Authors: Tamara Thorne
Sobbing. In the dark.
Kelly Reed came awake slowly, thinking the sounds were
borne of some fleeting nightmare, but as she lay there in the
dark, the soft, heartbreaking cries continued.
''No." Kelly whispered the word, willing the weeping to
stop. As always, the sounds were close, so close that she was
afraid that if she reached out, she would touch whoever made
She didn't know who was crying; she'd never known in the
entire six months she'd been a
resident, hell, I'm
St. Gertrude's. Her roommate, a snotty senior
Crowley, claimed she had never h
eard it, and
alternately told Kelly she was crazy, on drugs, or hearing the
ghost of Jenny Blaine, the girl rumored to have killed herself
in their room over a decade ago. Then Marcia told her friends,
and they all made fun of Kelly. Whenever the nuns weren't
around they called her "Ghost Girl." The worst was in the
showers, where they liked to hide her clothes.
The sobbing, closer now, continued, and Kelly ducked her
ead under the covers, sure that if she didn't, she'd feel someone
else's breath on her cheek.
What if it's Marcia, playing a trick?
are probably all hiding in a corn
er, laughing at
They'd done that once a couple weeks ago, and she'd
hidden, as she did now. Since then, on top of everything else,
they'd started squawking like chickens at her when no one else
was around .
The sobbing went on, louder now, louder than she'd ever
heard it. ''Marcia, cut it out," she hissed beneath the blankets.
Someone sat on the end of her bed. She felt the mattress
depress and pulled her feet up and away, waiting for the sound
of the bedsprings. But she h
eard nothing except the crying.
Marcia and Buffy and those other twits, trying to yank your
chain. Don't let them do it again!
Sudden anger killed her fear. Steeling herself, she swallowed
hard and yanked the covers off ... I said, cut it out!" she
fumbling for the light switch. "Cut it out
closed on the bedside lamp and she quickly found the switch
and pressed it.
Light blossomed in the room and there was no one there
except Marcia Crowley, sitting up in bed, blinkin
her long blond hair out of her eyes. "What the fuck's wrong
with you?" she demanded, her voice thickened from sleep.
''You see another ghost?"
"You didn't hear it?" Too angry to be intimidated, Kelly
swung out of bed. Her knee-length white nightgown had crept
up over her thighs and she pulled it back down without even
being embarrassed. She stalked the room, looked in the closet,
behind the curtains, under the beds.
''Poor little Ghost Girl," Marcia taunted, wide awake now,
and grinning her cheerleader grin. She curled a golden lock
around her finger. "Did that mean old lady in white come visit
you? Maybe she pulled up your nightgown!" She giggled.
Kelly opened the door and peered out into the corridor.
Nothing. Turning toward Marcia. she put her hands on her hips.
"You used a tape recorder, didn't you?"
The other girl shrugged. "I don't know what the hell you're
talking about. Hey!"
She jumped out of bed as Kelly started opening bureau
drawers, looking for a tape recorder. "Get out of my stuff!"
She grabbed Kelly by the shoulders and tried to yank her away,
but Kelly shook her off and started tossing her socks and
underwear on the floor.
''My locket," she whispered, as the small gold chain with
a heart almost slipped through her fingers. She fumbled it open,
relieved to see the tiny picture of her mother still inside. It was
her only possession, the only connection she had with her past,
and she'd worn it forever, through all the foster homes she'd
lived in since her mother had died. She'd worn it until she'd
ended up here, at St. Gertrude's, where the nuns forbade the
girls to wear jewelry. It had disappeared from her dresser three
months ago, and it hadn't even occurred to her that someone
had stolen it.
How stupid can you be?
The ghost forgotten, she turned to face Marcia. "You-"
Marcia leapt at her, driving her to the ground, pulling her hair,
digging her nails into her arms. Kelly fought back, got a grip
on Marcia's hair, and yanked her down. Simultaneously, she
forced her knee up into the other girl's stomach, knocking the
wind from her, the same way it had stopped one nasty foster
brother from picking on her. Marcia raked her nails down
Kelly's cheek and Kelly heard herself scream, but she didn't
let go; then Marcia started screaming, too.
