~~~

… Meredith’s eyes shot open in the dark den. She raised her head from the school table, disoriented and in shock. Stephen and Logan were still asleep on the floor. Megan lay still on a nearby table. For the terrified former medium, more than a year from the missing pages of her life had played out in her dreams—if she could still call them dreams—while in this reality, only a few hours had passed.

She turned and stared at the blank chalkboard, bitterly wishing that her memory was just as bare. The horrific pieces from her obscured past, roughly assembled in her mind like Frankenstein’s monster on a slab with the cover suddenly ripped away, made her want to scream. Toby had unlocked the truth from within her, and now, the weight of what she had done came crashing down.

“Did I… did I do anything bad?”

The question she’d asked Dr. Forrester in the darkness, so many years ago, back when she still possessed the bliss of ignorance, now haunted the crowded hallways of her thoughts. If only she could’ve remained in the dark, lights out, and unaware… but now… the truth cut into her like certain death.

“What have I done?” The whispered question felt like a curse. Meredith was shaking.

She couldn’t protect you forever, Meredith. Toby was back, the older version. That worm, Forrester, stole you from me. She thought she could hide you from the truth… from the awful truth that you and I created together. She died in vain while your world still perished. And now… here we are… back together to finish what was meant to be.

Go away! Meredith thought back. She felt a tempest rising within, a deep, dark anger she’d never known she could feel. Go away… or I’ll-

Threats? Really? I gave you the gift of Truth, gave you back your memories and made you whole again, and this is the thanks I receive? You’re as pathetic as all the rest! You don’t deserve the power you possess. You have no idea how much trouble I’ve gone through to get you back! And still, you act like that foolish child I saved in the sand so many years ago! When I’m through with you, I’m going to make you suffer in ways you can’t imagine, Meredith. I’m going to keep you alive and let you watch as I wipe out everything and everyone you still care about! Now, enough with your childish tantrums! If you don’t do exactly what I tell you now, I’m going to send them, Meredith. I’m going to send the dead in to rip your friends-

A loud door within her mind slammed shut, forcing Toby out with more force than she knew she was capable of.

Meredith’s face grew dark. “No,” she said firmly. “I’ve had enough.”

Someone touched her lightly on the shoulder. Meredith turned and found Megan awake, standing beside her. Two large silver eyes, full of fear, stared back at her like mirrors. All Meredith could see was accusation and guilt reflected in those eyes. “No!” she shouted, nearly falling out of her chair trying to get away from the half-dead woman.

Megan took a step back, startled.

“No… No… NO!”

Stephen and Logan were awake. They started to rise.

Meredith backed away from the table, gripping the sides of her head. She was so angry. Angry at Toby, the Dead, the Darkness… Herself.

“Meredith?” Stephen said, taking a cautious step toward her.

She couldn’t hear him. All she could hear were the dead outside, rioting in her thoughts, their collective madness attempting to consume her.

Rising above the wind whistling through the cracks in the dying house, a terrifying chorus of relentless, savage hunger filled their ears, causing all of them to turn and get quiet.

“They’re coming!” Logan shouted from the broken den window.

Meredith knew what was happening. She’d pushed Toby out… and now he was pushing back. She thought of all her friends… all who had died… all because of what she’d done. And now, Megan, Logan, and Stephen would die… because of-

“NO!!!” she screamed, dropping her hands and staring toward the back of the den.

Stephen’s eyes went wide with fear as he stepped away from the former medium. “Oh, my God,” he whispered. “She’s… Meredith, don’t do this!”

Megan backed away, dropped into a crouch, and started hissing at the older woman.

“Stephen, what is she doing?” The fear in Logan’s voice was loud and clear.

