~~~

Megan Bishop climbed out of the water and on to the large flat rock near the edge of the pond. She reached down and retrieved her sunglasses from her bag, put them on, and then ran her hands through her wet blond hair.

The curly-haired young man watched her from the water and whistled at the attractive young girl in the blue bikini.

Megan turned, gave her boyfriend an annoying look, then gave him the finger.

“Sexy and sassy,” Lucas Rhodes said with a laugh. “I like it. You sure you don’t want to get into modeling after our senior year? I could see you on all the magazine covers looking just like that.”

“I know what magazine covers you look at. No thank you.” She blew him a kiss. “Now, stop gawking at me, pervert, and get over here.” Megan spread out across the warm rock, propping herself up with her elbows. She leaned her head back and listened to the leaves swaying overhead. She could see the sun shimmering through the tree canopy. It was a beautiful day… no… a perfect day. Megan smiled and inhaled deeply as the summer sun warmed her skin.

Lucas climbed up on to the rock, splashing like a clumsy dog as he laid down next to her, dripping all over the place.

Well… almost perfect, she thought.

“Did you miss me?” Lucas winked at her.

She rolled her eyes at him. “Can’t you see I was having a moment?”

“Must not have been much of a moment if I wasn’t in it.”

“You’re impossible.”

“What the hell? You said come over… so I came over.”

“Well, you didn’t have to bring half the damn pond up here with you!”

Lucas laughed and rolled on his back. “This feels good. Are you glad we came now?”

“You mean, am I glad we cut class just to go swimming?”

“Exactly.”

“You’re a bad influence, Lucas Rhodes. It’s a wonder I ever kept my grade point average up since we started dating.”

“Stop being a nerd. Look around. We got the whole place to ourselves for once. Isn’t this great?”

She had to admit, the privacy was worth the trouble they’d be in if they were caught. “Yeah… it’s okay.”

“‘Okay’?” he said. “Come on! You’ve been bothering me for weeks for some real alone time. Well… you asked… and I delivered.”

Megan laughed. “You can’t get away with that much cockiness with hair like that.”

Lucas feigned hurt. He grabbed his chest and said, “The things I endure for love.”

“Oh… please!”

He laughed. “Seriously, though, I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than right here with you… in this place. It’s like… it’s like we’re the only two people in the world… and that’s okay. Know what I mean?”

She smiled at him. Lucas was not very romantic. But occasionally, he said the right words on accident. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” she said. After a pause she added, “Thanks for bringing me out here. I needed this.”

Lucas nodded. “I know. I’ve seen how hard you’ve been hitting the books this year. You deserve a break.”

She leaned over and kissed him on the lips.

“What was that for?”

“For being a better-than-average boyfriend.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you mean a ‘stellar’ boyfriend?”

“Don’t push it,” she teased. “I’ll give you that ‘stellar’ shit for today. Take it or leave it.”

“I’ll take it,” he said, putting his hands behind his head. “We should spend the night here.”

“You know we can’t. Besides, I’ve got tests-”

“I know. I know. I just wanted to throw it out there. You know, just to let you know that I would, in a heartbeat. I enjoy spending time with you… like this.”

She paused.

He turned and added, “I love you, Megan. I’m not expecting you to say it back. I just didn’t want to waste the perfect moment to say it.”

She smiled. Megan knew that he loved her, but this was the first time that he’d said the words.

“Well… I sort of… like you, too,” she said. “You’re a swell guy.”

“You’re kidding, right? That’s all I get?”

Megan snorted. His astonished face was priceless.

Lucas shook his head. “You’re such an asshole,” he said with a laugh.

“I know,” she said and reached down to take his hand…

~~~

… “Megan?”

The half-dead woman came back to the present. She was sitting at the small kitchen table, staring across at the older woman wearing a blue hoody and jeans, not her usual look. Megan looked into the tired woman’s eyes and then up at her long black hair streaked with gray. It wasn’t often Meredith wore her hair down. It made her look younger, and much older at the same time.

Meredith smiled at her in the gloomy space, the mid-morning sun providing just enough light through the small window above the sink not to hurt Megan’s eyes. “How do you feel?” she asked. She always asked that question afterwards.

Megan sighed. “I feel fine. We could’ve gone longer this time. I was okay.”

“I know you were, honey,” Meredith said, reaching across the table and grabbing the younger woman’s hands. She pretended not to notice how cold they were, but Megan could see it in the woman’s eyes. “We do this according to schedule, you know that,” Meredith said. “That way, when the compulsion comes-”

“I know. I know,” Megan said with annoyance. “That way we’re not… giving into it… but feeding on our terms.”

