~~~

Fall 1973

The basement felt cold and lifeless, like the rest of the orphanage, which was not really an orphanage. The fifteen-year-old girl with long black hair and an odd streak of white that ran across her bangs sat on her knees in the center of the large play mat with letters of the alphabet imprinted on it, taking deep breaths. Miss Evans had always instructed her to do this when she was on the verge of losing control.

The only problem was… she’d already lost control.

The young girl examined the large room, staring at the half circle of ancient toys scattered before the four large doll cases lined up against the back wall. She’d never been down here before—always knew about it—but had never been… invited.

She scanned the faces of the four strange dolls: One had long blond curls and probing blue eyes; the next was a boy clown with a funny red hat and a sad face; the third resembled an animal—maybe a tiger or a cat? Her gaze rested firmly on the last one. It was the smallest doll with a large head and wild brown hair. Its eyes oddly reminded her of Meredith’s eyes, with black circles surrounding them like it never slept. The face was old and young at the same time, revealing both wisdom and a naïve little girl haunted by some eternal nightmare.

She knew exactly who this was.

“Hello, Toby,” the young girl whispered.

The doll did not respond.

“I… I know I’m not supposed to be down here… but I had to come,” the girl said.

The strange little doll continued to stare back at her.

“Do you still remember me? It’s Clem. Do you remember how you used to talk to me in my dreams… when you told me I was… special?”

Toby did not respond.

Clem let out an exhausted sigh. “You told me that I was the one… that I was going to be important in the days to come… but then… you left me all alone… and I don’t know why you did that. I was patient, just like you told me. Even when the other girls came, and you invited them down here, but not me, I was still patient. But then you stopped speaking to me… and my dreams… my dreams were so terrifying after you left. Why won’t you talk to me, Toby? What did I do wrong?”

The doll remained still.

Clem looked to her left. Meredith was lying on the mat beside her. The thirteen-year-old still hadn’t regained consciousness—perhaps she never would—and no matter how hard Clem tried to invade her thoughts and bring her back, her abilities proved useless. For Clem, getting into Meredith’s mind was like slamming into a thick steel door she could not breach. She had nearly destroyed the girl attempting to do so.

Clem looked back at the doll. “See, I brought her back to you. Even after… I brought her right to you and I thought you’d be pleased. Are you happy with me, Toby? Did I… did I do good?”

Toby said nothing.

Clem’s blood-splattered face grew dark. “How can you still be mad at me… after all I’ve done? Even when you chose her over me… I still didn’t freak out! I tried to help her… just like all the others. Wasn’t I even good then? Will I ever be good? WILL I EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH?!” She forced herself to calm down. Tears started forming in her eyes. Clem started to raise her hands to wipe them away, then stopped. Her hands were covered in blood. Clem held them out and stared at them as if realizing it for the first time. She glanced down at her blood-stained sundress. Clem looked back at the doll, her eyes glaring, her mouth forming a frightening frown. “Do you see what I did? Do you see all the trouble I’ve caused?”

Toby did not.

Clem’s face turned red. She shouted, “DAMN YOU, TOBY! WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER ME?! WHY WON’T YOU TALK TO ME AND TELL ME EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY?”

The young girl could feel it—the fire within her coming alive. It was not a comforting fire, but a blazing inferno needing to destroy something. It took all Clem had not to lash out at the fucking doll.

She let loose a wicked smile and nodded. “Fine. But you will talk to me. I’m the only one left.” She looked down at Meredith. “She can’t talk to anybody now… just like the others.” She looked back at the doll. “You made sure of that, didn’t you?”

For a moment, Clem thought the doll smiled at her.

Clem held her bloody hands out toward the doll case. “This is all your fault! If you’d talked to me… like before… none of this would’ve happened!” She stared back down at her comatose friend and started to weep. “And when you left me all alone… she was all I had left. And now… and now you’re trying to take her away from me, too!” She glared at the doll. “But I won’t let you, Toby. Do you hear me?”

In Clem’s mind, the strange little doll stared back defiantly.

The angry young woman balled her hands into bloody fists, about to explode into another tantrum. “No! I will not let you have her! She’s my best friend! My only friend! She’s mine… do you hear? I’ll destroy her, too, before I let you take her from me!”

Toby ignored her.

“I said… she’s mine! I will destroy you, too, Toby… if I have to! Don’t make me have to! She’s my friend… and I want her back! MEREDITH IS…

~~~

…MINE!!!”

The ancient-looking woman opened her eyes in the dark and gloomy airport hangar and wrapped her long red robe around her frail body as if winter had suddenly returned. After a moment, she smiled and whispered, “Damn dreams. One day, I will figure out how to rid myself of you, too.”

