Archive for the ‘horror fiction’ Category

~~~

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 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 thought with alarm, turning back toward 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 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 once 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 leaches 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 blunt 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 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.”

~~~

Chapter 48 will continue next Wednesday…

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.

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~~~

The second episode of Chapter 48: Hell, from Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will be out later today!

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.

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~~~

~~~

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 to not to give in to 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’d 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, Book Six: Mother, will begin tomorrow evening! If I don’t hear from you before then, I hope you all have an awesome Halloween!

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.

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~~~

~~~

“Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of After The Dark. I’m your host, John Ecko, and this is the Don’t Feed The Dark after-show that will attempt to answer your burning questions while we shine a light into some of the darkest corners of this chilling apocalyptic serial to see what we can uncover.

Each episode we will explore a diverse range of topics as we sit down with our featured special guests who have come right out of the pages of this dark serial novel to enlighten us and hopefully give us some additional insights into their characters, as well as what we can expect in the days ahead.

***SPOILER ALERT***

At this time, I must advise you, avid readers, that from here on in, there will be major spoilers discussed. So in the event that you haven’t read the first 47 chapters of Don’t Feed The Dark, as well as the most recent spin-off stories, The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent, and Elsewhere, I strongly suggest that you don’t continue on with us until after you’ve caught up. Consider yourself warned.”

John stands up and addresses the crowd. “Welcome back ladies and gentlemen! It’s been a long while since our last episode and it’s great to be back!”

(The audience stands and applauds enthusiastically.)

“So much has happened in these first five books. I hardly know where to begin,” John says. “Let’s just start by bringing back one of our favorite guests… an original cast member who’s been with us for a very long time. Please, welcome once more, our own apocalyptic psychic-to-the-stars, Meredith Montgomery!”

(Meredith enters wearing a dark green sundress with blue flowers, her long dark hair with a few streaks of grey tied back into a tall bun atop her head. The crowd roars with delight as the older cast member blows them kisses and takes a seat next to John.)

John shakes his head and tries to calm the crowd. He turns to his guest and says, “I see your fans are still happy to see you around, young lady,” John teases. “Welcome back, Meredith.”

“Thank you, John. It’s good to be back.” Meredith crosses her legs and places her hands in her lap.

(The audience sits down and gets quiet.)

“Well, we have a lot of time to make up for, so… let’s get to it,” John says, picking up his note cards.

Meredith takes a sip of water from a glass placed on a low table beside her, and then nods. “Please… ask away. I’ll try to tell you what I can.”

“Let’s start with the obvious question. How are you fairing after the unfortunate departure of Doctor Cooper? And let me be the first to say, I believe many of us were upset that he didn’t make it. You know, we were all rooting for you two.”

(The audience claps to show their agreement.)

Meredith nods to the crowd and smiles. She turns back to John. “Thank you. Thank you all so much for your support. Yes… Coop’s death was a heavy blow, one that I’ll have a difficult time overcoming in the days ahead. He was such… he was such an incredible, wonderful man. When no one else was in my corner, he was always there.”

(The crowd falls silent.)

“Indeed,” John agrees. “I thought he was an excellent character added to the cast and I’m grateful that we had an opportunity to find out more about him after all of you relocated beneath the Wastelands for the long haul. Can you tell us what the good doctor’s death will mean for Meredith now? Will she be able to continue as the same woman we’ve come to love and cherish?”

Meredith lowers her head and stares toward the floor. “Let me just say that Coop’s death will have a permanent effect on me now. In some ways, he will always be with me as a constant source of strength. In other ways, his absence will be felt so deeply that I might question continuing on in this damaged world without him. Time will tell what the long-term effect will be. In the short term… it’s going to be a struggle.”

John nods patiently, then reaches over and places his hand on hers. “Well, we’re all with you, Meredith. It sucks that you two didn’t get to be together. I think your relationship with Cooper was a refreshing relief and a bit of light in a very dark place. Me will miss him.”

(The audience stands and respectfully applauds. Some, openly weep or nod to show their support.)

Meredith, overcome by the crowds’ emotions and support, begins to tear up. She quickly wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and nods appreciatively toward them. She turns to John. “They’re absolutely wonderful, too, aren’t they?” she teases.

(The crowd laughs. They slowly take their seats.)

“So, let’s move away from this subject, for everyone’s sake, before we run out of Kleenex,” John says with a smile.

Meredith laughs lightly and composes herself. “Alright, John. That sounds splendid.”

John leans back, pauses, then says, “Okay, since we last heard from you during the Shadow Dead attack at the beginning of Book Five, there’s been some interesting developments.”

Meredith eyes go wide in mock surprise. She smiles, rests her chin on her hands, leans in, and says, “Really? Do tell.”

(The audience laughs.)

“Apparently,” John says, smiling back, “you’ve been at the center of all this ‘Mother’ business for a good while. You… and that Candice Forrester doctor who took a keen interest in you back during your brief ‘orphanage’ stay.”

“You know… it’s not really an orphanage.”

“Got it. Been there. Done that. Let’s move on.” John adds a wink.

(The audience laughs.)

John continues, “So, we’ve discovered a bit more about your old scary friend, Clementine, at the back end of Book Five… and now we’ve got two additional spin-off stories that shed a little more light on the past. Can you connect any of these dots for us?”

Meredith leans back in her chair and lets out a heavy sigh. “Okay, I’ll give you the abridged version of events so far in chronological order: Back in the Spring of 1970, Mother approached Dr. Forrester due to her breakthrough research related to a sleep study she was conducting, or at least, that was what the grant money was for. As it turned out, she was actually trying to bring back her brain-dead brother, Toby, through her research, believing she’d uncovered the key to reaching into the minds of the clinically ‘dead’ and retrieving them through a sort of dream state. She believed that our identity was being stored on a ‘back-up’, somewhere in the part of our minds that house dreams… and that she’d found a way to tap into that place. The rest… well, that’s way over my head. Anyway, Mother, with an entirely different agenda, and a project of their own that dates back a few years prior to meeting with Forrester and Finch, needed Candice’s research to further their own.”

“Fascinating,” John says. He turns to the crowd. “And this we learned in the spin-off story, The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent.”

Meredith nods her head. “So Forrester and Finch took Mother’s offer, relocated to the orphanage, where they had been for three years until little old me showed up in the Summer of ’73.”

“And that’s were the Dead Dolls chapter from Book Four starts, right?”

“Correct. Well, we know how that went down. I was led to Candice’s secret lab in the basement, drugged, and then inserted into the Mother/Forrester collaborative project, which we’ll discover more about in Book Six.”

“And at this point,” John injects, “the girls had no idea what happened to you until Clementine saw Michael Finch attempting to smuggle Meredith away from the orphanage in the Fall of that same year.”

Meredith nods. “And that’s where the rest of Clementine’s story picks up. She challenged Finch, who resisted… and it ended very badly for him, as well as the rest of the orphan girls who decided to intervene.”

“And this results in the capture and imprisonment of Clementine,” John adds, “as well as the end of the orphanage project. Meredith is relocated to the island facility, as well as the four brain-dead patients, and she’s thrown back into the experiments.”

“That’s right,” Meredith says. “And that’s where the final spin-off story, Elsewhere, sits in the timeline. It’s now the Winter of 1974, a year after the orphanage is shut down. Forrester has lost control of the project and had discovered that Mother’s agenda runs contrary to her own. That story picks up at the tail end of everything going very wrong. She decided to help Meredith escape, which is a guaranteed death sentence for Forrester. And the strange events that occur near the end of the story are how I broke free from Mother, or so it seemed at the time.”

John shakes his head in bewilderment. “Now… let’s talk about that.”

Meredith laughs. “I had a feeling you might want to discuss it.”

“Let’s start with the girl, the fifth brain-dead patient, the one you and Finch kept secret. What the hell happened?”

Meredith nods. “Her name was Michelle. Michael was instrumental in the arrangements of keeping this mystery patient quiet from Mother during his recruiting periods at the orphanage. I believe Michelle was initially the ‘back-up’ plan if Mother intended to steal Candice’s research. As it turned out, this dead girl also became my escape from Mother.”

“Yes, let’s talk more about this ‘back-up plan’,” John says.

Meredith closes her eyes and sighs. “My mother used to use this expression, ‘putting the cookies on the bottom shelf’. Are you familiar with that?”

“I believe so,” John says. “It’s what people say right before they’re about to explain something complicated and over-the-head.”

“That’s right, John. She’d put the cookies within reach so I could understand something enough to get the meaning. So, that’s what I’m going to do, now.”

John laughs and turns to the audience. “All I know is that I’m suddenly hungry… and all I want is chocolate-chip cookies.”

(The audience laughs.)

Meredith laughs. “Okay. I’m only going to say this once… and before you ask… I’m not going to elaborate any further. Got it?”

John shakes his head and laughs. “Probably not. But please… proceed.”

“The organization we’ve come to know as Mother discovered something… something very old, and very, very dangerous. They discovered the ‘Where’ and they desperately needed a way to reach ‘it’. Dr. Forrester, discovered the ‘How’. And then there’s little old me… who turned out to be the ‘Who’. Dr. Forrester was attempting to reach her brother. Mother was attempting to reach someone else entirely. So… Forrester established a bridge between myself and-”

John points a finger at her and exclaims excitedly, “Toby!”

