~~~

Stephen bent down in front of the coffee table to relight the lantern. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. There’s a storm front moving in. I must’ve… I dozed off on the porch… stupid. The wind woke me a minute ago. I came in and the whole room was dark. The wind must’ve blown the lantern out.”

Meredith’s sat straight up. Her heart was racing as she stared around the now lit room. Except for herself and Stephen, no one else was present. “Where is everyone?”

“I was just about to ask you that.”

She stared at him. Stephen’s face was partially hidden in shadow.

Something’s wrong!

Logan stumbled in from the back porch. “Shit!” he hissed. “How long was I out?”

“You fell asleep, too?” Meredith’s mind was reeling.

“Yeah,” the big preacher confessed. “Remind me not to pray in the prostrate position when exhausted.” He sensed the tension in the room immediately.

Meredith’s head turned from him back to Stephen who stood in front of the coffee table.

“What’s going on? Where’s Megan?” the preacher said.

Stephen shrugged his shoulders at him.

Meredith stood up and slowly stepped back behind the couch, putting distance between herself and Stephen while maintaining a little space from the preacher.

Stephen stared at her. “Why are you acting so strange?”

Logan was confused. He looked to Meredith. “What’s happening in here?”

The old medium turned to the preacher, and then to Stephen. Something is dreadfully wrong!

A moment later, Megan came rushing in from the front porch. She stopped when she saw everyone standing there, her eyes going wide.

“My goodness!” Meredith exclaimed. “You look like you’ve seen a-”

“I was attacked!” Megan gasped. “She’s here!”

Stephen turned. “Who? Nicole? Did… did she… attack you?”

Logan immediately turned toward the grandfather clock for his shotgun.

It wasn’t there.

Damn old fool, he thought. I took it with me out back!

“She’s in the fucking room!” Megan growled, stepping back from Stephen and pointing. “It was Stephen! He jumped me outside!”

“What? I did no such thing!” Stephen took a step back.

Meredith took a deep breath to steady her nerves. “Logan,” she calmly said. “Remember what we discussed?”

The preacher’s face went pale. “Yes.”

“It’s happening… right now,” she said.

“What the hell is going on?” Stephen said, staring into Logan and Megan’s accusing faces. “Why are you all looking at me like that?”

“You know why!” Megan hissed.

“He fell asleep on the porch,” Meredith said. “I woke up with Stephen standing in front of me… in the dark.”

Logan took a cautious step forward. He raised his hands toward Stephen, paying particular attention to his holstered weapon. “Now, little brother… if that’s who you still are… I need you to back away from everyone.”

Stephen looked frantic. “This is insane! I’m still me!”

“He’s lying!” Megan said, stepping further into the room and crouching down into an attack stance. “I can smell her… right where he’s standing!”

This isn’t right, Meredith thought. None of this is. With regret, Meredith closed her eyes and immediately opened her mind toward the entity possessing Stephen’s body… but couldn’t find it.

Is it… Logan?

Stephen turned toward Megan in shock.

Megan stared back at him. She flashed a wicked little smile.

A familiar smile.

No fucking way! His mind screamed.

“Everyone! Stay the hell away from her!” Stephen reached down to his side and fumbled for his holstered handgun.

“Stephen, stop!” Logan shouted, rushing toward him like a linebacker. He tackled the school teacher to the floor.

“Meredith!” Stephen shouted. “It’s Megan! IT’S MEGAN!”

The half-dead was already rushing toward the distracted medium. She was howling like a predator, her fingernails raised like claws as she prepared to rip the old woman’s throat.

Meredith turned too late.

Megan pushed her to the floor and sat on top of her legs.

Meredith stared stunned at the half-dead girl. “Megan?” she said in disbelief. She found no recognition in the young woman’s murderous eyes.

Oh, God! How did I not see this!

The half-dead raised her hands to cut Meredith’s throat… then stopped, grabbed the sides of her head, and started screaming in agony. Megan fell off the medium and on to her side.

Meredith rose to her feet and backed away.

“NO!” Megan shouted through the pain. “HE… HE TRUSTED ME! MY LOVE… TRUSTED ME NOT TO BE… BAD!”

Logan helped Stephen up. Both men were confused.

Logan rushed to Meredith’s side as Stephen stared at the young half-dead woman.

“Nicole?” he said. “Is that you in there?”

Megan turned to him, her face a mask of pain and grief. “THIS WASN’T… WASN’T ME… MY LOVE. I’M… I’M VERY SORRY.”

