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       Lost Girl, p.17

           Chanda Hahn
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  Well, there was no way they were going to stay and find out. Wendy turned and dragged Nana out of the clearing and back through the thicket. The dog wouldn’t come easily, but Wendy was desperate. The shadow reached out toward her, its hand elongating, stretching as if to touch her.

  “Go! Run, we have to run.” She tried to run but she was only being pulled toward the tree by Nana’s insistence to chase the thing down.

  “Please, Nana,” Wendy begged.

  Finally the dog looked at her, sensing her distress. Her ears perked up and her head tilted to the side.

  She tried a new tactic. “Treat?”

  Nana barked and eagerly ran for Wendy. Wendy’s fear made parting the thicket much easier, and they ran out onto the sidewalk and across the park. They hurried into the bookstore, and she shut the door and closed the shutter on the window. Nana was exhausted and wanted her water bowl, so Wendy reached down and unclasped the leash.

  She went to the bathroom sink and tried to wash off the dried blood.

  But it wouldn’t come off. It looked like permanent marker stuck to her skin, and then it slowly faded into her skin.


  Kids screaming.

  Memories that weren’t hers plagued her.

  “Nooooo!” She squealed and turned the hot water on and scrubbed till her hands burned. Finally she could take the pain no more, and she turned the water off.

  “It’s not real, Wendy,” she told her reflection. “Stop imagining things. You’re normal. You didn’t see black blood, and it definitely did not absorb into your skin.” She pressed her wet hands to her face and took a few deep breaths. She had to be losing her mind.

  After twenty minutes she gathered her courage and stepped out of the bathroom. The bookstore was still empty.

  She went and checked his office door. She had forgotten his lunch, but there was no way she was going back into the park. Digging in the desk drawer, she found a few takeout menus and ordered Chinese for two. Fifteen minutes later, she was dropping off the still hot sesame chicken and egg rolls in his office, but he wasn’t there. She didn’t know where he’d gone, so she left his food on his desk with napkins, a plastic fork, and a can of coke.

  Wendy decided to head up to the loft with her food and sit on the small couch. The coffee table was covered with various magazines and stacks of books that needed to be put away.

  Is this what Peter was coming for when he met her at the bookstore? There didn’t seem to be any evidence of him working up here—or anywhere. Unless his work required reading. Wendy took a sip of her cola and reached for a book on rare diseases. Another one was on genetic research. Another book was an anthology of medical journals on children with special gifts.

  Did this have something to do with the lost boys? She was still confused by half of the things that Slightly and Peter talked about, but then she didn’t want to know. She had enough to deal with inside her own dark mind.

  Wendy ate half her food and put the rest in the mini-fridge in the loft, straightened the books and her mess, and headed down stairs. Mr. B still had not returned, and his food was cold. She really hoped he hadn’t gotten tired of waiting for her and gone out to get his own food. Guilt assailed her as she realized that was probably exactly what he did.

  The afternoon came and went. It was closing time, and she wasn’t sure what to do. Nana had to go outside again and Wendy was nervous to venture back into the park. What if she saw something else? What if her next hallucination sent her to the psych ward? Why did she find that thought funny?

  Wendy left a sign on the door that said Back in fifteen, locked the door behind her, and headed with trepidation toward the park.

  Thankfully, Nana was quick with her business and was as eager to get back to the bookstore as Wendy.

  By the time she’d waited an hour past closing and Mr. Bernard never returned, she did the only thing she could. She closed the bookshop. Wendy flipped the sign to closed and locked herself inside.

  What was she to do? She couldn’t take the dog with her. For one, she had nowhere to go, and two, she felt much safer with Nana beside her. She would just have to stay here in the bookstore until Mr. B came back.

  By ten o’clock, she was terrified something had happened to him. She wandered back down to his office and looked inside. Nothing looked disturbed. Well, it was hard to tell what mess was purposeful and what mess could’ve been from a struggle, it was so piled and stacked with stuff. His jacket was still where he had left it, across the back of the chair. But nothing seemed amiss.

