Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

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Hello everyone, just checking in.

We’ve just completed the opening chapter of the sixth volume of Don’t Feed The Dark, titled, Mother. I apologize for what felt like a cliff hanger conclusion to the first chapter. But trust me, by the end of the next chapter, you’ll understand why.

I went into this new book with a lot of trepidation, understanding that I’d be peeling back several layers associated with the mysteries surrounding the organization known as “Mother”. I also knew that I’d be referencing numerous points all along the series that readers may or may not recall. I suppose that’s the inherent risk in posting this long tale as an online serial novel. Trying to connect current stories with past stories that you all might have read a year or possibly two years ago might get confusing. I’m trying my best to connect all the dots, and reintroduce previous moments along the timeline as mini refreshers, but in the end, I have to keep the story moving and not boggled down in too much ‘information dumping’. I’ve also tried to set up events prior to the premiere of Book Six with two new spin-off stories that will tie directly into what’s coming next. If you haven’t read the spin-off stories, The Scientist, the Salesman, and the Serpent, and, Elsewhere, I strongly suggest you do so, along with After the Dark #15 – Mother, which serves to clarify some of the events from both stories as well as the timeline for both. All three of these will aide in understanding events happening in the next chapter. Also, If any of you were left confused, or just have questions about the last chapter, you can ask me here in the comments section and I’ll try my best to answer them, with references to previous moments from Don’t Feed The Dark’s past events, to help clarify any confusion. The last thing I’m striving for is a convoluted story, but I am starting to delve into some lofty subjects surrounding our favorite apocalyptic medium, Meredith Montgomery.

Moving on, I’m already deep into writing the second chapter, titled, Lions in the Dark. Without giving away any spoilers, let me just say that there will be a number of surprising revelations unearthed in this next chapter that will continue to serve the origin story for everything that’s happened before and since the horrific event known as The Change. As much as I seed and plan far in advance for future stories, I was left surprised by what came out so far in this next chapter. It’s a bit mind-blowing, actually. I’m currently writing the pivotal sixth episode to Chapter 49, and it’s shaping up to be a story within a story.

My current estimate for Chapter 49 is eight to nine episodes (we’ll see how that goes) and this next chapter will conclude the first of three arcs slated for Book Six.

Arc number two, beginning with Chapter 50, is currently slated for three chapters and will take us back to New Cleveland for the conclusion of what happened to Tony’s group after Alysa, the former Shadow Dead, bailed, leaving the others in very dangerous circumstances at the hands of Candyman and his band of Lunatics in that black market apocalyptic town.

I’m not revealing anything about the final arc at this time. But I will say that all timelines will sync up in the final part of this book.

Speaking of timelines, I apologize for not finishing the timeline tab at the top of the homepage. I’m currently trying to figure out how to best approach it, but I’m having difficulties with this clunky wordpress template, that’s making how I want to present the timeline challenging. I’ll try to get it up as soon as possible, and hopefully it will serve as an additional aide for when events have occurred throughout this story.

I’ve not yet established enough of a backlog to risk posting more than once a week at this time. By the end of February, my real world job is going to make it challenging to stay consistent writing throughout the month of March, but I’m going to write like a madman up until then to see how far I can get ahead. Maybe by April I’ll be ready to go back to posting regularly twice a week. Fingers crossed.

Finally, it occurred to me the other day that after completing the next chapter, Don’t Feed The Dark will have officially surpassed the one-million word mark! I guess that’s as official as it gets for declaring a story LONG… lol. Not sure which episode will hit the mark, but I’ll have to do something special when it does. I’ll keep you posted.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Thanks again to everyone who has faithfully been voting for DFTD once a week at Top Web Fiction and keeping my story listed for new readers to find. I’ve listed the link to vote below if anyone hasn’t voted yet. Thanks for reading and supporting the cause.

-Scott

Click here to vote for Don’t Feed The Dark

~~~

~~~

Stephen and Meredith were the first to reach the dark mouth of the cavern facility. No time to worry about what’s in there, Stephen thought. He stepped into the darkness and immediately wanted to throw up when he sucked in the stale air. He covered his mouth and quickly recovered. “You smell that?”

Meredith was preoccupied. She was looking for a light switch.

Stephen glanced into the dark room in front of him, then turned as Logan and Megan bolted through the door.

“Close it!” the big preacher yelled.

“We don’t have any light-”

“Doesn’t matter,” Logan said, frantically grabbing at the door handle. “They’re coming! Dear God, what died in here?”

Both men stopped as Megan got back into a fighting crouch and starting growling into the darkness.

“Now what?” Stephen moaned.

“Found it!” Meredith said.

Just as Logan slammed the door shut, the overhead lights began to pop to life. All but one blew out, giving them just enough visibility to prefer the darkness.

“Oh… that’s… that’s horrible.” Meredith put her hand over her mouth.

The large space once served as some multi-purpose room. Several long tables were folded up and stacked against the walls, along with fold-up chairs. A long island counter was built at the back of the room holding portable kitchen equipment and a coffee pot. There was also a small refrigerator pressed up against the back of the counter that looked like it belonged in some college dorm room. Aside from looking like this was where station personnel ate quick meals, it also resembled a meeting room. Across every wall, written in what looked like fresh blood, dripped the word, PARADISE, repeated over and over like the walls on the inside of some insane asylum no longer under control.

Megan was poised to strike, continuing to growl at the horrific shapes lying scattered across the open floor.

The smell was of rotting flesh. Twenty disfigured corpses were lying on their backs, their limbs fully extended at odd angles, fingers bent completely back. They looked like they were trying to fend off the air itself as they were frozen in place—human snapshots of horrific deaths.

