Voices . . . the first thing I remembered hearing when I woke up in the hospital that morning. I was confused and disoriented. My mother sat perched near me with a worried expression on her face, but all I could do was take everything in.
I was lying in a bed with tubes connected to me. Shadows danced along the pristine walls, but had no apparent point of origin. Who did the shadows belong to?
Voices; hundreds of voices whispered all around me, but I saw no physical body for any of them. My heart sped up as I looked around, trying to make sense of it all. Surely I was going crazy. I had no other explanation for it, though.
My inner musings were interrupted when the doctor entered and greeted me with a smile. “Well, look at you! All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
I glanced from the doctor to my mother and back again. “What’s going on?” I asked in a voice that was hoarse from disuse. “Why am I here?”
Mother leaned forward and took my hand. “Baby, you were in a car accident. You’ve been unconscious for six days.” Tears welled in her eyes. “I’ve been so worried.”
Swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat, I whispered. “Is everyone else okay?”
Squeezing my hand, Mom nodded. “You were the only one who had to come here. Everyone else went home that first day.”
“Thank God,” I responded, closing my eyes. When I opened them, a woman was standing just to the left of my mother, looking down at me with a curious expression.
Then, just as fast as she had appeared, she vanished. I blinked and reached up to rub my eyes, trying to clear them of the days of crusty sleep that had built up in the corners. Surely I was seeing things. How bad were my injuries? Did I have a concussion?
“So, what’s wrong with me? When do I get to go home?” I asked quietly.
The doctor smiled. “Well, I’m keeping you for a little longer, just to make sure your head injury is truly on the mend. But I think we can probably let you go home in time for the weekend.”
When he spoke, a shadow raced past him, drawing my attention as it stopped abruptly and turned toward me. As I watched, it moved closer and a face took shape.
The boy looked me over intently before offering me a lopsided grin. “Don’t tell him you see me, or they’ll transfer you to the State Hospital, just as sure as I’m floating around.”
He glanced over toward my mom and the doctor, adding, “They’re watching. You need to tell them your head’s hurting and ask them to turn down the lights.” Glancing back at me, he clicked his tongue. “Trust me. Do it now!”
Without even thinking, I turned and covered my eyes with my hands. “I’m sorry. The lights hurt my eyes. Can we turn them off?”
The doctor nodded. “Of course; you have a couple of hours until lunch. Why don’t you try to get some more sleep?” Turning to my mother, he smiled. “She seems to be in the clear now. I’ll be back to check on her later.”
She offered him tears of gratitude, and I watched, feeling pretty overwhelmed. I wondered silently how close I had actually been to dying.
“Oh, you were close,” the boy said. “They’ve been in and out of here for days.”
I looked back at the boy, who had now materialized completely to stand beside me. He couldn’t have been any older than twelve, but he seemed very with it. Glancing over, I saw my mother standing at the door, talking to the doctor still, so I could respond with no worry of being overheard.
Looking back at the boy, I asked quietly, “They? Who are they?”
He looked from me to my mother, then back at me. “Okay, two rules. One: you don’t talk to me. I can hear your thoughts. You don’t want just anyone seeing you talking to things they can’t see. They’ll think you’re crazy.” He smiled. “And second: don’t ask questions you aren’t prepared to hear the answers for.”
He chuckled. “I’ll come back tonight after your mom goes home. It’ll be easier for you to understand me and not freak her out by talking to imaginary friends she probably can’t accept.” He smiled and reached to touch my arm, but stopped, holding his hand just inches from my skin.
Fascinated, I watched as the hair on my arm directly below his hand stood straight up. A chill ran through me, making me shiver. I could feel him. But I knew he had no physical body.
He stepped back. “Just don’t freak out at what you see today. The things you see here in the daylight won’t hurt you. I’ll explain when I come back tonight.”
With those few wise words, he vanished, exactly like the woman who’d been standing beside Mom earlier had. To say I was shaken would have been an understatement. This went beyond anything I’d ever imagined possible.
“Well, baby girl, it looks like you’ll be coming home soon,” Mom said as she moved back to take the seat beside my bed. “That’s wonderful.”
I turned to smile at her. “Yeah,” I answered. “That’s good.” And it was. I just wasn’t sure this other thing was good. But how could I tell her about that? I mean, I was seeing ghosts. Wasn’t I? How was that even possible?
Or maybe I had just hit my head so hard this was all still a hallucination and I only thought I was awake! Yeah. That sounded like the better option. It was a heck of a lot easier to believe than the version of ghosts, disembodied voices, and shadows dancing all over the walls. I mean, move over, space cadet . . . Psycho in ward three!
Okay, so ghosts were real. All right, I could buy that. I mean, it was actually pretty cool . . . in a really weird, spooky, don’t-tell-anyone kind of way. But they didn’t need to talk to me. I mean, no way was I going to continue seeing them. I could refuse. Couldn’t I?
I was soon to learn just how impossible it would be to ignore the spirits that float around us every single day of our lives. I was also about to learn the plans I had been making for my life were no longer an option.