It was dark when they entered the lobby of Lexington Hills. Ramon was waiting for them in the lobby. He smiled when he saw them, visibly relaxing some.
“Good, you’re here,” he said.
“Is something wrong?” Snow asked, instantly on alert.
“No, just everyone here is on edge given the last few nights.” He looked to Cadence and smiled a bit once more. “Managed to stay together this time?”
“More or less,” she said with a smile.
Ramon’s eyes went over to the others. He nodded to Agent Whitfield but then stopped on Dan. “Um… isn’t that…?”
“The leader of the ghost hunting group, yes,” Snow answered. “He also was the cultist who killed the cat and summoned the shadow creature.”
“But why is he… here… Like that?”
“The creature got him,” Cadence said. “Which means I don’t have to be bait,” she said cheerily, which drew a reproachful look from Snow.
“Well it does.” She shrugged, her voice sounding more like a scolded teenager than an adult.
“And this is Agent Whitfield. He’s a research attaché from the NHD. He’s managed to find the ritual we need to destroy the creature for us. Gentlemen, this is Ramon Suarez. He’s the monitor of Lexington Hills.”
“Monitor?” Dan asked.
“Kind of the head ghost,” Cadence explained. “He keeps the other ghosts in line and calls us in when ghost hunting groups or cultists come around.”
Agent Whitfield and Snow took Ramon over to where the ritual circle was, leaving Cadence to guard Dan, making sure he didn’t have an attack of cowardice and try to flee. They stood together in awkward silence for a moment before Dan finally broke it.
“So, if we’re ghosts, how come you needed stitches?” he asked.
“This creature you summoned consumes the energy of spirits. I guess when it takes your energy, but not enough to kill you they have to stitch what you have back together, like when you cut yourself too deep.”
“Yeah but stitches?” he asked. “It just seems so… mundane.”
“I don’t know.” she shrugged. “They keep telling me that a lot of this afterlife stuff has to do with mental images and projections. Maybe it’s just the best thing our minds can comprehend.”
“You sound like you’re still kind of new at this too.”
“About a month,” she said.
“Oh shit, I thought you looked familiar. You’re that cop! The one who got killed getting the Somerset Strangler.”
“Yeah,” Cadence said with a nod. She had a sinking feeling she was going to be saddled with that moniker forever. That she would forever be the cop who got killed in pursuit of the Somerset Strangler.
“Yeah, you were in the papers. Sorry to hear about that. But it seems like you’ve found a good place on this side, right?”
“I’m still doing what I did before… Only weirder,” she said and chuckled.
Snow waved the two of them over as lights were visible outside. Aiden’s van was pulling into the yard. Cadence and Dan joined Ramon, Snow, and Whitfield at the ritual circle as Lauren, Aiden, and Derrick entered with their usual cases of equipment.
“I still don’t understand,” Derrick was saying as they entered. “Why are we doing this without Dan?”
“Dude doesn’t want to pick up his phone, that’s his problem.” Aiden grumbled.
Dan groaned. “Oh God, no one’s found me yet. No one knows I’m dead.”
“Don’t worry,” Snow said. He clapped the larger man on the shoulder. “We’ll give them a nod in your direction.”
Derrick and Lauren went back out to get the rest of the equipment and Aiden paused, looking around. “I hope you’re here Cadence.”
Snow looked to Cadence and nodded. “When they get settled I’ll need you to be the one to contact Miss Lauren.”
She looked taken aback by that. “What? Me? Why? Other than Dan I have the least amount of experience.”
“And yet despite all that you are the one that Aiden has spoken to before. You are the one he trusts. The only other to speak to them could be Dan, and I think that would do more harm than good in the effort of keeping things on track tonight.”
“Good point,” Cadence agreed.
“They are going to need you to tell them how to draw the runes,” Whitfield said. “When you are in contact with Lauren, just show her the image as I have it drawn. I’ll give them to you in order and how it should look. Once we get everything drawn and all the candles lit, we will wait for it to come to us.”
