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~~~

Stephen wiped sweat from his brow as he finished tying the knots in the electrical cord, binding Megan’s feet together.

The half-dead girl started to wake as her head whipped back and forth, lying on her back with her hands bound behind her. To Stephen, she appeared to be battling for her life in whatever nightmares tormented her sleep. Do they even have nightmares? Stephen wondered. What monsters plague monsters when they sleep? He shook the disturbing thought away, reminding himself that Megan was still half human.

“This isn’t right,” Meredith mumbled from behind him. She was pacing back and forth in front of the observation windows, trying not to get upset every time she looked at Megan. “It’s not her fault that she attacked you. You do know that, right?”

Stephen sighed, then gratefully stepped back from the savage when he was certain the restraints were secure. He turned to Meredith. “Regardless of what set her off, she nearly ripped out my throat. If you hadn’t drugged her-”

“Yes, yes!” Meredith’s frustration was evident. “I just… I just don’t like this. She’s not going to respond well to being restrained.”

“And you’re certain that what’s left of the tranquilizers won’t matter?”

She shook her head. “I used most of it just to keep her from killing you, Stephen. There’s not enough left to knock her out again.”

Stephen nodded, then stepped up next to his exhausted friend. “We need to find Logan and get the hell out of this madhouse.” He nodded to Megan. “But I don’t know how we’re going to take her with us if she loses control again.”

“We all lost control, Stephen,” Meredith reminded him. “I can calm her back down. I know I can. But it’s going to take a little time.”

Stephen looked over at the gun belt laying across the table of scattered files. “I need to find Logan, but I hate the idea of leaving you alone in here. Would you at least strap the gun belt on… just in case?”

“Not going to happen,” she said. “I don’t trust any of us with that loaded weapon right now… and neither should you.”

Stephen couldn’t argue against her point. “I don’t understand what’s happening… but it’s clear that our perception on reality is becoming severely distorted. I think the longer we remain here, the worse it’s going to get.”

Meredith laughed lightly. “Is that your nice way of saying we’re losing our minds?”

“Yes. I’m starting to believe we should just head back the way we came and take our chances with the Shadow Dead. Maybe they’re all gone now.”

“We need to go through the airlock,” Meredith said.

“Are you sure that’s such a good idea? All things considered, I think what’s altering our minds started on the other side of that airlock.”

“It’s the… entity,” Meredith said. “The one that’s written about in those files—I’m certain that someone or something is reaching out and attacking our minds.”

“So, we’re being attacked?”

“More like manipulated,” Meredith corrected. “I believe this entity is attempting to communicate that our only option is the airlock.”

“But what if it’s a trap?” Stephen said. “What if this… entity… wants us on the other side of that force field just to come at us directly?”

Meredith shook her head. “No, I don’t believe it wants to harm us… at least, not yet.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” Stephen rolled his eyes for emphasis. “What does it want with us? Maybe it just wants us to open the airlock so that it can get out.”

“No, there’s more to it than that.”

Stephen sighed. “I sense you know more about this entity then you’re letting on.”

Meredith stared hard at him. “It knows what I’m capable of… probably more than I do. I think it believes that I can protect us from whatever’s on the other side of that door.”

“You’re talking about your superpowers, right?”

She laughed. “I wouldn’t call them that… but yes.”

“You’ve done some incredible things that I won’t pretend to understand, saving us on more than one occasion with your abilities. But I do understand the toll it takes on you, and the risks involved—I’ve personally seen it—and it’s damn frightening to watch.”

Meredith nodded. “I don’t believe it’s like that this time. This entity is aware of what I can do, and whatever that means, it believes I’m… strong enough… to take us through whatever madness is on the other side of that field.”

Stephen’s eyes went wide with understanding. “That electric field, that’s the reason you haven’t used your abilities anymore—that you can’t. That’s also why you never left the compound, isn’t it?”

Meredith nodded. “Although I didn’t know what it was until we got down here, I’ve always suspected that the humming behind the walls had something to do with why my abilities were blocked. And to tell you truth, Stephen, it’s been wonderful getting to be a normal human being again.” She stared sadly out the dark observation windows. “But once I’m over there… it will come back… all of it.”

“And that terrifies you, doesn’t it?”

She gave him a grave look. “Yes, Stephen, if most definitely terrifies me. At one time, I believed the source of my abilities came from within—but once we made it into the compound, I started to understand that whatever made me what I am… and what I can do… it all comes from somewhere else.”

Stephen let the weight of her words sink in. He stepped up to the windows and stared out into the darkness. Finally, he asked, “You know what this entity is, don’t you?”

“In part. And it knows me,” she said, refusing to look him in the eye. “But… I don’t remember how I know this… or what our connection is… and that torments me to the very core.”

Stephen didn’t know what to say. He simply stared at his friend who looked more vulnerable than he’d ever seen her before. She had the look of someone who knew she was alone in every crowded room… as was the case her entire life.

He put a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We’ll figure this out. But right now, we need to find Logan and-”

“Consider him found,” came the loud voice of the preacher as he barged into the observation room. He was carrying the rolled-up diagram with a look on his face that clearly showed that he wasn’t exempt from whatever was afflicting them.

“Thank God,” Stephen muttered, walking over to the big man who met them at the table.

The preacher did not have his usual jovial demeaner. Instead, he seemed frantic—urgent—as he quickly spread the diagram out across the table. “You’re not going to believe the shit I went through to get this thing,” he said, looking up at Stephen, then to Meredith, and then finally staring at the bound half-dead woman on the floor. He stopped and finished with a big forced smile, “On second thought, by the looks of things here, maybe what I have to tell you will come as no surprise at all.”

~~~

After quickly sharing the highlights from their strange encounters, Logan brought their attention back to the diagram he’d discovered, showing them the layout of the present facility, the mystery structure to the north, and most importantly, the ladder that appeared to be an exit.

“Aside from seeing dead relatives,” Logan started, “I was grateful to realize that this map wasn’t imaginary after I’d seen Jonas. Insanity or not… this seems to be the real deal, and something to focus our rational minds on while we still can.” He hadn’t bothered to elaborate on anything else he’d seen after the Jonas-thing started to change. In truth, he was still having a hard time processing it all.

Stephen sat back down and leaned forward, placing his forehead into his hands. “This is crazy… all of it.” He glanced into Meredith and Logan’s faces and found mirrors. “So… we are either losing our damn minds, like all those corpses in the back room, or we’re being manipulated and pushed into going into a potentially worse place than this one. Either way, we can’t stay here any longer. I say we focus on that. Suggestions?”

Meredith held up her former dead headmaster’s keycard and said, “I don’t think we have much of a choice. Judging by what happened to me, I believe the entity mentioned in the files is responsible for everything that’s happened, and that if we don’t do what it wants…”

“…then one of us, or all of us, might be forced to kill each other, like what almost happened between myself and Megan,” Stephen finished.

Meredith nodded.

“I think I need to point out that my slice of madness near the airlock had nothing to do with being pushed toward that darkness on the other side of these windows, but rather, the opposite,” Logan said. “It was very clear that whoever or whatever I saw, wanted me to sabotage that airlock.”

“Yes,” Meredith nodded. “That was very strange. Why would the entity suggest one thing to us, but the contrary to you, Logan?”

Logan shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s like expecting madness to make sense?” Stephen added with a laugh. “No offence, Meredith, but… keycard or not… we all could just be going nuts. This ‘entity’ mentioned in the files, could all be some fiction created by insane scientists to rationalize what was happening to them. I can imagine a similar conversation going down in the past that yielded no results, and ultimately led them to taking their own lives.”

Logan shifted uncomfortably. “I’d rather do anything, even something as reckless as walking blindly into the fire on the other side of that airlock than let it come to that.”

Stephen nodded. “I completely agree, my friend.”

“No, it’s more than that,” Meredith insisted. “I believe we’ve been led to this point for a reason, and that reason isn’t so some malevolent presence could just kill us in some horrific way. Why not just do that now? No, I believe the entity is real… and that it’s been manipulating us for a while now.”

“Explain that to me?” Logan pushed. “What are you not telling us?”

Stephen deliberately kept his eyes off the older woman.

Meredith stared at the preacher, feeling those suspicious eyes of old behind that exhausted face. She took a deep breath and said, “It wants me. The rest of you are collateral damage as far as the entity is concerned, but as long as it gets what it wants, it’s in its best interest to keep you alive… to get to me.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up. He looked at Stephen.

“I don’t understand it, Logan, any more than you do,” he said. “But I’ve known this woman since the beginning of all this mess. We’ve been through the fire together and she’s saved me from the flames on several occasions… and I believe her.”

Meredith smiled at her friend.

Logan nodded and then glared at the older woman. “Yes. I’ve heard the stories. We all have at one time or another over the long winter. But I also know that your friend here has not been very forthcoming about explaining what or why she can do what she does. As I recall, Gina was with you both from the beginning, too, and she had her doubts.”

Meredith averted her eyes. “Yes, Logan. I’ve got my secrets. Stephen knows this. Gina knew it as well. If I’m withholding anything, it’s either because I’m still trying to understand it myself… or it’s to protect the people I love. I’m trying to tell you what I can and that’s all I can do.”

“Maybe the time for half-truths is long past,” Logan said. He nodded up toward the ceiling. “You know what just happened up there. Do you still think keeping secrets have protected any of them?”

Meredith flinched at the verbal punch.

“That’s not fair, Logan,” Stephen said. “She’s not responsible for the Shadow Dead attack.”

Logan raised his hands. “I’m just saying. Maybe now’s the time for putting all our cards on the table. Us three… may be the only ones left. It might be time for all of us to step into the light. Secrets these days could get us killed.” The preacher looked down at his feet, feeling the weight of his own words.

He wasn’t the only one. Meredith felt it, as did Stephen. The former school teacher knew he was not off the hook. Stephen had publicly admitted to killing Nicole… but he’d kept the rest to himself—his relationship with the dead woman.

“Four,” Meredith said.

Logan looked up. “What was that?”

Meredith looked over at Megan. “There’s still four of us left.”

Logan glanced over at the half-dead woman and frowned. He could hear the voice of his dead nephew mocking him:

That’s alright, uncle. Those half-breeds never counted anyway… no matter what breed it is, dead or otherwise.

“Yes… I’m sorry,” he said, staring sadly at Megan. “Four.”

Meredith was thrown by the preacher’s honest admission and the humbled expression on his face as he glanced over at the tormented girl. It was the first time that she’d seen Logan look at her as an actual… person.

“And then there’s still that,” Stephen reminded them, also staring over at the slowly waking woman. “She’s going to be a problem.”

Meredith scowled at him but softened immediately. She knew he was right. She started to speak but Logan stepped in.

“We’ll find a way to play nice together,” he said. The preacher looked over at Meredith and smiled. “I was talking about that moody young woman over there, of course.” He added a wink

Meredith was genuinely surprised. She laughed at the preacher, then stared at Megan and thought of Coop. “Yes. We will find a way to make this work.” She turned back to Logan and finished, “All of it.”

Logan smiled and nodded.

“We can talk crossing bridges after we’ve decided on passing through airlocks,” Stephen reminded them.

Meredith walked over to closest observation window. “It would certainly help if we could see what was-”

“We… we need to leave.”

Megan’s voice caught them all by surprise. They turned and found the young woman conscious, and thankfully, calm.

Meredith smiled at her and said, “Welcome back, honey. Are you… alright?”

“I’m not… I’m not angry anymore,” she said, throwing an apologetic look at Stephen.

He caught it. “It’s alright, Megan. We were both… not ourselves. I won’t point any more guns at you if you promise not to… you know…”

“Look at you like… like snack food?” Megan’s intense, savage face softened by her attempted half-smile.

The smile and the joke surprised Stephen into silence.

Logan’s obnoxious laughter broke the moment. “Oh… she got you there, little brother! You should see your face!”

Meredith snickered, then covered her mouth when Stephen stared at her. “I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s been a very long day.” She started to crack up.

This made Stephen smile. Maybe we have lost our damn minds… and maybe that’s not a bad thing any more, he thought, joining in on the laughter.

Megan stared at them, her head half-cocked like a dog hearing a strange sound.

Logan thought she was doing it deliberately. He pointed at Megan and laughed harder, nearly falling out of his chair.

The half-dead woman wanted to join them but was incapable. It took all she had just to achieve the smile… and the joke… for their expense. The deep well of sadness within contained only pain… and it was the only thing genuine or human that she had left. The savage possessed the rest. She turned and stared toward the observation windows while the rest of them settled down.

Logan wiped tears from his eyes. “My, oh, my, that felt good. Just to laugh again at anything… even now in this dismal place…”

“… means everything,” Meredith finished, with a smile.

Logan turned to her and nodded. “Yes. It does.”

Stephen stared at them both, thankful to find his old friend and his new one, starting to break the ice of misunderstanding. We need this, he thought. Might not matter so much right now… but it will… assuming we survive the rest of the day. Now, all we need to do is figure out-

Megan snapped her restraints very quickly and effortlessly. By the time anyone had a chance to react, the half-dead woman had already moved toward the left side of the ancient control panel.

“Watch it! She’s loose!” Logan said, rising to his feet.

Stephen immediately started toward the gun belt laying on the table.

Meredith took a step away from Megan, then turned to Stephen with her hand up. “Wait!”

Stephen stopped, his hand resting on the holstered gun.

The half-dead woman deliberately stopped before an unmarked panel, her shaky right hand hovering over several illuminated lights and buttons. Then, she made a fist, and slammed it down hard on one dusty faded white button.

The lights in the observation room flickered as the sound of machinery kicked on.

“Shit!” Logan said. “What now?”

Stephen looked around nervously, irrationally expecting the floor to open beneath him.

Meredith kept her eyes locked on Megan.

Megan took a skittish step back from the panel, then looked toward the observation windows and pointed.

They heard several loud popping sounds from just beyond the windows as spotlights came on, illuminating the darkness beyond the glass and electrified barrier.

Meredith looked out the closest window and her jaw dropped. “Stephen, Logan,” she whispered. “Come look at this!”

Stephen and Logan joined Meredith in front of the observation room windows, keeping a cautious eye on Megan who just stood there, staring out at the bright lights.

“What the hell is this?” Stephen said, stunned.

A circle of flood lights, erected on towers several hundred feet high, illuminated what only could be described as an enormous crater in the center of a vast cavern. From where they stood, staring out the windows, they were looking down into the cavern. Large stalactites dripped down from the cavern’s limestone ceiling, closest to the windows, like some ancient monsters rotting brown teeth about to shut on them. At the base of the crater was the remains of an old facility, assembled together to look like a congested trailer park on the moon. Beyond the old facility, where the lights were not focused, it was hard to see what else dominated the cavern floor, but it was clear that this cave continued outward, extending into the cold shadows, highlighting many disfigured stones and stalagmites spread out across the darkness.

Logan took a step back from the windows, feeling a sense of vertigo kick in from realizing how high up they were. “That’s the largest damn cave I’ve even seen. It looks… endless. Could easily be a half-mile wide! The diagram I found doesn’t mention anything about any cavern, but it does show that structure down there.”

“That… that place is very humbling,” Stephen added, feeling like he’d just discovered something like the indoor version of the Grand Canyon. “It’s hard to believe that such places could exist beneath the earth.”

Meredith frowned at the large cavern and let out a heavy sigh. “Paradise,” she whispered. “Not likely.”

“What was that?” Logan asked.

She turned to them. “That’s where we need to go. I’m sure all of you realize that.”

“Go!” Megan called out, pointing frantically out the windows. “No choice. Just… go.”

They all looked at the half-dead woman. Megan had voiced the obvious.

“She is right,” Stephen said. “We really don’t have a choice… do we?”

Meredith shook her head. “I don’t think we ever did.” She took a step toward Megan and asked, “Honey, how did you know? How did you know which of these flashing buttons to hit to turn on the lights?”

Megan stared at the older woman through her grime and blood-covered face for what felt like an eternity.

Meredith was reminded of those old stones on the cavern floor as she stared back at the tortured young woman.

And then, a tear streamed down from the corner of one eye on that stone as Megan answered, “My… my dead baby told me.”