She slowly rose from the floor from what was supposed to be her daily period of meditation, until her body had betrayed her and drawn her into the erratic dreamscape instead. Lady Clementine scanned the dusty and vacant hangar, staring at the few particle-infested beams of sunlight that managed to breach the space. She approached one of the covered windows, bracing her eyes for the sunlight. She reached out with one bony hand and pulled the dark curtain back just enough to peer outside.

As usual, there was nothing to see but a portion of the long and narrow landing strip and a couple of armed men that stiffened up slightly when passing her location, wanting to appear… vigilant.

She frowned at the partly cloudy sky. Clementine preferred overcast days right before it rained. To her, it seemed appropriate considering the dark shroud that covered the world now. Sunny days and star-filled evenings were for poets, dreamers, and small children—none of them having any place in this world any longer.

She let the curtain fall back in disgust and turned back toward her small nook in the corner of the hangar which consisted of a cot, some clothing and a large locked chest. This was where she slept when she had to… and her sleep was always infested with nightmares that felt more like portents these days. Honestly, she could care less, if she continued to wake up from these dark periods of rest that her body required.

Clementine sat down on the end of her bed, folding her hands into her lap. She considered the latest dream and shook her head. “Meredith.” She spoke the name as if trying to decide how it tasted in her mouth. Ever since discovering her old friend alive and hiding underground before the winter, Clementine had visited the past frequently. She’d accidentally almost had her once, shortly after the outbreak, when her cell group was still tasked with various meaningless tests on the surviving population. Apparently, Meredith had been with a small group at a marina in Fairport Harbor that her cell had been assigned to, but she’d missed the opportunity to dispose of her then because she’d never sensed her presence there… at all.

The old woman, who was much younger than her appearance displayed, chuckled, and thought, That’s just like you, Meredith. You’ve always been exceptionally skilled at hiding… especially from me. I wonder, is that how you avoided the dead for as long as you did? Surely you sense them, as I do… but you found a way to block them out, didn’t you? And by doing so, you shut me out… again.

Clementine unconsciously balled her hands into fists. She caught herself doing it and then laughed. “Damn! Even now that girl can get me all fired up!” Obviously, Meredith wasn’t a thirteen-year-old girl any longer, but it was hard for Clementine to think of her as old… like herself. “Did you struggle with your ‘gifts’ like I did, Meredith? And did your flesh pay the price?”

She tried to picture her old friend hobbling along through this life, a force to be reckoned with, trapped in a perishing body… but she couldn’t.

“I don’t know how you stayed away for as long as you did… how you didn’t succumb to what you can’t deny about yourself… but whatever happened, I’m sure you did all you could to pretend you were just a normal woman.” Clementine rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively into the air. “A foolish woman is all you’ve become with no place in this world.”

But deep down, as much as she wanted this to be the truth, she knew that Meredith was important.

“Yes… yes… you’ve always been so damn important, Meredith,” Clementine mocked. “Because, unlike me, you were picked by the Master, himself, to be his special… special… girl. The girl with all the best talents… destined for greatness… who wanted nothing to do with any of it.” She laughed. “What a fucking joke!”

Someone was knocking on one of the hangar doors.

Relieved by the distraction, Clementine got up and moved to the center of the hangar. She sat down in her meditative, and hopefully, less intimidating position on the floor, straightened out her robes to look all ‘leader-like’, and then called out, “Come!”

A heavily armed man wearing a tactical bulletproof vest and helmet, stood just inside the door, bowed respectfully, and said, “Sorry to disturb you, Lady Clementine.”

“What is it?” she said with annoyance.

“The visitor you’ve been expecting has just arrived,” the soldier said. “As instructed, you wanted us to let you know the moment she arrived.”

Clementine smiled from ear to ear. Finally, she thought. A useful distraction.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” she barked. “Bring her to me immediately.”

The soldier bowed once more and then quickly departed.

Clementine closed her eyes and prepared her mind for what she hoped was a ‘challenging’ discussion with her new guest. Of course, if things went badly, she was equally preparing herself to destroy the next person who entered the hangar.

The hangar door opened as a familiar form filled the entrance.

Clementine smiled, holding her arms out wide. “Welcome back, my wayward daughter!” she said. “It’s been far too long.”

“Don’t call me that,” the woman at the door snapped. “You know I hate that… and you’re not my mother.”

Clementine gave her a pouty face and then laughed. “Calm down, Alysa. Let’s not exchange harsh words. Please… come and sit with me. We’ve much to discuss.”

The former Shadow Dead warrior sighed heavily, placed her black bow and quiver just inside the door to appear less threatening, and then approached the old but very dangerous woman—who also just happened to be the second in command of both the Ama-Eskua… and of course… Mother.

~~~

Next Episode 46-2

Previous Episode 45-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 46-1: Clementine” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Five: Remains. 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.

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