Mikey suspects something is wrong, but what?
It was undoubtedly the strangest thing I had ever said in my entire life. But it was made all the more awkward when I was utterly ignored.
“Excuse me?” I prompted, only to not even raise a glance. “Hey! Are you listening to me?”
I leaned over to grab her arm and my hand went straight through. That got a reaction all right… from both of us. She glanced up, looking in my direction but through me. Me? I was totally dumbstruck. A single gasp of shock had left my lips and with my mouth remaining open, I stared back, unmoving, virtually unseeing.
“I’m sorry, Gerard,” Mari pulled on my arm. “We should have told you.”
“She can’t see me?”
“No, I’m sorry, and you can’t touch anything either.”
I was so sure I had, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that I actually hadn’t. Sure, I’d held the Book Of Death, but nothing from my own world. I felt sick, or at least I was sure I would have done if I could feel anything at all.
“This is going to make things a bit tricky, isn’t it?” I offered up the biggest understatement of my life.
“Did you really think this was going to be easy?” Richard grumbled unkindly.
“I may not be able to touch stuff in my world, Richard, but I’m pretty damn sure I could floor you!”
“Well said, my dear. Richard, given that you are the cause of this mess, I suggest you restrict your comments to helpful ones.”
“Look I’m no good at this and you don’t want me here. I’m probably just going to mess up again, why don’t you just let me go?”
“Richard…” Mari began only to be interrupted by me grabbing the man by his jacket lapels.
“Listen to me, you got me into this, you’ll get me out of it. Whether you like it or not! And trust me, not suits me just fine!”
As I let go, I watched him with narrowed eyes as he huffed and spluttered and smoothed his lapels. He tried hard to give me a dirty look, but he couldn’t come close to matching the one I was aiming at him. Let’s face it, I’m a master of dirty looks when I need them and I needed one now.
“How are we going to find my friends and Mikey?”
I turned to Mari; I had long since realised that she was much more than just a kind old lady. She knew so much more than anyone in a normal death situation would have and I knew that from personal experience!
“The hard way, my dear, we look for them.”
My heart sank; this was a big hospital.
“You can’t sort of just zone in in them, or something?” I asked hopefully.
“You’d better hope not,” Richard scowled.
I frowned in reply, only to understand his comment when Mari added:
“If we could, dear, they’d be dead.”
“Oh,” I sighed, nodding at the words.
Indicating to a map of the hospital on the wall near the entrance, Mari walked purposefully towards it and began pointing to areas she believed were likely.
“Perhaps we should start with the ICU and possibly the head trauma unit?”
“Mikey had a broken or dislocated leg, I think, and Frank seemed okay.”
“Your body is most likely in ICU,” Mari stated with quiet sympathy.
I could tell that she needed to make the point, but she was doing it kindly. While I was glad she did, I really didn’t like that she was referring to my body. It seemed… well, not just creepy, but… final.
“We’ll do everything we can, my dear. First, we need to find you and your friends. I think a regular ward would seem most likely for your friends,” she nodded, smiling kindly at me.
“Shouldn’t I go to ICU?”
“No,” she shook her head firmly.
“Exactly,” Richard rolled his eyes. “You can’t just walk in there and see yourself dead.”
“I’m not dead!”
“That’s it!” I yelled. Rushing forward I slammed the source of all my problems back into the wall only to fall against it as Richard passed straight through.
“Richard!” Mari called irritably. Pausing a few seconds, she shouted again. “Richard, get back here now!”
“Has he gone?” I asked wide-eyed. “I thought you said…”
“Do you need summoning again?” she added with, what sounded like a cruel tinge to her tone that I’d never heard before.
Whatever the words meant, they did the trick and he reappeared, a sheepish expression on his face.
“Richard, whatever else happens, if you don’t help, Gerard will lodge a complaint. You’ll be back to working the graveyard shift again. Now I know you…”
“All right! All right!” he snapped angrily. “I’ll help! Okay. Just don’t blame me if it doesn’t work.”
“I do blame you!” I snapped. “This is all your fault!”
“But!” Mari raised a hand in a calming gesture. “If we can fix this, no one needs to do anything.”
“Wait…” I was angry and missing the point.
“Gerard,” Mari slowed her speech, forcing me to listen. “Richard wants to help you, and in return you won’t make a complaint. Correct?”
