~~~

“Megan?” Meredith whispered, kneeling beside the couch. “Megan, honey… are you… are you alright?”

Stephen stood directly behind Meredith. To him, Megan looked like a corpse with its eyes still open. The thought gave him the chills. A part of him wondered if the girl’s eyes would suddenly turn and find him, followed by a smile to let him know that Nicole was still in there… somewhere. He turned away, feeling guilty for the thought.

Logan stood directly behind the couch with the shotgun at the ready but not aimed at Megan directly. He was obviously uncomfortable at the prospect of shooting the girl should something else other than Megan reveal itself.

“Megan?” Meredith repeated louder. She looked at the girl’s slowly rising chest. She’s barely breathing! Oh, dear, God… please… please let her be okay.

All at once, Megan drew in a large breath, making her cough and everyone else jump. The half-dead slowly sat up, stared around at the strange faces observing her until the disorientation lifted. She made eye contact with the medium.

“Megan?” Meredith said with a smile. “We’re all here, honey. Just relax.”

Megan nodded.

Meredith couldn’t tell if she recognized them, or if it was even Megan staring back at her.

The half-dead young woman attempted a broken smile, then gave up, putting her hands over her mouth instead. She started to shake lightly, her eyes watering up. “I… I tried to kill you!” she exclaimed. She stared around at the others. “I tried to kill… all of you!”

Stephen shook his head. “It wasn’t you, Megan. It was… it was Sylvia.”

She nodded at him as tears fell down her cheeks. She turned back to Meredith. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”

“How much do you remember?” she said.

Megan’s horrified eyes answered the question.

“Oh, you poor child,” Meredith said, reaching over to embrace her.

The moment Megan was in Meredith’s arms, she started to sob loudly. “I’m so… so… sorry!” she cried, collapsing in the embrace.

“It’s alright, honey,” Meredith said through tears. “It wasn’t your fault… none of it. Just… just let it all out now. We’re just… we’re just grateful you’re still with us.”

She looked up at the ceiling. Thank you, God. I owe you another one.

Stephen stepped back, choking up over Megan’s unchecked display of grief. He looked up at Logan.

The big preacher had lowered the shotgun, letting his broad shoulders slouch.

At first, Stephen thought he was praying.

Logan was staring down at Megan… crying.

~~~

Half-an-hour later, Stephen and Logan started patrolling the perimeter to keep an eye on the dead, allowing Meredith time to give Megan another blood dose.

When Meredith was finished, Megan was much calmer. The half-dead woman sat on the couch with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders while Meredith sat beside her, watching her like a mother hen. She brought Megan up to speed with everything that had happened after she went dormant.

“So, we’re going to give up, then?” Megan asked.

“No,” Meredith said. “We’ve only agreed to Toby’s surrender to buy us some time.”

“Time for what?”

The old medium smiled. “Stephen seems to believe that I have some secret weapon at my disposal to take down all the monsters.”

“Well… don’t you?”

Meredith couldn’t tell if she was joking. “If I do, honey, I’ll be sure to let you all know.”

“So… we’re going to fight.”

“Yes,” Meredith said with a weary nod. “It appears that we will certainly try.”

Megan nodded. “And… we have from now until we arrive on Toby’s island, or whatever, to come up with a plan?”

“Yes.”

Megan waited for more but got nothing. “Will your secret weapon reveal itself to you by then?”

Meredith laughed. “I sure hope so… I really do.” She shifted gears. “How are you feeling?”

“Better.” Megan started to tense up. “Stephen’s right. We should fight.”

Meredith smiled. “Yes. He seems to have uncovered his own special weapon.”

The half-dead waited.

“His newly found optimism in the face of… well… everything.”

“Stephen’s a good man. I like him a lot,” Megan blurted out, then immediately stared down at her hands.

“What is it?” Meredith pushed.

Megan looked resistant, then relaxed. “When I… when I was watching him on the porch waiting for Nicole… I felt… jealous.”

Meredith’s eyebrows shot up. She smiled. “Really?”

Megan glared at her. “Don’t you dare say a word!”

“I won’t, honey. Go on.”

“I’ve… I’ve had feelings for him. At first, I didn’t know what they were. But when Nicole came back… I started to understand. Not that I would ever do anything about it… but… they were there… these feelings.” She said the last with contempt.

“It’s alright, Megan. He is a handsome young man.”

“Don’t tease.”

“Alright.”

“Anyway, I think that’s how… that’s how Sylvia got inside of me. She must have sensed I had strong feelings for him… and when I started feeling guilty about it… she tricked me.”

“What do you mean?”

Megan gave her the saddest look. “I was watching Stephen from the window, then I turned away because I heard… I heard a child cry out.”

Meredith frowned.

“And then… and then I saw… Lucas… my Lucas… standing just outside another window. He was staring at me… holding our child.”

