Posts Tagged ‘Spin Off stories’

~~~

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

~~~

Winter 1974:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Candice started writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

“Where… where am I?”

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

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

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

“What do you mean? Where did I go?”

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

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

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

“And… I’m back now?”

“You are… almost there.”

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

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

“Elsewhere?”

“Yes.”

“So, I’m still dreaming?”

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

“No.”

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

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

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

“Yes. Just like that.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Medicine? Was I sick?”

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

“Did I… did I do anything bad?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You promise?”

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

“Finch? Yes. Where is he?”

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

“I think so. Where are we now?”

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

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

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

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

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

“More than anything.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

“I don’t want to be bad.”

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

“That sounds wonderful.”

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

“I would never do that!”

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

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

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

“Even the hive?”

“Yes. Especially the hive.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But I would never open the box!”

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

“But… I won’t!”

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

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

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

“That sucks.”

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

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

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

“Okay.”

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

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

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

“But… how do I do that?”

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

“I think so.”

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

“Keep it secret.”

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

“I’ll try.”

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

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

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

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

“Yes, Meredith. I’ll find a cure.”

~~~

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

She sat back down and resumed writing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I miss you, your loving sister, Candice.

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

It’s time.

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

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

Where is she?

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

I said, where is the girl?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

“Clear!”

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

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

And now, the little girl was dying, too

Coincidence? Mr. Bawle knew better than that.

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

Is this… real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith didn’t know what to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I… I understand,” Meredith whispered.

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

“Nothing. Can I ask a strange question?”

“Yes… anything.”

“What’s my name?”

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

Meredith waited.

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

“What did Michael tell you?”

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

“Like my name?”

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

Michelle.

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

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

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

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

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

The ones connected to the dolls.

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

Kept her a secret.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meredith smiled through the confusion and tears.

Safe. Secret. Hidden.

~~~

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

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~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Hangar Six until after reading the first 14 chapters. I’ll also recommend refreshing yourself with this story after reading Chapter 44-6: The Nomad.

~~~

The cool and silent space was comforting. She welcomed the darkness like a warm blanket she could wrap about herself. The woman patiently sat in the center of the room and closed her eyes. She listened to the sound of her own deep breathing… in… out… in… out. She could hear her steady heartbeat, like a muffled knock on the door within fading flesh; like an old, consistent friend waiting to be invited in for another game of living in an ever-changing world. The woman smiled and welcomed the rare moment of stillness–the bliss of simply existing–as she shut out the steady sound of the rain… and the hunger.

The hangar door began to rise, letting in the intrusive light of another dreary demanding day.

A man dressed in wet dark raingear entered and cautiously took a step toward her.

The woman sighed and opened her eyes. “What is it?”

“Lady Clementine, we’ve done everything you’ve instructed.” The man took a nervous glance around the hangar but tried not to show his fear. “All the boats in the harbor have been destroyed… except for the one staged at the marina.”

“And did you paint all the hangar doors with the invitation symbols as instructed?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She hated it when they called her that. It reminded her of the only thing she was powerless to stop. Her old bones ached as a constant reminder of her frail frame, despite the immense power and control she wielded over this new world. It had taken most of her youth to master her abilities. She’d given up everything to be ready for the final days, but it had taken its toll.

“I assume your team has swept the area for candidates,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am. We found no survivors. Fairport Harbor has been completely overrun.”

She scowled at the man. “What have I told you about that word?”

The man immediately corrected himself. “Sorry, Ma’am. You’re right. I meant ‘candidates’.”

“Has not Mother made it abundantly clear to you that there are no ‘survivors’? The world belongs to them now. We, who have prepared long in advance for the end, know what is at stake. As for the rest… Mother is not cruel. They will all be afforded a chance, just as we were given a chance. That is why we test them… all of them.”

The man looked down at his feet. “Of course, Ma’am. Please forgive my poor choice of words. There are no survivors, only candidates and fodder.”

Candidates and fodder. Lady Clementine could not help but laugh at the irony found in such a simple statement. The majority of the human race, in all its former glory and self-importance, had been reduced to nothing more than prey to a replacement species. She cringed at the thought. Now, only a select few, those who had been chosen to pave the way for the new world, would have a place in it… or so they’d been promised. What it all boiled down to was a choice: Candidate or Fodder.

“What do they call you?” she asked the man.

“Sterling,” he said, looking up and nervously shuffling his feet.

“Your full name?” she asked again, her impatience clearly evident.

“John… John Sterling.”

She removed the red hood from her head, revealing her long white mane with a few black streaks from her former hair color. From her cross-legged sitting position, Lady Clementine looked up and let her full gaze fall on John.

John did all he could to minimize his trembling.

“Well… that’s a fine name, a name that commands respect. Don’t you think?”

John hesitated. He understood the question for what it was. It was a test. He’d screwed up and now his life had immediately been called into question.

She laughed lightly. Yes, she had his complete attention now. That was good. A little fear in the ranks from the top down was always productive. She continued. “‘John Sterling’… just the sound of it rings of importance. I bet your parents are proud of you, aren’t they?”

John looked away, trying to hide his pain from the emotional shot. He already knew that Lady Clementine was well aware that his parents were dead. He chose his words with care. “My… my parents are fodder. They were found unworthy and perished.”

Lady Clementine feigned compassion. “Oh… I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to rip open old wounds,” she lied. “Come,” she motioned to a vacant space in front of her. “Come, sit with me.”

John looked around the hangar again as if she’d just invited him to step into a burning fire. Nearly a hundred of the re-animated lay in various positions, stacked on top of each other, surrounding the dangerous woman. There was a narrow path starting from where he stood and leading up to a small ring of clear space where Lady Clementine sat. And just like all the rest, when Lady Clementine first summoned the dead down from Fairport Harbor with her ‘abilities’ and commanded them to enter the hangars, they all appeared to be… asleep. But John knew better. ‘Dormant’ was the word she used. If she stopped whatever it was she was doing, the dead would rise up and charge him immediately.

She laughed. “Don’t be afraid. You’ve nothing to fear… unless you’ve something to hide.” She stared at him challengingly.

John swallowed hard and stepped forward. He carefully maneuvered among the dead, waiting for decrepit limbs to grab his legs and for teeth to dig into his flesh. He made it into the small ring and sat facing the old woman, who looked like she was a hundred years old, but in truth she was only in her fifties. He locked eyes with Lady Clementine and found the real fire.

“So tell me, John, do you miss your mother… and don’t start spewing out that ‘unworthy’ crap again?”

John answered carefully. “I have only one mother now.”

Clementine looked shocked. “My… that’s a horrible thing to say about the woman who gave birth to you… the woman who gave you such a fine name and a chance at a better life.”

“Like my mother, and my father… that name is just as dead. I have but one mother, and she has given me a new life… a better life.”

Clementine laughed. “Spoken like a good soldier. But anyone can parrot an answer like that. How do I know that you mean what you say? How can you prove your loyalty to me?”

John smiled smugly and answered confidently, “I have nothing to prove to myself… or to you. With all due respect, Ma’am, your name is as meaningless as my own. We are candidates, chosen to serve a higher purpose.”

Clementine pointed at him and laughed. “Very good, John. I’m glad to see you have not forgotten. Now tell me about them. How did your parents die?”

John looked away from her probing gaze. He would have to revisit the painful place. “When… when we were called…”

“Go ahead, you can use the layman’s term for it,” she said. “Most have accepted it… and so has Mother.”

John nodded. “When… The Change… occurred, my father was not chosen. When he turned, he… consumed my mother.”

“And you were there to witness it?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not telling it right, are you?”

John was having difficulty. He shifted uncomfortably as he let the memory in. “No… what I meant to say was… my father turned… and he went after me first. My mother, my old mother, got in between us and that’s when he attacked her.”

Clementine gave the young soldier a moment to let the horrific memory settle in his mind. She then reached out a pale arm and touched his shoulder. “Now, John. Think very carefully about what you say next.”

John looked up. He was repulsed by the woman’s touch but tried not to show it. This was it. The real test.

“Now, after your mother saved you, what happened?”

“My… my mother… my old mother did not save me,” he finally said. “I was spared. My father was rejected… as was my mother.”

“But how can you say such a thing, John? Didn’t your mother save you and allow you to get away from the monsters that night? Didn’t she sacrifice her life for you?”

“No… she was rejected. We were both spared and given a chance… initially. Our testing began immediately.”

Clementine retracted her arm and dug deeper with her gaze. “Explain that to me?”

John took a deep breath. “Mother had already spared us… but we were not candidates yet. When my father attacked… when my mother chose to save my life… that’s when she was rejected. Because she did not choose to value the gift she was given… and wasted it trying to save a human life… she failed the test.”

“And what did you do after your mother chose unwisely?”

John’s face became unreadable. “I… I managed to get a weapon… a baseball bat. My mother was still struggling on the floor… my father was trying to bite at her throat. She yelled at me to get away. I was tempted to help her… almost did… but then I realized what was happening… that we were being tested, just like I was always taught from the beginning. I remembered my lessons. I remembered that when the time finally arrived we were to cherish our new lives… not waste them on the living. So I left her there.”

“So because of your selfishness, you survived… and you let your mother die.” Clementine was shaking her head in disbelief. “What kind of son does that to her own blood?”

John looked away and shook his head. “No… we were chosen… my father was not. My mother died in vain and was rejected because she didn’t… couldn’t… see the truth. But I understood what was happening. Her life was not mine to save any more than it was her place to try and save me.” He looked up into Clementine’s eyes and finished. “It’s not about selfishness or selflessness. We both were spared… and died in that moment. Neither one of us survived because there’s no such thing as survival. I see that clearly now. I chose to cherish the gift that Mother gave me… so I could give it back… so I could serve.”

“And that, John, is why you are a candidate.” Clementine proudly said. “I am encouraged by your growth,” she added indifferently, not trying to hide her boredom with the conversation. In truth, she’d hoped to trick him because she despised the man, but in the end, even she could not go against the will of Mother. Apparently, John still had a purpose, although she failed to see it.

John’s shoulders sank with relief. He’d passed the test.

“John, you have learned that The Change is not something as foolish as God’s will, or a second chance to redeem oneself to help Mankind survive. Obviously, humanity in its present decaying state is doomed, and the rest of us will evolve into something quite different. But what is The Change all about? Is it random, like so many blind fools choose to believe? Is it fate? Is it really about being ‘chosen’ when so many remain untested?”

John wisely looked away. “I would not begin to attempt to answer that question, Ma’am. I’m… I’m still learning.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said so far,” Clementine said. “If you had dared to answer that question, when even I haven’t grasped it fully, I would’ve demanded your life immediately!”

“And I would give it wholeheartedly… for Mother,” John added.

Clementine was seething with rage. She stared into the pathetic man’s face, hoping to find a hint of defiance, especially after that last remark, but found nothing. She wanted to invade his puny mind, like she knew that she could, and release a portion of the dark plague which infested her thoughts so that he’d go insane with nightmares for the remainder of his short existence. Let’s see if this fool could handle the stress of a horde of cannibalistic maniacs infesting his mind! she thought.

The dead began to stir restlessly as her anger disrupted the immense amount of concentration it required to keep the beasts submissive. She took a deep breath and calmed down, reestablishing her control.

“You may go,” she finally said. “Be mindful of your words in the future. Mother may be merciful… but I am not.”

John nodded respectfully and quickly got up and started toward the door.

“One more thing… John Sterling.”

He exited the hangar and quickly turned back.

“Bring the girl to me. I wish to speak with her.”

John’s face turned pale.

“Is there a problem?” she asked, noticing John’s hesitation.

“I… I don’t want to offend-”

“Oh, just come out with it, you terrified little man!” she barked. “You hold back your thoughts as if I couldn’t get in there with the slightest amount of effort and rip them out of you… or have you forgotten what I can do?” She tapped on the side of her head for emphasis.

“No, Ma’am, it’s just… well… she’s just a foolish child who doesn’t know any better. Children say stupid and impulsive things. We’ve already disciplined her and she’s been compliant.”

“I hope there’s a point coming.”

John wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “We are currently… reeducating her… on what it means to serve… and how fortunate she is to-”

Clementine laughed hard. “My goodness, John. What on earth do you take me for? I simply wish to speak with the child. I’m not going to eat her! Or do you think I’m just like these pitiful shells of former humanity?” She waved a sweeping arm across the dormant dead.

“No… I didn’t mean anything-”

“Bring her to me… now.”

John nodded and departed.

I’m still going to destroy that fucking idiot, she promised herself.

Lady Clementine quickly dismissed all trivial matters and focused her attention on the remaining hangars full of the dead. It didn’t take her long to quiet them all down. The reanimated were not like the others with the feverish yellow fire for eyes. They were extremely difficult to control, especially in a horde. Fortunately the dark-eyed ones roaming the remains of Fairport Harbor were sufficient for the experiment. She closed her eyes and thought about her present station within the many-layered organization known as Mother.

Three days before The Change, Mother had activated all the cell groups with a single coded message:

The Lions are loose.

Clementine had known exactly what that meant as her particular cell, the largest in Northeast Ohio, had gathered in a large beach home near Fairport Harbor to wait for the coming storm. It had been a tense three days of waiting as members of her cell had watched each other suspiciously, wondering who would turn and who would be chosen.

After The Change, when her cell lost twenty members who had been rejected and turned to yellow-eyed savages, she had quickly asserted her leadership over the panicked cell by helping to slow down the beasts which had turned and attempted to destroy them from within.

Donovan had been with them on the first day to deliver the news that her group would be in charge of the Fairport Harbor testing. Like herself, he also had a cell to watch over, albeit a much smaller one, but no less important in the eyes of Mother. She outranked him, of course. Just as she also outranked that insane sonofabitch, Micom, who was put in charge of a sanctuary testing facility near Ashtabula. She had only heard rumors of what that madman was doing out there–something to do with religious effects on a populace–but it was enough to keep a watchful eye on Donovan, since he had come from there.

Fortunately, his stay had been a brief one as he departed for an undisclosed location (all the cells were deliberately kept in the dark about what the others cells were doing). And now, she had no idea who was left outside her own cell, and that they were to continue testing on the chosen and separate the candidates from the fodder until Mother sent word of what to do next.

I should be there, she bitterly thought. I should be at ground zero where my skills are best suited, and not here, doing the bitch work.

Early on, Mother had come up with many projection models, determining the most likely places the living might try to reach. Fairport Harbor, and places like it along the waterfront, were ideal locations for testing, since many would try to seek refuge by fleeing the coast. Her unique abilities made her the perfect choice to conduct the marina experiments. The plan was to funnel groups of the living to this boat storage facility along the river by dangling a single ‘carrot’ ahead of them. In this case, the carrot being the only functioning boat remaining in Fairport Harbor at the marina on the other side of the storage facility. Once lured into the vicinity of the hangars, the controlled experiment required a catalyst to induce the necessary conflict required to essentially destroy the unity of a group and wait for them to turn on each other and save themselves once the dead were unleashed upon them.

The experiment could end in one of three ways: The group could immediately be overrun by the dead, causing the experiment to reset. The group could scatter immediately as those valuing their lives, and essentially the gift given them by Mother, might sacrifice the weaker members to reach the boat instead, a.k.a., a dog-eats-dog mentality. This, of course, was the desired outcome. Should self-preservation win over group preservation, whoever made it to the boat would be allowed to leave the marina and would eventually be intercepted by Mother for possible candidacy under the ruse of rescue. Lastly, should an entire group stay together and fight their way through the horde and make it to the boat. They would immediately be gunned down at the boat by Clementine’s cell group for failing the test. And as a fail-safe, should such a group manage to elude the firing squad, there were sufficient explosives planted within the boat to detonate it once they reached an appropriate distance from shore. This, of course, would end the experiment entirely.

If only… Clementine shook her head with a smile. I guess what we’re doing could be considered just as insane to those lunatics over in Ashtabula.

If Clementine had learned anything about Mother in all the years she’d served, it was that you never questioned Mother, and that testing the motives and resolve of post-apocalyptic Mankind was high priority.

The sound of splashing footfalls approached. My, how I love the sound of urgency, she thought with a satisfied smile.

Two men, escorting a young girl with wet long black hair, stopped before Hangar Six.

Without looking their way, Clementine addressed the men. “Leave her and go. I’ll take it from here.”

The men were quick to oblige, leaving the frightened girl of thirteen, shivering in the cold. They had roused her from sleep, barely giving her enough time to get dressed, and dragged her here.

The girl sneezed and covered her mouth.

This caused Clementine to look up at the wet dog standing out in the rain with the first real genuine surprise she’d experienced in a very long time. My God! She looks just like… her!

The girl tried to maintain a respectful posture, head down, hands at her side, waiting to be addressed but not willing to initiate anything for fear of further disciplining.

“What is your name, child?” Clementine finally asked.

“Debra Crawford, Ma’am.” The girl sneezed again.

Well, of course, Clementine thought. Did you really expect another name, you silly old fool? The ghosts in my head are one thing… but to be visited by ghosts here in the flesh… well… that would be very unsettling.

“Well… Debra… why don’t you step inside and sit down with me before you sneeze to death.”

Debra nodded gratefully and entered the hangar.

Clementine was amused by the girl’s almost oblivious attitude toward the dead things beneath her feet as she stepped past them without hesitation and sat down in front of her.

“Better?” she asked the girl.

“Yes, thank you,” Debra said, continuing to look down.

Clementine considered the child. “You look so much like someone I knew a long, long time ago,” she said. “The resemblance is uncanny.”

“Whatever you say,” the wet girl said.

Clementine raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You know, for someone who’s in quite a bit of trouble, you don’t seem to appreciate the gravity of it. Even now, you speak to me in a disrespectful tone.”

“I mean no disrespect,” Debra said. “I’m just cold, tired and cranky.”

“Fair enough,” Clementine said with a laugh. “I appreciate your candor if nothing else. Do you know why you’re here?”

Debra sighed. “When we were out sinking a boat in the harbor yesterday, I ran off when no one was paying attention. Some of the soldiers wasted hours trying to locate me. They found me eating stale donuts and warm pop in a boathouse down river.”

“And then what happened?”

Debra shot Clementine a quick glance through the bangs of her wet hair and then looked away. “When the soldiers caught me, they started to yell at me. I got mad and said a bunch of nasty things.”

The old woman became serious. “And what did you say, Debra?”

“I… I said that what we were all doing here was stupid and a big waste of time. I’m sure you already know the rest.”

“Go on. I want to hear it from you.”

“I… I also said that you were old and senile and that Mother was just something you made up in your crazy head.”

Clementine snorted so abruptly that she had to cover her mouth.

Debra looked up in surprise at the crazy woman.

Looking into Debra’s confused face just made it worse. Clementine started to giggle uncontrollably. She waved at Debra to hold on while she tried to regain her composure. “My… I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. That’s exactly the kind of thing my old friend might have said to me when she got pissed. She was always so polite until she got mad… and then… blam… out came the verbal punches.” Clementine giggled again.

Debra actually smiled at the old woman’s unexpected outbursts, but she wisely remained silent.

Clementine collected herself again and tried to get back on track. “Okay… sorry about that. I guess I find you… refreshing… since everyone else speaks to me with that I’m-about-to-piss-my-pants tone.”

“I’m… I’m sorry I said what I said. I didn’t mean it. I was just… frustrated.”

“Well, of course you’re sorry,” Clementine said. “And I’m sure the others made you pay for your rude comments… so I’ll spare you any further disciplining.”

“Thank you,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

“‘May I go now?’” Clementine repeated. “Wow, you really are something else, Debra. The insulting things you said about me… well… I could let that slide easily enough. But what am I supposed to do with someone in my ranks, a candidate, who doesn’t even believe in the cause? Can you see the problem with this?”

Debra’s smile quickly faded. “I really didn’t mean anything. I was just mad. I do believe… it’s just hard sometimes.”

“Excuse me for a moment, child. I’ve been sitting too long and my old bones need to stretch.” Clementine stood up and walked toward the front of the hangar, her long red robe stroking the faces of the dead. She pulled up her hood as she felt the steady rain strike her face. “I want to believe you, Debra. I really do. Hell…we’ve had a good laugh or two, and I think I could really come to like you.”

The girl turned and smiled. “I feel the same way. I was wrong about you. You’re actually a lot nicer than I thought you’d be.”

Clementine laughed. “Not what you expected from the crazy old loon, right?”

“That’s not what I-”

“Shut up, child. I know what you meant.”

Clementine’s cold tone made Debra flinch.

“Why did you run?”

“Excuse me?”

“At the boat, when my soldiers were distracted, why did you really run away?”

Debra didn’t know how to safely answer. She finally said, “I think I ran because I was afraid.”

“Afraid of me?”

“In part. But… I’ve been afraid for so long that I could’ve run away for any reason.”

“I see.”

“I am really sorry… and I won’t run again.”

“Yes… yes… you’re sorry. I get it.” Clementine sighed, crossed her arms, and stared out into the rain. Her gaze fell on the three-pronged symbol spray-painted on the hangar door directly across from them. She sighed at it with disgust, and thought, Every time I see it, I feel the weight of all those empty years.

“Honestly, child,” she said. “Whether you believe in Mother or not hardly concerns me. In fact, believe whatever you want. I truly don’t care.”

Debra was shocked. She stood up, reassuming her submissive stance, and waited to be scolded or excused.

“What really troubles me as how much you remind me of things I’d rather forget. I loved her, you know. We were best friends. She was afraid of me, too. They all were… eventually.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, child. Just stand there and listen to this crazy old woman talk about her irrelevant past for a few damn moments. Can you do that much?”

“Yes… yes, Ma’am.”

“My best friend, the one you remind me of, she betrayed me. She hurt me in a way I never thought anyone could. She ran away, too. Well… she tried to once. But that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all water under the bridge. Isn’t that the saying?”

“I suppose so,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

Clementine laughed again. “‘May I go now?’ That’s priceless.” She turned to look at the pitiful girl. “You know, I never even got to tell her goodbye. Everything happened so fast back then. When she tried to abandon me, everything changed. We had something… special. Then my so-called best friend ruined everything.”

Debra looked at the crazy woman, looked into her eyes, and for the first time she felt truly afraid.

Clementine walked over to a mechanism on wall and hit a button.

The hangar door began to close.

“Wait! What are you doing?” Debra said.

“Goodbye, Debra,” Clementine said. She then whispered, “Goodbye… Meredith.”

Before Debra could react, the old crazy woman released her hold on the dead within the hangar.

They were very, very hungry.

Lady Clementine waited outside the closed door for the child’s screams to cease.

