~~~

She wakes to the sound of screeching seagulls from just outside the glass cage at the top of the lighthouse.

Meredith rolls her eyes and sighs. She doesn’t stretch to move her legs, knocking over whatever trash remains from last night’s bland meal. Instead, she covers her ears to shut out the annoying gulls, and the ebbing and flowing tides in the background, which have become a monotonous drone in her ears. Her belly hurts from over-eating whatever she had last night… doesn’t matter. She’s sick of food, the lighthouse, the beach, the relentless, unchanging ocean surrounding the dull island, serving as her prison walls.

It’s a new day!

It’s the same day.

And Meredith is sick of living in it.

She doesn’t bother staring over at Toby’s empty sleeping bag. He’s never there when she wakes, no matter where she sleeps. They talk about the same meaningless things every evening beneath the same boring stars above.

Rinse and Repeat!

“We’ve just arrived, Meredith!” she says to no one, her words loaded with contempt.

Instead of walking down the lighthouse steps, she closes her eyes and transports herself just outside the lighthouse door. She feels the sickening warm sand sinking beneath her feet… again. Now she’s wearing the most exaggerated high-heel shoes she can imagine. They’re red this time (Were they green before?). Doesn’t matter. It’s the same result. She starts to wobble standing in the sand, reminding herself how stupid high-heeled shoes are. Now she’s wearing sandals. She doesn’t turn around to stare up at the lighthouse. She knows what it looks like.

Meredith stares down the beach, towards the boy who is obsessed with driving her insane with the same annoying requests and acting like he’s never asked the same questions again and again.

“‘Want to help me build the lion this morning, Meredith?’” she mocks in her best imitation of Toby’s excited whine.

He will ask… and she will refuse. That is their ritual.

She denies him more out of spite now. His obsession over the lions are as monotonous as breathing in this sandy wasteland where the sun never stops shining and the weather is always so… darn… perfect!

They have done everything children can do under the sun on this beach… several times over. Limited only by Meredith’s lack of imagination and understanding of her so-called ‘magic’ on this island, they have gone on numerous make-believe adventures and exhausted every playtime activity they could think of except for three things:

They have never gone to the other side of the island. Oh, they have tried. No matter where they walk or what they do, the shoreline on their side of the island never seems to end. And forget cutting across the center, past the dunes and higher jungle forest terrain. That never ends either. They always end up exhausted trying to climb over the top of the only mountain on the island. Toby always looks at her when they’re about to give up, and says, “I don’t understand it, either. We should be there by now”.

They have not crossed the endless ocean and finally escaped this marooned existence—boats, rafts, inflatable inner tubes—doesn’t matter. Anything Meredith has imagined that could float has always ended the same. The strong ocean current always pushes them back to shore. Only once did she consider making a plane. But due to her lack of imagination, since she’d never flown in one and being deathly afraid of falling out of the sky, she scratched that idea. Every time she asks why they couldn’t cross, Toby just shrugs his shoulders and flashes that same stupid smile, claiming ignorance.

And of course, the last thing they’ve yet to explore together is Toby’s crazy notions that the lions will come back one day (this same endless day), and that, only together, can they defeat them. Every time she blows him off, he never gets mad, never sulks, and is always willing to do what she wants to do instead.

“Just once, Toby,” she whispers with gritted teeth at the sandy boy’s back as she approaches. “Just once, I dare you to get pissed at me and admit that you’re doing all this. Just once… and I’ll know how you really feel.”

She stops twenty feet behind the boy and stares up into the face of the lion. That has never changed. Even now, after seeing it again and again, the lion is still just as terrifying as the first time. No matter what she tries to tell herself, it always looks like it’s thinking behind those sandy eyes. Thinking about her, and the many ways it would like to devour her.

Toby turns, surprised to see her standing there. He looks at her sundress and smiles.

