Mary tried to keep the flashlight beam on the Shadowman, but he was moving too fast. It was useless. The beam was too small, and the Shadowman was moving too fast. She decided to make a dash for it back to the stairwell.
As she ran, she held the flashlight over her shoulder and blindly swept the beam behind her in an attempt to keep it back, but the chittering sound kept pace with her. Chowder continued to snarl, but he did so from his body tucked safely under her arm.
She reached the stairwell door, and her tug slammed her into it. Locked? She didn’t understand how that could’ve happened. This was definitely bad luck, and she decided it being unlocked had been bad luck as well. She pulled as hard as she could, but the door didn’t even rattle. She turned back. The Shadowman was lurking at the mouth of the passage. The weak fluorescent lights began to flicker, and the darkness between each flicker lengthened.
She jumped when a shiver skimmed her leg. Chowder had dropped from his body. “Chowder, get back here!”
The little dog barked sharply, and the Shadowman hissed. She saw his red eyes go to a point on the floor between them. It must be able to see ghosts. She wasn’t sure if that meant anything, but at least, she knew where Chowder was. Chowder must have darted down the hall because she saw the Shadowman turn around. She began creeping back down the passage. She could hear Chowder barking. When she was about six feet from the Shadowman’s back, she aimed the flashlight at it and hit the power button. It hit him square in the back. He hissed and swooped out of the way. Chowder barked again. She rushed to the end of the passage and peered among the machinery. Where had they both gone?
A flash of light caught her eye. She turned and saw the edge of a swinging door as it slipped shut. Chowder barked again. He’d found a way out for her. Scanning the room for the Shadowman, she ran to the hidden door.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Shadowman swoop at her, she pivoted away, but she lost her balance and fell onto her back on the chilly cement floor. Tears sprang to her eyes. Before she could bring the flashlight up, he was gone. She scrambled to her feet, and swinging the flashlight blindly all around her, she ran to the door. She pushed through and ran into another corridor with dim fluorescent lights running down the center of the ceiling. Another set of swinging door flapped at the other end. She ran toward them, trusting Chowder’s instincts. There was a roar from the mechanical room. It sounded like a boiler coming on, but it was the Shadowman.
She dashed through the second set of swinging doors and was relieved to find herself in a better lit passage, but she didn’t know where she was or how to get out. “Chowder?” she whispered.
She heard an elevator ding. She went down the corridor and peeked around the corner. A couple of orderlies had exited an elevator. They began coming her way.
She moved back and looked for a place to hide. She still didn’t want to be caught. Chowder barked again, and a swinging door flapped. She quickly slipped into the room and immediately crumbled to the floor clutching her head.
“I was only going to get a jug of milk.” “Hope Ron finds someone else.” “Probably shouldn’t have done that.” “About time.” “Hello?” “What happened?” “Wait, I think I made a mistake.” “Bitch, stuck me!”
She didn’t need to look over her shoulder to know what was in the room. Two rows of gurneys lined the walls, and on each gurney was a body with a toe tag. She wanted to bolt back outside, but a sharp tug on her pant’s leg kept her in place. Chowder was keeping his wits about him. She on the other hand felt like she was losing her mind. She was vaguely aware of the orderlies walking by. The voices in the room drowned out their muted conversation.
“Mom always said to look both ways. Can’t believe something like this got me.” “He’s never good alone. His apartment was a pig sty before I moved in, but he began picking up after himself when I started living there.”“But it was SO awesome. I mean like Guinness Book awesome.” “Can’t believe they dragged it out so long.” “Are you all right?” “Where am I?” “I told the shrink the meds weren’t working.” “Gonna get her for this.”
She tried to block out the voices, but she wasn’t hearing them with her ears. She didn’t know how she heard ghosts. She just did. Now they were crowding her mind, and it hurt.
“At least I wasn’t running with scissors.” “Just needs someone around to tidy up for.” “Hope they got it on tape. I’ll be legendary.” “Idiots.” “Can I help you?” “I was asleep I think.” “I don’t think this made things better.” “Nobody hurts me and gets away with it.”