Meredith smiles. “At some point, Forrester realized that the bridge she established led to somewhere else entirely, somewhere very frightening… but Mother knew exactly where that bridge led. This is what triggers Doctor Forrester into implementing the secondary bridge, or link, between myself and the brain-dead Michelle, a girl roughly my own age at the time, that we read about at the end of that second spin-off story.”

John slaps his forehead. “Okay, so if I’m understanding this correctly, what you’re telling me is that you essentially became Michelle? That the woman we’re all staring at today is not really Meredith… but Michelle?”

“Physically, I am Michelle, but on the inside, I’m still me. I’ve adapted the appearance of this shell over time to resemble the girl I once was… a change in clothing, hairstyles, mannerisms… but after spending most of my life, in this body, I’ve come to accept that Michelle is what I look like, since I’ve looked like her a lot longer than I looked like me… are you following all this?”

(John is dumbfounded. He looks to the crowd and they are equally stunned.)

“So… you’ve literally been having an out-of-body experience since you were a teen, does that about sum it up?”

Meredith laughs. “That’s a funny way to put it… but in a way… you’re partially correct.

John shakes his head. “That is… well… that’s new.”

(The crowd laughs.)

“We should probably move on. We’re getting to that point where I can’t tell you anything else,” Meredith says with a wink. “Less might be more in this particular instance.”

John laughs. “This is crazy. But… I suppose we’ll find out more about you, or Michelle, or… whoever you are when we jump into Book Six.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Meredith agrees.

“This… place… that Mother has discovered, does it have anything to do with the apocalyptic situation our survivors find themselves in?”

“Yes,” Meredith says.

“And that’s it? That’s all you’re going to say?” John says.

“That’s all I’m going to say,” Meredith adds with a wink.

John shakes his head. “Of course.”

(The audience laughs.)

“What I can add,” Meredith says, “is that Book Six will delve much deeper into all this strangeness, including what happened to me once that bridge between my old self and Toby was established. And I will also add that when my character discovers this for herself, since much of that time period has been hidden from her own memories, it’s going to be quite a shock… for everyone.”

“Now that’s a damn teaser if I ever heard one,” John says.

(The audience laughs and nods in agreement.)

“So, let’s move on before my head explodes,” John says. “Can you tell us what else we can expect from Book Six?”

Meredith considers the question for a moment, then says, “The first arc is aptly titled ‘Revelations’. I think that speaks for itself. Myself, Stephen, Logan and Megan will be discovering all sorts of frightening things as we move forward beyond the mystery door into the heart of some of the disturbing events that have been occurring, both presently and in the past, that have contributed to the state of our deadly new world. I can’t speak for what happens in the next two arcs, but this one will connect a lot of events that we’ve previously read about throughout this series. That’s vague, I know, but that’s all I can say.”

“What about the premiere? Is there anything you can tell us about the first chapter? What can we expect from the first few episodes?”

Meredith laughs. “Well… it is a Halloween premiere. I think this first chapter is perfectly suited for it. We’re going to be dealing with quite a few ghosts right away.”

John’s eyes go wide. “Now… are we speaking literally or figuratively here?”

Meredith takes a sip from her glass and remains silent.

John shakes his head and turns toward the audience. “And I guess that’s our answer, folks.”

(The audience laughs.)

John turns back to Meredith. “Well, that’s it for time. I want to thank you for joining us once again, Meredith. We all look forward to reading what happens next.”

“Thanks for having me,” Meredith says.

John stands. “How about a hand for her, ladies and gentlemen.”

(The crowd stands and applauds.)

“As a final reminder, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother begins in just two short days for the Halloween premiere. I’m looking forward to it as I know all of you are, as well. Again, if anyone has any questions in regards to tonight’s topics or any other DFTD questions, please feel free to ask away and we’ll try to answer what we can. Also, I want to point out once more that after the premiere, DFTD will now be posted once a week on Wednesdays until the end of the year. Until then, I look forward to seeing all of you as we embark on another terrifying journey into The Dark! See you soon!”

~~~

Please show your support for Don’t Feed The Dark by voting for it at topwebfiction Just click and vote. Nothing else required. You can vote every seven days to help me keep this series listed.

Thank you,
-Scott

~~~

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will begin on Halloween!

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

~~~

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Elsewhere until after reading up to Chapter 46: Clementine and the spin-off story The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent.

~~~

Winter 1974:

She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Several times while trying to organize her notes on the cold, steel desk, Candice Forrester nearly dropped them on the dull lab floor. She raised her hands in frustration, letting the papers scatter.

“Fuck it.” The sound of her own voice sounded stale—absent of its former vitality.

She took a deep breath, then reached down, opening a lower drawer, and retrieved the half-empty whiskey bottle and the small notebook beneath it. She placed the notebook on the desk and then leaned back in her chair. Candice removed the lid from the bottle, letting it bounce across the floor. It made no sound as the shadows swallowed up the cap.

She raised the neck of the bottle up until the hot, burning fluid shot down her throat. She lowered the bottle and dropped it, watching it silently roll away until it, too, disappeared beyond some forgotten corner of the low-lit laboratory.

“Better,” she whispered, as the repulsive alcohol numbed her troubled thoughts. She’d never been much of a drinker… not until everything had gone to hell.

Candice sat back up and focused on the small notebook. She retrieved a pen from the front pocket of her wrinkled lab coat and then opened the personal journal.

Her hands continued to shake as she put the pen to an empty page near the back. Never could stop the shakes, she thought. Nothing ever could. Doesn’t matter now.

Candice took another deep breath as she ran her free hand through her unkempt, long brown hair. Her glasses slipped down to the tip of her nose. “I’m a fucking mess,” she declared with an unexpected laugh that made her feel uneasy. Candice started to look for the whiskey bottle she’d dropped, taking in her dark underground surroundings. She always hated this place. The walls were too white, the metallic tables—too polished, and though she had every possible piece of equipment she would ever need, and then some, she hated everything about this lab that the monsters who owned her had provided.

“Oh… and we will achieve such great things together,” she mocked. “Make the impossible come alive… pull it out of our asses like fucking magic!” She raised a pretend whiskey bottle toward the ceiling and finished with a sarcastic toast. “Here’s to one helluva historic collaboration! May we all choke to death in the sea of our success! I hope we all rot in the hell that we’ve made together… you fucking MONSTERS!” She raised her middle finger toward one of several cameras that monitored the laboratory. She longer cared who was watching. The deed was done.

“And I am damned for it,” she whispered, turning back toward the notebook. Then she smiled and said, “But not all of us… not all of us anymore.”

Candice started writing:

I’m sorry I haven’t written for some time. I was afraid you’d think less of me for all the despicable things I’ve done in the name of science. Please forgive me. Just know that I started all this with the best of intentions. If I’d known where this dark road was headed, I’d like to think I would’ve stopped, turned around, and found a better way—or a saner way—but I can’t honestly say that I would have done anything differently. That’s my hell to bear…

She stopped for a moment, considering her next words. Candice felt the emotions rising into her chest, the emotions she’d suppressed for so long, choosing to hide within the research. She quickly wiped a tear from her eye and continued:

…Michael was right. I wish I’d been able to hear him from the beginning, back at the orphanage. He was my moral compass long after I’d decided to make this deal with these devils. “Mother” they call themselves. As if they knew a damn thing about giving birth to anything… anything but death. I was blinded by the extraordinary possibilities… they were already years ahead of my own research. But I was the key to what they were missing… or, rather, you were. But you must believe me, I never knew from the start where this was all headed. Those fucking monsters hid so much from Michael and I… but he sensed it. Fuck… who am I fooling. We damn near killed that poor girl, fumbling around in the dark, trying to plug her into all this madness. She was unique. We knew it… and so did they. Meredith was the real key.

Michael had tried to stop me. He’d tried to wake me up from the darkness. While he saw the suffering of a little thirteen-year-old girl… all I saw was the possibility of bringing you back to me… at all costs.

I got Michael killed… and all those girls at the orphanage. But at least I got Meredith away. It took some doing, but she’s off this God-forsaken island. That’s got to count for something… right?

Please tell me you understand? Can you ever forgive me for what I’ve done? Can you forgive me for what it will mean… when the end comes?

