As she walked to the principal’s office, Mary tried to think of why she’d been summoned. Nothing was coming to mind. She hadn’t done anything disruptive in over a month. She hadn’t had any confrontations or pulled any pranks. Rachel could attest to the last one. They never did a prank without the other. Which reminded her, they really needed to do something. She’d have to think on it. She’d already decided to target the student government this time. They’d been harping on about some trip to D.C. and had been having bake sales, car washes, and donation drives to raise money. She’d taken offense to the donation drive. Why should she give money to buy plane tickets for kids who drove Beemers?
When she entered the principal’s office, the secretary smiled at her. The way she smiled put her on guard. The secretary never smiled at her, and this smile hadn’t been a cheery smile. It was a pitying one. The secretary led her back to the office. Principal Hoke and Mr. Landa were inside. Principal Hoke and she had never met under pleasant circumstances, and this time looked to be no better, but this time, she wasn't going to be given ISS.
“Mary, please have a seat.”
She sat down, but the principal and Mr. Landa remained standing. Principal Hoke had both her hands clasped before her, and Landa had his in his pockets, but their stances weren’t relaxed. They looked stiff.
“Mary, there’s been an accident.”
At that statement, she went still. Goosebumps erupted over her body, and sweat broke out. She was startled when Mr. Landa pulled a chair up beside her and took a seat. She looked at him with wide eyes. He put a hand on her back. “Your grandmother fell in the hospital. She’s been admitted.”
“Will she be all right?”
He patted her back. It made the muscles there tense up. “I’ll give you a ride to the hospital.” His non-answer made her tense up more.
“Mary, I’m very sorry. Let us know if there’s anything we can do.”
“Thanks, Ms. Hoke.” In a slight daze, she stood and followed Mr. Landa out. The bell hadn’t wrung yet for next class. Students were milling in the entryway. Mr. Landa walked close to her.
“Mary!” She looked up at Rachel’s call. She and Kyle were standing at the stairway entrance. Mr. Landa paused to let her speak to them. Rachel rushed up.
“What’s going on?”
“Gran’s been hurt.”
“What?” Rachel put her arm around her.
“They say she fell. Mr. Landa’s taking me to the hospital.”
“I’m coming too.”
Mr. Landa jumped into the conversation. “I’m sorry Rachel, but you need to go to class.”
Rachel turned to glare at him. “I love her too!”
“That may be, but the hospital will only allow family to see her right now. You can come by after school during visiting hours.”
“It’s okay, Rach. I’ll see you in a little while.”
Rachel nodded and gave her hug. “Don’t do anything stupid until I get there,” she whispered.
Mary nodded and hugged her back. Her eyes met Kyle’s over Rach’s shoulder. He looked uncomfortable. She gave him a small smile. “Hope everything’s okay,” he offered.
She nodded. The bell rang. Mr. Landa began going to the main doors again. She followed behind to the staff parking lot. She didn’t know what car he drove. She was surprised when the black Kia Amante’s lights blinked. She’d figured him for a Chevy Corsair or maybe an Ugo.
She got into the passenger seat. “Thanks for giving me a ride,” she said as she buckled her seat belt.
“It’s no problem. I’m glad I can help. Do you know why your grandmother was at the hospital?”
“She was going to see an old friend. I met him while volunteering, and she was going to talk to him.”
Landa nodded absently as he backed out. “How’s volunteering?”
“It’s okay. Everyone seems really nice.”
“That’s good. So you’re friends with Kyle?”
Mary got the feeling that this was no longer a simple favor for her but a scheduled session. “Yeah, I guess. I’m friends with his brother, so I guess I’m friends with him.”
“Vicky and Cyrus are close.”
She slouched down in her seat and fixed her eyes on the windshield. Why did everyone feel the need to discuss this with her? “Yeah, they like each other.”
“But you and Vicky have never gotten along.”
“No, but we’re doing okay now.”
His eyes slanted to her. “Since she’s been in a coma?”
She knew what he was thinking, but she wasn’t being sarcastic. “Yeah, we talk all the time now.”
He shook his head.
“I do want Vicky to get better. I may not particularly like her, but her parents and Cy care about her so I want her to get better.”
“Do you know anything about Gran?”
He didn’t answer. She wanted to curl into a little ball. What had happened to Gran?
They arrived at the hospital in silence. Mr. Landa pulled up at the front. She opened the door and had one foot out when she turned back. “Thanks for the lift. I got it from here.”