Cadence nodded in understanding. The ghosts watched as Derrick and Lauren brought in the rest of the equipment. Aiden began setting up the camcorders on tripods facing the circle. He then set out a couple of digital audio recorders as well. Lauren set down a shopping bag, from which chalk and candles could be seen.
“Aiden,” she asked. “Why are we doing this? What is this all about?”
Aiden looked around. “Now would be a good time to prove that I’m not crazy guys.”
Snow looked to Ramon and nodded. Ramon gathered his energy stepped forward, making sure to stay out of the line of the cameras.
“Woah!” Derrick exclaimed, pointing, as a faint image of Ramon’s face could be seen in midair. Lauren gasped in shock and Aiden smiled, reassured by the face he had seen quick glimpses of in their tapes.
“Guys, relax,” he said. “That’s Ramon. He works here.”
“Works here?” Derrick asked incredulously.
“Well, he was an orderly here when he was alive.” He looked at their shocked faces and shrugged. “What? Once I knew a little bit I went on a research binge.”
“How did you know some of the history?” Derrick asked.
“So are you two best friends now?” Lauren asked.
“No, but we need to help him.” Aiden answered Lauren and let Derrick’s question go unanswered. He didn’t feel like explaining how he had learned about Ramon.
“What do you mean?” Lauren asked. “How did you know a little bit to go on this research binge?”
“See this circle?” Aiden asked. He pointed to it and ignored Lauren’s question. “This released something bad. We’re here to undo it.”
“How do you know how to undo it?” Derrick asked.
“I don’t,” Aiden replied. “But we’ll be getting instructions.”
At that moment Cadence reached out and touched Lauren’s arm. She shivered a moment then looked to the side where Cadence was standing. “Is… is that Ramon?”
“Lauren you need to do your psychic thing here. They need to use you to tell us what to do,” Aiden instructed.
“Hold on just a minute here,” Derrick protested. “Are we forgetting that something here scratched me? That Dan said he felt like he brought something bad home with him from this place? Or the fact that last time we were here, something threw a door at us? I don’t think Lauren opening herself up to what’s in here is such a good idea.”
“Relax,” Aiden urged. “I’m pretty positive I know who is going to talk to Lauren.”
Despite Derrick’s protests, Lauren closed her eyes, trying to attune herself to what was around her that she couldn’t see. “There’s more than one spirit here,” she said.
Cade stepped closer to the psychic. “My name is Cadence.” She introduced herself to Lauren. “You can ask Aiden; I’ve come to him in dreams before.”
Lauren canted her head. “Aiden? Does the name Cadence mean anything to you?”
Aiden couldn’t help the grin. “Yes! She did it!”
Agent Whitfield walked over to Cadence with a drawing of the ritual area and pointed to where the candles were to go. “Lauren,” Cadence continued. “I need you to imagine a blank sheet of paper. Then let me draw on it for you, to show you where you need to place the candles for this.”
Lauren did as she was bid and envisioned in her mind a giant blank sheet of paper. She caught her breath as the page began filling in with a drawing, perfectly resembling the one she couldn’t see that Whitfield was holding. When Cadence was certain that the image she was looking at was the same as the image in the psychic’s mind, she touched Lauren’s shoulder. “Make the area look like that picture in your head. Don’t light the candles yet, just set them up.” When she released Lauren’s shoulder, the woman’s eyes opened.
She looked in awe at Aiden. “This is incredible. I know what to do.” She went to the shopping bag and grabbed the bundles of white candles they had bought. She handed some to Aiden and some to Derrick, instructing them on where to put them. “Don’t light them yet, though,” she warned.
Snow, Whitfield, Cadence and Ramon smiled to each other as they watched the candles get set up. “This is going to work,” Cadence said.
“Don’t jinx us, please.” Whitfield shot back.
Once the candles were set up, Cadence went back to Lauren. She laid her hand on Lauren’s arm again. Lauren shivered from the cold and then closed her eyes as she opened her mind up to Cadence again.
“Okay, same as before,” she told the psychic. “Imagine a blank piece of paper. I’m going to show you a rune. When I let go, I want you to go stand inside the center of the circle and face that rune. Then I’ll be back to tell you what to do. Oh, and take a piece of chalk with you.”