Before Stephen could reach her, the young woman screamed again. Megan turned to Meredith and shouted, “I CAN’T… I CAN’T STOP HER! SHE’S SO MUCH… SO MUCH STRONGER! I CAN’T… CAN’T HOLD… ON!”

Meredith was in tears when she turned to Logan. “I’m going to have to do something… awful.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Logan said.

“Pray to your God, Logan!” she cried. “Pray to your God that I don’t destroy the poor girl!”

Logan was terrified. He nodded and raised his hands toward heaven. “‘O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!’”

Thunder rumbled above the inn in response. Moments later, heavy rain assaulted the inn roof.

“What can I do?” Stephen said.

Meredith grabbed his shoulder for support. She could already feel the entity sucking up the life and light in the room. Meredith’s mind felt like the sky was about to come crashing down along with the rain. “Keep talking to her, Stephen. She’s trying… Nicole’s trying to buy us as much time as she can… but Sylvia is too much! She’s too much darkness! TOO MUCH!”

Stephen nodded and scrambled to Megan/Nicole’s side. The half-dead woman was screaming in pain and anger now.

“Nicole!” Stephen shouted. “Keep fighting! Keep fighting for us… my love! Keep fighting for as long as you can!” He wiped tears from his face, then reached down and grabbed Megan’s hand.

Nicole/Megan held it tight.

“Megan, honey!” Meredith shouted. “Nicole needs your help! If you can hear me in there… fight with her! Fight with all that you have… or the darkness will consume you both!”

Lightning flashed outside. Wind rustled violently against the front window curtains as hard rain splattered down upon the roadway.

The entity took advantage of the distraction, turned to Stephen, and laughed like a maniac.

Stephen could feel the grip on his hand get tighter. He tried to pry it loose.

“Nicole… stop! You’re hurting-”

Another flash of lightning momentarily blinded him.

His eyes adjusted and he gasped.

Nicole was staring back at him. Her face was pale and bloody. The black tank top torn. She had a large kitchen knife sticking out of her left eye. “Murderer!” she hissed, letting go of Stephen’s hand.

Stephen lost his balance and fell backwards. “No!” he cried out. “This isn’t you!”

“Stephen!” Meredith cried out. “She’s real this time! It’s… it’s not whatever you’re seeing! It’s Megan!”

The entity scrambled forward on all fours like a wild animal. “MURDERER!” it cried out. “Couldn’t let the sassy teen whore get away with it, could you? I trapped you and you couldn’t stand that I was going to turn you in… after you raped me in your filthy car!”

Stephen stared back at Nicole in shock. He was shaking his head. “No… that’s not… that’s not true!”

“Stephen!” Meredith yelled. “Don’t listen to it!” The medium was struggling to reach the creature hiding inside of Megan.

Nicole smiled like the devil. “Then, your opportunity came to hide your dirty, lustful sins. Right in the middle of all that chaos… you saw your moment to dispose of me! You picked up that knife… turned… and stabbed me in the face!”

“No!” Stephen cried out, raising his arms to defend his face.

“MURDERER!”

Before it reached him, Logan was there. He grabbed Megan around the waist and flung her toward the back of the couch. He shouted over the storm, “‘To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill!’”

The entity stared back at him from the floor, dressed in a bloody leather jacket. The lanky young man, his black hair slicked back, shouted through frustrated tears, “This is your fucking fault, uncle! You were so busy trying to find that half-breed who murdered Abbey’s kid—all fucked up, strangled and left in that dumpster to rot—t hat you let the real killer slip out from under your damn racist nose!”

Logan stumbled back. “No! This isn’t… this isn’t real,” he whispered to himself.

Jonas got up and pointed accusingly at him. Blood poured from his mouth and from three large bullet holes in his torn Iron Maiden t-shirt. “Your fucking hate got me killed!”

“Be gone, demon!” Logan shouted, looking away.

Thunder resounded overhead.

Logan turned back and froze.

Maggie was standing there, wearing the skimpy red dress he’d seen her wearing when her mother embarrassed her in front of the bar. What was left of the red torn dress barely covered her ghostly pale dead flesh. Dark bruises surrounded her neck. Her black eyes, full of blood, bore into Logan’s soul.

“Oh, dear God!” Logan whispered, stumbling back into the grandfather clock.

The young girl stepped toward him. She opened her mouth and a large rat jumped out of it. She managed to speak, her throat full of blood and making her words sound like she was gargling with them. “Demons! They’re everywhere! In everything!” She was repeating the words of John Sumner, before his bar killing spree. “Kill ‘em all! KILL ‘EM ALL!”