Candice stopped writing again. She removed her glasses and ran the sleeve of her lab coat over her wet eyes. She was close to the breaking point but mustered what reserves she had left to keep it together for a little longer. She thought back to Meredith, when that little girl had finally come back. Candice smiled as she tried to hold on to that rare and precious shard of light in this overwhelmingly dark and dismal place.

~~~

“Where… where am I?”

“Welcome back, Meredith. It’s good to hear your voice again. I’m Doctor Forrester from the orphanage. Do you remember me?”

“Yes… I remember you…but… I can’t see. I can’t move! What’s happening to me?”

“Relax. You’ve been… somewhere else… for a while now. Your body is just adjusting. You’ll be okay in a little while.”

“What do you mean? Where did I go?”

“You were… you were in a coma, but not quite. Do you know what a coma is, Meredith?”

“Like a really long dream that you can’t wake from… right?”

“That’s good, Meredith. Very close. Anyway, while you were dreaming, I tried to find you, but it took a very long time.”

“And… I’m back now?”

“You are… almost there.”

“What is this place? Why can’t I see you or move? It’s like I’m here but I’m not here at the same time. I’m confused.”

“You’re in a place I like to call, Elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere?”

“Yes.”

“So, I’m still dreaming?”

“Yes and no, Meredith. Do you remember anything that you dreamed?”

“No.”

“Are you positive? Anything at all? It’s very important that you tell me if you remember anything.”

“No… it’s all… black… inside my head.”

“Does it feel like a fading dream that goes away after waking?”

“Yes. Just like that.”

“What’s the last thing you remember… before going to sleep?”

“I remember… I remember being frightened. I thought Clem was coming for me… so I hid in that creepy basement with all those dolls… and… there was something else… but I can’t remember.”

“Do you remember finding the symbol on the door? The three-pronged symbol with the eye?”

“Yes! That’s how I… I can’t remember after that.”

“That’s fine, Meredith. That means the medicine I gave you is working.”

“Medicine? Was I sick?”

“Yes. You were very sick. But you’re all better now.”

“Did I… did I do anything bad?”

“That’s a strange question, Meredith. Why would you ask that?”

“Because I’m a freak… and because… I remember someone in my dreams trying to get me to do bad things. I can’t remember who… but… I can sense it somehow. Wherever I was, I know I wasn’t alone.”

“You’re not a freak. You’re just… different, Meredith. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”

“But that’s what made me sick… right?”

“It doesn’t matter now. The important thing is that we got you away… and very soon… you’ll be home.”

“But I don’t want to go back to the orphanage! It’s not really an orphanage anyway. Please tell me I’m not going back there! That place scares me. Clem will get me, too!”

“No, Meredith. I’m not sending you back to that awful place. I’ve arranged to get you far away from there—somewhere you can live a normal life with good people who will take good care of you. It’s a secret place. A hidden place. Somewhere you’ll be safe from anyone trying to make you do bad things ever again.”

“You promise?”

“Yes. It’s something Michael wanted to do for you very much. Do you remember Michael?”

“Finch? Yes. Where is he?”

“He had to go away, Meredith. He’s… taking care of things with your new family so that they’ll be ready for you when you get there. Michael always insisted we have a back-up plan, and I’m so grateful that I listened to him about that. So, when you wake up… when you really wake up… just remember, Michael made it possible for you to get away. Even if it seems strange at first. Understand?”

“I think so. Where are we now?”

“Doesn’t matter. After a time, you will forget about this place, too.”

“Why can’t I remember? Did you… erase my memory?”

“No, Meredith. I simply relocated some of it. The sick memories. Imagine your mind is a bedroom full of all the memories you love and cherish. Well, the sick memories are still there, buried beneath all the good ones, and locked safely away in a chest right in front of you. But, because you’re not looking for it, you’ll never notice it’s there.”

“What if I accidentally trip over it and open it?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Meredith. The medicine I’ve given you will protect you from remembering. At least, for a while. Maybe long enough for you to live a normal life. Wouldn’t you like that?”

“More than anything.”

“That’s good. Now, I need you to pay close attention. Our time is short and what I need to tell you is very, very important.”

“But… what if I forget what you tell me when I wake up?”

“Don’t worry, Meredith. You’ll remember what I need to tell you, and if you heed my words, you’ll stay hidden and safe for a very long time.”

“Okay. But you’re starting to scare me a little.”

“That’s okay, too. You should be a little scared. It will help you stay hidden. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, I know you won’t understand because the bad dreams you were having have already started to fade, but it’s still important that you know how very special you are. It’s because you’re so special, Meredith, that some very bad people are trying to make you do some bad things.”

“I don’t want to be bad.”

“That’s good, Meredith. I’m going to help you stay away from these bad people. Always remember that symbol on the basement door. If you ever see it again… run. It’s their symbol—the bad people. Hopefully, they’ll never find you and make you do bad things ever again. How does that sound?”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“I’m going to explain to you what the bad people are trying to do. It’s not important that you understand it all, just that you know they will stop at nothing to get you back… so they can finish their bad plans. Are you listening?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to imagine a beehive. Can you picture it?”

“Yes. Bees are terrifying, especially when they all start buzzing together.”

“So, you know how dangerous messing with a hive can be, right?”

“I would never do that!”

“That’s good. Now, imagine a beehive so big that if the bees all tried to fly away at once they could hurt a whole lot of people.”

“That’s not good. I don’t want to think about this anymore.”

“I know you don’t, Meredith. But you need to listen. Picture a box now. A box so big that it can hold all those nasty bees.”

“Even the hive?”

“Yes. Especially the hive.”

“So… the box keeps them from getting out. The box is a good thing, right?”

“Yes, Meredith. The box is a very necessary thing. Can you see it?”

“Yes. But I can still hear them all in the box. They sound so angry.”

“They are angry. Now, imagine what would happen if the bad people started shaking that box, and then they found a way to open it and let them all out on the world.”

“Why would they do that? That’s crazy!”

“Yes, Meredith, it is. The bad people want to open that box more than anything. It’s not important that you understand why, just that if they ever do, the world will turn sick. And I know you don’t want that. That’s why you can never let them find you.”

“But I would never open the box!”

“Yes, Meredith. I believe you. But all those bad people will try to trick you. They will make you think that opening the box is a good idea.”

“But… I won’t!”

“That’s good, Meredith. Always remember that.”

“Why do they need me to open the box? Why can’t they just do it themselves?”

“They can’t open the box because it takes someone special like you to open it.”

“That sucks.”

“Yes, it does. Now, our time is almost up. We can’t stay here much longer or the bad people will find us.”

“So… if we’re not awake, but we’re not dreaming… then how are we-”

“We’re hiding in Elsewhere, Meredith. In a very special closet that only you and I can visit. But they’ll find it soon. We need to be done before they do, so the bad people won’t suspect we were ever here. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Now, close your eyes and get some rest. When you wake up again, you’ll be far, far away from here… somewhere the sickness can’t ever find you again.”

“Can… can you make what causes me to be special to go away, too? The part of me that got me sick?”

“No, Meredith. I did what I could to hide it from yourself, but it’s a part of who you are. For a time, you might forget, but eventually, you will have to learn how to hide it yourself.”

“But… how do I do that?”

“The same way you’ve been hiding it from the world. You already know that the world fears what it doesn’t understand. I think in time, as you grow older and wiser, you’ll adapt and find a way to keep it secret. Understand?”

“I think so.”

“It’s very important that you do because if your… gifts… shine too brightly out in the world, or make a loud enough noise, the sickness might find you again. So, what will you do?”

“Keep it secret.”

“That’s right. Keep what you can do a secret for as long as you can and go enjoy your life, Meredith… and never look back.”

“I’ll try.”

“I will do what I can to keep the sickness from ever finding you, but you have to do your part. Understand?”

“Yes. But… what if it finds me anyway… the sickness?”

“Go to sleep now, Meredith. You have your whole life in front of you now. Don’t worry about the sickness. Leave that to me.”

“Because you’re a doctor… right? You’re a doctor and that means you’ll find a cure, is that it?”

“Yes, Meredith. I’ll find a cure.”

~~~

Candice closed her eyes. Meredith was free now. For how long depended on what Mother would do, now that the link was severed. She hoped the girl had done enough damage to satisfy the monsters, and their abominable project. Time would tell. If Mother never found her again, perhaps the world would be safe for a bit longer… until they discovered another way. Or perhaps humanity was already doomed.

She sat back down and resumed writing:

…I’ve done what I could for the girl. I’m not looking for redemption, I’m as damned as the rest of these bastards. But I did it for Michael. It’s what he died trying to do. Call it my one last act of love. The irony doesn’t escape me since love was also what prompted my first action, which led us straight into this madness.

No matter what happens, Meredith was the only victim in all this. I’ve done what I could to suppress the last year from her thoughts. But I fear she will eventually uncover them. Hopefully, not for a very long time. Of course, that means I’ve one last act to complete to give that little girl a fighting chance.

Do you forgive me? I hope you do. It wasn’t easy giving up after all we’ve been through to get this far. I don’t know if I was ever close to getting you back, or, if these lunatics just wanted me to believe that I was, preying on my emotional vulnerability, just to get me on board and finish their nasty project for them. But what I do know, is that the thing I retrieved from ‘Elsewhere’ is not you. I’m so very sorry.

I needed this organization’s resources to bring you back. And they let me believe that I was accomplishing this. They needed me to find a doorway into the hell they’d unearthed, that’s where my research fit in. They had the place. Meredith was the key… and I gave them the goddamn entrance and showed them how to make it all work together. I tried to bring you back from deep within yourself, from within your dreamscape that I was certain still existed somewhere in the puzzle of your dead brain. I was a damn fool. I had no idea they were using me to retrieve something from the other side… whatever that is.

To what end? God only knows the motives of such evil people. It’s as elusive as ‘Elsewhere’.

I’ve failed you. I’ve wasted so much time trying to get you back when all you needed was a goodbye… one I was too stubborn to give you. I refused to let go. And now, I’ve contributed in something truly horrible. I pray that it’s not too late. But it’s far too late for me.

Goodbye, Toby. Wherever you are, I hope Michael made it to you. I think you’d really like him. As for me… well… if the doorway is open, and I fear that it is, then I will be judged by the dead that follow.

I miss you, your loving sister, Candice.

Forrester put the pen down. The lab had grown extremely cold and dark.

It’s time.

Candice quickly picked up the notebook. “You were never here, Toby… and neither were these words,” she whispered. The notebook faded and disappeared from the dull dreamscape.

The shadows from all around the low-lit room appeared to come alive and feed upon the light until she was surrounded in darkness, like a thick fog of black.

Where is she?

The voice was as cold as the room. He’d found her.

I said, where is the girl?

