“We’re running out of time.” He spoke softly, calming my panic. “They are going to medicate you, then probably give you shock treatments. After that, your life will never be the same. You will never see me or talk to me again. Is that what you really want?”
I’m unable to speak. To never see or speak with my friends, ever again? How could they do that to me?
“Of course that’s not what I want! How could you even think that? You know how much you mean to me. You and the rest of my friends. Before you, I had nothing. Now, I belong. I know you guys care about me as much as I care about you. I can’t lose you. Tell me how to get out of it. There must be a way.”
“There is one way. You must completely deny us, pretend that we don’t exist. Don’t acknowledge us in any way. Can you keep up that facade for as long as it takes?”
“How long is that?”
“That depends on the medical staff, and whether they believe you. Most patients lie, you see, so they are always on guard for that. Ask them to take your Ouija board; that might help persuade them.”
“That leaves me without a way to talk with you quietly.”
“A necessary evil. Just for long enough to persuade them you are sincere.”
I never believed in ghosts until my grandpa died. I was at the funeral home, and I saw him sit right up in his coffin, turn and wink at me, then climb out of it and walk out of that horrid, gloomy room. I raced up to his coffin and his corpse was there, looking like a wax doll. Was I seeing things again?
I hurried out the same door he went out. It led to the parking lot outside. I stood there, looking around, not seeing anyone, when I felt his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m here, kiddo, don’t fret. You can talk to me when you’re feeling sad or lonely. I’ll be listening. And if you want me to talk back to you, why, get yourself one of those Ouija boards. They’re a silly parlor trick, but it will work for us, for now. Eventually, you’ll get to where you can see and hear me. Now, though, I’m an intangible spirit. A ghost.”
I sniffed, not wanting to cry anymore. Grandpa wasn’t gone, he was just changed, that’s all. He was still there for me, and we could still talk.
Over time, we got to where we didn’t need the Ouija board. He was right, I saw him and heard him. I was careful always to be alone when we talked, but a few times I got strange looks from my family, so maybe I wasn’t as careful as I thought.
Then I started seeing some of the others. My Uncle Dwayne, who was killed in a car wreck when I was ten. Aunt Mary, who was really old when she died. A family I never knew about before, taking me into their fold, making me feel truly at home for the first time in my life.
I shared my secrets with them, and they told me some of the family secrets in return. I started seeing more ghosts, when I was out walking, when I was at my school, when I was in the library.
Now, I have to deny them? I have to persuade these doctors, with their white coats and their fake faces. For a moment, I don’t think I can do it. Then I think about the alternative. I’ll lose them all, forever. My resolve stiffens: I will do this.
I start right away. I no longer acknowledge any ghosts, even Grandpa. I try to be enthusiastic about eating the institutional slop. I even participate in the group sessions, where it’s easy to hide behind the alcoholics and drug users.
I still can’t pretend to be anyone’s friend, but I’ve always been a loner, so that isn’t unusual for me. I notice they reduced my medications, and I keep up the effort. One afternoon, I bring my Ouija board to the nurse at the front desk, and ask her if she can dispose of that for me. It’s a wrench to my gut, even though I outgrew it long ago. It’s still a crutch. I can feel her watching my face, hoping for a reaction. I thank her and walk away, go back to the arts and crafts room. I work on my potholder.
I can see from the doctors’ faces that my plan is not working. I am not fooling them, no matter how hard I try. One day they walk into my room. I am sitting on my bed, feeling cornered by these doctors clustered around me. They explain that I have not been getting better, even with shifts in medication. They have recommended a course of electroshock treatments, in hopes of somehow fixing me.
They come and get me, put me on a stretcher, roll me down long corridors with flickering lights, into a sterile white room. A technician speaks soothingly to me, while strapping me down tightly on the stretcher. I feel a band being strapped to my forehead, an itchy contact to both sides of my scalp.
Nothing. I am nothing. I feel nothing. I call out for Grandpa, but he doesn’t answer. I look around. I’m back in my room. I move my arms, but they are still in restraints. I call out again. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
I hear a whispery, chitinous sound, scraping on the floor tiles. My heart beats faster, sweat beads on my forehead. I am helpless, eyes screwed tight against unknown terror.
“Greetings, my lovely. Why don’t you open your eyes and speak with me?” The voice sounds silky, gentle… but an ugly undertone grates through it all.
“Who are you?”
“Look at me and I will answer you.” The grating becomes more harsh, strident.
“You’re not my Grandpa.”
At that, the voice laughs, a sound like gargling with broken glass. “You will never see your Grandpa again, my lovely. Nor any of your other family again. The doctors have reversed the doors, you see.”
“What do you mean?”
“Open your eyes, my lovely, and I shall tell you.”
I am terrified, but want to see who I am talking with. Finally, I screw up my courage and slowly open both eyes. The thing standing in front of me is insanely tall and thin, with white skin and huge dark eyes. Seeing me looking at him, he smiles, an impossible crowd of razor-sharp fangs, like knives spraying every which way.
Unable to help myself, I scream. He is not offended. Indeed, it brings a delighted smile to his face.
“You see, your doctors managed to close off the door to heaven… but in doing so, they opened the gates to hell.”
I start screaming, screaming, can’t stop, until they race into my room, inject something into my arm. I begin to float away, so relieved. Until I hear the voice say “Hello, my lovely. Your dreams are mine.”
You can’t scream yourself awake from a dream.