Posts Tagged ‘Book Six: Mother’

~~~

Just outside the southern end of the Mother facility, Lady Clementine’s detachment of armed and unarmed men and women, dressed in forest green uniforms, were busy preparing for the now late arrival of the Carrie-Anne. They had all been told to expect the vessel before dusk and that Clementine was bringing a very important guest to the island. That meant getting everyone on the same page and putting on a well-disciplined first impression. Lady Clementine demanded perfection and that meant everyone needed to be on top of their assigned tasks.

Of course, this was all just another ruse, designed by Lady Clementine, to further misdirect Toby’s attention away from the cavern on the western end, stalling for time. But no one wearing green had been informed of this.

Several tall spotlights on wheels were now being moved from a large hangar bay to various points surrounding the helicopter landing pad, as well as down by the dock. The lights were powered by one large generator, which meant that Clementine’s electricians needed to lay cables before the twilight sky quickly faded overhead.

Clementine’s security attachment was busy making sure the dock just south of the hangar bay was secure. The medical staff prepared for emergency services. Three helicopter pilots waited near their birds on the helicopter pad in case their services were needed to search for the Carrie-Anne should she not arrive at all. Personal aides that performed a wide variety of tasks from cooking meals, to cleaning, to the maintaining of equipment, all went about their assigned duties, preparing for an evening arrival, with much trepidation.

Everyone who had been with Lady Clementine at the airport on the mainland were now housed in the barracks adjacent to the large helicopter pad. While one shift went about their duties a second shift enjoyed what little down time they could in the barracks.

Before the last of the spotlight cables were in position, the sky had grown dark.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Howls erupted from the east side of the hangar bay and just west of the barracks.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, staring at each other with uncertainty.

And then the Nightwalkers attacked. They went immediately for the electricians preparing the spotlights and started to tear them apart.

Screams erupted.

Everyone resting in the barracks started to get up and look around.

Eight monsters dressed in strange armor stormed into the barracks and started ripping them apart.

More screams.

The camp security force, most of them focused on the dock, suddenly turned back and headed for the barracks, guns raised.

They never made it as a horde of nightmarish creatures charged straight for them, jumping out of the evening shadows that hid their approach. The Nightwalkers dug razor sharp teeth into flesh, slashing their claws across the stunned soldiers’ exposed throats and faces.

Erratic gun shots echoed across the camp.

Panic took care of the rest as people outside ran for the false protection of the hangar bay, or the barracks, where they were attacked by wild beasts with red eyes. People inside, tried to make it out, but were grabbed and dragged back into dark corners were the Nightwalkers fed on them alive.

One helicopter pilot managed to get into his bird while blood was splattered across his windows. People trying to make it to the choppers were tackled from behind and dragged off into the night, kicking and screaming.

The pilot got his engine running as the blades of his chopper came to life, momentarily distracting the closest monsters. He could hear people attempting to climb into the rear of the helicopter. Fearing for his life, the pilot took off too fast, as terrified men and women in blood-cover green, tried to hang on to the chopper, and fell to their deaths on the helicopter pad.

As the pilot cleared the ground, he heard a low growl from behind him. He turned and found the eyes of a savage creature, it’s face dripping with the blood of a fresh kill. The pilot reached for his holstered handgun.

Too late.

The disfigured former human dug its teeth deep into the pilot’s shoulder.

The pilot cried out and lost control of the bird as it started to spin in circles, moving too low and toward the southern entrance of the Mother installation.

As the Nightwalkers continued their slaughter of everyone near the hangar bay and down by the docks, the out-of-control helicopter crashed into the southern end of the facility, exploding on impact. Shrapnel and debris from the crash shot outward, ripping into fleeing flesh and producing a massive fireball that shot up into the dark sky.

The tall spotlights, surrounding the camp like silent spectators, watched on with indifference as the Nightwalkers slaughtered everyone in the area, feasting upon many of them while they screamed to death.

Not a single light had been turned on.

~~~

The Carrie-Anne rocked up and down across the rolling waves as Captain Carl navigated the vessel to the south, a quarter mile off-shore, preparing to round the southern point of the island. The last of the day’s light was quickly going out over the western horizon, leaving a blood-red glow to mark the remains of the dying sun. The wind had picked up considerably, kicking up the waves, and making it difficult to hold course.

At the close of the tense confrontation down on the aft deck, Captain Carl had laughed unexpectantly, taking another hit off his pipe. He’d waved off his deckhands who had lowered their weapons, and said, “If only to meet this ‘special lady’ of yours and find out how she can drive the two of you to this madness… I will take you to the southern dock. She must be one of a kind, perhaps a siren of sorts whose beauty is just as dangerous and alluring as her song.”

Logan and Stephen had just given each other a confused look.

“No matter,” Carl had concluded. “Call me curious. I want to meet your… Gina. Besides, I could have my hands load up my commission while we wait for you at the dock. The sooner I’ve concluded my business with the Red Lady the better. Now, please, lower the flare gun and get the hell away from my damn fuel.”

Afterwards, Captain Carl had insisted his guests join him in the pilothouse so he could keep an eye on them while the siblings remained armed and stationed nearby.

Stephen and Logan had offered no further resistance.

“The hell?” Carl blurted out from behind the helm. They had just rounded the southern tip of the island.

“Is there a problem, captain?” Stephen said.

He shook his head and pointed his pipe toward the dark stretch of land ahead of them. “Somewhere in that dark mess is the dock. Those morons are supposed to have a lit up for me! They know this! It ‘ain’t the first time we’ve docked at night!”

Stephen and Logan stared out the front pilothouse windows. All they could make out was a darker line of land, silhouetted against the darkening sky. If not for the last of the fading light, they would not have been able to discern where the land met the water.

“Why would they not have lights on?” Logan said.

Carl ignored the big man’s question. He started barking orders at the siblings. The young man left the pilot house with instructions to man the bow mounted spotlight at the very front of the vessel.

“We can still make it in without the dock lit up, but we’ll have to slow down and drift a bit until we locate it with our own light. It’s just a bigger pain-in-the-ass this way.”

Logan pushed again. “Can you think of any reason why those lights would be out, captain?”

Carl just stared and frowned. “It’s damn unusual,” was all he said. “The Red Lady runs a tight operation here… always has. This is not like her. Not at all.”

Stephen and Logan shared a worried glance.

“Something’s happened,” Stephen whispered.

A bright light flashed ahead of them, getting everyone’s attention.

“Holy Mary Mother of…” Captain Carl let his words hang as he exited the pilot house and shouted down to the red-headed deck hand. He sent the girl down to join him.

Stephen and Logan just stared at the ball of fire hovering in the vicinity of the southern dock.

“Gina?” Stephen asked.

Logan nodded. “Perhaps. Whatever’s happening, I’m sure she’s right there in the middle of it.”

The captain came back inside looking winded and cursing under his breath. “That better not have been my damn fuel!”

“What’s happening?” Stephen said.

Carl was turning hard on the helm. The Carrie-Anne was turning away from the island as the captain altered course to run parallel to the shore, heading the other direction toward the east side.

“I told the twins to keep the lights out. We’ll be running dark. I won’t risk pulling into whatever madness is happening over there,” the captain said. “Looks like a good way to lose my ship, too… and that I will not allow.”

“Then where are you going?” Stephen pushed. “Our friend is over there! Something’s clearly wrong and we need to get Gina the hell out of there!”

“Aye,” Carl said with an impatient nod. “You’ll get your chance. But I’m not leaving here empty handed. There’s an older dock on the east side. A bit trickier to reach, but we’ve used it a time or two. There’s a small fuel depot on the east side where we might make up for our loses. If you’re still bent on finding your friend, I’ll let you off there while we gather fuel.”

“You mean while you ‘steal’ fuel,” Stephen corrected.

Logan laughed. “He is a fucking pirate.”

“I’ll just be collecting what I’m owned,” Carl clarified. “The Red Lady, if she’s still around at the pick-up, will understand.” He looked at them both and finished, “As for the rest, I’ve never ventured off the docks… never wanted to, either. But I will say that the eastern dock is out of the way. It’s surrounded by trees and might help you find your friend more… discreetly.” He laughed and took another hit from his pipe. “And judging by what we just witnessed on the south side, you may not want to be discovered after we get there. I suggest you find your friend quickly and skip the tour. Once I’ve got my fuel, I want to be off this damn island and back on the water. Are we clear on this?”

“Crystal,” Stephen said. “And… thanks for waiting.”

Captain Carl raised an eyebrow, amused. “You misunderstand. As much as I like you two, despite our little ‘blow up the ship’ moment earlier, my only concern is the payday. Nothing more. Should you happen to be back on board by the time I depart, then that’s just good timing. But if you’re not… I won’t be here. So, you better hurry.”

Logan nudged Stephen with an elbow and said, “He’s worse than a damn pirate. He’s an opportunist.”

This made the captain laugh.

“Well, whatever your motivations lie, thanks all the same,” Stephen said. “And… sorry for the whole ‘flare gun’ fiasco.”

“No worries.”

Stephen was about to turn, then stopped. “Captain, what will you do after all this?”

“I don’t catch your meaning.”

“I know you don’t care about what’s happening on the island or why we’re even here. But just to let you know, should we succeed in our… mission… you may find yourself unemployed.”

Carl laughed. “Yeah. This may be my last run regardless. Once things start unexpectedly blowing up at your employer’s place of business, that’s a clear sign that the well may have run dry. But don’t you worry, young man, I will manage.”

“Well,” Stephen continued. “I only wanted to say, should we make it out of this mess, you’re more than welcome to join us on the mainland. We once had a… prosperous… community with good people—the best kind of people.” Stephen started to get a little choked up. “Anyway, should we survive this island, I know we will get it all back… someday. You and your crew can join us and help us rebuild.”

Captain Carl gave Stephen a curious look, then took another drag off his pipe. “Prosperous, you say. I like the sound of that. However, you seem to be overlooking the obvious. Whether you find your dear friend, Gina, or not, and make it back to the Carrie-Anne before I leave this rock… you still have no way of making it back to the mainland. Unless you are all exceptional swimmers.”

Stephen smiled. “I was leading into that.”

“I suspected,” the captain laughed.

“After your services are finished here, I would like to commission you to take us back… to the mainland.”

“And just how do you expect to pay for this?”

Stephen shook his head and sighed. “With a promise.”

Carl laughed hard. “Well… I’ve not much use for that currency.”

The former school teacher gave him a stern look. “You would be a fool to turn down this promise, Sir. Especially considering how very few people are left. And out of those scattered pockets of humanity, even fewer still would care to come together and start over. Most people would rather kill each other now to get whatever scraps they can get. But I’m telling you, we will rebuild. And I promise you, as long as I live, you will always have a part of it… if you help us get back.”

Captain Carl just stared. He turned to Logan and said, “Does he always talk like this?”

Logan laughed, putting a hand on Stephen’s shoulder. “This one’s a rare find. He still believes in Humanity… the good parts. If my friend says we’re going to rebuild, then I wouldn’t bet against him.”

“Well… I appreciate the optimism. But again, I haven’t survived this long on promises. Sorry, Stephen, but I don’t intend to stick around after my deal with the Red Lady is finished.”

Stephen smiled. “Maybe I’m using the wrong words here. Perhaps what I mean to say is… think about what I’ve proposed as an… investment. An investment in what’s left of our species to overcome and start over. Don’t you want to be a part of it?”

Captain Carl gave Stephen a shrewd look over his pipe and then laughed. “You are persistent if nothing else. I can appreciate that. ‘Investment’.” He mulled over the word while continuing to steer. “That does sound much better than a promise. I will consider it. That’s the best I can do.”

“I’ll take it,” Stephen said. He reached out his hand. “I know this might seem a bit archaic, but back when I was growing up, handshakes still sealed the deal.”

“But we haven’t agreed to anything,” Carl said.

Stephen smiled. “But we have. You just don’t know it yet.”

This made the captain laugh so hard he almost dropped his pipe. He settled down and stared at Stephen’s hand. Finally, he shook his head and said, “Why not.” Then he shook his hand. “Verdict’s still not in on whether I’m shaking a dead man’s hand or not.”

“We’re not dead yet,” Stephen reminded him.

“Amen, little brother,” Logan said. “Amen.”

They rounded the southern tip of the island and turned north along the eastern shoreline.

~~~

Heart pounding in her ears. Out of breath. The scent of rotting murderers invade her nostrils. Leg muscles burning. Dying recruits’ screams from all around her—pleas for mercy ignored. Growls. Violence. Death.

Eyes useless.

The KAR had been swallowed up in darkness.

I am not here, Gina reminded herself. I am the dark.

She commanded her body to become still… silent. No, that wasn’t right. That was impossible. Gina emulated the darkness… hid within it.

But it didn’t matter.

The Nightwalkers would find her.

A shifting sound to her right. Friend or Foe?

Something bumped against her right shoulder. Gina whirled around with her hand axe and struck a monster in the face. It screamed in pain and slithered away.

Two more came at her.

Gina ducked down and jammed her Balato upward into something hard.

A monster cried out in frustration.

Something just missed her face. She felt her hair shift from the clumsy blow. Gina rolled out of that spot and quickly got to her feet.

And then all at once, faint light from the southern doors poured into the KAR as the first recruits opened them wide and started to flee.

The KAR was infested with hungry beasts and dying recruits.

Move! Move now! Gina focused on the light and bolted for the door, slashing at Nightwalker’s while screaming at them with each fierce blow of her axe.

The monsters howled back.

“To the fucking doors!” Gina cried. “Hurry… or we’re dead!”

Some recruits were already ahead of her. She could hear others following. She focused on the doors. She focused on killing anything that stood between herself and those doors.

The monsters attacked from the sides and from behind, knocking recruits to the ground.

More screams.

Suddenly Julianne was beside her, swinging her sword into the darkness like a maniac.

She could see Gilo ahead of her, trying to protect the flank of fleeing recruits.

Kyle was somewhere behind them, still fighting near the center of the KAR.

And then all at once, she was back in the dull light, racing down the hall surrounded by bloody recruits.

The monsters were right behind them. They screamed and slashed at flesh, taking down the recruits near the rear and then dragging their fresh kills back into the KAR… to feed.

Gina glanced once at Julianne who had stopped long enough to attack two monsters who had caught up to them. She sliced at the Nightwalkers with brutal speed, screaming at them more to dispel her own terror. Black blood splattered her face. Other recruits turned to fight. Some continued to run for the southern exit on the other side of the mess hall.

The fiery red head turned back in time to hack into the face of another beast. Then she ducked down and cut into its thigh.

The monster howled in pain and hobbled back.

Most of the Nightwalkers had ripped off their cumbersome armor by now, revealing naked and tortured looking flesh covered in blood. Their red eyes blazed. Their jaws hung open, dripping blood, black bile, and displaying blood-stained razors for teeth.

Several more recruits went down. Gina and the others were falling behind. “Move! Move! MOVE!” she shouted to them. Gina, Julianne and the others whirled around to catch up to the recruits toward the front. They had just reached the end of the last hallway leading into the mess hall.

We’re going to make it! Gina thought.

As if sensing this, the Nightwalkers howled and sprinted after them on all fours. They quickly caught up to their flank and started killing more recruits.

Someone yelled from behind them.

The Nightwalkers turned in time to see a young man in a ponytail, whirl his spear around and stab into them repeatedly.

Gina barely had time to register the young Ama-Eskua recruit’s fierce determination and bravery. Nightwalkers from behind Kyle grabbed at his feet, causing him to lose his balance and fall forward. The others in front of him turned back.

Kyle was immediately swarmed by fifteen Nightwalkers. He was torn to pieces.

“Fuck me!” Gina shouted, turning away.

“He died well,” Julianne said from her right. “May we all die as well.”

Kyle’s sacrifice had bought them a slight lead. Gina and the rest of the recruits cut through the mess hall and reentered another labyrinth of southern hallways, following the sounds of the recruits up front.

By the time they reached the far end of the last hallway leading to the exit, the beasts had caught up.

Gina could see the first recruits reaching the door. Gilo was still with them. He turned back and saw the others. He raced toward Gina’s group with his sword drawn to help defend their flank.

The young Ama-Eskua recruit made it halfway back when the southern exit suddenly exploded, knocking Gilo off his feet. Gina and the others were also thrown to the ground as fire filled the other end of the hall. Debris shot back at them like bullets. A piece of the southern door penetrated the forehead of one recruit, killing him instantly.

The Nightwalkers directly behind Gina’s group caught the blunt of the bright flames, covered their eyes, and temporarily retreated out of the hallway.

As for the recruits near the exit. They were blown to pieces.

Gilo, his legs severely burned, managed to crawl back to the rear group.

Gina and Julianne, covered in cuts, burns and dust from the blast, managed to get up and reach him.

The young man was in so much pain as he coughed up blood. He kept his composure and said to Gina. “You have to… have to… reach the sanctum, now… only way… out. Western hall… the old showers… weak northern wall… other side… sanctum… lower level.” That was all Gilo managed. The young man exhaled his last and stopped moving, his eyes locked in on Gina.

Gina shook her head, trying not to lose it. She turned to Julianne. “Do you know the place he’s talking about?”

Julianne, her sad eyes locked in on the dead young boy warrior, just nodded. “I know it. He’s right. That’s the only chance we have. These beasts are everywhere. If we can get into the sanctum, we might be able to slip in behind them and find a way out.”

Gina nodded and looked back at what remained of her injured and battered recruits. Including herself and Julianne, they were now ten. She looked down the hall behind them. “The flames are holding them back for now. We need to move while they’re stunned. Can we get there from here?”

Julianne nodded. “Back one hall and take a left. That will lead us into the western berthing wing. The old shower room is at the far end. But it’s a dead end. If we can’t breach it… we will die there.”

“We’re going to die in this fucking hallway if we don’t try,” Gina said. “You ready?”

Julianne nodded. “Yes, Lady Gina.”

She turned to the recruits. “Stay strong. Stay brave. We might make it out of this, but we need to keep fucking fighting. Are you still with me?”

The weary recruits started to rise, shaking off their injuries as well as pieces of their blown-up friends. They defiantly raised their weapons in the air.

Gina gave them a fierce proud look, and then raised her bloody axe. “Let’s move.”