~~~

Author’s Note:

For those who don’t remember, this spin-off takes place before Gina and her group arrive in Fairport Harbor back in Chapter 14. While attempting to secure a boat, they are ambushed by the dead in a dry-dock facility directly behind the marina. While passing between several large hangars marked with the strange three-pronged symbol, the hangar doors open and the dead pour out of them and attack. Doug, the group’s leader at that time, is torn apart and the group scatters. This story, in part, tells what occurred prior to their arrival, introducing us to Lady Clementine who we will also find out more about in Chapter 35.

Don’t forget to come back on Thursday for an all new episode of After The Dark, the DFTD talk show, this Thursday, just in time for the return of Don’t Feed The Dark next Monday. Exciting times ;)

________________________________________________
“Hangar Six” Copyright © 2016 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014-2016 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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.

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Hangar Six until after reading the first 14 chapters. I’ll also recommend refreshing yourself with this story after reading Chapter 44-6: The Nomad.

~~~

The cool and silent space was comforting. She welcomed the darkness like a warm blanket she could wrap about herself. The woman patiently sat in the center of the room and closed her eyes. She listened to the sound of her own deep breathing… in… out… in… out. She could hear her steady heartbeat, like a muffled knock on the door within fading flesh; like an old, consistent friend waiting to be invited in for another game of living in an ever-changing world. The woman smiled and welcomed the rare moment of stillness–the bliss of simply existing–as she shut out the steady sound of the rain… and the hunger.

The hangar door began to rise, letting in the intrusive light of another dreary demanding day.

A man dressed in wet dark raingear entered and cautiously took a step toward her.

The woman sighed and opened her eyes. “What is it?”

“Lady Clementine, we’ve done everything you’ve instructed.” The man took a nervous glance around the hangar but tried not to show his fear. “All the boats in the harbor have been destroyed… except for the one staged at the marina.”

“And did you paint all the hangar doors with the invitation symbols as instructed?” she asked.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She hated it when they called her that. It reminded her of the only thing she was powerless to stop. Her old bones ached as a constant reminder of her frail frame, despite the immense power and control she wielded over this new world. It had taken most of her youth to master her abilities. She’d given up everything to be ready for the final days, but it had taken its toll.

“I assume your team has swept the area for candidates,” she said.

“Yes, Ma’am. We found no survivors. Fairport Harbor has been completely overrun.”

She scowled at the man. “What have I told you about that word?”

The man immediately corrected himself. “Sorry, Ma’am. You’re right. I meant ‘candidates’.”

“Has not Mother made it abundantly clear to you that there are no ‘survivors’? The world belongs to them now. We, who have prepared long in advance for the end, know what is at stake. As for the rest… Mother is not cruel. They will all be afforded a chance, just as we were given a chance. That is why we test them… all of them.”

The man looked down at his feet. “Of course, Ma’am. Please forgive my poor choice of words. There are no survivors, only candidates and fodder.”

Candidates and fodder. Lady Clementine could not help but laugh at the irony found in such a simple statement. The majority of the human race, in all its former glory and self-importance, had been reduced to nothing more than prey to a replacement species. She cringed at the thought. Now, only a select few, those who had been chosen to pave the way for the new world, would have a place in it… or so they’d been promised. What it all boiled down to was a choice: Candidate or Fodder.

“What do they call you?” she asked the man.

“Sterling,” he said, looking up and nervously shuffling his feet.

“Your full name?” she asked again, her impatience clearly evident.

“John… John Sterling.”

She removed the red hood from her head, revealing her long white mane with a few black streaks from her former hair color. From her cross-legged sitting position, Lady Clementine looked up and let her full gaze fall on John.

John did all he could to minimize his trembling.

“Well… that’s a fine name, a name that commands respect. Don’t you think?”

John hesitated. He understood the question for what it was. It was a test. He’d screwed up and now his life had immediately been called into question.

She laughed lightly. Yes, she had his complete attention now. That was good. A little fear in the ranks from the top down was always productive. She continued. “‘John Sterling’… just the sound of it rings of importance. I bet your parents are proud of you, aren’t they?”

John looked away, trying to hide his pain from the emotional shot. He already knew that Lady Clementine was well aware that his parents were dead. He chose his words with care. “My… my parents are fodder. They were found unworthy and perished.”

Lady Clementine feigned compassion. “Oh… I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to rip open old wounds,” she lied. “Come,” she motioned to a vacant space in front of her. “Come, sit with me.”

John looked around the hangar again as if she’d just invited him to step into a burning fire. Nearly a hundred of the re-animated lay in various positions, stacked on top of each other, surrounding the dangerous woman. There was a narrow path starting from where he stood and leading up to a small ring of clear space where Lady Clementine sat. And just like all the rest, when Lady Clementine first summoned the dead down from Fairport Harbor with her ‘abilities’ and commanded them to enter the hangars, they all appeared to be… asleep. But John knew better. ‘Dormant’ was the word she used. If she stopped whatever it was she was doing, the dead would rise up and charge him immediately.

She laughed. “Don’t be afraid. You’ve nothing to fear… unless you’ve something to hide.” She stared at him challengingly.

John swallowed hard and stepped forward. He carefully maneuvered among the dead, waiting for decrepit limbs to grab his legs and for teeth to dig into his flesh. He made it into the small ring and sat facing the old woman, who looked like she was a hundred years old, but in truth she was only in her fifties. He locked eyes with Lady Clementine and found the real fire.

“So tell me, John, do you miss your mother… and don’t start spewing out that ‘unworthy’ crap again?”

John answered carefully. “I have only one mother now.”

Clementine looked shocked. “My… that’s a horrible thing to say about the woman who gave birth to you… the woman who gave you such a fine name and a chance at a better life.”

“Like my mother, and my father… that name is just as dead. I have but one mother, and she has given me a new life… a better life.”

Clementine laughed. “Spoken like a good soldier. But anyone can parrot an answer like that. How do I know that you mean what you say? How can you prove your loyalty to me?”

John smiled smugly and answered confidently, “I have nothing to prove to myself… or to you. With all due respect, Ma’am, your name is as meaningless as my own. We are candidates, chosen to serve a higher purpose.”

Clementine pointed at him and laughed. “Very good, John. I’m glad to see you have not forgotten. Now tell me about them. How did your parents die?”

John looked away from her probing gaze. He would have to revisit the painful place. “When… when we were called…”

“Go ahead, you can use the layman’s term for it,” she said. “Most have accepted it… and so has Mother.”

John nodded. “When… The Change… occurred, my father was not chosen. When he turned, he… consumed my mother.”

“And you were there to witness it?”

“Yes.”

“But you’re not telling it right, are you?”

John was having difficulty. He shifted uncomfortably as he let the memory in. “No… what I meant to say was… my father turned… and he went after me first. My mother, my old mother, got in between us and that’s when he attacked her.”

Clementine gave the young soldier a moment to let the horrific memory settle in his mind. She then reached out a pale arm and touched his shoulder. “Now, John. Think very carefully about what you say next.”

John looked up. He was repulsed by the woman’s touch but tried not to show it. This was it. The real test.

“Now, after your mother saved you, what happened?”

“My… my mother… my old mother did not save me,” he finally said. “I was spared. My father was rejected… as was my mother.”

“But how can you say such a thing, John? Didn’t your mother save you and allow you to get away from the monsters that night? Didn’t she sacrifice her life for you?”

“No… she was rejected. We were both spared and given a chance… initially. Our testing began immediately.”

Clementine retracted her arm and dug deeper with her gaze. “Explain that to me?”

John took a deep breath. “Mother had already spared us… but we were not candidates yet. When my father attacked… when my mother chose to save my life… that’s when she was rejected. Because she did not choose to value the gift she was given… and wasted it trying to save a human life… she failed the test.”

“And what did you do after your mother chose unwisely?”

John’s face became unreadable. “I… I managed to get a weapon… a baseball bat. My mother was still struggling on the floor… my father was trying to bite at her throat. She yelled at me to get away. I was tempted to help her… almost did… but then I realized what was happening… that we were being tested, just like I was always taught from the beginning. I remembered my lessons. I remembered that when the time finally arrived we were to cherish our new lives… not waste them on the living. So I left her there.”

“So because of your selfishness, you survived… and you let your mother die.” Clementine was shaking her head in disbelief. “What kind of son does that to her own blood?”

John looked away and shook his head. “No… we were chosen… my father was not. My mother died in vain and was rejected because she didn’t… couldn’t… see the truth. But I understood what was happening. Her life was not mine to save any more than it was her place to try and save me.” He looked up into Clementine’s eyes and finished. “It’s not about selfishness or selflessness. We both were spared… and died in that moment. Neither one of us survived because there’s no such thing as survival. I see that clearly now. I chose to cherish the gift that Mother gave me… so I could give it back… so I could serve.”

“And that, John, is why you are a candidate.” Clementine proudly said. “I am encouraged by your growth,” she added indifferently, not trying to hide her boredom with the conversation. In truth, she’d hoped to trick him because she despised the man, but in the end, even she could not go against the will of Mother. Apparently, John still had a purpose, although she failed to see it.

John’s shoulders sank with relief. He’d passed the test.

“John, you have learned that The Change is not something as foolish as God’s will, or a second chance to redeem oneself to help Mankind survive. Obviously, humanity in its present decaying state is doomed, and the rest of us will evolve into something quite different. But what is The Change all about? Is it random, like so many blind fools choose to believe? Is it fate? Is it really about being ‘chosen’ when so many remain untested?”

John wisely looked away. “I would not begin to attempt to answer that question, Ma’am. I’m… I’m still learning.”

“That’s the smartest thing you’ve said so far,” Clementine said. “If you had dared to answer that question, when even I haven’t grasped it fully, I would’ve demanded your life immediately!”

“And I would give it wholeheartedly… for Mother,” John added.

Clementine was seething with rage. She stared into the pathetic man’s face, hoping to find a hint of defiance, especially after that last remark, but found nothing. She wanted to invade his puny mind, like she knew that she could, and release a portion of the dark plague which infested her thoughts so that he’d go insane with nightmares for the remainder of his short existence. Let’s see if this fool could handle the stress of a horde of cannibalistic maniacs infesting his mind! she thought.

The dead began to stir restlessly as her anger disrupted the immense amount of concentration it required to keep the beasts submissive. She took a deep breath and calmed down, reestablishing her control.

“You may go,” she finally said. “Be mindful of your words in the future. Mother may be merciful… but I am not.”

John nodded respectfully and quickly got up and started toward the door.

“One more thing… John Sterling.”

He exited the hangar and quickly turned back.

“Bring the girl to me. I wish to speak with her.”

John’s face turned pale.

“Is there a problem?” she asked, noticing John’s hesitation.

“I… I don’t want to offend-”

“Oh, just come out with it, you terrified little man!” she barked. “You hold back your thoughts as if I couldn’t get in there with the slightest amount of effort and rip them out of you… or have you forgotten what I can do?” She tapped on the side of her head for emphasis.

“No, Ma’am, it’s just… well… she’s just a foolish child who doesn’t know any better. Children say stupid and impulsive things. We’ve already disciplined her and she’s been compliant.”

“I hope there’s a point coming.”

John wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “We are currently… reeducating her… on what it means to serve… and how fortunate she is to-”

Clementine laughed hard. “My goodness, John. What on earth do you take me for? I simply wish to speak with the child. I’m not going to eat her! Or do you think I’m just like these pitiful shells of former humanity?” She waved a sweeping arm across the dormant dead.

“No… I didn’t mean anything-”

“Bring her to me… now.”

John nodded and departed.

I’m still going to destroy that fucking idiot, she promised herself.

Lady Clementine quickly dismissed all trivial matters and focused her attention on the remaining hangars full of the dead. It didn’t take her long to quiet them all down. The reanimated were not like the others with the feverish yellow fire for eyes. They were extremely difficult to control, especially in a horde. Fortunately the dark-eyed ones roaming the remains of Fairport Harbor were sufficient for the experiment. She closed her eyes and thought about her present station within the many-layered organization known as Mother.

Three days before The Change, Mother had activated all the cell groups with a single coded message:

The Lions are loose.

Clementine had known exactly what that meant as her particular cell, the largest in Northeast Ohio, had gathered in a large beach home near Fairport Harbor to wait for the coming storm. It had been a tense three days of waiting as members of her cell had watched each other suspiciously, wondering who would turn and who would be chosen.

After The Change, when her cell lost twenty members who had been rejected and turned to yellow-eyed savages, she had quickly asserted her leadership over the panicked cell by helping to slow down the beasts which had turned and attempted to destroy them from within.

Donovan had been with them on the first day to deliver the news that her group would be in charge of the Fairport Harbor testing. Like herself, he also had a cell to watch over, albeit a much smaller one, but no less important in the eyes of Mother. She outranked him, of course. Just as she also outranked that insane sonofabitch, Micom, who was put in charge of a sanctuary testing facility near Ashtabula. She had only heard rumors of what that madman was doing out there–something to do with religious effects on a populace–but it was enough to keep a watchful eye on Donovan, since he had come from there.