Why does he do that, she thinks. He knows I’m coming. How could he not know? And that stupid smile! He knows I got bored changing my clothes a long time ago.

“Hey, Meredith,” Toby says, shaking the sand out of his hair. “You come to help me with the lion?”

“Do I really need to answer that?” she snaps.

Toby nods and puts his hands on his hips. “Okay. What do ‘you’ want to do today?”

He always puts emphasis on the ‘you’. She absolutely hates that. “Nothing,” she says flatly. “I don’t want to do anything.”

“O-kay. Are you hungry? Should we have break-”

“Why can’t we go to the other side of the island?” she interrupts.

Toby looks toward the mountain and scratches his mangy hair. “Well… we could try it again, if you really want.”

“You know we can’t,” she says. “Stop pretending you don’t know why that is.”

“Maybe I should ask you,” he defends. “You’re the one with the magic, remember? Why don’t you just whisk us over to the other side with a single thought?”

She crosses her arms. “You know I can’t do that since I’ve never been there before! For all I know, I’d transport us right into the ocean.”

He shrugs his shoulders and smiles. “Well… I guess you’ve answered your own question, then.”

“I want to leave this place. Why can’t we leave? Or, why can’t I just… change it into something else?”

“I don’t know, Meredith. Perhaps deep down, you’re not ready to leave.”

“That’s stupid. You know I hate it here.”

“You don’t have to be mean about it,” Toby says. “I didn’t bring us here. You did.”

“But you said you’d been here long before I arrived,” she accused. “You said that, I know you did.”

“Yeah, but I also said time doesn’t matter here. I’m surprised that you still think that way.”

“Shut up.”

“Sorry.”

She turns toward the ocean and sulks. “Can’t cross that either. Maybe I should just start swimming until my arms and legs get tired and then just drown. Maybe then, I can leave.”

“You know that won’t work,” Toby says, turning his attention back to the lion. “The ocean will just push you back to the shore.”

“And why is that again, Toby?”

“Don’t know, Meredith. Maybe you should stop blaming me for all your troubles. This place really isn’t so bad, is it?”

“I hate it here. It’s like one long day that never ends.”

Toby shrugs his shoulders. “Where are you trying to go so badly, anyway? You keep saying you want to leave. Well… where would you go?”

Alarmingly, Meredith doesn’t know how to answer. Aside from the island, she can’t remember what her life was like… before.

“How long have I been here? And if you say one more time that we just arrived, I’m going to punch you.”

Toby laughs. “Then I won’t say it.” After a long pause, he adds, “Maybe the lions are keeping us here.”

Meredith turns to the boy. That’s new, she thinks. Usually he just dodges these types of questions. “Explain that.”

He turns to her, shaking the sand off his hands. He sits cross-legged in the shadow of the lion, giving her a deep long look. “You think what I’m doing here is silly. I know you do. You wonder why I’m so obsessed with this lion stuff, but you’re so afraid, you never really ask me why.”

“Well… you told me already,” she says. “You think they’re going to find us, and you want to be ready when they do.”

“Yeah, and that I need you to help me fight them,” he adds. “That’s the only way we’re going to beat them.”

“They never come, Toby,” she says with a heavy sigh. “Day after day after day… and they never come.”

He points at her and says, “You always forget, we’ve just arriv… sorry… we haven’t been here that long. For the lions, it’s not a matter of when they’ll get here. They only need to turn their heads the right direction and find us. And that will be at any moment… as soon as they find this one.”

Meredith rolls her eyes. “What do you mean, ‘the lions are keeping us here’?”

Toby nods. “Maybe they’re the ones keeping us right where we’re at. That way, when they do finally look in our direction, we’ll be easy to spot. They can’t control this place from here, but maybe out there,” he stares out beyond the ocean and finishes, “maybe out there, they control all the magic.”

Meredith stares back out at the dark waters. The ocean seems more menacing now, like it’s alive and taunting her. A chill seizes her as she rubs her arms. “What is this place, Toby? What is it really? And what’s beyond the ocean?”

“I’m sorry you don’t remember,” he says. “That happens here. It’s the same for me. I don’t remember before… just now.”

“So, what is… now?” she asks.

“It’s a place, Meredith,” he says. “It’s a place full of magic that doesn’t work under the old rules… from the old places.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“It means that we have only this moment… whatever it is. But we won’t have it for long if we’re not ready.”

