Sleeplessby Thomas Fahy
Emma Montgomery has been having trouble sleeping. Whenever she closes her eyes, all she can see are the horrible nightmares . . . nightmares of gruesome murder. And she’s not alone. All of the students in Dr. Beecher’s secret society have been having terrible dreams and sleepwalking. Now, as their classmates start turning up dead, Emma and her friends race… See more details below
Emma Montgomery has been having trouble sleeping. Whenever she closes her eyes, all she can see are the horrible nightmares . . . nightmares of gruesome murder. And she’s not alone. All of the students in Dr. Beecher’s secret society have been having terrible dreams and sleepwalking. Now, as their classmates start turning up dead, Emma and her friends race against the clock to keep themselves awake and find out what is causing them to kill in their sleep—before the next victim dies.
The high school students in Dr. Beecher's "secret society" (a group that traveled to New Orleans to build homes after Hurricane Katrina) have been sleepwalking and experiencing violent nightmares. When their fellow students begin turning up dead and one member of the group is witnessed murdering another student in her sleep, the teens trace the possible origins of the disturbances to the unusual events that took place in New Orleans, which they all swore to keep secret. The present-tense narrative alternates between Jake, a pot-smoking mechanic, and his love interest, Emma, as the group bands together (taking turns sleeping) in an effort to avoid another murder. A few chilling images pepper the story—one sleepwalker repeatedly fills the kitchen sink with water and screams into it; another sets himself on fire—but most of the scares are on the tame side, with the murders largely described through dream interludes. Fahy's (The Unspoken) intriguing premise doesn't fully materialize, resulting in a story that feels skeletal. Ages 12—up. (Aug.)
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Emma doesn't really notice the cold night air or the damp grass beneath her feet. Only the howling sound in her ears. That same sound dragged her out of bed a while ago. It made her walk downstairs and go outside to the shed where her dad keeps the old splintery shovel. That sound is the reason she has to keep digging to find out what it wants.
Her arms move up and down fast. The scoop of the shovel bites into the brittle earth, and the muscles in her lower back burn. Dirt is piling up next to her. Some of it has even started to spill back into the ground.
The voice is barely audible above the howling. She doesn't answer. She's too afraid to speak. Then something grabs her. It claws into each arm before spinning her around.
"What are you doing?" the figure in front of her asks.
"I have to find him," she says flatly.
The kitchen door slams suddenly, and the noise wakes Emma from her trance. She stands there, looking first at the surprise on her father's face and then over at her little sister, Gwen, who is standing in the doorway. The yellow-white light from inside makes her sister's nightgown glow.
"Go back to bed," Dad calls out to Gwen. He puts his arm around Emma's shoulders.
He leads her inside the house and up the stairs, carefully just the way he used to help Mom when she was sick for all those months, Emma remembers.
"She's sleepwalking...like the others," her dad whispers to his friend Dr. Feldman the next morning. They're sitting in the living room as Emma stands on the staircase out of sight but close enough to hear. Besides, her father is the worst whisperer in the world. He tries so hard to sound quiet that his voice just gets louder. The doctor wonders if their next-door neighbor, Ms. Martinique Dupré, is to blame. Everyone in town knows that she practices "the voodoo," though no one has actually seen her do it. Like Emma and Gwen and Dad, Ms. Dupré moved to Sea Cliff from the South. She lived in New Orleans until Katrina.
Emma thinks Ms. Dupré is okay; she doesn't care one iota as her dad likes to say if the woman practices voodoo or plays the accordion, which Emma considers the worstsounding instrument ever invented. Still, Ms. Dupré's place does smell like incense when you walk by, and that can make folks wonder. It sure doesn't stop people from visiting her to have their fortunes told, though.
"Do you think your daughter is depressed?" Dr. Feldman asks, and Mr. Montgomery answers without his whispering voice.
"She lost her mother fourteen months ago, Jack. But that doesn't mean she's fixing to hurt herself...or somebody else."
