Wake, p.3
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       Wake, p.3

         Part #1 of Wake series by Lisa McMann
 
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  Someone falls in step beside her, so quietly that she doesn’t notice him until he’s there. He’s carrying a skateboard. A second and third follow suit, then lay their boards down and push off, hanging slightly in front of Janie.

  “Jeez!” she says, surrounded. “Scare a girl half to death, why don’t you.”

  Cabel Strumheller shrugs. The other guys move ahead. “Long walk,” says Cabel. “You, uh”—he clears his throat—“okay?”

  “Fine,” she says. “You?” She doesn’t remember ever hearing him speak before.

  “Get on.” He sets his board down, taking Janie’s shoes from her hand. “You’ll rip your feet to shreds. There’s glass an’ shit.”

  Janie looks at the board, and then up at him. He’s wearing a knit beanie with a hole in it. “I don’t know how.”

  He flashes a half grin. Shoves a long black lock of hair under the beanie. “Just stand. Bend. Balance. I’ll push you.”

  She blinks. Gets on the board.

  Weird.

  This is not happening.

  They don’t talk.

  The guys weave in and out the rest of the way, and take off at the corner by Janie’s house. Cabel pushes her to her front porch so she can hop off. He sets her shoes on the step, picks up the board, nods, and catches up with his friends.

  “Thanks, Cabel,” Janie says, but he’s gone in the dark already. “That was sweet,” she adds, to no one.

  They don’t acknowledge each other, or the event, for a very long time.

  IN EARNEST

  February 1, 2005

  Janie is seventeen.

  A boy named Jack Tomlinson falls asleep in English class. Janie watches his head nodding from across the room. She begins to sweat, even though the room is cold. It is 11:41 a.m. Seven minutes until the bell rings for lunch. Too much time.

  She stands, gathers her books, and rushes for the door. “I feel sick,” she says to the teacher. The teacher nods understandingly. Melinda Jeffers snickers from the back row. Janie leaves the room and shuts the door. She leans against the cool tile wall, takes a deep breath, goes into the girls’ bathroom, and hides in a stall.

  Nobody ever sleeps in the bathroom.

  Flashback—January 9, 1998

  It’s Janie’s tenth birthday. Tanya Weersma falls asleep in school, her head on her pencil box. She is floating, gliding. And then she is falling. Falling into a gorge. The face of a cliff streams by at a dizzying speed. Tanya looks at Janie and screams. Janie closes her eyes and feels sick. They startle at the same time. The fourth graders all laugh.

  Janie decides not to hand out her precious birthday treat, after all.

  That was after the train ride and the man in the underwear.

  Janie’s had only a few close calls in school before high school. But the older she gets, the more often her classmates sleep in school. And the more kids sleep, the more of a mess it makes for Janie. She has to get away, wake them up, or risk the consequences.

  A year and a half to go.

  And then.

  College. A roommate.

  Janie puts her head in her hands.

  She leaves the bathroom after lunch and goes to her next class, grabbing a Snickers bar on her way.

  For two weeks afterward, Melinda Jeffers and her rich friends make puking noises when they pass Janie in the hall.

  June 15, 2005

  Janie is seventeen. She’s working her ass off, taking as many shifts as she can.

  Old Mr. Reed is dying at the nursing home.

  His dreams grow constant and terrible.

  He doesn’t wake easily.

  As his body fades, the pull of his dreams grows eerily stronger. Now, if his door is open, Janie can’t enter that wing.

  She hadn’t planned for this.

  She makes an odd request on every shift. “If you cover the east wing, I’ll take the rest.”

  The other aides think she’s afraid to see Mr. Reed die.

  Janie doesn’t have a problem with that.

  June 21, 2005, 9:39 p.m.

  Heather Home is short-staffed. It’s summer. Three patients on the cusp of death. Two have Alzheimer’s. One dreams, screams, and cries.

  Someone has to empty bedpans. Hand out the night meds. Straighten up the rooms for the day.

  Janie approaches with caution. She stands in the west wing, looking into the east wing, and memorizes it. The right-hand wall has five doorways and six sets of handrails. The last door on the right is Mr. Reed. Ten steps farther is a wall, and the emergency exit door.

