~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Elsewhere until after reading up to Chapter 46: Clementine and the spin-off story The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent.

~~~

Winter 1974:

She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Several times while trying to organize her notes on the cold, steel desk, Candice Forrester nearly dropped them on the dull lab floor. She raised her hands in frustration, letting the papers scatter.

“Fuck it.” The sound of her own voice sounded stale—absent of its former vitality.

She took a deep breath, then reached down, opening a lower drawer, and retrieved the half-empty whiskey bottle and the small notebook beneath it. She placed the notebook on the desk and then leaned back in her chair. Candice removed the lid from the bottle, letting it bounce across the floor. It made no sound as the shadows swallowed up the cap.

She raised the neck of the bottle up until the hot, burning fluid shot down her throat. She lowered the bottle and dropped it, watching it silently roll away until it, too, disappeared beyond some forgotten corner of the low-lit laboratory.

“Better,” she whispered, as the repulsive alcohol numbed her troubled thoughts. She’d never been much of a drinker… not until everything had gone to hell.

Candice sat back up and focused on the small notebook. She retrieved a pen from the front pocket of her wrinkled lab coat and then opened the personal journal.

Her hands continued to shake as she put the pen to an empty page near the back. Never could stop the shakes, she thought. Nothing ever could. Doesn’t matter now.

Candice took another deep breath as she ran her free hand through her unkempt, long brown hair. Her glasses slipped down to the tip of her nose. “I’m a fucking mess,” she declared with an unexpected laugh that made her feel uneasy. Candice started to look for the whiskey bottle she’d dropped, taking in her dark underground surroundings. She always hated this place. The walls were too white, the metallic tables—too polished, and though she had every possible piece of equipment she would ever need, and then some, she hated everything about this lab that the monsters who owned her had provided.

“Oh… and we will achieve such great things together,” she mocked. “Make the impossible come alive… pull it out of our asses like fucking magic!” She raised a pretend whiskey bottle toward the ceiling and finished with a sarcastic toast. “Here’s to one helluva historic collaboration! May we all choke to death in the sea of our success! I hope we all rot in the hell that we’ve made together… you fucking MONSTERS!” She raised her middle finger toward one of several cameras that monitored the laboratory. She longer cared who was watching. The deed was done.

“And I am damned for it,” she whispered, turning back toward the notebook. Then she smiled and said, “But not all of us… not all of us anymore.”

Candice started writing:

I’m sorry I haven’t written for some time. I was afraid you’d think less of me for all the despicable things I’ve done in the name of science. Please forgive me. Just know that I started all this with the best of intentions. If I’d known where this dark road was headed, I’d like to think I would’ve stopped, turned around, and found a better way—or a saner way—but I can’t honestly say that I would have done anything differently. That’s my hell to bear…

She stopped for a moment, considering her next words. Candice felt the emotions rising into her chest, the emotions she’d suppressed for so long, choosing to hide within the research. She quickly wiped a tear from her eye and continued:

…Michael was right. I wish I’d been able to hear him from the beginning, back at the orphanage. He was my moral compass long after I’d decided to make this deal with these devils. “Mother” they call themselves. As if they knew a damn thing about giving birth to anything… anything but death. I was blinded by the extraordinary possibilities… they were already years ahead of my own research. But I was the key to what they were missing… or, rather, you were. But you must believe me, I never knew from the start where this was all headed. Those fucking monsters hid so much from Michael and I… but he sensed it. Fuck… who am I fooling. We damn near killed that poor girl, fumbling around in the dark, trying to plug her into all this madness. She was unique. We knew it… and so did they. Meredith was the real key.

Michael had tried to stop me. He’d tried to wake me up from the darkness. While he saw the suffering of a little thirteen-year-old girl… all I saw was the possibility of bringing you back to me… at all costs.

I got Michael killed… and all those girls at the orphanage. But at least I got Meredith away. It took some doing, but she’s off this God-forsaken island. That’s got to count for something… right?

Please tell me you understand? Can you ever forgive me for what I’ve done? Can you forgive me for what it will mean… when the end comes?

Candice stopped writing again. She removed her glasses and ran the sleeve of her lab coat over her wet eyes. She was close to the breaking point but mustered what reserves she had left to keep it together for a little longer. She thought back to Meredith, when that little girl had finally come back. Candice smiled as she tried to hold on to that rare and precious shard of light in this overwhelmingly dark and dismal place.

