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'The Echo' - Chapter 18

Ghost in the machine?

The Echo - Chapter 17


Kimberly awoke with a start and felt a strong pair of arms enfolding her.

“It’s OK,” Gary whispered. “Everything is going to be OK.”

Kimberly shivered and snuggled closer to him.

“Maybe you should give yourself another day off,” he suggested, reaching over to press the button on the alarm clock.

Kimberly nodded. “I have to anyway.”

“Why’s that?”

“After—what happened, I called Dr. Harrison back and moved Lynn’s appointment. They want to get her in for an MRI today. Dr. Harrison said he’ll need to do blood work, too, the works. He wants her to be his first appointment.”

Gary had come home after work last night to find Kimberly asleep on the couch. When he’d woken her, she’d about jumped out of her skin and then burst into tears.

She’d told him the whole story.

Gary didn’t know what to think. The only good news was that Kimberly said Lynn had snapped out of whatever state she'd been in immediately after speaking in that strange voice.

“She didn’t remember anything,” Kimberly had told Gary. “I have no idea how long she was like that, tearing down all of her posters, drawing those words in crayon.”

Kimberly took a photo of the message and sent it to Paul. Then, she and Lynn had worked together to scrub off the crayon and put the room back together.

“You should have seen her face, Gary. She kept telling me how sorry she was that she’d messed up her room. She didn’t have any idea how it happened.”

Gary held Kimberly close now and stared up at the ceiling. He couldn’t make sense of what Lynn had done to her room, nor could he figure out how a bed sheet supposedly wrapped itself around the child while she slept.

All his life, Gary had been good at fixing things... mechanical things. He was charming and good to women. He loved children and could always make Lynn laugh, which, at brief moments, made him feel like an actual father.

But glancing from mother to daughter, seeing the exhausted looks on their faces throughout dinner last night, Gary felt impotent. He had no idea how to help them. For the past couple of weeks, he’d been following an old pattern.

When the going got tough, Gary got going.

Much as he hated to admit it, Gary was beginning to turn into his father. There was another man who much preferred jokes and avoidance to dealing with real emotional stress.

“You look like you’re in deep thought,” Kimberly whispered.

Her voice startled him.

“I thought you’d fallen back to sleep,” Gary whispered, turning to her.

Kimberly raised her arms above her head and stretched.

“No,” Kimberly murmured, stifling a yawn. “I really can’t go back to sleep. I have to get Lynn up and ready in a couple of hours. I’m afraid if I close my eyes now, I might sleep until noon.”

“Well, maybe you can take a nap when you get home,” Gary suggested, rising from the bed.

He needed to be on the job site in forty-five minutes himself.

Kimberly got up and headed toward the bathroom.

As he watched her go, the apology he was about to utter died on his lips.

He shook his head and clenched his fists at his sides.

What's wrong with me?

In the kitchen, they ate breakfast in companionable silence.

Gary watched Kimberly push the food around on her plate.

“Stomach bothering you?” He asked.

Kimberly looked up with a sheepish smile. “Yeah, as usual. I guess I’m luckier than some people.”

“How’s that?” Gary asked, draining the last bit of coffee from his mug.

“Some people do nothing but eat when they’re anxious,” she explained as she put three uneaten sausage links into a baggie. “At least I’ll never get fat.”

Gary gave her a quick once over as she rinsed off his dish. “You look great. You have nothing to be concerned about in that area.”

“So, you and the guys—?”

“I’m coming right home tonight,” Gary said, cutting her off with a sincere smile. “I’m worried about both of you, and there’s no excuse for the way I’ve been acting lately. I want to be here.”

Kimberly smiled, walked over and gave him a gentle peck on the lips. When she found herself reaching to smooth his hair as though he were a young child, she made a feint of pulling a piece of lint from his locks and flicking the imaginary fabric away.

“Gray hairs starting, huh?”

“Not yet,” Kimberly replied, frowning at her actions, “but, if you come home one day and my hair is shock white, don’t be surprised.”

“Just try to take it easy today after the appointment, OK?”

“I will.”

***

“Mommy, do I have to get any shots?” Lynn asked as they drove to see Dr. Harrison.

He was practicing at the hospital this morning, so Lynn would be able to get all of her procedures done in one place.

“Probably not a shot,” Kimberly replied, giving her daughter a sympathetic smile, “but I think he’s going to want to get some blood work.”

Lynn made a face and shrunk in her seat. “I hate needles.”

“I know, sweetie. But it will be over quickly.”

“And I have to get an RMI?”

“Actually it’s called an MRI.”

“What is that?”

“Well, they put you in this big tube and let you listen to music while they take pictures of your brain.”

Kimberly realized the explanation sounded silly even to her own ears.

“Like an inner tube?” Lynn asked, frowning.

“No,” Kimberly said, trying to think of a better way to explain it. She recalled a trip they had taken a few years ago.

“Do you remember the big yellow water slide at the amusement park?”

Lynn nodded.

“It’s shaped like that, only much smaller.” Then she added, “You’ll see.”

Lynn seemed to accept this explanation and settled back in her seat.

