“Night terrors,” says the psychiatrist. “A symptom of post-traumatic stress. Perfectly normal.”
He smiles at me with polished teeth, gleaming white. Blond hair that’s slicked back in perfect little lines, spotless expensive shirt, manicured hands. I’m slumped in a leather chair in jeans and a black T-shirt, feeling like the big wooden desk between us is more like a barrier between worlds. He’s from a different planet. No way am I going to talk to this guy, no matter how much my parents want me to. The silence drags on.
“I can help you, but you need to open up,” he says. That’s why my parents brought me here—to get some help. Because they can’t handle the screaming at night. Can’t handle the way I’ve unplugged from everything, everyone, around me.
Like this plastic-faced shrink is going to help. There’s no way I’m going to “open up” to this guy. Because if I tell him the truth, he’ll think I’m crazy. The truth is, I sleep for four, maybe five, hours every night. And then the dream wakes me up. The dream is always the same, every time. It starts with me in my bed.
I open my eyes and see him standing there, watching me. Just a little shadow in the doorway. Six years old, small for his age. My little brother. I grunt out his name, wondering why he’s woken me up.
He doesn’t answer. Just watches me. I notice he’s wearing his clothes, not pajamas. His Superman T-shirt is soaked through, and his hair is plastered down, wet. Then I smell damp leaves and the putrid scent of something rotting.
“Sammy—where the hell have you been? You know what time it is?” I whisper. He doesn’t say a word but starts to shuffle toward me. And then I remember.
Sammy died months ago. I was in the river next to him when the current pulled him away. I tried to grab him, my hands scratching his slick wet back. Sammy was way out of reach downriver when he went down the first time. His head reappeared, looking back at me. Then he was gone under the black water, forever.
The worst part is, they never found his body. The search-and-rescue guys said it was probably pinned down at the bottom, under a log or something. I can’t stop thinking about Sammy, lying down there at the bottom of the river, looking up at the daylight. Trapped.
So there is no way he survived. There is no way he can be here right now, sliding his feet across the floor, shadowy eyes fixed on mine. Sam stops at the edge of my bed, and his tiny hands reach up to me, scrabbling against my naked chest. Wanting me to pick him up. His hands feel like cold dead meat.
That’s when I wake up screaming.
A week after the visit to the psychiatrist, the nightmares are worse than ever. My dad comes in and finds me in sweat-soaked sheets, my throat hoarse and sore. He sits close enough to me that I can smell the whiskey on his breath. The accident wasn’t easy on him either. He listens as I mumble through tears, explaining the dream to him. When I finish, he takes his glasses off and just looks at me for a while.
“You remember when we saw that zombie movie last year?”
I nod, not sure where this is going. The film scared the crap out of me, although I tried not to show it to my dad.
“Right now, your mind is like a movie projector,” he says. “It’s throwing pictures on the wall. But they’re just… images, ghosts. You’re making yourself see scary stuff.” He pulls up the sheets, smoothing them around me like I’m a little kid again. “You just need to turn the projector off. And the pictures…the ghosts…they’ll go away.”
He walks to the door. Looks back at me, one hand on the light switch.
“It’s all in your mind,” he says, “and ghosts can’t hurt you.”
He means well. But Dad is wrong. I don’t find that out until a couple of months later.
“For most of you, tomorrow means a final departure from Ravenslake Lodge and a return to real life. Which I know you are all absolutely devastated about,” Edward says. A few people in the crowd laugh.
“However, as you may know, we recently dismissed two of our junior maintenance staff. So this year we need a few volunteers to help Harvey, our facility manager, close up the resort. It’s an extra week of hard work, but at double pay. Please let Harvey know if you’re interested.” Edward turns slowly, scanning the crowd of hotel staff surrounding him. We’re gathered in the main dining hall of the resort. The chairs and tables have been stored away already, so everyone is just standing around in groups. We’ve gathered into the tribes that keep the luxury resort running—the office staff, clean-cut and perky, even when they’re off duty. Groundskeepers in overalls and ballcaps. The kitchen crew in their whites, piercings and tattoos peeking out from under the uniforms. And then there are the bellmen, like me—the guys who carry your bags, bring you room service. Like the others, I’m wearing a bright red jacket with my name embroidered on one corner in dorky lettering—Dylan. Not the most stylish but, like a lot of things at Ravenslake Lodge, you get used to it.
Edward has a thin face like an axe, and his narrow black eyes scan the crowd. “One final thought,” he says. “I know that I have a reputation for…”
“Being a jerk.” It’s Tom, one of the other bellmen. He says it quietly, so only we can hear him. Wouldn’t want to attract Edward’s attention, even on the last day.
“…being a leader with exacting standards. I accept no laziness,” Edward continues, shaking one hand for emphasis. When I started at the beginning of summer, I was told that with Edward, you screw up, you get fired. No second chance. I saw a few people go.
“I hope that, as you depart, you understand the reason for my standards. My insistence on self-discipline. My requirement for a true strength of character to work in a fine hotel such as this.” He smiles, thin lips forming a slash across his face. “It is my gift to you. Something you will carry away into the world, having been trained here at Ravenslake Lodge.” He lifts both hands up, as if letting us all go. I see Tom roll his eyes at the dramatics. Edward winds up for his big finale.
“So as I thank you for your hard work, I think in fact you should be thanking me. For teaching you so well. For being a firm but fair leader. And to that I say, you are most welcome. It has been my honor.” There’s an awkward pause, then a ripple of polite applause as Edward walks away from the crowd.
The big dining hall fills with chatter.