(Continued from Nov. 2, Nov. 16, Nov. 23, Nov. 30, and Dec. 14.)
Sandy woke up to find Owen sitting next to her on the large, metal chair with blue plastic cushions. He was holding her hand, a fact that excited her so much, she at first couldn’t feel the hideous pain. Slowly, however, it began to register that her whole body felt like it was on fire. The pain was unbearable. She began to moan.
“Hi, Sandy. Do you know who I am?”
She nodded her head.
“They asked me to come talk to you. You’ve been here now for over a week.”
She couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. Her head rang. Her body screamed its pain at her, begging her to do something. She stared at him, hoping he wouldn’t notice the agony in her eyes. He didn’t seem to have a clue.
“You’re lucky to be alive. The whole house burnt to the ground. No one knows how you managed to survive.”
She wished she hadn’t. What was lucky about this pain? Wouldn’t death be preferable to ending up like this? With the house gone, unlike the others, maybe she’d truly get to die.
“Once you’re healed enough, you’re going to be moved into a comfortable place. They’ll take good care of you there. You’ll have a new doctor. I can’t help you anymore. I’ve come to say goodbye and to wish you well.”
She closed her eyes and feigned sleep. He was leaving her. She’d always known he would one day, but she didn’t want to hear it, couldn’t bear to hear it.
“Hello, Dr.,” an unfamiliar voice said. “How’s she doing?”
“She was conscious for a moment there, but I’m not sure she heard me. I think she needs more morphine. She was moaning.”
“So, do you think she purposely set the house on fire?” the unfamiliar voice asked.
Sandy wanted to scream at him, “No!” She hadn’t set the house on fire at all. She’d climbed the stairs to the bedroom where the hand had grabbed the kerosene lamp, throwing it on the canopy. She watched in horror as the flames began to engulf first the material and then the bed frame. They were no longer merely haunting her; they had finally decided to drag her into death with them.
These were irrational thoughts, though. Grandma, and Mama, and Daddy all loved her. They loved Elizabeth, too. They didn’t want her to die. Daddy always said he wasn’t trying to kill anybody, just trying to teach them a lesson. He wasn’t trying to kill her now; he was just trying to scare some sense into her, make her think. Rational young women knew how to protect themselves; they had a contingency plan. As she began to feel smothered by the smoke and to feel her sweater catch on fire, she threw herself out the window, rolling around on the ground, trying to put out the fire. Before she'd blacked out, she'd realized Owen would be proud of her.
“I don’t know. She could have. I never felt I was making much progress with her. Two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. Dr. Oliver, who’d been working with her for five years, ever since her mother died and she suffered a nervous breakdown, referred her to me about a year ago, thinking it might be good for her to have a male therapist. She’d developed a very unhealthy attachment to her male boss.
“Anyway, she’s a classic case of severe childhood abuse and trauma. Her younger sister died at the age of four, when Sandy was only six – an accident, supposedly, but I’ve always suspected the abusive father may have killed the child. According to reports from school psychologists, Sandy wasn’t able to accept the death and believed, well into her teens, that the sister was alive, still playing with her and talking to her.
“The father used to beat her and lock her in a sun room in their house at night, a room full of windows that looked out into some of the woods on their property, a scary place for any child that age, I’d imagine. As she got older, the abuse seems to have became more sexual in nature, his forcing her to expose herself to him, although he never actually raped her. She carries around childish fears of the dark to this day and is convinced her house is haunted, both by characters unrelated to her family, as well as her own family members. She thinks supernatural beings are responsible for many of her family members’ deaths. We’ve been working hard on the task of ridding herself of irrational thoughts, but she’s got a long way to go.”
“ I suppose, doctor, we should go somewhere else to discuss all this, just in case the patient is conscious,” the other doctor suddenly interrupted.
“Yes, of course.”
The door quietly shut. Sandy could feel different tears forming in her eyes, not the tears that were there from the physical pain. These tears were less salty, more bitter. After all this time, the pain of discovering Owen still didn’t believe her was unbearable. She thought he’d understood. She thought he’d cared. She thought she’d convinced him that the disembodied hand had pushed Elizabeth down the stairs, the same hand that had strangled poor Mama while Sandy watched, helplessly, from the bedroom doorway. Owen told her Mama had had throat cancer, but she’d explained to him how she’d seen what had really happened.
Neither one of them had really died, though. Elizabeth had stopped visiting when Sandy was a teenager, sure, but Sandy knew she was still around. Mama still came to comfort her when Daddy showed up. Daddy usually showed up when she came home too late or didn’t get to bed on time, the hunchback wandering around outside signaling Daddy’s presence inside the house.
Owen had been her only hope. He had been the one who was going to help her escape the house and all its occupants. If even he didn’t believe her, she no longer wanted to live.
Owen was ashamed of himself for feeling a sense of relief when the hospital called to tell him Sandy Kane hadn’t survived. She had been one of his most difficult cases, though, and he really hadn’t held up much hope of his being able to help in more than the most minor ways. He’d been worried she was becoming dangerous, especially since she had recently begun to stalk him, trying to get him to let her into his house at night, telling him she loved him, all the while hallucinating that her own house was full of ghouls playing tricks on her. He probably should have tried to get her into a psychiatric hospital months ago. He sat there with his martini and his guilt and his shame.
The dog whined to come inside. He hadn’t even made it to the back door before the whining had practically turned into a full howl, and Curtis was scratching frantically at the door. As he opened the door, Curtis desperately raced inside and under the kitchen table. Odd behavior for the dog, and Owen peered through the storm door to see if some other dog had been chasing him. There, under the street lamp, trudging toward him was a large figure of a man, hunching over it seemed. Owen looked more closely. The man had an unusually pale face, and he was carrying the limp body of a thin woman in his arms.
(So, now that I've subjected everyone to this story, time to vote. Anyone want me to post other ghost stories in serial form like this, or have you had enough? I promise I won't be the least bit offended if the latter. These are fun to write, but I don't have much vested in them. In the event of a tie, I will quit posting them, basically because I'm lazy, and it's a little bit of work.)