~~~

TWENTY-FIVE DAYS AGO.
NIGHT OF THE SHADOW DEAD ATTACK:

…Stephen had placed his rifle in the door to slow it down while he continued to push against it.

April and the four defenders still standing had just run out of bullets. They were getting slaughtered, but continued to stand in between the enemy and the door.

And then Cooper and Meredith were there.

“Go, Doc!” Stephen yelled. “Get her inside!”

Meredith was regaining consciousness as Cooper got her to her feet and pushed her through the doorway. She turned, disoriented, as Coop was helping Stephen and April hold the line with whatever empty guns were available, now turned into blunt weapons.

And then Logan was there. The big man turned back. Megan had stopped once more to challenge the relentless Shadow Dead, buying them precious seconds.

“Everyone fall back to the door… right now!” Stephen commanded. The rifle wedged within the door had just snapped.

Stephen turned and pushed Logan through the doorway before he could object. He looked for Cooper. The old doctor was calling out to Megan, reaching into his small first-aid pack. Stephen attempted to grab Coop’s arm, but someone pushed him through the doorway, instead. He turned and saw the sixteen-year-old fighter, April Baxter. “You have to live!” she reminded him.

A steel claw penetrated her back and exited her chest.

Stephen reached out for her hand but a monster pulled her back into the darkness. “No!” he shouted, as the door continued to close.

“Where’s… where’s Coop? Megan?” Meredith was frantic. She was about to head back out into the hall but Logan held her back.

And then Coop was there, with Megan. He shoved her through the doorway… barely. “It’s alright, I sedated her!” he said.

Meredith grabbed Megan’s arm and sat her down before she passed out.

The old doctor attempted to slip through the crack in the door, but couldn’t fit.

“Coop!” Meredith screamed.

Coop quickly shoved his pack through the door.

“No! No! NO! Logan! Help me!” Stephen pulled on the door to try to get it open. Logan was there, pulling with all he had left.

But the door continued to close.

Meredith was there.

There was just enough time for Coop to reach his hand inside and embrace hers. “It’s alright. Sorry. I had to go get her. You know I did.”

Meredith was nodding through tears. “You did good, my love. You did good.”

Coop let go of her hand and pulled it away.

The door was about to close.

“I love you, Meredith Montgomery. I wouldn’t change a thing. You made me a better man.”

“I love you,” she said, watching his face slip away.

Something tore him away from the door.

“Coop!” she yelled.

The door shut, cutting off the doctor’s screams.

Logan and Stephen collapsed before the door.

“I’ll open it back up!” Stephen said. “I’ll say the magic words again and open it and then we can get Coop and April and-”

Logan put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “You know we can’t do that, little brother. They’ll get in.”

Stephen’s face was a mixture of shame and anger. He slammed his hands on the door and screamed in frustration.

Meredith moved over to Megan, collapsed, and then placed the sedated woman’s head in her lap. She gently stroked Megan’s hair and stared off into a lonely place.

“Meredith, I’m so very sorry…” Logan knew all words were inadequate.

She ignored his words and continued to stroke Megan’s hair.

Stephen couldn’t look at her… couldn’t stand himself.

Get it together, Eddington. You can hate yourself later. Stephen wiped the tears from his face and turned toward the source of the pulsating red light, coming from the bottom of a long flight of concrete steps. They were sitting on a large landing surrounded by what looked like cavern walls and a ceiling.

“So… I guess we’re headed down there,” Logan said. “Are you okay, little brother?”

“I have to be,” he said.

“What do you think is down there?”

Stephen looked at the preacher and then back down the steps. “Hell,” was all he said…

~~~

…A faint, pulsating red light continued to momentarily dispel the shadows on the small landing before the ominous steel door, which now separated three exhausted survivors and one sedated half-monster from the nightmare carnage on the other side.

Stephen Eddington fell back against the stone wall and slid down to his ass, his legs cramping up after the adrenaline coursing through his body had finally relented. He concentrated on taking deep breaths to keep from throwing up all over the landing or shouting out in anger and frustration into the near dark space.