“Gone,” was all Candice volunteered. “You can’t suck the life from her anymore. I’ve made sure of it.”

You can’t be here, foolish woman. You’re not strong enough to take her place. With a single thought, I could break your mind and turn you into a slobbering lunatic when and if I allowed you to wake.

Candice steeled herself against the intimidating voice. She knew he was right. “I don’t care what you do to me. Meredith is free, that’s all that matters.” She could feel the thing pretending to be her dead brother in the darkness, poking at the edges of her mind to find out what it needed to know.

If you don’t tell me where you hid the girl, I’ll make sure your brother suffers. I’ll make sure he never finds his way back to you.

Candice smiled into the dark. At least I finally got an admission. This thing knows that I know the truth. “What are you?” Candice pushed back.

The creature behind her brother’s voice started to laugh. It sounded like he was inside her head and all around her at the same time.

Candice knew she had to be quick. When the thing masquerading as Toby finally stopped toying with her, perhaps testing this bold woman to see if she’d set a trap, it would come at her in full force and tear her mind to shreds until she gave up the girl.

Forrester closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “You don’t scare me, creature.”

Oh, yes… I most certainly do. Your fear is like sweet frosting on a cake. When I’m done licking it off-

“You’re a coward,” Candice interrupted, sneering into the darkness. “You prey on small children because you can manipulate them. But I’m no damn child. Whatever you really are, you’re just a filthy child molester, no different than the sick fucks in the real world. The only difference is, you plague the playgrounds in their dreams. What a pathetic little creature you truly are.”

Mind your tongue, woman. I’m very patient, but I have my limits. Don’t test them.

“Frankly,” Candice continued, “I don’t know why Mother has made such a fuss over you. Surely there are others of your kind who are worthy of their attention. Perhaps you should go back to the hell you came from, dog, and go fetch one of your mast-”

Candice Forrester was immediately obliterated from the dark dreamscape, severing her tether to Elsewhere in Meredith’s mind. She’d known the risk in facing Toby in Meredith’s stead, had tried to stall for as long as it took to get the young girl away… and now they were both free.

~~~

“Clear!”

The lead surgeon on Mother’s emergency medical staff placed the pads on Meredith’s chest and shocked her again, causing the comatose girl’s body to jump like a fish. The attending nurses were sticking various syringes into her body while others waited to be told what to do.

From the other side of the emergency room glass window, a short silver-haired man stood nervously with his hands balled up into fists behind his back. He’d just come from an adjoining emergency room where Doctor Forrester had mysteriously gone into cardiac arrest while sleeping. As that attending surgeon had put it just before declaring her death, “It was as though her body had suddenly rejected her for no apparent reason as Forrester’s organs began to shut down one after the other.”

And now, the little girl was dying, too

Coincidence? Mr. Bawle knew better than that.

He continued to watch as the emergency team failed to revive Meredith. Finally, the lead surgeon looked up at him and shook his head, removing his surgical mask in frustration.

Mr. Bawle nodded, then turned from the window. He calmly walked over to a nearby chair while straightening his expensive suit.

The bitch did something we never saw coming, he thought. Even after we’d considered everything else. He smiled and shook his head. “Well played Doctor Forrester. Well played.”

Mr. Bawle, in a rare display of emotion, suddenly picked up the chair, turned toward the emergency room window, and violently threw it, shattering the glass. This commanded everyone’s attention.

He ignored their terrified expressions and then fixed his suit again. He ran a hand over his sweaty forehead, turned down the closest hallway, and then started walking with his hands clasped behind his back.

~~~

Meredith opened her eyes. She was lying in a bed in a small room saturated with bright sunlight. Her eyes stung but she kept them open.

Is this… real?

She tried to move her arms, but they felt heavy, as if she were trying them on for the first time.

From somewhere to her right, near the bed, someone sat up clumsily. She could hear a magazine drop. “Shit!” It was a female’s voice. “Shit! I mean… you’re really awake, aren’t you?”

Meredith tried to move her mouth to speak. She managed to turn her head enough to see an older woman in what appeared to be a nurse’s uniform.

“It’s okay! It’s okay! Just… stay still, sweetheart. I’m going to get someone.”

Before Meredith could protest, the nurse rushed out of the room, calling out intelligibly for anyone.

Within moments, Meredith could hear the frantic sounds of approaching footsteps. She turned her head toward the door just as the nurse, accompanied by a tall, frail woman with blond hair, entered the room.

“Look, Marge! I told you! She’s awake!” the nurse proclaimed.

The blond-haired woman placed her wrinkled hands over her mouth as she stared at Meredith. Her eyes, wide with disbelief, were bordered by dark rings. To Meredith this woman had the look of someone who hardly slept.

She tried to speak again. “Wa… water? Please?” Meredith managed to whisper.

The blond woman and the nurse exchanged a glance. Both women seemed very excited now. The nurse patted the blond woman on the shoulder and said, “I’ll get the water. Praise God! I never would’ve believed it…” The nurse trailed off, quickly exiting the room.

The blond woman stepped timidly toward the left side of Meredith’s bed, then lowered her hands to catch herself before nearly collapsing beside the bed. She was crying now.

Meredith didn’t know what to say.

The woman reached up and placed Meredith’s left hand in both of hers. “Are you really back with us?” she asked. “Am I just dreaming? Please tell me I’m not dreaming?”

Meredith attempted to speak again. “Hel… hello,” was all she could manage.

This just made the woman cry harder. “You are really back!”

“Could… could you help me…” Meredith said, trying to move her arms again. “Could you help me sit up?”

“Of course.” The woman got up and sat down beside her on the bed. She placed a bony arm around her back and helped Meredith sit up.

“Thank… thank you.” Meredith got a better look around the room. It was a bedroom. A girl’s bedroom, judging from the bright colors, stuffed animals, a small vanity mirror and desk, and various posters of animals scattered about the walls.

“It’s good to have you back… God… we prayed and prayed… but… we almost lost hope.”

Meredith stared at the exhausted woman and knew right away that she was someone’s mother. “Where… where am I?” she asked.

The woman gave her a puzzled look, laced with concern. “Why, you’re home, dear. Don’t you recognize your own room?” The woman shook her head as if realizing she’d just said something insensitive. “Never mind. It’s just good that you’re back. The rest we’ll work out when you get your strength back.”

Meredith didn’t know where to begin. She had a million questions. She stared around the room and froze when she caught a brief glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror.

What?

The woman caught her staring. “What is it, honey? You want to see?” Before Meredith could respond, the woman got off the bed, walked over the small oval mirror, and removed it from the vanity. She grabbed a hairbrush and sat back down beside her, holding the mirror in front of Meredith.

Meredith stared into the reflection. She could feel the blood leaving her face.

The woman laughed and started brushing her hair. “It’s alright. You’ve looked far worse on Monday mornings before school.”

Meredith gripped the sides of the mirror with numb hands. She couldn’t look away from the stranger staring back at her. The young girl with blond hair and a pale face who’s only resemblance to her was the same bewildered and terrified expression.

That’s not me! Where am I? What’s going on?

The blond-haired woman put the brush down and took the mirror away. “Enough of that.” She suddenly embraced her with both arms, squeezing Meredith tight. “Oh… I thought I lost you forever.”

Meredith recognized the girl in the reflection. She looked like this woman.

Something’s wrong! I’m not supposed to be here! This isn’t me! THIS ISN’T ME!

And then she heard Doctor Forrester’s words in her head:

“Michael always insisted we have a back-up plan, and I’m so grateful that I listened to him about that. So, when you wake up… when you really wake up… just remember, Michael made it possible for you to get away. Even if it seems strange at first. Understand?”

“I… I understand,” Meredith whispered.

“What was that, honey?” the woman asked.

“Nothing. Can I ask a strange question?”

“Yes… anything.”

“What’s my name?”

The blond-haired woman broke her embrace and turned to look directly into Meredith’s eyes. She looked frightened. “You’ve… you’ve lost much.” The woman started wiping fresh tears from her eyes. “Sorry. He… He told us this might happen, should you wake. I don’t mean to scare you, honey, it’s just… well… it’s all overwhelming.”

Meredith waited.

The woman nodded. “His name was Michael. He was overseeing you while you were—while you were asleep. He visited you as often as he could. He was a great comfort to our family.”

“What did Michael tell you?”

The woman smiled. “He told us that when you woke up… you might not remember things… not right away.”

“Like my name?”

The woman laughed. “Sorry, honey. Your name is Michelle.”

Michelle.

“How long?” Meredith asked. “How long was I… asleep?”

The woman was caught off-guard by the question. “Don’t worry about that, hon-”

“Please,” Meredith interrupted. “I need to know. How long?”

The woman looked on the verge of tears again. “You’ve been asleep for three years.”

Meredith suddenly had an image of the comatose patients down in the orphanage basement. The ones behind the secret door.

The ones connected to the dolls.

There were four of them, she thought. Just like Michelle. But… but Forrester and Finch kept one hidden.

Kept her a secret.

She didn’t know how she knew, perhaps Forrester placed the memory there, somewhere within reach when she needed it, but she understood. The four patients and Michelle all shared the same condition, and they were all being treated by Forrester.

Brain dead. The words felt strange in her own mind… but it was the truth.

Meredith glanced into the tired face of the blond-haired woman and released her with a forced smile. “You… you’re Mic… you’re my mother, aren’t you?”