Fortunately, his stay had been a brief one as he departed for an undisclosed location (all the cells were deliberately kept in the dark about what the others cells were doing). And now, she had no idea who was left outside her own cell, and that they were to continue testing on the chosen and separate the candidates from the fodder until Mother sent word of what to do next.

I should be there, she bitterly thought. I should be at ground zero where my skills are best suited, and not here, doing the bitch work.

Early on, Mother had come up with many projection models, determining the most likely places the living might try to reach. Fairport Harbor, and places like it along the waterfront, were ideal locations for testing, since many would try to seek refuge by fleeing the coast. Her unique abilities made her the perfect choice to conduct the marina experiments. The plan was to funnel groups of the living to this boat storage facility along the river by dangling a single ‘carrot’ ahead of them. In this case, the carrot being the only functioning boat remaining in Fairport Harbor at the marina on the other side of the storage facility. Once lured into the vicinity of the hangars, the controlled experiment required a catalyst to induce the necessary conflict required to essentially destroy the unity of a group and wait for them to turn on each other and save themselves once the dead were unleashed upon them.

The experiment could end in one of three ways: The group could immediately be overrun by the dead, causing the experiment to reset. The group could scatter immediately as those valuing their lives, and essentially the gift given them by Mother, might sacrifice the weaker members to reach the boat instead, a.k.a., a dog-eats-dog mentality. This, of course, was the desired outcome. Should self-preservation win over group preservation, whoever made it to the boat would be allowed to leave the marina and would eventually be intercepted by Mother for possible candidacy under the ruse of rescue. Lastly, should an entire group stay together and fight their way through the horde and make it to the boat. They would immediately be gunned down at the boat by Clementine’s cell group for failing the test. And as a fail-safe, should such a group manage to elude the firing squad, there were sufficient explosives planted within the boat to detonate it once they reached an appropriate distance from shore. This, of course, would end the experiment entirely.

If only… Clementine shook her head with a smile. I guess what we’re doing could be considered just as insane to those lunatics over in Ashtabula.

If Clementine had learned anything about Mother in all the years she’d served, it was that you never questioned Mother, and that testing the motives and resolve of post-apocalyptic Mankind was high priority.

The sound of splashing footfalls approached. My, how I love the sound of urgency, she thought with a satisfied smile.

Two men, escorting a young girl with wet long black hair, stopped before Hangar Six.

Without looking their way, Clementine addressed the men. “Leave her and go. I’ll take it from here.”

The men were quick to oblige, leaving the frightened girl of thirteen, shivering in the cold. They had roused her from sleep, barely giving her enough time to get dressed, and dragged her here.

The girl sneezed and covered her mouth.

This caused Clementine to look up at the wet dog standing out in the rain with the first real genuine surprise she’d experienced in a very long time. My God! She looks just like… her!

The girl tried to maintain a respectful posture, head down, hands at her side, waiting to be addressed but not willing to initiate anything for fear of further disciplining.

“What is your name, child?” Clementine finally asked.

“Debra Crawford, Ma’am.” The girl sneezed again.

Well, of course, Clementine thought. Did you really expect another name, you silly old fool? The ghosts in my head are one thing… but to be visited by ghosts here in the flesh… well… that would be very unsettling.

“Well… Debra… why don’t you step inside and sit down with me before you sneeze to death.”

Debra nodded gratefully and entered the hangar.

Clementine was amused by the girl’s almost oblivious attitude toward the dead things beneath her feet as she stepped past them without hesitation and sat down in front of her.

“Better?” she asked the girl.

“Yes, thank you,” Debra said, continuing to look down.

Clementine considered the child. “You look so much like someone I knew a long, long time ago,” she said. “The resemblance is uncanny.”

“Whatever you say,” the wet girl said.

Clementine raised her eyebrows in surprise. “You know, for someone who’s in quite a bit of trouble, you don’t seem to appreciate the gravity of it. Even now, you speak to me in a disrespectful tone.”

“I mean no disrespect,” Debra said. “I’m just cold, tired and cranky.”

“Fair enough,” Clementine said with a laugh. “I appreciate your candor if nothing else. Do you know why you’re here?”

Debra sighed. “When we were out sinking a boat in the harbor yesterday, I ran off when no one was paying attention. Some of the soldiers wasted hours trying to locate me. They found me eating stale donuts and warm pop in a boathouse down river.”

“And then what happened?”

Debra shot Clementine a quick glance through the bangs of her wet hair and then looked away. “When the soldiers caught me, they started to yell at me. I got mad and said a bunch of nasty things.”

The old woman became serious. “And what did you say, Debra?”

“I… I said that what we were all doing here was stupid and a big waste of time. I’m sure you already know the rest.”

“Go on. I want to hear it from you.”

“I… I also said that you were old and senile and that Mother was just something you made up in your crazy head.”

Clementine snorted so abruptly that she had to cover her mouth.

Debra looked up in surprise at the crazy woman.

Looking into Debra’s confused face just made it worse. Clementine started to giggle uncontrollably. She waved at Debra to hold on while she tried to regain her composure. “My… I haven’t laughed that hard in ages. That’s exactly the kind of thing my old friend might have said to me when she got pissed. She was always so polite until she got mad… and then… blam… out came the verbal punches.” Clementine giggled again.

Debra actually smiled at the old woman’s unexpected outbursts, but she wisely remained silent.

Clementine collected herself again and tried to get back on track. “Okay… sorry about that. I guess I find you… refreshing… since everyone else speaks to me with that I’m-about-to-piss-my-pants tone.”

“I’m… I’m sorry I said what I said. I didn’t mean it. I was just… frustrated.”

“Well, of course you’re sorry,” Clementine said. “And I’m sure the others made you pay for your rude comments… so I’ll spare you any further disciplining.”

“Thank you,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

“‘May I go now?’” Clementine repeated. “Wow, you really are something else, Debra. The insulting things you said about me… well… I could let that slide easily enough. But what am I supposed to do with someone in my ranks, a candidate, who doesn’t even believe in the cause? Can you see the problem with this?”

Debra’s smile quickly faded. “I really didn’t mean anything. I was just mad. I do believe… it’s just hard sometimes.”

“Excuse me for a moment, child. I’ve been sitting too long and my old bones need to stretch.” Clementine stood up and walked toward the front of the hangar, her long red robe stroking the faces of the dead. She pulled up her hood as she felt the steady rain strike her face. “I want to believe you, Debra. I really do. Hell…we’ve had a good laugh or two, and I think I could really come to like you.”

The girl turned and smiled. “I feel the same way. I was wrong about you. You’re actually a lot nicer than I thought you’d be.”

Clementine laughed. “Not what you expected from the crazy old loon, right?”

“That’s not what I-”

“Shut up, child. I know what you meant.”

Clementine’s cold tone made Debra flinch.

“Why did you run?”

“Excuse me?”

“At the boat, when my soldiers were distracted, why did you really run away?”

Debra didn’t know how to safely answer. She finally said, “I think I ran because I was afraid.”

“Afraid of me?”

“In part. But… I’ve been afraid for so long that I could’ve run away for any reason.”

“I see.”

“I am really sorry… and I won’t run again.”

“Yes… yes… you’re sorry. I get it.” Clementine sighed, crossed her arms, and stared out into the rain. Her gaze fell on the three-pronged symbol spray-painted on the hangar door directly across from them. She sighed at it with disgust, and thought, Every time I see it, I feel the weight of all those empty years.

“Honestly, child,” she said. “Whether you believe in Mother or not hardly concerns me. In fact, believe whatever you want. I truly don’t care.”

Debra was shocked. She stood up, reassuming her submissive stance, and waited to be scolded or excused.

“What really troubles me as how much you remind me of things I’d rather forget. I loved her, you know. We were best friends. She was afraid of me, too. They all were… eventually.”

“I… I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t, child. Just stand there and listen to this crazy old woman talk about her irrelevant past for a few damn moments. Can you do that much?”

“Yes… yes, Ma’am.”

“My best friend, the one you remind me of, she betrayed me. She hurt me in a way I never thought anyone could. She ran away, too. Well… she tried to once. But that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all water under the bridge. Isn’t that the saying?”

“I suppose so,” Debra said. “May I go now?”

Clementine laughed again. “‘May I go now?’ That’s priceless.” She turned to look at the pitiful girl. “You know, I never even got to tell her goodbye. Everything happened so fast back then. When she tried to abandon me, everything changed. We had something… special. Then my so-called best friend ruined everything.”

Debra looked at the crazy woman, looked into her eyes, and for the first time she felt truly afraid.

Clementine walked over to a mechanism on wall and hit a button.

The hangar door began to close.

“Wait! What are you doing?” Debra said.

“Goodbye, Debra,” Clementine said. She then whispered, “Goodbye… Meredith.”

Before Debra could react, the old crazy woman released her hold on the dead within the hangar.

They were very, very hungry.

Lady Clementine waited outside the closed door for the child’s screams to cease.

~~~

Author’s Note:

For those who don’t remember, this spin-off takes place before Gina and her group arrive in Fairport Harbor back in Chapter 14. While attempting to secure a boat, they are ambushed by the dead in a dry-dock facility directly behind the marina. While passing between several large hangars marked with the strange three-pronged symbol, the hangar doors open and the dead pour out of them and attack. Doug, the group’s leader at that time, is torn apart and the group scatters. This story, in part, tells what occurred prior to their arrival, introducing us to Lady Clementine who we will also find out more about in Chapter 35.

Don’t forget to come back on Thursday for an all new episode of After The Dark, the DFTD talk show, this Thursday, just in time for the return of Don’t Feed The Dark next Monday. Exciting times ;)

________________________________________________
“Hangar Six” Copyright © 2016 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014-2016 Scott Scherr.

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

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

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~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Red Light until after reading the first 12 chapters.

~~~

The woman opened her eyes and stared at the red digital display on the clock. It was 3:10am. She continued to lie still in the darkness, listening for the sound of her husband’s light snores. The silent bedroom was suffocating.

She turned over as her eyes began to adjust to the moonlight from outside. The woman could not see the shadowy lump of her husband beside her. She reached for him and felt the cool sheets instead. The woman frowned. He still had not come home yet.

Maybe he fell asleep on the couch… again. The woman sighed deeply. She had to know for sure.

The woman sluggishly got up and put on her robe. She crept downstairs and discovered that the living room showed no signs of her husband’s usual emotional detachment; the sofa was as vacant as his side of their bed.

Now she was starting to worry. The woman retrieved her cell phone and called him. There was no answer as her call was transferred to his voicemail which meant his phone was either off or his battery was dead. She considered calling the police, but felt foolish for thinking it. Surely if he’d been in some kind of accident, someone would have contacted her by now. He’d come home late before… but never this late… unless what she feared had finally come to pass.

She tossed the phone on the kitchen counter.

“And just when did you become the jealous, insecure wife?” she asked herself, feeling guilty for jumping to conclusions. Just because he hadn’t come home one time, didn’t mean he’d found someone else… unless he finally did.

The woman shook her head. “Foolish, foolish thoughts. You’re just tired. One bad fight doesn’t mean the end of the damn world,” she reminded herself.

She couldn’t even remember what it was this time. It was always the littlest sparks that started the biggest blazes these days. They’d stopped talking over a year ago, and now, they both walked on egg shells around each other, choosing to play nice and keep their relationship as… routine… as possible.

He blames me, she thought. He’ll never admit it… but I see it in his eyes.

The woman couldn’t think about that anymore. She needed some air. Perhaps a drive would help get her head on straight.

She threw on some clothes, grabbed her phone and car keys, and started for the garage. She stopped. Maybe I should leave him a note in case he comes home before I get back?

The woman shook her head and said, “Forget it. Let him worry a little for a change.” She went out to her car and drove away. She didn’t care where she went; she had to move before her mind had a chance to take her back to that familiar dwelling place where all she wanted to do was drown in a deep pool of self-loathing.

Ten minutes later, the woman stopped at a red light. The four-way intersection felt abandoned as if she were the last driver on earth. She marveled at how different the world felt at night when most people with any sense were tucked in their beds sleeping. Nearby businesses were swallowed up in shadows, becoming dull, nameless grey structures void of purpose and life. The sounds of the busy day were replaced by an ancient and unfamiliar quiet as the old world temporarily reclaimed its place, reducing Mankind’s self-important, disjointed chorus of noises to audio hauntings lingering on the edges of yesterday’s memory. The only reminder that she was still in the same civilized world was that bright neon light that commanded her to obey the rules of the day.

The light stayed red for so long that she wondered if it would ever change. She looked to her left and right and then shook her head. “This is ridiculous. I’m the only one out here.”

With a wicked little smile, the woman took her foot off the brake and decided a little late-night rebellion was just what she needed right now. She applied just enough gas to creep across the intersection.

Feeling like a naughty girl, the woman laughed at the absurdity in finding so much joy in such a minor infraction. I miss these days. It’s been so long since I took a risk at anything. Her smile quickly faded as she finished, Sometimes I think my life is as barren as-

The truck came out of nowhere, striking the rear right corner of her car, sending the vehicle into a spin. The woman covered her face with her arms and screamed as she struck a telephone pole with the driver-side of her car. Her head slammed against the window, shattering the glass.

~~~

Sirens. Red and blue lights flashing. Frantic voices. The sound of a car door being ripped open by modern machinery.

The woman opens her eyes.

“Hey, over here!” a man yells. He is close enough to hear his labored breaths. “This one’s still alive!”

Somewhere farther off: the sound of gunfire.

“What the hell is that?” someone else yells.