“Are we dead?” The question falling from her lips surprises her. She immediately covers her mouth and regrets speaking.

Toby stares at her for a good long while. Finally, he says, “What is death, Meredith? I’ve been mauled by lions more times than I can remember, and yet, here I am, with you.”

“That’s not an answer,” she says. “Maybe we both died… in the before. Maybe the real reason we can’t leave is because there’s nowhere left to go.”

Toby laughs. “Well… if that’s true, I can think of worse places to end up. Don’t you think?”

She smiles. “I’m being dramatic, aren’t I?”

“No. You’re just afraid. You’re afraid because you don’t understand. You don’t understand because you fight this place… this moment… in the only way you know, by the old rules that don’t matter here.”

“And because I’m not making sand lions with you,” she adds sarcastically. “That’s ridiculous, you know that, right?”

“I know there’s an enemy,” he says, with no hint of amusement. “Even if I don’t know my enemy, I know that you need to prepare if you’re going to face it. Perhaps, that’s the only old rule that still applies.”

She stares up at the lion. “Explain to me why you make them again?”

“To remember its face, Meredith. To remember its face reminds me of my fear… and that I need to confront that first.”

“Just looking at that thing scares me to death. Sand or not, it looks alive.”

“It’s what I can do, Meredith. That’s my magic. I can make it look real. But I can’t make it real. Only you can do that.”

“Why would I ever want to do that?” Meredith is stunned. “Is that what you expect me to do? You make these… molds… and then I’m supposed to bring them to life?”

“Element of surprise, Meredith. If you know your enemy is already hunting you, why not hunt them back and strike first?”

She points at him. “You want to bring them here! That’s been your plan all along! You’re not trying to hide from them, you want them to find us!”

Toby gives her a sad, faraway look. “No, Meredith. I want to fight them on our terms. If they find us their way, they’ll be more lions on this beach than stars in the night sky. Even as strong as you are, I don’t think we’d stand a chance against them like that.”

Meredith is shocked into silence. She considers Toby’s words. She is surprised by her next question. “Even if I helped you… bring them to life… how would we fight something like that… even just one?”

Toby’s face lights us. He’s smiling from ear to ear. “Finally, I thought you’d never ask!”

“Shut up and just answer my question. I didn’t say I’d help you. I’m just… weighing our options.”

“Fair enough.” Toby rises to his feet and steps up beside her. He turns her attention toward the ocean and points. “We make them together… and then send them… one at a time… out there!”

Meredith stares at him, confused. “What… you mean drown them in the ocean?”

He nods and laughs like a giddy ten-year-old boy. “Not exactly. But if we send them beyond the ocean, it will be the same thing. I believe we control the magic on these shores. The lions control the magic from wherever they come from… probably from some place like this one. But that ocean, no one controls that. We’ve tried, and so have they.” He turns to her and finishes, “You asked me about death. Well… I think Death controls the ocean… and it owns all the magic out in the deep.”

Meredith stares back out at the water. “So, we bring them here, one at a time, then send them across the ocean… to die? Can it really be that easy?”

“Have you ever seen a lion swim? I haven’t. Yes, Meredith, I think it’s that easy. But only you can do it. You control all the real magic here.”

Meredith nods. “What’s beyond the ocean?”

“Think of it as the edge of the world. There’s us, here, then Death… then… nothing.”

“Nothing? I’m supposed to drown them in nothing?”

“Nothingness,” he clarifies. “After death, which is still something… there’s only the end of existence.”

“I don’t understand that.”

“You don’t have to. Just send the lions far across the ocean, as far as you can… into the Nothingness. They will cease to exist in our world… or any other. That’s as dead as you can get.”

Meredith stares out at the ocean, trying to imagine what becoming nothing might feel like. A chill seizes her as the thought of drowning in the ocean seems much more humane.

“Will you help me make the lions?”

After a long pause, Meredith finally says, “If we defeat them… we can leave?”

“I really believe we can,” Toby says. “They won’t be able to return from beyond the ocean… alive or dead.”

“Then… yes. I’ll help you, Toby. I’ll help you make the lions.”