Dr. Feldman doesn't say anything for a while. When he finally speaks, his voice is too soft to hear, as if he knows someone might be listening. His words run together faster now, and Emma can't concentrate anymore. She hurries downstairs and into the kitchen. The room feels hot. Her forehead is damp with sweat, and she wonders if the oven is on. No. They hardly cook anymore. Not without Mom around.
Emma bumps into the table, tipping over the chair. She feels dizzy and off balance. This can't be happening to me, she tells herself. She doesn't want to end up like Selene, like those other students at Saint Opportuna High. All of a sudden Emma wishes her mom were here right now. She would know what to do.
Emma hurries outside.
A cool, playful wind whips past the oak tree in the middle of the backyard. Orange-red leaves cling to the tree branches, and they shake nervously with every gust. Emma steps over to the place where she was digging last night and notices the upturned soil. Dad must have filled the hole sometime this morning, she figures. The brown, rectangular patch looks like a Band-Aid.
Her stomach knots. Something about the filled-in hole makes her uneasy. Emma gets down on her knees and grabs a handful of dirt. It feels moist and thick and heavy. Then she puts her ear against the ground. She doesn't want to, but she can't stop herself. She has to know something.
Emma presses the side of her face harder against the ground. There seems to be a murmur somewhere beneath her. She closes her eyes to concentrate, but the wind just gets louder in her ears.
Emma pushes herself away from the spot and gets to her feet. She takes a few steps back toward the house and turns
A set of piercing black eyes hovers right in front of her. Staring. A ghost, Emma thinks, as her body stiffens. She struggles to breathe.
No, she realizes. It's not a ghost at all. It's Ms. Dupré, standing on the back porch of her house and looking over the short row of hedges that separates their yards. Some kind of gray paste covers the old woman's face, and her body is cloaked in a gown of deep purple. She isn't watching Emma, though. She seems to be looking through her, looking at something much farther away.
The wind kicks up again, and Emma turns back to the spot where she was digging. Something terrible is about to happen, she realizes. In truth she knew it as soon as the howling sounds began. She knew it as soon as Dad found her in the backyard last night. Just like she knows it now.
Someone else will die soon, she tells herself. Someone else will die, and I'll be responsible. A few days after the first time you walk in your sleep, you kill someone.
That's how the end begins.
Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Fahy
SIX DAYS EARLIER...
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
Jake Hardale likes old cars. Everything about them. The grease that gets under his fingernails after replacing an alternator or changing the oil. The smell of a warm V-8 engine. The hum of tires against the asphalt. That's why he likes his part-time job at Island Auto Repair so much. He can turn on his iPod and block everything out except the car he's working on.
He likes his job more than school, that's for sure. But Saint Opportuna High isn't the worst place in the world. Some of the girls are hot. Especially Emma Montgomery. Sure, she's a total nerd, always studying and carrying around a book, but still, she's hot. Besides, she's nothing like those pretentious theater chicks and the cheerleaders with their plastic smiles and stadiumsized attitudes. No, Jake prefers Emma, with her long legs and crooked smile.
The art history teacher, Dr. Silas Beecher, is one of the other okay things about Saint Opportuna. For starters, the paintings in his class look totally wild when you're baked. Also, Dr. Beecher invited Jake to be part of a "secret" society after their trip to New Orleans when he took Jake and Emma and several other students to the Lower Ninth Ward to help build houses there this summer. Well, the meetings aren't actually secret, Jake admits, but they all promised to keep quiet about what happened in New Orleans. That makes them feel secretive. Sure, he has never been one for clubs and cliques and that sort of thing, but it felt good to be asked. Besides, the trip was for their senior project, and they have to put together a slide show and write an essay for college credit. Dr. Beecher has offered to help them.
That art class and this secret society are the only things Jake has ever given a damn about in high school. Well, those things and Emma. And the English class where he's reading Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. He likes the way those characters talk.
Sometimes, being around the other people who went to New Orleans makes him feel rotten inside about what happened, but Jake needs them too. They were there. They all made the same promise.
When he starts thinking too much about that trip, Jake can always turn to his job at Island Auto. That makes him feel good. He has brought in more business than any other employee. Even his boss, Hiram Nichols, who mostly communicates in wheezes and grunts, says every once in a while, "You're a damn popular mechanic."