At first glance, it appeared as though they’d been burnt to alive, but upon closer inspection, it looked like they had all had several dark patches of skin ripped away, revealing muscles, organs, and bones.

Meredith was staring at what appeared to be a woman, it was hard to tell now. Her back was broken. Meredith glanced at the woman’s two raised hands, long fingers extended out like small branches. It was the woman’s bloody fingernails that brought her pause. She glanced at the woman’s torn up face, then turned away. “She did it to herself,” Meredith whispered. “They all did.”

“Are you saying that these people mutilated themselves?” Stephen couldn’t look at them anymore.

“Who are they?” Logan’s gun was raised. “And if they’re who I think they are… why are they still decomposing?” Most of them were wearing the shredded remains of lab coats.

“Shit, he’s right,” Stephen said. “If this is the original group of scientists… then they’d be skeletal remains by now.”

“This place,” Meredith started to say. “This place is… wrong. Everything happening down here is like having all we understand, turned inside out.”

“It’s madness,” Stephen said, staring into the face of another corpse. That’s when he noticed something. “Where are all their eyes?” he said. “Every one of them… their eyes are missing… just like the girls outside.”

“We need to keep moving,” Meredith pushed. “I can barely keep the darkness out of my mind. This place is saturated in it… and it’s so heavy.”

“Is there any way we can help?” Stephen offered.

“No. This place… this place is not fit for the living… nothing alive can thrive here… ever.”

“You heard the lady,” Logan said, walking carefully around the corpses to get to another doorway just beyond the island. “Let’s get to that ladder.” He caught up to Megan who had disappeared behind the counter. Her back faced him.

“There you are,” he said. “Thought you ran off. We need to-”

Megan turned, revealing her bloody mouth. She quickly wiped the blood away with her forearm and stared away from the preacher’s glare. She was feeding on one of the skinned corpses.

He quickly looked toward the door, trying to remove the ghastly image from his mind. He spoke to her over his shoulder with a sigh, “You… if you’re finished… get back with the others. It’s going to take everything we have to get out of this mess.”

Megan started to rise.

Logan turned and caught her nervous stare. She nodded and moved back to the others.

That look, he thought. I know it well. That was Shame.

“Why are those things outside not barging in through the door?” Stephen said.

“Because they know we have to go back out there… eventually,” Logan offered.

They moved as one toward the next door and stopped. The sound of sticky, heavy flesh squirming from all around the room made them turn.

“Shit!” Stephen nearly vomited.

All twenty corpses started to move in slow motion—their badly mutilated bodies shifted and turned as if forgetting how to function properly.

“Look at their faces,” Meredith whispered.

The face of every corpse seemed to bubble, melt, or stretch in unnatural positions—tortured expressions came to life as mouths fully extended seemed on the verge of screaming.

And then all at once they stopped, locked in different horrific positions, stuck to the floor in their own flesh cages.

“What in God’s name-” Logan turned away. “They look… they look like they’re still alive! Did you see the faces? It’s as though they can still feel what’s being done to them.”

“They’re… they’re not here,” Meredith said. “They’re here, but not here.” She shook her head. “Nothing I’m sensing… I don’t understand this place.”

“Time to go,” Stephen managed to get out, pushing them all toward the door. He believed the images of the twenty bodies would haunt his nightmares forever.

They entered a long hallway connecting the nightmare room to a larger space up ahead. Windows lined both sides of the hall, affording a clear view of the outside. They all stood horrified as they watched the cavern walls illuminated by the large spotlight towers move as if they were no longer solid but liquid, swirling around and changing shape continuously.

“I feel like we’re not in a cave anymore,” Stephen said. “The walls are… alive?”

“No,” Meredith quickly corrected. “There’s nothing alive in here.”

“Except us… right?” Logan was quick to correct.

As they reached the middle of the long hall, the outside light was cut off as more than fifty deformed monstrosities, former children with no eyes, filled up the windows and started slamming hands with elongated fingers on the glass. They were all laughing like little madmen, immediately reminding Meredith of the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz who were celebrating the fact that a house had come down and just killed someone.

Ding, dong, the witch is dead…

Megan stepped threateningly toward the windows, barring her teeth, and screamed at them. This just made the excitable creatures louder… crazed. The glass started to shatter.

Stephen pushed them forward, catching a glimpse of one girl’s face in passing. Her facial expressions shifted as her skull seemed to collapse beneath the skin, then started to reform in an entirely new shape as bones and teeth penetrated cheeks, forehead, and eye sockets.

He could no longer look at them, or else risk his legs giving out as his heart collapsed to fear.

With relief, they reached the end of the hall and quickly entered the next room within this subterranean house of horrors.

The lights flickered on immediately, activated by motion sensors.

The large white room was bare of all else except for a chair that looked like it belonged in some torture chamber, positioned in the center of the room. Also, the room appeared to be round.

Stephen looked up and noticed a dome-shaped ceiling where Mother’s infamous symbol was elaborately painted in red. It was so large that it dominated the view for anyone strapped into the strange chair that reclined all the way back into a resting position.

“This looks like some kind of brainwashing room… you know… like in the movies where they strap you in and make you watch the craziest images while the room spins.” Logan stared about the room nervously and finished, “Maybe stepping in here wasn’t such a great idea.”

Meredith looked up at the symbol, specifically, the eye, and suddenly felt cold. “This is where he meets them,” she said, rubbing her shoulders. “This is where they all die… and don’t die.”

“That’s really starting to become unsettling,” Stephen said. “You keep talking in circles like some damaged fortune cookie.”

“Sorry, Stephen,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m… I’m trying to understand it myself. This place is… distorting my senses. This place should not exist… and yet, it does.”