~~~

Chapter 54 will continue this weekend…

Previous Episode 54-10

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-11: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. For a very long time.”

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

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

“Meredith.”

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

Megan said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To… Elsewhere?”

“Yes.”

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

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

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

Meredith looked down into the bowl.

Clementine was almost to the crater structure.

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

“And the witch?”

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

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

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

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

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

Megan stepped back reluctantly.

Meredith turned toward the bowl.

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

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

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

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

Megan smiled. “I… love you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith closed her eyes and stopped fighting against the darkness.

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!

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

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

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

YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE, TRAITOR!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine started to scream as her mind began to break.

But Toby wasn’t finished with her yet.

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

Clementine continued to scream until a tentacle pierced her throat.

The last two drilled into her eye sockets.

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

~~~

Next Episode 54-11

Previous Episode 54-9

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-10: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Gina and the recruits reached the upper landing of the hub with weapons drawn. The large, dimly lit former headquarters of Mother seemed vacant until the loud alarm suddenly went silent.

With her hand axe in one hand, the Balato in the other, Gina signaled everyone to hold at the landing.

From beneath them, they could hear what was left of the patrols being slaughtered. Desperate sounds of fighting and screams echoed across the hub. Many of the recruits believed the ghosts of this unnerving, dead space had all assembled below to take their revenge against the living.

Gina looked back into their confused and terrified faces.

The recruits shifted nervously behind her, staring at each other and then back to Gina, waiting for her to tell them what to do… or wake them from this nightmare.

Even the three remaining Ama-Eskua recruits looked uncertain as Gilo and Kyle took up defensive fighting positions on either side of their leader with Julianne guarding her back and staring up and around at the shadows as if everything and anything might attack them in the next few moments.

Gina stopped at the upper rail, looked down into the hub, and tried to process what only her ears could tell her since she could not see a single Ama-Eskua warrior below.

Where the fuck are they?

When the screams finally ceased. The hub went silent.

“They know we’re here,” Julianne whispered.

Gina gripped her hand axe so tight her hand started to go numb. “What are they waiting for?” she whispered back.

Kyle raised his spear and whispered, “They’re not waiting. They’re already moving to surround us.”

Gilo, with his sword up, added, “We have the advantage of higher ground. They will be going for the stairs… or they will draw us toward them. Either way, we are too tightly packed on this landing… and they know it.”

Gina nodded, the lack of any sound below causing her to second guess everything. Should they attack? Retreat? Drop their weapons and give in to the fear?

“There’s too many places to hide in here,” Julianne started. “They will strike us hard and fast and attempt to scatter us throughout the hub. If that happens, they can pick us off from the shadows.”

She thought of the KAR, formerly the Kill Room. That was the one place they all understood. They had trained hard in that large space. If they could draw the Ama-Eskua back there, they could stay together and maybe survive the next few minutes.

“We need to get back to the KAR,” Gina told her. “Maybe we have the numbers… and they know it.”

“Agreed,” she said. “That might be all we have.”

Gina signaled the recruits to fall back to the KAR. They all slowly retreated off the landing.

From all around them, they heard large footfalls on metal.

“They’re coming up the stairs!” Kyle said, whirling his spear around toward the closest staircase while walking backwards off the landing.

Gilo and Julianne stood right next to him, forming a line in front of Gina and to protect the rear.

“Fall back to the KAR… fast!” Gina called out, forcing the recruits to move. “Ring Formation!” she added.

They all raced out of the hub and toward the KAR.

Gina and the Ama-Eskua recruits were the last to exit the door off the landing. They all caught a glimpse of the enemy as several dark shapes came together at the other end of the landing. They merged into one large shadow… and… stopped.

Holy fuck! Gina thought. There’s so many of them! “Let’s move!” she ordered. “Hurry!”

“What are they doing?” Kyle asked Julianne as they turned to sprint back to the KAR. “That’s not an Ama-Eskua move. They don’t form… ranks.”

Julianne had no response.

Even Gilo seemed confused by the odd battle tactic. “They’re acting like a pack… moving as one.”

Gina didn’t hear them. Her only concern was getting everyone back to the KAR.

They were the last to reach the northern door and sprinted inside.

“They’re not following!” Julianne yelled as she was the last to reach the large lit space.

The recruits were already forming two large circles at the center of the gymnasium-sized room—one inside the other—a battle formation they’d practiced often for the purpose of fighting against a surrounding enemy. This was called the Ring Formation, something Julianne had suggested when they had discussed possible battle tactics of the Shadow Dead. They had all agreed that those traitors preferred to use the darkness to surround an enemy… a stolen, misused Ama-Eskua tactic.

In addition, every recruit was now carrying a pre-staged Balato in their non-weapon hand. This was Gina’s suggestion. They could use the pain sticks defensively to block or even stun the enemy, in place of a shield, while still striking with their primary weapons.

Gina felt a moment of pride in the recruits for remembering their training and not giving in to fear and falling apart. She was also grateful for the lighting. Of all the rooms in the training facility, the KAR was still the most lit up… which meant fewer shadows.

“Get ready!” Gina barked as she joined the inner circle with Julianne, Gilo and Kyle. Even they were now wielding Balatos in their support hands.

The objective of the Ring Formation was to keep a surrounding enemy in front while the first ring acted like a shield for the second. While the Ama-Eskua attacked the outer ring, the inner ring could strike from between the first rank. If the first ring was breached, the inner ring could step forward to form a new outer ring while the outer ring stepped back to become the new inner ring, regroup, and then start again. This was a move used to tire out the enemy, even an enemy with superior numbers. As fighters fell, the rings would grow smaller, but they could keep the advantage of holding the enemy out front and stay in the fight for as long as the rings held.

Gina quickly assessed their numbers. Forty-eight. Twenty-four per ring. That’s all we’ve got. She already had to assume that the six recruits on patrol in the hub were dead. She had no idea how many Ama-Eskua warriors the Order might send at them, or from where. Julianne believed the number would be low, and that the Order’s honor would dictate fewer warriors to defeat an inferior enemy. Gina hoped that Julianne’s assessment was correct.

Everyone in the KAR stood still as stone. The slightest sound was amplified.

Gina had been prepared for this. Ama-Eskua warriors were trained to use psychological warfare to unhinge an enemy. Such tactics included unnerving silence and painstakingly long lulls in fights to get the enemy to lower their guards.

But not this time.

“I hear them,” Gilo whispered to her right. “They’ve exited the hub.”

Gina tensed up and signaled the recruits with hand gestures to stand by. She looked over at Julianne to her left. She wore a pained face. “What is it?” she whispered.

Julianne gave her a strange look. “Something is ‘off’ about this attack. The others agree. The Ama-Eskua do not fight like a pack.”

“What do you mean ‘a pack’?” Gina said.

“That’s what Gilo said.”

She turned to the young warrior recruit. “It’s how they appeared on that landing,” he said. “It looked… unusual.”

Gina nodded as she struggled with something that started to unnerve her.

No time, she concluded, forcing the thoughts away. She needed to stay focused.

They could all hear them now. The enemy was entering the final hallway in front of the KAR.

All the recruits tensed up, staring into each other’s faces for perhaps the last time.

And then there was a new sound.

“What is that?” Kyle whispered.

Gilo and Julianne looked equally confused.

Gina heard it, too, and nearly dropped her weapons on the floor as recognition set in.

Rat-a-tat-a tat

~~~

“…Unless Gina’s locked up in some dungeon, which I don’t believe is the case, she might have some limited freedom on this island. She might know where Toby is… Toby’s body.”

The others paused, looking confused.

Meredith pulled them in close… and told them her plan.

Most of it.

“Remember what I told you about the dolls when I was child at that orphanage? How I found that secret room with the patients strapped into beds?”

They all nodded.

“One of them was Toby. The real Toby, Doctor Forrester’s brain-dead brother. He was much older, but it was still him. I believe the entity pretending to be Toby is using Forrester’s brother as a tether to this world. I also believe that without this tether, the Toby we’ve come to know will not be able to reach out into our world from the other side.”

“You mean from Elsewhere,” Stephen said.

Meredith smiled at him. “Yes. From Elsewhere.” She gazed into all their faces and sighed. “Part of what we need to do is find that tether and disconnect Toby from it.”

“You mean, kill the real Toby,” Megan said, with no emotion.

“I believe Forrester’s brother is long gone, or, at least, what made him alive is long gone. What remains is the memories, or dreams, or whatever it is that Dr. Forrester tapped into, that allows that monster who calls himself Toby to keep a foothold in our world. He still needs me to cross.”

“So, Toby is using the brain-dead Toby to affect our world,” Stephen started, “just like you’re using another brain-dead girl’s body to remain in our world?”

Meredith frowned. “Her name was Michelle.”

“Of course,” Stephen said. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay. You are correct. It’s very similar to what Forrester and Finch did, transferring my… entire consciousness… into Michelle’s body. Don’t ask me how Forrester did that, I still don’t know. The only difference now is that Toby can’t use brain-dead Toby the way Forrester used Michelle. That Elsewhere secret died with Forrester… and for good reason. But he’s still connected to our world through her brother, and he won’t need that body for much longer once he gets to me.” She stopped for a moment. “Perhaps that is the urgency I’m sensing? Maybe something’s wrong with Toby’s body? Maybe, after all this time, the tether is finally failing?”

“Or maybe the real Toby is fighting back,” Megan said.

Meredith gave her a questioning look. “What do you mean by that, Megan?”

“Maybe Forrester succeeded in what she originally intended to do? Wasn’t she trying to bring back her brother in the first place?”

Meredith considered this, staring at the young half-dead for a long time. She sighed heavily and finally said, “Megan, I hope you’re wrong. Because if not…” She looked down at the strange old flesh that had been her body for so long. “If you’re not… then I’ve a lot more to answer for.”

They all left it at that.

“So, that’s why I need all of you to find Gina,” Meredith continued, bringing them back on track. “She may know where Toby’s body is, or at least know how to find it. And if we break that connection, and sever Toby’s tether to our world, perhaps I can finish this for good.”

“What does that mean?” Logan said.

“It means she’s going to Elsewhere,” Megan finished. She stared at the old medium. “She’s going to let Toby find her… and bring her back.”

“You can’t do that!” Stephen said. “That’s just what that monster wants!”

Meredith nodded sadly. “Yes. It is. But it won’t be like before. Toby will believe he has recaptured that frightened little girl he manipulated a long time ago. And that will be my advantage. He will also be blind to our world without his precious tether. I believe that will actually scare him… a little.”

“If we find that body,” Stephen corrected.

“Yes,” Meredith agreed. “There is that.” She took a deep breath and finished. “You all need to trust me now. This may look like I’m giving Toby what he wants, but I assure you, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have a chance to stop him. And I’m telling you all now… I do. But I can only do it… over there. I need this. I need to do this. Toby used a very naïve little girl to do some very horrible things. I released The Lions into our world. I know it isn’t my fault, not directly, but I am still responsible. This is my battle to fight… and I am ready to fight it now. But I need your help to get there. Will you help me do this?”

With much reluctance, they all nodded…

…Stephen was lost in thought, staring into the ship’s wake as the last of the sunlight caused the water to shimmer, reflecting the evening sky above. His thoughts had drifted back to their last conversation in the boathouse. That was when they’d all decided to help Meredith jump right back into the monster’s mouth. Although the plan had been modified since reuniting with Meredith’s evil sister from the past, the end result was still the same.

I can’t believe we’re letting her do this, he thought. If she fails… and Toby succeeds… He shook off the dire thoughts. Now was not the time for doubt. They had their own job to do.

Stephen and Logan stood on the aft deck of the Carrie-Anne watching Captain Carl bark orders down toward the bow at his two-man crew from just outside the pilot house. They were currently getting ready to drop anchor, but the waves were making operations difficult… and the crew distracted.

The big preacher stared at the setting sun just ahead of them. The sky was getting dark fast as the bottom of the clouds near the horizon started to ignite into majestic hues of red and gold. He turned to Stephen and said, “Another thirty minutes of light at most. If we don’t make a move soon, we’ll have the night to contend with as well as the captain’s crew. We might not even be able to dock.”

“I know,” Stephen said, staring over the aft lifeline and into the rolling waves. “I’m just trying to think of a way to approach the captain and present our case. Like Meredith said, he does seem reasonable. We already know he isn’t a part of Mother. We just need an angle, something to entice the man into helping us get to Gina.”

Logan shook his head and laughed. “Little brother, you and Meredith are far too trusting. This man is a shrewd businessman beneath all that jovial, indifferent talk. If he thinks we’re asking him to do anything that would jeopardize his arrangement with that witch, Clementine, and the sweet deal he already has with Mother, then I’m sure he’ll just throw us overboard.”

“You might be right,” Stephen agreed. “But we should try to talk to him first.”

Logan nodded. “I’m all for keeping the peace. But I think I have a back-up plan to make the reasonable Captain Carl more… cooperative… should he laugh you right out of his pilot house.”

Stephen frowned. “What are you up to?”

Logan smiled and pointed toward twenty fifty-five-gallon tarped containers, stacked two drums high and strapped up toward the front of the aft deck, just beneath the pilot house steps, to the left of the cabin door. “This pirate might me more motivated to help us… if he believed his precious ship were in danger. While you’re talking to the man, I’ll sneak down into that cabin and have a look around.”

“What do you hope to find down there? Weapons?”

Logan smiled. “We’ll just see what the Good Lord provides.”