Logan closed his eyes. He was shaking. “Dear, Jesus, help me,” he pleaded.

“Enough!” Meredith opened her mind toward the entity.

The entity could feel the old woman, blasting into its thoughts. It turned, transforming from the mangled remains of Abbey’s daughter into…

“Why didn’t you help me?”

Meredith shook her head at the ghastly image. “No. I will not entertain this!”

Hannah stood before her, her sundress ruined by blood stains, a chunk of flesh ripped from her shoulder after she’d been attacked in the Patterson home. Her hair was disheveled. Her once gentle eyes… now full of rage and insanity. “I begged you to kill me… to spare me from the madness. But you wouldn’t! You let me suffer! You let me turn… you let me burn on the inside… and become this… disgusting animal!”

“No,” Meredith said through tears streaming down her cheeks. “I… I tried to save you.”

“You!” Hannah accused. “You were selfish! You just watched as I lost control! I begged you to kill me… and you wouldn’t HELP ME! That’s not love, you worthless cunt! You were afraid… and your cowardice made me suffer!”

“Stop,” Meredith whispered to the darkness. “Please… just stop.”

“And then… and then you wouldn’t let me touch you! You wouldn’t turn out the light… and let me reach you!” Hannah moved closer to the distraught woman. “You left me alone… and treated me like a monster!”

Meredith backed away as her former lover was now naked, wet, and bloody as if she’d been out in the rain. “No,” she cried out, refusing to look any longer.

“Look at me, Meredith,” it hissed.

“No!”

“Look at me, coward! See what you’ve let me become? Do you see? DO YOU SEE?”

Meredith turned.

Hannah’s cold dead gray eyes bore into her with hunger for her flesh.

Meredith couldn’t concentrate on the entity. The pain from her past was overwhelming.

Hannah moved in and held her arms wide, attempting to smile through bloody teeth. “Come to me, Meredith. I’m so cold… so very cold. You forced me to remain… when I begged you to help me! Then you left me alone in all… that… darkness! How could you do something so horrible?”

“No. I… I tried to save you… but I didn’t know… I didn’t know what I know now!”

“That’s okay,” Hannah said, raising her bloody arms to her. “Come to me now. Don’t leave me alone again.”

Meredith nodded and stepped toward Hannah.

The creature reached for Meredith’s neck.

Meredith couldn’t breathe as Megan’s controlled flesh tightened around her throat.

“Let her go,” Stephen said from behind. He was holding his handgun to Megan’s head. “Let them all go, Sylvia… or this ends very badly.”

One-eyed Nicole’s voice changed. “You sick fucking pervert!” it hissed in a familiar voice. “After you fucked my underage daughter and murdered her when you were done, I bet it gave you so much joy when you had a chance to be rid of me, too.” Amanda Howard let go of Meredith and turned. Her long brown hair looked like it had been torn out in multiple places, her flesh—ravaged—making her barely recognizable.

Stephen backed away. “Fuck this!” he shouted, raising the gun to Amanda’s face.

“Go ahead, you sick fuck!” Amanda screamed at him. “Maybe you’d like to have a go at me, too, before you finish me off! Though I don’t think those hungry fuckers left much.”

“Shut up!”

“You let me die, you sick fuck!”

“Stop!”

“I tried to get out that fucking basement window… and you wouldn’t help me! You let go… on purpose!”

Logan’s voice cut through the façade. “‘I lie down and sleep; I awake again, because the Lord sustains me! I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side!’”

Amanda turned toward the front door. Someone was standing there.

Logan looked toward the door… and smiled. “Praise God!” he whispered, falling to the floor as his legs failed him. He saw something that resembled Stephen… but was not. He saw someone dressed entirely in white… no, that description wasn’t accurate… it was dressed in light!

“No!” the entity shouted toward it. “You can’t be here!” The creature couldn’t hold a shape as it shifted from Amanda to Nicole, then to Jonas, Maggie and Hannah.

The apparition of Stephen Eddington had returned, but for Sylvia, he was dressed all in black. His intense eyes bore through stolen flesh, staring straight into her and exposing what she really was. The apparition pointed toward the ground.

“NO! I WILL NOT GO! I’LL BE ALONE AGAIN! I CANNOT BE ALONE!”

The Stephen-thing cocked its head to the side with an unreadable expression. It then pointed straight at her, like a sword piercing through all illusions.

The creature could not shift as it became Megan again.

Megan grabbed the sides of her head and screamed out in pain as the creature attempted to retreat deep within the half-dead woman.

