Ray gazed through the little glass window in the metal door.
Erin was tucked up in the narrow bed on the other side, white-gold hair spread around her head like a halo. Like this, it was difficult to believe she would even be capable of lying, let alone blowing up a building.
“She’s all processed now…” Hannah lay a gentle hand on his shoulder. “We have to go, but we can come back tomorrow during visiting hours if you still have any questions you’d like to ask.”
This was the place where Hannah would work one day and Ray knew that she already did a fair bit of observation here. How many strings had she pulled to allow him access, to see that Erin was safe?
“What happens to her now?”
Hannah pulled away and he followed, falling into step with her.
“Well they’re going to do a few tests to determine if this is schizophrenia – my theory – or something else.” They turned a corner, Ray already felt lost. The psychiatric hospital was a maze.
“It is possible the cause is something physical,” Hannah said. “Like, for instance, a tumour or something that’s pressing on parts of her brain, causing the delusions.”
Ray’s heart did a flip-flop at that, “a tumour?”
Hannah stopped and turned to him, brow furrowed with concern., “Ray… if she has a tumour this is the best place for her. They’ll be able to help her.”
He nodded and sighed. He had done the right thing but it felt so wrong.
Ed was staying with Gina so the apartment was empty when Ray went in. The lights didn’t work – obviously, so he tiptoed over the glass, the moonlight through the gaping hole that had been the window made the floor glitter and cast strange shadows. His heart started hammering as he remembered the shadow creature he had seen down by the counselling centre. Hannah stood in the doorway, leaning on the doorframe. He wondered if she also felt uneasy.
“You can go back to the car, Hannah. I’ll only be a minute.”
She grinned, the vague light caught the edges of her smile, lending her a malevolence. “You afraid the shadows are going to consume me while your back is turned?”
He was. But there was no way he was going to admit that. “No. It’s just unnecessary for you to be here that’s all.” He realised that sounded a bit harsh and added, “I mean you’re already letting me stay at your apartment. I just don’t want to inconvenience you.”
“Ray, really, I’m just standing here. It’s no inconvenience.”
A shadow passed across the wall. Ray jumped. Stupid. It was obviously a car going past in the street below. Coward. He swallowed, hurried to his room and shoved some things in a bag. He hoped his haste wasn’t too apparent as he joined Hanna again.
It was only when they got to the car, parked over a block away, that Ray remembered the street in front of his flat was closed off. No cars could go past.
“Have you seen any more?”
Erin’s voice was strong even though her eyes were unfocussed and red-rimmed. A thick layer of glass separated her from Ray. It was safer this way, the nurse had said. Apparently Erin had woken up screaming and had thrown herself against the metal door for nearly an hour before collapsing in the corner of the room in foetal position. Ray had been allowed to see her only when Hannah assured the nurse that he would be able to calm her down. A slight exaggeration, but one he was grateful for.
“Seen what?” he asked, knowing full well she was referring to the shadow but not yet willing to admit it was anything but his imagination.
She frowned, eyes dropping to her lap. “I’m sorry I lied to you. It’s always hard. But it’s harder to tell you the truth, because really it doesn’t do any good. It just makes you feel guilty.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The shadows. The explosion. When I first found you, I told you that you were the only thing that was common to all universes. That was a lie. The truth is, you are only one of three things that I find in all universes.”
“I don’t underst-”
She spoke over him. “ I also lied when I told you I never know when I’m going to jump.” Her voice wavered. “There is always a great explosion or destruction of some kind beforehand.”
She started speaking in a rush, as if concerned she’d lose the will if she didn’t get all of the words out at once. “And then the shadows appear. They are summoned by death I think… or something like that. And for some reason they want to stop me jumping.”
