Jerry’s room at the state hospital helped keep the darkness at bay. A white tile floor, four soothing pale green walls, a plain dark wooden door, and a bare white ceiling above him. The two small, high windows let in sunlight without the temptations of seeing the outside world. The simplicity of his white-painted bed, white sheets, and blankets, even his white painted bedside table, reassured him that his nightmares weren’t real.
None of that comforted him tonight. Tonight, his lunchtime meds hadn’t dulled him to sleep. He was still wide awake when the sunlight faded from his windows. Jerry was unusually clear-headed when the dark shape crawled up from behind his safe white bed and sat down next to him.
“Who or what are you, this time?” Jerry asked. “Not another dead woman asking for my help, I hope.”
The dark thing chuckled. At least that was what it sounded like to Jerry. It wasn’t big, and it hadn’t been violent yet. Still, he shivered as the small, not quite man-sized thing crept closer to him. It reached out a three-fingered hand and laid it on Jerry’s wrist. It was cold and squirmed, like a mass of worms, not a human hand at all.
“Oh, you are a broken little man, aren’t you?” the shadow said. “Well, maybe together, we can fix that.”
Jerry tried to jerk his hand away, but the cold squirmy thing held on. The voice filled his head with a rasping whisper. It started out like fall leaves crunching underfoot, joined by a dozen other unpleasant sounds like bugs hitting his windshield, all mashed up to resemble a voice.
“Let go of me!”
“I’m no one to be trifled with, Jerry, and I came here to help you, not to beg you to kill someone, like your friend, Linda. I’m older than you or this accursed prison. I’ve seen killers far worse than you, men and women, who genuinely enjoyed taking lives. You’re different, though, aren’t you?”
“I was trying to help. No one believes me. David was a bad man.”
“Of course he was,” The voice grew smoother the longer Jerry listened. “I know the type, Jerry. I’ve heard you tell Doctor Blevins your story. His wife told you he cheated on her, beat her, killed her even. You were only trying to make it right again.”
“Yeah. But Linda was already dead. Doc said I couldn’t talk to her. Said all the ghosts I ever saw were my imagination. You probably are too.”
“Oh no, my friend. I assure you, I’m as real as you and far stronger than that feeble ghost who tricked you into killing her husband.”
“You believe me?” He was thrilled at the thought that anyone might take his side of the story seriously. It had been too long since anyone had believed him. Even a hallucination was welcome company after all these years. “She came to me one last time the night I beat him. Smiling, floating there, and gloating even. He wasn’t evil like she said, but she wanted me to kill him anyway. She lied.”
“I know, Jerry,” the voice softened even more. The dark thing almost sounded like a woman now. “I have listened to you since the day you came here. I want to help you, but I won’t lie to you. Ever.”
“Go away. You’re a bad dream. I’m no good to anyone: not myself, my family, or even the dead. You’re not real anyway — just my drug-fueled imagination. I can’t even trust myself to know the difference. Doesn’t matter anyway. Dinner is soon, and my night meds will put me to sleep again.”
“Look under your pillow, Jerry.” The voice sounded sweet, and maybe a little smug now, not like leaves and bugs at all. Jerry lifted his pillow and saw his afternoon meds on the bed. He knew he’d taken them today like he did every day. He couldn’t remember ever missing a dose. “You see? I’ve already been helping you.”
“I don’t get it. How did you do that?”
The dark thing chuckled again. This time Jerry was sure of it. He heard footsteps coming down the hall; keys rattled next door. Dinner was coming.
“We don’t have much time, Jerry,” the voice sounded urgent now. “Do you want to get out of this place?”
“Then close your eyes and open your mouth. I’ll protect you from those troublesome pills.”
Despite a nagging sense of fear, he did as the dark thing asked. It felt like dust settled in his mouth. A fit of coughing took him from the dry yet greasy feeling. He’d no more than caught his breath when the door to his room opened. It was Walter with his dinner tray and night meds.
“Don’t act surprised at all,” the dark thing’s voice, still not human, but easier to understand, was in his head now. “Go through the motions, the same as any other meal.”
Walter sat his plastic-covered brown food tray on the plain white table and handed Jerry a plastic cup of water. He smiled the same fake smile he used every night, but Jerry could see it now, unlike every other night, through the haze his medicine caused. Jerry had to fight down a strong urge to smash Walter’s face in. How long had he been here?
“Hello, Jerry,” Walter said. “Time for your happy pills and some yummy food to go with them. Just swallow the pills and show me your empty mouth. Same as always.”