The woman smiled and nodded as fresh tears poured down her face. She reached forward and embraced her again. “Yes, honey. I’m your mother… and I love you very, very much.”

Meredith was genuinely moved… and envious of that one truth that flowed from the woman. She embraced her back, even if it wasn’t for her.

They were all dead… all five of them… but now… I’ve taken her place… I’ve taken Michelle’s place. And the bad people don’t know about her… not yet.

The thought was troubling, but Meredith pushed it aside. She closed her eyes and hugged the woman more fiercely. They knew. Finch and Forrester knew I could handle this. They knew because I’ve been strange my entire life.

Meredith broke from Michelle’s mother’s embrace and smiled at her.

Michelle’s mother laughed. It was the closest Meredith would ever come to hearing what joy sounded like.

So, I look different. I can change my appearance. I can become Michelle because she’s gone now… and I can be loved for the first time in my life. That’s what they wanted for me. And that’s what this poor woman needs now.

“I love you… Mom,” Meredith tried on the words. They felt good.

“And I love you… always. Everything will be alright now. You’re safe.”

Meredith smiled through the confusion and tears.

Safe. Secret. Hidden.

~~~

Author’s Note: As a refresher, this story covers events, in part, after Clementine caught Michael Finch trying to escape with Meredith, involving the massacre at the orphanage that we first learned about in Clem’s flashback story from “Chapter 46: Clementine”. This story also explains how Meredith initially escaped the clutches of Mother, or so she believed, and who told her about the ‘hive’ analogy that she spoke of all the way back in that boathouse from “Chapter 14: Marina”.

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent until after reading Chapter 35: Dead Dolls.

~~~

Spring 1970:

She couldn’t stop her hands from shaking. Several times while trying to organize her notes, Candice Forrester nearly dropped them on the well-buffed linoleum floor. She looked around at the large lobby of the Administration Building and wanted to vomit. She’d never needed to share the same air with the college Big Wigs before, let alone, having to speak directly to the Board. And now, she was under their microscope.

“Relax,” Michael told her again. He placed her hands in his to stop the explosion of paperwork. “Honestly, you won’t need these,” he said, laughing lightly to diffuse the tension etched upon her face. “They won’t understand a word of it anyway. These types only understand profit margins, pie charts, and golf outings.”

Candice gave him a weak smile, removed the glasses from her tired eyes, and then tugged nervously on her tightly braided brown ponytail. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but you’re not the one with your life’s work on the line. If they start questioning what we’ve been doing with the research grant…”

“…Then you will finally have a chance to blow their socks off with your brilliance,” Michael finished. “Just tell them about it, like you’ve told me. Speak passionately and with conviction, and they’ll know the funding has been well spent.” Michael Finch laid back in the uncomfortable lounge chair and stretched. His long and curly red ponytail slipped out of the back of his suit and hung down behind the chair.

Candice let out a giddy laugh at the sight of her hippy-looking boyfriend in the suit. She rarely saw him dressed in his ‘professional’ attire and was surprised to see him out of his flip-flops for once.

Michael replaced his ponytail back down his jacket. “What… do I amuse you this morning?”

“I’m just trying to figure out when my boyfriend was eaten by the corporate suit-and-tie monster,” she poked.

“Back before my days as an entertainer of business wares, I once had lofty aspirations to become a lawyer,” he reminded her while dusting lint off his well-pressed, outdated suit. “These fine articles of clothing are a result of those days. Besides, it’s easier to sell anything with confidence… and that’s what a good suit does for a man.”

“I know, I know. I better stop now before you try to sell me the suit off your back, right?” she teased.

Michael laughed. “You know me too well. I just wish I could sell you a bottle of calm-the-hell-down and make you drink ‘till your drunk on the stuff.” He looked her in the eyes and finished, “No matter what happens, it’s going to be alright. You know that, don’t you?”

Candice shook her head. “I need this, Michael. I’m too damn close. If they stop funding, I’ll go rogue, take over the lab, and barricade myself in until I’m finished! I can’t start over… I won’t!” She stood up and stopped herself from stomping on the floor.

Michael covered his mouth to hide his amusement at her borderline tantrum.

She shook her head and nervously laughed. “And I’m supposed to be some kind of neurologist with a Master’s Degree and everything. Just look at what I’ve been reduced to.” She sat back down. “I don’t have time for this. The work is at a critical stage.”

“You’re kind of cute—in a geeky mad scientist kind of way—when you get all fired up,” Michael offered.

She gave him a stern look and was about to speak.

Two large doors opened at the other end of the lounge and a tall, pretty secretary, with far too much leg showing in Candice’s professional opinion, approached them, clicking her high heel shoes on the tiles just to drive her nuts with the sound. “Miss Forrester?” Legs asked.

“That’s Dr. Forrester,” Candice corrected.

“My apologies. The Board of Directors will see you now.” Legs turned toward the double doors. “Just follow me, please.”

Click… Clack… Click… Clack…

Candice stood up and felt dizzy. Holy shit! This is really happening! She turned to Michael.

