~~~

When Clementine finished telling her tragic tale, she stared down at her hands with an unreadable expression on her face. She let out a long, exhausted sigh.

Alysa, who was no stranger to hiding her emotions, couldn’t tell whether the old woman was trying to conceal her remorse or her indifference.

Finally, Clementine smiled and said, “That was much harder to tell than I thought.” She looked at the young woman and finished, “I probably shared more than I needed to about that horrible day, but I did it to show you that I trust you, Alysa… and that you can trust me.”

“You killed all those girls,” Alysa stated. She was very careful to leave out all emotion.

“Do you hate me now? Am I… a monster in your eyes?”

“You were just a fifteen-year-old girl. That must have been difficult to overcome at that age.”

The old woman averted her eyes. “It doesn’t matter anymore. The important thing is that you understand what’s at stake. Even then, my old friend was… very special. God only knows what they did to her after our home was shut down.”

“They shut down the orphanage?”

“We never called it that… but, yes, they did.” Clementine shifted uncomfortably. “Dr. Claire Forrester was the woman in charge of the experiments back then. After… after I killed all those children… Mother seized control of all of Forrester’s research and stripped the project from her. Meredith… well… I never saw her again after that, but I’d heard that she was relocated.”

Alysa nodded thoughtfully. “And… what happened to you?”

Clementine laughed. “What do you think?”

“They locked you up… probably sent you somewhere underground where they could safely study your abilities and exploit them.”

Clementine was growing tired of the conversation. She stretched her bony arms and then changed the subject. “Tell me about the group of intruders you rescued? Why did you decide to accompany them?”

Alysa was prepared for that one. “I recognized the name of one of them during my conversations with the man I nursed back to health.”

“You mean the man you slowly poisoned for interrogation purposes,” Clementine corrected.

Alysa let the comment go. “Yes… well… this man in the cabin-”

“He went by the name of Marcus Dempsey, but that was just an alias,” Clementine said. “His real name is Russell Bower and not much is known about his adult life. It’s rather strange, actually.”

Alysa paused. “Yes… that much I learned on my own. Anyway, this man… Russell… was obsessed with a woman from their group-”

“Her name is Gina Melborn,” Clementine injected. “She used to be a stripper. Imagine that. She’s the very same woman in the woods with your friend right now.”

“Do you want me to answer your questions or do you want to keep interrupting me to prove how extensive Mother’s database is?” Alysa added smugly.

Clementine laughed. “Sorry, my daughter. I just couldn’t resist. Please… continue.”

“I found the current leader of their group in the woods. His name is Tony Marcuchi… and I know you know that already.”

Clementine raised her hands up. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Alysa continued. “From Russell’s drug-induced ramblings I made the connection that Tony was Gina’s lover. And since Russell was obsessed with Gina, I thought it prudent to learn what I could about her through Tony in order to understand Russell’s fascination with her.”

“You really are intrigued by this Russell Bower, the servant of Death, aren’t you?”

“I have my reasons… but yes… I am curious about his motivations.”

Clementine sighed. “So, did your infiltration of Tony’s group yield anything useful?”

“No. Not really. As far as I could gather, there was nothing extraordinary about this Gina, or her lover.”

“Nothing that could get you inside the head of Russell Bower, you mean… right?”

“Exactly,” Alysa said. “I stayed with them for a lot longer than I intended because it suited my purposes to do so.”

Clementine frowned. “You mean traveling with them got you farther away from me.”

“You said it,” Alysa added with a spiteful smile.

“Was there nothing you learned from this… Tony?” Clementine baited.

“No. Nothing.” Alysa’s face was stone. She refused to give this witch an advantage over her by revealing her strong feelings for Marcuchi, or for her friendships with the others. God-only-knew what this vindictive woman would do with that knowledge.

“Well… enough of that.” Clementine finished with a laugh.

Alysa hid her relief very carefully. She silently wondered just how much Lady Clementine knew about her travels, and if she was just toying with her.

“It’s getting late and I’m not the spring chicken I once was,” she laughed. “Let’s get back to the matter of the two gnats in the forest buzzing around my thoughts.” Clementine gave Alysa a probing look. “Tell me, daughter, and don’t bullshit me any longer, why should I continue to let them live in my forest, especially your fascinating friend with two names?”

Alysa had no cards left to play. “You know why. He’s… he’s important… to me.”

Clementine nodded. “So… I should spare him, spare them both, because of your attachment to the servant of Death?”

Alysa smiled. I got you old woman. You tipped your cards. “Why don’t you tell me why I’m really here?”

