“Wilfred! Wilfred Waite! He’s trying to get back in!”
Dylan felt his stomach gurgle. The girl next to him elbowed her friend, who smothered a smile, so he guessed they must have heard it too. It was the smell of grilling meat that did it.
“Hope the burgers taste as good as they smell,” he said, pulling off his headphones. But he wasn’t banking on it.
The checkout operator looked at him and held out a paper bag.
“Thanks,” he said, taking it from her.
The girl, dressed in a powder-blue uniform, hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, gave him the perfect smile of an android. “Enjoy your meal,” she said in a fifteen-year-old’s voice.
Walking off, he opened the bag, pulled back the wrapper and lifted the bun to make sure they hadn’t put pickles in it. “What the hell?” he muttered on seeing the pale green discs. Pickles!
He was still staring at them when nausea rippled through his body. The bag slipped from his hands and plopped to the floor. The room went brown.
“Hey,” he heard a girl say from far away. “The food isn’t that bad, is it?”
Then everything went black.
He returned to the room to find himself sitting in a white plastic chair. The lights seemed dimmer than before, he felt dizzy and there was an awful smell in his nose. Everyone was staring at him.
“What happened?” he asked the faces around him.
“I think you barfed in your bag,” a girl in a school uniform said.
Pushing himself to his feet, he felt sickness trickle through his body again. He stared at the girl in horror. A shadow passed over her and the people standing behind her faded away until all he could see was the whites of her eyes.
“What’s happening to the lights?”
She glanced at the ceiling and shook her head. “Nothing. They’re … on.”
Dylan backed towards the exit. People stared and moved out his way, mumbling to each other. A child began to cry.
When he reached the door, someone came up with his bag and handed it to him. He heard the checkout operator shout, “Have a nice day!” – and then he was outside and everything went back to being normal and boring.
“Do you really think I’d tell you creeps?” laughed Kane, leaning back in his chair.
He was in the rec room with Ricky, Zach and Thanh, playing Texas hold ‘em. When they were bored they played cards incessantly, betting with small change. Today Kane was winning, which meant he was in a good mood, and so he was going along with them as they teased him over yet another visit from January. This time she’d turned up with dessert for everyone: a lemon tart, home made. She’d stayed long enough to watch everyone gorge on its lemony goodness, and then she’d taken the empty plate and sailed out of the station on a ray of sunshine.
When they kept on staring at him, their animal faces plastered with smiles, Kane leant over the table. “Just deal, why don’t you?”
“Spill it, man,” urged Ricky. “Hot girl like that. We all know what you’re like.”
He tried to grab the deck, but Ricky was too fast for him.
“I told you there’s nothing going on.”
“That’s not the impression she gave … nod, nod, wink, wink.”
“Ding, ding, ding goes the Bell when Kane’s around,” quipped Zach.
“More like dong, dong, dong,” threw in Ricky, always one to take a joke too far.
“Come on guys, settle down. We’re just friends.”
“With lemon tart.”
“Is that your name for your blonde bimbo? Lemon Tart?”
“Hey dumbhead, don’t be sexist. She’s a human being, not a dessert.”
“Sure looks sweet to me.”
“Cut it out, you idiots.”
“You were eager to get out of here,” Thanh said, leering at him. “Both of you.”
“I walked her to her car.”
“And got in the back seat?”
“You guys need to get a life … or a room.”
“Kane,” interrupted Zach, nodding at something behind him.
Kane turned his head. Dylan was standing in the doorway, squeezing his hands together and rocking from side to side, looking like he’d seen a ghost.
“Dylan? What are you doing here? What’s wrong?”
In place of an answer, Dylan turned and walked away.
Kane got up and followed him to the street. At the kerb, he stopped, turned and said in a gravelly voice, “He’s trying to get back in.”
He was so upset he was struggling to breathe. As Kane stared at him, unsure how to respond, he coughed, choked, dry heaved, bent over and spat white spittle onto the road. “I think I’m gonna faint,” he murmured, swaying over the gutter.
“Calm down, Dylan,” Kane said, patting his brother’s back. “Just focus on breathing. Deep breaths. Concentrate on the air going in and out of your lungs. Don’t think about anything else.” He watched him. “You’re having a panic attack. That’s all. I’ve had them and they feel worse than they really are. It’ll pass.”
He waited until his brother was breathing steadily, and then said, “Now try to stay calm and tell me what this is all about.”
Dylan gripped his arm, hard, digging in his fingernails. “I felt it, Kane. It was him!”
Kane drew his head back. His brother was making no sense. He couldn’t be talking about Waite. He was dead and gone; surely mush by now. The army, NSO, or whatever they were, had taken his body away. Simon had said so. But if it wasn’t Waite, could someone else be casting the body swap spell? Gilles maybe? Or Snyder? Didn’t they need the Necromonicon to do that? Or at least Waite’s notebook? Dylan had hidden both of them, so it couldn’t be that.