The big preacher collapsed to his knees beside him. Logan McCalister looked like he’d fought the Devil, himself, and had barely survived the encounter. He discarded his empty weapon, stared up at the low rock ceiling and started whispering to his God.

Stephen glanced at Meredith. She was still sitting against the opposite stone wall, cradling Megan’s head in her lap and staring off into oblivion. To him, she looked like a woman who had just pulled the plug from the wall, disconnecting her emotions before they overloaded her heart and mind. She was obviously in shock. Stephen looked away, grateful that he could not clearly see the grief-stricken older woman’s face in the faint light.

He turned his attention toward the concrete stairs, toward the source of the pulsating light that originated from somewhere down a narrow shaft in the rock that appeared to descend endlessly.

“We need to move,” he finally said, wanting to be anywhere but on that landing. He gazed into preacher’s anxious face. “We… we should take a few minutes to… to collect ourselves and then head down there.”

Logan turned toward the stairs. “I’m not afraid to admit it, little brother. The thought of going down into that red-lit hole terrifies me.”

“Me, too,” Stephen said. “But it’s all we have.” He glanced over at Meredith and then leaned in toward the preacher and whispered, “We need to get Meredith the hell away from that awful door. She doesn’t look good.”

“Agreed, little brother. None of us are looking good at the moment.” He peered at the two women and then back at Stephen. “Maybe we should let them rest here, head down, and make sure it’s safe first?”

Stephen nodded. “I’ll go talk to Meredith and let her know. Megan should be out for a little while.”

“About that,” Logan said. “What are we going to do about the girl? You know… when she wakes up?”

Stephen saw the concern in the preacher’s face. “Meredith can keep her together if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes… assuming Meredith is still with us. As you said, she’s not fairing too well… and understandably so.”

Stephen ran a hand through his hair. “We can still sedate her again if it comes to that.”

“And when the sedatives run out, little brother?”

Stephen let out a defeated laugh. “I don’t know, Logan. Let’s just take this one step at a time. We’ll figure out the rest if we don’t meet a horrible end at the bottom of those steps first.”

Logan smiled. “When you put it like that, the rest of our problems don’t seem so bad.”

“Help me up.”

The preacher sluggishly got to his feet and then offered Stephen a hand, pulling him to his feet.

Stephen used the wall to steady himself. “We definitely need some rest. We’re not going to get too far like this.”

“Agreed.” Logan let out a big yawn. “Sorry.”

Stephen smiled and then walked over to Meredith. He crouched down in front of her. “Meredith?”

The older woman was staring past him.

“Meredith? It’s me… Stephen.”

At last, the tired woman met his gaze. She did not offer her usual warm smile or a greeting of any kind. She simply stared at him as if living had suddenly lost all flavor.

“I know you’re hurting, Meredith, we all are.” Stephen fidgeted. “Logan and I are going to check this place out. We need you to keep an eye on Megan… okay?”

Meredith continued to stare.

“Just… get some rest. If you have any trouble, call for us. We’ll head right back up… okay?”

Meredith looked away.

Damn, I’ve never seen her like this, Stephen thought. “Okay… well… just sit tight. We’ll be back.” Stephen met Logan near the top of the stairs. “She’s in trouble.”

Logan nodded. “Nothing we can do for her here, little brother. Let’s see what the good Lord’s provided for us down there in that red-lit madness.”

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t think your God’s been down here, my friend.”