“Stay focused, damn it! She looks bad.”

There are hands on her now. They are carefully removing her from the crushed vehicle.

“Get her on the stretcher… ASAP!”

She is being carried out of the vehicle.

Someone begins to scream.

“Holy fuck! He’s not dead!” a new voice yells.

“What was that?” a confused paramedic asks, you can hear the fear in his cracked voice.

“I’m telling you… he’s moving!”

“Not the driver of the truck… he’s fucking dead! Get it together, man.”

“He’s attacking Hal! Bit him in the fucking neck!”

The paramedics carrying the woman place her gently on the ground.

One yells at the other, “Go help him! I’ll take care of her.”

“Fuck if I will,” the other says. “Just… just look at him! Something’s not right!”

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” someone else yells. “Get away from him!”

The two paramedics leave the woman.

People are running.

There is gunfire near the wrecked truck.

“Fuck! He’s on something! Son-of-a-bitch won’t stay down!” a police officer yells.

More gunfire.

More screams.

“Show’s fucking over!” the cop yells. “Everyone clear the area… NOW!”

Lots of running now, from all directions.

Sounds of panic.

Somehow the woman manages to get to her feet, although her head continues to bleed out.

“Miss,” a paramedic says, coming over, “Miss, are you okay? Charlie, I need some help over here!”

Charlie is long gone.

The woman stumbles toward the paramedic. Her left leg is broken, but she does not feel it. She sees the paramedic approaching and is compelled to move faster… faster… faster than she should be able to move.

He starts to reach for her, but stops. “Holy mother of God,” he whispers. He starts to back up.

The woman won’t allow it.

“Just stay the hell away from me!” the paramedic yells.

The woman opens her mouth. A sound escapes her throat; a strangled, terrifying sound that has only one meaning.

The paramedic trips.

The woman falls on top of him.

He screams.

The woman bites into his jugular vein. The warm fluid fills her mouth. She swallows again… and again…

~~~

Jacob quickly rushed his wife and one-month-old son to the SUV parked along the curb in front of their apartment building. His hands were full of whatever he could grab as he put the baby carrier down beside the rear door and searched through his pockets for the car keys.

“Please hurry,” Monica urged as she held little Tommy in her arms and continued to rock him. She looked over her shoulder and prayed that he didn’t wake up now… not while the maniacs were still running loose through their neighborhood.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Jacob said. He tried his best not to snap her head off. He was terrified. He could still hear the family from next door screaming through the paper-thin walls. He cannot shake the horrific memory. After a failed attempt to reach the police on the phone, they’d heard what sounded like several people running down the hall as something howled after them in pursuit. There had been more screams coming from outside.

“Found them,” he told her and quickly unlocked the doors. He started tossing their gear into the vehicle.

When he was finished, Monica climbed into the back seat and quickly put Tommy into the carrier that dubbed as a car seat. “Did you get everything?” she asked.

“I think so.”

She looked at him and said, “Think… Jacob. Did you grab it all or not? If it’s as bad as it sounds out here, we might not be able to stop for a while, especially after we hit the freeway.”

Jacob smacked himself on the forehead. “Fuck!”

“What?” Monica’s face changed. “Don’t tell me you forgot the formula? Damn it, Jacob! I put it right by the door! We need that!”

He nodded his head in frustration. “Don’t worry. I’ll rush back in and get it. Stay in the car and keep the doors locked.”

Monica looked afraid.

“I’ll be quick,” he reassured her. “Just stay put… I’ll be in and out.”

“Hurry,” she said.

He closed the door and waited for Monica to lock it. He gave her an unsure final glance and quickly rushed back toward their apartment.

Five long minutes later, Monica began to worry. He hadn’t come back yet.

Several people were running up and down the street now. Some were calling out for help, others were just looking for somewhere to hide.

Monica stayed quiet until each one had passed.

Where the hell are you, Jacob?

Baby Tommy began to stir in his seat. He was hungry.

“Oh, no,” Monica whispered, trying to keep Tommy calm. “Not now… please… not now.”

Something struck the rear of the SUV.

Monica jumped and let out a startled scream. She covered her mouth and shook her head. Too late, Tommy began to cry.

Someone came out from around the back of the vehicle, attracted by Tommy’s cries, as a shadow leaned up against the SUV for support and began to move toward the passenger door.

“Shh… be quiet, honey,” Monica whispered. She picked him up out of the car seat and began rocking him again as she moved toward the opposite side of the car. She watched the figure come into view. It appeared to be a woman who had been severely hurt, judging by the amount of blood on her face and the front of her blouse.

Oh, please, God… just let her go away… please!

Tommy let out a loud cry.

The bloody woman stopped before the rear door window and pressed her face to the glass.

“Just… just go away! I can’t help you… I’m sorry!” Monica shouted through tears.

There was something wrong with the bloody woman’s face; she seemed more animal than human. Monica screamed as the woman started banging her hands on the glass. The woman let loose a terrifying moan that made the hair on Monica’s arms stand up. “Just go away!”

Tommy reacted to her mother’s shouts and began to wail.

The bloody woman at the window stopped as she heard the infant’s cries.

For a moment, Monica swore she saw recognition in that savage woman’s face… perhaps even sadness or longing. She was clearly staring at her son. To Monica, the bloody woman might have been someone’s mother by the way her eyes lingered, as if the child had revived some sense of peace within her.

And then all recognition was gone as the bloody woman began to attack the window again with much more ferocity. Sadness and longing were replaced by mindless hunger as it pounded on the window so hard that it shattered.

Monica screamed as she tried to shield her baby with her body.

And then the bloody woman fell limp to the ground as someone struck it with a shovel from behind. The blow to the skull had penetrated the bloody woman’s brain.

Jacob peered through the broken window. “Oh, God… I’m so sorry. Are… are you okay? Is the baby alright?”

Monica was in tears. All she could do was nod as she tried to calm her son.

Jacob opened the door and placed the bag containing the formula on the vacant seat. He was sweating, out of breath and pale.

“What’s happened?” Monica asked.

Jacob gave her a terrified look. “The whole town’s gone insane. People are killing each other… all over. One of them almost got me inside.”

“Let’s… let’s just go, okay?” Monica pleaded.

Jacob nodded as he closed the rear door and ran around to the driver side. He got in and slapped his forehead again.

“What? What now?” Monica asked.

“My phone… I’ve lost my fucking phone! Must have dropped it when I ran. Do you have yours?”

Monica sadly shook her head. “It was still in he charger when everything went… crazy.”

Jacob’s face lit up. “Hold on. Be right back,” he said as he exited the vehicle.

“Don’t you dare leave us again!”

He went around the front of the vehicle and cautiously approached the corpse of the bloody woman. He covered his mouth to keep from vomiting as he quickly turned her over and searched the woman’s clothes. “Got it!”

“Got what? Damn it… get your ass in here!”

Jacob climbed back into the driver seat and held up the bloody woman’s cell phone. “We’re okay… she had one.”

“Is she… dead?” Monica asked.

Jacob’s silence was answer enough. He started the SUV, took a deep breath, and then slowly drove away.

Feeling better, now that the vehicle was moving, Monica placed Tommy back in his seat. The motion of the vehicle put him to sleep immediately. She climbed into the front passenger seat.

She looked into Jacob’s face and saw her own fear mirrored there.

“What’s happening, Jacob?”

He shook his head. “We need to… we need to get as far from here as possible.”

“Maybe we should just drive to the police station,” Monica suggested.

“Not far enough,” he quickly said. “I’m going to get to the Interstate and just keep going… for a little while.”

She had no objections.

He handed her the phone. “See if you can reach anyone.”

“I’ll call my mother.”

“That’s a good idea. Tell her we’re coming for a visit.”

Monica tried to call her mother in Pennsylvania. There was no answer. She was about to try again when she pulled up the bloody woman’s home page. There was a contacts icon. She had to know.

“What’s the matter?” Jacob asked, noticing his wife’s tears.

“There’s no answer.”

“Just keep trying.”

“Claudette Eddington.”

“What was that?” Jacob asked.

“That is… was her name… the woman who just died.”

Jacob frowned and nodded.

They sat silently for a few minutes as the world they knew quickly started falling apart around them. Distracted by so much uncertainty and fear, neither one of them noticed as Jacob blew through the first intersection, completely oblivious to the red light.

~~~

Author’s Note:

There are so many uncertainties in this strange new and savage world that our survivors were thrown into. Due to the nature of their survival and staying in motion to remain alive, there hasn’t been much opportunity to write about the fate of loved ones back home. This story afforded me an opportunity to show what happened to Stephen Eddington’s wife, Claudette, that first long night of hell and to show what might happen if someone died shortly before The Change occurred. And although we now know the fate of this poor woman, perhaps Stephen is better off not knowing.

For those that don’t remember, this spin-off takes place around the time Stephen Eddington is attacked at the school back in Chapter 3. After cheating on his wife with Marie “Nicole” Howard, Stephen chooses to spend the night in his classroom, believing it to be the end of his marriage and his career. Claudette’s story picks up on the other side of that long night.

Be sure to check out my third spin-off story: Hangar Six

________________________________________________
“Red Light” Copyright © 2015 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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.

Playing With Fire

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Playing With Fire until after reading the first 15 chapters.

~~~

Angela Darrow absolutely despised her job at Herbie’s House of Ladies—but it still paid the bills (barely). She’d been working the weekday grind as a topless waitress for the last three years and she was fed up with Herbie’s bullshit.

Angela had been promised a weekend spot up on the stage after she’d paid her dues. But short of sucking off the boss on his lunch breaks, which she was certain all those other whores had done to get their chance, Angela had suffered through everything else she was asked to do.

She was originally hired on to dance. Herbie had interviewed her and said that she wasn’t ready for his stage. If her finances weren’t the mess they were then, Angela would’ve told that fat fuck off and stormed out. But instead, she’d swallowed her pride. A girl’s gotta work.

Tuesday nights were dead as usual—which meant, shit for tips. She made her circuit around the stale smoke-filled room, clearing tables of half-spilled drinks while batting her eyes and flashing her plastered on smile at the drunk pervs who gawked at her dangling boobs, which she kept just out of reach of their groping claws. Angela knew who her regulars were, and more importantly, which ones shared from generous wallets. At first, she’d scored pretty well working the tables and soliciting lap dances, but now, she was just old news—yesterday’s flavor that had gone stale in the eyes of those greedy monsters who got tired of being turned down for sex after the private dances weren’t enough.

Competition on the floor was fierce and there were always sluts who were willing to bend the rules and let the patrons touch where they weren’t supposed to… or allowed them to do other despicable things. But Angela refused to play the game, and as a result, she was branded a ‘tease’. And that meant her tips got smaller and smaller as her regulars diminished, reducing her to the half-naked waitress that kept the drinks flowing as she allowed the occasional ass grab in the hopes of landing better tips. It didn’t take her long to become invisible… and pathetic.

And then it finally happened. Last night, Angela, desperate for money to pay the rent, had been offered five-hundred dollars to let her last lap dance of the evening go beyond the boundaries she’d set. She could still feel that old man’s tongue all over flesh… and where he’d placed the first two fingers of his left hand.

After Monday evening’s late-night shower of shame, she had decided to quit after her Tuesday shift.

What happens next time someone flashes a thousand dollars in my face? She’d reasoned. How far will I let it go next time? She didn’t want to be around to found out.

Before she had an opportunity to put in her notice, Herbie had asked to see her.

She walked over to his office, feeling her sore ankles scream out against the ridiculously high heels she was forced to wear. He’s probably going to bitch again about how I’m not making his precious patrons happy enough. Well… tough shit! She took a deep breath and entered Herbie’s office.

Howard Bledsoe (a.k.a. Herbie) sat behind his cluttered desk and leaned back in his large leather recliner. He was an overweight bald man with four chins and an annoying bellow-of-a-laugh. Behind his back, many of the girls called him Jabba-The-Hutt. On the surface, Herbie seemed like an easy-going guy with a healthy sense of humor. But the girls knew better. Howard Bledsoe was a mean and arrogant pig who considered himself an artist, using skin for paint and the stage as his canvas.

When Angela entered, Herbie rose and said, “Damn… you look just like her. You two could be sisters.”

“Sisters?” Angela asked confused. She was too tired to fake patience; too tired to care. “What’s this about?” she asked.

Herbie smiled and motioned to a small chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit.”

Angela did… and it felt good.

“Do you know who Crystal Evans is?” he asked, sitting back down.

Yeah… that’s your favorite Thursday night whore. She dances like shit, her tits sag, and she wears more make-up than a corpse, she thought. “That’s your Thursday night dancer… right?” Angela decided to play coy.

“That’s right,” Herbie said. “Anyway, Crystal’s got some… personal issues… to work out. Frankly, I don’t give a shit, but she’s left me in a jam. Thursdays are becoming a money-maker lately. I think it’s because of Crystal… but don’t tell her that.” Herbie winked and laughed.

Angela wanted to take off her left heel and shove it in his big, fat mouth.

“Anyway… I need a dancer for Thursday night. Are you interested?”

Angela was shocked. “You mean, up on the stage… in Crystal’s spot?”

Herbie gave her a strange look. “Yeah… what else would I mean?”

Angela shrugged her shoulders.

“Anyway… I can get you off the floor for a couple shifts and let you have your chance Thursday night… if you still want it.”

“Of course I do,” Angela said.

“Good!” Herbie said, rising to his feet. “You’ll have to come in early for a dress rehearsal tomorrow and let the make-up gurus doll you up… but I believe you’ll pass for Crystal… easily.”

Angela’s face changed. “Wait… you want me to dance… but pretend I’m Crystal?”

“I know… I know… you won’t be able to ‘perform’ like she does, but hell… you look a lot like her. After enough drinks, none of them will notice anyway. Hopefully Crystal will be ready to come back next week.”

“You call that a chance?” Angela was pissed. “I’ve been here three years and when I finally get to prove what I can do up there, you want me to be somebody else? That sucks!”

Herbie sighed. “Look… I’m doing you a favor here. You certainly can’t fill Crystal’s shoes. All I’m asking you to do is dance a bit, shake your ass, flash your tits and fake it. The special-effects will take care of the rest. You’ll make a lot of money if you pull this ‘performance’ off… and that’s what we do here. So what’s the problem ?”

“The ‘problem’ is, I’m not her!

Herbie’s face was turning red. “Look! I’m giving you a chance, a chance you certainly don’t deserve! I expected a little gratitude after all the complaints I’ve received about your poor service down on the floor. I’ve tried to overlook it, believing that you might come around eventually. But honestly, I’m starting to doubt that you’ll ever get with the program.”

“And what program is that?” Angela asked. “I’ve put up with all those jerks touching me and propositioning me for three-fucking-years! I’ve seen what your other girls do, and if that’s what you call ‘getting with the program’, than you’ve mistaken me for something I’m not! I’m a dancer, not your fucking whore!” She immediately thought of Monday night, and wanted to vomit.

Herbie lifted his hands. “All right… just calm down! No need to take it all so personally. It’s just a part of the business that you obviously don’t understand. Look, I’ll be frank with you. Crystal’s got some serious medical issues and she might not be coming back. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I need a quick fix for Thursday night while I consider my options. If you can pull off pretending to be Crystal, I might be persuaded to give you her spot… depending on how well you perform.”

“You promise? Because… I really don’t think I can work the floor anymore.”

“Yes… I promise.” Herbie lied. “We just need some time to wean the Thursday night crowd off that bitch and then we’ll have time to introduce you properly… with all the proper theatrics. I can see it now… Angel Darrow. It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

Angela smiled. “Yes… I do. ‘Angel Darrow’… I like that.”

“Then you’ll be my Crystal Evans… for now?”

Angela nodded. “For now.”

Herbie smiled. “Good… good! When you come in tomorrow night, I’ll pay you your usual floor wages, but instead of working the floor, I want you to come in early and wait in Crystal’s room for the makeup guys to arrive. They’ll doll you up and walk you through Crystal’s routine.”

“If I’m going to be your ‘Crystal’ shouldn’t I get her wages for Wednesday and Thursday?” Angela folded her arms.

Herbie laughed. “Alright… I’ll pay you for the rehearsal, too. But you better not be wasting my time. I need a stellar performance out of you so take advantage of the rehearsal to get her number right. You have seen Crystal dance before?”

Oh, I’ve seen your talentless whores dance every Monday through Thursday for the last three years. Angela smiled and answered, “Yes, I’m familiar with Crystal’s routine… I won’t have any problems emulating her… performance.”

“Now that’s what I want to hear. Confidence is the key. After we put you in makeup and wardrobe, I’ll have a video of Crystal’s routine sent over for you to study. Take the rest of the evening to get it down in sync with the special-effects. Timing is everything. Remember, you need to become Crystal, so work on the details.”

“Got it,” Angela said, getting irritated, but trying to bite her tongue. This asshole’s already forgotten that I was a dancer before he made me his bar bitch.

Herbie gave her a stern look and finished, “Remember, I’m not paying you to go up there and dance, Angela… I’m paying you to perform… as Crystal Evans. That’s who people are paying to see on Thursday night. Are we clear on this?”

“Crystal.”

