~~~

They escorted Megan to the house clinic. Broken glass crunched beneath their feet. The long bed that Meredith remembered had been removed. Cabinet doors hung open on partially ripped off hinges. All the medical equipment was gone. Aside from a filthy unraveled roll of gauze and a handful of scattered wooden tongue depressors, the rest of the clinic was stripped bare of anything useful.

Meredith looked discouraged.

“The attic was the only room we’d found that appeared untouched. Just a bunch of old stuff up there, anyway,” Stephen said. “When Mother’s goons cleared this place out, they probably didn’t give a shit about the garage sale items stored up there. That stuff’s probably been collecting dust long before they started using this house. Sorry, Meredith.”

She nodded, then glanced at Megan.

The young woman looked much worse. She sat down against the wall where and old ripped and faded eye chart still hung. She was resting her head in her arms, staring at the floor, and trying to keep her breathing calm.

She’s weak, Meredith thought. Poor girl’s trying her best to control it… but the hunger’s stronger than she is in this state. Meredith looked toward the back of the clinic where the office door stood open. Dr. Candice Forrester’s bare large oak desk dominated the view. She walked toward the office.

“Nothing in there… except for that whale of a desk,” Logan said. “They probably couldn’t figure out how to get it out of that office without tearing down a wall. Come to think of it… makes me wonder how they got the damn thing in there to begin with.”

She had to check anyway. “Just give me a minute,” she said, stepping into the office.

Meredith checked all the drawers in the large desk. Many were left open or completely removed. Nothing… and more nothing. She was feeling desperation kick in and considered exploring the attic. Meredith sat down in Forrester’s chair, surprised that it was still intact. Sitting down reminded her how exhausted they all were as she sank into the comfortable torn leather seat and almost passed out. She shook her head awake and leaned across the desk. She stared down at the spot where the other chair once stood, imagining a timid, younger version of herself sitting there, hands in lap, eyes staring down sheepishly, as the doctor probed her with question after question. What was that woman up to here? she thought. Did she screen all the girls coming in before deciding if they met Mother’s requirements? Was Forrester responsible for sending them below, never to be seen or heard from again? Meredith shook her head sadly, closing her eyes to shut out partial memories with too many gaps in them. She had honestly liked the doctor who had always seemed out of place at the orphanage. Forrester had tried to make her feel comfortable. Looking back in retrospect, Candice, as she liked Meredith to call her, was just another professional liar serving Mother’s agenda, and in this case, preying on naïve children with special abilities. Where did I go when that woman injected me in the secret room? Where did Forrester take me? Was I down in that cavern, too? And if so, how am I still alive today? More blanks in her memory but Meredith sensed that she’d been removed from this place entirely, at some point, along with those four comatose patients. The cavern should’ve triggered something, sparked some horrific experience repressed inside her head. But there had been nothing.

Meredith shook her head. “No. I wasn’t down there,” she said. “They had other plans for this special girl,” she spat bitterly. “Elsewhere,” she whispered, not knowing why.

Stephen stepped into the office, out of breath and sweaty.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

He then smiled and said, “I went back to the kitchen. We’d found some food in the cabinets, can goods mainly, and some rotting leftovers in the fridge… but it got me thinking. A house like this, with all you girls living in it. There had to be a first-aid kit or two stationed around here.”

Meredith’s eyes lit up. She stood. “Now that you mention it,” she said. “I believe there was one on the wall between the refrigerator and-”

“And the oven,” he finished with a smile. He held up his hand, revealing a syringe, still sealed in its plastic bag. “I guess they missed the kit… or didn’t care. Either way, it was fully stocked.”

She came out from around the large desk and almost danced her way to Stephen before giving him a big hug. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”

“No problem,” he said, laughing. “Now, are you going to tell us what you’re planning to do with it?”

Meredith looked around the windowless office and said, “This will have to do. Bring Megan in here. She’ll need to be contained for what comes next. Back in the compound, Cooper and I had the glass cell to do this in… but out here… it’s risky.”

Stephen frowned, staring at the syringe. He started to catch on. “Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do, Meredith? And if so, how long were you and the good doctor feeding that girl blood right under our noses?”

Meredith looked away. “I’m… I’m sorry, Stephen. We tried everything else to keep the nourishment down. It only worked for a little while, but her body… her reanimated body… just kept rejecting it. It drove Coop nuts trying to figure it out, but it eluded him. Something within the dead, something that I believe is not from our world, just requires them to ingest blood. All I know is that when we started to include small dosages of blood, along with whatever food we could get into her, it seemed to balance out whatever was causing her system to shut down.”

Stephen glared at Meredith, shook his head, and then looked back out the office doorway. Logan was talking to Megan, trying to keep the young woman distracted. He smiled at the two of them. “He’s coming around. Logan’s starting to see Megan more, and the monster less.” He turned back to Meredith. “You do realize that if anyone in the compound had suspected what you and Dr. Cooper had been doing, and had come to me with it, I probably would’ve had to put a bullet in her brain. I don’t even know if Logan’s going to understand what you’re about to do. I don’t know that I do, either.”