  Some days, a cart stands between doorways three and four. Some days, wheelchairs collect anonymously between doorways one and two. A stretcher often rests in the east wing, but usually it’s on the left side. Janie would have to get a glimpse before entering the hallway, no matter the day. Because some days, most days, people travel up and down the hallway without pattern. And Janie doesn’t want to run into anyone in case she goes blind.

  Tonight, the hallway is clear. Janie noted earlier that the Silva family came for a visit in the fourth room. She checks the record book and sees that they signed out. There are no other visitors recorded. It grows late. For Janie, it’s either get the work done, or get fired.

  She enters the east wing, grabs the hall bar, and nearly doubles over.

  9:41 p.m.

  The noise of the battle is overpowering. She hides with old Mr. Reed in a foxhole on a beach that is littered with bodies and watered with blood. The scene is so familiar, Janie could recite the conversation—even the beat of the bullets—by heart. And it always ends the same way, with arms and legs scattered, bones crunching underfoot, and Mr. Reed’s body breaking into tiny bits, crumbling off his trunk like cheese being grated from a slab, or like a leper, unraveling.

  Janie tries walking normally down the hallway, gripping the handrail. She cannot concentrate enough to remember her count of doorways, the dream is so intense. She keeps walking, reaching, walking, until she hits the wall. She’s losing the feeling in her fingers and feet. Wants to make it stop. She backs up eight, ten, maybe twelve steps, and falls to the ground outside Mr. Reed’s door. Her head pounds now as she follows Mr. Reed into battle.

  She tries to find his door so she can close it. She tries, and she can’t feel anything. She doesn’t know if she’s touching something, or nothing. She is paralyzed. Numb. Desperate.

  On the bloody beach, Mr. Reed looks at her and beckons her to come with him. “Behind here. We’ll be safe behind here,” he says.

  “No!” she tries to scream, but no sound comes out. She can’t get his attention. Not behind there! She knows what will happen.

  Mr. Reed’s fingers drop off first.

  Then his nose and ears.

  He looks at Janie.

  Like always.

  Like she’s betrayed him.

  “Why didn’t you tell me,” he whispers.

  Janie can’t speak, can’t move. Again and again, she fights, her head feeling like it might explode any moment. Just die, old man! she wants to yell. I can’t do this one anymore! She knows it’s almost over.

  And then, there is more. Something new.

  Mr. Reed turns to her as his feet break free from his ankles and he stumbles on his stilty legs. His eyes are wide with terror, and the battle rages around them. “Come closer,” he says. Fingerless, he shrugs the gun into her arms. His arm breaks off his shoulder as he does it, and it crumbles to the beach like powder. And then he starts crying. “Help me. Help me, Janie.”

  Janie’s eyes widen. She sees the enemy, but she knows they can’t see her. She is safe. She looks at the pleading eyes of Mr. Reed.

  Lifts the gun.

  Points.

  And pulls the trigger.

  10:59 p.m.

  Janie is curled on a portable stretcher in the east hallway when the roaring gunfire in old Mr. Reed’s dream stops abruptly. She blinks, her vision clears slowly, and she sees two Heather Home aides staring down at her. She sits up halfway. Her head
pounds.

  “Careful, Janie, honey,” soothes a voice. “You were having a seizure or something. Let’s wait for the doc, okay?”

  Janie cocks her head and listens for the faint sound of beeping. A moment later, she hears it.

  “Old Mr. Reed is dead,” she says, her voice rasping. She falls back on the stretcher and passes out.

  June 22, 2005

  The doctor says, “We need to do some tests. Do a CAT scan.”

  “No thank you,” Janie says. She is polite, but firm.

  The doctor looks at Janie’s mother. “Mrs. Hannagan?”

  Janie’s mother shrugs. She looks out the window. Her hands tremble as she fingers the zipper on her purse.

  The doctor sighs, exasperated. “Ma’am,” he tries again. “What if she has a seizure while she’s driving? Or crossing a street? Please think about it.”

  Mrs. Hannagan closes her eyes.

  Janie clears her throat. “May we go?”