20 minutes later they were in Dr. Harrison’s office. A medical assistant named Josephine checked Lynn’s blood pressure, temperature, her reflexes.

When Lynn went in for blood work, she kept a vice grip on her mother’s hand.

Lynn’s fingers started to go clammy after the third tube of blood was taken, and her lower lip had begun to tremble.

Why do they need four tubes?

“Almost done,” Kimberly promised. “You are the bravest little girl in the world.”

Lynn half-smiled and some of the color returned to cheeks as the phlebotomist retracted the needle.

“Okay, pick a Band-aid,” she offered with a smile, brandishing four of them like a small deck of latex playing cards.

Lynn chose a bright rainbow-colored one.

“Dr. Harrison should be in shortly,” Josephine told Kimberly when they returned to the office.

“I’m getting cold in this little thing,” Lynn complained, hugging herself.

Kimberly couldn’t blame her; the hospital gown they’d given Lynn to wear was paper-thin and hardly covered her. She retied the straps in the back and put her arms around her daughter.

A few minutes later, Dr. Harrison walked in. He was a powerfully-built man in his mid-50s, with dark blonde hair graying along the sides. His eyebrows were bushy and slightly wild over a pair of pleasant blue eyes.

After asking Kimberly a few routine questions and jotting down some notes, he immediately began his examination. He had Lynn lie on her back while he felt her abdomen and chest. He had her sit up while he listened to her heart and lungs. Then, he turned off the lights and asked her to follow a shining penlight as he waved it back and forth in front of her. All standard procedures that went by without incident.

“Alright, now I need you to balance on one foot for me.”

Lynn stood on one foot and then the other with no signs of toppling.

Dr. Harrison took a few more notes and put the pad down.

“How many times a day do you poop?”

When both mother and daughter laughed at the seriousness of his expression, the doctor smiled.

“She’s doing the business once or twice a day,” Kimberly answered.

“And how about appetite?” Dr. Harrison asked. “Are you eating well?”

Lynn nodded.

“Sleeping okay?”

Lynn put out a hand and waved it side-to-side, indicating ‘so-so,’ “Sometimes I have nightmares.”

“I see,” Dr. Harrison replied. “That’s what your mother tells me.”

“But, I’m seeing a head doctor for that,” Lynn said, tapping her temple with her index finger.

Both adults exchanged amused looks.

“Well, I hear Debra is one of the best head doctors there is.”

“She’s really nice.”

“Well, are you ready for the MRI? That’s the last step and then you can get out of that wallpaper you’re wearing.”

Lynn giggled.

“Just go down the elevator to the basement and register there,” Dr. Harrison explained. “They already know you’re coming, so you won't have to wait.”

Kimberly and the doctor stepped out into the hallway together, leaving the door open a crack while Lynn got dressed.

“What do you think?” Kimberly asked, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the wall.

“Well, we won’t know until the blood work and MRI results come back but so far, she seems like any other healthy seven-year-old. When did all of this start?”

“About a month ago,” Kimberly explained. “She started out by having a nightmare, then it just got progressively worse. She did and said things she couldn’t remember. She started acting out in school. I’m not sure what’s going on with her. I have my theories, but they don’t exactly align with somebody who practices medicine.”

Dr. Harrison smiled. “Well, I may be a man of science, but I’ve seen some strange things in my day. I’m pretty open-minded,” he said and then added, “for a doctor.”

Kimberly nodded, then looked him square in the eye.

“Do you believe in possession?”

***

“Alright, Lynn, this is the machine.”

Lynn gaped at the large, cylindrical object, her eyes growing wide. When she drew closer to her mother, Kimberly took hold of her hand.

“Is it gonna hurt?” Lynn voice quavered.

The MRI technician smiled and shook his head. He looked to be in his late twenties. He wore blue scrubs and the name stitched on the front told them his name was Edward.

“No, I promise, it won’t hurt a bit,” Edward vowed. “You won’t feel anything but cool air coming in over your head. You can close your eyes the whole time if you want, and there’s music you can listen to.”

Lynn stared at the apparatus as though it might suddenly grow fangs and gobble her up.

Edward crouched down so he was at Lynn’s height.

“I'll let you in on a little secret,” Edward whispered, “I had to get three of these done when I was your age, and at first, I was scared too, but now I like them. It’s kind of like a ride. The machine moves around a little bit while I take pictures. When I have to get them now, I just close my eyes and imagine I’m on my favorite carnival ride.”

Kimberly had to give him credit. The technician sure was giving it his best.

“Can mommy hold my hand?”

Edward’s brow furrowed. “Well, she can hold your knee,” he offered with a lopsided grin.

Lynn giggled.

“This won’t take long at all, I promise.”

Edward had Lynn go to the machine and touch it. She examined it from top to bottom, poking her head inside with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

“I can do this,” Lynn said, her face set.

Edward hoisted Lynn onto the table and explained the procedures once more. He handed her a small block of metal with a round black button.

“If at any time, you feel you need to get out, all you have to do is press that button, and you’ll be out of there before you can blink, OK?”

“You will have to hold my knee,” Lynn said, her round eyes tilting upward, “I think I’m going all the way in!”

