The coma ward. They had some other name for it. They had to. But it was the coma ward to me. That’s what drew me. That’s where I heard my heartbeat. Like the loudest drum in all creation. It boomed over and over. It was still beating.
Why was my heart still beating?
I’m a ghost. Ghost’s don’t have beating hearts. We have “mortal remains”. Corpses.
I stumbled into the door to the hospital and pulled it open.
I was through it before it registered that doing so was weird.
I’m a ghost, we walk through doors, and walls, and everything.
I took a moment in the hospital’s entryway to let the world stop spinning.
I was in the living world again. That wasn’t a surprise. Ghosts can do that, and with my heartbeat pounding as loud as it was, it felt right that I was pulled over.
The nightmares were still chasing me, still out there and closing in fast. The walls and lights of the hospital might keep them out but I really doubted it.
“I don’t think we have to try summoning her.” Betty said.
I turned to find a short human-looking girl (not a goblin) standing with Rosie and Penny.
“Uh, what?” Too much strangeness in too little time made my brain shutdown.
“Let’s bring her to the cafeteria,” Rosie suggested. “Come on Heather, we’ve got to compare notes.”
I let them lead me down one of the halls, passing by the reception area where we received all of zero attention. Almost like we were invisible.
“Why the cafeteria?” I asked as we took our seats at a table. It was a simple question. Those were good ones.
“Salt,” Penny said. “We can make a quick circle to reinforce the protections that are already on this place.”
She took the shaker from the table and walked around our table sprinkling it in a fine line. She was saying some words under her breath too but rather than anything weird in latin, it sounded like she was talking to the salt itself, asking it to act as our defender and offering it thanks for doing so.
“The hospital has magic protections?” I asked. Also a simple question. I was getting better at those.
“It’s a witch thing,” Penny said. “Hospitals have people who are the most at risk, so someone in each community makes sure to keep the patients safe from supernatural problems at least.”
“Will I be safe here too?” I asked. A simple question and one I cared about! I felt like giving myself a gold star.
“We think so,” Penny said.
“And if anyone comes calling, we’ve got these,” Betty added, pointing to her backpack. At first, it looked like a normal school backpack, but then I noticed the vacuum cleaner hose that was stuffed into it and ran to what looked like a marching band twirling stick with a glittery star on the other end.
“Is that…” I started to ask.
“A ghost catching device?” Betty said. “Yes, yes it is.”
“But they’re not ghosts,” I said, referring to the shadows that were after me.
“Yeah, we figured that out when it didn’t work on them at first,” Betty said.
“So now they’re shadow catchers!” Rosie said. “We modified them.”
“But they’re not shadows either,” I said.
“We know,” Penny said. “They’re nightmares. Fortunately they’re using shadows as their substance in the living world. Take that away and they’re vanish back into dreams. I think.”
“Shadows as their substance?” I asked. “That makes less than no sense.”
“Welcome to Magic 101,” Penny said. “You see why so many people think we’re insane right?”
“Why are you here?” I asked, trying to find some order, some sanity I could pull out of the situation.
“When you disappeared, I thought the Hungry Shadows had caught you, so we went looking for their source,” Penny said.
“They’re tricky to track,” Rosie said. “Since they’re not one hundred percent real.”
“Honestly we just got lucky,” Betty said. “We were wandering around searching and we noticed that when they couldn’t see us, they were all heading towards various magically active places in the city, but they were all moving away from here.”
“Once we knew where to look finding out what was special about this place was pretty easy,” Rosie said.
“Is someone special sleeping here?” I asked, trying to figure out why this would be a breeding ground for nightmares.
“Yeah, you.” Betty said.
“We backtracked some of the nightmares and found, well, you,” Penny said. “I’m not quite sure how that works but I’ve got a couple theories.”
“Do you remember if you have a twin?” Rosie asked.
“No, my sister’s younger than I am,” I said instinctively. I hadn’t remembered I had a younger sister until that moment. The more I thought about her though, the more details that came back.
My memory in general seemed sharper too.
“We should probably bring you there,” Penny said. “But I know that’s gotta be weird.”
“Welcome to Ghost 101,” I said. “Although, now I have to wonder if I’m really a ghost at all?”
“I think you might be,” Penny said. “From what I’ve read, we make ghosts for ourselves when we die because we want to continue interacting with the living world. Ectoplasm and starlight are easy enough to work with that we don’t need our physical bodies to weave them. Our spirits can manage it on their own.”
“You’re thinking Heather’s body was hurt so badly that she created a ghost for herself and the reason she can’t move on is because she’d not actually dead?” Rosie asked.
“Well, she is in coma, and generally speaking that’s a sign of some severe trauma right?” Penny said. “All she would need would be enough natural talent and an unwillingness to hang out and be unconscious for several years and, poof, one ghost girl.”
“So what am I supposed to do now?” I asked.
“I think you need to take a look at yourself,” Penny said. “We were going to try to summon you but you made it here on your own, so something’s got to be calling you back to your body right?”
“I’m supposed to be safe there, Great Grandma Apples told me that,” I said.
“Maybe that’s the key to all of us being safe,” Betty said. “If your body is the source of the nightmares, then maybe you’ll be able to stop them if you get back in it.”
Or maybe they’ll finally be able to eat me up, I thought, but it didn’t matter, I’d already made my choice.