~~~

FALL 1973

The strange and tragic incident over the summer, involving the complete mental breakdown of Claudia, one of the older girls at the orphanage—which wasn’t really an orphanage—followed shortly after by the mysterious disappearance of their newest sister, Meredith, created an air of suspicion and mistrust among the girls. Everyone, including the staff, suspected young Clementine’s involvement in both matters, but since there was no proof, nothing could be done but carry on and try to rebound collectively.

Both Miss Evans, the primary caretaker and educator, and Dr. Candice Forrester, resident physician and counselor, tried their best to motivate the girls to put the past behind them and carry on with their studies. But every time Clem, who had become more withdrawn ever since Meredith’s absence, made her mandatory appearances among the other girls, it was like the scab over the wound of that summer being ripped off all over again, making it difficult to forget what had happened.

All that was said explaining Meredith’s disappearance was that the young girl had been so upset by what had happened to Claudia, she’d decided to run away. And of course, no one was buying it. There had been other girls in the past who had come and gone under similar mysterious circumstances.

Clem had been Meredith’s biggest advocate, refusing to simply accept the bullshit story Miss Evans told them. She had continuously badgered the staff, questioning why they hadn’t made a stronger attempt to locate the runaway girl. But either they’d all been briefed in what, and what not to say, or they were told to keep an extra careful eye on Clem and keep her inquiries at a distance.

Only Michael Finch, the orphanage recruiter and activities director, appeared as concerned as Clem, but he, too, went out of his way to avoid Clem. In fact, the long-haired, red-headed staff member who usually enjoyed spending as much time as he could with the girls, was unusually absent once autumn arrived, making many of the girls wonder if Michael, who was well-liked by everyone, would even return.

One late evening, Clem woke from another restless night in her bedroom. She decided to head out back and take a walk into the vast fields beyond the recreation area to get her mind clear. As of late, she’d been taking many late-night strolls by herself and often considered running away and searching for Meredith. But she’d never been away from the orphanage, and the outside world terrified her too much to brave the attempt.

When she went outside Clem discovered she wasn’t alone. As she crossed the volleyball nets and climbed up to the top of a grassy hill overlooking the fields beyond, she noticed an individual carrying what looked like a child toward the wood line bordering the eastern side of the property. The individual was too far away to identify, but the full moon above had illuminated the stranger’s movements crossing the center of the first large field.

Immediately alarmed, Clem foolishly rushed down into the field, rather than alert the staff first, fearing that some intruder had abducted one of her sisters while she slept. After gaining ground on the intruder, Clem called out. “Hey! Stop right there, whoever you are! This is private property!”

The intruder stopped, appearing out of breath. By now, Clem could tell that it was a man as she dared to get closer. The man turned around to confront her, still holding someone in his arms.

Clem’s eyes went wide with surprise when she got within fifty feet of the stranger. She stopped and said, “Michael?”

Michael Finch stood there, gasping for breath, his hair a disheveled mess. In his arms he held Meredith’s frail and unconscious body. The young missing girl was wearing a white nightgown.

Clem recognized her and then glared at Michael with such intensity that the man feared her eyes would set him on fire.

“Clem,” Michael said. “What are you doing out here? It’s late. Go back inside.”

“That’s Meredith,” Clem said, stepping closer. “Why are you holding her like that? What’s happened? Did you find her out here?”

Michael’s usual jovial expression was absent. In its place was a face mixed with fear and exhaustion. His eyes looked haunted and very far away. “Clem… you need to go back inside now. I’m… I’m taking Meredith away from this awful place.”

“What the hell do you mean?” Clem took another few steps closer as Michael countered by stepping back. “What do you mean you’re ‘taking Meredith away’?”

“It’s not safe for her here, Clem. It’s not safe for any of you. There’s things happening here that you just don’t know.” Michael looked desperate. His attention was split between the young girl in his arms, the wood line behind him, and the unstable failed science experiment who stood before him now. “Does anyone know you’re out here, Clem? Shit… of course they do. I’m an idiot for even trying this.”

“No,” she said. “I’m alone. I come out here a lot.”

“No, Clem,” he said. “You’re not alone. None of you are ever alone.”

The young woman with black hair tied back, her white streak hanging down in front of her eyes, had no idea what to make of Michael’s comments. All she knew was that her friend was still here. “Is… is she hurt? Why are you carrying her like that?”

Michael looked down at the unconscious girl and frowned. “She’s okay,” he said, looking back at Clem. “Or… she will be alright after I get her far away from here. It’s all taken a heavy toll on her body… especially her mind.”

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s no time, Clem. I have to leave now. We both do. If you care for your friend, then you’ll turn around, go back, and tell no one you saw us out here. Okay?”

Clem couldn’t stop staring at the young girl in Michael’s arms. She looked so vulnerable and fragile. “I don’t know what’s going on or what you’re talking about, but you need to bring her back to the house. Meredith looks sick… she needs help.”

