~~~

The fishing vessel continued to cut across glassy waters toward the island. Megan Bishop stood with her back facing the lake, cornered in by the aft-end guard rails for support. Though the lake was mostly calm, she could still feel the movement of the ship, causing her stomach to turn. She kept staring nervously toward the front of the vessel, to where Meredith and the foul-smelling woman in red had gone, yearning desperately for Meredith’s return.

“Relax, Megan,” Stephen Eddington said. “She’ll be okay. Meredith can handle herself.”

Megan looked to her right at the former school teacher leaned over the guard rail beside her.

He was staring into the vessel’s wake, smiling contently, as a light breeze ruffled his shoulder length hair.

To Megan, he was acting like some tourist on a pleasure cruise, oblivious to their situation. “How are you so calm?” she said.

Stephen turned to her and flashed another smile.

Under normal circumstances, if her anxiety, her darker side, and her stomach were not at war within, she would’ve soaked in that smile like the sun. Stephen never once looked at her the way others did, immediately becoming a mirror to her abnormalities. His eyes were always kind, reminding her that although she was a monster… she was also a woman.

She looked away, now adding guilt to the assault of emotions she presently experienced.

Stephen laughed lightly. “You’ve never been on a boat before, have you?”

She shook her head. “Actually, I have. I didn’t like it much then, either.”

“Motion sickness is fairly common.”

Logan McCalister, who had been half praying to God on their behalf, and half cursing the ‘devils of the deep’, as he called them, finally threw up over the guard rail on the other side of the boat. “Praise, God!” he declared, flopping down on the deck and raising his hands to the heavens.

Stephen turned to him. “You okay?”

“I’m good, little brother,” he said, dismissing them with a shaky hand. “The Lord has granted me victory over this damn unnatural means of traveling!” The big preacher mumbled a few choice profanities, then rested his arms across his knees, laid his head down, and continued to pray. Stephen had seen this before. Logan was in what he called, ‘warfare mode’, when it came to this sort of praying.

Stephen turned back to Megan and tried to hide his amusement. “As you can see… it’s quite common. Try not to focus on the movement and find something else to distract you.” He stared back toward the wake. “I’ve always loved being out on the water. There’s just something… humbling… about it. I should’ve done this a lot more back in the day.”

Megan gave him a stern look. “Where headed toward Death Island with some red-robed witch who just happens to be the scary girl, all grown up, from Meredith’s nightmare bedtime stories. How can you just… ‘not’ think about ‘that’?”

Stephen’s smile faded. He gave her a sad, distant look. “I’m trying not to think about a lot of things,” he said. “A lot of things that no longer matter because they’re gone.”

Megan waited.

“Meredith will need us for what happens next. There’s a good chance we might die trying to end all of this, and I’ve made my peace with that.” He shook his head and laughed at himself. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we’re so close to the end now, so close to our own mortality, that it’s making every moment between here and there so much more… meaningful.” He paused and finished, “I guess the word I’m looking for is ‘vital’.” He stared at her and smiled again. “I’ll be scared shitless when we arrive, but right now, I just feel… alive.”

Megan smiled. “I think I understand. I only wish that the part of me that was still… alive… could feel what you feel right now. All I have left… is the anger… and the sadness.” She was surprised by her admission. She immediately threw up her shields. “Sorry. I don’t know what I’m saying.”

Stephen gave her a gentle look and nodded. “You’ve nothing to be sorry about. And I believe you feel more than you realize. You’re a very compassionate young woman who feels… everything… so intensely, that it causes you to shut down.”

Megan was speechless.

He smiled. “But I’ve seen you with Meredith. I’ve seen the way you fight for the ones you care about. We wouldn’t even be here if not for you. So, don’t sell yourself short. You’re more alive than any of us.”

She looked away, wrestling against the waves of overpowering emotions threatening to betray her. “Thank you,” she said meekly. “That was… I mean… sometimes I…” She looked up into Stephen’s gaze and couldn’t turn away. “Speaking about what’s vital… and since, as you pointed out, this might be our last moments alive… I’d like to tell you something… something I’ve kept locked up inside.”

“Go on,” Stephen encouraged. “No need to keep anything inside anymore. You know all my secrets already.”

