Mary backed up until her knees hit a chair and then folded into it. She stared incomprehensibly but with too much clarity as Mr. White swept the beaded curtain aside and stepped into the room. The Shadowman stayed in the hall.
She had to ask because her brain refused to understand what was going on. “What’s going on? How come the Shadowman’s not attacking you?”
“He won’t. He can’t.” Mr. White held up his hand, and a ring flashed blood red in the dim light. “He’s tied to me. My servant. Like Max. He stalks people for me and brings me their life force.”
“Terms of the contract. If he wants to be separate from me, he has to keep me supplied with life force. All shadows wish to be free. Why do you think they stretch so far from us?”
“Your shadow? How is that possible?”
“Cut him off.”
Mr. White gave her a withering look and held up his ring hand again.
“But why would you cut off your own shadow?” It sounded so ludicrous and like a deal with the devil.
“Self-preservation, of course, but then again no one wants to die. I’m an old man, and don’t have many more years left on my own. If I have any more years. It steals life force for me, and I allow it its freedom.”
She shook her head. She couldn’t believe how well he’d duped her and Gran, and what better place to set loose a Shadowman than in a hospital? No one would question someone dying there, except people who knew of things beyond the grave. She’d walked right into his scheme, and he’d sent the Shadowman after her. And now he was going to kill her.
“You won’t get away with this.”
Mr. White began to chuckle, but it swiftly turned into a deep, racking cough that bent him over. He had to gasp for breath to speak. Still doubled over, he turned toward the Shadowman and pointed at her. “What are you waiting for? Take her.”
The Shadowman slipped past him and began drifting toward her. From behind her came a growl.
The Shadowman stopped and stared at a point on the floor. Chowder snarled. The Shadowman jerked. He thrashed around.
“I say, he is a very strong little dog.”
“Max, deal with him.”
Mary risked looking behind at Chowder’s body only to watch it rise up, and the head smash against the table.
His body fell to the ground. The tear at his neck spanned his throat now, and a glass eye was missing.
“Why did you do that? He was just a little dog!”
Mr. White answered. “He was in the way. Don’t worry, girl. Don’t they say all dogs go to heaven?”
She turned back towards the Shadowman. It began to approach again. She still had Max’s sword. She clutched it in both hands. As he reached out to her, she swung it in an upward slash. It went through his hand. It felt like cutting Jell-O. He jerked back and a screeching sound like grinding gears came from him.
“Max!” Mr. White shouted. She was grabbed from behind. She didn’t try to struggle away. Instead she kicked the chair back. She felt the cold chill of Max’s form pass over her. Her chair banged into the table. She twisted around and grabbed the sheath.
“Mary, wait—” Max’s voice was cut off as she slammed the sword into the sheath.
“You don’t have Max or Horace or whatever the hell he wants to be called to help you anymore.”
“That’s fine. You don’t have anyone either. Just give up, Mary. I will get you.”
“Why are you doing this? How are you controlling him? Are you really? Or is he controlling you?”
Mr. White chuckled at her desperate questions. He wagged his finger at her. “No, you don’t get anymore answers. They won’t help you anyway. Now get her.”
The Shadowman moved toward her again, but she leapt from the chair and dodged past him. She rushed Mr. White. They fell into the hallway in a tangle. She grabbed the collar of his shirt. “Call him off!”
“Or you’ll what?” He peered into the room. “I think you forgot something or rather someone.”
Mary turned and saw the Shadowman was next to Gran. His hand was on her. “No!” Mary scrambled to her feet. “Don’t! Stop touching her!”
The Shadowman only stared at her implacably. Could he even understand her? She edged closer to Gran. White wisps rose from her head where the Shadowman’s hand hovered.
“Fine, take me. Do it.”
“That’s a good girl. Your gran would be so proud.”
“Don’t talk about her like you care! You take me, and then you leave. You never come near her again.”
“Fine.” He looked at the Shadowman and jerked his head. The Shadowman left Gran and came toward her.
