~~~

Meredith could feel the darkness assaulting the closed mental door of her mind like an unstoppable storm—no—that wasn’t quite right. It had the ferocity of a storm, but it was so much more than that. The storm was alive, and not alive. She could sense multiple evil entities coming together in the black, void, surrounding her mind, taking on many forms and no form at all. Meredith could feel the outer rim of her sanity coming undone as her reinforced barriers collapsed with each new shape in the darkness, becoming something that her mind had no comprehension of. There were no words to adequately describe, and no thoughts that she possessed that could assess each new attack on her mind. The darkness no longer needed to force their way in through her mental doorways. Instead, it simply became the walls, the ceiling, and even the floor within her once secure mental room, making her inadequate door something that no longer fit the strange dark shapes that pulsated about her mind. This allowed the darkness to slip into every new crack, forcing Meredith to challenge the very structure surrounding her mind as she quickly erected new structures to delay the darkness flooding her thoughts.

When she, Clementine and Megan entered the final cavern at the end of the labyrinth of erratic caves and stone halls, they knew immediately that they’d reached a thin barrier between the world of the living, and the world of the dead. They all stopped just inside the cave entrance, pushing back against the darkness that immediately came for them. It moved around them and through them, as alive as the shifting cavern walls the appeared to melt in the range of their torch lights.

Clementine and Megan immediately moved next to the old medium as she attempted to expand her mental barriers around the three of them. But the effort took a huge toll on her mind.

Megan held Meredith’s hand, staring into the older woman’s face. Meredith struggled to find balance for them in this living/dead place that belonged in neither world.

Clementine focused her attention on lighting eight torches mounted on the wall near the entrance, trying to ignore the darkness that clawed at her face and screamed into her mind. She’d expected the assault, but it didn’t make it any easier to be here. Without Meredith, that darkness would have drove herself and the hybrid insane within moments of entering the cave.

With more light now, they could make out what was in front of them. The cave ceiling was as tall as the cavern floor was deep. The stone steps they’d been following descended down into a bowl where stalagmites and stalactites were so long, ascending up from the cavern floor, and descending down from the ceiling, that it looked like they’d just entered the closing jaw of some enormous monster instead of a cave.

At the center of the large cave, down in the bowl, was a single round structure sitting in what looked like a crater, as if the rock itself had come to life and attempted to reform up and around the odd-looking structure that did not belong. There were no spotlights surrounding the bowl, no buildings erected like they’d seen in Labyrinth Level 1. Just the round irregular structure that looked like something no man had built, but rather, like something else that had slipped across the barrier from the other side. Aside from the mounted torches, and themselves, nothing else provided a foothold into their world. And Meredith was their only tether from falling into the abyss of madness that had risen around them.

Clementine raised a shaky hand and pointed down into the bowl. “Toby’s body is in there,” she said. “When Mother first found this place, before the organization woke the entity we’ve come to know as Toby, they’d managed to build a single room that was intended to be a stable environment cutting into the veil between worlds. As we now know, from Labyrinth Level 1, that Mother failed to complete this mission. All they’ve done in either place is grant Toby a foothold across that veil. He is powerful in both places, but after the disaster beneath the orphanage, which was originally intended to be Mother and Toby’s… common ground… any further attempt to build was scrapped since nothing living can survive being this close to that veil. As a lesson learned from the orphanage facility, Toby has stabilized this place while Mother focused on the hub above it, to work with the entity from a safe distance. But they did get the brain-dead Toby down here, as the entity instructed them to do. No ‘human’ has been down here since. Not until now.”

“That’s not a comforting thought,” Meredith said, staring down at the odd structure. “What can we expect to find down there?”

“You’ve seen the structure before, Meredith,” Clementine said. “It’s the round white room with the chair at its center, staring up at Toby’s symbol.”

Meredith nodded, remembering when they’d first encountered such a room in Labyrinth Level 1. “And Toby, Forrester’s brother… he is kept in there?”

“Yes. For a very long time.”

“How is that possible? I was expecting to find someone on life support, hooked up to machines, not this,” Megan said. “What’s keeping that body alive?”

Clementine smiled. “What’s keeping you and I alive, child?”

“Meredith.”

“And do you know how she is able to do this?”

Megan said nothing.

“Neither do I,” Clementine added. She stared back down at the room in the rock. “Nothing works down here the way we understand. Objects from our world fail, including our fragile minds, while Toby can sustain flesh, without the mind, down there in that abomination of a room.” She looked back at Megan. “Even you… hybrid… are a mystery asking about mysteries. All I know is that Toby’s flesh is stabilized and sustained by the entity that has become Toby. But no longer.” She turned to Meredith. “I sense that we are running out of time.”

Meredith nodded. “Yes, I can… I can only protect us… for a short while. It is… very challenging.”

