Chapter Eight: The Fire Nymph
He started dreaming in the early morning hours while his room was still dark. At first, all seemed normal. The nurse came in to check on him; but, on closer inspection, he realized the she had Mariah’s face. The fingers she laid on his forehead were not cold, but uncomfortably warm, almost hot, and her hair seemed to writhe about her like snakes on a Medusa’s head.
She turned her face to him and stuck out a long tongue. The lovely blue eyes had turned coal black, as she exhaled she blew out a tongue of fire. The girl he knew seemed like a corruption of herself, a changeling that someone had put in her place. Then she began to laugh and laugh, and the laugh was so evil and full of malice that he tried to shut it out, putting his hands over his ears.
“NO!” he shouted, and sat up. He shook himself out of his nightmare, something he had learned to do while very young. He sat in his bed, shaking, cursing Short Round for what he had told him, still not wanting to believe him, because now an inner voice was asking “what if?”
At the sound of his distress Mariah immediately materialized, and he remembered his dream and recoiled from her. She saw the look of horror on his face and immediately disappeared, and Michael could no longer feel her presence.
“No,” he moaned, “Mariah, no. I only reacted to a dream. Where are you?”
The nurse came into his room to see what the commotion was about. He tried to tell her it was nothing, just a bad dream and everything was all right, but she wasn’t buying it. His pulse was racing so fast that she took his blood pressure. Though the gauge showed that his blood pressure was only slightly elevated, it took a lot of talking before he could convince her to leave, and shut the door.
His head was throbbing, the world was spinning in circles, but he couldn’t bring himself to try and sleep. Mariah’s presence was nowhere. He wanted to call her name out loud, but that would only bring the nurse. The tears he felt welling up in his eyes were making his headache worse, but how could he sleep if she was not there? There would be no more rest for him until the fear and grief he felt went away—and Mariah returned.
All the rest of night he tried not to think about her. All night he failed. He’d barely dropped off to sleep when the nurse woke him up to take his temperature and blood pressure. Though he left the TV off, suddenly a cacophony of sound seemed to invade his head. Thoughts from the nurses, the orderlies, the patients seemed to overtake his mind and he couldn’t shut them up, making his headache even worse.
The only voice he wanted to hear was absent. “Mariah?” he thought, listening hard for her. He tried to focus so he could hear her reply, but all he could hear was the chatter at the nurse’s station. His efforts had only succeeded in making his head hurt worse, so he lay back on his bed and just let random thoughts he heard pass through his mind.
He was sitting up and ready when the orderly brought his breakfast. A short time after breakfast was cleared, an intern came in. He looked at his pupils, asking him questions while Michael heard him thinking, “these stupid kids and their skateboards. I could build a whole practice around head injuries. But I wonder why he seems so depressed.”
Michael looked at him quizzically, waiting for him to ask the question. “He has no idea, none, that I can hear everything he’s thinking. He thinks he knows so much, but he doesn’t know dick!”
At last the questions came. “Everything going okay?” Michael shrugged. That was a stupid question—he was stuck in a hospital bed with a concussion. “Things okay at home?” He was lying in the hospital, just wanting to do nothing more than go home and this intern who wasn’t even officially a doctor yet was trying to play shrink.
“Things are fine at home.” Michael looked at him contemptuously. “I’m one of those rare teenagers with a great family,” he said sarcastically, even though it was true.
“Girl trouble maybe?” Michael started, and heard the intern think, “Okay, this I can deal with.”
“Don’t let it get to you.” He was trying to sound comforting, but wasn’t succeeding. “These things have a way of working themselves out.”
Right, buddy. Know how to get a ghost girl to come back after you pissed her off?
The doctor paused a moment. “Do you think you’ve learned your lesson about helmets?”
“Yes, you can trust me to be careful from now on. I want out of here. I don’t want to have to come back here. I want to go home.” Michael cut him off abruptly, thinking, “What an idiot, he doesn’t have a clue.”
“Well, you can’t go home just yet. And when you do leave, you’ll be off your skateboard for a while.” He looked at Michael’s chart, “ I know helmets aren’t considered cool, but it wouldn’t be smart to risk another head injury. I see a lot of injuries like this that wearing helmets could have been prevented.”
“I’ll do anything you want, just send me home.” And get your ass out of here because you are annoying the hell out of me.
The doctor left the room and soon Michael heard a nurse think, “He wants me to make a call to a patient’s family, as if I’m not busy enough.”
Yeah, you’ve really got problems lady. Try losing your home, the money that was going to send you to college, and finding out people you thought were your friends, aren’t. He had no sympathy for the overworked nurse. He didn’t want to listen anymore to anyone’s thoughts.
He comforted himself with the thought he’d be released from the hospital soon. His mom would bring him clean clothes because the ones he’d been wearing were torn. She’d even bring him his favorite “Rock Star” soda. Suddenly, Michael realized Mariah wouldn’t be there when he returned home, and relief sunk into despair.