He was already up and moving beside her. “I’m right here. We’ll get through this… I promise.”

~~~

“So, help us understand, Dr. Forrester. What, exactly, have you and your team been researching these last two years?” Dean Stockwell shuffled through a stack of papers on the table as the remaining Board members stared at her as if trying to probe her thoughts. “If I’m understanding correctly, your field of study specified under the conditions of your grant have something to do with analyzing patterns in brain activity with patients suffering various sleep disorders and categorizing REM states over long periods. You claimed that if you could find the common irregular “frequency” in the dream state, that various disorders could be treatable, perhaps preventable. But what you’re telling us doesn’t sound like a sleep study at all. Could you explain to us, in layman’s terms, where you are in your study?”

Candice swallowed hard, then took a sip from her water glass. She looked over at Michael who gave her an encouraging nod. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Board,” she started, “while it is true that my primary field of research consisted of documenting dream patterns… my work has since evolved into something far more important, something much more vital than simply studying patterns in REM sleep.”

They all waited.

She took another sip from her glass, silently wishing she could drown herself in it. “While studying the patterns in certain dream states, we began to realize that there were similarities between the most vivid dreams and actual conscious thought, especially within the brain patterns of people who suffered extreme night terrors or those prone to excessive episodes of sleep walking. Comparing those brain patterns with people who were actually awake… well… the evidence showed us that in those extreme cases, it was the unconscious minds which were more ‘active’ than those who were conscious. That’s when we started considering the possibility that unconsciousness may actually be another state of consciousness altogether, rather than just the mind’s way of processing stimuli experienced previously in the conscious state.”

“So what are your saying then?” a stern, hawk-nosed older woman asked. She reminded Candice of every teacher she hated in high school all rolled into one. “Are we supposed to believe that you and your team have managed to uncover and redefine the conscious and unconscious mind based upon your assumption that dreams are… what… real?”

“In a manner of speaking… yes.” Candice stood up. “What I’m saying is that we’ve found far too much evidence of higher brain function activity in many unconscious minds which suggested that some patients, while dreaming, actually believed that the dreams were as real as all of us believe we are sitting here today. The brain patterns were no different from the patterns of those who were wide awake.”

“That isn’t anything new,” an older, robust man with white hair said. “Everyone’s had a dream on occasion that’s felt so real that when they wake, they were surprised they were still in bed. Even the unconscious mind can make a fictional place seem real. That doesn’t make it so.”

“It’s more than that,” Candice defended. “When I said there were no differences in the patterns, I meant more than just believing in the dream itself. There was evidence of self-awareness, responding to experiences… memory recall. It was as though the dreamers were fully awake… and aware… but were elsewhere at the same time. That’s what led us to the real discovery. It’s not about whether the dreams are real or not… it’s about what they really are… or more accurately… what they contain.”

“And that is?” the hawk-nosed woman pushed.

Candice looked to Michael and smiled. She turned back and said, “The dreams are ‘us’. Specifically, they are the place, for lack of a better word, which holds everything about us—who we are, our memories, our personality, beliefs… our very identity. Our dreams are not the playground in which our minds use to process day-to-day activity in an unconscious state. The dreams themselves are the place in which our consciousness originates from. It is this discovery that has altered our aim and led our research to the brink of an extraordinary place… one we simply call, ‘Elsewhere’.”

“That’s not science talking, that’s science fiction!” another older man with a cane and a large grey beard interrupted. “You are making incredible leaps based upon brain wave data which is inconclusive and highly subjective. Regardless of your wild theories, I want to know what all of this has to do with real science and who gave you authorization to include working with coma patients? You have clearly exceeded the mandate of your grant and it’s apparent that the college has been funding your wild goose chase long enough!”

“Alright, alright, let’s keep this civil,” Stockwell said, addressing them all. He turned to Candice. “We could debate theories all day, Dr. Forrester, but that’s not the point of this meeting today. I think it’s clear that, regardless of your findings, you’ve clearly moved your research outside the bounds of your authorized grant, and without prior approval. As it has been pointed out, it was your work with the coma patients that brought you to our attention. Do you deny this?”

Candice looked away. “No, I don’t deny that. But we had to. Working in the coma ward was the next logical step. It was the only way to gain any ground if what we had discovered was true.”

“Well I’ve heard enough,” the bearded man said. “The only logical conclusion after Dr. Forrester’s admission, is to deny any further funds to aid in her… misguided research.”

“Dr. Forrester,” Stockwell said, “Could you please step outside, we will call you back in shortly.”

The Board members started speaking to each other.

Candice felt defeated. She started to rise.

Michael put his hand on her shoulder and whispered, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this. You’ve done enough.”

Before she could protest, Michael stood up, straightened his suit, and then walked over toward a large window and peered outside. He then raised his voice just loud enough to gain the Boards’ attention. “It’s hard to believe we did it. I mean… we all heard it… we were all a part of it… but it’s still hard to believe.”

Dean Stockwell said, “Excuse me, young man, did you have something to add?”

Michael turned and smiled. “It was just last summer… July 20… 1969… I remember it like it was just yesterday. I was washing my car, listening to the radio when NASA put those guys up there on that floating chunk of rock. It was an incredible day.”

Stockwell nodded. “Yes, we will all certainly remember that extraordinary event, probably for the rest of our lives. But back to the matter at hand-”

“I remember what I was thinking about, washing that car, when Neil Armstrong stepped out on the moon,” Michael said. He started getting animated with his hands. “It was like I was in shock… you know… something like that happening… defying all belief. I immediately fell back in time to when I was a kid and my dad and I used to go out on his boat at night. We’d stare up at that moon and he’d tell me stories about men in rocket ships and aliens in outer space. I remember asking him, ‘Dad, do you think anyone could ever walk on the moon?’ He’d laughed at me and messed up my hair. Then he’d said, ‘You keep dreaming hard enough and the impossible might just become improbable. And if you work towards those dreams hard enough, that’s when the improbable becomes possible.’ I didn’t understand that until I was out washing my car last July. Was a hell of a feeling.”

He had their attention.

Michael started pacing the room. “I hear they have these elaborate computers over there at NASA. Fancy technological do-dads the size of my garage that act like big old robots with brains bigger than anyone in this room. Some people say, dreamers mainly, that we’ll all have computers one day that will be as small as televisions… can you imagine that? Anyway, these same people say that these computers will do just about anything eventually, and they’ll even be so small that you’ll hold them in your hand… crazy talk, right? But wait… we did just put two men on the moon… so who knows?”

He walked around the table, looking into all their eyes. “Now, I don’t pretend to know how those big old fancy computers work, but I’m told their brains will get bigger and bigger as the technology that holds them gets smaller and smaller, until one day, those brains will be so small that you can take it out of one computer and put it in another. Now, before you cut me off, I would like to point out that Dr. Forrester’s theory on dreams is much like those computers. You see… we are all a bit like those fancy computers. We come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but we all have a brain. And just like those fancy computer brains, our brains are a mystery. But let’s suppose for a minute that there’s a place in our minds where everything is stored… like those computers… and then let’s suppose that the only place large enough to hold an entire human being’s inner most thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences would have to be in a place that’s as unlimited as we are. If that’s the case, then why not the dreamscape buried deep within our own minds? And that… my friends… is what Dr. Forrester has attempted to explain to you. But you won’t listen… you won’t hear her out… you won’t believe.”

“What you are suggesting,” hawk-nosed woman said, “is impossible. You want us to believe that Dr. Forrester’s research will prove that dreams house our identity? That the dreams are what… our souls? You’re out of your mind, Sir.”

“Exactly!” Michael was getting animated. “Just last summer, we put two men up on the moon,” Michael reminded them. “Now… that was impossible, too, right? But we went and did it anyway.”

“So what are you suggesting?” Stockwell said. “Should we continue to fund Dr. Forrester’s research just in case she manages to turn water into wine?”

“No,” Michael said. “I’m not asking anyone to believe… I’m just asking that you allow this incredible woman time to continue believing long enough to put another man on the moon, despite the odds of her actually pulling off the impossible… and what it would mean for this University if she did.”

The Board members got up, walked toward the window, and started talking again.

Michael sat back down.

Candice turned to him and whispered, “That was awesome. Regardless of what they decide, thank you for trying. There’s no way I could’ve made them listen like you just did.” She kissed him on the cheek.

He smiled and said, “Nothing but the best pitch I can muster for the woman I love. Besides, that was easy. You’ve already made a believer out of me, Armstrong.”

After a few minutes they returned.

“Regardless of whether we believe or don’t believe in what you’re trying to accomplish, and honestly, I can’t say that we understand it,” Stockwell began, “this University is not in the business of funding the impossible. So I regret to inform you that your grant extension request has been den-”

“Improbable,” a short middle-aged man with silver hair interrupted. He was the only Board member who had remained silent until now.

“Come again, Mr. Bawle?” Stockwell said.

Mr. Bawle walked over to Michael and Candice and said, “Not all of us believe as wholeheartedly as the two of you, but not all of us wholeheartedly denounce your research either.” He gave them a wink.

“Mr. Bawle, we’ve discussed this already,” Stockwell said. “Their grant has been turned down.”

“Yes, yes, but unlike the rest of you, not only am I a Board member, but the organization in which I represent is a substantial financial contributor to this University… among other things.” Mr. Bawle turned to the other Board members and said, “You may all leave now. This matter is now above your station.”

The other Board members grudgingly departed without another word.

“Shit,” Candice whispered to Michael. “What just happened?”

Michael shrugged his shoulders.

Mr. Bawle turned to them, his hands neatly folded behind his back. “It seems that I am the deciding vote on whether or not your research gains further funding, Dr. Forrester.”

Candice didn’t know what to say.

The little man smiled. “Now, before this enthusiastic young man you brought with you today tries to convince me that the sky is indeed not blue, Dr. Forrester, I will settle this matter. Yes, you have your funding.”

Candice’s knees gave way as Michael caught her. “Thank you, Mr. Bawle,” she said. “You won’t regret it.”

Mr. Bawle lifted one eyebrow and said, “Oh, I am sure to regret a great many things in the days to come. But that is no concern of yours. Now tell me, why the coma ward? If you hadn’t gone and got them involved, you wouldn’t be here today.”

Michael and Candice gave each other a look.

“Come on,” Mr. Bawle said, “out with it. No more secrets.”

Candice sighed heavily and said, “We haven’t been as forthcoming about ‘all’ the research yet. Some of it might be considered… unethical.”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “Well… if it makes you feel any better, you can just tell me and I’ll forget to mention it to the rest of the Board. Acceptable?”

Candice nodded.

“Go ahead and tell the man,” Michael said. “He’s holding the pocketbook, after all.”

“It’s not the coma patients we’re interested in,” Candice said. “Our research involves the others who share the same ward.”

“And who might that be?” Mr. Bawle asked.

“The patients who are being kept alive on life support,” Candice said.

“Excuse my ignorance,” Mr. Bawle said, “but aren’t we still talking about coma patients?”

“Not exactly,” Michael said.

“No,” Candice added. “Coma patients, like those who are in a vegetative state, still have lower brain function, but the others on life support only, have lost all neurological function.”

Mr. Bawle still looked confused.

Candice shook her head in frustration. “The patients included in our research have clinically been declared deceased… brain dead, is the term. But they’re not… and my research will prove it.”

“They’re ‘Elsewhere’,” Michael added.

Mr. Bawle turned toward the window.

Shit… we’ve said too much, Candice thought.

“So let me get this straight,” he finally said. “The patients involved in your research are essentially dead… correct?”

“In laymen’s terms… yes,” Candice conceded.

“But you’re telling me that you can prove that they are not?”

Candice felt like the roof was about to collapse on her head. She looked at Michael. “Like my… colleague… tried to illustrate with the computer analogy, the data can be retrieved from a built in back-up system… even after the primary system has essentially… crashed.”

Mr. Bawle turned with his eyebrows raised. “I’m confused, Dr. Forrester. Either they are dead, or they are not. Which is it?”

Candice took a deep breath. “In order to adequately explain what we’ve discovered, I’m reluctant to answer that question without opening up a big old can of worms on the afterlife, Sir. Let me just say that if our research-”

“Fine. Fine. So… if I’m understanding where this is going, you want me to believe that you can prove that regardless of where the deceased have gone—Heaven, Hell…‘Elsewhere’—that you can… what… bring back the dead?”

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” she started. “It’s not a matter of-”

“Yes or no?” Mr. Bawle interrupted.

Candice let out a nervous little laugh. “Well… Sir… in a rudimentary sense… yes.”

This time it was Michael who gave her a surprised look.

Mr. Bawle smiled at her, then nodded at them both, before turning back toward the window.

Candice and Michael gave each other a confused glance.

“I appreciate you being straight forward with me, Dr. Forrester. I’m equally appreciative that you withheld what you just told me from the others.” He turned back around. “They would not understand or be as open-minded to such… possibilities… as my employer would be.”

Candice didn’t know how to respond.

“As I’ve said, your funding has been approved… for now.”

“With all due respect… what does that mean?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle placed his hands on the table and stared at his feet. “It’s just a matter of time before someone at the University brings your research back into question. And I’m afraid that should the information you’ve shared with me gets out… there will be no way to protect you from the backlash.”

Candice nodded and said, “I’m aware of the risks. We’ve been careful to keep our true research hidden. We’ll just have to be more care-”

“How long do you think it will take for someone to connect the dots, Dr. Forrester?” Bawle interrupted.

Candice looked confused. “What… what do you mean by that?”

Mr. Bawle laughed lightly, shook his head, and approached them again. “What I mean is… I’m having a difficult time believing that the connection you share with one of the… brain-dead patients… is coincidental. Or, did you just forget to mention the rest in all the excitement?”

Michael sighed heavily. “Tell him,” he urged. “He already knows.”

Candice nodded and stared at the floor in front of Mr. Bawle’s feet. “Yes, one of the patients happens to be a relative of mine… but that in no way diminishes the results of my research. I didn’t mention it because-”

“You didn’t mention it because if anyone thought that your research was connected to your younger brother’s… condition… they would immediately dismiss your project and declare you emotionally unfit to continue,” Mr. Bawle finished. “Does that about cover it?”

“It’s not like that!” Michael stepped in. “If anything, she’s more motivated to succeed because of it!”

Candice placed her hand on Michael’s shoulder. “It’s okay. It was going to come out eventually… we both knew that.”

Michael frowned and nodded, stepping back.

Mr. Bawle returned his hands behind his back, waiting patiently for the young man’s temper to subside. He gave Candice a well-practiced concerned face, and continued, “I mean no disrespect to you… or your delicate situation. I merely wanted to point out that the truth will come out eventually… and sooner than you think. That’s why I want to offer you a better arrangement so that you can continue your research uninhibited by the University.”

This got both their attention.

Mr. Bawle smiled. “The organization I represent has vested interests all around the globe. Many are not very exciting, I can assure you, but on occasion… we dabble in some, how shall I put it, ‘off the books’ projects that some might consider… ‘impossible’.”

Candice smiled. “You mean ‘improbable’… right?”

Mr. Bawle laughed and pointed at her. “You got me.” He turned and started walking back toward the window. “As it turns out, we have a current long-running project that’s struck a wall. I believe that your research, and the current project my organization has spent considerable resources exploring, might mutually benefit from each other.”

“What are you proposing?” Candice said.

Mr. Bawle turned and gave her a serious face. “My organization is prepared to fund your research indefinitely, meaning, you will no longer need to rely upon the University… at all. You will be free to continue your research without fear of being found out or shut down prematurely by… unbelievers.” He gave Michael a wink.

Michael shifted uncomfortably.

“What’s the catch?” Candice asked.

“Well… my organization wants you to succeed, of course, but we also want shared rights to all your discoveries, including the actual application of your work to our current project. And need I remind you, this arrangement is entirely fair, since we are covering all the costs. You would retain all rights to your own work, of course, and could back out whenever you wish. But I believe when you find out what my organization has already achieved, and can apply it to your own work, you will be highly motivated to continue.”

“What could your organization possibly be involved in that would benefit from my research, or vice versa?”

Mr. Bawle smiled. “We can discuss that in more detail after we’ve relocated you off campus and given you a more private and secure location to continue your work.”

Michael and Candice shared a concerned look.

Candice sighed. “What about my patients? I can’t… I can’t leave them here.”

Mr. Bawle nodded thoughtfully. “Of course, you can’t. We will arrange to have them relocated, as well.”

“You can do that?” Michael said.

“Consider it done… should you both agree to our arrangement.” Mr. Bawle raised his hands and finished, “Please, talk it over. But I’ll need to know your answer before the end of the day. We’ve a lot of logistics to take care of and I’d like to get my team started on it.”

“Who do you work for, exactly?” Candice asked.

“Let me just say, I work for an organization that will make sure nothing can hinder your research… ever again. But I’m afraid that’s all I can say… for now. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity presented to you today. I strongly suggest you put aside your doubts and take it.”

“We’ll think about it,” Michael was quick to chime in, staring suspiciously at the short man with the devilish grin.

“Very good,” Mr. Bawle said, putting his hands together. “I have a few more appointments to get in today. Let’s say we meet back together for dinner. Seven o’clock sound good?”

“Sure. That would be great,” Candice said, too quickly.

“Splendid! I’ll have my driver pick you up. I really do hope you accept my organization’s generous offer, Dr. Forrester. You won’t regret it.” Mr. Bawle was about to exit the room, stopped, then turned. “Oh… I’ve one more question for the both of you. Might sound a bit strange.”

“Ask away,” Michael said. “Strange has been the theme today.”

Mr. Bawle laughed mechanically and then said, “Do either of you have any objections to working with children? Specifically, young girls?”