Cadence showed her the rune the Whitfield held up to her, which was the last of the runes that had been drawn. They had to work backwards on drawing the runes, in reverse order of importance. Cadence released Lauren when she was sure that the psychic had it clearly in mind. The woman walked over and stood in the center like she had been told. Once she stood where she needed to, Cadence reconnected with her and showed her the rune she had to draw and how it looked in relation to the original rune it was countering.
Lauren took a deep breath when Cadence let go, and she hunkered down, drawing the first rune. Derrick sat nearby on the floor, watching uneasily. Aiden watched it all with a smile, happy that everything he had dreamed hadn’t just been a dream and that he wasn’t crazy.
Whitfield, Cadence, and Lauren repeated this step with the next three runes. Once they began showing the fourth rune to Lauren, Dan looked sharply out towards the back.
“Uh oh,” he intoned quietly to Snow and Ramon, not wanting to break the concentration of the others.
“What?” Snow asked sharply under his breath.
“It knows,” Dan replied.
“It… It knows? How does it know? What does it know?” asked Ramon, suddenly very worried. A sharp glance from Snow reminded him that he needed to stay quiet to not disturb the work of the others.
“I don’t know why… I can just feel it. It knows what we’re doing here. It’s pissed and it’s coming.”
“Here?” Snow clarified.
“Yeah,” Dan responded.
“Now?” Snow asked uneasily.
Dan gave Snow a look and nodded again.
“I’ll go lock everyone down,” Ramon said and disappeared.
Snow gave an uneasy look towards where Cadence was now showing Lauren the fifth and final rune. He frowned and marched over to where they were.
“Whitfield what’s after the runes?” he asked quietly.
“Light the candles then show them where to stand.”
“Just have her show Lauren where to stand, I’ll get the candles lit.”
Whitfield looked unsure but nodded. “Okay.”
Snow walked to one side of the circle and closed his eyes. He gathered his energy up, pulling from the battery of the audio recorder next to him. He wasn’t as good at communicating with those still breathing as Cadence was, nor was the recipient of his message a psychic, but he did his best.
“Light the candles,” he yelled into Derrick’s ear. The young man jumped to his feet, fumbling instantly in his pocket for the lighter he had brought with him.
“Holy crap!” he exclaimed. “Trying to give me a heart attack?” he yelled to the ceiling.
“Ignore them,” Whitfield said as Cadence and Lauren both broke their concentration with the commotion. The fifth and final rune was done.
“Wait,” Cadence said to the NHD Agent. “Five runes, five points to the star, where does the sixth person on this stand?”
“You and Lauren will stand together at the main rune. Flesh and spirit together with one will.”
Dan made his way closer to the circle as Ramon reappeared back in the lobby. From outside an all too familiar howling scream sounded.
“Oh shit,” Cadence said, her eyes going wide. “Show me, Whitfield. Quick!” She grabbed onto Lauren’s arm and showed her where everyone needed to be as Whitfield showed her.
“Now comes the tricky part, Lauren,” she said to the woman, trying to be calm despite being keenly aware of the creature’s approach. “This is going to require a lot of trust on both our parts, but we have to do this fast. You and I have to stand together. Occupy the same space. Use our will as one to get this creature unmade.”
“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that,” she said in reply.
“Lauren, to be honest, I’m not so wild about the idea myself. But I’m being told this is what we have to do. And we have to do it fast because this thing is coming back here and it doesn’t sound like it’s interested in a tea party.”
“This is the thing that scared Dan away?” she asked.
She set her mouth in a narrow line. “Fine.” She told Aiden and Derrick where to stand, and Ramon and Snow took up the other points. Agent Whitfield directed Dan to the center.
“Bethany was telling me that you get to say goodbye to people when you die,” Dan said as he shuffled into the center. “It’s kind of looking like I won’t get to.” He looked to Cadence. “Would you tell them goodbye for me and that I’m sorry?”
“If that’s what you want, yes,” Cadence agreed, her heart breaking a little for the guy. “But here’s hoping you’ll still be okay enough to do it yourself.” The back doors crashed open under the force of the creature and its wrath. Another hair-raising scream was sent up from it.