~~~

On Wednesday, Angela arrived to work early and was met by four of Herbie’s stylists. They quickly rushed her back to Crystal Evan’s dressing room (all the star whores had their own) and within four painful hours, they had created Miss Evan’s clone. After they were all satisfied, the stylists departed, leaving Angela the promised recording of one of Crystal’s performances.

Finally given a moment alone, Angela stood up and looked into the large vanity mirror and was stunned at how well Herbie’s stylists had done their job.

Holy shit! I do look just like that bitch!

She wore one of Crystal’s skimpy sequin-slaughtered outfits that needed no stretch of the imagination to deduce what it barely covered. Her once long brown straight hair, now permed with so many curls, flowed down her shoulders like erratic rivers. Her pale skin had been remedied with a fake-tan solution that made her appear like she’d spent the afternoon in a tanning booth. They even put vibrant blue contacts in her eyes to hide her dull brown ones.

After marveling at the stylists’ recreation, Angela said, “Could be worse. At least you’re not pretending to be Friday night’s girl with all that fucking body paint. You’d be sitting in front of the stylists for another four hours while they dyed your hair red and drew pictures all over your tits.” She sat down in front of a small television, placed the DVD of Crystal’s performance in the player, and started watching.

“They nailed it,” she said, studying Crystal’s appearance. “We are the same height, build… add in the low lights and the special-effects, no one will be able to tell the difference.” After five minutes of watching Crystal’s mediocre dancing, she turned off the TV and walked over to Crystal’s locker. “How the hell am I going to mimic that massacre of a performance?” She started removing the tight outfit, wanting desperately to get back into her own clothes. “It’s bad choreography for one thing… and that bitch barely pulls it off…”

Angela stopped when she noticed a leather satchel sitting at the bottom of the locker. “What’s this, Crystal?” She knelt down to inspect the satchel. She hesitated for a moment, feeling like she was invading Crystal’s privacy. “Well, if I’m going to be You then that means I get to know all your secrets.” She started opening the satchel. “I’m going to laugh my ass off if I find a copy of How To Dance For Dummies.

What Angela found in the satchel made her gasp. The bag was loaded with bundles of one-hundred dollar bills. “Holy shit, Crystal! Ever heard of a bank?”

A little voice inside her head tried to warn her away from the money—a voice that screamed, That much money lying around in the bottom of a stripper’s locker can’t be legal. Forget about, Angela.

But she had to know. Angela got up and made sure the door was locked before returning to the money. By the time she was done, she’d counted a hundred grand.

“Fucking Herbie must have been paying you under the table for a good long while to come up with that much scratch.”

But she suspected there was more to it than that. She looked inside the satchel again and found a letter at the very bottom of the bag. Angela was beyond caution now as she opened the letter:

~~~

Miss Evans,

Here is the agreed upon award for your services for the year, and for going above and beyond to satisfy
our clientele. Your work has been exceptional and we hope that this token of our appreciation continues
to guarantee your participation in the months ahead.

Included is your retainer of twenty-thousand in advance for our upcoming dinner party at the usual
locale, on Friday, October 2nd. There will be a moonlight ceremony on the beach. We’ll send someone
to pick you up at the usual time and place.

We are looking forward to seeing you again,
Malcolm

~~~

Angela dropped the letter back into the bag and quickly replaced the money. That’s this Friday. You don’t want anything to do with this whore’s illegal activities. Crystal’s playing with fire. I bet Herbie doesn’t know what one of his star girls is doing on the side. Angela considered this and smiled. One way or the other, she was going to secure her spot on the stage. If Herbie didn’t follow through on his promise, she could expose Crystal’s activities. It felt damn good to have leverage.

She stepped back in front of the mirror and said, “And as for Your shitty performances on the stage, you high-priced whore, I think I’ll do you a favor and show you how a professional dancer performs. You can thank me later. I may look like you tomorrow night… but I’ll be dancing like Angel-Fucking-Darrow, bitch!”

~~~

On Thursday night, Angela Darrow took the stage as Crystal Evans… and she blew their fucking minds. None of Crystal’s regulars had ever seen their star stripper dance so provocatively. She had them under her spell and emptying out their wallets faster than they spent their usual loads from beneath the tables. Angela made two encore appearances before the night was finished. She had everyone fooled. Not even her coworkers on the floor recognized her as they were too busy filling up empty glasses and getting annoyed that all eyes were on the stage.

After a much earned rest, Angela retreated to Crystal’s dressing room and waited long enough for the crowd to thin out. She sat back in her chair, relishing the apologetic look on Herbie’s face when he realized how wrong he’d been for placing her down on the floor instead of up on the stage where she belonged.

Finally… no more working for scraps down with the dogs. After tonight, I’m going to get what’s coming to me. She looked at her reflection—at the artificial Crystal Evans staring back at her—and said, “And fuck you, too! You never looked as good as I made you look tonight.” Angela got up and exited the dressing room.

When she was just outside Herbie’s office, she stopped before his open door when she heard the boss yelling at someone on the phone.

“I don’t give a shit what time it is! Make the arrangements… tonight! I don’t care who you pick but give him a name because he’ll be here tomorrow night to seal the deal!”

Angela waited just out of sight, not wanting to enter his office while Herbie was so upset. She couldn’t help overhearing the conversation.

Herbie continued, “Yes… I know… it’s not your fault… it happened just a few hours ago… but that changes nothing, you fucking idiot! They said it was massive heart failure… I don’t know what causes that… do I look like a fucking doctor? Fact remains… Crystal Evans is dead and there’s not a fucking thing we can do about that, so get another girl lined up.”

Angela’s heart skipped a beat. Crystal’s dead? Holy shit! Things just keep getting better for me. She felt bad for the thought as soon as she thought it… but not that bad. Here’s my chance! They’ll need a replacement for Crystal… and after the night I just gave them… I’m the obvious replacement! Just keep it together… don’t seem too anxious… make that fat fuck practically beg you to stay! You have him exactly where you want him.

“Alright… do it,” Herbie was finishing. “If she says no… well… we’ll have to find him another in a big fucking hurry. We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. Look, just get it done! I’ve gotta go.” Herbie slammed the phone on the receiver.

Okay… stay calm… but firm. You walk in there like you own the fucking place, but stay respectful. Angela took a deep breath and entered Herbie’s office.

Herbie looked up, surprised, and then scowled at her. “What do you want?”

Angela immediately lost her cool. “I… I mean… I figured we could talk… after tonight.”

“Talk about what?” Herbie sat down and started rifling through a stack of paperwork on his desk.

Angela looked confused. So much for gratitude. Stick to your guns, girl. Angela stepped forward, folded her arms and said, “Let’s talk about my performance. I believe you owe me an apology.”

Herbie looked up in disbelief and laughed. “Apology? Are you fucking kidding me! After that piss-poor performance… all I asked you to do was one… fucking… thing: Be Crystal Evans! And you fucked that all up.”

“But… the crowd loved it! They loved me!

Herbie waved a dismissive hand in her face. “I’ve got more important things to think about right now. Get out of here.”

“Excuse me?”

“Pack your fucking shit and go! You’re fired!”

~~~

Angela returned to Crystal’s dressing room and collapsed in the closest chair. She was too much in shock to feel outraged or break down into tears.

What the hell do I do now?

She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, at the make-up smeared face of the dead woman who seemed to mock her, and hissed, “This is all your fault! I don’t deserve to be treated like this! He just used me and tossed me out like a piece of fucking garbage! And all because I couldn’t bring myself to dance as horribly as you!

Angela couldn’t look in the mirror any longer. She turned away and stopped when she saw Crystal’s locker. She immediately thought about the money… and about the dead woman who no longer needed it.

“There’s no good that can come out of what you’re thinking, girl,” she reminded herself.

And then she had a dark thought: You could take the money and no one would ever find out. There’s enough green in that bag to get the hell out of town and start over.

Angela stood up and shook her head. “Just forget about it.”

But she couldn’t.

If you don’t take it, Herbie’s going to find it when they clear out the room. And you better believe he’ll make that money disappear!

Angela turned back toward the locker. “Fuck that!” She grabbed the bag, her few belongings, and quickly exited the dressing room before she had second thoughts.

She rushed across the parking lot to her car. Angela opened the trunk, tossed the bag in, and then closed it. Too late to turn around now, she thought, getting into her car and starting the engine. She was already thinking about the airport. Fuck it all… fuck everything! Just one more night to pack a couple of bags and get some sleep and then we head to the west coast and far from this fucking place… no looking back! She sped out of the parking lot, already spending the money in her mind as she pictured herself lying on a white sand beach with palm trees.

~~~

Angela took one look around her claustrophobic dump of an apartment. She shook her head in disgust at the piles of whorish clothes littered around her living room. A small arsenal of bras lay scattered about like discarded slingshots after another indecisive war had been waged on how best to package her weapons of seduction. Last night’s microwave mac n’ cheese dinner sat collecting mold next to an ash tray with a partially smoked joint and a cheap wine glass holding even cheaper wine on a cluttered coffee table. A small television (no cable, of course) sat waiting for her to resume her position on the trash-infested couch where she could once again drink herself to sleep while watching whatever mind-numbing shows were available on the few channels that got the best reception. The longer she looked around, the more pathetic she felt. And this is my life. My God, how long have I been slowly rotting away like this? It’s amazing how much clarity a hundred grand buys.

Angela called the airlines and booked the first available flight to Los Angeles in the morning. She decided to pack light—fuck the rest.

Angela went into her bedroom, pulled out a suitcase from a small closet and tossed it onto her unmade bed. She started back toward the living room to pour herself a glass of cheap wine. Pack now… then strip off the Crystal costume and take a long hot shower. After that, sleep like the dead for a few hours and then go catch my flight. After I get to LA, I’ll lay low for a while and spend only what I need to get started. I’ll find another job and keep the rest of the money hidden in a safe place.

As she entered the living room, she was startled by a very large man in a suit with curly blond hair standing in front of her television. “Miss Evans?” the man asked.

Before Angela could cry out, someone else grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth and nose with a damp cloth.

The sweet-tasting liquid worked fast as Angela’s world went dark.

~~~

She heard the sound of a car engine running as Angela opened her eyes and was greeted by a massive headache. As her disorientation lifted, she looked around and discovered that she was lying on the floor of what appeared to be an empty box truck. The big curly-haired man in the suit was watching her near the back of the truck. He appeared bored out of his mind.

“Where… where am I?” Angela asked.

The big man ignored her and yelled out the back of the truck. “Boss, she’s awake.”

Angela tried to get up but she felt dizzy and weak. She managed to get to her knees as a small man with slick-brown hair tied back in a ponytail climbed up into the truck.

The man with dark eyes, a hawkish nose and a clever smile absently brushed dust off his expensive suit. He walked toward Angela with his hands in his pockets as he studied the stripper with partial amusement and annoyance painted on his face. “Good evening,” he said.

“What have you done to me?” Angela asked. “I feel like a truck ran me over.”

The man seemed amused by her response. “I apologize for the rough treatment, but under the circumstances, I thought it prudent to meet with you without delay so we might get to the bottom of this… unpleasant situation. My name is Malcolm Hathaway. And you are certainly not Crystal Evans.” He knelt down and finished, “I am very curious to understand how a woman who looks like another woman that died a short time ago, ends up racing out of a club with my money. You are Angela Darrow, are you not?”

Angela’s face went pale. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but this is not what it looks like,” she lied.

Malcom laughed. “And what does it look like, Angela? Because it appears that either Crystal faked her own death , or, someone posing as Crystal decided to sneak away with something that didn’t belong to her.”

Angela started to sweat. “I… I wasn’t trying to steal your money. I’d just heard that Crystal died. She told me about the money when I was hired to fill in for her and she instructed me to keep it safe since she was stuck in the hospital. I was planning on returning it for her.”

Malcolm raised his eyebrows. “Wow. You must really be a good friend. It’s not every day someone entrusts a hundred grand to just anyone. I assume that you and Crystal go way back, yes?”

Angela smiled. “Exactly. That’s why she told me about the money. As you can see… she even trusted me to perform in her absence. That’s why I look like her right now. I’m sorry about the confusion.”

“I see,” Malcom said, getting up. “Excuse me a moment.”

Oh, please, please, please, God… get me out of this and I’ll never touch another cent that doesn’t belong to me!

Malcolm walked over to the curly-haired man and started talking out of ear shot.

He’s not convinced, she thought. Come on, Angela, talk your way out of this before it gets any worse. And then she had a desperate thought.

“Excuse me, Malcolm,” she said.

Malcolm came back over.

“Now that you have your money back… and I’m sure you know that it’s all there… I have to tell you the rest.”

“Go on.”

“As tragic as it was to find out that Crystal died, I was hoping that you might consider letting me fill in for her… you know… at your party on the beach tomorrow night.”

Malcolm’s face shifted a little. He sighed and asked, “And just how do you know about that?”

“Crystal told me about it… when she thought she wasn’t going to make the appointment. It seemed very important to her not to let you down… and so, I kind of offered to fill in for her. She liked the idea.”

“Really?” Malcom looked at the curly-haired man who shook his head. He turned back and finished, “And did your great friend fill you in on the details of what was expected?”

Angela opted for the truth this time. “Not really. But I assumed it was a private dancing gig.”

Malcolm laughed. “Well… Angela… I’m afraid that Crystal did a little more than that for us. But you’re correct, the dancing was paramount.”

She felt cornered and needed to tell them anything they wanted to hear just to make it out of this box truck. You know damn well what he’s getting at. Crystal’s probably their regular whore among other things. “I assure you… I can dance as well as Crystal… and perform in other areas as well.”

This time, both men laughed.

Malcolm shook his head and said, “That won’t be necessary, Miss Darrow. I appreciate the offer to stand in for your… friend… but to put it as politely as I can, you are not what we’re looking for. Crystal is an exceptional performer and we can’t settle for anything less.”

Fuck you! First that fat fuck, Herbie… and now I have to hear it from this asshole, too!

Malcolm could see that he’d struck a nerve, and it amused him. “Of course, if you were willing to compensate in a lesser capacity to make up for your serious lapse of judgment, I would consider having you serve my guests at dinner. Perhaps you could keep their glasses full and flirt with the horny ones… you know… the usual. Let them cop the occasional feel and enjoy the eye candy.”

Angela could barely keep her anger in check. “Anything you want, Malcolm. If that would make up for this misunderstanding, I’ll gladly do it.”

Malcolm studied her face. He finally smiled and said, “And that pathetic attitude, Angela, is why Herbie has taken advantage of you for the last three years and made you nothing more than one of his pretty serving wenches. You aren’t star material… like Crystal was… and that’s why I wouldn’t let you serve my dogs at my party. I only want the best… and you are far from it.”

Angela balled her fists and looked away. Why is he trying to provoke me?

Malcolm shook his head and said, “Well… I guess I could cut you some slack tonight. The money is all there, as you said. No harm. No foul. Just answer one last question for me and I’ll be satisfied that you’ve been straight with me.”

Angela waited.

“Your good friend… Crystal… what is her real name?”

“Excuse me?”

Malcolm’s face went dark. “Her name… what is it? Surely you can answer that… since you two go way back.”

“I… I don’t know,” Angela said. “We were close… but not that close. Crystal’s a private person and she- ”

“Maria Sanchez,” Malcom interrupted. “That’s her real name.”

“Of course it is,” Angela said. “Maria… that’ s right. I knew that. I must still be feeling the effects of the drugs- ”

“That’s not her name, you stupid thieving bitch,” Malcolm said. “I just made that up. You’re not the only person that can spin stories when it’s convenient.”