“Are you sure?”
She glanced toward the hospital. “I know the layout pretty well. I’ll get the room number from information. I’m sure you need to get back to school. Mrs. Pillar is here if I need anything. Don’t worry about me.”
“I’m not worried. I just want to make sure that you’re okay.”
“Aren’t those the same thing?”
He gave her a small grin. “A little. Will you be okay?”
“I’ll be fine. Once I see Gran, everything will be okay.”
He looked at her for a moment as if he were determining whether she was telling the truth. Mary was getting antsy. She wanted to get inside now. He finally nodded. “If you need anything, give me a call.”
She nodded and closed the door with a wave and strode into the hospital. Once she was inside, she faltered. What had happened to Gran? How was she? She wanted to know, but she was scared. The hospital appeared no different than when she was there last night. Patients and staff went about their business as usual, but it was different this time. Someone she cared about was here. Her first stop was the patient information desk. The woman working it smiled sunnily at her. She couldn’t return even a half smile. “Could you tell me what room Helena Dubont is in, please?”
She looked up the name in her computer. “She was put in room 224.”
Mary recognized that number. She started for the elevators before the receptionist looked up from her computer screen.
The elevator was empty when she got on it. “What floor, please?”
“Two. Did the Shadowman attack my grandmother?” The button for two lit up, but the ghost did not reply. “Do you know anything about what happened to my grandmother?”
Still the ghost didn’t answer. Why wouldn’t anyone tell her anything? She crossed her arms and tapped her feet. “Do you know anything about what’s going on in this hospital?”
The elevator stopped, and the doors slid open. “Thanks,” Mary grumbled and strode out. She quickly turned down the hall to room 224. As she reached to open the door, raised voices stopped her.
“You are so full of it! Tolliver’s book was a crock, and you know it!”
“He got the alignment right, didn’t he?”
“Pure chance! He doesn’t know his Manipura chakra from a bleeding ulcer!”
She pushed the door open slowly and peeked in. Gran was sitting up with her left foot suspended over the bed. She looked flushed and ornery. Mr. White was rather rosy in the cheeks as well.
“Mary! Oh no, I told the hospital not to call the school.”
She went to the bed and stared at her suspended foot. It wasn’t in a cast. It was in an ace bandage. “I thought the Shadowman had gotten you.”
“No, tell her really why you’re here!” Mr. White said.
Mary glanced at him and then back at her. “Gran?”
“Don’t pay any attention to him.”
“Did the Shadowman do this?”
“No, dear. I slipped. That’s all. I sprained my ankle, and now I’m waiting on X-rays to see if I broke anything.”
“If you believe that, then instead of her foot, they should X-ray your head.”
“What’s he talking about?”
“He has this crazy notion—”
Mr. White shook his finger at her. “It is not crazy! You fell down those stairs on purpose!”
Gran rolled her eyes. “Yes, that sounds sane and sensible.”
“I didn’t say you were sane or sensible.”
“Did the Shadowman do this?!”
“No!” They both shouted.
Mary threw up her hands. “Then what the hell is going on?”
Gran’s lips were screwed up in a scowl. Mr. White, though, was more than eager to answer. “Because I wouldn’t tell her anything about that stupid Shadowman, she went and hurt herself so she could trap me with her and wear me down until I tell her what she wants to know. It’s insane, and I’m not telling you a blasted thing!”
Mary didn’t know what to believe. “Gran, is that what happened?”
She lifted her chin and looked down her nose at her. Mary couldn’t believe it. She’d totally done it on purpose. She’d twisted her ankle to trap and interrogate Mr. White. “Have you at least found out anything?”
“He’s a stubborn old man.”
“You’re damn right. You ain’t getting anything out of me.”
"Mary, I'm going to need you to go home and bring in a few things for me." The way she sweetly said it made Mary's eyes dart to Mr. White. He was not going to like the stuff Gran was going to ask for. He seemed to suspect the same. “First, make up an overnight bag for me. Bring my nightgown and robe, also my CD player and my Dean Martin CDs. The television has a DVD player. Bring all the Martin and Lewis movies, and finally, I want my autographed picture of Dino. Got that?”
Every time she mentioned Dean Martin, Mr. White’s eye had twitched. The way Gran had talked, one would think she was a total Dean Martin fan girl, and Mary had known she liked him, but she didn’t listen to his music much or watch the DVDs. She’d probably have to wipe dust off them before bringing them in.
“I’ll give you fifty bucks to disobey your grandma.”