~~~

“Where… where am I?”

“Welcome back, Meredith. It’s good to hear your voice again. I’m Doctor Forrester from the orphanage. Do you remember me?”

“Yes… I remember you…but… I can’t see. I can’t move! What’s happening to me?”

“Relax. You’ve been… somewhere else… for a while now. Your body is just adjusting. You’ll be okay in a little while.”

“What do you mean? Where did I go?”

“You were… you were in a coma, but not quite. Do you know what a coma is, Meredith?”

“Like a really long dream that you can’t wake from… right?”

“That’s good, Meredith. Very close. Anyway, while you were dreaming, I tried to find you, but it took a very long time.”

“And… I’m back now?”

“You are… almost there.”

“What is this place? Why can’t I see you or move? It’s like I’m here but I’m not here at the same time. I’m confused.”

“You’re in a place I like to call, Elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere?”

“Yes.”

“So, I’m still dreaming?”

“Yes and no, Meredith. Do you remember anything that you dreamed?”

“No.”

“Are you positive? Anything at all? It’s very important that you tell me if you remember anything.”

“No… it’s all… black… inside my head.”

“Does it feel like a fading dream that goes away after waking?”

“Yes. Just like that.”

“What’s the last thing you remember… before going to sleep?”

“I remember… I remember being frightened. I thought Clem was coming for me… so I hid in that creepy basement with all those dolls… and… there was something else… but I can’t remember.”

“Do you remember finding the symbol on the door? The three-pronged symbol with the eye?”

“Yes! That’s how I… I can’t remember after that.”

“That’s fine, Meredith. That means the medicine I gave you is working.”

“Medicine? Was I sick?”

“Yes. You were very sick. But you’re all better now.”

“Did I… did I do anything bad?”

“That’s a strange question, Meredith. Why would you ask that?”

“Because I’m a freak… and because… I remember someone in my dreams trying to get me to do bad things. I can’t remember who… but… I can sense it somehow. Wherever I was, I know I wasn’t alone.”

“You’re not a freak. You’re just… different, Meredith. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”

“But that’s what made me sick… right?”

“It doesn’t matter now. The important thing is that we got you away… and very soon… you’ll be home.”

“But I don’t want to go back to the orphanage! It’s not really an orphanage anyway. Please tell me I’m not going back there! That place scares me. Clem will get me, too!”

“No, Meredith. I’m not sending you back to that awful place. I’ve arranged to get you far away from there—somewhere you can live a normal life with good people who will take good care of you. It’s a secret place. A hidden place. Somewhere you’ll be safe from anyone trying to make you do bad things ever again.”

“You promise?”

“Yes. It’s something Michael wanted to do for you very much. Do you remember Michael?”

“Finch? Yes. Where is he?”

“He had to go away, Meredith. He’s… taking care of things with your new family so that they’ll be ready for you when you get there. Michael always insisted we have a back-up plan, and I’m so grateful that I listened to him about that. So, when you wake up… when you really wake up… just remember, Michael made it possible for you to get away. Even if it seems strange at first. Understand?”

“I think so. Where are we now?”

“Doesn’t matter. After a time, you will forget about this place, too.”

“Why can’t I remember? Did you… erase my memory?”

“No, Meredith. I simply relocated some of it. The sick memories. Imagine your mind is a bedroom full of all the memories you love and cherish. Well, the sick memories are still there, buried beneath all the good ones, and locked safely away in a chest right in front of you. But, because you’re not looking for it, you’ll never notice it’s there.”

“What if I accidentally trip over it and open it?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Meredith. The medicine I’ve given you will protect you from remembering. At least, for a while. Maybe long enough for you to live a normal life. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“More than anything.”

“That’s good. Now, I need you to pay close attention. Our time is short and what I need to tell you is very, very important.”

“But… what if I forget what you tell me when I wake up?”

“Don’t worry, Meredith. You’ll remember what I need to tell you, and if you heed my words, you’ll stay hidden and safe for a very long time.”

“Okay. But you’re starting to scare me a little.”

“That’s okay, too. You should be a little scared. It will help you stay hidden. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, I know you won’t understand because the bad dreams you were having have already started to fade, but it’s still important that you know how very special you are. It’s because you’re so special, Meredith, that some very bad people are trying to make you do some bad things.”

