Horror master Garton delivers his usual ironic and macabre touches as the dead, who are, in fact, pretty ugly, make life a hell for the living. Following a sequence of increasingly dire personal tragedies, culminating in the unexplained death of their four-year-old son, Josh, Jenna and David Kella plan to make a new start of their lives on the old family homestead they've inherited just outside Eureka, Calif., with their surviving son, Miles. What they discover, though, is a nightmare. Ghostly children play on the backyard swings and vanish abruptly. In a cruel and maddening irony, one of the child ghosts resembles Josh. The frights and horrors pile up as psychics, ouija boards and poltergeists join the mix.
Saturday, November 18, 2001
Dawn was just beginning to break when Jenna woke to the sound of Josh crying in his room. He was trying to be quiet, but the apartment was small, and Jenna had become a much lighter sleeper than usual lately. She got up quietly so she wouldn't disturb David, but he turned over anyway and lifted his head.
"Whasmatter?" he said, facing her with closed eyes.
"Josh is crying," she said, and David's eyes opened.
She crossed the hall to the boys' bedroom. Seven-year-old Miles was asleep in his bed. Josh sat leaning forward on the edge of his bed in his blue Bugs Bunny pajamas, head held in his small hands, blond hair spiky. It was an unnatural posture for a four-year-old boy-- the posture of someone whose head throbbed.
Jenna went to Josh's bed and sat beside him, put an arm around him. "Oh, baby, is your head hurting again?" she whispered.
He sniffled as he nodded once.
"Why didn't you wake me, sweetheart?" It was not the first time she had awakened to find Josh up with a headache. He seemed to think it wasn't important enough to wake her, and it broke Jenna's heart.
David stepped into the room, tying the belt of his gray terry-cloth robe. "How's my buddy?"
Josh did not look up.
Jenna whispered to David, "Could you get his pills from the medicine cabinet? He's got another headache." To Josh, she said, "Come on, get up on Mommy's lap." She reached for the glass of water on his bedstand as he got on her lap and leaned into the crook of her arm. David quickly returned with the orange bottle of pills, removed the cap, and shook one into Jenna's palm. "Okay, honey, I want you to swallow a pill for me, okay?"
Josh slowly lifted his head and looked at her with puffy, barely open eyes. He opened his mouth and flattened his tongue, where she carefully placed the pill.
"A couple big swallows, now." Jenna put the glass to his lips, tilted it back. For a moment, his gulps were the only sound in the room besides Miles's gentle snoring. When he was done, she handed the glass to David, who put it back on the bedstand with the pill bottle. She put her arms around Josh and rocked him as she said, "Honey, you've got to wake me up as soon as your head starts to hurt, okay? I want you to, so I can give you your pill. The sooner you take it, the better it works. Okay?"
He said nothing, but she knew he was not asleep.
Jenna quietly hummed Brahms's "Lullaby" as she stroked Josh's back. After a couple minutes passed, she looked up at David, who stood silently beside her with his arms folded across his broad chest. "We've got to get a second opinion," she whispered.
David spread his arms, then let them drop at his sides. "I know we do, but I don't know how. We can't afford the opinion we're getting."
"If I have to get on my hands and knees and beg another doctor to take a look at Josh, I will. I mean, how long do these damned pills have to not work before Dr. Peters admits they're not working?"
"If we manage to get a new doctor, there's no way we could afford to pay for all those tests again."
"Even if we could afford it, I wouldn't make him go through them again. The new doctor will just have to look at the results of the first tests. Those things scared the hell out of him, those big noisy machines."
Jenna brushed a strand of her long blond hair from her face and put her cheek against the side of Josh's head. He felt warm against her, limp in her arms.
Jenna and David had not been sleeping well. She was twenty-seven and David was twenty-eight, but constant worry and lack of sleep since Josh's headaches began had added lines to their faces. The last three hours had made up the best sleep Jenna had gotten in as many nights. Her pale face was splotchy and puffy, her blue eyes half closed as she gently rocked Josh in her arms.
"Are you feeling any better, sweetheart?" she whispered.
After a moment, Josh said, "Uh-uh." His voice was a moist croak. "Worse."
Looking up at David again, Jenna said, "I don't know why I even bother giving him those pills. I just don't know ... what else to do." She felt like crying, but she was too tired.
Still rocking Josh, Jenna hummed the lullaby again. She glanced up at David and saw he had his arms folded over his chest again and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His angular face looked sleepy and his thick, curly, chocolate-brown hair was wildly mussed on one side and flat on the other, but his muscles were tense and he was agitated. His sleepiness could not hide the concern in his eyes. Jenna wanted to hold him, too, but she kept both arms around Josh.
The boy startled her by sitting up suddenly and looking directly into her eyes. He frowned, but it was not an upset frown, or even a painful one. It was thoughtful, and a little frightened. She stopped rocking.
Josh said, "Mommy--"
It was the way he always said it when he had something important to tell her. Jenna recognized the tone immediately. But he did not continue.
"Yes, honey," she said.
Clenching his eyes shut, Josh opened his mouth and screamed so loudly that Jenna's ears rang. A dog barked outside. The scream stopped after what seemed a deafening eternity, and his body became stiff in her arms across her lap.
Jenna said, "Josh? Josh!"
David knelt in front of her and put an arm around Josh's shoulders.
Miles sat up in bed, clutched the blankets in his fists, and looked over at his brother.
Josh's body fell limp again. His head flopped backward and his eyes opened. The glow of dawn was coming through the window above his bed, and in the soft light, Jenna saw the pupil of Josh's left eye suddenly dilate, but only the left.
She screamed, "He's stopped breathing!"
"No!" David said, his hand on Josh's chest. "He's breathing, but it's very weak. I'll call an ambulance." He rushed out of the room, and his bare feet thumped through the small apartment.
Sobbing, Jenna pulled him to her and began rocking him again. In her mind, all she could see was that single pupil dilating over and over. She did not know what it meant, but knew it could not be good.
Miles did not move, just sat in bed gripping the blankets in white-knuckled fists.
"C'mon, honey, c'mon, Josh," Jenna said between sobs. "Hang on, Josh, hang on. Tell me what you were going to say. What were you going to tell Mommy, sweetheart? Huh? What was it? C'mon, tell Mommy, tell me what--"
A shudder passed through Josh's small body and a gurgle rattled in his throat.
Jenna performed CPR on her son until the ambulance arrived and a paramedic took over, but Josh never recovered. He was pronounced dead at 7:48 A.M.
Hardly a day had passed since without Jenna Kellar wondering, at least once, what Josh had been about to say to her.