“Oh… I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” Meredith said.

Megan looked away and nodded, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. “You see… I started feeling guilty for… being jealous over Stephen… and it made me think of Lucas… and then my feelings… got intense… and confusing.”

Meredith nodded, grabbing the half-dead’s cold hand. “I think I understand. Nicole had mentioned something about strong emotions associated with our memories… and that the strongest ones were how she was able to take on forms.” Then she stopped and said, “She did say that she couldn’t connect with you like that. Curious.”

“Yes,” Megan said. “I was thinking the same thing. I believe Sylvia hid the truth from her and discovered these emotions within me when Nicole was talking to the rest of you. And then Sylvia used them against me. While manipulating Nicole, Sylvia was plotting against us all along-” She stopped herself, shaking her head.

“What is it?”

Megan turned. “When I saw them, in the window, I went outside and followed Lucas and our baby across the road… and that’s when it happened. She took control of me… and I felt… sick inside. There was so much darkness. I sensed Sylvia’s plan. She wanted to take possession of me to kill you and Logan… and then offer me up to Nicole—my body—in order to tempt Nicole back on her side.”

Meredith nodded. “I think I’m starting to see where this is headed.”

Megan nodded. “Sylvia hoped that by giving Nicole her own flesh, that she would be overjoyed by the ‘gift’ of a… physical relationship.” Megan shifted uncomfortably, considering what that would entail.

“And Stephen would run away with Nicole because she was a real girl now,” Meredith said. “Sylvia, of course, would continue to pull Nicole’s strings from the shadows… and everyone would’ve appeared to have received what they wanted.”

“Yes. Something like that.”

Meredith shook her head. “And… what would’ve happened to you?”

Megan shrugged her shoulders, stared down at the floor, and said, “No more Megan. I was half gone already. I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken much to push the rest of me out.”

Meredith grabbed her by the chin and turned her face to look at her. “I don’t believe that for a minute,” she said sternly. “I believe it was because of you… and Nicole… fighting somewhere inside of you, that Sylvia’s plans were ruined.”

Megan smiled. “You really believe that. I can tell.”

“Absolutely!” Meredith smiled, letting go of her chin. “Sylvia underestimated you and Nicole. Clearly, that creature didn’t have a clue what love was all about. I don’t want to hear any more talk about you being something less than anyone else. Are we clear, young lady?”

She nodded, staring at the old woman with deep affection. Then she frowned as if remembering something awful. “I felt everyone’s… pain… when Sylvia was shifting. The memories she stole from your minds is very fuzzy now… but the emotions… the grief… I still feel it.”

Meredith tensed up and looked away.

Megan pushed. “You carry so much sadness in you, Meredith…. about Hannah.

“Yes,” she said. “I know. Let’s not go there, alright?”

“Look at me,” Megan said.

Meredith turned to find Megan crying. “What is it, honey?”

“You carry so much pain,” Megan said. “I’m surprised you can bear it. But the heaviest load is about Hannah.”

Meredith nodded, wiping away the young girl’s tears.

“I want to know what happened,” Megan said.

“You know that awful story already,” Meredith said. “My Hannah died.”

“You’ve only told a part of the story… but there’s more. I can feel it.”

Meredith was growing increasingly uncomfortable. “You need not concern yourself with my pain, Megan. It’s mine to bear… not yours.”

“It’s mine now, too,” Megan corrected.

Meredith looked into the sad girl’s eyes. She put a hand gently on Megan’s cheek. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry you had to go through that, too.”

“Just… tell me. Let me help you… as you’ve helped me.”

The old medium let out a heavy sigh. “Okay. But after… we never talk about it again. Okay?”

Megan nodded, wiping fresh tears from her eyes.

Meredith leaned back on the couch. “I’ve never told anyone this before,” she realized. “Not this part.”

“Your secrets are safe with me,” Megan assured her.

Meredith nodded. She reluctantly went back into her tortured memory and started speaking.

She retold the story about the Patterson family, about Emily, and how she and Hannah had gone over to their home for a consultation on the night of The Change. She talked about what happened in the Patterson home, how Hannah got bit. She talked about the car ride home and Hannah’s secret code.

