Authors: Richie Tankersley Cusick
Brandon grinned. “Always the diplomat. Kyle, you should definitely go into politics.”
“Thanks a lot, Kyle. That's the most noncommittal answer I've ever heard. Don't tell meâyou think it's Liz, too.”
“I know Liz,” he said. “Don't fall into her traps.”
“You're certainly one to talk,” Darcy retorted, leaving the rat-incident hanging silently in the air between them. She couldn't help feeling smug as he avoided her eyes and looked pained.
“Okay”âBrandon stuck his head back in the doorwayâ“tell you what. If you can find the knife Jake used, then we'll believe you.”
“They don't think it was a knife,” Kyle reminded him with a sigh. “They think it was a scalpel.”
“Okay, if you can just find
weapon he used, then we'll believe you.”
, Brandon, for your support.”
She watched them leave, then locked up behind them, leaning her head against the wall, trying to organize her thoughts.
I should never have said anything, I can't believe I did that, I'm so stupid
. Even to herself the whole thing sounded crazy now, crazy Uncle Jake a deranged killer, with Elliott his deranged sidekick, suspected by Darcy, his totally deranged niece.
What was I thinking?
With a groan she sat down and buried her head in her hands. She'd never be able to take back what she'd said â¦ she'd never be able to live it down. Even now Brandon and Kyle were probably laughing themselves silly. They'd probably tell Jakeâthey were
to tell Elliottâand she'd know each time one of them looked at her that they were trying not to laugh, that they were thinking how unbelievably
she was. Worst of all, they'd tell Liz, and wouldn't
think it was great, how easily that dumb Darcy played right into her handsâ
“Oh, Darcy, grow up,” she moaned.
She stood up and turned around. Elliott was peering at her through the beaded curtain.
With a gasp she jumped back, one hand pressed to her pounding heart. He looked so eerie in the half light, the reflection of the glass, his face ghostly pale, yet tinged with a flickering red.
“How long have you been there?” she demanded. “I thought you'd left a long time ago.”
How much did you hear, Elliott? How much do you know â¦?
Elliott said nothing, just watched her. Darcy moved slowly to the end of the counter and began stacking brochures into small, neat piles.
“You know, Elliott,” she said carefully, and she couldn't believe she was doing this, her words spilling out even as she tried to stop them, “I thought I saw you at the Farmer's Market this morning. It's funny, you know? I just looked up, and there you were in the crowd. Just like that day outside the Club. Just like that time at the cafÃ©.” She heard her voice shaking and realized he had stepped out into the room. “It really is funny,” she said again, her laugh weak and forced, “because nobody believes you're ever really there.” He was directly across from her now, the counter between them. “
you really there, Elliott?” she whispered.
She felt his eyes even though she couldn't see them, felt their slow careful appraisal in the long silence that followed. She tasted fear and tried to swallow, but it stuck in her throat.
“I'm your savior,” Elliott murmured. “I'm your hope.”
To Darcy's surprise he started around the counter toward her, and she clumsily backed away.
“Stay away from me, ElliottâI mean it.”
“Sooner or later,” he said hollowly, “it will happen.”
He took another step, and Darcy turned and ran, plunging through the beads, their bloodred shimmering closing off her escapeâbecause there
no escape nowâ
Elliott was right behind her.
“Don't run from me, Darcy!”
Elliott's voice echoed off the dark, damp walls of the tunnels, and Darcy tried to run faster, but the shadows tricked her, played with her, and all the creatures watched, enjoying her panic as she raced past them, searching for a place to hide. She fell out into the last chamber, and she couldn't see Elliott, couldn't hear Elliott behind her anymore, and
I'm very good at hiding, he had said, good at hiding
Darcy spotted the barricade at the far end of the room and clambered over into unfamiliar darkness.
It was a distorted world she found herself in.
From the dim ceiling lights she could make out the alcoves, in their half-finished states of confusion â¦ mannequins with maniacal stares, half-clothed, posed expectantly without weapons or victims. A beast in chains clawed at an invisible tormentor â¦ a deformed executioner lowered an ax that wasn't there. As Darcy hoisted herself up onto one of the stages, she spotted the perfect hiding placeâa tarpaulin-covered grave where two body snatchers grinned down in evil anticipation of their find.
