~~~

…Meredith is back in the grassy endless field. The storm is much louder. The winds are howling fiercely. The sky is frightening; dark ominous thunderheads hover so close as though they will fall upon her at any moment. The rain is falling erratically as gusts of wind spit it into her face.

“Meredith!”

She spins around—child and woman, past and present—wiping rain from her eyes.

It’s the young man, Toby… or what’s left of him. A thin, pale figure stands directly in front of her. His deteriorated shirt has been blown away by the wind exposing his frail frame. She can see his rib cage penetrating ancient flesh. The dead skin around his face is stretched thin. Most of his black hair is gone. His eyes are sunken in so deep that she thinks they’re gone. He raises a bony arm toward her and like before, he speaks without moving his lips. He speaks within her mind. But this time, Toby isn’t interested in leading her to the man behind the curtain, to the older version of himself strapped into machines behind the basement doll cabinets. The time for playing with dolls is over. “You are remembering,” he says.

“You’re not real!” she attempts to shout, unable to project her frightened child voice over the deafening wind. “You’re just a bad dream stuck in my head!”

The decrepit Toby flashes a black, rotting smile. “That would be easier for you, wouldn’t it, Meredith? To believe that I’m just some personified version of your darker self? That the evil released upon your pathetic little world begins and ends with you?”

“It’s the truth!” she shouts back.

“It’s the truth you desire so very badly that you’ve almost convinced yourself of it. But it’s just another lie, a way for your mind to stay hidden from me—a last line of defense against the inevitable.”

“No!” She shakes her head, hoping to wake from this dream, no longer a dream.

Toby points behind her, amused. “Watch it now. The truth comes for you… and it’s very hungry.”

As before, the emerald lion roars. It sounds like it is all around her.

She turns just as it pounces toward her with its sickening, hateful yellow fire for eyes.

Meredith screams and ducks down.

The lion bolts past her and jumps on Toby.

Meredith turns back.

Two more lions have joined the first, attacking from behind Toby.

She tries to move but her body feels like a large immovable stone. Meredith can only watch in horror as the three emerald lions rip what’s left of Toby to pieces. And while they do so, he is… laughing.

She screams but no sound escapes her mouth.

Each lion snatches a piece from the carcass and they run off, forgetting all about her.

Meredith senses something behind her.

She turns around and discovers the little porcelain doll with the head too big for her small body, standing in the grass. It speaks to her through frantic images assaulting her mind.

“What do you mean?” she shouts at the doll. “What do you want to show me? I don’t understand!”

Suddenly, the little doll’s facial expression changes into a sinister scowl. Like before, it opens its mouth, revealing bloody razors for teeth. She tries to move away but she can’t.

The doll’s face begins to crack like an egg. Pieces fall away until the true face beneath reveals itself.

Meredith tries to scream again.

It is now her face.

This time, she can hear it, whispering in her mind from the void. It speaks in multiple voices, threatening to drive her insane. It is Toby’s voice. It is the voice of her younger self. It is the voice of the old medium—all overlapping—but it is also the voice of the dark and awful truth. “It’s time, Meredith. It’s time to remember the rest. It’s time to remember all of it!”

And then it comes, like a thick, black tidal wave, crashing down on the shores of her fragile mind until she nearly drowns in a cold indifferent sea of remembrance…

~~~

… “Where… where am I?” Meredith’s thirteen-year-old voice sounds strange in her own ears. She realizes the reason very quickly as her senses strive to catch up. She isn’t hearing her own voice, not with her ears, but within her own mind. Everything around her is black, according to her useless eyes. She can’t even feel her arms when she attempts to move them. She imagines them moving in the darkness. “I’m here… and I’m not here,” the present version of herself deduces… assuming it is the present.

“Welcome back, Meredith.” It is another voice in her thoughts, but a child’s voice. “Do you know who I am?” the child asks.

“Toby?”

“Yes.”

