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Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon

Specter (9780307823403)

BOOK: Specter (9780307823403)
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Books by Joan Lowery Nixon

A Candidate for Murder
The Dark and Deadly Pool
Don’t Scream
The Ghosts of Now
Ghost Town: Seven Ghostly Stories
The Haunting
In the Face of Danger
The Island of Dangerous Dreams
The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore
Laugh Till You Cry
Murdered, My Sweet
The Name of the Game Was Murder
Nobody’s There
The Other Side of Dark
Playing for Keeps
Search for the Shadowman
Secret, Silent Screams
The Specter
Spirit Seeker
The Stalker
The Trap
The Weekend Was
Whispers from the Dead
Who Are You?

The Making of a Writer

Is the danger in her mind—or is it for real?

Detective MacGarvey leans back, resting his pad and pencil on his lap. He speaks to Julie. “Dr. Manning tells me that you think a man named Sikes is responsible for your parents’ death, and that you may be in danger from him. Is that right?”

Julie gets white, and I jump to my feet, expecting her to pass out. But she doesn’t. Her voice is a hoarse croak as she says, “I was supposed to die in that crash, too. I hate Sikes! I hate him! He killed my father!”

“Where is this man Sikes?” MacGarvey asks. “Where can I find him?”

Julie’s voice is so soft now that for a moment I think I must have misunderstood her, but as she repeats what she just said, I get so scared I grab the bedside table and hold on.

“He’s watching us,” Julie says. “And he’s waiting, because he knows where I am.”

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 1982 by Joan Lowery Nixon

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, New York, a Penguin Random House Company. Originally published in hardcover by Delacorte Press, New York, in 1982.

Laurel-Leaf Books with the colophon is a registered trademark of Random House LLC.

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Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

eISBN: 978-0-307-82340-3

Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.


To my friend James M. Skelton, Jr., M.D.,
in appreciation of his advice
and encouragement


The whisper strikes through the darkness, and I struggle to meet it, clutching at the sound.

“Sikes!” It comes again, a terrifying hiss.

Did something in the darkness move? Is something there? I grope for the light cord that dangles over the metal headboard of my hospital bed.

“Who’s there?” I stammer, and the sound of my voice in that dark room frightens me even more.

No one answers, but I can feel the tension of someone listening. My fingers jerk the cord, and I swing my feet over the edge of the bed. With the courage that comes only from that rush of light I jump up and throw back the white cotton curtain that separates my bed from that of the child by the window.

Through the guardrail she stares at me with enormous, deep blue eyes in a face that is as pale as her hair. It’s the first time she’s opened them since she was brought to the hospital this morning. It’s as though the whisperer had broken a spell.

We are two scared people confronting each other. Her small body is a rigid board, her hands like white clamps on the edges of the mattress.

“Sikes?” It’s a question, and her glance darts about the room.

Her voice is so thin, so terrified, that I put the rail down and sit on the edge of her bed. I grasp her right hand, uncoiling her taut fingers and wrapping them in my own.

“Sikes was here,” she says.

“Don’t be scared,” I tell her. “Look around the room. I’m the only one here.”

I can feel her begin to relax, cautiously, a little cat staring out the territory. I sit with her quietly because I don’t know what to say.

Mrs. Rosa Cardenas, the round little nurse’s aide who gives back rubs the way she’d knead bread, fills me each day with fruit juice and hospital gossip. Through her I know that this little girl, who looks as though she’s about nine or ten, had been with her parents in a fiery one-car smashup on I-10, heading toward the hill country out of San Antonio. Her parents had been killed, but she had come out of it with what they hoped was nothing more than a concussion.

I also know that she has been unconscious from the time she was thrown from the car; so I jump when she suddenly says, “Sikes killed my father.”

It’s creepy. I don’t want to handle it. I jab at the button for the night nurse.

“He was here, you know,” she says.

I don’t know anything. Yes, someone had whispered. But maybe it was this kid. I had first thought someone had been in the room, but I hadn’t actually seen anyone. Sikes? Who was Sikes? I hit the button again, wishing the nurse would hurry.

“Don’t go away,” the girl says. Her fingers cling to mine so tightly it’s painful.

“Hey, it’s all right,” I say. “I’m in the bed next to yours. I’m not going anywhere.”

