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Authors: Kat Richardson

Vanished (6 page)

BOOK: Vanished
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I returned to my hotel with that resolve to hunt the truth still as hard and shining as steel, and the box of my father’s things was the first hunting ground on my list. Resolve took a bit of a hammering as I dug into that messy cardboard repository of the past.
I started out trying to sort the items as I pulled them from the box, but in the end it was easier to just dump it all on my bed and sort by eye. A lot of the things in my father’s box were obvious on sight: his appointments book, his desk diary, some kind of medical notebooks, catalogs for dental equipment that was twenty years out-of-date, checkbooks, ledgers, patient files, X-ray envelopes. . . . They all went into piles along with useless objects like a dozen yellowed, packaged toothbrushes and samples of dental floss. It took a couple of hours to get the piles sorted enough that the eerie glow of the Grey became easier to isolate.

I removed all the Grey items from the piles until I had one gleaming pile and a lot of dull ones. I shoveled the dreck back into the box for another time and only considered the things that throbbed with the traces of ghosts and magic. What I had—aside from a headache—was a small pile of notebooks, my father’s appointment calendar, the suicide note, and a small metal puzzle that looked like a flat bunch of fancy, interlocked paper clips.

I recalled him carrying the puzzle in his pocket, and seeing it again brought on a rush of tearstained nostalgia. He’d always had a box full of small, cheap toys for his younger patients to take a “prize” from after they’d endured their cleanings and fillings, but this toy had always been much more interesting to me. He’d let me play with it once in a while, though I didn’t remember ever solving it. Dad had always solved it with ease. Maybe that had been the beginning of my obsession with puzzles and mysteries. I dimly remembered his dismantling and solving it over and over on some occasions, the way some people use a stress ball or prayer beads.

I picked up the toy and slid a few of the metal parts back and forth, melancholy in my contemplation of it. It tingled slightly from the Grey energy that clung to it, but I got no particular feeling off it aside from that. I still wasn’t sure I could put it back together once I’d taken it apart, and the preternatural gleam of it gave me pause, too. It might have been Grey just because it was associated with my father—some of the things I handled every day had similar Grey traces—but the thought that there could be a more sinister reason turned my reverie cold and I laid it aside.

Next, I picked up the appointment calendar and leafed through it, seeing mundane bookings for the usual dental business up to and past the day he’d died. He hadn’t made many notes other than the usual run of business, such as “needs flossing instructions,” and so on. I put that aside as well and turned to the notebooks.

These were less business and more personal, and the books were chronological. I put them in order and saw that they started four years before his death, about the time my mother had pushed me into dance classes. That was an interesting coincidence. I started the first entry and was soon sucked into my father’s strange narrative.

One entry began:
Veronica has given up on me and turned her attention to Harper. I feel sorry for the kid, but I don’t suppose it’ll do her any harm. I’m sure no good for them, but the watchers won’t bother them if they aren’t near me. They’re watching all the time, but I don’t know what I’ve done to get their attention. They even come to the office now. They just won’t leave me alone.
It sounded like my dad was paranoid and I supposed that was what my mother had been hinting at when she said he was odd. I was startled at the mention of “watchers,” echoing what Cary had told me about things that kept an eye on me, but I wasn’t sure how they connected to my father. Still, the parallel sent a chill over my skin.

The entries went on for a while about his frustrations with my mother and increasing references to “they” and “the watchers.” A little over a year later, the tone changed and the entries rarely spoke of business or even my mother and me.

It’s the nightmares. They’ve crept out into the daylight. How could I have missed that for so long? Maybe because they changed shape? They invade everything, infest everything. They’re like weevils, burrowing into the heart of everything and chewing it up from the inside out. They don’t even leave my wife and kid alone now. I see them trailing after Veronica and Harper when they leave for class. I have to make them stop.
He rambled on for a couple more years, trying to put his mysterious watchers off the scent, having nightmares both sleeping and awake. Then someone had come to see him—or that’s what he said, but I wasn’t sure if it had been a real person, a ghost, or some figment of his increasingly fractured imagination.
He’s not like the rest. He bends them and they sway to his will. White, white, white, pale and ghastly. God help me, I can’t think of anything but that horrible film about the worm-man. Or did I dream that? I don’t know. I just don’t. I can barely work some days, they’re so close. But I have to work. I have to! The patients, the singing of the drill, the routine suck them in and push them away at the same time. And this man—but he can’t possibly be a man—he knows everything they see. They’re his rotten little spies.