Meredith looked shocked.

“You and Coop were supposed to be proving that she was capable of coming back, not feeding her like some captured vampire. How did you know you weren’t making her worse, dangling that blood carrot around like rewarding some dog for learning a new trick?”

Meredith sighed. “I know you’re upset, Stephen, and I should’ve come to you about it.”

“Yes, you damn well should have.”

“But we tried everything else, nothing was working until we… compromised. And she was getting better after we started what Coop called… blood treatments.”

“That’s insane,” he said. “And Cooper was on board with this?”

“No, he wasn’t. Not initially. But I… I was persuasive. In truth, he thought the same way you did until he saw Megan’s recovery increase significantly after I started giving her the treatments.”

“And that’s what you’re going to do now? Draw your own blood and then… what… just give it to her?”

“Just enough to help her for now. Think of what she’s going through as an addiction, if that helps.”

Stephen shook his head. “So, you’re going to treat that addiction by giving her controlled dosages of the drugs?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes.”

“That seems very, very dangerous, Meredith. You know what blood does to these things.”

“Yes,” she said. “I am aware of the risks. That’s why she needs to be contained.”

“In case you feed her your blood and she turns on you, right?”

Meredith paused and then said, “I’m not going to hide this any longer, Stephen. I already feel bad for keeping it from you this long. But… there is a risk that the hunger could overwhelm her when the blood is introduced. Back in the compound clinic, we could observe her safely from the other side of the glass. In the early trials, she tried to attack me through the glass when she got a taste of my blood. We always talked her down… eventually.”

Stephen laughed. “I’m not liking this… at all.”

“We don’t have any options, Stephen. Look at her out there. She’s trying not to cave, but if she doesn’t get a… well… a fix… soon, she’s going to lose control.”

“So, she’s not really getting better at all. Is that what you’re telling me?”

“No. She is. Megan’s going through longer periods without needing to feed. That’s what it was like in the clinic before the Shadow Dead attacked. I believe she’s building up her resistance—If that’s what it is—and she’ll be able to go from several hours to perhaps days without the blood.”

“But she’ll always need it, Meredith.”

This time she had nothing to say. Finally, she conceded, “Perhaps. But maybe, after we start rebuilding our world and rising out of the ashes of this one, we’ll grow as a community and someone, somewhere, will find an acceptable substitute for Megan and others like her—some kind of synthetic blood. I don’t know. All I do know is that Megan is fighting back and trying her best to reclaim her humanity, even though her body is slowly rotting away. That’s something unique with the ones inflicted with the ‘Silver Sickness’. They’re only partially dead. So, for now, we feed the dead parts of her that we don’t understand with the only substance that seems to work, while the living parts of her can still ingest nourishment the regular way.”

Stephen glanced back out at Megan. “The dead currently outnumber the living. I hope that changes eventually if we ever hope to ‘rebuild’ anything. But for now, I suppose that we’re the ones with irregular eating habits.”

Meredith smirked, not appreciating the joke. “She can beat this, Stephen. But not without help… and for right now… not without blood.”

Stephen turned and closed his eyes with a heavy sigh. He gave her an exhausted glance and said, “So, we do this your way and risk her losing her shit, or, we do nothing and risk her losing her shit anyway. Sounds like we don’t have a lot of choices.”

“You could always put that bullet in her head.”

Stephen and Meredith turned to find Logan in the doorway.

The big preacher smiled. “Your voices carry in this empty old place.”

Meredith looked past the big preacher, toward Megan who remained in the other room. She had her head down either pretending to not overhear the conversation, or too feverish to notice. Meredith glared at Logan. “And you don’t approve of what I’m doing, of course,” she said with a sneer. “You would rather shoot that monster dead.”

“No,” he said. “I’m growing rather fond of that young lady out there. She’s putting up a helluva fight and I intend to keep helping her fight that good fight… for as long as it takes.” He then returned her gaze with an equally intense one. “As for what you and the doctor did, that’s between you and God to work out.”

This surprised both Stephen and Meredith.

Logan nodded back out toward clinic. “It’s Megan who suggested the bullet. Sent me to tell you, too.”

Meredith was stunned.

Logan finished, staring directly at Meredith. “That brave woman out there would rather die on her own terms, fighting this so-called ‘addiction’, then risk going for your throat after tasting your blood… again.”

Meredith stared at the girl like a proud mother on the verge of making the toughest decision of her life.

Megan refused to look up and meet her gaze.

Meredith’s throat tensed up as she wiped tears from her eyes. She looked at the others. “And that’s why we have to try.”

Stephen nodded reluctantly. “Okay. We try. But you’re not doing it alone.”

“No,” Meredith said. “The risk is too high. This is on me. I should do it alone.”

Logan drew the handgun from the holster on his side, catching Meredith’s look of disgust. “We’re not discussing this any further if we’re doing this damnable thing. I’ll be praying fervently that it works. But if she attacks, may God grant me the strength to fulfill that girl’s final request.”

