Ray stared at Hannah, unable to comprehend what he’d just heard. Erin wasn’t dead. She was walking around, talking, sleeping, having nightmares.
Ghosts didn’t have nightmares.
“you mean like she’s a ghost or something?”
Hannah didn’t look at him. She busied herself putting the printouts away. “I don’t know. I thought it was just the machine malfunctioning. But if the machine was malfunctioning then surely it would have shown nothing, not just a brain with no activity?”
Ray stood up abruptly, coming to a decision. “I have something to show you too.”
Her eyes were wide when they met his. She must have sensed something in his voice.
Before he could think better of it, he yanked his shirt over his head and exposed his injured shoulder.
The colour disappeared from her face. “What… happened?”
“You remember in the parking lot when you pushed me out of the way?”
“Oh my god.”
“Why didn’t you say anything before?”
Because he hadn’t wanted to worry her? Perhaps because once she knew, it was real. That thing. That thing had touched him. And could hurt him.
“Are you sure it was…”
”Yes, I’m sure. I felt it happen.”
He could see her rying to make sense of it. Trying to rationalise it.
“That. What you’re doing. You’re trying to find a reasonable explanation. Stop it.”
Things seemed to come into focus in his mind… what she had said before about seeing and still not believing. It was true. The first shadow he had seen had been vague and almost inseparable from the darkness unless he looked straight at it. Erin had said he needed her because she could see them easier… because she knew for certain they were there. Were they here now? In this room? Suddenly the space separating himself and Hannah seemed too great. The wall behind her where the flickering flames of the fire cast strange shadows seemed malevolent.
He closed the distance between them “What do you know for certain? Forget imagination. Forget madness. Forget justification. What do you know for sure?”.
“I know your shoulder is burnt.”
“And that these printouts are blank.”
“You’re freaking me out.”
He realised that he was confronting her in a way he’d never done before. He was actually looking down at her. Not on her. He’d never look down on her. But he wasn’t cowering under her glower either. He didn’t apologize. Instead, he insisted, “What else?”
“I don’t know what else.”
“You know what you saw in the garage.”
She looked up at him, frightened eyes reflecting the flickering of the light, “I know what I saw in the garage.”
“And you know that Erin is locked up… and that she offered an explanation for this.”
The statement was as much to himself as it was to Hannah. There was a pause while he thought and then Hannah said in an uncharacteristically small voice, “I don’t want to go back there.”
He knew immediately what she meant. She meant the psychiatric hospital. And she meant it because she’d guessed what he was thinking, that they had to ask for more details from Erin. Erin, who was stuck where she was unable to run. What if the shadows got to her? No one would even take notice of her screaming. Mad people screamed all the time.
He swallowed. “I don’t either. But I know there’s something strange going on. And I don’t know if it’s Erin jumping through the space-time continuum or the boogie man. I don’t know what it is. But I know it’s something and the longer I question whether it’s real, the longer it has a chance to…” he looked at his shoulder. He didn’t need to finish the sentence.
“It’s dark now,” she said, “we shouldn’t go back in the dark.”
“Do you still have those camping torches?”
“Ray… no… please…”
But he was already marching over to the broom cupboard where he rifled through her things until he found the two large torches. He switched one on and then the other checking the batteries. “They are shadows, right? They hide in the darkness. Why would they hide in the darkness if they weren’t sensitive to light.”
“You can’t be serious?”
He was serious. More serious than he’d ever been. Up until he saw those scans, he had been content to live in denial. But those scans confirmed one thing he’d only suspected before – Erin wasn’t normal. Not even for a mad person. Erin had said the shadows were getting more desperate, that before his presence had been enough to stop them from getting her, that now they were coming after him, trying to eliminate the only person who would challenge them in taking Erin. If these beings of darkness could really plot and plan, then it was obvious why they had attacked in the garage, why they had let him and Hannah escape. They wanted to get him away from Erin, so that they could take Erin themselves. At night. When the psychiatric hospital put the lights out.
He pulled his shirt on again and held a torch out to Hannah. She didn’t move and for a moment he considered leaving her here, leaving her where she was safe.
But that would mean leaving her alone, and he couldn’t do that. “I’ll need your help getting in.”
“What am I supposed to do? I’m an intern.”
“You have until we get there to come up with something.”
“Ray…” her voice wavered. Fear was unnatural coming from her.
“Hannah, she needs me. If you don’t come with, I’ll have to go alone…” he paused, then decided to continue. “I would like you to come with. I’ll feel better knowing you’re near.”
Of course it sounded much worse once spoken than it had in his head. He half expected some snappy retort about how she didn’t need him to protect her… but instead her fingers closed around the handle of the torch.
“If I’m going to be burned to death by shadowy creatures of darkness tonight, I’d rather I was with you too.”
They drove towards the hospital in silence. It had only been a few hours since they’d fled from there and Ray kept second guessing himself. The world seemed more sinister now, every shadow was a threat, and the rain beating down on the windscreen was not comforting – it was malevolent, menacing, drowning out the sound of possible danger.
“Okay,” Ray said at length. “We need a plan of action. Can you get in after hours?”