They descended the concrete stairs and disappeared into the pulsating darkness.

~~~

Meredith’s body was on the verge of shutting down. The intense grief she was experiencing after just watching her fiancé ripped away, inches from relative safety, was too much. She was mentally and physical drained and all she wanted to do was disappear into the wall of this strange dark place.

The pulsating red continued to light up the landing, but Meredith was oblivious to it, and just about everything else. She remembered Stephen talking to her briefly before wandering away into the darkness.
What had he said? She struggled to remember. She struggled to care. The older woman lowered her head into her hands and let the tears flow–but just a little. If she allowed the pain complete release, Meredith would be overwhelmed by it…

You must watch out for her, Meredith.

That voice, she thought. I know that voice.

Be strong. She needs you. You’ve worked too hard to bring her back just to give up now.

Meredith opened her eyes. She peered in front of her into the darkness, hoping to hear the source of that warm, loving voice. “Coop?” she whispered.

But Cooper was dead… as were so many others.

You’re all she has now, Meredith. Coop again. I was wrong about her. You could see it all along. You always knew that Megan could come back. Damn… you won me over… and I love that the most about you.

Meredith smiled at the comforting voice. She knew she was just imagining it, but she didn’t care. She missed him and needed him in this moment. “And I love you,” she said. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you on the other side of that door. I should be over there with you now.” She lowered her head as another wave of grief threatened to destroy her.

No, you don’t, Coop said. You don’t get to give up on me now. Megan needs you. And I need you to make my death worth all that trouble in getting her inside that damn door!

She raised her head.

Promise me. Promise me you’ll keep fighting the good fight, Meredith. I’ll be with you all the way… but you can’t give up. You can’t ever give up.

“But I’m… I’m tired, Coop,” she whispered. “So… darn… tired. I’ve got nothing left.”

You’ve still got me, but don’t you dare start calling me Casper. And you’ve got Megan. Don’t leave the girl alone in this messed up world. You and I, we’re the only ones who haven’t given up on her.

Meredith nodded. “You’re right.”

Of course, I’m right!

Meredith laughed lightly.

There we go. Now, get it together, and get Megan the hell away from this place. Okay?

“Okay, Coop. I… I will.” Meredith wiped the tears from her face. She waited a moment more… but Cooper was gone.

Something shifted from Meredith’s left. She turned as the light went out again.

“Megan?”

The red light lit up Megan’s face, making her dark eyes seem demonic. The young half-dead woman was breathing rapidly, less than two feet from where Meredith sat.

Meredith frowned as the light went out again. The drugs have already worn off, she thought with surprising detachment. Meredith wasn’t frightened of the savage in the dark. Perhaps if she still cared enough about her existence she would be. But right now, it didn’t matter.

The red light flashed back on.

Megan was now sitting directly in front of the older woman, leaning in until their faces nearly touched. She thought to whisper her name, but let her shoulders hang instead. She can kill me now. I really don’t care. Meredith waited for Megan to devour her in the darkness.

~~~

Surprisingly, the stairs did have an end as a narrow corridor appeared at the bottom, leading toward an open doorway where the pulsating light originated. As Stephen and Logan crept forward, they could now hear a faint audible buzz that accompanied the pulsating light.

“Sounds like an alarm,” Logan offered. “Maybe we tripped it when we opened the main door at the landing?”

Stephen nodded. He squinted his eyes trying to make out anything in the next room, but it was too dark. “Be ready for anything,” he whispered. Not that it matters, he thought to himself. There’s nothing we could do in the shape we’re in to defend ourselves.

Logan had already retrieved their only weapon. He prayed.

They entered the doorway together and stopped just inside a large, long room that curved to their left and right in the shape of a half-circle. In between the pulses of light, they took in the room. Like the compound control room, there was a long console full of various ancient computers, monitors, dials, levers and buttons. Just above the console was a row of large windows with metallic shutters covering them. Scattered about the room were several desks and tables pushed together like workstations. Some were littered with old lab equipment, others were dominated by bulky computer monitors. Several rotating chairs were either pushed behind the desks or left laying on their sides as if whoever once used this place evacuated in a hurry. There were several old file cabinets spread out around the room.

“Whatever this place was,” Stephen whispered, staring at discarded yellow paper spread across a dusty linoleum tiled floor, “it looks like it hasn’t been used in years.”

Logan sneezed in agreement as the stale smelling room struck his senses. “Laboratory?”

“Maybe,” Stephen agreed. “But more than that. I think this was once a very busy location. Probably the hub of whatever was going on down here.”

Logan pointed at a flashing red light on the far-right end of the console. “I think that might be the alarm off switch.”

Stephen moved toward the illuminated button, grateful that no one had been here to acknowledge it, and then pushed it.

The pulsating red light, as well as the faint audible buzz immediately ceased, throwing the room into darkness.

“Shit,” he hissed, unable to see Logan standing next to him. “Should’ve found the light switch first.”

