The next day at school was boring. Cy was absent, and everyone assumed he was still with Vicky. Mary saw Kyle in the hall once, and he looked like he wanted to talk. She ducked into the girl’s bathroom to avoid him and waited until the bell rang to emerge. It was cowardly, and Kyle probably thought she was a complete nut case, but she didn’t want another Cy update. At least not from him. She’d wait and get it directly from Cy.
She knew she needed to get to work helping Vicky, but it was going to be tricky. If she told Rachel that she wanted to visit Vicky, she would insist Mary was sick and in need of medical attention herself. Then she’d have to explain the dreams, and she had no idea how to explain them. She still wasn’t sure if they were real. She’d never had dreams like that before. Trying to think up another reason to go to the hospital was tough. She finally settled on lying and claiming to be interested in volunteering, and why not visit Rachel’s mom to find out more. Rachel drove her to the hospital after school, but she was still skeptical.
“I thought hospitals gave you the creeps.”
“Yeah, but I should learn to conquer my fears.”
“You call them Hotels of Death.”
“Are we going to see your mom or not?”
Rachel led the way through the lobby. Mary’s eyes darted around. Hospitals did creep her out. So many people dying in one place meant hauntings were prevalent and plentiful.
Mary followed Rachel onto the elevator.
“What floor please?”
“Rach, what floor?”
“I pushed three. Why?”
Mary jumped and scowled. She and Rachel were alone in the elevator. She’d seen it was empty when she’d gotten on, but she’d still reacted to the ghost like he was there. She hated when that happened.
The doors opened, and Rachel led the way to the nurse’s station. A middle aged woman in pink scrubs looked up at them, and her round face broke into a happy smile. Rachel walked around the desk and gave her mother a hug.
“What a pleasant surprise! What are you two girls doing here?”
Mary wandered behind the nurse’s station and got pulled into a hug too. She felt even guiltier telling her lie with her arms around Mrs. Pillar. “I was thinking about volunteering here, but didn’t know what I should do. Do you know anything about that?”
Mrs. Pillar squeezed her tighter before letting her go. “That’s a wonderful idea! There’s all sorts of programs like the candy striper program, the baby massage program, and the childern’s program. You have to get an application from the volunteer office. It’s on the fifth floor. Just follow the signs when you get off the elevator.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Pillar.”
“Oh, and if you want to stop by and see Vicky Neilson, she’s on the second floor in room 204. I’m sure her parents would like to see kids from school.”
“Mom, we aren’t exactly friends with Vicky.”
“Well, are you going to fill out an application too?”
Rachel’s eyes shot to Mary. This was an unexpected development. “I’ll pick up an application and think about it,” she said.
“It’ll look good on your college applications,” Mrs. Pillar suggested.
Rachel huffed a sigh. “Thanks Mom. We gotta go. See you at home.”
“Tell your father that I’m bringing dinner home at 7pm. So no snacking. I’ll know. Tell him that.”
Rachel began backing away, tugging Mary along with her. “Sure, Mom.”
“And it’d be nice if you could do a load of darks for me. I’ll fold them later tonight.”
Rachel stabbed the elevator call button. “Sure, Mom.”
“It was nice to see you girls. I hope your grandmother’s well, Mary.” Rachel dragged Mary into the elevator and pressed five.
“Very well, Mrs. Pillar. Thanks for the info.” The elevator doors began to close.
“My pleasure, and Rachel could you pickup—”
“Sorry Mom, what?” Rachel said as she jammed the door close button.
When the doors shut, Rachel slumped against the elevator wall. “I didn’t think we’d ever get out of there.”
Mary smirked. “Your mom’s really nice.”
Rachel glared at her. “Sure, you can say that. She doesn’t give you chores.”
The elevator doors opened, and the girls exited. They followed the signs to the volunteer program office. They each picked up an application. Rachel held hers like it was infected. Mary folded hers and put it in her pocket. She didn’t even bother to read it. The volunteer coordinator had been very bubbly and eager to get the girls signed up, but Mary told her that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do and would have to talk it over with her grandmother. They got out of the office relatively unscathed.
When they got back into the elevator, Rachel pressed G. “What floor, please?”
“Two,” Mary whispered.
The number 2 button lit up.
The elevator went down. “So what do you think you want to do?” Rachel asked as she peered at the application. It would’ve been easier to read if she didn’t hold it at arm’s length.