He drifts in on a red tide, saying he owns me and taking what he wants. He took Christelle. He lured her away somehow, and she came back changed into one of them and now she’s watching all the time, too. I tried to make her leave. I tried to fire her but she came back and I can’t make her go. Veronica’s furious. She thinks I’m screwing Christelle, but I could never touch that thing that’s hiding in there. I know she’s one, too. . . .

What had my father thought was hiding in his receptionist? An alien? A demon? Had there been anything at all or was he really, as my mother claimed, losing his mind? I’d thought I was losing mine when I first became a Greywalker. If Dad had also been in touch with the Grey in some fashion, but without the help I’d gotten from the Danzigers and others, maybe he had been going crazy. Or maybe not. Maybe he
seen things that watched him.

He might have been some kind of psychic or medium; he didn’t seem to be a Greywalker. He wasn’t describing the same kind of experiences I’d gone through: He didn’t speak of another world or the mist or the power grid; he never mentioned ghosts or vampires or any other monster I knew; he only wrote of the watchers and the white man-worm thing that threatened and cajoled him by turns, and some creature he called “the Thousand Eyes.”

Whatever was going on with him, he’d been alone with it and it had been driving him insane, whether it was real or all in his head. The thought brought a fresh wave of grief for my crazy father in his solitary battle. Picking up this diary again was difficult. I saw the dates, and the horror of what I now knew and what I was seeing in his writing only grew with each word.

He’d finally lost his grip completely about three months before he killed himself.

Christelle won’t come back this time. I killed the thing in her, but there wasn’t any Christelle left once it was gone. There was just black stuff, like cremated remains. Poor Christelle. How long had she been gone? I thought I’d see her for a moment or two sometimes, but I was wrong. There was no Christelle in that thing I killed no matter what the worm-man said. But if Christelle was gone, when did she go? Did he kill her back at the beginning? Or did I? And he’s so happy about it! He’s happy, the monster!

I can’t believe what I did. Or how. I just reached, somehow, with my mind, not with my hands, and something came out of me and ripped her into bits. Oh, God, I’m sick. I can’t stop throwing up. It’s just blood and bile now and I feel like I’m going to die from the rot in me.

He’s pleased. But not all the watchers are. The Thousand Eyes doesn’t like it. It hates me now as much as it hates him. I can feel its loathing like radiation from a nuclear bomb that strips my skin and burns me alive. I won’t do whatever it is the worm-man wants. I’d rather be eaten by the Thousand Eyes and burn in its gullet forever than let the other one win. He’s evil. And I’m evil just by being near him.

He didn’t write much after that, except taunting notes to the watchers he now assumed read his journal and reported all to the worm-man: “I have a way to stop you” and “I know how to get help you can’t kill, even if I told you who.”

The last entry was the worst.

There were more. Like me. Before. But not like me. No, he says I’m special and he won’t let me slip away from him, not even if I die. But I think he can’t stop me. Veronica won’t care—she’s got everything she wanted. But Harper I feel bad about. She’s so sweet, my little girl. I don’t want her to have a monster for a father. I will stop it. There must be no more of this. No more of me, of things like me. I hope she’ll understand it’s not her dad who’s done bad things, but a grown-up man who has to do something awful to keep what he loves safe.
The bottom of the page was torn out raggedly, and I didn’t have to fetch the thing to know the texture and shape of the missing page would match that of his final note. A note meant for me.

I felt sick and I covered my face, but tears didn’t come this time, only the black sensation of horror and pity.