~~~

Chapter 48 will continue next Wednesday…

Previous Episode 48-5

~~~

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“Chapter 48-6: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

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~~~

~~~

Logan ascended the ladder beneath the mesh walkway, expecting to be jumped the moment he reached the top rung. He stopped before climbing off the ladder and turned his head to the right, back toward the door leading to the observation room. There was no one waiting on the walkway. He looked left toward the other door leading toward the small room with the airlock.

“Holy shit!” he hissed, nearly slipping off the ladder.

Standing in the threshold of the open door was a tall lanky young man, his black hair slicked back, wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots. The young man attempted to smile at him with a broken grin on a constipated-looking face.

Jonas!

Logan immediately looked away and caught himself on the ladder. “That is not possible,” he declared, rubbing his tired eyes and shaking his head. “Dear Lord,” he prayed. “I’m severely exhausted and cannot trust this tired brain. It’s been a long damn day. Please… grant me your grace to get back to the others before I break my damn neck falling off this ladder… in Jesus’ name… amen.”

He finally mustered up the courage to look back toward the open doorway.

No one was there. The door was closed.

“Praise God,” he whispered, quickly climbing up off the ladder and back on to the walkway. He stood up on shaky knees and refused to look back toward the airlock room door. He started back the other direction, desperately needing to return to the others. He could still feel the rolled-up diagram he’d stuffed in the back of his pants, bringing him back to the present. Logan laughed at himself and said, “Calm down, you damn fool. It’s just more of Stephen’s ghosts.” But before he took ten steps, he heard metal striking metal coming from behind him.

Logan stopped and reminded himself to breathe. “That’s no damn ghost.” He turned around. Regardless of what he imagined he saw, there was no mistaking the violent pounding coming from the other direction.

Someone’s over by the airlock… someone who doesn’t care about being stealthy any longer.

The big preacher, suddenly aware that he was behaving like a frightened child, immediately straightened up, puffing his large chest out through his tank-top, and grumbling to himself. “You may be a child of God now… but that’s no excuse to be a damn pussy… man up! It’s time to put childish ways behind you.” Logan approached the airlock room with a scowl on his face. Someone’s playing games… and I’m too tired for games.

Logan reached the door, stopped, and took a moment to prepare his mind for a fight, balling his right hand into a fist.

The pounding on the other side of the door continued.

Logan grabbed the door knob with his other hand, closed his eyes, and prayed, “‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?’”

The preacher opened the door and entered the airlock room.

All his strength and courage immediately exited his pale face.

The first thing Logan registered was the logo on the back of Jonas’ leather jacket as his dead nephew swung a steel pipe against the round entrance wheel on the airlock door. It was the same: The large white diving eagle with the bold words, The Brotherhood of One, dripping from the eagle’s talons like captured prey. Logan’s stomach dropped as that old emblem from a darker time mocked him:

Welcome back, you hate-filled sonofabitch. The Brotherhood misses you.

Logan became self-conscious of the tattoos branded across his large arms. He could fill the ink bulging like veins as the past assaulted him.

Jonas, out of breath, stopped swinging the pipe, turned, and smiled in surprise when he realized Logan was standing behind him. “Well it’s about damn time, uncle,” Jonas said. “Are you gonna help me with this or not?”

Logan recoiled at the sound of his nephew’s voice. “What… what manner of devilry is this?” he finally said.

Jonas ran a hand through his greasy hair and gave his uncle a puzzled look. “Oh… that’s right,” he said. “I fucking forgot. You’re some kind of damn holly roller now.”

“You’re not… Jonas. He’s dead.”

The young man laughed and shook his head. “Man… you must’ve bumped your head or somethin’. Of course, I’m dead! If you haven’t noticed, the damn world is full of dead people now.” Jonas opened the front of his jacket, revealing a bloody concert t-shirt with several bullet holes in it. “Got some way cooler tats now, uncle. This is the real damn deal. Remember what you called ‘em? Battle scars, right?”

Logan looked away. “Dear God,” he whispered.

“Man… when did you become such a little bitch? Maybe it’s all that time you’ve spent with those soft-minded mixed-breeders that call all the shots now. Hell, you’ve got a damn half-dead bitch, that old witch zombie lover, and a stinking child murderer with you right now! There was a time you would’ve handled losers like that! But now… look at you, uncle. You’re a friggin’ mess!”

“Stop it,” Logan said. He grabbed the sides of his head, feeling like his brain was about to explode. “What… do you want? What do you… how can you be here?”

“I’m trying to save your pathetic ass, uncle. That hag and her cohorts are gonna make a break for the airlock and get you all killed as soon as they open this fucking door. We can’t let that happen. There’s nothing but fucking monsters and mayhem down there! But you know that already, right, uncle? That’s why you’re here. Can’t open the fucking door if it’s all broke dick, right? Fucking contaminated Paradise bullshit! Hell, it’s written right on the damn door, for Christ’s sake.”

“Language!” Logan said, automatically reverting to his former relationship with his dead kin.

Jonas averted his eyes and shuffled his feet nervously. “Sorry.”

What the fuck!?

Jonas, a little humiliated, turned back toward the airlock, preparing to attack the wheel again. “Screw it, I’ll do it myself!”

Logan pointed at him. “Stop that! Whoever… whatever you are… just fucking put the pipe down!”

Jonas turned back, let the pipe hit the ground, and put his hands up defiantly. “Fine! Don’t have to be a big A-hole about it! I’m just tryin’ to help.”

“That might be our only way out of here,” Logan said, calming down.

Jonas pointed at the red words scrawled on the door. “Seems fucking obvious, uncle. There’s no damn ‘Paradise’ on the other side of this fucked-up door.”

Logan was about to scold his nephew again, then stopped. He took a step back, closed his eyes, and started to quietly pray.

“C’mon! Don’t start that shit! Stop acting like you’re some kind of changed man or somethin’. Just look at yourself… still sportin’ all those tats like they don’t mean anything. Quoting scripture like a holy man when you’re still the same damn person! ‘No one ever really changes, on the inside’… isn’t that what you always used to say about all those half-breeds trying to steal our country out from under us? They try, and they try to be like us, blend in, wear sophisticated clothes, hide behind their educational degrees that they never had to pay for, shit like that. But inside, their all the damn same—dirty mixed-breeds contaminating the moral waters of our nation.”

Logan tried to ignore the apparition.

“You think you’ve stopped all that hating, uncle? You think you’re free? Hell… you just have another breed to discriminate against now. Just look at the way you treat that silver-eyed girl. Tell me you don’t hate that fuckin’ bitch… that you don’t want to take her and all her kind and burn ‘em up-”

“Shut your damn mouth!”

Jonas laughed and shook his head. “I’m just tryin’ to help you, uncle.”

Logan continued to pray.

“It’s more than you did for me that night. Remember? Shit… you left me alone in that bar, without back-up, while you went around chasing the retarded Asian kid.”

Logan stopped praying.

“That’s right. How fucking wrong were you that night… huh? You left me there to get slaughtered!”

“I’m… I’m sorry… Jonas. I… I live with that shit… every day.”

“As you should! I’m the one who payed for your fuck up! So, here I am now, tryin’ to help you again… like I did that night… and you’re still on the wrong damn side of town! Wake up… man!”

“If I could take it all back… I would,” Logan said. Tears of pain and frustration started to fill his eyes. “I’d go back and die for you… but I can’t.”

Jonas shook his head. “Fuck all that, uncle! The world’s upside down now anyhow. Probably did me a favor in the long run.” He pointed at the airlock. “You go in there… you’re dead… like me.”

“I deserve nothing less.”

“Fuck that, uncle. You know what all of us ‘dead folk’ have in common… and I’m not talking about the ones who want to eat your asses?”

Logan waited.

“All we have left is the rest of you still alive and kickin’. When all of you die, there’ll be no one left to remember us… and to be forgotten is fuckin’ worse than death, uncle. Trust me, I know. There’s a fucking dark, black-as-shit place where the nameless go. Is that where you want to send me?”

“Dear Lord, of course not.”

“That’s why I’m here, uncle. I’m doing what I can to keep you alive a little longer. That’s your job now… your curse. You need to keep breathing so your dumb dead nephew has a place to be. Memories are all I have left… that’s what keeps my kind alive and out of the darkness. And don’t give me that afterlife Heaven horse-shit. Unless you’re dead, you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.”

“I don’t believe that,” Logan said. “There’s has to be more… or what’s the point?”

“You live… you die… you’re forgotten… and then there’s the blackness. When you become nothin’, that’s when you’ve reached the fuckin’ end of the highway.”

“Bullshit,” Logan turned away. “I can’t believe that… I WON’T!”

“Uncle,” Jonas said with a defeated sigh, softening his tone. “I don’t want you to die. The paradise you believe in is the same paradise written on this airlock. You go to the other side of this door, and you’ll feel it… and it’s a dark fucking cold that rips into your bones… your very soul. Your mind will be the first to go. The darkness will infect your brain and turn everything black… as the for the rest… I’ll spare you the gory details.”

Logan’s shoulders dropped. Finally, he said, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is a place like the one you described.”

“It’s not a place. It’s… nothing… nothingness. I know it’s hard to swallow. Hell, I wasn’t prepared for it. But… in this new world… we get to come back… I can’t explain it… it’s just… well… it’s possible now. There’s no Heaven, no white fucking light at the end of some damn tunnel. There’s only-”

“I wasn’t finished.” Logan stared directly into his dead nephew’s eyes. He took a step forward. “I believe there is a place where the blackness rules all… where creatures like you gnash your teeth at the living… creatures full of hatred, full of spite—loveless and dark.”

“No, uncle, you’ve got it all-”

“And sometimes, I suspect, even in all that nothingness, something like you finds a loophole, especially in this crazy world, where you get to sneak out of the dark, put on a false face, and pretend like you still belong here, like you’ve got some damn right to dwell among the living!”

This time, Jonas took a step back.

“How dare you! How dare you pretend to be my Jonas, you unnatural beast!”

“Uncle… I…”

“Shut up! I am a child of Light, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb! But you… you are nothing! I wasn’t sure before about that damn airlock… but I’m sure about it now. If you’re trying to keep us out of there, then I’m certain there’s something for you to lose… something to fear. And that is all I need to say to you!” Logan turned his back and started to leave.

“Wait!” Jonas yelled. “You’re wrong! You go down there and you’re all gonna die! YOU’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”

Logan continued to walk away. He felt something lift off him, something thick, dark and loathsome.

Praise God! Thank you for protecting me from… from whatever that thing is.

But deep down, he knew. The residue of Hatred, no matter what form it chose, always felt the same.

“Okay,” Jonas said. “I’ll tell you exactly what’s down there! I’ll tell you… and trust me… man… you’re gonna be shitting your pants! You’re gonna- wait! No. No, no, NO! You can’t be here!”

Logan stopped at the airlock room door and turned back. Something in the vile creature’s voice had changed. Instead of hatred… he heard fear…

~~~

Nicole Howard had felt foolish, hiding from the big preacher as he descended the generator room walkway stairs. There was no reason to believe he could sense her, but it still troubled the young dead woman that this ridiculous man had managed to spook her back in Cubicle City. And being this close to the darkness she’d spent so much time getting liberated from, a darkness that could alter the fabric of reality between her old world and theirs… she wasn’t taking any chances. She had to know. Could Logan perceive her on any level? And if so, could he be manipulated like Stephen.

Nicole looked away, feeling shame for what she’d done with the former school teacher, using his guilt against him at his most vulnerable moment. But that was so long ago now. What initially started as manipulation over a girl he’d accidentally stabbed had evolved into so much more… more than either of them expected.

No… he loves me… and I love him. Everything’s different because of what we’ve built together. He’s confused and angry right now… but he’ll come back around. None of this matters, and none of these worthless creatures matter. They’re just a means to an end. And it doesn’t matter what I did at the beginning to win his heart… because he also won mine. So, the manipulation was mutual. Perhaps manipulation is just another word for love? Nicole shook her distracting thoughts away. Stay focused. Use whatever you must in whatever way you must to get Stephen away from all of this. Then… we will both be free.

She stepped quietly across the walkway once the preacher reached the lower level. It wouldn’t take him long to find the diagram.

He’ll see it… the alternate exit… then he’ll start believing the airlock might be their only option. He’s against it now, but that idiot will change his tune. Once he brings the map back to the others, they’ll talk him into it. He’s too pliable around the others.

She watched Logan through the grated flooring as she crept closer. He’d already found the diagram and was studying it.

His mind is wide open right now from the exhaustion. If I can get close enough, I can slip in through the surface undetected, peek at what’s really beneath, and maybe find something to use. When Nicole was in range a few feet behind the preacher, she lay down on the grating, closed her eyes, and reached out into the dark void within the preacher’s mind. She wasn’t gone long. Nicole’s eyes bolted open with alarm.

Fuck me! I know this one from before! Back when I was… not me! She started to rise just as Logan rolled up the diagram and turned toward the ladder. If he looks up, he will sense you. The darkness has appeared to him before… manipulating him for years!

Nicole quickly scrambled off the grating and out of sight. She returned to the walkway and headed toward the airlock room door. She froze half way there and dropped to one knee to avoid being seen.

“Stephen? Is that you?” the big preacher called up.

Fuck! He heard you! That means… he can see you, too!

One of the powerful generators kicked on as a second started to shut down, making the room temporarily very loud.

Now’s your chance. Run for it! Nicole, taking advantage of the distraction, rushed the rest of the distance to the airlock room door, reached out with her mind, causing it to open on its own, then stopped in the doorway.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? THIS ONE’S MINE FROM LONG AGO. I WANT HIM. I WANT HIM BACK! GET HIM FOR ME… GET HIM… AND I WILL SAVE YOUR PRECIOUS LOVER… AND FULFILL ALL YOUR WORTHLESS DESIRES.

Nicole’s stomach started to turn. She hated it when the darkness rose up in her like this, often causing her to lose control as she sometimes did with Stephen. Her clothing began to change: She was wearing the ripped and bloody tank top. Her arms, legs and face were bruised and bloody. Her hair, looking like someone had ripped chunks out of it. One of her eyes—missing—the knife reappearing in the socket-

Stop it! She fought back. I can handle this!

After a pause, the blackness within, responded, THEN, HANDLE IT!

The generators quieted down to a steady hum.

“Stephen? Meredith?” the big preacher called up again.

He’s suspicious, Nicole thought. He’ll be coming up soon. Be ready. She’d already seen enough from Logan’s dark past to know exactly where to strike, where he was most vulnerable. She closed her eyes and traveled back through the channels of Logan’s darkest memories. She found who she needed to use to establish a connection. Nicole was nervous, but confident. She hadn’t done this since fetching her present persona from Stephen’s dark mind, but it was coming back. The only question that remained was whether it would work on Logan. There was no telling what he would really see… until it happened.

IT WILL WORK. The darkness intruded again. I’VE DONE IT TO HIM BEFORE. HE WILL SEE THE PAST. HE WILL THE SEE THE PAIN. HE WILL CRUMBLE BEFORE IT.

Nicole tried to ignore the darkness, but it was the blood that ran through her entire being. She could not deny it. It was still part of who she was… who she would always be.

Nicole opened her eyes and… shifted.

Logan reached the top of the ladder and started scanning the walkway.

She smiled from within her new accommodations, marveling at the artificial feel and smell of the leather jacket sleeves surrounding her arms.

I did it! Now… will he see him?

Logan turned toward her and nearly fell off the ladder.

It worked! He sees… he sees Jonas!

~~~

… “Okay,” Nicole/Jonah said. “I’ll tell you exactly what’s down there! I’ll tell you… and trust me… man… you’re gonna be shitting your pants! You’re gonna- wait! No. No, no, NO! You can’t be here!”

Standing directly between the preacher and Nicole with his arms folded across his chest was the apparition of Stephen Eddington. Again, he was dressed entirely in black. He was frowning at her. His intense eyes bore through stolen flesh, cutting through the masks of Jonas and Nicole and staring straight at her… and into the darkness that was truly who she was.

Nicole started to panic as she stepped back toward the airlock. “Go away! You can’t be here!”