You bet your incredibly large ass I am, Jake imagines saying but never does. For all the money he brings in, he ought to be promoted to manager or something. But as long as Hiram doesn't ask too many questions, Jake is fine with the way things are.
Maybe Hiram doesn't care why most of the students at Saint Opportuna bring their cars to his shop for everything from oil changes and state inspections to fender benders. Maybe he hasn't noticed that the alley behind the garage always smells like a bong. Or maybe he just doesn't know that Island Auto is the best place to buy weed in Sea Cliff and that Jake Hardale is the most popular dealer in town. Almost everyone comes to Jake: cheerleaders, basketball players, dorks in the chess club, and even Mr. Yankovich, the gym teacher who is missing half of his right index finger.
Jake glances down the main road. He has often wondered if Sea Cliff is the smallest town in the world or if it just feels that way. It's gotta be one of the smallest on Long Island, he thinks. It's only one square mile, and the "downtown" is four blocks long. Most people can walk it in about as much time as it takes to sneeze. On one side of the auto shop is a dingy Irish pub, and on the other is Mystic Dreams a store that must have opened in the 1960s and never realized that the 1960s ended. Inside, you can buy crystals, beads, Zen alarm clocks, incense, self-help books, futons, statues of Buddha, pipes, and, of course, Birkenstocks. You can also make an appointment to have your fortune told by Ms. Martinique Dupré.
Sure, for a while he figured Ms. Dupré was just a quack, a scam artist with a southern accent. But after spending a month in New Orleans he thinks there might be something to magic and spells after all. That's why he's on his way to her now. For almost a week he has been planning to get his fortune told ever since he stopped wanting to dream. These days nothing helps him clear his head. Smoking out. Surfing the Net. Listening to music. He just can't stop seeing things when his eyes close. Terrible things wake-up-with-the-sweats terrible. Himself gasping for air. Swallowing mouthfuls of black liquid. That half-buried hand with its stiff, curled fingers.
Terrible things that all started in New Orleans...
Jake doesn't remember dreaming, just the feeling of something dripping steadily on his face. Something thick and sticky. That's why he opened his eyes. At first all he could see was the bright New Orleans moon pouring through the windows of the half-built house.
Selene Johnson stood above him, wearing a white nightgown that fell to her ankles. She was twelve or thirteen years old. The knife in her left hand pointed toward his forehead, and the blade was dark with blood. As his eyes started to adjust, he could see blood smeared on her nightgown, too. It seemed to be all over her body. That was what was dripping on his head, he realized. Blood from the knife.
Jake backed away with a start and grabbed Caitlin Harris's arm. She had been asleep next to him, Jake in his Jockey shorts and Caitlin in nothing more than a loose T-shirt. They stared at Selene and the knife.
"What the hell?" Jake blurted out, his voice cracking slightly.
Selene didn't say a word. She blinked a few times and turned around, walking with heavy steps toward the front door.
"Selene?" Caitlin asked, but the girl kept going. Caitlin turned to Jake. "Come on!"
She had pulled on a pair of jeans before Jake even stood up. "We have to find out what happened."
Jake's body ached all over as he got dressed and followed Caitlin out the door. He thought he was used to his sleeping bag, and to the hard surface of the newly laid floors. But his stiff neck and shoulders said otherwise. Because of Caitlin, he didn't really care. She had never paid much attention to him at school, but during their first night in New Orleans they'd smoked one of his joints and made out in the church basement. He couldn't believe that someone so beautiful with her blond hair and blue eyes and muscular-thin body would be attracted to him. But everyone gets lucky once in a while, he figured.
Habitat for Humanity was building several houses in the Lower Ninth Ward, and fifteen students and three teachers from Saint Opportuna had signed up to help for the month of August. For most people the phrase "signed up" implies something voluntary. For Jake, Principal Mackey had a different idea: "Do this, and you can stay another semester on academic probation. But this is your last chance, Mr. Hardale. Got it?"