“Where are we?” she asks. “I can’t see anything… I can’t feel or sense anything at all.”

“You know where we are, silly,” the child-like Toby teases. “Stop trying to be old… this is no place for old ladies. Kids only, remember?”

Of course, she does. Without understanding how, Meredith slips into her former self, becoming thirteen again, and allowing the missing memories to play out.

“That’s the way,” Toby says. “You can’t see me yet, not here, not like this.”

“Where are we?” she asks, embracing the child part of herself who is terrified of the darkness, but finds comfort in the boy’s voice. She is not alone.

“All the grown-up doctors, scientists, and blah, blah, blah, far from here, found this place. They called it something stupid… I forget what… doesn’t matter. They don’t understand it, but I do… and so will you.”

Meredith laughs at Toby’s words. It is a giddy laugh in response to the language of youth.

“Think of this place as a playground,” Toby says. “The biggest playground in the world… in the whole universe!”

Young Meredith snorts within the dark. “Some playground! I can’t even see it!”

“But you will,” Toby insists. “I’ll show it to you. But you have to keep it secret.”

“Like a secret club house?”

“Exactly like that,” Toby says with a laugh. “See! You get it already!”

“Show it to me, then,” she says. “Show it to me, now, or I’m going back.” She has no idea how to carry out the threat, but at thirteen, the stubborn power of a pout she imagines she’s flashing reinforces the threat.

“Okay, okay,” Toby says with a laugh. “Just don’t go. We had to meet first, is all. If I showed you too much all at once… it would blow your mind.”

The bragging young man has made an immediate impression. “I’m ready,” she insists. “Show me!”

“Okay,” Toby says. “But first, tell me where you want to go.”

“What?”

“The playground, silly. Tell me where you want it to be.”

“You can do that?”

“We can do anything in here, Meredith. Pick a place… any place. Maybe somewhere that always made you feel safe, or somewhere you’ve always wanted to-”

“The ocean,” she interrupts. “I’ve never been to the beach.”

“You’ve never seen the ocean? Really? That’s sad.”

“Can you take us there or not?” she whines.

“Fine, fine,” he says. “Close your eyes.”

“Why? I can’t see anything?”

“Just… do it, okay? I want to surprise you.”

In her mind, Meredith pictures herself closing her eyes.

“They closed?” Toby asks.

“You know they are.”

