I spent Tuesday thinking about Chay. Reb noticed the difference in my personality, and even Mom tried to get me to talk.
I didn’t, though, because there was no way for me to put into words all that I’d seen and heard without being sent to a mental institution.
On Wednesday, I skipped school because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was tired of feeling as though the entire world knew more than I did, and if Chay was willing to answer my questions, then I’d go to him.
I reasoned that he hadn’t hurt me yet. He’d had plenty of opportunities to do serious harm, and I was still here–perfectly safe and healthy.
The logic was inane, but it did carry my feet as I walked toward Kaliska River. I moved slowly because my heart was still pounding uncontrollably in my chest at the thought of what could happen.
But my worries were somewhat eased when I came to the river’s edge and found Chay waiting for me, exactly where he’d said he’d be. He was leaning against a tree, quite nonchalant. He appeared as though he’d been waiting there all day, expecting my arrival.
It wasn’t until I was standing next to him, leaning against the same tree, looking over the calm waters of the Kaliska River, that he finally acknowledged me.
“So, you did do that reading I suggested?”
I hesitated. “I may have… skimmed a few things.”
“And there might have been a… couple similarities, but not enough for me to start following you around like a… lost puppy.” I inwardly groaned at how cliched that statement had been, but Chay merely smirked, detecting my aggravation.
He didn’t talk; I felt as though he were waiting for me to elaborate, so I continued, speaking much more quickly than I had intended.
“Listen, I–I may be willing to… consider what you have to say, but I’m going to need more proof. I need to know what’s going on.”
I was staring at Chay with defiant eyes, though he barely seemed aware of my presence. There was a long silence, and I considered leaving.
I was shocked. Chay had turned to me, his face even. “Really?” I asked, ashamed of the childish question.
“Unless you’d rather… follow me along like a lost puppy? Personally, I think if you don’t know a little bit, this whole project will be useless.”
Chay nodded, walking closer to the river and sitting upon a large rock. I followed the gesture and sat beside him. Our legs hung over the edge, the rushing waves barely missing our shoes.
“That would be the best place to begin.” Chay sighed, looking across the river, as though searching for the right words. “The government has been intrigued by powers beyond the norm for generations–don’t think this is anything new.”
“Powers beyond the norm?”
“People like you, for example.”
I huffed. “Thanks, as if I didn’t feel like enough of a freak already, now I have ‘people like me.’”
Chay frowned, turning back to me. When he spoke, his voice had its usual edge to it–the same gruffness that I’d heard on the bridge when we’d first met. “Todd, perhaps I’ve been incorrect in my observations, but I thought you enjoyed being different?”
I shook my head. “Not like this! Before I was just…. I was a writer. I spent most of my life thinking that I was good at something.” I hardly noticed that my voice was growing louder and louder. “I was a writer–it was the only thing that I could be because I was too weird for anything else! So I wore black, and I drank coffee–I became a part of my own stereotype and it was…” A lump caught in my throat at the final word. “It was safe.”
I looked away, biting my lip. “But now I don’t even have that. Now, I’m really a freak.”
Chay didn’t respond. “You’re not a freak. You… you have a gift that can be used for great good.”
My head snapped back to him; I hoped my eyes were as angry as I felt–Chay had no right to tell me anything.
“Perhaps I should explain.” Chay rose, pacing slightly as he spoke. “This is very difficult because I can’t tell you everything.”
“Haven’t you been listening at all, Todd?” Chay snapped. “Everything I say is on a strictly need to know basis!”
“So, if I would need to know government secrets, you could–”
“Todd, I would tell you, but I’d have to kill you.”
I was about to laugh, until I noticed that Chay’s expression was unchanged. “So, why are telling me anything at all?”
“Because it is essential for you to trust me, Todd. You haven’t been able to write, I assume?”
I looked to the side.
“I thought so. You’ve learned a lot, and it’s hard to deal with. I wouldn’t expect anything different.”