Jerry took the cup and the pills. He put the pills in his mouth and tried to swallow them like always. Only, this time, he didn’t swallow them. They stuck to the roof of his mouth like they were glued there.
He opened his mouth for the orderly to look, fully expecting him to see the pills and hit him for trying to hide them. Walter had done that before or strapped him to his safe white bed to calm down. Instead, he nodded and lifted the plastic cover from his steaming tray of food. He hadn’t seen them!
“I wish you were this cooperative every meal, Jerry. Enjoy your dinner.” He put the cover on the table and left the room, too, locking the door behind him.
Jerry reached into his mouth and pulled out the pills, along with a trail of slimy dark spit that puffed back up into the shadowy figure of his new hope for escape. It sat on the bed and laid its three-fingered hand on his wrist again.
“You see how easy that was, Jerry?” the voice was not in his head now, but if anything, it was easier to understand than before. “I’m going to teach you things that will help us both.”
“I don’t understand any of this. How is this happening now? It’s never been like this before. You’re not like any of the other ghosts or voices.”
“All your life, people told you the spirits and voices were all in your imagination, but that was a lie. You have gifts those people don’t have. Most people can’t even believe in them. I can’t use them for you, but I can tell you how they work. You can learn to use them, to improve them, and together, we can leave this place for good.”
“I want to get out of here. What do I have to do?”
“For now, eat your dinner. You’ll need your strength. All I’ll teach you takes effort, but don’t worry; it’s not hard once you get the hang of it.”
“You never told me your name.”
“What was the name of the song you liked to sing so much with your sister when you were little?”
“Ah, yes, that’s it. You can call me Bingo. I’m your new best friend, Jerry. Now eat up!”
“Let’s revisit your childhood, Jerry,” Doctor Blevins said. The upholstery squeaked as she shifted in her oversized vinyl chair and flipped a page in her notebook. Jerry let his gaze wander from her pasty, doughy features to the elaborately printed Ph.D. certificate, Doctor Barbara D. Blevins, Class of 1998 over her head. He needed to appear as drugged as he always was for these sessions. “I know it’s often difficult for you, but I think some of your earliest memories might help us get you past the ghosts you fixate on.”
Jerry shook his head at the idea. Not only was talking about his childhood unpleasant, but Doctor Blevins was far less interested in his first time seeing a ghost than she was in his punishment after. The whole episode infuriated him, even now well over twenty years later and many miles from home.
“I’d rather talk about something else, Doc.”
“Alright, Jerry. Would you rather talk about your parents? Maybe your brother, David? You haven’t even asked about Alice this week. You’re usually interested in how your sister is doing, at least.”
Jerry managed not to snort at her questions. He was usually too drugged to ask her anything. Without the medicine interfering with his thoughts the last couple of weeks, it had been easier to focus on Bingo’s lessons. This therapy session interfered with his practice, but he couldn’t let Barbara see he was clear-headed either.
“How is Alice, Doc?”
“I’m sure she’s just fine, Jerry. She’d want you to cooperate with me to help you help yourself, though, don’t you think?”
“Probably, Alice likes to help.”
“I’m sure she does. So back to your first meeting with one of these, so-called ghosts. What do you remember?”
Jerry didn’t need to think back. The first ghost he’d seen and his reaction were seared into his memory, whether he wanted to think about it or not. He’d only been six years old. Without his meds, her face still haunted his nightmares.
“I told you before. Mrs. Harris was our neighbor. Mom said she died in a freak accident when I was a toddler. I asked my mom why the lady next door was always so sad. She didn’t know what I was talking about at first.”
“You told me your mother eventually took you next door to show you there was nothing wrong.”
“I pestered her for days about the sad woman. Mom didn’t believe me, told me I shouldn’t make-believe about her. She took me by the arm, literally dragged me next door. The closer we got to the house, the more I squirmed to get loose.”
“Was that what bothered you the most, Jerry? That your mother didn’t believe you?”
“No,” he said. “By the time we were in the back yard, and my mother was talking to Mr. Harris, I just wanted to run away. I knew by then that they couldn’t see her. The ghost figured out I could, though. Her neck was badly bruised. I could almost make out the thumb marks on her throat. She hadn’t died the way mother said either. Her face was ghastly up close, not sad at all.” As an adult, he’d say tormented if he wasn’t trying to sound out of it.
“Keep it together, Jerry,” Bingo rasped in his head. He’d drifted into Blevins’ office and clamped a shadowy hand around his wrist. “Don’t forget, you’re still drugged as far as she knows.”
“That sounds intense, Jerry. You know children often imagine things, sometimes very frightening things.”