“Wait… let me explain- ”

“Shut up,” Malcolm said. “You’ve wasted enough of my time with your lies.” He walked over to the curly-haired man. The man handed him a .357 Magnum.

Angela managed to get to her feet when she saw the hand cannon. She held her arms out and said, “Please… don’t do this. You’re right… I lied. I was just fired tonight and I remembered the money… and I was desperate and stupid. I should not have taken your money… and I’m really sorry.”

Malcolm turned toward her with the gun at his side. “Yes… you were very stupid. If my men hadn’t already been watching the club to see if Herbie had acquired it, and if you hadn’t walked out of there looking like the ghost of Crystal Evans, you probably would’ve made it to LA, as you had planned. We would’ve caught up to you eventually, but you would’ve had a head start.”

Angela began to cry. “Please… I’ll do anything you want. You can pass me around at your party and I’ll make everyone happy… free of charge. Just… please… don’t kill me!”

Malcolm shook his head and smiled. “You are mistaken, Angela. I’m not the one that’s out to kill you. Truth be told, most of that money was Crystal’s already, minus the twenty grand for tomorrow night. If anyone wants to kill you, I think it’s Crystal.”

“I… I don’t understand?”

“Of course you don’t,” Malcolm said. “And that’s why you’re in this fix. Let me paint the picture: You tried to take a dead woman’s hard earned cash—money that could’ve gone to whatever family she had left. But you chose to steal from the dead. First, you tried to take her spotlight, but that wasn’t good enough. But when you tried to take her savings… shame on you.”

“But she was already dead! I never would’ve taken it if I thought- ”

“You know what I think,” Malcolm started, “I think Miss Evans has managed to arrange our little meeting. Perhaps this is payback from beyond the grave. What do you think?” Malcolm lifted the gun.

“Please… I’m so very sorry for all this trouble. I’ll do anything you want.”

“But I don’t want anything from you!” Malcom said, shaking his head. “It’s Crystal that you should be apologizing to, don’t you think?”

“Yes… yes… anything you say.”

“Well, apologize to the poor girl!” Malcolm aimed the gun in her face.

Angela looked down. “I’m sorry.”

“What? You call that an apology! I could barely hear you, let alone Crystal. Louder.”

“I’m sorry!”

“Louder!”

“I’M SORRY!”

“There we go!” Malcolm said. “I think she heard that one.”

Angela looked up. “Then… then I can go?”

Malcolm smiled and said, “That’s really not up to me, Angela. You’ll have to run it by Crystal when you see her.”

Angela raised her hands to her face and started to scream.

Malcom fired three rounds into her chest.

Angela struck the ground hard and didn’t move again.

Malcolm lowered the smoking hand cannon and said, “You know, she really does look just like her. Don’t you think?”

The curly-haired man stepped up. “Yeah, Boss. She does.”

“I’m really going to miss her,” Malcolm said.

“Which one?”

Malcolm turned. “When did I start paying you to be funny?”

“Sorry, Boss. What do you want me to do with her?”

Malcolm stared at the bloody remains of Angela Darrow and said, “The only thing worse than a thief is a fucking liar.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Curly said. “Want us to set the truck on fire?”

Malcolm smiled wickedly, and said, “No. I think we should take Miss Darrow up on her offer to help us tomorrow night.”

~~~

It is early Saturday morning, beneath the midnight demon moon. It is the beginning of the end.

Angela Darrow is oblivious to the sounds of waves breaking on the shore; oblivious to the tribal drums and howling naked men and woman dancing around a large bonfire in a primal celebration and release of their animal spirits. She is unaware of the drugged and naked red-headed woman, dancing wildly around the blaze as Malcolm Hathaway gives his ceremonial speech. Angela Darrow is dead.

Malcolm’s men had put her body in a crate and placed it at the base of the large bonfire, as instructed.

She is their blood sacrifice to the gods of whatever insanity they worshiped.

Angela’s dead flesh begins to burn as the flames penetrate the wooden crate.

Gina Melborn collapses from exhaustion before the fire as the dead woman in the crate opens her eyes.

Angela is not in pain. She is not terrified to discover her skin black and bubbling over from the heat. She is hungry. Hungry for something she cannot comprehend. Angela is compelled to rise… driven by the blood. There is only the blood and nothing more.

The dead woman manages to stand inside the flames. Most of her body is charred beyond recognition. Before her eyes melt away, she sees the red-headed woman lying before the fire.

And Gina sees her.

There’s someone in the fire!

Angela tries to step out of the fire and reach the woman. She wants the woman’s flesh like she’s never wanted anything before… when she was still alive. The Blood! She must have the woman’s… BLOOD!

Someone steps up to the red-headed woman and takes her away from the fire.

Angela cannot follow… but she must… follow! Her body is too badly burned to function. Angela’s corpse collapses into the fire.

Her hunger for the blood completely consumes whatever remains within as the bonfire starts to turn her body to ash.

Miles away, in the county morgue, the unclaimed body of Crystal Evans, former star stripper, opens her dead eyes and rises to heed the call. The blood compels her to feed. The blood is all.

For the first time, Crystal Evans and Angela Darrow are the same.

They are… The Dead.

~~~

Author’s Note:

For those who don’t remember, this spin-off takes place around the time Gina Melborn meets with Malcolm Hathaway at Herbie’s club after her Friday night performance back in Chapter 2. Gina reluctantly agrees to dance at Malcolm’s late night dinner party at a private beach house in Geneva. Tony Marcuchi, the club’s bouncer and Gina’s friend, accompanies her to the dinner.

After taking some very strong unknown drugs, Gina is escorted down to the beach where there is a bonfire lit and a strange ceremony is being conducted led by Malcolm, himself. During the strange ceremony, Gina dances naked before the fire as the other house guests strip naked and pretend to be animals. From there, a wild orgy begins while Gina slowly tries to regain her senses. As she turns toward the bonfire, she sees someone standing in the center of the blaze. Later, she believes that Tony was the one she saw in the fire and that he was burned alive as some strange ritualistic sacrifice.

This story explains what really happened and uncovers the mystery of that strange sighting in the bonfire.

Be sure to check out my second spin-off tale, titled, Red Light

________________________________________________
“Playing With Fire” Copyright © 2015 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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.

traffic-lights-49703_640

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Red Light until after reading the first 12 chapters.

~~~

The woman opened her eyes and stared at the red digital display on the clock. It was 3:10am. She continued to lie still in the darkness, listening for the sound of her husband’s light snores. The silent bedroom was suffocating.

She turned over as her eyes began to adjust to the moonlight from outside. The woman could not see the shadowy lump of her husband beside her. She reached for him and felt the cool sheets instead. The woman frowned. He still had not come home yet.

Maybe he fell asleep on the couch… again. The woman sighed deeply. She had to know for sure.

The woman sluggishly got up and put on her robe. She crept downstairs and discovered that the living room showed no signs of her husband’s usual emotional detachment; the sofa was as vacant as his side of their bed.

Now she was starting to worry. The woman retrieved her cell phone and called him. There was no answer as her call was transferred to his voicemail which meant his phone was either off or his battery was dead. She considered calling the police, but felt foolish for thinking it. Surely if he’d been in some kind of accident, someone would have contacted her by now. He’d come home late before… but never this late… unless what she feared had finally come to pass.

She tossed the phone on the kitchen counter.

“And just when did you become the jealous, insecure wife?” she asked herself, feeling guilty for jumping to conclusions. Just because he hadn’t come home one time, didn’t mean he’d found someone else… unless he finally did.

The woman shook her head. “Foolish, foolish thoughts. You’re just tired. One bad fight doesn’t mean the end of the damn world,” she reminded herself.

She couldn’t even remember what it was this time. It was always the littlest sparks that started the biggest blazes these days. They’d stopped talking over a year ago, and now, they both walked on egg shells around each other, choosing to play nice and keep their relationship as… routine… as possible.

He blames me, she thought. He’ll never admit it… but I see it in his eyes.

The woman couldn’t think about that anymore. She needed some air. Perhaps a drive would help get her head on straight.

She threw on some clothes, grabbed her phone and car keys, and started for the garage. She stopped. Maybe I should leave him a note in case he comes home before I get back?

The woman shook her head and said, “Forget it. Let him worry a little for a change.” She went out to her car and drove away. She didn’t care where she went; she had to move before her mind had a chance to take her back to that familiar dwelling place where all she wanted to do was drown in a deep pool of self-loathing.

Ten minutes later, the woman stopped at a red light. The four-way intersection felt abandoned as if she were the last driver on earth. She marveled at how different the world felt at night when most people with any sense were tucked in their beds sleeping. Nearby businesses were swallowed up in shadows, becoming dull, nameless grey structures void of purpose and life. The sounds of the busy day were replaced by an ancient and unfamiliar quiet as the old world temporarily reclaimed its place, reducing Mankind’s self-important, disjointed chorus of noises to audio hauntings lingering on the edges of yesterday’s memory. The only reminder that she was still in the same civilized world was that bright neon light that commanded her to obey the rules of the day.

The light stayed red for so long that she wondered if it would ever change. She looked to her left and right and then shook her head. “This is ridiculous. I’m the only one out here.”

With a wicked little smile, the woman took her foot off the brake and decided a little late-night rebellion was just what she needed right now. She applied just enough gas to creep across the intersection.

Feeling like a naughty girl, the woman laughed at the absurdity in finding so much joy in such a minor infraction. I miss these days. It’s been so long since I took a risk at anything. Her smile quickly faded as she finished, Sometimes I think my life is as barren as-

The truck came out of nowhere, striking the rear right corner of her car, sending the vehicle into a spin. The woman covered her face with her arms and screamed as she struck a telephone pole with the driver-side of her car. Her head slammed against the window, shattering the glass.

~~~

Sirens. Red and blue lights flashing. Frantic voices. The sound of a car door being ripped open by modern machinery.

The woman opens her eyes.

“Hey, over here!” a man yells. He is close enough to hear his labored breaths. “This one’s still alive!”

Somewhere farther off: the sound of gunfire.

“What the hell is that?” someone else yells.

“Stay focused, damn it! She looks bad.”

There are hands on her now. They are carefully removing her from the crushed vehicle.

“Get her on the stretcher… ASAP!”

She is being carried out of the vehicle.

Someone begins to scream.

“Holy fuck! He’s not dead!” a new voice yells.

“What was that?” a confused paramedic asks, you can hear the fear in his cracked voice.

“I’m telling you… he’s moving!”

“Not the driver of the truck… he’s fucking dead! Get it together, man.”

“He’s attacking Hal! Bit him in the fucking neck!”

The paramedics carrying the woman place her gently on the ground.

One yells at the other, “Go help him! I’ll take care of her.”

“Fuck if I will,” the other says. “Just… just look at him! Something’s not right!”

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” someone else yells. “Get away from him!”

The two paramedics leave the woman.

People are running.

There is gunfire near the wrecked truck.

“Fuck! He’s on something! Son-of-a-bitch won’t stay down!” a police officer yells.

More gunfire.

More screams.

“Show’s fucking over!” the cop yells. “Everyone clear the area… NOW!”

Lots of running now, from all directions.

Sounds of panic.

Somehow the woman manages to get to her feet, although her head continues to bleed out.

“Miss,” a paramedic says, coming over, “Miss, are you okay? Charlie, I need some help over here!”

Charlie is long gone.

The woman stumbles toward the paramedic. Her left leg is broken, but she does not feel it. She sees the paramedic approaching and is compelled to move faster… faster… faster than she should be able to move.

He starts to reach for her, but stops. “Holy mother of God,” he whispers. He starts to back up.

The woman won’t allow it.

“Just stay the hell away from me!” the paramedic yells.

The woman opens her mouth. A sound escapes her throat; a strangled, terrifying sound that has only one meaning.

The paramedic trips.

The woman falls on top of him.

He screams.

The woman bites into his jugular vein. The warm fluid fills her mouth. She swallows again… and again…

~~~

Jacob quickly rushed his wife and one-month-old son to the SUV parked along the curb in front of their apartment building. His hands were full of whatever he could grab as he put the baby carrier down beside the rear door and searched through his pockets for the car keys.

“Please hurry,” Monica urged as she held little Tommy in her arms and continued to rock him. She looked over her shoulder and prayed that he didn’t wake up now… not while the maniacs were still running loose through their neighborhood.

“I’m doing the best I can,” Jacob said. He tried his best not to snap her head off. He was terrified. He could still hear the family from next door screaming through the paper-thin walls. He cannot shake the horrific memory. After a failed attempt to reach the police on the phone, they’d heard what sounded like several people running down the hall as something howled after them in pursuit. There had been more screams coming from outside.

“Found them,” he told her and quickly unlocked the doors. He started tossing their gear into the vehicle.

When he was finished, Monica climbed into the back seat and quickly put Tommy into the carrier that dubbed as a car seat. “Did you get everything?” she asked.

“I think so.”

She looked at him and said, “Think… Jacob. Did you grab it all or not? If it’s as bad as it sounds out here, we might not be able to stop for a while, especially after we hit the freeway.”

Jacob smacked himself on the forehead. “Fuck!”

“What?” Monica’s face changed. “Don’t tell me you forgot the formula? Damn it, Jacob! I put it right by the door! We need that!”

He nodded his head in frustration. “Don’t worry. I’ll rush back in and get it. Stay in the car and keep the doors locked.”

Monica looked afraid.

“I’ll be quick,” he reassured her. “Just stay put… I’ll be in and out.”

“Hurry,” she said.

He closed the door and waited for Monica to lock it. He gave her an unsure final glance and quickly rushed back toward their apartment.

Five long minutes later, Monica began to worry. He hadn’t come back yet.

Several people were running up and down the street now. Some were calling out for help, others were just looking for
somewhere to hide.

Monica stayed quiet until each one had passed.

Where the hell are you, Jacob?

Baby Tommy began to stir in his seat. He was hungry.

“Oh, no,” Monica whispered, trying to keep Tommy calm. “Not now… please… not now.”

Something struck the rear of the SUV.

Monica jumped and let out a startled scream. She covered her mouth and shook her head. Too late, Tommy began to cry.

Someone came out from around the back of the vehicle, attracted by Tommy’s cries, as a shadow leaned up against the SUV for support and began to move toward the passenger door.

“Shh… be quiet, honey,” Monica whispered. She picked him up out of the car seat and began rocking him again as she moved toward the opposite side of the car. She watched the figure come into view. It appeared to be a woman who had been severely hurt, judging by the amount of blood on her face and the front of her blouse.

Oh, please, God… just let her go away… please!

Tommy let out a loud cry.

The bloody woman stopped before the rear door window and pressed her face to the glass.

“Just… just go away! I can’t help you… I’m sorry!” Monica shouted through tears.

There was something wrong with the bloody woman’s face; she seemed more animal than human. Monica screamed as the woman started banging her hands on the glass. The woman let loose a terrifying moan that made the hair on Monica’s arms stand up. “Just go away!”

Tommy reacted to her mother’s shouts and began to wail.

The bloody woman at the window stopped as she heard the infant’s cries.

For a moment, Monica swore she saw recognition in that savage woman’s face… perhaps even sadness or longing. She was clearly staring at her son. To Monica, the bloody woman might have been someone’s mother by the way her eyes lingered, as if the child had revived some sense of peace within her.

And then all recognition was gone as the bloody woman began to attack the window again with much more ferocity. Sadness and longing were replaced by mindless hunger as it pounded on the window so hard that it shattered.

Monica screamed as she tried to shield her baby with her body.

And then the bloody woman fell limp to the ground as someone struck it with a shovel from behind. The blow to the skull had penetrated the bloody woman’s brain.

Jacob peered through the broken window. “Oh, God… I’m so sorry. Are… are you okay? Is the baby alright?”

Monica was in tears. All she could do was nod as she tried to calm her son.

Jacob opened the door and placed the bag containing the formula on the vacant seat. He was sweating, out of breath and pale.

“What’s happened?” Monica asked.

Jacob gave her a terrified look. “The whole town’s gone insane. People are killing each other… all over. One of them almost got me inside.”

“Let’s… let’s just go, okay?” Monica pleaded.

Jacob nodded as he closed the rear door and ran around to the driver side. He got in and slapped his forehead again.

“What? What now?” Monica asked.

“My phone… I’ve lost my fucking phone! Must have dropped it when I ran. Do you have yours?”

Monica sadly shook her head. “It was still in he charger when everything went… crazy.”

Jacob’s face lit up. “Hold on. Be right back,” he said as he exited the vehicle.

“Don’t you dare leave us again!”

He went around the front of the vehicle and cautiously approached the corpse of the bloody woman. He covered his mouth to keep from vomiting as he quickly turned her over and searched the woman’s clothes. “Got it!”

“Got what? Damn it… get your ass in here!”

Jacob climbed back into the driver seat and held up the bloody woman’s cell phone. “We’re okay… she had one.”

“Is she… dead?” Monica asked.

Jacob’s silence was answer enough. He started the SUV, took a deep breath, and then slowly drove away.

Feeling better, now that the vehicle was moving, Monica placed Tommy back in his seat. The motion of the vehicle put him to sleep immediately. She climbed into the front passenger seat.

She looked into Jacob’s face and saw her own fear mirrored there.

“What’s happening, Jacob?”

He shook his head. “We need to… we need to get as far from here as possible.”

“Maybe we should just drive to the police station,” Monica suggested.

“Not far enough,” he quickly said. “I’m going to get to the Interstate and just keep going… for a little while.”

She had no objections.

He handed her the phone. “See if you can reach anyone.”

“I’ll call my mother.”

“That’s a good idea. Tell her we’re coming for a visit.”

Monica tried to call her mother in Pennsylvania. There was no answer. She was about to try again when she pulled up the bloody woman’s home page. There was a contacts icon. She had to know.

“What’s the matter?” Jacob asked, noticing his wife’s tears.

“There’s no answer.”

“Just keep trying.”

“Claudette Eddington.”

“What was that?” Jacob asked.

“That is… was her name… the woman who just died.”

Jacob frowned and nodded.

They sat silently for a few minutes as the world they knew quickly started falling apart around them. Distracted by so much uncertainty and fear, neither one of them noticed as Jacob blew through the first intersection, completely oblivious to the red light.