“There you go again.” Stephen found two more doors with small windows in them. He raced to one. “Another hallway leading deeper into this madhouse. There are more bodies, too. Logan, check the other one. I hope that’s a fucking exit. I’d prefer to skip the rest of the tour.”

“It is,” he said, after peering out the small window. “It’s facing where we need to be. Might I suggest we-”

“Let’s go!” Meredith said, staring around the room, rubbing her arms as if the temperature had just dropped twenty degrees. She glanced once more at the monstrous eye peering down at them from the ceiling. “Whatever’s in this cavern is definitely aware of us now.”

Logan took a breath, then checked once more for the creepy girls. “I don’t see anything. But it’s dark on this side of the cavern. I think this leads away from the ring of light towers. But the path is clear. Looks like a straight shot between several more rock formations, assuming we don’t get ambushed.”

Meredith turned to Megan. The young woman was also staring up at the large domed eye, growling at it. The medium whipped her head back to Logan. “We to have to move! Right now!”

The big preacher nodded. “I suggest we forget how tired we are and run. It’s a good hike to the north end of this large cavern and the farther we get away from here, the darker it’s going to get. Hopefully we find that ladder before then.”

Stephen moved in beside him. “I’d get that gun ready again.”

“It’s never left my hand,” he said with a forced smile.

Meredith and Megan joined them at the door.

They all exchanged a final glance into each other’s faces while they still had the artificial light. To Logan, his friends all looked like they wore death masks. He shook the thought and shot a quick prayer to God for protection. Then he opened the door, letting in the damp cavern air.

“Whatever you hear, whatever you think you see… just run, don’t stop,” he urged sternly, taking the lead into the dim cavern.

The others followed.

And they ran.

From all around them, the cavern came to life as howls and screams erupted, echoing in the vast space. The path became increasingly difficult to traverse after a hundred yards, as the cave grew darker. They maneuvered around tall stone monoliths and stalagmites protruding upward from the cavern floor. Each time they had to slow down, they all imagined monsters jumping out from every rock to finish them off.

Meredith tried her best to shut out the madness around her, closing off her mind and refusing to trust anything she sensed. She was operating with a broken compass in this place where nothing played by any rules she was familiar with. Even the dead were restrained by boundaries… but not here… where the living and the dead merged into something much worse… something unspeakable.

She stared up and noticed the ominous north end cavern wall. It was moving… no… slithering in the darkness. It reminded her of the inside walls of some large mouth, just before being swallowed whole. She looked away, keeping her eyes on Stephen’s back, listening to Megan’s panting from behind her, which she could just make out over her own racing heartbeat exploding in her ears.

“There’s a tunnel… right in the rock wall!” Logan called back. “It’s so dark I can barely see it!”

“That’s all we have,” Stephen said. “Just keep going!”

The howls from the children… or whatever they were… were close now. They were almost out of time.

Megan kept turning back in the darkness, ready to attack the cave predators and run straight toward them. But she refused to leave Meredith unprotected and stayed close.

Stephen was unnerved by the darkness quickly swallowing up what little light they had left, reflected off the cavern walls. Even the darkness itself was out to kill them before they reached safety. He could just make out the large black opening in the cavern wall, just ahead of Logan. “I see it!” he cried out, with a glimmer of hope granting him some spark in the dark.

Logan stopped abruptly one-hundred feet away from the tunnel entrance, causing Stephen to almost run right into him.

“What is it?” he said. “Why are you stopping?”

The big preacher’s back was still facing him. His was breathing heavily from running, his large shoulders hunkered over from the effort.

Meredith and Megan stopped alongside Stephen.

“Logan?” Stephen asked again.

Suddenly, the big preacher started laughing. At first it was a snicker, then he got louder and louder until he was laughing out-of-control. He turned to face the others, still laughing at a joke that no one else could hear. Half his face was shrouded in shadow. The other half was a disturbing sight in the dim fading light as a wicked smile dominated his reddening face. The big man could not stop laughing.

“Logan?” Stephen whispered. He was staring nervously at the handgun hanging loose in the big man’s right hand.

Meredith took a step back as Megan fell to her knees beside her. She started to laugh as well, although it sounded more like a hyena laughing. The savage girl tried to get back to her feet, but fell on her side, instead, losing all control in the darkness.

Stephen leaned up against a rock formation and started pointing at Logan. He was laughing so hard that the former school teacher struggled to breathe between outbursts.

“What is this?” Meredith said. But she knew.

Suddenly, something assaulted her mind like a mental baseball bat. She just managed to shut it out before the madness consumed her thoughts, too.

NO! she thought back against the unseen force trying to invade her mind. LEAVE ME ALONE! Her mental words became the tip of a spear forcing back the wave of insanity.

By now, Logan, Stephen and Megan were all lying on the cavern floor… laughing like maniacs… as they lost complete control.

What will you do, Meredith?

It was Toby.

They will all die here. Their minds cannot handle this place. None of them could. They don’t belong here. They cannot exist here. But you knew this already, didn’t you? You had to have sensed it.

“Let them go!” Meredith shouted into the darkness. “It’s me that you want! Let them leave… and you can have me!”

It’s not up to me, Meredith. The lines between what is and what should never be are all soooooo much thinner down here. I’m afraid their puny, little minds can’t handle it. It was just a matter of time, once they stepped over on this side of the electrified field.

“No,” she cried. “Just… just let us go! We were almost out!”

Yes, you were so close, so very close. The way to freedom is just at the other end of that tunnel. It’s such a shame. Say goodbye to them, Meredith. Their minds will snap at any moment… and there’s no telling what they will do then… to themselves or each other. It has always been the same here down here. They all perish in Paradise.

