Forthcoming, Chapter Seventeen: Lakeside Realization

I didn’t get sick.  I somehow managed to keep my breakfast down as we swerved through the back roads.  I clutched at the seat, my hands sweating.  I wondered how a teacher had ever afforded a car as nice as this, and set my head against the leather.

     It helped to somewhat relax, and when I opened my eyes again, Chay was suddenly serious.  I wondered if the laughing person I’d seen moments ago had even been real, or if I’d hallucinated the whole thing.

     The glass on the floor and the wind whipping my hair from the broken window was all the proof I needed to know that everything was real.

     Which meant one thing: everything Chay had told me was real.

     I felt sick again, and laid back down.

     “Chay?”

     “Todd, I need to concentrate right now.” Chay continued to mutter something about “a safe place,” but I wasn’t listening.  I was watching his leg, bleeding steadily.

     I gulped, and closed my eyes.

#

     I don’t know how I managed to sleep in a car traveling as quickly as Chay had it going, but when I awoke night had fallen.  We’d arrived in a town that was even smaller than Agenton, and Chay was turning into a set of apartments.  Each apartment was a separate building, like a small house, surrounding a medium-sized lake.

     Chay got out of the car, limping heavily.  I noticed that some of the blood from the gash was still wet, though most of it had dried.

     Despite the fact that he’d saved my life, I found that I couldn’t feel much sympathy for the man.  I opened my own door and followed him hesitantly.  Chay seemed to know where he was going.  He stopped at one of the apartments, and turned the doorknob.  It didn’t open and he swore loudly.  He shot a scathing look at me, muttering, “Wish you were a girl.”

     “What?”

     “You’d have bobby pins–to pick locks with.”

     I leaned against the wall, closing my eyes.  “That car belongs to a girl.”

     Chay looked at me, slightly confused.

     “She’s my teacher.  Thanks for stealing the car, saves me the trouble of plotting revenge.”

     Chay didn’t laugh, but walked quickly to the car.  When he returned, it was with, indeed, with a bobby pin.

     He bent down, fiddling with the lock for a few moments before he rose, opening the door with ease.

     “After you,” he mumbled, and I obliged.

     He followed.  The apartment was dark, and appeared deserted–

     Save for a high-pitched anxious voice from the right.

     “Get out of here!  I warn you, I have a black belt!”

     I could almost see Chay rolling his eyes as he reached for the light switch.  Immediately, the room was lit, revealing a scrawny man in plaid pajamas.  He had thick glasses and dirty blonde hair that was scattered atop his head.  He was holding a tennis racket above his head, and he jumped backward as soon as the lights came on.

     “And what are you planning on doing with that?” Chay snapped, closing the door behind him.

     “It was the first thing I grabbed,” the man retorted, edging closer to the door.

     “Jimmy Conner–you’re not.”

     The man threw the tennis racket to the ground, leaning against an island that separated the living room from the kitchen.  “Ever heard of knocking?”

     “Ever heard of getting a decent weapon?”

     The man moved closer, his mouth twitching.  “Kind of hard to purchase fire arms, when–according to official record–you don’t exist.”  The man’s eyes fell on me and he frowned.  “Who are you?”

     I was about to answer when Chay cut across me.  “Todd Everett?”

     “Everett?” The man repeated, and frowned.  He looked back at Chay.  “Well that would explain a lot.”  His eyes wandered to Chay’s leg.  “And what kind of trouble have you been getting into today?”

     Chay didn’t respond, but pushed me into the living room.  He threw me onto the couch, commanding, “Stay.”

     “Do I look like a dog to you?”

     “Could you attempt to be as obedient as one?”

     I crossed my arms, staring angrily at the other two as they went into the kitchen.  Chay whispered something I couldn’t hear, and the other man exclaimed, “Chay you can’t be serious!  He’s just a kid!”

     “I’m sixteen!” I argued.  “I’m old enough to be trusted behind a two-ton vehicle!  I’m not a child!”

     Chay looked back at me, his face unreadable.  “Fine–very immature adolescent.  Now will you please let the adults talk?”

     I made to retort, but Chay had led Derek to a back room, out of my view.  They were back there for a long time, and I tried to retain my anger.  I pouted, paced, and cursed Chay in my mind.

     But my rage didn’t last.  It was replaced quickly by the realization I’d been trying to ignore.

     I couldn’t ignore it any longer, however, and I walked to the kitchen, my head spinning with a dizziness unrelated to Chay’s driving or the fight from the afternoon.

     I stopped at the island, looking into the living room.  I reached for a light switch, and the room across from me darkened.

