Marion picked up Emily when she arrived, and Emily was not surprised. Dad likely had to work. David was deployed again. Mom hated the airport and Tyler could not drive yet, thank God.
“So how is school?” The policewoman got that much out before Emily unloaded. She told her everything about Abby and how frightening it was. She told her about Heinrich, and probably said too much, but she could not help it. She had to unload this stuff because the stress of it all was getting to her. She told her about Latasha’s encounter and the message that there were other such things out there, somewhere, lurking in the dark.
Marion never interrupted. She smiled the whole way, and when they arrived at Emily’s house, Marion only said two things. “Feel better?” Emily nodded. “I won’t be far.” She left after Emily carried her bags inside.
Emily gave her mother a cursory hug, threw Tyler out of her room and slept the rest of the day and all through the night. She dreamt about Pierce, but they were not pleasant, loving dreams. They were full of creatures, zombies, vampires, monstrous men and women. She saw Granger once acting like Abby, drawing people into her spider’s web. Mostly her friends all turned their backs on her. Lisa said she was nothing special, that she just used her to get at the campus mystery and solve the murders. Her friends got a suite, but it was only for four people. Jessica and Maria roomed together while Amina roomed with Mindy and that left Emily on the outside, in a regular dorm with Gloria Sanchez. Even Latasha laughed at her and told her what a dupe she had been. And Pierce died. And since she was nothing special, she could not keep him from dying. And then a mysterious Abby-like witch forced her hand so she stabbed Pierce and killed him. And she had no power to stop herself. Pierce kept dying in her dreams until she woke up at five in the morning in a sweat.
The shower helped, but her mother felt her forehead and took her to the doctor. Some kind of flu, he said to her. He said something else in private to her mother while the nurse took some blood. He sent her home with some antibiotics and with something to help her rest. And Emily tried. She really tried.
The nightmares came again on the second night, or Emily assumed they did. She did not remember them, exactly, but she woke up tense everywhere, like she had been fighting a great battle all night long. She had a definite fever now and even the shower did not help. Then she saw a couple of breakouts and wondered as her mother came into her room.
“That was the doctor. You need to stay in bed.”
“Why? What is it?”
“Chicken pox.” Her mother opened the curtain to let in the sun.
Emily plopped back on her bed. “Chicken pox.”
“The doctor said you should be fine in a couple of weeks, as soon as the breakouts are gone.”
“A couple of weeks? But I only have a week and have to get back to school,” Emily protested. Her mother made no response. She simply closed the door on her way out. Emily thought at least she could get caught up on her schoolwork. She looked at her Earth Science book, said, “Maynard is a moron,” and picked up her phone to call Jessica.
That night her fever got high enough to worry her mother. They were saying things about how it was harder in older people and they were talking hospital. She had breakouts everywhere by then, and she had her hands in gloves to keep herself from scratching, not that it stopped her. She slept in fits, and not the least because her nightmares intensified. She tossed and turned until her phone rang and she woke up suddenly. She caught some movement in the corner of her eye. She turned her head and caught a bit of gray smoke that looked to be seeping into her closet. But no, it was hard to tell in the dark of night and with the fever. She shook her head and answered her phone.
“Emily?” It was Amina.
“What is it?” She looked at her clock. “It’s three in the morning.”
“Two here, in Chicago.” Amina said and paused. Emily had to prompt her.
“Your fever,” Amina spouted. “That is not all. There is something else with the fever. I do not know what. It is a nightmare maker thing. A thing in the dark. I do not know what. I called Mindy and she is looking things up.”
“How would Mindy know?”
“Oh, Mindy knows about all sorts of thing. But I called Detective Lisa too, so she could ask Latasha to ask her friend, Ms Riley. I do not know what.”
Emily’s eyes got big. She remembered her own words about things lurking in the dark and sat up and turned on her light. “Thanks. Thank you. I’ll be careful.”
“My queen,” Amina said and Emily could picture the girl lower her eyes as she hung up. She thought, great! Now she would not sleep at all, and she stole another glance at her closet.
Emily closed her eyes, but only briefly and only a few times before the sun finally came up. She passed out when the sunlight touched her window. Her fever needed the rest. Mother came in the early morning, opened the curtains, turned out the light, touched Emily’s forehead, clicked her tongue a few times and left.
Emily slept most of the day. The better, she thought, to stay awake all night. The few times she woke up, however, she found her muscles just as tight and her stress just as bad as when she slept in the night. She saw no smoky images in the daylight, but she began to think it might be under her bed, waiting. She made Tyler come in and check. He came with his hand over his mouth and nose in imitation of a surgical mask, but he checked carefully. No smoke in the closet or under the bed, but her mother worried that the fever had Emily delirious.
By six that evening, just after Mama brought Emily her tray of chicken soup and juice, and Emily did her best to behave normally, the fever spiked. It reached dangerous levels and Emily indeed became delirious. That was when she found a woman sitting at the foot of her bed. Emily studied her for a minute and the woman said nothing, being content to study Emily in return.
This woman was what Emily imagined a warrior woman should look like. She had on a suit of leather—a skirt covered in fine chain mail, with leather boots that came to the knees and fingerless, leather gloves that went up to the elbows. More than that, the woman had a sword slanted across her back and a short sword, or more nearly a long knife, across the small of her back. She had to be five-eight, almost Jessica height, with long light brown hair and eyes that were sharp green. The woman even had the rugged look Emily imagined a warrior woman ought to have, but that did not stop the woman from being beautiful. She was breathtaking.
“What?” Emily sounded like a frog in her own ears.
“You have a pox your elect immune system should not allow you to have, and a fever that worsens. This is unnatural, as the hunter might say.” Tyler came to the open door and gasped. The woman waved her hand and the door closed by itself. Emily was not sure what else happened as the woman continued to speak.
“You are being haunted by a fever spirit. They benefit the body by feeding off the fever and thus keeping it from getting too high, I am told. But like most things in life, they are a mixed blessing. In the process, while one is asleep, the spirit roots around in the dark corners of the mind. That is why people have fever dreams, and so many of them are nightmares. The thing is, this spirit has gotten tied to you, somehow, and is interfering with your immune system so instead of getting better, your fever is getting worse.”
“I can tell,” Emily said softly. She honestly wondered if she had ever been so sick in her life.
“Don’t do that,” the woman said, kindly. Emily stopped scratching, clenched her teeth and made her gloved hands into fists. “Come here,” the woman said to the closet, and Emily’s eyes got big as she saw a smoke-like ghost with a strange little face come to the woman. She reached out one hand as if to pet it as she spoke. “You are untied now. This one is finished. Down the street, now. Someone needs you.”
Emily watched as the puff of smoke went through her window and vanished into the evening. “But the nightmares,” she wanted to protest.
“Children bounce back from nightmares. Some people need to see what is in their dark corners. Some people deserve nightmares.” The woman shrugged. “It is not our place to decide such things, but it is my place to look after my queen.” She touched Emily on the forehead and Emily relaxed for the first time in days. “How this fever spirit became attached to you I cannot say. It is a mystery. I must think on this.” The woman stood, and vanished, and Emily imagined it was just another fever dream, but all the same, she responded.
“What do you mean, your queen? I’m no queen.”
Tyler burst into the room. Mother came on his heels. Tyler looked all around, but found no woman in armor. Mother admonished Emily to eat her soup and left. After he checked the closet once more, Tyler said nothing because Emily was already asleep, the fever already gone.
Emily’s breakouts took another two days to clear up, but she was feeling better and all well in time to return to school. She scolded herself for not getting more schoolwork done when she had the chance, but she congratulated herself for getting some done, even if Maynard was a moron.