~~~

He woke to the bright morning light stinging his eyes. Russell was amazed by how different the cabin looked now that everything was no longer swallowed up in shadows. He raised his hands toward his face to wipe the sleep from his eyes and then stopped to stare at them. His right hand was wrapped up in gauze.

I can finally move my arms. Yes. He no longer felt weak and weighed down to the bed by his own useless flesh.

Before he could explore his mobility further, Alysa stepped up beside the nightstand. “Well wonders never cease. You’re actually fully awake this time.”

Russell turned to look at her, remembering all too well what this crazy woman had done to his hand. She looked different now… saner. Her hair was tied back in a tight braid. She no longer wore the large cloak, but had opted for a dark-colored sweater and jeans instead. Her face looked surprisingly serene. Perhaps the unexpected daylight served to mask her madness. “Stay the hell away from me,” he finally said.

She wisely kept her distance, folded her arms across her chest, and smiled. “Relax… Marcus, right? I’m no threat to you. My name’s Alysa and I found you in the forest a few days ago. I’ve been taking care of you through the worst of your fever… but it was a challenging ordeal, to say the least. Last night was particularly bad. I almost started to believe that you weren’t going to make it. But then your fever broke this morning and… well… here we are.”

Russell raised his eyebrows in surprise and then lifted his right hand. “You… branded me last night and then have the audacity to claim that you’re no threat? And why are you acting like we haven’t met before?”

Alysa shook her head. “Ah… I see. I’ll try to explain. You’ve been in and out of consciousness… delirious with the fever. I’m really surprised that you remember me at all. And as far as your hand… you burned it on the lantern that you broke last night when you tried to hit me.”

“Bullshit, lady,” Russell said. “I remember everything. Your name’s Alysa. We spoke about my journey. You fed me chicken soup. You even tried to convince me that I was dead and we were sharing some version of hell together. And then you burned my hand.”

It was Alysa’s turn to look puzzled. “I see. Well… yes, we did speak about your travels. In fact, that was mostly what you talked about when you were feverish. I tried to talk with you on and off and shared some things about myself hoping that you would become coherent… but you kept passing out.” She motioned toward the chair. “May I sit and try to clear up what I can?”

Russell scowled at her. “I want to leave now. Are you going to try to stop me?”

“Oh, God, no,” she said as she sat down. “I don’t know exactly what’s going on in your head or what you remember, but I assure you, most of what your feeling is coming from whatever fever dreams you had. And it’s perfectly understandable that you’re on the defensive right now since this is the first time you’ve been awake… and truly aware… since I brought you here. What you’re experiencing are bits and pieces of reality mixed with whatever nightmares you were having. I imagine they felt very real… very vivid. And I want nothing more than to help you get back on your feet… believe me… this has not been fun for me either.”

“So you want me to believe that the last three nights have been… what… dreams?”

Alysa took a deep breath. “You remember my name. You remember that I fed you. But you also seem to think that I harmed you in some way, when actually, you tried to harm me… several times.”

“I couldn’t even fucking move until this morning! And you acted like a lunatic! You left me alone and promised to let me die. You even tried to seduce me!”

Alysa looked away, uncomfortable. “Wow. You really did have some wild dreams. I can assure you, Marcus, that I don’t make it a regular thing to… come on… to people I hardly know. And I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about. I’ve done nothing but try to get you well… and you were very hostile toward me when the fever was at its worst. But I don’t blame you for it. You obviously weren’t yourself.”

Russell shook his head. “No. I’m not buying it. Everything I experienced was real! I don’t know what game this is… but I’m finished. Where are my clothes?”

She raised her hands. “Okay. I get that you probably believe everything you’ve experienced was real. But let me ask you this: Was there anything that you remember that seemed… strange… and not possible? If I’m right, and you were dreaming, then you should be able to rationalize your way to the truth.”