Clementine rubbed the side of her head and crinkled her face as if a bolt of pain just shot through her mind. “I am… having much difficulty keeping the darkness out. At each moment I’m about to be overwhelmed by it, like standing too close to the shore when the tidal wave is about to strike, something keeps that wave from crashing down… just barely… then it starts all over again. I assume that you are stopping the waves, Meredith?”

Meredith nodded. “Do what you came to do, Clem, but do it quickly.” She looked down into the bowl and finished, “I will remain here with Megan. The closer we get to that structure the harder it is for me to protect the three of us. I will keep you protected while you destroy the body. But you will need to hurry back immediately after.”

Clementine nodded, and then gave Meredith a probing glance. “I don’t know if you’re telling the truth, or if you just want to create distance between us. What are you up to, Meredith?”

“The longer you badger me, the less time we have. I’m telling you… this place, this darkness… it’s nothing like I’ve ever experienced. You say the veil between worlds here is thin. It feels more like the veil is about to burst… and that world is about to flood this cavern.”

Clementine’s frowned. “Very well. Just don’t run away this time, sister. I need everything you have to get me there and back. The rest I can manage.”

Meredith stared at the evil woman, her eyes starting to shift colors, going from dark, to red, to yellow, then dark again. “Like I said… hurry. You won’t have to worry about Toby showing up if I can’t hold… If I can’t hold this… darkness… back.”

“Just, do you part, Meredith. I will do mine.” Clementine turned and headed down the stone steps into the bowl.

Meredith waited until Clem reached the cavern floor. She turned to Megan. “How are you holding up?”

Megan shook her head. “It’s like… it’s like monsters are in my head trying to tear my brain apart… and make me forget… everything. I feel like… I feel like I’m fighting them inside my own mind. But I sense you there with me… and it helps.”

“You need to listen to me now. We are out of time,” Meredith said. “Once that evil woman makes it to Toby’s body… I’ll be gone.”

Megan looked distressed. “What… what do you mean… ‘gone’?”

“Nothing’s changed, honey. I have to go away… just like we planned.”

“To… Elsewhere?”

“Yes.”

Megan nodded, tears filling her eyes. She struggled to keep her emotions in check. “Take me with you,” she pleaded.

Meredith smiled, placing a hand on the half-dead’s pale cheek. “Where I’m going, Megan, I can’t take you. This battle is mine alone. You know this.”

Megan wiped tears from her face. “But… but I can’t protect you… if you don’t take me with you.”

Meredith looked down into the bowl.

Clementine was almost to the crater structure.

She turned back to Megan. “When she goes inside, I will reach out to Toby and let him know where we are. When that happens, he will have to deal with Clem first. When he does, I will… cross over while he’s distracted. Hopefully Clem will have just enough time to finish her part. But when I go… I can’t protect you or her. You will have to run, Megan. Run as far away from this cave as you can before the madness overtakes you.”

“And the witch?”

Meredith’s face went dark. “She’ll get what she’s owed. She’ll never make it out of this cave. But you won’t either if you stay here. So, run. Get back to the dock. Wait for the waters to subside. Then the boat will arrive, and you need to be on it. I need to know before I go that you’ll be alright. My heart can’t take losing you.”

“But what about you? How will you get back if I leave?”

Meredith’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m sorry, Megan. This was always a one-way trip for me. Whether I defeat Toby, or not… this is as far as I go. Clementine was correct on one thing. I can’t be allowed to survive here, especially if Toby wins in Elsewhere.”

“No!” Megan said, violently shaking her head. “NO!”

“This is the way it has to be, Megan. I’m sorry. I’m leaving now… and so are you. You need to do this… for me. Okay?”

Megan stepped back reluctantly.

Meredith turned toward the bowl.

Clementine looked back up at them once, then turned and stared at the strange round structure.

The old medium turned to Megan. “Now, Megan. Run. Tell the others. Tell them why I did this. They need to understand.”

Megan stepped back toward the entrance, her face full of tears.

“Be brave, now. Be the brave woman I know that you are. And… I love you… so very much.”

Megan smiled. “I… love you.”

Meredith nodded. “Go. Run… Run right now. NOW!”

Megan turned, her torch still in her hand, and then she ran out of the cavern, howling in pain like a wounded animal as her heart was about to burst.

Meredith closed her eyes, trying to shut out the poor girl’s sobs. She took a deep breath and sighed as she turned her mind toward a very familiar place and fired her thoughts through the darkness like an arrow… until she found the island… and Toby.

Where have you been? Toby’s frantic voice filled her mind immediately. I’ve been trying to find you and Clementine in the middle of all that confusion at the facility. But she hid herself from me and… What? What is this? What is happening? WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOWN HERE ALREADY, MEREDITH?!

Meredith didn’t hesitate. “Clementine brought us here to stop you, Toby. To destroy your foothold in this world.”

Toby immediately disconnected from her thoughts. Meredith could still sense him… heading toward the crater… to deal with Clementine’s treachery.

Meredith looked back once to make sure Megan was long gone. She knelt down and then looked up, beyond all the despair, the darkness, and stone, then whispered a desperate prayer: “I don’t know if even You can come with me to that dark place… or if you even care to. Perhaps that’s what I deserve. But if you are listening, God, please… help me finish this. I don’t care what happens to me… just please… I need help.”

Meredith closed her eyes and stopped fighting against the darkness.

Before it consumed her mind, Meredith followed the imaginary tether out of her flesh, crossed the veil, and found the island—the Isle of Lions—floating at the center of the dark.

Meredith’s body fell over in the cavern like a marionette with its strings just cut.