“I don’t want to be bad.”

“That’s good, Meredith. I’m going to help you stay away from these bad people. Always remember that symbol on the basement door. If you ever see it again… run. It’s their symbol—the bad people. Hopefully, they’ll never find you and make you do bad things ever again. How does that sound?”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“I’m going to explain to you what the bad people are trying to do. It’s not important that you understand it all, just that you know they will stop at nothing to get you back… so they can finish their bad plans. Are you listening?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to imagine a beehive. Can you picture it?”

“Yes. Bees are terrifying, especially when they all start buzzing together.”

“So, you know how dangerous messing with a hive can be, right?”

“I would never do that!”

“That’s good. Now, imagine a beehive so big that if the bees all tried to fly away at once they could hurt a whole lot of people.”

“That’s not good. I don’t want to think about this anymore.”

“I know you don’t, Meredith. But you need to listen. Picture a box now. A box so big that it can hold all those nasty bees.”

“Even the hive?”

“Yes. Especially the hive.”

“So… the box keeps them from getting out. The box is a good thing, right?”

“Yes, Meredith. The box is a very necessary thing. Can you see it?”

“Yes. But I can still hear them all in the box. They sound so angry.”

“They are angry. Now, imagine what would happen if the bad people started shaking that box, and then they found a way to open it and let them all out on the world.”

“Why would they do that? That’s crazy!”

“Yes, Meredith, it is. The bad people want to open that box more than anything. It’s not important that you understand why, just that if they ever do, the world will turn sick. And I know you don’t want that. That’s why you can never let them find you.”

“But I would never open the box!”

“Yes, Meredith. I believe you. But all those bad people will try to trick you. They will make you think that opening the box is a good idea.”

“But… I won’t!”

“That’s good, Meredith. Always remember that.”

“Why do they need me to open the box? Why can’t they just do it themselves?”

“They can’t open the box because it takes someone special like you to open it.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes, it does. Now, our time is almost up. We can’t stay here much longer or the bad people will find us.”

“So… if we’re not awake, but we’re not dreaming… then how are we-”

“We’re hiding in Elsewhere, Meredith. In a very special closet that only you and I can visit. But they’ll find it soon. We need to be done before they do, so the bad people won’t suspect we were ever here. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, close your eyes and get some rest. When you wake up again, you’ll be far, far away from here… somewhere the sickness can’t ever find you again.”

“Can… can you make what causes me to be special to go away, too? The part of me that got me sick?”

“No, Meredith. I did what I could to hide it from yourself, but it’s a part of who you are. For a time, you might forget, but eventually, you will have to learn how to hide it yourself.”

“But… how do I do that?”

“The same way you’ve been hiding it from the world. You already know that the world fears what it doesn’t understand. I think in time, as you grow older and wiser, you’ll adapt and find a way to keep it secret. Understand?”

“I think so.”

“It’s very important that you do because if your… gifts… shine too brightly out in the world, or make a loud enough noise, the sickness might find you again. So, what will you do?”

“Keep it secret.”

“That’s right. Keep what you can do a secret for as long as you can and go enjoy your life, Meredith… and never look back.”

“I’ll try.”

“I will do what I can to keep the sickness from ever finding you, but you have to do your part. Understand?”

“Yes. But… what if it finds me anyway… the sickness?”

“Go to sleep now, Meredith. You have your whole life in front of you now. Don’t worry about the sickness. Leave that to me.”

“Because you’re a doctor… right? You’re a doctor and that means you’ll find a cure, is that it?”