“I’ll hold onto your little knee for dear life,” Kimberly said with an encouraging smile.

A few moments later, Lynn was inside, wearing earphones and listening to Disney music. Kimberly winced when the machine made a few loud noises, but Lynn seemed to be doing fine. She could hear Edward talking to her over the headset he’d put over her ears.

“Okay, now, hold your breath…” Edward was saying. “One, two, three…OK, and breathe.”

“You’re doing great sweetie,” Kimberly said, squeezing her daughter’s leg.

20 minutes later, Edward was giving Kimberly the ‘thumbs-up’ sign from behind the glass enclosure above the MRI room when a strange humming noise filled the room.

The buzzing that filled Kimberly’s ears sounded like a swarm of mechanical hornets.

Edward’s relaxed smile sunk into a frown.

Kimberly watched see him shake his head and fiddle with the controls in the upper room.

“Lynn, hang on,” Edward’s voice came over Lynn’s headphones.

“Mommy?” Lynn called, her voice sounding hollow from inside the machine.

Then, as suddenly as it began, the noise stopped.

Edward stared at his instruments for a moment and then looked up, answering Kimberly’s questioning glance with a confused shake of his head.

“Lynn, you alright in there?” Edward asked.

“Yeah,” Lynn whimpered.

“What was that?” Kimberly asked.

“I have no idea,” Edward said. “I have to take one more picture, and then I’m all done. Lynn, you think you can hang in there for a few more seconds?”

“Okay,” Lynn said, her voice shaky.

Kimberly gave her daughter credit for bravery. If it had been her, she wasn’t sure she could have stayed so calm.

A few minutes later, Edward helped Lynn out of the machine. She was pale, but none the worse for wear.

“You have no idea what that noise was?” Kimberly asked as she handed Lynn her clothes. The little girl dodged behind a curtain to get dressed.

“It sounded like the mother ship was landing,” Edward said with a nervous laugh. “I’ve never heard anything like it before.”

Kimberly frowned and looked at the machine.

Curiouser and curiouser.

***

When they returned home, Kimberly was surprised to see Lynn wasn’t at all tired from her ordeal.

“Can we go do some pictures?”

“You want to paint and draw?” Kimberly asked.

“Yeah!” Lynn replied, running down the hall and clomping up the stairs with all the grace of a rhinoceros.

Kimberly shook her head. How can somebody that small make so much noise?

Kimberly walked into the studio and set up Lynn’s easel, a pint-sized replica of her own.

The photographs from the party were sitting on the counter next to two unopened tubes of acrylic paint.

She had promised Lynn she would do a portrait of her. Flipping through the photos again, she selected their mutual favorite, the one of Lynn on the merry-go-round.

Gazing at Lynn’s one eye looking out through the flying blonde hair, Kimberly couldn’t help but recall the version in negative she’d witnessed in Lynn’s bedroom the night before.

“I’m not Lynn.”

Kimberly sighed.

She was thankful she and Lynn had back-to-back appointments with Debra scheduled for the next day.

As she opened a drawer to grab a few brushes, the journal she’d been keeping notes in caught her eye.

Should she record today’s fluke during the MRI?

Had that really been an incident?

With an inward shrug, Kimberly took out a pen and jotted down a quick note before dropping the journal back in the drawer. She had it closed just as Lynn rounded the corner with her small purple portfolio of art supplies.

A couple of hours later, Kimberly had sketched the outline of the photograph on her canvas and had begun to mix her paints. Lynn had drawn two very colorful butterflies and was now in the process of creating what Kimberly thought must be an expressionist piece, because she couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

The good thing was, Lynn was grinning from ear to ear, and she was drawing in bright colors.

No monsters. No scary people.

Kimberly felt a warm smile spread over her face as she watched Lynn put a pink pencil between her teeth the same way Kimberly held her brushes. The child stood back to admire the work she’d done so far. Then, with a look of extreme concentration, she loosened the colored pencil from her mouth and filled in a blank portion of her canvas.

The phone rang.

“It should be illegal to interrupt perfect moments like these,” Kimberly muttered under her breath as she headed out to the kitchen, wet paintbrush still in hand.

Maybe Gary was coming up with another excuse to stay out late? No, probably not. He’d seemed very remorseful the past couple of days. Paul? Nah. He never called the house phone.

“Hello?”

At first Kimberly heard nothing but silence, then a slight scratching noise as though somebody was running sandpaper over the mouthpiece.

“Hello?” Kimberly said, a little louder this time.

“Um…” A male voice came over the line. “Is this… is this Kim?”

“Yes,” Kimberly said, her brow furrowing. “This is Kimberly. Can I help you?”

There was a wheeze followed by a cough.

“I’m sorry,” the man croaked, clearing his throat, “just getting over a cold.”

Kimberly wasn’t sure how to respond. “I’m sorry, may I ask who it is I’m speaking with?”

“Kim,” the man took a deep, rattling breath, “this is George… your father.”

Jaime Heidel
Jaime Heidel

I'm a freelance writer with a passion for truth, justice, and the equality way. I write about health, wellness, chronic illness, and trauma. I'm also publishing my horror novel chapter by chapter on here. 

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