They all watched in horror as Meredith’s eyes changed from a blazing fierce yellow, to a primal red, then to black.

“She’s… she’s letting them in!” Stephen shouted. “Meredith… don’t!”

“The dead will be on us in moments!” Logan said, pushing Stephen back toward the den entrance. “We can’t stay here. Megan! You need to come with us… now!”

Megan remained, staring at the unrecognizable older woman.

Meredith was shaking violently as her eyes continued to shift colors. The former medium managed to walk toward the rear exit of the den as she continued to let the horde of madness fill her mind. She started to scream near the door. The sound of her voice sounded like a thousand madmen overlapping and filling the others with more fear than they thought capable.

“Megan! Leave her!”

The half-dead refused to leave Meredith’s side as she slowly approached Meredith.

It took all Meredith had left to force her feet to move, never looking back, and pull the sliding glass door open to let in the night.

The howling dead was deafening.

Meredith stepped into the night, stared up toward the first wave of the advancing horde and growled, “NO!”

The massive horde paused in their advance toward the house and turned their attention toward Meredith. It was as if a disruptive signal, more powerful than their hunger for blood, had suddenly interrupted their ability to function. Toby’s army of the dead convulsed violently. Monsters in different states of decay, young and old, male and female, red-eyed, yellow-eyed, black—didn’t matter—they all turned their contorted frames toward the older woman who was not only letting their madness consume her, but she was within their decayed dark minds as well… pushing… further and further into their primal need to feed… pushing… further and further toward the source of what drove them… pushing… until they were a part of her… until she had become them, seizing control and forcing the minions from the dark realm back with a very powerful mental whip.

Like a lion tamer.

Before the dead dominated her thoughts, Meredith pushed back with all she possessed, seizing the reigns of the mindless mob from the madness so abruptly until she was able to make them heed to one single desire:

FEED… ON YOURSELVES!!!

For the first time the dead no longer stared at each, void of all recognition, as they’d always done, hunting together under the collective call. One false command, now inserted into the base program that demanded blood, drove rotting flesh over decrepit skeletal frames to gaze into each other’s lifeless eyes and see the horror of all the victims each of them had claimed, reflected in their dead eyes.

It was only a flicker, but it was enough.

All at once, the dead turned on each other. Decayed monsters ripped into each other, believing they had found… blood!

Meredith knew she could not maintain control. She’d known what it would mean to attempt this when she first thought about it and nearly dismissed the desperate idea. But after discovering what she was, what she’d done, and what was really behind the lifeless eyes of these dead beasts, she was prepared to die to stop at least one horde, one small fraction of the hell she’d released on her world, to save what friends she still had left.

If they could take control of me if I allowed them completely in, she’d reasoned earlier. Then I could take control of them, too… like a body snatcher.

Goodbye, she thought now, as the cavern in her mind was about to collapse beneath the weight of the madness she could barely hold up. Once she stopped pushing, she would join the mindless mob of the dead and be torn apart… her mind gone black, forever. Goodbye… and I’m sorry for what I’ve done. She walked toward the closest mob of beasts savagely tearing into each other, prepared to stop fighting, preparing for the collapse.

Someone grabbed her from behind.

Meredith turned.

Megan was there, pulling violently on her arm.

If it had been Stephen or Logan, Meredith might have attacked them,

Surprisingly, the silver-eyed young woman was not affected by Meredith’s mental pushing.

And then Megan spoke. “You’re damn lucky I still need you.”

Toby?

Something struck Meredith hard in the back of the head.

Lights out.