“Won’t need anyone for a while after you.”
When the Shadowman was at arm’s length, she had to clench all of her muscles to keep from backing away. He raised his hand.
Her grip tightened on Max’s sword. She’d held it tightly the whole time.
“What are you waiting for? Pull it out!”
The Shadowman’s eyes flashed, and his hand began to descend. Mary shucked the sheath off the sword and drove it into the Shadowman’s torso. She felt her bile rise when it stuck. The sound that the Shadowman made was worse than nails on a chalkboard. She let go of the sword and stumbled back. It stayed embedded in the Shadowman.
“Mary? What have your done?”
“I’m sorry, Max.”
“No!” Mr. White rushed forward. She jumped in front of him and shoved him hard. He fell to the floor. The Shadowman was clutching at the sword, but he seemed unable to grab it.
“No, no, no!” Mr. White struggled up and reached with one hand toward the Shadowman. The other grabbed at his own chest. Mary blocked him and grabbed his wrist.
“Stop. It’s over.”
“Max, pull your sword out. Do it!”
Mary glanced back. If Max pulled out his sword, what would happen?
“No, I don’t think I will, Ezekiel. My debt is paid.”
“No, it’s not! You still owe me, and you know it.”
“Maybe, but it won’t matter if I’m gone.”
Her eyes widened as a pale silhouette came into view behind the Shadowman. It was Max. She couldn’t believe she was seeing him. Her eyes couldn’t leave as his hands circled around the Shadowman’s neck.
Mr. White surged to his feet. “No, stop!” Mary held him back.
The Shadowman’s hands flew from the sword to his neck. He struggled to pull Max off of him. A gurgling sound came from Mr. White. Mary wrenched her eyes away from the spectral forms struggling to watch in horror as Mr. White collapsed with his hands at his neck.
“Grab the sword. You have to strike the heart.”
“It’s the only way. He’ll just keep killing people if you don’t. Grab the sword!”
She got up and moved in front of the Shadowman again. It was trying to wrench Max off, but it appeared to be growing weaker.
“Mary, do it now!”
She grabbed the sword with both hands. She pulled it out and again was sickened by the feeling of resistance as she pulled. When it was free, she could see that the plastic blade was coated in a translucent black substance. She wanted to puke at the sight.
She clutched the sword in both hands and stabbed into the chest. She screamed as the sword met resistance again. She had to push harder to make it go in all the way.
The Shadowman’s back arched, and its awful cries were cut off. “Time to go to hell, my friend.”
They were fading. The black translucent goo was dripping out from around the sword and dissipating on the floor. The sword appeared to be shriveling like it was against strong heat.
Mary turned to Mr. White. He still had his hands at his throat, but he wasn’t moving. His face was frozen in a silent wail. When she looked back at Max and the Shadowman, they were hardly outlines.
“Max, hold on!”
She reached to grab the sword. “No, Mary. This is how it should be. I’m sorry for deceiving you and Helena and for killing your pet. He was a better ghost than me. Please, forgive me.”
“No, Max!” The Shadowman and Max faded away completely.
They were gone. The rattle of something hitting the floor made her look down. It was what was left of the sword, a black sliver of burnt plastic. She bent down and stared at it.
There was no answer. Her eyes stung, and her legs gave out. She collapsed and poked the burnt plastic. She wiped her eyes and looked at Mr. White. He lay on the floor. His eyes were still open, but they were cloudy now. She put her fingers to his neck to check for a pulse and felt none. With a shaking hand, she reached and gently wiped her hand down his face, catching the eye lids and pulling them down. She also lifted his chin to close his mouth. He looked almost peaceful when she was done.
When Gran moaned, she couldn’t stifle the sob that came out of her. “What happened? Is the Shadowman here?”
Her knees shook as she picked herself up and went over to her. She put her arms around her and sagged, practically sitting in her lap.
“Mary, what happened? Are you all right?” She could tell when Gran spotted Mr. White. She pushed her away and got up. “Oh my God, Ezekiel! Mary, call 911.”