“Now,” Whitfield urged as he shrank back towards the front doors, not wanting to be anywhere near this creature’s radar.
Cadence took an unneeded breath and stepped into Lauren. Her vision swam, and she was inundated with sensation. The pounding of Lauren’s heartbeat, the itchy feel of the tag of her shirt, the rasp of breath as it was drawn in too quickly and the sound of the creature as it approached. She could feel Lauren’s uncertainty just as Lauren could feel her anxiousness.
Lauren opened her eyes and saw everything as if the images were super imposed upon themselves. She saw the room as it was, but she could see the silvery shadows of the room as it once was, through the ages. She saw the very solid forms of her friends and she saw the silvery ghostly shapes of the spirits. She saw Snow and Ramon standing on the edge of the circle just as Derrick and Aiden were. Because of Cadence’s presence, she knew who they were. Then she caught sight of the portly man in the middle and her jaw dropped.
“Dan?” she asked, and the heartbreak in that one word made Cadence feel like crying. Lauren had loved Dan very much. Cadence could see that in her mind, just like Lauren had seen who Snow and Ramon were in hers. Lauren had just wanted more from life whereas Dan had always wanted to take the easy way in everything. That had ultimately been what drove them apart.
Dan turned sharply as he heard his former wife say his name. “You can see me?” Dan asked Lauren. She nodded, emotion tightening her throat to where she couldn’t say anything. “God, Lauren I’m sorry. I was stupid. I did something so incredibly stupid. I didn’t want you to find out like this.”
His tearful apology was interrupted by the shadow creature that pulled the last remaining door between the lobby and the dining hall down. It howled an unintelligible challenge in anger at them and charged. Derrick and Aiden both made faces at the terrible smell the creature brought with it as the wind kicked up in the room. Cadence pulled her knife from her blazer pocket and reached out, taking Lauren’s hand with it and grabbing Dan’s arm. As on board as Cadence had been with making Dan the bait, she now found herself hesitant. It had been easier to be blindly angry at him for the mess his bad decision had made, but now? While she knew it was necessary, she didn’t really want to anymore.
“I’m sorry Dan,” Cadence said softly, and she meant it. She sliced open his arm with the knife the same way Snow had cut her when she had been the bait.
“No!” Lauren screamed in protest as she began to understand what was happening but Cadence held on firmly.
“Lauren, you kick me out and we won’t be able to send this thing back to where it came from and Dan’s sacrifice will be for nothing,” she said.
The creature howled again, a note of hunger in its echoing voice. Shadow tentacles reached out for Dan, but Dan shrank back to the back of the circle, as far back as he could go and still be inside it, both out of fear and a desire to make it come as far into the circle as he could. He was well aware of what was at stake and that they had to draw the creature into the circle. His blood was dripping from his arm, falling onto where the blood of the cat had been, following the rivulet that he and his group had carved into the tile floor. He wasn’t going to be a coward this time; he wasn’t going to run.
“Come and get me, you bastard,” Dan said, his voice a growl.
The floor was shaking and the walls cracked in a few places as the building reacted to the violent anger of the creature. Snow watched with baited breath as the blood from Dan’s arm began to make its way around the circle. If the circle sealed before the creature was in it, this was all for nothing, and with Dan safely behind the shield of the circle, Cadence would be the next best meal.
The beast hesitated as if it sensed a trap. Dan waved his bleeding arm around, throwing droplets of his blood everywhere. “Come on!” he yelled, as Lauren cried.
The wind had whipped up in the room and debris was starting to fly, candles going out and knocking over. The terrible stench of the creature filled the room. A loose plank of rotted wood flew across the room, and Derrick had to duck to avoid being knocked senseless by it. Aiden wasn’t sure what was going on with Lauren, but he knew he would find out. He had a bad feeling about Dan however, since Lauren mentioned him.
A drop of Dan’s blood fell square on the shadow creature and it could resist temptation no longer. It lunged at Dan, stepping within the circle and picking him up and instantly ripping him in half as it had Maggie and Agent Banks. It was as if Dan was a jelly donut and the creature was after the gooey center.
