“Vicky's awake? When?” Cy's eyes widened and left hers to look toward Vicky's hall. His whole body appeared to lean in that direction. Mary took a step back to get out of his way.
"She just woke up. Her mom and a doctor are in there with her," Rachel answered.
"Thanks, see you at school." And with that, Cy brushed past them and turned down the hallway toward Vicky's room. It surprised her how his dismissal didn’t hurt that much. It wasn’t like an ice pick to the heart, more of a glancing punch. Maybe she was getting over him? Kyle hung back. She turned to him. He had his hands in his pockets, and his eyes on the floor. Another feeling came over her. It wasn't a bad feeling.
"Hi Kyle," she said.
Kyle looked up at her and then back at the floor.
"Hey. So you two just happened to be there when she woke up?"
"Yeah, we had nothing to do with it."
"We didn't?" Rachel piped in.
Mary shook her head. "No, we didn't. Vicky woke up on her own."
"So you two going to keep volunteering?"
"I probably won't, but Rachel might."
"What? If I have to keep doing this, so do you," Rachel argued.
"The hospital is still not a great place for me. Especially not the basement."
"The basement? What's in the basement?"
"You got to go to the morgue? When? Where was I?" Rachel demanded.
"I took a wrong turn. It was a mistake."
The answer didn’t placated Rachel. "Some wrong turn," she muttered.
"If you take the stairs at the end of the hallway all the way down, you might be able to get in through the boiler room."
Rachel's eyes lit up. "Wanna go try?"
Mary shuddered and shook her head. "No, I never want to go there again."
Understanding drifted across her friend’s face. "Right. Well, you wanna hang here while I go try? Please? I promise not to get super mad at you for not telling me all about your trip."
Her mouth quirked into a smile. "Okay."
"But I will expect full details when I get back." Mary nodded. With a quick wave at both of them, Rachel headed away. Mary wondered if she should be worried. She was ninety percent sure that the Shadowman wasn't down there, but what if he'd found his way back with that ten percent chance? Rachel had seemed almost bouncy as she left. She shook her head and decided that she wouldn’t worry. If Rachel didn't come back in thirty minutes, then she'd have a melt down. Kyle was still standing with her outside the elevators.
"Don't you want to catch up with Cy?"
"No, I'm just his ride. I'm glad Vicky's awake and all, but I didn't really want to come here."
"But you used to like Vicky, didn't you?"
"I thought she was hot, but not really interested in her type anymore."
"What type you interested in now?" Her voice cracked on ‘now’. She could feel herself turning pink. She couldn’t believe she’d asked that question.
"I like girls who know how to do stuff. Who don't care what other people think. Who don’t pander to anyone and know they’re special anyway."
Everything sort of slowed down at what he said, or rather her words being repeated back to her from when she'd confronted him at school while he was possessed.
"So you remember all of that?" she asked softly. She’d sort of hoped he wouldn’t remember stuff from when he was possessed or that it might fade away or something.
Kyle's eyes dropped to the floor again. "Yeah," he said with a heavy sigh.
"I'm sorry, Kyle. I can't imagine how awful or strange that must be."
He nodded his head. She wanted to reach out and comfort him in some way, but she couldn't muster the courage.
"I'm also sorry for how I was when you came to talk to me the other day. I was really bitchy."
"You were?" he asked with a wry grin.
"Yeah, I was," she said sincerely. "I seem to be that way a lot with you."
"I don't think so."
Mary didn't know what to say to that. He liked her, and she'd never run into this situation before. She skirted it a bit with Cy, and oh god, he was Cy's brother. Did she not know how to branch out? "Something was attacking Vicky. Rachel and I were trying to get rid of it."
"Not exactly." She winced and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He might be able to handle ghosts, but what about other weirdness?
"What was it?"
Now she wasn't sure if she should've told him anything, if telling him anything meant telling him everything. "It's called a Shadowman."
"What'd you do to it?"
Invited it home to terrorize her? Mary didn't know what to say. She felt like she hadn't done anything and didn't know what to do. They were taking stabs in the dark or rather at the dark but not getting anywhere. And she realized with a little start that she'd taken too long to answer. The pieces were clearly falling into place for Kyle.
"The thing's still out there?"
"But it's not threatening Vicky anymore," she was quick to point out.