“Mom said something like that after she chased me home,” Jerry would have to try harder, talk slower and use smaller words maybe. “I don’t like to think about that, or the beating I got for embarrassing her in front of Mr. Harris.”
“Tell me a little about that again, Jerry,” Barbara salivated over the dirty details of every whipping he could recall. “Your mother was angry at you. You felt frightened by what you thought you saw. Then back at your home, what happened?”
“She beat me. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Is that the part you want to talk about, Jerry?” Her voice grew almost husky, asking him for more.
“She’s baiting you,” Bingo hissed in his ear. “Relax. We only need a little bit more time, and we’ll be free of her for good.”
“I think her temper was worse than the beating,” Jerry said. He wanted to steer her away from how he felt before his anger could flare up without her suppressant drugs in his system. “Knowing she didn’t believe me, that I could never convince her, and that I would always end up in trouble like that, hurt worse than the belt she used on me.”
“That is very interesting, Jerry,” her voice changed again. He’d missed a chance to distract her with his pain. “Last time we talked about this episode, you told me it was the belt you hated most. Has something changed your mind?”
“I don’t think so,” Jerry said. He’d raised her suspicions. That wasn’t good. He tried to sound lost in his head again. “The belt hurt like fire. Every lick followed another screaming curse. The welts still stung the next day. My butt and my legs were tender for a week. I guess the pain got tangled up with all the mean things my mother said as she beat me. I heard her scolding me every time I winced afterward. It’s hard to remember anything else.”
“Maybe you remember the sound of the belt, or how it made you flinch each time she struck you?”
“I’m sorry, Doc, it’s all jumbled up in my head still. One beating out of so many is hard to keep straight.”
“That’s alright, Jerry,” she said. She closed her notebook, pushed the buzzer on her desk, and soon after, Walter opened her office door. “I think that’s enough for today. Walter will take you back to your room. It’s a new year now. Maybe we can finally make some progress into the source of your illness. We’ll pick up with the welts your mother gave you next week.”
Jerry stood up and put on his best shuffling routine for Walter. He’d almost slipped up and walked normally today. Maintaining the illusion that he was still under the influence of his meds had gotten that much harder.
Walter didn’t talk on his way back to Jerry’s room. That was a relief by itself, one less chance he might slip up and ruin Bingo’s escape plan. He still had a lot to practice before he was ready to try to get out, but he grew more confident every day.
Bingo floated along with them, unseen by anyone but Jerry. His wriggling hand remained clamped around Jerry’s wrist. He and Walter might be silent, but Bingo had plenty to say. Jerry would love to shut him up.
“You have to be more careful, Jerry. Around your doctor, most of all. If she suspects you are off your meds or changes them entirely, my whole plan could fall apart. We can’t gamble with our freedom, especially when we’re this close. You practice some more before bed tonight. That should help you sleep even without the drugs. I’ll be in before dinner to intercept your night pills.”
Alone again inside his plain white room with the door locked behind him, Jerry struggled not to laugh at how far he’d already come. With Bingo to keep his pills at bay and his growing control over the two tricks he’d been practicing, Jerry was sure he’d be ready by the time he had to see Doctor Blevins again next week.
He went through the motions with the laughable parlor tricks Bingo told him about but didn’t understand. The first bit of devilry manipulated whether an event was more or less likely to happen. Bingo had managed to help him hide a nickel in his hospital scrubs. Making the coin land on heads or tails was child’s play after so much practice.
Manipulating a single coin toss was a limited view of how to use such a power. He’d seen that right away. Jerry could influence virtually anything with it, making whole chains of events more or less likely according to what he wanted to happen. That was tiring, though. He didn’t need to put that much effort into what he could do.
The second trick Bingo talked about but failed to understand was much more useful. Jerry could use what Bingo called magic, to add a burst of force to his touch. He’d practiced this a lot, moving from the small sparkle of his early efforts to a flash of heat and light, into a burst of physical force he could channel at will. Today he was going to practice a new trick, throwing that force as a weapon.
He set up an empty plastic cup on the table next to his bed. He shaped a bit of the same mystical force that pushed things from his hands and willed it to hit the cup. His first attempt barely nudged it, but he kept trying.
By the time his windows were dark, he could knock the cup over every time. The effort left him tired, hungry, and thirsty. He felt like he’d been training for a marathon. Tomorrow he’d try to punch a hole in the cup. He needed food and rest tonight.
Bingo had a plan for them to escape, but Jerry had better ideas. He’d learned more than he let on from his contact with Bingo. As much as Bingo’s touch allowed him to speak to Jerry, it also opened a way for Jerry to see into Bingo’s twisted mind. He’d been lying to Jerry all along.