“And that’s what I’m doing, Clem. I’m going to get her help. And then I’m going to find a way to get the rest of you help, too.”

“You’re not making any sense, Michael. You make this place sound… bad.”

“It is bad, Clem. You’re a clever girl. Somewhere deep inside, you must know that.”

“Stop it!” she said. “This is my home. I don’t care what you’re doing, just… put Meredith down… and leave. I’ll pretend I never saw you… but you can’t come back… ever.”

Michael’s face turned to stone. “I can’t do that, Clem. Not anymore. I’m done pretending that what we’ve been doing here to all you girls is justified.” As an afterthought, he added, “Why don’t you just come with us. I’ll get both of you out of here… assuming it’s not too late.”

Clem’s face grew hard. She was getting angry. “I’m not going anywhere with you! Put Meredith down… NOW!”

Michael let out a heavy sigh. His frustration was destroying his patience with the dangerous girl. “I can’t do that… and I won’t. Turn around now and go back inside!”

“NO!”

“Do what I say… or Miss Evans will-”

“Miss Evans won’t do anything,” Clem said, stepping closer. “I’m sure she’d love to know what you’re doing though.”

“Clem…” Michael pushed cautiously, stepping back. “Back off, now. Don’t do anything… foolish.”

“You’re not taking her,” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “No. She’s my best friend and you’re not taking her from me… not again.”

Michael gave her a hard look and finished, “We’re leaving, Clem. Goodbye.” Michael turned and started back toward the woods. The activities director’s shoulders tensed up, as if expecting a bullet to the back.

Clem was the loaded gun.

The young girl blew the streak of white hair from her bangs in frustration. As she watched Michael take Meredith toward the woods, she never felt so helpless and alone. From deep within the volatile girl, her emotions began to bubble on the surface of the volcano. Beneath that, from the dark places Miss Evans had warned her to leave alone, Clem knew she could stop them. But once she tapped into that darkness, there was no going back. She took a few steps forward and shouted, “You stop! Stop right now or I’ll… do something very bad!”

Michael stopped but refused to turn back around. After a long pause, the activities director started walking again, appearing to ignore Clem.

This only infuriated the black-haired tempest. She closed her eyes and reached into the forbidden void.

Don’t do it, Clem. The plea from her conscience sounded like Meredith’s voice. You do this… and there’s no turning back. Everything will change.

Clem struggled to focus. This was much more difficult than what she’d done to the bitch, Claudia. That assault on the mouthy girl had only required a fraction of Clem’s abilities on a much weaker and fragile mind, pushing at the boundaries of what she feared and essentially creating a breach in that boundary. But what was needed now would do more than break Michael’s grip on sanity… it could possibly kill him. She’d never attempted to invade the mind of an adult before; someone who had years to erect thick mental walls to separate themselves from their own dark secrets.

Clem entered the vast and dense jungle of Finch’s mind, hacking away at it like a machete, until she found a vulnerable repressed memory.

Michael stopped and turned around. The look of surprise mixed with terror on his face was enough to almost make Clem pull back, like a dared young girl who’d been caught entering a haunted house by the very ghost who haunted it.

“Clem?” Michael’s voice sounded strange. “Whatever you’re doing… please… stop.”

It was too late. The dangers associated with invading the mind of another, especially if such a mind were aware of the intrusion, was that if you showed hesitation, that mind’s mental defenses would immediately retaliate against what was foreign. Clem could easily lose herself in the canyons of Michael’s dark thoughts and never get out. A little push would not suffice now. She would have to plant an explosive in Finch’s mind, sending his brain into a state of anarchy, and hope she could escape the burning building in time.

Michael was about to speak but stopped. His mouth simply hung open as he stared past Clem—his face, contorting into a disfigured mask representing the real Michael Finch… the one that even Michael had long since forgotten.

For Clem, it was a horrifying face, causing her to look back over her shoulder, expecting to see the very monster she’d tapped into from his childhood standing right behind her.

He’d been sexually molested as a child by a neighbor… repeatedly. Clem had been there, felt his confusion, his fear, experienced all of it through the eyes of a much younger Finch who had no idea what was being done to him. Clem had not only brought the repressed memory forward, she’d altered it. What was once an overpowering disgusting older man with stale whisky on his breath had changed into a hideous shadow beast three times the size of the offender with big red eyes and bloody teeth. The image was something Clem had borrowed from one of Dr. Forrester’s disturbing paintings from the house.

For the first time in Finch’s life, he was forced to confront this horrible memory… believing he’d been preyed upon by an actual… monster.

Michael nearly stumbled forward, managing to fall to his knees before dropping Meredith. He absently laid the unconscious girl down and stared down into the grass, immediately lost in the possibility that his whole life had been a lie, founded on the fact that he’d been hunted by a demon his whole childhood—a demon who had finally found him.