“No!” She could sense the entity leaving. “Come back!”

Over the howling monsters quickly approaching from the darkness and the insane laughter destroying what was left of her friends’ hold on reality, within her mind… there was only silence.

She looked down at her dying friends and felt extremely helpless. Meredith glared up at the large cavern wall and shouted, “I WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! YOU WILL NOT LEAVE! I’M NOT DONE WITH YOU, TOBY! I’M NOT DONE WITH…”

~~~

“… YOU!”

Meredith is standing in a large grassy field. Storm clouds hover overhead making her feel exposed. She is incredibly small compared to her vast surroundings. To her, the field covers the entire earth and she begins to panic, wondering which way she should walk… or if it even matters.

At the edge of visibility, Meredith makes out a small indistinguishable shape. She wonders if it is another human being or just some landmark in the distance. Either way, the shape gives her something to aim towards as thunder begins to rumble directly above, motivating her to move with purpose.

She walks at first. Then, fearing the shape will simply disappear, she begins to run towards it. She is almost out of breath by the time she realizes that the shape is of a person… a young man.

The young man is frantically waving towards her.

She waves back, delighted to find someone else out here in this strange, endless field.

Wait a minute!

Meredith stares at her small waving hand, realizing that she’s thirteen again.

Again? Yes… I’ve been here before! This is a dream… a dream I had a long time ago!

It begins to rain as the thunder is now accompanied by flashes of terrifying light that illuminate the dark clouds, exposing a yellowish sky behind them. To Meredith, the sky looks unnatural… it looks sick.

The young man is calling out to her now. She is so close.

Meredith stops twenty feet from the young man, who is simply standing there with his arms to his side. At first, she wonders if he’s real, but then remembers that he called out. He’s wearing a dirty red and white football uniform, minus the pads and helmet. His face is as pale as a ghost beneath a disheveled mess of black hair. His long bangs hide his eyes. If she had to guess, Meredith would say that he was in his late teens.

“Hello,” she says, noticing her own voice sounding heavy, as if the words barely had enough strength to reach the young man before crumbling away to the ground. Her voice also sounds younger—the higher pitch verifying that she is dreaming.

I am me… an old woman… but I’m also this young girl, or in this younger body! This duality makes her feel strange, but she dismisses it since dreams are illogical.

The young man smiles, or attempts to. His teeth are black and rotted away.

Meredith takes an uneasy step back.

“Do not be afraid,” the young man says. “I’ve been waiting for you, Meredith. I’ve been waiting to talk to you for such a long, long time.” His voice sounds… wrong. That’s when she realizes that the young man isn’t moving his lips… but she can still hear him.

“You’re not safe, Meredith. None of the girls are. This place is bad… very bad. Pay special attention to the man-”

“You’re Toby,” Meredith interrupts, and is surprised that she can do so. “We’ve met before… a long time ago.”

The young man stops and lets loose a surprised laugh. “Yes,” he says. “I guess we have met before. If that’s the case, then you know what happens next.”

“The Lions,” Meredith says. “They’re coming to devour you.”

“Not just me, Meredith,” Toby says. “All of you.”

“You’re trying to trick me. You just want me to come find you in the basement.”

The deteriorated young man puts his hands to his side and smiles a grotesque smile. “Well… I guess there’s no fooling you, Meredith.”

“The man behind the curtain is you,” she accuses. “You’re just trying to get me to find you so that you can take me away… make me do things… bad things.”

“You’ve already done bad things,” Toby says. “This isn’t a dream, or the past, or the present. You know that, right?”

Meredith considers the young man’s words. Surprisingly, she understands. “Elsewhere?”

“Yes!” Toby says with delight. “Welcome back, Meredith… and it’s nice meeting you for the first time… again.”

Meredith is confused. “Why are we here? What do you want from me?”

Toby shakes his head. “Well… I want you to remember, of course. I need you to remember… all of it… everything Forrester took from you… from us. Then… I need you to return to me so that we can finish what we started… and begin from the start. It’s all rather confusing in this place, don’t you think?”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Of course, you don’t. But you will. This is where we first met, where we met again, and where we’re meeting now… before you come back to complete our business together.”

“I’m done with you, Toby,” Meredith says. “I don’t care what this is or where this is… I’m free of you and I’ll never come back!”

Toby laughs, his eerie broken voice echoes across the vast field. “You’ve already come back, Meredith… even though you’re still right here with me as a frightened child… and still in that dark cavern as an old misunderstood witch. Even now… you’re with me in what you perceive as the future, at the edge of the end of your world… on an island where you are currently helping me get free and all your friends are long gone.”

“You lie!”

“It’s true. In here, there is no past, present, future. There’s just you and I—the Beginning and the End of all things.”

“I… I don’t understand!”

“You will. But now… you better watch out.” Toby points behind her. “The Lions are loose!”

Before she turns around, a large roar nearly knocks her over. She turns and sees a large emerald lion beginning to circle her and Toby. It does not look pleased that they are here.

Meredith tries to scream but no sound escapes her mouth. She turns back to Toby.

A gust of warm wind blows against Toby’s face, causing his bangs to part and revealing his deep, dark, sunken eyes. He looks more like a skeleton than a man, she thinks, while taking another step back.

The emerald lion roars at her again, causing Meredith to jump.

“Go back, Meredith,” Toby says. “You can’t be here… and there. Not yet… and definitely not your friends.”

Meredith is about to turn, but the beast charges straight for her.

The lion’s eyes are a blazing yellow color… she can feel such intense hatred coming from those unnatural eyes.

She falls to the grass, placing her hands in front of her face. She can’t hear her own screams as the lion leaps directly towards her.

Before the beast tears her throat out, Meredith, the older Meredith remembers the cavern. She sees the faces of her dying friends in the darkness.

“NO!” little Meredith screams into the face of the emerald lion as she raises her hand.

Suddenly, the lion disintegrates in the air…