~~~

Megan reluctantly let them lead her into Dr. Forrester’s office. Part of her wanted to overpower them, which she could still do in her weakened state, and then run away from the house—anything to keep from slaughtering her friends. But she kept picturing herself reaching the wall of the dead outside and giving in to the madness that would immediately overwhelm her. The only difference would be that she’d end up among the horde eventually attacking her friends anyway as she was consumed completely by that hunger fire, which would destroy her final hold on humanity.

It was Logan’s firm stare that made her give in. In his eyes she could clearly see that he meant business. Either this worked, or he would put an end to all her suffering right here and now. She found great comfort in Logan’s face. It gave her a glimpse of the man he was before his God had claimed him. There was hatred in those eyes—a hatred that would not hesitate to blow her brains out the moment she went savage. She knew the preacher had denounced this hatred, but he could no more escape his darkness then she could escape her own. The best either of them could do was control it… and in this case… should her monster reveal itself, Logan’s monster would be there to finish it.

Before entering the office, she turned to the big preacher and said, “You do… do what you have to do. Don’t… don’t hesitate. I forgive you… for whatever happens next. But don’t you dare… don’t you dare hesitate if I… lose control. That, I can’t… I won’t forgive. Understand?”

Logan looked toward the others uncomfortably.

Stephen couldn’t stop fidgeting.

Meredith refused to look him in the eyes.

He turned back to Megan, nodded, and then smiled. “May God grant you strength, little lady, to resist the wiles of the enemy and defeat them all on your terms, in Jesus’ name.”

She grabbed his gun wrist firmly and said, “And if your God decides to not help me today…”

He frowned. “God is here either way, Megan. To stay your violence… or to make mine necessary. Let’s leave it at that.”

She nodded, releasing her grip on the preacher, and then entered the office.