It stopped me dead in my tracks – perhaps not the greatest choice of words – but it worked. The implication was that if I didn’t agree not to make a complaint, not only would Richard not help me, but there was a good chance he would actually actively make things worse. If the graveyard shift – whatever that was – was so bad, if it was going to happen anyway, he really had no incentive to do anything for me.
I found myself nodding, hoping I looked believable.
“If he helps me, and it works, there’s no reason to complain.”
“There! See, he’s doing it again!” Richard whined.
“Gerard, you can’t add a proviso. Richard will give his word to do everything he possibly can in return for no complaint raised.”
I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea, but it didn’t look as though I had a choice. I nodded.
“Okay. No complaint.” Suddenly I felt intensely vulnerable.
“So, you take those wards and we’ll take these and we’ll meet back here in…”
A chill breeze swept through the hospital lobby. We all felt it and I knew it was significant. Mari frowned and Richard’s eyes widened with abject terror as they exchanged glances.
“What?” I asked, nervously at first, then frantically. “What?”
“It may be nothing, dear…”
“That wasn’t nothing!”
“You felt that?” Mari asked with a quizzical expression; her already wrinkled brow creasing all the more.
“A chill,” I looked from Mari to Richard and back. “Sort of a breeze, but it didn’t move it was just… there.”
Again Mari said nothing and it was starting to scare me. They knew something and I knew it was bad.
“Tell me,” I was starting to panic. If I’d been truly alive, I know my mouth would have dried and I would probably have been sweating. I was staring now, willing them to answer me. My eyes pleaded with them to just answer my question. I felt dizzy and was struck with a nausea that I knew was only in my memory. “What was that?” I finally managed, somewhat weakly.
“One of the Riders, Gerard,” Mari spoke quietly.
“Here?” I asked with uncertainty. “Death?”
“War,” she replied gravely. “But there’s more.”
“There had to be,” I heaved a deep sigh.
“Gerard… you shouldn’t be aware of the Riders.”
“But… You know I’ve seen three of them,” I spluttered. I didn’t understand, what exactly was it that I wasn’t supposed to have been aware of?
“When they appear to you, yes, but not when they’re travelling.”
“Well… What does it mean?” It was all a little confusing and my head was spinning, but I tried hard to concentrate. I had a feeling this was significant.
“It means that Death has found the man who actually died when you were collected by mistake.”
Now I was really confused. Mari had given me this news with such a grave expression on her face, but wasn’t it good news? Richard had told me that I had to find him, that his soul had to…
“No, Gerard,” Mari shook her head. This time I knew I hadn’t spoken - how was she doing that?
“Why, no?” I asked nervously. “He told me, I…” I pointed at Richard only to find my voice tapering off as she shook her head slowly.
“It wasn’t just that the man needed to be found and sent on. You needed to find him. You personally. You had to stop Death finding him first.”
“Why?” I whispered, uncertain that I wanted the answer.
“Before now, the Under and Over Worlds were in imbalance. One soul short. You see?”
“Not really, no,” I shook my head.
“Death has found the missing soul, the deficit is made up. As far as everyone is concerned all is well again.”
“B…but… what about me?”
“You’re not dead,” Richard snapped.
“You keep saying that, but I’m not in my body and she can’t see me!” I yelled pointing to the receptionist. “Clearly, I’m not alive!”
“No,” Mari frowned, “you’re not and that’s why you can sense the Riders when they’re in transition.”
“Transition?” They were starting to lose me now.
“War is here, arriving in almost spirit form. He can become anything he wants, make anyone believe anything he wants.”
“What does he want?”
“He’ll find a way to get your friends to switch off your life support,” Richard explained.
“We have to find you, before they do,” Mari spoke grimly but with sincere feeling. Not only did she think it was possible, she believed it was likely.
“They won’t do it,” I shook my head in disbelief; some would say denial. “They’re my friends… my brother.”
“Yes, Gerard, they will. Apathy will be with him.”
“I haven’t sensed anything else,” I frowned.
“Nobody knows when Apathy is around. He could be standing next to you and you wouldn’t know.”
“Oh!” I laughed heavy with sarcasm. “My senses just won’t bother to pick him up. Just because he’s Apathy, I suppose?”