~~~

Next Episode 49-1

Previous Episode 48-7

~~~

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 :)

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-8: Hell” Copyright © 2019 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Thanks for all your votes last week. Chapter 48 will be conclude this Wednesday. I’m already neck-deep into writing Chapter 49… and it’s going to be loaded with startling revelations! Sorry, no dinosaur bone islands, but I thought the picture was very cool and fit the theme of this arc. Nothing is what it seems beneath the surface ;)

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

~~~

~~~

Logan and Stephen led them back to the airlock door. Meredith accompanied Megan who was surprisingly compliant and calm.

Once the large airlock was in sight, Logan immediately expected the hellish apparition of his dead nephew to appear and hand him an imaginary piece of steel to help him hammer away at the airlock hand wheel. Logan laughed at himself as he inspected the hand wheel for chipped paint. The wheel was undamaged. What did you expect? he thought.

Stephen did not look around for anyone, imagined or not. Nicole did not make an appearance, but he knew she was there all the same. He stepped up next to Logan near the airlock. “Here we go again. Another door, another chance to find out what’s behind it. Excited?”

“Hardly, little brother,” Logan laughed. He put his big hands on the wheel and felt the vibrations from the electrified field. He released the hand wheel. “Never could get used to it—that sound, the vibrations—I think that’s why I fell asleep over by the prayer wall so often. It was easier passing out while praying than attempting sleep listening to that humming behind the walls. It always sounded a little ominous to me.”

“Like it was alive?”

This sent a chill up Logan’s spine. He rubbed his arms. “Damn, little brother. I didn’t need that visual… but now that you mention it… yeah… maybe it did sound alive.”

“We’re going to have move very quietly but quickly over there,” Meredith announced from behind them. “Remember, whatever else is in that cavern, we already know there’s an unknown presence over there.”

“Well, unknown to some,” Logan shot.

Meredith ignored this.

“So, if this entity wants us in there, what do you suppose its endgame is?” Stephen said.

Meredith gave him a grave look. She was about to speak, then shook her head. “I hate to be the bearer of any more unpleasant news,” she started. “But, if what I suspect about this electrified field is correct, then I won’t be protected any longer.”

“Protected? Protected from what?” Stephen asked.

“From myself,” she said. “I haven’t been able to sense the dead, or anything else for a long time—ever since my house arrest within the compound. Now that I’m down here, I believe this field is the reason I’ve been… blocked.”

Logan let out a heavy sigh but said nothing.

“Do you think the entity knows this, Meredith?” Stephen pushed.

Meredith smiled at him. “As sharp as ever, Stephen. Yes, I do believe that.”

“Should we be worried?” he leaned in and whispered. “You know, like before?”

She patted him on the arm. “Honestly, Stephen, I don’t know what to expect. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe I’ve been used to living without that darn curse for so long, that I’ll simply not sense anything.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

She frowned. “No… I don’t. But it would be nice. I’ve rather enjoyed being a normal human being.”

Stephen nodded toward Megan. “What if you get sick again… like in Harpersfield?”

Meredith nodded. “Yes, I’ve thought about that. Back then, I’d never encountered these silver-eyed afflicted ones before. It caught me off guard. But I’ll be ready for it now. I was getting very efficient at closing off my abilities when I needed to.”

“Yeah, but… no offense… you’re probably out of practice,” Stephen reminded her with a wink.

She smiled. “I’ll be careful… but thank you for sharing your concerns.”

Stephen nodded. “For what’s it’s worth… curse or no curse… I’ve always thought you were a better-than-average human being… when you weren’t scary as hell.”

“Thank you… I think,” she teased with a smile. She turned toward the airlock and read the blood-written warning:

EVERYTHING’S DEAD IN PARADISE!

“We should probably do this before we lose the nerve,” she said.

Logan laughed at Meredith’s response to the warning. He walked over and put his hands on the vibrating wheel. “Well… I thought it was a cute saying. You know, like some catchy little phrase they could put on a welcome mat—all inviting, and shit.” He started to turn the wheel to the right, it wouldn’t budge. “Perhaps they could put it on one of those daily calendars with all the encouraging how-to-start-your-day quotes.” He turned the wheel to the left. It still wouldn’t move. He stood back, out of breath from exerting himself, and stared dumfounded at the old wheel. “Maybe it’s a sign,” he said with a smile. “Can’t get in if we can’t open the damn door, right?”

Megan shook her head impatiently, then pushed her way in next to Logan.

The big preacher raised his hands and moved out of her way.

Megan put her hands on the wheel and turned it to the right with a groan. It didn’t move.

Logan smiled. “Well, as much as I appreciate your determination, Megan, if I couldn’t get it to open then-”

Megan let loose a growl this time and tried again. The wheel started to turn. When it moved freely, the half-dead woman stepped back next to Meredith.

“Well… would you look at that,” Logan said. He shot a glance back toward Megan, trying to catch her gloating, but her face was hidden in hair.

“She is strong,” Stephen said with a smile, nudging the preacher’s arm. “Maybe after this all blows over, she could give you some workout pointers.”

Megan made a sound that Meredith swore was a snicker.

“Okay, fun time’s over,” Logan said, glaring at Stephen. “Let’s get this over with and hope the grace of our Heavenly Father has made our path clear.” He finished turning the wheel until the locking mechanism released. He then cautiously pulled the large door open, which made the lights within the small airlock flicker to life.

They gave each other a final look, then entered the airlock as if stepping into a furnace. Logan closed the door behind them, turning the hand wheel back until the large locking mechanism clicked.

The interior of the airlock was white and sparse. Directly on the opposite wall where they’d entered, was another door with a small viewing port and another hand-wheel. On the wall to the left was a small unmarked steel panel. Directly overhead were several small lamp-looking objects with reddish lenses, aimed toward the floor. None of these strange little lamps were on.

Stephen stared out the new viewing port. Though lit up by the bright spotlights this time, all he could make out was the closest cavern wall and more stalactites protruding from the cave ceiling. He was about to turn when he noticed a faint blue shimmer cross the viewing port, causing the door to briefly vibrate more intensely before the shimmer dissipated. He took a step back from the door. “I saw the field,” he said. “I think this outer door is directly connected to it.”

“So, does that mean we open the door and get electrocuted or something?” Logan asked.

