Mary walked along the neatly trimmed graves with a bouquet of dark purple irises in her hands. She brought them whenever she came. Gran had told her a long time ago that they were her mother’s favorite. Her father didn’t have a favorite flower, but Gran had assured her that he would like them just as much as her mom.
There wasn’t any special reason for the trip to the cemetery today, at least not one Mary knew. Gran would just sometimes decide that they needed to make a visit. She figured the Shadowman had somehow prompted this visit, but she couldn’t figure out how. She’d thought they would stay home and rest that day, but Gran had insisted, and Mary couldn’t very well say no. Who said no to going to their parents’ grave? She couldn’t even let herself feel resentful. It was important to remember loved ones, even ones she couldn’t remember very well.
Gran would usually drive her out, spend a few moments with her at the grave tidying it up, and then would leave to wait in the car while she had a private moment. Today Gran couldn’t even leave the car. Navigating crutches was too difficult. Mary had never made the trip to the grave alone. It felt very lonely, not just lonely but solitary, like maybe she was the last person on earth.
It might seem strange, but she’d never heard a ghost in the cemetery. She didn’t know why exactly, like if it was due to the embalming process or what, but the dead didn’t linger here. It was ironic but also a relief. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if every grave had a ghost attached to it.
She finally came to a stop at her parents’ grave. The tombstone was a double marker in dark granite. Johanna and Henry Hellick, loving parents both killed May 5th, 1993. She laid the irises on the grave and took a seat.
“Hi, Mom and Dad. It’s me, Mary.” She knew it was silly to tell them who it was, but it was how she started every conversation with them since she was four years old. It was like a ritual now.
She paused a moment as she collected her thoughts. They had died when she so young. A drunk driver had crossed the center line and plowed into them. She’d been in a child's car seat in the back when it’d happened. She remembered them in a vague sort of way. She could recall a sense of love and warmth. Everything else that she knew had been gleaned from Gran and photographs. She didn’t really know them and never would, but she still felt a connection. They were her parents. That meant even dead, they were a part of her life, a part of who she was.
“I’m a junior now in high school. The year has been pretty good so far, I suppose. Rachel’s still my best friend. I’m still making good grades. I got my learner’s permit. Gran’s been trying to get me to drive, but I don’t like it. I’m probably the only teenager in America who isn’t eager to get behind the wheel. We got a ghost dog for a pet. His name’s Chowder. He’s pretty great. Don’t tell him or Gran that I said that. I helped get rid of a really nasty ghost a couple of months ago. He was haunting the house of a guy from school. The guy Cy and I were friends, but we sort of aren’t anymore. He doesn’t like any of the paranormal stuff. His brother seems a little cooler about it, which is ironic considering he was possessed.” Her eyes drifted off the tombstone as she thought about that whole debacle. She really didn’t want to rehash it any further. “Anyway, Mr. Landa is still working on making me a nice, well adjusted member of society. I don’t think he’s made much progress.
“Gran just got out of the hospital. It wasn’t serious, and she put herself there on purpose, which is insane. She wanted to badger an old man for help because we’re trying to stop a Shadowman from hurting patients at the hospital. A girl from school is the one who told me about the Shadowman, except she’s in a coma, and she told me in a dream. I’ve been trying to help her and others, but it seems pretty hopeless. We don’t know what will get rid of the monster.”
She hung her head. “This thing scares me pretty bad. I don’t know what it is. It isn’t a ghost. Mr. White says it wasn’t ever human. I believe him. It’s an honest to God monster.”
She picked at the grass as she struggled to push her fear back. It rose up so easily when thinking about that thing. “Mr. White thinks a ghost might be able to stop it. He has the anchor for one which he thinks will work. I don’t know. He didn’t tell us much about the ghost except its name: Horace Thistlebottom. With a name like that, I’m not holding out much hope.”
She paused again to think. She really didn’t know why Gran had decided that today would be a good day to go to the cemetery. She looked at the tombstone for a few more moments, tracing the letters etched into it with her eyes. “I wish I were normal. I wish I had a normal life. Like I could sit here and tell you about a new dress, or a party, or something and not ghosts and Shadowmen. I try to stay strong. I really do, but I wish I didn’t need to.” She looked up at the sky and tracked clouds for a few moments. She turned back to grave, and her eyes were wet. “You’d probably say I’m doing good and that you’re proud of me, but I wish I were normal, and life were ordinary, and you were alive to tell me everything was going to be okay.” She rubbed her eyes and stood up. “Sorry for getting weepy. I know it doesn’t do much good, but I think I needed that. Thanks. See you next time.”