“I don’t know,” Mary said. The elevator doors opened, and she strode off. Rachel followed and stopped.
“Wait, this isn’t the lobby.” She turned to get back on the elevator, but the doors had closed.
“Isn’t this Vicky’s floor?” Mary said, knowing full well that it was. She started down the corridor.
“Mary, are you serious? We should go.”
“Since we’re here, we might as well peek in.”
Rachel snagged Mary’s arm and turned her around. “Seriously? Don’t you think that’s kind of, I don’t know, morbid?”
Mary brushed off Rachel’s hand. “We don’t have to go in. I just want to get a glimpse.”
Rachel’s mouth thinned. Mary began down the corridor again. She glanced into the patient rooms as she passed. It was pretty deserted. There were a couple of bored nurses at the nurse’s station. The girls nodded as they walked past. The nurses barely gave them a glance. Mary saw 204 ahead. She lengthened her stride.
The door was open. Mary cautiously looked in and saw the room was empty except for Vicky. She looked just like her dream except her eyes were closed, and she was lying down.
She stepped into the room. “Mary?” Rachel said. She didn’t sound happy.
Mary went to Vicky’s side. She needed to know if her dreams were real. Was Vicky really in danger? What was threatening her? She reached out and touched Vicky’s hand gently. It was warm, but so still. The machines beeped softly, and the IVs dripped. This whole scene didn’t seem like Vicky at all. Where was the loudmouth, brash girl who could make Mary’s life miserable? Rachel had crept up beside her, and looked down at the comatose girl.
“We shouldn’t be here,” she whispered.
“I’m just trying to figure something out,” Mary whispered back.
Mary jerked her hand off Vicky and turned around. She’d felt guilty lying to Mrs. Pillar, now she felt like the lowest criminal looking at the woman in the doorway. The woman had on a light blue velour zip up hoody with matching pants. Her hair was up in a bun, but it had started to come undone a bit. There were dark circles underneath her eyes, and no makeup had been used to try and conceal it. The auburn color of her hair sealed the deal. She was Vicky’s mother.
“Hi, sorry. We didn’t mean to disturb. We just wanted to see how Vicky was doing.”
Rachel turned shocked eyes to Mary.
Mrs. Neilson went over to a chair by the bed. She sank down and picked up one of Vicky’s lax hands. “No, it’s nice you stopped by. All friends of Vicky’s are welcome. It’s good for her to be surrounded by people who care about her. The doctors say she can hear us, so she knows you’re here, and it’ll help her get better.”
Mary nodded. “But she’s doing okay?”
Mrs. Neilson looked at her daughter. There was a bittersweet hope in her eyes. “She’s only sleeping. She’ll wake up.”
Mary nodded again. “Yeah, nothing can keep Vicky down.”
Mrs. Neilson smiled. “You’re absolutely right. My girl’s strong.”
Rachel shuffled in place. “Do you need us to get you anything?”
Mrs. Neilson turned her whispy smile to Rachel. “No, thank you, I just ate dinner downstairs in the cafeteria with Vicky’s father. He’s gone home to shower and change. He’ll be back in a few hours. I’ll be fine until then. Do you girls have any classes with Vicky?”
Mary nodded. “I have sixth period English with her. I’ve known Vicky since grade school.”
Mary nodded. Rachel grabbed Mary’s hand and began backing toward the doorway. “We don’t want to intrude anymore. We should go. It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Neilson. Vicky’s a fighter. She’ll pull through this.”
“It was so nice of you girls to come visit. I’m sure Vicky appreciates it too.”
Mary balked at Rachel’s tugging. “You said she can hear us, right?”
Mrs. Neilson nodded. Mary freed her hand from Rachel’s and stepped back to Vicky’s side. She bent over and put her mouth to the girl’s ear. “Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. Just get better for your mom.” She straightened. When she looked at Mrs. Neilson, she saw tears creeping down her face. She’d heard what Mary had said.
“It was nice meeting you, Mrs. Neilson. Vicky’s very lucky to have you.” She turned and left. Rachel backed out of the room with a nervous smile. Mary walked back to the elevators. She pressed the call button. Rachel came up beside her. She grabbed her arm and turned her to face her.
“What was that all about?”
“Vicky’s in trouble.”
Two chairs sat against the wall. Mary slumped down into one. Rachel took the other. “I’ve been having these dreams. They’re of Vicky. She’s in her hospital bed, and she says something’s attacking her. Hurting her, but she doesn’t know what it is. She’s so insistent that I had to come here and see for myself.”