~~~

Author’s Note: As a refresher, this story takes place three years prior to Candice Forrester and Michael Finch’s involvement with the mysterious orphanage (which isn’t really an orphanage) where Meredith spent some time at back in Chapter 35: Dead Dolls. This story hopefully sheds a little light on Candice and Michael’s initial involvement with the organization (a.k.a. Mother if you’re reading between the lines) as Candice decides to ‘deal with the devil’ to further her research.

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***SPOILER ALERT*** If this if your first time reading Don’t Feed The Dark then I strongly encourage you to skip this article. Major events in the storyline will be discussed.

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So here’s your refresher course, and my attempt to summarize some of the main points in the first five books. I know it’s been a while. I hope this helps trigger some memories from previous reading. I’ve divided this synopsis up by each book, so you can read up to whatever book in the series you finished off at without fear of reading spoilers for the books that follow it. Just be sure to stop reading this summary at the point you stopped… or else you risk having unread material spoiled for you.

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Book One: Southbound Nightmares Our story began early Saturday Morning, October 2nd, 2010, with a catastrophic event known as The Change, sometimes referred to as The Madness. This unknown outbreak struck the population, randomly turning people into flesh-craving monsters with fierce yellow eyes. As adequately described in Chapter 8, “It was estimated that one out of every five people simply lost their minds and turned on the living.” Along with this, were other abominations which returned to hunt the flesh of Mankind.

Book One detailed the horrific story of several characters in different locations throughout Northeast Ohio as they attempted to survive that first long night. We were thrown into several different stories happening at that same time as The Change was occurring. Some of the cast we’ve met: Russell Bower- a serial killer; Gina Melborn- a stripper; Stephen Eddington- a history teacher; Charlie Ottermeyer- a professional asshole; Amanda Howard- an alcoholic; Frank Carman- a convict.

Eventually all their stories merged at one of the last known places of refuge, the Percy Power Plant. From there we were introduced to the remainder of our group: Meredith Montgomery- a medium; Doug McFarlane- a baseball player; Greg Dermont- a handyman; Ashley Dermont- Greg’s teenage daughter; Marcus Dempsey- an apocalyptic philosopher.

After an all-out attack on the power plant, these original ten survivors barely escaped the massacre and decided to head for the coast to find a boat, via, a southbound route along an abandoned railway into nowhere. They were met with opposition from their new hostile world, as well as from each other, and they eventually made it to the marina in Fairport Harbor. From there, everything quickly fell apart as our survivors were overwhelmed by a horde of the reanimated dead, while discovering a strange three-pronged symbol, representing a mysterious group believed to be responsible for the attack.

The boat plan failed miserably and our survivors were split up. Douglas was torn to pieces at the marina, and they also lose Greg’s daughter, Ashley, who was bitten trying to get away.

Among some of the stranger events that occur in this book: Meredith has a connection with the dead that allows her to sense when they’re near. Charlie discovers he has an ability to control the dead with his voice, and Stephen is visited by Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard. It is unclear whether he is seeing a ghost… or if he’s losing his mind.

The surviving eight eventually reunited, under Gina’s leadership, and decided to head east/northeast along the Grand River towards a mysterious radio broadcast promising sanctuary, while ultimately aiming for the mountains and a possible refuge in Pennsylvania.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK TWO)

Book Two: Almost Dead In the first book, Gina and her group were hiding out in a boathouse prior to being attacked at the marina, and they heard a CB radio broadcast. Book Two started on the other end of that broadcast where we discovered that Tony Marcuchi, Gina’s friend and bouncer at the strip club from back in Chapter Two, had not perished in a bonfire but was taken prisoner by a deranged, infected half-dead individual known only as the ‘Bad Man’. Tony eventually escaped and was determined to make it back to Gina. Along the way he met a survivor at a truck stop and tried to help her. He ended up fleeing for his life and getting lost in a strange wilderness preserve where we are first introduced to the mysterious and deadly Shadow Dead. Afterwards, he is captured by a former police officer, Samantha Petroskovich, the same cop Frank threw off a rooftop in Book One, and he is introduced to a futuristic looking camp run by a madman named Micom, and an insane machine called Micolad, which is considered the ‘god’ of the camp.

Meanwhile, Gina’s survivors fight their way through a horde of the dark-eyed reanimated in the city of Painesville; a cult of half-dead grey-eyed monsters in the quaint village of Harpersfield; and then deal with the treachery of one of their own near the town of Austinburg as Charlie, who possesses a power to control the dead, has taken Amanda hostage, revealing to the others how very dangerous he truly is.

They ended up leaving Charlie behind and headed southeast toward the town of Jefferson where they met a small community, run by a man named Rusty. During their stay with Rusty’s people, Gina considered joining them shortly before finding out that a large group of the yellow-eyed demons had been tracking them since the power plant. While they fended off the attack, Amanda perished saving Stephen’s life for the sake of her dead daughter, Marie (Nicole). After the battle, and suffering loses, Rusty kicked Gina’s group out when his group discovered what Meredith did to save them and believed she was a witch.

Gina’s group licked their wounds and headed farther south to the town of Andover where Greg is shot down dead by a rooftop sniper from another group of survivors. Gina vowed vengeance as she prepared to go after this unknown group, planning to kill them all.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK THREE)

Book Three: Recruits At the start of this story arc, we go back to the afternoon, prior to the outbreak, where we met a survivalist group in training who appear to have foreknowledge of the pending epidemic. They are also affiliated with the strange three-pronged symbol, which we then learn means, Mother. After the outbreak, they are led by a mysterious man named, Donovan, to a pre-designated ‘safe house’ where they are told to wait for further instructions. After a few startling revelations, we followed this group’s journey to the point where we found out that they are the snipers on the rooftop who murdered Greg.