“No. The only time I’ve ever been in after hours was last night.”
“When we delivered Erin?”
He was silent again. Then suddenly swung off the road.
“Ray! God, don’t kill us before we get there. What are you doing?”
“I have an idea”
His mind was racing. “We can get past the security if we’re checking someone in right?”
“Admitting someone. Yes.”
“Right, so then all we need is a mad person.”
He caught her perplexed expression from the corner of his eye.
“And I know just where to find one.”
The street where Gina’s apartment was situated was famous for its nightclubs. It was one of the more expensive areas to rent, popular with students for obvious reasons. When Ray rolled up outside the digs, there were clusters of students loitering on the pavement under umbrellas or anoraks or even plastic packets. They were waiting for transport or friends or their lungs to recover from the hot, smoky air of the clubs. And they were a blissfully normal sight.
“You wanna wait here?” Ray asked.
“Oooh no. I wanna see this.”
Hannah followed him into the glittering foyer of the apartment block and up a flight of smooth white stairs that might even have been marble. He had been to Gina’s a few times before, usually to collect Ed – but never to collect him as a mental patient.
His heart sank as he reached Gina’s flat and heard voices inside. He didn’t have a set plan, but the outline in his head did not include a bunch of random people asking questions. He was just considering retracing his steps when Gina opened the door.
“Ray!” she said in cheerful surprise. Then her eyes slid to Hannah, “And Hannah!!” even more cheerful surprise. Ed stuck his head round the door.
“Dude.” Was all he said.
Ray was aware of what it looked like, but he had more pressing matters on his mind. He looked past Gina to Ed, “We need to talk. Do you have a minute?”
Ed must have sensed something was up. His gaze flicked from Ray to Hannah and back again.
“Sure. Gina was leaving to get ice. But we can do that. Talk on the way.”
Gina handed him her purse and threw one last enquiring look at Hannah before disappearing back to her guests.
Ray had considered pouncing on Ed as soon as they got out of earshot of Gina’s flat. But in a fancy apartment like this, there were probably cameras and security people dotted about. Besides, the day that Ray could single-handedly take Ed down would be the day that the sky fell. And he had no doubt in his mind that, if he pounced, he would be taking him down single-handedly. Hannah would be too busy laughing. So, instead of pouncing, Ray decided on the more forward approach. Start with the truth and, if that didn’t work, elaboration….
“You remember that Erin girl?” he said to Ed as they navigated the white stone corridors.
“Yea, sure. The crazy one.”
Not a good start in trying to convince him to help rescue her from the mental hospital.
“You know she said she came from a different universe?”
”Dude, she held up my whole physics class with that shit. Was entertaining though, I will admit.”
“We don’t think she was lying.”
Ed stopped in his tracks, “Come again?”
“I said, we don’t think she was lying.”
He laughed. “Can I get some of that stuff? I mean I’ve had a lot of stuff, but I’ve never had a trip like this before.”
“He’s serious,” said Hannah, quite unexpectedly.
Ed spun around, as if he’d entirely forgotten Hannah was there. His eyes narrowed as he scrutinised her. Then he held up his hand in front of his face, “Or maybe I’m tripping. Wow… impressive.”
“The thing is,” Hannah continued regardless, “we had her locked up in the psychiatric hospital.”
Ed raised his eyebrows, “Good on you.”
“No, not good.” Ray added, “Not good if she’s telling the truth.”
“If she’s telling the truth, something came through from the other universe with her. Something dark and dangerous,” Hannah added.
Ray was surprised at Hannah’s willing assistance, but didn’t let it show. The aim was to come off as cool and confident. Make him trust them.
Ed’s attention seemed piqued at the words ‘dark and dangerous’, but he remained sceptical, “Dude… that’s a pretty big if.”
“Big if you haven’t seen what we’ve seen,” said Hannah.
Of course, there was no way that Ed could not ask, “What have you seen?”
Ray outlined his experiences of the Shadows. He also mentioned the scans and his conversation with Erin.
“Dude…” said Ed when he’d finished, “You should publish that stuff.”
Hannah’s face fell. It was clear he didn’t believe a word of it.
Ray, however, had one more trick up his sleeve. Literally. He pulled Ed over into a side corridor, and took off his shirt.
He wasn’t sure who got the greater fright, Ed or himself. Instead of being healed by the gauze he’d put on it, his burn had become more inflamed… and spread, almost like an infection. It hadn’t spread far, but it had definitely grown.
“Are you saying one of those shadow things did that to you?”
“Dude… that’s not cool.” Ed frowned. Ray could see that he was trying to find a plausible explanation, but came up short.
Ray quickly pulled his shirt on again, “The only person who can explain those things is Erin, and we need your help to get her.”
Hannah was standing a few metres away, watching the rain out the window and possibly for approaching people in the reflection. Ed glanced at her and then said in a low voice, “She’s bought into this stuff?”
“She believes it as much as I do.”
Ed blinked, “hell… Ray… if she believes this then I dunno what to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything. You don’t even need to do anything. We just need someone to get us in.”