“So if you understand why I’m here and what’s going on, maybe you can start… writing again. I can’t make you possibly comprehend how important your writing is.” Chay collapsed beside me. “I think where I need to start is with the Department.”
“That would be good.”
Chay nodded. “I work for a top secret government facility–completely top secret.” He sighed dramatically. “I wish you’d been able to see more in your visions–”
“I still prefer calling them my writing!” My tone was indignant, and I was surprised by how easily the complaint had escaped from my lips. The more time I spent with Chay, the more relaxed I became.
He looked back at me, his eyes not hinting at any sort of annoyance, but irritation seemed to leak from his persona.
“Those hormones are gonna get you killed, Todd,” Chay spat. “But fine–your writing didn’t tell you much about the Department.”
“Are you with the FBI or something?”
Chay laughed–it was a hollow, hoarse laugh that echoed through the forest. “Yeah right–little league!”
Chay shook his head, still chuckling. “They only wish they knew half the stuff that we do.”
I squinted my eyes in confusion. “What then?”
Chay looked up, suddenly serious. “I work for the Department of Parapsychological Research. Otherwise known as the DPR, though it is referred to more simply as The Department.”
Chay nodded. “You’d be surprised how often the government relies on outside advice before taking action. It is our job to study all of these more unusual aspects.” Chay must have noticed the confused look on my face, for he continued, his face contorted as he rolled his hand in the air, looking for examples. “Psychics, UFOs, astrology… so on and so on. We study how effective these different…uh… items could be in global affairs.”
“So I’m psychic?”
“You’re ignorance is going to get on my nerves real fast, Todd. No, you’re not psychic, you’re a prophet.”
“What’s the difference?”
Chay exhaled, snapping his head forward in boredom. “‘Prophet’ is the term the DPR has dedicated to anyone who has visions on a national or global level. Psychics predict much less… important factors.”
“Well that sucks.”
“Todd, you have visions that could protect the free world as we know it!”
“Yeah, but you’re saying that I can’t foresee a pop quiz in Chemistry!”
Chay looked as though he wanted to strangle me. “I think if we manage to avoid global dictatorship, you’d be able to forgive that oversight in your ability. Now will you listen?”
Before he could continue, I asked, “So where does the FBI and CIA come in?”
“They take care of the more–for lack of better word–normal things that you hear about on the news. They also are like the front men–if something should happen to leak out into the public, they cover it up and take the credit so that the DPR can remain a secret.”
“If the DPR is so secret, why do things sometimes get out?”
“Mistakes,” Chay shrugged. “Nothing has gotten out in years, however. I’d like for you to notice, Todd, that the CIA covers everything up so that no one can ever find out about The Department.”
“You’re saying that everyone just attributes all that weird stuff to the CIA?”
“And the DPR is kept hidden.” Chay nodded. “Nice to see that you aren’t quite as dumb as you look.”
I made to retort, but Chay was continuing:
“The Department has two major sections: the people who study the phenomena, and the people who protect it.” Chay raised his eyebrows arrogantly. “That would be me, and you would be my project.”
“Wait, I’m a project?” My voice was unbelieving and completely skeptical.
Chay nodded. “Yes, will you please try to keep up?” He had risen, and was walking back toward the town.
“Why are you in such a hurry?”
“Things are changing quickly, Todd–the sooner we get you writing, the more advantage we have over people who want to do harm.”
I didn’t stand, but looked the side, my eyes darting as I remembered back to my stories. “Cyrus?”
“He would be one.”
“Wait, I still can’t get over the fact that the government is… studying me?”
“Project Divinitas, to be precise, Todd.”
“My project has a name?” My voice was becoming high-pitched, frantic. There was no way that any of this could be true.
Yet, the gears meshed more easily in my mind than they ever had before.
But they shouldn’t–they should be telling me to run, to go to the police, anything!
I shouldn’t be standing here with Chay, absorbing this insanity as though it were the truth.
But I couldn’t leave because… because…
It made sense.
And that worried me more than anything.