Vaguely, she was aware of the door opening and nuns in
dark nightgowns pulling them apart. One of them started prying
her fingers from Marcia's hair with so much force that she
finally let go, afraid the nun would break them.
They were apart. Someone was holding her from behind by
the arms, and Sister Mary Oswald held Marcia the same way.
The blonde's nostrils were flaring and there was spittle running
from her mouth. Kelly twisted her neck. saw that she'd been
captured by Sister Agatha, mean and old and surprisingly strong.
On the floor between them lay the locket, the chain broken.
Mother Lucy stood in the doorway, arms crossed, face grim,
supervising it all, and behind her, Kelly saw Buffy and Jan and
the others, all watching with glee.
''What's going on here?'' Mother Lucy asked abruptly.
At that, Marcia went into her act, crying loudly and turning
to embrace Sister Mary Oswald. She lifted her tearstained face
and said to Lucy, ''Kelly tried to steal my locket. I woke up
and tried to stop her, and
"It's all right, Marcia." Mother Lucy said, and Sister Mary
Oswald held the girl to h
r breast and stroked her hair. Lucy
turned. "All of you, back to your rooms this instant!" The
Lucy, a woman carved in stone, pulled her black robe tighter
around her and approached Kelly, pausing only to scoop up
the locket. Sister Agatha's grip tightened.
''Is this true, Kelly?" the Mother Superior asked harshly.
"No!" She felt her lower lip trembling and felt blood trickling
down her cheek, but she refused to give in to tears. "She's
lying, Mother. That's my locket. Remember, when I came here,
you said to keep it in my bureau, that I couldn't wear it? I did,
and I told you it disappeared, remember? It has a pictur
my mother in it. Look and see!"
"She's lying!" Marcia sobbed. "That's my locket. That's
my mother in the heart, see? She has blond hair, just like mine."
Lucy opened the heart, looked briefly, then shut and pocketed
it. "Kelly, you've been a troublemaker ever since you've been
here. You've sinned repeatedly, lying, making up storie
scare the other girls, and now stealing." She looked over Kelly's
head, at the nun holding her. "Sister Agatha. clean her up, then
put her in the solitary room for the night."
Lucy's hand flashed out and slapped her bloodied cheek.
Shocked, Kelly said nothing. ''Don't cause yourself more trouble,
young lady. In the morning, you're going to see Dr. Dashwood,
and then I'll decide on your punishment
" Lucy turned
her back on Kelly. "Marcia, I'm sorry this happened, and if
this girl gives you any more trouble, I will remove her from
this room. She'll stay in solitary every night."
Kelly let herself be led away, thinking that whatever solitary
was, it had to be preferable to being tortured by Marcia Crowley.
Monk music sung in feminine voices, minor-keyed and beautiful,
enveloped him. He wa
s on his back, tied down; dark
the singers, moved around him, and above, the moon watched
it all. A shadow began to eclipse the moon, and then he saw
the bare outlines of a face hidden under a cowl. He could see
only the eyes, preternaturally bright, brilliant whites, irises the
color of night, boring into his own, digging into his soul. ''Tell
me your name!"
"No!" John Lawson came bolt upright in his bed, his cry
still on his lips. The full moon shone through the window,
casting abstract shadows across his bedroom, and the sheets,
tangled around his legs, were damp with sweat. He reached up
and turned on the light, saw his body sheened with droplets of
perspiration. ''Christ," he muttered. The nightmares were
always at their worst when the moon was full. ''Christ
"Dad?" Mark stood in the doorway, clad in boxer shorts
and an ancient Rude Dog T-shirt. ''You okay?"
''Fine, son, just had a whopper of a nightmare." Thinking
that he was getting tired of being asked about his well-being,
first by Frank Cutter, then Gus, now by his own son, he climbed
out of bed and began straightening the sheets.
