysa was unresponsive.

Russell was silently wishing the other one would return. It was disconcerting that the savage was absent for so long. More damn questions. He looked at Alysa’s wet clothes. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was drenched. “Are you alright, Alysa? You were outside in the storm for a long-”

“There’s no mornings here,” she interrupted. “It’s been this way since I arrived at the cabin.”

“Excuse me?”

She looked at him with a deep dark sadness embedded into her face. “You asked why it’s always night when you wake up. It’s because there are no fucking days. No sunshine. Just darkness.”

“Alysa,” Russell said, “you’re not making a whole lot of sense. How can there be no daylight? That’s impossible.”

She flashed him an exhausted smile. “I used to be like you. Trying to figure it all out. But I had to make a choice: Go crazy trying to fight it, or just accept it for what it was.”

“And what is ‘it’?”

Alysa stared back down toward the floor. “You were right, you know. When you asked me who left me behind, I was so angry that you brought that up. I’d fought so hard to forget, but there really is no escaping it.”

Russell tried to keep up. “Someone close to you? Someone you loved?”

“Yes. Someone I loved very much. That’s why when you spoke of that woman, Gina… when you told me your story and I could hear how much you cared for her through your words… that’s why I needed you to let her go.”

“Because what I hold for Gina reminds you of what you lost?”

She laughed. “Because we aren’t allowed to love in this place. We aren’t allowed to bring that with us here. It always ends badly… every time.”

Russell was lost. He needed more. “Alysa,” he started gently, “what happened to him? What happened to make the person you cared about leave you behind?”

She quickly wiped tears away and took a deep breath. “His name was Michael and I loved him with all that I had.” She stared around the cabin and then back to Russell. “Before the old world ended, this place was our hideaway. We came here every summer to remember how we were when we first met. We were both workaholics with jobs that became bigger than our relationship could keep up with. We started seeing each other less and when we did, we spoke less about the things that really mattered until we started becoming strangers. It was this place that save our relationship. We would come here and hit the reset button, allowing us to slow down and remember what was important. This was a really beautiful place… and magical place for us.”

Russell smiled. “I’m not a romantic, but that sounds… beautiful… almost sacred, in a way.”

She smiled. “Yes… I like that word. ‘Sacred’. That’s what this place meant to us. No matter what the world threw at us, we could come here and be ourselves again.” Her face changed. “And then, of course, the world ended… and everything changed.”

Russell nodded encouragingly. “I know it’s hard, but maybe you need to finish.”

Alysa nodded. “I was so thankful to be home with Michael when it happened… when everyone started going crazy with those yellowish eyes and started murdering each other. We ended up with a large group of people. At first, we found strength in numbers, but after a while, people started turning on each other. The fear made us all crazy and made us do things we normally wouldn’t do. There were reckless decisions that were made that started getting people killed… and then the blame game started. The hate soon followed. It was then that Michael and I decided to leave the group. We did what we always did when life got crazy, we thought about this place. Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from where our group was hiding out. We took three others with us who also saw what our group had become, and we eventually found the cabin, remarkably untouched and untainted by the epidemic… and it was great, for a little while, until we ran out of food. That’s when even the cabin lost its magic and Michael and I started fighting over the smallest things. We made the others uncomfortable and they wanted to leave, but I convinced Michael that if we abandoned the cabin, we were giving up on us. I was so damn foolish. So naïve. I seriously believed that the cabin would not only save our relationship, as it had done in the past, but that it would save us through the outbreak, until order was restored. I was so fucking stubborn… if I’d only left when they all wanted to… Anyway, Michael tolerated me for a little while longer and talked the others into staying. We foraged for food as best we could from nearby homes, but as supplies became scarce, we had to move farther away from the cabin and closer to where the dead were. The wise thing to do was to give up the cabin and find somewhere new to hide… I knew this… but I still refused to leave. Michael and I got worse. We fought long and so loud that I thought the dead would hear us. And then, one afternoon we were done. The magic was gone. The others had talked him into leaving with them. Michael told me to stay at the cabin while he went out with the others to find more food, but I knew what was really happening. I’d known for days but refused to see it. Her name Lana. She poisoned him against me and stole his heart from me. I confronted him about it. Michael was too damn exhausted to deny it. He just wanted it all to be over… he wanted us to be over.” Alysa paused to wipe ancient tears from her eyes.

Russell frowned. “And so he left you for this woman… left you here all alone. And you’ve been here ever since,” he finished for her.

Alysa closed her eyes as memories ripped the scabs off of her heart. “I was enraged. He’d betrayed me… abandoned us. Michael desecrated our ‘Sacred’ place and I lost my fucking mind.” She looked at Russell, her face, a mixture of hatred and deep regret. “I… I attacked him. He tried to walk out the door, but I wouldn’t let him. He pushed me down and I grabbed my hunting knife. I stabbed him… again… and again…”

Russell sighed heavily. This is turning into the most fucked-up night.

She looked away. “The others fled and never returned. I buried him that evening, in the crawlspace beneath these very floor boards. It was the least I could do for us.”

The silence which followed took on a tangible life. Russell felt the cabin closing in on them like a large monstrous jaw. He finally dared to speak. “The world was different by then, Alysa. Much harsher. We do things now that we never could do before. Some of them bad, some of them good… some, just necessary. I’m not here to judge you.”