“I don’t think it works that way,” Stephen said. “There’s probably an automated cut-off tied in with this door. The fail-safe is probably the door itself.” He scratched his head.

“What is it?” Meredith asked.

Stephen shook his head. “Assuming we can open this door, we’re still at the top of the cavern. There must be a staircase on the other side—maybe something built into the walls?”

Logan attempted to turn the hand-wheel on the outer door. As soon as he did, a loud audible alarm sounded, accompanied by a red flashing light which replaced the steady white lights.

Megan growled upward at the sound, then covered her ears and crouched down in the closest corner.

After five seconds, the alarms stopped, and the white lights flickered back on.

“I think that was a bad idea,” Logan said with an apologetic smile.

“Now what?” Stephen said.

Meredith was staring at the panel. She felt around the sides of it, stopping on the left side when her hand struck a small switch. She pushed in on the switch, then pulled the panel door open, revealing what she expected. There was a keycard scanner below the words: AUTHORIZED ACCESS ONLY. She retrieved Miss Evans’ badge and held it up with a smile.

“Of course,” Stephen said. He nodded for her to continue.

Meredith shook her head, then turned toward the keycard scanner. She waved the badge across it three times until a steady green light replaced the white lights in the airlock.

“Okay,” Logan said, leaning back against the closest wall. “Green’s gotta be good, right?”

Before anyone could respond, the lights turned white again. They heard mechanical sounds coming from above and below the airlock. There was a large heavy sound just outside both doors.

“I think the door is unlocking,” Stephen said. He took a step toward the outer door, realizing that he could no longer see anything out the view port, and then nearly stumbled forward into it as the airlock shook and then started to… descend.

“Shit,” Logan hissed. “It’s not an airlock… it’s a damn elevator!”

They listened with terrified expressions on their faces as ancient wheels and pulleys clicked and grinded above the airlock, all of them wondering when the last time this elevator/airlock had undergone preventative maintenance.

Megan continued to cower in the corner, confused by all the sounds and the movement.

Stephen glanced out the exterior view port and was alarmed when all he could see was a close-up of the cavern rock wall. He turned to the entrance door port and saw the same. We’re going down… directly through rock! This immediately made him claustrophobic as he considered being buried alive under all that stone.

The downward trip to where they assumed was the cavern floor took five long minutes, heightening the terror as the slow descent made it feel like they were a mile off the ground. And if the old cables failed—the fall would guarantee an instantaneous death.

They heard squealing brakes above them as the airlock came to a stop.

Logan wiped sweat from his forehead. He was breathing heavily. He laughed and then raised his arms up and said, “Thank you, Lord, for delivering us from a crushing death!”

“Amen,” Meredith said with a giggle.

Their nerves were on edge, and the relief from being back on the ground was immediate.

Suddenly, the white lights went out and the little airlock lamps above their heads clicked on, resembling heat lamps and buzzing loudly.

Meredith raised her arms. Every hair was standing straight up. “What is this?”

They all felt the same sensation. Not only was their body hair starting to stand, but the hair on their heads, as well.

Stephen looked over at Megan and cupped a smile. Her long hair was dancing around her face, resulting from some sort of static charge filling the airlock.

After fifteen seconds, the little lamps went out.

They heard a large door coming up outside the exterior viewing port. The interior of the airlock turned green again as the outer airlock door clicked loudly.

Stephen looked out the viewing port, relieved to see artificial lights illuminating the rocky floor outside. He could just make out what looked like the entrance to the cavern facility, one-hundred yards away. “I think we’re clear to leave,” he said.

Logan didn’t need to hear it again. He reached for the airlock wheel and turned it to the right. It opened easily. “Let’s get out of here before this scary ride heads back up.”

The preacher opened the airlock door slowly, letting in the damp cavern air.

Stephen reached his arm out beyond the threshold, expecting to disrupt the shimmering blue field. Nothing happened. “It’s off, I think.” He was the first to step out into the cavern. Logan followed. Megan came next. Meredith stopped at the threshold and took a deep breath.

They all looked back.

“Just… just give me a moment,” she pleaded.

Stephen nodded. “Of course. Take a minute to… you know… prepare yourself.”

She smiled at her friend and then closed her eyes. Okay, you old fool, once you step out there, it’s all going to come back. You’ll be the freak again… just like Toby wanted all along. She shook her head and frowned. “Well, here we go again,” she whispered sadly. “Coop, I’m glad you never knew me like this. I guess it’s time to live up to my title as the Wasteland Witch.” Meredith took a deep breath and then stepped out of the airlock.

“Would you look at that,” Logan whispered, staring up into the cavern. Stephen, Logan, and even Megan were left awestruck by the immense cave.

What they previously viewed from the observation windows did nothing to prepare them for walking into this bewildering environment. From the ground looking up, the enormous cavern looked and felt like standing on another world. Instead of wondrous stars and moonlight, the canopy in this foreign underground place contained fantastic granite formations dancing in the spaces between light and shadow. Every sound was amplified by the ghosts of long forgotten echoes—a drop of water to a whisper—everything had a voice, and all utterances seemed like ancient mysteries translated through this world’s mysterious new tongue.

Up ahead, the oldest wing of this elaborate facility lay silent and dark, blending into the surrounding stone structures as if they’d merged over time. The light towers surrounding the ancient structure were the only man-made objects still left that defiled the surface of this subterranean world.

Stephen could just make out a narrow door, left open, leading into the cavern laboratory. Staring at the long-abandoned Labyrinth Level 1 made his skin crawl. What unnatural horrors went on in there? he wondered, then decided he really didn’t want to know. Some secrets are better left undiscovered.

The airlock/elevator door slammed shut behind them, causing Meredith to jump. It reverted to automatic mode, sending the airlock back up the way it came.

“Well, I guess it’s official then,” Logan said. “We’re here to stay.” He turned and pointed across the cavern. “From what I made out on the diagram, the exit ladder I saw is somewhere on the other side of the cavern, opposite that dead facility. By the looks of it, we may have quite the hike in front of us to get there. I suggest we get moving.”

They were all in agreement. As majestic as the landscape was, there was still something they could feel lingering in the air, something unsettling.

