Where am I? I asked incredulously.
It would be best if you didn’t know.
Are you kidding me? I thought angrily, pressing my fingers deeper into her arm. Do you think you’re actually being helpful? You think you can come here, show up in my life like this and fuck around with me?!
Swearing at her didn’t help. Her expression was blank as a canvas.
You came to me this time, she said . It only works one way now.
Please then, I pleaded, softening my tone, just tell me where the hell I am.
She gave me a wry look. Rest assured, my dear, it’s not hell. Not yet.
She looked away, down the empty hal .
I must go, she said. They are watching me. They are watching you.
And with that she started shuffling again.
I watched her leave, dumbfounded but able to yel one last thing.
“Who is Declan O’Shea?!”
My words echoed after her until they both disappeared into thin air.
“Perry?” I heard my sister’s voice from behind me.
Startled, I turned around and saw Ada standing there in her grey denim leggings and studded moccasins, holding several fashion magazines in her arms. She wasn’t alone.
The hal was suddenly fil ed with people, as if the hospital came to life when my back was turned. Voices, beeps, closing doors, cries and wheeling gurneys fil ed my eardrums. It was like a veil had been lifted from my eyes and cotton bal s were plucked out of my ears.
I quickly looked back at where Creepy Clown Lady had disappeared. Not surprisingly, she was stil gone but the rest of the hal was occupied by nurses and patients going to and fro.
“You shouldn’t be out of bed,” Ada said, coming closer.
She took note of my worried face and waved the magazines at me. “I went to get some mags to keep me occupied. Mom said I don’t have to go to school tomorrow, that I could stay overnight with you. I’m not sure if the docs wil all ow it, but I’m going to try. This is way better than algebra.”
As she talked excitedly about what she’d be missing on her Monday, my thoughts automatical y went back to Creepy Clown Lady. Where was I now? Back in the hospital or somewhere else? And where was somewhere else? Where she came from? Where was that?
“Come on weirdo, let’s get you back to bed before the doctor catches us,” she said, placing her hand on my arm, turning me back to my room. “I think anyone with the name Dr. Cain is just waiting to inflict some serious punishment on people. Thank God he’s not a dentist, right?”
I sucked on my lip, debating whether to tel her about where I saw the doctor earlier. Ada had always believed me when I talked about the ghosts I saw – she was one of the few people who did.
I settled back into the uncomfortable hospital bed and watched as Ada got out one of her magazines and began flipping idly through it.
“I had something just happen to me,” I said quietly.
Ada paused and lowered the magazine to her lap and brought her eyes to mine. I had her ful attention.
I quickly explained seeing Creepy Clown Lady in the hal way, then what happened before I woke up in the hospital, the demon baby, Dex and Dr. Cain.
“What do you think?” I asked her when I was done.
She shivered and brought her wide cardigan closer around her skinny frame. “I think there’s no way I’m sleeping tonight.”
“But what do you think it means?”
She pondered that for a moment, her blue eyes swimming from the faint glow of the closest light. “I don’t know. I think what you saw earlier, with Doctor Cain, was a dream brought on by the drugs, or the shock of what happened.”
“And Creepy Clown Lady?”
“I guess it could be too. Do you feel any different now with me then you did five minutes ago?”
I thought it over. “A bit. I feel more awake now. I couldn’t real y think straight before, everything felt so…muddled. But I stil think I saw her.”
“Mayhaps. It might have just been in your dreams though. Maybe you were sleepwalking. It doesn’t mean she wasn’t trying to reach you. But I doubt you just strol ed onto, like, another dimension or something.”
We both laughed at the last part but it sounded forced. I think we both knew, as farfetched as the other dimension situation was, anything was possible.
The next three days off of work were like a mini-vacation, only I was unable enjoy it like a normal person would. My body was sore and fragile most of the time, which resulted in a lot of bed rest, which eventually turned into couch rest.
When I wasn’t sleeping or reading, I was occupying the couch in the living room like a permanent fixture, present for whatever my sister, mom or dad wanted to watch. I wasn’t even that big of a TV person; I just wanted to be around people, even those who annoyed me, even when my mom forced me to watch The Bachelor.
I started to hate being in my bedroom. I felt strangely alone and afraid. Each night I could have sworn I heard someone whispering my name from my closet and when I wasn’t freaking out over that, I was torn up inside by the reality of what had happened to me. Though I never wanted a baby, and having a child would have probably ruined my life in some way or another, I was fighting a battle between despair and relief. One minute I was relieved that I lost the baby, the next I was wrecked to the point of tears for feeling that way. It was almost as if I was upset over what could have been. A what if that preceded the what if. And that first what if was something I didn’t let myself think about.
