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The midnight club, p.12
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       The Midnight Club, p.12

           Christopher Pike
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  "In the basement, for the present." He paused. "Would you like to gather her personal items together?"

  Ilonka understood the source of the question. Space was a valuable commodity. The body and its belongings had to be moved out so that another living body could be moved in quickly. She thought it would feel weird for the next girl to be sleeping in a bed where someone had just died. It was hard enough for Ilonka to think she had slept most of the night next to a dead body. Of course, in this place, someone had died in each of their beds before they had arrived. It was a sobering thought.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "I can get her things together," Ilonka said.

  Dr. White left to take care of business. Only a few minutes later a couple of nurses arrived for the body. Ilonka was still holding on to Anya's hand. Time to say goodbye—not easy to do. The nurses covered her with a green sheet and lifted her onto a gumey and wheeled her out. Ilonka was left alone with her pain. She didn't know if the others in the club knew what had happened. She should be the one to tell them, though. Soon. But not just this second, she thought.

  Ilonka went into the bathroom to collect Anya's toothpaste and hairbrush and stuff like that. Only it wasn't there.

  "What?" Ilonka whispered to herself.

  All of Anya's toiletries were gone.

  But that's not possible. She just died. Who would have taken them? Who could have taken them with me here?

  The answer, to both questions, was no one.

  Could it be the sign? Could Anya be telling her there was an afterlife?

  No way, it's just a matter of timing. One of the nurses heard Anya was dead while I was talking to Dr. White and immediately cleaned out the cupboards. No, maybe not. Only I knew she was dead and I only talked to Dr. White for ten seconds before we returned to the room. OK, it's a trick. Anya knew she was going to kill herself so she gathered everything up in the middle of the night and stowed it elsewhere to fool me. That's it! She heard my story

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  about Delius and Mage and Shradha. What better sign to fake me out with?

  The only problem with the second hypothesis was that Anya had been a grievously ill girl who also happened to be crippled. It would have been next to impossible for her to gather all her things together and dispose of them in the middle of the night. Anya couldn't even wheel her chair from one place to another without assistance.

  Then what? Ilonka didn't know.

  It was time to talk to the others.

  Word traveled fast in the hospice. The others already knew Anya was dead by the time Ilonka reached them. The four remaining members of the club—Ilonka, Sandra, Spence, and Kevin—had gathered in the boys' room. There they tried to console themselves by repeatedly saying that it was probably for the best, that Anya had been in more pain than any mortal should have to withstand. Spence was the hardest hit by the loss. Ilonka had never seen him weep before. Then again, he had been the closest to Anya in many ways. Certainly he had fought the most with her.

  Everyone in the group denied having touched Anya's personal items. The nurses, also, said they knew nothing about them. The four of them just stared at one another and shook their heads. Ilonka didn't believe any of them were lying. No one knew what to think. It was decided, though, that they would investigate the matter more fully.

  Then, before they could begin to discuss if a sign from beyond the grave had been sent by Anya,

  148

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  another rumor swept the hospice, going to every quarter of the huge mansion. It originated from the nurses' station, but before it could be verified, head nurse Schratter put a clamp on it. She said there would be no comment until Dr. White returned. Apparently he had left the hospice in an attempt to find somebody from Anya's family. The rumor was a powerful one.

  One of the patients at the hospice had been misdiagnosed.

  That person was not going to die.

  When Ilonka heard the rumor, she knew it had to be her.

  She was being logical, she thought she was. Because she was the only one in the hospice who had recently gone for tests. She was the only one who had new data coming in on her. She laughed out loud at the news because they had all wanted to laugh at her when she'd insisted on another scan. It was as if a great weight were suddenly lifted; she couldn't believe her joy, even in the midst of Anya's tragedy. She also knew it had to be her because as soon as the words reached her ears, her pain level dropped considerably. Why, the eternal cramp in her abdomen even lessened and she was able to take a deep breath for the first time in a couple of months. She realized a lot of her discomfort had been in her head. She could hardly wait for Dr. White to return to the hospice.