When she slipped into the car, Gran looked at her silently. Mary gave her a small smile but couldn’t think of anything to say. Gran didn’t seem to expect anything. She just reached across and patted her arm. “Let’s go to Ezekiel’s,” she said. She nodded and started the car. With Gran’s ankle sprain, she couldn’t drive which left Mary to chauffeur. This was the biggest bit of fallout from the hospital incident. She checked her mirrors carefully, turned on her blinker (even though they were on an empty lane in the cemetery) and put the car in drive. Actually, driving in the cemetery was the best place for her. She drove everywhere like she was in a funeral procession. Gran said she just needed more practice, but after losing three hubcaps so far, Mary was beginning to wonder.
“You’ll take a right out,” Gran offered.
She nodded and carefully steered down the lane. She was holding the wheel too tightly and watching the road too closely, but she couldn’t help it. She was in a machine of death. She couldn’t help being overly vigilant. She slowly rolled to a stop and checked the street several times. She pulled out and stayed five miles under the speed limit.
Mr. White lived on a narrow side street above his shop – White’s Rare Books. Mary parked on the street, only scraping the tires along the curb and not going up on it, which was an improvement for her. She helped Gran out of the car.
The windows for the shop were boarded up and a cardboard sign was stuck up that said ‘Closed Indefinitely’, a hand written note was tacked up under it: ‘Good Riddance’. It seemed Mr. White made as many friends outside the hospital as he did in.
They went to a side door and pressed the buzzer. A screech of “No solicitors!” came out of the box. Gran rolled her eyes and pressed the call button. “Zeke, let us in.”
There was a buzz, and Mary held the door. She looked up the staircase that greeted them and glanced nervously at Gran. She’d never manage the stairs with her crutches. Mr. White appeared at the top. “There’s a remote down there. Do you see it? Hit the button to call the chair.”
Mary picked up the small single button remote and pressed it, not really sure what she was doing. In response to the remote, a chair started descending the stairs on a rail. She had never seen anything like it before. It seemed pretty neat. She sort of wished she could try it. When it arrived, Mary took the crutches, and Gran sat down on the chair. She took hold of the joystick and started gliding up the stairs. Mary walked a step behind as she followed her up.
Mr. White was waiting for them at the top. “Any developments since the last time I saw you?”
“It’s been only eight hours,” Mary commented as she helped Gran get back on her crutches.
“A lot can happen in eight hours. I found the sword. This way.”
“Sword?” She glanced at Gran. What was she going to do with a sword?
“It’s his anchor. Come on.”
They followed him from the landing into a room filled with bookcases and jammed with furniture. Gran wouldn’t be able to navigate it with her crutches.
“Here have a seat,” he pulled a chair out for her. She carefully sat down on it. He motioned for Mary to keep following him. She carefully snaked between the furniture and had to step over crumpled papers and dirty dishes as they crossed the room. Mr. White was in serious need of a housekeeper or maybe just a keeper.
“Well, here it is.” Off one of the book case shelves, he picked up a plastic costume sword complete with plastic bejeweled sheath. Mary began to think she was being had.
“This is the anchor?”
“Yes, Horace, this is Mary, the young woman I was telling you about.”
She waited a moment for Horace to respond. Nothing happened.
“Well, what’s he saying?” Mr. White asked.
“Nothing. Are you sure it’s haunted?”
“Am I sure? Of course, I’m sure. Horace just plays dumb sometimes. He’s chatty enough with me and my spirit board.” He shook the sword. It rattled in its sheath. A paste gem fell off. Mary wondered if she should point it out. “Wake up, Thistlebottom. We’ve got visitors.”
He looked to Mary to see if the ghost had responded. She shook her head. From the other side of the room, Gran spoke up. “Maybe if Mary took the anchor, he’ll speak. She’s a natural amplifier for spirits.”
He thrust the sword at her. It looked like something a kid would carry at Halloween. It felt curious in her hands though. Like Ricky’s locket.
She pulled the sword out of its sheath to reveal the gray plastic blade. A cold blast swirled around her raising goose bumps along her arms.
“God, he is always forgetting to unsheathe me. How do you do, my dear? I understand you need a champion?”