“I thought you wanted to stop jumping”
“I do. But not like that. Ray… those shadows… they’ve been growing more desperate. Usually, if they see you, they stop pursuing me. That’s why I know in all the universes I need to find you. But now they seem to be after you too.” She was growing more urgent, waving her hands as she spoke.. “In the last universe, it was so horrible, they came after you as well and you tried to defend me but you couldn’t. I jumped just in time. That’s why when I saw the explosion, I had to run. I had to get away from you. I thought that would make them leave you alone. But then last night, they came after you even though I wasn’t with you. Ray, you can’t see them as easily as I can. You need to let me out of here. I need to protect you.”
Whatever he’d been expecting it hadn’t been that. “Erin calm down. Listen. I can’t get you out of here.”
“Then it’s already too late.” She lept to her feet and started pacing in the small space on the other side of the glass. “If I can’t show you where they are you might not see them. Look at the one last night.”
“What happens if they get me?” he asked, despite the fact that he was trying desperately not to believe any of what she was saying. “They’re just shadows, they can’t do much.”
Her head snapped to look at him, her blue eyes large, “In the last universe… Ray… you ended up in a coma. If I hadn’t jumped… they would have killed you.”
“So what if it is a tumour? Can they remove it?”
Ray was sitting in Hannah’s office at the psychiatric hospital as she paged through papers. She didn’t answer. It wasn’t technically her office, but her supervisor was out so Hannah was behind the desk.
“And how will you tell if it is? You use a scanner of some kind right? Will she have to go for a CAT scan? That will freak her out.”
Hannah didn’t look up. She was busy reading a report. Rain splattered on the windows. It had been raining almost constantly for the past few days, which was incredibly strange for this time of year.
“An EEG,” said Hannah. “We do an EEG, which will show up any inconsistencies in her brain.” She put down the pile of papers. “Why do you care so much?”
“You keep asking me that.”
“You keep avoiding answering. Why do you feel responsible for her?”
His first instinct was usually to react defensively to such questions, but today he was too confused to worry about what Hannah thought. He considered her question.
“I don’t know. I guess because I’m the only one who can be responsible for her. Someone has to be right?”
He gave a wan smile. Hannah seemed surprised at his honest response, but she tried to cover this by swinging her chair around to the window. “She’s lucky that she ended up here. This is one of the best funded facilities in the country.”
Ray understood that that was Hannah’s way of reassuring him. And yet he was still uneasy. Yes, he was concerned about Erin’s welfare, but he was also worried about what she had said. It would have been easier to dismiss her as crazy if he hadn’t seen the creature the previous night, if he hadn’t witnessed the strange shadow crossing his wall.
He knew it was pointless bringing these things up with Hannah. She wouldn’t understand, might even put him in the room next to Erin’s. He sat quietly, watching the rain, questinging every shadow that passed the window in the gloom. Cars? People walking past? Something that wanted to kill him?
He jumped when Hannah declared her work done and tossed him the car keys. He was numb to her laughter as he missed and they skidded across the linoleum floor.
She smiled, “it seems like you need it. You haven’t said a word in hours.”
He felt the corners of his mouth twitch at that. He’d always gone driving when he’d been upset. He’d never had his own car, his parents declared it unnecessary on a small campus. So, when they’d been together, Hannah had often let him borrow hers to calm his nerves.
“Thanks.” He said.
The hospital was a large building. Three storeys with underground parking that you could only get to via elevator. It was old, slow and creaky, and it was guaranteed to make anyone with a phobia of elevators completely freak out. Well, at least they’d be in the right place if they did.
It was in the elevator, with the car keys in his hand, that Ray broached the subject of the shadows with Hannah.
“Those shadows that Erin saw yesterday…”
“The ones we were running from?”
”I saw them too.”
Hannah’s face dropped. “No, you didn’t.”
He had expected that exact response from her. “Yes, I did”
“No, you only thought you did because she convinced you. That happens all the time. You can make yourself believe anything.”
The elevator reached the parking bay and she brushed past him. Oh well, it had been worth a try.