~~~

Meredith’s fear as she approaches the next morning feels tangible and alive. It’s the first time she’s reluctant to vacate the monotonous lighthouse as her stomach is reeling from the anxiety of finding Toby building another sand lion. She considers avoiding the excitable young boy, claiming sickness, rather than listening to him babble on about the stupid lions and the dark adventure she’s agreed to join him on.

“You can do this, Meredith,” she hears him say in her mind, remembering the end of their discussion last night after dinner. “Just picture them from your dreams, from that field where we first met.”

“You mean those nightmares,” she’d corrected.

“Picture them in your mind, like the lighthouse, the seashell, and all the other things you’ve made in this place since arriving, and then just use your magic, snatch one up out of that field, and bring it to the beach.”

“But… how will I get back to that dream place? I don’t even know where it is?” she’d asked.

Toby had smiled and said, “That’s my part, Meredith. That’s what the sand lion is for. Just focus on the sculpture—capture every detail of it in your mind—then use it to reach out to them.”

“Like the doll,” she’d said. “You want me to use the sand lion just like the doll in that basement… to make the connection.”

Toby had raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You… you still remember that?”

She’d nodded. “There’s a lot I’m foggy on now. So much seems to be slipping away the longer we’re here, but I do remember the doll.”

Toby’s face had become unreadable. He hadn’t said another word about it other than, “Yeah, just do what you did with the doll… it’s the same thing… except you’ll be connecting with them.”

“That’s a terrifying thought,” she’d said.

“You’ll be able to sense them, Meredith. Just like you sensed me the first time. Just remember, once you’re there, come back quickly. I don’t want you to get… lost.”

“Lost?” she’d said. “You sound like you already know where they live.”

“I told you,” he’d said. “They live in another moment like ours… but different. But you still have to search the ocean to find it. Think of it as two islands surrounded by the dark waters. Theirs and ours. And I know, you know what the ocean represents.”

“Death,” she’d said flatly.

“Yeah,” he’d nodded. “And I also know that your magic, the magic you’ve always possessed, takes you through that place, too.”

Meredith had sighed. “I don’t like it over there. It’s dark and terrifying. So much death… I can hear them all in my head if I don’t shut them out.” Then she’d stared at Toby. “Why do I need to cross the dead places to get to the lions?”

Toby had ended the conversation abruptly. “Don’t read too much into it, Meredith. I don’t have all the answers. Let’s just… let’s just keep it simple, okay.”

“Okay,” she’d agreed.

Afterwards, he’d been quick to depart before she could ask anything else. “See you in the morning, Meredith,” he’d said over his shoulder. “After you wake up, I’ll meet you down by the lion on the beach.”

And now… the morning had arrived.

“I’ll just stay in the lighthouse,” she told herself. “What’s one more day going to matter, especially in this place?” She knew that it was the fear talking. The young woman stood up and announced to herself, “Let’s just get this over with, Meredith. The sooner we do this, the sooner we can get off this darn beach!”

She exits the lighthouse.

Meredith finds Toby in his usual spot. She isn’t prepared when she gazes up into the sandy face of the eight-foot tall monstrosity looming over the young boy.

The sand lion is sitting up on its back legs, front legs fully extended outward as if it’s about to swipe one large paw down at the boy’s head. Its mouth is wide open, revealing sharp sandy teeth. It’s face, partially obscured by its large mane is wrinkled and extended, as if frozen in sand while attempting to let out a terrifying roar. Even its tail, slithering around its back side like a snake, seems alive and ready to strike down the foolish adventurer.

At first, Meredith doesn’t know whether to shout a warning toward the boy, or just run, knowing that Toby was already doomed the moment he conceived of making this beast.

Toby turns, sees the frightened girl, and immediately rises to his feet. “It’s okay!” he says, raising his hands. “It’s not alive.”

She sees Toby’s amused smile and relaxes a little. She attempts to move her feet toward Toby, trying to regain her composure as the blood returns to her face. “That is… that is truly disturbing,” she says, still watching the lion, believing it is about to strike them both down. “Why did you make this one like that?”

Toby turns toward the lion and scratches his sandy head with a laugh. “I’ll admit, I might have outdone myself with this one. It even looks real to me.”

“But it’s… it’s attacking! For a moment, I thought it was going to kill you!”

Toby stares into the lion’s face and flashes it a proud, wicked little smile. “Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?” He turns to Meredith and the smile is gone. “I just wanted it to look… inspiring.”