Logan looked at Megan, then turned toward the apparition.

It was gone.

“Meredith!” Logan shouted. “This is our only chance! Take it, woman! Take it before it comes back!”

Meredith felt weak and depleted. The weight of her grief and pain came crashing down upon her. “I… I can’t,” she whispered. “It’s too much. Too much darkness.”

Stephen managed to crawl over to her side. He grabbed the medium’s hand. “Look at me,” he said.

Meredith stared into her old friend’s weary face. “It’s the grief and the guilt,” he said. “That’s all Sylvia knows. That’s what it feeds on… and that’s what it fears. It’s what brought me to its attention in the first place… and how Nicole was born to bear the brunt of it, while that monster hid safely behind all the pain and suffering.”

Meredith shook her head. “I… I’m broken, Stephen. That creature knew exactly where to strike… and I can’t stop thinking about… what I’ve done.”

“We’ve all done things, Meredith,” Stephen reminded her. “And we all have to live with what we’ve done. You taught me that.”

She smiled and nodded.

“Megan needs you right now. Nicole needs you, too.”

Meredith closed her eyes. “I could kill them… both.”

“If you do nothing,” Stephen said. “The guilt and the grief will have killed them both anyway… and then, it will come and finish you off. Trust me, I know.”

Meredith squeezed her friend’s hand. “Thank you, Stephen. Now, help me up.”

Stephen smiled and helped the medium to her feet.

Meredith looked to Megan, squirming on the floor as Logan walked around her like an exorcist quoting the Word of God.

“This part, Stephen, will be the… scariest,” she said.

Stephen’s eyes went wide. “I think we’ve gone past that.”

“Stay with Megan and hold her down if you can. Sylvia will try to use her to get to me…. and don’t believe the darkness, no matter what it says.”

“Shit,” he said. “What will you do?”

“I’m going to attempt to get it out of Megan, if I can… but I could just as easily kill her.”

“And… Nicole?”

Meredith gave him a grave look. “I just don’t know, Stephen.” She reached out her arm. “Get me there.”

Stephen escorted her toward Logan and Megan.

Logan was smiling like a madman, staring up toward the ceiling. “Our Lord has arrived!” he said, excitedly. “I have seen the angel of God! He has struck a blow to this beast!”

Meredith and Stephen looked at each other, then toward Megan on the floor.

“It’s not over,” Meredith reminded them.

Logan nodded. “By the power of Christ, you will cast it out into the darkness, yes?”

Meredith’s face was stone. “No, Logan. Change of plans, I’m afraid. I’m going to bring the darkness to Sylvia. I’m going to bring the darkness… here.”

Logan’s face went pale.

Stephen knelt beside the young half-dead woman. Tears were flowing down his face. “Hold on Nicole,” he whispered. “Stay with Megan… keep her safe. I’m… I’m sorry for what happens next. Just know… know that I’ll always love you.”

Meredith put a hand on the school teacher’s shoulder. She, too, was weeping. “Be ready.” She turned to Logan. “I’m hoping… I’m praying… that your God is still here.”

“He’s never left,” Logan assured her. “You do what you must.”

She nodded.

Meredith closed her eyes and opened her mind… reaching out… reaching out into the darkness all around them and within them. The old medium opened herself up wide, blowing the mental door of her mind off its hinges, shattering the wall that once held it, until she located the dead several miles away, from every direction, causing the darkness that drove them to hunger for the living, to pause, and turn its head in her direction.

She made a connection with each and every one of them—digging deeper and delving further than she’d ever done before—until those which resided within decaying flesh felt her threatening presence and were tempted to flee. Meredith reached into the darkness, made a fist around it, and grabbed on tightly with her mind, pulling that darkness toward them…

Megan stopped, opened her eyes wide, and shouted, “NO! YOU CAN’T! THEY’LL FIND ME! THEY’LL ALL FIND ME!”

Meredith ignored Sylvia and summoned the darkness… consuming it with all her being.

Megan turned toward the medium and growled. She attempted to lunge at the woman, but Stephen grabbed her from behind and held on tight. “Fight, Nicole! Keep fighting!” he shouted.

Logan raised his arms to heaven and continued to petition his God. “‘Arise, O Lord! Deliver us, O my God! Strike all our enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked!’”

Meredith could feel the weight and the strain, as the darkness assaulted her mind, causing her to fall to her knees.

The common room grew dim, but the lantern remained lit. Shadows formed and expanded where shadows shouldn’t.

