~~~

Voices.

She can hear their cold, detached voices talking about her as if she’s not in the room. The hum of indifferent machines hooked up to various places on her body make her feel less human. Her hands and feet are strapped to the gurney. She is blindfolded. Megan knows she’s in some sort of operating room, but that’s all she knows.

They have poked and prodded her with needles, taking blood out of her body, injecting fluids in. She’s knows that these sadistic voices belong to the enemy… and that they only care about her baby.

One of them, she suspects he’s some kind of doctor, is back between her legs, reaching within her again with his gloved callous fingers. She tries to resist the invasion of her body, but the powerful sedatives have destroyed her ability to fight back.

Get out! Leave my child alone!

They don’t hear her desperate thoughts. They ignore her silent tears escaping the blindfold. Megan has never felt so helpless.

Lucas is dead! They… They killed him!

She tries to remember the rest but her mind is mush. She knows in her heart that she is alone now.

“We’re running out of time,” the male doctor says. “Prep her for Phase Two.”

The other voice is female. Megan assumes she is a nurse. “But the specimen is far too early. We’re supposed to wait until she’s near full term-”

“I know the situation,” the evil doctor interrupts. “We’ve been discovered. The plan has changed. There’s no time to wait. Inject her and let’s get this over with. If it dies with the infected carrier, the research will still be valid.”

The nurse seems hesitant. “It’s damn wasteful… and you know it. You know how long we’ve been waiting for this one.”

“Just do it! There’s no time!”

Infected carrier! Megan’s mind screams. They’re talking about me!

She can’t move. She can’t resist.

The needle is injected into her arm. She can feel her insides starting to burn immediately.

No!

Megan feels the virus invading her blood stream… changing her from mother to monster.

NO!

“Watch the eyes, now,” the doctor says. “If the specimen doesn’t grant the carrier immunity… we’ll see it first in her eyes.”

The nurse sighs heavily. “It’s happening.”

“What? Already?”

“We need to move her… now,” she says.

“Shit! We need to check the specimen first and find out if it survives the transformation.”

Megan feels a cold glob of goo on her belly, followed by a gadget pressing against her stomach. She’s familiar with the process. They’re performing an ultra-sound.

“Well?” the doctor asks impatiently.

“Hold on,” the nurse says.

Megan feels the infection coursing through her body. It reaches her brain. She struggles against it but the madness is almost immediate. She starts to struggle violently against her restraints.

“Fuck!” the nurse says. “She’s just like the others. The infection is attacking the specimen from the inside. The carrier has rejected the child… it’s… it’s like her body is consuming itself.”

“It’s happening,” the doctor confirms. “She’s bleeding down here.”

Megan no longer comprehends their words. She can only smell the blood from the miscarriage, driving her insane with…

~~~

…hunger.

Megan’s eyes shot open. She immediately rolled off the mattress, screaming, as she stood up and started swinging her arms defensively at the air, howling at demons only she could see.

“Megan!” Meredith shouted through the glass. “It’s alright, honey! You’re just having a nightmare!”

The young woman stared across at Meredith. She was breathing heavily, trying to regain control. At first, she saw the older woman and wanted to ram the glass, but then… she remembered.

I’m not a monster! she shouted in her thoughts, pushing back against her infected brain. I’M NOT A MONSTER! Megan fell to her knees and grabbed the sides of her head. Her thoughts turned to Lucas, and then to her dead child. She screamed again, but this time, it wasn’t a monstrous wail… but one coming from deep grief.

Meredith touched the glass with both her hands. She wanted to race in there and hold her. “Just hang on, Megan! It will pass! I know it hurts to remember all those awful things… but you need to remember… you need the pain to help you fight it… to help you fight what’s going on inside of you.”

“I… I don’t want to fight… I want to die! Please… just let me die!”

“I can’t do that, honey,” Meredith said. “We need you to fight… come back to us, Megan!”

Megan pounded on the ground with her fists. Her insides were on fire… a constant consuming fire that wanted to burn the rest of her humanity away, forever. “I’m… so… HUNGRY!!!”

Meredith closed her eyes. She hated herself for saying the rest, but using the girl’s pain, now that her memory was returning, was the only thing keeping Megan from giving in. “Remember your child, Megan. Remember that the fire consumed your child… it killed your child!”

“NO!!!” Megan screamed. “I don’t… I don’t want to… remember! I just want to-”

“Fight it, Megan! Fight the monster within! Remember what it did to your baby!”