So that's how Jake had volunteered. He had never been to a place as thickly hot as New Orleans. Nighttime didn't make things cooler; it just made you wish things were cooler. A mean trick, Jake thought. During the day they worked nonstop putting up walls, laying floors, installing plumbing. After sunset the students were supposed to sleep on cots in the basement of Reverend Michaels's church. The girls in one room. The boys in the other. But Jake and Caitlin had been sneaking out every night and staying in the house they were building.
Neither of them spoke as they followed Selene outside and up the narrow street. Blood still dripped from the knife every so often, leaving a trail on the dirt and broken stone. They passed the skeletal frames of several unfinished houses and entered the older part of the neighborhood. Fallen trees. Abandoned cars. Homes half collapsed. Rotted-out furniture. Telephone poles too exhausted to stand up straight. Debris was still everywhere, as if the hurricane had just come and gone.
Selene paused in front of Reverend Michaels's church. It was one of the few buildings standing. The red wooden slats looked blue in the moonlight, and the iron cross at the high point of the roof tilted forward. Selene stepped into the front courtyard and followed one of the paths around the side.
The back of the church was a graveyard one of the countless graveyards where bodies had risen out of their tombs and been washed away in the waters of Katrina and the flood that followed. Now the headstones were mostly restored. Some of the bodies had been reburied. Others had never been found.
Selene stood perfectly still by a stone statue of an angel with a sword. They both stared down at a new plot.
Caitlin and Jake approached slowly. The hole wasn't as deep as Jake expected. A few feet, nothing more, and the dirt at the bottom appeared lumpy and uneven. Jake heard Caitlin fumbling for the key chain in her pocket, and then she pulled out the small light attached to it.
She flashed the beam into the pit, and it reflected off something silver a watch. Reverend Michaels's silver watch.
Jake recognized it right away. The thing was way too big for the reverend's thin wrist, and it was always sliding up and down his arm when he talked which he liked to do a lot. Caitlin's light caught its surface again, and that's when Jake noticed the dark, curled fingers. Hard, frozen. Jake grabbed Caitlin's wrist and moved the light toward the head of the grave. It stopped on Reverend Michaels's half-buried face. Blood still seeped out of a gash that ran from his left eye to his chin.
Caitlin gasped and dropped the light....
Now, back in Sea Cliff, Jake realizes that something strange is happening to him. Something that he suspects has to do with that night, so he figures his appointment to get his fortune told can't hurt.
The wind tosses leaves down Main Street carelessly, and each gust sounds like a wave crashing against the shore. He considers taking a hit from the reefer in his pocket, but he doesn't want to be late. There'll be plenty of time for that after work, he reminds himself.
Jake doesn't know what to expect when he arrives. The front of the store is empty. As usual. Sometimes Mr. Offutt, the proprietor, sits behind the register, but today he's not there. A sign on the counter near the entry reads
READINGS BY MADEMOISELLE DUPRé
Jake steps into a narrow hallway. A small mirror hangs on the wall, and he pauses in front of his reflection. His face seems pitted, as if parts of it are missing. He touches the glass and realizes that the silvering has gone bad. Bits of gray and black appear in the reflection.
After Jake passes through a curtain of red, blue, and purple beads, he sees Ms. Dupré sitting behind a desk. Her colorful gowns make her stand out in Sea Cliff, that's for sure, and today she wears a flowing crimson shawl. The purplish-blue walls match the color of the building's exterior, and stacks of books crowd the room. Some of them lie horizontally on shelves, but most are just piled on the floor old, yellowing, well worn. A strong aroma of incense fills the air. On one side of the desk two candles burn. A tarot deck sits in the center. It looks older than the books, Jake thinks. Much older.
"Mr. Hardale." Ms. Dupré's voice is slow and easy, as if her words aren't in a hurry to get anywhere. "Please. Sit."
As soon as Jake drops into the chair across from her, she reaches for his hands. Her wrinkled fingers trace the lines on his palms, and his eyes feel heavy watching her movements.
"Mix the deck with your left. Like this." She lets go of him and makes a counterclockwise motion above the cards with her hand.