Stephen’s glanced at one of the drums. The word PETROL was stenciled on the side.

~~~

They were out of time.

Before Gina could prepare herself, or the others, for the horrors coming toward them, the north doors to the KAR slammed open. Several dark, disfigured shapes dressed in former Ama-Eskua warrior armor burst through the doorway and howled at the them. They had elongated limbs with claws instead of fingers. Grotesque upper bodies with bones penetrating rotting flesh were partially covered by armor intended for human beings, making these mangled monsters look like they’d been dressed in Halloween costumes that no longer fit. Blood red eyes stared at the recruits with savage hunger behind cracked helmets—razors for teeth gnawed at the inside parts of the face shields as the creatures screamed in frustration within their light metal trappings.

Julianne locked eyes with Gina. For the first time, Gina saw fear in the young Ama-Eskua recruit’s eyes. “What… what are these things?”

Gina gave her a fierce look. “Keep it together,” she ordered. “The face of the enemy has changed.” She then raised her voice toward the others, noticing her recruits starting to fall apart and disperse, breaking the outer ring. “Hold your positions! Defend yourselves! These aren’t Ama-Eskua… not anymore! They’re a variation of the dead—a hybrid—part man, part beast, that we call Nightwalkers! I’ve faced their kind before. They don’t like the light, and this is the best lit place in this entire fucking facility!”

The creatures charged toward them on all fours, like a pack of ravenous wolves. Some moved very quickly while others struggled sluggishly, their movements restricted by armor or their misshapen bodies. The overhead lighting at the center of the KAR was not bright enough to stop them, but it was enough to annoy the beasts and slow down their charge. As the first animal-man hybrids cleared the doorway, more came in from the hall.

The recruits raised their weapons.

Gina raised her hand axe, focused on the closest monster, and let a savage sound escape her mouth to dispel the fear—a war cry from one savage to another to let the monsters know that they were not the only beasts in the large space.

Gina’s ferocity was infectious as the recruits took up the war cry and howled back at the monsters, causing them to slow down and stare at their strange prey with confusion. The Nightwalkers could smell the blood, but it was the fear they normally sensed which drove them into a frenzy for the hunt. But this time their prey did not act like wounded animals in a trap, but more like smaller animals backed into a corner—and just as deadly as the hunters.

Gina picked up on this immediately. “They’re just animals!” she shouted. “They’re confused! Use it! USE IT!”

As the first of the Nightwalkers reached the outer ring, recruits raised their Balatos to deflect clawed arms while stabbing, chopping and slicing with whatever weapons they held in the other to hold the ring in place.

Other red-eyed beasts were quickly surrounding them, looking for any vulnerability in the ring to strike.

“They may not be human,” Gilo shouted toward Gina, “but they still act like Shadow Dead, surrounding the enemy to come in quick for the kill!”

The irony did not escape her. While the Shadow Dead were men and women disguised and behaving as beasts… these things were beasts disguised as warriors of the Order. But the end result was still the same. They were dealing with animals either way. And animals, wild or otherwise, could be intimidated by stronger or more cunning creatures.

She was scanning the Nightwalkers toward the back of the KAR as they moved around the outer ring while the others attacked the ring directly to distract and throw the recruits into confusion. “Hold the ring!” she shouted. “Hold it no matter what! All they want is an opening or to force us out of the light!”

Gina, Gilo, Julianne and Kyle led the inner ring, reinforcing the outer ring by stepping in between the gaps with fierce strikes to the heads of the savages.

The Nightwalkers howled in pain and slashed at the faces of the recruits. Several in the outer ring went down. Recruits from the inner ring stepped up to take their places. Every time a recruit went down, the Nightwalkers would drag their dying bodies back to the darkest parts of the KAR and devour them alive. The screams of each recruit, ripped apart and fed on, just made the Nightwalkers more violent as they fought each other for the remains.

Gina refused to look at each recruit knocked down and dragged off. They were all finished if they couldn’t hold the rings. Heroics would get them all killed. Gina lunged forward and hacked at the claw of a beast trying to claim a young girl. The beast stepped back, howling in pain. The girl fell to her knees, gripping her torn throat. Another recruit quickly took her place as the young girl fell forward on her face. A different Nightwalker came in quick and snatched a long lock of hair on the dying girl’s head and dragged her body back to the shadows along a wall to feed on her warm flesh, leaving a crimson trail into the dark.

The red-headed savage felt nothing as their numbers dwindled—the rings getting smaller and smaller. She just screamed at the monsters, hacking away at them in between the gaps, tuning out the horrifying sounds of the slain… and the sounds of feasting along the walls of the KAR.

Kyle whirled his spear around and jammed it into the eye of a beast.

Julianne came in low with her sword and hacked off the same monster’s left leg, causing it to fall back.

Gilo was forced to step forward into a gap in the outer ring as the head of a recruit fell right off his shoulders, leaving an opening for a second Nightwalker to charge in and bite into the arm of a second recruit. The young Ama-Eskua recruit came in low then thrust his sword upward into the chin of the disfigured brute. He pulled his sword out, slicing the monster’s face in half, and then quickly thrust his sword into the throat of another monster. Gilo retracted his sword and whirled around to slice off the clawed arm of another beast.

Gina tried to grab the recruit who had been bitten in the arm, but another beast snatched him back into the darkness where three more beasts started to tear the young man apart.

The Nightwalkers were going down but so were the recruits.

There were now twenty recruits, including Gilo, who held the outer ring, while fifteen more maintained the inner ring.

The Nightwalkers still outnumbered them three to one.

Julianne, her clean greys soaked in black blood, turned to Gina. “We’re holding… barely. But they have the advantage. They can wear us out and pick us off at their leisure. We need a better position, preferably a choke point.”

Gina, her face and hair covered in blood, held up her bloody axe and stared up at the lights. “Without those, there’s nothing to stop them from one massive charge. The lights are the only thing they fear.”

Gilo stepped back within the inner circle as another recruit took his place. He, too, was a bloody mess. “On the south side of the facility, there’s spotlights surrounding the hangers around the helicopter pad. That’s where Lady Clementine’s group that came in with you are stationed. The security force will have guns… and we could use the help… as well as the light.”

“She never mentioned that to me,” Gina said.

Gilo just shrugged his shoulders.

There’s a whole lot that old bitch failed to mention, she thought, considering the faces of their new enemy.

Gina turned to Julianne. “Could we make it there? If we haul ass?”

Julianne’s face was stone. “No… not all of us. These things are far too fast. The rest of the light in the facility is too dim. They’ll overtake us before we make it to the mess hall.”

“What the hell are they doing?” Kyle yelled from behind him.

They all turned.

The Nightwalkers were no longer attacking. They were standing in a circle of their own, at the back of the KAR. Some were feeding, but the rest were staring up toward the lights… and howling.

Then something flew across the air above them, striking the base of one the florescent lights, causing it to shake and shimmer.

“They’re going for the lights!” Gina shouted.

“These things are smart enough for that?” Kyle was shocked. “I thought they were just dead animals!”

Something hit the ceiling then fell at Julianne’s feet.

It was a bloody human leg bone.

She and Gina shared a horrified look.

The Nightwalkers were throwing more bones now. Some threw them at the lights while others threw them at the recruits on the outer ring. The sight of their fallen brothers and sister’s bones being used against them started to unnerve the recruits.

Another bone stuck a bulb above causing it to spark and go out.

This made the monsters roar as one. They jumped around and hissed at the recruits.

“We’re out of time,” Julianne said.

Gina stared up at the lights. We’re so fucked!

“Get them out of here, Gina,” Julianne said. “Kyle, Gilo and I… we’ll hold them back long enough to give you a lead.”

“Fuck that!” she said.

Another bone struck the lights above. Causing one fixture to shake violently.

“We can handle them together,” Julianne assured her. She looked over at Kyle and Gilo who nodded in return. She looked back to Gina and smiled. “They won’t know what fucking hit them, Gina.”

Gina shook her head, then said, “Alright. But you three come right after us. No bullshit hero stuff. Understand?”

All three of them nodded.

Just then, something big struck the central light fixture above them causing a bright flash, and sparks. All the lights went out.

The KAR went pitch black.

~~~

“Absolutely not,” Captain Carl said, standing behind the helm in the pilot house. He lit up his pipe and took a long drag. “Don’t get me wrong, Stephen, as far as passengers go, you all have been easy… up until now. My orders are to standby until the Red Lady finishes whatever she’s doing and then come back for a pick-up. I don’t get paid to make decisions or get involved. I just do what I’m told until the job is done.”

“So, she told you to wait… right here… in this spot?” Stephen said.

Carl laughed. “Well… no… not specifically… but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t wanting me to taxi folks all around this damn island.”

Stephen raised his hands submissively and pushed. “We’re not asking for your crew to get involved, Captain. All we’re asking is that while we’re waiting out here anyway, what’s the harm in taking us around the island to pick up a friend… a friend of Lady Clementine, too, I’ll add. You wouldn’t even have to step foot off this ship. Logan and I will go get our friend… and come right back. I’m sure Lady Clementine would appreciate the extra effort in making sure Gina was safe. Perhaps she’ll even up your commission for all the extra effort.”

“And should the two of you get yourselves into trouble… and I’m sure that will be the case… what would I do then? Just leave you both on the island?”

Stephen nodded. “Yes. If we take too long to get back, although I can’t imagine why,” Stephen lied, “then you can just leave us and head back here in time to pick up the Red Lady.”

Captain Carl scrutinized Stephen with his one good eye. “And when she asks me where the two of you ended up… what should I say then, hmm? That I dropped you off on the island without her permission?”

“If it comes down to it, you could just say we swam back to shore.”

“Either way, I look incompetent. Incompetence is a good way to lose a payday. No, I’m sorry, Stephen, but we’ll be staying right here until it’s time to pick up the Red Lady. Those are my instructions… and that’s what
we’re going to do.”

Stephen started to protest.

“Now,” Carl interrupted. “If you would be so kind as to leave my pilot house and go down on deck where you were told to wait. Don’t come back up here again or I won’t be so nice.”

Stephen sighed. “Does it even matter to you that a woman is in danger? That you could do something very small to help and possibly save her life?”

“Nope. I’m not in the business of saving lives, Stephen. If I were, I’d probably be dead by now. That’s what saving lives amounts to in today’s world.”

Stephen shook his head and gave up. “Megan was right about you.”

Captain Carl laughed. “Yeah, that young lady with the gray eyes understands me more than you do… apparently. Now, if there’s nothing else… get the hell off my bridge.”

Stephen exited the pilot house and joined Logan back aft.

The big preacher, standing with his hands behind his back, glanced into Stephen’s face and smiled. “Judging by your sour expression, I can only assume that your conversation with the captain went very well.”

“Shut up,” Stephen said. “The man’s impossible. All he knows is profits and self-preservation. Time for Plan B. Did you find what you needed?”

Logan made sure Stephen was blocking Captain Carl’s view from the pilot house and then showed him what was in his hands. “No weapons, of course. But I felt fairly certain I would find an emergency kit.”

Stephen looked down and saw the loaded flare gun. “Shit, Logan, you even know how to use that thing?”

“I read the directions, little brother” Logan said with a mischievous wink. “Besides, the whole point is that I won’t have to use it.”

Stephen let out a heavy sigh. “Even if this works and we get Carl to take us to Gina, there will be nothing to keep him docked. We’ll be going there to rescue Gina… in need of a rescue ourselves.”

Logan shrugged his shoulders. “I can only do so much with a flare gun.” He looked up at the pilot house. “Think he’s watching us right now?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Get ready.”

Stephen looked confused. “‘Get ready’? Get ready for what?”

Logan smiled. “Just follow my lead. Be sure you let the captain know how heartbroken I am about leaving my wife on this island.”

“You’re… wife?”

“Yeah… something like that. Just let the man know how much Gina means to me… you can tell him we’re newlyweds.”

“No. I’m not going to say that.”

“Just… roll with it and tell him how desperate I am to get my beloved wife back. Love can make a man very… unstable… at times, as I’m sure our captain will appreciate.”

“I don’t like this plan.”

Logan laughed lightly. “Ye of little faith.”

“Shit.” Stephen shook his head. “So, what now?”

Logan raised his voice. “What do you mean he won’t take us!” The big preacher took a step back and gave Stephen an enraged look. “That’s some bullshit! I’m only on this damn boat to get my wife home!”

“Oh, okay,” Stephen whispered. “I guess we’re starting.” He reluctantly jumped into the part. Stephen raised his arms to calm the preacher down. “Keep your voice down!” He looked deliberately up toward the pilot house, then back to Logan. “I tried to talk to the man, but he won’t listen!”

“That’s bullshit!” Logan started waving the flare gun into the air as he walked past Stephen and stood in front of the petrol containers. “You tell that damn captain to get his ass down here… NOW!” He pointed the flare gun at the petrol.

Stephen just stood there.

Logan gave him a look and repeated, “NOW!”

“Shit!” Stephen hissed, feeling like he’d missed his cue. He got his feet moving and started up the stairs.

“What the hell is going on back here?” Captain Carl shouted down from the rail just outside the pilot house.

“You tell him, Stephen!” Logan shouted. “Make damn sure he understands this time!”

Carl gave Logan a blank stare, then glared at Stephen who stopped half-way up the stairs. “You’ve got to be shitting me, right?”

Stephen sighed. “It’s his wife.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Gina… the woman on the island.”

Captain Carl raised an eyebrow and then pointed to Logan. “Gina is… his wife?”

“Yes.”

“And… tell me again what that has to do with your tattooed friend aiming a flare gun at my fuel?”

Stephen shook his head. “I tried to talk to him. The only reason Logan’s here was that he found out his wife… Gina… is on this island. After I told him you wouldn’t take us… he… well… he lost his shit.”

“Really?” Captain Carl looked amused. He took a hit off his pipe. “So, if I don’t take him to be reunited with his wife, am I to assume that your big friend intends to blow us all the hell up?”

“Looks that way.”

“I mean it!” Logan shouted up. “Take me to Gina or I’ll fucking do it!”

Captain Carl never lost his amused expression. He pointed his pipe at Stephen. “This was his plan wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Stephen said. “I’m… surprised that he’s reacting this way. I didn’t think he’d go nuts like this.”

“Doesn’t make much sense to blow up my ship, himself included, if he’s really that determined to see his wife again. Perhaps you two should’ve rehearsed this a few more times.”

Stephen was getting irked by the captain. He took a step toward the pilot house, looked down at Logan, then back to the captain. He lowered his voice and said, “I didn’t mention this before because… well… it’s complicated.”

“‘Complicated’?”

“Yeah,” Stephen explained. “You see… Gina… Logan’s wife… well… she-”

“Oh, come on, man!” Captain Carl said. “Spit it out. Tell me… she had an affair… and that’s why hubby down there is so irate. Hell, I’d understand that, might even lose my shit, too, threatening to blow up things. But you haven’t given me anything.”

This is ridiculous. Stephen’s shoulders fell. “Okay… you win. Gina and I… we… I mean-”

Captain Carl busted up laughing. He pointed to Logan then to Stephen and said, “Are you trying to tell me that you and Gina did the nasty behind that man’s back… and that’s why he’s trying to find her?”

Stephen didn’t know how to respond. “Yeah… sure.”

Captain Carl took another hit off his pipe. “So… he brought you along to tell him where you’d stashed his wife. And now that he’s got you both here, your big angry friend with the flare gun intends on confronting both of you. Is that about it?”

Stephen gave the captain a crooked smile. “You don’t believe any of this, do you?”

“I might if you sell it better.”

Stephen stared down at Logan.

Logan looked confused.

“Alright,” Stephen told the captain. “I’m not here because I want to be. Logan dragged me along to tell him where his wife was hiding. The moment he finds her on that island, it will confirm his suspicions that we had an affair. The only reason he hasn’t killed me yet is because he still doesn’t know if Gina’s here. But once he finds her, he’ll force the truth out of her… and then probably bury us both on this damn island.”

Captain Carl stood up, clapped, and laughed. “Bravo! Much better! You should’ve opened with that line of bull… especially if you want me to believe your crazy friend is enraged enough to blow us all the fuck up to get to Gina.” He looked down at Logan and finished with Stephen. “Now… go down there and tell your friend to lower that flare gun or I will order my deck hands to blow a hole through his head.” Captain Carl waved his pipe into the air.

On cue, both red-headed siblings stepped out from the port and starboard bridge wings, armed with assault rifles. They both charged their weapons and aimed them at Logan’s head.

“Alright!” Stephen said, raising his hands. He looked down at Logan. “He’s not buying it Logan! Just put the damn flare gun down!”

Logan, spotting the armed gunmen, smiled, and turned to Captain Carl, refusing to lower the flare gun. “You think this is all some big damn joke, don’t you?”

The captain shrugged his shoulders. “This poor excuse of a ruse… yes… definitely.”

Logan nodded. He turned to Stephen. “Tell this asshole who I am?”

Stephen looked confused. “He’s a preacher,” he told Carl. “That is the truth.”

“No, Stephen,” Logan corrected. The look he gave him was stone. “Tell him… who I used to be.”

Stephen understood. He gave Carl a grave look. “Before Logan gave his life to God… he was the leader of a racist biker gang.”

Captain Carl look shocked. He turned to Logan and said, “How does one go from being the leader of a hate group to a man of the cloth? Though, that would explain the colorful tattoos on your arms.”

Logan ignored him. He said to Stephen, making sure the prick captain could hear, “Now that he knows what I’m capable of… and that I’m also a man of conviction… tell him I intend to blow up his special lady if he delays us any further in getting to our special lady. Tell him, I’ve made me peace with God a long time ago… and if it’s my time to die… then so be it.”

Stephen turned to Carl. “You get all that.”

Captain Carl stared at the big preacher, then took another drag off his pipe. “I could just shoot you where you stand, preacher.”

Logan made sure Carl could clearly see his finger on the flare gun trigger. “Yeah, you could. But that won’t stop my finger from jerking this trigger.”

“He’s serious,” Stephen said. “No bullshit this time. No stories.”

“And what about you?” Carl said. “Is this ‘special lady’ worth the two of you dying for?”

Stephen didn’t hesitate. “Absolutely. Gina would do it for me.”

Captain Carl shared a look with the siblings, who stared back questionably. Carl took another drag off his pipe and smiled at Stephen. “My, oh, my… this is a much better bluff. Assuming, of course, that flare gun does anything at all. How do you even know it will ignite the petrol?”

“Do you know that it won’t?” Stephen countered.

Logan started praying.

“What’s he doing now?” the captain asked.

Stephen smiled and said, “He’s probably asking God for forgiveness… for what you’re about to make him do. And all this over a damn ride to the island. Tell me, captain, are you prepared to risk everything that matters to you by keeping us from someone we deeply care about?”