  Wendy took Nana’s dog bed out of the corner and carried it upstairs to the loft. She placed it near the couch and coaxed Nana to lay down. Wendy curled up on the soft leather couch and let her hand burrow into the thick fur of Nana’s neck.

  “Don’t worry, girl. He’ll come back,” she whispered. “He’ll come back. He won’t forget about us.”

  She just wasn’t sure if she was referring to Peter or the bookstore owner.

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  He didn’t come.

  Unsure what to do, Wendy got up the next morning and packed away her sleeping bag. She changed in the small upper bathroom and started getting the store ready to open. She moved the dog bed back to Mr. B’s office and took another hard look around. Was there a clue? Was she missing something?

  It was 8:58 a.m. She sat at the front desk, her gaze flicking from the clock on the wall to the phone sitting next to her. Did she dare call 911? He certainly hadn’t been gone forty-eight hours yet, and she didn’t really know much about him. She had no idea where he lived, what his number was, or if he had any family. All she had was the dog. Proof that he had disappeared. He wouldn’t have left Nana behind.

  But what if the police started asking questions about her? She didn’t have an alibi other than walking the dog. She was a homeless kid who had only been working here a few days. They’d immediately suspect her. Then she could end up in prison. Was it worth it?

  Well, they got meals in prison, right?

  Wendy picked up the phone and dialed nine and a one. She was about to press the one again when the door opened, the bell rang loudly, and Mr. Bernard walked in with a newspaper under his arm.

  “Mr. Bernard?” Wendy gasped holding the phone up to her ear.

  “Oh, Wendy, good morning. It is such a glorious morning, isn’t it?” He turned to look outside and breathed a deep sigh of pleasure.

  “Mr. Bernard, are you okay?”

  “Of course I’m okay, why wouldn’t I be?” A surprised look crossed his face.

  “Well, you sent me for lunch yesterday, and when I got back you were gone. And you didn’t come back.”

  “I, uh…I didn’t?” He scratched the back of his head. “That doesn’t sound like me.”

  “You forgot your dog,” she said softly. It was obvious he didn’t remember. He seemed a bit scattered.

  “Oh, well, I knew she’d be in good hands. Nana likes you.” He shuffled into the bookstore and looked around in appreciation. “You did well, Wendy. Everything looks great. You’re such a good girl. I’m very glad I hired you.”

  “It’s in the mini-fridge,” Wendy called after him as he headed to his office.

  “What is, dear?” He seemed a bit panicked.

  “Your lunch from yesterday.”


  “Uh huh, Chinese food.”

  “Oh, yes. Chinese food always tastes better as leftovers. It was smart of you to put it in the fridge.”

  Mr. Bernard entered his office and closed the door, just as Nana tried to enter. She whined and pawed at the metal doorknob but it didn’t open. Dejected, she lay down in front of the door and set her large head on her paws.

  Wendy stared at the door and felt the same way Nana did. Helpless. Something was wrong and she didn’t know what. She hated feeling left in the dark.

  Seeing that Mr. Bernard forgot, she went to the door and flipped the sign to open. Of course the zillion customers waiting
outside chose that moment to come barging through the door to buy up all of the books. Well, she wished there were a zillion. She would have been satisfied with one or two. Instead, all that sat outside on the front walk were a couple of hungry sparrows.

  Business was slow. More than slow—it was dead. She knocked on Mr. Bernard’s office door and asked if it was okay to change the front display window.

  He grunted his approval. Was he sleeping? It sounded like he was asleep.

  She took down the display and dusted all of the books and pulled down the chairs and tables. It looked like it had been quite a while since the display had been changed. It was decorated for summer, but a fall scene was in order.

  Around noon Wendy knocked on Mr. Bernard’s door and asked if she could take her lunch break and have a longer one so she could pick up a few items for the front window display.