Meredith took another deep breath, looked into Megan’s expectant eyes, and then told her the rest of it…

~~~

…Meredith opened the door to their small first floor apartment, flicked on the hallway light, and then laid Hannah down on the couch.

“Keep… keep the lights out,” Hannah whispered. She was shivering and sweating, attempting to cover her eyes with her hands.

“What was that?” Meredith quickly closed the front door and locked it.

“Hurts… the light… hurts my eyes.”

Meredith was breathing hard. She stared at the front of Hannah’s bloody shirt, only then aware of the blood on her own hands. Still in shock, the medium started wiping the blood off on her already crimson-covered sun dress. “Okay… okay,” she said, turning the hallway light off.

“That’s… better.”

The parking lot lights provided just enough light through the living room window for Meredith to move about the apartment long enough to turn on the dull kitchen light above the sink. She hastily gathered first-aid supplies. “I’ll be right there,” she called over to Hannah. “You just stay awake.”

Hannah didn’t respond.

Meredith’s hands were shaking badly as she scrambled for the supplies. She tried to steady her nerves. “The drive over was insane,” she said. “So many people… so many people running in the roadway. They weren’t even watching for cars, just running like that… I almost hit someone.”

She rushed back to the living room. Hannah looked like she was asleep.

Or dead.

She shook the thought away and sat down beside her on the edge of the couch, placing a blanket over her. “Wake up,” she said, shaking Hannah’s shoulders.

Hannah opened her eyes and Meredith gasped.

The artificial lights from outside illuminated her face and her dark silver eyes.

Meredith suddenly coughed and felt her stomach turn. Keep it together. She needs you to… keep it together, she reminded herself.

Hannah attempted a smile and coughed up blood. “I’m… I’m a mess. I can see it… see it in your face.”

“You’ll be fine,” Meredith said, forcing herself to look away from those dark mercury eyes. She attended Hannah’s shoulder.

“You don’t look… don’t look well, either,” Hannah remarked.

“I’m just in shock,” Meredith said. “We both are.”

Hannah frowned, her eyes drifting. “I can feel it… I can feel myself… dying on the inside. It’s like… it’s like I’m on fire, Meredith. It hurt so bad at first… but now, it’s like… it’s like I don’t feel anything.”

“You just keep talking and stay with me,” Meredith said, refusing to respond to Hannah’s delirious remarks. “No more dying talk, okay?”

Hannah attempted another smile. “I love you, Meredith.”

“And I love you… now… just focus on getting better.” She cleaned and wrapped Hannah’s shoulder.

“I’m cold,” Hannah said. “Can’t stop… can’t stop shaking.”

Meredith nodded. “After I call the hospital, I’ll pour you a bath.”

“You can’t stay here, Meredith. They’ll find you.”

“We’re okay. I haven’t heard anything outside since we got here.”

“Get away from me!” Hannah suddenly cried out, swinging her cold arms at Meredith’s face.

“What are you-” One of Hannah’s fists struck her in the mouth, causing her lip to bleed.

Hannah saw the blood and growled at her, reaching out for Meredith’s neck.

Meredith grabbed her cold pale arms. “Stop it! Stop it, Hannah!”

Hannah’s arms went limp. She started to weep. “What… what was I doing? I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

“It’s okay,” Meredith said, placing her arms beneath the blanket. She felt nauseous and got up. “I’m… I’m going to make that call now. Please just relax.”

Hannah started sobbing uncontrollably, putting her hands over her face.

Meredith needed to move. She felt weak and her head felt heavy. She wiped sweat from her brow. What’s wrong with me? Fever? Now? Get it together, girl! She went for the phone in the kitchen. It was dead.

Meredith closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just… just get her in the bath,” she told herself. “You can do this. One step at a time.” She went back to the living room. Hannah was no longer on the couch. She looked around the dark living room.

“Hannah?” she called out nervously.

From down the hall, toward their bedroom, she heard Hannah laugh like a small child. “Come and find me, Meredith!” she called out.

What… what is this? Meredith felt dizzy and grabbed the back of the couch before she fell over. She took another deep breath and waited for her stomach to settle. “Hannah?” she called out. “You shouldn’t be moving around with your injuries.”

Hannah laughed again, causing the hairs on Meredith’s arms to stand.

The medium forced herself down the dark hall and then stopped when she made out Hannah’s shape, rolled up in a ball at the end of the hall. She was rocking.

Hannah looked over at her and laughed again. Then she stated to sob. “I’m sorry… sorry… Meredith. I’m… I’m not well. You shouldn’t be here… I shouldn’t be here… I can’t stand it… I can’t stand you seeing me… like this!”