His self-proclaimed best friend didn’t know much of anything about magic, except that it was real. Bingo was a wraith, a nameless, soulless creature of darkness and malice. He fed off the misery of the living until he was strong enough to influence and corrupt the people around him. Jerry had unwittingly helped him do that, after years of barely being able to survive off of the insane patients here at Bridgewater.
The wraith was invisible to most people, could ignore most physical obstacles, but could only move or carry tiny objects, like his pills or small coins. It could influence the living, but that took time, and more energy than Bingo liked to spend. The strongest wraiths could even possess the body of the living for short periods.
What Jerry wanted to know more about were Bingo’s weaknesses and limitations. There were several: iron was like poison to them, direct sunlight would incinerate them, and even strong winds could tear their shadowy forms apart. Possession left the wraith exhausted afterward; one more reason Bingo avoided it. Still, that gave Jerry some ideas.
While Bingo explained his simpleton’s excuse for a plan, Jerry planned even more surprises for Walter, Barb, and Bingo, too. Bingo had at least seen real magic long ago, though his memories were faded with time. One trick, in particular, stuck with him. A versatile spell he called a ‘ward’ which could obscure sight, muffle sounds, and even confine people or wraiths like him indefinitely.
Crafting wards with the little information Bingo had took more effort than anything Jerry had ever tried to do in his life. It required a physical anchor to keep the spell intact. The more complicated the spell, the more critical the structural integrity of the anchor became. Bingo’s smuggled nickel came in handy for that, too.
He had to restart his efforts more than a few times, as the bits of junk he found for anchors before the nickel crumbled to dust under the strain of the spells he needed. The coin held up nicely once Jerry knew what to do. He smiled at how his plan was coming together.
Like the force bolts he threw, the work was physically tiring, but once his wards were ready, all his effort would be worth it. Freedom was only a small part of Jerry’s improved escape plan. He would never again be drugged and kept in prison, not in a state hospital or any other kind of prison. He’d die free if it came to that.
While Jerry rested a bit after his exertions, Bingo climbed up beside him on the bed and wrapped a squirmy hand around his wrist. Walter would be along with dinner and his night meds soon. The wraith must want to go over more of his plan again.
“I saw something during your therapy session today,” Bingo said. In Jerry’s head, the wraith sounded almost giddy. “Doctor Blevins wears a locket, a pretty little bauble. I need you to take it from her before we leave.”
“Take it from her? How am I supposed to do that?”
“We’ll have to figure out a way to get it from her. It should be easy once you knock her out. I can’t travel outside without some kind of protection from the sun and elements. Her locket will be perfect.”
“Hmm,” Jerry had a great idea. “I’ll take care of it as long as she’s wearing it when we leave. Otherwise, you may have to travel in an empty soda can or something.”
“Not funny, Jerry. Although that might work, did you practice while I was gone?”
“I did. I’ll be ready on time. Where were you?”
“With Mr. Geddings in his padded cell. He died. I needed to feed. Not enough of the inmates, err patients die like they used to. I have to have my strength and wits about me when we leave.”
Jerry rubbed the two nickels Bingo had managed to smuggle to him together in his hand and smiled. He had two wards ready and woven into the coins. Today’s therapy session was not going to go the way anyone expected. He tried to keep the emotions he was feeling in check, but a long-suppressed giggle escaped, despite his best efforts.
“I wish you’d take this more seriously, Jerry. We were talking about the beating your mother gave you after returning from your neighbor’s house last week.”
“No,” Jerry said. Enough was enough. He couldn’t stand this charade anymore. “You were talking about that. You always want to hear about how I was hurt, how I was embarrassed, how my mother beat me. You get some kind of sick pleasure from that. You’ve never tried to get me to talk about me, only what’s happened to me.”
“Let’s talk about something else then,” she said. She sat her notebook in her lap and picked up Jerry’s medical chart from her desk. “How would you say your meds make you feel?”
“You know, Barb, I’ve always hated these sessions.”
“Please, Jerry. Call me, Doctor Blevins.”
“See what I mean?” Jerry sat up, straighter in his metal folding chair. It didn’t squeak like Barb’s chair. “You never listen to me any more than you have to. You don’t care what I have to say unless it fits into your preconceived notions. All of which are laughable at best. Guess what?”
“I’m not sure what brought on this defiance, or why you’re suddenly so angry. Your medications are obviously not working. I suggest you calm down before I have to call Walter.”
“I’m not interested in your suggestions, your orders, your drugs, or your simpering little voice anymore.”