“‘Inspiring’?” Meredith shakes her head at him. “It’s terrifying! The amount of detail makes it look so real. How are you able to do that with sand?”

Toby shrugs his shoulders. “It’s my thing, Meredith. My magic. It’s not much, in this place, but it’s what I can do. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just thought that by making it look like this, it would be easier for you to finish it.”

“‘Finish it’?”

“Yeah, you know, make it real.”

She points at the lion. “You want me to make ‘that’ real? Are you insane? The moment I make this thing, it’s going to strike us down! Why couldn’t you put it inside a sand cage or something?”

Toby sighs. “It needs to be accurate, Meredith. The lions are ferocious creatures… they’re savages. We can’t underestimate them for a second.” He turns back to the lion. “This is how they’ll be when they come for us. This is how they’ll be if they find us first and they hunt us down. The only difference this time is we’ll have the element of surprise… but it will still be dangerous. Once you bring one here, it’s going to feel like we just put it in a cage… and it’s going to get vicious.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t want to do this. I’ve changed my mind. This is foolish and reckless. This isn’t like making a lighthouse appear or pizza night, every night! You’re asking me to make something deadly that will want to tear us to pieces!”

The boy turns to her and says with a shy smile, “I don’t think I’ve been as clear about the magic as I’ve needed to be. This is different from the lighthouse or changing the appearance of your clothing. That was just training to show you what you could do with your abilities. In this place, you’re only limited by your imagination. But what you’re actually going to do now is bring it here.”

She nods. “I get that. I’m not an idiot! I know I could never create something like this. That’s why you’re making them and not me! I know what you’re asking me to do and that’s why I’m out!”

“They’re still coming, Meredith, whether you bring them here or not. I thought I made that part clear. They just haven’t found us yet… but they will.” His face turns grave. “And when they do, you’ll wish we’d done this my way, like this. Because when they find us… you will know then what ‘terror’ really looks like.”

Meredith stares into the young boy’s face and knows that he means it. “I don’t like you, Toby. I think you’re a dark and manipulative little shit!” She covers her mouth with her hand, immediately regretting her mean words.

Toby looks like he’s just been slapped across the face. He frowns, then says, “Fine! Forget it then! We’ll just wait here for them to come and kill us! Don’t look to me for help when they get here, though, because this ‘little shit’ tried to help you before it was too late!” Toby turns away, sulking.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Toby. That was mean of me.”

Toby refuses to look at her. He plops down in his sand hole before the massive lion and places his hands in the sand.

Meredith sighs, then looks up at the lion. “This is all your fault,” she whispers under her breath to the beast. She stares at Toby’s back. “Okay,” she says. “We’ll try it your way.”

Toby looks back over his shoulder. “Will you stop being mean to me?”

“Yes,” she says impatiently. “I already said I was sorry.”

Toby stands up before her and stares down at his feet. “And I’m sorry, too. I’m sorry for all this lion mess. Believe me, I wish we could just do something else… anything else… but they really are coming. I’m scared, too. But I believe we can do this… together.”

“You better be right,” she says, “about drowning them in the ocean. Because, if you’re not-”

“It will work, Meredith,” Toby says, looking up into her eyes confidently.

She frowns. “How do you know?”

“I believe in you, that’s how I know.”

She’s touched by the young boy’s faith. No one has ever believed in her before about anything. She smiles at Toby’s encouraging face. “You know I’m just a freak, right? That’s all I ever was before arriving here. No one believes in freaks. They just whisper with each other behind our backs and steer clear of the freakish girl who never fit in. Why on earth would you be any different?”

“Because you’re special, Meredith,” Toby says.

“I hate that word.”

“I know. I did, too. But it’s a powerful word once you embrace it and realize that being special means that the rest of those fools fear you.”

“Why is that a good thing?” she says. “It just means you never get to be normal.”

Toby laughs. “Now there’s a word to hate… ‘normal’. That’s an illusion the rest of them cling to, to make themselves feel better about how mediocre they truly are. They’re all just a bunch of fragile little creatures waiting to run and hide in their holes when the wind comes to blow their ‘normal’ lives away, like dust.”