Kyle, for all his bullishness, was pretty intuitive. "But it's threatening you?"
The quiver of her chin belied the lie she was quick to offer. "No, of course not. It wouldn't think of bothering me or Gran. That'd be like suicidal."
"Mary, are you safe?"
"I'm okay. Really."
Kyle didn't look like he believed her. Rachel appeared around the corner. She didn't look so bouncy anymore. Mary figured seeing real dead people might have woken her up to how not fun being a coroner would be.
"Come on Mary, we have to go. Maintenance totally busted me in the mechanical room. They said if I wasn't out in fifteen minutes, security would get me."
"Was this on your way to or from the morgue?" Kyle asked.
"To! I didn't get to see a single toe tag. It's such a bummer."
Mary rolled her eyes. She’d really hoped Rachel would drop her fascination with dead people.
"Mary, if you need help or anything, give me a call, okay? I mean it," Kyle said.
She nodded her head and got on the elevator. "Thanks, Kyle. I will if anything comes up."
"Bye, Kyle. Good seeing you," Rachel said as the doors closed.
"What floor, please?"
Mary snorted to herself and shook her head.
"What?" Rachel asked.
She shook her head. "We're going to the lobby."
"What? Oh! Is it the elevator ghost?"
"Yeah, it's no longer at the hospital."
"No, it's not good! It's still out there, and it's going to hurt other people."
"Get rid of it."
The ghost was quiet. God, he was useless. She shook her head and stared at the floor.
"So you, Gran, and Mr. White still don't know how to get rid of the Shadowman?"
"Mr. White thinks we can use a ghost, but I don't know how."
"Chowder?" Rachel sounded worried for the spectral dog.
"No, someone else. He likes to be called Max. Anyway, he's supposed to help get rid of the ghost, but no one knows how that's supposed to work. I mean the Shadowman hung out in a hospital that's full of ghosts. If ghosts are so dangerous to it, why stay here?"
"Stayed away from us. Didn't come near."
"Do you know how a ghost would defeat a Shadowman?"
There was no reply. Mary was seriously beginning to wonder if the ghost was trying to drive her crazy. Maybe it was an evil spirit who enjoyed infuriating people until they saw red.
"What's he saying?" Rachel asked.
Her look must have communicated the lack of communication coming to her because Rachel stepped back and looked down.
"I don't know why I bother. I tried to do the right thing. No, I DID the right thing, and I'm getting punished."
"Light hurts it. It flees. If can't flee, light will kill it."
"How can we keep it from fleeing? It's a shadow. It can slip through vents and cracks."
"No, it can't."
"Yes, it can!"
The ghost didn't argue back, but her mind was already churning over his denial, trying to figure out why he’d said that. She flashed on her window. It had been raised a few inches. She'd known the Shadowman had raised it, but why would he have had to raise it? It wasn't air tight. There was a seam though small, and at the morgue, he’d been pushing the door open, not slipping through the crack.
"You know this is almost as annoying as having two people argue over you in a different language."
"He said that the Shadowman can't slip through small cracks, and it can't go through doors. It can be trapped."
"Great, then what?"
"Then turn on the lights."
"So...how do we trap it?"
"We lure it with bait."
The elevator doors opened, and she strode off the elevator with a plan starting to form in her head. It was still very hazy, but a plan was coming together. She stopped mid-step, and Rachel ran into her.
Mary dashed back to the elevator and jammed the closing doors with a foot. "Thank you. You've helped a lot and sorry for being so rude to you."
"No worries, miss. It's all part of the job."
She wasn't sure what to make of that, but nodded anyway and let the doors close.
"What are you planning?" Rachel asked.
"I don't know yet. Come on, I need to get home."
Mary's knee bounced the whole time she was in the car. Now that she had a direction, a way to reach her goal, she was anxious to get it done. She'd been so morose about her prospects before, but now she was driven. The car hadn't come to a complete stop before she jumped out and ran up the steps to her house.
"Gran!" she shouted.
She hadn't needed to shout. Gran was waiting for her in living room. Mary let her muscles relax. "Vicky's awake."
Gran perked up at the news. "She is? How is she?"
She shrugged and sat in the recliner. "She seemed pretty normal actually. She said to say thanks."
"Well, that's good. It's good that she's okay."