Stephen turned to Meredith. “Anything?”

She frowned. “Haven’t had to answer that question in a while. But… no… I don’t sense anything. And quite frankly, I’m a little unnerved by it.”

“How so?”

The old medium shook her head. “It’s like… there is something there… something I can’t wrap my mind around… but it’s hidden.”

Stephen nodded. “Maybe we caught a break and this entity is asleep and unaware that we’re here yet.”

She shook her head. “No, Stephen. I’m not explaining myself right. When I said, ‘hidden’, I meant that something is there… but it’s hiding. Whatever this is, doesn’t want me to sense it.”

“Well I’ve heard enough,” Logan said, turning toward a point that would take them clear around the right side of facility, and through a forest of tall rock formations. “Let’s just get out of here. We can use those rocks to stay hidden ourselves.”

They started to move.

Megan had remained surprisingly quiet and calm. Her head constantly spun on a swivel, staring into every shadow. On further inspection, it was clear that she was preoccupied, her senses on high alert.

“What do you suppose she’s doing?” Stephen asked, stepping up beside Meredith.

She shook her head.

“She’s hunting,” Logan said. “She may still be part human, but she’s also part predator, too. Best not to forget that.”

Meredith stared intently at the young woman. She wanted to pry into her mind and find out what was happening, but it took considerable effort to keep her abilities reigned in and away from Megan, to avoid getting sick. The infection burned like a slow but constant fire within the half-deads, tearing away at the fabric of their humanity over a long period of time. Meredith remembered how this felt, and how ill she became from staying open to their kind for too long. She knew she could help the girl in ways she couldn’t before, but they needed to be safely away from this dark place first. If she left herself vulnerable now, for any reason, Meredith suspected they might not make it out of this cavern alive. She, too, needed to stay on high alert. Megan was not the only predator in this cave.

Stephen stopped abruptly and pointed toward the rock forest. “Did you see that?”

Logan’s hand dropped to the holster, ready to draw like a tattooed gunslinger. “I don’t see anything?”

“There was a… a girl… I think,” Stephen looked rattled. “I saw her sitting in between two of those rocks… but now she’s gone.”

“Eyes playing tricks on you, I imagine,” Logan said. “This place will mess with our perceptions. There’s enough shadows to feed the imagination for hours down here.”

Stephen shook his head. “No. I thought that, too. But she stared right at me… except she had no eyes, or I… I couldn’t see them in the dark. And her face… her face looked strange… distorted. I can’t explain it. Made me want to shit myself, though.”

From behind them, Megan let loose a low growl.

They turned and found her crouched down, scratching at the ground as if on the verge of charging. But it wasn’t them she was staring at. She was staring into the rock forest.

“She saw her, too!” Stephen said.

“Shit,” Logan hissed. He drew the handgun and started scanning the surrounding rock formations. “Lots of places to hide in here. Good for an ambush.”

“But… it was just a girl, a young girl,” Stephen said. “Maybe she’s lost down here. What threat could she possibly be-”

“What was she wearing, Stephen?” Meredith interrupted.

“What?”

“Her clothes… describe them.”

“I don’t… it happened too fast. I didn’t get a good look.”

“There she is!” Logan said, pointing the gun low but toward another rock monolith to their right. “Shit, she was just there!”

“Logan… describe her.” Meredith was staring all around them. She looked frantic.

“Some flowery dress… I think.” He turned to Meredith and raised his eyebrows at her own attire. “Looked a lot like what you’re wearing, actually. Her face was dirty. Her form looked… wrong. Distorted, like Stephen said. Definitely creepy.”

“We need to move,” Meredith said. “This is all wrong.”

“What is it?” Stephen said, staring toward every shadow. He saw more movement in the surrounding rocks. “There’s more than one!”

“I saw two more girls in the rocks ahead of us,” Logan said. “And they didn’t move like any damn girls I’ve ever seen.”

Megan was hissing and howling toward a rock formation to the left.

From all around them, the echoes of giggling girls suddenly filled the air. It sounded like they were everywhere.

“What the hell’s happening?” Stephen’s head was spinning from rock formation to rock formation as he continuously caught movement in the corners of his eyes. The girlish laughter continued as he wondered when they’d wandered into this hellish playground.

Meredith gasped and started waving her hands at them. “They’re dead!” she cried out.

“What?” Logan was trying to lock his sights on the fast-moving girls, but they evaded him.

“THEY’RE ALL DEAD!” Meredith screamed, staring to lose control.

Stephen ran to her as her body started to convulse. “Meredith!” he shouted, gripping her hard by the shoulders. “Keep it together! Control it!”

Meredith’s eyes started to change. For a moment, Stephen swore they flickered to a menacing yellow before turning back. She shook her head. “I’ve… I’ve got it. Thank you, Stephen.”

“What’s happening, Meredith?”

Her face went pale. “I don’t know what these things are… but I know who they were… and they’re dead—all of them—or they should be!”

Stephen turned to Logan. “You get that?”

“Got it,” he said. “Head shots only… if the little monsters ever stop moving. They’re so damn fast!”

Stephen started looking for anything he could use as a weapon.

“Wait!” Meredith said, grabbing the former teacher’s wrist. “It’s more than that! We can’t kill them!”

“What?” Logan shifted uncomfortably as he watched more dead girls sprint between the rocks. “What does that mean?”

Meredith shook her head so violently that Stephen thought she would snap her own neck. “They’re… they’re here, but they’re not here! They’re dead… but… Oh my, God, Stephen!”

Stephen had never seen Meredith look so terrified. “What… what is it?”

“We’re not supposed to be here!” she yelled. “WE’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!”

Meredith shook violently, but somehow managed to keep control over what was afflicting her mind.

Megan ran around the group, forming a defensive perimeter, howling threateningly and scratching at the air every time she saw a distortion step to the front of the rocks.

Stephen’s mind raced as he tried to keep Meredith conscious. He stared around the cavern, locking his gaze off to the left, at the Labyrinth facility. He pointed and shouted, “Logan, we need to take shelter! Now! This isn’t a fight we can win.”

Logan nodded and retreated toward Stephen and Meredith. He watched the half-dead woman take position at their flank as she continued to scream into the shadows. He smiled at Megan, not knowing if he admired her bravery or her ferocity, but it no longer mattered. “Megan!” he shouted over to her.

The savage girl turned, recognition finally kicking in as she stared into the preacher’s eyes.

“Stay with us, girl. We need you.” He then added, “You’re not like these things… you’re one of us.”

He didn’t know if the young woman understood, but she did start to retreat, joining the others as they ran for the open door to Labyrinth Level 1.