She wiped her face and sat in the empty seat left by Gran. The power was still off. Someone would have to go to the basement and flip the breakers before they could call for help. She couldn’t bring herself to move. “He’s dead. I’m sorry.”
Gran crouched over the body. Her hand was on his cheek. “The Shadowman killed him?”
She wasn’t sure how to answer. Should she tell her? She didn’t even know exactly what all had led to this point. How Mr. White had made the Shadowman and how Max had been working for him were still strange to her, and who had killed Mr. White? She wanted to vehemently deny it, but she had a sinking, shuddering feeling that she was the one. She’d killed a man. Not directly, but she’d seen how attacking the Shadowman was affecting him, and she hadn’t stopped. She’d still taken the sword and stabbed it in the heart.
She jumped in surprise. She hadn’t noticed Gran had moved to crouch in front of her. What could she tell her? She looked down at her hands. They were clean. No black goo. No blood. They looked innocent.
“I killed him.”
“I killed Mr. White.”
“No dear, it was the Shadowman.”
Mary looked into Gran’s eyes. There was still very little light in the room. Gran’s face was mainly in shadow. But what little light there was glimmered off tear tracts. Mary wiped her own face, but it was dry. She didn’t feel sad. That was bad wasn’t it? She should feel sad for killing someone shouldn’t she? Her eyes dropped back to her innocent looking hands.
“Let’s get you into the living room. Did lightning knock out the power?”
She let her pull her out of the chair. She had to step over Mr. White’s feet to leave the room. She started to shake. What if he spoke up? What would she say to him?
“Are you there, Mr. White? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Mr. White, can you hear me? I’m sorry.”
She finally felt tears when she realized there would be no reply. Gran pushed her out and hustled her to the living room. She pushed her down onto the couch. “Stay here. I’m going to check the breakers and call 911. Just stay here.”
She nodded and stared at the floor. Gran left to go to the basement. A few minutes later, the lights came on all over the house. The sudden illumination stung her eyes. She sort of wished it’d stayed dark.
Gran came to sit beside her on the couch. The cordless was in her hand. She was telling the emergency dispatcher their address. After she hung up, she put her arm around her. “If anyone asks, say it looked like he had a heart attack or a stroke. He came over to visit and collapsed.”
She nodded and drew her knees up to her chin. The house was so quiet. The only ones there were her and Gran. It hated the silence.
“Mary, what happened?”
“I killed Mr. White.”
Gran squeezed her, but there was a trace of frustration in her voice. “Don’t say that anymore. Not to me, not to anyone. Now tell me what happened.”
“The Shadowman was here. It was going to kill us. I stabbed it with Max’s sword, and Max grabbed it. He held it so I could stab it again.”
“What was Zeke doing?”
Mary shuddered and bowed her head lower. “He was trying to stop me.”
Gran froze. Mary wanted to crawl under the couch. There was banging at the front door. Gran flew off the couch to answer it. There were paramedics and police officers on the other side. Gran led them all back to her office. Mary stayed on the couch.
She could hear a lot of talking and movement from the back, but they didn’t come back through the living room. They must have brought the ambulance around the house and took Mr. White out through the office entrance. Gran stayed with them and answered their questions. No one came to speak to her. They must have believed Gran’s story. She wondered if there would be an autopsy and what the coroner would find. Would there be strangulation marks? What about stab wounds? She hadn’t seen any blood, but his death had been violent. Surely, there would be evidence of that? Would she be a suspect? What about Gran? What would they tell them?
The phone rang. Gran had left it on the couch with her. She picked it up and looked at the number. She didn’t recognize it, but it was local. “Hello, Dubont Hellick residence.”
“Hello, this is Nina Beadley. May I speak to Mrs. Dubont?”
Mary’s eyes went toward the office, but it sounded like Gran was still talking to the police. “She’s busy right now, may I take a message?”
“Is this Mary?”