She smiled. “I… what I mean to say… you’ve always been so good to me… you never made me feel like a freak… and I… well… I think I… what I mean is… I don’t think… I know… shit!” She took a breath. “What I’m trying to say, very poorly, Stephen… is that I-”

“Can I get you all something to drink?” a tan, lanky young woman with short red hair interrupted. She was barefoot, wearing baggy jeans and a dark blue tank top. She could almost be mistaken for a man due to her plain-Jane appearance.

Megan’s defenses went way up as she crouched down and glared at the woman.

Logan slowly got to his feet, then looked to Stephen. This was the first time they had seen anyone else on the boat since Clementine escorted them on board and disappeared with Meredith, shortly after the ship left the dock. They’d all just assumed they were being watched, under guard, from the pilot house.

Surprisingly, the woman was not armed. She was alone. The woman just stood there, hands behind her back, waiting for them to answer.

“No… thank you?” Stephen finally said. “We’re fine.”

The woman nodded with a forced smile. She turned to the strange creature with dark grey eyes and frowned.

Megan stepped forward and approached the girl with a sour look on her face. “Get away from us,” she snarled.

The woman stepped back.

“No need to get snippy, young lady,” a voice called out from above them. “Laura’s just trying to be hospitable.”

They all looked up toward the back of the pilot house. A heavy-set bald man with a long, bushy mustache, wearing an old beat-up parka, was leaning against the upper deck rail, scrutinizing them out of one good eye while puffing on a pipe. His right eye was covered by a black eye patch.

Logan chuckled. “Mother apparently has… pirates?”

The man pointed his pipe toward the big preacher and said, “You’re not much to look at, either, my big tattooed friend. But you don’t hear me making snide remarks about it.”

Stephen gave the preacher a cautious look.

Logan rolled his eyes at him, then folded his big arms across his chest and addressed the bald man. “My apologies. I meant no offense. It’s just… well… this boat ride has not been what we expected.”

“Ship,” the bald man corrected sternly.

“Pardon?”

“You can intimidate Laura and poke fun at my appearance… but insult Carrie-Anne again, and I’ll throw all of you off my vessel.”

Logan gave the bald man a confused look while scratching at his beard. “I’m sorry… who is, Carrie-Anne?”

“He’s talking about his ship,” Megan clarified. “Carrie-Anne is the name of this vessel… and apparently, she doesn’t like being referred to as a ‘boat’.”

“Smart young lady, that one is,” the bald man said. “She the brains of this outfit?”

Before Stephen or Logan could speak, Megan said, “Of course.” She then winked at the others.

This made the bald man laugh. He sized them all up, took a long drag off his pipe, then exhaled. When the smoke cleared, he said with a serious face, “Name’s Sinbad… Captain Sinbad.”

Logan’s eyebrows went up. “Seriously?”

The bald man could no longer keep a straight face. “No… of course not,” he laughed. “But you can call me Carl… Captain Carl… if you like.”

The big preacher looked to Megan and Stephen then pointed at Captain Carl, letting out an infectious laugh. “Shit! He got me!”

Stephen shook his head at him and smiled.

Megan just rolled her eyes.

Captain Carl took another big hit off his pipe and then coughed out the smoke, while laughing. “You guys are alright,” he said. Carl turned to Laura.

The young woman looked confused and didn’t know whether to stay where she was or return to the pilot house. She gave Captain Carl a pleading look.

“Come on back,” he told her. “Our… guests… as the Red Lady keeps calling them, don’t require your services at the moment.”

Laura was clearly relieved. She started back up the port side stairwell, then disappeared into the pilot house.

“You’ll have to excuse her,” he told his guests. “Laura gets all worked up whenever we’re transporting ‘special’ folk. It’s much harder to relax.”

“You don’t seem affected,” Stephen remarked.

The bald captain laughed and shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve been doing this shit long before the world lost its mind, young man. Monsters may own the mainland, but the Sea…well… she doesn’t give a shit.” He stood up and opened his arms wide, staring out at the lake. “Strange times have always come and gone… but none of it ever mattered out here… and it never will.”