"I also think we can defeat the Shadowman."
"And how's that?"
"We set a trap. If we can lure it into a room and shut it in, we can turn on a lot of light and kill it."
“That sounds more like a theory than a plan."
Her shoulders hunched a bit. "I don't have the particulars yet, but it's something to work with. We have to get rid of it."
Gran sighed and nodded. "I'll think about it, maybe come up with a few particulars."
She nodded back. "The room doesn't have to be air tight or anything, and Max can help us."
Gran nodded again but didn't reply. Mary could tell she was thinking, but she looked uneasy too.
"Good night, dear. Sweet dreams."
Mary went up to her room and closed the door. Lure it, trap it, and kill it. That's what she had to do. She had Max. She knew light could kill it. But where would she lure the Shadowman? She looked around her room. He obviously knew where she lived so she could tempt him into the house, but how would she trap him inside if he opened a window to slip in? Max? If she kept him sheathed until the Shadowman was there, she could unsheathe the sword to release him, and he could close the window. But what would happen while Max was covering the window? She had to be able to turn on a lot of lights quickly. The ceiling light's switch was across the room. Her bedside lamp was too dim to do the job.
She fell asleep with every light burning in her room and a flashlight by her side. Max had told her good night and that he'd kept vigil through the house. Still she had trouble sleeping. Every hour she would start awake and look around the room.
The next day she shuffled down to the kitchen, following the smell of French toast. Gran turned from the stove to give her a smile.
"Good morning, dear."
Mary mustered a grunt and slumped into her chair. She rubbed her eyes to try and rouse herself. She felt like sludge.
Gran set a glass of orange juice and a plate of French toast in front of her. She focused on pouring syrup onto her toast and may have nodded off for a few seconds. Syrup was close to overflowing her plate when she set the bottle down. She wasn't even sure what day of the week it was. She clutched a slim hope that it was the weekend.
“You shouldn’t be on your feet,” she said belatedly.
“I’m doing fine.”
She didn’t have the strength to argue and shoveled a large forkful of French toast into her mouth and instantly regretted it. She was too tired to eat so much. She propped her head on her fist and dragged her fork through the syrup as she made herself chew. She began dozing off again.
"Mary, I'm keeping you home from school."
She blinked open her eyes and looked at Gran. She pushed her plate away and stood up to go back to bed.
"Aren't you going to finish?"
She weaved on her feet. "Too tired," she mumbled.
"Did you have a nightmare?"
"Never slept long enough to have one. I think I'll try sleeping now. Could you wake me up for lunch?"
Gran nodded and took her plate to the sink. She stumbled back up to her room and collapsed onto her bed. Maybe she could become a hardcore night owl until the Shadowman situation was resolved. She thought that sounded like a very good idea as she drifted back to sleep.
When she woke next, it was with a start. She came wide awake. All of her bedroom lights were on, and it was clear why when she looked to the window. It was dark outside. She'd slept the entire day. She looked at the clock, and it was just after eight p.m. She got up from bed and went downstairs to find Gran.
She'd expected to find her on the sofa, but the living room was empty. She called out to locate her. Silence was her answer. She checked the fridge for a note but didn’t find one. This wasn’t right. Gran should be here. She still couldn’t drive. And she wouldn’t have left her home alone and asleep after dark. True, all her lights were on, but where was Gran?
The light was flashing on the answering machine. There were three messages. She pressed the play button, hoping to hear Gran with a sensible reason for why she wasn’t home and what was going on.
“Helena, this is Zeke. I need you to call me. My number’s 555-5651.” The message was left at 10:30am. Mary wondered if Gran had gone to see Mr. White, but why wasn’t she home yet?
Next was Rachel. “Mary, where are you girl? Call me.” She waited tensely for the third message hoping it would be Gran. Instead it was Mr. White again, "Helena, I hope you get this message. I'm worried. Call me."
She picked up the phone and dialed Mr. White’s number. It rang three times before he picked up. "Hello? Helena?"
"Mr. White, it's Mary. Have you heard from Gran?"
"No, where is she? What’s going on?"
"I've been asleep. Gran didn't wake me up, and she's gone. I don't know where she is."
“Are you at home? I’m coming over.”
“Okay. Why were you trying to reach Gran?”
“I’ll explain when I get there. Is Max with you?”