Russell thought about the ghosts of his dead friends… and his father. Could she be telling the truth? It’s the only thing that would explain what you saw… unless you’re the crazy one. He started to calm down. “It… it was night every time we spoke. There was a storm. You were… you were there sometimes, and then you weren’t.” She was right, the more he thought about what he remembered, the more impossible some of it seemed. “I remember seeing people I knew… that shouldn’t be there. It was… disturbing.”

“Yes,” Alysa said. “That makes sense. You spoke a lot about your friends when you seemed rational. That was when I tried to engage with you. I asked you questions about them and you actually understood me. But then you would suddenly slip away. Maybe you started seeing them… wherever you drifted away to.”

“So then none of the last few nights was real? I find that hard to believe.”

Alysa shook her head. “No. Some of it was real. We did speak, but not in the way that you remember it. But the rest of it… well… it was bad. Your dreams made you lash out at me. It was rather frightening. You reminded me of someone trapped in a nightmare and I half-expected you to get up out of that bed and come after me. You seemed so awake at times… so lucid. But I realized that the fever was the cause of your outbursts. I really thought you were going to die. No matter what I did to try to talk you down, you seemed determined not to wake up. And when it looked like you were going to surface, that was the worst. You’d start screaming in the middle of the night. I’d come over to talk to you and you’d settle down… or you didn’t. And then I’d lose you again.” She looked away. “I never felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do for you but talk to you. It’s not like I could take you to the hospital… so I just fed you when you were calm and tried to keep my distance when you weren’t. But you’re better now. Thank God.” Alysa leaned back in her chair and tried to keep her composure but couldn’t keep from shaking. “I didn’t know what I’d do if you’d died. I hadn’t seen a soul in so long, and then to find someone, finally, just to have him die in my bed…”

Russell probed the face of the woman, looking for a crack in her mask. He could find nothing. She seemed… genuine. It all seemed so real! She seemed so real. And yet… the phantoms… they were just as real… or they were not. Russell took a deep breath. It’s all irrelevant now. I can move. The fever has broken. It’s time to leave.

If you don’t gut that pig before we exit stage left, boss, I will never forgive you, the other one chimed in.

Russell was surprisingly relieved to hear the savage in his head again. Where the hell were you?

Long story, boss. I’ve been busy. Busy trying to find out what this bitch’s end game was. I had to go deep… so deep I had a hard time gettin’ back.

Russell closed his eyes. Fever dreams… we’ve been having all sorts of fucking fever dreams.

The other one laughed in disbelief. Is that what this psycho’s been selling, boss?

“Was there something else, Marcus?” Alysa asked. “You don’t look well.”

“I’m just tired,” he lied. “Please… just give me a minute to digest all of this.”

“Certainly,” she said getting up. “I’ll get you something to drink.”

“That would be great.”

Don’t you dare drink from the witch’s cup, boss. She’s been spiking the punch bowl with all sorts of fucked-up shit.

Russell was alarmed. What are you talking about?

She’s been keeping you sick, boss. Sounds like someone else we used to know… remember?

Russell clenched his left fist. If the other one was correct, there was no force in nature that would stop him from decorating the walls of this cabin with Alysa’s blood.

How do you know this? he asked.

The other one laughed. Because the witch doesn’t know about me, boss. Her potions don’t work on little old me. She’s been playin’ you the whole time. And another thing, boss… she knows who you really are.

Russell tensed up. Explain.

We’ve been here a whole hell of a lot longer than three fuckin’ nights, boss. I had to go deep in that fucked-up head of yours to find out the truth. But it ain’t pretty. She’s been drugging you with some powerful shit. The kinda’ shit that puts you in a very suggestive place where someone skilled at fishin’ can ask all sorts of questions and get whatever answers she wants. The kinda’ shit that makes Lucy in that fuckin’ sky of diamonds look like an aspirin. That story of ours you’ve been tellin’ her, you’ve told it several times already, but not the edited PG version you remember. She knows more than she’s lettin’ on, but wants you to think she doesn’t know shit… just whatever you told her these last three nights when she let you come out of the damn near coma state she’s been keepin’ you in. Translation: This bitch is fuckin’ dangerous. She’s tryin’ to mind-fuck you to death, boss.