Meredith swallowed hard and nodded in the dark. “Everything’s fine. You’re sick. Let me get you into the bathroom, okay? A nice warm bath will help you relax.”

“Okay. But I… I can’t move. I’m afraid. How did I… how did I get down here, Meredith?”

Meredith didn’t know what to say. She started toward her.

“Help me, Meredith. Help me get out… help me get out of the dark. The dark! The Dark! THE DARK!” She screamed the last, then started laughing hysterically.

Meredith nearly vomited and fell to one knee. She quickly wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then stood up, using the wall for support. “I’m coming, honey. Just… just hold on.”

“Not looking good, Meredith,” Hannah said, and started rocking again. “Come closer… so I can eat you.”

Meredith stopped. “What did you say?”

Hannah started sobbing again. “My, God, Meredith! These thoughts I’m having…” She started slapping her forehead.

“Stop that!”

“These thoughts… they’re so… vile… angry… I’m so hungry, Meredith. I can taste it in my mouth… all that blood… ALL THAT BLOOD!”

Meredith started to reach down toward her, then stopped. She turned to her right, toward the bathroom door, and then reached for the light switch.

The bathroom light came on, causing Hannah to shriek.

Meredith turned.

Hannah was standing right in front of her, shielding her eyes. She’d never even heard the woman rise.

Meredith grabbed the distracted woman and pulled her into the bathroom.

“It hurts, Meredith! Turn it off! TURN IF OFF!”

“Not yet, honey,” Meredith said. “Just… just keep your eyes shut and focus on me.”

The pain seemed to bring the woman back from the brink. She nodded, breathing heavily. “Okay… okay, Meredith.”

Meredith had to grab the bathroom sink to steady herself as another dizzy spell struck her. She took a deep breath and then assisted Hannah out of her bloody clothes. She then helped her sit down in the bathtub and started the water.

Hannah kept her eyes shut tight. “I’m… I’m sorry, Meredith. I don’t know what… what’s wrong with me.”

“How’s the water? Too hot?”

“No… it’s fine.”

As the tub filled, Meredith grabbed a washcloth, soaked it, then put it over Hannah’s eyes. “Just keep this right there, Okay?”

Hannah nodded. “You’re too good to me, Meredith.”

Meredith got down on her knees with another washcloth. She felt a little better now that she wasn’t standing. The medium reached over and started wiping the blood from Hannah’s body. “How’s that? Feel a little better?”

“Yes,” Hannah said, starting to relax. “Thank you.”

Meredith’s eyes felt heavy listening to the steady drone of the bath water. She forced them open, turned off the water, and then washed the side of Hannah’s face with the washcloth.

“I want to look at you, Meredith,” she said. “Can you… can you turn the lights back out?”

“I can’t do that right now, honey. Sorry.”

Meredith watched Hannah’s face droop, her lips puffing up into a pout. “I SAID TURN OFF THE MOTHER-FUCKING LIGHTS, BITCH!” she suddenly exploded, sitting up, splashing water, and causing Meredith to fall back.

Meredith stared at her in shock. “What? Just… just calm down… please.” She felt like vomiting again.

Hannah appeared to calm down, placing the washcloth back over her eyes. She started to weep again, then laugh, then back to weeping. “This is… this is too much!” she balled. “I’m… I’m not feeling too good, Meredith. You need to do it… do it before it’s too late.”

Meredith started crying, overwhelmed by everything. “Do what, honey? I don’t understand you right now.”

With as much stability as Hannah could muster, she turned toward Meredith’s voice, holding the cloth over her eyes, and said, “You need to finish this. You need to kill me.”

“No!” Meredith shouted back, finally giving in to a little madness herself. “Stop saying that! I won’t do it! I WON’T!”

“Fine,” Hannah said, lying back down in the water. “I warned you.”

Meredith wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to regain control. I feel… I feel so sick! I can’t… I can’t keep dealing with this. We both need help.

“Meredith?” Hannah said in a surprisingly pleasant voice.

“Yes? Are you okay now?”

“I’m okay. But you need to turn out the light.”

“I can’t do that. I need to see you in here.”

She heard Hannah sigh with frustration. “Alright… but you’re making me very, very angry.”

“What… what does that mean?”

Hannah laughed lightly. “It means… honey,” she spat the last word, “that as soon as the lights go out… I’m going to kill you… so… very… fucking slow.”

Meredith put her hands over her mouth. “You don’t mean that,” she said. “That’s the… fever… talking.”

Hannah laughed. “‘Fever’? That’s classic, Meredith. That’s cute. Fucking fever. Are you really that fucking stupid?”

Meredith winced at Hannah’s harshness. She tried to ignore it.

“You better get out of here… while you still can.” Hannah started laughing again.