Darcy fell to her knees by the make-believe grave and ripped back the canvas sheeting.
And at first it was just too horrible to believeâtoo horrible to register or even to recognizeâthe girl lying there in the sunken floor, hands folded upon her breast, like a lifeless statue, only this girl was real, this girl wasâ
“Liz,” Darcy whispered. “Oh â¦ my Godâ”
And she was so still lying there â¦ so strangely, strangely white.â¦
Except for the thin line of blood across her throat.
And the two spots of lipstick on her neck.
y God, Darcy, I just heardâhow is she?”
Through the blur of voices in the emergency room, Darcy recognized Jake. She looked up into his pale face and thought of Liz's even paler one.
“Where were you?” she asked numbly.
“Business.” He sat down in an empty chair. “They gave me your message when I got back to the Club.”
From other chairs around the waiting area, faces looked back at himâfaces that were familiar ones, but had been turned to strangers by shock and disbelief. Darcy shook her head and glanced toward the hallway where Liz's parents were talking to Tony the cop. Kyle looked like he might pass out at any second, and Brandon sat next to him, his hand on Kyle's arm. Elliott slouched in one corner, as if he were merely a part of the worn, faded furniture. Darcy felt a slight pressure on her shoulder and realized that Jake was trying to talk to her.
“Tell me what happened,” he said gently.
She stared at him and couldn't answer. She didn't
what had happened. She knew that Elliott had come after her â¦ that Elliott had chased her â¦ yet it was Elliott who had called for an ambulance â¦ Elliott who had driven her here to the hospital.â¦
“Darcy, what happened?” Jake asked again. He glanced over at Brandon's face, at Kyle's face, both of them watching him. “What's wrong with you guys?” He sounded almost irritable. “Why won't anyone talk to me?”
From the hallway came the sounds of Liz's mother crying. A policeman closed his notepad and looked grim.
“She was in the grave,” Darcy said at last, in a voice that sounded like someone she didn't know.
“Grave?” Jake seemed almost to sense what was coming, and Darcy found herself wondering how he knew.
“In one of the new exhibits. Body snatchers. There was a cover over the grave. Iâ” She broke off as an officer motioned to Jake. He got up slowly and went over to talk. She kept her eyes on the door that separated them all from Liz, but nobody came out to tell them anything. She stared at it for a long, long time. When she felt Jake slip a cup of coffee into her hand, she wondered how many hours had passed.
“It must have been awful for you,” Jake said. “I'm sorry.”
She watched him sit in the chair next to her, and she wished she had the strength to get up and move. She really felt like being alone right now. She glanced despondently around the room and took a sip of coffee, scarcely feeling the scalding liquid down her throat. Elliott was watching her, and she looked away. From the corner of her eye she saw him slide to the edge of his chair, perched there as if uncertain whether or not he was allowed to move. Finally he stood up and stayed where he was, but he was turned in her direction, and she could still feel him watching her. She pushed herself up and swallowed the bitter coffee in one gulp.
“I'll be back,” she mumbled, and walked quickly out of the room, down the hall to the bathroom.
Once inside she sagged weakly against the sink and splashed cold water on her face. Her reflection looked almost as deathly as Liz's had, and there were dark wells of hopelessness beneath her eyes.
I can't think â¦ I don't know what's going on â¦ nothing makes sense
.â¦ Her eyes traveled over the bathroom walls and ceiling.
I feel like a fugitive trying to make a break
. She bent in close to the glass and rubbed a paper towel down each side of her face. In the background she saw the bathroom door start to open, then stop and move slowly back into place.
Darcy tensed, her eyes widening at the bathroom reflected behind her. The door hadn't closed all the way â¦ there was a tiny crack of light near the doorframe, and as she stared at it, she could swear that the door moved again, ever so slightly.
“Is someone there?” she tried to call, but it echoed silently in her head, only a frightened thought.
