She was sitting on a bench at the park and watching kids play on the jungle gym. She didn’t know where Rachel was, but she wasn’t worried. It was nice just watching the kids. “I don’t know how you did it, but thanks.”
She turned to Vicky who had just appeared sitting beside her or had she been there the whole time? Mary shook her head. “What?” Was she dreaming? Why weren’t they in the hospital room?
“The monster’s gone. How’d you kill it?”
“You’re out of your coma?”
“Not yet. So how’d you do it?”
She was dreaming? “Why aren’t we in your hospital room?”
Vicky shrugged. “Don’t know. This seems nicer. So what’d you do?”
Mary looked towards the kids. She didn’t feel like she was dreaming, but she decided to go along with it for now. “We haven’t done anything yet. How do you know the Shadowman’s gone?”
“Don’t feel him lurking around. Can tell he’s gone. So if you didn’t do anything, who did?”
Mary rubbed her forehead. Was the Shadowman really gone? Was she really dreaming of Vicky in the park? Was this really Vicky or was she dreaming a fake Vicky? Her head hurt, and she didn’t feel well.
“I don’t know if anyone has done anything.”
Vicky huffed and crossed her arms. “Then what happened?”
She stared across the park. The kids were playing tag. One was chasing all the others. He was dressed in black. “Maybe it moved on.”
“So it’s still out there hurting people?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but a tugging at her pant leg made her look down. Nothing was there. She shook her foot to get rid of the sensation.
“How’d we end up at the park? We were always in your hospital room before.”
“I said I don’t know. You’re the freak not me.”
Mary hoped that this was really Vicky and not a dreamed up one because dreaming up a Vicky to insult her meant her subconscious was just mean.
“Pot meet kettle, Vicky. You’re the one who pulled me into your dreams.”
“No, I didn’t.”
Everything seemed to go darker and sharper. The kid, who was it, had caught one of the other kids. The little girl went down on the ground. She didn’t get back up. “What?” The tugging on her pant leg began again.
“I’m not the one doing this. I never have been. Don’t you know that?” The kid in black was chasing the other kids again. The little girl lay motionless on the ground. Should she get up to check on her?
Wind picked up and began whipping their hair around their faces. “I’m not doing this. I don’t know how.”
“Are you sure? You can talk to ghosts. Why not pull me into your dreams?”
The kid in black had tagged another kid and he went down to the ground. She looked for the little girl to check on her, but she was gone. Something was still tugging at her foot. “I didn’t pull you in; you pulled me.” She kicked her foot out to get rid of the annoying tugging.
“Nuh uh, and why’s everything going scary movie ominous?”
The last boy who’d been tagged wasn’t getting up either. She’d never seen anyone play tag like that. She didn’t like it. “I don’t know, maybe because you’re pissing me off.”
“Aha! So you admit it. You’re the one causing this.”
Mary stood up and turned away from the children. She didn’t like watching them any more. “Talking to ghosts does not mean that I can have telepathic dreams. Having one does not mean I can do the other.”
Vicky jumped up too to square off with her. “Just admit it! You’re a complete freak who does all sorts of freakish stuff.”
She shook her head and regretted it. She was really beginning to feel sick. “I’ve never entered people’s dreams before. Why would I be able to all of a sudden?”
Vicky threw her hands up. “How should I know? I’m in a coma.”
“That’s right, you’re in a coma. I’m not the one who needed help and had no way to ask for it. You did this. You somehow tapped into my head or pulled me into yours so you could tell me about the Shadowman. We shared the first dream before I knew you were hurt, so you have to be the one doing this. If I could do this, which I can’t, why would I suddenly start having telepathic dreams with you when I didn’t even know anything was wrong? Welcome to Club Freak, Hickey. Here’s you membership card.”
Vicky’s face screwed up as if she were about to scream, instead something bit Mary’s foot hard. She grabbed her injured foot and started hopping. She shot Vicky a glare. “Ow! Stop that!”