The loud sound of a breaker clicked to life causing them both to jump. Several florescent overhead lights started flickering to life, most flickering and dying, but a few managed to work, filling the room with partial white light, enough to make both men blink several times until their eyes adjusted.

“Well… that’s an improvement,” Logan laughed. “No need to worry about anything lurking in those dark corners now.”

Stephen was staring at the console as various buttons illuminated. “This place must be automated to return to the previous state before the alarm-”

His words were cut off as the large shutters above the windows started to rise.

They could do nothing but stare at the windows, hoping that what was on the other side wasn’t a massive horde of the hungry reanimated… or a Shadow Dead army waiting to finish them off.

From where they stood all they could see was darkness on the other side of the filthy glass.

“Maybe that’s our way out of here,” Stephen offered, stepping cautiously toward the closest window. He took his hand and wiped a layer of thick dust away creating a narrow slot to peer through.

“Careful, little brother. We don’t know what’s out there.”

“Or in here,” Stephen added. He peered through the window but could see nothing. “I don’t know what’s worse. I can’t see any monsters on the other side of this glass… but I can’t make out anything else either. It’s just… pitch black nothingness.”

“Well… we’re too far underground to hope for a couple of trees and a clear night sky. It’s probably just another room.”

“An observation room,” Stephen turned. “That’s what this is. It makes sense. Why else would you need a room underground with a bunch of windows?”

Logan nodded, then frowned. “Yes… but what were they observing?”

Stephen looked back through the window into the unknown darkness and shook involuntarily. “Maybe it’s better we don’t know,” he whispered. As he slowly pulled himself away from the glass, Stephen caught a new sound he’d missed the first time. It was faint, but clearly coming from the other side of the glass. “You hear that?”

Logan shook his head.

Stephen put his ear toward the glass. Yes. He could definitely hear something this time. “Sounds like a constant low buzzing sound.” He felt a vibration on his ear and pulled back. Stephen gave the window a strange look, then rested the palm of his hand on the window. It was cold. He could feel his hand vibrate.

“What is it?”

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t know… but it reminds me of the vibration behind the walls in the compound… but much stronger. We always thought it was the generators we never found that kept the compound running that caused the vibrations. Figured they had to be some kind of heavy-duty industrial generators that kept the power on. We knew that wherever they were they had to be beneath us.”

“Maybe that’s what’s on the other side of that glass,” Logan suggested. “Maybe they needed to watch and maintain some massive power source from this room and that’s what the windows were for.”

Stephen doubted that. Whatever was causing the vibrations down here, it sounded less like a power source and more like something alien… and alive. He stepped away from the glass. “What the hell were they doing down here?” he whispered to himself.

“I suggest we start with what we can see,” Logan said, staring around the room. “Maybe that will clue us in on the rest.”

“Agreed.” Stephen turned his back to the windows and walked toward the preacher, grateful to distance himself from that dark place behind the glass.

Logan reached down and picked up a yellow piece of paper. “It’s rotted away.” The old paper started to crumble apart in his hands. “Can’t make out anything on these.”

“We should check out the filing cabinets,” Stephen said. “Most of it will probably be the same but maybe those files are in slightly better condition since they’ve been somewhat protected.”

Logan moved toward the closest cabinet to his left, then stopped. He could see another door all the way on the left side of the room, partially obscured by an aisle of tall cabinets. “Maybe we should make sure we’re alone first,” he said, motioning toward the door.

Stephen smiled. “You don’t see a large neon sign that reads ‘Exit’ above it, do you?”

Logan laughed. “That would be too easy, little brother… and you and I know that good old ‘Easy’ was one of the first casualties of this particular apocalypse.”

“I know. Had to try, though.”

“Could just be a closet,” Logan joked.

“A bathroom would be nice… especially since I’ve been on the verge of shitting myself every day since the beginning.”

This made the big preacher snicker. Fortunately, he stopped himself from going into his usual infectious laughter. “Only one way to know for sure,” he said.

Stephen sighed and nodded. He started looking around the room for anything they could use as weapons. Everything looked old and worthless. He spotted a three-foot tall artificial plant sitting in a corner. He imagined himself arming up with the plant and then decided he’d rather die defenseless but with his dignity intact. “Let’s get this over with.”

