~~~

Her life… if that’s what she could still call it… was not her own. For Megan Bishop, former member of the human race aiming rapidly for extinction, life was an internal war between the fragments of her previous identity and the ravenous monster attempting to consume it. She could still taste the salty blood on her lips, feel the torn flesh beneath her fingernails, the ingested organs within her decaying belly. In the moments of clarity, where the illusion of control had returned, Megan could see flashes of memories from before and after she’d turned, causing a whole range of conflicting and irrelevant emotions to surface. She felt pain—an intense throbbing coursing through her flesh brought on by the diseased part of her mind that demanded she feed on the living. When she did, there was respite from the intense longing, like an out-of-control fire in need of something to consume. There was no satisfaction from devouring flesh, no gratification—that part of her did not adhere to anything rational. There was just the voice of the madness that the beast had to obey. But what remained of her humanity felt repulsed, horrified, and an intense sadness that equaled the pain, and it was the sadness Megan felt that brought her back from the brink of losing the war within. Sometimes, she was aware of what was happening around her—the people who attempted to communicate with her, reach out, and make her believe she was still… Megan. Other times, it took all she had to not lose it, and viciously tear into them.

She was strongest when the sadness tormented her infected mind. Megan could no longer love, not in the way she remembered, but she could feel the loss of that love, and the people who were responsible for it. When she was able to drift beyond the hunger, her thoughts dove into the depths of that loss, recognizing the people who were closest to her that she once… loved. In those moments, her desire to be dead was much more powerful than her desire to cause death.

Megan sat near the observation room door trying desperately to keep her dead flesh from trembling. Her body had no business still functioning, but it did. The tainted, unnatural blood coursing through her decaying flesh burned intensely, especially with prey so close. She turned to look at Meredith and Stephen sitting at a table, staring into files that no longer mattered.

Only the flesh mattered. And she needed to FEED!

She turned away and shook her head, trying to keep her mind clear, or at least, maintain a small place in the darkness that possessed it, for herself.

This is not… this is not who I am, she lied to herself. I am not a monster!

But she was.

I AM NOT A MONSTER!!!

The lie held for now as tears ran down her dirty, blood-stained cheeks. She needed to be away from this horrible place where the only memories she had where of losing her child and then becoming this creature, but the agony associated with those memories kept the savage under control… for now.

And then she heard the sound… the awful, soul-wrenching sound, that propelled her deeper into the pit of despair. Megan turned toward the left side of the room, toward the western wing door. She could still smell the corpses mixed with madness coming from that dead place… but the sound… it was coming from in there. She turned back toward Meredith and Stephen. They didn’t turn. They couldn’t hear it.

You’re not hearing anything, she tried to tell herself. It’s all just phantoms coming from your damaged brain. Nothing more.

But maybe they could hear it, too. Maybe Stephen and Meredith could hear it, but they didn’t care.

Because no one cares about the sounds the dead make, came a strange voice from the darkness in her mind. The living cannot hear the pleas of the dead. They can only fear what they don’t understand.

Megan tried to shut out the imagined sound. But she couldn’t.

She continued to hear the painful cries of her unborn child, wailing from the western wing. A dead child calling out for its dead mother.

Driven by a compulsion stronger than the need to feed, Megan crept away from the corner by the door, and followed the cries of her baby, entering the corpse-infested darkness of the western wing.

I’m coming… please… just stop. Stop crying! STOP CRYING! Mommy’s coming.

~~~

Meredith strongly objected when Stephen removed the gun belt from the file cabinet and put it on.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I know who she still is under what she’s become. I don’t want to hurt Megan.”

“Then leave the gun,” Meredith suggested, leading the way toward the western wing door. “I can help her. You won’t need that.”

Stephen frowned. “I know I won’t. I just didn’t want to leave it behind,” he lied.

Meredith considered calling the former teacher out, but let it go. With all the strange happenings that had occurred down in this secret lab, they all had cause to be a little paranoid. But the fine line between paranoia and madness could be easily blurred in this place, as the evidence from the past made plain.

Just keep it together old girl, she reminded herself. Keep it together for all our sakes. Meredith reached for the old door and pulled it open with shaky hands. Calm down, before you convince him that bringing the gun was a good idea. In truth, Megan’s behavior, now that she was free from the glass cage in the clinic, was as unpredictable as the infected girl’s moods from day to day. Under observation, Meredith and Dr. Cooper had always controlled Megan’s environment, slowly bringing her humanity back to the surface by engaging with her in a safe setting. But this was all new. Meredith had no idea how Megan would react to anything… or if her new freedom would encourage the beast to come out more, or if that freedom and the choices it afforded would encourage Megan to suppress the darkness.