“Brighter than he looks,” Richard said with what sounded a kind of grudging respect and I knew I’d hit the nail right on the head.
I felt sick to my stomach. Not just at the idea that I had been right with the bizarre explanation, but that together, War and Apathy could possibly convince Mikey and my friends to let me die. I wasn’t due to die; it had been an accident. But now Death had found the other man; the numbers tallied in the Under and Over Worlds, as Mari had called them. And with no one expecting me in either world, I would be unable to escape Death’s wrath.
“We better get looking,” I mumbled, trying to pull myself together.
Feeling a comforting arm on my shoulder, I looked up and was surprised to see Richard, for the first time, his expression genuinely contrite and concerned.
“I’m sorry I got you into this.”
“Just get me out of it,” I pleaded, nodding, thankful for his words.
“We’ll do our best, Gerard, we promise,” Mari replied steering me towards one of the corridors. “Find yourself, but be careful!”
“This is Doctor Waugh, Mikey.” Bob explained. “He’s looking after you and Frank.”
Mikey frowned, puzzled by the announcement. He couldn’t remember the name of the doctor who had previously attended him; he had been sedated and his memory had failed him, but he knew that they looked different. The previous doctor had left an impression on him – short and stocky with a permanently stressed look on his face. This man, however, was tall, and whilst broad looked gaunt and severe. Cropped wiry black hair cut in a short, almost spiky style and a small, neatly trimmed beard framed his long thin face. Chiselled cheekbones only served to highlight the sunken cheeks and thin but wide mouth.
“Why the change?” Mikey finally asked.
“Harman didn’t notice that Frank was hurt,” Bob explained moving to Mikey’s bedside.
“Frank?” Mikey gasped. “But I thought you said…”
“Don’t ask me why or even how, but he hid it. He hurt his shoulder. He’s being treated now though; Doctor Waugh’s looking after him.”
Mikey looked up at the doctor, his dark eyes staring straight through him.
“Er… Bob, I…” he began.
“I’ll examine you now,” Waugh stepped forward, glancing down briefly at the chart. “Dislocated knee?”
Waugh pulled the covers back swiftly, revealing Mikey in his hospital gown, his left knee strapped up with bandages. Placing a hand over the damaged knee, Waugh ignored Mikey as he gasped with surprise. Pressing himself back against the pillows, he gripped the mattress with both hands.
“Does it hurt?” Bob asked, stepping forward.
“It… It’s cold!” Mikey stammered.
“Doesn’t matter, does it?” Bob murmured, now staring out of the window.
“Bob?” Mikey called, shocked by the response. The chill around his knee grew more intense. “Bob!” he snapped.
“What?” Bob replied irritably as he looked over his shoulder at Mikey.
Removing his hand, Waugh allowed the corners of his mouth to curl up as he glanced at another man standing at the foot of the bed, unnoticed by either Bob or Mikey.
“I… I don’t know,” Mikey shook his head, his mind blanking as warmth slowly returned to his leg. “You didn’t say who was looking after Gerard.”
Bob looked thoughtful for a few moments, briefly his brow furrowed. Shivering slightly as the unseen man moved closer to him, he shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Does it matter?”
Mikey frowned. Was that a glimpse of movement by Bob? There was definitely a shadow… but how? What was going on? Why did Bob seem so unconcerned about Gerard? Mikey frowned deeply. His brother had been the most severely injured of them all, but Bob seemed almost not to care. Something was definitely wrong.
Noticing the stern glare aimed at him by Waugh, Mikey realised that Bob’s reaction and the doctor’s curious behaviour had to be linked. Was he threatening Bob? Was Bob scared of him? Whatever the reason, he had to play along.
“I guess not,” he shrugged, to Waugh’s apparent satisfaction.
“Well, I guess I’ll drop in on Frank,” Bob announced.
“Bob? Where’s Ray?” Mikey asked, trying hard to conceal the shake in his voice.
The drummer gave the question a moment’s thought before shrugging.
“I don’t know. I’ll see you later, Mikes.”
Mikey tried to sound normal yet indifferent. He had no clue what was going on, but he was determined to find out.
A/N - Sorry about the massive delay in updating this. I practically forgot about it then got some great reviews and thought - finish it! Hope you like this next instalment :)