“Doing what! Why are you jumping around?”
“You bit me!”
Vicky opened her mouth to yell back at her, but all that came out was barking. Despite her anger and queasiness, Mary couldn’t help laughing. Vicky’s face turned red. The scene began to waver. Vicky screamed, but all that came out was louder barking. It suited her.
Mary woke up chuckling. The barking was still going on. “Chowder!” She sat up to throw something in Chowder’s direction and felt the strangest and most awful sensation as she came up off the bed. It was like she was covered in static electricity and motor oil. She flipped back down and fell off the bed. She looked up and stared into two red glowing eyes suspended in a black nebulous form. A dark translucent hand reached out to her.
“No, no, no!” She tried to scramble away, but her back met the wall. She was on the wrong side of her bed to reach her lamp. She gathered her legs to run to the other side of the room and dart around the Shadowman to the door, but it could tell what she planned and moved in closer to block her escape. Chowder continued to bark his head off.
Her bedroom door opened, and Gran stood there on one crutch. “What in the world is going—” her voice cut off when she saw the Shadowman. Her hand slapped the light switch by the door, and the ceiling light came on illuminating the room. The Shadowman hissed and flew to the window. It was open a couple of inches. Mary hadn’t opened it.
Gran lurched into the room. “Mary, are you all right?” She was still on the floor. She felt awful like she needed a molten hot shower for her soul.
“No, I’m not. That thing touched me. I think I’m going to be sick.” A cold sheen of sweat covered her body, her heartbeat was in synch with hummingbird wings, and she felt oily, not physically but psychically. She climbed up from the floor and slumped onto her bed. Gran laboriously lowered herself beside her.
“Vicky was just asking me about what had happened to the Shadowman.”
“You were dreaming about her?” She nodded and turned toward the window. Gran turned too. She saw it was open and lurched over to close it. She turned the lock as well. She stayed at the window looking outside into the quiet night.
“Where do you think it went?”
“I don’t know, dear. I really don’t.”
Gran’s voice sounded odd. Watery. Mary got off the bed and put her hand on her shoulder. “Gran, you okay?”
She didn’t turn around when she nodded her head. “I’m fine, dear. You should try going back to sleep.”
“Gran?” Chowder whined. He could tell she was upset too.
Her shoulders sagged. “I’m just tired.”
“No, that’s not it. You’ve been acting weird since this began.”
She saw Gran quickly wipe her eyes before she turned around. She moved to the door, but she got up and touched her arm. “Gran, talk to me.”
She turned to look at her and her face looked so sad. Had the attack upset her that much? “I’m okay, I promise. That thing gave me the ooglies, but that’s all.”
“That’s good.” But her voice betrayed the lie. Nothing was good right now for her.
“I thought you were gung-ho on getting rid of the Shadowman.”
“No, I’m not.” Her reply surprised her. She looked at her silently, hoping she’d say more.
She sighed and sat down in her desk chair. “Do you remember what you said at Ezekiel’s?”
“You mean that we have to help Vicky because no one else can. What about it?”
“Did you ever think you wouldn’t or couldn’t help her?”
She wasn’t sure what Gran meant. “I didn’t know how I could help her, so I’d have to figure it out.”
“But you never thought about not helping her.”
“No, I guess not. I would’ve rather it been someone else. Vicky is one of my least favorite people, but she couldn’t handle this and I guess I just figured I had to do something.”
Gran nodded and looked at the carpet. “Exactly. You know what’s right and will do it, no matter what. I admire that in you, and don’t want to ever tell you no, but on the other hand, I’m your grandmother, and I know that you could get hurt and I don’t want that, but if I don’t help you, if I try to stop you, you’ll do this anyway without me and maybe get hurt worst. I don’t want you facing this monster, but I know I can’t stop you so I better help you.” She sighed and shook her head. “But I really wish you hadn’t come across this thing. I wish I could keep you safe and now this thing has followed us home and you’re not safe. I can’t keep you safe.”