  “Oh yes, go ahead and take as long as you need. If you’re buying things for the window, take a twenty out of the drawer and bring me receipts. It will be nice to have new vision for our store.”

  Feeling proud and excited, Wendy took the bus to the It’s All a Buck store and spent some money on white lights, crates, and fake leaves.

  She had a purpose and she wanted to please her boss—that felt different. Nice. After she carefully arranged the display, she picked out some of their newest and hottest books and set them upright in the leaves.

  She stepped outside and smiled. It was awesome. Fall had come to Bernard Books. Heading inside, she waited and watched and saw that her new display made people slow and look in the window. She had two come in and browse the store, but only one purchased. Well, that was better than nothing, she guessed.

  Mr. Bernard gave her two thumbs up. That was the start of her week, and the next day followed a similar routine—without ever running into Peter or Tink. She decided the good outweighed the bad. She’d keep the job.

  Painfully sometimes, the hours dragged on. Each time the door jangled open she half-expected Peter or Tink to walk through it. Frequently, she felt as if someone was watching her. She’d glance up and go to the loft, searching for Peter, but it was always empty.

  The more hours that passed without her seeing them, the more she realized that she wanted to see them. Needed to see them, because it was all beginning to feel like a dream.

  Wendy couldn’t help but let her thoughts drift back to her last night with Peter. Had she dreamed it? Surely, she would have remembered taking a bus to the bookstore. That night left her with more questions than answers.

  She tried to take the bus back to the waterfront and find the path that led to the old house, but she had gotten so turned around she couldn’t find it. It was as if the building had disappeared. Once again, it all felt like a dream. She had imagined Peter and Tink. She tried not to dwell on the thought that she was imagining everything. It wasn’t good for her self-esteem.

  When Wendy earned her first paycheck, she was ecstatic. Especially when Mr. Bernard cashed her check for her himself and gave her cash.

  Money! She had money! She could buy new clothes, get a haircut, buy groceries. Oh, all of the stress that had mounted on her shoulders felt like it was melting away. She grabbed her backpack and headed to a small outlet mall to hit the clearance racks. Setting herself a budget, she picked up quite a few pairs of jeans, shirts, and underclothes. Walking back to the bookstore, she stopped at a gas station and picked up a pay-as-you-go cell phone. Her fingers itched to call home and hang up just to hear her mother’s voice, or to slip her number to John in case of emergency, but she didn’t. She tucked her phone in her pocket.

  Wendy carried her bags to the back of the store and put them in the closet. When she came to the front she spotted a small notecard by the register. She could hear Mr. Bernard typing in his office. A customer must have come in, and he hadn’t heard the bell or the door.

  Great. Wendy felt guilty for leaving the store and losing a customer, but she had to rein in those feelings. She wasn’t on the clock, she was off. She was allowed free time. But seeing the card, she couldn’t help but investigate. She walked over and lifted up the small white envelope.

  Her name was written in black ink on the front.

  Feeling a bit of trepidation, she tore open the envelope and pulled out the card. Inside was just one sentence.

  Don’t trust anyone.

  Chapter Thirty

  Her mouth went dry. She found it impossible to swallow around the fear lodged in her throat, which quickly turned to anger. Wendy crumpled the notecard and tossed it in the garbage. Who would have sent such a horrible note? Was it meant as a threat or a warning? After trying to ignore the message, she went to her knees and dug it out of the trash and read it again.

  Then a third time.

  After the fourth read-through, she still couldn’t figure out who’d sent it. Her eyes drifted to Mr. Bernard typing away in his office. Could it be a warning from him?

  Either way she had to decide what she was going to do with it.

  She shivered and tossed it back into the wastebasket. Then she tied up the bag and went around the back of the building to the alley where she threw the whole bag into the large dumpster. As the lid slammed, it startled a flock of pigeons in the alley. The flapping filled her ears as they flew off, amplifying her terror.