“Maybe we should go back and get the tranquilizers,” Stephen said from behind as they stepped into the dim and bloody hallway.

Meredith shook her head. “She’s shown incredible resistance to them. I believe we have enough left to knock her out one more time… as a last resort. With the normal dosages, there’s the risk of the drugs only agitating her. I’d prefer to reason with the girl and not provoke the beast.”

Stephen laughed nervously, staring around at all the ancient blood smears across the walls. “You do realize there’s a good chance that all this blood may be what-”

“I know,” she interrupted. “I’m trying not to think about it. If she came in here to… feed… then perhaps she did it to avoid attacking us.”

“You’re forever the optimist,” Stephen said, placing a sweaty hand on the gun holster. They started down the hallway, staring into the rooms on either side. Half-way down the hall they stopped at a partially opened door on the right. The lights within the room flickered, but they could see a hospital room bed with dirty soiled sheets and what looked like leather straps laying across the top. The bed was surrounded by dead medical machines. Megan was standing at the foot of the bed, head down, her face hidden in a jungle of long dirty blond hair. Her arms hung limp, her bloody gown shifted around her shoulders. She was breathing rapidly.

Meredith placed a hand on Stephen’s shoulder. “Stay back,” she whispered. “Let me talk to her first.”

Stephen hesitated, then nodded. “Be careful,” he said. “This looks like the room where they did it… where those bastards killed her child. God-only-knows what being back here is doing to her.”

Meredith nodded. She took a deep breath and slowly stepped into the room.

Stephen stayed just outside the doorway where he could watch the confrontation but remain out of the way. He’d drawn the gun from the holster as soon as his older friend entered the room. He prayed to Logan’s God that he wouldn’t have to use it.

“Megan, it’s me, Meredith.”

The young woman did not flinch.

Meredith dared a couple of steps forward, arms raised submissively. “Megan, you gave us quite a scare taking off like that. We need to stay together. This place isn’t safe.”

“I’ve been longing for death ever since it happened… when I can remember it.”

Megan’s clear voice nearly caused the older woman to stumble. She stopped five feet from the troubled girl. Megan remained still. The half-dead woman was staring at the bed, her thoughts locked into some faraway hell that Meredith could not imagine. “You sound very… calm… Megan. I think this is the first time you haven’t struggled to form sentences. Where are you right not, honey?”

“I’m here,” she said. “I’m nowhere… but I’m also here. This is where I died. This is where we both died.”

“I’m so sorry, Megan. Perhaps we should leave this dark place now. It pains me to consider the suffering you must be going through.”

Megan turned to look at her. “I’m alright. I welcome this pain. It’s the only thing keeping me… alive… if that’s the right word for it.”

“You are alive, honey.”

“And yet, I’m also dead.” She turned back toward the bed. “The pain I feel… here-” she made a fist and pounded on her chest. “The pain…it’s so intense, that I almost don’t hear the madness inside me… the rage… commanding me to kill you, to kill all of you.”

Meredith swallowed hard. “Well… that’s something. Is there anything I can do to help you… with the pain?”

“I just want to hold on to this moment. I need to feel it… all of it… and hold on to it for as long as I can. I lost my child, Meredith, but that loss is tangible… and strong. It’s as though my baby is still here with me—and we’re still connected somehow, through death… I can’t explain it any other way.”

“Well, you take as long as you need, honey,” Meredith said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I understand grief, and I understand what it means for you to stand in the place where that grief began. It’s a powerful wave of emotions, an overwhelming wave. Normally, that kind of sadness would destroy us… but not you. I’m just beginning to understand that. Perhaps that’s something you’ve gained being who you are now.”

“What do you mean?”

Meredith smiled. “Death can’t harm you or your baby any longer. You’ve moved beyond that. I almost envy you for what you can embrace, now that the fear of death… is gone.”

Megan smiled back and nodded. “I like that. You’re right. I don’t feel fear, not like I once did. I hardly feel at all… and that’s because of the savage in me. But when I do feel… anything… it’s the pain, the loss, and… it’s beautiful… but only to me, and others like me, I suppose. It keeps me connected to life while rotting away in this shell that death has already claimed.”

Meredith was about to protest, but let it go. She’d never seen Megan so lucid, so aware of herself and what she was becoming, then at this moment. She needs this. She needs to bond with her dead child in a way that only a dead mother can… and that is something the living can’t possibly fathom. She turned toward the door to signal Stephen to leave.

Stephen wasn’t there.

“Did you hear it cry, too?”

Meredith turned back. “What was that?”