  I am not going to die! I am going to live! Live! Live! Live!

  Ilonka heard the news when she was alone in her

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  room. Another patient—she didn't even know his name—told her as he swept up and down the hall on the second floor. Immediately, though, in conjunction with her relief, she felt bad for the others in the group, especially Kevin, her dear Kevin. How could she just leave him in this place to die? She couldn't; she made a vow to herself to remain until he died. Dr. White would understand; he wouldn't turn her out.

  Another search of her room had failed to turn up any of Anya's personal items.

  Ilonka kept looking over her shoulder as she searched.

  She closed the window. There seemed to be a cold draft in the room.

  Finally about three in the afternoon, she decided to return to Kevin's room. She found him alone, sitting on his bed flipping through sketches in a huge notepad. He was probably doing more than browsing; he had a pencil in his right hand. But he closed the pad as soon as she entered and she didn't get a chance to see what he was working on. Apparently Spence was out mailing a long letter to his lady love, Caroline. Kevin said he was forever writing her; it took up half his days.

  "It's nice that he has someone," Ilonka said. She sat across from Kevin on Spence's bed.

  "Yeah," Kevin said thoughtfully.

  Ilonka hesitated. "I wanted to talk to you more about what happened with Kathy."

  "I should have told her a long time ago. You spared me the trauma."

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "You would have broken it to her gently. I came at her like a raving bitch."

  "Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind."

  "I assume you've talked to her, then?" she asked.

  "Yes."

  "Will she be visiting again soon?"

  "I don't think so," he said.

  "I had no right."

  Kevin raised his hand. "It's fine, really. Let's not talk about it anymore." He shook his head. "I can't believe Anya won't be there tonight. It won't be the same."

  "Should we even meet?"

  "I think Anya would want us to. Maybe she'll give us another sign."

  "Do you think she's given us a sign already?"

  Kevin eyed her curiously. "Since the sign is related to a story you told, what do you think?'*

  "I'm intrigued."

  "Nothing more?"

  "So much is happening all of a sudden, I haven't had a chance to really sit and think about it." She paused. "You heard the rumor that's going around?"

  "That one of us isn't terminal? Yeah, it sounds like more than a rumor. I understand everyone's just waiting to find out who it is."

  "Kevin."

  "What?"

  "It's me."

  His face brightened. "Really? Dr. White told you? I didn't know he was back yet."

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "He isn't back, but I know it's me. Who else could it be?"

  Kevin's face darkened. "Ilonka, don't you think you're jumping to a dangerous conclusion?"

  She laughed. "I'm not jumping that far. Look, I went for a scan yesterday. They said they would have the results back today. Suddenly, today, one person at this hospice is no longer terminal."

  Kevin n
odded. "I admit it is a possibility. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you." He turned and glanced out the window. The curtains were pulled back although the window was closed. As usual, the temperature in the room was elevated. "I would love to see the ocean again," he said.

  She gestured to his left leg. "Is it still numb?"

  "Not as bad as yesterday. Sometime in the middle of the night it seemed to wake up again, at least partially." He considered. "Would you hke to go for a walk with a cripple?"

  Ilonka smiled. "I would love to go anywhere with you. You can lean on me for support." She stood up. "Let me get my coat. I'll be back in a minute. You bundle up warm."

  Ten minutes later found them walking along the edge of the wide lawn that led down to the rocky cliff. The weather was dismal: gray clouds, cutting gusts. The waves were a fury, the salty spray reaching them even though they stayed in the grassy area. Walking with Kevin was not the easiest thing. His left leg may have been better, but he was leaning on her for half his support. He finally pointed to a boulder and the two of them settled

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB down. Ilonka tied Kevin's scarf tighter. He was shivering.