The Stephen apparition appeared to smile, then pointed directly toward the airlock as if scolding a bad dog for escaping into the front yard.

“I won’t!” Nicole screamed at it. “And… and you can’t make me!”

Nicole’s appearance began to fluctuate between the leather clad young Jonas and the tortured looking Nicole with one challenging eye.

Logan had no idea what was happening. One moment, he was staring at his dead nephew, the next, a young girl he did not recognize who looked hideously disfigured with a kitchen knife sticking in her eye. “What the hell is this?” he whispered.

Nicole had lost all interest in the preacher. She no longer cared that she’d lost all focus and was shifting randomly between manipulations. She only wanted this… thing… to depart, and finally leave her alone. “I will never allow it!” she insisted to the shadow-like Stephen.

The fake Stephen dropped its arms and stared into her.

“You can’t intimidate me,” Nicole told it, still shifting back and forth. “I know you’re still limited, and you’ve exceeded your reach! I will not go back! Do you hear me? I WILL NEVER GO BACK!”

The shadow Stephen took a bold step toward her, raising its arms toward her neck. This made Nicole scream as she raised her arms defensively.

What Logan heard was a scream that sounded both like a woman and a man at the same time. It made him want to crawl out of his own skin. He could not see what was making this creature cry out, but the fear was palpable. Get out of here, Logan. Get out while this thing is distracted, he thought.

Fearing that whatever force was assaulting the thing pretending to be Jonas would turn on him, Logan reached back for the airlock room door, then stopped, raising his eyebrows in disbelief, as his face paled. “It can’t be!” he said.

He watched Jonas shift into the girl, then back to Jonas once more, right before it shifted into something else… something blacker than night and all too familiar.

“You!” the preacher accused.

Nicole was too terrified to maintain control, as was the shadow Stephen’s aim by approaching her. She shifted back into her original form… the one the darkness within her used quite often.

Logan watched as his Shadow Man from old, the one wearing the long black coat and hat, the one who had appeared to him in that dark alley so long ago, appeared, glancing his way with those cold yellowish eyes full of hate, before shifting into what he could only describe as a black mist that expanded briefly before vanishing into the air.

Then he was alone before the airlock.

Logan dropped to his knees and fervently prayed for the strength to stand back up before the madness that owned this place could claim his soul.

~~~

Next Episode 48-6

Previous Episode 48-4

~~~

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“Chapter 48-5: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

~~~

Thanks for all your votes last week. Sitting strong at 20 votes presently so let’s keep this going. Chapter 48-5 will be posted this Wednesday.

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~~~

~~~

Her life… if that’s what she could still call it… was not her own. For Megan Bishop, former member of the human race aiming rapidly for extinction, life was an internal war between the fragments of her previous identity and the ravenous monster attempting to consume it. She could still taste the salty blood on her lips, feel the torn flesh beneath her fingernails, the ingested organs within her decaying belly. In the moments of clarity, where the illusion of control had returned, Megan could see flashes of memories from before and after she’d turned, causing a whole range of conflicting and irrelevant emotions to surface. She felt pain—an intense throbbing coursing through her flesh brought on by the diseased part of her mind that demanded she feed on the living. When she did, there was respite from the intense longing, like an out-of-control fire in need of something to consume. There was no satisfaction from devouring flesh, no gratification—that part of her did not adhere to anything rational. There was just the voice of the madness that the beast had to obey. But what remained of her humanity felt repulsed, horrified, and an intense sadness that equaled the pain, and it was the sadness Megan felt that brought her back from the brink of losing the war within. Sometimes, she was aware of what was happening around her—the people who attempted to communicate with her, reach out, and make her believe she was still… Megan. Other times, it took all she had to not lose it, and viciously tear into them.

She was strongest when the sadness tormented her infected mind. Megan could no longer love, not in the way she remembered, but she could feel the loss of that love, and the people who were responsible for it. When she was able to drift beyond the hunger, her thoughts dove into the depths of that loss, recognizing the people who were closest to her that she once… loved. In those moments, her desire to be dead was much more powerful than her desire to cause death.

Megan sat near the observation room door trying desperately to keep her dead flesh from trembling. Her body had no business still functioning, but it did. The tainted, unnatural blood coursing through her decaying flesh burned intensely, especially with prey so close. She turned to look at Meredith and Stephen sitting at a table, staring into files that no longer mattered.

Only the flesh mattered. And she needed to FEED!

She turned away and shook her head, trying to keep her mind clear, or at least, maintain a small place in the darkness that possessed it, for herself.

This is not… this is not who I am, she lied to herself. I am not a monster!

But she was.

I AM NOT A MONSTER!!!

The lie held for now as tears ran down her dirty, blood-stained cheeks. She needed to be away from this horrible place where the only memories she had where of losing her child and then becoming this creature, but the agony associated with those memories kept the savage under control… for now.

And then she heard the sound… the awful, soul-wrenching sound, that propelled her deeper into the pit of despair. Megan turned toward the left side of the room, toward the western wing door. She could still smell the corpses mixed with madness coming from that dead place… but the sound… it was coming from in there. She turned back toward Meredith and Stephen. They didn’t turn. They couldn’t hear it.

You’re not hearing anything, she tried to tell herself. It’s all just phantoms coming from your damaged brain. Nothing more.

But maybe they could hear it, too. Maybe Stephen and Meredith could hear it, but they didn’t care.

Because no one cares about the sounds the dead make, came a strange voice from the darkness in her mind. The living cannot hear the pleas of the dead. They can only fear what they don’t understand.

Megan tried to shut out the imagined sound. But she couldn’t.

She continued to hear the painful cries of her unborn child, wailing from the western wing. A dead child calling out for its dead mother.

Driven by a compulsion stronger than the need to feed, Megan crept away from the corner by the door, and followed the cries of her baby, entering the corpse-infested darkness of the western wing.

I’m coming… please… just stop. Stop crying! STOP CRYING! Mommy’s coming.

~~~

Meredith strongly objected when Stephen removed the gun belt from the file cabinet and put it on.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I know who she still is under what she’s become. I don’t want to hurt Megan.”

“Then leave the gun,” Meredith suggested, leading the way toward the western wing door. “I can help her. You won’t need that.”

Stephen frowned. “I know I won’t. I just didn’t want to leave it behind,” he lied.

Meredith considered calling the former teacher out, but let it go. With all the strange happenings that had occurred down in this secret lab, they all had cause to be a little paranoid. But the fine line between paranoia and madness could be easily blurred in this place, as the evidence from the past made plain.

Just keep it together old girl, she reminded herself. Keep it together for all our sakes. Meredith reached for the old door and pulled it open with shaky hands. Calm down, before you convince him that bringing the gun was a good idea. In truth, Megan’s behavior, now that she was free from the glass cage in the clinic, was as unpredictable as the infected girl’s moods from day to day. Under observation, Meredith and Dr. Cooper had always controlled Megan’s environment, slowly bringing her humanity back to the surface by engaging with her in a safe setting. But this was all new. Meredith had no idea how Megan would react to anything… or if her new freedom would encourage the beast to come out more, or if that freedom and the choices it afforded would encourage Megan to suppress the darkness.

“Maybe we should go back and get the tranquilizers,” Stephen said from behind as they stepped into the dim and bloody hallway.

Meredith shook her head. “She’s shown incredible resistance to them. I believe we have enough left to knock her out one more time… as a last resort. With the normal dosages, there’s the risk of the drugs only agitating her. I’d prefer to reason with the girl and not provoke the beast.”

Stephen laughed nervously, staring around at all the ancient blood smears across the walls. “You do realize there’s a good chance that all this blood may be what-”

“I know,” she interrupted. “I’m trying not to think about it. If she came in here to… feed… then perhaps she did it to avoid attacking us.”

“You’re forever the optimist,” Stephen said, placing a sweaty hand on the gun holster. They started down the hallway, staring into the rooms on either side. Half-way down the hall they stopped at a partially opened door on the right. The lights within the room flickered, but they could see a hospital room bed with dirty soiled sheets and what looked like leather straps laying across the top. The bed was surrounded by dead medical machines. Megan was standing at the foot of the bed, head down, her face hidden in a jungle of long dirty blond hair. Her arms hung limp, her bloody gown shifted around her shoulders. She was breathing rapidly.

Meredith placed a hand on Stephen’s shoulder. “Stay back,” she whispered. “Let me talk to her first.”

Stephen hesitated, then nodded. “Be careful,” he said. “This looks like the room where they did it… where those bastards killed her child. God-only-knows what being back here is doing to her.”

Meredith nodded. She took a deep breath and slowly stepped into the room.

Stephen stayed just outside the doorway where he could watch the confrontation but remain out of the way. He’d drawn the gun from the holster as soon as his older friend entered the room. He prayed to Logan’s God that he wouldn’t have to use it.

“Megan, it’s me, Meredith.”

The young woman did not flinch.

Meredith dared a couple of steps forward, arms raised submissively. “Megan, you gave us quite a scare taking off like that. We need to stay together. This place isn’t safe.”

“I’ve been longing for death ever since it happened… when I can remember it.”

Megan’s clear voice nearly caused the older woman to stumble. She stopped five feet from the troubled girl. Megan remained still. The half-dead woman was staring at the bed, her thoughts locked into some faraway hell that Meredith could not imagine. “You sound very… calm… Megan. I think this is the first time you haven’t struggled to form sentences. Where are you right not, honey?”

“I’m here,” she said. “I’m nowhere… but I’m also here. This is where I died. This is where we both died.”

“I’m so sorry, Megan. Perhaps we should leave this dark place now. It pains me to consider the suffering you must be going through.”

Megan turned to look at her. “I’m alright. I welcome this pain. It’s the only thing keeping me… alive… if that’s the right word for it.”

“You are alive, honey.”

“And yet, I’m also dead.” She turned back toward the bed. “The pain I feel… here-” she made a fist and pounded on her chest. “The pain…it’s so intense, that I almost don’t hear the madness inside me… the rage… commanding me to kill you, to kill all of you.”

Meredith swallowed hard. “Well… that’s something. Is there anything I can do to help you… with the pain?”

“I just want to hold on to this moment. I need to feel it… all of it… and hold on to it for as long as I can. I lost my child, Meredith, but that loss is tangible… and strong. It’s as though my baby is still here with me—and we’re still connected somehow, through death… I can’t explain it any other way.”

“Well, you take as long as you need, honey,” Meredith said, wiping tears from her eyes. “I understand grief, and I understand what it means for you to stand in the place where that grief began. It’s a powerful wave of emotions, an overwhelming wave. Normally, that kind of sadness would destroy us… but not you. I’m just beginning to understand that. Perhaps that’s something you’ve gained being who you are now.”

“What do you mean?”

Meredith smiled. “Death can’t harm you or your baby any longer. You’ve moved beyond that. I almost envy you for what you can embrace, now that the fear of death… is gone.”

Megan smiled back and nodded. “I like that. You’re right. I don’t feel fear, not like I once did. I hardly feel at all… and that’s because of the savage in me. But when I do feel… anything… it’s the pain, the loss, and… it’s beautiful… but only to me, and others like me, I suppose. It keeps me connected to life while rotting away in this shell that death has already claimed.”

Meredith was about to protest, but let it go. She’d never seen Megan so lucid, so aware of herself and what she was becoming, then at this moment. She needs this. She needs to bond with her dead child in a way that only a dead mother can… and that is something the living can’t possibly fathom. She turned toward the door to signal Stephen to leave.

Stephen wasn’t there.

“Did you hear it cry, too?”

Meredith turned back. “What was that?”

Megan was staring into her now. “My child, did you hear it crying out? I assume that’s how you ended up here.”

Meredith shook her head. She was confused. “No, Megan. I didn’t hear anything. Are you telling me that you could hear your child… calling to you?”

Something in Megan’s face had changed. She looked angry, but not in a savage way. “That’s right. What would any of you know about that? It was foolish of me to think that you heard the cries. That’s always been the problem from the start. The living never could understand the language of the deceased.” Megan turned away, shaking her head in disgust.

Meredith raised her eyebrows. “That’s a very odd statement, Megan. Where did you come by that?”

“The voice of Truth has always been readily available to anyone willing to seek it out,” Megan said. “But the living remains deaf to it. Only the dead can hear it… only the dead can embrace it.”

Meredith took a shaky step back. “Something’s changed, Megan. What’s happening to you right now?”

Megan turned and smiled at the older woman. “You still don’t recognize me, do you, Meredith?”

Meredith covered her mouth with her hands. No! This isn’t possible!

“Or maybe you do… in part,” Megan said. “Don’t worry, I don’t blame you. I know what that woman did to you—to us—so long ago. We had a bond, you and me. We were making such great progress until you were snatched away and hidden from me. But… I found you… watched you from a distance… let you become the woman you are today, or rather, this other woman that you are today.”

Meredith pointed threateningly at Megan, stepping back toward the door. “No! This isn’t possible! You can’t be here!”

“What’s not possible, Meredith? I can influence the weak minds of the living through dreams. And I can manipulate the affections of a naïve girl through a child’s doll. Would speaking directly to you through this husk of a woman be that much of a stretch?”

“Toby?” she whispered.

“Yes… a name. You do remember me a little. But you don’t remember our relationship. Again, this is not your fault. That’s why I’ve gone through great pains to arrange getting you down here. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but patience is one of my greatest weapons. And this is something else the living, who come with an expiration date, could never appreciate.”

“What have you done to Megan?” Meredith desperately needed out of this room. “And… she’s not some shell you can just put on and take off like a costume!”

The entity pretending to be Megan lifted an eyebrow and smiled. “My, my… a bit dramatic, don’t you think? And who said anything about Megan?”

Before Meredith could give voice to her confusion, the overhead lights began to flicker rapidly as the brightness intensified. She covered her eyes as if someone had just aimed a strobe light directly in her face. “Stop it!” she yelled.

The lights flickered out and then turned back on, remaining steady.

The room was darker. No… that wasn’t it. The darkness feels thicker… heavier.

Everything felt wrong and Meredith sensed it immediately.

“Perhaps the word you’re looking for is… alive.”

The voice came out of the darkness. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. It was familiar, but it wasn’t Megan’s voice.

The older woman’s eyes adjusted to the darker room. That’s when she noticed the shapes of several corpses lined up and lying against each other at the base of a bloody and bullet-filled wall. She knew immediately where she was.

“What’s the matter, Meredith?”

This time the voice was coming from directly behind her. She was too terrified to turn around.

“That’s no way to greet an old friend. Did I not welcome you with open arms when you were brought to us? Did I not provide for you a place where you could finally belong and escape the judgment of the world?”

Meredith finally turned.

Standing before her was a decayed skeleton in a filthy lab coat. Its long arms were crossed in front of its rotting chest. It’s big-boned frame made it appear much taller and wider, causing Meredith to stumble back with a gasp.

“Miss… Miss Evans?” she whispered.

“No, you foolish child,” Toby said. The decrepit jaw of the skeleton moved up and down, like a macabre puppet. “She’s long gone, but her… shell… as you say, remains.”

“What did you do to Megan? Where is she?”

“She’s right where you left her,” the Evan’s skeleton mocked. “I imagine your dear friend, Stephen, is putting a hole in her head as we speak.”

“What?” Meredith started looking for an exit from this room of madness. Alarmingly, she couldn’t find a door.

The skeletal Miss Evans moved toward her, creating a sickening sound of bones rubbing against each other and starting to collapse upon themselves. “You’re going to have to catch me, Meredith. It seems my mobility in this particular husk is extremely limited without the muscles to support it.”

Before Meredith could dodge the horrendous thing, she backed up into a corner with no time to do anything else but raise her arms defensively over her head as the remains of Miss Evans came crashing down on top of her.

Meredith fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and let out a scream.

Mark well what happens next. It was the voice of Toby, this time, speaking directly within her mind. Consider how things might have gone if I’d allowed the delusions to play out. This is your only warning. Proceed to Paradise without delay. I need to give you something… a gift. Better hurry.

We’ll all die down there! she thought back. We’ll go insane like all the others!

No, you won’t, Meredith. You can protect them. You’re stronger than you know… and there’s so much you need to know. Come to Paradise. It’s time… to remember.

Meredith opened her eyes. She was back in the observation room, staring out one of the large dark windows. She felt something in her hand.

“How could you do it after all she fucking did for you!?”

Stephen’s voice. Meredith turned.

Stephen was standing near the entrance doorway pointing the handgun less than five feet from Megan’s face.

The half-dead young woman screeched at Stephen, barred her teeth, and then tipped over one of the large file cabinets. “YOU KILLED HER! YOU… YOU MURDERED MY CHILD!” she screamed.

Meredith could see the proverbial red burning in Megan’s eyes. She was about to charge the former school teacher.

“Fuck you, monster! You slaughtered my friend!” Stephen’s finger started to pull on the trigger.

“Stephen!” Meredith yelled. “What are you doing?”

Stephen was surprised by Meredith’s voice. He turned, the shock evident in his eyes. “What? How?”

There was no time.

Megan charged, leapt over the overturned file cabinet with an ear-piercing scream, drool dripping from her mouth like a rabid dog, and tackled Stephen to the ground. Stephen lost his grip on the gun as it slid across the floor. He just managed to get his hands up and grab the savage’s wrists before she slit his throat with her long nails.

Stephen could barely manage the crazed woman’s almost superhuman strength as he felt her hot, rancid breath on his face. He registered his death in the young woman’s silver eyes as she opened her mouth to finish him off.

Stephen suddenly felt her arms go limp as Megan looked up, confused, while Meredith injected her with the rest of the tranquilizers. Megan fell to the side and rolled on her back, staring up at the older woman with a look of betrayal.

“I’m sorry,” Meredith whispered to the young girl, dropping the tranquiller gun with disgust. “I’m sorry, Megan,”

Stephen shakily rose to his feet and started searching for the gun.

“Leave it!” Meredith snapped, holding him in place. “You just leave it alone, Stephen… or so help me… I’ll inject you next!”

Stephen was shocked by the older woman’s anger, but it was enough to get his attention. He stood cautiously next to Meredith, staring down at the savage who tried to rise but kept falling to the floor. Within a few moments, Megan was unconscious.

Meredith turned and glared at him.

“I… I saw you die,” was all he could say. He pointed down at Megan. “I watched you enter that room. Megan attacked you without provocation… and… and before I could react… she was tearing you to pieces.” He looked around as more confusion started to settle in. “How did we even get back here? I was about to shoot her in the hospital room.”

Meredith ran a hand through her disheveled hair and took a deep breath. She nodded and put a hand on Stephen’s shoulders. “We never left this room, Stephen.”

“Come again?”

Meredith nearly fell into the closest chair, and finished, “What was Megan screaming about?”

Stephen shook his head. “She kept talking about her baby. Said I killed it… whatever that means. I just assumed she lost her fucking mind after she-”

“After you saw her kill me?” Meredith finished.

“I saw the blood… your blood… it was everywhere!” Stephen took a seat next to Meredith. “But that can’t be right because your sitting right here talking to me.”

Meredith let loose a nervous laugh. “Seems we all lost our minds. You saw one thing. Megan another. And what I saw… what I experienced… was nothing like what either of you experienced.”

Stephen’s eyes went wide. “Are we… are we going insane? Like the others? Clearly none of us left this room.”

“And yet we did,” Meredith said.

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t understand. Are we hallucinating or not?”

Meredith looked down in her lap. She was covering something with two shaky hands. “I was with you in that room when we found Megan. I remember you stood by the door while I went in to calm her down. And then I was… no longer in that room. I was in that horrible place where you and Logan found all those bodies.”

“You mean you hallucinated it, right?”

She shook her head and showed Stephen the object she kept concealed in her lap. It was the same object she had in her hand when she… woke… in the observation room, staring out the window. “Did I hallucinate this, Stephen?”

He looked at the object in her lap and then rubbed the side of his head. “How did you get that?”

Meredith stared down at the identification badge and shook her head. She read the name: Amelia Evans, Manager Project Oversight.

Stephen’s head was spinning. “What does this mean?”

Meredith turned the I.D. badge over and noticed the magnetic strip running along the bottom.

Don’t act so surprised, she scolded herself. There is another door, after all. And then she thought about Toby’s warning, hallucination or not.

We are going mad, but it’s Toby that’s pushing us there… on purpose.

Paradise.

Meredith was really starting to loathe that word.

“Oh, shit!”

Meredith looked up. “What? What’s the matter?”

Stephen looked alarmed. “Logan.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-5

Previous Episode 48-3

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-4: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