Lauren closed her eyes, unable to watch yet unable to keep herself from hearing the sounds as the creature consumed the spirit of her ex-husband. She and Cadence picked up the chant that Whitfield was yelling over the din of the creature. The spirit blood circle completed and the shield of energy sprang up into life. Snow and Ramon echoed Whitfield’s words while Aiden and Derrick repeated what Lauren and Cadence said as they spoke together.
The creature seemed to smash itself against the walls of the shield, howling in fury, Dan’s blood dripping from its every tentacle and mouth. Dan was no more, no shred of him left save that of a decomposing corpse alone in his old apartment. The creature that had just consumed him writhed and howled in agony inside the circle. The wind inside the lobby of Lexington Hills grew violent, tossing candles across the room, along with other debris accumulated from almost twenty years of abandonment.
The wind seemed to tear through the energy shield of the circle and take a bit of the creature each time it gusted. Derrick had to steady himself once when a particularly strong gust hit, but all the time they kept chanting non-stop. A candle was tossed across the room by the wind, and it hit Aiden in the shoulder as Cadence took momentary control of Lauren, who was too lost in her anguish over Dan to see another loose board flying across the lobby towards her head. Finally, the wind eased to a breeze, then to nothing. The shadow creature, which had been very visible to all of them once the shield sprang up, was no more. In its place was simply a cleaner smell, like the smell of spring.
Cadence stepped out of Lauren and the living woman’s knees buckled, and she collapsed to the floor. “Dan.” She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Aiden and Derrick moved to her, helping her to her feet. Cadence felt weak and completely drained as she staggered over to Snow, Ramon, and Whitfield.
“What’s wrong, Lauren?” Derrick asked.
“Dan’s dead,” Aiden said grimly. It suddenly made sense as to why he hadn’t been able to get the man on the phone.
Lauren nodded, unable to stop the flow of tears. “He was here. He said… he said he was sorry…. that he had… done something stupid,” she explained in between sobs. “Then it came and it… it ate him!”
Aiden kneeled down and hugged Lauren gently. “It’ll be okay,” he said as he rocked her. “It’ll be okay.”
Cadence watched all of this with a heavy heart. Sure, at first she had wanted nothing more than to see Dan pay for what he had done. Now she realized it was a mistake made by a very gullible guy who was thinking with his heart, not his brain. Maybe he hadn’t deserved what he got in the end. Cadence rubbed her face wearily and sighed, feeling like dirt for having been so vocal about Dan being bait.
Snow and Ramon shared a look before Snow very pointedly turned to speak to Whitfield. Ramon reached out to Cadence and took her good arm. “Are you okay?” he asked gently.
“Yeah just… wishing I’d been nicer to him.”
“I can understand why you weren’t,” he said. “At least, this time it wasn’t you that got torn to shreds.”
Cadence laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I didn’t get torn to shreds because I was the one who kept pushing for him to be bait. Forgive me if the finality of his death doesn’t have me leaping for joy. Somehow being in one piece now, relatively so at any rate, doesn’t feel as good as I thought it would.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I wish it could have gone differently.” He didn’t like seeing her so torn up over this, but he could understand where the feelings were coming from.
“Me too,” she sighed. “I thought maybe we would have a second to pull him out of there.”
Ramon wrapped his arms around her in a hug, just as Aiden was doing with Lauren. For her part Cadence hugged him back, glad for the gesture of comfort.
Snow cleared his throat and offered the two an apologetic smile. “Sorry to disturb, but Whitfield thinks it might be a good idea to wrap things up here. You should talk to her, Cadence.”
“I’m not sure she’ll want to talk to me. She did just see me wield the knife that got his blood everywhere,” Cadence replied.
“Make her listen. Then we’ll have to go to Aiden tonight too. And then there’s the paperwork,” Snow added.
“God forbid we forget the paperwork,” Cadence said with a sigh and a roll of her eyes.
She detached herself from Ramon and moved over to Lauren where she sat on the debris-strewn floor with Aiden. Derrick was quietly beginning the job of packing up. Cadence reached out and touched Lauren on the arm.