“Wilfred!” screamed Dylan, seeing the doubt clouding his eyes. “Wilfred Waite! He’s trying to get back in!”
Kane smiled incredulously. “No, Dylan. That’s impossible. Waite’s dead. You know that.”
Dylan’s face went red. “I know the feeling! I’m not making this up! It was him!”
“Dylan, that creep is worm food. I saw him die with my own two eyes. The professor confirmed it.”
Dylan scowled at him.
“Okay,” said Kane, holding him firmly by the shoulders. “Tell me exactly what you felt.”
Dylan drew a ragged breath. He closed his eyes. “There was a sick feeling. In my guts. Then in my head. Then everything went dark.”
“It’s gotta be a side effect. You had a rough time.”
He shook Kane’s hands away. “I’m not crazy. Don’t say that. I know what I felt.”
“I’m not saying you’re crazy. I’m just saying you’ve been through some really awful shit. You need to give it some time. Take it easy, Dylan. Don’t stress about anything.” When Dylan turned away, he said, “It really does sound like a panic attack. If it happens again, we’ll get you checked out.”
Dylan was staring across the road, at a corner shop where two old men sat on milk crates smoking, chatting, watching the world go by. “Kane … remember our secret hiding place when we were kids?”
He watched his brother’s back. He’d never really noticed before how narrow his shoulders were, how weak his brother was. It was hardly surprising he was still feeling the fallout from his ordeal. “Sure,” he said. “Yeah, I remember.”
“That’s where it is. In case anything happens to me.”
He reached out and ruffled his brother’s hair. “Nothing’s gonna happen to you, kid. Except some day, real soon, you are going to be the proud owner of a magical farmyard and a truck load of money.”
Dylan spun back to him, pleading with his eyes. “Are you sure he’s dead? I mean, really sure?”
Kane was certain. No one could have survived what that zombie Goliath did to Waite, certainly not a frail old man who was already at death’s door. “One hundred percent certain,” he declared. “I would bet my life on it.”
Pressing his foot on the brake, Dylan pushed the ignition button. When the engine burst into life, he felt a rush of adrenaline that blasted away all his worries. He turned on the radio, turned up the music, pushed himself back in the seat and listened as AC/DC blasted from the speakers – a song about being thunderstruck.
“Maybe we should turn that down,” suggested the nervous salesman. He was an older man, weedy, wearing black-rimmed specs. His dark blue suit and gold tie were impeccable. The dome of his head was almost the same shade of red as the sports car.
“It helps me concentrate,” Dylan said, brushing hair out of his eyes.
It also helped keep thoughts of Wilfred Waite at bay. Despite his talk with Kane, he wasn’t convinced Wilfred was dead, or that what happened to him at the burger store was a panic attack triggered by post-traumatic stress. If, by some miracle, Wilfred survived the throttling by the giant zombie, what would stop him resuming his mission to appropriate Dylan’s body? Nothing. That being the case, thinking about his nemesis might be part of allowing him back in. Whatever was happening, it was best to pretend Wilfred and his farm had never existed, that magic and monsters only existed in movies, on TV and in the games he played. Face the future, was his plan. Ditch any thoughts of the past few weeks. Spend some money. (Wilfred’s money.)
“Okay, sir, let’s go. Careful on the pedal … she’s very sensitive.”
With a glance over his shoulder, Dylan stomped on the accelerator. The car shot off down the road.
“Maybe ease your foot off the pedal?” implored the salesman.
“I’m only going the speed limit.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Chill, man. I’ve all but bought the thing. If you don’t let me enjoy it, I’ll take my business down the road.”
Pulling on the steering wheel, he sped around a corner. Two tyres lifted from the road; the other two tyres whined; his heart jumped into his mouth. “Oh my God!” he breathed as he regained control of the vehicle. He laughed at the road ahead, at the people watching him fly by in a brand new red sports car. It felt amazing to let go of his fears and insecurities – to redirect his adrenaline from panic to exhilaration. This must be how his brother felt when he was competing or doing fireman stuff. He nodded to himself. Today was his rebirth: the start of a reinvention of himself, a chance to get as far away as possible from the stodgy old-man body Waite had forced him into.
The salesman slid down in his seat. “She’s a six litre V-12, twin turbo, with five-speed automatic transmission and overdrive. Zero to one hundred in less than fifteen seconds – Sheeiiiiiit!”
Dylan swerved to avoid a plastic bag and the car skidded across the road and screeched to a stop a few inches from a large beech tree.
The salesman clutched his chest.
Dylan stared wide-eyed at him. “That was amazing!” he cried. “When my inheritance comes through, this is the first thing I’m gonna buy!”