"Gone as in... completely gone?"
"Yes," Dr. Bihlmeier said. "Though I can't explain it. Your aunt's arrhythmia was severe. She was at risk for blot clots, cardiac arrest... and now... well..."
He took off his glasses and laid them on the desk of the exam room, then picked up Aunt Maureen's chart and stood. Dr. Bihlmeier handed the chart to Clara. He pointed to a dense grid showing a series of wavy horizontal lines.
"This is her heartbeat?" Clara asked.
"Yes – it's an ECG and it shows her rhythm as of today," he said. "Now flip the page."
Clara did as Dr. Bihlmeier asked. The next page had the same type of chart, but the wavy lines had two extra bumps in each pattern.
Dr. Bihlmeier crossed his arms and leaned against the desk. "That one was taken four months ago."
"I can see the difference," Clara said. "This change... it must have happened to some other patient somewhere."
The doctor looked down, shaking his head.
"If there's another case like this, I've never heard of it," he said. He didn't sound pleased. "And neither have my colleagues. There are medications to treat the symptoms, but they can't eliminate the condition itself. It's just... it's not possible."
"Okay," Clara said, searching, "But this is good, right?"
"Yes," he said, nodding slowly. "Much preferable to having arrhythmia."
Clara couldn't tell if the doctor was holding something back, or if he was just struggling with the fact that he couldn't explain what had happened. She looked through the chart again, as if she might notice something he hadn't picked up.
"Is there a chance it could come back?" she asked.
Dr. Bihlmeier walked over to her. "Remote," he said. "Extremely remote. Her heart condition wasn't congenital, so it progressed to the point she was at over many years. I highly doubt it would ever get there again. Her rhythm is perfect now."
"So... she's cured." Clara said. The word sounded too direct – too hopeful. But nothing else seemed to make sense.
Dr. Bihlmeier nodded. "Her heart is normal now. She's a little foggy from the incident last night but she was aware enough to ask me to tell you what's going on." He opened the door and gestured into the hallway. "Let's head to her room. She should be up for a visit by now."
Clara walked through the door. As she started back into the hospital hallway, Dr. Bihlmeier's phone rang. He looked at the number on the display and said, "I'm going to have to take this." He lifted the phone and held his hand over the mouthpiece, whispering, "I'll meet you in her room in a few minutes."
Clara stepped out of the room. Her eyes immediately searched the hallway for Nicholas. He must have heard her footsteps because he emerged from the waiting area and walked over to join her.
"What's the story?" he asked. Clara saw the concern in his eyes and wondered how she could explain what she'd just been told. She wanted to be delighted, but Dr. Bilhmeier's reaction made her hold back. As they made their way down the hallway, she give Nicholas the best explanation she could. The whole time she spoke, he stared at her expectantly – like he was waiting for a punchline.
"Seriously?" Nicholas asked.
"Seriously," Clara said as she opened the door to Aunt Maureen's room. Aunt Maureen was sitting up, wolfing down a bowl of cereal as a nurse stood by her side, watching in disbelief.
It took a moment for Aunt Maureen to notice her visitors. When she did, she smiled broadly, wiped her mouth with her arm, and said, "Hi kids!" in a voice that made her sound like a child herself.
Clara rushed over to her and gave her a gentle hug. "It's so good to see you up and talking, Aunt Maureen," she said. "How are you feeling?"
Aunt Maureen looked to the nurse, who looked to Clara and flitted her eyes before turning back to the cereal bowl to wipe up the milk drippings.
"She's doing fine," the nurse said, sounding hesitant. "Just getting her strength up." Aunt Maureen nodded at that.
"Just so, so... hungry!" Aunt Maureen said, giggling. Clara laughed with her, but only out of politeness.
The nurse put the cereal bowl on a tray and carried it out of the room, making eye contact with Clara again. "I'll just be down the hall at the nurse's station if you need me," she said as she left the room.
Clara took a seat in the visitor's chair. "This is just such a relief," she said. Nicholas hung at her side awkwardly. Aunt Maureen seemed to notice him for the first time. She pointed at Nicholas, her brow furrowed.
"Who's the looker?" she asked. Nicholas chuckled.
"That's Nicholas," Clara said. "Do you remember? I was bringing him to meet you the night... the night you came here."
"Ah," said Aunt Maureen. "Ahhhhhh."
Nicholas smiled at her. "It's nice to finally meet you," he said. "Like, for real."
"Yes," said Aunt Maureen. "I'm happy! So happy! I feel so good!" She flailed her arms, nearly pulling out the lines and cables still attached to her. She didn't seem to notice or care.
Clara wanted to leave. This wasn't the aunt she knew. She held onto the hope that whatever had clouded Aunt Maureen's mind was the temporary result of the trauma she'd gone through. She couldn't accept that her aunt had permanently transformed into this child-woman.
"Clara?" Aunt Maureen asked. Clara couldn't tell if she was about to ask a question or if she already had.
"Yes?" Clara said.
"How did I get here? What happened to me?" Aunt Maureen asked.
Clara looked at Nicholas. She couldn't decide what she should say.
Nicholas took the cue. "Miss Gavernish," he said, "what's the last thing you remember?"
Aunt Maureen's eyes floated upward. She stared at the ceiling, but it seemed more like she was staring through the ceiling at something else.
"Stars," she said. "A whole sky full of them." She smiled blissfully.
Clara started to speak, but Nicholas held his hand out toward her, gently suggesting that she stay quiet.
"That's right," Nicholas said. "When the ambulance crew took you out, it was nighttime and the sky was really clear. I remember seeing stars too."
Aunt Maureen's face looked sad. She swished her head from side to side. "Oh no," she said. "I didn't see the stars in the sky. I was in the stars! Dancing with them!"
She tilted her head back and laughed giddily. "Dancing! Dancing in the stars..."
Clara watched her aunt behaving like someone completely unlike herself and wondered how she would explain the situation to her mother. Or if she'd even try. Maybe this was better seen than explained.
"Hey," Nicholas said, leaning in. "Do you want to take a walk to the cafeteria?"
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Breach Point (Haunted)Paranormal
When high school sophomore Clara Tuffney is hired for a summer internship at an engineering firm, she accepts an invitation to live with her Aunt Maureen in the quiet seaside town of Breach Point, New Jersey. Soon after arriving, Clara learns of t...