~~~

Stephen and Meredith were the first to reach the dark mouth of the cavern facility. No time to worry about what’s in there, Stephen thought. He stepped into the darkness and immediately wanted to throw up when he sucked in the stale air. He covered his mouth and quickly recovered. “You smell that?”

Meredith was preoccupied. She was looking for a light switch.

Stephen glanced into the dark room in front of him, then turned as Logan and Megan bolted through the door.

“Close it!” the big preacher yelled.

“We don’t have any light-”

“Doesn’t matter,” Logan said, frantically grabbing at the door handle. “They’re coming! Dear God, what died in here?”

Both men stopped as Megan got back into a fighting crouch and starting growling into the darkness.

“Now what?” Stephen moaned.

“Found it!” Meredith said.

Just as Logan slammed the door shut, the overhead lights began to pop to life. All but one blew out, giving them just enough visibility to prefer the darkness.

“Oh… that’s… that’s horrible.” Meredith put her hand over her mouth.

The large space once served as some multi-purpose room. Several long tables were folded up and stacked against the walls, along with fold-up chairs. A long island counter was built at the back of the room holding portable kitchen equipment and a coffee pot. There was also a small refrigerator pressed up against the back of the counter that looked like it belonged in some college dorm room. Aside from looking like this was where station personnel ate quick meals, it also resembled a meeting room. Across every wall, written in what looked like fresh blood, dripped the word, PARADISE, repeated over and over like the walls on the inside of some insane asylum no longer under control.

Megan was poised to strike, continuing to growl at the horrific shapes lying scattered across the open floor.

The smell was of rotting flesh. Twenty disfigured corpses were lying on their backs, their limbs fully extended at odd angles, fingers bent completely back. They looked like they were trying to fend off the air itself as they were frozen in place—human snapshots of horrific deaths.

At first glance, it appeared as though they’d been burnt to alive, but upon closer inspection, it looked like they had all had several dark patches of skin ripped away, revealing muscles, organs, and bones.

Meredith was staring at what appeared to be a woman, it was hard to tell now. Her back was broken. Meredith glanced at the woman’s two raised hands, long fingers extended out like small branches. It was the woman’s bloody fingernails that brought her pause. She glanced at the woman’s torn up face, then turned away. “She did it to herself,” Meredith whispered. “They all did.”

“Are you saying that these people mutilated themselves?” Stephen couldn’t look at them anymore.

“Who are they?” Logan’s gun was raised. “And if they’re who I think they are… why are they still decomposing?” Most of them were wearing the shredded remains of lab coats.

“Shit, he’s right,” Stephen said. “If this is the original group of scientists… then they’d be skeletal remains by now.”

“This place,” Meredith started to say. “This place is… wrong. Everything happening down here is like having all we understand, turned inside out.”

“It’s madness,” Stephen said, staring into the face of another corpse. That’s when he noticed something. “Where are all their eyes?” he said. “Every one of them… their eyes are missing… just like the girls outside.”

“We need to keep moving,” Meredith pushed. “I can barely keep the darkness out of my mind. This place is saturated in it… and it’s so heavy.”

“Is there any way we can help?” Stephen offered.

“No. This place… this place is not fit for the living… nothing alive can thrive here… ever.”

“You heard the lady,” Logan said, walking carefully around the corpses to get to another doorway just beyond the island. “Let’s get to that ladder.” He caught up to Megan who had disappeared behind the counter. Her back faced him.

“There you are,” he said. “Thought you ran off. We need to-”

Megan turned, revealing her bloody mouth. She quickly wiped the blood away with her forearm and stared away from the preacher’s glare. She was feeding on one of the skinned corpses.

He quickly looked toward the door, trying to remove the ghastly image from his mind. He spoke to her over his shoulder with a sigh, “You… if you’re finished… get back with the others. It’s going to take everything we have to get out of this mess.”

Megan started to rise.

Logan turned and caught her nervous stare. She nodded and moved back to the others.

That look, he thought. I know it well. That was Shame.

“Why are those things outside not barging in through the door?” Stephen said.

“Because they know we have to go back out there… eventually,” Logan offered.

They moved as one toward the next door and stopped. The sound of sticky, heavy flesh squirming from all around the room made them turn.

“Shit!” Stephen nearly vomited.

All twenty corpses started to move in slow motion—their badly mutilated bodies shifted and turned as if forgetting how to function properly.

“Look at their faces,” Meredith whispered.

The face of every corpse seemed to bubble, melt, or stretch in unnatural positions—tortured expressions came to life as mouths fully extended seemed on the verge of screaming.

And then all at once they stopped, locked in different horrific positions, stuck to the floor in their own flesh cages.