“Okay. I’m going to count to three. One… Two…

~~~

… Meredith can hear the screech of seagulls in the distance swallowed up by the rush of waves crashing against the shore. A warm gust of air strikes her face, blowing sand across her tightly closed eyes. The smell of salt water fills her nostrils. Sunlight penetrates her closed eyelids like someone slowly turning up a light in a dark room.

The young girl opens her eyes, breathing in warm ocean air as if it were the first time she’d drawn a breath. She is sitting on a large sand dune surrounded by tall reeds swaying in the ocean breeze. She shoves her hands into the soft white sand and laughs in disbelief. The ocean waves crash again against the shore somewhere in front of her. She can see it through the shifting reeds like an infinite blue line marking off the edge of the world. She follows that lavish blush line, realizing that it moves three-quarters of the way around her until disappearing behind a mountain.

“This is an island!” She marvels at the sound of her own bewildered voice. It is as real as everything else around her.

She slowly rises to her feet while the wind rustles her sundress at the base, revealing far too much leg. She starts to straighten her dress to avoid the inappropriate, then laughs at herself, realizing that she is miles away from anyone who would care. Her long black unbraided hair flows in all directions like a pile of lively snakes on her head. She laughs at that, too, imagining what Miss Evans might say at such an unseemly sight.

There is a vast white sand beach below her.

Someone is there, too far away to see clearly, but she knows it’s Toby. He appears to be building something in the sand.

Toby turns and sees her. He waves a beckoning arm toward her.

She smiles and starts climbing down the large dune. She has no idea where her shoes went but forgets about them as her feet sink within the warm sand, the mound slowly shifting beneath her feet, aiding in her momentum and excitement to reach the inviting beach.

As she approaches the young boy, Meredith is immediately drawn to what it is he is building. The sand sculpture towers above the boy. At first, she assumes it is a massive sand castle. But it looks nothing like a castle. She steps closer, walking in a wider arc to get a better view, and then stops. Her heart begins to race, her chest grows tight.

It is a lion.

“Don’t be afraid,” the young boy says, coming toward her. “It’s not like the scary green ones. Nothing can harm us here.”

Meredith looks toward the boy. He is neither the decomposing teen in the football jersey from her terrifying dreams, nor the older man strapped into the strange machines within the secret room behind the doll cabinets. Toby is much younger now. Perhaps ten. His shaggy, short and thick black hair blows atop his head. He is lean and a bit tall for his age, giving him a lanky appearance. Toby is shirtless, wearing red swim trunks. To Meredith, his tan complexion makes him look like he’s always been here. His deep blue eyes, as fathomless as the ocean, and his playful and excitable face, make him appear like a long-time adventurer in this kingdom of Sand and Sun.

If he were a bit older, she might consider him… cute… in a scruffy sort of way. She immediately blushes at the thought.

“You okay?” he asks.

“What?” she says.

Toby smiles. “The lion… if it frightens you… I could change it.”

“Oh, that,” she says, returning her attention to the sand sculpture. It looks exactly like one of the emerald lions from her dreams, minus the terrifying yellow eyes. “No,” she says. “It’s okay. It’s just sand. I was just shocked to see it.” She tries to put on a brave face, but its massive size, perfectly fit to scale, clearly upsets her.

“I made it for us,” Toby explains. “I thought… you know… by seeing it like this… we wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore.”

She gives him a puzzled look.

Toby smiles, then picks up two long sticks from the sand. “Maybe we could make a game out of it? You know, like we were-”

“Lion hunters?” she finishes, putting her hands to her hips.

Toby smiles, then rubs his head, embarrassed. “Something like that.” He hands her one of the sticks. “It might be fun.”

She stares at the stick in Toby’s hand. “You want me to… attack the sand lion… is that it?”

“Well… when you put it like that… it does sound lame.”

“You’re such a boy.”

“Forget it,” he says, dropping the sticks. He turns away. “I just thought it would cool. But I guess we could make a doll house or something girlie like that… won’t be as much fun but-”

Toby turns as Meredith picks up one of the sticks and then charges the sand lion with the stick raised over her head. She yells something unintelligible, then strikes the lion in the head, causing it to fall off in a clump.

The young boy stares at the headless lion, then falls to the sand, laughing. He points to her holding the stick like some Samurai warrior in a dress, then points to the headless lion. “That was… that was awesome!” he says between fits of laughter.

Meredith starts to giggle at the absurdity of what she’d just done. She stares at the headless lion, puts her hand to her mouth, and says, “I just broke your lion.”

This just makes Toby laugh harder.

She, too, loses it, then falls to the sand beside Toby, laughing uncontrollably.

After a few moments, Toby turns to her and says, “That was fun. I think you and I are going to get along legendary.”

She raises an eyebrow at him. “Legendary?”

“Yeah… I mean… I just watched you slay a lion!”

Meredith smiles. “I guess I did, didn’t I? I never did that before, sand lion or not.”

“Did you have fun?”

She crosses her legs in the sand and straightens her dress over her knees. “You know what… I think I did.”

“What to help me make another one?”

She stares into the excitable boy’s eyes, and nods. “Sure. But… how much time do we have?”

Toby gives her a strange look. “Time? Wow, you really don’t get this place, new girl.”

“I only just arrived… remember?”

“Fair enough.” The sandy boy stood to his feet. “Time doesn’t matter here, Meredith.”

“What does that even mean?”

Toby flashes her a clever smile. “You said you’ve never been to the beach before, right?”

“Yeah… but-”

“Then what are you waiting for?” He starts to walk toward the water.

“Where are you going?” Meredith gets to her feet.

Before she can inquire further, the young boy rushes toward the water, waving his arms like a complete idiot, and then jumps into the crashing waves. He shouts for her to come in.

Meredith looks at her dress, then shakes her head toward the foolish boy. She calls out, “I don’t even have a swim suit, you buffoon!”

He points at her from the waves and laughs.

Meredith’s eyes go wide as she looks down at her dress again. She is now wearing a modest one-piece swim suit made from the same material as her sundress.

“How?” she says, then immediately crosses her arms in front of her chest, realizing that the new suit fits snuggly over her slowly developing body.

“Come on!” Toby yells. “The water is awesome!”

Feeling foolish, and a bit too exposed in her new suit, Meredith shakes her head and rushes toward the water. “This is insane!” she says, stopping at the shore line and watching Toby dive into the waves. She is too excited to care about what she doesn’t understand about this crazy day. She laughs and lets the child within embrace the insanity, and then jumps into the ocean waves.