Captain Carl stared from Logan to Stephen, then turned to the siblings who waited for instructions. He took a long drag off his pipe this time as he carefully considered his next move.

~~~

Next Episode 54-10

Previous Episode 54-8

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-9: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Just a quick update on the schedule. Until the completion of Book Six, I will be posting new episodes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Sorry for the change.

I hope you all had a great Halloween ;)

-Scott

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

~~~

The waves steadily became stronger as Captain Carl navigated the ship toward the imposing wall of jagged rock towering above the fishing vessel. Initially, it looked like the captain had lost his mind and had decided to crash directly into the wall. But as they sailed closer, shadows shifted along the stone face, revealing a large black hole in the rock, resembling an open mouth, preparing to swallow up the Carrie-Anne.

Meredith stood with her friends near the aft port side of the ship staring into the cavern opening as they rode the rippling current toward their uncertain fate.

The old medium wrapped her arms around the front of her hoody as a cool breeze assaulted her weary face. She closed her eyes and steadied herself, making sure her mind was ready to confront the darkness. I’m so tired, she thought. Tired of fighting. Tired of losing friends… and pieces of myself as each new horrific truth is revealed about what I’ve done… and who I really am. She opened her eyes as the Carrie-Ann entered the mouth of the large cavern.

“Here we go,” Stephen whispered to her left.

She turned and flashed him a weak smile.

He nodded, putting on the bravest face her could manage.

She felt cold fingers slipping into her right hand.

Meredith turned. Megan was staring at her with those deep, dark eyes. For the first time, Megan looked afraid. “You okay, honey?”

Megan’s face was paler than usual. “I’ve talked with Logan and Stephen. I will not leave you alone in this place… no matter what.”

Meredith smiled and squeezed her hand. “I know. And… I’m very grateful to have you with me.”

“Are you scared?”

“Absolutely.”

It became darker as they entered the cavern. They looked up at a dome of ancient granite which rose up nearly fifty feet about them.

“Dear Lord,” Logan whispered from directly behind them. “How such places could exist on earth… it’s mind boggling.” He couldn’t stop staring at the canopy of stone above their heads as the vessel reached a pool of calm water.

Captain Carl reduced the speed of the ship as they drifted toward an old dock off to the right. Laura, and a tall young man with long red hair tied back in a ponytail, rushed toward the bow of the vessel. The young man, wearing jeans and a tie-dye t-shirt seemed oblivious to the cave. The second deck hand, the others suspected, easily could have been Laura’s brother. The siblings started unraveling mooring lines, preparing to dock.

As if on cue, the cabin door opened. Lady Clementine, looking like she’d been aroused from a deep sleep, yawned and stretched her arms. She was still wearing the red robe.

Meredith turned and frowned. “It’s about time you joined us. I was starting to think you’d slipped away during the afternoon transit.”

Clementine smiled. “Did you miss me, sister?”

Meredith ignored the question. “How was your nap?”

“I was… meditating… Meredith.” She stepped up beside her, causing Megan to step back. Logan and Stephen also stepped back. None of them wanted to stand within five feet of the red-robed witch. The ancient-looking woman stared toward the dock. “I don’t sleep much anymore. But… I have learned that there are places one can retreat to within their minds that is so much better than sleep.” She turned. “Perhaps you’ll let me teach you how to do this… should we survive the evening.” She added a playful smile.

Meredith just shook her head. “Remember your promise. My friends—you leave them alone.”

“Of course. I assume that means you’ve finally told them they can’t go any farther with us?”

“They understand.”

“Very good.”

“Megan will be joining us,” Meredith clarified.

Clementine raised an eyebrow.

“Will that be a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Clementine said. “I’m just surprised. You do know how dangerous this last part will be, don’t you?”

Meredith sighed. “I have an idea.”

“And the hybrid—does she the understand the risks?”

“Her name is Megan. She’ll be fine.”

Clementine nodded, dropping the matter.

The ship reached the dock. Laura and her brother jumped off the starboard side and started tying off the Carrie-Anne.

Captain Carl exited the pilot house, lit up his pipe, and then started barking orders at them.

Meredith took in the large cavern and gave Clem a confused look. “All I see is this large pool surrounded by all this rock. This can’t be the place?”

Clementine laughed. She squinted her eyes and stared out beyond the dock. She raised a bony arm and pointed. “There,” she said. “Can you see the steps?”

Meredith followed the old woman’s hand until she saw several old stones coming out of a wall toward the back. At the top she saw, a long, dark crack between the top of the wall and the cavern ceiling, big enough for them to duck under. “We’re going up there?”

“Yes, Meredith. Up… through… and then down the other side.”

“And that will lead us to Toby’s body?”

“Among other things… yes.”

“You are being surprisingly vague,” Meredith said. “If we intend to help each other, now is not the time for secrets.”

Clementine shook her head and frowned. “Sorry, Meredith. I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s just that… well… this is as close as I’ve managed to get. On the other side of that wall… you can feel this place… like a dark sickness trying to suffocate you.” She turned and finished, “Just like the cavern beneath the orphanage, the border between our world… and the other side… is very thin here.”

“I thought you said it was stable?”

“It is… and yet it is not.”

“What does that mean?”

Clementine left the question hanging. “We need to leave now. I suggest you say your farewells. Captain Carl will want to get his ship back outside before the tides change again and flood this place. But don’t worry, he will return at the next shift in the tides. That should give us the time we need to finish this.”

Before Meredith could say another word, Clementine walked toward the starboard side of the vessel and stepped across a walkway that the siblings had just laid across. She then stood between the dock and the rock steps, her arms buried beneath her robe, staring off into nowhere as if she were attempting to emulate the stones all around her.

“Your wayward sister,” Logan started, “there’s something very wrong about her.”

“Yes,” Meredith agreed, staring at Clementine’s back. “I know.” She turned away and gathered them close while they still had time. She gave Stephen and Logan a grave look and lowered her voice. “Remember, find Gina. Get her off this island. The Captain seems a reasonable man. Maybe he’ll help.”

Stephen nodded. “He’ll help us… or we’ll make him help us.”

Logan folded his large arms across his chest. “Amen, little brother.” He turned to Meredith. “Don’t worry about us. We’ve got this.”

“We’ll come back to get the both of you,” Stephen said. “I promise.”

Meredith look away with a nod.

“Just don’t bring that witch back with you,” Logan added. “One witch is enough, and I like the one we already have.” He added a wink.”

Meredith laughed lightly. She turned to Megan.

The young half-dead was already looking around for a fight as she sniffed at something foreign in the cavern air. “This place is bad… very bad. It smells like the evil in this place has been rotting away in here for a long time.”

“Chilling image,” Stephen said with a smile.

Megan relaxed a little.

“Take care of Meredith,” Stephen told her. “Make sure you both make it back here… okay?”

Megan nodded confidently. “I will.”

“Meredith!” Clementine called over. “It’s time, sister. Toby will only be fooled by my little distraction for so long.”

Meredith turned. “We’re coming!” She turned back and grabbed Stephen and Logan’s hands. To Stephen she whispered, “Nothing has changed. We will be sticking to the original plan. The one we spoke about in the boathouse. Understand?”

Stephen eyes went wide.

“There’s no time to argue about it. Just trust me. It’s the only way.”

Stephen nodded. “I… I understand.”

To Logan, she said, “Pray for us preacher. We will need everything your God can give us… everything our God can do… if we’re to stand a chance.”

Logan nodded. “I have not stopped praying since we left the marina. God will be there for all of us, Meredith.” He glanced over at Megan and smiled. “Take care of yourselves, and each other.”

They all lingered a moment longer, then turned away.

Meredith and Megan crossed the walkway and stepped down on to the rocky uneven ground. As soon as Meredith’s feet made contact with the cavern floor, she felt the darkness slowly creeping in around the surface of her thoughts. She immediately put up her mental guards. Whatever this place is… it’s strong and so very, very old! But it was more than that. And then she felt it. This place is alive!

Megan started to growl as she stared all around the cavern.

She feels it, too, Meredith thought.

“It will pass,” Clementine said, coming over. “What you both are sensing are… spirits… for lack of a better word. They’re poking at the fabric of this reality from their own. They are aware of us on some primal level, they hunger for what they don’t understand… but despise. Don’t worry, they cannot reach us, not here. But they desperately keep trying. Think of this place as a hall of mirrors, in part. They can see us but fail to understand the glass that keeps them second guessing where we are. This place confuses them as much as it does us.” Clementine turned to the siblings.

Laura and her brother were moving frantically. They were wrapping fabric and some sort of lubricated twine around three small sticks. They were constantly stealing glances behind them as if expecting the shadows to come alive.

Clementine laughed. “These two would not even make it to the other side of the stone steps before the madness claimed them. It’s a good thing you left the other two on board.”

Meredith stared at the two siblings. She could feel their terror. “What are they doing?”

“Torches,” Clementine said. “As primitive as that sounds, it’s the only light we’ll have on the other side. Sadly, flashlights do not work the way they should in places like this where different realities merge, overlap and… flicker. But fire seems to work just fine in either realm.”

Meredith left the strange comment alone.

After the siblings were finished. They lit the torches, handed one to each of them, and then boarded the Carrie-Anne without looking back. They pulled the walkway back on deck and then quickly removed the mooring lines. Captain Carl started the vessel’s engine.

Within minutes, the ship was pulling away from the dock. After turning around, the Carrie-Anne headed for the mouth of the cave as the fading light coming in from outside started to make the cavern darker.

Meredith and Megan got one last look at their friends. Stephen and Logan waved from the aft deck.

They waved in return.

A few minutes later, the ship escaped the cave.

Meredith stared after the Carrie-Anne with glazed eyes.

Megan placed an arm on her left shoulder.

She turned and found nothing but compassion in the half-dead’s eyes. Meredith nodded with a smile. “I’m okay. Goodbyes are always difficult… especially now.”

Megan attempted a half smile. “We’ll see them again,” she said confidently.

“I don’t mean to be… insensitive,” Clementine said from behind them. “But we should be going now.” Her words failed to feel sincere as the red robed woman turned and started toward the stone steps.

Meredith frowned after her and whispered to Megan, “Do not trust anything that woman says from here on in. Understand?”

Megan scowled at the witch. “I understand.”

With their torches out front, they followed Clementine up the narrow stone steps toward the crack in the upper wall.

~~~

On the other side of the cavern wall, it became so dark that they could only make out surrounding features up to twenty feet. What started off as a single massive cave had turned into a cave system. Once clearing the gap in the first wall, the ancient stone steps descended into what was feeling like a rocky labyrinth beneath the island. The steps took them through several smaller caves and through long gaps in stone that felt like hallways with low ceilings.

They walked in silence for thirty minutes in this vast and mysterious subterranean underworld.

Meredith noticed that the temperature had dropped significantly as she rubbed her arms for warmth. She stared ahead at the red robed woman holding her torch and thought, After she destroys Toby’s body, she will try to kill us. And then she had a chilling thought, staring at all the suffocating rock: We won’t even need graves.

She turned to Megan. Beneath the young woman’s ferocious stare, challenging the darkness with her eyes, Meredith could sense her fear, confusion and exhaustion. Why am I not tired? She was puzzled by this. Meredith stopped and called ahead, “Clem, let’s rest a moment.”

Clementine turned. She was no longer smiling… or pretending. The old woman stared at them a moment as if considering disposing of them now, and then said, “If we must… but only for a few minutes. This place can be very dangerous for anyone lingering too long.”

Meredith leaned back on a large stone. Megan crouched down beside her, holding both their torches like weapons, aimed toward the witch.

Clementine came over and stood still. The old woman closed her eyes and focused on breathing.

To Meredith, it was obvious that Clem, too, could feel the gradual assault on her mind.

Clementine opened her eyes and smiled at them. “We are almost there.”

“So, we just step into Toby’s lair, kill his connection to this world, and then get the heck out? And all this without him knowing?”

“If we hurry, yes.”

“How long have you been planning this… move?”

Clementine smiled and changed the subject. “If we’re found out before I can reach his flesh, Toby will attempt to bring you to him. You and I know that this cannot happen.”

“What are you getting at?”

“I think you know. You’ve always known. Let’s not insult each other any further with pretense.”

Meredith nodded. “We are prepared.” She turned to Megan. “That’s why she’s really here.”

Megan just stared at her.

Clementine was catching on. “Again, Meredith, I have underestimated you. So, the half-dead will terminate you should we fail. That was a wise move.”

Meredith turned to Megan, gave her a look to remain quiet, and then lied, “It’s not a popular move, for sure. But Megan knows what she needs to do should the time come. Under no circumstances can Toby have access to me. Too much is at stake.”

Megan looked away, before her surprise revealed too much.

Clementine stared at them both, then nodded, satisfied. “Well I guess you’ve got the ‘back up’ plan covered. Hopefully, it will not come to that.”

“What will you do to him… Toby’s… flesh?”

Clementine laughed. “You don’t want to know, Meredith. It won’t be pleasant.”

“Will it be… merciful?’

Clementine’s eyebrows shot up. “’Merciful’? You do understand that the real Toby is long gone? That husk in the next cave is just a body kept barely alive to perform a function. Don’t trouble yourself with such a trivial matter. I will do what I must, with the most effective means at my disposal, to destroy that husk.”

Meredith looked away.

“If it makes you feel any better… it will be quick. As for mercy… well… I wasn’t taught that trick.”

“And afterwards?” Meredith challenged. “What will happen to us?”

Clementine just stared as if a child had just asked a childish question. “I believe you already know that answer to that question, Meredith.”

“You’re going to kill us, too,” Meredith said flatly.

Megan started shifting uncomfortably.

Clementine continued to stare at her old friend. “As I’ve said, no more pretense. Yes, Meredith. I will dispose of you right after I cut off Toby’s hand in this world. I can keep him from using that door again. I can seal this place off like a tomb. But what I can’t afford to do is let you live. There’s always a chance that Toby might find another means to reach out into this world… and to you.”

Meredith nodded absently.

Clementine raised an eyebrow. “You seem surprisingly calm after what I’ve just told you. I will miss you on some level, maybe even shed a tear afterwards… but make no mistake… I will kill you when we’re finished.”

“You mean after I get you safely out of this place,” Meredith corrected.

Clementine laughed. “And not one moment beyond that.”

Meredith nodded. “As long as you keep your promise to my friends… and that includes Megan… then you will have no resistance from me.”

Clementine just stared at her old friend for a moment. Finally, she said, “And that’s it? That’s all you’re going to say about the matter?” Clementine seemed offended. “You’re just going to lie down and let me end you… for what? So, the rest of these unworthy worms that you call ‘friends’ can live… while you die?”

Meredith smiled. “I don’t expect you to understand, Clem. But… yes. That’s it.”

Clementine shook a frustrated hand in her face. “What a waste! You are better than them! You deserve this new world as much as I do for all that we’ve suffered!”

Meredith said nothing.

Clementine calmed down. “So be it,” she said. “I was actually hoping that you’d put up a fight. That in the end, I’d finally get a chance to see who was the real chosen one.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint you,” Meredith said. “If I could give you this… gift… all of it… I would. The only good that’s come from bearing this burden are the wonderful people I’ve met that have helped me carry it.” She turned to Megan and smiled.

Megan smiled back.

She turned back to Clementine. “You want to be the ‘chosen one’? Well, I relinquish my crown and freely give it to you.”

“Stop it.”

“You are the best! The most powerful! And I am nothing!”

“I mean it, Meredith… don’t push me!”

“Then grow the hell up!” Meredith spat. “This… competition… between you and I, it’s foolish! I never wanted any of this… and you seem to want it all! Well, once Toby is gone, once I’m gone… you will finally have all that you desire!”

Clementine was fuming in silence.

“If I choose to ‘lie down and let you end me’, as you say, then what is it to you? My friends—my family—mean more to me than anything! They are my ‘real gift’! It is this curse that you crave that keeps me from them… and now… I’ll finally be rid of it. And I will protect them from it! So… yes… you loveless old power-hungry child! I will not fight you! But I will finish this one way or the other! And that is my victory… my crown… and I will wear it proudly to my death… if that’s what is required!”

Clementine’s free fist was balled up so tight her fingernails caused her skin to bleed. She almost lost control… almost. She finally settled down, took a deep breath and hissed, “You will die before this night is done, Meredith. And then we shall see what your death is really worth.”

Meredith did not know how to respond to the cryptic comment.

“We’ve already wasted enough time here,” Clementine said, turning back toward the stairs. “My distraction will only keep Toby amused and preoccupied for so long.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that a few times now… this ‘distraction’. Just what have you gotten Gina mixed up with?”

Clementine gloated this time, and said, “The Ama-Eskua Order has decided to eliminate Gina and the recruits that I left under her care. I warned her before I departed that they might try this in my absence. Apparently, I was right.”

“The Order,” Meredith said. “Are you telling me that the ones who trained the Shadow Dead, those monsters who killed all our people at the compound, that they’re now coming for Gina!?”

Clementine laughed. “Oh, you should see your face. Relax, Meredith. I have arranged the whole confrontation. I strongly suspect that Gina and her recruits will put on a very good show.”

“Against those trained assassins? She won’t stand a chance!”

Clementine smiled wickedly and said, “Yes, you are correct, of course.” She turned back toward the stairs and finished, “It’s a good thing then that the Order is long gone… and that there are no more Ama-Eskua warriors… not on this island.”