Jerry flicked his hand, and the buzzer Barb was reaching for sailed across her desk, its wires snapped, rendering it useless. Barbara froze in her overstuffed chair, and her eyes widened in panic. Jerry lunged at her and clamped his hand over her mouth. He shoved her violently back down into the chair and filled her mouth with one of the nickels wrapped with a ward of silence he’d carefully prepared for today’s session. The ward snapped her jaw shut and immobilized her vocal cords.
“I’m done with you,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m done with your damnable mind-numbing drugs and this place entirely.”
He made her helplessness complete with the second nickel and the binding ward he’d spent the last week making just for her. Jerry waited a moment to see if Walter heard them. When Walter didn’t fling open the door, he turned his attention back to Barb. She was about to take her last breath.
“Here’s a little something I learned from you, though. Something I was unsure of before I came here. I hate women, my mother, the dead women who always scare me or try to talk me into doing something horrible for them, and most especially you. Fortunately for me, you are the first. Hopefully, the first of many women, I will silence forever.”
Jerry held up a hand and gathered the force he needed. He shaped it into a sharp-pointed knife shape and aimed it right for Barbara’s icy little heart. With a delirious smile, he let the knife skewer her to the chair. The ward silenced her scream, but Jerry imagined her shrieking in agony. She died at his hand by a power she refused to believe was possible. The irony made him giggle a little more.
“Oh, Jerry,” Bingo said. The wraith had floated into the room as he stifled another chuckle. “What have you done? You didn’t follow the plan. We were just going to put her to sleep. Now someone will find her and come looking for us that much sooner.”
“I have a better plan. Maybe more dangerous, but still better than listening to Barb for another second. You know, I’ll never have to listen to her again.”
Bingo descended on the fresh corpse. He seemed to forget about his version of the plan as his outline grew fuzzy. The wraith sank into Barb’s body, and a sickly green glow seeped into Bingo. He was feeding off her!
“You could’ve waited,” Bingo said, rising off Barb, regaining his usual appearance and wrapping his hand around Jerry’s wrist again. “Till I was here to kill her. She’s still fresh, but I get the most vitality at the moment of death.”
“I’ll keep that in mind for next time. For every time I can hold back until you’re able to feed. Walter, for example. You’ll be right beside me to feed off of him.”
“We’re killing Walter now, too?”
“As soon as I open that door. He’s been a jackass to me one too many times. First, though, you wanted this?”
He held up the locket he’d taken from Barbara’s neck. He knew why Bingo wanted it, but he had bigger plans than that. So far, Bingo didn’t have any idea how much Jerry intended to change his plan. Feeding off the doctor’s dead body had put Bingo in a very agreeable mood. Jerry slipped the locket around his neck before moving on.
“Yes!” the wraith said. “Oh, I’m so glad you remembered.”
Jerry twisted the doorknob and pulled the door open. Walter leaned against the waiting room wall, reading a magazine. He looked startled to see Jerry in the doorway.
The orderly tossed the magazine aside and took a lumbering step towards him. His hand was already going for the nightstick at his side. He never had time to draw it.
The first force bolt Jerry threw dislocated his right knee. The second hit him in his throat, crushing his windpipe. The look of shock replaced the belligerent rage on his face. He fell to the floor without making as much noise as Jerry had expected.
“You see, Bingo, I waited for you this time.”
His last force bolt was knife-shaped again. This one plunged deep into the big man’s chest. Walter shuddered, and his limbs thrashed for a few seconds, but then he was still.
Bingo was on him the moment he stopped moving. He puffed up a bit and sank into Walter’s body as he had with Barbara. Once again, the sickly green glow flowed from the body into the wraith. This time, there seemed to be more of it. Once he finished, Bingo floated back to Jerry’s side. He clamped a squirmy hand around Jerry’s wrist, but his words slurred, as though feeding again made him drunk.
“I a-already like your plan better. I feel stronger than I have in a-ages.”
Jerry reached down to Walter’s belt and took his keyring. This theft was another part of the plan he’d changed to suit himself. There was no sense running around in the dark when Walter had a car he wouldn’t ever need again. Jerry smiled but managed not to giggle at another of his witty observations.
The wraith floated with Jerry down the hallway to the empty locker room Walter and the other male staff used. Figuring out where the locker room was had been a stroke of luck for Jerry while his mind cleared of Barb’s drugs.
The locker room had a push-button coded lock on the door, a bit of his magic touch allowed him to bypass that. He found the locker he wanted and used his magic touch again to open its combination lock. Walter was too big for Jerry to fit in his clothes, but Lucas, one of the nurses, was almost the same size.
