Chapter 24

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"What do you think is really going on?"

Nicholas rested his head against the soda machine in the hospital alcove, which made the muscles in his neck stand out. He took a long sip from his iced tea.

"I have no idea," Clara answered. She held a bottled water against her forehead. "I feel like her doctor knows that something's off but he just won't say. And they're still planning to send her home in a couple days."

"She can't go home the way she is now," Nicholas said, pushing himself off the machine. "She's talking like a five year old. She might not even be able to take care of herself."

"I know," said Clara. "My mind just keeps going back and forth. First I think it's just got to be temporary – like she's still in shock from what happened. But then I wonder – what if this is just the way she is now?"

Nicholas looked at her. "Well," he said, "if it's temporary, I don't think it'll last longer than a week. I had a concussion once and I was back to normal in a few days."

"Okay," said Clara. "But this feels different from a concussion."

"Maybe," Nicholas said. "But you'll be at work all day. My grandmother has trouble walking and feeding herself, so she has a healthcare worker come to her house in the mornings to help her until my mom gets home. Her insurance pays for it – but she's almost eighty."

"I don't think they'd do that for Aunt Maureen," Clara said. "She's not old enough, she seems to be able to feed herself, and she hasn't completely lost her mind. She's just... off."

"Yeah," Nicholas said. "Well, maybe it'll work itself out."

Clara didn't answer. She scanned the tiny cafeteria area. A few sad-looking visitors sat in hard plastic chairs, mindlessly chewing monotone food. The furniture looked two or three decades out of date. She noticed that the plastic chair closest to her was bright orange underneath, but the rest of the material had faded from years of sunlight. The color triggered something in her mind.

"You know," Clara said, "I found this old file at my work. It was a study for a demolition of the pier that the Castle used to be on – but it was done before the fire."

"Okay," Nicholas said. "Does that have something to do with your aunt?"

Clara looked at her feet. "I'm not sure," she said. "But there's been a jumble of weird things going on and I keep wondering if they're connected in some way. The castle fire, the demolition study, the stories about Eric, and then what happened here..."

Nicholas let out a nervous laugh and stepped closer to Clara. "Please tell me you're not starting to believe the stories those guys were telling you on the beach."

"It wasn't just stories – it was the video, too," she said. "You can't deny that what I saw--"

"Clara," Nicholas interrupted, "that video was a prank. Someone used special effects software or something to make it."

"I might have believed that two days ago," she said. "But not now."

"So what do you want to do about it?" Nicholas asked.

"What can I do?" she asked. "Hope Aunt Maureen goes back to being her normal self. Hope the security footage magically fixes itself so we can get the license plate of that pickup. Hope the police find out who owns it and tracks them down for answers."

"Good luck with that," Nicholas said. "Lots of people around here drive pickup trucks. My Uncle Kevin has one."

Clara looked up. "He does?" she asked.

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