~~~

Next Episode 54-9

Previous Episode 54-7

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-8: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Hugh Marten sat on the second landing steps overlooking the large steel entrance door to the Ama-Eskua sanctum below. He took the scabbard off his back and laid the sheathed sword beside him. Hugh scratched his itchy beard and then wiped fresh sweat off his brow with the back of his hand. Aside from always being unnervingly quiet, the old Mother Headquarters was always so damn hot and dark. Like the rest of the facility, the overhead lighting provided just enough light to see just how many areas had been swallowed up in shadows. He took a deep breath and let his heavy eye lids close for a moment.

“Taking a break… again?”

Hugh opened his eyes and sighed. “Big damn door hasn’t changed since the last time I looked at it… or the hundred times before that,” he grumbled. “This is a bullshit detail. While everyone else gets to eat, we’re stuck in this dead-ass place doing nothing!”

A younger man, tall, with dark hair and dark eyes, stood behind him on the landing wearing stainless gray. The tall recruit leaned forward, supporting himself with his black spear, and smiled. “What’s the matter, don’t like the assignments Lady Gina graciously provides? At least you have a real weapon again.”

That was all it took.

Hugh turned around and frowned at the younger man. “Come on, Brent, everyone knows that our Royal Highness has it in for me. She enjoys giving me all the shit details. It’s payback for trying to kill her. Sometimes I wish Lady Clementine hadn’t stopped me.”

“Careful, Hugh,” Brent said mockingly, lowering his voice. “The ghosts in this place might hear you and report your insolence to Lady Gina.”

“Yeah! Well… tough shit! I wish she never came here. We had a good thing going before all these… changes. Now, there’s all these rules about how to behave, and how to think, how to fucking dress—We were warriors before all this, and now, we clean, stand guard, and listen to all that woman’s ‘touchy-feely’ speeches about morality! Give me a damn break! What world does she still think we’re living in, anyway?”

Brent laughed. “It will get better. Hell, at least we’re not all going for each other’s throats anymore. Lady Gina’s bringing us together to fight the real fight… out there.”

Hugh waved a dismissive hand in the air. “Screw all that. I’ve been out there. There’s nothing but death. What we had before was better, when Julianne was still in charge. Now, we just wander around in this dark, desolate place waiting to die of boredom while we guard this old tomb.” Hugh turned toward the sanctum door. “I mean, look at it! Nothing’s coming through that damn thing! No one’s used it in years. It’s probably not even a real door. Just some ceremonial nonsense from a time long before us.”

“Why don’t you tell me how you’re really feeling?” Brent poked.

“I’ll tell you! I’m feeling like somebody has to say something to that lame chick! She’s gotta go! Having us triple up on watching this gloomy place is stupid! No one’s coming to get us. Hell, the Order probably doesn’t even care what we do down here anymore.”

The sound of three rusty bolt latches being released reverberated throughout the hub.

Hugh and Brent turned toward the large metal door.

“What the fuck was that?” Brent whispered.

Hugh shook his head. He reached for his sheathed sword and almost knocked it off the steps.

Brent took a fighting stance with his spear. “Get your shit together, man. Something’s not right.”

Hugh unsheathed his sword and stood up.

Suddenly, the large steel door slowly opened toward them, screeching so loudly that it sounded like a banshee let loose.

“Was that the fucking door?” Brent whispered.

The lower level was haunted by shadows. The door stood open. They could see nothing but darkness within the doorway.

“Shit!” Hugh hissed. “Door’s open. I can’t see shit down there.”

“Where are the other patrols? Think they heard that?”

“They’re on the other side of this big fucking space,” Hugh said.

“We need to get to one of the control rooms and sound the- did you see that?” Brent said.

“See what?”

“There! Right fucking there!” Brent was moving around nervously with his spear, pointing toward the door. He tried to get a better angle on the lower level.

Several dark shapes sprinted out of the doorway, dispersing in different directions and disappearing beneath them.

“Fuck!” Hugh yelled. “They’re under us! Lower level!”

A large metal-on-metal sound caught their attention off to the left.

Huge was stepping back up the steps. “They’re trying to get around us… and behind us!”

More movement from the door.

Hugh turned back. “Shit! They’re playing with us! I think a few more just came in!”

“Where are they?”

“I don’t fucking know!” Hugh said. By now they were both pacing the upper level trying to catch movement below.

“Watch the damn door!” Brent said.

“Fuck that!”

More sounds from the lower level.

Large objects were being tipped over.

The sound of a metallic trashcan rolling beneath the stairs.

Breaking glass somewhere to the right.

Footfalls… lots of them… smacking down hard on metal stairs.

“They’re coming up for us!” Hugh yelled.

“You see ‘em?” Brent was peering down a center stairwell into the lower level.

“Screw this. I’m out of here!”

“Where are you going, you cowardly fuck?”

“There’s too many! We need help!” Hugh said.

“We need to alert the others… sound the fucking alarm and-”

“Brent!” Hugh yelled. He pointed a shaky finger toward him.

Something big came up behind Brent, wrapped two gauntlet-covered arms around his waist, and then pulled him down the landing steps.

And then he was gone.

“Brent?” Hugh whispered.

Brent started screaming below.

Get the fuck out of here! NOW!

Hugh bolted for the southern hub exit.

The terrified older recruit dropped his sword and cleared the landing. He ran faster than he thought possible, hearing only the sound of his own racing heart pounding in his ears. He approached the hub exit. “Hey! Anyone! Sound the alarm! SOUND THE FUCKING ALARM!”

Hugh made it to the exit door. Reached for the handle.

Several arms grabbed him from behind and dragged him back into the darkness.

~~~

The Carrie-Anne made its approach toward the island an hour before dusk.

The foreboding mass of land continued to grow larger and larger as they rounded it, preparing for the final approach on its western side. When the island had first come into view, it had looked like a lifeless black rock in the middle of nowhere. But now, they could make out steep cliffs rising up on the west and northern sides, forming a natural barrier that made reaching the island almost impossible from either side. To the south and east, the land leveled out and they could see one large structure dominating the center of the island, surrounded by fields and tropical forests.

“That place looks like Alcatraz,” Logan remarked, standing near his friends on the bow of the vessel.

Stephen nodded. “Probably just as hard to escape, too.” He looked over at Meredith.

The old medium was sitting on the deck. Megan was resting with her head in Meredith’s lap. Meredith gently stroked the girl’s hair, staring absently toward the water. They had all taken turns resting and talking themselves into the idea of this new and dangerous plan ever since Clementine departed for her cabin. No one knew what to say to Meredith, or what to even ask, sine she’d become distant ever since the island first came into view.

Stephen came over and knelt by the tired-looking woman. He lowered his voice. “You ready for all this?”

Meredith turned, coming out of a trance, and said softly, “Sorry, Stephen. What did you say?”

Stephen laughed. “You’ve been somewhere else ever since your old friend left us. Everything alright?”

She frowned. “That evil woman is neither my friend, nor my sister.” Then she lightened up. “Yes, Stephen, I’m okay. I’ve just got a lot on my mind. What we’re about to do is… terrifying. I’m trying to prepare my mind for what’s coming. If it’s anything like that cavern beneath the orphanage…”

Stephen nodded. “Anything I can do to help?”

She smiled at him. “No. But, thank you.”

Stephen wasn’t finished. “You haven’t told us what you really think about this new plan… or why we’re even joining up with this woman. From what you’ve told us about her, she’s likely to kill every one of us after she gets what she’s after.”

“You are correct.”

“Then… why are we doing exactly what she wants?”

She sighed. “Because Clem’s right, Stephen. We can’t finish this without her.”

“And after?”

Meredith frowned. She looked back at Logan who had moved to the other side of the bow, then turned back and stared into Stephen’s face for a long time. “You’ve been a good friend, Stephen. One of my most consistent friends, too. No matter what you found out about me or after learning what I’d done, you never wavered, not once.”

Stephen averted his eyes. “Well, that’s what friends do.”

She smiled and then became guarded. “When we arrive, I’ll need you and Logan to do something you won’t like. I’ll need you more than ever to be that friend who trusts me… even if you don’t understand. Can you still do that for me?”

Stephen looked hesitant, then answered, “Always. But you’re starting to scare me. What is it?”

“When we arrive in the cavern, I’ll need you and Logan to remain with the ship.”

Stephen shook his head. “No. Sorry, but I can’t do that. We’ve already talked about this. We stick together, remember?”

“Yes,” she said. “But things have changed. I wasn’t expecting all this. Once we’re in that dark place, I’ll be able to protect Clem, Megan, and myself from what comes at us… but you and Logan… will be exposed.”

“Exposed?”

“Exposed to the madness… just like before.”

“I don’t understand. Can’t you just… I don’t know… protect us, too?”

“No, Stephen. That won’t be possible. It’s different for Clem, Megan and I because we are already… acquainted… with that darkness. I wasn’t prepared before, but I am now. When the madness strikes, we will have a much higher threshold before it affects us, too. But you and Logan will not. And once I’m directly engaged with that darkness, I won’t be able to help you both… and you will die.”

Stephen knelt back down and let out a heavy sigh. “I wish you’d mentioned that before.”

“Yes, I could’ve, but it wouldn’t have changed anything.”

“Logan’s going to be pissed.”

“Can you do this for me?” Meredith pleaded.

“It looks like we don’t have a choice,” Stephen reluctantly said. “But what about you? Who’s going to help you when that evil damn sister of yours turns on you?”

She looked down at the sleeping girl and smiled. “I’ll have Megan to watch my back. I would rather she go with you… but I suspect she would kill me herself before staying on the boat.”

“I don’t like any of this,” he said, shaking his head again.

“Logan will listen to you,” Meredith said. “Besides, I’ll need you both to do what we originally talked about.”

Stephen waited.

“You two will have to find a way to get to Gina. I don’t know what she’s mixed up in here, but I suspect Clem has manipulated her. You two need to find her. She’s alone and she’s in trouble, whether she knows it or not. Can you do this for me?”

Stephen smiled. “Let me get this straight. You want us to steal the pirate’s ship and make Captain Carl take us to the other side of the island? Sure, we can do that.”

Meredith smiled. “I didn’t say it would be easy. None of this will be. But you two are all she has now. I wish I could do more.”

Stephen nodded. “I’ll talk to Logan. We’ll… figure it out.”

“Thank you, Stephen.” Again, she stared at him for so long that he started getting uncomfortable.

“Was there… something else?” he asked.

She looked away. “No, Stephen. That was it. Again, you’ve been a good friend—the best. I will always love you for that.”

Stephen frowned and then nodded. He got up to talk to Logan before the wicked witch returned. He looked back at Meredith once. Something about her behavior was… off… and it troubled him a lot. He tried to shake it, but Stephen felt like she’d just said goodbye.

~~~

Conversations at dinner were more tense than usual. Everyone not on watch was present in the installation mess hall having hushed discussions. The recruits were constantly glancing over at Lady Gina’s isolated corner of one table where she and all three Ama-Eskua recruits sat over a large old blueprint of the facility. After the word went out to put away the training Balatos and arm up with legitimate weapons, as well as the increased patrols, especially in the former Headquarters area, all the recruits were regressing back into battle mode.

Lady Gina had told them to expect a possible attack on the facility, but she had not given the enemy a name. Some suspected that all this preparation was for a surprise drill, while others were simply excited by the possibility that this was not… and that would mean blood. Either way, the recruits were amped up for a fight.

Gina sat in between Julianne and the third Ama-Eskua recruit, the youngest of the three. He went by the name, Gilo, and his appearance and mannerisms were as peculiar as his name. Gilo did not speak much, but when he did, he usually had something useful to say. Ever since becoming a recruit of the Order, Gilo had chosen to shave his head bald (no one knew why), which made him look much older than twelve. Gilo wore a katana strapped across his back, which seemed far too big for his small frame, making him look ridiculous with it on. Julianne had assured Gina that, despite his age, Gilo was an excellent swordsman, and of the three Ama-Eskua recruits—the most lethal in combat.

Gina wore a pained expression as she struggled to understand the old blueprint. She continued to wear her own Balato strapped across her back to serve as a reminder to the others not to abuse their privileges of getting weapons back. She also wore a hand axe strapped to her side.

She pointed at two long lines on the blueprint and said, “What about here? This looks like it goes right under the sanctum?”

Gilo leaned over the blueprint, then shook his head. “No. That’s a water main. Won’t work.”

Gina leaned back in frustration. “That fucking place is as secure as a prison.” She looked over at Gilo and smiled. “Thanks.”

Gilo nodded and continued to study the blueprint.

Regardless of his skill with the sword, Gina had already discovered how intelligent he was. “You remind me of a friend of mine,” she told him. “He was a bit like you—a jack of all trades.”

Gilo looked up with a blank expression.

Gina laughed lightly. “He just had a bit more hair than you. Ever consider growing a beard, Gilo?”

This made Julianne smirk.

Gilo just gave her a bland look, then finally said, “Ah… that was joke. Correct?”

“Yes, Gilo,” Gina said, trying to hold in her amusement.

Gilo nodded and then said with a straight face. “That was very funny, Lady Gina.”

His dead pan response made both Gina and Julianne laugh. Gina shook her head, “I’ve got to get you out more, Gilo.”

Gilo looked puzzled. “I thought we were trying to get into the sanctum… not further away from it.”

Gina just stared at the young man. “Are you fucking with me, Gilo?”

Gilo smiled, a rarity. “Yes, Lady Gina.”

Gina laughed hard and clapped her hands.

Julianne just shook her head, trying to contain her own amusement.

The only one of the four who seemed completely oblivious to the conversation was the long-haired Ama-Eskua recruit, Kyle, who tugged at his ponytail and sighed. He was no longer wielding a steel pipe.  Instead, he carried a black spear.

Gina stopped laughing and frowned at the young man, who sat directly across the table. “I’m sorry, Kyle,” she said. “Are we boring you?”

Kyle dropped his ponytail and sat up. “No, Lady Gina.” He never looked her in the eyes when forced to address her.

“Well… what is it, then?’ Gina pushed.

At first, Kyle did not respond.

Julianne kicked him beneath the table.

He turned to her and glared.

“Lady Gina has asked you a question. Answer it,” she ordered.

Kyle sighed and said, “It’s not my place to disagree. I am merely a recruit,” he said, with a hint of sarcasm.

Julianne looked on the verge of reaching across the table and punching him.

Gina shook her off with a look. She turned to the disgruntled recruit. “It’s okay, Kyle. I know you don’t like me… and that’s fine. There are days that I don’t like me much either. But if you have something to add to this discussion, even if you don’t agree with my plans, then feel free to speak up.”

Kyle glared at her this time. “Why are we trying to breach the sanctum? They have done nothing to provoke us. I find it difficult to believe that the Ama-Eskua wish to eliminate us. We have been here on this island, long before you arrived, and have never needed to feel threatened by the Order. What would provoke them now?” He said the last, letting his eyes linger on her deliberately.

Gina smirked at him. “That sounds a little like an accusation.”

“Just an observation… and an unanswered question,” he said, looking away.

This time Gina wanted to reach across and hit him. She took a breath. “We are preparing for any and all possibilities right now. As I’ve explained, Lady Clementine told me herself that the Order may try to take advantage in her absence… and that they might come for us.”

Kyle nodded. “As you’ve said.”

“Watch your tone,” Julianne cautioned.

The young recruit could not hold back. He glared at Julianne and said, “And you! How can you just sit there and condone this? This is our Order! And yet, here we are, planning some assault on the Ama-Eskua. How can you stomach that?”

“Keep your voice down,” Gina said.

He turned to her. “Why? If the Order is planning to wipe us out, then why keep it from the rest of them?”

Julianne rose to her feet and placed a hand on the hilt of her sheathed sword. “I will not tell you again. You will show Lady Gina respect… or I will-”

“Enough!” Gina hissed. “Both of you… calm the hell down. Julianne…sit!”

With reluctance, Julianne sat back down, but she refused to break eye contact with Kyle.

Kyle just smirked at her.

Gina sighed. “Look, Kyle. I hope you’re right. In fact, so does Lady Clementine. We’re not looking to start some war with the Order. They may or they may not attack us. The reason I’m keeping it from the others is to not put a sour taste in their mouths about the Ama-Eskua. But… if they do attack… we will be ready to defend ourselves by any means necessary. Is that clear?”