“No more,” Lauren whimpered, wrenching her arm away. “I don’t want to see anymore or hear anymore. Just leave me alone,” she said dejectedly.
Cadence frowned, but it was Aiden who spoke. “If they need to talk to you, let them. That’s why we got into doing this, wasn’t it? To help lost souls, to prove that they are out there and that we can communicate? To prove that sometimes they need help too? You have a gift Lauren. Granted what happened here tonight was awful, no one denies that. But if they need to talk to you, let them.” His voice was gentle and understanding and seemed to get through to her. Cadence tentatively reached out to touch her again and this time Lauren didn’t reject the cold chill on her skin.
“I’m so very sorry for what happened tonight with Dan,” Cadence said. “But we thank you for everything you did to help us. That shadow creature is what was haunting Dan, not some random spirit from here. It is what killed him; it scared him badly enough to have a heart attack. He and some others summoned it and then they accidentally set it free from the circle. They didn’t know what they were doing. But he was a true hero tonight. He laid down whatever he might have had in the afterlife to keep everyone else safe from the monster he had let loose. We couldn’t have stopped that thing without him or you. You, Aiden, Derrick, you were all integral to this. Thank you.”
Lauren angrily wiped tears from her face with her free hand. “You’re welcome,” she said begrudgingly.
“He loved you, Lauren,” Cadence said. She wasn’t sure at this point if she was doing more harm than good, but she felt it was important to tell Lauren that. Cadence released the woman’s arm as there was nothing more she could think of to say. She hoped in time that Lauren would see that it was the creature that killed Dan, not them. But she knew that right now, his ex-wife was going to be angry and lashing out at everything. Cadence rose slowly and made her way back over to Snow, Ramon, and Agent Whitfield.
“I need to get going. I have a bit more paperwork to do than you two,” Agent Whitfield said. He looked happy but a little shaken.
“This was your first field assignment huh?” Cadence asked.
“Yeah,” he admitted, giving them an embarrassed smile.
“Well you did great,” she said. “We couldn’t have done this without you, we wouldn’t have known how.”
“Cadence, you can get back to the office on your own now, yes?” Snow asked. He looked tired and worn out. “I’ll go ahead with Agent Whitfield back to the office.”
Cadence gave him a suspicious look but nodded. “Sure, no problem. I want to check in on Ruby anyway.” Snow smiled and turned, gesturing for Agent Whitfield to follow him.
“I’ll take you up to see Ruby,” Ramon said quietly. Derrick continued packing up and Lauren had gotten hold of herself enough that she and Aiden had started helping. Cadence figured they didn’t need supervision to pack up and go. She nodded to Ramon and, whether due to weariness or some other unknown factor, they turned and took the stairs up instead of teleporting.
“You go talk to her, I’ll go let the others know that everything is okay now,” Ramon said.
Cadence nodded and turned, making her way down the hall and knocking on the door frame.
“Miss Libby,” the old woman greeted her. “You sure have brought a lot of ruckus with you these last few weeks.”
Cadence offered a smile to the old woman as she entered the room and pulled a chair over to sit by her. “Sorry about that Miss Jones. We took care of it though so there will be no more ruckuses to disturb you,” she said.
“Well, that remains to be seen,” Ruby said. “No more ruckus from that thing. But given time, something else may come.”
“True, that’s very true. You’ve been okay through all of this?” Cadence asked.
“You’re sweet to check, not that anyone else cares.”
“That’s not true, Miss Jones.” Cade admonished gently. “Ramon checks on you, you know that.”
Ruby frowned. “Now don’t you let that good for nothing go fooling you, Miss Libby.”
“I won’t,” Cadence said with a soft chuckle.
“Some of the spirits here don’t know what’s been going on. Most of them don’t deserve the protection, sorry sons of bitches that they are. But for all of us, thank you. That thing would have picked through us all at some point.”
Cadence smiled and nodded, then paused. “Miss Jones, can I ask you a question?”
“You can ask anything you like, Libby. I may not answer if I don’t like the question is all.”
Cadence chuckled. “Okay, fair enough. If you’re aware, why do you play at not being aware? Of your death I mean. More than once now you’ve talked about knowing you are a spirit, knowing others aren’t aware of it. Why?”