~~~

Meredith sits before the small camp fire as Toby absently tosses a piece of driftwood into it. She is mesmerized by the evening sun descending through the base of scattered clouds. To her young imaginative mind, the sun is setting the clouds ablaze on its way toward the ocean. The clouds’ bases have changed to brilliant red and orange.

A gust of wind blows her tangled hair across her face. She fights the temptation to fix it, then pulls her legs in, wrapping her arms around her sundress (no longer a bathing suit), covering her lower legs from the cool but comfortable evening breeze. Meredith is oblivious to the probing stare of the boy.

“You act as though you’ve never seen one of them either,” Toby says, breaking the silence.

Meredith smiles at him. “I’ve seen sunsets… but never like this. They’re so much different over the water.”

Toby turns to look at the dull reddish orb. “I suppose you’re right. I’ve seen so many here that I forget how beautiful they are.” He turns back to the girl. “This one’s different, though. I’m seeing it the way you do. Maybe sunsets, like everything else here, are better when you’re not alone.”

She gives him a strange look. “What do you mean? Didn’t we both just get here today?”

Toby laughs. “You still don’t get it. That’s okay, though. You’ll catch on.”

“Catch on to what?”

“After a while, you realize that things like ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’ don’t really matter here. You just start losing yourself in the moment… and then none of the rest matters.”

“I don’t get you, Toby.”

He laughs. “That’s alright. I’m just grateful that you’re here. It’s nice to finally share this with someone.”

“And what is ‘this’?”

“It’s magic! This whole place is. We can be whatever we want to be here—do whatever we want.”

She laughs. “Like turning my sundress into a swim suit? Nice trick, by the way.”

“That wasn’t me. You did that all by yourself.”

“How did I do that?”

Toby shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t know. I think you really wanted to swim and then you just… changed your clothes so that you could. Sometimes it’s that easy here.”

“So, I thought about it… and then it just happened?”

“Something like that. Happens to me all the time. How do you think I made that sand lion so fast?”

“You… just thought about it… and it happened?”

“Yep. Just wait. In the morning I’ll show you all kinds of cool stuff we can do here. Just name it and we’ll create our very own adventures.”

“But… don’t we have to head back? Miss Evans will be upset if I’m not back soon.”

Toby shakes his head. “There you go again. ‘Soon’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘yesterday’, blah… blah… blah! None of that matters so you can’t be late for anything, or early. There’s just now… and we have plenty of that. The rest of it… all that ‘time’ junk… doesn’t matter. Think about it this way: In everything new we’re about to do together, treat it like we just arrived.”

“But we’ve been here for hours… or at least… it feels that way,” Meredith says. “I’ve had so much fun today, by the way.”

“Me, too.”

“And we’ve only just got here?”

“Exactly! Remember all those cool places you traveled to when you were young? Those days when you just lost track of time and didn’t realize how late it was until some adult came along and ruined it by saying, ‘It’s time to go, Meredith’?”