Kyle looked away from Julianne and relaxed. He finally nodded.

“Good,” Gina said, adding a sigh. “Now, can we all pretend to be friends long enough to take the ‘threat’ seriously? Just in case?”

“Of course,” Julianne said. She looked at Kyle.

“Whatever you say… Lady Gina,” he relented.

“I found it,” Gilo calmly said.

They’d all forgotten about the quiet boy who had continued to study the blueprint through their tense discussion.

“Come again, Gilo?” Gina said.

Gilo looked up with a smile. “I’ve found a way into the sanctum.”

Before anyone could respond, a loud buzzing alarm sounded.

All the recruits stood up, reaching for their weapons. They all looked to Gina.

“That’s the hub alarm!” Julianne said. “That can only mean one thing!”

Kyle looked to Gina with a confused and apologetic look.

“To late for ‘I told you so’s’,” she told him. she glanced at all three of them and said, “Nothing else matters now. Put your fucking issues on pause and get ready.”

They all nodded and followed her from the table.

“Alright!” Gina said to the recruits. “We are under attack. There’s no time for questions or for keeping you in the dark any longer. The Ama-Eskua have breached the hub.” She took a deep breath. “They intend to eliminate all of us while Lady Clementine is absent.”

The recruits’ faces were a mixture of shock, confusion, fear and anger.

Gina pulled out her hand axe. “Get those fucking looks off your faces! I don’t care what you believe about our odds of defeating them. Shake it off! They’re still men and women just like you! And they bleed just like you! The worst that can happen is death… and we’ve all been living with that ever since the world went insane! So, clear your fucking heads… find some steel within you, and fight! Fight with all that you have! Fight for each other! Our very existence is at stake. Am I clear?”

“Yes,” they said weakly.

Gina turned her fire on all of them. They could almost feel it radiating from her cold, dark stare. “That’s not good enough! AM I CLEAR?”

“YES!” they all roared.

“You know what to do! We’ve trained for this!” She lifted her hand axe into the air. Everyone in the room lifted their weapons likewise. “Tonight… fuck gray! We will all be wearing BLOOD!”

~~~

Next Episode 54-8

Previous Episode 54-6

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-7: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Hello everyone. Just wanted to give you a quick update on postings this week. I’ve been busting my ass trying to get this finale chapter done. I wanted it finished by Halloween, but alas, that just isn’t happening.

I won’t be posting today. I’m going to post on Wednesday and Thursday this week, and possibly a double posting on Halloween (fingers crossed). I already have two episodes but I want the extra time to push and get the third one done, too. As far as the schedule for next week, I’ll keep you posted. This week is already getting busy for me.

Other than that, last word count I had for Book Six was 270,000 words, officially making it the longest book in the series (and that just keeps happening with each new book… lol).

Well, back to work. See you Wednesday and I hope you all have awesome shit planned for Halloween.

-Scott

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen turned to her and flashed another smile.

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

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

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

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

“Motion sickness is fairly common.”

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

Stephen turned to him. “You okay?”

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

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

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

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

Megan waited.

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

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

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

Megan was speechless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman stepped back.

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

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

Logan chuckled. “Mother apparently has… pirates?”

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

Stephen gave the preacher a cautious look.

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

“Ship,” the bald man corrected sternly.

“Pardon?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan’s eyebrows went up. “Seriously?”

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

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

Stephen shook his head at him and smiled.

Megan just rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan seemed less amused.

“And I’m Stephen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan looked away. She was fuming.

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

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

Stephen nodded. “How big is this island?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all waited.

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

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

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

They were all shocked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine gave her a nasty look.

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

The others looked doubtful and afraid.

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

Meredith said nothing.

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

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

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

“One more thing,” Meredith called back.

Clementine stopped.

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

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

“And Gina?”

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

“Helping us how?”

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

~~~

Next Episode 54-7

Previous Episode 54-5

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-6: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

Lady Clementine’s fishing vessel departed Fairport Harbor and was directed northwest toward Mother’s mysterious island. The morning presented calm seas with a warm summer breeze. An indifferent sun started its dying circuit across the day. Aside from the souls on board the solitary vessel, Lake Erie appeared to be just another void in the new world.

The red robed woman led Meredith toward the bow of the vessel where a large beach blanket was spread out over the deck.

“Please,” the robed woman started, waving an old bony hand toward the blanket. “I know it’s not like our late-night conversations in your old room with a flashlight to scare off the monsters… but it’s the best I could do under the circumstances.” The old woman flashed her a smile.

Meredith trembled looking into this woman’s ancient face. My, God! She looks a hundred years old! What have you done to yourself, Clem? She shook off the thought, and looked away from the robed woman, staring down at the blanket. Meredith moved toward the right side, as close to the outer edge of the blanket as she could. Here we go. Stay alert. Expect anything.

Clementine slowly sat down across from her, adjusting the folds of her large red robe around her legs.

Both women sat in silence for a moment, studying each other’s faces, as if peering into portals at the past.

Meredith looked back toward the stern of the boat, turned back, and said, “Should anything happen to my friends on this boat ride…”

Clementine laughed lightly, raising her eyebrows. “My, oh, my! It really is you behind that stranger’s face, isn’t it?” she said. “I was starting to have my doubts—but that old fire behind your eyes…”

Meredith sighed. “My friends?”

“Yes, yes.” Clementine waved a dismissive hand. “Nothing will happen to them. Their needs and comfort are being attended to while we catch up. You’ve nothing to fear from me, Meredith.”

Tell that to our sisters you murdered at the orphanage, she thought.

Clementine could feel her old friend’s accusing eyes, but nothing else. Her attempts to probe Meredith’s mind was like trying to scale Mount Everest with only a spoon. Her smile faltered slightly, then returned. “You are not the woman I expected,” she said. “Not at all like the frightened and confused little girl I remember who despised what she was… and what she was capable of.”

Meredith said nothing, refusing to walk into that verbal trap. She sensed Clementine’s probing immediately. She smiled and said, “I’ve as many questions as you do, Clem… and nothing to hide. Rather than attempting to invade my mind, why don’t you just ask.”

Clem laughed in surprise and lightly clapped her hands. “Indeed! Not what I expected… at all! Shame on me for believing you had neglected your gifts. Clearly, I was wrong. Forgive me, I had to make the attempt.”

“I know what you’re doing,” Meredith said. “Let’s stop pretending we’re two little girls having a sleepover like dear old friends and get down to it. You can keep on poking at me with your abilities, but you won’t gain anything that way.”

Clementine’s face went dark for a moment.

“And there you are,” Meredith said, with a smile. “I don’t need to probe your thoughts to see that you haven’t changed over the years. You are still that unstable girl that I remember.”

The robed woman quickly reeled in her temper and smiled. “So, you do remember. Has your memory been completely restored?”

“Yes.”

Clementine nodded. “Okay, Meredith. I won’t insult you again. Clearly we are both women who have set aside our childish ways… and have become… formidable.”

Meredith had no response to that.

Clementine laughed. “Let’s not do this. I don’t want to fight with you or play games. Believe it or not, a part of me was really looking forward to seeing you again.”

Meredith frowned. “How are you here? And what is your role in all of this? I assume you work for Mother, now… or rather, Toby.”

Clementine gave her old friend an amused look. “I assume you’re blocking him out right now, too… is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Then we can talk openly with each other. You are much stronger than I ever imagined. I’m a little impressed, but not surprised. Between the new face, which I would love to talk to you about at length, and the immense walls you’ve built up in your mind, it all still reminds me of the girl I once knew.”

Meredith sighed. “How so?”

“While I have embraced my ‘gifts’ and my destiny, all you’ve seemed to achieve with yours is an uncanny ability to hide. I can see why Mother…and Toby… has had a hard time keeping track of you over the years.” She shifted gears. “You know, there is no shame in who we are, Meredith. And now, we don’t have to hide it from the world any longer. That garbage we were taught at the orphanage… about hiding it from the world… that was just a means to keep us under control.”

Meredith stared into Clem’s old face and said, “I’ve paid a heavy price for ‘who’ I am… and so have you, judging by your appearance. Clearly you know this as well as I.”

Clementine nodded. “Yes, there is a price. Always a price. My abilities have taken a heavy toll on these old bones. But it won’t matter for much longer.”

“Why is that?”

Clementine just smiled. “We’ve a long boat ride ahead of us. Let’s try to clear the air, shall we? We both have many questions. I’ll answer what I can… truthfully. And maybe after… we will have cleared up a lot of misunderstandings.”

Meredith took advantage of the opportunity to knock Clem off-balance. “Okay, I’ll go first. Last I knew, you were captured by Mother after slaughtering an orphanage full of young girls. How does one go from an enemy of Mother… to apparently… a position of power?”

Clementine nodded. “Good. Let’s get that awful mess over with. I assume you read the files in Labyrinth Level 1?”

“Yes.”

Clementine shook her head and frowned. “That cavern beneath the orphanage is a very unstable place. You were incredibly fortunate to get out of there in one piece… or… in several pieces. Places like that attack the mind in unspeakable ways. Most people never leave the same way they entered. How did you-”

“The girls,” Meredith pushed. “Why? Why would you do such a horrible thing?”

Clementine’s eyes turned to stone. “Did your files mention that they attacked me, first?”

Meredith shook her head.

“No, of course not,” the robed woman continued. She looked away. “When I found out you were missing… I was… heartbroken.”

“You mean after what you did to Claudia?”

Clementine ignored the shot. “You were my only friend in that despicable place. After Mother snatched you away, I was lost… alone. No one else seemed to care that you were gone, except me. Then, while I was out walking one night, I found you in the fields. I don’t know how you got away, or where you were, but somehow you made it back. But Finch was there. He’d knocked you out, or something. I thought he was our friend, but he was trying to take you back to them! I tried to talk to him, reason with him first… but he wouldn’t listen to me. He threatened me and told me to go back inside.” Clementine looked up into Meredith’s eyes and put on her best performance. “What was I to do? I was afraid! Afraid they’d come after me next for knowing what I knew; afraid to do nothing and just let him take you away again. I already knew what everyone thought of me. Everyone hated me and wanted me gone. It was up to me to save you, Meredith! And I did what I had to do to stop that man!”

Meredith’s face was unreadable. “So… you killed Finch… to save me. Then when everyone else arrived… they saw the perfect opportunity to blame you for everything.”

“Yes!” Clementine said. “That’s exactly what happened, Meredith! I tried to explain what happened. I didn’t mean to kill Finch… I just… took it too far. But they didn’t want to listen. Miss Evans brought men with guns. They would’ve shot me down, if not for you. Then… then the girls all turned on me, too! They all let their hate for me out and came at me. What was I supposed to do? I was afraid… and so… well, you know the rest.”

“I don’t believe you,” Meredith said, with no emotion. “I believe that’s the story you’ve been telling yourself all these years to justify what you did, and maybe, you’ve come to believe it.”

Clementine just stared. She was surprised Meredith’s rejection hurt as much as it did. She balled up her fists beneath her robe and closed her eyes, trying to keep her composure. She opened them and finally said, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, Meredith. I just wanted you to hear it from me… and not from some cold words written down in a report that sealed my fate and ended my childhood.”

Meredith nodded. “And after all that death… what happened?”

Clementine looked around the small bow, breathing in the fresh air. She smiled and said, “While you were hiding from your destiny, living out your lie of a life under a dead’s girl’s name, I spent what was left of my youth in a dark room, smaller than the bow of this ship, at the end of a long, forgotten underground hallway. I was continuously drugged to keep my mind dull, poked and prodded by scientists who did everything short of dissecting me to figure out what made me tick, and then eventually just left alone to rot in the darkness.”

“That’s… that’s awful.”

Clementine nodded absently, then stared past Meredith into the gently rolling waves. “You say you don’t believe my story. So be it. It really doesn’t matter. I’m not seeking your forgiveness. You weren’t even conscious… so what the hell do you know.” She turned to Meredith with an angry gleam in her eye. “I paid for what I did to those girls, to Finch… and then some. And all of it to protect you. But I was just a frightened girl with the ability to do monstrous things to people. I didn’t understand… I didn’t have anyone to help me understand. You were my only friend, Meredith, and you were long gone, too.” She turned away and sighed. “After Mother branded me ‘Monster’, and they no longer saw a terrified child… well… let me just say that once a human being is no longer seen as one, it becomes very easy to dispose of conscience, like throwing away some worn out pair of socks. That’s how they became… as they performed ‘monstrous’ things on me.”

Meredith felt surprisingly sad. “I… I didn’t know that part. I’m very sorry that happened to you. Even after what you did… no one deserves that.”

“Thank you.” Clementine wiped a surprising bit of moisture from the corner of her left eye and stared at it. She laughed. “That was… much harder to talk about then I imagined.” She stared at Meredith. “But I’m glad I got to share that with you. It’s one less burden on my chest.”

“What did you mean when you said, ‘lie of a life under a dead girl’s name’?”

Clementine nodded. “Yes, good idea. Let’s move on from this dreary subject. I was referring to your little magic trick, of course. You know, the one where you left your body, escaped Mother’s highly secure facility, and then ended up in the body you presently wear.”

“You called it a ‘lie’,” Meredith clarified.

Clementine gave her a pained expression. “Surely, you’ve figured it out by now, haven’t you?”

Meredith frowned. “I know that Hannah… that she… worked for Mother.”

The robed woman pretended to care. “The short of it, Meredith, is that they found you eventually, then placed someone they could trust to keep an eye on you after you left the dead child’s home.”

Meredith looked away and nodded.

“It wasn’t until your abilities reemerged that they were able to locate you. Mother had already spent a great deal of time and resources establishing that network to monitor… people like us.”

“I thought I was free,” Meredith said, remembering her haunted past. “I was foolish to believe that. After I… became the brain-dead girl… after I became Michelle… I embraced it—almost believed it, too. It was wonderful to be loved, to have a mother, even if she wasn’t my own.”

Clementine nodded. “A wonderful lie, indeed. I can’t blame you for holding on to it for as long as you could.”

Meredith looked at her. “It didn’t last. I couldn’t pretend to be Michelle any more than her mother could pretend to love this strange girl wearing her dead child’s face. I think we both needed it for a while, but the strain, the distance was always there. She knew. Call it a mother’s intuition… I don’t know. But Michelle’s mother sensed there was something ‘off’ about her little girl. We kept up the farce for as long as we could… but then my abilities started to come back.”

Clementine leaned in. “And in all that time you spent wearing this face, you remembered nothing… from before?”

“For the most part, yes. What I did remember were scattered images that made little sense, like waking up from some strange dream that quickly fades. I knew who I was beneath this face, but so much of my life was hidden in the dark.”

Clementine leaned back. “And when your abilities resurfaced, I assume the strain between you and your new family got worse.”

“I didn’t let it get that far,” Meredith said. “I was a legal adult by then. I went away… and never came back. Many lonely years past… until I met Hannah.” She stopped, as a whirlwind of emotions attempted to overwhelm her. “Even now, knowing what I know about her, I still want to believe that what we had together… was real on some level.”

Clementine’s face turned to stone. “It was all bullshit, Meredith,” she said coldly.

Meredith gave her a hateful glance.

“I’m just being honest with you. The sooner you understand how… diabolical… Mother was and stop putting your emotions out there as an easy target, the stronger you will be.”

“You mean, so I can become a cold and heartless killer… like you?”

“Hannah was a tool, just as much as you were… as was I. Mother didn’t care about any of us. I wasn’t involved with anything that happened to you during those years, Meredith, but I’ve read your file, too.”

“You keep speaking of Mother in the past tense,” Meredith said.

Clementine smiled. “A lot has changed, Meredith, in the years you’ve been away. In fact, it was your escape that started quite a shitstorm back then, so I’ve come to understand.”

Meredith waited.

Clementine sighed. “The past is such a heavy burden, don’t you think? We carry so much, you and me. It’s refreshing to have someone to talk to about all of this, someone who can understand.”

“There is a lot I still don’t understand,” Meredith confessed.

Clementine laughed. “Well, I’ll try to fill you in.” The robed woman tilted her head toward the partly cloudy sky, closed her eyes, and continued. “I spent so much time in that dark room that it’s still difficult for me, after all this time, to adjust… out here.”

“What you went through sounds unbearable.”

She opened her eyes and smiled. “I wasn’t completely honest with you, Meredith. I wasn’t entirely alone in the darkness. Toby was there. He spoke with me often after I was locked up. Something he hadn’t done since before you showed up at that orphanage and ruined everything.”

Meredith didn’t know how to respond to that.

“I don’t blame you… not anymore. I was just a young and confused girl back then. I hated you for how much Toby favored you over me. I was the special one before you came along. I was the one who was supposed to achieve great things under his guidance. But that was all bullshit, too. Just like the life Forrester and Finch set up for you under the dead girl’s name. All they wanted was to keep you as far away from Mother as they could. No one had our best interests in mind, Meredith. No one really cared about a couple of freak girls.”