“I told you why, daughter. I need your help.”

“You and my ‘friend’ both have something in common,” Alysa said. “You both want the red-headed woman.”

Clementine grinned and chuckled. “My… I don’t give you enough credit, daughter. You are a very clever and astute observer.” The old woman tossed her hands in the air in mock surrender. “You have me. Yes, I want the woman.”

“Why?”

“Leverage,” was all Clementine would offer.

Alysa knew not to press. She nodded and said, “Again, why I am here, then? Surely you could go and snatch this woman from the forest without me. Perhaps you could make the trees obey you and bring her here directly.”

“Don’t mock me, child,” Clementine cautioned.

“I wouldn’t think of it.”

“I don’t need to ‘fetch’ anyone. Your little pet has been busy training Gina in the ways of his master… I suppose.”

“What does that mean?”

Clementine smiled. “Gina has been quite the busy-body, working hard at managing her anger and taking it out on the dead population. They’re planning on coming here to murder me.”

Alysa’s eyebrows shot up. “That’s… insane.”

“Yes,” Clementine said with a chuckle. “It certainly is. Nonetheless, they are committed to this folly.”

“So, you’re waiting for them to strike?”

“Yes.”

“And you want me to help you capture them when they arrive?”

“Bingo,” Clementine said. “Although, Russell is nothing to me. I just need the woman. Should the other one perish in the attempted attack on my life… well… I do hope you understand.”

Alysa was starting to see where this was headed. She frowned. “You want more from me than to help you capture this woman.”

Clementine nodded.

“And in exchange for whatever that is… you’ll spare Russell.”

“I’ll give him to you.”

She was afraid to ask. “What do you want, old woman?”

Clementine folded her hands and rested her chin on them. She continued to gaze at the young woman. “You will help me secure the feral woman and I will spare the devil’s life. However, I can’t have someone as dangerous as this man anywhere near me. So… you will take him personally to the Ama-Eskua.”

Alysa was stunned. “They will kill him immediately… they will kill us both.”

“They will do no such thing, daughter. You are still under my protection… and your pet will be under yours.”

“But… why?”

Clementine gave her a grave look. “The Ama-Eskua have become… difficult… ever since we lost the compound run by that fanatic, Micom. He’d been operating independently for quite some time and had been using the Ama-Eskua to execute his own madness while exceeding his station. They know this now. The Ama-Eskua are starting to lose faith in Mother… as you did in them. This is unacceptable.”

“And how does this concern me?”

“Because you will return to the Order and take your rightful place as leader.”

Alysa laughed. “They will never let me do that. Protected or not… I would have to earn my command… in blood.”

“Then you will, my daughter,” Clementine said. “That’s the price for your friend. If you’d rather run off to another cabin… then I will execute this devil immediately.”

Alysa imagined slicing open the old bitch’s throat. “Why me? You said it yourself, I’ve lost faith in the Order.”

Clementine let out a weary sigh and shook her head. “You’ve a sharp mind… but you’re still a bit dull around the edges. Isn’t it obvious? It will be your Order… and your responsibility to make the Ama-Eskua something honorable again. How could you possibly pass that up?”

“And by placing me there, you ensure the continual loyalty of the Order.”

“Sharp,” Clementine said with a smile.

“I wonder though,” Alysa said. “Loyal to Mother… or to you?”

Clementine’s face grew dark. “Daughter or not… if you ever say something like that to me again, I will show you things in your own mind that would make even a former Ama-Eskua warrior weep for mercy. Are we clear?”

She’d gone too far, and she knew it. “Yes, Lady Clementine,” Alysa said, and wisely averted her eyes.

“Are we clear on all the rest?” Clementine pushed.

“Yes.”

“Go clean yourself up, eat, and rest. We’ve much to plan tomorrow.”

Alysa stood up and bowed, as was custom. She made it as far as the door, turned, and waited.

“What is it?” Clementine refused to look at her.

“If you really loved me like a daughter, you would not make me do this.”

Clementine glared at her and smiled maliciously. “As you are so fond of reminding me. You are not my daughter.”

Alysa said nothing.

“Now get the fuck out of my sight before I do something… nasty.”

Alysa bowed once more, then departed with haste.

After she was sure the fiery young woman was clear of the hangar, Clementine let her shoulders droop and let out a heavy sigh. She was physically drained. Between dodging and weaving Alysa’s inquiries after spending too much time observing the two strangers training in the woods through the eyes of the dead, Clementine was ready to sleep a thousand years. She slowly rose to her feet. Her old joints creaked like an ancient door on rusted hinges. She had just enough strength remaining to stumble toward and collapse into her bed, giving up her usual reservations against the nightmares that were waiting to claim her, and then fell immediately to sleep…