He pulled an outfit from the locker and changed out of his patient scrubs. There was even a pair of tennis shoes in the locker. The shirt, jeans, and coat inside all fit well enough. He and Bingo were almost home free; all he had to do was get from the locker room to the parking lot. A short drive and Jerry would be home.
“Time to get in the locket, Bingo. Time to leave here for good. Hopefully, I don’t draw any attention to us on the way out.”
“Just don’t lose the locket along the way. I’ll be able to hear and talk to you as long as you hold the locket, but you’ll have to let me out again once we’re somewhere safe.”
The back door of the locker room let Jerry out into a short covered walkway to the parking lot across the street. He clicked Walter’s key fob, and a nearby car flashed its lights. They were almost home free. For all the security the hospital was supposed to have, walking out had been surprisingly easy.
Jerry started the older Toyota Corolla and drove out of the parking lot as the sun sank below the tree line. He drove out of the hospital grounds and into the mostly winter-bare New England forest surrounding his former prison. They’d be in Taunton in no time. He couldn’t wait to see how his family had fared without him.
“With all the time we’ll save with this ‘car’ of yours,” Bingo said from inside his locket. “I’d like to take a little detour. I lost a colleague near here, many years ago. He would make an excellent addition to our escape effort.”
“Yes, Jerry. Where did you learn that particular term for my kind? I don’t remember ever saying anything about it to you.”
“Turns out, talking to each other left open a path for me to understand you better than you realized. I learned a great many things while you were teaching me. Another of your kind sounds like a good enough reason to take a detour, though. Where is your friend?”
“It’s not far from the hospital,” Bingo said. He seemed only too happy to change the subject. “They call the place, ‘King Phillip’s cave’ or something like that. He's been there since before they called it that, but I’m sure no one would find his hiding place.”
“I’ve been there. It’s further out of the way than I’d like to travel. Woods and big houses surround the cave. We’ll have to park out of sight and wait for dark to avoid being seen.”
“In the dark, I can show you how to creep unseen. It’s a talent I excelled at before I was trapped with the lunatics at the asylum.”
The boulders around the cave reared up out of the cold, leaf-carpeted earth the same way they had when he was a kid. Jerry found a pine sapling and broke off a substantial part of the top. The stick would make a useful tool to dig in the place Bingo told him the other wraith was hiding.
With Bingo’s tutorial, which was far more revealing than the wraith intended, the dark was more comfortable now. Jerry was still nervous, though. He remembered there were several ghosts inside the rocky overhang, too. He had to remind himself; they couldn’t hurt him, only scare him, and only if he let them.
He stepped into the crude shelter of the rock and peered around. The place was empty; none of the ghosts he remembered were around. He relaxed the knotted muscles in his shoulders and let a breath out he didn’t realize he’d been holding. The crack in the rock was right where Bingo said it would be.
He used the pine sapling and began to dig. Who knew how long the dirt here had been packed into the crevice. The going was slow, and Jerry was concentrating on feeling the hunk of metal Bingo described. He never noticed the pale green ghost behind him until it spoke.
“You travel with an unclean spirit. Digging there, I suppose you’ve come to retrieve the other one. They lie like men breathe. You know that, don’t you? Tricksters and evil-doers each and every one of them.”
Jerry managed not to break his sapling. He did shout a few obscenities, though. The ghost of an old woman in some sort of buckskin dress stood behind him, an odd look of curiosity on her face. He had to remind himself she was just dead, and unable to hurt him, despite the creepy-crawly feeling she gave him.
“Don’t listen to that fool woman, Jerry,” Bingo hissed from inside his locket. “She’s just like all the other women, living and dead, who have used twisted words to get you to do their bidding.”
“You see what I mean,” the ghost said. “He’s got you digging in the dark and jumping at little old ladies. Have you given into his tricks already?”
“Let me out of this locket, Jerry. I’ll show her what an evil-doer I am!”
Jerry ignored the ghost’s warning and Bingo’s plea for release. His stick had found what he was after. He pulled the small hunk of metal from the crack in the rock. It was wedged right where the wraith said it would be. He looked over the antique pendant as the pale green dead woman shook her head and faded away.
The pendant was more ornate than Bingo’s cheap heart-shaped locket. It was also dark from age and being in the dirt so long. Jerry wiped as much of the grime away as he could and admired its craftsmanship. The pendant was star-shaped with eight small points, it had a hinge on one side of its circular center and a hasp to keep it closed on the opposite side.
“Who’s there?” came a garbled voice from inside the pendant. It was the same slimy bits of sound Bingo had used to communicate with him at first. “Won’t you open this up to see what’s inside?”