“Someone was looking out for you,” Meredith corrected. “It would appear that you’ve done rather well for yourself.”

Clementine laughed and shook her head. “Appearances are certainly deceiving. Yes, yes, I’m… respected… these days. But it wasn’t always like this. After the old regime lost control, Toby was furious. When you disappeared, it set the organization into a tailspin. Apparently, there were doubters within the fold who were just looking for an opportunity to rise out of the shadows and… change… the direction Mother was headed in. There was quite a few who did not desire to serve Toby’s interests.”

Meredith raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying that Mother was dealing with its own insurrection?”

“Something like that. Those fools. They had no idea what they’d unearthed. All they saw was power. But they had no idea what they were meddling with… or who. When they’d discovered the first doorway into the darkness that you and I are well-acquainted with, they thought they’d tapped into some other dimension, believing that if they could find a way to simply step through it… that they would tap into a whole new world of resources beyond anyone’s comprehension.”

“You’re saying that Mother had no idea they were opening Pandora’s Box?”

“No. They knew what they were doing was dangerous. What I’m saying is that those idiots decided to redefine what that ‘box’ was… and that they were the ones who were still in control when they opened it.”

Meredith nodded. “And then they discovered… Toby.”

“Yes,” Clementine said. “And when that happened, he promised them everything they sought… and more, and they bought into it like greedy little children with their hands caught in the cookie jar.”

“I think I’m starting to understand,” Meredith said. “When Toby entered the picture, not all in Mother were on board. Is that what you’re saying?”

Clementine smiled. “Yes. And while the unbelievers conspired in silence to break away from the organization, Toby was aware of it, but it was manageable. It wasn’t until you got away that it became a problem. The dissenters became vocal and many left Mother. Some who had already been active in causing that rift to widen, were working from within to close that box. Some like your Dr. Forrester and Finch…”

Meredith’s eyes went wide.

“So, after you slipped through Mother’s fingers, that’s when Toby forced some… organizational changes. Mother had grown weak and conflicted from within. This put Toby’s plans in jeopardy since he still needed these fools to work together to support his cause.”

“And that’s where you come in,” Meredith said.

“Yes, Meredith. That’s when I became… valuable again. Mother had become a bunch of bickering children, in Toby’s eyes. He needed something to unite them again before Mother fell apart and ruined everything. Since he couldn’t entice them any longer with false promises of power and wealth, he resorted to the oldest tactic in the book to get them back in line.”

Meredith frowned. “Fear.”

Clementine stared into her lap. “I remember Toby whispering to me in the dark about what was happening. Near the end of my incarceration, we had spent a lot of time together. He’d been preparing me for a while, telling me that my time was finally at hand.” She looked up and gave Meredith a chilling glance. “And I had grown very powerful in that little dark room, Meredith. Toby had shown me so much. He’d taught me many things about myself… and what I could do. He’d taken a confused and angry child and tempered that anger into an efficient weapon… to serve Mother’s true cause.”

Meredith sighed heavily. “What did you do, Clem?”

“I remember one despicable man who was charge during my imprisonment. His name was Bawl. He’d been the one responsible for losing you, and as punishment for failing Toby, he’d been assigned to babysit me. Well, this Mr. Bawl, had gone above and beyond his duties overseeing the experiments… Let’s just say that he was a bit too enthusiastic when it came time to make me suffer. I’ll spare you the details of what that evil man did to this frightened child and just say that I screamed a lot back then.”

Meredith shifted uncomfortably.

“Toby sent Bawl to fetch me from that dirty dark cell for the last time.” She was staring into Meredith’s eyes with a devilish look. “I was… more physically mature by then… and not a little girl. Bawl often exploited that, too. Anyway, he was the first I got to test my strength on. I did things to that man’s mind that made what I did to Finch look tame.”

“So, after he let you out… you killed this Mr. Bawl?”

“Actually,” Clementine said, leaning back. “He’s still alive today… well… if you could call it alive. What was left of the man, after I finished with him, is still breathing in that dark little room I left him in. I sometimes visit him when I’m in an exceptionally foul mood.”

Meredith didn’t dare comment further on Mr. Bawl.

“I won’t bore you with the rest,” Clementine said. “After I was released, I spent the next few years under Toby’s guidance making changes from within the organization. I made ‘examples’ out of many of them. Converted others back to the cause. And hunted down as many of the traitors as I could. In the years to follow, we created scriptures to replace procedures; invented the Ama-Eskua, which you know as The Shadow Dead, who were originally intended to be an intimidation tactic to enforce sacred laws but have since turned into a den of disgusting assassins.”

Meredith glared and said, “So, you are responsible for the attack on the compound!”

Clementine laughed. “Really, Meredith? Don’t try to pin that on me. If you hadn’t been there, hiding, Toby never would have sanctioned the attack in the first place.”

Meredith’s fire quickly dissipated.

Clementine continued, “We gave Mother a dogmatic sense of ‘purpose’ rather than a scientific quest for ‘knowledge’ and a corrupted greed for ‘power’. We re-emphasized the importance of the Lions, which Mother had nearly forgotten. You remember the Lions, don’t you, Meredith?”

Meredith wouldn’t look her in the eye.

“Everyone now had a purpose and a place in the organization. We prepared for what was coming, rather than what we could take. You were either a ‘Candidate’ or ‘Fodder’ when the Lions came. And you would prove yourself worthy of Toby’s new world… and his gracious gift of life… by giving over to the pending darkness.” She stopped there to let her old friend process.

Meredith shook her head. “It sounds like you did a wonderful job of making a sinister group of human beings a whole hell of a lot worse; turned them into a bunch of religious zealots supporting a monster’s cause.”

Clementine just smiled. “It’s all rubbish, of course.”

Meredith was shocked by her response. “Come again?”

“All of it,” Clementine said. “It’s all nonsense. Just more tactics to maintain control. We needed them to remain loyal… no matter what. When ‘The Change’ finally arrived, and we always knew it was coming thanks to Toby and what he did with you over ‘there’, it only cemented all that dogma and elevated the fear to a whole new level of devotion.” The robed woman rolled her eyes and shook her head. “What a waste. So much time. So much effort. And for what? Just to get you, the chosen one, where you are right now… so Toby can finally cross over into our world, The Final Lion, and dispose of us all.”

“I’m confused,” Meredith said. “Don’t you… want this?”

Clementine sighed. “Before… The Change… I almost believed in what me and Toby were doing together. I thought I was back in his good graces, and that we were changing the world… together. He used to lie to me during all the hard work I did getting Mother back on track, saying, ‘Well, done, Clem. You’ve come a long way to achieving the world I always wanted for you… and your kind. I think I will stay in the darkness… and let you continue the good work in my absence.’”

“He actually said that to you?”

She shook her head, then frowned at her friend. “I was the biggest fool of all. He used me to keep everyone doing exactly what he needed them to do, but he also had to keep me in line, too… until he could get you ready to bring him back.”

“I don’t understand.”

Clementine shook her head at her as if dealing with a child. “Everything you’ve been through, Meredith, has been a test… one, long damn trial… to get you strong enough to finish this mess that you and Toby started together. Everything has been leading up to this moment. For me, it’s the damn orphanage all over again.”

Meredith let Clem’s words sink in. “Are you saying that Toby’s been… that he’s been overseeing everything that’s happened to me and my friends… since the beginning?”

“Consider every event that’s forced you to open your mind, lower your walls, and caused you to use your abilities. And each time you have, you’ve only grown stronger for the next time… and the time after that…”

“No,” Meredith said. “I won’t believe that! I can’t believe that he’s been orchestrating everything—my whole life—just to get me back to that beach in the middle of the darkness…. I won’t!”

“I’m as shocked as you are, Meredith. He’s manipulated us both… perfectly. I only started to see the truth after your damn Lions finally came into our world. We were ready for it, too. We had protocols in place, cell groups, hell… we even knew to chain ourselves up at the first sight of the rain before the storm… But none us really believed The Change would happen. It was always there, to motivate us, to unite us… but it was never supposed to happen. After that, I knew everything Toby told me was a lie. And the moment I deliver you to him, my purpose is finished.”

Meredith was at a loss for words.

Clementine took in a deep breath and let her shoulders slouch. “Again, I don’t blame you for all this. I know what he made you do. But honestly, after The Change happened, and people at random turned into vessels for these… creatures, I was hoping you were one of them. That’s when Mother lost you again… in the middle of all that chaos… until you arrived at the compound and used the old code that Hannah gave you. But I think, Toby knew exactly where you were the whole time. He kept it concealed from me, from all of us, until then.”

“But… why?”

“Because Mother would have done everything in its power, while we still had the power to choose, to kill you.”

Meredith nodded. “I understand. I have thought about ending my own life, to finish all this.” She looked at her old friend and sighed. “So, why not kill me now? Or is that what you’ve yet to tell me? Are my friends and I going to mysteriously drown in this lake before we reach Toby’s island?”

“I wish it were that simple, Meredith,” Clementine said. “But it’s too late for all that. Yes, I could dispose of you now, but Toby would destroy us all immediately. As long as you live Mother still has a purpose… as do I.”

“He spoke of another… like me. He said that if we fought back and he was forced to eliminate me, he would just have to wait until the other was ready. After I saw you at the marina, I just assumed he meant you.”

For the first time Clementine looked confused.

“You didn’t know?”

She frowned. “For as much as Toby has told me, there is just as much he keeps from me. But I can assure you, I am not the one he was speaking of. As strong as I’ve become, I have never been, nor will I ever be, what you are in Toby’s eyes.” She said the last bit with a touch of scorn. “Thank you for sharing that with me. You could’ve kept that to yourself.”

“Maybe you’ll remember that and consider sparing my friends on your boat. I tried to get them to stay behind, but they wouldn’t leave me.”

“I commend their devotion. Foolish, but admirable.” Clementine nodded. “I will allow them to leave… if you wish.”

“And Gina?”

“If she chooses to go, then I won’t stop her. Gina is not my prisoner. I found her in the woods. She was injured and my people took care of her.” After a deliberate pause, she added, “Gina chose to come back with us.”

“I find that very hard to believe.”

“You can ask her yourself when we arrive.”

Meredith paused, then said, “So, if I’m not to be murdered in route to this island, and Toby has no further use for you after I… fulfill my purpose… then why do I still feel like I’m missing something?”

Clementine smiled. “You always were smart… much smarter than I. But don’t let it get to your head, because if you haven’t heard, I can make heads pop like balloons.”

“Is that supposed to be funny?”

Clementine slowly stood to stretch her legs.

Meredith did the same.

The old robed woman looked directly ahead, toward the island which was still miles out of view. “I was hoping our conversation, despite whether or not we could ever be friends again, would at least bear fruit… enough to form an alliance.”

Meredith stared dumbfounded at the old woman’s robe blowing in the breeze. Her initial response was to charge the vile thing, grab her around the waist and knock them both into the lake… killing two birds at once. Instead, she said, “To what end?”

Clementine turned back. She wore an exhausted expression on her face that reminded Meredith of one she wore many times. “No tricks, Meredith. I’ve had time to consider this meeting, to dread it even, but the outcome has always been the same. There’s only one thing either of us can do now. We need each other.”

I was doing just fine without you, Meredith thought, but kept her mouth shut. “Need each other for what?”

Clementine smiled weakly. “To eliminate Toby.”

~~~

Next Episode 54-6

Previous Episode 54-4

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-5: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

~~~

A gusting wind coming off the lake violently rustled Gina’s shoulder-length red hair. She lifted her face toward the noonday sun, closed her eyes, and let the warm breeze strike her cheeks. She felt nothing inside—nothing she would allow. The loss of too many people she cared about was not something she could afford to let invade her thoughts or allow the grief to come out.

An old wound started to itch. She lifted her hand and traced the narrow scar that started just beneath her right eye, extending downward to the bottom of her cheek.

Some fucking ‘badge’.

She absently dropped her hand, opened her eyes, and stared down from the edge of the steep cliff, overlooking the strong lake currents as wave after wave crashed against the rocky northern shore of the island. She felt like that stony shore as the hell of this world continued to assault her heart with all that cold indifferent darkness.

She slowly turned in her dull gray uniform and caught a glimpse of the red-robed woman approaching from the other end of the peninsula field behind her. She grimaced in pain while turning around but hid it as best she could. After three weeks on the island, she still felt tightness in her chest where Alysa’s arrow had struck her. The wound in her left thigh was all healed while the missing piece of her right big toe had become a permanent annoyance when she leaned forward too much on that leg.

Gina placed the baseball bat sized wooden stick, shaped like a slithering snake, out in front for support. She stabbed the grass with her makeshift cane and stepped away from the cliff and into the field, using the stick to reduce her weight on the right side.

“You know, there are several fantastic overlooks much closer to the training facility,” Lady Clementine said with annoyance, surprising Gina with how fast the old woman had closed the distance between them.

Gina stopped. “I like this spot. No one bothers me out here.”

Clementine removed her red hood, smiled at her guest, then stared down at Gina’s cane and frowned. “Why do you still have that? And what possessed you to choose the Balato for a training weapon? You do remember what I told you about it, right?”

Gina examined the stick with a look of satisfaction on her face. “Yes. You told me the Ama-Eskua only use this to inflict pain on their recruits… and that it’s not considered a weapon.” She glanced over at Clementine with her intense green eyes, flashing a wicked little smile, and finished, “The pain part sounded perfect.”

“You misunderstand. The Balato is considered a lowly instrument… an insult. The Ama-Eskua are already displeased with your presence here, and your new approach toward training the recruits. Why make things worse?”

Gina’s face grew hard. “And yet they remain absent while this fucking island falls apart. If all I thought it took was an insult or two to get their attention and finally force them out of hiding, then I’d be carrying a much bigger stick.”

Clementine put a hand to her mouth to hide her amusement. “I like your spirit, Gina. What you’ve done with the recruits, turning them around and giving them purpose, has not escaped my notice, either. I’m just sorry I haven’t been around much to help.”

“How goes your negotiations?”

The old woman sighed and placed her hands to her hips. “They are stubborn and resistant to change, although the state of the world now demands that we all change.”

Gina shook her head. “Sounds like those Ama-Assholes are unwilling to yield control of this place, even though they do nothing with the power but hide away in their dark corner of the facility. Why do you tolerate them? Can’t you just… I don’t… take back control? I still remember what you did to that horde on the mainland, parting them for the convoy to pass.”

Clementine flashed a weak smile. “If you mean take back control by force, then yes, I could. But what would that accomplish? We would still be divided and achieve nothing.”

“Then let me go talk to them,” Gina pushed, and not for the first time.

Clementine frowned. “Do you think they find me a feeble old woman they can push around? And that you could handle these delicate talks so much better than me?”

“I didn’t mean-”

“The only reason the Ama-Eskua have not come out of their sanctum on the north end of the facility and personally dealt with you is because they’re smart enough to realize what I would do to them. They know you are my responsibility, and an attack against you, would be the same as a direct assault on me.”

Gina wisely kept her mouth shut and nodded.

Clementine walked toward the overlook and shook her head. “Sorry, Gina. I don’t mean to be cross. Nothing is as I’d hoped when I came back here. And I shouldn’t be surprised, considering all the political tension and bickering I left behind when I last departed this place. I just never thought everything would escalate so fast after The Change. I assumed the Lions would reunite us and make us stronger. But it has done the opposite.”

Gina stared at the old woman, searching her mind for anything encouraging to say. “The recruits will fight for Mother. In fact, I think they’ve been itching for one for a long time. They understand what it means to have their hope dragged through the mud and put on display to be humiliated in front of this merciless world.”

Clementine turned.

“That is how they feel about the current state of Mother. They came here for something better, after this new world shit all over them, and they don’t like what has happened any more than we do.”

“What have you told them, Gina?”

“The truth.”

Clementine looked like she was about to protest, then stopped, and let out a heavy sigh. She nodded. “Why not,” she said with resignation. “Perhaps before the end, the recruits will be all that’s left of Mother’s ideals.”

“Is it that bad?”

Clementine looked away. “The Ama-Eskua, the once powerful right arm of Mother, is in turmoil. They do not own up to what the Shadow Dead have done. To do so would mean admitting weakness… in an Order that punishes the weak and honors the strong. So, they do nothing. Meanwhile, everyone else sees it. The workers, the regular militia, the recruits… they’re all expressing doubt where there was once only hope.”

Gina grew concerned. “You don’t sound very optimistic.”

“I am not, Gina. I’m afraid to take over by force, which would make me as wrong as the Order, as I muddy Mother’s name further by making it a dictatorship.” She looked at Gina with a sad, faraway expression. “But I’m also afraid to do nothing and idly watch the rest of Mother collapse.”