The storm outside intensified. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and rain plummeted the inn roof, as if Mother Nature stood in defiance against the unnatural darkness swallowing up the night.

Meredith was screaming as she rolled on to her back and started to convulse.

“Meredith!” Stephen shouted over the storm.

The medium’s eyes were changing colors. Red to black to yellow to black. She had become a vessel for the darkness, a vessel about to burst.

The common room felt like an icebox as the temperature dropped.

Stephen looked to Logan who was still praying. He could see the preacher’s breath as shadows enveloped him.

Megan continued to resist, trying to free herself of Stephen’s grasp, staring vehemently at Meredith, spiting curses toward her and promises of death in a tongue he could not recognize.

Dear, God! Help us! Stephen prayed. He couldn’t stop shaking but refused to let the half-dead woman go.

And then suddenly, it happened.

Stephen was violently forced back as Megan broke free and stared up into the darkness all around them. What sounded like three women screaming at the same time escaped Megan’s lips. It was a terrifying scream that made Stephen want to run and cower in the closest corner.

Black smoke exploded out of the half-dead woman’s mouth, as Megan fell over on her face and did not move again.

The predator made of black mist swirled around the common room, trying to escape the darkness.

It was Sylvia.

What sounded like a thousand maniacs crying out in terror, filled the room as the entity attempted to flee but could not penetrate the unnatural shadows, forming a suffocating barrier within the common room.

And then Stephen saw it!

A face appeared within the black mist, if it could be called a face. It’s eyes glowed red. Its mouth, full of razors for teeth. Stephen covered his eyes… unable to look at it without his heart bursting from fear.

He heard Logan screaming at it.

“You!” he shouted. “I see your face! You are the demon! The Shadow Man! The Enemy of Light! God has cast you down, demon! God has trapped you in the darkness of your own design!”

The demonic creature turned toward the preacher, and for a moment, Stephen believed that it would simply bite Logan’s head clean off.

But Meredith intervened.

“You are mine!” she screamed at it. “All of you… All of it… is mine to devour! and… I… will … FEED!”

“NO!” Sylvia screamed in a hideous voice, assaulting nerves like chalk scratching across a chalkboard.

Stephen had to cover his ears before he went mad.

“LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT AND I’LL NEVER COME BACK!” the demon begged.

Meredith opened her mouth… and started to… consume… the black mist.

Sylvia looked like a desperate creature trying to flee while its tale was caught in a trap. It cried out defiantly as the medium sucked it into her mouth, and into the darkness of her mind.

Stephen rolled over on the floor and crawled into a ball, covering his ears, his eyes shut tight.

And then… the darkness was gone.

All of it.

Stephen jumped at Logan’s touch on his arm.

“You okay, little brother?”

For a moment, Stephen had trouble recognizing him. Then the terror faded. “Logan?”

The preacher smiled. “Yeah. It’s me.”

Stephen could see the lantern light dancing along the walls behind him. “Did… did all that… just happen?”

Logan laughed. “I don’t want to talk about it… not until well after sunrise.”

“Is it… over?”

“Praise be to God… I believe the storm has passed, the one in this room, anyway.”

Logan helped Stephen to his feet.

Meredith was sitting beside Megan, weeping. She looked like she’d just spent the last few minutes outside in the real storm. Her hair was a sweaty mess. Her clothes were torn. Her face was pale as if she were ill.

“Meredith?” Stephen said, coming over.

“I’m… I’m okay,” she said.

“And Megan?” Logan said.

“She’s… dormant,” Meredith said. “It was all I could… all I could do… when the worst of it happened.”

Stephen and Logan knelt beside the exhausted medium, staring down at Megan.

Megan looked dead.

“Is she even breathing?” Stephen said.

“Yes,” Meredith said. “Barely.” She looked at them both through tears. “I don’t know if she’ll ever wake again… and if she does… I don’t know which would be worse.”

Neither of them knew what to make of that.

“Is… is the entity… gone?” Logan said. “Did we defeat it?”

Meredith didn’t look at him. “Yes. The entity is back where it belongs.” She wouldn’t elaborate further.

“And… and Nicole?” Stephen said.

She looked him in the eyes. “I’m sorry, Stephen. There was no other way.”

He nodded.

“We need to leave,” she said. Her voice lacked the urgency it needed. She was that spent.

They waited.

She gave them both a grave look. “We need to leave,” she repeated. “The dead are coming. Toby knows where we are.”

~~~

Next Episode 53-9

Previous Episode 53-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 53-8: 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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