     My stomach felt as though it dropped to my toes, and sat in a nearby chair–this room didn’t just look familiar, it was exactly as I’d envisioned it.

     This couldn’t be happening.

     “Chay, don’t leave!”  The other man’s voice was angry as it followed Chay into the living room.  “Who turned out the lights?”

     “I did, Derek,” I answered, my voice cracking.

     Within moments Chay and Derek were in the kitchen, staring down at me.  I didn’t look at Derek, but kept my gaze even with Chay, blaming him for simply existing–being real when he should have only lived in my mind.

     “How did he know my name?” Derek’s voice was paranoid, but Chay didn’t respond.  He wasn’t looking away from me.  I knew he was expecting me to speak, but I didn’t want to talk. 

     After a while, though, I couldn’t resist saying the one thing that had been on my mind for far too long:

     “You’re not the person I saw.”

     Derek was confused, which was evident by how quickly he was wringing his hands.  “What’s he talking about, Chay?”

     He didn’t respond, so I continued: “You’re not him.”

     “Who?” Derek spat, his eyes darting between Chay and myself.

     “You’re not The Man In The Shadows,” I accused.  “You’re not him.  He’s not real.”

     “I thought,” Chay began, his voice barely above a whisper, “that writers claim their characters to be very real.”

     “In their minds!” I was yelling again.  I’d jumped from my seat, eyes wide.  “You’re not him!”

     Chay frowned.  “And when you say I’m not, is that some sort of emotional-breakdown-code for ‘I’ve finally figured it out.’”

     I fell back into my chair.  “You can’t be him.”

     “Wait.” Though I wasn’t looking at Derek, I could hear the understanding nod in his voice.  “He saw you, Chay?  In his visions.”

     “He likes calling them chapters.” Chay snapped viscously.  “And it appears as though his underdeveloped mind has finally caught up with the big boys.”

     “I’m sixteen, not six months,” I muttered, crossing my arms over my chest.

     Chay gave a twisted smile.  “Really?” he spat.  “As far as I can tell you both just whine a lot.”

     I made to retort, but Derek was speaking.  “You’re the person he’s writing about?  The Shadow Man?”

     “You let Derek read my stuff!” I was standing again, though Derek and Chay seemed unperturbed.

     “Yeah–Man In The Shadows,” Chay drawled.  He turned his attention back to me.  “Creative name, Todd.”

     Derek shook his head.  “He’s been writing about you, Chay?”

     I nodded.  “Yeah, and you too.”

     Derek narrowed his eyes, suddenly nervous.  “What’ve you seen?”

     I shrugged.  “Only that you were impressed by some sort of disc Chay stole.”

     Derek’s eyes widened.  He whirled back to Chay, suddenly interested. “You managed to get it?”

     Chay frowned.  “Between my baby-sitting duties.”

     I slumped back into my chair.  This was all too familiar–Chay and Derek in the kitchen, talking about the disc.

     I sat bolt upright.  “Wait, in my vision you didn’t talk about the disc until later!  And I was…” I hit my head against the table.  “I was in the living room!  That was who you were talking about!” I groaned, covering my head with my hands.  “Why couldn’t I see that I was the other character?”

     Derek spoke. “Prophets don’t see themselves in visions.  It’s like a mental block.”

     “Why are you having this conversation now?”  I hit my head against my arm.

     Chay was talking.  “The future is changeable, Todd.  If it wasn’t, then there would be no reason for the government–or Cyrus for that matter–to have you.”

     “You talk like I’m a tool.”

     Derek laughed.  “You are–a prize to be won.” 

     “And right now we have you,” Chay finished.  “And it’s crucial that it remains that way.”

     “Yeah, smooth move,” Derek chided.  “Now Henbane knows all about your little talent and he’s off to tell Cyrus.”  Derek sat at the table, drumming his fingers.  “And the chances are pretty good that he’d come here for you.”  Derek shot a meaningful look at Chay.  “And he should have some protections.”

     “He’ll be fine,” Chay snapped.  “Cyrus has to–”

     “Reassess the situation,” I mumbled.  “He’d be stupid to try anything tonight.”

     Chay looked at me strangely.  “Yes,” he said slowly, his gray eyes not living my face, though I was refusing to look up from the table.

     “I wrote this conversation already,” I explained.  “Though I wasn’t supposed to be in here with you.”  I sighed.  “And it was supposed to happen after you came back from Aislynn’s.”

     Chay’s expression was grave, and his face fell.

     “What!”  I heard a chair fall backward, crashing against the floor.  Derek was now standing, smiling crookedly.  “You’re leaving me to go make-out with your girlfriend!”

