When I woke up, Rachel was there again. She was reading a book.
I rubbed my eyes. “You been here long?”
She stretched her arms. “I have to go soon. Work to do, as long as you’re not going to try to kill yourself again.”
“I wasn’t going to kill myself. I just wanted . . .” I sipped some water. “Carrie was here.”
“Yeah.” Rachel shook her head. “I told her not to, but—”
“The voarkla’s back.”
“Not your problem.” She stuffed her book in a bag. “Let someone else handle it.”
I sat up. “Who else knows about the voarkla? The cops? Carrie’s great, but she’s not exactly a ninja—”
“Goddamn it, Tom!” Rachel looked like she wanted to pound her fist on my chest. “You don’t have to solve every problem in this city! Let somebody else be the hero for a change!”
She lurched around, leaning over the windowsill. Maybe she was crying.
“I’m sorry.” My voice was a whisper. “I’ll just stay here.”
“I just want . . .” Rachel stared out the window. “I want you to be better.”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “Me too.”
Once Rachel was gone I turned on the news. By the time lunch came—a decent cheeseburger and onion rings, and more watery coffee—I’d found reports of two killings by the voarkla.
The first time it came to this reality, it had somehow roamed through computer networks, bursting out of screens to slash its prey. Now it seemed to be moving directly through wifi. A man playing Pokemon Go had been attacked by some kind of animal near the Lincoln Park lagoon. A woman just walking down the beach, talking on her smartphone, was killed by a beast that came out of nowhere and then ran back into the trees. Police were looking for a rabid coyote.
I didn’t have my laptop. But I still had my phone.
I spent half an hour looking up every news report of the killings, and every other report of attacks by strange creatures in the last 24 hours.
Two more people had been mauled by the voarkla, but survived. A man walking a dog early in the morning—the dog was dead, but the man was in the hospital. Maybe in a room near me. The other victim, an elderly woman, had fought off the voarkla with a cane. She was braver and tougher than me.
I sipped the last of my coffee. I was feeling better now, but I didn’t know if I was feeling the effects of the drugs or just adrenalin. Was this PTSD? Was I going to crash when it was all over?
I didn’t care. Right now I felt alive again. I had something to do.
Of course, I was still stuck in the hospital. And I knew I wasn’t in any shape to find my pants and leave.
So I did the only thing I could think of.
“Jurgen?” Detective Anita Sharpe of Chicago Police Department never sounded happy to hear from me. “I’m not supposed to talk to you.”
“Wait, what? Did Hughes—”
“No, your girlfriend. She called me last night. She’s a spitfire, that one.”
I groaned. “Yeah.” I couldn’t blame Sharpe for not wanting to piss Rachel off.
“Here’s the thing.” I was suddenly sleepy. Maybe the adrenalin was wearing off. Or the drugs were kicking in? “Those murders—the lagoon? And the beach? They’re from a creature from another dimension called the . . . the voarkla.”
“The what? I’m only in charge of vampires. Are we going to have to set up another squad or—Jurgen? Are you there?”
The hospital room swam around me. “Be careful. It’s dangerous. I sent it back once . . . well, I didn’t do it by myself, but it got sent back, and now it’s here again, I don’t know why . . . ohh . . . ohh . . .”
“Jurgen?” Sharpe shouted into the phone. “What the hell is going on?”
I gasped. Heart attack? Panic attack? “Tell Rachel . . . tell her . . .”
I looked up at the window. The sun streamed through the blinds.
And the voarkla was outside. Laughing.
I dropped the phone. Okay, I was going to die. But I grabbed the control wrapped around the arm of my bed and pressed the call button. “Help!” I shouted. “Help . . .”
Dr. McGee took my blood pressure again. “That’s better. How do you feel?”
“Fine.” I glanced at the window. The voarkla was gone. “Just peachy.”
Rachel stormed into the room in a gray T-shirt and black shorts. “What the hell? You can’t just sit and watch bad TV like everyone else? What’s wrong with you?”
“He’s okay.” Dr. McGee checked my heart with his stethoscope, although I had the feeling he was only doing it to keep Rachel from asking more questions. “It looks like just a panic attack. You just need some rest, Tom. No more watching the news.”
He gazed at Rachel. Was he checking out her legs? “Try not to let him get upset.”
“Have you talked to him at all?” Rachel glared at me. “It’s your fault if I miss this deadline.”
“I’ll let you talk alone.” Dr. McGee left. I didn’t blame him.
Rachel sat down. “I get a call from that cop, Sharpe? She said you were dying.”
“You called her yesterday.” I sipped some water. “She’s a little scared of you.” I managed a grin.
“I hope so.” Rachel stood up and started circling the room. “Look, we’ve been together, what—three years? Four? That’s longer than my last two boyfriends combined. How long were you married?”
I tried to figure out where this was going. “Three years. I think. What does this have to do with—”
“Just tell me what’s going on with you! I can take it. I just want to know . . .” She stopped, facing away from me. “I just need to know.”
I watched her breathing slowly, and tried to think of the right answer. “The voarkla’s back. I think it came back for me. I saw it right here—”
“That’s not what I mean. And you know it.”
Yeah. We could deal with the voarkla. But Rachel meant . . .
I closed my eyes. “I just want to die.”
Rachel didn’t move.
“I’m tired of all this.” I rubbed my forehead. “Dudovich is dead. I almost got you killed last week. Jesus Christ, you got possessed by a demon! I got abducted by aliens. We watched a woman stake her husband. A little girl sent an assassin to kill everyone in her family. I just can’t deal with it anymore.”
I lowered the bed all the way down. “It’s okay. I’m sorry.”
She swung around. “You can’t do this to me! You offered to marry me once! Okay, I don’t want to get married, but if I did—”
I held up my hands. “Okay, okay! Just leave me alone. All right?”
Rachel stalked to the door. “Is that what you want? Really?”
No. I couldn’t imagine never seeing Rachel again. “No. Please don’t go.”
I was crying. Damn it. What the hell was wrong with me?
“You asshole.” Rachel walked back and leaned down over my bed. “Shut up. Stop weeping. I’m here. I’m here . . .”
“Yeah . . .” I drifted off.