“Are you referring to me specifically or do you mean people in general?” He called after her.
“You more than most,” she called back without turning to look at him. He stepped out of the elevator just before the door closed on him.
And had to stop himself from screaming.
Hannah was walking up the middle lane of the parking lot, and in front of Hannah was a dark patch that shouldn’t have been there. In the dim light, it was easy to mistake it for a normal shadow – of a car or pillar… except there was nothing to cast it. It was simply a random patch of darkness.
“Hannah!” Ray ran towards her. She looked back at him, startled.
“In front of you!”
She must have heard the urgency in his voice, because she looked, but she turned back to him with eyes narrowed. “Ray, what the hell? There’s nothing there.”
He caught up with her, panting, eyes focused on the dark patch. It was growing.
”You have to look directly at the shadows. That’s what she said. Look right in front of you.”
“Ray, this is a parking lot. It’s filled with shadows. She’s simply got you spooked. Honestly it’s -”
She let out a squeak of alarm as he grabbed her hand and yanked her back towards the elevator.
“Ray! Stop! Ray, you’re scaring me.”
And then there was one in front of him again, against the elevator,. Looking like a reflection in the metallic doors. Yet the wrong shape… and closer.
“Look at the doors.” He hissed.
“Ray there’s nothing there!” Hannah’s voice was little more than a squeak. He’d never heard her like this before. The shadow started moving towards them. Ray pulled Hannah sideways, between two cars. He didn’t know where to run. Instinct told him he needed to get away… get to the light… if he could make it out of the parking garage…
But then there was another shadow before them. This one was a bit braver. Or else it was better formed. It was standing completely separate from the pillar’s shadow it might have been. And Ray could tell by the hitch in Hannah’s breathing and her ashen face that she could see it too. It wasn’t lying flat on the ground as it should have been. It was standing. Facing him.
“What do you want?” He called at it.
He didn’t know why he asked. They were shadows, they couldn’t answer. And if they had, his pounding heart may have given in. Besides, he knew what they wanted. They wanted Erin. Hannah’s grip on his hand tightened as the shadow started moving towards them.
“We’re surrounded.” He breathed. “It’s a trap. They knew we would come down here.”
“Stop it!” Hannah’s sounded hysterical. “It’s not real. You’re making me see things.”
Ray didn’t know how close the other two shadows were, but he knew there was one way to escape… get past them. Get to the light.
He didn’t say what he was thinking, he didn’t even think it through clearly. For all he knew the damn things could read thoughts. Instead he took off, Hannah in tow, dashing straight for the shadow in front of him. He could hear Hannah screaming at him, but he didn’t care. Adrenaline gave him the strength to pull her along. At the last second he changed direction, dodging past the shadow.
But it reached out.
‘Reached’ would be too humanising a word. It didn’t reach out. Part of it extended itself at him, almost as if to grab him. Hannah barrelled into him, pushing him out the way. Yet, as he stumbled sideways, he felt something cut across his shoulder. He didn’t stop to check what it was. They made for the light, for the ramp that lead out into the street.
Out in the rain, they were confronted with the empty wasteland that stretched out from the hospital. The guards sat on either side of the gate in anoraks, looking bored. It was a whole other world. It was a whole normal world. Once again Ray began questioning what he’d seen.
“You still think I’m hallucinating?” he asked Hannah as he panted to a stop next to the wire fence and collapsed into sitting position on the wet grass.
The only answer that was forthcoming was a sob as Hannah dropped to her knees opposite him and put her head in her hands. She was crying. Hannah, the strong, resilient and often dispassionate, was crying. He didn’t think he had ever seen her cry before.
He got to his hands and knees and crawled over to her, “Hey. It’s ok. We’re safe.”
Another sob. Then, “Dammit Ray.”
She hastily brushed the tears from her eyes. “Damn you. What the fuck was that? Damn you.”
He did the only thing he could do. He reached out to her and held her.