     Chay stared at me coldly, as though I had revealed some sort of secret I’d promised not to tell.

     “No.” The word was forced from his throat.  “And I’d prefer if Todd would keep my feelings for Aislynn out of his visions.”

     “Hey, now that I know where they come from, I want nothin’ to do with ‘em!” I threw up my hands; Chay rolled his eyes.

     “You’re not leaving me with something so important!” Derek spat.

     “Cyrus really is reassessing the situation,” I said. 

     They both watched me, eyebrows narrowed as though I was a particularly interesting sample of amoeba beneath a microscope.

     I scowled and continued.  “I saw it.  Henbane and Chay talking about me–they’re probably doing it now. They don’t know what to do next.”

     A cocky grin spread across Chay’s face as he turned to leave.  “There you have it, Derek.”

     “And if something does go wrong?”

     Chay was halfway to the door, Derek following quickly.

     “Nothing’s going to happen.”

     “If something would–” I interrupted, “Chay expects you to run with your tail between your legs.”

     Derek whirled around.  “Will you shut-up?  You’re omniscience is really freaking me out!”  He turned back to Chay.  “You can’t think I can handle–”

     “No–but there won’t be anything to handle.” Chay’s hand closed around the doorknob, Derek shouting exaggeratedly:

     “Chay, use some common sense!  You can’t just–”

     “Here!”  Chay gruffly shoved his hand into his pocket.  “If you’ll be quiet, I’ll give you this to play with.”

     He’d withdrawn a disc, and was waving it in the air the same way a dog trainer would a treat. 

     Derek crossed his arms, sighing exuberantly. “Give it.”  He reached for it greedily, and Chay let it fall into his hands.

     “Have fun.” Chay said, turning to the door.

     “Yeah, you too,” Derek spat.  “Not,” he muttered after the door had closed.  “Anything I say goes in what ear and out the other.”  He bobbed his head up and down as he spoke, walking to his computer.

     He seemed to have completely forgotten that I was there.  I followed him into the living room, flipping on the light.  He was sitting at his computer, spinning lightly in his chair as the computer loaded.

     I sat on the nearby couch–a feeling of deja vu engulfing me so quickly that I stood.  I walked cautiously to Derek, who was typing quickly, not looking away from the screen.

     “So,” I began, “You could stop Henbane if you really needed to, right?  I mean, you are trained by the Department.”

     Derek gave a hollow laugh, inserting the disc into the hard drive.  There was an odd whirring sound, and he turned to me, smirking.  “That would be nice.”

     “And by that you mean–”

     “I mean that I was trained by the Department, but not the way that Chay was.”

     I didn’t respond, but Derek was continuing, clicking different folders on his computer, the screen reflecting upon his glasses.  “I’m a researcher.”

     “Could you explain a bit for me?”  I’d asked the question even though I knew the answer: I’d met Derek years before in my writing.  I knew who he was and what he did.

     I also knew that if Chay was wrong–if Henbane did show up–then I was dead.

     Derek spun on his chair so that he was facing me.  “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret… Todd?  That’s your name, right?  Yeah, yeah, it’s Todd.”  He leaned back in his chair, talking with his hands.  “Not all spies are sneaky and stealthy and fit so nicely into those perfectly tailored suits you see in the movies.”  He laughed again, and I felt more insecure than I had all day.  “No, some spies are like me.”

     I didn’t want him to explain, but I knew that he would.

     “Meaning–you want me to hack into any computer in the nation?  Fine.  You want me to send a virus to any hard drive?  Fine.”  His mouth twisted as he continued.  “You, however, want me to pull some sort of ancient, ninja kung-fu moves on the enemy?”  He karate-chopped the air, chuckling harshly.  “I will be first one out the door.  And, if you’re lucky, then you might get away, too.”

     He flexed his hands, returning to his computer.  “So basically, if you start having any… er… supernatural feelings–” (he used air quotes around these words)–“hinting that we may be attacked, then you might want to let me know.”

     I went back to the couch, burying myself into the cushions. 

     I never though I would actually miss Virgil, but right now an alcoholic step father seemed less dangerous than this situation.

     I raised my head, watching Derek.  “What’s the disc for?” I asked at last.

     Derek didn’t respond, but rummaged through drawers beside his desk.  “Listen, Chay wanted me to get you to start writing.”  He tossed me a notepad and a cheap pen.  I caught them clumsily, then tossed them to the side.

     The last thing I wanted to do was write.

     “So what’s the big deal about that stupid disc?” I asked again.