Meredith released her hands and started putting the syringe back in her small case. “I know you hate this, Megan. Believe me… I know.”

Megan nodded. Meredith was never actually in the memories, but she always felt her presence within her mind when she drifted away. “Did you see it?”

Meredith smiled. “Yes, honey. The pond again, right?”

“You keep telling me to go to a ‘happy place’ when you give me your blood. Somewhere familiar that reminds me of who I was… and not who I am.”

“That’s not what I meant. You know that.”

“I know,” Megan said, slouching back in her chair. “It’s the memory. It makes me feel that way.”

Meredith waited.

“It’s like… it’s like watching a short film from another person’s life. I remember the pond, Lucas, everything that was said, even seeing myself there… but I feel nothing.”

Meredith nodded. “That doesn’t mean anything. Memories are like that. Sometimes we remember moments that feel distant to us because of all the changes between then and now. And we’ve had our share of changes.”

Megan attempted to smile for the older woman’s sake. She thought she was getting better at it. The half-dead woman ran her hands through her long blond hair and then rubbed her pale face. The make-up she applied added a little color to her cheeks, but not much. She noticed her sickly-looking hands then put them in her lap. She was wearing a light sweater and jeans. Even on sunny days she wore heavier clothes, choosing to cover up as much skin as possible. Since she felt neither hot nor cold, it didn’t matter. Over the past six weeks, Megan attempted to look more… human. If nothing else, it made the others feel more comfortable around her. She started wearing perfume each morning to mask the faint rotting smell that was becoming more and more apparent, not so much to her, but in the faces of her friends.

Slowly dying on the inside is fucking disgusting, she often thought, trying to find humor in her condition, but often, when she was alone… it just filled her with a deep sadness—one of the few emotions she could not escape from. That… and the all-consuming rage that she constantly needed to control.

“It’s getting harder and harder to remember things,” Megan confided.

“What’s that, honey?”

“The memories,” Megan continued. “It’s getting more difficult to remember my old life and the people in it. I think it’s because of how I am now… this… detachment I feel. If ‘feeling’ is the right word. I can see myself with Lucas at the pond. I remember laughing that day. Sunlight. The water on my skin. I remember words that were said… words that were supposed to mean something. But it’s all bland to me now… just like the food I eat to slow down the decaying process. The memories, the food, emotions… it’s all tasteless and as dead as all the people in those memories.”

Meredith frowned. “You’re just adjusting, Megan. There’s a part of you that’s different now, but you also long for everything you’ve lost. That’s the human side of you fighting to remain. That’s the side of you we’re battling to keep. And I think you’re making tremendous progress.”

“Am I, Meredith? What if I’m just fighting against the inevitable? What if all I’m doing is slowing down the process? I can’t stop what’s happening to me physically. What if it’s the same with everything else?”

Meredith shook her head. “I won’t believe that. Consider how far you’ve come after we found you in that glass cage. Almost everyone gave up on you then and called you a monster. But look at you now. The young woman sitting across from me is reasoning, remembering, and carrying on conversations like a human being. No monster does that.”

Megan attempted another smile. This time, it felt more genuine.

Meredith laughed. “You’re not the first person to feel ‘different’ from everyone else. Believe me, I’ve spent most of my life in that boat. The challenge for us, Megan, is not to get you to be like everyone else, that’s impossible. You can only be whatever you’re becoming. Some would say that you’re going to be just like the dead eventually. But you and I know different. That’s just the fear talking. You and I know that half of you is still alive and fighting to remain among the living. That’s who you are Megan. Regardless of the rest.”

“You really believe that,” Megan said. “I know you do. I think that’s what’s keeping me fighting, despite my rotting away inside. But we can’t deny that what’s happening to me physically is also happening with my mind. I am forgetting things. And wherever the emotions come from, it’s affecting them, too.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve got a lot of memories I’d love to forget.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Meredith nodded. “Okay. But we’re aware of those challenges so we won’t be blindsided by them, right?”

“I guess so.”

“You’re stronger than this. We’re going to beat it one day at a time and keep Megan with us… and not the monster.”

“But for how long? How long can I still be… me… before the rest of me fails to support it?”

Meredith laughed. “Honey, if you’re asking me how long you have before Megan dies, well, that’s a question all of us face these days. None of us know how long we have left. We’re all in the same predicament, fighting to remain for as long as we can in this sick world. The important thing is living each moment-”

“Living each moment like it’s our last?” Megan finished.