  Wendy was just about to exit the alley when a black Hummer pulled up and drove slowly past the bookstore. Just like the one she’d seen at school. Wendy pressed herself against the brick wall and watched it drive down the street and do a U-turn. It parked facing the bookstore. The engine turned off, but no one got out of the car. Hard to be sure with the glare of the sun, but she thought there was only one person in the vehicle.

  Wendy stayed in the alley for five minutes and waited. The driver never moved the car or got out. It looked like the same car the Red Skulls had that night at her school. Peter didn’t trust them. Why were they here watching the store?

  Were they back for her? Should she try to sneak inside and warn Mr. Bernard? She tried to shrug it off. It was probably just a suburban soccer mom in a really big car.

  She decided to slip away, to see if they indeed followed her. A group of five teens walked noisily past the bookstore, and Wendy timed it so she slid right into the middle of the group and stayed with them, keeping her head down.

  They were loud, and a few boys tossed a football, before they crossed the street and headed toward the park—the place she had been avoiding since her last encounter with the shadow. Wendy groaned.

  Still, if they got close enough maybe she could walk by and see who was in the driver’s seat.

  A blonde with a ponytail squealed as one of the boys tried to trip her. She took off chasing him. Wendy had to catch herself as she fell into another of the group. The boy plowed into her and tripped her up.

  “Sorry!” the boy yelled and continued running backward.

  They were now close enough to the Hummer that she could see inside, and the driver’s seat was empty. No one was in the car at all.

  Wendy told herself she was being overly paranoid. She parted ways with the group as they headed into the park, and she re-crossed the street and headed back to the store.

  The front door jangled as she entered, and she was so relieved about not being followed that she forgot her trepidation about the note. Until she put her hand into her jacket pocket and felt something inside.

  Her hand shook as she pulled out another small card. This one had no envelope.

  She could barely read the words as they blurred in front of her tear-filled eyes.

  I’m watching you.

  The next morning Wendy was outside washing the front window, when she noticed a dark-haired boy, about fourteen, staring into the store next door looking at a small brown bear. His striped shirt was ragged, and he looked tired and hungry. He gazed longingly at the toy in the window before walking off down the road.

  A shadow flew up behind the boy, then peeled off and rushed for her.

  She made a mad dash inside and slammed the door on the shadow and turned the bolt for good measure. The inky blackness floated on the other side of the pane before dropping down to slowly push under the door. A pool of black liquid ran in from under the door and Wendy used her jacket to try and block the miniscule gap.

  It wasn’t working.

  Panic took over and she ran to the back of the store. This was it. She was doomed. Any minute a morphling would appear and she would be—she couldn’t finish the terrifying thought.

  Wendy hid behind the bookshelf and tried to find some way to defend herself. Chills ran up her arms and she turned just as the shadow appeared in front of her. She held up her hands to stop it, but the shadow pushed into her body. She threw her head back, willing the thing to get out of her. She gasped as an icy feeling spread through her and her eyes rolled back. That’s when she saw them. The visions.

  The boy, kicking and flailing.

  The Red Skulls, hauling him away into a room. Fear had control of her, her chest thrumming, irregular and dangerous.

  What was happening to her?

  Wendy looked up and was able to focus as the shade passed out of her body. It waited, floating just a few feet from her. Her breathing was erratic, but the shadow didn’t make another attempt to attack her. It beckoned for her to follow.

  It flew a few steps then waited. She took a deep breath, and followed a few steps before stopping. They continued the strange pattern right to the front door. Wendy’s hand unlocked the door and flung it wide open. The shadow brushed past her out the door, heading in the direction the boy had gone.

  Another shadow followed from across the street. She wasn’t sure what to make of the shadows, but she finally understood that they were trying to help her, to communicate with her.

  Grabbing her phone out of her pocket, she checked her cell signal. Dead zone.

  They were here, which meant a morphling was coming.

  Wendy grabbed her backpack, put her head down, and tried to follow the young boy. He was already at a good distance. She shouldn’t be too obvious.

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