She closed her eyes and listened. She hadn’t heard a peep out of him and couldn’t sense him. “No, I don’t know.” Where was Chowder also?
She walked from the living room into the kitchen. “Chowder, where are you boy?” she called.
“Is Chowder your dog?”
“Yeah, I don’t know where he is ei--.” Mary stopped when she heard a whimper. It was coming from Gran’s office. She swept the beads aside.
“Mary, what is it?” Mr. White demanded.
Gran was slumped onto the table. An overturned tea cup was by her head. Chowder’s body was lying on the floor. There was a tear at his neck. A small pile of sawdust had leaked out. Max’s sword was sitting on the table in his scabbard. Mary went over to Gran and set the cordless down. She carefully pushed her into a sitting position. “Gran, wake up. Gran.” She shook her gently, but she didn’t rouse.
She picked the phone up. “Gran won’t wake up. I need to call 911.”
“Mary, wait. It’s most likely the Shadowman. If we don’t stop him now, we might never get the chance. Unsheathe Max and wait for me.”
“I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
Mary hung up the phone and checked Gran again. She was breathing, and her pulse seemed strong, but she wouldn’t wake up. Had the Shadowman got her? She grabbed Max’s sword and drew it.
“What’s going on? What’s happened?”
“Max, do you know what happened to Gran?”
“I think the Shadowman was here. Oh, your poor dog.”
Mary spared a glance for Chowder. She carefully laid Gran’s head back onto the table and crouched down by the small dog. “Chowder?” she asked softly. There was no answer.
Tears ran down her face. He sounded like he was in pain. It was so wrong. She carefully set his body upright and tried to pack a handful of sawdust back inside him. “You’re going to be okay, Chowder. I promise.”
“I know where the fiend is. Time to have it out with him. This is no way to treat a lady.”
“Max, wait—” But he was gone. She held the bejeweled plastic sword close and put her hand on Gran’s shoulder. Her eyes swept over the table and landed once again on the overturned tea cup. From this side of the table, she could see inside it. There was something stuck in the bottom, and it wasn’t loose leaves. She picked it up and brought it to her face. At the bottom of the cup were bits of something hard, like pieces of a crushed pill. She remembered her own sudden lethargy after breakfast. Could something have been slipped to her as well? She didn’t know what to make of it. Then the power went out.
“Max!” The ghost didn’t answer. The only light now was the weak moonlight streaming in through the windows. But there were candles set up all around the room. No self-respecting medium would work without candles. Ambiance was very important. Mary quickly got a box of matches out of the sideboard and began lighting them. She kept Max’s sword tucked under her arm. She hoped he showed back up soon.
She didn’t know what to do. The phone was dead now because of the power, Gran was still unconscious, Chowder was hurt, and she didn’t know where Max was. She blew out the match after she lit the last candle. That was when the chittering began, just beyond the beaded curtain. She turned to face it and quickly moved candles to the central table to bring the light closer to Gran. His red eyes followed her every move. She was so frightened, her hands shook, and hot wax spilled over her fingers, but she barely felt it. “Max!” She brandished the sword at the beaded curtain, and the Shadowman hung back.
“You certainly are a most resourceful and levelheaded girl.”
Mary’s heart leapt in relief. “Max, what happened? Are you all right?”
“Kind of you to inquire. I am fine. You, though, do not appear to be faring well.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Wait, he’s coming in.”
Mary stumbled back thinking Max meant the Shadowman, but he didn’t shift from his spot.
From the front of the house, Mary heard the front door open. “Mary?” It was Mr. White.
“Mr. White, don’t come back here! The Shadowman’s here!” But her heart tripped as she heard the sound of a shuffling gate moving toward her.
“Max, go help him!”
“He doesn’t need my help.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but it gaped instead as the candles began to go out one by one. The Shadowman hadn’t moved from beyond the beaded curtain. She fumbled with the box of matches to light them again, but the box jumped out of her hands. The matches scattered, and she couldn’t see any of them in the darkness.
“That’s enough, Mary. No need to keep screeching.” She turned back to the beaded curtain. The Shadowman moved aside, and Mr. White stepped through. Her hand came up and pointed at them, but she was speechless.
“Have a seat, Mary. This shouldn’t take long.”
Continue to Chapter 13