~~~

Stephen, Logan and Meredith sat at one of the larger tables in the observation room. What they could salvage from the file cabinets lay in a scattered pile in front of them. Megan remained a nervous mess by the entrance door, sitting in a shaking ball and staring around the room at demons only she could see. For the moment, she still appeared in control of her own ravenous demon.

They had searched through the files for an hour, looking for anything connected to this sub-level facility and hopefully provide them with a way out. What they uncovered instead disturbed them to the core as they stared into each other’s shocked faces, waiting for someone to speak first.

Stephen shook his head, placing files on the table. “These all pertain to psychological experiments, some dated back before The Change, but they were obviously preparing for it. There are various locations mentioned throughout Northeast Ohio, some specific, others concealed under clever project names only, where Mother had staged survival equipment and assigned ‘cell’ groups to each location to ‘continue’ observing the ‘post-apocalyptic populace’ in order to weed out something they refer to often as ‘candidates from fodder’… whatever that means. They were watching us before… and after… trying to deduce a pattern to the epidemic as if they believed The Change wasn’t as random as the rest of us thought.”

Meredith’s eyebrows shot up. “Are you saying that Mother was aware of The Change all along? That they were anticipating it, and… studying it’s effects?”

Stephen let out a tired laugh. “It would appear so. If nothing else, they knew something was coming and had prepared in advance to put it under their microscope as if they were excited about it.”

“Probably scared the hell out of them, too,” Logan added. “Assuming they weren’t immune just because they were part of some exclusive group that knew it was coming. I imagine they were as baffled as the rest of us when their Mother co-workers went all yellow-eyed, enraged, and turned on each other, just like the rest of the world.”

“And yet, they knew… or at least considered that possibility,” Stephen said. “Thus, their need to study survivors to find out what ‘type’ of person might be able to resist turning… if that was even an option. Like I said, it appears they didn’t believe it was random.” He picked up one file and started reading midway through a memorandum. “‘…Factory 10A locale in Madison, Ohio; cache of small arms—staged; escape route via small boat abandoned by river—staged; sacrificial scenario 5B5 in effect—surrounded by opposition. Unit is to observe ONLY and record results. Pay particular attention to group leadership, factions, and dissidents within core. Project success results: half of group terminated to achieve escape…’” Stephen looked a Meredith with a frown. “Remind you anything?”

“The marina,” she said, shaking her head.

“I remember that particular ghost story,” Logan said with a laugh. “Was a long winter beneath the ground, and by the end of it, most of us where caught up to speed on your original group’s travels. That story along the Grand River, and the many exaggerations of it, came up quite often.”

Meredith shook her head sadly, remembering Douglas and Ashley. “If only what happened back then was just a ghost story.”

“Well, what’s described here is not quite the same, but it might as well be,” Stephen said, tossing the file back down in disgust. “That probably explains Mother’s symbols on those hangar doors when we got there. These ‘cells’ needed a way to locate their assigned positions, while I’m sure the added ambiguity of their ‘test subjects’ finding those symbols gave them more insight into our collective ‘psyche’ for their notes.”

Meredith was shaking her head. “Of course. That would explain all those boats we found sabotaged along the river, providing us only one boat to find… and they wanted to know what we would ‘sacrifice’ to get it.”

“I guess the real question is, what qualifies us, in Mother’s eyes, as a ‘Candidate’ or not. What would’ve happened if we—You and I, Frank and Gina—had left the others behind in a panic to save our own asses… as intended by the scenario?” Stephen stared down at the table and finished, “I’ll admit it, I remember just wanting to leave when we reached that boat. I was terrified. If Gina hadn’t done the right thing and went back…”

“You don’t know how that would’ve played out, Stephen. I was just as terrified in that moment, as I’m sure Gina was, as well,” Meredith said. “She was the first to come to her senses and remind us, deep down, who we really were and what had to be done. Even Frank had a chance to abandon us… and he didn’t.”

Stephen smiled at the irony. “If it had been Charlie who made it to the boat instead of Frank, I imagine the experiment would’ve had a higher success rating.”

Meredith laughed. “Indeed. So, the question still remains: Were we the ‘Candidates’ in Mother’s eyes that day, and Charlie the ‘Fodder’… or was it the other way around?”

“I wasn’t there with you guys that day, and I can’t say where I would’ve landed on that ‘bail and fail’ experiment, but we can all attest to the quality of people who make up this monstrous group,” Logan said. “From what I know from the stories about your former group member, Charlie, I’m going to say that he, and others like him, are Mother’s ‘type’.”

Meredith and Stephen nodded in agreement.

Stephen stared down at the files. “I’m sure if we searched long enough, I’d find that damn marina experiment, and a dozen more that fit the bill. If not here, then in some other Mother lab.”

“And I’m sure you’d also find a file that explained why a machine was made a deity in that topside camp, and why good people did whatever it told them to do, fearing for their own lives… as intended,” Logan said.

Stephen never considered that. “You’re right. For all we know, that place, the compound we’ve been living in, and God-knows what else, have all been carefully designed experiments to assess the kind of people we are, and we’ve all been living in Mother’s elaborate rat maze ever since.”

“Like this place,” Logan added, staring around the suffocating room. “They could be watching us right now, assessing our decisions in another… experiment.”

This brought an uncomfortable silence as they all considered the mind-boggling ramifications.

Logan let out a heavy sigh, eager to change the subject as he shared his own discoveries. “Some of these files date back to the late 1950’s,” he said. “I can barely read those, but… clearly… this shadow group’s been around a lot longer than we ever deduced.” He picked up one old file and tossed it on the table. “Just dates and titles on these, the rest have faded away on old-ass paperwork that looks like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Stephen, you reminded me of something I found when you said, ‘rat maze’. This one’s the oldest I’ve found: Project: Labyrinth, 1955. There’s nothing left of it, but this appears to be the start of something… or the start of the end.”

Stephen and Meredith stared at the cryptic old file name and gave each other a worried glance.

Meredith looked away, straightened her back, and then folded her hands together on the table, attempting to compose herself. “That name,” she started. “That name came up in a file I was reading. Labyrinth Level 1. I believe it was referring to this place.” She stared toward the observation windows and finished, “Or rather, whatever’s in there. It wasn’t specific, but it was clear that something bad occurred… something they referred to as the anomaly… and it sounded like they were trying to contain it… whatever it is. There was mention of a quarantine.” She was speaking carefully, not wanting to reveal her association with the orphanage. The last thing the Wasteland Witch needed was another reason for her friends to glare at her through the eyes of suspicion based on partial truths. Meredith needed time to process… time they didn’t have.

“That might explain the airlock door with the warning in blood,” Logan said. “Sounds like whatever’s on the other side of that door was some Mother science project that went all to hell.”

Stephen picked up a file. “This one was interesting. Project: Blue Barrier. A lot of its written way over my head like a tech manual, what I could still read of it, but it reminded me of the buzzing sound we’ve been hearing. It makes references to some shielding that was put in place, electro-magnetic shielding, that they believed was successful in containing a ‘breach’. The rest is illegible.”

“Damn… sounds like something right out of a science fiction novel,” Logan said with a nervous laugh.

“You mean that it sounds as farfetched as the dead returning to life?” Stephen added.

“You got me there, little brother.” Logan scratched the top of his head. “If such a… force field… existed, I imagine you’d need one helluva power source to keep it running.”

Stephen raised his eyebrows and nodded. He looked to Meredith. “He’s hinting at the generators we found. It makes sense.”

“So, it’s clear that something happened down here, something that happened a long time ago,” Meredith said. “Something that Mother tapped into that was beyond their control, and perhaps they put up that barrier and started watching this… anomaly… from a distance?”

“Sounds logical,” Stephen nodded.

“Did your file mention anything that happened to these people before they backed off?” Logan asked.

Meredith nodded. “They essentially went insane.”

The big preacher laughed. “This is getting better by the minute. So… we’re basically sitting in a room that was closed off by that big old door we’ve been wondering about all winter, and it turns out that these Mother folks might have had a good reason to do so.”

Stephen was catching on. “That door itself might have been another barrier to keep people out of here.”

“Or to keep Mother’s dirty little secrets hidden,” Logan added. “Probably started off that way, until their little science project went awry.”

Meredith stood up and took a step toward the dark windows. “And now, we’re the only observers left.” She turned and finished. “This isn’t a project anymore… it’s a tomb.”

Stephen sat back and rubbed the standing hairs on his forearms. “I suddenly want to be down here a whole lot less. Thanks for that, Meredith.”

She smiled weakly.

“I haven’t had a moment to add up the math until now,” Logan said, “but… it occurs to me… little brother, just how on earth did you get that damn door open, anyway?”

Stephen shot Meredith a look and met her pleading expression. He quickly glanced away. “That’s not important right now. Ask me again later when I’ve had time to add up my own math,” he finished.

Meredith clearly heard Stephen’s veiled message directed at her.

“Fair enough,” Logan said. He shifted gears. “Not to give any of you another reason to hate being down here, but… if these geniuses, who managed to poke a hole into God-only-knows what, and then realizing their mistake, put up this fancy electro-do-hickey wall and this ‘band-aid facility’ to correct it, then why is there a room down the hall full of corpses after a mass suicide and blood all over the walls that looks like an earlier massacre occurred before that?”

Stephen’s eyes went wide. “Are you suggesting that there might be a… I don’t know… a leak? Something their barrier didn’t protect them from… and that it got to them in here?”

“You said it, little brother.”

“Suicides,” Meredith said. “You both mentioned that earlier.”

Stephen nodded. “I didn’t see the point in scaring you or Megan with the details. But when you found us, we’d just discovered what happened to the research group, or an earlier one, anyway, that was here. Apparently, they all decided to kill themselves.” Stephen nodded to Logan’s sidearm. “That’s when we found the gun.” He let Meredith deduce the rest.

Meredith shuddered. “That’s… that’s awful.”

Logan felt a chill seize him. “Yeah… it was a gruesome scene. One I won’t be able to shake from my mind for a while. We wanted to spare you both from that.” Logan looked toward the floor and finished. “I’ll never understand what would make anyone take their own life. I fear for their souls.”

Meredith covered her mouth and gasped.

“What is it?” Stephen said.

Meredith recalled the exact words from the Home file. “‘…extreme cases of mental and emotional distress, hallucinations, manic behavior, and psychotic episodes…’ That’s what the file I read described as symptoms! Do you think-”

Stephen and Logan glanced at each other. “She’s right,” Stephen said. “It fits.”

“Shit,” Logan hissed. He turned and started to pray under his breath.

Stephen turned to Meredith. “If this barrier wasn’t a hundred percent at containing the problem, then it’s possible that whatever happened, happened in here, too.”

Meredith nodded. “They all went crazy.”

Stephen could feel the walls of this tomb closing in on him. “We need to get out of here before what happened here… happens to us.” He stared down at the scattered files. “Unfortunately, I have no idea how to do that. We either head back up and let the Shadow Dead in… or we attempt the airlock.”

“Damn, little brother! That’s death either way!” Logan chimed in. “You saw that bloody message on the door! It was pretty plain! And then there’s that damn force field thingy!”

“Written by some madman who’d spent too much time down here,” Stephen added. “We don’t know enough yet about what’s down here. But what we do know is what’s guaranteed topside. We need to keep reading. There has to be something we’re missing, something in these files that will help us get out of here.”

“Agreed,” Meredith said, stepping back to the table.

Logan calmed down. “Okay. Why don’t you two keep reading. I’ll go explore again. Maybe there’s another exit we missed… or maybe there’s a damn map somewhere.”

Stephen nodded. “Be careful. Come back immediately if something… doesn’t feel right.”

Logan pointed to the holstered gun. “I’ve still got this, little brother. I’ll be okay.”