Meredith considers Toby’s words. She frowns and says, “I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere that I wasn’t in a hurry to leave.”

“Aww, that’s sad. There’s never been one place? Not one?”

“Well, there was this park when I was really young. I was having so much fun, then… it was just like you said, someone came along and ruined it.”

“Well, here, no one’s ever going to tell you to leave when you’re having that much fun.”

“Because we just arrived,” she adds excitedly.

“Yep.”

“But… what will we eat? Drink? There’s not even a bed here and I’m not sleeping all night in the sand!”

“Who said anything about sleeping out here?” Toby laughs. He pointed behind her. “We’ll sleep in the big old lighthouse behind you!”

Meredith turns around. Her jaw drops immediately. Further down the beach, about a half a mile, there was a peninsula of land she’d never noticed before. A tall lighthouse stood on the end of it.

She turns to Toby, her eyes as wide as saucers. “Did you-”

Toby claps his hands together. “You should see your face! Of course, I didn’t. I’m not that good. In all your excitement you just never noticed it before.”

Meredith gives him a skeptical look. “I don’t believe you. I would’ve noticed ‘that’!”

“You’d be surprised at what you overlook in this place. Trust me, I do it all the time.”

“But a lighthouse! That’s hard to miss.”

“And yet… there it is. And I bet you’ve never even been inside one, let alone slept in one before.”

She leans in and whispers, “We can do that?”

“Of course!”

“Can we… can we go all the way to the top?”

“We can even turn on the light… if you want,” he adds with a sly smile.

Meredith nods excitedly.

“Then let’s go,” Toby says, rising to his feet. “I bet we can find something to eat and drink in there, too. And if not, we’ll make pizza.”

“Pepperoni?”

He laughs. “Any kind you want. Though, I can’t stand the smell of anchovies. You want that, you’re eating outside.”

“Okay,” she smiles. “No anchovies.”

Toby rises to his feet and offers her his hand. “Shall we embark on one more adventure for the evening?”

She holds out her hand and lets the surprisingly strong boy help her to her feet. “Let’s do it!”

Together they stroll along the shore line, tossing rocks into the surf.

Meredith starts thinking about sea shells along the way.