The older woman nodded. “Yes, as cliché as that sounds, it’s still the truth. That’s all any of us really have.”

“Your words give me hope, Meredith,” Megan said. “You may be feeding me your blood to satisfy the monster inside of me, but it’s the hope that’s feeding the rest of me.”

~~~

At a remote intersection of two state highways, in the middle of farmlands and a quarter-mile stretch of scattered ranch homes, a small inn, an ice cream shop, and a gas station—all previous family owned—sat the small town of Cherry Hill, Pennsylvania, just three miles east of the Ohio state line. Less than a mile to the North, Conneaut Creek spanned a large section of land in both states, moving east to west, and providing a significant barrier against the dead wandering south from I-90, which also ran parallel with the creek another two miles farther north.

For the last couple of days, Stephen Eddington and Logan McCalister had been using the creek to travel back and forth across the state lines to forage for supplies while monitoring the activity of the reanimated on both sides of the creek. It had been almost a week since Meredith’s group had seen signs that the dead might be closing in on them. Once they’d crossed into Pennsylvania, it appeared that they’d finally escaped Toby’s relentless eyes, via the dead under his control.

After the past six weeks of constantly moving from place to place in several directions to avoid detection by scattered hordes across the tip of Northeast Ohio, they had all learned how to spot the differences between the wandering dead, as they’d dubbed them, and the reanimated that hunted them in smaller packs, trying to blend in with the rest of their kind like spies. The reanimated under Toby’s control always moved with purpose, whether they operated within a larger horde, or in pairs as Stephen and Logan had discovered. The trick to avoid being discovered was to locate groups of the dead, assume Toby’s zombies were hiding among them, and then re-route the reanimated with ‘audible’ distractions that caused most of dead to follow. The ones who remained behind, not displaying typical ‘dead’ behavior rather than joining the rest, clearly belonged to Toby.

Over the past few weeks this strategy of misdirecting the dead and moving in the opposite direction had been working. Originally thought up by Stephen, the four of them had become very proficient at their jobs. Each time they found a new location to hide Meredith, Megan would stay behind to act as Meredith’s ‘bodyguard’ while Meredith managed Megan’s blood addiction. Stephen and Logan would then go out on patrols searching for the dead while scouting out their next hiding spot, searching homes and smaller downtowns for whatever they needed, including ‘noisemakers’. They had raided several local music shops for hand-held amplifiers, and portable radios from homes and electronic stores. Fortunately, not many survivors were interested in musical hobbies during the apocalypse. However, batteries to supply them were much more difficult to find.

Their strategy had worked until recently.

Toby had figured out what they were doing and had begun to compensate by redirecting the dead to move in opposing directions, forming perimeters with hordes that could close in and surround an area he suspected Meredith might be. This made Stephen and Logan’s misdirection strategy much more challenging since they never knew if they were stepping into one of these surrounded areas designed to be a trap that closed like a fist should they set off an audio distraction in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because of Toby’s expanded searches and traps, Northeast Ohio was getting increasingly dangerous, finally causing them to push east and into Pennsylvania.

No one had been excited about moving farther east and away from potentially locating any scattered survivors from the compound, especially Gina and Marcus, but they’d all agreed that staying in Ohio was becoming too risky.

Meredith was already having a difficult time keeping her mind blocked to avoid Toby finding her while also straining her abilities to keep Megan under control. This kept her from sensing when the dead was near. Fortunately, Megan could sense them, too, which gave them a little early warning. What finally sold them all on heading east was that Meredith believed that Toby’s reach was limited and that she believed he’d have less control over the reanimated if they moved farther east.

Stephen and Logan exited Conneaut Creek near the bridge that crossed the water and headed south, back toward Cherry Hill and the small inn where Meredith and Megan were hiding. They made sure they weren’t being followed along the creek, then crossed over to the north side of the bridge, heading north for a mile to ensure no herds were traveling south from the Interstate. Then they started back south to reunite with the others before losing the afternoon light as evening slowly approached.

