My eyes opened. There was something in the room–I was not alone. I raised my head and realized someone was standing at the foot of my bed. It took my sleep fogged brain a moment to comprehend that what I was looking at–the dark shape standing only a few feet away was not a living creature. Moonlight shone through the window and I realized I could see through the blackness. I could make out the wall and door on the other side of whatever it was.
A sound of surprise left my lips and, as it did, the shape moved. I felt the weight of something sit down on my bed. My mind was screaming at me to move, to run, but I found I was frozen in place. I was afraid, but something else was holding me immobile.
The weight shifted on the bed. The shadow moved again. The thing on the bed was leaning toward me, and then it was on me. I could feel its weight crawl over my legs. I could feel it wiggle against my stomach and then it slid over my chest. And that’s when the pressure began at my neck. I suddenly couldn’t breathe.
I tried to open my mouth to scream, but no sound came out. I tried to take in a deep breath, but before I could, the pressure around my throat increased. The world around me started to narrow in, and as it did a burst of images raced across my mind.
It was cold. I was lying on a grave, and a guy was straddling my body, his hands wrapped around my throat. I could feel his fingers digging into my skin. I was dying. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to pull his hands away, and when that didn’t work, I reached out to scratch his face, but he moved back. He was killing me. His eyes blazed into mine–they were dark eyes, full of what? I expected to see hatred and anger, but instead they were full of fear. He was afraid for me. He didn’t want to hurt me. Luke. The name rang through my head as I began to fall and tumble into the darkness.
I was alone, in a great expansion of black. It was a cloud that surrounded me. The cloud expanded and there was a large, dark abyss that opened up before me like a great chasm. And from within its depths I heard voices and sounds. Unnatural laughter and then something more primal. A growling. A pair of red eyes appeared within the ink black. They started to move closer. There was a louder noise this time, like an animal chewing and gnashing its teeth. I heard a scream, and then another. A voice floated across my mind, “Not yet. What I want from you, you can’t give. Not yet. But soon.”
And then there was a shout, and lights blazed overhead. The pressure eased up, and I sucked in a breath and then another. I could breathe. I sat up and blinked, trying to make sense of what just happened.
The old woman came into the room. Her white hair swinging wildly back and forth as she shouted at me, “Didn’t you put any salt across the thresholds?” I shook my head. I had thought the guy at dinner was just being crazy when he told me about the ghosts and the salt. But it wasn’t my imagination, she had seen the creature. That thing that had just tried to strangle me was real. She came over and peered down at me. “Sea salt works best, but you can’t get it in this place.”
My hands went to my throat. The skin felt tender and bruised.
She pulled my hands away and inspected me. “Choking ghosts are the worst.”
“Choking ghosts?” My voice came out in harsh rasp.
“You’ll live.” She straightened up and looked around the room. “They’re always full of so much anger.” Something jingled at her side. A large metal key chain with two keys hung out of the pocket of her blue robe. She noticed me looking. “Oh those.” She tucked the keys back into the pocket. “I’ve got a master key to the place.” She giggled. “But the doctors and nurses don’t know. This place is a ghost town at night.” She laughed louder this time as she realized the unintentional joke she made. “The night staff barely makes rounds. They spend all their time sleeping at the front desk. I’ve never been much of a sleeper, especially during the witching hour, too much activity going on. I like to roam around, keep myself busy.” She walked over to the window and looked out. “The witching hour, from midnight until three am. It’s the busiest time of the night for the spirits. I think it’s because it’s easier for them to get noticed by most when it’s quieter out. When the world is in a cocoon of sleep. When they can draw power from the dreams of the living.”
“You said that ghost was a choking ghost. Could the ghost have killed me?” “Could’ve. It’s happened before. I read somewhere that they’ve got a lot of choking ghosts in fire stations on the island of Hawaii.” When I didn’t say anything she continued. “I guess there isn’t a lot of public land available, so fire stations get built over old cemeteries. I’d never seen a choking ghost before I came to this place. It’s best if you protect yourself.”
She reached into her other pocket and pulled out a blue velvet bag tied at the top with black leather. She walked over next to me and spilled the contents of the bag on the bed.
They looked like little stones with symbols on them. My hand reached out to touch one, but something made me hesitate.
“It’s okay you can touch them. They’re runes. Runes aren’t like tarot cards. Now try to touch someone’s deck of tarot and they’ll have a fit. The cards hold people’s vibrations, a bit of their power.” She picked up a rune and bounced it up and down in her palm. “But these don’t hold any power. Unless you make a charm with them. Mostly you use them to focus your abilities, like with crystals and medallions.”
She held the stone up to me. “See each symbol? Each character is one of the runic alphabet. I’ve shown them to you before, but you don’t remember. Wonder if you’ll ever get your memory back?” She put the stone back in the pile. “They’re old Norse. Odin used them. Have you heard the poem?” She started to sing. “I know a twelfth one if I see, up in a tree, a dangling corpse in a noose, I can so carve and color the runes, that the man walks, and talks with me.” She looked down at me. “You never heard it? Well if you did, you probably couldn’t remember right now. They say the runes have the power to bring that which is dead back to life. Never seen them used that way before, most use them as a divining tool. To tell fortunes, to see your future.”
She gathered the pieces together and poured them back into the bag and then she shook the bag a couple times and then turned it over and dropped the stones back onto the bed. “You draw lots. To tell fortunes.” She started flipping a few of them over. “But you can also use them to make charms. See this one.” She held one up, drawn in the middle of it was a line and then branching off at the top of the line were two smaller lines, one on the left and one on the right. It looked like a stick figure with its arms stretched out. “This one is for protection. Algiz, the Rune of Protection. Until you get some salt tomorrow, I’d better make you something. People’s feet brush the salt away, or a bit of a breeze and poof it’s gone. It’s best to sprinkle a bit of the stuff over your threshold and window sill every night, just to be safe.” She reached over and grabbed the covers and pulled them down. Before I could react she grabbed the hem of my hospital gown and turned it over.
She reached up to the back of her collar and pulled out a sewing needle. “Don’t worry old Mildred will make it right. They don’t allow sharp objects in here.” She laughed. “But what they don’t know won’t hurt them. The place is a lot like a prison. You know how you watch those movies and the prisoners are always bartering or bribing with the guards to get stuff? Last month one of the night nurses she wanted me to do a love spell for her. A guy she fell hard for that wasn’t noticing her. Two love birds kissing in a tree. K I S S I N G,” She sang out. “I got two handfuls of chocolate bars for doing that bit of magic. I’d share, but they’re all gone.” She reached out and grabbed my finger and before I could pull it back she pricked it with the needle. Speechless I watched as she squeezed my finger hard until a drop of blood came to the surface. She lifted the blood with the needle and used the needle like a pen and started to draw the symbol for protection onto the inside of my white gown. She mumbled some words, too low for me to make out, dropped my gown and took a step back.
Mildred looked very pleased with herself. “The choking ghosts never used to bother you. But I guess your different now, with your memory sucked away. When I’ve got more time I can make you a charm you can wear around your neck and put under your pillow at night if you need it. But this will do for now.
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