~~~

Author’s Note:

There are so many uncertainties in this strange new and savage world that our survivors were thrown into. Due to the nature of their survival and staying in motion to remain alive, there hasn’t been much opportunity to write about the fate of loved ones back home. This story afforded me an opportunity to show what happened to Stephen Eddington’s wife, Claudette, that first long night of hell and to show what might happen if someone died shortly before The Change occurred. And although we now know the fate of this poor woman, perhaps Stephen is better off not knowing.

For those that don’t remember, this spin-off takes place around the time Stephen Eddington is attacked at the school back in Chapter 3. After cheating on his wife with Marie “Nicole” Howard, Stephen chooses to spend the night in his classroom, believing it to be the end of his marriage and his career. Claudette’s story picks up on the other side of that long night.

________________________________________________
“Red Light” Copyright © 2015 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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.

Playing With Fire

~~~

***SPOILER ALERT***
This is just a reminder for anyone currently reading Don’t Feed The Dark that these spin-off stories branch off directly from the main story line and will jump around all over the place, revealing revelations out of normal sequence. I highly recommend skipping this read of Playing With Fire until after reading the first 16 chapters.

~~~

Angela Darrow absolutely despised her job at Herbie’s House of Ladies—but it still paid the bills (barely). She’d been working the weekday grind as a topless waitress for the last three years and she was fed up with Herbie’s bullshit.

Angela had been promised a weekend spot up on the stage after she’d paid her dues. But short of sucking off the boss on his lunch breaks, which she was certain all those other whores had done to get their chance, Angela had suffered through everything else she was asked to do.

She was originally hired on to dance. Herbie had interviewed her and said that she wasn’t ready for his stage. If her finances weren’t the mess they were then, Angela would’ve told that fat fuck off and stormed out. But instead, she’d swallowed her pride. A girl’s gotta work.

Tuesday nights were dead as usual—which meant, shit for tips. She made her circuit around the stale smoke-filled room, clearing tables of half-spilled drinks while batting her eyes and flashing her plastered on smile at the drunk pervs who gawked at her dangling boobs, which she kept just out of reach of their groping claws. Angela knew who her regulars were, and more importantly, which ones shared from generous wallets. At first, she’d scored pretty well working the tables and soliciting lap dances, but now, she was just old news—yesterday’s flavor that had gone stale in the eyes of those greedy monsters who got tired of being turned down for sex after the private dances weren’t enough.

Competition on the floor was fierce and there were always sluts who were willing to bend the rules and let the patrons touch where they weren’t supposed to… or allowed them to do other despicable things. But Angela refused to play the game, and as a result, she was branded a ‘tease’. And that meant her tips got smaller and smaller as her regulars diminished, reducing her to the half-naked waitress that kept the drinks flowing as she allowed the occasional ass grab in the hopes of landing better tips. It didn’t take her long to become invisible… and pathetic.

And then it finally happened. Last night, Angela, desperate for money to pay the rent, had been offered five-hundred dollars to let her last lap dance of the evening go beyond the boundaries she’d set. She could still feel that old man’s tongue all over flesh… and where he’d placed the first two fingers of his left hand.

After Monday evening’s late-night shower of shame, she had decided to quit after her Tuesday shift.

What happens next time someone flashes a thousand dollars in my face? She’d reasoned. How far will I let it go next time? She didn’t want to be around to found out.

Before she had an opportunity to put in her notice, Herbie had asked to see her.

She walked over to his office, feeling her sore ankles scream out against the ridiculously high heels she was forced to wear. He’s probably going to bitch again about how I’m not making his precious patrons happy enough. Well… tough shit! She took a deep breath and entered Herbie’s office.

Howard Bledsoe (a.k.a. Herbie) sat behind his cluttered desk and leaned back in his large leather recliner. He was an overweight bald man with four chins and an annoying bellow-of-a-laugh. Behind his back, many of the girls called him Jabba-The-Hutt. On the surface, Herbie seemed like an easy-going guy with a healthy sense of humor. But the girls knew better. Howard Bledsoe was a mean and arrogant pig who considered himself an artist, using skin for paint and the stage as his canvas.

When Angela entered, Herbie rose and said, “Damn… you look just like her. You two could be sisters.”

“Sisters?” Angela asked confused. She was too tired to fake patience; too tired to care. “What’s this about?” she asked.

Herbie smiled and motioned to a small chair in front of his desk. “Please, sit.”

Angela did… and it felt good.

“Do you know who Crystal Evans is?” he asked, sitting back down.

Yeah… that’s your favorite Thursday night whore. She dances like shit, her tits sag, and she wears more make-up than a corpse, she thought. “That’s your Thursday night dancer… right?” Angela decided to play coy.

“That’s right,” Herbie said. “Anyway, Crystal’s got some… personal issues… to work out. Frankly, I don’t give a shit, but she’s left me in a jam. Thursdays are becoming a money-maker lately. I think it’s because of Crystal… but don’t tell her that.” Herbie winked and laughed.

Angela wanted to take off her left heel and shove it in his big, fat mouth.

“Anyway… I need a dancer for Thursday night. Are you interested?”

Angela was shocked. “You mean, up on the stage… in Crystal’s spot?”

Herbie gave her a strange look. “Yeah… what else would I mean?”

Angela shrugged her shoulders.

“Anyway… I can get you off the floor for a couple shifts and let you have your chance Thursday night… if you still want it.”

“Of course I do,” Angela said.

“Good!” Herbie said, rising to his feet. “You’ll have to come in early for a dress rehearsal tomorrow and let the make-up gurus doll you up… but I believe you’ll pass for Crystal… easily.”

Angela’s face changed. “Wait… you want me to dance… but pretend I’m Crystal?”

“I know… I know… you won’t be able to ‘perform’ like she does, but hell… you look a lot like her. After enough drinks, none of them will notice anyway. Hopefully Crystal will be ready to come back next week.”

“You call that a chance?” Angela was pissed. “I’ve been here three years and when I finally get to prove what I can do up there, you want me to be somebody else? That sucks!”

Herbie sighed. “Look… I’m doing you a favor here. You certainly can’t fill Crystal’s shoes. All I’m asking you to do is dance a bit, shake your ass, flash your tits and fake it. The special-effects will take care of the rest. You’ll make a lot of money if you pull this ‘performance’ off… and that’s what we do here. So what’s the problem ?”

“The ‘problem’ is, I’m not her!

Herbie’s face was turning red. “Look! I’m giving you a chance, a chance you certainly don’t deserve! I expected a little gratitude after all the complaints I’ve received about your poor service down on the floor. I’ve tried to overlook it, believing that you might come around eventually. But honestly, I’m starting to doubt that you’ll ever get with the program.”

“And what program is that?” Angela asked. “I’ve put up with all those jerks touching me and propositioning me for three-fucking-years! I’ve seen what your other girls do, and if that’s what you call ‘getting with the program’, than you’ve mistaken me for something I’m not! I’m a dancer, not your fucking whore!” She immediately thought of Monday night, and wanted to vomit.

Herbie lifted his hands. “All right… just calm down! No need to take it all so personally. It’s just a part of the business that you obviously don’t understand. Look, I’ll be frank with you. Crystal’s got some serious medical issues and she might not be coming back. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I need a quick fix for Thursday night while I consider my options. If you can pull off pretending to be Crystal, I might be persuaded to give you her spot… depending on how well you perform.”

“You promise? Because… I really don’t think I can work the floor anymore.”

“Yes… I promise.” Herbie lied. “We just need some time to wean the Thursday night crowd off that bitch and then we’ll have time to introduce you properly… with all the proper theatrics. I can see it now… Angel Darrow. It’s got a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”

Angela smiled. “Yes… I do. ‘Angel Darrow’… I like that.”

“Then you’ll be my Crystal Evans… for now?”

Angela nodded. “For now.”

Herbie smiled. “Good… good! When you come in tomorrow night, I’ll pay you your usual floor wages, but instead of working the floor, I want you to come in early and wait in Crystal’s room for the makeup guys to arrive. They’ll doll you up and walk you through Crystal’s routine.”

“If I’m going to be your ‘Crystal’ shouldn’t I get her wages for Wednesday and Thursday?” Angela folded her arms.

Herbie laughed. “Alright… I’ll pay you for the rehearsal, too. But you better not be wasting my time. I need a stellar performance out of you so take advantage of the rehearsal to get her number right. You have seen Crystal dance before?”

Oh, I’ve seen your talentless whores dance every Monday through Thursday for the last three years. Angela smiled and answered, “Yes, I’m familiar with Crystal’s routine… I won’t have any problems emulating her… performance.”

“Now that’s what I want to hear. Confidence is the key. After we put you in makeup and wardrobe, I’ll have a video of Crystal’s routine sent over for you to study. Take the rest of the evening to get it down in sync with the special-effects. Timing is everything. Remember, you need to become Crystal, so work on the details.”

“Got it,” Angela said, getting irritated, but trying to bite her tongue. This asshole’s already forgotten that I was a dancer before he made me his bar bitch.

Herbie gave her a stern look and finished, “Remember, I’m not paying you to go up there and dance, Angela… I’m paying you to perform… as Crystal Evans. That’s who people are paying to see on Thursday night. Are we clear on this?”

“Crystal.”

~~~

On Wednesday, Angela arrived to work early and was met by four of Herbie’s stylists. They quickly rushed her back to Crystal Evan’s dressing room (all the star whores had their own) and within four painful hours, they had created Miss Evan’s clone. After they were all satisfied, the stylists departed, leaving Angela the promised recording of one of Crystal’s performances.

Finally given a moment alone, Angela stood up and looked into the large vanity mirror and was stunned at how well Herbie’s stylists had done their job.

Holy shit! I do look just like that bitch!

She wore one of Crystal’s skimpy sequin-slaughtered outfits that needed no stretch of the imagination to deduce what it barely covered. Her once long brown straight hair, now permed with so many curls, flowed down her shoulders like erratic rivers. Her pale skin had been remedied with a fake-tan solution that made her appear like she’d spent the afternoon in a tanning booth. They even put vibrant blue contacts in her eyes to hide her dull brown ones.

After marveling at the stylists’ recreation, Angela said, “Could be worse. At least you’re not pretending to be Friday night’s girl with all that fucking body paint. You’d be sitting in front of the stylists for another four hours while they dyed your hair red and drew pictures all over your tits.” She sat down in front of a small television, placed the DVD of Crystal’s performance in the player, and started watching.

“They nailed it,” she said, studying Crystal’s appearance. “We are the same height, build… add in the low lights and the special-effects, no one will be able to tell the difference.” After five minutes of watching Crystal’s mediocre dancing, she turned off the TV and walked over to Crystal’s locker. “How the hell am I going to mimic that massacre of a performance?” She started removing the tight outfit, wanting desperately to get back into her own clothes. “It’s bad choreography for one thing… and that bitch barely pulls it off…”

Angela stopped when she noticed a leather satchel sitting at the bottom of the locker. “What’s this, Crystal?” She knelt down to inspect the satchel. She hesitated for a moment, feeling like she was invading Crystal’s privacy. “Well, if I’m going to be You then that means I get to know all your secrets.” She started opening the satchel. “I’m going to laugh my ass off if I find a copy of How To Dance For Dummies.

What Angela found in the satchel made her gasp. The bag was loaded with bundles of one-hundred dollar bills. “Holy shit, Crystal! Ever heard of a bank?”

A little voice inside her head tried to warn her away from the money—a voice that screamed, That much money lying around in the bottom of a stripper’s locker can’t be legal. Forget about, Angela.

But she had to know. Angela got up and made sure the door was locked before returning to the money. By the time she was done, she’d counted a hundred grand.

“Fucking Herbie must have been paying you under the table for a good long while to come up with that much scratch.”

But she suspected there was more to it than that. She looked inside the satchel again and found a letter at the very bottom of the bag. Angela was beyond caution now as she opened the letter:

~~~

Miss Evans,

Here is the agreed upon award for your services for the year, and for going above and beyond to satisfy
our clientele. Your work has been exceptional and we hope that this token of our appreciation continues
to guarantee your participation in the months ahead.

Included is your retainer of twenty-thousand in advance for our upcoming dinner party at the usual
locale, on Friday, October 2nd. There will be a moonlight ceremony on the beach. We’ll send someone
to pick you up at the usual time and place.

We are looking forward to seeing you again,
Malcolm

~~~

Angela dropped the letter back into the bag and quickly replaced the money. That’s this Friday. You don’t want anything to do with this whore’s illegal activities. Crystal’s playing with fire. I bet Herbie doesn’t know what one of his star girls is doing on the side. Angela considered this and smiled. One way or the other, she was going to secure her spot on the stage. If Herbie didn’t follow through on his promise, she could expose Crystal’s activities. It felt damn good to have leverage.

She stepped back in front of the mirror and said, “And as for Your shitty performances on the stage, you high-priced whore, I think I’ll do you a favor and show you how a professional dancer performs. You can thank me later. I may look like you tomorrow night… but I’ll be dancing like Angel-Fucking-Darrow, bitch!”

~~~

On Thursday night, Angela Darrow took the stage as Crystal Evans… and she blew their fucking minds. None of Crystal’s regulars had ever seen their star stripper dance so provocatively. She had them under her spell and emptying out their wallets faster than they spent their usual loads from beneath the tables. Angela made two encore appearances before the night was finished. She had everyone fooled. Not even her coworkers on the floor recognized her as they were too busy filling up empty glasses and getting annoyed that all eyes were on the stage.

After a much earned rest, Angela retreated to Crystal’s dressing room and waited long enough for the crowd to thin out. She sat back in her chair, relishing the apologetic look on Herbie’s face when he realized how wrong he’d been for placing her down on the floor instead of up on the stage where she belonged.

Finally… no more working for scraps down with the dogs. After tonight, I’m going to get what’s coming to me. She looked at her reflection—at the artificial Crystal Evans staring back at her—and said, “And fuck you, too! You never looked as good as I made you look tonight.” Angela got up and exited the dressing room.

When she was just outside Herbie’s office, she stopped before his open door when she heard the boss yelling at someone on the phone.

“I don’t give a shit what time it is! Make the arrangements… tonight! I don’t care who you pick but give him a name because he’ll be here tomorrow night to seal the deal!”

Angela waited just out of sight, not wanting to enter his office while Herbie was so upset. She couldn’t help overhearing the conversation.

Herbie continued, “Yes… I know… it’s not your fault… it happened just a few hours ago… but that changes nothing, you fucking idiot! They said it was massive heart failure… I don’t know what causes that… do I look like a fucking doctor? Fact remains… Crystal Evans is dead and there’s not a fucking thing we can do about that, so get another girl lined up.”