To Meredith, she sounded like an insane person. It took all she had to stand back up. Her legs felt heavy and slow. “You just… just relax, honey,” she said, sweating profusely from standing. “I’m going to get myself an aspirin and some wat-”

Something made a loud ‘popping’ sound from outside.

The bathroom light went out.

Oh, dear, God! Meredith thought, feeling disoriented in the dark bathroom. The power must have gone out in the neighborhood!

“That’s sooooo much better!” Hannah hissed. For a moment, in the darkness, Meredith believed something else was in the bathroom with them… something terrifying.

“Ha… Hannah? Just… sit still now,” Meredith managed. She was feeling her way toward the bathroom door. “Just… wait until the lights come back on, honey. Don’t want you… don’t want you to fall and get hurt, okay?”

“Where are you, Meredith?” Hannah said in a playful voice. “I can hear you… I can hear you moving around in the dark.”

Meredith could hear Hannah splashing water. She was attempting to crawl out of the tub.

“Hannah! I mean it! Don’t move. You’ll… you’ll slip and make your wounds worse!”

Hannah laughed like a maniac. More splashing. Meredith could hear Hannah’s hands slap the wet linoleum.

By now, Meredith felt so ill she could barely reach the door, let alone manage Hannah. “What are you… what are you doing?” She reached up above her head for the doorknob.

“I’m coming for you, Meredith,” Hannah said in a low growl. “I’m so… so… fucking… HUNGRY!”

“Stop it!” Meredith cried. She found the doorknob. “I’ll be back, honey. Just… just… I’ll be back real soon.”

“Where are you going? Don’t leave me like this!”

Meredith pushed open the door and stepped into the hall.

Hannah was completely out of the tub now, splashing and slapping the floor on all fours trying to reach Meredith.”

“DON’T YOU DARE LEAVE ME, YOU FUCKING BITCH!” she shrieked.

Meredith was sobbing by the time she slammed the bathroom door shut. She collapsed in front of the door, placing her weight against it, as Hannah reached up from the other side, turned the knob, and attempted to push it open.

“LET ME OUT! LET ME THE FUCK OUT, MEREDITH!” Hannah violently pushed against the door as it repeatedly slammed Meredith in the back.

Considering her condition, Hannah was surprisingly strong, but she still couldn’t push the door open. Meredith extended her legs across the hall, using the opposite wall to brace herself. “Just… just lie back down, Hannah. Please. I need some time to… I need to rest a little… Just, please stop.”

Suddenly, Hannah stopped.

Meredith could hear her weeping on the other side of the door. The medium closed her eyes and shook her head in the darkness. I can’t stand this. This is too much. Too much! What’s wrong with my Hannah? What’s wrong with everything?

“I’m sorry, Meredith,” the sick woman sobbed. “I don’t mean to be like this! I don’t want… I don’t want to hurt you. I just can’t control it!”

Meredith was about to fall unconscious. She’d never felt so ill in all her life. “Hannah, honey,” she called through the door. “Just lie down and go to sleep. Maybe you’ll feel better after you’ve rested. More in control.”

“You think so?” the sick woman called. She sounded like a frightened child.

“Yes,” Meredith lied. “Get some sleep, and everything will be better.”

“Can I come out there, Meredith? I don’t want to be alone right now.”

Meredith bit her hand then slammed it against the hall carpet in frustration. “I know you don’t, honey. Believe me, I want you out here with me… but you’re not well.”

Silence.

“You’re not well, but it’s not your fault,” Meredith corrected. “Just get some rest. I’ll be right here with you the whole time. Okay?”

More silence.

Meredith grew concerned. “Hannah? Can you hear me?” What if she’s hurt? What if she’s exerted herself and passed out? She could be lying naked in a pool of water and blood! She turned and reached up for the doorknob. “Honey? Talk to me? Are you okay?”

Still no answer.

Meredith frowned at the doorknob and then forced herself to let it go. She swallowed hard, wiping sweat off her brow, and said, “Honey, I can’t let you out. I can’t open this door… for both of our sakes.”

Something hard struck the door, causing Meredith to flinch.

“Fucking cunt!” Hannah hissed. “I’ll get you! You just wait. I’ll get you to open this door and then I’ll rip your throat out with my fucking teeth!”

“Stop,” Meredith whispered. She felt so helpless and alone.

“And after I rip your fucking throat open, I’m going to feed on your corpse and bathe in your blood… oh… you better believe that, cunt!”

Meredith closed her eyes. Physically and emotionally, she had nothing left.

“You still there, bitch? You better be. Because as soon as you leave this door, I’m going to bust out of here and kill you. Do you hear me, cunt? I’M GONNA KILL YOU!”

Meredith lost consciousness, passing out against the bathroom door.