They approached the door together and Logan reached for a dusty knob. It turned easily. “Part of me was hoping it was locked,” he whispered with a smile.

Stephen took a deep breath. “I’m tired of the terror associated with opening every damn door.”

“Me, too, little brother. Me, too.” Logan turned the knob all the way to the right and pushed the door inward. They were greeted by another hallway, dimly lit by a couple of overhanging florescent lights barely managing to remain lit as they flickered constantly. There were eight doors, four on each side. Some stood open, others were closed.

They entered the gloomy hallway. Ancient blood stains were streaked across the tile floor, walls, and even on the popcorn ceiling panels.

“Something bad went down here,” Logan said, covering his nose and mouth as the putrid smell of decay and dust assaulted his nose.

“Looks like the entrance to every haunted house I’ve ever frequented,” Stephen said. “Just need a few jump scares from those rooms to get things going.”

“Do you think it was The Change? You know… some of these people turning unexpectedly could’ve caused a nasty situation,” Logan said.

Stephen nodded. “Maybe. Let’s hope not. A few hungry dead-head bad guys are the last thing we need at the moment.”

“Agreed.”

They walked cautiously down the corridor, staring into each room as they passed. Some were better lit than others, some were riddled with shadows. Fortunately, every door had a small window in it, so they could view into the rooms that were closed without disturbing anything. Nothing living or dead appeared to roam the shadows, easing some of the tension they both felt. From what they could tell, most of the rooms were either laboratories or what appeared to be hospital emergency rooms. Most of the rooms looked torn apart with overturned tables, gurneys, broken beakers scattered across the floor, and plenty of dried up blood.

“Well, if it was the dead, we’d know it by now. There’s that, at least,” Stephen offered.

“I was thinking the same thing. It’s like they… whoever ‘they’ were… all just went bat-shit crazy and started attacking each other,” Logan whispered. “It’s a little unnerving… especially since I haven’t seen one corpse yet.”

“Maybe whoever survived took care of the bodies,” Stephen said.

“I don’t think so,” Logan said, stopping at the last door on the left. The door was closed but the room was lit up better than the rest. The big preacher pointed through the small window and backed away.

Stephen glanced into Logan’s face. The preacher’s horrified expression said it all. Stephen peered through the small window into a room full of decomposed corpses lined up against the longest wall, leaning against each other in the sitting position. Dark blood smears starting at the middle of the wall ran downward. The wall was also riddled with bullet holes. It was evident that these people were lined up against the wall and executed.

“I counted at least fifteen,” Stephen said, before quickly stepping away. He was sweating profusely, his hands shaking. “Most are wearing filthy lab coats.”

Logan nodded. “Did you see the bullet wounds? They were all head shots… like they weren’t taking any chances on getting this wrong… and no one was bound.”

“What are you suggesting? That they voluntarily lined up to die?”

Logan shook his head and closed his eyes. “I don’t know, little brother. It just lends to some disturbing possibilities.”

Stephen went back to the window and tried to view the opposite wall, but his view was limited. He reached for the door knob.

“Don’t Stephen,” Logan pleaded. “Let the dead lay where they are. Whatever room that used to be… it’s just a tomb now.”

Stephen appreciated the preacher’s discomfort, but he had to know. “There might still be a functioning gun in there,” he said. The implication was obvious. If this was a massive suicide, then the executioner would have needed to finish what he or she started.

Logan reluctantly nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’ll stay back. I’ve seen enough.”

Stephen nodded. He opened the door, the sickening smell assaulted him as he stopped long enough to keep from heaving. He opened the door just enough to confirm the skeletal remains of a single shooter, lying on its side with a bullet hole to the temple. From the strands of hair and what was left of the chest, he could tell it was a woman. Judging by the size of her larger skull and bones bulging beneath her deteriorated clothing, she was a woman of considerable girth. She, too, was wearing a lab coat, buttoned up. The woman was still holding a handgun.

They would’ve had to wait their turn to get shot, Stephen thought. What drove them to this? Why not just… leave?

He didn’t wait for the dead to give him an answer. Instead, Stephen quickly entered the room, trying not to stare at the bodies. He bent down and reached for the woman’s handgun. As he did so, he caught the woman’s name on a badge that was clipped beneath her front pocket: Amelia Evans, Manager Project Oversight.