“Yes, Meredith. I’ll find a cure.”

~~~

Candice closed her eyes. Meredith was free now. For how long depended on what Mother would do, now that the link was severed. She hoped the girl had done enough damage to satisfy the monsters, and their abominable project. Time would tell. If Mother never found her again, perhaps the world would be safe for a bit longer… until they discovered another way. Or perhaps humanity was already doomed.

She sat back down and resumed writing:

…I’ve done what I could for the girl. I’m not looking for redemption, I’m as damned as the rest of these bastards. But I did it for Michael. It’s what he died trying to do. Call it my one last act of love. The irony doesn’t escape me since love was also what prompted my first action, which led us straight into this madness.

No matter what happens, Meredith was the only victim in all this. I’ve done what I could to suppress the last year from her thoughts. But I fear she will eventually uncover them. Hopefully, not for a very long time. Of course, that means I’ve one last act to complete to give that little girl a fighting chance.

Do you forgive me? I hope you do. It wasn’t easy giving up after all we’ve been through to get this far. I don’t know if I was ever close to getting you back, or, if these lunatics just wanted me to believe that I was, preying on my emotional vulnerability, just to get me on board and finish their nasty project for them. But what I do know, is that the thing I retrieved from ‘Elsewhere’ is not you. I’m so very sorry.

I needed this organization’s resources to bring you back. And they let me believe that I was accomplishing this. They needed me to find a doorway into the hell they’d unearthed, that’s where my research fit in. They had the place. Meredith was the key… and I gave them the goddamn entrance and showed them how to make it all work together. I tried to bring you back from deep within yourself, from within your dreamscape that I was certain still existed somewhere in the puzzle of your dead brain. I was a damn fool. I had no idea they were using me to retrieve something from the other side… whatever that is.

To what end? God only knows the motives of such evil people. It’s as elusive as ‘Elsewhere’.

I’ve failed you. I’ve wasted so much time trying to get you back when all you needed was a goodbye… one I was too stubborn to give you. I refused to let go. And now, I’ve contributed in something truly horrible. I pray that it’s not too late. But it’s far too late for me.

Goodbye, Toby. Wherever you are, I hope Michael made it to you. I think you’d really like him. As for me… well… if the doorway is open, and I fear that it is, then I will be judged by the dead that follow.

I miss you, your loving sister, Candice.

Forrester put the pen down. The lab had grown extremely cold and dark.

It’s time.

Candice quickly picked up the notebook. “You were never here, Toby… and neither were these words,” she whispered. The notebook faded and disappeared from the dull dreamscape.

The shadows from all around the low-lit room appeared to come alive and feed upon the light until she was surrounded in darkness, like a thick fog of black.

Where is she?

The voice was as cold as the room. He’d found her.

I said, where is the girl?

“Gone,” was all Candice volunteered. “You can’t suck the life from her anymore. I’ve made sure of it.”

You can’t be here, foolish woman. You’re not strong enough to take her place. With a single thought, I could break your mind and turn you into a slobbering lunatic when and if I allowed you to wake.

Candice steeled herself against the intimidating voice. She knew he was right. “I don’t care what you do to me. Meredith is free, that’s all that matters.” She could feel the thing pretending to be her dead brother in the darkness, poking at the edges of her mind to find out what it needed to know.

If you don’t tell me where you hid the girl, I’ll make sure your brother suffers. I’ll make sure he never finds his way back to you.

Candice smiled into the dark. At least I finally got an admission. This thing knows that I know the truth. “What are you?” Candice pushed back.

The creature behind her brother’s voice started to laugh. It sounded like he was inside her head and all around her at the same time.

Candice knew she had to be quick. When the thing masquerading as Toby finally stopped toying with her, perhaps testing this bold woman to see if she’d set a trap, it would come at her in full force and tear her mind to shreds until she gave up the girl.

Forrester closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You don’t scare me, creature.”

Oh, yes… I most certainly do. Your fear is like sweet frosting on a cake. When I’m done licking it off-

“You’re a coward,” Candice interrupted, sneering into the darkness. “You prey on small children because you can manipulate them. But I’m no damn child. Whatever you really are, you’re just a filthy child molester, no different than the sick fucks in the real world. The only difference is, you plague the playgrounds in their dreams. What a pathetic little creature you truly are.”

Mind your tongue, woman. I’m very patient, but I have my limits. Don’t test them.

“Frankly,” Candice continued, “I don’t know why Mother has made such a fuss over you. Surely there are others of your kind who are worthy of their attention. Perhaps you should go back to the hell you came from, dog, and go fetch one of your mast-”

Candice Forrester was immediately obliterated from the dark dreamscape, severing her tether to Elsewhere in Meredith’s mind. She’d known the risk in facing Toby in Meredith’s stead, had tried to stall for as long as it took to get the young girl away… and now they were both free.

~~~

“Clear!”

The lead surgeon on Mother’s emergency medical staff placed the pads on Meredith’s chest and shocked her again, causing the comatose girl’s body to jump like a fish. The attending nurses were sticking various syringes into her body while others waited to be told what to do.

