The word caught in my throat. Surely the man before me was insane. I wondered if there were any mental hospitals near Agenton, and what the odd were that he could have escaped from one.
I also wondered how I could possibly get away from him.
“You heard me–prophet.”
I grinned, deciding that it was best to play along. If I disagreed… well… I suddenly had a very vivid mental image of my face on a milk carton.
Yeah, I’d play along. If Chay wanted to say I was a prophet, then I was a prophet.
“You don’t believe me.” His tone was matter-of-fact.
“No, no,” I began, hoping that my voice sounded sincere. “I believe you.”
He huffed, standing straighter. “Sure you do. You also think that the moon is made of blue cheese. Fine, don’t believe me. It won’t be long, though, before others will start coming.”
“Cyrus. It won’t take him long to find out what I’m really up to.” Chay looked away, as though worried. “Yeah, he’ll find out about you.”
Chay looked up. “Yeah. You know him. Man in a business suit? Good-looking guy.” Chay shrugged. “Shame he’s trying to overthrow the American government. Even more of a shame that you–” He stared derisively at me. “Destroyed some of the pages that could have let us into his mind.”
“What are you talking about!” It came out as a shout.
“I’m talking about the fact that you aren’t writing stories, Todd. Honestly, I would’ve thought you’d been able to figure this much out.” He seemed to wait for a response. When there wasn’t one, he continued. “You’ve never noticed any similarities between what you write and what’s on the news? Well, I guess most of it wouldn’t be on the news, would it? No, we like to cover up most of that stuff. Better not to get people worried. Pandemonium, you know?”
“I don’t watch the news.”
Chay frowned. “Flip it on, you might learn something about the world. Not nearly as much as you learn from writing, though.”
“You’re insane.” There I said it–the one thing you never say to a crazy person. He was going to kill me. Or… laugh?
“Yeah, trailing after a hormone-crazed teenage boy after years of training. I must be crazy, kid, to have not complained to the Department.”
My eyes widened.
“You know all about the Department, of course?” he asked slyly. I noticed that his eyes had lit with a slightly mischievous gleam.
I shook my head. “In my stories–” (I stressed the word.) “–people are always talking about The Department.”
“Don’t know anything about it.” Chay crossed his arms. “Damn it. I have more explaining to do than I thought.”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Listen, if you want my stories, take ‘em! I’m tired of ‘em!”
Chay nodded. “That would probably be best. I could examine them that way.”
“Here!” I threw them into Chay’s arms; he caught them gracefully. “Just stop following me, okay?”
“I can’t do that.”
“What do you want?”
“You might have another vision, Todd. I’m going to have to know about it.”
“Do you call them chapters?”
“What are you talking about?”
Chay shook his head. He seemed genuinely frustrated now. “Those stories of yours, they’re not stories. They’re real. Real events that haven’t happened yet. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I know. You already pointed that out. Now listen, Todd, you are having visions. You are what we call a ‘prophet.’ Understand?”
“No, I don’t!”
I jumped at the sound of my name. It was my mother’s voice, frantic above the rain. I made to run toward it, but Chay grabbed me harshly, pinning me against the wall.
“Don’t hurt me!”
“Don’t sound like such a baby!”
I squirmed against his grip, but he didn’t seem the least bit fazed. “Listen, Todd, you are not to tell anyone what we’ve talked about.”
“Todd, I understand if you don’t believe me, this is a lot to take in!”
I made to shout for Mom, but he clamped his hand over my mouth. “Todd, if you don’t believe me, get a second opinion. Go to the library. Do some reading on prophecies. Take your writing.” He lowered me so that he could shove the metal case into my arms, but he didn’t loosen his grip. “Compare it to things that have happened. Some of your older stuff to some things in the news.”
“Let go!” I screamed around his hand.
At last, he obeyed. He lowered me from the wall. Chay grabbed onto my arm so tightly, however, that I couldn’t move. “Todd, I have told you government secrets. Remember that before you open your mouth to anyone.”
“Anyone,” he repeated, his voice grave.
He released me, saying, “You have any questions–you want to talk about what I told you–you can find me at the Kaliska River, where you were today with that goth kid.”
I felt my heart clench. He’d been following methen, and I hadn’t noticed him? When else had he been with me?
I didn’t respond, just turned, running, clutching the metal case to my chest. I found Mom’s van and jumped into it eagerly.
“Todd!” she screamed, hugging me. “Todd, you’re drenched!” She grabbed my shoulders and looked me over. Her eyes widened. “Todd what happened, where did you get those cuts and bruises?”
The image of Virgil standing above me burst into my mind, but I shrugged it away. I couldn’t tell Mom that. I didn’t want to make her feel guilty.
“No one, Mom.” I lied. “I got in a fight at school.”
“No one. I don’t know his name.”
“Can we just go home?”
She seemed about to disagree, then thought better of it, and drove.
I knew I should tell Mom about Chay. I could blame the bruises on him. But, remarkably, he hadn’t hurt me. Not a single bruise was because of him. He’d had a hard touch, but it hadn’t been harsh enough to leave a mark.
Some part of me wondered if he’d been careful, if he’d been gentle on purpose. I shook the thought away, turning to look at the alley as we drove away, Chay’s final words replaying in my mind:
“Todd, I have told you government secrets–remember that before you open your mouth to anyone.”
I stared into the alley, looking for any trace that Chay had been there.
“Todd, are you all right?”
“What? Yeah, Mom, I’m fine. Just cold.”
“When we get home, I’ll get you some hot chocolate.”
I didn’t let my eyes leave the alley: it was deserted, as though Chay had never been there at all.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020