- 6 -
Alex checked the time as she opened the front door. One-thirty, so why the hell were all the lights on, and even music playing? That late, Claire should be sleeping, or with Ollie. She turned off My Chemical Romance’s Black Parade on her way to the kitchen. Not a good sign, that Claire had relapsed into her emo music.
“Finally!” the girl cried when Alex walked in.
Alex saw the mug full of black coffee in her niece’s hand and the carafe half-empty in the coffeemaker.
“Where were you? I called you a thousand times!”
Alex approached her with a cautious frown. She removed the mug from her hand and made her sit on a stool by the breakfast bar. After what had happened in Montana, Claire still had some trouble sleeping, but nothing serious enough to keep her awake.
“Breathe, Claire,” Alex said in a warm, soothing tone. “What is it? Another nightmare?”
“What? No! She’s still alive, you see? She can’t be! I checked she was dead myself! But she ain’t! At least the thing inside her isn’t!”
Alex held her eyes, waiting for a clue to make any sense of the girl’s words, and found none. “You talking about Ann Campbell?”
Claire didn’t seem to listen. “And she giggles! All the time! I keep hearing her giggles!”
“I tried to sleep but she wouldn’t let me! And you wouldn’t pick up the fucking phone!”
“Claire, please, can you tell me what on earth are you talking about?”
The girl snorted, snatching back her mug from Alex’s hands.
While she told Alex what had happened at Rob’s party, the boy rested in a hospital bed, surrounded by devices monitoring his vitals, his mother Sarah watching over him. He was unconscious but stable. In the morning, the tests would tell how serious his concussion was, and if he needed any kind of surgery.
Lou Thompson had gone home and Sarah snoozed in an armchair by Rob’s bed, covered with her jacket. Across the hall, the night nurse watched a movie on the nurse station’s computer.
Nobody seemed to notice the girl in black that came down the hall. The nurse didn’t even glance up from the computer when the girl walked into Rob’s room to stand by the boy’s bed. Sarah stirred in her sleep, but didn’t wake up.
Lila brushed Rob’s lips with a peck and whispered in his ear, “Wake up, sweet Rob. It’s time to go.”
The boy’s eyes fluttered open to meet Lila’s. She nodded with a loving smile.
At the Corbans house, Claire filled a second mug and handed it to Alex, who kept pacing up and down the kitchen. When Alex walked for the third time by the mug without even seeing it, Claire left it on the bar and sipped her own coffee. Judging by the denial Alex’s frown reflected, she could tell they were about to have an argument.
“It’s an echo,” Alex said after a long silence. “You saw the scars yourself. The girl wanted to die and she finally achieved it. It’ll be over after her funeral.”
Claire took her turn to play calm and reasonable. “What I saw moving down her throat wasn’t an echo, Al. That’s why I wanna look it up in Grandpa’s books.”
“And what’re you expecting to find there? That it’s some creature you can fight with spells? Enough already, Claire! Didn’t you already get enough of supernatural creatures? We ain’t opening that door again!”
“You didn’t fall back like this in Montana.”
Claire regretted her words the moment she said them. Alex glared at her as the girl had slapped her. Her voice was a living reminder of the scolds Claire had gotten when she was a teen.
“That witch wanted to have her ghost pet kill you! And she almost made it! And you still wanna mess with that stuff? Forget it, child! That ain’t gonna happen!”
Claire tried to make her case just to honor tradition. And to honor tradition too, Alex cut her off as soon as she opened her mouth.
“Nada! Can’t you understand this ain’t no game? Grandpa spent half his life running away from the supernatural! And see what good it did to him! He only got a slow painful death!”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
Alex snorted to cover up for her slip and ignored Claire’s obvious question to resume her rant. “There’s no coming back from the supernatural, Claire. And you ain’t going there! I won’t let you do it!”
The distant wail of a siren kept Claire from replying. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance filled the kitchen from the girl’s buzzing phone, earning her another poisonous glower from Alex as she hurried to pick up.
“What?” she cried on the phone. “I’m on my way!”
A chill ran down Alex’s back when the girl disconnected and grabbed her jacket on her way out.
“Where d’you thing you’re going?” Alex asked, following her.