Gina led an attack on this group, killing most of them and taking Megan, a pregnant girl, hostage. They eventually let Megan go and then have to deal with another larger group moving into town. They are intercepted by the larger group, who is run by the former police officer, Samantha, and that’s when Tony and Gina are reunited. Frank is placed in jail for the attempted murder of the police officer. Gina eventually decides to go rescue the pregnant girl, Megan, after finding out that she is going to the place in the wilderness preserve run by the psychotic machine, Micolad. She is accompanied by Frank and they both allowed themselves to be captured in the hope of infiltrating the wilderness preserve facility and end up being tortured instead.

After Tony makes a stand to defend the town of Andover from a presumed Shadow Dead attack, they end up going after Gina. Charlie returned with an army of the reanimated. All hell broke loose at the wilderness preserve, ending with an explosion, as Micolad self-detonated, destroying much of the forest. The survivors reunited in an underground facility, behind a waterfall, and decided to make it their new home for the winter. Our serial killer, Russell Bower, is finally revealed as Marcus Dempsey when he murders Frank by a river.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK FOUR)

Book Four: Phantoms Book Four begins almost six months later, at the end of a long winter. We are brought back to the ‘Bad Man’s’ ranch, where Tony was once held prisoner, and discover a strange man named Marvin living in the Bad Man’s house. Gina has put together a small attack group, which includes: Tony, Diane Conley- the surviving hunter at the end of Book Three, a strange young man named, Nine Lives, who is obsessed with numbers, and Marcus Dempsey (a.k.a. Russell Bower). Together they intend to seize the Bad Man and free any prisoners he might still be holding. Shit goes south very quickly. The yellow-eyed dead show up and they have changed significantly. After escaping the ranch house, Gina and her group are pursued by both the dead, led by the Bad Man’s wife, Helen, and the Bad Man, himself. Marcus ends up falling off a quarry cliff while trying to lead a pack of the red-eyed animal beasts away from his group. The Bad Man, who we learn is named Walter, captures Gina and wants Tony to turn himself over to him. Things end with the death of the Bad Man at the hands of his wife. Gina and her group head home to the compound beneath the wilderness preserve.

Back at the compound in the partially scorched wilderness preserve, called The Wasteland, Stephen is left in charge. He has become the self-appointed historian of their community as he gives a written account of the past few months. Stephen is also in a relationship with Nicole Howard, the dead daughter of Amanda Howard (Don’t ask me to explain that…lol). Gina is under suspicion for the murder of two community members. The community has split with a third of the people leaving with James Orosco. An uprising occurs shortly before Gina’s return, which result in Gina’s arrest. Stephen is eventually voted in as the new community leader. We are also introduced to a strange preacher, named Logan McCalister, who has a shady gang-related past.

Meanwhile, Meredith and Doctor Arnold Cooper- the same doctor Meredith meets in Andover, are attempting to treat the half-dead Megan. The first of two major flashback stories begin with a long look into Meredith’s past, and her connection with the mysterious group known only as Mother.

We discover that Marcus has survived the fall off the cliff and has been treated by a strange young woman, named Alysa Monroe, who has actually been slowly drugging Marcus and interrogating him without his knowledge. After three weeks of being tricked by this strange woman, Marcus has an opportunity to kill Alysa, but decides to flee instead. We discover that Alysa is actually a Shadow Dead.

Near the end of Book Four, Gina is exiled. Marcus returns and goes out to find her. The Shadow Dead have returned in full force in what looks like the beginning of an all-out attack on the survivors… and that’s where we find ourselves at the very end of Book Four.

(STOP HERE IF YOU HAVE NOT READ BOOK FIVE)

Book Five: Remains Book Five picks up where we left off at the end of Book Four with the pending Shadow Dead attack. The Wasteland compound is viciously attacked as archers assault Tony’s defenses topside while infiltrating the compound through secret entrances. While Tony, Nine and Diane hold off the attack above, Stephen and Logan are dealing with the invading force from within. The power goes out as chaos and a whole lot of death begins. Most of the compound community is slaughtered. Stephen, Logan, Meredith and Megan manage to escape via the mysterious door, only to discover another stairwell descending into the unknown dark.

Topside, Tony, Diane and Nine fight for their lives and discover four teens who had been hiding in Cubicle City when the Shadow Dead came up through the floor. Matthew, Mark, Wendy and Beverly had used the Shadow Dead passage to make it back outside and meet up with the others. Tony and Nine are surrounded by Shadow Dead, who begin tormenting them, until the mysterious Alysa Monroe, former Shadow Dead, rescues them. This is the same Alysa who held Marcus captive in the cabin in Book Four.

After escaping the Wasteland wilderness, and believing everyone else has perished, Tony leads his new group south toward Orosco’s camp, hoping to reunite what’s left of the community. They eventually reach Orosco’s peninsula camp only to discover that most of Orosco’s group has been either slaughtered or captured by some new group with painted faces that they later learn call themselves the Lunatics.

After deciding to follow the Lunatics’ trail in an attempt to rescue what’s left of Orosco’s people, they encounter a strange, sadistic older woman, named Annie Greenman, and her neighbors in the small town of Wick, who have been keeping their dead relatives chained up in the basement and feeding them whoever they manage to capture. Beverly is killed and fed to the dead relatives and Diane loses her arm. Alysa is temporarily delayed at the neighbor’s house, but escapes and rescues the others.

From there, they follow the Lunatics’ trail west, ending up at the town of Orwell, where they are invited into the town library and meet a strange man named Jim who has been alone too long and has trouble distinguishing between what’s real and what’s not. Things go badly as Matthew, who has been suffering severe depression, decides to kill himself by releasing a horde of zombies being held at the high school stadium. Everyone manages to get back to the library as the massive horde surround it. After a several day siege, Nine and Jim come up with an ingenious way to escape, but Jim decides to remain behind.

After Orwell, Tony and the others end up at Mosquito Creek, a large protected swampland, where they discover a massive horde of dormant yellow-eyed zombies that have been gathering for some time. They estimate that there’s more than 5,000 of them.

From there, our survivors end up in the town of West Farmington where they are captured by a small group of mercenaries who run the town out of the local hospital. We discover that Sergeant Richard Hash, the same Hash who was at the Percy Power Plant way back in chapter ten, is leading this group made up of members of his former unit. After an unauthorized interrogation on Alysa, leading into a flashback story of Alysa’s days becoming a Shadow Dead, Hash stops the interrogation, putting him at odds with his second-in-command, Thompson, who he ends up jailing along with his followers. Hash eventually decides to release Tony and his friends, but this forces a confrontation between himself and Thompson, resulting in a gun fight in the middle of the street. Hash and the others survive the confrontation and Hash decides to join Tony on his mission to save what’s left of Orosco’s people.

Our final destination for Tony and his friends take them to the former amusement park, Geauga Lake, which has been converted into a shady black market town called New Cleveland. This is where they finally meet up with the Lunatics, as well as their leader, who goes by the name Candyman. After a bar room brawl, Tony and the others end up going into an auction to save their own lives, and this is where the first long arc of Book Five concludes.

The second arc takes us back to Gina Melborn as we discover what happened to her after getting exiled. After spending too much time alone in the wild, Gina ends up befriending a stray teenage zombie girl, who resembles Ashley, as she begins to confess her sins to the dead girl. After a series of events in the wilderness, Gina eventually discovers a small airport occupied by a small army. Gina captures one of these mystery people trying to get away and finds out that the airport group is a branch of Mother. Obsessed with confronting this group, Gina loses control and kills her hostage.

Meanwhile, Marcus has been tracking Gina and witnesses her murdering the hostage. All hell breaks looses rather quickly and Gina ends up wandering the forest at night, leading her to a farm house by dawn with the dead on her trail. Gina manages to take shelter in the house and Marcus rescues her from the dead.

Afterwards, Gina convinces Marcus that they need to attack the Mother group at the airport but Marcus insists that Gina be trained first. Marcus trains her while secretly setting up his own agenda. When the day comes to attack the airport camp, Marcus creates a detour toward a housing development site where he intends to finally kill her. Things do not go according to plan as Marcus is interrupted by Alysa, who shoots Gina in the chest with an arrow. Marcus, believing Gina is dead, breaks down and Alysa takes him into custody, intending to escort him to the Shadow Dead camp.

Gina wakes up at the airport and meets Clementine. Clementine attempts to convince Gina that Mother is not the evil group Gina believes it is and she takes her back to the Wasteland compound to prove it in the hope that she can convince Gina’s friends that they’re here to help. Clementine breaks the news that everyone at the compound is dead. Clementine, taking advantage of Gina’s vulnerable state, convinces her to join the group and come back with her to the island headquarters across Lake Erie. They depart the airport via Helicopter… and that’s where Book Five finishes.

~~~

And that’s about it (in a nutshell). There’s a lot of things that have happened that I’m not specifically addressing, as well as many more characters I could talk about that we’ve met along the way or who are coming in the days ahead, but I wanted to just touch on some of the major players and moments from the series. Hopefully this serves as a bit of a refresher going into Book Six and beyond. I look forward to reading your comments again as we embark on another volume in this long series.

-Scott

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Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will begin on Halloween!

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.

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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

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