From the Author
From the Inside Flap
"Run! He's gonna eat you."
"Evil. Evil. Evil. . ."
"Stupid girl. Move before he makes you his next victim."
A new voice also joined her regular cacophony with just one simple word repeated over and over, in a soothing tone. "Sleep."
Lying atop the mattress, the springs digging into her back, Ella rolledher eyes. Stupid voices. Couldn't they make up their minds? She had been sleeping, but now that they had her conscious, forget slumber. As one,they told her to look and see what frightened them. They drew herattention to a shadow that moved through the ward.
She sighed. Great, another product of my warped mind. Treatingthem like the child that called wolf, she ignored their cries to flee,because after all, this wouldn't be the first time her friends in theattic of her mind made her see things and then laughed when she reacted.
Slowly, the ghostly shape flowed from bed to bed, dipping down low andthen rising again to move onto the next bed and its sleeping occupant.Ella found herself watching in fascination, ignoring the fevered pitchof the voices screaming at her to hide. This is the most realistic hallucination I've ever experienced. Maybe I'm still sleeping. That or she'd finally taken another dip around the bend into la-la land.
The shadow finally reached her bedside, and startled, Ella realized that she stared at someone quite real, although perhaps not human. For thefirst time in her twenty five years of life, the loud chatter in herhead abruptly stopped, some mid sentence, and she felt oddlyenough...alone. Empty. How unexpected and new.
The command not spoken aloud, echoed in her currently vacant mind, butElla had finally learned after many painful years of mistakes to ignorethe commands of the voices that constantly tried to guide her. "No,thanks."
More insistently. "Your eyes are getting heavy. Your body is tired. Heavy. Time for you to sleep." "Nah. I'm good." she said instead of closing her eyes.
"Why are you not obeying?" How disgruntled the apparition seemed. Howrealistic. Usually her voices stuck to speaking in her mind. She'd never had one manifest itself before.
"Who are you?" She cocked her head to one side in curiosity. The figure, dressed she noticed in a dark cloak that blended with the night, drewback and did not answer.
"Are you real?" Or not? With the drugs she took, who knew. Perhaps shesaw her first ghost. Only one way to find out. Ella reached a hand outand her fingertips briefly touched the silky edge of the cape.
Scrambling to a seated position, her sudden motion saw the stranger step back, his cloak swirling around his legs. The darkness of the ward made the face hidden within the shadowed hood indistinct, but she drew in asharp breath when she saw a pair of eyes flare red for a second.
"What are you?" she breathed. A part of her wondered that she didn'ttremble in fright, or scream for help. Surely anything that could cowthe voices that had been her companions for so long was something sheshould fear, yet this change in her monotonous life intrigued her.Finally, something new.
She found herself strangely drawn to the stranger and wished she couldsee his face. Discover if he were young or old. She desperately wantedto see if he was the savior she'd dreamed would one day arrive to sweepher out of a world she did not belong in. That prophecy of long ago,lived out in realistic color via a nightly dream. A promise that one day this nightmare would end, a fantasy not yet fulfilled, but hoped for. A mirage of her mind that she clung to tenaciously because it was all she had. Its vague promise was what had kept her sane for all the years ofher incarceration because she'd long ago learned, she could not escapeon her own.
Finally, the stranger spoke, his voice low and cutely disgruntled. "Why is it you don't sleep?"
"Why should I?" she answered back pertly.
"Because I said so."
"And do people always do as you say?"
"Must be nice." If only she possessed that ability then maybe she couldget her loquacious friends to shut up. The refreshing silence in herhead was so relaxing.
"It is nice, when they listen. Which, you are not."
"Why should I? I'm not tired."
"You should be. It's night. Humans sleep at night."
"I know. And I was until you arrived and woke me."
"I did no such thing. I was quite silent."
"Oh, it wasn't you. Well it was, but not entirely." How to explain hispresence set off an alarm system in her mind? Hmm, perhaps she shouldkeep that tidbit to herself. No need for him to think of her as crazy.Then again, he probably already assumed she was given her currentresidence.
"I need to leave." He swirled abruptly, and panic suffused her.
"No, please wait. Don't go." Ella hopped out of bed, the short whitegown of the institution barely covering her knees. She almost collidedwith him when he turned back towards her.
"Foolish girl. Do you seek to die? Count yourself lucky that I am feeling merciful this eve."
Ella tilted her head and tried to read his expression, but the gloom inthe ward only allowed for brief glimpses of hard planes. "Die? That's alittle drastic don't you think. Just so you know, I don't intend to tell anyone about your visit."
He snorted. "Do you really think anyone would believe you if did?"
Ella smiled mischievously. "I guess not. After all I am nuts. For all I know perhaps you're not really here."
"Oh, I'm here unfortunately," he grumbled. "Why do you not fear me like a normal human should?"
"I'm not normal of course," she retorted. "Would I be here if I was?"
The chuckle took her by surprise and spread an unexpected warmth through her. "Why are you here?"
No point in lying. "I hear voices, and sometimes I see things."
"What do the voices say?"
"Actually, they shut up when you arrived. That's never happened before and I've got to say, it's kind of nice."
"Glad to be of service."
The low timbre of his voice did strange things to her tummy. It made her feel hot and tingly, pleasantly so. "Who are you and why are you here?"
"It's best you don't know."
"Best for who? We've already ascertained I'm crazy and people won't believe me."
"There's no need for introductions given we shall never see each other again."
The sound of a key scraping in the lock of the door for the ward made him curse. "I must leave."
"Will you come back? Please." Ella heard the pleading tone in her voiceand while it annoyed her, she knew she wanted to see him again. Had to.She couldn't explain why, only knew she didn't want to see him go.
"Probably not." With a swirl of his cape, he melted into the shadows.
The door to the ward swung open and a bobbing flashlight shone in theroom. Ella scurried back to her bed and pulled the covers over her head.
A moment later, the night nurse, who acted more like a guard, left. Ella knew the mysterious visitor had gone as well because the voices cameback in a wild rush.
"He's gone. Evil creature."
"Oh hush," she told them. "I found him rather pleasant."
"Bloodsucker. Stealer of souls..." The voices went on a rant.
Sighing, Ella settled down amidst the wails and cries in her head. Usedto the noise in her mind, she fell asleep, dreaming of a tall, darkstranger with an indistinct face, dreams that left her hot and strangely aching.