I needed to talk to my dad, however dead he was. Whether he’d been crazy, or paranoid, or dead-on truthful, he’d been connected to Grey things. I’d have to go for a walk in the Grey and see if I could find him. The problem was I’d never done that, and though I thought I could, I wasn’t sure how to find a specific ghost in the roiling, uncertain mist-world between the normal and the paranormal. I wasn’t a medium or a necromancer; I couldn’t just call to the spirit I wanted and expect it to show up. At least I didn’t think I could, since that wasn’t how my abilities worked for anything else—I’d gotten lucky with Cary showing up since he’d been trying to reach me as much as I’d been trying to find him.
There was also a practical limit to how long I could spend wandering around in the Grey. It was exhausting to move through fully immersed, and it was just as big—in some places bigger—than the normal world. The Grey was filled with the sinkholes and rifts of time layers I called temporaclines, which stopped and started and broke or rose as they pleased. There were lots of places in the Grey where something in the normal or paranormal created a barrier that could only be negotiated by emerging back into the normal and going around the ordinary way.

It was almost dinnertime—I’d missed both breakfast and lunch—but I put off eating a little longer to pick up the phone and call the Danzigers. Sometimes they don’t know the answer to my questions, and sometimes they had an answer that was wrong, but they at least had more experience with the bizarre than I did, even after two years more than knee-deep in it.

The phone rang longer than usual before Ben answered.


“Hey, Ben. It’s Harper.” Background noise at the other end washed the emotions out of my voice.

“Oh, hi, Harper! How’s Los Angeles?”

“Like the antechamber to hell. I have a question.”

“All right.”

“Any ideas on how I can find a specific ghost? I need to talk to a particular individual who’s been dead for about twenty-two years.”

“Well, you could—Oh, no . . . you can’t call them. Hrm . . . Hang on. . . .” I could hear him cover the mouthpiece with his hand as he turned to call for Mara.

I could barely hear some mumbling on the other side. Then a thump as the phone fell out of Ben’s hand and dropped onto the floor.

A very young voice cackled into the phone. “Harper! Hahahaha! Come play with me!”

“I can’t today, Brian. I’m way far away.”

“Are not! You’re in the phone!”

A few more noises preceded the return of Ben’s voice, although his son’s carried on in the background. I figured he was probably holding on to the kid while he talked. “I’m sorry. . . .”

“That’s OK. So what do you two think?”

“Well . . . we’re agreed that you’ll have the best luck looking in the places strongly associated with the person who died. Like their home or office or the place they died. You know a ghost can haunt several places simultaneously, but they manifest intelligence in only one at a time.”

“Yeah, that’s kind of what I thought. I know I can’t always get the attention of a repeater.”

“And if that’s the only manifestation they have, it’s going to be hard to get any information out of them.”

“Nearly impossible, actually.”

“Really? I should write that down. . . .”

Ever since he’d been mauled by a legendary monster on Marsh Island, Ben had been on disability, staying home with their precocious son while Mara taught full-time. Bored, Ben had started working on a field guide to ghosts, mixing the research he’d been doing for years with the proofs-through-misadventure that I’d made Greywalking for the past two years.

I thought over his suggestion and decided it seemed plausible. I’d have to give it a try. Of course, I couldn’t remember the addresses of our home or Dad’s office. I thanked Ben for the idea and hung up, staring at the box of junk. I stiffened my spine and wondered if I could find the addresses in there and not have to go back to my mother right away. I’d have to show up again eventually; I wanted those shining boxes of photographs and I wanted to know what had actually happened to Christelle. Maybe my father had just gone crackers and only imagined the destruction of his receptionist. . . . I wanted to believe it, but I doubted it.

I scrabbled through the shining pile for the appointment book, hoping someone had thought to put the office information in it. It had Dad’s name and office address on the cover; it was in Glendale, a middle-class suburb just northeast of Hollywood. Since he’d died there, the office seemed like the best place to start looking for him.

BOOK: Vanished
13.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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