She needed to get out before the ghosts figured out she was there. It sounded like one already was aware of her. She clenched her jaw to make sure she didn’t respond. If they became aware of her, the situation would be worse. Talking around her hurt, but if they began talking to her, her brain would fry. Too much input or something. She just knew it was bad. She peeked out the small window in the door and saw the orderlies coming back. She ducked down again and waited for them to go. They walked back to the elevator, the doors dinged, and then three quarters of the lights turned off. Things had just gotten worst.
The chittering was instantly outside the morgue doors. Chowder began barking again. She blindly backed away from the doors and jostled a gurney. She was shaking.
“What’s that?” “Who’s there?” “What is that thing?” “Whoa.” “Is that what you’re hiding from?” “What now?” “Don’t like this.” “What the hell?”
Mary’s mind raced. She had the flashlight and Chowder. She was in a room full of ghosts. They were aware of the Shadowman. She didn’t know how she could use that.
The Shadowman began slipping into the room through the crease between the doors. She raised the flashlight and hit him with the beam. He slipped back outside, but he had her cornered. There wasn’t any other way out of the room. She was shaking so bad that the flashlight beam jumped wildly over the door. It was difficult to keep it along the seam. She needed help and the only help she had was dead. She knew it was a bad idea, but it was the only one she had. She cleared her throat and said, “I need help.”
“What’d she say?” “Who is she?” “That thing is not cool.” “She shouldn’t be here.” “How can I help?” “Will someone tell me what’s going on!” “I used to cry a lot too.” “Want her to blubber like that.”
She clutched her head and doubled over. “Please, I need help! Can someone turn on the lights? That thing will go away if there’s light!”
“Is she talking to us?” “Poor girl.” “This is like having front seats at a horror movie.” “You should be more careful.” “I’ll see what I can do.” “Am I dead?” “I used to be afraid of the dark too.” “Ha-ha, it’s going to get you.”
She crumbled to her knees. There was so much pressure on her head. Their words piled on her like rocks.
“One at a time! Can’t you speak one at a time! What good is all this chattering over each other?”
“She can hear us?” “She can hear us?” “She can hear us?” “She can hear us?” “She can hear us?” “She can hear us?” “She can hear us?”
Mary whimpered. Chowder barked sharply. She winced and stroked his head. She didn’t need him to add his voice to the cacophony as well. She kept an eye on the morgue doors. Her flashlight’s beam rested on one of the windows. The Shadowman was still out there. He was making the purring sound now.
“Miss, you can hear us?”
She pulled her eyes away from the doors to look back into the room. Her eyes skittered over the gurneys. She may be talking to ghosts, but dealing with evidence of their death was not easy for her. It sounded like the one who had been struck by a car had spoken.
“Yeah, I can hear you.”
“Do you know what’s going to happen to us?”
She shook her head.
“But we’re dead?” This was spoken by the one who it sounded like had passed in his sleep. Ironic how people said that was the most peaceful way to die, but it seemed to be very disorienting for the ones who suffered it.
“Yeah, you’re dead. You’ll go somewhere. I know that much. You aren’t stuck here. It may just take a few days. Don’t try to stick around. Trust me. It isn’t better than what’s next.”
“How do you know that? You just said you don’t know where we’re going.” This was said by the woman who was worried about her boyfriend or husband.
“I know because I’ve met other ghosts. None of them have been happy. Most of them ended up twisted and unhappy.”
“Your dog seems happy.” This was from the girl who had committed suicide.
Mary glanced down at Chowder’s furry head. “Yeah, but are you a dog?”
No one replied.
Suddenly the lights began flickering on. Relief coursed through her as she looked up at the slowly warming fluorescents. There was a screech from the hallway and a crash. She crept to the morgue doors and warily stuck her head out. The hallway was lit and the doors to the mechanical room flapped.
“It’s gone. What was that thing?”
“It’s called a Shadowman. You don’t need to worry about it. Thank you for turning on the lights.”
“Will you be all right?”