~~~

The wind whistled through every crack, coming down the loudest through a gaping hole above the rafters, leaving a clear view of the pre-dawn sky through the roof of the decrepit barn. Rain trickled down from the hole, accompanied by ambient light, dispelling some of the shadows within the damp skeletal shelter.

The storm was a blessing. It would mask their scent… for now… allowing them a brief respite from their mental and physical exhaustion while each of them tried to piece together what had happened.

After escaping the orphanage grounds, they had wandered north through a large forest at the edge of the property for most of the remainder of the night, wanting to put as much distance between themselves and what was left of the confused mixed horde of the dead.

Stephen, Logan and Megan sat huddled together, sharing a large, dusty tarp they’d found for warmth.

Meredith had awoken an hour ago. She refused to join them, sitting with her back against an old wall, her legs crunched up beneath her dirty sundress, her arms wrapped around her knees. She appeared oblivious to the cold or didn’t care. The old medium refused to speak. The others assumed she was still in shock after losing control and confronting the dead. But it was the real monster of Truth which devasted her now as resurfacing memories continuous threatened to consume her very soul.

They took turns stealing glances at the afflicted woman, but no one knew how to approach her, not like this. What they’d seen her do—what she’d nearly become—was still fresh in all their minds.

Meredith felt their prying, confused and fearful eyes. She did not blame them for how they felt. Her old world had always viewed her the same… and it all seemed justified now.

Megan slowly removed the tarp from around her shoulders and started to rise.

Stephen and Logan stared at her. Their eyes clearly saying the same thing:

What are you doing? Just leave her alone!

Megan frowned at their terrified faces, turned toward Meredith, and walked over. The half-dead young woman sat down beside the older woman, leaned her head back against the wall, and closed her eyes. Megan didn’t say a word, she just waited.

Meredith struggled to keep from breaking down. She whispered to Megan, “I’m sorry.”

She could hear the young woman sigh. “What are you sorry about? We’re away from that horrible house. I don’t care how you did it… everything’s a little better now.”

“I’m sorry for what I did to you,” Meredith clarified. “I couldn’t… couldn’t stop the violence… when I tempted you with the blood. I just made things worse for you.”

Megan waited so long to speak that Meredith thought she’d fallen asleep. Finally, she said, “You did what you had to do… to stop me. I can deal with the rest.”

Meredith turned. Megan’s pale face was partially buried in shadow. “I filled you with so much savageness,” Meredith said. “It’s unforgiveable… what I made you… experience.”

“It wasn’t real,” Megan said. “I didn’t happen. I can live with that.”

Meredith was stunned. “But-”

“I can still see all their faces, all their terrified faces, right before I… devoured them. I know the memories aren’t real… but I can still taste their flesh in my mouth. I keep telling myself that it’s like having a real vivid dream where I lost all control and did all those brutal things to those defenseless people. I hear them scream in my head as I rip them open, one at a time, and then… I wake up.” She leaned forward from the wall, showing Meredith her tear streaked face. “I wake up, and you know what I feel then?”

Meredith sadly shook her head.

“It’s like that feeling you get after waking from an awful nightmare. For a moment, it feels so real… like I did all those horrible things… but then the relief comes. The relief comes from knowing that it never happened… even if it feels like it did.”

Meredith had no idea what to say.

“In a way, I’m glad you did what you did to me… to stop me. Now I know what it feels like… what it tastes like, and smells like… with all that blood on me… all those screams in my ears. Now I know what it would mean to become that complete monster I’ve always feared. That’s why I won’t. I can’t. I’ll die first before I ever experience that again… for real.”

Meredith managed a weak smile and nodded. She was about to speak but Megan isn’t finished.

“You’re not the first person who’s done things to me… probably not the last either, if I have any chance of surviving this. But you didn’t turn me into this monster. You’re just doing your best to stop it in any way you can… just like I’m trying to do.”

Meredith’s hold on her emotions was slipping. Megan had just stabbed her in the chest without realizing it. The young woman’s final words are a fatal blow.

Megan’s pale face looks concerned. “Meredith? Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay.” She starts to laugh and cry at the same time, placing her hands in front of her face before weeping.

Stephen and Logan stood up.

She turned to all of them, and blurted out, “I did this! I’m responsible for all of it!”

The two men shared a confused glance.

Meredith turned to Megan, placed a shaky hand on the side of her cheek, and said through uncontrollable tears, “You’re wrong, honey. Oh, I wish, I could take it all back… but I can’t. I did this to you, too!” Meredith removed her hand and looked away as the torrent of tears overwhelmed her.

Megan stared at the older woman. She doesn’t understand.

“Meredith?” It’s Stephen. “We’ve had a rough night… you especially. Why don’t you just rest and-”

“You’re not hearing me!” she shouted. “None of you are!”

They waited.

“I remember everything now, and it all began with me! I let the damn Lions loose! I started The Change!”

~~~

Next Episode 49-10

Previous Episode 49-8

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 49-9: 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. alikolino says:

    Man I love this story. Keep up the good work

    Like

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