Megan was staring into her now. “My child, did you hear it crying out? I assume that’s how you ended up here.”

Meredith shook her head. She was confused. “No, Megan. I didn’t hear anything. Are you telling me that you could hear your child… calling to you?”

Something in Megan’s face had changed. She looked angry, but not in a savage way. “That’s right. What would any of you know about that? It was foolish of me to think that you heard the cries. That’s always been the problem from the start. The living never could understand the language of the deceased.” Megan turned away, shaking her head in disgust.

Meredith raised her eyebrows. “That’s a very odd statement, Megan. Where did you come by that?”

“The voice of Truth has always been readily available to anyone willing to seek it out,” Megan said. “But the living remains deaf to it. Only the dead can hear it… only the dead can embrace it.”

Meredith took a shaky step back. “Something’s changed, Megan. What’s happening to you right now?”

Megan turned and smiled at the older woman. “You still don’t recognize me, do you, Meredith?”

Meredith covered her mouth with her hands. No! This isn’t possible!

“Or maybe you do… in part,” Megan said. “Don’t worry, I don’t blame you. I know what that woman did to you—to us—so long ago. We had a bond, you and me. We were making such great progress until you were snatched away and hidden from me. But… I found you… watched you from a distance… let you become the woman you are today, or rather, this other woman that you are today.”

Meredith pointed threateningly at Megan, stepping back toward the door. “No! This isn’t possible! You can’t be here!”

“What’s not possible, Meredith? I can influence the weak minds of the living through dreams. And I can manipulate the affections of a naïve girl through a child’s doll. Would speaking directly to you through this husk of a woman be that much of a stretch?”

“Toby?” she whispered.

“Yes… a name. You do remember me a little. But you don’t remember our relationship. Again, this is not your fault. That’s why I’ve gone through great pains to arrange getting you down here. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but patience is one of my greatest weapons. And this is something else the living, who come with an expiration date, could never appreciate.”

“What have you done to Megan?” Meredith desperately needed out of this room. “And… she’s not some shell you can just put on and take off like a costume!”

The entity pretending to be Megan lifted an eyebrow and smiled. “My, my… a bit dramatic, don’t you think? And who said anything about Megan?”

Before Meredith could give voice to her confusion, the overhead lights began to flicker rapidly as the brightness intensified. She covered her eyes as if someone had just aimed a strobe light directly in her face. “Stop it!” she yelled.

The lights flickered out and then turned back on, remaining steady.

The room was darker. No… that wasn’t it. The darkness feels thicker… heavier.

Everything felt wrong and Meredith sensed it immediately.

“Perhaps the word you’re looking for is… alive.”

The voice came out of the darkness. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. It was familiar, but it wasn’t Megan’s voice.

The older woman’s eyes adjusted to the darker room. That’s when she noticed the shapes of several corpses lined up and lying against each other at the base of a bloody and bullet-filled wall. She knew immediately where she was.

“What’s the matter, Meredith?”

This time the voice was coming from directly behind her. She was too terrified to turn around.

“That’s no way to greet an old friend. Did I not welcome you with open arms when you were brought to us? Did I not provide for you a place where you could finally belong and escape the judgment of the world?”

Meredith finally turned.

Standing before her was a decayed skeleton in a filthy lab coat. Its long arms were crossed in front of its rotting chest. It’s big-boned frame made it appear much taller and wider, causing Meredith to stumble back with a gasp.

“Miss… Miss Evans?” she whispered.

“No, you foolish child,” Toby said. The decrepit jaw of the skeleton moved up and down, like a macabre puppet. “She’s long gone, but her… shell… as you say, remains.”

“What did you do to Megan? Where is she?”

“She’s right where you left her,” the Evan’s skeleton mocked. “I imagine your dear friend, Stephen, is putting a hole in her head as we speak.”

“What?” Meredith started looking for an exit from this room of madness. Alarmingly, she couldn’t find a door.

The skeletal Miss Evans moved toward her, creating a sickening sound of bones rubbing against each other and starting to collapse upon themselves. “You’re going to have to catch me, Meredith. It seems my mobility in this particular husk is extremely limited without the muscles to support it.”

Before Meredith could dodge the horrendous thing, she backed up into a corner with no time to do anything else but raise her arms defensively over her head as the remains of Miss Evans came crashing down on top of her.

Meredith fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and let out a scream.

Mark well what happens next. It was the voice of Toby, this time, speaking directly within her mind. Consider how things might have gone if I’d allowed the delusions to play out. This is your only warning. Proceed to Paradise without delay. I need to give you something… a gift. Better hurry.

We’ll all die down there! she thought back. We’ll go insane like all the others!