Mary turned to Mr. White. This could get interesting. “Thanks, but I don’t want money.”
“A hundred dollars.”
“You know what I want.”
“Zeke,” Gran said in a chiding tone.
“I’m going to get something for my information. You’re not getting it free.”
“You will get something--a Dino free zone.” Gran had him. She had the same look in her eye as when a client blustered about paying for her services. She’d get them to pay and tip well too.
Mr. White worked his jaw. Mary waited on tenterhooks. Gran started humming the tune for ‘That’s Amore.’
“Bwah! Fine! You want to know about Shadowmen? I’ll tell you. They’re nasty. They glom onto people and feed off of them. People hardly ever know they’re a victim. They just feel worn down and surly. Usually, the Shadowman will leave them about this time for a new victim.”
“How do you get rid of them?” Mary asked.
Mr. White shrugged.
“I don’t know how to get rid of them. People have tried blessings and exorcisms, but it never seems to definitively work. No one’s even sure of what they are. They don’t seem like ghosts. They aren’t demons. They’re a nuisance. That’s all anyone is sure of.”
“But they’re attacking people in comas. They may be killing them. That’s way more than a nuisance.”
“I remember you saying that, and I don’t understand it, but then again, nobody really understands Shadowmen. They just are.”
Mary looked at Gran to see her take on this. Gran had her chin cupped and was tapping a finger against her lips. “There has to be a way to help Vicky,” she said to her.
Gran nodded. “Zeke, have you seen the Shadowman that’s here? Has it tried to sneak into your room?”
Mr. White hunched over. “Yeah, it has, but I was always able to send it packing.”
“We need to lure it out and then follow it. Mary, I need you to go home and get Chowder and all the flashlights.”
“What are you planning?”
“We need to track it. Figure out where it rests. I think that will tell us how to get rid of it.”
“What do you mean lure it out? Are you going to make yourself vulnerable to this thing?” Mr. White sounded concerned. It made alarms go off in Mary’s head.
“I don’t like this plan much either, but if we plan to stop this entity, we need to find where it rests and anything else we can about it.”
“How are you going to track it with Chowder? You can’t leave the bed, and you can’t be sure Chowder will track this thing anyway.”
Gran looked down at her hands. She had them clasped together. She started massaging them. She did that when she wasn’t happy. “You’ll need to hide yourself and stay here. I’ll be the bait, and you’ll be the hunter.”
Mary didn’t know how to react. Gran wanted her to face this thing, but she didn’t know what to do. She’d been willing to take care of this on her own before, but now, she felt like this was asking too much. It didn’t feel right.
Mr. White picked up on her hesitancy. “Helena, this is a lot to ask of her. She’s just a young girl.”
“She can do it. I know you can. All you have to do is follow this thing. Learn what you can. See if you can find where it rests. You don’t have to confront it.”
She knew she couldn’t say no, but she didn’t want to say yes. The door suddenly opened, and Rachel rushed in.
“Mrs. Dubont! Are you all right? I heard you got hurt. Was it the Shadowman?”
Gran smiled at her, and Mr. White snorted.
“You ditched school,” Mary said.
“Duh. How was I supposed to stay in class when I didn’t know what was going on? As soon as I saw a chance, I left.”
“I’m fine, dear. Just a sprained ankle.”
Mr. White snorted again.
“Rach, I need you to take me to my house to get a few things for Gran.”
“Sure, wanna go now?”
“Yeah.” She didn’t look back as she left or say bye like Rachel. She felt jittery like she was over-caffeinated. She let Rachel lead the way.
She kept her head down in the elevator. She didn’t want to talk to the elevator ghost. She didn’t want to talk to anybody. She wanted to go home and crawl under her bed.
When they finally got into the car, Rachel asked, “So what really happened?”
“Gran sprained her ankle on purpose. She requested to be put in Mr. White’s room specifically to trap him with her.”
“Oh my God, your Gran is such a bad ass.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Has he told you anything?”
“He doesn’t know how to get rid of the Shadowman.”
“What? After making all those demands, he doesn’t know anything?”
“He says they usually don’t kill people. They just drain people for a while and then move on.”
Mary shrugged her shoulders. “That’s what he said.”
“Drains them of what?”
“I don’t know. He doesn’t know what they are either.”
“Well isn’t he a fount of nothing. Does Gran have any ideas?”
“Not yet,” Mary lied. She didn’t want to tell Rachel about the stakeout because she’d insist on being a part of it, and Mary knew she couldn’t help.