“You’re having weird dream convos with Vicky?”
“Yeah, two so far. I’ve never had dreams like this before.”
“And? Are the dreams real?”
Mary scrubbed her face. “They feel real. The room is the same, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what’s hurting her. She said it was going after others, but I don’t know who, and I don’t know what this thing is.”
“Could it be a ghost?”
“I don’t know. Vicky says it’s clawing at her, but not physically. I’ve never heard of anything like it, and Vicky’s afraid it’s going to kill her.”
“What could it be?”
Mary shook her head. She had no clue.
“Well, if it’s going after others, then maybe we could go visit them, and you might be able to find something out.”
“Just ask random patients if they’re being clawed by a supernatural force? I think we’d be kicked out.”
Rachel brought up the volunteer application. “Then maybe we should fill these out.”
“You know, I wasn’t serious about volunteering. It was just an excuse to come to the hospital.”
“And volunteering can be our excuse for visiting other patients, and we could maybe ask them a few questions. One of these programs has to make it possible.” Rachel began reading over the application.
Mary shook her head. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Do you want Vicky to keep bugging you in your dreams?”
“No.” Mary didn’t add that Vicky might not continue bugging her if this thing kept clawing at her.
“Geez, we need recommendations?”
Mary turned to her. She had the application up to her nose. “What?”
“We need two recommendations to be approved to volunteer, and an orientation before we can begin.”
“Wow, I really don’t know if I can do this. Who’ll write me a recommendation?”
“Well, my mom will, and maybe Mr. Landa? I bet he’d be pleased if you asked him. Who am I gonna ask?”
“Gran will, and maybe a teacher? Have you not pissed off one of them?”
“I’ve been good in my craft class.”
“You don’t have to do this, Rach.”
“What and hear about how good you are to volunteer at the hospital, and I should be more like you? No way. I’m doing this. Plus, I’m gonna help you find whatever this thing is, even if it goes against every fiber of my being to help the Hickey. I’m just gonna focus on those other patients.”
Mary let herself into her home and flopped onto the sofa. She could not believe she was actually going to volunteer. This seemed like such a lot of work to accomplish something she didn’t know how she was going to do anyway.
Gran peeked out at her from the kitchen. “Welcome home, dear.”
“Thanks,” she said dully.
“How does hamburgers and French fries sound?”
“How was school?”
“Okay, I went by the hospital.”
Gran leaned out the kitchen to better talk to her. “You did? Did you visit the Neilson girl?”
“Yeah, I met her mom. She seemed nice. I felt bad for her.”
“Of course, dear.”
Mary pulled out the volunteer application and took it into the kitchen. “I also visited Rachel’s mom.”
Gran smiled as she put a frying pan on the stove. “How is Mrs. Pillar?”
“Good, she asked about you, but the reason I went to the hospital was because I’m thinking about volunteering there.”
Gran stilled and turned to her. “Really? Are you sure that’s wise? Hospitals can be very trying places for ones like us, especially you with your heightened ability.”
She looked down at the application, still surprised that she’d filled it out. “I think it’ll be good for me, and I think I can do some good. Will you sign the permission form?”
Gran drew back while she thought it over. “If it’s something you want to do, I will. I just don’t want you doing something that upsets you too much. Even for non-sensitives, hospitals can be very dire places.”
Mary clenched her body to keep from fidgeting. “I know, but I want to try. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll quit, but I feel like I have to do this.”
Gran gave her an odd look but shrugged it off. “All right. I’ll sign. It’s a good thing.”
She let out a silent sigh. “Thanks, Gran.”
“Did Vicky’s accident prompt this idea?”
“Yeah, sort of. How was your day?” she asked hoping to steer away from all things Vicky.
“All right. Another ghost hunting group called hoping I’d work with them. Had to let them down easy.”
“Don’t know why you don’t give it a try. You could be the next big thing in paranormal entertainment.”
Gran shook her head. “No, I’m quite happy now. Anyway, I don’t understand why they insist on only working in the dark. It’s silly. You’re going to get hurt and not by a ghost. And I don’t understand all their thingamabobs: EMF detectors, IR thermometers, and EVPs. It’s all just alphabet soup to me.”
“Yeah, I’m saving my money for a proton pack.”
Continue to Chapter 3.