Half way to the lighthouse, she finds a large conch shell sticking out of the wet sand. It was just the very one she imagined.

~~~

Meredith wakes to the sound of gulls screeching just outside the glass enclosure at the top of the lighthouse. She lies there a moment on her back, watching the flock of sea scavengers floating in playful circles around the glass, peeking in at the strange girl turned lighthouse keeper. She stretches atop her sleeping bag, kicking an empty pizza box out of her way and knocking over an empty bottle of cola in the process. Meredith sits up and laughs at the mess surrounding the large lantern. There are several bottles of cola—some full, most empty and laying on their sides; three empty pizza boxes (they had been hungry); and the melted remains of a quart of chocolate ice cream—all surrounding their makeshift camp near one side of the large light.

It was Meredith’s idea to have their sleepover party at the very top of the lighthouse. Toby had let her turn it on, as promised. And they had simply turned it off when it was time for their party.

They had talked long into the night about everything and anything their childish minds could come up with beneath a majestic star-filled canopy that Meredith had never seen the likes of. At one point, they’d tried to count them, giving up to giggles mixed with far too much caffeine, somewhere around fifty.

She smiles and turns to the empty sleeping bag to her right. “Now where have you gone off to?” she whispers, shaking her head. Meredith stands up and walks toward the glass facing their beach. She is blown away by the view as half of the island reveals itself below, the coastline seeming to stretch on forever in this strange and wonder-filled place. Meredith puts her face to the glass and stares down at the small figure in the sand near the base of the lighthouse. From way up here, Toby is just an off-colored grain in the middle of the vast sand box. She shakes her head again. He’s obviously building another sand creation. “What will it be today, I wonder?” She remembers to correct herself. “Sorry… what will it be now… in the only moment there is?”

Meredith yawns, then chugs a half bottle of warm cola. She straightens her dress, rubs sleep from her eyes, then proceeds down the spiral staircase to the bottom of the lighthouse. Along the way, she drags her hand lightly against the cool smooth stones, trying to imagine what it was like to build this from the ground up, one circular layer of stones at a time until it finally touched the sky.

On the ground floor, there is a small multi-purpose room serving as bedroom, kitchen and living room for the absent lighthouse keeper. The décor of the humble space reminds Meredith of the inside of a seafood restaurant. There are no pictures or personal items left behind. It’s as though there never was a lighthouse keeper.

She pushes out on a large oak door, letting in the fresh, invigorating light. A warm breeze brushes against her hair, like a mother’s caress. The smell of the ocean, like the aftershave of a favorite relative ruining the surprise visit every time, greets her at the start of this day.

Meredith skips down the wet, sandy shoreline, challenging the waves to tag her feet.

By the time she reaches Toby, all her good cheer and excitement is gone.

He is building another sand lion.

She stops twenty feet behind the distracted young man. Even without gazing into his face, Toby’s intensity is clearly felt. He digs into the wet sand, attacking it with an almost desperate need to finish. For a second, Meredith believes he’s trying to dig his way beneath this island—the lion is just a cover.

“Found you!” she says, playfully.

Toby turns, startled. His sandy face looks irritated, but for only a moment.

Her smile begins to fade. “Did I… am I disturbing you?”

The young man recovers immediately. He smiles, then says, “Of course not. You just surprised me, is all.” He rises to his feet, shaking off the wet sand. “Did you sleep well?”

“Like a rock,” she says. “Hearing the waves coming in and going back out again before I passed out was so peaceful.”

Toby nods absently, scratching his head to shake out the sand. “Yeah… well… now that you’re here… do you want to help me finish this one?”

Meredith stares past the boy at the sand lion. She is amazed at the amount of detail in the horrible beast’s face. Its deep sandy eyes and scowl surrounded by its fiery mane seem to be tearing into her. Even its teeth seem life like as the lion’s upper lip is curled up on one side, revealing its barely veiled ferocity.

“Not really,” she’s quick to say. “It frightens me. Why another lion? Why not anything else?”

Toby stares at her as if she’s the biggest idiot. His face softens as he turns toward the lion. “You have no idea how many nights these lions haunted my dreams,” he says. “You were only in the field twice. I was there, trapped, dying over and over again as the emerald beasts taunted me before hunting me down in the tall grass night after night. I thought I’d never get out of that horrible field.” He turns back and smiles. “But then you came along and distracted them long enough for me to get away… to get back here.”

Meredith struggles to remember the details of first meeting Toby, the older version of him in the football jersey. She scratches her head. “You… you tricked me. I remember now. You were trying to warm me about the man behind the curtain… but that was you all along! You wanted me to find you in the secret room, behind the doll cabinets.”