Stephen frowned. “You’re not hearing me, preacher. Remember the symptoms Meredith described?”

Logan’s face paled. He nodded. “I’m hearing you now.”

“And remember… they had a gun, too,” Meredith pointed out. “And we know how that turned out.”

The big preacher suddenly felt the weight of the handgun on his side. He pictured himself standing in that dark bloody room full of bodies, except this time, he was the one holding the weapon to his own head. Heavenly Father, please keep whatever madness this is far from us, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Logan walked over to the table, removed the gun belt, and placed it carefully on the table. “I think I feel safer without this,” he said. “You know, just in case.”

Meredith and Stephen stared at the gun, both wishing they’d never come across it.

Stephen picked up the gun belt, walked over to one of the file cabinets, placed it inside, and then closed it. He nodded to the big preacher. “Just in case,” he repeated.

Logan smiled and turned toward the generator room. “I’ll start back there. May God watch over us and protect our hearts and minds from the evil in this place,” he prayed, walking away.

Stephen glanced back toward Megan. The girl appeared to be sleeping again. He turned to Meredith. “You ready to delve into some more dark history?” he joked.

Meredith, remembering her own involvement with said ‘dark history’, shook her head. “Not really. Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?”

“For not calling me out about the door… and how I happened to know the exact phrase that would open it.”

Stephen smiled. “I was wondering about that, too. But right now, I just want to get out of here.”

“Logan’s already wary of me… he always has been. He’s more tolerant than the others, but I can still see the suspicion behind his eyes… especially since he doesn’t understand why I’ve kept Megan alive.”

“I used to be quite the history buff, Meredith,” Stephen said. “There was a time I’d find digging into some mysterious old files like this exhilarating, now I just find it frightening.”

Meredith laughed.

He looked her in the eyes, placed a hand on the older woman’s shoulder, and finished, “But one bit of history that doesn’t terrify me, is the history that you and I share together. And that means more to me than all the unanswered questions surrounding your own personal history. I know you’ll tell me what you can, when you can. And that’s enough for me.”

Meredith smiled. Her eyes started to well up. “Thank you for that, Stephen. Thank you for being… and for remaining my friend.”

“You got it,” he said. “Now, don’t get all emotional with me or you’ll get me started, too.”

She nodded with a laugh. “Deal.”

“Where do we even begin?” Stephen said, addressing the mess of files.

Meredith closed her eyes and confessed, “Start with anything you find related to orphan girls with extraordinary abilities. I believe Mother used them to try to contact the ‘anomaly’ that’s on the other side of this wall.”

Stephen gave her a surprised look.

She smiled. “I’m trying to tell you what I can, when I can, Stephen. You’ll just have to keep on trusting me through the rest of it—the things that I can’t tell you.”

Stephen gave her a long look, then nodded. “Okay. We’ll start there.”

~~~

Logan was half way across the grated mesh walkway when he noticed a metal ladder to his left, descending into a small opening in the generator room floor. He carefully climbed down the ladder, which took him below the mesh flooring, and that’s when he noticed the tool crib in between two large fuel tanks. The small caged area was dimly lit by one overhanging fluorescent lamp—only one of two long bulbs still functioned.

The preacher stepped between the two tanks for a better look. The cage door wasn’t locked. He opened the door and entered what appeared to be a narrow maintenance workstation. There were two long wooden tables covered with scattered power tools. A rack was fastened to the fencing above the tables, displaying an assortment of hand tools. At the center of one of the racks was a black and white diagram of the observation station.

Logan smiled like the devil. “Praise God,” he whispered, stepping over to the diagram. “Time to get out of here.” The diagram looked old and none of the rooms were labeled, but he clearly identified the half circle section, which resembled a smiley face of rooms with faded measurements and illegible notes drawn in pencil. He located the generator room by the equipment that was included in the diagram, which led him easily to the airlock door. Logan started searching for anything that might indicate another exit or door anywhere in the facility they might have overlooked. Aside from the stairwell that led them down here, he could find nothing. He looked above the circular section at an odd grouping of rooms that stood by themselves at the center of the diagram. There didn’t appear to be any hallways connecting where they were to this unknown section.

“Perhaps this thing’s outdated,” Logan mused out loud, rubbing his bearded chin. “This facility could have been unfinished when this map was made.” But he didn’t believe that was the case. Two things were clear from the diagram: This new wing of rooms was positioned right where the observation windows could see it, and the airlock door was the only access north of the circular wing that might lead to this unknown area. “Shit,” he said. “This isn’t good.” Whatever this mystery wing was, it was disconnected from the rest of the facility, and currently quarantined.

Logan was about to remove the diagram when he noticed an unusual feature just north of the mystery wing. He almost dismissed it as piping, or electrical cables, since there were several long lines that overlapped and ran across the north that seemed to indicate this, but the feature was shaped more like a ladder—a very long one.

Could be a way up to the surface, he thought. Makes sense. He took the diagram down and rolled it up. As he turned to head back up the ladder, he stopped as the light coming down through the mesh flooring shifted. Someone had just walked over his location.

“Stephen? Is that you?” he called up.

No answer.

One of the powerful generators kicked on as a second started to shut down, making the room temporarily very loud.

He can’t hear me down here, not over all that noise, Logan thought. A second more disturbing thought struck him then. We’re assuming we’re alone, but what if someone’s still down here? And what if that someone just hit a switch to shift those generators, so I couldn’t hear where he went? There’s lots of places someone could hide in, especially in this big-ass room.

Logan waited by the ladder for his heart to stop racing. He stared up through the grating, hoping to catch a glimpse of a friendly, familiar face.

The generators quieted down to a steady hum.

“Stephen? Meredith?” he called up.

Again, no answer.

~~~

“I think I found something.” Stephen was scanning through the latest files and working backward while Meredith started from the Labyrinth file and worked forward.

Meredith’s expression was an odd mixture of trepidation and curiosity. She knew there were answers in these files that shed light on her past, but she loathed what they might uncover as much as she needed those answers. The older woman sighed heavily. “What is it?”

“I found a more recent file dating back to this previous group… looks like random notes written by this Evans person at the tail end of their assignment. The odd thing is that she makes references to this Taven, even back then.” He stopped and shook his head at Meredith. “Just how long has this Taven been around? He was still here when Megan was abducted last fall… and yet… he was there, too.”

“What’s the file say?” Meredith was nervously rubbing her hands together. Stephen had informed her that Miss Evans was not only among the bodies in the back room, but that she appeared to be the one in charge of her group’s mass suicide. Whenever a file they found mentioned the stern former headmaster of the orphanage, Meredith expected her own name to also pop up in some diabolical fashion.

“Like I said,” Stephen continued, “just random thoughts scribbled down on the blank pages at the back of some outdated memorandum about station communication procedures. I almost overlooked them. She’s got Taven’s name underlined several times… that’s how I spotted it.” Stephen started scanning the pages again. He read a few excerpts out loud:

… No one understands what happened to the man. Since returning from Labyrinth Level 1, not only has Taven’s physical manifestations eluded our top scientists, but something is clearly happening within him, as well. Perhaps he wasn’t completely immune to the affects below and is now finally showing signs consistent with the paranoia and delusional behaviors that have infected the rest of us. Taven continues to be obsessed with returning to what he calls, ‘Paradise’. He believes the children are the key and that the anomaly feeds upon their essence… whatever that means. Taven believes we should broaden our scope and look beyond the girls with special abilities, and that we should be seeking to sample all children below the age of puberty. Taven’s research below with the girls from Project: Home has proved disastrous, and he gives me no reason to believe that any other children would make a difference. On a personal note. The man… if you can still call him that… appears to have no clear objective with the children other than wanting to sacrifice them to the anomaly. I am still bewildered that Mother continues to back his insanity, and me and my staff must tread cautiously around him. I fear what the man would do if he was put in charge of this place… I fear for the children… TAVEN IS DANGEROUS!!!

… Taven has become increasingly persistent about returning to Labyrinth Level 1. Several times, he was stopped while attempting to breach the airlock door and disregarding the quarantine. He insists that it’s safe to return to the ground level facility, but manic symptoms continue to spread throughout my entire staff, proving him wrong. Taven refuses to heed all warnings and I fear we may need to lock him up for our own safety, while we still possess the mental facilities to handle him…

… TAVEN IS A LUNATIC. I can’t prove it, but I believe he’s found a way to sabotage the shield. I think he’s trying to kill us all…

…Haven’t seen him. Don’t care. DON’T WANT TO LIVE LIKE THIS! Can’t control my team. Can’t control myself. I want to go below… and I know… that’s… death. But… I can’t stop thinking about it! He did this! TAVEN DID THIS! I don’t know how… or why… but that monster has pushed us… pushed us all to this point. We’re going to break soon… unless… unless I put an end to it. I’m going to get the gun. I’ve talked to several staff members, the ones who haven’t gone rogue or turned into savages, and they agree with me. It’s the only way to beat this… to end this… I haven’t seen him. I WANT TO SHOOT THAT FUCKER IN THE FACE! I… I think he knows what’s coming. Taven’s hiding. He’s letting the madness do his dirty work. Then… once we’re all gone… he’ll breach the airlock door… and feed the anomaly with the blood of all the children…

Stephen stopped reading and put the file down. He started rubbing his arms. “Did it just get colder in here?”

Meredith let out a nervous laugh. “No, I felt it, too. Evan’s was starting to lose it in the end. They all were. And whatever happened here, this Taven seems to be at the heart of it all.”

Stephen’s eyes went wide as he recalled something. “Do you remember Tony telling us about how the Shadow Dead attacked the topside camp and took all the children?”

Meredith frowned. She could see where he was headed. “If you’re right, Stephen, then Taven’s been feeding whatever lives behind the glass for quite some time. No one’s ever been able to figure out where all the children disappeared to. It was assumed the Shadow Dead ate them. Of course, we know better now. But back then, they thought the Shadow Dead were monsters.”

“They still are,” Stephen spat. “If the Shadow Dead stole the children, then brought them back here through the waterfall access, then the rest can be deduced.”

Meredith nodded. “They brought them to Taven… and he took them to Paradise.”

Stephen sighed. “Looks like this infected freak did a lot of damage. He caused the breach that made his old team crazy, and when he was able to call the shots, he sacrificed a bunch of frightened kids to the darkness.”

“Let’s not forget that this infected animal also abducted pregnant women.” Meredith turned to look at Megan and froze. “Stephen!”

Stephen turned toward the observation room entrance.

Megan was gone.

~~~

Next Episode 48-4

Previous Episode 48-2

~~~

If you’re enjoying Don’t Feed The Dark so far, please consider voting for it on Top Web Fiction and Top Site List by clicking the links below. This will help increase its visibility and draw in more potential readers. No registration is required. Thanks for your support and for reading :)

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-3: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

~~~

There was only one room on the eastern wing of the observation facility. Four enormous industrial-sized generators filled the large space. A narrow mesh walkway ran between them, two generators on each side, as Stephen and Logan stood at the center of the walkway and marveled at the large, ten-foot tall machines. They were surprisingly quiet and ran automatically, switching on some sort of timed relay that always left two generators running while the other two cooled down and went into standby mode. This room was lit up better than all the rest with an abundance of overhead lighting, half of which still worked.

“Very efficient set up,” Stephen said. He looked down through the mesh grating where numerous large fuel tanks stood lined up across the lower floor with a large network of fuel hoses running up through the floor, feeding the massive generators.

“Very expensive,” Logan added. “Whoever these people are, they were planning for the long haul. There’s probably enough juice in this room to last the next twenty years.”

“And now we know why they wanted their damn compound back,” Stephen said, but wasn’t quite convinced.

Logan nodded and then stared ahead toward the end of the walkway. “Gee… look. Another door.”

“Hopefully an exit,” Stephen said, urging them forward.

Logan kept a nervous hand on the gun holstered at his side.

The last door exited the large generator room, leading them into a small dark hallway that ended abruptly before a tall airlock door.

“Shit,” Stephen hissed. “I don’t like the looks of this… at all.”

The small hallway walls looked like the western wing. There were blood stains smeared across the walls and floor, but it was the airlock door that filled them both with dread.

In thick black blood was the infamous three-pronged symbol of Mother, hastily scrawled down the front of the door. Just beneath it, in bold, erratic smears, were the words:

EVERYTHING’S DEAD IN PARADISE!

“‘Paradise’? Didn’t Megan say that?” Logan said.

“Yes,” Stephen nodded. “She told us that one of her abductors called the place behind the windows… Paradise.”

“Taven!” Logan snapped his fingers. “That’s the infected one she was going on about. He called it that.”

“Maybe this blood is his?” Stephen cringed, stepping away from the airlock door.

“What do you suppose it means?” Logan whispered.

Stephen was staring at a small window built into the door the size of a garage door window. He slowly approached it and peered through the thick glass. The airlock was black. “No lights in there,” he said. He put his hands on the small wheel that operated the door and felt a familiar vibration, but much more intense. He pulled his hands away and then turned his ear toward the window. “I can hear it again… those vibrations. Just like at the observation windows.”

“Can you see behind the airlock itself? Should be a secondary door with another window.”

“Nothing. It’s all black.” Stephen stepped back to Logan. “I suspect this door leads directly into the heart of this place.”

“You mean… whatever these freaks are observing from the main room, right?”

Stephen nodded.

Logan nodded toward the bloody message. “That’s a damn warning to stay the hell out of there. Might be a good reason, too.”

“That could also be our only way out of here,” Stephen added.

“We should head back and check out the cabinets. Maybe there’s something in there that can explain all this before we blindly stumble into whatever madness seized this place.”

“Agreed,” Stephen said. “Maybe we’ll find some blueprints or a map, if nothing else.”

Logan nodded and turned, eager to be away from the airlock door.

Stephen started to follow, then stopped.

Logan turned. “What is it, little brother?”

“I need five minutes here to wrap my head around that message. You head back, make sure Meredith and Megan are okay.”

“I should wait with you,” Logan said.

“I’ll be okay… really. I’ll be right behind you in a minute or two.”

Logan gave him a questioning look, then glanced back at the airlock door. He shrugged his shoulders and turned. “I don’t see you in four minutes, I’m coming right back.”

“Fair enough.”

Logan departed.

Stephen waited thirty seconds, his back turned toward the airlock door, then he took a deep breath, closed his weary eyes, and said, “I know you’re here. I know where you hide now so you might as well come out… Nicole… or whatever you really are.”

~~~

Meredith checked on Megan. The young woman still refused to leave the corner of the large observation room. Megan had wrapped her arms around her folded up legs, resting her forehead on her knees. Meredith was relieved that Megan was breathing normally. She appeared to be sleeping.

Poor thing, she thought. Of all the amped-up emotions I’ve seen this girl suffer through—the rage, the sadness, the pain—I’ve never seen her with such intense fear before. It’s… unsettling. Meredith scanned the quiet ruins of the observation room and finished, Perhaps, Megan is right to be afraid… and we should all take note of it.

Meredith shook her troubled thoughts away and focused on one of the large file cabinets. She walked over to the dusty cabinet and pulled the sluggish middle drawer open. The drawer was full of paperwork. There were several manila folders with small divider tabs, indicating some organizational system.

Let’s see what manner of evil has been happening down here, aside from the abduction of pregnant girls. Meredith squinted her eyes to read the small tabs, which were barely legible. Many of them had blurred dates. Some were listed with titles. Where do I even start?

The answer struck her in the face as her eyes went wide and her heart skipped. She focused on one tab near the back of the file cabinet.

“No,” she whispered, taking a step back from the cabinet as if it were on fire. She placed her shaking hands over her mouth.

The tab read:

PROJECT: HOME (1965 – 1975)

“That’s just a coincidence,” Meredith said. “It’s a common word. They could be talking about anything.” But she knew. Deep down, Meredith knew that this file could only mean one thing. Along with the familiar dates and the fact that she already knew that Mother was behind the orphanage all along…

“That’s what they called the place,” she whispered. “They called it ‘Home’.”

Meredith took a deep breath, returned to the file cabinet, and removed the large file from the drawer. She walked over to the closest table and set the file down carefully.