“Yeah, I’m going back to my gran’s room. Thanks again.”
“Tell my wife I love her.” “Tell Ron to remember me by being happy.” “Hey, could you check to see if I’m on Youtube?” “Can you make sure they honor my wishes?” “You better hurry.” “Are you sure I’m dead?” “Wait, could you tell my parents I’m sorry!” “Tell my cheating girlfriend to sleep with one eye open.”
Mary didn’t have the energy anymore to run. She kept her head down as she stumbled to the elevator. The voices trailed her, but she tried to ignore them. She repeatedly pressed the call button. This was what she’d dreaded happening. Not only were all of their voices making her head throb, their requests were impossible. She couldn’t impart any last messages or fulfill requests. They were dead, and she had to live her life.
“Tell her I’m sorry.” “Ron needs to find someone nice. Make sure he knows he needs to find someone nice.” “Ooh, I wonder how many views it’s gotten. I bet it’s gotten a ton. Read me the comments. I bet they’re awesome.” “There better not be any funny business over my will. Tell them I wanted it all to go to charity, and they should grow up.” “Take care.” “I think you’re lying. I don’t feel dead.” “If I had another chance, I wouldn’t have taken the pills. Tell them.” “Better yet, slap her. Say it’s from Miguel.”
She practically fell through the elevator doors when they opened. “Wait, when will you be back?” “Don’t go yet.” “Hey, you’ll need my screen name.” “Don’t you need my address?” “Get some rest. It looks like you need it.” “Wait, come back.” “You didn’t even get my name!” “Bitch, you’re as useless as her.” She pushed the button for two and let out a sigh as the doors closed. Alone in the elevator, she slid down the wall and held Chowder close, relieved by the silence.
She shuffled back to the hospital room feeling wiped out. She just wanted to curl up and go to sleep, though she wasn’t looking forward to doing that in the closet, but sunrise was still hours away. She let herself into the room. The lights were still on, and Gran and Mr. White were still awake. Mr. White seemed relieved by her return. Gran, on the other hand, looked annoyed.
“Well, what did you find out?”
Mary dropped into a chair and set Chowder down. “I’m fine thanks for asking.”
“I can see that you’re fine. What did you find out?”
She was too tired to argue or get upset. She just wanted to get some shut eye.
“He went to the basement. He tried to come after me.”
She let her head roll back and stared at the ceiling. “He can see ghosts, and ghosts can see him. They don’t seem to like each other.”
“I can’t believe this. What were you doing down there?”
She didn’t reply.
Mr. White spoke up. “What did you expect her to find out?”
“How to stop it, if it had an anchor like a ghost, something!”
“Sorry, I couldn’t investigate too much what with the running and the terror.”
Gran shook her head and leaned back in bed. “It’ll have to do. God, my head hurts.”
Feeling that the interrogation was over, Mary lurched from the chair and went to the closet. She crawled inside and curled up on the floor with her pilfered pillow. She could hear Gran and Mr. White talk some more, but it didn’t keep her awake.
“You’re telling me there’s nothing you can do?”
Mary looked around the hospital room groggily. She turned to Vicky and groaned. She just wanted to sleep. Not have weird astral projection, mind meld, telepathic whatevers with Vicky.
“God, you look like crap.”
“Good because that’s what I feel like.”
“So you went to the basement, the thing chased you to the morgue, and the only way you escaped was by getting a ghost to turn on the lights for you.”
She nodded and then frowned. She was having trouble keeping track of the dream. It felt like she’d been there a while and had obviously told Vicky what happened, but she couldn’t recall it. Could she be too exhausted to dream?
“Mary, stay with me. The solution seems pretty obvious to me.”
She scrubbed her face in an attempt to wake herself up and then got confused because she was asleep and didn’t want to wake up, not yet at least. She was too tired to keep anything straight. “What?”
“Get a ghost to fight this shadow thing! You said it didn’t like Chowder, that it could see it and what not. Well, it sounds to me like that it was more than annoyed by it. It wouldn’t come into the morgue, and all the ghosts in there were aware of it. I think a ghost could kill it or whatever.”