From the other side of the emergency room glass window, a short silver-haired man stood nervously with his hands balled up into fists behind his back. He’d just come from an adjoining emergency room where Doctor Forrester had mysteriously gone into cardiac arrest while sleeping. As that attending surgeon had put it just before declaring her death, “It was as though her body had suddenly rejected her for no apparent reason as Forrester’s organs began to shut down one after the other.”

And now, the little girl was dying, too

Coincidence? Mr. Bawle knew better than that.

He continued to watch as the emergency team failed to revive Meredith. Finally, the lead surgeon looked up at him and shook his head, removing his surgical mask in frustration.

Mr. Bawle nodded, then turned from the window. He calmly walked over to a nearby chair while straightening his expensive suit.

The bitch did something we never saw coming, he thought. Even after we’d considered everything else. He smiled and shook his head. “Well played Doctor Forrester. Well played.”

Mr. Bawle, in a rare display of emotion, suddenly picked up the chair, turned toward the emergency room window, and violently threw it, shattering the glass. This commanded everyone’s attention.

He ignored their terrified expressions and then fixed his suit again. He ran a hand over his sweaty forehead, turned down the closest hallway, and then started walking with his hands clasped behind his back.

~~~

Meredith opened her eyes. She was lying in a bed in a small room saturated with bright sunlight. Her eyes stung but she kept them open.

Is this… real?

She tried to move her arms, but they felt heavy, as if she were trying them on for the first time.

From somewhere to her right, near the bed, someone sat up clumsily. She could hear a magazine drop. “Shit!” It was a female’s voice. “Shit! I mean… you’re really awake, aren’t you?”

Meredith tried to move her mouth to speak. She managed to turn her head enough to see an older woman in what appeared to be a nurse’s uniform.

“It’s okay! It’s okay! Just… stay still, sweetheart. I’m going to get someone.”

Before Meredith could protest, the nurse rushed out of the room, calling out intelligibly for anyone.

Within moments, Meredith could hear the frantic sounds of approaching footsteps. She turned her head toward the door just as the nurse, accompanied by a tall, frail woman with blond hair, entered the room.

“Look, Marge! I told you! She’s awake!” the nurse proclaimed.

The blond-haired woman placed her wrinkled hands over her mouth as she stared at Meredith. Her eyes, wide with disbelief, were bordered by dark rings. To Meredith this woman had the look of someone who hardly slept.

She tried to speak again. “Wa… water? Please?” Meredith managed to whisper.

The blond woman and the nurse exchanged a glance. Both women seemed very excited now. The nurse patted the blond woman on the shoulder and said, “I’ll get the water. Praise God! I never would’ve believed it…” The nurse trailed off, quickly exiting the room.

The blond woman stepped timidly toward the left side of Meredith’s bed, then lowered her hands to catch herself before nearly collapsing beside the bed. She was crying now.

Meredith didn’t know what to say.

The woman reached up and placed Meredith’s left hand in both of hers. “Are you really back with us?” she asked. “Am I just dreaming? Please tell me I’m not dreaming?”

Meredith attempted to speak again. “Hel… hello,” was all she could manage.

This just made the woman cry harder. “You are really back!”

“Could… could you help me…” Meredith said, trying to move her arms again. “Could you help me sit up?”

“Of course.” The woman got up and sat down beside her on the bed. She placed a bony arm around her back and helped Meredith sit up.

“Thank… thank you.” Meredith got a better look around the room. It was a bedroom. A girl’s bedroom, judging from the bright colors, stuffed animals, a small vanity mirror and desk, and various posters of animals scattered about the walls.

“It’s good to have you back… God… we prayed and prayed… but… we almost lost hope.”

Meredith stared at the exhausted woman and knew right away that she was someone’s mother. “Where… where am I?” she asked.

The woman gave her a puzzled look, laced with concern. “Why, you’re home, dear. Don’t you recognize your own room?” The woman shook her head as if realizing she’d just said something insensitive. “Never mind. It’s just good that you’re back. The rest we’ll work out when you get your strength back.”

Meredith didn’t know where to begin. She had a million questions. She stared around the room and froze when she caught a brief glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror.

What?

The woman caught her staring. “What is it, honey? You want to see?” Before Meredith could respond, the woman got off the bed, walked over the small oval mirror, and removed it from the vanity. She grabbed a hairbrush and sat back down beside her, holding the mirror in front of Meredith.