There was a label printed on the front of the folder adding additional information. Meredith just stared at it, her heart now racing within her chest.

The label confirmed her fears:

PROJECT: HOME (1965 – 1975)
STATUS: TERMINATED
APPROVED BY: A. EVANS, MPO

The name, A. Evans, could only mean Miss Evans, the big woman who ran the orphanage. But… ‘Terminated’? She thought. What does that even mean?

Meredith reluctantly opened the file revealing a stack of aged, but still preserved memorandums. At the top of each segment, some stapled together, was a date printed beside the three-pronged symbol of Mother in the upper left-hand corner. On the very next line was the subject title of the project. Beneath, was a long black line separating the business-looking, yet, vague, originator from the subject content.

Meredith started scanning the very first page, which was dated: March 15, 1965. Several sentences gave her pause:

…As you all know, since discovery of the first anomaly, several attempts have been made to stabilize the boundary, and have failed…

…Project Home will introduce female test subjects, with unusual mental perception, to the entity, in order to establish contact…

…All previous attempts to secure Labyrinth Level 1 have failed, resulting in extreme cases of mental and emotional distress, hallucinations, manic behavior, and psychotic episodes…

…It is our belief that these extraordinary test subjects can withstand the physical stress associated with prolonged exposure to the anomaly, and it is highly believed that communication may be established through a ‘psychic’ link between the entity and the girls…

…Due to the increased number of deaths, Labyrinth Level 1 remains a quarantined area. All personal are advised to stay clear of the lower level and remain behind all electromagnetic barriers for their own safety…

Meredith stopped reading. She walked over to one of the large windows. She could hear the faint buzz get a little louder. She stared out into the darkness beyond, her thoughts locked within the past. “Finch,” she said. “He tried to tell me about the other girls, the ones who were at the orphanage long before I arrived. He’d never said where they went… only that none of them ever came back.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “This… this was where they went. My God! They’ve been sending children down into this dark place for years! This… ‘anomaly’ place that makes people go… insane!”

And then she realized who, or what, the entity was.

Toby. It had to be!

She immediately stepped away from the large window, sensing that something might reach in from the darkness, like a monstrous hand made of black madness, and pull her down there, into this… Labyrinth.

“What about the others?” She returned to the file. “After… after I was…” She struggled to piece the fragments of her memory together.

Elsewhere.

She stopped. The strange word struck her mind like a crowbar, attempting to knock the truth loose. All she knew was that she’d been at the orphanage… discovered the dolls, and Toby… and then…

Elsewhere.

And then… she’d become someone else.

Meredith shook the disturbing thoughts away. She needed to know what had happened to those girls. She started frantically flipping through the files, toward the back, until she reached the last memorandum dated: January 23, 1975.

The final memo was surprisingly brief. She started reading:

After test subject Clementine eliminated all remaining female subjects and Michael Finch, she was sedated and incarcerated in-house to avoid outside criminal investigation. Considered ‘weaponized’ test subject and extremely unstable at present time. Further study pending.

Evacuation and cleansing of the Home facility is complete. Primary Subject has been safely relocated to off-shore operations.

Effective immediately: Amelia Evans, reassigned to Labyrinth Level 1 location as Manager Project Oversight.

Dr. Clara Forester reassigned to off-shore operations.

Project Home status: TERMINATED.

Meredith dropped the file and stepped back. “Oh, no,” she whispered. She hadn’t thought about her old friend, Clementine in a long, long time. “I knew she was dangerous… they all did.” Meredith balled her hands in frustration as she closed her eyes to fight off pointless tears. She tried to picture the girls’ faces, but it had been a lifetime ago. She did remember Finch. “He was always kind to me.” Meredith wiped the tears away. “He deserved better than that.” Her shoulders fell as Meredith found the nearest chair and sat down. She felt faint. “If there’s any justice in this world… Clem perished in one of Mother’s rat cages.” She immediately regretted her words, not wanting anyone—even Clementine—to suffer in some horrendous experiment.

“Too much… too much death,” Megan said from behind her, causing Meredith to jump.

The older woman turned. Megan was standing now, nervously pacing back and forth in front of the entrance door. She kept staring through a tangle of knotted long hair toward the western wing where Meredith had found Stephen and Logan. “What’s the matter, honey? Are you okay?”

Megan didn’t seem to hear her. She continued to pace anxiously is if expecting a horde of the dead to come storming into the room. “I can… I can smell it… I can smell all that death,” she said. “So much violence and blood. This place is bad! Rotten!”

Meredith dared a few steps toward the girl. She raised her hands. “Just stay calm, Megan. Don’t let this bother you. We’ll be out of here soon enough.”

Megan stopped and stared at her, registering the older woman for the first time since waking back up. “Meredith?”

“Yes. I’m here.”

Megan glanced once more toward the left and then lowered her head. “It’s still… it’s still here, Meredith,” she said.

“What is?”

Megan looked up. “The violence… the madness… the blood. It… killed them all—murdered their minds!”

Meredith was getting spooked by the young woman’s words. She, too, glanced toward the western wing door and then tried to ignore it. “Can you… sense what happened here, Megan?”

“I can… I can feel it. It’s like a poison seeping in through the cracks. We’re not safe here, Meredith! The madness… it’s all around us!”

Meredith’s face went grave. “I don’t understand, honey. How can you know that? This place, and everyone in it, is either long dead, or gone.”

Megan pointed a shaky hand toward the observation windows behind Meredith. “It came from in there! The sickness! They thought they were safe in here… but they weren’t! They tried to keep all the death out… but they failed! It’s like… It’s like I can taste it… in the air!”

Meredith turned back toward the observation windows. She can sense something in this place. Part of her belongs to it—death—and she can sense it as something tangible!

Meredith turned back to Megan.

The girl resumed pacing. She nodded at Meredith. “I’m not… I’m not crazy! It’s coming for us… just like it came for them.”

“Who, Megan?”

“Death!”

~~~

Stephen gave the airlock door one last glance. ‘She’ would know what’s behind that damn door… I’m sure of it, he thought. Nicole was the one who reminded me of the mystery door, right in the middle of all that chaos. Stephen looked around at the empty room, then shook his head with a laugh. “That figures. Now that I really know who you are—or rather, who you’re not—now, you’re too chicken shit to show yourself? All that bullshit about how you loved me and needed me to understand you and accept you for who you are—was it all just a lie?” Stephen turned toward the generator room door.

“I only wanted you to be safe, Stephen.”

He stopped, refusing to turn around at the contemptuous sounding voice.

“You were so determined to die for all those leeches that I almost considered letting you go… almost. But I couldn’t just stand by and let you die… so… I reminded you of the door into this place.”

Stephen turned around. He expected to find the hideous one-eyed version of the girl he’d killed—expected this monster to stab at him with another round of the guilt it had been manipulating him with since the beginning. What he found instead was the brown-haired young woman with her hair tied back in a tight braid, wearing what appeared to be a black funeral dress. She stood directly in front of the airlock door.

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?” Stephen said, waving his arm toward her attire. “Is this supposed to be symbolic of the death of our love?” he said with a sneer.

Nicole’s face was a pale unreadable stone. She took him in for a moment, then smiled faintly. “I missed you, Stephen. Even when you’re pissed at me… even when you’re cruel to me… it’s still better than being away from you.”

“Please… spare me the bullshit. I didn’t ask for you, so we could continue this sick game of yours. Let’s just get this over with. You are not Nicole… and whatever we had together… is finished.”

Nicole appeared unaffected by his cold words. She took one step toward him, causing Stephen to step back. “It doesn’t have to be this way, my love. Regardless of what you think you know… what we have is real.”

“If you’re referring to the part about you… possessing… my body and poisoning all those grieving people with your words, making them take their own lives—then, yes, I wholeheartedly agree with you. That shit’s as real as it gets!”

Nicole sighed. “You don’t understand, my love.”

“Stop calling me that.”

“You don’t understand. Just because you read my notebook doesn’t mean you’re seeing the whole picture.”

“What the hell does that even mean?”

“What I’m trying to say… Stephen… is that a part of me is… very sick.”

“You’ve got that right.”

“Before I met you, I was in a very cold and dismal place. A place where the darkness rules everything and… well… then I got away—I escaped. But it wasn’t until I discovered you and your pain and suffering, that I realized I could be so much more than what I was. You were full of darkness, Stephen. A darkness that I understood. Your remorse for what you’d done to that girl was consuming you. So, I tapped into that pain, felt the full brunt of it with you, until I found a way to save us both.”

“What are you saying? What the hell are you?”

Nicole smiled. “I’m saying, Stephen, that I was that darkness. That’s the only way I can explain it that will make sense to you. You needed Nicole to be alive again. And I needed you to need me… to give us both a new purpose. We created something beautiful together… something more than I ever anticipated. I did not know that I was capable of love… until you loved me.”

Stephen turned away. “Enough! This is all bullshit! You pretended to be a dead girl to play me… to suck me dry like some emotional fucking vampire! And when that wasn’t enough, you invaded my flesh… and made me do God-only-knows what, to the people I care about!”

“That’s not true,” Nicole defended. “I really do love you.”

“You said it yourself, creature. You’re nothing but darkness! You stole the memory and the shape of a dead young woman and wore her like a fucking Halloween costume!”

Nicole’s face started to change. Stephen could see a glimmer of fire behind this thing’s calm exterior.

“I can see that you’re very upset right now, my… Stephen. I get that. I should’ve been more truthful with you from the start.”

“‘More truthful’? You’re fucking kidding me, right?”

Nicole took a deep breath. “If you will allow me, after you’ve calmed down, I will try to explain myself better. Just know that the woman you see before you, right now, is the woman I’m desperately trying to hold on to—for both of our sakes. That’s been the case since the beginning.”

“That’s a load of-”

“But also know,” Nicole interrupted, with a more forceful tone, “that the other part of me, the darker part, has always been trying to reclaim me… and that darkness wants you, your friends, and this entire world to go up in flames. So, please… allow me to remain with you… like this… as Nicole.” Her face became dark. “The alternative would be… devasting for all of us.”

“Is that a threat?” Stephen took another step back.

“You’ve read some of the words in my notebook, Stephen. Please, read them again… very carefully.”

“What the hell makes you think I kept that damn thing?” Stephen shifted uncomfortably.

Nicole laughed lightly. “I know you, Stephen. I know you ripped those pages out of my notebook, folded them up, and put them in your back pocket.”

He averted his eyes. “For all I know, you possessed me and made me do that, so you could play this game with me now.”

Nicole let that go. She shifted gears, understanding their time was short. She couldn’t risk being seen by the preacher… again. “Why did you call for me?”

Stephen looked back toward the generator door, then back at Nicole. “If you want us to talk again, then you need to prove that I can trust you,” Stephen said.

He could see the glimmer of hope appear in the monster’s eyes.

“Yes, Stephen. I completely understand that. I want you to trust me again… I want… I want what we had. Is that possible?”

“Maybe,” Stephen lied. “But you have to stop lying to me… and the possession shit has to end. I’ll kill myself before I let you do that to me again!”

She was quick to nod. “Of course. And… I’m so very sorry… for everything I’ve done. In time, I hope I can explain my actions… and that you can forgive me.”

Stephen ignored this. Logan would be back any minute. “You said you wanted to save me. Is that the only reason you led me down here?”

Nicole frowned and turned to face the airlock door. “You want to know what’s beyond… in the darkness,” she said. Without turning to meet his gaze, she sadly answered, “Death, Stephen. That’s all there is beyond this door.”

“Explain that to me.”

She gazed into his eyes for a silent eternity before answering.

For a moment, Stephen believed he saw actual fear in this creature’s face.

“Madness, Stephen. That’s what you’ll find if you go beyond this door. Others have tried… and failed.”

“Could you be more specific?”

She shook her head. “No. I can’t. I brought you down here to spare you from the Shadow Dead slaughter above. But know this, what lies beyond this door is much worse than what you faced up there.”

“It might be our only way out of here,” Stephen reasoned. “Unless you know another way?”

Nicole said nothing.

Logan was returning.

Stephen pushed. “We’re almost out of time. Is there anything… anything at all you can tell me that will help us?”

“I don’t know, Stephen. But your big preacher friend had the right idea. This place has a history. You used to be a teacher. Don’t we read history to learn from others’ mistakes?”

Stephen lowered his head, pinching the bridge of his nose. He was more exhausted than he realized. “Yes, but-”

By the time he looked back up, Nicole was already gone.

A moment later, Logan stepped through the generator room door. “Time’s up, little brother,” he said. “You started to make me worry. Everything alright?”

Stephen laughed. “Sure.”

“I could’ve sworn I heard you talking to someone right before I came in.”

“That was me talking to ghosts,” Stephen said. “In case you haven’t noticed, this new world of ours is full of them.” He added a wink.

Logan laughed. “Well, speaking of ghosts, we started digging through the archives. You should hear what the ghosts of this place have to say… unless you haven’t finished talking to your airlock ghost, yet.” The big preacher bumped him lightly in the shoulder.

Stephen looked back at the airlock. He could still picture Nicole standing there. “No… I think I’m done here.”

“What did your ghost have to say?” Logan teased.

Stephen shook his head. “Not much… not anything that can help us presently, anyway.”

“That’s too bad. Ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Stephen said. “Hey, what’s the old expression about the devil? My mind’s burnt toast right now.”

“You mean, ‘Dealing with the Devil’?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Stephen said, still thinking about Nicole.

“Why do you ask, little brother?”

Stephen smiled. “I was just wondering if that ever turns out to be a good thing.”

Logan gave him a puzzled glance, but Stephen offered nothing. The big preacher sighed and said, “I guess it depends on who made out in the deal… but no matter what… there’s always a price.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-3

Previous Episode 48-1

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-2: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

~~~

TWENTY-FIVE DAYS AGO.
NIGHT OF THE SHADOW DEAD ATTACK:

…Stephen had placed his rifle in the door to slow it down while he continued to push against it.

April and the four defenders still standing had just run out of bullets. They were getting slaughtered, but continued to stand in between the enemy and the door.

And then Cooper and Meredith were there.

“Go, Doc!” Stephen yelled. “Get her inside!”

Meredith was regaining consciousness as Cooper got her to her feet and pushed her through the doorway. She turned, disoriented, as Coop was helping Stephen and April hold the line with whatever empty guns were available, now turned into blunt weapons.

And then Logan was there. The big man turned back. Megan had stopped once more to challenge the relentless Shadow Dead, buying them precious seconds.

“Everyone fall back to the door… right now!” Stephen commanded. The rifle wedged within the door had just snapped.

Stephen turned and pushed Logan through the doorway before he could object. He looked for Cooper. The old doctor was calling out to Megan, reaching into his small first-aid pack. Stephen attempted to grab Coop’s arm, but someone pushed him through the doorway, instead. He turned and saw the sixteen-year-old fighter, April Baxter. “You have to live!” she reminded him.

A steel claw penetrated her back and exited her chest.

Stephen reached out for her hand but a monster pulled her back into the darkness. “No!” he shouted, as the door continued to close.

“Where’s… where’s Coop? Megan?” Meredith was frantic. She was about to head back out into the hall but Logan held her back.

And then Coop was there, with Megan. He shoved her through the doorway… barely. “It’s alright, I sedated her!” he said.

Meredith grabbed Megan’s arm and sat her down before she passed out.

The old doctor attempted to slip through the crack in the door, but couldn’t fit.

“Coop!” Meredith screamed.

Coop quickly shoved his pack through the door.

“No! No! NO! Logan! Help me!” Stephen pulled on the door to try to get it open. Logan was there, pulling with all he had left.

But the door continued to close.

Meredith was there.

There was just enough time for Coop to reach his hand inside and embrace hers. “It’s alright. Sorry. I had to go get her. You know I did.”

Meredith was nodding through tears. “You did good, my love. You did good.”

Coop let go of her hand and pulled it away.

The door was about to close.

“I love you, Meredith Montgomery. I wouldn’t change a thing. You made me a better man.”

“I love you,” she said, watching his face slip away.

Something tore him away from the door.

“Coop!” she yelled.

The door shut, cutting off the doctor’s screams.