She looked up at him with a disbelieving look. “Judge me? Why would I be concerned about what you think? I was merely trying to help you understand the nature of this place.”

“I don’t understand.”

She laughed. “When I found you, lying face down beneath that tree, I almost thought you were him. I almost thought you were my Michael and that somehow… the cabin brought you back to me. But then I saw you, and I understood that you were just like me.”

I am nothing like you, he thought, but held his tongue.

“I can see you fighting it still,” she continued. “You don’t get it… but you will. I was the same way.”

“Just get to the point, Alysa.” Russell was growing weary of this conversation. “Stop trying to lead me to it and just speak plainly.”

“Okay, Marcus. But just remember, I tried to be kind about it. I knew how unprepared I was to accept the truth and no one was there to gently ease me into it.”

“The truth about what?”

“The truth about this fucking place!” she snapped and then quickly calmed down. “My story wasn’t finished, Marcus. There was a little more.”

“Go on.”

“For a while, the lie held,” she said. “I killed Michael, the others took off, and then I buried him. Even after this place became… strange… I still hid the truth from myself. But after a while, I started to remember things I’d forgotten. Little things, at first, and then bigger things. And that’s when I remembered what happened after I killed Michael.” She leaned in close and said. “It was that bitch, Lana. After I stabbed him, she stormed up the porch with more boldness than I’d ever seen in that frightened girl. That’s when I knew she loved him. You can do amazing things, beyond your limitations, when compelled by someone you love. That girl came directly at me, pulled the gun out before I’d even recovered from the shock of what I’d just done, put that gun to my forehead, and blew my brains out.”

“Bullshit.” Russell had heard enough. “So I’m to believe that this is some version of ‘Hell’ and because you claim that you’re dead… than I must be, as well?”

Alysa said nothing.

Russell was furious. “If I could move my fucking arms right now, I would wrap my hands around your fucking neck and show you Death!”

She smiled. “I didn’t expect this to go down easy. It’s a tough pill to swallow, Marcus. I haven’t seen the sunlight since that day Lana put me out of my misery. While you sleep, I do not. I used to sleep when I thought I was still alive. But now, I roam one long endless night, looking for a way to be free of this God-forsaken cabin in the middle of Hell. And that’s the irony, Marcus. I made this place the cure-all for everything, eventually becoming obsessed with my belief that this cabin would save us all. And now, as a just punishment for the blood on my hands, I get to spend eternity in this cage, cursing the day I ever set eyes on it.”

Russell was shaking his head. “So… what you’re saying is that I fell off the cliff… and died?”

She nodded. “It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.”

“If I’m dead, then why the fuck would I be in your hell?”

“That’s a good question, Marcus. Maybe in time, when your memories start to return, perhaps you’ll be able to shine some light on both of our situations. All I know is that you’re somehow here… now. And I’m not alone anymore.”

“I’m leaving this place. You better understand that right now,” Russell threatened.

“Oh, I know you’ll try to leave. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But you will fail, as I failed. Hell, that might be why you’re not getting better. Maybe your hell is to be taken care of by someone like me for eternity.”

“I’d kill you first and die alone before I submitted to that madness. And if you and I were stuck together here, I would torture you in the most painful and creative ways just for my own amusement.”

Alysa frowned and shook her head. “This is like looking into the eyes of another devil. I see myself in you, Marcus. You’re a cold-blooded killer, just like me. Maybe that’s why you’re here.”

“You don’t know anything about me you foolish fucking woman.” Russell needed to calm down.

She stared at him for a long moment. “I’ll go build the fire back up,” she finally said. “And then I’ll get us some chicken noodle soup. It’s been a very long evening.”

“Fuck your soup and FUCK YOU!” Russell felt himself grow faint from the exertion. He closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. I don’t know what sick games this witch is playing. But it’s time to go!

He opened his eyes and saw Alysa hovering over him.

She was now wearing her nightgown with her hair braided back up. The fire was already blazing behind her.

What? How could this be? She’d just left to build the fire a moment ago! And her hair… her clothes… did I just pass out again?

There was even another cup of chicken noodle soup steaming on the nightstand beside him.

Alysa’s smile was radiant. She’d looked like she even had time to bathe again. “I know we got off on the wrong foot, Marcus. And I know there’s still a whole lot you don’t understand yet. In fact, I know damn well you won’t understand what I’m about to do next… but just know that I do this for your own good. She walked over to the fireplace and removed what looked like a hot poker from the fire.

What fresh madness is this?

Alysa walked over.

Russell noticed that she carried what looked like a branding iron. It was glowing hot from the heat.

“What are you about to do, Alysa?” Russell asked.

She smiled. “I’m going to help you, Marcus. Eventually, you will appreciate this.” She lifted the heated metal and turned his right hand over, pulpy side facing up.

Russell was still unable to move his arms. He was helpless. Defenseless.

“Don’t do this, Alysa,” Russell advised. “If we are sharing this hell together, the last thing you want to do is piss me off.”

She laughed and then blew him a kiss.

Alysa turned the fire brand downward and pushed the hot metal into the palm of his hand.

The pain was excruciating but he did not scream.

“You’re mine now, Marcus,” she said.

He could smell his own burning flesh before passing out.

~~~

Next Episode 37-13

Previous Episode 37-11

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 37-12: 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:

    Ok. Three words. What the fuck. XD

    Liked by 2 people

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