“Oh blast, I knew I’d forgotten something,” Mr. White said as he took a seat.
“Horace Thistlebottom?” she asked.
“At your service, my dear, but please call me Maximilian or Max if you prefer. Though Juliet would argue that the name means nothing, I cringe at the sound of my birth name and shudder at the thought of it at the top of a playbill.”
“Okay Max, has Mr. White explained exactly what we need you for?”
“Maybe you could do again with more matter and less art?”
Mary had the feeling that she should be the one requesting that and not him. “There’s this thing called a Shadowman. It feeds off people in the dark. It’s been feeding off people at the hospital. Light sends it running, but we need to kill it. We think it might not like ghosts, though we’re not certain. We’re hoping that you might be able to fight it and get rid of it or help us get rid of it. Bottom line is, it needs to be gotten rid of, and we could use all the help we can get.”
“Fear not, I be no Falstaff. I will imitate the action of the tiger; Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage; Then lend the eye a terrible aspect; Let it pry through the—”
Mary had to cut him off. She feared how long he’d go on if she didn’t. “I get it. You’re willing and able. Thanks.”
“Getting suffy, ain’t he?” Mr. White asked. “Imagine if you had to use a spirit board. Takes fifteen minutes to spell out when a simple ‘yes, that’s right’ would do.”
“Humph, unlike some, I choose my words to flow trippingly off the tongue.”
Mary had little idea what Max meant, but fully comprehended Mr. White, but she kept that to herself. Instead she asked, “What now?”
“Now, we go to the hospital and deal with the Shadowman,” Gran said as if that were obvious.
“What just like that? We don’t even know if this will work,” Mr. White said. Mary let out a small sigh of relief. Glad someone was erring on the side of caution while Gran seemed hell bent on taking this thing head on.
“And how will we know if it will? You got a test Shadowman to try this on?”
“Why am I the one worrying about your granddaughter’s safety? Shouldn’t you be?”
Gran’s eyes slanted to her and then skittered away. Mary wasn’t sure what her look meant. “Mary set out to help her school friend, and the Shadowman is what she found.” Mary stopped herself from correcting Gran’s misconception of Vicky.
“Yes, I know that, but why must she be the one to put herself in harm’s way?”
“It’s just the way it is,” Gran muttered and wouldn’t look at them.
“Gran?” Mary asked. She understood less now than when Max was talking.
“Helena, explain yourself. It’s clear Mary is scared of this thing and doesn’t want to face it, but you’re pushing her along like some sacrificial lamb, and she looks up to you too much to speak up. Well, I’m speaking up for her, and I won’t let you out of this house with Horace until I get an answer.”
A steely glint came into Gran’s eyes, but Mr. White’s glare was just as flinty. Mary didn’t know if she should keep hold of the sword or not.
“Tell me, were these two ever involved?”
Mary jumped and looked down at the costume sword. “What?”
“What is it, Mary?”
“It seems possible to me. They certainly fight like they’ve loved each other once.”
“Mary, you don’t have to face the Shadowman. If you don’t want to, just say so,” Mr. White said.
“But who will get rid of it if I don’t?” Happy to get away from Max’s weird suggestions.
“Exactly,” Gran said.
“Exactly nothing. Someone else can deal with this. You can go on about your life.”
Gran didn’t answer just stared at her. It seemed she’d have to be the one to argue this with Mr. White. “Who else can deal with it? You said no one really knew how to get rid of these things, but we at least have a plan. We should try. We’re the only hope for those people in the hospital, of which you were one just this morning.”
Mr. White shook his head. “This isn’t your burden.”
“Then whose is it? If not me, who? Just give me a name, and I’ll leave it to them.”
Mr. White didn’t reply.
“She will do this with or without your help, Zeke. Accept it. Now, Mr. Thistlebottom, would you be willing to come with us and assist?”
“Quite, my dear madam. It would be an honor.” Mary nodded her head to indicate his answer. Gran pulled herself up with her crutches.
“We could use your help too, Zeke if you want to offer it, but we will do this.”
Mr. White threw his arms up and turned away from them. She appreciated his concern for her but knew she was the only one who could do anything.
“I know you’re just trying to look out for me, but if something isn’t done, people will die. A lot of people may have already. Don’t you think we should stop it?”
Mr. White looked over his shoulder at her. “But what if something happens to you?”
Mary really didn’t know what to say to that.
Continue to Chapter 11