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The midnight club, p.7
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       The Midnight Club, p.7

           Christopher Pike
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  "I guess we're not having a blood ceremony," she said.

  "I guess not," Kevin said. "What did you think of Spence's suggestion?"

  "I thought perhaps he might have been up to some scheme to make us all look foolish," Ilonka said. "Until he said that someone might fake the sign. That's what I thought he might do. But I think it's an interesting idea."

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "Yeah."

  "I really did love your story," she said.

  Kevin had a faraway look in his eyes. "Thank you."

  "How was your visit with Kathy?" she asked.

  "Fine."

  "She seems like a nice girl. How long have you been going together?"

  "On and off for the last two years."

  "Why sometimes off?" she asked.

  He glanced at her. "I've been in the hospital a lot."

  "Of course, silly me."

  He shook his head. "I just wish I had told her at the beginning that I was sick. I knew, you know, I just thought I'd get better. The doctors did, too."

  "Maybe you will," Ilonka said.

  He smiled, but his face remained sad. "I'm not counting on it."

  "Why were you looking for me today?"

  "I heard you're going to get a scan tomorrow."

  "Who told you that?"

  "Dr. White. Don't be upset with him, he just confirmed what I had heard. You must have told someone."

  "I did tell Anya. She must have told Spence."

  "I'm sure that's the way it went," Kevin said. "Anyway, I was just wondering why you're going for the scan. But if you don't want to talk about it, I don't mind. It's none of my business."

  "Did Dr. White ask you to talk to me?" Ilonka asked.

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  "No."

  She shrugged. "I've been feeling better is all, and I think the tumors are shrinking. You know, I've been taking a lot of herbs and eating a really pure diet, just fruits and vegetables."

  "I didn't know that," Kevin said.

  "Look, if you're worried I'm getting my hopes up for no reason, just tell me."

  "Only you know how you feel."

  "That's what I told Dr. White."

  "So there's no problem. Get the scan, and if you're cured be sure to write."

  She wanted to tell him that she couldn't imagine leaving the hospice without him. But what was the point? He still looked like he was going to pass out. She stood up and grabbed him by the arm, something she had never done before.

  "If you don't go to bed now you'll still be here tomorrow night for our next meeting," she said as she helped him to his feet. Once more his thinness hit her, his lightness; it was as if she were helping up a sack filled with feathers. He leaned on her for support.

  "So you really never met anyone that reminded you of Shradha?" he asked.

  She almost told him right then that she had been talking about him. But she couldn't, and really it was stupid given their circumstances. Was she so proud? She had never thought of herself that way before.

  "No," she said. "I told you no."

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  "When you were talking about Egypt I felt as if I was there."

  "Yeah? Interesting."

  She led him to his room. He hugged her before he opened the door, and it was nice to be held. The nicest thing in the whole world. Then he abruptly said good night and was gone. She walked back to her room with a special bounce in her step.

  As she fell asleep, she thought she saw the Master*s face and knew she would dream of him.

  The morning was cold and damp as Ilonka Pawluk and Dr. White drove toward Menlow General where Ilonka was to have her test. Dr. White's car was plush but Ilonka found it uncomfortable to be traveling. Her sleep had been fitful, and she had ended up taking two Tylenol 3 tablets at four in the morning. She had taken another two after her breakfast of an orange and an apple, just before Dr. White had come for her. Her abdomen was one huge hot cramp. She didn't know why she was having so much pain all of a sudden. Dr. White noticed her discomfort.

  "We'll be there in twenty minutes," he said.

  She nodded. "I'm fine."

  "Did your club meet last night?"

  "Yes. The stories were particularly good. Spence only mutilated a few bodies and Anya's devil wasn't half as bad as we all expected him to be. Kevin told a wonderful tale about an angel who falls in love with a girl and then becomes human so

  82

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB that he can be with her. He didn't finish it, though. He's supposed to tell us more tonight."

  "What did Sandra talk about?" Dr. White asked.

  "Sandra hasn't told a single story yet."