  The doctor gives Janie a long look. He glances at Janie’s mother, who is looking down at her lap. Then looks at Janie again. “Of course,” he says softly. “Can you promise me something? Not just for your safety, but for the safety of others on the road—please, don’t drive.”

  It won’t happen when I’m driving, she longs to tell him, just so he doesn’t worry so much. “Sure. I promise. We don’t have a car, anyway.”

  Mrs. Hannagan stands. Janie stands. The doctor stands too. “Call our office if it happens again, won’t you?” He holds out his hand, and Janie shakes it.

  “Yes,” Janie lies. They walk back to the waiting room.

  Janie sends her mother outside to the bus stop. “I’ll be right there.”

  Her mother leaves the office. Janie pays the bill. It’s $120, pulled out of her college stash. She can only imagine how much a CAT scan would cost. And she’s not about to spend another cent just to hear somebody tell her she’s crazy.

  She can get that opinion for free.

  Janie waits for her mother to ask what that was all about. But she may as well wait for flowers to grow on the moon. Janie’s mother simply doesn’t care about anything that has to do with Janie. She has never really cared.

  And that’s fucking sad.

  That’s what Janie thinks.

  But it sure comes in handy, sometimes.

  June 28, 2005

  There’s something about a doctor telling a teenager not to drive that makes it so important to do so. Just to prove him wrong.

  Janie and Carrie go see Stu at the body shop. He sees them coming. “Here she is, kiddo,” Stu says. He calls Janie “kiddo,” which is weird, since Janie is two months older than Carrie.

  Janie nods and smiles. She runs her hand over the hood lightly, feeling the curves. It’s the color of buttermilk. It’s older than Janie. And it’s beautiful.

  Stu hands Janie the keys, and Janie counts out one thousand, four hundred fifty dollars cash. “Be good to her,” he says wistfully. “I started working on this car when she was seventeen years old and I was thirteen. She purrs now.”

  “I will.” Janie smiles. She climbs in the ’77 Nova and starts her up.

  “Her name’s Ethel,” adds Stu. He looks a little embarrassed.

  Carrie takes Stu’s oil-stained hand and squeezes it. “Janie’s a really good driver. She’s driven my car a bunch of times. Ethel will be fine.” She gives Stu a quick kiss on the cheek. “See you tonight,” she says with a demure smile.

  Stu winks. Carrie gets into her Tracer and Janie slides behind the wheel of her new car. She pats the dashboard, and Ethel purrs. “Good girl, Ethel,” she croons.

  June 29, 2005

  After the incident with Mr. Reed, the Heather Home director made Janie take a week off. When Janie shuffled and hemmed about taking that much time off, the director promised her shifts on July 4 and Labor Day, where Janie gets double pay. She is happy.

  Janie drives her new car on her first day back to work. She gives sponge baths and empties a dozen bedpans. For entertainment, she sings a mournful song from Les Misérables, changing the words to “Empty pans and empty bladders . . . ” Miss Stubin, a schoolteacher who taught for forty-seven years before she retired, laughs for the first time in weeks. Janie makes a mental note to bring in a new book to read to Miss Stubin.

  Miss Stubin never has visitors.

  And she’s blind.

  That just might be why she’s Janie’s favorite.

  July 4, 2005, 10:15 p.m.

  Three Heather Home residents in their wheelchairs, and Janie, in an orange plastic bucket chair, sit in the dark nursing home parking lot. Waiting. Slapping mosquitoes. The fireworks are about to begin at Selby Park, a few blocks away.

  Miss Stubin is one of the residents, her gnarled hands curled in her lap, I.V. drip hanging from a stand next to her wheelchair. All of a sudden, she cocks her head and smiles wistfully. “Here they come,” she says.

  A moment later, the sky explodes in color.

  Janie describes each one in detail to Miss Stubin.

  A green sparkly porcupine, she says.

  Sparks rising from a magician’s wand.

  A perfect circle of white light, which fades into a puddle and dries up.

  After a brilliant burst of purple, Janie jumps up. “Don’t go anywhere, you three—I’ll be right back.” She runs inside to the therapy room, grabs a plastic tub, and runs back out.