“But it did try to come into the morgue. I held it off with the flashlight.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t sound like it tried really hard. I bet the ghosts kept it back.”
Mary shook her head. She wasn’t seeing it.
“Get a full-grown ghost, not some little toy dog, sic it on this thing, and you’ll see.”
“Chowder’s a small terrier, not a toy dog.”
“Fine, where am I going to get a ghost?”
“Do I have to think of everything? Figure that out yourself.”
“I’ll be so happy when you’re out of this coma.”
“Me too. Now find a ghost, bring it here, and get rid of that thing.”
She rolled her eyes at Vicky’s bossy tone. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, wake up.”
“Oh, come on! Can’t I have some normal sleep for a bit? I’ve been up all night.”
“Nope, you need to wake up.”
Mary sat up painfully within the closet. Sleeping on the floor in a small, cramped space had not gotten rid of her exhaustion. She rubbed her eyes and peered between the slats.
Gran was awake with her breakfast in front of her. “Mary, are you awake?”
She opened the closet and got up stiffly. She walked slowly to the chair by the bed and sat down. “Would you like some coffee?” Gran asked as she offered her cup.
She took it and drank it half down. “Had another chat with Vicky. She thinks a ghost can handle the Shadowman.”
“This the girl in the coma?” Mr. White asked.
She and Gran nodded. “It’s a possibility,” Gran murmured.
“Yeah, but where are we going to get a ghost to help us? I doubt any we meet will want to lend a hand.”
“I may know one,” Mr. White offered.
They turned to stare at him. “It won’t hurt to ask at least,” he muttered.
Before Mary could ask for more details, a doctor and Mrs. Pillar came in. The doctor checked Gran’s ankle and chart. He prescribed some pills and told them she could go.
“When you’re ready, come get me, and I’ll give you a ride home,” Mrs. Pillar offered.
“Why thank you, Laura. I’ll send Mary to you within the hour.”
The doctor and Mrs. Pillar left. Mary began packing Gran’s overnight bag. “Who’s this ghost who might help us?” Gran asked.
“A guy by the name of Horace Thistlebottom. I’ve got his anchor back at my shop.”
“Horace Thistlebottom?” She couldn’t believe the name.
“I think he changed it professionally, but he’ll probably love to help you out. He can’t resist a damsel in distress. That’s a personal quote of his.”
“When can we come by to get the anchor?”
“Late today if you like. I can discharge myself out. Give me a call.” Mary wondered what exactly Mr. White was in for. She’d never gotten any clue. She had a sinking suspicion it was just to harass the staff.
“Mary, go get Laura. I’m ready to go,” Gran said.
Mary found Mrs. Pillar at the nurse’s station. They walked back with a wheelchair and a pair of crutches. Mrs. Pillar instructed Gran on the best use of them and told her to stay off her feet as much as possible. She helped Gran into the wheelchair. Mary gathered all the stuff and followed them out.
As she was leaving, she turned back to Mr. White. “Thanks for helping us out.”
He nodded his head. “Yeah, I can’t believe I’m not charging you two for any of it. Hang in there, kid.”
She gave him a smile and hurried to catch up with Mrs. Pillar and Gran. The drive back was filled with chitchat as Gran and Mrs. Pillar caught up with each other. She sat in the back seat and kept nodding off.
When they got home, Mrs. Pillar helped her get Gran into the house and on the sofa. She instructed them again on the meds and let herself out.
Gran lay back on the sofa with a heavy sigh. “I think we both need a nap. Go get some rest, and I’ll do the same.”
“Yell for me if you need anything. Don’t try to get up. If you do, I’ll tell Mrs. Pillar.”
Gran swatted playfully at her. “Get some rest, Mary. You need it.”
She didn’t argue. She felt dead on her feet. She climbed the stairs, toed off her shoes, and fell into bed. She just wanted to sleep for a couple of days and not worry about anything. Not Shadowmen. Not Vicky. Not anything.
Continue to Chapter 10