  "What was yours about?"

  "Some people in ancient Egypt." She felt a sharp stab of pain in her guts and sucked in a breath. "It's hard to describe in a few words," she whispered.

  "Ilonka?"

  "I'm all right." She forced a smile. "Tell me about your daughter. Jessie?"

  "Yes. That was her name."

  Ilonka froze. "She's not— No."

  Dr. White was thoughtful. "It may have been a mistake to bring her up the other day. But I've wanted to tell you about her. It was Jessie who inspired my work with young people like you, and you, more than anyone, remind me of her. When she was growing up I used to think she was just stubborn. But at the end I saw how valiant her spirit was." He shook his head sadly. "She died of cancer two weeks after her eighteenth birthday."

  "It's my eighteenth next month," Ilonka said stiffly.

  "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have—"

  "I'm glad you told me about her," Ilonka interrupted. She touched the doctor's arm. "Really, it's all right. Tell me more about her. Tell me what her favorite music was, whether she had a boyfriend or not. Tell me whatever you want."

  Dr. White did as she requested, slowly at first, in

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE halting sentences, then more openly. Before they'd reached the hospital Ilonka learned that Jessie White had loved many of the same things Ilonka loved—a good book; the Beatles; science-fiction movies; trees; boys, of course boys. Jessie had had a boyfriend when she died, Dr. White said, someone to comfort her. Ilonka found it both a joy and a burden to hear about the dead girl. Her pain, even with the pills she had taken, continued to mount. She never imagined a car ride could be so hard on her. She had to wonder at her own stubbornness.

  Ilonka found the hospital overwhelming after the quiet of the hospice. Naturally, when they tried to check in for the magnetic resonance scan they learned there was no record of an Ilonka Pawluk in their books. While Dr. White hurried off to pull some strings, Ilonka was left sitting in a hard green plastic chair not far from a door that kept opening and closing to the outside, the gusts of cold air cutting her like scalpels. One gust was so strong it knocked her wig slightly askew, and she was horrified until she hastily fixed it. She sat with one hand on her head and the other hugging her bottle of Tylenol and codeine, telling herself she wasn't going to take any more pills and at the same time wondering how she was going to be able to lie still for the hour the scan lasted. In the end, just before they finally called her in, she swallowed another two pills. For the first time in a long time she wished she had morphine.

  In the test she had to lie in a long coffinlike

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  machine. The magnetic resonance technique did not use X rays to see inside the body but computer-controlled sound waves. These waves built up a "picture" of the various densities of her internal organs. A tumor generally showed up as a shadow in this picture because of its high density. While lying in the chamber, listening to the eerie hum of the electronic eyes as they slowly revolved around her, she remembered the first time the test had been done and the dismal results. They had operated on her the very next day, and when she had awakened they told her she no longer had a uterus or ovaries. Just like that she learned she was never going to have children. She had wept at the news and had hardly heard them say they weren't sure they had gott
en all the cancer.

  Ilonka suddenly felt a terrible longing to see her mother, whom she told everyone had died of cancer but who had really drunk herself to death.

  The longing remained with her throughout the test.

  Dr. White was in a quiet mood on the way back. The people at the hospital had told the two of them they would have the results by the next day. Without the stimulus of conversation Ilonka found her head frequently falling, and she was angry at herself for having taken so many painkillers. The drugs would just depress her immune system, she thought, and she needed it at peak efficiency to kill the tumors.

  Dr. White had another appointment and

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE dropped her at the front door of the hospice. She thanked him for taking her for the test and hurried inside.

  Sitting in the waiting room was Kathy Anderson, Kevin's girlfriend. She stood up as Ilonka went into the room. She had more expensive clothes on, and she flashed a big toothy smile that Ilonka found distasteful. The girl appeared far from comfortable.

  "I'm waiting for Kevin," Kathy said. "I've been waiting awhile,"

  "I'll get him for you," Ilonka said automatically, turning for the door that led into the hospice. But then she stopped—something stopped her. She glanced back at Kathy. "Kevin is very sick. It might be a good idea if you didn't take him outside today."