"Maybe you should get some sleeping pills, huh?" Mark's
question was innocent enough, but it only reminded him of
Dashwood telling him about Lenore Tynan's alleged drug problem.
"I think I'll get some warm milk instead." He glanced at
his watch, saw it was past two in the morning. ''You want
, not unless you're going to put chocolate in it."
"Sounds good." He knew he shouldn't let Mark stay up just
because he wanted company, but what could it hurt? After all,
he didn't have to be up for school in the morning.
In the kitchen, which was white and sterile because Barbara,
his ex-wife, had wanted it that way and he'd never had the
time to strip the paint and restain the cabinets light oak and
replace the chrome handles with copper, Mark got out the
Hershey's chocolate and sugar while John took a pan from a
cabinet and the milk from the brushed chrome refrigerator.
Ugly and cold.
The whole room was as ugly and chill as the
insides of the too-large refrigerator. He had to do something
Mark was oblivious as he started jabbering about basketball
scores, moved on to Parker clan gossip gleaned from his friend
Pete, and then to plant collecting, the latest hobby in a lifelong
fascination with collections. At one time or another the boy
had collected everything from snails to rocks to feathers to the
screw-on caps on soda bottles. Now it was plants. Herbs, to
be precise. The kid was talking about wild mugwort, and as
John brought two cups of chocolate to the kitchen table, which
was chrome and glass and all Barbara, he looked at his son.
''Mugwort? What in the world is mugwort?"
''It's an herb. It's kinda fuzzy and it grows all over Witch
Forest. It keeps ghosts away."
John burned his tongue on the chocolate and set it down
again. "Ghosts? I thought you didn't believe in ghosts!"
Mark snorted, then blew on his chocolate too hard, spattering
the glass with tiny brown drops. It improved the looks of the
table, as far as John was concerned. Made it homier. '' 'Course,
I don't believe in ghosts, Dad. It's just lore."
John smiled. "Lore?"
" He cut his sentence short, watching for a bad
esponse, but John kept his smile pasted in place. What else
could he do? Tell him the old lady was a witch, that she sent
gargoyles out to fetch babies? Even he'd never believed that.
"She says herbs were the first medicines. They weren't just
used for casting spells 'n' junk like it says in witch books. Like
foxglove, it was heart medicine-"
''Digitalis," John said
His son beamed at him.
knew that?" he asked in amazement.
''Sure. And garlic kills worms," he added, exhausting his
knowledge of medicinal herbs.
''Wow. Did Minerva teach you?"
"No." He couldn't help smiling. "That's pretty common
knowledge. ''You know, like when Gus plants in his garden,
e always puts a couple rows of beets around it to distract
Mark nodded ''Minerva says he should put marigolds in,
too, because they keep bugs away."
"You sound like you know Minerva pretty well," John ventured.
"How'd you meet her?"
Mark looked at his chocolate. "At the Falls."
Alarmed, John tried to sound calm. "The Falls?"
"Yeah, well, me, Pete, and Corey were messing around, you
know, hanging out on the Mezzanine-"
"I warned you about swimming there. You didn't-"
''Well, no, but everybody does it." He rolled his eyes in
anticipation of his father's next remark and beat him to it. "And
if everybody jumped out of an airplane without a parachute,
would you?" he asked, mimicking John.
He couldn't help being amused, but it also bothered
could never comfortably use the standard ''would you jump
off a cliff'' metaphor. "So you were at the Falls
diving in." He spoke lightly.
''Well, yeah, I guess. But Minerva came along. She was
spooky, just sorta standing up there on the bridge, looking down
at us. Scared the pee out of Corey and Pete." He sat up straighter
to brag, ''But not me. They ran off, and I stayed and talked to
her." Mark lowered his voice and looked at his cup again.
"She told me how your little brother died and all and, well,
don't worry, Dad, I'll never swim there again."
John felt a flash of anger at Minerva Payne for talking about
But why? Is his death all yours? Did she invade your
Here she'd stopped Mark from doing the one thing
he really didn't want him doing.