Gina nodded, stepping up beside the tired woman. “What… what can I do to help?”

Clementine turned and smiled. “You are doing more than enough, Gina. You have already provided me with a spark of light in a very dark place.” She shook her head in frustration. “I never should’ve left. I was called upon to lead, but I was selfish and wanted to live my life away from the politics of governing.”

“You can’t blame yourself,” Gina said. “You’re just one person. I’m sure you would’ve done the best you could in the governing capacity, but in the end, it wouldn’t have been enough.” She paused and frowned. “When I was reluctantly put in charge of my group, I had nothing but the best of intentions. I wanted to protect them, make them strong. But I failed miserably because I wasn’t leading a group of clones who thought and felt like me. I never even considered what others thought… not really. I suspect you would’ve had the same issues if you’d stayed.”

Clementine shot her a sideways glance, careful not to let Gina see the brief smirk on her face. Like a well-trained actor responding to the next verbal cue, she said submissively, “Thanks for sharing that, Gina. I carry a very extensive load on my shoulders, perhaps too much. I’m just… exhausted… and need to approach matters with a fresh perspective. Please forgive my moment of weakness.”

“There’s nothing to forgive,” Gina said. “We all have our less-than-stellar moments. Well, myself excluded, of course.” She added a smile.

Clementine laughed hard. She placed a hand on Gina’s shoulder and said, “I am glad you’re here, Gina. This would all be so much more difficult without a friend around.”

She smiled at the old woman, feeling surprisingly comforted by Clementine’s presence. This immediately made her put her guards back up as Gina got tense and took a step away from the robed woman.

So much has changed… and keeps changing, she thought. This woman, and this organization, was my enemy… and now… I’m not certain who my real enemies are… or my friends.

She thought of Marcus and the Shadow Dead and felt some of her doubts dissolve.

“What is it?” Clementine said, noticing Gina’s distant expression.

She turned and shook off her thoughts. “Nothing. I’m just… well… I’m still blown away with how I ended up here.”

The old woman laughed. “I have often felt that way. If I’ve learned to trust in anything, it’s this: Nothing is ever what it appears to be… especially these days.”

Gina nodded wholeheartedly.

“I have to leave the island,” Clementine abruptly said.

“What?”

The old woman sighed. “I’ve been wrestling with this since last night. I believe my presence here, as far as the Ama-Eskua is concerned, is keeping them restless and defensive. We’ve reached a stalemate in our negotiations and I need to attempt another approach.”

“So, you’re just going to leave!” Gina was up in arms. “How does that help our situation?”

“Don’t get me wrong, Gina. I’m only talking about a boat ride across the pond and back,” she said. “I’ve received word that Alysa has spoken with the Shadow Dead… and that they wish set up a meeting with the Order.”

Gina laughed in disbelief. “You’ve got to be shitting me! Are you telling me that they now want to come back to the Order? After everything those murderers have done in Mother’s name?”

Clementine gave her a grave face. “No, Gina. They do not seek an alliance. The Shadow Dead believe they are now what’s left of the real Ama-Eskua. According to the message I’ve received, they wish to discuss terms of surrender.”

Gina was shocked. “Is the Order aware of this?”

“Yes. That’s why I’m going to meet with Alysa. She is loyal to the Shadow Dead, but she is also loyal to me, acting as my ambassador.”

“Sounds like a great way to get you somewhere exposed so they can eliminate you,” Gina said.

Clementine smiled. “Yes, I am aware of the risks. But I believe the Shadow Dead intend me no harm. In fact, I believe they wish to align themselves with me to force the Order into submission.”

Gina threw her stick to the ground. “That’s bullshit! You know you can do that, right?”

“Gina,” the old woman added patiently, “what I know is that I need another option to force the Ama-Eskua toward giving up power without confronting them personally. I have no intention of joining the Shadow Dead.”

“Then, why are you leaving?”

“Remember what I just said about appearances?”

Gina nodded.

“If the Order knows that I’m going to meet with the Shadow Dead, it will force them to the negotiation table. I have no right to confront the Order, but the Shadow Dead have a legitimate claim. The Order will want to know what ‘deal’ they’ve offered me, fearing that I might support the Shadow Dead as a ‘back door’ opportunity to strip the Order of their power. Then after the Order has surrendered, I can confront the Shadow Dead directly for their crimes against Mother.”

Gina shook her head. “For someone who isn’t a fan of all that political nonsense, you sure have a head for it.”

Clementine smiled. “I never said I wasn’t good at it.”

“But you’re not really joining them, right?”

“Absolutely not, Gina. I only want to cast the appearance of such of a move. When I return, I expect the Order to approach me with a counter proposal to give up authority if they are permitted to remain Mother’s Hand.”

Gina laughed. “So, you’re playing one side against the other… and giving none of them what they really want.”

Clementine’s face turned serious. “I am only concerned with what is good for Mother. The Shadow Dead are traitors. The Order is out of line and need to return to their rightful place. I’m out of options. This move, albeit risky, is the wisest and least destructive move I can make to restore balance.”

“And if your ‘bluff’ doesn’t work?”

Clementine gave her an uncomfortable glance. “If this doesn’t work, Gina… If the Order sees right through my gambit, they might be encouraged to take advantage of my absence to make sure I cannot safely make it back to the island.”

Gina caught the unspoken concern. “The Order will eliminate anyone left loyal to Mother. Which means they’ll be coming for me, and my recruits.”

“Yes, Gina. If my ruse fails, then that is a real possibility. Once they kill everyone still loyal to what Mother once was… they can keep me from getting back to the island… unless I really do have the support of the Shadow Dead.”

Gina’s shoulders sank. “And there’s no other way?”

Clementine shook her head sadly. “No, Gina. I don’t believe there is… and I’m sorry to put you in this predicament. Of course, should you consider the risk to your own life too great, you may return with me to the mainland, and I would completely understand. That’s why I came out here to tell you before I left.”

Gina considered this. “And… the recruits? What would happen to them after both of us were gone?”

Clementine sighed. “Honestly, Gina, I don’t know. Best case scenario: Perhaps the Ama-Eskua would spare their lives and have them return to whatever was being done to them before.”

“Judging by your face, I don’t think you believe that,” Gina said.

The old woman shook her head. “It is more likely that they will eliminate them, Gina. Especially after what you’ve done with them… and I mean that in a good way.”

Gina closed her eyes and balled her fists. “So, I really don’t have a choice.”

“Of course, you do, child. They are not your responsibility. None of this chaos is. If you wish to leave, then I encourage it. But it will have to be now, before I set events into motion.”

“I’m staying,” Gina said.

Clementine gave her an astonished look.

“What kind of leader… what kind of person… would I be if I abandoned them just to save my worthless ass? Honestly, I’m running out of closet space for all my dark shit.” She shook her head. “No. Abandoning the recruits is something I can’t do.”

“Do you understand what will happen should the Order decide to attack? If any of you survive, it will not be pleasant. What they’ll do to you afterwards, will make the Balato look tame.”

Gina laughed exhaustedly. “I understand perfectly… and I’m still staying.”

Clementine gave Gina a proud look. “You are a very honorable person, Gina Melborn… and a hell of a good leader. I find it difficult to believe that anyone could ever exile the young, brave woman standing before me now.”

Gina averted her eyes. “Well… thanks for your vote of confidence. That means something to me. But… I’ve done some vile fucking shit, too. Perhaps this is a chance for me to break even.” She added a weak smile.

Clementine laughed. “Perhaps.”

“When will you leave?”

“Late this evening. I’ll meet up with Alysa on the coast in the morning.”

“Sounds like I need to let you prepare… and I’ve some preparing to do, too.”

“Good luck, Gina. I will return as expeditiously as possible.”

“Good luck to you, too,” Gina said. “Hopefully your plan works and we’ll all still be around to greet you when you return.” Gina picked up the Balato and started back.

Clementine watched her depart, gleaming like a proud parent. When Gina was far enough away, the old woman’s smile faded. “You’re getting to good at this, old girl,” she whispered to herself.

Clementine had no intention of sailing off to meet Alysa or the Shadow Dead. The only ruse planned was the one she just pulled on the determined red-headed warrior.

She was still leaving on the boat to the mainland.

Toby had used the ‘carrot’.

Clementine had turned the carrot into a ‘catalyst’.

The old woman had a lot to do before she departed.

Meredith would arrive at the marina in the morning.

~~~

Gina entered the crowded meal hall with Julianne at her side. No one noticed them standing just inside the door. Julianne was about to say something, but Gina held her arm. “Hold on,” she whispered.

The young Ama-Eskua recruit flashed her a puzzled look, then relaxed when she noticed Gina’s smile. She took a respectful step behind her leader, then stood at the ready, her hands behind her and within easy reach of the Balato strapped across her back.

The sounds of laughter and relaxed conversations among the men and women, young and old, wearing their clean gray uniforms was refreshing. The red-headed leader just soaked it all in. Over the past few weeks, She’d caught bits and pieces of stories about their lives from before—who they once were, where they’d come from, their dreams, old romances, ancient jokes passed on and modified to fit their present circumstances, and the people they’d lost. She appreciated all of it.

Since Gina took over, bringing all the recruits together, they no longer saw each other as enemies, or cared about who were Candidates and who were the Fodder. They knew each other, now.

She turned to Julianne, who looked on with a face of stone to hide what she felt. Well, Gina thought. Most of them have lowered their shields. With some, old habits die hard. She was referring to the young warrior, as well as herself.

Julianne caught her staring.

Gina laughed lightly. “They train hard, Julianne. But they need to decompress, too. Without it… what we’re doing is all for nothing.”

“They are… vulnerable… like this,” Julianne said.

Gina had worked with the young woman to get her to open up more. “You’re right, they are. But believe it or not, there will come a time when we’ll need to learn how to be… vulnerable… again.”

Julianne just stared at her. “When will that be?”

Gina leaned in and said, “When the fighting is finished.”

Julianne laughed, believing Gina had just told a joke. “That’s ridiculous.”

Gina just stared sadly at the young woman. She really believes I’m joking. She looked at the rest. I hope it isn’t a joke. If we can’t look toward something better… beyond all this death and violence… then we might as well go back to killing each other and get it over with. She smiled at the thought. Now I sound like Stephen. Took long enough for me to finally get it. She shook all thoughts aside and raised her own shield. She nodded to Julianne.

Julianne nodded back. She stepped forward, turning her attention on the recruits. “What the hell is wrong with all of you!” she yelled. “On your damn feet! Lady Gina is present!”

Gina rolled her eyes. She hated the name, but after several failed attempts to get them to stop, she finally gave up, preferring ‘Lady Gina’ to ‘Ma’am’ or even ‘Sir’.

The recruits stopped talking, turned, and then noticed Gina standing in the shadow of the cafeteria doorway.

A chorus of metal chairs screeched across the linoleum as the recruits rushed to stand at attention in front of their tables.

Here we go, Gina thought, stepping forward. She placed her own hands behind her back and scanned the recruits with a look of satisfaction across her face. Except for the twelve recruits currently on rounds, patrolling the training facility in pairs, everyone else was present for lunch. Gina had pushed for meals to be shared together, sleep at the same times, and that they all trained together. She would not allow room for factions or division of any kind. They needed to be one.

That’s forty in here, another twelve on watch, plus myself and Julianne. Fifty-four total. It’s not an army… but it’s what we have. After Gina’s quick assessment, she smiled at them and said, “At ease. Please, sit down and finish eating.”

The recruits relaxed and sat back down.

Gina spotted the bearded older recruit, Hugh.

He squirmed under her intense gaze. Even after Gina had assured him that she’d forgiven his attempt on her life, Hugh continued to tread lightly around her.

And she constantly enjoyed picking on him.

“Hugh.”

“Yes, Lady Gina.”

“Who are you?” she said.

He raised his chin up proudly. “I am Hugh Marten.”

“Who were you?”

He smiled and said, “I was… an electrician… back in the day.”

Gina smiled back and raised an eyebrow. “And who will you be?”

Hugh nodded. “I will be a man of peace, serving my brothers and sisters. I will be a man of action, guarding their backs with my own life… when peace is not enough.”

Gina nodded. “Good answer,” she said with a wink.

Hugh relaxed… a little.

With Julianne’s help, Gina had modified the ancient Ama-Eskua mantra to turn them away from believing that killing was the first call to action. The young recruit had taught her as much as Gina could absorb about Ama-Eskua doctrine and beliefs, often causing Gina to raise the ‘bullshit’ flag on the Order’s cold and calculated approaches to death, while she tried to uphold the more ‘honorable’ traditions with the recruits. Initially, every time Gina had amended an Ama-Eskua doctrine, Julianne had fought her round and round on the matter until Gina’s stubbornness prevailed. Eventually, Julianne started to understand Gina’s ‘vision’ as evidenced by her positive effect on the recruits. She still struggled every time Gina made a change, but she was getting much better at adapting. Gina had commended her for her bravery and strength in accepting all her changes (and especially for putting up with her fiery temper during combat training) and she had promoted her to second-in-command.

Julianne, in a rare moment of emotion, had been overcome by the honor as Gina had watched the young warrior’s eyes water up… briefly. Of course, neither of them had spoken of it again.

Gina led Julianne out of the cafeteria and into the maze of hallways, headed toward the former Kill Room. Among many changes Gina had made, when the recruits were authorized to train again in the gymnasium sized death space, she insisted that the Kill Room’s name be changed. After some deliberation and a whole hell of a lot of resistance from Julianne, Gina renamed the room, the KAR, which was short for “Kick Ass Room”.

They entered the KAR and Gina smiled with satisfaction.

Aside from the oldest blood stains on the floor, the rest of the room had been cleaned up. All the weapons had been removed and stored in an armory. Along several walls were racks of Balatos used for combat training. Aside from Gina, the three original Ama-Eskua recruits, and watch-standers, no one else was authorized to be armed outside the KAR.

They crossed the training room, exiting a door on the north side, and stepped out onto the upper balcony of the ghost town hub—the remains of Mother’s headquarters.

Gina noticed two recruits on watch below. One was the ponytailed Ama-Eskua who Julianne had fought with the pipe.

The young man noticed them, scowled at Gina, then nodded briefly at Julianne. He then walked off with the other recruit.

Gina smiled. “Kyle doesn’t think much of me, does he?”

Julianne shrugged her shoulders. “I think he’s preoccupied with too many thoughts about himself to think about anything else.”

Gina laughed. “Did you just crack a joke, Julianne?”

“That depends. Was it funny?” She smiled this time.

The red-head laughed a little harder. “Julianne, I think you’re finally tapping into your ‘human’ side. I was starting to think that you didn’t possess one.”

Julianne looked puzzled by the comment.

“Never mind,” Gina said. She looked across the large hub toward a thick metal door on the other side. “Why have they not approached us, Julianne?” she said. “I’m starting to believe there is no Order.”

Julianne stared at the large door. “That’s the main entrance to their sanctum. For as long as I’ve been here, no one’s ever entered that door. And no one’s ever exited. It’s primarily used for ceremonial purposes, like when a recruit becomes Ama-Eskua.”

Gina nodded. “I understand all that… but where the hell are they?”

Julianne smiled. “I’m sure they’ve been watching us. If the Ama-Eskua wish not to be seen… then we will not see them.”

Gina mulled this over. “And if they decide to attack us, would they use this door or come at us from another way?”

Julianne had already been briefed on Gina and Clementine’s earlier discussion. “Does Lady Clementine really believe that the Order will strike after she’s left the island?”

“It’s possible.”

Julianne stared at the large door with a frown. Her face was a mask of conflicting emotions. She finally nodded with a sigh. “Yes, they could choose to use this entrance. Coming at us through here would be a tactical advantage. This door is close enough to our weapons to cut us off, and far enough away from our quarters to slip in undetected.”

Gina nodded. “I was thinking the same thing. If you were them, what move would you make first?”

Julianne stared at her. “I would attempt to locate your isolation room, Gina, and then slit your throat in your sleep.”

Gina unconsciously reached for her neck. “Go on,” she said.

“Then, I would create a diversion causing chaos, attempting to scatter our ranks in the confusion, as I’d pick us off one by one.”

Gina shook her head and laughed. “That’s comforting.” She watched Kyle and the second recruit exit the hub. “I want to triple the sentries in this area, and around the other entrances.”

“Consider it done.”

“I think it’s time to retrieve the weapons again. From here on out, I want everyone armed.”

Julianne seemed pleased. She nodded.

Gina could not look away from the large locked door. “This evening, you and I are going to discuss alternative strategies to defend this place… or attack the sanctum directly.”

The Ama-Eskua recruit became very quiet.

Gina turned. “What’s the matter?”

Julianne’s face was stone. “If the Order chooses to attack… in full force… we all will die.”

~~~

Next Episode 54-5

Previous Episode 54-3

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 54-4: Treachery” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission by the author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.