~~~

Next Episode 48-8

Previous Episode 48-6

~~~

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“Chapter 48-7: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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~~~

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~~~

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, we’re being attacked?”

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

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

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

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

“No, there’s more to it than that.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And that terrifies you, doesn’t it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith nodded.

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

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

Logan shrugged his shoulders.

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen deliberately kept his eyes off the older woman.

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

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

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

Meredith smiled at her friend.

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

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

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

Meredith flinched at the verbal punch.

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

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

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

“Four,” Meredith said.

Logan looked up. “What was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan smiled and nodded.

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

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

“We… we need to leave.”

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

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

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

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

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

The smile and the joke surprised Stephen into silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen stopped, his hand resting on the holstered gun.

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

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

“Shit!” Logan said. “What now?”

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

Meredith kept her eyes locked on Megan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What was that?” Logan asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

Next Episode 48-7

Previous Episode 48-5

~~~

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

Vote for DFTD at topwebfiction

Vote for DFTD at Top Site List

__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-6: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

Thanks for all your votes last week. Chapter 48-6 will be posted this Wednesday.

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

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

Jonas!

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

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

No one was there. The door was closed.

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

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

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

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

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

The pounding on the other side of the door continued.

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

The preacher opened the door and entered the airlock room.

All his strength and courage immediately exited his pale face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re not… Jonas. He’s dead.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the fuck!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan tried to ignore the apparition.

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

“Shut your damn mouth!”

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

Logan continued to pray.

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

Logan stopped praying.

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

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

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

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

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

“I deserve nothing less.”

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

Logan waited.

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

“Dear Lord, of course not.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, uncle, you’ve got it all-”

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

This time, Jonas took a step back.

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

“Uncle… I…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The generators quieted down to a steady hum.

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

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

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

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

Nicole opened her eyes and… shifted.

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

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

I did it! Now… will he see him?

Logan turned toward her and nearly fell off the ladder.

It worked! He sees… he sees Jonas!

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fake Stephen dropped its arms and stared into her.

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

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

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

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

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

“You!” the preacher accused.

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

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

Then he was alone before the airlock.

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

~~~

Next Episode 48-6

Previous Episode 48-4

~~~

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 48-5: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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

~~~

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

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

~~~

~~~

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

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

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

Only the flesh mattered. And she needed to FEED!

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

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

But she was.

I AM NOT A MONSTER!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Megan, it’s me, Meredith.”

The young woman did not flinch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are alive, honey.”

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

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

Stephen wasn’t there.

“Did you hear it cry, too?”

Meredith turned back. “What was that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Toby?” she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything felt wrong and Meredith sensed it immediately.

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

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

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

“What’s the matter, Meredith?”

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

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

Meredith finally turned.

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

“Miss… Miss Evans?” she whispered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen’s voice. Meredith turned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was no time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith turned and glared at him.

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

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

“Come again?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And yet we did,” Meredith said.

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

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

“You mean you hallucinated it, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise.

Meredith was really starting to loathe that word.

“Oh, shit!”

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

Stephen looked alarmed. “Logan.”

~~~

Next Episode 48-5

Previous Episode 48-3

~~~

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__________________________________________
“Chapter 48-4: Hell” Copyright © 2018 Scott Scherr, from the novel, Don’t Feed The Dark, Book Six: Mother. All Rights Reserved.

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

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