~~~

Fall 1973

Clem could hear them preparing upstairs as the floorboards creaked above her head. It sounded like an entire army had invaded the house.

She turned toward the strange little doll with the large head staring at her from the glass cabinet. “They’re coming for me, Toby. I think Miss Evans is really mad at me this time.” She took one bloody hand and wiped her sweaty black hair away from her face. Clem glanced down at Meredith, the girl who would probably never wake up again, and said, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I’m glad you didn’t see, Meredith. I’m glad you didn’t see all the awful things I did to them.” She started to weep. “Maybe… maybe when you wake up… you won’t remember any of this happening. Maybe you’ll just remember all the good times we had when you first got here… remember that?”

Young Meredith remained still, rolled up in a little ball and lying in her nightgown, oblivious to the horrors without—wrestling with a demon within.

Clem could hear them approaching the basement door. She frantically turned back to the doll. She was breathing so heavily that she thought she might pass out. Clem was terrified. Terrified at what they were going to do… and what she might do in return. “I’m so frightened, Toby. Please… tell me what to do.”

Toby said nothing.

Clem turned toward the stairs. “I’m… I’m going to have to stop them, Toby,” she said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone else… but I’m… I’ll do what I must!”

The assault force, led by Miss Evans, were just outside the basement door.

Clem closed her eyes and reached down deep, into the inferno, preparing to do something very… very… bad.

Stay calm, my child.

Clem turned back. “Toby? Is that really you?”

Though the doll did not move… she could hear it speak within her mind.

Yes, my child. I am here.

Tears started streaming down her bloody face. She smiled. “It’s… it’s wonderful to hear your voice again. It’s been so long.”

Yes… but you must listen to me now, my child. You are almost out of time. You need to stay calm, lie down… and go to sleep. Will you do that for me?

Clem nodded. “Yes. I can do that. Sleep sounds wonderful.”

Very good, Clementine. Now… hurry. Go to sleep before they come down here.

Clem laid down next to Meredith. She didn’t know how exhausted she truly was until her face hit the mat. Her eyes started to get heavy. “Toby… will everything be alright now?”

Yes, my child. Everything will be fine. Just… sleep…

“Will you talk to me again… like before?”

Yes… I will visit you in your dreams… like before. We have so much to discuss… and we will have so much time to dream together again.

Clem smiled and closed her eyes. “That sounds… very nice.”

Sleep… Clementine… sleep. I have not forgotten about you… and I promise… your time will come…

~~~

Lady Clementine opened her eyes. The hangar was completely dark. She’d been asleep for hours. The old woman lifted her groggy head off the pillow and pushed herself up until she was sitting on the edge of the bed. She reached over to a small nightstand where a kerosene lamp and a book of matches sat. She struck a match and then lit the lamp. The large hanger walls took shape in the dim lamp light.

She took a breath to steady herself. “Damn dreams,” she hissed. “One day I will figure out how to rid myself of you, too.”

Her gaze fell upon the large chest near her bed.

Clementine frowned and stood up. She approached the chest and sat down in front of it. Carefully, she opened the old lid until it fell back against the wall. Her eyes went wide with recognition as she gazed into the old chest.

The old woman reached into the chest and retrieved the only object that mattered, half buried between old clothes and other irrelevant memorabilia.

“There you are,” she whispered, as she lifted the strange little old doll with the head far too big for its body. It still had the long brown crazy hair and big eyes with the dark circles around them that always made the doll look tired.

Clementine held the doll at arms-length and stared at it. “My, you’re as old as I am, aren’t you?” she teased.

The doll had no response.

“You still in there, Toby?” she said with a laugh.

The doll said nothing.

“‘My time will come’… isn’t that what you said?”

Again, nothing.

After a long pause, the old woman’s face began to shift in the faint dancing light. She frowned at the despicable thing and whispered, “It’s a good thing you’re not in there any more, Toby. Because if you were, you’d know just how much I hate you.”

Clementine tossed the ancient doll back into the chest and quickly slammed the lid shut.

~~~

Next Episode 47-1

Previous Episode 46-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 46-4: 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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