“What in God’s name-” Logan turned away. “They look… they look like they’re still alive! Did you see the faces? It’s as though they can still feel what’s being done to them.”

“They’re… they’re not here,” Meredith said. “They’re here, but not here.” She shook her head. “Nothing I’m sensing… I don’t understand this place.”

“Time to go,” Stephen managed to get out, pushing them all toward the door. He believed the images of the twenty bodies would haunt his nightmares forever.

They entered a long hallway connecting the nightmare room to a larger space up ahead. Windows lined both sides of the hall, affording a clear view of the outside. They all stood horrified as they watched the cavern walls illuminated by the large spotlight towers move as if they were no longer solid but liquid, swirling around and changing shape continuously.

“I feel like we’re not in a cave anymore,” Stephen said. “The walls are… alive?”

“No,” Meredith quickly corrected. “There’s nothing alive in here.”

“Except us… right?” Logan was quick to correct.

As they reached the middle of the long hall, the outside light was cut off as more than fifty deformed monstrosities, former children with no eyes, filled up the windows and started slamming hands with elongated fingers on the glass. They were all laughing like little madmen, immediately reminding Meredith of the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz who were celebrating the fact that a house had come down and just killed someone.

Ding, dong, the witch is dead…

Megan stepped threateningly toward the windows, barring her teeth, and screamed at them. This just made the excitable creatures louder… crazed. The glass started to shatter.

Stephen pushed them forward, catching a glimpse of one girl’s face in passing. Her facial expressions shifted as her skull seemed to collapse beneath the skin, then started to reform in an entirely new shape as bones and teeth penetrated cheeks, forehead, and eye sockets.

He could no longer look at them, or else risk his legs giving out as his heart collapsed to fear.

With relief, they reached the end of the hall and quickly entered the next room within this subterranean house of horrors.

The lights flickered on immediately, activated by motion sensors.

The large white room was bare of all else except for a chair that looked like it belonged in some torture chamber, positioned in the center of the room. Also, the room appeared to be round.

Stephen looked up and noticed a dome-shaped ceiling where Mother’s infamous symbol was elaborately painted in red. It was so large that it dominated the view for anyone strapped into the strange chair that reclined all the way back into a resting position.

“This looks like some kind of brainwashing room… you know… like in the movies where they strap you in and make you watch the craziest images while the room spins.” Logan stared about the room nervously and finished, “Maybe stepping in here wasn’t such a great idea.”

Meredith looked up at the symbol, specifically, the eye, and suddenly felt cold. “This is where he meets them,” she said, rubbing her shoulders. “This is where they all die… and don’t die.”

“That’s really starting to become unsettling,” Stephen said. “You keep talking in circles like some damaged fortune cookie.”

“Sorry, Stephen,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m… I’m trying to understand it myself. This place is… distorting my senses. This place should not exist… and yet, it does.”

“There you go again.” Stephen found two more doors with small windows in them. He raced to one. “Another hallway leading deeper into this madhouse. There are more bodies, too. Logan, check the other one. I hope that’s a fucking exit. I’d prefer to skip the rest of the tour.”

“It is,” he said, after peering out the small window. “It’s facing where we need to be. Might I suggest we-”

“Let’s go!” Meredith said, staring around the room, rubbing her arms as if the temperature had just dropped twenty degrees. She glanced once more at the monstrous eye peering down at them from the ceiling. “Whatever’s in this cavern is definitely aware of us now.”

Logan took a breath, then checked once more for the creepy girls. “I don’t see anything. But it’s dark on this side of the cavern. I think this leads away from the ring of light towers. But the path is clear. Looks like a straight shot between several more rock formations, assuming we don’t get ambushed.”

Meredith turned to Megan. The young woman was also staring up at the large domed eye, growling at it. The medium whipped her head back to Logan. “We to have to move! Right now!”

The big preacher nodded. “I suggest we forget how tired we are and run. It’s a good hike to the north end of this large cavern and the farther we get away from here, the darker it’s going to get. Hopefully we find that ladder before then.”

Stephen moved in beside him. “I’d get that gun ready again.”

“It’s never left my hand,” he said with a forced smile.

Meredith and Megan joined them at the door.

They all exchanged a final glance into each other’s faces while they still had the artificial light. To Logan, his friends all looked like they wore death masks. He shook the thought and shot a quick prayer to God for protection. Then he opened the door, letting in the damp cavern air.

