Posts Tagged ‘Don’t Feed The Dark’


~~~

Well Everyone, I gave it a go but it didn’t work. It was foolish of me to believe I could start Book Six before the holidays. I thought that by dropping to one episode a week I could keep up with the serial during the holiday rush… but sadly… I was mistaken. So for that, I apologize.

I really want to give Book Six the time it needs and not push it forward under duress of deadlines during this crazy busy time of year, so, I’ve decided to halt the serial until Wednesday, January 2nd. I’m sorry for the delay, but I just can’t keep my focus (or writing momentum) consistent enough at the present time.

I’m hoping to get back up to my two-episode posting schedule by the second week of January. Fingers crossed.

Until then, I hope you all have a great Christmas and New Years, and I’ll see you back in January 2019.

-Scott

~~~

Advertisements

~~~

Just a quick update. Due to the extremely busy week I’m already having, I’ve decided to postpone the next episode of Don’t Feed The Dark until after Thanksgiving. Chapter 48-4 will be posted on Wednesday, November 28th. Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving… and eat that damn turkey like a zombie savage ;)

-Scott

~~~

~~~

The third episode of Chapter 48: Hell, from Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, is now online!

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith and Stephen nodded in agreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sounds logical,” Stephen nodded.

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

Meredith nodded. “They essentially went insane.”

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

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

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

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

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

She smiled weakly.

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

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

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

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

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

“You said it, little brother.”

“Suicides?” Meredith said. “What’s he talking about, Stephen?”

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

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

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

Meredith covered her mouth and gasped.

“What is it?” Stephen said.

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

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

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

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

Meredith nodded. “They all went crazy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For what?”

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

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

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

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

Meredith laughed.

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

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

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

She nodded with a laugh. “Deal.”

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

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

Stephen gave her a surprised look.

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stephen? Is that you?” he called up.

No answer.

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

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

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

The generators quieted down to a steady hum.

“Stephen? Meredith?” he called up.

Again, no answer.

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen turned toward the observation room entrance.

Megan was gone.

~~~

Chapter 48 will continue On Wednesday, January 2nd, 2019…

Previous Episode 48-2

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-3: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING’S DEAD IN PARADISE!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen started to follow, then stopped.

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

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

“I should wait with you,” Logan said.

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

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

“Fair enough.”

Logan departed.

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tab read:

PROJECT: HOME (1965 – 1975)

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

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

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

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

The label confirmed her fears:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toby. It had to be!

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

“What about the others?” she thought with alarm, turning back toward the file. “After… after I was…” She struggled to piece the fragments of her memory together.

Elsewhere.

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

Elsewhere.

And then… she’d become someone else.

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

The final memo was surprisingly brief. She started reading:

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

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

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

Dr. Clara Forester reassigned to off-shore operations.

Project Home status: TERMINATED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes. I’m here.”

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

“What is?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith turned back to Megan.

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

“Who, Megan?”

“Death!”

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop calling me that.”

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

“What the hell does that even mean?”

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

“You’ve got that right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a load of-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Explain that to me.”

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

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

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

“Could you be more specific?”

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

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

Nicole said nothing.

Logan was returning.

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen laughed. “Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s too bad. Ready to go?”

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

“You mean, ‘Dealing with the Devil’?”

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

“Why do you ask, little brother?”

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

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

~~~

Next Episode 48-3

Previous Episode 48-1

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-2: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

And then Cooper and Meredith were there.

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

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

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

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

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

A steel claw penetrated her back and exited her chest.

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

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

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

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

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

“Coop!” Meredith screamed.

Coop quickly shoved his pack through the door.

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

But the door continued to close.

Meredith was there.

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

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

Coop let go of her hand and pulled it away.

The door was about to close.

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

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

Something tore him away from the door.

“Coop!” she yelled.

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

Logan and Stephen collapsed before the door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to be,” he said.

“What do you think is down there?”

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Help me up.”

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

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

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

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

The older woman was staring past him.

“Meredith? It’s me… Stephen.”

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

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

Meredith continued to stare.

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

Meredith looked away.

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

You must watch out for her, Meredith.

That voice, she thought. I know that voice.

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

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

But Cooper was dead… as were so many others.

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

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

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

She raised her head.

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

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

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

Meredith nodded. “You’re right.”

Of course, I’m right!

Meredith laughed lightly.

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

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

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

“Megan?”

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

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

The red light flashed back on.

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

~~~

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

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

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

Logan had already retrieved their only weapon. He prayed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan shook his head.

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

“What is it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know. Had to try, though.”

“Could just be a closet,” Logan joked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Agreed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You okay?” Logan asked.

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

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

Stephen wholeheartedly agreed. They started to turn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

The young woman raised her head and stopped moving.

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

“Mer… Meredith,” Megan said.

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

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

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

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

“Yes, but-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Meredith said.

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

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

Logan looked away uncomfortably.

Stephen turned to Meredith and smiled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Megan started to weep.

Logan turned. His face softened considerably.

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

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

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

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

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

Logan shifted uncomfortably.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What other place?” Logan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes… exactly… but much more powerful.”

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

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

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

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

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

Megan smiled.

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

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

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

Silence filled the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen looked to Meredith and Megan.

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

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

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

“Closet or bathroom?”

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

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

“Come again?”

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

“Amen, little brother.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-2

Previous Episode 47-7

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-1: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother, will begin tomorrow evening! If I don’t hear from you before then, I hope you all have an awesome Halloween!

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

***SPOILER ALERT***

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

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

(The audience stands and applauds enthusiastically.)

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

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

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

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

(The audience sits down and gets quiet.)

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

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

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

(The audience claps to show their agreement.)

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

(The crowd falls silent.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The crowd laughs.)

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” Meredith says.

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

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

John shakes his head. “Of course.”

(The audience laughs.)

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

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

(The audience laughs and nods in agreement.)

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith takes a sip from her glass and remains silent.

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

(The audience laughs.)

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

“Thanks for having me,” Meredith says.

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

(The crowd stands and applauds.)

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

~~~

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

Thank you,
-Scott

~~~

~~~

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

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

Here’s an easy way to do so:

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

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

Thanks again for all your support and for reading.

-Scott

~~~