~~~

As Clementine approached the crater room, she was mortified by its appearance up close. What was once a small domed structure made of steel and aluminum was now fused with rock and what looked like… translucent human flesh, with arteries pumping black blood through its thin, pulsating membranes, acting as walls. Her first impression after the shock settled was that she was staring at some massive human heart… still beating in this unnatural place.

She found a cavity in the living dome, assumed it was the doorway, and quickly entered.

Inside the heart-like room, the walls pulsated several times as her feet sank slightly in the fleshy floor. At the center of the room, what was left of an old retractable chair was covered in sickly flesh. And sitting in it, was the barely recognizable remains of Doctor Forrester’s brain-dead brother attached to long sinews attached to large muscles that crisscrossed the entire room. More translucent flesh-covered arteries were connected to Toby’s body, pumping black fluids into the man’s eye sockets, neck, chest and out of every limb… if they could still be called ‘limbs’.

The smell of long rotting flesh immediately assaulted Clementine’s nostrils as she covered her mouth and nose and looked away from the disgusting remains of Forrester’s brother.

Just finish this horrid affair! she reminded herself, feeling the darkness clutching to her brain like the strange tentacles of flesh that were attached to the mangled body.

She did her best to focus and reached out with her mind, focusing all her strength at the abomination in the chair. Suddenly, the flesh-infested body exploded, splattering Clementine with black blood and the rotted remains of Toby’s body. The walls of the room pulsated irregularly for a few moments that ceased.