  Kathy shrugged uneasily. "We don't have to go outside."

  Ilonka took a step toward her. "Kathy— May I call you 'Kathy'?"

  "I don't know what else you'd call me."

  Ilonka smiled, but there was no warmth in it. She thought, just before she started speaking, that she was doing Kevin a favor. Yet even with the rationalization came the thought of Judas, the way his mind must have worked. Yes, Jesus, don't mind these soldiers come here to arrest you. They'll take you straight to Pontius Pilot and you can work a few miracles and the guy will love you, I'm sure of it. Then we'll be on our way to Rome.

  Yet she went ahead and opened her mouth.

  THE MroNIGHT CLUB

  Because Kevin belonged to her. Any fool could see that.

  "Kathy, do you realize how sick Kevin is?" Donka asked.

  The blond girl blinked. "I know what he has. Fm not stupid."

  "I'm not saying you're stupid. I'm saying you're carrying around a big case of denial. Kevin has leukemia. With the drugs that are available today, a lot of leukemia is curable. But for some reason the drugs didn't work on Kevin. That's why he's here. This is not a hospital, where patients hope to get better. This is a hospice, where patients are made comfortable until they die."

  A shadow crossed Kathy's face. "What are you trying to say?"

  "I have already said it. Kevin is not going to get better. He is not going to leave here some day with you. He is going to die."

  Kathy shook her head hard. "No."

  "Yes." Ilonka took another step toward her, till they were practically touching. "He is probably going to die soon. And it's hard for him, as he approaches the end, to play this role with you. To play that he's going to get better. In fact, each time you come to see him it hurts him."

  Kathy lowered her head and began to cry. "I don't want to hurt him. I love him."

  Ilonka put her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Then let him go. Let him die in peace without having to pretend for you. Leave him to us."

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Kathy suddenly jerked her head up. Her entire demeanor had changed. She shook off Ilonka's hand as if it were a spider crawling on her shoulder. "And what will you do for him?" she asked bitterly.

  Ilonka met her glare. "I will stay with him when he dies so that he doesn't die alone. Do you really think that you could be with him at that time?"

  Kathy continued to regard her with loathing. Suddenly she turned and ran out of the hospice, slamming the door behind her. Ilonka stared at the same door for a long time afterward, asking herself what she had done, and why.

  Finally she heard someone at her back. She knew who it was without turning.

  "Ilonka, have you seen Kathy?" Kevin asked. "I heard she was waiting to see me."

  Ilonka sniffed. The cold had gotten her nose running, or else it was something else. Yet she looked Kevin right in the eye and shook her head.

  "I haven't seen her," she said.

  Ilonka went to her room. There she found Anya asleep in a pile of pillows and blankets. The Bible lay open on the floor near her. Anya had a box of personal items sitting on top of her nightstand. Ilonka fell onto her own bed, facedown, and cried into her pillow. She couldn't remember when she had ever done anything so low. She couldn't remember when she had ever wanted someone so much in her life. The two, she knew, bore a definite connection.

  After some time she heard Anya call her name. She sat up and glanced at her roommate, who was

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB reaching for a bottle of pills and a glass of water. Of course, once more it was the nurses who were supposed to be handing out the medication, but Anya never played by the rules, especially not this late in the game.

  "What's wrong?" Anya asked. "Or is that a stupid question?"

  Ilonka sat up. Incredibly, considering how many pills she had taken, her abdomen was killing her. "What are those?" she asked.

  "Morphine. One gram each. Want one?"

  "I have never taken morphine."

  "Once you take it, nothing else satisfies."

  "That's what I've heard. That's why I haven't taken it." Ilonka paused and wiped away the sweat that was creeping into her eyes. She was having trouble breathing, she hurt so much. She stuck out her hand. "Give me one," she said.

  Anya tossed her a pill. Ilonka had a glass of water by her bed. The pill went down smooth. "How long before it takes effect?" she asked.