She left Rachel in the living room as she went to pack an overnight bag for Gran. She put Chowder’s stuffed body into the bag first and packed around him. She also threw in a few of Gran’s Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis DVDs in case they needed to threaten Mr. White some more. She barely had room for the normal stuff.
Chowder was being playful while she packed. He kept grabbing Gran’s hairbrush and running away with it. It was beginning to irritate her. “Chowder, we’re going for a car ride. You want to go for a ride, right?” she said in the hopes it would settle him down. The hairbrush disappeared underneath the bed.
She sighed in frustration as she crouched down to look under the bed. “If you don’t get into the bag, I’m leaving you here. You won’t get to go see Gran.”
She couldn’t tell if he understood her. Her hand didn’t touch the hairbrush. In exasperation, she lay down on her stomach to look for it and crawled halfway under the bed. This was what she’d thought about doing as she left the hospital. She took a moment to savor it, but she couldn’t really. She just felt stupid and dusty. She sneezed and looked again for the hairbrush. She saw it up toward the headboard against a small storage box. She pushed aside the wire box on wheels that Gran kept her romance novels in to reach for it. She remembered the storage box being up on the shelf in Gran’s closet. She’d been too small to ever reach it. She had no idea what was inside it.
She grabbed the brush and pulled the box out. She took the top off and found photos and yellow newspaper clippings. Most of the clippings were from The Huntsville Times. They were from 1980. She sorted through them. They were all about a missing teenager named Cathy Moore. None of the articles said she’d been found. She remembered Gran’s comment about an Uncle Moore. Was she his daughter? Why’d Gran hold onto these?
“Hey Mary, how much longer?”
She jumped and put the clippings back in the box. She wanted to look more at the stuff in the box, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to. She repeated the name Cathy Moore to herself several times to lock it in her memory, but right now, she didn’t know when she’d have time to investigate. She grabbed the overnight bag and went downstairs.
“Ready?” Rachel said when she saw her.
She hitched the bag higher onto her shoulder. “Yeah, let’s go.”
As they went back to the hospital, Mary felt resignation set in. She was going to stay behind in the hospital and wait for the Shadowman to attack Gran. It seemed like such a stupid idea that of course, they were going to go through with it. What other choice did they have? She glanced at Rachel and wished she could talk to her because she wanted to talk to someone about Gran’s plan but kept quiet. Rachel kept her eyes on the road and didn’t glance at her. She was a very careful driver. She had to be. If she so much as scratched the paint, her dad would revoke her driving privileges, and he inspected the car every time she came home. Mary suspected that it was more of a bonding thing now than a penal act.
She realized she had another problem. How was she going to explain to Rachel that she didn’t need a ride home? She couldn’t drive herself, even if she had a car. She only had a learner’s permit, and no one else was around to take her. Saying she’d take a cab or the bus wouldn’t go over.
When they got back to the hospital room, Gran and Mr. White had their dinners before them. “I don’t suppose you brought some cheeseburgers and fries with you?” he asked as he poked at his tray.
“Those cheeseburgers and fries are what landed you here in the first place,” Gran said, but she was only pecking at her food too. It looked like it was supposed to be beef stroganoff except it was rather gray and mushy.
“Do you want me to go down to the cafeteria and get you something else?” Mary asked.
Gran shook her head and pushed the tray away. “No, I’m just not hungry. Rachel, thank you for driving Mary. Your mother is looking for you. I’m afraid I mentioned you were by, and she realized you must have skipped class. You should go talk to her. Don’t worry about Mary. Neil, an old friend of ours, is coming to see me and can drive her home.”
Rachel looked reluctant to leave, but Gran had spoken. She turned to Mary and gave her a hug. “You’re coming to school tomorrow, right?” she asked.
Mary nodded. “Yeah, I’ll see you there,” she said, though she doubted she would be going tomorrow. All the lying was making her feel queasy, but her friend didn’t notice her unease. She wished she would. Rachel gave them a wave before slipping out of the room.
“Now, bring me Chowder,” Gran said.
“You told Mrs. Pillar about Rachel on purpose, didn’t you?” Mary said as she brought the stuffed dog over to her.
“Did you tell her about our plans?”
“She needed to go. It was the easiest way.”
“What do we do now?”
“This isn’t going to work,” Mr. White said.
“Don’t worry, we’ll let you keep a night light on.”
Continue to Chapter 8.