“A government project for me–” I began, trying to retain my hold on reality. “That’s a bit… over-protective! No, ridiculous, this whole thing is ridiculous!”
“Todd, you’ve seen into Cyrus’ mind; you know what he’s capable of!”
Any calmness that Chay had been attempting was gone–he was letting his exasperation show, his eyes wide and sarcastic despite their emotionless depths.
“But–it’s insane! What are you going to say next, that there’s a room ready for me at Area 51?”
“No, silly boy that is where we keep the aliens!”
“Well–wait, you mean there really are aliens at Area 51?”
“Are you completely unable to recognize my sarcasm?” he spat.
“You mean, there aren’t any aliens–cuz if there were–” I stopped, snapping my fingers. “Unless you’re just trying to get me off your trail!”
“Yes, Todd, because I–as a secret government agent–am so concerned with a teenager being on my trail!”
“Well, you must be pretty concerned to be following me around!”
Chay whirled around wildly, his tone loud and irritated. “Yes, because you are having visions that pertain to the government!”
“I told you to call them my writings!”
“Whatever you call them they’re still the same thing!”
Chay turned, and began his ascent up the steep hill toward the road. I followed quickly, asking, “So, did we decide that there were aliens?”
Chay gave an aggravated groan. “Todd, do you really think that Area 51 is more important than your impending doom?”
I stopped, looking around: we were in the middle of a deserted forest. Maybe that cute squirrel above my head was going to throw a nut at me. Or perhaps that happily chirping bird would poke my eyes out.
“Right now?” I asked, my eyes roaming the area. “Ah–yeah, Area 51 is way more interesting.”
Chay gave another odd sound, muttering to himself about smartalec teenagers.
“Listen,” I grabbed onto his arm, and his head snapped back to me, his gaze lethal. I let go immediately, stuttering. “I’m j-just not sure I-I understand–”
“You mean you’re not sure you believe me.”
Chay walked forward. The road was still a half mile upward, and he seemed eager to get to town as quickly as possible. “Todd, I can’t give you any more evidence. You just have to trust me.”
“Trust you!” I shouted. “Trust the person who stole my stories, threatened me–”
Chay was facing me again. “I changed my mind–this isn’t normal hormones–with the way you’re complaining you must be PMSing!”
I was about to shout, before Chay looked behind me, frowning.
“Todd, get over here!”
“What? No way, I’m going home!” I made to go pass him, but Chay grabbed my arm harshly, pulling me behind him. He kept a firm grip on my arm, despite my struggling and shouting.
“Hey, let go–”
“Well, well, Chay. I didn’t realize it was bring a child to work day. Must’ve missed the memo.”
I looked up, following Chay’s gaze.
I understood immediately why he had tensed so quickly, why his voice had become more urgent.
Standing in front of us was a man that seemed oddly familiar–he was a tall man with blonde hair that was cut so short he appeared bald. His blue eyes were like marbles, and his rough face was marred by a long scar.
“YOU!” I shouted, staring at the man.
The man looked up at me, amused confusion mixing with his menacing air. “You know me, kid?”
“Todd, shut-up,” Chay hissed, pushing me as far back as he could without loosening his grip.
“Chay, that’s him! That’s–Chay, I’ve written about him!”
The man’s curious gaze turned hungry, then ravenous. “Written about me?” He grinned devilishly. “Well, that makes sense.” He turned his attention to Chay, whose eyes were now darting to the side, as though looking for an escape route. “So that’s why you’ve been hanging around this hick town.”
“This isn’t any of your business, Henbane.”
“Henbane?” I repeated.
The man must have noticed the realization in my eyes–the sense that I knew what Chay was talking about when I should have been oblivious.
“I believe you have something that belongs to me, Chay,” he said, his greedy eyes not leaving me.
“You’re not getting it back,” Chay spat, he’d freed both of his hands, and was holding them before his body, as though waiting for an attack.
“You can keep it,” Henbane grinned. “I believe my priorities have changed.”
He lunged toward me, and the world went black.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020