I ought to thank her.
"What?" he asked after a long pause. "What, Mark?"
''How come you never told me what happened to your
"Well ... I guess because it's really hard for me to talk
about. It hurts."
''Like when Mom ran off with that lawyer from Claremont
and never came back?"
That had been a relief for John, but he knew it was horrible for
his son. Barbara had never communicated beyond the divorce
papers. She'd thrown her own son away. "Yeah, Mark," he
finally said. "Kind of like it was for you when
om took off."
The boy was silent for a long moment, then asked, "But
John looked at him, saw a reflection of himself in the hazel
eyes, straight mouth, brown hair, even in the bone structure
and the faint summer freckles across Mark's nose. He'd inherited
little from his mother, a drop-dead beautiful lawyer who'd
left when she couldn't talk John into going back to law school
and bettering himself by wearing a suit and arguing in court
and attending the right dinner parties with the right people and
the right wine. No uniformed cop for her; not even head cop
Still bitter after all these years.
He had wanted her
to leave, had told her to leave after he'd found out about
the affair with the infamous Claremont lawyer, an ambulance
who'd hit it big.
''Mark, losing Greg was really hard for me. I was his big
brother and I was supposed to be looking out for him. I was
responsible." He said the words with as little emotion as he
could, but still there was a catch in his voice.
"You feel guilty," Mark observed in his childish, blunt way.
"I sure do. That's why I don't want you playing around
If anything happened to you, I couldn't go on.
''I know. Minerva says it's not your fault, though."
"What?" John sat up. "What did she tell you?"
know something? Did she see something?
Mark shrugged. "Just that aside from it being dangerous, I
houldn't swim there because you felt like it was your fault
your brother died, so it would really upset you if I played
The irritation at the old woman's interference was still there,
but lessening. ''Mark, this is important. Did she say
wasn't my fault?"
Mark finished his chocolate, then looked his father in the
eye. "No, huh-uh. She just said it wasn't and it was too bad
you didn't get that."
"Y'know, like understand, or something. Dad?"
"You get lots of nightmares," Mark said abruptly.
"I do? What makes you think that?"
"You make noises, creepy noises, in your sleep. Sometimes
you yell, but not usually as loud as tonight."
"Yeah, it's spooky."
"I'm sorry. Some people talk in their sleep."
"You just make scared sounds. Dad?" he repeated.
"Do you dream about your little brother?"
John studied his son. "I can't ever remember the dreams
when I wake up, but yes, I think I probably do."
"Minerva told me how to remember dreams."
"Wait a minute. Did you tell her about my nightmares?"
''Huh-uh, swear to God. She told
''What? That's impossible."
"Huh-uh. She knows stuff like that because she's an herb
woman. That's like a really old-time doctor. She says most of
the herb women were killed off in the witch hunts because they
knew more about medicine than the men doctors from Europe
and they didn't like that. So they burned them and hanged them
and drowned them, and all sorts of gross stuff. But she's one,
and she knows. She says you should write down your dreams
and you'll start remembering them."
John had had just about all the strange conversation he could
take for one night. Exhaustion and irritation were setting in for
real now, so he just stood up and took the cups to the sink.
Left them there, nice and dirty, for tomorrow. Barbara would
never have let him do that. "Mark," he said, finally, "why in
the world would I want to remember dreams that scare me so
The boy shrugged once more and walked to the kitchen
threshold. "Gee, I dunno, Dad. Maybe if you remember your
dreams, you won't feel so bad about your little brother. 'Night."
"'Night." John watched his son slouch down the hall.
of the mouths of babes.
He waited another minute or two, then
opened the cupboard and got out an old half-full bottle of
Scotch, poured a couple fingers in a juice glass, and downed
it. Liquid fire burned his throat. It felt good. Very good. He
screwed the lid back on the bottle and put it away, knowing
that if he allowed it, he, like
Lenore-the lost Lenore,
whisky-mellowed thought-could become dependent on a drug
or two to get him through the night.