No, you won’t, Meredith. You can protect them. You’re stronger than you know… and there’s so much you need to know. Come to Paradise. It’s time… to remember.

Meredith opened her eyes. She was back in the observation room, staring out one of the large dark windows. She felt something in her hand.

“How could you do it after all she fucking did for you!?”

Stephen’s voice. Meredith turned.

Stephen was standing near the entrance doorway pointing the handgun less than five feet from Megan’s face.

The half-dead young woman screeched at Stephen, barred her teeth, and then tipped over one of the large file cabinets. “YOU KILLED HER! YOU… YOU MURDERED MY CHILD!” she screamed.

Meredith could see the proverbial red burning in Megan’s eyes. She was about to charge the former school teacher.

“Fuck you, monster! You slaughtered my friend!” Stephen’s finger started to pull on the trigger.

“Stephen!” Meredith yelled. “What are you doing?”

Stephen was surprised by Meredith’s voice. He turned, the shock evident in his eyes. “What? How?”

There was no time.

Megan charged, leapt over the overturned file cabinet with an ear-piercing scream, drool dripping from her mouth like a rabid dog, and tackled Stephen to the ground. Stephen lost his grip on the gun as it slid across the floor. He just managed to get his hands up and grab the savage’s wrists before she slit his throat with her long nails.

Stephen could barely manage the crazed woman’s almost superhuman strength as he felt her hot, rancid breath on his face. He registered his death in the young woman’s silver eyes as she opened her mouth to finish him off.

Stephen suddenly felt her arms go limp as Megan looked up, confused, while Meredith injected her with the rest of the tranquilizers. Megan fell to the side and rolled on her back, staring up at the older woman with a look of betrayal.

“I’m sorry,” Meredith whispered to the young girl, dropping the tranquiller gun with disgust. “I’m sorry, Megan,”

Stephen shakily rose to his feet and started searching for the gun.

“Leave it!” Meredith snapped, holding him in place. “You just leave it alone, Stephen… or so help me… I’ll inject you next!”

Stephen was shocked by the older woman’s anger, but it was enough to get his attention. He stood cautiously next to Meredith, staring down at the savage who tried to rise but kept falling to the floor. Within a few moments, Megan was unconscious.

Meredith turned and glared at him.

“I… I saw you die,” was all he could say. He pointed down at Megan. “I watched you enter that room. Megan attacked you without provocation… and… and before I could react… she was tearing you to pieces.” He looked around as more confusion started to settle in. “How did we even get back here? I was about to shoot her in the hospital room.”

Meredith ran a hand through her disheveled hair and took a deep breath. She nodded and put a hand on Stephen’s shoulders. “We never left this room, Stephen.”

“Come again?”

Meredith nearly fell into the closest chair, and finished, “What was Megan screaming about?”

Stephen shook his head. “She kept talking about her baby. Said I killed it… whatever that means. I just assumed she lost her fucking mind after she-”

“After you saw her kill me?” Meredith finished.

“I saw the blood… your blood… it was everywhere!” Stephen took a seat next to Meredith. “But that can’t be right because your sitting right here talking to me.”

Meredith let loose a nervous laugh. “Seems we all lost our minds. You saw one thing. Megan another. And what I saw… what I experienced… was nothing like what either of you experienced.”

Stephen’s eyes went wide. “Are we… are we going insane? Like the others? Clearly none of us left this room.”

“And yet we did,” Meredith said.

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t understand. Are we hallucinating or not?”

Meredith looked down in her lap. She was covering something with two shaky hands. “I was with you in that room when we found Megan. I remember you stood by the door while I went in to calm her down. And then I was… no longer in that room. I was in that horrible place where you and Logan found all those bodies.”

“You mean you hallucinated it, right?”

She shook her head and showed Stephen the object she kept concealed in her lap. It was the same object she had in her hand when she… woke… in the observation room, staring out the window. “Did I hallucinate this, Stephen?”

He looked at the object in her lap and then rubbed the side of his head. “How did you get that?”

Meredith stared down at the identification badge and shook her head. She read the name: Amelia Evans, Manager Project Oversight.

Stephen’s head was spinning. “What does this mean?”

Meredith turned the I.D. badge over and noticed the magnetic strip running along the bottom.

Don’t act so surprised, she scolded herself. There is another door, after all. And then she thought about Toby’s warning, hallucination or not.

We are going mad, but it’s Toby that’s pushing us there… on purpose.

Paradise.

Meredith was really starting to loathe that word.

“Oh, shit!”

Meredith looked up. “What? What’s the matter?”

Stephen looked alarmed. “Logan.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-5

Previous Episode 48-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-4: 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.

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