I'm imagining things. Who could be after me in a nice safe hospital where there are people I know right down the hall?
The door shut softly.
Footsteps disappeared rapidly down the hall.
Weakly Darcy turned around and braced her back against the vanity, her eyes glued to the doorway. No outline of light showed now. Nothing moved. Pressing the towel to her face once more, she held it there and allowed herself several muffled cries. Her knees were shaking and she felt like she'd slide right down onto the floor.
Is everyone totally blind and deaf? Doesn't anyone realize what's happening to me?
Getting a hold of herself, she inched open the door and peered out.
The hallway was empty.
For heaven's sake, Darcy, it was probably just someone who wanted to use the bathroom, Liz's mother, maybe, a nurse, some other woman in the emergency room, and they got called back and you are definitely way out of control
Sighing heavily, she went back to the waiting room but was intercepted by Kyle at the door.
“Darcy, she's going to be okay, they just told us.”
“Oh, Kyle, thank God!” Darcy flung her arms around him and they held each other for a long moment. When she finally pulled away, she saw him wipe clumsily at his eyes.
“Mom and Dad are with her now, and they're sending the rest of us home. We're all going to get something to eat, okay?”
“Yes.” She nodded, then laid one hand on his cheek. “Are you sure you're all right?”
“Heyâ” He shrugged and gave a strangled sound that might have been a laugh. “She's a real nightmare, right? But”âhis voice softenedâ“she is my sister.”
They hugged again and laughedâgenuinely this timeâand as Darcy pulled away she saw a nurse motioning to her from the end of the hall. Excusing herself, she started for the nurse's station, passing Liz's parents on their way out, watching them hug Kyle and Brandon and stand talking in a group with the others, looking relieved. She smiled to herself and turned as the nurse touched her arm.
“Darcy Thomas?” The nurse gave a tight, professional smile.
“Your friend Liz wants to talk to you.” She crooked her finger, indicating for Darcy to follow, and didn't notice the look of surprise on the girl's face. “I can only give you a minuteâyou shouldn't be going in at allâbut she seems very insistent about this.”
Darcy was still too surprised to answer. She kept her eyes on the nurse's stiff back as they passed pale green walls and entered a large room where sleeping patients lay separated by curtains and machinery. Darcy balked and felt her stomach turn at the overpowering smell of mortality.
“She's â¦ she's not going to die, is she?” Darcy whispered.
“No, but she's in pretty bad shape. The gash on her head was a lot worse than the one on her neckâshe must have put up a pretty good fight.” The nurse pointed out the bed and added, “She probably won't make much senseâshe's pretty much out of it.”
Darcy nodded, swallowing over the lump in her throat. What could Liz possibly want with her now? She had a sudden image of Liz climbing out over the side rails and going for her throat, and she guiltily forced it away.
She stood there, looking down, knowing she shouldn't be so shaken, now that Liz was going to be all right. The girl didn't stir. Fear washed through Darcy, and she wondered if Liz had suddenly died.
“Liz â¦ it's Darcy,'” she mumbled.
Slowly Liz's eyes struggled open. She stared a moment without focus, as if Darcy didn't exist. One hand, attached to a tube, groped above the covers, and Darcy reached out and took it gently in her own.
“Liz â¦ did you want to see me? It's Darcy.”
This time, finally, her words registered. Awareness lit Liz's pupils, and Darcy felt a slight tremor in the frail hand she held.
“Dar â¦” Liz couldn't get the word out, and her hand moved in frustration. Darcy leaned forward until their faces practically touched.
“Yes, Liz, I'm here. Can I do something for you?”
Liz's fingers worked up over Darcy's hand and tried to squeeze it. “Must â¦ tell you,” she mumbled.
“What?” Darcy turned her head, putting her ear close to the other girl's lips. “What are youâ”
“Must,” Liz insisted, “must tell you.”
“He â¦ he said â¦” The voice trailed away, and her eyes closed, blinking open again with a supreme effort. “Too hard â¦ so â¦ sleepyâ”