The words.

She wanted to say them, say them so badly. And the chant was one she knew so well— she'd used it countless times in similar moods to this one. In just a few stanzas, she could make all her pain go away, fly off to a fantastical land and forget all her worries, if only for a little while. A month ago, the choice would have been easy. Hell, she wouldn't even consider not saying it. It'd just fly out of her mouth, no stopping anything. So why not now? Why couldn't she let herself now. . . . ?

Lydia sighed, her pale face a picture of gloomy hesitation. He probably missed her. Beej. Probably wondering whether she was dead or something— but if she was she'd be with him, so then what could he think? She'd been gone for nine months, three short of a year. It showed, in her room where nothing had been touched, where even Delia had been too spooked to stay in for more than a few minutes. The dark drapes on her windows sagged and at a touch would explode in a cloud of dust. Her floor was still scattered with the stale clothing she'd left there. And the mirror on her dresser was fogged with some sort of mold or rust that most likely wouldn't come off. She'd have to get rid of it.

Just as well. Spare her the temptation.

Nine months at the New York State Mental Health Facility didn't do her any good physically. Her face, once fair, had been turned ghostly white by drugs and lack of any kind of sunshine. When she looked in the mirror two sunken, purple blotches with shiny, dark centers stared back from where her eyes were supposed to be. And her body was no more than a skeleton . . . for all the anorexics in that place, no one had forced her to eat. No one had noticed that she'd slowly deteriorated as a human.

As for her mental state . . . well, the doctors said she couldn't be better. She no longer had such fantastic daydreams, no traces of the schizophrenia she arrived with. She no longer saw an eccentric poltergeist following her around or talking to her. No longer visited that strange, make-believe place she'd dubbed "the Neitherworld" . . . and until now, until she'd stepped inside her old room, she had never thought of those special words that would take her there.

And the words echoed in her head, loud and clear, like the Sunday church bells. She could still see herself, hear herself . . . hear him . . . .

Though I know I should be wary. . .

"Hey, Beej?"

He turned to her, tipping his head to one side. His long, scraggly blonde hair fell unevenly at each side of his face, giving him a comic look. His eyes sparkled with all the life he'd possessed before his death.

"Yeah, Lyds?"

. . . . Still I venture someplace scary . . . .

She licked her dry lips. She wanted to ask, she honestly did. But she was afraid. Afraid that he would deny, that he would crumble her dream . . .

"All this . . . this place . . . you . . . is any of it real?"

His eyes never lost their mischief; but still, at the same time, a serious look came across his face and she knew that, whatever he said, it would be the truth.

"Yeah, babes. Yeah, it is."

. . . . ghostly haunting I turn loose . . . .

And then the name to follow. Three times. Thrice the thunder crashes, thrice the bell toles. Even just those three words and he'd come, like he always did, full of fun and laughter, never to truly let her down. Despite his shortcomings, his faults, he had never let her be in despair, never left her alone for the hungry world to feast on.

Slowly, Lydia raised one pale, shaky hand to her mirror. Just three words. That's all. Such a simple easy relief, to fall back into that dream. . . .

She stopped.

Stupid.

Drawing her hand back, she stood up from her chair. Slowly, she took her tiny steps, backing away from the mirror, from her memories.

Fool. None of that existed. None of it.

And he, the one on whom her life had once revolved, was he gone as well? Was he just a figment of her imagination, gone now that she'd been "cured"? Would she ever see her steadfast poltergeist again?

No. He didn't exist.

It was all just imaginary.