The short but stocky preacher with the black scraggly beard and long hair tied back in a ponytail, rubbed the sweat away from the top of his slowly balding head. He wore a backpack with a shotgun slung over his shoulder and a shoulder harness full of shells. He also wore a gun belt with his holstered .45 and a large hunting knife. His sweaty black tank-top did little to hide his muscular and heavily tattooed arms. He looked over at the taller but thinner man in the button-down shirt and jeans, wearing his round-rimmed glasses and shoulder length brown hair that always made him look too young to be a former teacher. Stephen Eddington was struggling with the pack on his back while carrying the extremely obnoxious looking yellow ‘boom box’ they’d discovered in a house on the way back. Stephen also wore a gun belt with a holstered .9mm and a hunting knife.

Logan laughed lightly at his friend. “I told you that ridiculous thing wasn’t worth carrying all the way back, little brother.”

“We’re almost there,” he groaned. “And it’s not ‘ridiculous’. The words you’re looking for is ‘retro cool’.”

“Retro what?” Logan said.

Stephen turned to the preacher and smiled through his sweaty hair. “Don’t you remember MTV?”

“Of course,” Logan said. “But that shit didn’t make me want to lug some large-ass music box around. We had hogs with very loud stereos attached to them… like it was meant to be.”

Stephen laughed. “Too bad you don’t have your bike now. And I don’t care if ‘riding bitch’ on the back isn’t cool… my legs are shot.”

Logan laughed a bit louder. He turned up to the sky and shook his head, “Lord, please forgive my amusing friend for saying things like ‘riding bitch’… he knows not what he says or does.”

“Ha, ha,” Stephen said. “We almost there?”

“Almost. Want me to carry that thing for you?”

“You’ll just throw it in the woods,” Stephen said. “Besides, this thing won’t even need an amplifier. You’ll see. The dead will come running when they hear this thing.”

“Or drop dead… again… with laughter watching you carry it,” Logan added with a smile.

“You want to talk about what’s funny?” Stephen said. “Let’s go back to three weeks ago to that grassy field just south of Conneaut.”

Logan rolled his eyes. “You will never let me forget that, will you?”

Stephen smiled. “Remember the fireworks you found?”

“Yeeesss,” Logan said. “I remember.”

Stephen started snorting. He almost dropped the boom box. He stopped and said, “You lined up all those damn bottle rockets and just stuck them in the grass, like you were aiming them at that horde. I tried to tell you they weren’t supported right, but you set them off anyway.”

“It still got the job done, little brother. Those dead things came our way rather quickly after that.”

Stephen put his hands on his knees as the laughter took hold. “Those damn bottle rockets tipped and launched all over the place. But that one that landed in your beard… my goodness… I think you screamed louder than those rockets, dancing around like Santa Claus on fire!”

Logan stopped and stroked his beard with a frown. “It wasn’t that funny,” he said. “You try wearing a flaming beard and tell me how funny it feels.”

Stephen put a hand over his mouth to calm down. “I swear… some of those damn zombies turned around when they saw you like that! It was some funny shit. They looked all confused by your wild-fire dance.”

Logan smiled, catching the joke. He started laughing much louder. “Wildfire! I got it! Now that was funny!” He started moving again.

Stephen shook his head at him. “I didn’t mean… oh… never mind.” He glanced at the boom box, sighed, then picked it back up and caught up to Logan.

The former school teacher stared up at the tall Pennsylvanian pines bordering both sides of the road and laughed.

“What is it, little brother?”

“I was just thinking. I’ve done more traveling since the apocalypse then I’ve done in a very long time. I’ve never even been out of Ohio.”

Logan stroked his beard and smirked. “And I’ve been all over the damn place… but never like this. Usually the only time we got off our rides and walked was just to get from the parking lot to the bar.”

“Times have certainly changed… and so have we,” Stephen said, inviting a reflective moment of silence. “Do you think we’ll ever find them?”

Logan sighed. “You ask that question at least twice a day. You know that?”

Stephen nodded. “I guess it just helps me remember them. You know, by mentioning them out loud it makes them feel… closer.”

“I’m sure Gina and Marcus are out there surviving the best they can. As are we.”

“Do you think they know what happened at the compound by now?”

“Don’t know. We’ve been through this. First couple of weeks on the run had us searching that area. All we found was a whole lot of heartache. And it’s like Meredith said, if anyone did survive, we should be as far away from them as possible.”

“I know,” Stephen said. “I just… well… I just want to know if anyone else made it out. I just want to know that they’re safe.”

“Me, too, little brother. You’re not the only one feeling a little homesick for our friends.”

“Now that we’ve crossed the state line, I’m starting to feel like we’re completely on our own,” Stephen added. “We can’t keep running forever. At some point we need to stop and figure this all out.”