~~~

The sound of someone barging in through the front door caused Meredith to stir. She slowly opened her eyes, relieved that she could see within the gloomy apartment. It was morning.

“Hey!” someone called, headed toward the kitchen. “Anyone in here?”

Meredith recognized the voice. It’s was Hannah’s son.

“Over… over here,” she attempted to call out. She felt weak.

She could hear him approach. Meredith looked up at a big man with a mess of dark brown hair and an unshaven face. He was wearing what looked like coveralls. She stared down at the man’s right hand. He was holding a gun.

The man stopped just in front of the Meredith and crouched down. “You look like shit,” he said.

She attempted a smile. “Good to see you, too… Frank.”

“Where is she?”

Meredith looked into Hannah’s son’s eyes and started to cry. “She’s… she’s hurt, Frank.”

Frank closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Let’s try this again. Where is she?”

“Bathroom.”

Frank stared at the door, then back down at Meredith. “Move,” he said coldly.

“You can’t go in there.”

“And why the hell not?”

Meredith hesitated. “She’s… she’s sick.”

“Hurt or sick… which is it?” Frank was losing patience. “You know what… never mind.” The big man got up and banged on the door. “Hannah! Open the damn door!” He’d stopped calling her Mother years ago.

“Don’t go in there!” Meredith pleaded.

“Frank?” a weak voice called out from the other side. “Frank… is that you?”

Frank Carman stared down at Meredith. “What the hell is going on?”

“She’s… she’s been bitten,” she confessed, through tears. “There’s something wrong with her. She’s… Hannah’s dangerous.”

Frank stared at the medium for what felt like an eternity, his thoughts and emotions guarded.

“Open the door, Frankie,” Hannah called through the door. “Open the door… and give your mother… give your mother a hug.” Hannah started pounding on the door.

Frank stared at the bathroom door. He’d become a stone.

Meredith shook her head. “I don’t know… I don’t know what to do, Frank” she whispered, putting her hands over her face. “All I know… all I know is that you can’t open that door.”

“Why?” he said.

“FRANK!” Hannah screeched. “Open this fucking door, you worthless shit! For once, do something right and open this MOTHER-FUCKING DOOR RIGHT NOW!” Hanna started banging her head against the door, repeatedly.

This just made Meredith weep. “Hannah! Stop it!” she cried.

Frank was visibly shaken. “That’s not my mother,” he whispered. He stepped away from the door until his back hit the wall. “How long?” he asked. “How long has she… has she been like this?”

“It happened last night,” Meredith said. “Phone’s dead. I couldn’t… I couldn’t call for help.”

“There’s no help coming” Frank said, still staring at the bathroom door. “It’s a fucking mess out there. People are… people are fucking turning on each other and killing each other. I barely made it here.”

“Is that why you… is that why you have the gun?” Meredith said.

Frank looked down at the .45 in his hand as if realizing he still held it.

“How… how did you get out?” Meredith pushed. “Did you… did you hurt anyone?”

He turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right? The world’s gone insane overnight and that’s what you want to ask? Nothing ever changes around here.” He started pacing down the hall.

“Why are you not in jail, Frank?”

He turned back. “It’s nice to see you, too… Mother.”

“Don’t call me that!”

“You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel like playing twenty questions with my infected mother’s lesbian lover right now,” he said. “I need a minute to think this through.”

“Why are… why you free, Frank?”

He glared at her and said, “I threw a cop off a fucking rooftop and stole her fucking gun. There… you happy now?”

Meredith was about to protest the joke but restrained herself. She watched Frank stop at the end of the hall and lean up against it. He ran a hand through his messy hair and sighed heavily. For a moment she swore he wiped a tear from his eye.

She tried to rise but couldn’t. “Frank,” she said. “Help me.”

He turned and came over. “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m… I’m sick. Just sick. Help me up… but keep the door blocked.”

Frank helped the medium get to her feet.

“Frankie! Let me out. Let me out! LET… ME… OUT!” Hannah started pounding on the door again.

“We need to get her help, Frank,” Meredith said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t do it by myself… but together-”

“She’s gone,” Frank said.

Meredith stared up at him in disbelief. “What do you mean she’s… what the hell are you talking about?”

Frank closed his eyes. “I mean… whatever’s behind this door… is not my mother anymore.”

Meredith shook her head violently. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” she said. “That’s my Hannah!”

“They’re eating people, Meredith. That’s what happens when they get… infected.”

“No,” Meredith said. “Not Hannah! She hasn’t hurt anyone!”

“Then why are you so damn afraid to open this door?”

Meredith didn’t want to answer. She pointed a finger in his face. “Look!” she said, displaying a rare moment of anger. “That’s your mother in there! I don’t care what you think of her, but we need to help her now… do you understand me?”

Frank nodded and frowned. “Yes… I understand better than you do.” He raised the gun.

“No!” she threatened. “You will not!”

“She’s gone, Meredith. I’ve been out there since last night. I’ve seen what this… disease… is doing to people.”

“I don’t care! We’re not… killing her!”

“Then open the door and see what happens,” Frank said. The look he gave her was unreadable. But she could still see the pain behind his eyes. “I don’t like this anymore than you do.”

“We’ll just wait,” Meredith reasoned.

“For what? For my mother to get worse?”

She didn’t have an answer.

“Just open the door, Meredith,” Frank gently said. “For both our sakes.”

Meredith nodded, then put her ear to the door. “Hannah, honey, it’s me. Frank’s here. We want to come in and help you but you… you have to settle down, okay?”

There was no response from the other side of the door.

“Stand back,” Frank said, raising his handgun.

“Don’t!” Meredith hissed.

Frank gave her a stern look. “If my mother’s on the other side of this door… then I won’t need to use this.”