She didn’t know what to say to Gran to reassure her, but she tried anyway. “We’ll be okay. If we sleep with the lights on, he shouldn’t be able to get us, and Chowder’s a good guard dog. We’ll know if he’s in the house.”
Gran nodded and got up again. “Yes, we’ll be fine.”
When Mary crawled back into bed, she pulled the blankets up to her chin but couldn’t get her eyes to shut. She looked at the door and wished Gran had stayed or told her to come sleep with her in the living room. There was good reason now to be scared of the dark.
“Would you like me to sing you a lullaby?”
She startled and looked quickly around the room, though she knew she couldn’t see Max.
“Gran let you out?”
“Yes, she asked me to guard you while you slept. I’m so sorry I wasn’t available before.”
“No, it’s okay. We were the ones that thought it’d be better to keep you sheathed. Sorry.” Actually, it had been more Mary’s idea. Though Max seemed okay, the thought of him wandering around the house had made her feel uncomfortable. Having an invisible guest meant privacy was always in question, but she was okay with him now. Someone watching over her was a comfort. Being alone was the scary option. Max started crooning ‘Hush Little Baby’. He had a nice soft baritone. Her eyelids grew heavy.
“You know I feel like we’re really dropping the ball here.”
Rachel and Mary had grabbed seats in the art room during TAB. Neither of them took art, but it was where the different kids congregated. Goths, garage bands, skaters, and of course, artsy folk gathered there away from the Shinies and regular kids. Mary almost felt like she belonged.
“Vicky. She’s still in a coma, which I’m not really adverse to, but there’s still the Shadowman. What type of superheroes are we if we can’t save one brain dead cheerleader? They do it on TV all the time. What’s stopping us?”
Mary still hadn’t told her about any of the stuff that had gone down since she’d stayed the night at the hospital. Gran had let her stay home on Sunday and rest. Going to the hospital again had seemed pointless. She’d watched television and vegged on the sofa. It hadn’t been a productive day, but she felt recharged. Max had hung out. He’d played with Chowder, so the little red ball appeared to fly across the room and bob back on its own. It had been kind of hypnotic to watch.
“We’re scheduled to volunteer after school. We should stop by Vicky’s room and see what’s going on and maybe talk to Mr. White some more.”
“He’s out of the hospital.”
“Yeah, he got discharged a little after Gran.”
“How is she?”
“Grumpy. She had to cancel most of her appointments for the week because of her ankle.”
“Huh. Oh, this should be interesting.” Rachel’s eyes had focused past her.
She turned to look and saw Kyle. He did not belong in the art room. His letterman jacket and buzz cut head looked out of place among the piercings and rainbow hair colors. He came up to their table and gave her a smile. “Hey Mary, how’s your grandma?”
“She’s fine. All she did was fall and sprain her ankle. She’s home now.”
Kyle’s eyebrows rose. “How’d she fall? Is she really okay?”
Mary ignored the first question. “She’s okay.”
He looked at his shoes and didn’t say anything immediately. Other students were starting to really notice him and look at him curiously, and Rachel and Mary were being included in the curiosity. If he didn’t leave soon, who knew what the rumor mill would come up with?
“Is that it, Kyle?” she asked to prod him along.
Rachel gave her a kick under the table. Mary stole a glance at her. Her eyebrows were drawn together in a scolding look. “Kyle, do you wanna sit down?”
Sitting down would be even more suggestive to the rumor mill. She shot Rach a look. She doubted Kyle would want that type of talk. He was a jock. They dated cheerleaders, though she hadn’t seen him with anyone since his early Vicky infatuation, but that was his type. He might be nice to her, and Rach might have misguided ideas of him liking her, but that would all change if people started whispering about them. To her amazement, he pulled up a stool and sat down.
“What’s really going on with Vicky?”