And in the upper right-hand corner of the badge was the familiar three-pronged symbol of an eye, which always resembled some strange flower to Stephen.

“Mother,” he whispered. He glanced at the coats of a few of the others and saw similar badges with the same symbol and various letters denoting their medical expertise after their names.

Stephen wiped the dusty handgun off on his shirt, then turned back to the shooter. He found what he was looking for when he noticed a bulge at the woman’s hip. He carefully pulled up the lab coat, revealing a gun holster with two magazines carriers. He painstakingly unbuckled the belt and ripped it free from the stale corpse. With a shiver, Stephen quickly exited the room, needing an immediate shower.

“You okay?” Logan asked.

“Yeah,” Stephen said, showing him the weapon. “Now, we’re armed… assuming the thing still works.”

Logan nodded. “We should head back out front. The air feels a little better there.”

Stephen wholeheartedly agreed. They started to turn.

“There you are,” an older woman said from the end of the hall, startling both men. Meredith, standing in one of her trademark sundresses, her long hair still tied back in a loose braid, raised her hands. “Sorry, boys. It’s just little ole’ me. Didn’t mean to give you a start.”

“Meredith,” Stephen sighed with relief. “We were just heading back. It’s good to see you up and about.”

“Where’s the girl?” Logan said suspiciously.

“She’s alright,” Meredith said. “Well… as alright as any of us can be. She’s… stable at the moment. I think she’s getting better at recognizing who we are.”

“You mean, until she gets hungry,” Logan said.

Meredith shot him a look and addressed Stephen. “You two should get back here. Megan’s okay, but she’s terrified of this place. She’s curled up in a ball in a corner and refuses to move any farther than the main room. She kept staring over here until I figured out she was staring at this very door. I’m starting to suspect she’s been here before.”