Before Meredith could protest further, Frank pulled the door open. His eyes went wide as he backed away in horror. “Fuck me!” he said.

Meredith quickly stepped in front of him and stared into the dark bathroom. She placed her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream.

Hannah was sitting up against the bathtub, naked, covered in blood. She was holding her right forearm in her left hand after gnawing it off at the elbow with her teeth. The disturbed woman looked up at them with a bloody mouth. “I… I couldn’t stop… stop myself,” she said. “So… so hungry. I…” Hannah suddenly started laughing like a maniac.

Meredith fell to her knees. “Hannah,” she cried. “What have you done to yourself?”

She found no recognition in those insane silver orbs. Hannah continued to laugh hysterically.

Before Meredith could crawl toward her, Frank pulled Meredith away from the door and closed it.

“Let me in!” the medium protested, fighting to get free from Frank as he pulled her down the hall. “She… she needs me! Let go!”

Frank let her loose near the living room sofa and said, “Stop it! Just… just fucking STOP!” he shouted.

Meredith stared at him; her eyes full of tears. “I… I can’t stop seeing it! My, God! What would possess her to-” She buried her face in her hands.

Frank was struggling to breathe. He started pacing in front of the hall, wiping sweat from his face. “Go… go change into some fucking clothes without blood all over them,” he told her. “Those… fucking things outside catch a whiff of you, we’ll never make it two blocks.”

“What are you going to do?” she said.

“The power plant,” he said, ignoring her question. “I heard some emergency broadcast about the power plant taking refugees. We need to get there… now.”

Meredith nodded. “Of course,” she said, getting up. “We can take Hannah there. They’ll have… they’ll have medical personnel who can help her.”

“Yeah, okay,” Frank said. “Just… just please… change your clothes. We need to get the hell out of here.”

Meredith got up and headed into their small bedroom. She picked out a clean sundress for herself and started looking for something Hannah could wear.

The gunshot made her drop everything.

No… NO… NO!

Meredith raced toward the bathroom.

Frank was sitting on the floor before the open bathroom door, his head buried in his arms.

The gun still in his hand.

Meredith stared at him, then into the bathroom.

Hannah was dead.

“What… what have you…” She was in shock.

“Get dressed,” he said. “We need to go. Those monsters will have heard the gunshot.”

“WHAT DID YOU DO?” She screamed at him.

Frank glared at her with more intensity then he’d intended, and growled, “I did what you couldn’t!” He stood up, wiping tears from his eyes. “I did what had to be done!”

“You… you’re a damn monster!” she screamed at his back.

He stopped, looked over his shoulder and said, “Yeah… I am. World’s full of them now. You have to be a monster to fight monsters… because that’s what it takes.” He said nothing else.

Meredith stared into the bathroom at her dead lover. She no longer felt ill but blamed it on the shock. I’m so sorry, Hannah. I failed you!

“Hurry up,” Frank called back from the kitchen. “We don’t leave soon, we’ll be dead, too.”

Meredith walked back to her bedroom, removed the top blanket from the bed, then returned to the bathroom and placed the blanket gently over Hannah’s body. “I love you… always,” she whispered.

Meredith walked out of the bathroom and quickly changed out of her blood-soaked clothes.

Neither she nor Frank spoke another word as they headed outside, into the hellish morning full of monsters and death. They traveled north toward the Percy Power Plant…

~~~

…Meredith was weeping in Megan’s arms. “I couldn’t do it!” she said. “Hannah needed me… but I couldn’t! I let her turn into that horrible creature… because I was a coward!”

“Don’t say that,” Megan said. “You’re not a coward. You were just afraid. No one should have had to go through what you did… and you did the best you could.”

“I failed!” Meredith sobbed. “She was so… so far gone! And then Frank… oh, God! He never should’ve had to do suffer that! Her son had to do what I should’ve… He was already a mess… Frank. He never should’ve had to do that! And now… and now he’s gone, too!”

Megan held the older woman tightly as tears streamed down her own face. “It’s okay,” she said. “You’ll feel better now. You’ll feel better because you finally told someone.”

Meredith raised her head and looked into Megan’s eyes. “Thank you,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you, too.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Megan said, offering a crooked smile.

Meredith stared into those silver eyes, those beautiful silver eyes, and said, “You saved me, Megan. When I found you in that glass cage… it was like… it was like seeing Hannah all over again. You were just like she was… almost.”

“Is that why you never gave up on me? You thought you could do for me what you couldn’t do for Hannah?”

“It started that way,” Meredith said. “But then… I came to love you. The more you came back… the more I loved you… like the daughter I never had. A daughter me and Hannah might have had one day.”

Megan started crying again. “I was… I wanted to die in that cage… but you never gave up on me. I couldn’t protect my child… I never even knew if I’d had a son or a daughter. I was so… lost… angry… and fucking crazy. But you never gave up on me.”

Meredith smiled through tears and ran her hand through the young woman’s hair. “I lost Hannah the way I was losing you. But this time… this time… I knew more… I was stronger. And I knew I could help you. And then you helped me! You were so much stronger than you ever knew. I only had to help you see it… and you did.”

Megan nodded and said, “Hannah would be so proud of you. You can let her go now… because she knows. She knows how much you loved her… because I’ve always felt that same love you’ve shown me.”

Meredith nodded. “Thank you, honey. That means so much coming from you. And I’m so very proud of you.”

They embraced, holding on to each other for a very long time. Love had come, to replace what each of them had lost. Love had pardoned them both, finally granting Meredith and Megan freedom from the painful prisons of the past.