Meredith trembles at Toby’s cold words. It’s not the first time she forgets that he’s just a stupid, shirtless kid playing in the sand, but it’s the last time she will ever mistake him for being a young boy. “That’s a bit harsh, don’t you think?”

Toby shrugs his shoulders. “Truth hurts, I suppose. All I know is that freaks are feared, and fear is a powerful weapon if you wield it… just… right.” He stares back up into the lion’s face.

Meredith rubs her arms as a much cooler, indifferent breeze blows across her skin. She has been here so long that the boredom has tempted her to start naming the grains of sand, but today… today is completely different. “So, how do we begin?” she says. “How do we kill this beast?”

Toby turns and smiles. “That’s on you now, Meredith. I’ve done all I can do to set this up. Now, it’s up to the two of you to finally meet.”

She stares up at the lion. “And just how do I do that?”

“You’re the freak, Meredith, remember? Just do what you do… what you’ve always done.”

She glares at toby, not appreciating the joke. “And if I don’t like where this is going… at any time… we just stop, right?”

“Right.”

“No more lions?”

“No more lions.”

“Just remember the ocean, Meredith,” Toby says, stepping back beside her. “I’ll be right here, when it happens. But only you can bring it here, and only you can send it across.” He points toward the crashing waves.

Meredith stares toward the water and takes a deep breath. “Okay, then.” Meredith focuses all her attention on the sand beast looming before her. “I can do this.”

Not understanding how she’s able to do it, only that she’s always been able to, Meredith opens her mind, aiming her thoughts toward the sand beast… and allows the darkness on the other side of its lifeless eyes to find her…

~~~

…The darkness is cold. There is no light. There is no substance, and yet the darkness feels alive, dense, and overpowering.

Meredith feels like she’s being slowly crushed beneath it.

She’s been here before, many times, but never by choice. This is the dead place. This is where they find her, reaching out across the void, through the cracks in her mind that she is far too young to understand or control yet. She’s has heard them speak to her, not in words, but in a collection of images that she tries to assemble like some macabre puzzle. To them, she is a sliver of light, out of place in the blackness. They are drawn to it—the dead—and they hunger for it. Sometimes they approach her like gentle nudges on the edges of her mind. Other times, they storm into her thoughts like mental rapists, assaulting and ripping what they can from her, trying to overwhelm her sanity. She is too young to understand what it is they all want. Too naïve to keep her mouth shut in the waking world, the world that fears her words when she speaks to people about their dead relatives. In time, Meredith Montgomery will understand how to manage it… and eventually, how to create a doorway to keep them out, or allow entrance through a small crack. But for now, she is a novice explorer on the edge of a precipice, standing before the abyss she has yet to realize.

But the lions, the lions are nothing like anything she has ever felt… or will ever experience again.

They do not remember the light. They do not recall their lives among the living at the sight of that sliver. They have always lurked in the darkness, despising the light. They, too, hunger for it, but not to return… but to destroy it… all of it.

She senses them clearly, feels their collective hatred for her. She has no right to be in this place, flaunting her strand of light in their faces. But they have been searching for an opportunity. Oh… for so long… they have waited for someone just like her to allow them passage into the realm of light.

And the hunger they unleash upon her threatens to overcome her in the darkness. The lions attempt to consume her flesh, but are frustrated, confused, infuriated further, because she is here without flesh, without the blood they so desperately crave. But she has gained their attention now. And they will never forget her.

Meredith finds one. The emerald lion appears out of the darkness, or the darkness takes on the form of the lion, she cannot tell. All Meredith knows is that she can feel the lion’s savage thoughts attempting to devour her mind. She quickly retreats.

The beast locks on to her foul scent, and follows…

~~~

…The resounding roar of the lion immediately destroys Meredith’s connection to the dead place. She falls over backward in the sand, the wind knocked from her as she gasps for air.

The sand lion explodes. A large beast with yellow fire for eyes appears beneath the scattered grains in the exact position of Toby’s creation. The rush of warm air across its black, not emerald-green mane, rips across its face. The bright sun above causes the lion to squint its eyes and turn away. The sound of the crashing waves makes it fall to all fours and turn toward the ocean, momentarily distracted by this strange place of light and substance.