  “Here,” she says breathlessly, taking Miss Stubin’s hand and carefully, gently, stretching out her curled fingers. She puts a Koosh Ball in the old woman’s hands. “That last one looked just like this.”

  Miss Stubin’s face lights up. “I think that’s my favorite,” she says.

  August 2, 2005, 11:11 p.m.

  Janie leaves Heather Home and drives the four miles to her house. It’s wicked hot out, and she chides Ethel mildly for not having air-conditioning. She rolls the windows down, loving the feeling of the hot wind on her face.

  11:18 p.m.

  She stops at a stop sign on Waverly Road, not far from home, and proceeds through the intersection.

  11:19 p.m.

  And then she is in a strange house. In a dirty kitchen. A huge, young monster-man with knives for fingers approaches.

  Janie, blind to the road, stomps on the brake and flips the gearshift into neutral. She reaches to find the emergency brake and pulls, before she becomes paralyzed. This is a strong one.

  He pulls a vinyl-seated chair across the kitchen floor, picks it up, and whirls it around above his head.

  But it isn’t the emergency brake. It’s the hood release.

  And then he lets go of the chair. It sails toward Janie, clipping the ceiling fan.

  Janie doesn’t know it’s the hood.

  She looks around frantically to see what it will hit. Or who.

  Janie is numb. Her foot slides off the brake pedal.

  Her car rolls off the road.

  Slowly.

  But there is no one else. No one else but the monster-man with finger-knives, and Janie. Until the door opens, and a middle-aged man appears. He walks through Janie. The chair, sailing in slow motion, grows knives from its legs.

  The car misses a mailbox.

  It strikes the middle-aged man in the chest and head. His head is sliced clean off and it rolls around on the floor in a circle.

  The car comes to rest in a shallow drainage ditch in the front yard of a tiny, unkempt house.

  Janie stares at the large young man with knives for fingers. He walks to the dead man’s head and kicks it like a soccer ball. It crashes loudly through the window and there is a blinding flash of light—

  11:31 p.m.

  Janie groans and opens her eyes. Her head is against the steering wheel. She has a cut on her lip that is bleeding. And Ethel is decidedly not level. When she can see clearly, she looks out the windows, and when she can move again, she eases her way out her door. She walks around the car, sees that it is not injured, and that she is not stuck. She shuts the
hood gently, gets into the car, and backs up slowly.

  When she arrives in her driveway, she breathes a sigh of relief, and then memorizes the exact location of the parking brake by feel. She sees the keys dangling from the ignition. Duh, she thinks.

  Next time, she will be ready.

  Maybe she should have bought an automatic.

  She hopes to God it doesn’t happen on a highway.

  12:46 a.m.

  Janie lies awake in bed. Scared.

  In the back of her mind, she hears the distinct sound of knives sharpening. The more she tries not to think about whose dream that might have been, the more she thinks about it. She can never drive that street again.

  She wonders if she will end up like her friend Miss Stubin from the nursing home, all alone.

  Or dead in a car crash, because of this stupid dream curse.

  August 25, 2005

  Carrie brings in the mail to Janie’s. Janie is wearing a T-shirt and boxer shorts. It’s hot and humid.

  “Schedules are here,” Carrie says. “Senior year, baby! This is it!”

  Excitedly, they open their schedules together. They lay them side-by-side on the coffee table and compare.

  Their facial expressions go from excitement, to disappointment, and then excitement again.

  “So, first period English and fifth period study hall. That’s not terrible,” Janie says.

  “And we have the same lunch,” Carrie says. “Let me see what Melinda has. I’ll be right back.” Carrie gets up to leave.

  “You can call her from here, you know,” Janie says, rolling her eyes.

  “I-I would, but—”

  Janie waits for Carrie to explain. Then it dawns on her. “Oh,” she says. “I get it. Caller ID. Sheesh, Carrie.”

  Carrie looks at her shoes, then slips out.

  Janie checks the freezer for ice cream. She eats it out of the carton. She feels like shit.

  September 6, 2005, 7:35 a.m.

  Carrie and Janie drive separately to school, because Janie has to work at 3 p.m. Janie waves from the window when she hears Carrie’s car horn beep. This is it, she thinks.

 
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