~~~

Logan and Stephen sat silently on the back porch of the inn staring out into the rolling hills to the south. Standing in the tall weeds, at the crest of the first hill, hundreds of dead things stared up into the sky, moaning in unrelenting hunger toward their unseen god who held temporary control over them. Beyond the first wave, in the rising background of hills beyond, a thousand more stood eerily still… waiting…

Logan bent over in his chair, resting his chin in his hands. He let out a heavy sigh and said, “I can’t stand looking at those horrible things standing there like that. It’s like… it’s like they know we’re here… and they want us so very badly… but some strange sound our ears can’t register is holding them back.”

Stephen nodded, looking away from the dead. “I’m trying not to think about it. And these are just the ones we can see out in the open. I can’t imagine how many more are spread out around town and in the forest.”

“If Toby’s trying to make a point, he’s made it,” Logan said, looking away from the hills. He turned to Stephen. “I can’t even imagine what kind of power, or force, it takes to control so many of them. And all this from some creature who isn’t physically in our world yet. It’s… overwhelming.”

“Megan seems to be alright,” Stephen said, changing the subject. “Those two have been talking for a while.”

Logan shook his head. “I can’t stand watching the whole giving-her-blood thing. Every time I almost forget that girl’s… well… not entirely like us, the blood brings it all back and I’m reminded that Megan’s drawn to it… like those creepy bastards out there.”

“And yet… she doesn’t want to kill us for it,” Stephen reminded him. “That says a lot.”

Logan laughed. “It sure does. I’m glad that girl’s on our side.”

Stephen stared down at his boom box and smiled. “At least I still have this thing.”

Logan laughed, looking down at the ridiculous yellow radio. “What are you planning on doing with that now? You gonna ask the dead for song requests?”

Stephen rolled his eyes. “Even if that we’re an option, I’ve only got Garth Brooks. I think that would just get them riled up faster.”

Logan snickered. “Maybe we could go place it out in the hills and let them stare at it for a while as an experiment. I want to be the one who’s discovered how to make the dead laugh.”

Stephen shook his head, reaching into his shirt pocket. “Actually, I thought we might have a more practical use for this thing, considering where we’re headed.”

Logan waited.

Stephen retrieved a second cassette tape from his shirt pocket. It was a blank tape, still wrapped in the original plastic packaging.

“You’ve been holding out on us. Mr. ‘Garth Brooks Only’,” the preacher joked.

The former school teacher smiled. “I’ve been holding on to this for a while. Never knew why… until now.”

Logan stared at the tape and teased, “You gonna make a ‘mixed tape’ for all your new zombie friends out there?”

Stephen gave him a serious look. “I thought we should… you know… maybe record a message… a warning… for anyone who finds it just in case this ends up being a one-way trip for us.”

Logan nodded. “Good idea. I now officially take back everything bad I said about that silly radio.”

Stephen laughed then finished, “You want to help? Maybe say a few words to the world we may be leaving behind? A prayer or something?”

Logan gave his friend a thoughtful look and said, “Sounds like you’ve given this some thought.”

“I have.”

“You should do it, little brother. I think we would all agree that whatever you had to say, would speak for us all.”

Stephen nodded. “Okay. I’ll do it.”

Logan got up to give him some privacy. “I’m going to check on the girls. You just holler if those dead things start moving.”

Stephen stared out into the hills. “Oh, you’ll hear me, alright.”

Logan put a big hand on the school teacher’s shoulder and said, “God bless you, Stephen. May He continue to guide your heart and mind and grant your tongue His grace to say what needs said… in Jesus’ name, amen.”

Stephen gave him a grateful look and nodded.

Logan stepped back into the inn.

When he was alone, Stephen picked up the boom box and placed it on a table in front of him. He unwrapped the blank cassette tape and inserted it into the player.

He stared out once more into the vast sea of dead things that were once people, and whispered, “This is for all of you, too. I’m sorry you ended up this way. May you someday find peace from all your suffering.”

Stephen found the ‘record’ button on the player and pressed it…

~~~

Next Episode 53-11

Previous Episode 53-9

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 53-10: 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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