Jake starts to spread the deck in circles. He notices a design on the back of each card: a small red eye. He continues to swirl the cards around on the table, watching them fan out and twist together in new combinations. Dozens of eyes are staring up at him now.
Jake wishes he had gotten high after all.
"Stack them with both hands," Ms. Dupré says with an encouraging nod. "Good. Now, cut the deck with your left."
When he finishes, Jake looks up and sees the candlelight flickering in her amber eyes. The cards move quickly, naturally in her hands. She lays six of them on the table, facedown. They form a cross.
She turns over the first: the Ten of Swords. The card shows a man's body on the ground swords impaling his back and blood pooling alongside him.
Without speaking, she moves onto the next one: the Hanged Man. Here an elderly man is being crucified upside down. His limbs are wiry, too weak to pull free. His face twists in pain.
The Devil appears on the next card. Fire rages behind his greenish skin and fanglike teeth. He points down at the rocky ground beneath him, as if asking the viewer to kneel.
The Eight of Swords follows. On this card a woman has been blindfolded and bound to a stake. Eight sharp, bloodstained swords have been thrust into the ground, forming a circle around her.
Ms. Dupré pauses before turning over the fifth card: the Wheel of Fortune. A man with a long white beard has fallen on his hands and knees. He struggles to hold up a heavy bronze wheel on his back. In its center rests a blindfolded angel with golden wings.
"You must go," Ms. Dupré announces. The easiness in her voice has dried up. She leans back in her chair as if she's trying to get away from him. But whether she's afraid for herself or for him, Jake can't tell.
"What the hell? You haven't told me what any of this means," Jake protests.
Ms. Dupré's face tightens, and he can see creases in the skin around her eyes and lips. "A new beginning is underway for you."
"Cool," he says with relief. "Like a promotion?"
"There is something inside of you, Mr. Hardale. Something dangerous and sharp, like the edge of a knife." She stops speaking, and the flames no longer appear in her eyes.
Jake stands up, unable to speak at first.
"As far as fortunes go," he begins, his voice unsteady, "this one totally sucks!"
Ms. Dupré doesn't say anything, so Jake continues: "What about this card? You didn't even turn it over."
"Don't " Ms. Dupré reaches for it, but Jake is too fast. He lifts it close to his face. The red eyes of Death eyes like those on the back of every card look directly at him. He is riding a horse along a dusty road, and a black cloak covers most of his bony frame.
"Is this supposed to scare me?" Jake asks angrily, tossing the card on the table. "Huh?"
Ms. Dupré remains silent and still.
"You're such a" he struggles for the word "cliché!"
He knows he could have come up with something better if he'd had more time, but he can't think straight. Not right now. He needs to get out of there.
He pushes his way back through the beads past the stained mirror and the feng shui books and the cheap meditation fountains. He pushes his way through the empty store and goes outside where the wind is less urgent now and the sun seems bright after the bluish shadows of Mystic Dreams.
Why would anyone spend money to hear that kind of crap? Jake wonders. Come to think of it, he forgot to pay. Good. If he wanted to feel like hell, he could do that without spending a dime. Getting up before noon on a Saturday. Doing homework. Acknowledging his parents' disappointment in him.
There are plenty of ways to be miserable in this world, that's for sure.
"Hi, Jake," someone calls out.
Jake looks up and sees Emma Montgomery standing in front of Island Auto.
"Hey," he says, still distracted but happy to see her. He watches her in Dr. Beecher's class all the time. Jake knows the angle of her head when she takes notes and the fluttering sound of her voice when she laughs. He knows what her fingers look like when they play imaginary piano keys on her desk. He even knows that she likes to slip off her right shoe as soon as she sits down. Sometimes they talk after class. Twice they've sat together on Dr. Beecher's couch at the meetings for the secret society. But Emma doesn't smoke out, so she never comes to the shop. This is her first time here, Jake thinks with a smile. He likes having her around. He likes the way her black skirt and stockings make her legs look.
"So?" Emma asks.
"You told me to come by after school. You said you had something for me."