Angela’s heart skipped a beat. Crystal’s dead? Holy shit! Things just keep getting better for me. She felt bad for the thought as soon as she thought it… but not that bad. Here’s my chance! They’ll need a replacement for Crystal… and after the night I just gave them… I’m the obvious replacement! Just keep it together… don’t seem too anxious… make that fat fuck practically beg you to stay! You have him exactly where you want him.

“Alright… do it,” Herbie was finishing. “If she says no… well… we’ll have to find him another in a big fucking hurry. We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. Look, just get it done! I’ve gotta go.” Herbie slammed the phone on the receiver.

Okay… stay calm… but firm. You walk in there like you own the fucking place, but stay respectful. Angela took a deep breath and entered Herbie’s office.

Herbie looked up, surprised, and then scowled at her. “What do you want?”

Angela immediately lost her cool. “I… I mean… I figured we could talk… after tonight.”

“Talk about what?” Herbie sat down and started rifling through a stack of paperwork on his desk.

Angela looked confused. So much for gratitude. Stick to your guns, girl. Angela stepped forward, folded her arms and said, “Let’s talk about my performance. I believe you owe me an apology.”

Herbie looked up in disbelief and laughed. “Apology? Are you fucking kidding me! After that piss-poor performance… all I asked you to do was one… fucking… thing: Be Crystal Evans! And you fucked that all up.”

“But… the crowd loved it! They loved me!

Herbie waved a dismissive hand in her face. “I’ve got more important things to think about right now. Get out of here.”

“Excuse me?”

“Pack your fucking shit and go! You’re fired!”

~~~

Angela returned to Crystal’s dressing room and collapsed in the closest chair. She was too much in shock to feel outraged or break down into tears.

What the hell do I do now?

She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, at the make-up smeared face of the dead woman who seemed to mock her, and hissed, “This is all your fault! I don’t deserve to be treated like this! He just used me and tossed me out like a piece of fucking garbage! And all because I couldn’t bring myself to dance as horribly as you!

Angela couldn’t look in the mirror any longer. She turned away and stopped when she saw Crystal’s locker. She immediately thought about the money… and about the dead woman who no longer needed it.

“There’s no good that can come out of what you’re thinking, girl,” she reminded herself.

And then she had a dark thought: You could take the money and no one would ever find out. There’s enough green in that bag to get the hell out of town and start over.

Angela stood up and shook her head. “Just forget about it.”

But she couldn’t.

If you don’t take it, Herbie’s going to find it when they clear out the room. And you better believe he’ll make that money disappear!

Angela turned back toward the locker. “Fuck that!” She grabbed the bag, her few belongings, and quickly exited the dressing room before she had second thoughts.

She rushed across the parking lot to her car. Angela opened the trunk, tossed the bag in, and then closed it. Too late to turn around now, she thought, getting into her car and starting the engine. She was already thinking about the airport. Fuck it all… fuck everything! Just one more night to pack a couple of bags and get some sleep and then we head to the west coast and far from this fucking place… no looking back! She sped out of the parking lot, already spending the money in her mind as she pictured herself lying on a white sand beach with palm trees.

~~~

Angela took one look around her claustrophobic dump of an apartment. She shook her head in disgust at the piles of whorish clothes littered around her living room. A small arsenal of bras lay scattered about like discarded slingshots after another indecisive war had been waged on how best to package her weapons of seduction. Last night’s microwave mac n’ cheese dinner sat collecting mold next to an ash tray with a partially smoked joint and a cheap wine glass holding even cheaper wine on a cluttered coffee table. A small television (no cable, of course) sat waiting for her to resume her position on the trash-infested couch where she could once again drink herself to sleep while watching whatever mind-numbing shows were available on the few channels that got the best reception. The longer she looked around, the more pathetic she felt. And this is my life. My God, how long have I been slowly rotting away like this? It’s amazing how much clarity a hundred grand buys.

Angela called the airlines and booked the first available flight to Los Angeles in the morning. She decided to pack light—fuck the rest.

Angela went into her bedroom, pulled out a suitcase from a small closet and tossed it onto her unmade bed. She started back toward the living room to pour herself a glass of cheap wine. Pack now… then strip off the Crystal costume and take a long hot shower. After that, sleep like the dead for a few hours and then go catch my flight. After I get to LA, I’ll lay low for a while and spend only what I need to get started. I’ll find another job and keep the rest of the money hidden in a safe place.

As she entered the living room, she was startled by a very large man in a suit with curly blond hair standing in front of her television. “Miss Evans?” the man asked.

Before Angela could cry out, someone else grabbed her from behind and covered her mouth and nose with a damp cloth.

The sweet-tasting liquid worked fast as Angela’s world went dark.

~~~

She heard the sound of a car engine running as Angela opened her eyes and was greeted by a massive headache. As her disorientation lifted, she looked around and discovered that she was lying on the floor of what appeared to be an empty box truck. The big curly-haired man in the suit was watching her near the back of the truck. He appeared bored out of his mind.

“Where… where am I?” Angela asked.

The big man ignored her and yelled out the back of the truck. “Boss, she’s awake.”

Angela tried to get up but she felt dizzy and weak. She managed to get to her knees as a small man with slick-brown hair tied back in a ponytail climbed up into the truck.

The man with dark eyes, a hawkish nose and a clever smile absently brushed dust off his expensive suit. He walked toward Angela with his hands in his pockets as he studied the stripper with partial amusement and annoyance painted on his face. “Good evening,” he said.

“What have you done to me?” Angela asked. “I feel like a truck ran me over.”

The man seemed amused by her response. “I apologize for the rough treatment, but under the circumstances, I thought it prudent to meet with you without delay so we might get to the bottom of this… unpleasant situation. My name is Malcolm Hathaway. And you are certainly not Crystal Evans.” He knelt down and finished, “I am very curious to understand how a woman who looks like another woman that died a short time ago, ends up racing out of a club with my money. You are Angela Darrow, are you not?”

Angela’s face went pale. “Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, but this is not what it looks like,” she lied.

Malcom laughed. “And what does it look like, Angela? Because it appears that either Crystal faked her own death , or, someone posing as Crystal decided to sneak away with something that didn’t belong to her.”

Angela started to sweat. “I… I wasn’t trying to steal your money. I’d just heard that Crystal died. She told me about the money when I was hired to fill in for her and she instructed me to keep it safe since she was stuck in the hospital. I was planning on returning it for her.”

Malcolm raised his eyebrows. “Wow. You must really be a good friend. It’s not every day someone entrusts a hundred grand to just anyone. I assume that you and Crystal go way back, yes?”

Angela smiled. “Exactly. That’s why she told me about the money. As you can see… she even trusted me to perform in her absence. That’s why I look like her right now. I’m sorry about the confusion.”

“I see,” Malcom said, getting up. “Excuse me a moment.”

Oh, please, please, please, God… get me out of this and I’ll never touch another cent that doesn’t belong to me!

Malcolm walked over to the curly-haired man and started talking out of ear shot.

He’s not convinced, she thought. Come on, Angela, talk your way out of this before it gets any worse. And then she had a desperate thought.

“Excuse me, Malcolm,” she said.

Malcolm came back over.

“Now that you have your money back… and I’m sure you know that it’s all there… I have to tell you the rest.”

“Go on.”

“As tragic as it was to find out that Crystal died, I was hoping that you might consider letting me fill in for her… you know… at your party on the beach tomorrow night.”

Malcolm’s face shifted a little. He sighed and asked, “And just how do you know about that?”

“Crystal told me about it… when she thought she wasn’t going to make the appointment. It seemed very important to her not to let you down… and so, I kind of offered to fill in for her. She liked the idea.”

“Really?” Malcom looked at the curly-haired man who shook his head. He turned back and finished, “And did your great friend fill you in on the details of what was expected?”

Angela opted for the truth this time. “Not really. But I assumed it was a private dancing gig.”

Malcolm laughed. “Well… Angela… I’m afraid that Crystal did a little more than that for us. But you’re correct, the dancing was paramount.”

She felt cornered and needed to tell them anything they wanted to hear just to make it out of this box truck. You know damn well what he’s getting at. Crystal’s probably their regular whore among other things. “I assure you… I can dance as well as Crystal… and perform in other areas as well.”

This time, both men laughed.

Malcolm shook his head and said, “That won’t be necessary, Miss Darrow. I appreciate the offer to stand in for your… friend… but to put it as politely as I can, you are not what we’re looking for. Crystal is an exceptional performer and we can’t settle for anything less.”

Fuck you! First that fat fuck, Herbie… and now I have to hear it from this asshole, too!

Malcolm could see that he’d struck a nerve, and it amused him. “Of course, if you were willing to compensate in a lesser capacity to make up for your serious lapse of judgment, I would consider having you serve my guests at dinner. Perhaps you could keep their glasses full and flirt with the horny ones… you know… the usual. Let them cop the occasional feel and enjoy the eye candy.”

Angela could barely keep her anger in check. “Anything you want, Malcolm. If that would make up for this misunderstanding, I’ll gladly do it.”

Malcolm studied her face. He finally smiled and said, “And that pathetic attitude, Angela, is why Herbie has taken advantage of you for the last three years and made you nothing more than one of his pretty serving wenches. You aren’t star material… like Crystal was… and that’s why I wouldn’t let you serve my dogs at my party. I only want the best… and you are far from it.”

Angela balled her fists and looked away. Why is he trying to provoke me?

Malcolm shook his head and said, “Well… I guess I could cut you some slack tonight. The money is all there, as you said. No harm. No foul. Just answer one last question for me and I’ll be satisfied that you’ve been straight with me.”

Angela waited.

“Your good friend… Crystal… what is her real name?”

“Excuse me?”

Malcolm’s face went dark. “Her name… what is it? Surely you can answer that… since you two go way back.”

“I… I don’t know,” Angela said. “We were close… but not that close. Crystal’s a private person and she- ”

“Maria Sanchez,” Malcom interrupted. “That’s her real name.”

“Of course it is,” Angela said. “Maria… that’ s right. I knew that. I must still be feeling the effects of the drugs- ”

“That’s not her name, you stupid thieving bitch,” Malcolm said. “I just made that up. You’re not the only person that can spin stories when it’s convenient.”

“Wait… let me explain- ”

“Shut up,” Malcolm said. “You’ve wasted enough of my time with your lies.” He walked over to the curly-haired man. The man handed him a .357 Magnum.

Angela managed to get to her feet when she saw the hand cannon. She held her arms out and said, “Please… don’t do this. You’re right… I lied. I was just fired tonight and I remembered the money… and I was desperate and stupid. I should not have taken your money… and I’m really sorry.”

Malcolm turned toward her with the gun at his side. “Yes… you were very stupid. If my men hadn’t already been watching the club to see if Herbie had acquired it, and if you hadn’t walked out of there looking like the ghost of Crystal Evans, you probably would’ve made it to LA, as you had planned. We would’ve caught up to you eventually, but you would’ve had a head start.”

Angela began to cry. “Please… I’ll do anything you want. You can pass me around at your party and I’ll make everyone happy… free of charge. Just… please… don’t kill me!”

Malcolm shook his head and smiled. “You are mistaken, Angela. I’m not the one that’s out to kill you. Truth be told, most of that money was Crystal’s already, minus the twenty grand for tomorrow night. If anyone wants to kill you, I think it’s Crystal.”

“I… I don’t understand?”

“Of course you don’t,” Malcolm said. “And that’s why you’re in this fix. Let me paint the picture: You tried to take a dead woman’s hard earned cash—money that could’ve gone to whatever family she had left. But you chose to steal from the dead. First, you tried to take her spotlight, but that wasn’t good enough. But when you tried to take her savings… shame on you.”

“But she was already dead! I never would’ve taken it if I thought- ”

“You know what I think,” Malcolm started, “I think Miss Evans has managed to arrange our little meeting. Perhaps this is payback from beyond the grave. What do you think?” Malcolm lifted the gun.

“Please… I’m so very sorry for all this trouble. I’ll do anything you want.”

“But I don’t want anything from you!” Malcom said, shaking his head. “It’s Crystal that you should be apologizing to, don’t you think?”

“Yes… yes… anything you say.”

“Well, apologize to the poor girl!” Malcolm aimed the gun in her face.

Angela looked down. “I’m sorry.”

“What? You call that an apology! I could barely hear you, let alone Crystal. Louder.”

“I’m sorry!”

“Louder!”

“I’M SORRY!”

“There we go!” Malcolm said. “I think she heard that one.”

Angela looked up. “Then… then I can go?”

Malcolm smiled and said, “That’s really not up to me, Angela. You’ll have to run it by Crystal when you see her.”

Angela raised her hands to her face and started to scream.

Malcom fired three rounds into her chest.

Angela struck the ground hard and didn’t move again.

Malcolm lowered the smoking hand cannon and said, “You know, she really does look just like her. Don’t you think?”

The curly-haired man stepped up. “Yeah, Boss. She does.”

“I’m really going to miss her,” Malcolm said.

“Which one?”

Malcolm turned. “When did I start paying you to be funny?”

“Sorry, Boss. What do you want me to do with her?”

Malcolm stared at the bloody remains of Angela Darrow and said, “The only thing worse than a thief is a fucking liar.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Curly said. “Want us to set the truck on fire?”

Malcolm smiled wickedly, and said, “No. I think we should take Miss Darrow up on her offer to help us tomorrow night.”

~~~

It is early Saturday morning, beneath the midnight demon moon. It is the beginning of the end.

Angela Darrow is oblivious to the sounds of waves breaking on the shore; oblivious to the tribal drums and howling naked men and woman dancing around a large bonfire in a primal celebration and release of their animal spirits. She is unaware of the drugged and naked red-headed woman, dancing wildly around the blaze as Malcolm Hathaway gives his ceremonial speech. Angela Darrow is dead.

Malcolm’s men had put her body in a crate and placed it at the base of the large bonfire, as instructed.

She is their blood sacrifice to the gods of whatever insanity they worshiped.

Angela’s dead flesh begins to burn as the flames penetrate the wooden crate.

Gina Melborn collapses from exhaustion before the fire as the dead woman in the crate opens her eyes.

Angela is not in pain. She is not terrified to discover her skin black and bubbling over from the heat. She is hungry. Hungry for something she cannot comprehend. Angela is compelled to rise… driven by the blood. There is only the blood and nothing more.

The dead woman manages to stand inside the flames. Most of her body is charred beyond recognition. Before her eyes melt away, she sees the red-headed woman lying before the fire.

And Gina sees her.

There’s someone in the fire!

Angela tries to step out of the fire and reach the woman. She wants the woman’s flesh like she’s never wanted anything before… when she was still alive. The Blood! She must have the woman’s… BLOOD!

Someone steps up to the red-headed woman and takes her away from the fire.

Angela cannot follow… but she must… follow! Her body is too badly burned to function. Angela’s corpse collapses into the fire.

Her hunger for the blood completely consumes whatever remains within as the bonfire starts to turn her body to ash.

Miles away, in the county morgue, the unclaimed body of Crystal Evans, former star stripper, opens her dead eyes and rises to heed the call. The blood compels her to feed. The blood is all.

For the first time, Crystal Evans and Angela Darrow are the same.

They are… The Dead.

~~~

Author’s Note:

For those that don’t remember, this spin-off takes place around the time Gina Melborn meets with Malcolm Hathaway at Herbie’s club after her Friday night performance back in Chapter 2. Gina reluctantly agrees to dance at Malcolm’s late night dinner party at a private beach house in Geneva. Tony Marcuchi, the club’s bouncer and Gina’s friend, accompanies her to the dinner.

After taking some very strong unknown drugs, Gina is escorted down to the beach where there is a bonfire lit and a strange ceremony is being conducted led by Malcolm, himself. During the strange ceremony, Gina dances naked before the fire as the other house guests strip naked and pretend to be animals. From there, a wild orgy begins while Gina slowly tries to regain her senses. As she turns toward the bonfire, she sees someone standing in the center of the blaze. Later, she believes that Tony was the one she saw in the fire and that he was burned alive as some strange ritualistic sacrifice.

This story explains what really happened and uncovers the mystery of that strange sighting in the bonfire.

________________________________________________
“Playing With Fire” Copyright © 2015 Scott Scherr. A spin-off short story from the Novel “Don’t Feed The Dark” Copyright © 2014 Scott Scherr.

No part of this short story 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.