  "We shouldn't stay out here long," she said.

  He gestured to the churning surf. "It's amazing, isn't it? The power of nature. You know, I sometimes feel sorry for myself that my life should be cut short, then I look out over the sea and think, this world is over four billion years old. The life of a man or woman who lives to a hundred is just a flash of lightning compared to that time scale. Then I don't feel so bad. I feel honored that I got to come here at all." He drew in a deep breath and surveyed the coast. "It's a beautiful world."

  "Is there anything special that you miss?" she asked.

  He nodded. "I miss having the energy to paint, to run, to go to school. I really enjoyed getting up and going to class every morning. I know that sounds weird, but I enjoyed learning."

  "It doesn't sound weird to me. Anything else?"

  He smiled, blushing. "I miss the things Herme missed being an angel."

  "Are you Herme? You said I was Teresa."

  "I never said that."

  "You compared me to that cheating bitch. But I forgive you." She paused. "So you miss the love of a woman?"

  He didn't answer her directly. "One of the reasons I'm telling that story is for you."

  She was startled. "Really? Am I supposed to learn something from it?"

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "I didn't say that either." He shrugged. "The story just reminds me of us."

  She blinked. She wasn't sure she had heard him correctly. "Of you and me?"

  He looked at her. "Yes."

  He likes me. I love him. Maybe he loves me.

  Ilonka reached out and ran her hand through his thinning hair. In that moment, staring into his eyes, she was totally happy, more happy than she had ever been in her entire life.

  "I would have let you paint whatever you wanted," she said.

  "I would have enjoyed painting you."

  She smiled. "Is that who you were sketching when I walked in on you a few minutes ago?"

  "No. I was sketching the face of your Master."

  She drew in a sharp breath. "But how?"

  "I think I know what he looks like. Different in different lives, and yet always the same, too." He squeezed her hand. "When you tell your stories, I remember them with you. I remember Delius and Padma as if they were sitting beside me in the study next to the fire."

  She chuckled with delight. "You should remember Shradha and Dharma better. You were supposed to—" She caught herself quickly. "I mean, you remind me of them more than the other two."

  Kevin continued to stare at her, a look of surprise on his face. "I don't know," he said, chuckling.

  "What don't you know?"

  "I didn't know that." His eyes left hers for the ocean again. He shook from the cold and coughed.

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB "I want to ask you a favor. It's not a pleasant thing, but I would appreciate it if you could do it for me."

  "Anything."

  "I have told my parents that I want to be cremated and they have agreed. But they still want to bury my ashes somewhere and I don't want that. I don't want my mother to have a place to go to mourn. It won't be good for her. I don't even want her to know where my ashes are. But I have asked them to give them to you."

  The topic distressed her. "To me?"

  "Yes. I want you to take them here." He gestured to the cliff, to the waves. "I want you to throw them into the breeze above the water. I just want to blow away and be gone."

  There were tears in her eyes. "But you won't just be gone. Maybe you won't die."

  He regarded her closely. "I am going to die. I will be dead soon. Nothing can stop that. It is better to accept the reality. Didn't the Master say that once?"

  She sniffed. "I believe he said it many times." She nodded. "I'll do it for you, Kevin. Can I sing as I do it? I Uke to sing."

  "Sing to me now while I can still hear you."

  "But the wind—you'll hardly be able to hear me.

  "That's OK- You probably have a lousy voice."

  She socked him lightly. "You may be able to paint like an angel, but I can sing like one."

  "Go ahead."

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "No." She took his arm. "Later. You have to get inside now. You're shaking like a leaf."

  Ilonka led Kevin back to his room. She felt on top of the world, even though her boyfriend stood at death's door. But at least she could think of him as her boyfriend. "The story just reminds me of us. " Us —there wasn't a bigger word that could have come out of his mouth.

  At the same time she knew she was being ridiculous.