Russell was calculating.

Alysa returned with a cup of water. She handed it to Russell and then sat back down. “If you’re hungry, I can make you some soup. Just let me know.”

“Thank you.” Russell pretended to take a sip from the cup. “How’s my leg? I remember that it was broken and that you had splinted it. Was that real?”

“Yes. It was pretty bad. You took a nasty fall from a cliff near here.”

“I remember… I remember that we discussed that.” Russell thought about his chest injuries and how well the gashes had healed so quickly. He wanted to pull down his sheet to investigate, but chose to play ignorant for the time being.

Alysa studied his every motion like a hawk. She smiled and asked, “Is there anything else you remember that I can help clear up?”

She’s already interrogating you again, boss. Better make your move soon.

Russell tried to move his legs. He still felt sluggish but he believed he could swing them off the bed if required.

“Not too much, now,” Alysa urged. “I know you’re dying to get up, but you need to take it easy. I don’t want you to over exert yourself.”

“Could you help me sit up? I’m sick of lying in this damn bed.”

Alysa’s face changed for a moment. Something unfamiliar surfaced and then it was gone. She smiled and stood up. “Let’s get you something to eat first so you can build up your strength. Then, I’ll get you a chair. How does that sound?”

Boss, you eat that shit and you’ll go back to bed-times stories after midnight again.

Russell frowned. “Let’s just hold off on the food for now. I don’t feel hungry at the moment.”

She laughed and started toward the fire place. “Don’t be silly. You haven’t eaten in a while. You need-”

“I need you to sit the fuck back down,” Russell said. “I told you, I’m not hungry.”

Alysa raised her hands in surrender and turned back toward the chair. She sat back down. “Fine! No need to get vulgar with me. I’m only trying to help!”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I do appreciate your help. It’s just that… I’m anxious to get out of this bed and back to my group. They need my help and I feel like I’ve been here long enough already.”

Alysa frowned. “You’re still in no condition to wander around outside yet. What do you want to do… hurt yourself again?”

“My friends have a doctor. If you could just help me get to them, they could get me some real medicine.”

She looked concerned. “You mean, you want me to leave this place?”

“You said it yourself, I’m the only person you’ve seen in a long time. Fuck this place. Help me get back and you can join our group. You won’t have to be alone anymore.”

“That does sound tempting.” She got up and started pacing. “And… and they’ll accept me?”

“Absolutely. Especially when they discover how much you’ve helped me stay alive these past few days.”

She shook her head. “No. Not yet. You still need to rest. If I try to move you now, your fever could return. Let’s just wait another day or two, then we can-”

“I’ve already been here long enough.” Russell said. He tossed the cup on the floor and sat up. He started to move his legs toward the edge of the bed. “I won’t spend one more fucking night here. Are we clear?”

Alysa looked irritated. She folded her arms. “Marcus, you need to stop what you’re doing and lie back down… right now.”

Suck on it, you crazy cunt! the other one thought.

“Alysa, I’m leaving. Help me.”

“I won’t. It’s not safe out there.”

He looked at her. “Then at least get me my stuff. I’ll go alone.”

“You’re sick. You won’t make it very far.”

Russell was growing tired of this game. “I seem to be gaining my strength back… rather suddenly. Perhaps if you’d stopped poisoning me with the fucking soup sooner, I could’ve been back with my friends by now.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Alysa started stepping closer to the bed.

“How long?” he asked.

“Excuse me?”

“How long have I really been here? I know it’s been more than three damn nights.” He removed the bed sheet to examine his leg. She had dressed him in what looked like a hospital gown. His leg was still in the make-shift splint. Russell began to remove the cloth bindings from around two flat pieces of wood that ran from the top of his calf down past his foot. They looked like they’d been torn off a wooden chair. If he could get his hands on one, Russell believed he could snap the wood in half at an angle and then he’d have a weapon. His foot looked swollen around the ankle, but he suspected that it wasn’t broken at all, merely sprained… or so he hoped.

