Sam was ten years old, in a hospital gown, seated at a table across from a man in a suit. The man was trying to smile, but it was a smile that didn’t look like it really belonged on his face. This man had come to see her at the hospital a few times before. He asked a lot of questions.
“Do you remember your parents?”
The scene changed. Now Sam was in a white tube. There were clicking noises. She was supposed to lie very still.
“What were their names?”
She was under blue covers in her hospital bed. There was a thick bandage around her head, and wires that ran from underneath to a machine. Looking out the window she could see a funny kind of mountain that was tall and flat on top.
“What is your name?”
She was in a dark room now, watching bright images flicker on a screen. It was her parents. Home movies… of her as a baby, her first birthday, Christmas, they all looked so happy…
“My name is Samantha.”
She was back in the hospital bed, staring out the window at the funny mountain, but there was no bandage on her head. The lights overhead went off and then came back on. Sam’s throat felt tight. Her skin tingled. Something was wrong, about all of this…
There were no sounds outside, in the hall; none of the hospital noises that she had become used to. She got out of bed; the tile was cold on the bottoms of her feet. One by one she put on soft slippers, went to the door and out into the passageway.
Her room was near the end of a short corridor. The lights overhead buzzed like angry bees. They clicked, blinked off and then on. Suddenly, Sam wanted to be anywhere but here. She walked to where the short corridor was met by a much longer one. There were doors in the long hall, lots of doors, and a gurney on one side, but there were no people. No nurses, doctors… she shuffled toward the gurney, looking into rooms as she passed.
“Hello?” she called.
There were more clicks, louder this time. Then, beginning at the far end of the passage, the overhead lights shut off one section at a time. The darkness closed in, swallowing her until there was nothing but the sound of her own breath.
Behind her. Where she had come from, getting closer. But they sounded… weird. They clicked, almost like the ticking of the lights before they died.
Whatever it was, it would be around the corner soon.
She ran, as fast and as hard as she could, smashing her hip into the corner of the gurney, falling onto her other side on the tile floor. She pulled herself up and walked backward, knowing that whatever it was could get her if she didn’t keep moving but she couldn’t see anything in the impenetrable black.
Facing front again, she gasped: two blazing yellow eyes hovered just a few feet away. The eyes of something not-human; something dark and awful and hungry. A low growl came from it, vibrating through her chest and ears.
The thing spoke a single word:
And then those eyes raced forward out of the void.
Sam’s body jerked beneath the sheets, snapping her awake. Once again her pajamas and sheets were soaked. Perkins meowed and hopped off the bed, obviously roused from his own slumber.
“Sorry Perky,” Sam mumbled.
She sat up and put her hand to her forehead, then glanced at the nightstand clock: ten minutes before her alarm was due to go off. She might as well start getting ready for her meeting with Detective Barnes.
She got out of bed, peed, and then stood in front of the mirror, frowning at her puffy-eyed reflection while the tiny house’s heater kicked on. As she brushed her teeth, her thoughts drifted to the night before. A search for Raggedy Man had once again turned up nothing. He had been right there, staring at her outside the bakery. She had gone after him… and lost him.
Way to go, Rookie.
Sam could tell that her captain, Hoskins, was becoming more and more concerned. She feared that he was just a hair away from moving her shift, and she worried about how that might reflect on her upcoming monthly evaluation. Her goal from the beginning had been to impress the department with her performance. Recent events had gained her a fair amount of attention, but it wasn’t the kind of attention she was striving for.
What exactly did Raggedy Man want? Would he kill again? Was he working alone?
Sam thought about the crazy old coot with the smiley-face shirt, spouting the bible quotes…
Her foster dad Ben used to listen to Iron Maiden. The homeless man’s rambling reminded her of that song Number of the Beast, and the speech that always preceded it:
“Woe to you oh earth and sea, for the devil sends the beast with wrath, because he knows the time is short. Let him who hath understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number; its number is six hundred and sixty six.”
Sam shook her head, spit and went to turn on the shower.
It had been quite a while since she had attended church. When she was growing up, Kathy and Ben forced her. After she turned eighteen, she decided that it wasn’t really for her. Honestly she thought most of it was nonsense. Interesting stories, but nothing more.
She got undressed and stepped into the shower, pulling the plastic curtain and trying to remember Revelations, the book that talked about “the beast.” Wasn’t that some creature with seven heads that came out of the sea? Not at all like the wolf-beast of her nightmares.
As she shampooed, her mind wandered back to the dream she had just woken up from… about the hospital. It had been a while since she had thought about that place. She remembered the social worker, the guy in the suit who always came to visit and ask questions. Couldn’t remember his name though. When it came time to go into foster care she had been assigned a new social worker. But there were other things about the dream… she was having trouble recalling them now, something about a room with home movies playing on a wall… and wires running from the bandage on her head. What was that about?
Once out of the shower, as she was drying off, her cell phone buzzed on the nightstand. Sam recognized her foster mother’s number and answered.
Kathy said “Hey, it’s me. I was at the hospital all morning…”
Sam froze. “Are you okay?”
“Oh I’m fine. It’s your uncle Brewin. Pneumonia, the doc said. He’ll pull through, but you know, with everything else he’s been through…”
“Uncle Brewin” wasn’t really Sam’s uncle, but he’d been a friend of the family for as long as Sam could remember. Just last year he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. His health had gotten steadily worse, and now this.
“I gotta go meet with Detective Barnes but I’ll swing by the hospital right after,” Sam said.
“Oh he’d love to see you. I’m taking the car in to get the oil changed now but I’ll call you later.”
“Ookay…” when was the last time Kathy had taken the car to get the oil changed? Ben had always done it when he was alive. After that, Sam took the vehicle in for her every six months.
Weird. She’d have to ask about it later.
“Well, sweetie,” Kathy said, “I’ll let you go. Love you.”
“Love you too, Mom. Bye.” Sam hung up the phone, her mind still reeling from the news about Brewin.
When it rained, it poured.