“We’re doing all we can,” Logan said. “One day at a time… remember?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Stephen said. “I just feel like we’re not gaining any ground with all this hiding. That Toby creature is adapting to everything we do. Maybe… maybe we need a more… permanent solution.”

Logan stopped and turned. “You want to confront Toby?”

Stephen stopped. “Maybe. Or at least start considering the option.”

“To what end, little brother?”

“I don’t know. Maybe we can find a way to take him down by coming at him dead on. I’m sure he wouldn’t expect that.”

Logan nodded. “I would love that… if it were a fair fight. You’ve seen what we’re up against. What could we possibly do against all this crazy shit?”

Stephen shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know yet. I’m still thinking about it.”

The big preacher laughed, took his pack off, and then bent over to retrieve something within. “Well… you let me know when you’ve figured it out and I’ll go charging that windmill with you. Just you, me, and the Lord Almighty.”

Stephen laughed at the windmill reference.

Logan held up a roll of toilet paper. “I’ll need a few minutes. You good here?”

“Yeah,” Stephen said with a smile. “I told you those sardines were bad news.”

“They were in a sealed can,” he defended.

“Ever heard of an expiration date?”

“Bah!” Logan protested. “Those sardines were heavenly. I’d do it again.”

“Tell that to your bowels,” Stephen joked. “Go on, take care of business. I’ll cover the road.”

“Mind if I take that yellow beast with me? I could probably make a good toilet seat out of it.”

Stephen sat down on top of the large boom box and smiled. “No. Get your own damn seat!”

Logan laughed and waved a dismissive hand at the obnoxious looking thing. “Be back in a few minutes.” He stepped across the road on the left and into the woods, headed for a small pine grove.

Stephen took a deep breath and watched the preacher depart. A roll of toilet paper in one hand, the shotgun in the other. He laughed at the image and thought, Will there ever be a time again when we won’t need to arm up just to take a dump?

Something shifted in his peripheral vision off to the right.

Stephen stood up and instinctively drew his sidearm. He held his weapon low and started scanning the forest shadows.

He saw nothing.

Relax, Eddington. We would have heard them long before now. He shook his head and holstered his weapon. Stephen sat back down on the boom box and thought sadly, I don’t know what would have alarmed me more, seeing a deadhead or some fucking deer. It wasn’t the first time any of them had been spooked by the eerie silence of the woods, void of wildlife. Another mystery on the list of mysteries the apocalypse had provided. Stephen scanned the pine trees and wondered what a world without animals would mean in the long run and how that would affect the ecosystem. “I guess after the last can of Spam is gone… we’re all doomed to be vegetarians,” he joked.

Something shifted from behind a tree.

“Shit,” he hissed, standing back up. He looked to the left for Logan.

“Stephen,” a familiar voice whispered on his right.

No… no fucking way!

Eddington turned back.

A young woman with long scraggly brown hair full of leaves, a dirty face, and wearing a dirty blue hoody and jeans stepped out from behind the tree. To Stephen, the woman looked like she’d been living in the woods for a long time.

He drew his weapon and aimed it at her. “Stay back,” he hissed. “Not one more step… Nicole!”

Nicole squatted down and raised her dirty hands submissively as if someone were about to strike her and then she placed one shaky finger over her mouth. “Please,” she whispered. “I’ve been through hell trying to find you. Please, Stephen… don’t call out! Not yet!”

Stephen was torn. Part of him wanted to unload his weapon into the thing’s chest while another part of him was close to tears. Seeing Nicole like this was heartbreaking. “What… what do you want?” he said with less anger. He lowered his weapon slightly.

Nicole put her hands over her face as tears streamed down her filthy cheeks. She was trying to control her emotions. “I… I’m sorry. I’ve… I’ve missed you so very much. And… and talking to you now… I never thought I’d hear your voice again.”

Stephen’s eyes started to water up. He was shaking. Since the underground cavern beneath the orphanage, Stephen had believed she was gone forever. “You… you can’t be here,” he said. “You need to leave… and never come back.” Saying the words hurt him as much as Nicole.

Nicole nodded. “I understand, Stephen. I… I know you’re upset with me. I know I lied to you about a lot of things. But… I still love you. That much has never changed.”

“I don’t know what you are,” he said. “Some kind of demon… or something much worse… doesn’t matter anymore. We’re done. You need to leave.”

To Stephen, Nicole looked horrified. “Please… please don’t send me away! I’ve… I’ve searched so long to find you. I can’t be here, in this strange place, not without you.”

Stephen started to protest, but the words got choked off in his throat.