Logan and Stephen collapsed before the door.

“I’ll open it back up!” Stephen said. “I’ll say the magic words again and open it and then we can get Coop and April and-”

Logan put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “You know we can’t do that, little brother. They’ll get in.”

Stephen’s face was a mixture of shame and anger. He slammed his hands on the door and screamed in frustration.

Meredith moved over to Megan, collapsed, and then placed the sedated woman’s head in her lap. She gently stroked Megan’s hair and stared off into a lonely place.

“Meredith, I’m so very sorry…” Logan knew all words were inadequate.

She ignored his words and continued to stroke Megan’s hair.

Stephen couldn’t look at her… couldn’t stand himself.

Get it together, Eddington. You can hate yourself later. Stephen wiped the tears from his face and turned toward the source of the pulsating red light, coming from the bottom of a long flight of concrete steps. They were sitting on a large landing surrounded by what looked like cavern walls and a ceiling.

“So… I guess we’re headed down there,” Logan said. “Are you okay, little brother?”

“I have to be,” he said.

“What do you think is down there?”

Stephen looked at the preacher and then back down the steps. “Hell,” was all he said…

~~~

…A faint, pulsating red light continued to momentarily dispel the shadows on the small landing before the ominous steel door, which now separated three exhausted survivors and one sedated half-monster from the nightmare carnage on the other side.

Stephen Eddington fell back against the stone wall and slid down to his ass, his legs cramping up after the adrenaline coursing through his body had finally relented. He concentrated on taking deep breaths to keep from throwing up all over the landing or shouting out in anger and frustration into the near dark space.

The big preacher collapsed to his knees beside him. Logan McCalister looked like he’d fought the Devil, himself, and had barely survived the encounter. He discarded his empty weapon, stared up at the low rock ceiling and started whispering to his God.

Stephen glanced at Meredith. She was still sitting against the opposite stone wall, cradling Megan’s head in her lap and staring off into oblivion. To him, she looked like a woman who had just pulled the plug from the wall, disconnecting her emotions before they overloaded her heart and mind. She was obviously in shock. Stephen looked away, grateful that he could not clearly see the grief-stricken older woman’s face in the faint light.

He turned his attention toward the concrete stairs, toward the source of the pulsating light that originated from somewhere down a narrow shaft in the rock that appeared to descend endlessly.

“We need to move,” he finally said, wanting to be anywhere but on that landing. He gazed into preacher’s anxious face. “We… we should take a few minutes to… to collect ourselves and then head down there.”

Logan turned toward the stairs. “I’m not afraid to admit it, little brother. The thought of going down into that red-lit hole terrifies me.”

“Me, too,” Stephen said. “But it’s all we have.” He glanced over at Meredith and then leaned in toward the preacher and whispered, “We need to get Meredith the hell away from that awful door. She doesn’t look good.”

“Agreed, little brother. None of us are looking good at the moment.” He peered at the two women and then back at Stephen. “Maybe we should let them rest here, head down, and make sure it’s safe first?”

Stephen nodded. “I’ll go talk to Meredith and let her know. Megan should be out for a little while.”

“About that,” Logan said. “What are we going to do about the girl? You know… when she wakes up?”

Stephen saw the concern in the preacher’s face. “Meredith can keep her together if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Logan’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes… assuming Meredith is still with us. As you said, she’s not fairing too well… and understandably so.”

Stephen ran a hand through his hair. “We can still sedate her again if it comes to that.”

“And when the sedatives run out, little brother?”

Stephen let out a defeated laugh. “I don’t know, Logan. Let’s just take this one step at a time. We’ll figure out the rest if we don’t meet a horrible end at the bottom of those steps first.”

Logan smiled. “When you put it like that, the rest of our problems don’t seem so bad.”

“Help me up.”

The preacher sluggishly got to his feet and then offered Stephen a hand, pulling him to his feet.

Stephen used the wall to steady himself. “We definitely need some rest. We’re not going to get too far like this.”

“Agreed.” Logan let out a big yawn. “Sorry.”

Stephen smiled and then walked over to Meredith. He crouched down in front of her. “Meredith?”

The older woman was staring past him.

“Meredith? It’s me… Stephen.”

At last, the tired woman met his gaze. She did not offer her usual warm smile or a greeting of any kind. She simply stared at him as if living had suddenly lost all flavor.

“I know you’re hurting, Meredith, we all are.” Stephen fidgeted. “Logan and I are going to check this place out. We need you to keep an eye on Megan… okay?”

Meredith continued to stare.

“Just… get some rest. If you have any trouble, call for us. We’ll head right back up… okay?”

Meredith looked away.

Damn, I’ve never seen her like this, Stephen thought. “Okay… well… just sit tight. We’ll be back.” Stephen met Logan near the top of the stairs. “She’s in trouble.”

Logan nodded. “Nothing we can do for her here, little brother. Let’s see what the good Lord’s provided for us down there in that red-lit madness.”

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t think your God’s been down here, my friend.”

They descended the concrete stairs and disappeared into the pulsating darkness.

~~~

Meredith’s body was on the verge of shutting down. The intense grief she was experiencing after just watching her fiancé ripped away, inches from relative safety, was too much. She was mentally and physical drained and all she wanted to do was disappear into the wall of this strange dark place.

The pulsating red continued to light up the landing, but Meredith was oblivious to it, and just about everything else. She remembered Stephen talking to her briefly before wandering away into the darkness. What had he said? She struggled to remember. She struggled to care. The older woman lowered her head into her hands and let the tears flow–but just a little. If she allowed the pain complete release, Meredith would be overwhelmed by it…

You must watch out for her, Meredith.

That voice, she thought. I know that voice.

Be strong. She needs you. You’ve worked too hard to bring her back just to give up now.

Meredith opened her eyes. She peered in front of her into the darkness, hoping to hear the source of that warm, loving voice. “Coop?” she whispered.

But Cooper was dead… as were so many others.

You’re all she has now, Meredith. Coop again. I was wrong about her. You could see it all along. You always knew that Megan could come back. Damn… you won me over… and I love that the most about you.

Meredith smiled at the comforting voice. She knew she was just imagining it, but she didn’t care. She missed him and needed him in this moment. “And I love you,” she said. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m sorry I left you on the other side of that door. I should be over there with you now.” She lowered her head as another wave of grief threatened to destroy her.

No, you don’t, Coop said. You don’t get to give up on me now. Megan needs you. And I need you to make my death worth all that trouble in getting her inside that damn door!

She raised her head.

Promise me. Promise me you’ll keep fighting the good fight, Meredith. I’ll be with you all the way… but you can’t give up. You can’t ever give up.

“But I’m… I’m tired, Coop,” she whispered. “So… darn… tired. I’ve got nothing left.”

You’ve still got me, but don’t you dare start calling me Casper. And you’ve got Megan. Don’t leave the girl alone in this messed up world. You and I, we’re the only ones who haven’t given up on her.

Meredith nodded. “You’re right.”

Of course, I’m right!

Meredith laughed lightly.

There we go. Now, get it together, and get Megan the hell away from this place. Okay?

“Okay, Coop. I… I will.” Meredith wiped the tears from her face. She waited a moment more… but Cooper was gone.

Something shifted from Meredith’s left. She turned as the light went out again.

“Megan?”

The red light lit up Megan’s face, making her dark eyes seem demonic. The young half-dead woman was breathing rapidly, less than two feet from where Meredith sat.

Meredith frowned as the light went out again. The drugs have already worn off, she thought with surprising detachment. Meredith wasn’t frightened of the savage in the dark. Perhaps if she still cared enough about her existence she would be. But right now, it didn’t matter.

The red light flashed back on.

Megan was now sitting directly in front of the older woman, leaning in until their faces nearly touched. She thought to whisper her name, but let her shoulders hang instead. She can kill me now. I really don’t care. Meredith waited for Megan to devour her in the darkness.

~~~

Surprisingly, the stairs did have an end as a narrow corridor appeared at the bottom, leading toward an open doorway where the pulsating light originated. As Stephen and Logan crept forward, they could now hear a faint audible buzz that accompanied the pulsating light.

“Sounds like an alarm,” Logan offered. “Maybe we tripped it when we opened the main door at the landing?”

Stephen nodded. He squinted his eyes trying to make out anything in the next room, but it was too dark. “Be ready for anything,” he whispered. Not that it matters, he thought to himself. There’s nothing we could do in the shape we’re in to defend ourselves.

Logan had already retrieved their only weapon. He prayed.

They entered the doorway together and stopped just inside a large, long room that curved to their left and right in the shape of a half-circle. In between the pulses of light, they took in the room. Like the compound control room, there was a long console full of various ancient computers, monitors, dials, levers and buttons. Just above the console was a row of large windows with metallic shutters covering them. Scattered about the room were several desks and tables pushed together like workstations. Some were littered with old lab equipment, others were dominated by bulky computer monitors. Several rotating chairs were either pushed behind the desks or left laying on their sides as if whoever once used this place evacuated in a hurry. There were several old file cabinets spread out around the room.

“Whatever this place was,” Stephen whispered, staring at discarded yellow paper spread across a dusty linoleum tiled floor, “it looks like it hasn’t been used in years.”

Logan sneezed in agreement as the stale smelling room struck his senses. “Laboratory?”

“Maybe,” Stephen agreed. “But more than that. I think this was once a very busy location. Probably the hub of whatever was going on down here.”

Logan pointed at a flashing red light on the far-right end of the console. “I think that might be the alarm off switch.”

Stephen moved toward the illuminated button, grateful that no one had been here to acknowledge it, and then pushed it.

The pulsating red light, as well as the faint audible buzz immediately ceased, throwing the room into darkness.

“Shit,” he hissed, unable to see Logan standing next to him. “Should’ve found the light switch first.”

The loud sound of a breaker clicked to life causing them both to jump. Several florescent overhead lights started flickering to life, most flickering and dying, but a few managed to work, filling the room with partial white light, enough to make both men blink several times until their eyes adjusted.

“Well… that’s an improvement,” Logan laughed. “No need to worry about anything lurking in those dark corners now.”

Stephen was staring at the console as various buttons illuminated. “This place must be automated to return to the previous state before the alarm-”

His words were cut off as the large shutters above the windows started to rise.

They could do nothing but stare at the windows, hoping that what was on the other side wasn’t a massive horde of the hungry reanimated… or a Shadow Dead army waiting to finish them off.

From where they stood all they could see was darkness on the other side of the filthy glass.

“Maybe that’s our way out of here,” Stephen offered, stepping cautiously toward the closest window. He took his hand and wiped a layer of thick dust away creating a narrow slot to peer through.

“Careful, little brother. We don’t know what’s out there.”

“Or in here,” Stephen added. He peered through the window but could see nothing. “I don’t know what’s worse. I can’t see any monsters on the other side of this glass… but I can’t make out anything else either. It’s just… pitch black nothingness.”

“Well… we’re too far underground to hope for a couple of trees and a clear night sky. It’s probably just another room.”

“An observation room,” Stephen turned. “That’s what this is. It makes sense. Why else would you need a room underground with a bunch of windows?”

Logan nodded, then frowned. “Yes… but what were they observing?”

Stephen looked back through the window into the unknown darkness and shook involuntarily. “Maybe it’s better we don’t know,” he whispered. As he slowly pulled himself away from the glass, Stephen caught a new sound he’d missed the first time. It was faint, but clearly coming from the other side of the glass. “You hear that?”

Logan shook his head.

Stephen put his ear toward the glass. Yes. He could definitely hear something this time. “Sounds like a constant low buzzing sound.” He felt a vibration on his ear and pulled back. Stephen gave the window a strange look, then rested the palm of his hand on the window. It was cold. He could feel his hand vibrate.

“What is it?”

Stephen shook his head. “I don’t know… but it reminds me of the vibration behind the walls in the compound… but much stronger. We always thought it was the generators we never found that kept the compound running that caused the vibrations. Figured they had to be some kind of heavy-duty industrial generators that kept the power on. We knew that wherever they were they had to be beneath us.”

“Maybe that’s what’s on the other side of that glass,” Logan suggested. “Maybe they needed to watch and maintain some massive power source from this room and that’s what the windows were for.”

Stephen doubted that. Whatever was causing the vibrations down here, it sounded less like a power source and more like something alien… and alive. He stepped away from the glass. “What the hell were they doing down here?” he whispered to himself.

“I suggest we start with what we can see,” Logan said, staring around the room. “Maybe that will clue us in on the rest.”

“Agreed.” Stephen turned his back to the windows and walked toward the preacher, grateful to distance himself from that dark place behind the glass.

Logan reached down and picked up a yellow piece of paper. “It’s rotted away.” The old paper started to crumble apart in his hands. “Can’t make out anything on these.”

“We should check out the filing cabinets,” Stephen said. “Most of it will probably be the same but maybe those files are in slightly better condition since they’ve been somewhat protected.”

Logan moved toward the closest cabinet to his left, then stopped. He could see another door all the way on the left side of the room, partially obscured by an aisle of tall cabinets. “Maybe we should make sure we’re alone first,” he said, motioning toward the door.

Stephen smiled. “You don’t see a large neon sign that reads ‘Exit’ above it, do you?”

Logan laughed. “That would be too easy, little brother… and you and I know that good old ‘Easy’ was one of the first casualties of this particular apocalypse.”

“I know. Had to try, though.”

“Could just be a closet,” Logan joked.

“A bathroom would be nice… especially since I’ve been on the verge of shitting myself every day since the beginning.”

This made the big preacher snicker. Fortunately, he stopped himself from going into his usual infectious laughter. “Only one way to know for sure,” he said.

Stephen sighed and nodded. He started looking around the room for anything they could use as weapons. Everything looked old and worthless. He spotted a three-foot tall artificial plant sitting in a corner. He imagined himself arming up with the plant and then decided he’d rather die defenseless but with his dignity intact. “Let’s get this over with.”

They approached the door together and Logan reached for a dusty knob. It turned easily. “Part of me was hoping it was locked,” he whispered with a smile.

Stephen took a deep breath. “I’m tired of the terror associated with opening every damn door.”

“Me, too, little brother. Me, too.” Logan turned the knob all the way to the right and pushed the door inward. They were greeted by another hallway, dimly lit by a couple of overhanging florescent lights barely managing to remain lit as they flickered constantly. There were eight doors, four on each side. Some stood open, others were closed.

They entered the gloomy hallway. Ancient blood stains were streaked across the tile floor, walls, and even on the popcorn ceiling panels.

“Something bad went down here,” Logan said, covering his nose and mouth as the putrid smell of decay and dust assaulted his nose.

“Looks like the entrance to every haunted house I’ve ever frequented,” Stephen said. “Just need a few jump scares from those rooms to get things going.”

“Do you think it was The Change? You know… some of these people turning unexpectedly could’ve caused a nasty situation,” Logan said.

Stephen nodded. “Maybe. Let’s hope not. A few hungry dead-head bad guys are the last thing we need at the moment.”

“Agreed.”

They walked cautiously down the corridor, staring into each room as they passed. Some were better lit than others, some were riddled with shadows. Fortunately, every door had a small window in it, so they could view into the rooms that were closed without disturbing anything. Nothing living or dead appeared to roam the shadows, easing some of the tension they both felt. From what they could tell, most of the rooms were either laboratories or what appeared to be hospital emergency rooms. Most of the rooms looked torn apart with overturned tables, gurneys, broken beakers scattered across the floor, and plenty of dried up blood.

“Well, if it was the dead, we’d know it by now. There’s that, at least,” Stephen offered.

“I was thinking the same thing. It’s like they… whoever ‘they’ were… all just went bat-shit crazy and started attacking each other,” Logan whispered. “It’s a little unnerving… especially since I haven’t seen one corpse yet.”

“Maybe whoever survived took care of the bodies,” Stephen said.

“I don’t think so,” Logan said, stopping at the last door on the left. The door was closed but the room was lit up better than the rest. The big preacher pointed through the small window and backed away.

Stephen glanced into Logan’s face. The preacher’s horrified expression said it all. Stephen peered through the small window into a room full of decomposed corpses lined up against the longest wall, leaning against each other in the sitting position. Dark blood smears starting at the middle of the wall ran downward. The wall was also riddled with bullet holes. It was evident that these people were lined up against the wall and executed.

“I counted at least fifteen,” Stephen said, before quickly stepping away. He was sweating profusely, his hands shaking. “Most are wearing filthy lab coats.”

Logan nodded. “Did you see the bullet wounds? They were all head shots… like they weren’t taking any chances on getting this wrong… and no one was bound.”

“What are you suggesting? That they voluntarily lined up to die?”

Logan shook his head and closed his eyes. “I don’t know, little brother. It just lends to some disturbing possibilities.”

Stephen went back to the window and tried to view the opposite wall, but his view was limited. He reached for the door knob.

“Don’t Stephen,” Logan pleaded. “Let the dead lay where they are. Whatever room that used to be… it’s just a tomb now.”

Stephen appreciated the preacher’s discomfort, but he had to know. “There might still be a functioning gun in there,” he said. The implication was obvious. If this was a massive suicide, then the executioner would have needed to finish what he or she started.

Logan reluctantly nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’ll stay back. I’ve seen enough.”

Stephen nodded. He opened the door, the sickening smell assaulted him as he stopped long enough to keep from heaving. He opened the door just enough to confirm the skeletal remains of a single shooter, lying on its side with a bullet hole to the temple. From the strands of hair and what was left of the chest, he could tell it was a woman. Judging by the size of her larger skull and bones bulging beneath her deteriorated clothing, she was a woman of considerable girth. She, too, was wearing a lab coat, buttoned up. The woman was still holding a handgun.

They would’ve had to wait their turn to get shot, Stephen thought. What drove them to this? Why not just… leave?

He didn’t wait for the dead to give him an answer. Instead, Stephen quickly entered the room, trying not to stare at the bodies. He bent down and reached for the woman’s handgun. As he did so, he caught the woman’s name on a badge that was clipped beneath her front pocket: Amelia Evans, Manager Project Oversight.

And in the upper right-hand corner of the badge was the familiar three-pronged symbol of an eye, which always resembled some strange flower to Stephen.

“Mother,” he whispered. He glanced at the coats of a few of the others and saw similar badges with the same symbol and various letters denoting their medical expertise after their names.

Stephen wiped the dusty handgun off on his shirt, then turned back to the shooter. He found what he was looking for when he noticed a bulge at the woman’s hip. He carefully pulled up the lab coat, revealing a gun holster with two magazines carriers. He painstakingly unbuckled the belt and ripped it free from the stale corpse. With a shiver, Stephen quickly exited the room, needing an immediate shower.

“You okay?” Logan asked.

“Yeah,” Stephen said, showing him the weapon. “Now, we’re armed… assuming the thing still works.”

Logan nodded. “We should head back out front. The air feels a little better there.”

Stephen wholeheartedly agreed. They started to turn.

“There you are,” an older woman said from the end of the hall, startling both men. Meredith, standing in one of her trademark sundresses, her long hair still tied back in a loose braid, raised her hands. “Sorry, boys. It’s just little ole’ me. Didn’t mean to give you a start.”

“Meredith,” Stephen sighed with relief. “We were just heading back. It’s good to see you up and about.”

“Where’s the girl?” Logan said suspiciously.

“She’s alright,” Meredith said. “Well… as alright as any of us can be. She’s… stable at the moment. I think she’s getting better at recognizing who we are.”

“You mean, until she gets hungry,” Logan said.

Meredith shot him a look and addressed Stephen. “You two should get back here. Megan’s okay, but she’s terrified of this place. She’s curled up in a ball in a corner and refuses to move any farther than the main room. She kept staring over here until I figured out she was staring at this very door. I’m starting to suspect she’s been here before.”

Stephen and Logan gave each other a curious glance. Stephen turned back to Meredith. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

Meredith frowned and finished, “Yes, Stephen. I believe this is the place she… lost her child.”