“Whatever you hear, whatever you think you see… just run, don’t stop,” he urged sternly, taking the lead into the dim cavern.

The others followed.

And they ran.

From all around them, the cavern came to life as howls and screams erupted, echoing in the vast space. The path became increasingly difficult to traverse after a hundred yards, as the cave grew darker. They maneuvered around tall stone monoliths and stalagmites protruding upward from the cavern floor. Each time they had to slow down, they all imagined monsters jumping out from every rock to finish them off.

Meredith tried her best to shut out the madness around her, closing off her mind and refusing to trust anything she sensed. She was operating with a broken compass in this place where nothing played by any rules she was familiar with. Even the dead were restrained by boundaries… but not here… where the living and the dead merged into something much worse… something unspeakable.

She stared up and noticed the ominous north end cavern wall. It was moving… no… slithering in the darkness. It reminded her of the inside walls of some large mouth, just before being swallowed whole. She looked away, keeping her eyes on Stephen’s back, listening to Megan’s panting from behind her, which she could just make out over her own racing heartbeat exploding in her ears.

“There’s a tunnel… right in the rock wall!” Logan called back. “It’s so dark I can barely see it!”

“That’s all we have,” Stephen said. “Just keep going!”

The howls from the children… or whatever they were… were close now. They were almost out of time.

Megan kept turning back in the darkness, ready to attack the cave predators and run straight toward them. But she refused to leave Meredith unprotected and stayed close.

Stephen was unnerved by the darkness quickly swallowing up what little light they had left, reflected off the cavern walls. Even the darkness itself was out to kill them before they reached safety. He could just make out the large black opening in the cavern wall, just ahead of Logan. “I see it!” he cried out, with a glimmer of hope granting him some spark in the dark.

Logan stopped abruptly one-hundred feet away from the tunnel entrance, causing Stephen to almost run right into him.

“What is it?” he said. “Why are you stopping?”

The big preacher’s back was still facing him. His was breathing heavily from running, his large shoulders hunkered over from the effort.

Meredith and Megan stopped alongside Stephen.

“Logan?” Stephen asked again.

Suddenly, the big preacher started laughing. At first it was a snicker, then he got louder and louder until he was laughing out-of-control. He turned to face the others, still laughing at a joke that no one else could hear. Half his face was shrouded in shadow. The other half was a disturbing sight in the dim fading light as a wicked smile dominated his reddening face. The big man could not stop laughing.

“Logan?” Stephen whispered. He was staring nervously at the handgun hanging loose in the big man’s right hand.

Meredith took a step back as Megan fell to her knees beside her. She started to laugh as well, although it sounded more like a hyena laughing. The savage girl tried to get back to her feet, but fell on her side, instead, losing all control in the darkness.

Stephen leaned up against a rock formation and started pointing at Logan. He was laughing so hard that the former school teacher struggled to breathe between outbursts.

“What is this?” Meredith said. But she knew.

Suddenly, something assaulted her mind like a mental baseball bat. She just managed to shut it out before the madness consumed her thoughts, too.

NO! she thought back against the unseen force trying to invade her mind. LEAVE ME ALONE! Her mental words became the tip of a spear forcing back the wave of insanity.

By now, Logan, Stephen and Megan were all lying on the cavern floor… laughing like maniacs… as they lost complete control.

What will you do, Meredith?

It was Toby.

They will all die here. Their minds cannot handle this place. None of them could. They don’t belong here. They cannot exist here. But you knew this already, didn’t you? You had to have sensed it.

“Let them go!” Meredith shouted into the darkness. “It’s me that you want! Let them leave… and you can have me!”

It’s not up to me, Meredith. The lines between what is and what should never be are all soooooo much thinner down here. I’m afraid their puny, little minds can’t handle it. It was just a matter of time, once they stepped over on this side of the electrified field.

“No,” she cried. “Just… just let us go! We were almost out!”

Yes, you were so close, so very close. The way to freedom is just at the other end of that tunnel. It’s such a shame. Say goodbye to them, Meredith. Their minds will snap at any moment… and there’s no telling what they will do then… to themselves or each other. It has always been the same here down here. They all perish in Paradise.

“No!” She could sense the entity leaving. “Come back!”

Over the howling monsters quickly approaching from the darkness and the insane laughter destroying what was left of her friends’ hold on reality, within her mind… there was only silence.

She looked down at her dying friends and felt extremely helpless. Meredith glared up at the large cavern wall and shouted, “I WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! YOU WILL NOT LEAVE! I’M NOT DONE WITH YOU, TOBY! I’M NOT DONE WITH…”