By Thursday night, Maximus got in touch with me. He apologized for not getting back to me earlier (something about doing a reading for a local couple) and I apologized for not having an answer for him about the show. With all that had happened, returning to Experiment in Terror was the last thing on my mind and I couldn’t bother devoting an ounce of thought to it.
He didn’t sound too bothered by my reluctance, though.
“You take your time darlin’,” he said through the phone.
“The only thing I’d like an answer on is when can I take you out on the town?”
I was sitting on the couch and my mother was at the end of it, pretending to pay attention to the commercials in between America’s Next Top Model, though I knew she was listening to my conversation like a hawk.
It was a good question. I hadn’t felt like going to work and dealing with day-to-day people, let alone go out on a date. It was far too soon for me to handle.
“I know this sounds like an excuse,” I began, turning away from my mother for the slightest bit of privacy, “but I’m real y sick. I haven’t been going to work, even.”
“Sick?” he drawled. “You want me to come by and bring you soup? My mama taught me a mean recipe, extra spicy, shoots that cold right out of ya.”
“No, that’s OK,” I told him. “I’m doing better. I just need to take it easy for a while.”
“Al righty,” he said. “I know when I’m being brushed off.
But I don’t give up that easily.”
“I swear I’m not brushing you off,” I told him. “Though I admire your persistence.”
“Darlin’, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
I couldn’t help but grin at that and flushed red once I realized my mother was now blatantly staring at me.
“How about,” he continued, “I cal you next week. Give you time to pep up.”
I sighed internal y. He real y was persistent. I remembered the way he hounded me in Red Fox, trying to convince me to leave with him and leave Dex behind with the skinwalkers. I didn’t bend then and I tried hard not to now.
“You can try,” I said, making sure to add a teasing tone to my voice so he wasn’t too discouraged.
“Then I shal . Have a good night, my lady.”
There was a click of silence and I slowly pressed the end-cal button.
“Who was that?” my mother asked careful y. There was an edge to her voice.
“Oh,” I said with a shrug. “Just some guy.”
“Dex?” she asked venomously. Her tone jolted me.
“No!” I exclaimed. “Not Dex. Do you think I’m stupid?”
She didn’t say anything. Of course she thought I was stupid. Look what had just happened to me.
“It was this guy Maximus,” I explained with a sigh, tucking my feet underneath the quilted blanket. “I met him while we were in Red Fox. He lives in Portland now.”
“Oh,” she said. She stil looked suspicious but a wave of relief washed across her brow. It was official; my parents hated Dex with a passion. And I couldn’t blame them at all .
Not that I cared.
“Is this Maximus a nice guy?” she asked.
“I think so. He’s very polite. Old-fashioned. You’d probably like him.”
“Then we should have him over for dinner sometime.”
I was taken aback. I gave her an incredulous look. “We aren’t dating mom. I mean, he just asked me out on a date but I’m certainly in no shape to go anywhere, let alone with…a man.”
“But that the last date you went on, nothing came of that.”
“With Brock? Mom, he was a meathead.”
“He seemed like a nice young man.”
“You never met him!”
“He got you to lose weight.”
“Mom…,” I warned.
“Perry,” she retorted in her clipped voice. She turned her attention back to the show, where vapid American model wannabes were bitching about each other. “You are a pretty young woman. You could be on this show, if you lost enough weight-”
“And grew eight inches,” I interjected.
“And found some confidence. You deserve to have a nice man in your life. Someone stable, who wil take care of you, put up with you-”
“Thanks mom!” I rolled my eyes.
“-and love you. Your father and I, it hurts us to see you like this. For the last few months you’ve just been… sleepwalking through life. You’re not yourself anymore. I’m glad you’re finding friends where you work but it’s time that you start finding that right person for you.”
I crossed my arms and tried to focus on some bald model cal ed Raquel. “I’m only twenty-three years old, for crying out loud.”
“And life goes by far too quickly than it ought,” she finished in a tone of voice that signified that it was, thankful y, the end of the conversation.
She went back to watching her show, instantly drawn into the drama, while I was left pondering what other weird wrench could be thrown into my life. As if I didn’t have enough things to think about.
The erratic thoughts about my tumultuous love life fol owed me into my sleep, where I lay tossing and turning in my bed, half awake in a delirious state. finally I had enough and rolled over, forcing my eyes open. It was 2:42 in the morning but I was lucky I had one more day off before I returned to work.
I sighed at my restlessness and let my eyes adjust to the dimness of the room. My ears rolled into effect and picked up the various noises around me, the faint howl of the wind outside, the whir of my laptop computer, the fuzzy sound of static from my TV.