  He's your boyfriend? He hasn 't even kissed you on the lips. And he is going to be dead in a matter of days. There won't be a chance for him to kiss you. There won't be a chance for anything except for you to sing to his ashes.

  She wished she had sung a few words for him.

  Walking back to her room, she passed Sandra's room. She poked her head inside, a hello on her lips. But the word died on a suddenly icy breath. Sandra had her suitcase open on top of her bed. She was walking around her room, a smile on her face, singing as she packed.

  No one at Rotterham Hospice ever repacked.

  The nurses always did it for you.

  After you were dead.

  Ilonka took her head out of the room and slowly backed away from Sandra. The cold in her breath traveled down into her chest, into her heart, until she was pumping blood that was turning to ice shards that cut as they squeezed through her constricted veins. Yes, she suddenly felt as if she were

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB bleeding inside in the worst way. She backed right into Spence.

  "Hello, Ilonka," he said.

  She turaed to face him. "Is Dr. White back?"

  "Yes. He's in his office. Do you know—"

  She didn't wait to hear the rest of his question. She ran down the hall toward the doctor's office, forgetting that she was sick and that she hadn't run in over a year. She arrived at Dr. White's door gasping for breath. She didn't even bother to knock, she just barged in. He was sitting at his desk, studying some papers. He glanced up.

  "Is it me?" she asked. "Is it Sandra? Who is it?"

  "Ilonka." He stood up and gestured to one of the two chairs in front of his desk. "Have a seat. Relax."

  She strode into the room, her fists clenched. "I don't want to relax. I want to live. Tell me, is Sandra the one who was misdiagnosed or was it me?"

  He looked her straight in the eye. "It was Sandra. There are a couple types of Hodgkin's disease. Her doctor made an error. Her type is not fatal. She will be leaving the hospice today."

  Ilonka just nodded, still breathing hard. "All right. That's good. That's fine. I'm happy for her. Did you get the results back on my tests?"

  Dr. White gestured again. "Please sit down, Ilonka."

  "I don't want to sit down! Just tell me the truth and be done with
it!"

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Dr. White picked up the paper on his desk. "I received the results by fax a few minutes ago. I was about to call you in. They are not encouraging. Your tumors have spread. Your spleen and liver are now seriously affected by the disease. There are also spots on your lungs." He put down the paper. "Fm sorry."

  She just kept nodding. "All right, what does that mean? Does it mean I'm going to die? I guess that's what you're saying. All right, how long do I have to live?"

  "Ilonka."

  "How long, dammit?"

  Dr. White sighed. "A couple of weeks, maybe."

  She couldn't stop panting. "Maybe. Maybe two weeks. Maybe two days. How about maybe two years? I could do a lot in two years, you know. I could get a life. I could go to school and learn to sing properly. I could get a job and help disadvantaged people. I could get a boyfriend. I've never had a boyfriend, you know. I'm still a virgin. Imagine that in this day and age, huh? I'm going to die a virgin." Her voice cracked. "I'm going to die."

  "Ilonka." Dr. White hurried from around his desk to comfort her. But she would have none of it. She shoved him away.

  "I'm not Ilonka! I'm just a corpse waiting to Ue still! Leave me alone!"

  She ran from his office. She ran without knowing where she was going. Past the nurses' station. Past the oil paintings. She ran down what seemed an

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB endless black tunnel. It should have been no surprise that she ended up in the darkest of all places.

  The basement of Rotterham Hospice.

  Where they kept the bodies before they disposed of them.

  She came to her senses standing beside Anya.

  They had put her dear friend in a green plastic bag.

  There was a nametag on the outside.

  Tagged and ready to deliver into oblivion.

  Suddenly there was nothing more important to Ilonka in the whole universe than how Anya's personal items had vanished. She embraced the bag, hugging it to her chest.

  "Are you still there?" she asked, weeping. "Is anything there?"

  Why, God? Why do you give us life just so that you can take it from us?

 
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