She swallowed and ran her hand through her hair. She wanted to deny it but knew that would be stupid. “Yeah, Mrs. Beadley. How are things with Marvin?”
“He was good for a few days after your visit, but he’s up to his old tricks again, and I’m about at my wit’s end.”
“You want us to get rid of him?”
She wasn’t sure why, but the thought made her feel sick. Mrs. Beadley paused before she answered. “Not get rid of him, but I shouldn’t hold onto him. I need to let him go.”
She wanted to hang up the phone. She couldn’t discuss this with her. Gran had come back into the room. The police must have finally left. She mutely held out the phone. She took it and cocked her head questioningly. “It’s Mrs. Beadley. She wants to talk about Marvin.”
Gran nodded her head and walked into the kitchen with the phone. She wasn’t sure what to do now. Should she stay on the sofa? She felt like she should be doing something. She got up and went into the kitchen. Gran was sitting at the kitchen table while she talked. Mary walked quietly by her towards the office. She didn’t know if Gran saw her or not. She made no move to stop her.
The office looked the same and different. The lights were all on, and Mr. White was gone. Chowder was sitting on the sideboard. The rip on his neck sagged in a little from the missing sawdust. His missing eye was sitting by his feet. She patted his head with a shaky hand. There was no happy pant or cheerful yip. Not even a whine. She wanted to cuddle the small dog but couldn’t because she was afraid of dislodging more sawdust.
She couldn’t put him to peace like Mr. White. He had no eye lids to close; his mouth was wired open; his body rigid with sawdust. She picked up the small body and tucked it under her arm. The familiar motion made her shudder. She quietly slipped through the outside door of the office. The back of the house had a large covered porch which extended to both the office entrance as well as one to the kitchen. Gran kept most of her gardening tools there. She picked up a garden trowel and scanned the backyard for a suitable spot.
Their back yard was not the prettiest. The garden tools were more there as an aspiration than actual use. Scrub grass and weeds made up the yard, along with an old crookety tree which she could never remember the name of, but the foot of it looked like the nicest place to be buried.
She knelt near the tree and set Chowder gently to the side. She picked up the trowel and began stabbing the ground to break up the dirt. She had to stop herself after a while when her stabbing was fuelled more by emotion rather than necessity. She leaned back and looked up at the sky. The stars overhead were distant and cold. She heard the screen door to the kitchen slam. She looked up at Gran when she came to stand by her. She still had the phone, but now it was off. “I can call Mrs. Todd to get the number of her taxidermist. He could fix him up again.”
Mary shook her head. “It’s no use. He’s gone.”
Gran’s face went slack. “Are you sure?”
Gran seemed to sink into herself. The hole was about a foot deep now. She couldn’t bring herself to call it a grave. Gran carefully got onto her knees and put out her hand. “Here let me do it.”
She shook her head again. “Right, let Grandma do the digging, not the teenaged girl.”
“There are some things you shouldn’t have to do yet.”
She began digging again. How deep was enough? What should she use as a marker? Should they say something? Like a prayer? She didn’t know how to answer these questions. She didn’t know anything, yet she could do so much damage. Tears began to fall from her eyes as her breath turned into hiccups. Gran reached out and put her hand over hers. She let her take the trowel.
She looked at the little dog resting beside her, and the thought of just placing him in the ground as he was seemed so cruel. “We should wrap him in something. I’ll go get a towel.”
Gran nodded and kept digging. She went inside and took down a towel from the bathroom closet. She realized what she was getting was a shroud. She felt a new set of tears forming. She went to take the towel to Gran and spotted the red ball. It had been his favorite toy. She picked it up and folded the towel over it. She went back outside. Gran was waiting for her. Together they carefully wrapped the towel around the small dog, including the ball and lowered it into the small hole. “What should we say?” Mary asked. She didn’t know if she could say anything, but something should be said, right?
“Chowder, you were the best little dog. You made us happy. We will miss you, and we hope you are happy and surrounded by love.”
Mary nodded silently in agreement.
Continue to Chapter 14