Clem continued to alter and elevate the beast in Michael’s thoughts as if she were directly attacking his mind through the monster. The red-eyed shadow beast opened its gigantic jaw, reached down, and dug its fangs into his face.

Michael grabbed at his face. He was screaming.

Clem immediately retreated from Michael’s mind before the horrifying beast she’d created turned on her. Once free from the darkness, Clem fell to the ground, gasping for air as if finally breaching the surface of some cold black sea. She turned toward the screaming man.

Finch was rolling around on the ground, struggling with a demon who was not there. He continued to scream, sending chills all up and down Clem’s body.

What have I done?

Finch managed to look up and make eye contact with her. His eyes were red… and bleeding. The veins in his face had bulged. His fear had grown so intense it became tangible… alive… and was consuming him from the inside out.

Clem put her hands to her face and started to weep.

And then, it was over. Finch collapsed to the ground. His overwhelmed mind had completely shut down as a last and futile defense. Michael Finch was dead.

Clem, exhausted, crawled over to Meredith’s limp body and was relieved to see the slow rise and fall of her chest. She continued to weep as she laid down beside the unconscious girl, looking for physical comfort, as if waking from a horrible nightmare.

“What have you done?”

The accusing voice came from the crest of the hill behind her.

Clem raised her head.

Miss Evans glared at her from a hastily thrown on bathrobe. Beside her were two armed men dressed in white. “You… you… nasty little beast!” Miss Evans hissed, staring at Michael’s body and then back toward Clem.

“I… didn’t mean to…” Clem had reverted into a frightened child who’d just been caught stealing a car after running someone over—unaware of the lethal power she possessed until it was far too late.

“We should have exterminated you long ago, girl,” Miss Evans said. Her voice sounded foreign and menacing in Clem’s ears. This was the real Miss Evans, finally unmasked—the contempt she held for Clem made plain.

Clem rose to her knees, noticing the armed men. “Stay… stay away from me!”

Miss Evans nodded to the men. They raised what looked like automatic rifles toward her direction but aimed low.

She’s going to kill me! Clem started becoming angry again.

“Move away from Meredith,” Miss Evan ordered. “Do it, girl. NOW!”

Clem looked down at the unconscious girl in front of her and understood. The only reason she wasn’t dead yet was because they didn’t want to risk shooting Toby’s chosen one.

Clem’s face grew dark. She glared back at Miss Evans. “You never cared about me!” she shouted. “You only care about her!

Miss Evans and the armed men took a cautious step back.

“Calm down, Clem,” Miss Evans said, replacing her mask. “I didn’t mean what I said. I’m just very… angry with you.” She pointed to Finch. “Look what you’ve done. I thought we were making such great progress with you… until now.”

Clem refused to look at Michael. She couldn’t. “He tried to take her away,” she defended. “I… I had to stop him.”

“Sure. I understand. But you need to move away from her now. Meredith’s in trouble.”

Others were coming up the hill from the house. Miss Evans turned and yelled, “Stay back, girls! Go back inside this instant!”

But it was too late. The others reached the top of the hill, saw Clem, Meredith… and then the body of Michael Finch.

They gasped in disbelief. Some started to cry. Others were speaking in horrified whispers and pointing at Clem.

Clem felt it all. She felt their hate.

“Didn’t you hear a word I said?” Miss Evans was getting livid. “Get back inside! All of you!”

“Clem killed Finch!” one of them accused.

“Just like she hurt Claudia!” another added.

“She’ll kill Meredith, too, if we don’t stop her!” a third proclaimed, causing all the girls to protest angrily.

As one, the girls started to approach Clem, ignoring Miss Evans.

“We have abilities, too!” one of them shouted above the rest. “If we work together, we can finally stop her… before she comes at us next!”

This emboldened the rest, as the mob of angry girls started down the other side of the hill toward Clem, pushing past Miss Evans and the confused armed men.

Finally having the proof for what they long suspected was the cause of all the grief they’d experienced over the summer, the girls were ready to finish this… their way.

“Protect Meredith!” they shouted together.

“Let’s get this crazy bitch out of our house!” one of the older girls yelled.

Miss Evans could do nothing but watch in horror as she quickly retrieved a handheld radio from the pocket of her robe and frantically started speaking to whoever was on the other end.

Clem had seen enough.

As the girls approached with their immature powers in place of pitchforks, the young woman with the peculiar white streak running across her bangs reached down deeper than she’d ever done before, tapping into the darkness within, and then lashed out at the girls’ minds with such uninhibited force. One by one, she assaulted their minds, fueled by intense rage at all their lies, all their bullshit. Clem finally saw the truth at last. She was not one of them. She never was. They all despised her.

And she despised them.

Clem not only ripped apart their fragile minds from within, but she pushed herself to the limit of her abilities, driven by her uncontrollable rage… until their heads started to explode like popping balloons…

~~~

Next Episode 46-4

Previous Episode 46-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 46-3: 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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