“I’m here to collect you,” Bingo said. “Fool that you were to be captured in the first place. My friend Jerry here was good enough to dig you out of that miserable hole. Let us out, Jerry. I have a thing or two to straighten out with my colleague here.”
“I think not, Bingo. We’ll be on the move again soon, and you’ll both need to be inside your jewelry for that. What should I call your friend here?”
“He’s never had a name. You can pick one for him. You will let us out once we get to a safe place, though, won’t you?”
“Of course, Bingo,” Jerry said. “I’ll call him Spike.”
His older brother had a dog named Spike, who was killed by a car. Both wraiths were about to be on the leashes he’d been working on, so the names Bingo and Spike made perfect sense to him. In the meantime, Jerry had a hike through the woods to make it back to Walter’s car.
He left Walter’s car in a restaurant parking lot and crossed Winthrop Street to the railroad crossing like he’d done a million times growing up in Taunton. Tonight, with the winter chill trying to pry its way into his coat, the train tracks were still a good way to sneak into his parent’s home one last time.
Everyone would be asleep by now anyway. Jerry’s dad would be tired from work, his mom would have taken some sleeping pills, and his sister, Alice, would be finishing her homework to go to bed, too. His older brother, David, had already moved out before the judge sent Jerry away, but David never really cared for Jerry anyway.
He crept up to the spot along the privacy fence, where David had shown him how to sneak in and out of their back yard. The fence was shorter than he remembered it, but that only made it easier to climb over. Once in the yard, Jerry scuttled into the shadows and got his first look in a long time at his childhood home.
It was not what he expected. The lights were on throughout the house. He was surprised to see his mom and dad sitting at the dining room table. He was more surprised to see his brother and sister there too, but they were not alone.
A woman Jerry didn’t recognize sat next to David, and some long-haired guy wearing a ragged looking AC/DC shirt had his arm around Alice! Worse yet, they were all smiling and laughing. A pair of small children came running up to the table, one older than the other. The smaller one jumped up into Alice’s lap, she hugged the child and kissed her on the forehead.
Jerry slumped down at the sight of how happy his family was without him. He’d been in the hospital much longer than he thought. While he was gone, they’d all been better off. His parents were happy, both his brother and sister had families now, too. He’d been a millstone around their necks, no wonder they never visited him.
It wasn’t fair! He’d never asked to see ghosts. He’d only ever asked for someone to believe him. No, they couldn’t believe him, no one ever had, till Bingo at least. How dare they celebrate his absence. He deserved to be happy, too.
It might take some effort on his part, but he would have his happy ending, even if it didn’t look anything like their idyllic dining room party. His needs were darker, either from being locked up so long or the company he now kept in his pocket. He’d exact his revenge somehow. That was the question, how?
Inside, his family’s celebration looked to be breaking up. His parents, Alice, David, and their party dates got up from the table. They all disappeared into the front of the house. He moved closer to the window and managed to watch them putting coats on the children, and themselves before everyone took turns hugging. David opened the front door, and the whole group except mom and dad trundled out of the house.
Jerry heard car doors shut before two car engines started. Headlights glared into the shadows where he’d been hiding and backed away from the house. His parents, with their arms around each other, gave a last wave out the front door and closed it. He ducked back out of view and held still in case they’d seen him.
Within moments, the lights in the house began to wink out. He stayed perfectly still until every light in the house was dark. He breathed a sigh of relief and stretched out from the shadowy corner where he’d been hiding. Using some lessons from Bingo, he crept into the unlocked cellar door of his parent’s home.
Jerry had no trouble at all finding his way in the dark to the bottom of the basement stairs. He slipped behind the stairs and found a place to curl up and wait. Soon, his parents would be asleep. He smiled in the dark.
Less than an hour later, Jerry climbed the basement stairs in his parent’s house for the last time. He crept through the door into the kitchen and listened for any sign his parents were awake. He heard nothing but silence, waiting at the bottom of the stairs leading to his parent’s bedroom.
He climbed the stairs and had almost reached his parent’s room when he heard a phone ring. A light came on under their doorway. He listened to his father’s tired voice answer the phone.
“Yes, this is Thomas Farmer,” he said. Jerry could hear the long sigh he let out before continuing. “Yes, Jerold Farmer is my son, but he’s in a state hospital right now.”
There was a short silence before his dad spoke again. “What do you mean he’s escaped?” Jerry froze in place, lest a stray floorboard reveal his presence. “He killed his therapist and a guard. No, we haven’t seen him. I’ll take a look around the house before you get here, but I’m sure he isn’t here. Yes, goodbye."