Ruby gave the young woman a sly grin. “It’s simple. I don’t want that asshole Ramon’s job.”
Cadence shook her head laughing and rose from the chair. “I guess that’s a fair answer. Have a good night, Miss Jones.”
“You too, Libby.”
Cadence left the room and saw Ramon waiting for her by the door to the room he had stitched her up. She made her way silently through the deserted and decrepit halls to him and into the room.
“I want to check your wounds,” he explained. “You got some sleep before all of this excitement tonight, right?”
“Yeah, Snow pretty much grounded me until I got some sleep.”
Ramon nodded. “Good, I’m glad. Take off the jacket.” Cade slipped off her jacket as instructed and gingerly hopped up on the bed where he patted it. He pushed up her sleeve and carefully removed the bandage. There was a long cut but it didn’t look as deep as she remembered, and Cadence couldn’t see any stitches.
“I don’t recall being that fast of a healer,” she said.
“You don’t heal like a breather anymore,” he said. “It’s all based on energy. You got some sleep, which helped replenish your energy. Hence, you healed up a bit. Your arm isn’t going to need a bandage anymore. Let me see the leg.”
Cadence dutifully pulled up her pants leg, revealing the leg where the creature’s tentacle had wrapped around to hold her. He unwound the bandages from around her leg, and Cadence winced in spite of herself. The leg wasn’t a simple scab like the arm was and she had never actually seen the damage done to her leg. The stitches were still there, and in between some parts had scabbed while some still seemed open and juicy.
“Oh God.” She moaned and turned her head to look anywhere but at her leg. “This is why I try not to look.”
“You need more rest,” he said, his mouth set in a stern line of concentration as he wrapped a clean bandage around her leg. Once that was all secure, he pulled her pant leg gently back down. “Okay, I need you to lie down and lift up your shirt a bit.
Part of Cadence wanted to tease him for handing her a straight line like that, but he caught the grin on her face and looked embarrassed. “I need to check the wounds, Cade,” he explained needlessly.
“I know,” she said and chuckled as she laid back on the gurney. “It’s just where I come from as a female cop who hangs out with a bunch of guys every day; you just get used to having your mind in the gutter.”
He laughed a bit, the smile seeming to light up his face and dark eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he replied as he lifted her shirt up just enough to do what he needed. As he pulled off the bandages even he winced. “This one is going to be the worst since it’s where you bend all the time. At least the stitches held tonight.”
“How long before this one is all healed up?” she asked.
“Depends on how well you rest but I’d say you won’t be able to tell you were hurt at all within a week. You know, unless you go throwing yourself in front of hungry shadow creatures again before that.” He smiled but remained focused on his work as he cleaned and re-bandaged her stomach and sides. It stung like hell but she managed to keep herself still as he worked.
“Now the tricky part,” he continued. “Your back. You’ll need to sit up and lean forward, but carefully so that you don’t damage the front and sides.” Cadence did as she was told, and tried not to wiggle at the light touch of his fingers on her back.
“This is looking good back here.” He did put another bandage on it, despite how good he said it looked. He lowered her shirt when he was done and walked back around.
“So doc, what’s the bill?” she asked with a grin.
He surprised her by actually taking a moment to think about that. She had expected him to wave the question away as he had before. “A conversation,” he replied. He held up a forestalling hand as she opened her mouth. “Not tonight. I think we all need to rest after everything that happened the last few nights. But sometime soon, you owe me some time. Come by when there isn’t a slavering monster beating down our doors. Come by and we’ll just talk.”
Cadence looked at him uncertainly for a moment. “Ramon,” she said as she frowned. Her mind raced as she tried to think of what to say and how to say it. Finally, she smiled a little and nodded. He didn’t ask for a date, he didn’t ask for a kiss, he just wanted a conversation. She could do that. “I’d be happy to,” she finally said.
He grinned and offered her his hand to help her to her feet. She rose carefully, and he escorted her from the room. “Come back tomorrow night so I can check the wounds again, okay?”
“You got it, doc,” she said as she grinned.