Alysa laughed. “Okay, you got me. You’ve been here a while… but that wasn’t my doing. And as far as poisoning you… well… I gave you pain killers… that’s all. And please… stop taking the splint off.” She took another step closer.

She’ll make a move soon, boss. Better be ready.

Russell got one piece of wood free and then laid it on the bed beside him. When she got close enough, he would grab it, break it, and then stab the witch in the throat. He paused to take a deep breath, feigning that he was going into a relapse. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. I’m not feeling too hot.”

“I told you,” she said. “You’re trying to do too much and your body isn’t ready yet.” She stepped in closer but remained just out of his reach.

He looked at her hard. “Please, Alysa. Tell me the truth. How long have I been here?”

Alysa sighed. “Three weeks.”

Told ‘ya, boss! Three fuckin’ weeks and you only remember the last three nights! She’s probably been doping you every evening so she can ride the pony for free as many times as she wants… hell, that’s what I’d do!

Russell did not have the time to consider the implications of being this crazy woman’s prisoner for the last three weeks. But it certainly wasn’t a pleasant prospect. Regardless of what came next, Russell knew that he would have to gain an advantage quickly and kill this woman.

“Why can’t I remember the last three weeks, Alysa? And don’t tell me it was the fever. I think you and I both know that dog won’t hunt any longer.”

She stared at him for a long moment as if trying to figure out what manner of man Russell was. When it looked like she was about to step inside his kill zone, Alysa stepped back instead, being mindful to keep her eyes on him the entire time.

Shit, boss. So much for that plan.

Alysa stepped back near the window and continued to stare at him as she crossed her hands behind her back. Her face was unreadable.

She knows. She sensed that I was about to harm her and then moved far enough away to make any attempt ineffective. Even if I got to my feet, I couldn’t get to her fast enough on this bad ankle before she had time to counter with a move of her own. Russell began recalculating his kill plan.

At last, she finally spoke. “I must admit, I wasn’t prepared for this reaction after weaning you off the psychosis cocktail last night.” She sounded calm… detached and a little cold. “I have no idea how you’re able to resist the combination of drugs I’ve pumped into your system these past weeks. Your mind should be mush by now, easily malleable, and suffering from extreme memory loss. But you… you’ve managed to retain more than you should. It’s baffling, and a little frustrating considering how much effort I’ve wasted on bringing you to this point.”

Russell had no response. He simply continued to calculate while letting this predator speak. As long as she kept talking, he would eventually find his opportunity. But first, he needed off this bed.

Alysa sighed again. “Please just stop trying to figure out how you’re going to kill me already. I assure you, there’s nothing you can do before I stop you first.” She reached into her pocket and retrieved a small box. She then removed a small safety cover over one of three buttons and pushed it. A small red light began to blink on the box.

From what Russell could see, the box looked like a remote control of some sort. “What’s that?”

Alysa smiled. “One of the coolest perks about this new world is that you can get your hands on just about anything if you look hard enough for it. This is a detonator. I just armed it. I can set off the explosives that are strapped to the bottom of your bed any time I wish. I suppose it’s a bit dramatic and I could’ve just held a gun to your head, but I believe this makes my point much more clear. There’s enough C-4 beneath you to blow this whole fucking cabin off the map… and then you really will be sharing this hell with me. The irony is beautiful, don’t you think?”

Shit. Russell considered if she was bluffing. “So if I wanted to kill you, then you just made it easy, assuming I don’t give a shit whether I live or die. That seems like an awfully big gamble since you don’t know a damn thing about me, crazy lady.”

“On the contrary, Marcus… or should I say, Russell, I know quite a bit about you. And… from what I’ve just shared with you… now you know that you are not the only one ready and willing to die for a cause. I think my point is clear… you get off the bed before I’m ready for you to get off that bed, we will both be dying on my terms… and I’m perfectly fine with that.”

~~~

Next Episode 37-15

Previous Episode 37-13

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 37-14: 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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