Stephen and Logan gave each other a curious glance. Stephen turned back to Meredith. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Meredith frowned and finished, “Yes, Stephen. I believe this is the place she… lost her child.”

~~~

Stephen and Meredith slowly approached the half-dead young woman.

Megan was sitting against the wall, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, rocking slightly with her head down. She was breathing heavily when the others first re-entered the observation room, but slowly calmed down. Her long blond hair was streaked with dried up blood giving it a wet brownish look. Her once white gown was covered in blood stains. Her bare feet, arms, legs, and anywhere else skin was exposed was covered in filth.

To Stephen, Megan resembled some abused animal kept in captivity for far too long.

Logan kept his distance, insisting on holding the handgun as the others approached the savage girl. He quickly wrapped the gun holster around his waist, making himself look less like a preacher but more like some tattooed gangster gunslinger (not that he ever resembled a preacher either).

Meredith ignored the suspicious preacher and Stephen’s concerned face as she walked right up to Megan, knelt three feet in front of her, and then smiled. “Megan… it’s me, dear… Meredith. I told you I’d be right back.”

The young woman raised her head and stopped moving.

For a moment, Stephen believed Megan would pounce forward and attack Meredith. But in an instant, through the blood and grime smeared across the young woman’s face, a smile emerged on that savage face that immediately revealed the humanity hidden beneath the beast.

“Mer… Meredith,” Megan said.

Stephen was shocked. “She’s really still in there, isn’t she?”

Meredith nodded without turning around. “Yes, Stephen. Before all the bad happened, we—myself and Cooper—we were making great progress with her over the last few weeks. She was coming out of it and remembering who she was and gaining some control again.”

“How is that possible?” Logan said. “How can she still be herself and that… that thing who wants to rip us all to pieces?”

Meredith closed her eyes and frowned. She spoke absently over her shoulder at the big preacher. “Don’t we all possess a dark side, Logan? Aren’t we all capable of carrying out monstrous acts on each other?”

“Yes, but-”

“And don’t we all possess the means to suppress the darkness within us by choosing to not to give in to it?” Meredith finished. “Megan’s situation is no different. She just has to fight harder to keep the evil at bay.” She turned and glared at Logan. “You, of all people, should be able to appreciate that fact. Doesn’t your God teach us that we all must fight against the flesh?”

Logan smiled. “I don’t believe this situation applies. The girl’s dead. There’s a difference.”

“She’s not dead!” Meredith snapped. “She’d just not all the way alive either. We’re all defined by our choices. Let the girl make her own choices before you pass judgment!”

“I’m not judging,” Logan defended. “I’m just reminding you to show some restraint before you forget that a part of that girl craves human flesh. She’s not the same girl you remember, Meredith. Probably never will be.”

Meredith nodded. “Yes… on that we agree. But I choose to see the girl. Perhaps you need to see a little less of the monster.”

“Alright,” Stephen cut in. “We don’t have time for this. Meredith, can she understand you enough to answer some questions?”

“Yes,” Meredith said.

“Then please… ask her what we can do to make her feel… less anxious.”

“I’m… I’m okay,” Megan said, fixing her metallic grey eyes on the ex-teacher. “I… I understand you.” She turned and glared at the preacher. “I… I understand him… too.”

Logan looked away uncomfortably.

Stephen turned to Meredith and smiled.

“See,” Meredith said. She stroked Megan’s hand like a proud parent. “I told you she was getting back.”

Stephen addressed Megan. “Is there… anything you need? Anything we can do to… help you?”

Megan looked away. “I’m… I’m not hungry… if that’s… that’s what you’re worried about. I… I fed on those… Shadow things. I’ll… I’ll be okay… for a little while.”

“Shit,” Logan hissed, shaking his head. He turned away before anyone else could speak. He started to pray quietly to his God.

“Just leave him be,” Stephen said, noticing Meredith’s sharp glare. “He’ll come around.”

Meredith nodded. “Well… he better. She’s one of us whether he likes it or not.”

Megan squeezed her hand and said, “He’s… he’s afraid of me. You… you all should be, too.”

“Nonsense,” Meredith dismissed. “We’ll handle it… together… when the urges come back.”

“The ‘urges’?” Stephen said. “That doesn’t sound very good.”

Meredith waved him off and said, “I’ll keep a close eye on her, Stephen. But we need to get out of this place… the sooner the better.”

Megan pointed a shaky hand toward the hall they’d come back from. “That’s… that’s where they took me. They… they strapped me down like… like a piece of meat. Stuck me with… with needles… poked me… undressed me… put their hands all over me!” She started to breathe heavily. “They… didn’t care… they were cold! Treated me like… like I wasn’t there! All… all they wanted was my baby! There was nothing… nothing I could do… to stop them!

“It’s okay, Megan. Just try to stay calm,” Meredith said.

Megan started to weep.

Logan turned. His face softened considerably.

“I’m so very sorry for what happened to you, Megan,” Stephen said. “There’s nothing we can say to make the pain go away. It’s a part of you now. Maybe… maybe after we get out of this dark place we can… I don’t know… have a proper burial for your child.”

“I’d… I’d like that,” Megan said with a smile.

Meredith wiped a tear from her eye and gratefully nodded at Stephen.