Rachel opened her mouth, and Mary savagely kicked her this time. She yelped and drew away from her. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Kyle looked at them. She knew her little spot of violence ruined any chance of lying successfully to him, but she wasn’t going to tell him the truth, and she wasn’t going to let Rachel either.
“I know something’s up with Vicky, and you two are involved. Suddenly volunteering at the hospital, visiting her mom, something’s up.”
“Coincidence,” she said and didn’t elaborate. Keep the lies short and sweet and don’t waver that was how to shut someone out. She felt bad about doing it to Kyle though.
“And your grandma getting hurt at the hospital?”
“She’s old and frail.” Kyle’s lips thinned at her answer. He’d met Gran. She might be up in age, but she was not frail.
“Fine. You don’t have to tell me anything. I just wanted to help if I could, but obviously you don’t want it. See ya. Hope your grandmother gets well soon.”
He stood up from the stool and strode from the room. She had to restrain herself from calling him back, because what could he do? How could he help? She didn’t like the idea of him being upset though.
Rachel blew out a frustrated puff of air. “You’re never going to get asked to the prom at this rate.”
“Good. Corsages are stupid.”
She shook her head. “Seriously though, couldn’t you have told him something?”
“Like what? ‘Hey Kyle, Vicky’s been visiting me in my dreams, and there’s a monster attacking her. You wanna help me destroy it? I have no idea how, but it’s sure to be a good time, except for the screaming and the death. Those are a bit of a bummer.”
“He could handle it. He already suspects anyway. Cy doesn’t or rather doesn’t care.”
She knew it was pointless to try and defend Cy. He really didn’t want to know or have any involvement with the paranormal. He refused to even allow for the possibility of it. Kyle hadn’t rejected the possibility. He could’ve stuck his head in the sand and refused to believe that he’d been possessed by a ghost, but instead he had accepted it and had thanked them for getting rid of Ricky.
“I just want to keep this thing to as few people as possible. You, Vicky, Gran, and Mr. White are already involved. No need to bring in anyone else.”
Rachel shook her head. “You’re keeping secrets from a lot of people. I hope you can keep straight who knows what.”
Mary tried to chuckle at her comment, but it got caught in her throat. If Rachel only knew what she was keeping from her, she wouldn’t like it.
“So volunteering after school today?”
Mary nodded. It had to be better than going home.
Mary was again pushing the hospitality cart while Rachel knocked on doors. They’d left Vicky’s room until last.
“Do you know how many brownie points this is getting me with Mom? If I’d known how much she’d like me doing this, I would’ve signed up sooner.”
“So you’re going to keep doing it after Vicky wakes up?”
“Yeah, it’ll be even better once she’s not here. You’re going to keep doing it too, right?”
Mary flashed on the morgue and felt a shiver go down her spine. She shook her head. “No, once Vicky’s awake, that’s it for me. I’m never going to be good with hospitals.”
Rachel’s glance back at her was full of disappointment. Mary could only shrug her shoulders. Hospitals held no special appeal for her. She couldn’t see continuing, but if Rachel wanted to do it, that was fine, it would just be without her.
They came to Vicky’s room. The door was ajar and Rachel tapped on it before peeking in. Mrs. Nelson was inside. She smiled and waved for them to come in.
“Girls, it’s so good to see you.”
“How’s Vicky?” Rachel asked.
Mary fixed a cup of coffee and brought it to her. She looked a little better today. The bags under her eyes weren’t as pronounced, and her hair was tidy. Mrs. Neilson took a sip of coffee before speaking. “The doctor says there’s improvement. She’s responding to noises, and she’s moved her hands a few times.”
“That’s great,” Rachel said.
Mary stood by quietly and looked at Vicky. She couldn’t see any change, but she wasn’t a doctor.
“You know, Mrs. Nelson, I was reading an article in a science magazine that said there’d been a study saying leaving a light on with coma patients really helped with the recovery.”