  "Pretty fast," Anya said. "You'll begin to feel some relief in fifteen minutes."

  Ilonka sighed. "I never wanted to be a junkie."

  "There are worse ways to die."

  "Are there?"

  Anya raised an eyebrow, shifting uncomfortably in her bed. "What happened? Did Kevin tell you he couldn't make a long-term commitment?"

  "Not quite. I told his girlfriend that she was making a mistake thinking about the long term with him."

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  Anya was interested. "Tell me the whole story."

  Ilonka did, which didn't take long. When she thought about it, she had hit Kathy hard and fast. Anya nodded her approval.

  "You did the girl a favor," she said. "Better to face reality."

  Ilonka was doubtful. "I didn't say what I did as a favor to her. I did it to keep her away from Kevin." She began to cry again. "It's like I'm so pathetic I can't get him on my own. I've got to wreck his relationship with his girlfriend first."

  "You do have a point there."

  "Thanks a lot. You don't have to agree with me."

  Anya started to speak but then thought better of it. She rubbed at the place her leg would have been, as she often did when she wasn't feeling well. Then she reached over into her box of things and withdrew a small orange clay sculpture of a guy and girl holding hands. The sculpture was broken; it was a curious coincidence that the girl's right leg was the only thing missing. Anya held it up and studied it as if it contained great secrets.

  "I made this," she said finally.

  "I didn't know you sculpted." The statue had remarkable detail, given its size, and looked to be the work of a skilled artist. Anya continued to stare at her broken work.

  "I made it for a friend of mine," she said.

  Ilonka caught something in her voice. "For your boyfriend?"

  Anya swallowed heavily, and Ilonka thought she

  THE MIDNIGHT CLUB

  caught a trace of dampness in her eyes. And Anya, so people said, had not even wept when they cut off her leg.

  "Yes," Anya said. "His name was Bill. I never told you about him, did I?"

  "No."

  "Well, there's nothing to tell."

  Ilonka moved to her bed, sat down.
"Anya. Tell me. You are my friend, you know. I feel that way."

  Anya chuckled and shook her head. "You have lousy taste in friends." She tapped the bed lightly with the sculpture. "Hell, it's not even that long a story. I couldn't tell it at our meetings, that's for sure." She paused. "Do you really want to hear about Bill?"

  "I do."

  Anya took a breath. "Like I said, he was my boyfriend. I met him when I was sixteen, two years ago. I met him at the mall in the bookstore. I've always been a sucker for a guy who reads—there are so few of them. When I first saw him, I thought he looked funny. His hair was a weird orange color, and he wore an earing that looked as if it had been swiped from an African native. He was in the real-life murder section. He had about three of those kinds of books in his hands, so I knew right away I was dealing with a disturbed mind. I was sitting on the floor reading a book of poetry and I remember the way he looked over at me. He just smiled like he knew me, like here he was and there I was. He walked right over and asked me out. Of

  CHRISTOPHER PIKE

  course I told him where to stick it, but he didn't mind and we kept talking and eventually I gave him my number.

  "That was the beginning. Soon we were dating regularly, something I had never done before. Oh, yeah, I had gone out with lots of guys but never one I felt something real for. But there was just something about Bill—I can't explain it. It was like that ritual you started at the beginning of our club meetings, like he belonged to me and I belonged to him. He wasn't the weird person I thought at the beginning. He was a lot more stable than me. He was just fascinated by detective work and stuff like that. In fact, even though he looked like a criminal, he wanted to be a cop some day. He had plans. Bill did, and when he talked about them I was always a part of them."

  Anya fell silent for a moment before continuing. "I don't know why the hell I did it. I was happy with Bill. I didn't want to go out with anybody else. But I began to feel, as the months went by, that I was too happy with him. I know that sounds stupid—it is stupid. But it was like he was too nice to me, you know, like I didn't deserve him. Even when I was in his arms, loving him with every cell in my body, I felt like a part of me was betraying him. And this was before I even did anything. It was like deep in my soul I knew it couldn't last because of who I was. Does that make sense?"

 
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