~~~

“… YOU!”

Meredith is standing in a large grassy field. Storm clouds hover overhead making her feel exposed. She is incredibly small compared to her vast surroundings. To her, the field covers the entire earth and she begins to panic, wondering which way she should walk… or if it even matters.

At the edge of visibility, Meredith makes out a small indistinguishable shape. She wonders if it is another human being or just some landmark in the distance. Either way, the shape gives her something to aim towards as thunder begins to rumble directly above, motivating her to move with purpose.

She walks at first. Then, fearing the shape will simply disappear, she begins to run towards it. She is almost out of breath by the time she realizes that the shape is of a person… a young man.

The young man is frantically waving towards her.

She waves back, delighted to find someone else out here in this strange, endless field.

Wait a minute!

Meredith stares at her small waving hand, realizing that she’s thirteen again.

Again? Yes… I’ve been here before! This is a dream… a dream I had a long time ago!

It begins to rain as the thunder is now accompanied by flashes of terrifying light that illuminate the dark clouds, exposing a yellowish sky behind them. To Meredith, the sky looks unnatural… it looks sick.

The young man is calling out to her now. She is so close.

Meredith stops twenty feet from the young man, who is simply standing there with his arms to his side. At first, she wonders if he’s real, but then remembers that he called out. He’s wearing a dirty red and white football uniform, minus the pads and helmet. His face is as pale as a ghost beneath a disheveled mess of black hair. His long bangs hide his eyes. If she had to guess, Meredith would say that he was in his late teens.

“Hello,” she says, noticing her own voice sounding heavy, as if the words barely had enough strength to reach the young man before crumbling away to the ground. Her voice also sounds younger—the higher pitch verifying that she is dreaming.

I am me… an old woman… but I’m also this young girl, or in this younger body! This duality makes her feel strange, but she dismisses it since dreams are illogical.

The young man smiles, or attempts to. His teeth are black and rotted away.

Meredith takes an uneasy step back.

“Do not be afraid,” the young man says. “I’ve been waiting for you, Meredith. I’ve been waiting to talk to you for such a long, long time.” His voice sounds… wrong. That’s when she realizes that the young man isn’t moving his lips… but she can still hear him.

“You’re not safe, Meredith. None of the girls are. This place is bad… very bad. Pay special attention to the man-”

“You’re Toby,” Meredith interrupts, and is surprised that she can do so. “We’ve met before… a long time ago.”

The young man stops and lets loose a surprised laugh. “Yes,” he says. “I guess we have met before. If that’s the case, then you know what happens next.”

“The Lions,” Meredith says. “They’re coming to devour you.”

“Not just me, Meredith,” Toby says. “All of you.”

“You’re trying to trick me. You just want me to come find you in the basement.”

The deteriorated young man puts his hands to his side and smiles a grotesque smile. “Well… I guess there’s no fooling you, Meredith.”

“The man behind the curtain is you,” she accuses. “You’re just trying to get me to find you so that you can take me away… make me do things… bad things.”

“You’ve already done bad things,” Toby says. “This isn’t a dream, or the past, or the present. You know that, right?”

Meredith considers the young man’s words. Surprisingly, she understands. “Elsewhere?”

“Yes!” Toby says with delight. “Welcome back, Meredith… and it’s nice meeting you for the first time… again.”

Meredith is confused. “Why are we here? What do you want from me?”

Toby shakes his head. “Well… I want you to remember, of course. I need you to remember… all of it… everything Forrester took from you… from us. Then… I need you to return to me so that we can finish what we started… and begin from the start. It’s all rather confusing in this place, don’t you think?”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Of course, you don’t. But you will. This is where we first met, where we met again, and where we’re meeting now… before you come back to complete our business together.”

“I’m done with you, Toby,” Meredith says. “I don’t care what this is or where this is… I’m free of you and I’ll never come back!”

Toby laughs, his eerie broken voice echoes across the vast field. “You’ve already come back, Meredith… even though you’re still right here with me as a frightened child… and still in that dark cavern as an old misunderstood witch. Even now… you’re with me in what you perceive as the future, at the edge of the end of your world… on an island where you are currently helping me get free and all your friends are long gone.”

“You lie!”

“It’s true. In here, there is no past, present, future. There’s just you and I—the Beginning and the End of all things.”

“I… I don’t understand!”

“You will. But now… you better watch out.” Toby points behind her. “The Lions are loose!”

Before she turns around, a large roar nearly knocks her over. She turns and sees a large emerald lion beginning to circle her and Toby. It does not look pleased that they are here.

Meredith tries to scream but no sound escapes her mouth. She turns back to Toby.

A gust of warm wind blows against Toby’s face, causing his bangs to part and revealing his deep, dark, sunken eyes. He looks more like a skeleton than a man, she thinks, while taking another step back.

The emerald lion roars at her again, causing Meredith to jump.

“Go back, Meredith,” Toby says. “You can’t be here… and there. Not yet… and definitely not your friends.”

Meredith is about to turn, but the beast charges straight for her.

The lion’s eyes are a blazing yellow color… she can feel such intense hatred coming from those unnatural eyes.

She falls to the grass, placing her hands in front of her face. She can’t hear her own screams as the lion leaps directly towards her.

Before the beast tears her throat out, Meredith, the older Meredith remembers the cavern. She sees the faces of her dying friends in the darkness.

“NO!” little Meredith screams into the face of the emerald lion as she raises her hand.

Suddenly, the lion disintegrates in the air…

~~~

Next Episode 49-1

Previous Episode 48-7

~~~

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 48-8: Hell” Copyright © 2019 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.

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