“Yeah, Mary, you read that article too didn’t you? Didn’t it say that?”
Vicky didn’t have to worry about the Shadowman anymore. She wasn’t the one who needed the nightlight.
She jerked out of her revelry. “Yeah, it could help.”
Rachel gave her a tiny glare. Obviously, she’d expected a more ringing endorsement.
"Well, I'll try that. It certainly can't hurt," Mrs. Neilson said, though her tone was more placating than accepting.
"It will really help. I promise," Rachel said. Mary worried that Mrs. Neilson would begin to doubt Rachel's mental faculties. Nightlights for coma patients. It sounded stupid.
"Well, we should be going. It was good seeing you. I hope Vicky continues to improve," Mary said. She wanted out of that room. It didn't hold anything for her. It was the beginning of all of this, and she wanted to get to the end.
"What's going on? Why are you here, Mary? You need to be catching the Shadowman, dimwit."
Everyone turned to the bed. Vicky's face scrunched up, and her eyes fluttered open. Her eyes found Mary first, and if her words hadn't clearly indicated she remembered everything from her coma, her eyes said it all. There was a determination to them. A cool regard. Mary felt like squirming.
"Oh my god, Vicky, my baby!"
Mrs. Neilson flung herself over her and began sobbing.
"Geez, Mom..." Vicky said in embarrassment, but she put her arms around her and hugged her tightly. Rachel ducked into the hallway and flagged a nurse to alert the doctors that Vicky was awake. Mary was rooted to the floor. Vicky was awake. It was what she'd been striving for, sort of. Vicky was safe.
A doctor came in and went over to the bed. He gently got Mrs. Neilson to move away so he could shine a light into Vicky’s eyes and ask a few questions.
Rachel tugged on her arm for them to go. Mary numbly turned to the door. "Mary, wait!"
She turned back to Vicky. Vicky’s eyes jumped from her mom to the doctor. It was clear what she wanted to say wasn’t meant for their ears. Really wishing she was having an out of body experience right then to help disassociate herself from current events, she walked over to the bed.
Almost choking on her words, she said, “Vicky, I’m so happy you woke up. We’ve been so worried.” And then she bent down and gave her a hug.
She couldn’t see the other girl’s face, but she hoped she didn’t look totally disgusted. Mary was at least safely pointed at the wall so she didn’t have to mask her true discomfort with the physical contact. Vicky was as stiff as a board against her. Mary hoped she hadn’t slipped into catatonia.
She gave her a harsh squeeze and hissed into her ear. “What?”
“God, do you have to be hugging me?”
She rolled her eyes. “What did you want to say to me?”
“Is it really gone?”
That was the one question she hadn’t wanted Vicky to ask, but she deserved some sort of answer. “It isn’t in the hospital anymore. You should be okay, but you should sleep with a light on just to be safe.”
“Where’d it go?”
Mary was happy to cut the hug off there. She let go and straightened. “Don’t worry. Everything’s okay.” She gave Mrs. Neilson a wan smile and hustled from the room, dragging Rachel along with her, who looked a little green.
“Mary, wait!” Vicky called. She stopped dead in the doorway again. Was she ever getting free? She turned back. Vicky was looking better moment by moment. Color was coming back into her cheeks “Thanks,” she said.
She nodded her head. “See you at school.”
“Yeah, see you.”
She walked to the elevator without stopping. Time to leave. Nothing more to do here. She pressed the call button for the elevator and gritted her teeth as Rachel sputtered behind her. “You--you--you hugged the Hickey! I can’t believe it, and I saw it! How could you do that? Are you okay? Do you need a wet wipe?”
The elevator doors opened, and Mary came face-to-face with Cy. Kyle was behind him like an afterthought. Cy’s lipped thinned when he saw her.
Mary didn’t know what to say. Luckily, Rachel took over for her. “Hey guys, guess what!”
Continue to Chapter 12