Stephen smiled. “That’s… refreshing.” He then added, “You said, ‘the sea’. Clearly this is a lake. Are all bodies of water considered ‘the sea’ when spoken of like a person?”

Captain Carl laughed again and ignored the question. “So, what should I call you three, or should I just make up names?”

“You mean you don’t already know?” Megan said suspiciously.

Carl laughed. “Clever girl. You’re right, of course. I was just being polite.”

“That’s Megan,” Stephen said. He turned to the preacher. “This big, green-faced fellow is Logan.”

“Yeah, I’ve already noticed the lack of sea legs on that one,” Carl laughed.

Logan seemed less amused.

“And I’m Stephen.”

“Nice to meet you folks. I’m sorry it isn’t under better circumstances… but as the saying goes: I just work here.”

Megan scoffed at that. “That attitude must make it easy for you and your crew to just turn a blind eye to all that’s going on. You, and the fucking Sea, share that indifference.”

Carl just smiled, studying the girl with his one good eye.

“You’ll have to forgive Megan,” Stephen said. “She can be very blunt at times. She means no disrespect—to you, your crew… or the Sea. We’re all on edge. You do understand what’s happening, don’t you?”

“No worries,” Captain Carl assured him. He looked to Megan. “As for the rest, I don’t ask questions regarding who we transport. As long as no one brings their business aboard my ship… then the rest has nothing to do with me.”

“That’s bullshit,” Megan said. “It’s people like you who just watch the world fall apart from a distance that let people, like that evil woman you work for, do whatever the hell they want… to anyone.”

Captain Carl took another hit off his pipe, then patiently added, “Young lady, for all I know, you, your friends, and the Red Woman, are all up to no good. But that’s not my business. I currently make the occasional runs between the island to the mainland. That’s my only involvement with whatever’s happening on either end. The Red Woman provides me goods and services, and a whole hell of a lot of fuel to make these runs for her. It’s just business.”

“Well, since you haven’t been paying attention,” Megan pushed. “The world’s gone to shit. And either you’re part of the problem, or you’re trying to stop it. No one gets to be neutral anymore. That’s how people acted in the old world… but not anymore.”

Captain Carl smiled. “No offence intended, but judging by what’s happened to you, Megan, I’d say getting involved didn’t land you on the better end of anything.”

Megan looked away. She was fuming.

“Where is this island we’re travelling to?” Stephen asked, wanting to end this discussion before it escalated. “It looks like we’re headed toward Put-In-Bay.”

“You’re close,” Carl said. “We’re headed northwest across the lake, well above Put-In-Bay Island, and into Canadian waters… not that borders matter anymore. All that shit is now are old lines on a chart.”

Stephen nodded. “How big is this island?”

Before Captain Carl could respond, he looked to his right. Meredith and Clementine were headed aft along the port side of the ship. He became all business, standing up straight. He gave Stephen, Logan and Megan a final glance, and then said, “Well, it was nice meeting you fine folks. I’ll see you all when we dock.” Carl turned and entered the pilot house without another word.

Meredith was immediately relieved to find her friends safe. She smiled at Megan.

Megan relaxed and smiled back. Then she noticed the Red Woman behind her and gave her a threatening look.

Clementine, amused by the hybrid’s reaction to her, whispered to Meredith, “Is your… pet… safe, or will she require a leash?”

Meredith ignored her. “Megan, honey,” she said. “It’s alright. Nothing’s happened.”

Megan nodded, then tried to reel in her anger as she gripped the guardrail fiercely. She forced herself to stare at the deck and concentrated on breathing.

Stephen and Logan came over to meet her as Clementine stopped a few feet back and waited.

Before anyone could bombard her with questions, Meredith raised her hands and said, “I need you all to listen, please. We don’t have much time.”

They all waited.

Meredith frowned, feeling Clementine’s eyes drilling into the back of her head. “Me and… my old friend… have had a lengthy discussion about many things. But what matters now is the island… and Toby.”

“You’ve talked with her about all that?” Logan said, lowering his voice, and glancing behind her at the strange robed woman.

“Yes,” Meredith said. “We’ve discussed the state of the island to some length… and have decided that it’s in everyone’s best interest… to help each other.”

They were all shocked.

