The Ghost and the Graveyard
Wanted Dead or Alive
When you're doing magic until the wee hours of the morning, 6 a.m. comes appallingly early. I yanked on my scrubs and ate the breakfast Logan made for me, complete with coffee. At the same time, guilt ate me. Rick and I had planned every detail of sorting Logan last night, and I'd made my peace with his going. The spell had to be a surprise to Logan, so that he wouldn't have time to resist the magic, but keeping the fate of someone's soul from them seemed wrong. My dad always said that sometimes you have to choose the lesser evil. I told myself the omission was necessary.
I climbed into my Jeep, resisting the urge to say one last goodbye to Logan. Sometime around noon, Rick would let himself into my house with the key I'd given him. The sun would be at its highest and Logan at his weakest. Rick would set up a ring of candles resting in human skulls-something he called the ring of bones-and begin chanting the spell that would send Logan home. At sunset, he'd call the soul by bleeding a live chicken into a wooden bowl. Logan would be trapped within the ring of bones until his soul decided its fate or until the candles burnt out. If that happened, the magic would read Logan and decide for him.
According to my phone app, the sun would set minutes before my shift ended at seven. Chances were good that before I got home from work today, Logan would be gone.
As I pulled out of my driveway, I tried not to cry or to think about the finality of it. This was only natural. People died, moved on. It was part of life, and Logan's time had come. So why was I still thinking about the unfinished feeling I got from his soul?
I slowed down as I passed Rick's house, but he wasn't outside. He was probably preparing the spell for this afternoon. The first time I'd driven up this street, a vivid fantasy had gripped me-Rick in the shower. I was convinced now that it was, in fact, a memory, probably from just before I died. I still wasn't sure if I loved Rick. I was definitely not ready to marry him. But I wanted him. We were at the beginning of something that might be bigger and more important than anything I'd experienced before. I just wasn't sure what it was.
St. John's parking lot was relatively empty, but I parked in the back of the lot anyway. Some doctors and nurses parked up front, but I've always felt that those first spots should be left for the sick people and their relatives. I was healthy. I could walk. As luck would have it, Michelle was operating under the same idea, and I caught up with her halfway to the front door.
"Well, if it isn't our friendly neighborhood soul-sorter," she said. "You ready for a day among the living-or mostly living?"
"I think so. We're sending Logan on today."
"I thought you said he couldn't be sorted."
"Rick figured out a way."
"Do you trust him? Isn't Rick jealous of Logan? Aren't you afraid he might get a little overzealous and, you know, chomp-chomp?" Michelle made a biting motion with her hand.
Watching her fingers close around the air did make me think about the possibility that Rick might resort to offing Logan his usual way. I believed Rick would try the spell, but if Logan didn't decide right away, would he take matters into his own hands or wait for the magic? I wasn't sure, and the thought of him taking the easy way out did bother me. Logan wasn't a perfect soul by any means, but he didn't deserve the underworld.
I sighed deeply. "I trust Rick," I said. I didn't sound very convincing, even to myself.
"Hmmm," Michelle said, staring me down to let me know she wasn't buying it. To her credit, she didn't push the issue. "Will you meet me on Neuro today during lunch?"
"I told you, Rhonda needs our opinion on a patient."
I snorted. "Still? Are you sure he's even there anymore? It's been weeks."
"She says yes. No change. He's off the vent, but the lights aren't on and nobody's home," Michelle said.
"What problem could this patient possibly have that you and I need to consult on after all of this time?" I asked.
"Rhonda can't decide which celebrity he looks like," Michelle said.
"Are you serious? You've been bugging me about this because you want to ogle a patient?"
"I wanted to ogle him with you. It's no fun to do it by myself."
We'd reached the fishbowl corridor to the ICU, and I stopped at the double doors. "You do know you're married, right? Does Manny know you're ogling patients?"
"It doesn't count if they're unconscious. And it doubly doesn't count if a single friend is with me. Wink, wink."
Resistance was futile. "Okay. Lunch it is."
Unfortunately, lunch it wasn't. The ICU was short-staffed, and my three patients were needy. An eighty-year-old male who was recovering from surgery threw a clot, and I ended up performing CPR. I told his soul to get back into his body, and it obeyed. The code staff might have thought it was a little creepy-after all, they couldn't see his soul hovering above his body-but they didn't say anything to me when his heart started beating again. I think they just figured I was overly passionate about saving him. What else could they think?
Anyway, the time flew by. I subsisted on toaster pastries and soda from the vending machine until almost six. That's when Michelle called me.
"I'm giving up on you and heading down to Neuro to see sexy Mr. Unconscious. Last chance to join me."
"Sorry, my friend. Can't leave until my relief gets here. I almost lost a guy today."
"Sounds like it's been a rough one. Okay, you're off the hook. I'll give you the scoop tonight."
I wasn't expecting to hear from her again, which was why I furrowed my brow at the floor secretary when she motioned for me to pick up the phone fifteen minutes later.
"You need to get down to Neuro, stat," Michelle yelled into my ear.
"I told you, I can't."
"No, Grateful. Listen to my words. You need to come down to Neuro and sort some things out, now!" She hung up the phone.
I waved down my charge nurse and begged her to cover for me for my last forty minutes. I told her I was sick, which wasn't exactly true unless you counted severe anxiety as an illness. She said it was okay. I took off down the hall and across the atrium to the east wing. Neuro was on the fourth floor. I jogged into the elevator and waited as the pathetically slow doors shut, and the Muzak version of "Gold Dust Woman" played annoyingly in the background. The song was nearly over by the time the doors opened on four.
Michelle met me, pacing.
"What's going on?" I asked, but she grabbed me by the arm and led me into a room on our left. She ushered me to the end of the bed and pointed at the patient. The man had bushy blondish hair and a beard. His muscles were wasted, but that was to be expected when you'd been in bed for more than a month in a coma. His bandages looked okay. The feeding tube and IV were operating as intended.
"What am I looking at?" I finally asked.
"Grateful, concentrate!" Michelle turned the man's head with her hands to face me and pulled up an eyelid to expose one green eye.
My brain refused to process what I was seeing. There had to be an explanation. This wasn't how it was supposed to work. "It couldn't be him. A cousin? Maybe a brother?"
Michelle handed me a piece of paper, a handoff report we used at the hospital to bring caregivers up to speed on a new patient. I read through it and knew without a doubt that it was true.
The man in the bed was Logan.