Stephen nervously led her to a fold up chair they’d found in another room. He repositioned it in front of the large oak desk and said, “Please… sit here, Megan.”

She sat down.

Stephen knelt beside her. “Is there… is there anything I can get you? Anything to make you more comfortable about all this?”

To the young half-dead woman, Stephen sounded like a reluctant prison guard escorting a prisoner to sit before the final death-row meal was served. She smiled at him and said, “I’m okay. Thank you.”

Stephen nodded with a heavy sigh then stood up and walked with Meredith to the other side of the desk.

Logan remained directly behind Megan, standing in the doorway with his hands in his pockets. He looked miserable, sweating profusely, as he prayed quietly to his God.

Meredith met the girl’s gaze and was surprised to find her smiling.

Megan laughed lightly and said, “It’s alright, Meredith. Don’t look so worried.”

Meredith took a deep breath and tried her best to smile back. She sat down in Forrester’s chair and folded her hands across the large desk. She tried to shut out Stephen’s nervous movements to her right, and the foreboding Logan in the doorway. She focused entirely on the brave young woman. “You know,” she said. “I once sat where you did, in this very office. I was very young. I felt like I’d done something wrong in school and was sent to see the principal.”

Megan laughed. “Did that… did that happen a lot to you in school? I can’t… I can’t picture you as much of a hellraiser.”

“Well, let’s just say, because of my… odd behavior… I was often misunderstood.”

“They were… afraid of you,” Megan said. “I get that.”

Meredith smiled. “Yes, I imagine you do.”

“Sucks being… being different.”

The old woman nodded. “Most of the time… yes. But then, occasionally, you get to meet someone as remarkably different as yourself, someone that reminds you that you’re not alone in this world, and then you realize that being different can also be very beautiful.”

Megan’s eyes started to water up. She nodded. “I guess that’s… that’s true. Thanks for… thanks for trying to remind me of that. Hearing it is… is one thing… but you always made me… made me see it. Even… even back in that glass prison… when I… when I was very ugly… you looked at me that way. Eventually… I started to see it… I started to see it, too.” The young woman looked away and wiped frustrated tears from her eyes. She was shaking violently and trying to control it. “We should… we should do this. I’m started to… it’s starting to get very difficult.”

“Okay,” Meredith said, quickly wiping fresh tears off her own cheeks. “Okay,” she repeated.

“Maybe we should restrain her…” Stephen started.

“No, Stephen,” she said. “That will only increase her potential aggression. That never worked in the compound. She needs… Megan needs to know that the choice is hers.”

Megan raised her eyes and stared at the older woman.

“It’s going to be alright, honey. Just… just stay focused on me. Always on me. We’ll get through this together, alright?”

Megan nodded, but it took considerable effort to do so.

Logan tensed up in the doorway. He lowered his gun arm, letting his hand hang near the holstered weapon. He was twitching his fingers but trying not to appear threatening. He would not draw the weapon until the last possible moment. Both for Megan’s sake, and Meredith’s.

Stephen was standing near the drawer where they’d staged the syringe and the old coffee cup they’d recovered from the kitchen. He’d suggested drawing the blood prior and just leaving it in the cup on the desk, like feeding a stray wild animal locked inside the office. Meredith had shot that idea down, convinced that she needed to be present to calm the girl down. Also, Megan needed to see that the blood was being given to her freely, and it was her hope that by participating in the entire process, the young half-dead woman would understand that the violence wasn’t necessary. And then, of course, the blood needed to be given to her immediately… while it was still warm… but she kept that to herself to spare Stephen.

Back in the compound clinic, she and Coop had figured out that the blood and the violence were closely connected, but Cooper had only started theorizing about it before his death. He had believed it was something akin to wolves on a hunt. Without the ‘kill’ the blood lost most of its vitality, or appeal, like a food source being stripped of its nutritional value… whatever that meant to the dead. Coop had believed the key to bringing Megan back was to find a way to ‘interrupt’ this relationship between the hunger and the source. But it had eluded him.