“Now,” he shifted gears. “I know this is difficult for you. But is there anything you can remember about this place that can help us? We found you locked in that glass room in the clinic. Someone must have brought you there, from here, and then left in a hurry before the explosion in the woods. Maybe there’s another way out? Do you remember how you got there, Megan?”

The young woman closed her eyes and shook her head. “I… I was already… like this by then… but much worse. Everything… everything is jumbled up inside my head… hard to keep it straight… so much anger… and hunger… it hurt… it hurt so bad! To be that hungry and have it… hurt so bad!”

Logan shifted uncomfortably.

“That’s okay, Megan,” Meredith said. “We understand. Just try to keep calm, like we talked about in the lab. Calm and-”

Megan grabbed her wrist, her eyes going wide. “I remember the creepy man!” she said. “Before they… strapped me down… drugged me… there was one man who wasn’t like the rest. He was like me! After I… changed. He had eyes like me!”

Meredith raised an eyebrow. “You mean… someone else who was infected?”

“No! No… he was… telling the others what to do… the doctors… nurses… he was in charge! I remember… ‘cause he terrified me! He… acted human… but he was a monster… like me.” Megan averted her eyes in disgust.

“Don’t say that,” Meredith said. “You’re not a monster.”

Megan nodded. “I remember he… he looked very old. I… I think they called him Timmy… no… Tommy… wait… no… Taven! That was it! I remember… ‘cause his name sounded strange… like him.”

“Do you remember anything else about this… Taven?” Stephen asked. “Did he say anything to you, or the others?”

Megan shook her head. “No… he… he only cared about the other place… he kept talking about it with the others. They argued about it, too.”

“What other place?” Logan asked.

Megan looked up at the preacher, then beyond him. She pointed toward one of the large windows. “In… in there! I think… I think he wanted us all to go in there. But… but the others were afraid… afraid of that place! But… but Taven wasn’t afraid.”

Stephen, Logan and Meredith exchanged confused glances, and then stared at the windows.

“What’s in there, Stephen?” Meredith asked.

“Don’t know. We haven’t been able see in there. It’s way too dark and there’s this weird buzzing sound coming from the other side.”

“Like the buzzing behind the walls in the compound?” Meredith asked.

“Yes… exactly… but much more powerful.”

Meredith nodded, then turned back to the girl. “Megan, did Taven say what was in the other place behind the windows?”

She looked like she was about to shake her head, but then Megan stopped, her eyes going wide. “Yes… yes… he kept calling it Paradise.”

Logan scoffed at that. “I highly doubt there’s a paradise of any kind beyond that glass.”

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Megan finished. “That’s… that’s all I remember.”

“You did good, Megan,” Stephen said. “Thank you.”

Megan smiled.

Stephen got up and said to Logan, “Whoever this last group was, that was just before the winter. What we found is much older than that. I think it’s fair to assume that this Taven and his small group brought Megan here, but didn’t have time to finish whatever they were up to before everything happened leading up to the Wasteland explosion. They must have evacuated up through the mystery door and had to leave Megan behind.”

“Agreed,” Logan said. “We should explore the rest of this place.”

“They… they killed my baby,” Megan said, tears streaming down her face. “Whatever they did… didn’t work… and I… I was infected by my own child!”

Silence filled the room.

Meredith reached over and embraced Megan. She shot Stephen a dark look that he’d only seen one other time on Meredith’s face, back when they were in the cave during the topside attack. It was a murderous, savage look, that clearly told him what she wanted to do to Taven and the rest of those monsters. Her face immediately softened. “There’s another door on the right side of the room,” she said, pointing. “Perhaps there’s an entrance into what’s beyond the glass. Maybe another way out of here, perhaps? What did you find down the other hallway?”

“A whole lot of death,” Logan said. “There’s a room full of old Mother doctors and scientists that decided to take their own lives. The bodies look very old. Something happened here a long time ago that drove these people into believing that ending their own lives was the only escape they had.”

“Or they simply went insane,” Stephen added. “Either way, there’s nothing down that way. Just a bunch of guaranteed nightmares.”

Meredith nodded. “Then the door on the right is our only option?”

“Apparently,” Stephen said. “I don’t see us going back the way we came… not if we want to stay alive.”

This filled the room with immediate silence as each of them replayed various horrors they’d faced above.

“Sorry,” Stephen whispered. “I shouldn’t have brought that up.”

“Let’s go check the other door, Stephen,” Logan said. “Meredith should stay with the girl.”

Stephen looked to Meredith and Megan.

“He’s right,” Meredith said. “We’ll stay here.”

Stephen nodded. “We’ll be right back.” He turned to the preacher who was already letting loose a weary sigh as he stared at the new door to the right. “You ready for this?”

Logan smiled. “No… not really. But I’ve been saying that ever since the beginning. I’m kind of used to it now.”

“Closet or bathroom?”

Logan shook his head with a laugh. “It’s probably where they keep the indoor pool.”

Stephen thought about the last hall they’d explored. “Or another blood bath,” he muttered under his breath.

“Come again?”

“Nothing,” Stephen said. “Just the terrified ramblings of someone in desperate need of a permanent vacation.”

“Amen, little brother.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-2

Previous Episode 47-7

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-1: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. 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.

Advertisements

Comments? I love to read them

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s