To Meredith, the lion reminds her of charcoal as if it had been burnt to a crisp upon arrival. She stares at the beast, unable to move, unable to grasp the fact that it is actually here, ripped from the darkness within her mind like a nightmare made manifest. For a moment, the gigantic lion seems to shimmer in the hot sun as it starts to lose its shape, shifting into black mist momentarily before reforming.

Toby’s laughter is the mental slap across her face, causing both the young woman and the beast to accept what has happened.

“You did it! You did it, Meredith!” Toby cries out excitedly to her right.

She doesn’t have time to celebrate with the young boy.

Toby is dancing about in the sand, hollering like he’s just lost his mind.

The lion turns toward the dancing young fool and roars. It hunches down on all fours prepared to pounce at Toby.

Toby stops, the smile never leaving his face, and for a moment Meredith swears that she sees recognition in the horrifying yellow eyes of the beast.

Without turning to her, standing defiant before the looming lion, Toby shouts to her, “Now, Meredith! Send it across the ocean!”

Ocean? What is the ocean? She is paralyzed by the fear turning her limbs into driftwood as the massive lion turns its fierce gaze toward her .

It has found the source of the pain that had invaded its dark den on the other side, recognizing immediately that this young female bag of flesh and blood is the true threat… and the preferred prey. The charcoal beast roars once more, spinning in a circle, before assuming a killer’s stance before her, clawing once at the air before the girl as if testing her to see which way the timid creature might flee to. It drops flat in the sand, preparing to launch at the small meal.

Meredith tries to scream, but nothing comes out.

“Meredith! Do it!” Toby shouts, attempting to break through her paralysis. “The ocean! SEND IT BEYOND THE FUCKING OCEAN!”

At the last possible moment, her mental survivor defenses kick in. As the black beast charges straight for her, Meredith reaches out, takes hold of the beast in her thoughts, and… it vanishes it the air, leaving only a smoke-like shape of its leaping form, claws fully extended and inches from ripping off her face, before it dissipates into nothingness.

From somewhere out in the dark ocean, she does not hear the splash of the surprised beast striking the water, nor can she see it, but Meredith can imagine hearing its painful cries, echoing back to shore, sending chills rippling throughout her body.

“You did it!” Toby cries out, a hint of disbelief mixed with wonder clearly in his voice. “You really did it!”

Meredith starts to weep in the sand as if waking from a nightmare, alone in the darkness, but realizing that the disturbing dream, at least for now, is over.

Toby rushes to her side and kneels beside the fragile girl. “It’s okay,” he says, patting her on the shoulder.

Meredith flinches from his cold touch.

Toby removes his hand and sighs. “I know that was hard, but you did it, Meredith. You sent it away.”

“That was… that was awful,” she manages. “I never want to go through that again.”

Toby rolls his eyes but is careful to not let her see it. “It gets easier. The first one is the toughest.”

She turns her face to him, the look of disbelief in her eyes is unmistakable. “Again? Are you insane? That thing almost had me!”

He nods patiently. “Yeah… she was a fierce one, but you stopped her.”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “‘She’?”

“Yes. That was Sylvia. She’s very old, probably one of the oldest. I was actually surprised that you found her first.”

Meredith manages to sit up. “What are you not telling me?” she accuses. “You… it recognized you… I saw it in its eyes!”

He smiles and says, “Of course she does, Meredith. They all know me. I created them, remember? Grain by grain. I’ve even named quite a few of them, too.” He rises to his feet as if that should have explained everything. “We should get back, you need to rest. Tomorrow’s going to be a busy morning.” Toby reaches down, extending his hand to her.

Meredith stares at it, refuses the hand, then slowly stands up. She takes three steps back. “No. I’m done with this! No more lions. I want to go home.”

Toby lowers his arm and frowns. “You’re just tired. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know exactly what I’m saying!” she fires back defensively.

“No… you don’t!” The intensity in the young boy’s face is surprising. “You want to go home, whatever that means, then you have to fight!” he says. “You have to fight, Meredith. Because now… now the rest of those monsters know exactly where we are!”

~~~

Next Episode 49-8

Previous Episode 49-6

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 49-7: 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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