Meredith raised her hands before they could object. “Please… we haven’t much time. And there’s a lot-”

“What Meredith is trying to say,” Clementine interrupted, losing patience, “is that you all need me to take out Toby, as much as I need Meredith to get me within striking distance.” The old woman stepped up next to Meredith and stared at them all with an unnerving smile. “That was the plan, yes? Hunt down Toby’s body, destroy it, and cut off his connection to our world, or at least, his ability to affect it.”

Meredith sighed. “Yes, Clem. I was just about to-”

“Well, then, let’s get to it,” Clementine continued. “Toby’s body is in a cavern at the base of a cliff on the western shore of the island. The cave opening is big enough for a ship this size, and deep enough to dock before the tides shift.”

Meredith took over, staring into the confused faces of her friends. “Clem has told me that Toby has become too dangerous for even Mother to condone bringing him into our world. She has tried several times to kill him, herself, but Clem can’t get close enough.”

“So, what does that mean for us?” Megan said.

Clementine turned. “It means, child, that Toby’s body is in a place beneath the island, much like the cavern beneath the orphanage.” She turned to the rest of them. “You all remember that place, don’t you? How unstable it was? Well, this cavern is where Toby intends to cross over from. He tried to snatch Meredith away beneath the orphanage but was unable to hold on to her. The fact that he believed he was strong enough to do it, shows his own arrogance and his overestimation in his abilities. That will be to our advantage. However, the boundary between this world and Toby’s world is still paper thin beneath the island. The only difference is that Toby has managed to keep this location stable. And he will be able to seize Meredith if we’re not quick and precise.”

“What Clem means, is that this second cave is essentially Toby’s doorway… and I’m his key. This… second cave… is where he’s been primarily operating from. He can affect our world through the cracks from this doorway, but he is unable to fit through it.”

“So, the damn door’s been left ajar, thanks to Mother,” Logan started, “and this Toby keeps sticking his head through it and messing with us.”

Clementine laughed at the analogy. “That is essentially correct. I have tried to slam that door shut, but I am unable, even with my reach… and Toby is aware of this.” She turned to Meredith. “Your friend, and my sister, is the only one who can get us into that cave without us all succumbing to madness… or much worse. Once inside, I will be able to locate the real Toby—the brain-dead patient that this ‘entity’ originally used to establish a connection to our world—and destroy it. Once that is accomplished, Toby’s strength will be cut off. And then it’s just a matter of sealing off the cave permanently so no one ever dabbles with that door again.”

Meredith nodded. “I believe Clem is telling us the truth… despite what I’ve told you about her.”

Clementine gave her a nasty look.

“I can’t protect us in this place beneath the island… and stand up against whatever Toby might send against us. I’m not strong enough for this.” Meredith frowned at her old friend. “But together… with our combined abilities… Clem and I believe we can end this and stop Toby.”

The others looked doubtful and afraid.

“I’ve instructed the captain of this vessel to keep us a mile off the coast until sunset. That’s the next window in the tide table that will allow us to get into the cavern,” Clementine said. “I would suggest you all take the time to rest and work out your suspicions toward me.” She turned to Meredith. “If there’s nothing else right now, Meredith, I will excuse myself and head below to prepare.”

Meredith said nothing.

“Very well.” She smiled at her old friend. “I wish our reunion could’ve been under different circumstances. Maybe when this is all over-”

“When this is finished, Clem… I never want to see you again,” Meredith said.

Clementine’s face was stone. The old woman nodded. She turned toward the cabin, ignoring the rest of them.

“One more thing,” Meredith called back.

Clementine stopped.

“You told me that Gina came back with you willingly… but you never told me why. What is her involvement in all of this?”

Clementine turned around and said, “Toby is expecting me to deliver you to him after sunset. The fact that you’ve blocked him out will not be surprising… but that I’ve blocked him out, too… well… this may make him suspicious or he may simply believe that you’re doing it. Either way, I don’t want his eyes on me when we arrive.”

“And Gina?”

“While we enter the cavern, Gina will be helping us topside.”

“Helping us how?”

The robed woman smiled. “She will be providing us a… distraction.”

~~~

Next Episode 54-7

Previous Episode 54-5

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-6: Treachery” 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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