After a few days the doctor took pity on him—Michael was clearly miserable. The boy rebuffed all attempts from the staff to reach out to him. He seemed fond enough of his family, but any gesture to help was rejected. He cooperated with doctors and nurses, obediently practiced walking until he became dizzy, but he had surrounded himself with an invisible wall no one could penetrate . Since nothing more could be done for him, the doctor gave orders that Michael could be discharged.
Michael called his mother. “The doctor said I can leave. Can you be here by eleven? Please? Eleven.” He knew he could set the time by his mom. She showed up at eleven sharp, wearing her favorite jeans and light blue sweater. Even if he didn’t read her mind he knew she was worried and he could hear her thinking, “I hope he’s all right. It scares me that he got a concussion. Michael’s my rock, I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to him.”
She gave him his fresh clothes, then went and took care of the paperwork. The orderly put him in a wheelchair and wheeled him to the car. “Take care of yourself kid,” said the orderly as he helped Michael into the car, but Michael said nothing. “Don’t worry, he will. I’ll see to it,” said his mother and she looked at him and gave him her “what in the world is wrong with you?” look.
They made their way home silence. He tried not to listen to her anxieties and worries, but they felt so loud it was as if she were shouting her frustrations to him. Part of him that wanted to lean against her shoulder, let her know things were okay, yet another part needed to separate himself from her. Michael wished that he could make the voices in his head stop, and not have to hear what she was thinking. His mom’s anxieties over him were only making him feel worse.
She had made up a bed on the living room sofa for him. The sun streamed in through the window, making the sofa seem warm and inviting. “Stay off the stairs”, his mother ordered. There was a table with his cell phone, the TV remote, and things for him to snack on. His mom kissed him, went into the kitchen and made him a sandwich. She returned with a lunch tray containing the sandwich, an apple, a can of “Rock Star” and some chocolate chip cookies.
“Are you sure you won’t need me?” He knew she wanted to stay, but he didn’t want her there. He didn’t want have to talk to anyone, most of all he wanted to be alone. There wasn’t much she could really do for him anyway.
“Go ahead and go to work, Mom. As long as I don’t move around much I’m fine. I’m a little dizzy, but I’ll be careful, I promise. If you stay you’ll fuss over me and you know I hate being be fussed over. And you’ll worry. At least at work you’ll have something else to think about. The doctor said I just have to take it easy for a few days, right?”
“Not even going to give me an excuse to skip work, huh? Okay my little Viking, I’ll see you when I get home. You just make sure you do what the doctor told you.” She leaned over and kissed him.
“Deal. Now, how about letting me find a way to keep the world from spinning around in circles? Love you mom.”
“You too, kid,” and she was out the door.
He forced himself to eat his sandwich and apple, even though he really didn’t have an appetite. The only thing that really tasted good was the Rock Star. He kept missing a certain pair of blue eyes and try as he might, he just could not make her appear. He even thought about going upstairs and seeing if she would come to his room, but dismissed that thought. He wasn’t terribly eager to try the stairs just yet.
He missed Mariah, oh god how he missed her. It was all Short Round’s fault and the stupid concussion. He didn’t think she was a demon or monster, but for one brief moment the dream had come back when she looked at him. Why couldn’t he have controlled himself? Couldn’t Mariah understand his brain has just been jostled really badly? If he’d been in full control of himself he could have stopped himself in time, and explained that he’d had a nightmare due to the concussion.
How was he going to get her back?
His mom had put today’s newspaper next to the sofa and he picked it up and tried to read, but the letters swam on page and his head started to spin from the effort. He opted instead for lying back on the pillows and taking a nap. The only time he didn’t have to worry about getting dizzy was when he was asleep.
Michael drifted off to sleep, trying not to think about her, but his thoughts were full of her, even in his dreams. They were kissing and she was smiling at him, then she started to back away. Each time he took a step closer she would draw further back, her smile slowly turning into a frown.
The arms he held out to her longed to hold her, but instead she scowled at him. “You promised, you promised; you said you loved me, how could you treat me like that?” She began to shimmer and slowly faded away.
Nowhere could she be seen, nor could he hear her voice. “Mariah, I’m sorry. It was all a big mistake. How could I think anything bad of you?” He looked around but she was nowhere to be found.
He began to run, aimlessly at first, and then found himself running up the street to the house where her body was hidden in the basement. His limbs were sluggish, as so often happens in dreams, even the three short blocks between him and the house seemed to stretch further and further as he grew more out of breath. Even in the dream, the nausea from his concussion hit him and all he could do was stand and breathe heavily, watching in frustration as the house stood mockingly out of reach.
“How could you?” asked the voice again, and then there was nothing but a void, as if he was in no place and no time. Here he would be trapped for eternity, always seeking her, always calling for her, but never finding her. He cried out in frustration.