~~~

Stephen and Meredith slowly approached the half-dead young woman.

Megan was sitting against the wall, her arms wrapped around her bent knees, rocking slightly with her head down. She was breathing heavily when the others first re-entered the observation room, but slowly calmed down. Her long blond hair was streaked with dried up blood giving it a wet brownish look. Her once white gown was covered in blood stains. Her bare feet, arms, legs, and anywhere else skin was exposed was covered in filth.

To Stephen, Megan resembled some abused animal kept in captivity for far too long.

Logan kept his distance, insisting on holding the handgun as the others approached the savage girl. He quickly wrapped the gun holster around his waist, making himself look less like a preacher but more like some tattooed gangster gunslinger (not that he ever resembled a preacher either).

Meredith ignored the suspicious preacher and Stephen’s concerned face as she walked right up to Megan, knelt three feet in front of her, and then smiled. “Megan… it’s me, dear… Meredith. I told you I’d be right back.”

The young woman raised her head and stopped moving.

For a moment, Stephen believed Megan would pounce forward and attack Meredith. But in an instant, through the blood and grime smeared across the young woman’s face, a smile emerged on that savage face that immediately revealed the humanity hidden beneath the beast.

“Mer… Meredith,” Megan said.

Stephen was shocked. “She’s really still in there, isn’t she?”

Meredith nodded without turning around. “Yes, Stephen. Before all the bad happened, we—myself and Cooper—we were making great progress with her over the last few weeks. She was coming out of it and remembering who she was and gaining some control again.”

“How is that possible?” Logan said. “How can she still be herself and that… that thing who wants to rip us all to pieces?”

Meredith closed her eyes and frowned. She spoke absently over her shoulder at the big preacher. “Don’t we all possess a dark side, Logan? Aren’t we all capable of carrying out monstrous acts on each other?”

“Yes, but-”

“And don’t we all possess the means to suppress the darkness within us by choosing not to give into it?” Meredith finished. “Megan’s situation is no different. She just has to fight harder to keep the evil at bay.” She turned and glared at Logan. “You, of all people, should be able to appreciate that fact. Doesn’t your God teach us that we all must fight against the flesh?”

Logan smiled. “I don’t believe this situation applies. The girl’s dead. There’s a difference.”

“She’s not dead!” Meredith snapped. “She’s just not all the way alive either. We’re all defined by our choices. Let the girl make her own choices before you pass judgment!”

“I’m not judging,” Logan defended. “I’m just reminding you to show some restraint before you forget that a part of that girl craves human flesh. She’s not the same girl you remember, Meredith. Probably never will be.”

Meredith nodded. “Yes… on that we agree. But I choose to see the girl. Perhaps you need to see a little less of the monster.”

“Alright,” Stephen cut in. “We don’t have time for this. Meredith, can she understand you enough to answer some questions?”

“Yes,” Meredith said.

“Then please… ask her what we can do to make her feel… less anxious.”

“I’m… I’m okay,” Megan said, fixing her metallic grey eyes on the ex-teacher. “I… I understand you.” She turned and glared at the preacher. “I… I understand him… too.”

Logan looked away uncomfortably.

Stephen turned to Meredith and smiled.

“See,” Meredith said. She stroked Megan’s hand like a proud parent. “I told you she was getting back.”

Stephen addressed Megan. “Is there… anything you need? Anything we can do to… help you?”

Megan looked away. “I’m… I’m not hungry… if that’s… that’s what you’re worried about. I… I fed on those… Shadow things. I’ll… I’ll be okay… for a little while.”

“Shit,” Logan hissed, shaking his head. He turned away before anyone else could speak. He started to pray quietly to his God.

“Just leave him be,” Stephen said, noticing Meredith’s sharp glare. “He’ll come around.”

Meredith nodded. “Well… he better. She’s one of us whether he likes it or not.”

Megan squeezed her hand and said, “He’s… he’s afraid of me. You… you all should be, too.”

“Nonsense,” Meredith dismissed. “We’ll handle it… together… when the urges come back.”

“The ‘urges’?” Stephen said. “That doesn’t sound very good.”

Meredith waved him off and said, “I’ll keep a close eye on her, Stephen. But we need to get out of this place… the sooner the better.”

Megan pointed a shaky hand toward the hall they’d come back from. “That’s… that’s where they took me. They… they strapped me down like… like a piece of meat. Stuck me with… with needles… poked me… undressed me… put their hands all over me!” She started to breathe heavily. “They… didn’t care… they were cold! Treated me like… like I wasn’t there! All… all they wanted was my baby! There was nothing… nothing I could do… to stop them!

“It’s okay, Megan. Just try to stay calm,” Meredith said.

Megan started to weep.

Logan turned. His face softened considerably.

“I’m so very sorry for what happened to you, Megan,” Stephen said. “There’s nothing we can say to make the pain go away. It’s a part of you now. Maybe… maybe after we get out of this dark place we can… I don’t know… have a proper burial for your child.”

“I’d… I’d like that,” Megan said with a smile.

Meredith wiped a tear from her eye and gratefully nodded at Stephen.

“Now,” he shifted gears. “I know this is difficult for you. But is there anything you can remember about this place that can help us? We found you locked in that glass room in the clinic. Someone must have brought you there, from here, and then left in a hurry before the explosion in the woods. Maybe there’s another way out? Do you remember how you got there, Megan?”

The young woman closed her eyes and shook her head. “I… I was already… like this by then… but much worse. Everything… everything is jumbled up inside my head… hard to keep it straight… so much anger… and hunger… it hurt… it hurt so bad! To be that hungry and have it… hurt so bad!”

Logan shifted uncomfortably.

“That’s okay, Megan,” Meredith said. “We understand. Just try to keep calm, like we talked about in the lab. Calm and-”

Megan grabbed her wrist, her eyes going wide. “I remember the creepy man!” she said. “Before they… strapped me down… drugged me… there was one man who wasn’t like the rest. He was like me! After I… changed. He had eyes like me!”

Meredith raised an eyebrow. “You mean… someone else who was infected?”

“No! No… he was… telling the others what to do… the doctors… nurses… he was in charge! I remember… ‘cause he terrified me! He… acted human… but he was a monster… like me.” Megan averted her eyes in disgust.

“Don’t say that,” Meredith said. “You’re not a monster.”

Megan nodded. “I remember he… he looked very old. I… I think they called him Timmy… no… Tommy… wait… no… Taven! That was it! I remember… ‘cause his name sounded strange… like him.”

“Do you remember anything else about this… Taven?” Stephen asked. “Did he say anything to you, or the others?”

Megan shook her head. “No… he… he only cared about the other place… he kept talking about it with the others. They argued about it, too.”

“What other place?” Logan asked.

Megan looked up at the preacher, then beyond him. She pointed toward one of the large windows. “In… in there! I think… I think he wanted us all to go in there. But… but the others were afraid… afraid of that place! But… but Taven wasn’t afraid.”

Stephen, Logan and Meredith exchanged confused glances, and then stared at the windows.

“What’s in there, Stephen?” Meredith asked.

“Don’t know. We haven’t been able see in there. It’s way too dark and there’s this weird buzzing sound coming from the other side.”

“Like the buzzing behind the walls in the compound?” Meredith asked.

“Yes… exactly… but much more powerful.”

Meredith nodded, then turned back to the girl. “Megan, did Taven say what was in the other place behind the windows?”

She looked like she was about to shake her head, but then Megan stopped, her eyes going wide. “Yes… yes… he kept calling it Paradise.”

Logan scoffed at that. “I highly doubt there’s a paradise of any kind beyond that glass.”

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Megan finished. “That’s… that’s all I remember.”

“You did good, Megan,” Stephen said. “Thank you.”

Megan smiled.

Stephen got up and said to Logan, “Whoever this last group was, that was just before the winter. What we found is much older than that. I think it’s fair to assume that this Taven and his small group brought Megan here, but didn’t have time to finish whatever they were up to before everything happened leading up to the Wasteland explosion. They must have evacuated up through the mystery door and had to leave Megan behind.”

“Agreed,” Logan said. “We should explore the rest of this place.”

“They… they killed my baby,” Megan said, tears streaming down her face. “Whatever they did… didn’t work… and I… I was infected by my own child!”

Silence filled the room.

Meredith reached over and embraced Megan. She shot Stephen a dark look that he’d only seen one other time on Meredith’s face, back when they were in the cave during the topside attack. It was a murderous, savage look, that clearly told him what she wanted to do to Taven and the rest of those monsters. Her face immediately softened. “There’s another door on the right side of the room,” she said, pointing. “Perhaps there’s an entrance into what’s beyond the glass. Maybe another way out of here, perhaps? What did you find down the other hallway?”

“A whole lot of death,” Logan said. “There’s a room full of old Mother doctors and scientists that decided to take their own lives. The bodies look very old. Something happened here a long time ago that drove these people into believing that ending their own lives was the only escape they had.”

“Or they simply went insane,” Stephen added. “Either way, there’s nothing down that way. Just a bunch of guaranteed nightmares.”

Meredith nodded. “Then the door on the right is our only option?”

“Apparently,” Stephen said. “I don’t see us going back the way we came… not if we want to stay alive.”

This filled the room with immediate silence as each of them replayed various horrors they’d faced above.

“Sorry,” Stephen whispered. “I shouldn’t have brought that up.”

“Let’s go check the other door, Stephen,” Logan said. “Meredith should stay with the girl.”

Stephen looked to Meredith and Megan.

“He’s right,” Meredith said. “We’ll stay here.”

Stephen nodded. “We’ll be right back.” He turned to the preacher who was already letting loose a weary sigh as he stared at the new door to the right. “You ready for this?”

Logan smiled. “No… not really. But I’ve been saying that ever since the beginning. I’m kind of used to it now.”

“Closet or bathroom?”

Logan shook his head with a laugh. “It’s probably where they keep the indoor pool.”

Stephen thought about the last hall they’d explored. “Or another blood bath,” he muttered under his breath.

“Come again?”

“Nothing,” Stephen said. “Just the terrified ramblings of someone in desperate need of a permanent vacation.”

“Amen, little brother.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-2

Previous Episode 47-7

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-1: Hell” Copyright © 2018 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.

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark returns January 2nd, 2019. Have a great new year everyone!

If you’ve been reading Don’t Feed The Dark online and want to help support the cause, the best thing you could do to show your appreciation and let me know you’ve been enjoying this series is to help spread the word so that more readers find out about this long, dark apocalyptic series.

Here’s an easy way to do so:

Please consider voting for DFTD over at topwebfiction No registration is required. just click and vote. You can vote for DFTD every seven days to help keep it listed.

Anything you can do to help me get Don’t Feed The Dark to the readers is appreciated. Be sure to spread the word on all your social media sites as well.

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

Just wanted to post a final update for the year. Don’t Feed The Dark will resume with new episodes starting Wednesday, January 2nd and I will continue posting new episodes once a week every Wednesday after that. Hopefully, sometime after March I’ll be able to jump back up to a twice-a-week posting schedule when I have more material written (fingers crossed).

Starting this Tuesday, to kick off the new year, I plan on relaunching the first three episodes of Book Six and then we will just continue from there. The first chapter is finally complete and will run eight episodes taking us through January. The second chapter, tentatively titled, “Lions in the Dark”, will start the first week of February and I expect it to be another long one… lol.

By early April, I expect to be posting the second arc in this book and all I will say about it is that we will return to a certain group stuck in New Cleveland to finish out their tale. I’ve slated it for three chapters. After that arc, all the timelines should be caught up, and I’ll be concluding Book Six with the final arc of this Mother story and I can’t say a word about it right now… sorry… but know that it’s already planned out.

As far as what remains of this long, dark tale, Book Six will conclude the middle leg of this journey and after I can put this complex story in the rearview mirror and move forward, it’s going to be a blast from there on for me. The last leg of this series will run for two more books, concluding with Book Eight. I’m already planning out Book Seven, titled, The Prophet, and I’m starting to see bits and pieces of the end game to this long series.

Well, that’s if for now. I hope you all have a great new year and I look forward to seeing you all at the conclusion to this tale. Turning the corner into 2019, It’s hard to believe that I’ve been posting this tale online for almost five years as of February. Time flies. We are closer than we’ve ever been before and I’m both excited and a little terrified to be getting this close to the end where I can actually see around the final bend. Here’s to 2019 (Scott raises his glass).

-Scott

~~~