Toby looks confused. “I don’t recall that,” he says. “I’m not calling you a liar, I just don’t remember everything from… before. It’s all in pieces. The longer you’re in this place the harder it is to keep it all straight.” He turns back to the lion. “But I remember them. I will never forget all the sickening things they did to me, how they tortured and tormented me before devouring me alive.” Toby closes his eyes and tries to remain calm. Without looking back, he finishes, “I make these lions now to face my fears and get stronger on the inside, just in case a day comes when they find me again.”

“They can do that?” Meredith is alarmed. “They can find this place?”

“I strive to teach myself how to use the magic of this place to defeat them all. So far, I’ve only ever been able to create them like this. But if I can make one for real… maybe I can learn from it, how to fight it, maybe even how to become one.”

“That’s insane!” Meredith shakes her head. “You should just leave it alone, Toby! If those monsters find you, we’ll just… we’ll go to the lighthouse and wait for them to leave. They can’t get in there if we don’t let them.”

He turns and laughs. “I love your spirit, Meredith. But they are stronger than a hundred lighthouses. I… we… need to be ready to face them should they show up here and ruin our… Paradise.”

Meredith smiles. “‘Paradise’… I like that.”

“As do I, Meredith. That’s why I’m so desperate to protect what we have here. I’m more afraid of what they might do to you, then to me. Even now, I fear that just by telling you about them, you’ll leave me here alone.”

“No, I won’t.” Meredith is shocked by her own admission.

He looks surprised. “You mean that?”

The young girl laughs. “I said it, didn’t I?”

“Then you’ll help me… with the lions?”

“What can I do?”

“More than you know,” Toby says. “I felt it when we met in that field. You’re strong… like them.” He turns toward the lion and points at it. “I think, with your help, we can beat them.”

Meredith sighs in disgust. “Me, strong? I’m just a terrified little girl.”

Toby flops down in the sand and waves his hands in her face with a laugh.

Meredith frowns. “Why are you laughing at me?”

“I don’t know very many terrified little girls who can do what you can do.”

“I don’t understand.”

He points behind her, at the lighthouse. “Who do you think made that?”

She turns in disbelief. “No way! You said it was already-”

“I told you it was there because you weren’t ready to hear the truth. I simply planted the idea in your head… and you made it. Just like the swimsuit and the sea shell you found. Just like the pizza we ate last night, and the ice cream.”

“Stop it!” She folds her arms across her chest. “Now you’re just teasing me. You and I know that I can’t do those things.”

Toby looks like he’s about to speak then stops. He shakes his head with a laugh, then says, “I’ve been here for a long, long time, Meredith.” He turns his head toward the lion. “That’s all I can make.” He turns back. “But you… you’re special. You can do so many things, and you’ve only just arrived.”

Meredith was visibly upset. “Don’t call me that! I’m not ‘special’. Every time someone has called me that, bad things have followed.”

Toby got serious. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it. I only meant that in this place… you’re the one who brings the magic.”

She turns away and stares out into the ocean. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. You’re ruining our fun with all this talk about me being special… and those stupid lions. Make it go away or I’m going home!”

Suddenly, they’re both blasted with sand.

Toby shuffles to his feet, rubbing his eyes. “What… what did you do?”

She spins around, wiping sand from her hair and face.

The sand lion is gone.

“Why did you do that?” Toby is part amazed, part angry.

“I didn’t do anything,” she defends.

“You… you blew it up!” Toby says. “I saw it!”

“But I…” She stops, remembering her last angry thought. She was so upset that she just wanted the lion gone… and she made it happen. “I’m sorry, Toby. I was just… angry.”

Toby starts to laugh. “It’s okay,” he says. “I can build another. But can you understand now? Can you see how strong you are?”

“I just destroyed a pile of sand like a spoiled brat. Nothing more. That doesn’t make me strong.”

“I was right! We can do this,” Toby says. “I know it! We can beat them!” He turns to her, pleading, “Will you help me?”

Something in the sad boy’s eyes resonates within her. He needs this, she thinks. He needs a victory over the monsters that have hurt him. That’s the only way Toby can be free. She frowns. “I’ll… try to help,” she says.

Toby jumps excitably up and down in the sand like a… boy. “Alright!” he yells.

“But not now,” she says.

He calms down, looking a bit dejected.

“If this place is like you said, then it doesn’t matter when we focus on the silly lions, right? Today, tomorrow, next month… it’s all one big fat moment, remember? We’ve just arrived, haven’t we?”

Toby frowns and nods his head. “Yep. When you’re right, you’re right.”

Meredith lets loose a clever smile and says, “Then right now… I want to have more fun.”

Toby laughs and bows dramatically. “Anything you say. Fun it is!”

~~~

Next Episode 49-7

Previous Episode 49-5

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“Chapter 49-6: 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.

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