“Did they say how long they’d be?” his mother asked.
“No, just that they’d send a car to make sure we were alright.”
The door opened, and Jerry stood face to face with his father. He wore a t-shirt and striped pajamas. The surprised look on his face was something between fright and anger. Jerry never hesitated, a razor-sharp force bolt pierced his dad’s throat. He hadn’t even bothered to wave his hand for it.
He fell to his knees, gurgling as blood flowed from his neck and mouth. His mom had her back to the door as she shrugged into a fluffy pink bathrobe. Jerry stepped over his dying father and wrapped a hand over her mouth. She tried to scream, she even tried to bite his finger, but Jerry was in no mood for her games tonight.
He flung her down onto the bed, grabbed her by the throat, and used just a touch of electricity from his magic touch to get her attention. She heaved for breath but stopped struggling. Jerry was breathing heavily too, but more from excitement than exertion. He’d finally have the last word in an argument he and his mother had been having since he was six years old.
“You were wrong, Mom. You were wrong from the very beginning. You never believed in me, but now I don’t need you to believe anything. In fact, I don’t need you at all. Just like you never needed me!”
He lifted her by the neck and turned her to see his dad crumpled in the bedroom doorway. Blood was already pooling under his still body. He opened Barb’s locket, and Bingo puffed up beside him. Jerry nodded to his dad, and Bingo dove down to feed on the corpse.
His mother squirmed under his touch. Her eyes widened at the sight he’d shown her. Jerry pushed his mom back down and made sure she was looking at him as he opened the blackened silver pendant. Spike was smaller than Jerry expected but just as dark as Bingo. A knife-shaped bolt of force thrust deep in his mother’s heart, and she died looking in horror at the rage on her son’s face.
“Oh, Jerry,” Bingo whispered. His hand was wrapped around Jerry’s wrist as Spike puffed up and sank into his mom’s corpse to feed. “Look at the mess you’ve made now. They deserved it, no doubt of that. We’ll have to hurry away from here, though, or we’ll be right back in that foul prison!”
“It was a hospital, Bingo,” Jerry said as he released his mother’s neck and straightened up. “Besides, all you showed me were parlor tricks. I might have figured them out by myself even. I do thank you for getting those drugs out of my system, so I’m willing to cut you some slack for lying to me. But don’t press your luck. Let me show you what I mean.”
Jerry spun a little line of energy around the two shadows' necks. They didn’t have necks, but it helped him to think of it that way. He tied the lines off to the locket and pendant each used to travel with him. With the lines anchored to the metal in the jewelry, he could keep them there indefinitely. Bingo wouldn’t like that, but Jerry didn’t care.
“I told you. I learned from everything you taught me, Bingo. Even things you didn’t know you were teaching me. You reached into my mind to talk to me, but I can reach in to do even more than that. Do you want to see what else I figured out for myself? Let me show you a few things these little ropes can do.”
“What is this? Jerry, you’re meddling with forces you don’t understand. Release me, and I’ll show you-“
Jerry tightened the line around Bingo’s neck and sent a little jolt of electricity along it, too. The wraith tensed under the current, and finally shut up. Maybe it had finally dawned on Bingo that he had never been in charge, Jerry had just let him think that.
“You’re done showing me things, for now, Bingo. You’re a great liar, but not a very good magician. I’m going to have so much fun. I want to sightsee, maybe kill a few more people along the way. I definitely enjoy that. You two are welcome to feed off the pain, suffering, and death I inflict, but never forget, I literally pull your strings now. Understand?”
“I’m just glad to be out of the dirt again,” Spike said. With the two of them tied to the jewelry in his hand, he could hear them without touching him anymore. “Feeding sounds good to me too.”
Jerry hated Bingo’s wormy hands on him. The ward was definitely better. He enjoyed watching Bingo chafe at the woven energy binding him to the locket. His shadowy fingers tested the links Jerry had made, but there was no way out for him. Jerry smiled at his rising distress.
“Of course, I’ll defer to your leadership, Jerry. I hope you’ll at least listen to my suggestions from time to time. Especially about getting away from here.”
“Oh, we’re going, alright,” he said. Jerry held up the jewelry and pulled their strings, dragging the wraiths inside and sealing them shut. He slipped them on the same thin chain around his wrist for safekeeping and easy access. “You two will come in very handy. Eventually, I’ll teach you a trick or two to help me as we travel.”
Bingo had been free even while confined to the nuthouse. The shadow had lied to Jerry from the very beginning, but none of that would matter anymore. Now they both belonged to him, and he had plans for them, such delightfully murderous plans.
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