"Oh, yeah." Jake nods. While Ms. Dupré was giving him the worst fortune ever, he forgot about the gift he bought Emma. He was in Greenwich Village last weekend and stopped in a used bookstore near Union Square. Jake didn't know what he wanted until he saw a shelf filled with books by Hemingway. They looked and smelled old, but in a good way. Crisp yellow pages. The faint odor of cigarettes. He found a hardbound copy of The Sun Also Rises from the 1950s.
"I left it in the office. Hold on a sec," Jake says.
He hurries inside to the mostly empty file cabinet, which is next to the sink and the mini-fridge. In the bottom drawer Jake finds the brown bag with the note he wrote on it:
Jake takes the book out of the bag carefully and looks at it again. The reddish cover has slight water damage in the lower right corner, but otherwise it's in good condition. He opens to the title page. Maybe he should write an inscription, Jake thinks. Even something simple like "From Jake." But for some reason he thinks she'll like the book better if it isn't marked.
Jake looks up and catches his reflection in the small mirror above the sink. His face isn't distorted here, but the paleness of his skin bothers him today. It reminds him of his father's face.
Jake hurries outside.
Emma is leaning against a sky-blue Dodge Dart that needs new brake pads.
"Here," Jake says, holding out the book. "It's for you."
She takes the book and feels the cover with her fingertips before opening it. Her green-brown eyes widen in surprise.
"What?" Jake asks.
"You're the last guy I'd expect to get a book from, that's all."
"I don't know," she says, hooking some of her long brown hair behind her right ear. "I didn't think you cared about this stuff."
"I like Hemingway." Jake glances down at his feet. "And I knew you could understand that."
Emma smiles. Then she turns a few pages and reads: "'You are all a lost generation.'"
Jake likes watching the way the small birthmark on her right cheek gets darker when she concentrates on something. "I thought you'd like it."
Emma looks up from the page. "I do."
Right then a 1967 Pontiac Firebird convertible with leopardskin seat covers pulls into the driveway of Island Auto. It's Jeremy Carson. Outside of Dr. Beecher's class Jake sees Jeremy only here. He isn't one of Jake's frequent-flyers, but every few weeks he comes in for an ounce or two.
"Hey," Jeremy calls out to both of them, still sitting behind the wheel. "This engine is smoking more than you do."
Steam pushes its way through the front grille, and Jake realizes that Jeremy is here with legitimate car problems today.
"Pull into the garage and turn off the engine," Jake tells him before facing Emma again. He's annoyed by Jeremy's crack, but that's not it, really. He's annoyed because of that damn fortuneteller, because he can't get her words out of his head:
There is something inside of you, Mr. Hardale. Something dangerous and sharp, like the edge of a knife.
"I guess I should go," Emma says, glancing down at the book and smiling again. "Thanks."
Emma hesitates. "Is everything okay?"
"I feel pretty rotten," Jake admits, liking the sound of Hemingway's words on his tongue.
"Just tired. I haven't been sleeping well." Jake stuffs his hands in his pockets and glances down at the book in her hands. Her fingers are moving slightly against the cover. "You know Ms. Dupré, right?" Jake asks.
"A little," Emma says. "She's my neighbor."
"Do you think she's the real thing?"
"What do you mean?"
Jake shrugs. "I don't know. Forget it...I'd better see to Jeremy's car."
She stares at him for a moment, as if she's trying to decide whether or not to push him for an answer. "Okay," she says with hesitation. "Thanks for the book."
Jake watches Emma walk past Mystic Dreams toward the end of the downtown, where Memorial Park overlooks the choppy waters of Long Island Sound. He wishes that she had asked him to walk with her, to sit on one of the park benches there and look out at the water together.
Instead he goes inside the shop. He doesn't see Jeremy at first, just his car, but Jake knows where he is. In the alley. Pipe in hand. Waiting to buy a bag of weed to make himself feel better.
Right now that sounds like a damn good idea to Jake. Anything to get Ms. Dupré's words and the images on those tarot cards out of his mind. Anything to stop wondering about the dangerous, sharp things lurking within.
Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Fahy
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