Meredith, however, understood this connection better than most… and the risks associated with opening her mind to reach into Megan’s. At the time she was either unwilling or unprepared to test Cooper’s theories by restoring her abilities and becoming the freak again. Besides, there had always been the risk that by doing so, the dead would sense her and storm the compound.

Stephen stared nervously at the drawer. His only job was to retrieve the cup, place it on the table, and then hand the syringe to Meredith… and do it quickly… when the older woman gave him the visual cue.

Meredith kept her eyes on Megan’s. She knew what she had to do now, even with the horde surrounding the orphanage, even though she risked becoming ill the moment she entered that diseased place within her mind, she still had to try and reach into Megan’s thoughts and find a way to interrupt that connection to the violence.

“We’re going to do this now, Megan,” Meredith said. “I know it’s going to be hard, but you have to stay with me, alright? Don’t give in to the hunger. I’m going to help you with all that darkness. I’m going to be right there with you in ways I can’t explain. But you’ll know.”

Megan managed a weak smile, then continued to shake.

They were almost out of time.

Meredith rolled up her right sleeve, keeping her eyes firmly on the girl.

That was the cue.

Stephen reached for the drawer and retrieved the coffee cup and placed it on the table.

Logan immediately drew the handgun and took a step back.

Stephen handed Meredith the syringe.

Megan saw the syringe and began to shake so badly it looked like she was about to go into seizures if she didn’t lunge across the desk.

Logan raised the handgun and aimed it at the back of Megan’s head. “Dear Lord,” he prayed. “grant her peace. Grant us both your perfect peace.”

“Eyes on me!” Meredith said, drawing the girl’s attention away from the syringe and back on her face. “Stay focused on me, honey. This part will be the hardest.”

Megan’s sweat dripped down her pale face. Her large silver eyes looked like they were about to pop out of her head. She gripped the bottom of her chair with both hands in a desperate attempt to remain seated. Her fingers bled black from gripping the chair so fiercely.

Meredith knew she would have to be quick. The moment she stuck the needle in her arm and the blood oozed into the narrow cylinder, Megan would lose all control in seconds. There would not be another chance at this. She would have to assault her way into Megan’s primal thoughts and attempt to locate something—anything—to disrupt that murderous drive brought on by the intense hunger. If she could find it, Meredith might be able to block out that compulsion in Megan’s mind, much like how she, herself, blocked the dead from invading her own thoughts, and then teach her how to manage it. It could work, Coop! she thought. I might be able to interrupt that connection to the violence… permanently! The implications were mind-boggling. The risk was significant. The Silver Sickness she’d felt at the church in Harpersfield had almost destroyed her. And she would have to open herself up to Megan, with no defenses in place. If this doesn’t work… She shut the useless thought out immediately. There was no room in her mind for doubts. There couldn’t be.

God… please… help us, she thought.

“I need you close your eyes, honey. Just try to hold on.”

Megan closed her eyes.

Meredith took a final breath then stuck the needle into her arm. The blood started to fill the syringe.

Megan smelled it immediately and opened her eyes. She started jumping up and down in the fold-up chair but managed to stay seated, maintaining her death grip.

Logan put his finger on the trigger of the gun and turned to stone within.

When the syringe was full, Meredith removed it and handed it to Stephen. He immediately held it over the coffee cup and started to extract the crimson fluid.

Megan started screaming.

Logan took a step closer, trying to maintain his aim on the struggling half-dead woman.

Meredith leaned in toward Megan across the desk and pushed her way into Megan’s mind with so much force that she thought both hers and Megan’s heads would explode.

Megan stopped screaming. Megan stopped convulsing.

Outside the orphanage, the horde stopped. As one they all turned to stare at the house.

Megan remained motionless in the chair. She was staring at Meredith, perhaps beyond the old medium.

Then Meredith violently fell back into the chair, gripping the sides of her head. She started to shake violently and scream.

“Shit!” Stephen said.

“What’s happening?” Logan called out.