Megan howled in frustration. She remembered. She remembered that her own body betrayed her and that it killed… she… had consumed her own child before it ever had a chance to be born.

“NO! I won’t! I won’t let you… take me, too!” she said.

“That’s it, Megan!” Meredith encouraged. “Fight it! Fight the hunger! Fight it with all you have left… do it for your child! Do it for Lucas! You need to live… for them!”

After several agonizing seconds of intense rage, fueling the infection’s fire at war within her, Megan finally calmed down. Her breathing stabilized, and then she passed out on the floor.

“This is too much,” Coop said from behind Meredith. “How can you watch this girl suffer?”

Meredith didn’t turn around. She continued to stare at Megan, her heart bleeding for her. “She needs the suffering right now,” she said. “It’s all she has of who she was. She needs to feel it, accept it, and then forge it into a weapon.”

“To what end?”

Meredith turned, tears streaming down her face. “She needs it to fight her way back to us.”

Coop frowned and nodded. “And you? How long can you suffer with her?”

Meredith smiled, wiping the tears away. “As long as she needs me to.”

Coop moved in and wrapped his arms around the exhausted woman.

Meredith collapsed into his embrance and wept. She was mentally and emotionally drained.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “That’s enough for this round. You need to get some rest. Doctor’s orders.”

“She’s going to make it, Coop,” she said. “We just have to… we just need to keep on believing… even if she doesn’t.”

Coop wisely remained silent. He stared into the glass cage at the tormented half-dead woman. My God, he thought. If that were me in there, I’d want to eat a bullet to get of this hell. If that girl ever gets all of it back… all of those memories of what happened to her… and what she truly is… Finally, he said, “If… excuse me… when Megan comes back, she’s going to need a damn good reason to keep on breathing now… if that’s what we can call it.”

Meredith looked into his face. “And we’ll help her find it, Coop. We will.”

He smiled half-heartedly. “Of course, you’re right.”

She gave him a look. “She’s close. I’ve been inside this mind before… I know how it feels. She can come back from this. Don’t you dare give up now.”

Coop laughed. “And face the wrath of Meredith Montgomery? I wouldn’t dream of it.”

She hit him lightly in the shoulder and then grabbed his cheeks. “I almost lost you. For that… I’m… I’m so sorry.”

“Can it,” he said, pulling away. “That wasn’t your fault. We both did what we had to do to protect that girl. I’d do it again, too.”

She smiled. “You would, too. That’s how you made a believer out of me.”

“Come again?”

“You’re a good, kind, and patient man, Arnold. You have a big heart in a cold world. That’s make you extremely rare.”

“Stop it.”

“That’s how you won me over. That’s why I love you.”

He sighed nervously, took a step back, and said, “Well… then I guess I better get on with it, then. Before I tick you off and you change your high opinion of me tomorrow.”

“What are you up to, Coop?”

He removed a small case from his lab coat and got down on one knee.

Meredith gasped. “What… what are you doing?”

“Just let me do this,” he said. “Before I lose my nerve.”

She nodded.

He opened the small case, revealing a ring. “Meredith Montgomery, I love you. If I’ve learned anything worthwhile in this crazy new world, it’s that time is something we aren’t allowed to waste anymore, second guessing our hearts. What we have is now, this moment, not the next one, and I want as much of you in this moment as I can get. Call me greedy, I don’t care. Marry me… or else.”

Meredith put her hands to her mouth. She knelt down in front of Coop and laughed. “You have such a way with words. How could I dare refuse?” She kissed him and said, “Yes, Arnold Cooper, I will marry you.”

Coop’s face lit up as he put the ring on her finger. “That was harder to do than open-heart surgery,” he confessed.

“But long overdue,” she said with a smile. “I love you.” She looked at the diamond ring. “Where do you ever find this?”

“I’ve been holding on to this since Andover. Turns out they had a little jewelry shop in town. I left the shop owner an I.O.U. note.” He gave her a wink.

Meredith laughed. “You’re just full of surprises.”

He smiled. “I guess it’s convenient that we have a live-in preacher. What are the odds?”

She laughed. “I’d say that you and I… we’ve overcome the odds quite nicely.”

They kissed again and then held each other tightly. And in that moment, a very bright light blinded the eyes of a very dark world.

~~~

Next Episode 38-4

Previous Episode 38-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 38-3: Healing” 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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