Clementine wiped black blood from her eyes and nearly threw up. She looked over at what remained. The body was completely obliterated, leaving nothing but the unattached tentacles dangling from the top of the dome, and lying on the floor like otherworldly snakes. Everything was dripping vile black blood.

She laughed, despite her disgust. “Fuck you, Toby. Your demented science experiments on this island are finally finished.”

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!

Toby’s voice boomed so loudly in her thoughts that Clementine covered her ears.

AFTER EVERYTHING WE’VE BEEN THROUGH… THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME… YOU WORTHLESS TRAITOR CUNT!

Clementine turned like a terrified child and headed toward the exit.

YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE, TRAITOR!

Suddenly the fleshy tentacles came down from the heart-like chamber and wrapped themselves around Clementine’s legs and arms, dragging her back to the center of the room.

“No!” she cried out, no longer able to focus her thoughts to defend herself. “Let me go!”

The darkness within the cavern immediately stormed her thoughts, setting her brain on fire.

YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED IN DESTROYING YOURSELF. MY REACH INTO YOUR WORLD… THOUGH BRIEFLY INTERRUPTED BY YOUR ARROGANCE… WILL BE FIXED MOMENTARILY. UNFORTUNATELY FOR YOU, I DON’T NEED TO REACH ANYWHERE, NOT IN HERE, TO TAKE CARE OF YOU, TRAITOR!

“Meredith!” Clementine called out. “What you have done to me, you fucking lying bitch!” She reached up and grabbed the sides of her head as if it were about to implode.

Toby’s laugher filled her shadow-infested mind. YOU HAVE BEEN BETRAYED! TREACHERY BEGETS TREACHERY, MY WAYWARD DAUGHTER! AND TO THINK THAT I BROUGHT YOU THIS FAR… THAT I LET YOU GET THIS CLOSE. BUT DID YOU REALLY THINK THAT I DIDN’T FORSEE THIS MOVE? THAT I DIDN’T, ON SOME LEVEL, ANTICIPATE IT? YOU FOOLISH, FUCKING LITTLE GIRL! NOW YOU WILL SUFFER. YOU WILL SUFFER IN WAYS THAT MAKE THE THINGS YOU DID TO OTHERS SEEM TAME!

Clementine started to scream as her mind began to break.

But Toby wasn’t finished with her yet.

The fleshy tentacles started penetrating her flesh. Two went straight into her chest, two went into her shoulders, two more penetrated the back of her thighs. One even came up from the floor, beneath her black-covered red robe, and pierced her between the legs.

Clementine continued to scream until a tentacle pierced her throat.

The last two drilled into her eye sockets.

Clementine’s body convulsed violently for a few moments, then suddenly went limp, suspended in the center of the dome by the tentacles as black blood coursed through her disfigured old flesh.

GOODBYE, DAUGHTER. I LOVED YOU… BUT I NEVER TRUSTED YOU. THANK YOU FOR BRINGING YOUR SISTER. AND AS FOR YOU… YOU WILL MAKE A FITTING… REPLACEMENT.

Clementine felt the darkness invade every part of her in ways no human being had ever experienced. Her mind went black… but Toby made sure the dream center of her brain remained active… as well as her pain receptors.

Lady Clementine, or what remained of her consciousness, would now experience Toby’s version of ‘Hell’… specifically tailored to make her suffer in ways no human being could ever conceive.

~~~

As Clementine’s screams reverberated throughout the cavern, new torchlight approached the frail remains of Meredith’s vacant body. Two pale hands grabbed the old medium from under her armpits and started to drag her out of the cave.

The darkness within the cavern violently attacked the young half-dead’s mind. Megan didn’t care. She fought against the demons that plagued her thoughts with howls and screams, fighting like a savage through tremendous mental anguish, empowered by love and grief that drove her past the point of madness. The human side of her would have gone insane in moments… but it was the beast… the monster inside of her… who managed to get Meredith’s body up over her shoulder. Megan turned with her fading torchlight and shambled out of the cave.

~~~

Next Episode 54-11

Previous Episode 54-9

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-10: 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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