“I don’t fucking know!”

Distracted by what was happening to Meredith, Logan stepped further into the room. He lowered the gun slightly, not knowing who to point it at.

Megan stood up and lunged over the desk.

“Shit!” Logan called out, turning the gun back toward Megan.

“WAIT!” Stephen yelled, holding up his hand toward Logan.

Megan snatched up the coffee cup in both hands and poured it down her throat so fast it sounded like she was choking on the blood. When she was finished, the girl collapsed, spread eagle on the desk, knocking the bloody cup to the floor.

At the same time, Meredith went limp in the chair.

From outside, the dead lingered a moment more, then turned their gazes away from the house.

“Is she okay?” Logan asked.

Stephen lightly slapped Meredith across the cheek. “Meredith! You in there!”

The older woman opened her eyes, causing Stephen to step back. She sat up sluggishly and asked in a raspy voice, “Megan?”

“She’s still with us,” Logan said, observing that she was still breathing. “What did you do?”

“Are you okay? Did it work?” Stephen asked.

Meredith frowned, looking away in disgust. “Just… just give me a second.”

Stephen backed off.

“Well?” Logan asked impatiently, eager to holster his gun.

She looked at them both and started to weep. “It was too much,” she said. “Too much pain. Too much sickness. It nearly overwhelmed me. I was able to shut out the sickness… but it was close.” She looked to Stephen and said, “I had no choice. I had to do it. Had to reach out to the ones… outside… reached into their decayed minds because they were easier to manage. I found their memories, the bloody ones… I saw how each of them died and I… used them all.”

Stephen frowned. “You weren’t able to stop her,” he said. “So, you fed her… violence.”

She looked at Stephen, disappointed with herself. “I had to. She… it was too much. Their kind is too much! So… I tricked Megan. Made her focus on the blood in that cup.”

“While she fed on the memories of the dead outside, and all their kills,” Stephen finished.

Meredith looked away and wept.

Stephen turned to Logan.

“I don’t understand,” the big preacher said. “Whatever she did, it worked… didn’t it?”

“No,” Stephen finished. “It didn’t work.” He looked to Megan. “All she did was buy us some more time. Megan’s gone dormant.”

“What does that even mean?” Logan said.

“It means that Megan’s going to wake up and believe she just slaughtered a whole lot of people in a blood bath she didn’t participate in. I’ve seen this before. When the yellow-eyed haters attacked us in Jefferson, Meredith shut them all down by feeding them memories of the slain—at the moments of their deaths—from the very minds of the predators themselves.”

Logan stared at Megan. “Are you telling me that when she wakes up, Megan’s going to be full on memories of victims as if she just had an extra-large Thanksgiving meal… and what… she just had a nap afterwards?”

Meredith flinched at the cold analogy.

“Well, I would’ve put it more delicately than that… but yes,” Stephen finished, kneeling beside Meredith to console her friend.

Logan sighed, shaking her head at Megan. “So, instead of weaning off this poor girl’s addiction, we just pumped her up with so much death that she overdosed.”

“Yes,” Meredith chimed in. “That’s exactly what I did. But it was the only way to stop her.”

“And what do we tell her when she wakes up with all those horrible fucking memories? Hmm?” Logan was clearly upset. “How is she going to live with all that?”

Meredith was about to speak, then stopped. She stared at Megan’s dormant frail frame and silently cursed herself. I failed, Coop! I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t sever the connection. Too much pain and darkness. Too much! She shook her head, closed her eyes, and said, “I don’t know what to tell her, Logan. I just don’t know.”

~~~

Next Episode 49-4

Previous Episode 49-2

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 49-3: Lions in the Dark” 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
  1. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure what possessed me to remember your story and decide to pick it back up and binge read at 3am in the too quiet darkness of the night, but seeing now as the comfort that is the morning sunlight creeping in through my window, I can take a deep breath and maybe close my eyes to sleep. Thank you for continuing to write this story!

    Liked by 1 person

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