Chapter 26 – Zack – Iteration 144
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“Quebec! Get down!” His warning came just in time. Quebec threw herself back just as Erik fired. The shot missed.

Quebec rushed forward once more, cradling her gun with an insane intensity. What is she doing here? She can't expect to win against all five of them. The answer was obvious. She thinks I'm Hess. She will do anything to save me.

“Get out of here!” he shouted. “Quebec, leave!”

Erik fired. Quebec swore and shifted her weight off of one leg. She hobbled forward, hands steady on her weapon. From the house, Bridgette emerged with Drake at her side. Both of them were armed.

No. Zack struggled against his bonds. No. All around, the shadows began to grow. No! Helpless rage and frustration boiled higher. This was his fault. He landed on the national news. He returned to his trailer. He told Quebec where the farm was. He gave her a reason to come here. Anything that happened to her would be his fault.

The shadows pooled together, emerging from the corners of the barn and from beneath objects to coalesce into the darkness. “Go away, Quebec! Run!” His throat burned from the force of his shout.

Drake shot at Quebec, hitting her in the side. Erik squeezed off another shot, striking the gun from Quebec's hands, leaving her defenseless, enemies on all sides. No! The darkness boiled, climbing the walls, consuming the ceiling, dripping over everything.

He stopped breathing. In broad daylight, the darkness rose up to claim Zack. It surrounded him, strangling him with the numb terror that lurked wherever light wasn’t.

Zack struggled to escape, to return to the light. He knew it still shone somewhere. Not again! The voice thundered in his mind. On its echoes came another. I don’t want to live!

Zack silenced the voices. He could sense the light out there, knew the way back existed if only he could find it. He had to escape the darkness, leave it behind and forget it ever existed. Return to the state of least pain.

The darkness boiled about him. Zack pushed back at it, forcing everything to stop. He remembered how he had done it before. How he could do it again. Make it all go away. Forget everything.

The force of his will pushed at the darkness, forcing it to the corners of his mind. The darkness fought back, struggling to resist its banishment. How could you forget me? Her voice rose from the depths and struck him. His struggle ceased, the darkness and his terror abandoning their battle as one, leaving a sudden peace in their wake.

She needs me. Things stirred within the depths, eager to rise. Zack knew part of what was there. A night stretching to infinity, filled with terror and self-hatred. But there was more. So much more. I have to. She needs me.

Zack embraced the darkness.