Meredith stared into the reflection. She could feel the blood leaving her face.

The woman laughed and started brushing her hair. “It’s alright. You’ve looked far worse on Monday mornings before school.”

Meredith gripped the sides of the mirror with numb hands. She couldn’t look away from the stranger staring back at her. The young girl with blond hair and a pale face who’s only resemblance to her was the same bewildered and terrified expression.

That’s not me! Where am I? What’s going on?

The blond-haired woman put the brush down and took the mirror away. “Enough of that.” She suddenly embraced her with both arms, squeezing Meredith tight. “Oh… I thought I lost you forever.”

Meredith recognized the girl in the reflection. She looked like this woman.

Something’s wrong! I’m not supposed to be here! This isn’t me! THIS ISN’T ME!

And then she heard Doctor Forrester’s words in her head:

“Michael always insisted we have a back-up plan, and I’m so grateful that I listened to him about that. So, when you wake up… when you really wake up… just remember, Michael made it possible for you to get away. Even if it seems strange at first. Understand?”

“I… I understand,” Meredith whispered.

“What was that, honey?” the woman asked.

“Nothing. Can I ask a strange question?”

“Yes… anything.”

“What’s my name?”

The blond-haired woman broke her embrace and turned to look directly into Meredith’s eyes. She looked frightened. “You’ve… you’ve lost much.” The woman started wiping fresh tears from her eyes. “Sorry. He… He told us this might happen, should you wake. I don’t mean to scare you, honey, it’s just… well… it’s all overwhelming.”

Meredith waited.

The woman nodded. “His name was Michael. He was overseeing you while you were—while you were asleep. He visited you as often as he could. He was a great comfort to our family.”

“What did Michael tell you?”

The woman smiled. “He told us that when you woke up… you might not remember things… not right away.”

“Like my name?”

The woman laughed. “Sorry, honey. Your name is Michelle.”

Michelle.

“How long?” Meredith asked. “How long was I… asleep?”

The woman was caught off-guard by the question. “Don’t worry about that, hon-”

“Please,” Meredith interrupted. “I need to know. How long?”

The woman looked on the verge of tears again. “You’ve been asleep for three years.”

Meredith suddenly had an image of the comatose patients down in the orphanage basement. The ones behind the secret door.

The ones connected to the dolls.

There were four of them, she thought. Just like Michelle. But… but Forrester and Finch kept one hidden.

Kept her a secret.

She didn’t know how she knew, perhaps Forrester placed the memory there, somewhere within reach when she needed it, but she understood. The four patients and Michelle all shared the same condition, and they were all being treated by Forrester.

Brain dead. The words felt strange in her own mind… but it was the truth.

Meredith glanced into the tired face of the blond-haired woman and released her with a forced smile. “You… you’re Mic… you’re my mother, aren’t you?”

The woman smiled and nodded as fresh tears poured down her face. She reached forward and embraced her again. “Yes, honey. I’m your mother… and I love you very, very much.”

Meredith was genuinely moved… and envious of that one truth that flowed from the woman. She embraced her back, even if it wasn’t for her.

They were all dead… all five of them… but now… I’ve taken her place… I’ve taken Michelle’s place. And the bad people don’t know about her… not yet.

The thought was troubling, but Meredith pushed it aside. She closed her eyes and hugged the woman more fiercely. They knew. Finch and Forrester knew I could handle this. They knew because I’ve been strange my entire life.

Meredith broke from Michelle’s mother’s embrace and smiled at her.

Michelle’s mother laughed. It was the closest Meredith would ever come to hearing what joy sounded like.

So, I look different. I can change my appearance. I can become Michelle because she’s gone now… and I can be loved for the first time in my life. That’s what they wanted for me. And that’s what this poor woman needs now.

“I love you… Mom,” Meredith tried on the words. They felt good.

“And I love you… always. Everything will be alright now. You’re safe.”

Meredith smiled through the confusion and tears.

Safe. Secret. Hidden.

~~~

Author’s Note: As a refresher, this story covers events, in part, after Clementine caught Michael Finch trying to escape with Meredith, involving the massacre at the orphanage that we first learned about in Clem’s flashback story from “Chapter 46: Clementine”. This story also explains how Meredith initially escaped the clutches of Mother, or so she believed, and who told her about the ‘hive’ analogy that she spoke of all the way back in that boathouse from “Chapter 14: Marina”.

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