“I’ve been following you for the past three days… keeping my distance… waiting for a moment to talk to you. Waiting for a chance to explain-”

“Go away!” Stephen hissed through tears. “We’re done, Nicole! Go back. Go back to hell where you belong!”

She started to weep. “I… I can’t!” she cried. “I’m broken, Stephen! When you left me… I fought. I fought against the monster within me, the rage that wanted to destroy you, and all your kind. I just kept thinking about us… and it got me through it! Don’t you see? Our love helped me defeat it!”

“I don’t care,” Stephen said. “I don’t love you,” he lied. “Now… just go away… please.”

“They’ve been watching you, Stephen,” she said. “They’ve been lying to you… talking about you behind your back.”

“What are you talking about?”

“They don’t trust you. They hate what we had and now… they think you’re just like me.”

Stephen shook his head. “Stop trying to poison me with your conniving words. You’re just trying to worm you way back into my life… trying to control me again.”

“No, Stephen. It’s not like that anymore. I’m free now. I’m free to love you because what we have was strong enough… strong enough for me to break free of the darkness!”

Stephen was at a loss.

“Don’t you see, my love? We can be together now. I’ve been running from that darkness trying to find you, knowing that if I did, nothing could ever pull me back into that cold, black void. We need each other, my love. We belong together. As I once helped you get free of the darkness… I need you now, to help me stay free.”

“I can’t listen to you anymore,” he said. “Just… just go away.”

“Give me a chance… just one chance to explain. Please… I’ll leave now… just meet me tonight. Find a way to escape their distrustful eyes and I’ll come to you and explain everything.”

“And if I don’t want to see you ever again, and don’t meet you… will you go away and never come back?” Stephen said.

Nicole looked struck. She wiped tears from her eyes and attempted to smile. She nodded and said, “Okay, Stephen. If you don’t meet me tonight… then… then I’ll go away. I promise. But please, please consider meeting with me. We’ve been through so much together. You owe me that.”

“I don’t you anything,” he said coldly. “Now… go away.”

“Don’t tell them, Stephen. If you tell them I’m here… they’ll never trust you again. They’ll treat you like they treat me. They don’t understand us, my love. No one can. Meet me at the ice cream shop. I’ll be there all night.”

Stephen just stared at the fragile, mess of a woman, who was no woman at all. He closed his eyes and whispered, “Just leave me alone.”

“What was that, little brother?”

Stephen opened his eyes.

Nicole was gone.

He turned around. Logan was staring at him. He had a look in his eyes that made Stephen uncomfortable. “How long were you standing there?”

The big preacher raised an eyebrow. “I’ve got a better question. Why are you standing there, shaking like you’ve just seen a damn ghost with your gun drawn?”

He didn’t see her this time, he thought. Stephen laughed nervously and holstered his weapon. “Sorry,” he said. “I thought I heard something in the woods. I guess it freaked me out pretty good.”

“What exactly freaked you out, Stephen?”

“You know… I thought I heard deadheads creeping around out there.”

“And… did you see anything?”

“No. Like I said, the woods just freaked me out. Sometimes you imagine things that aren’t there. You know how it is now.”

Logan nodded and stared out into the forest. “Yeah, the woods are damn creepy now.” He turned back. “Sometimes you imagine things that aren’t there… and then sometimes, when you think you’re imagining things… turns out something’s there after all.”

Stephen gave him a strange look.

“Did you… imagine anything else, Little brother? Anything at all?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s just a question. You look rattled.”

“I’m okay,” he lied. “Let’s just get back.”

Logan waited, staring at Stephen for what felt like an eternity.

Stephen put his gear back on, trying to ignore the preacher’s heavy gaze. He finally picked up his boom box and smiled. “Ready?”

Logan smiled and nodded. “Yeah. I guess it was nothing after all… right?”

“Right,” Stephen said with annoyance. “I’m just jumpy and need rest. Hell, we both do.”

Logan put his pack back on. “You’re right. The sooner we get back and get rested up, the more things will make sense. Sometimes a little rest puts things in the proper perspective, know what I mean, Stephen?”

“Sure,” he said, not appreciating the back-door interrogation. “It will be getting dark in an hour. I don’t want to be out here then.” He started walking, not bothering to wait for Logan.

The big preacher stared after his friend for a moment. He looked back toward the darkening woods then took a deep breath, and sighed. He whispered a prayer to God, and then moved to catch up with Stephen.

~~~

Next Episode 53-2

Previous Episode 52-12

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 53-1: Love and Loss” 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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