The anger comes back with a rush, and I tuck it around me, hating my body that has brought me to this place.

“Who are you?” the girl asks.

“Dina Harrington,” I answer. Then I remember that no one in the hospital knows who she is. They found a wallet with a driver’s license with her father’s name on it. Out of state, with an address that doesn’t exist, according to Mrs. Cardenas.

There was no identification for the mother. Whatever was in the car had burned. Mrs. Cardenas, having a brother-in-law in the police department, is a great source of information.

“You haven’t told me your name,” I say. I work the call button.

“Julie,” she answers. Her eyes never leave my face.

It bothers me that she isn’t asking the right questions. I don’t expect her to gasp “Where am I?” like in an old movie. But shouldn’t she call for her mother? Or try to find out what happened? Is she in some kind of state of shock?

The door flies open, and Mrs. Marsh, the tall nurse with the mole on her chin, comes in. There’s a black hair growing out of the mole, and when she talks to me, I go crazy trying not to stare at that mole.

“Mrs. Marsh never smiles,” I once told Mrs. Cardenas.

Mrs. Cardenas shrugged. “She has problems.”

“Who hasn’t?”

“Her husband told her he wanted a bigger house. They sold their old house. She went out looking at model homes, and he took off with the money and the receptionist in his office.
¡El diablo!

“She’s awake,” I tell Mrs. Marsh. “She thinks someone was in the room. She—”

I stop in mid-sentence as Mrs. Marsh briskly and efficiently begins doing all the temperature, pulse, and straightening-up things that nurses do, seemingly ignoring me. She shoos me out of the way.

“Get back in bed, Dina,” she says. “Leave the light on, please. The doctor on duty will be here in a few minutes.” She yanks the curtain back into place between our two beds and leaves the room.

The door swings shut without a sound, but Julie’s voice is like a shiver behind that over-laundered barricade.

“I don’t want to be alone,” she whimpers. “Could you pull back the curtains?”

“Sure.” I manage it with one swift sweep of my arm.

This time it’s my own bed I sit on, dangling my legs over the side.

“Don’t go away,” Julie tells me.

“I’m here,” I say. “I’ll be here a long time after you’ve gone home with your relatives.”

“I haven’t got any.”

It dawns on me that she knows her mother is dead, too. I shudder. “Don’t you have a grandmother? An aunt? Somebody?”


We’ve got something in common, although I’ve had seventeen years to get used to it.

The door opens, and I quickly swing my legs up on the bed and pull the blanket up to my chin, covering my clumsy cotton gown. A stocky man with bristling yellow hair strides into the room. He’s wearing the traditional white coat, but green plaid slacks stick out at the bottom like two grasshopper legs. Mrs. Cardenas says that Dr. Paull is going to be a good doctor someday, when he starts liking his patients; but for now he’s my least favorite person around the hospital.

Mrs. Marsh, who has followed him, moves between
the beds and reaches out for the curtain. But Julie cries out, “No! Don’t do that! I want Dina to be here. If she’s here, Sikes won’t come back.”

“Who is Sikes?” the doctor asks. He puts up a hand to stop the nurse.

“He killed my father,” Julie says.

The doctor is silent for a moment, studying her. “You know about the accident?”

His glance moves to me, and I shrug. “I didn’t tell her. She told me.”

“I was supposed to be killed, too,” Julie says without emotion, as though she is talking about someone who doesn’t exist.

Dr. Paull ignores this, and I wonder why. Maybe he thinks Julie is out of her head. Shouldn’t he ask her about it?

“We’ve checked you carefully,” he says. “Fortunately, we think you’ve had nothing more than a concussion, but now that you’re conscious, we’ll be able to make some more tests.”

That’s a dumb way to talk to a little kid. I have my mouth open to translate, but he goes on.

“Does your head hurt?”


He sits on the edge of her bed. He is close enough to me so that I can smell his woodsy shaving lotion and see a little wrinkle flicker between his eyebrows as he talks. He pushes back the sleeve of Julie’s hospital gown and studies the bruises on her arm.

I study them, too. Anyone can see they aren’t from the accident. They are old, browning bruises,
and I wonder how she got them. I want to ask, but decide I had better keep my mouth shut. Dr. Paull shines a light into Julie’s eyes and makes a satisfied hum-humming noise.

BOOK: Specter (9780307823403)
5.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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