     Derek’s head snapped back to me.  “Listen, just let the technologically-able do what we do without any interruptions.  You can sit there and play with your primitive caveman writing stick.”  His tone was degrading and I considered throwing the pen back at him.

     I just sat there, however, arms crossed and expression furious.

     I did, after all, have every right to be angry.  My entire life had just fallen a part and I’d been thrust into something that had nothing to do with me.

     Except that I knew what was happening before anyone else did.

     And yet I’d never been more confused in my life.

     On top of all of that, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and Mom’s meatloaf was beginning to sound appetizing.

     I moaned and leaned my head back until I was staring at the ceiling.

     “What’s wrong with you?” Derek snapped, and I turned my attention back to him.

     “Me hungry,” I mumbled, “Go make fire with primitive writing stick.”  I threw the pen at his feet, and he frowned.

     “Ha-ha, funny.” 

     Derek ignored me for the rest of the evening, and I didn’t complain.  I laid on the couch, and eventually felt my eyes closing.

     I wondered if my extreme fatigue was some sort of post traumatic stress from Henbane’s attack.

     If it was, then I wasn’t complaining–I was eager to get away from this whole mess, and if dreaming meant escaping, then I would welcome sleep eagerly.

     I just wished that I could get away for good.

     But I didn’t think that I had that option anymore.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Sixteen: Henbane

I didn’t realize that I’d closed my eyes until I heard Chay shout, “Todd, open your eyes!  Are you trying to make Henbane’s job easier?”

     I opened them reluctantly. 

     And discovered that I wasn’t dreaming.

     Dang it.

     Chay was pulling me further into the forest as Henbane lifted himself from the ground, his face contorted with a type of anger that was more deadly than anything I’d ever seen. 

     Henbane had taken a fistful of dirt in his hands and thrown it onto ground as he rose, growling in frustration.  “Chay, you realize how this is going to end–ready for some deja vu?”

     Chay seemed to stiffen, but his quick gait didn’t falter as he turned to the right, pulling me along.  I’d never been much of a runner, and I was nearly tripping over myself as Chay hurried through the forest, easily jumping and dodging every obstacle.

     “Chay–-”

     I didn’t know what I was trying to say, but he interrupted me, throwing me over a small ledge.  It was only a few feet high, and it was created from an eroded hill and several dead trees.  It looked very much like a rampart.

     “Chay, I’ll make this easy for you!” Henbane’s voice was high and conniving.  “Give me the boy, and I’ll let you keep that little disc; I won’t give you any more troubles over it, I promise!”

     “What does he want me for?” I hissed, but Chay only shot me a cold stare, his tone as sharp as a whip.

     “What do you think, Nostradamus?”

     “Chay, you can consider it a… souvenir.  A gift from Cyrus.  Why don’t you return the favor with a little present of your own?”

     “Stay down here.”  Chay jumped forward, and I heard his voice next: “You know that isn’t going to happen, Henbane!”

     “Aw?  Are you playing the hero again, Chay?  Does that make it all worth it?”

     I heard footsteps, and pressed myself further against the earth.

     “Come a step closer, Henbane, and you’re a dead man.”

     “Right,” Henbane’s tone was suddenly sardonic.  “Just like last time.  And the time before that, and the time before that.”  A high, mirthless laugh that made me cringe echoed through the forest.  “What do you think you’re fighting, Chay?  A ghost?  ‘Cuz you ain’t killed me yet!”

     Chay didn’t respond, but I could hear his heavy breathing.  Immediately, my mind supplied his calculating expressions, eyes focused heavily upon Henbane.  I could imagine his hands, raised as fists, poised readily in front of his chest.

     “Ooh, you look ready for a fight, Chay?  What’ve you got on you?”

     I shook my head stubbornly, knowing that I had to be an idiot for wanting to see what was going on.

     But I couldn’t resist the curiosity that was causing my pulse to quicken.

       I clutched onto a large root, and heaved myself upward, watching the exchange in front of me. 

     Chay was standing exactly as I had envisioned, Henbane advancing toward him, slowly and stealthily–I thought he looked like a wolverine, with his severe grin and crazed eyes, which landed upon me almost instantly.

     “Everett, right, kid?”

     I wondered suddenly how he could possibly know my name.  I must’ve paled because Henbane laughed more fiercely than ever.  “I’ll be with you in a minute, kid.  You and I have a long drive ahead of us.”

     “Good luck with that, Henbane.”

     Henbane turned back to Chay.  “I enjoy a challenge.”

     Henbane seemed to move in slow motion.  I could see his raising hand, his feet running against leaves, which flew into the air.  Chay was readying himself for a blow, his feet settling more firmly into the ground.  They fought side by side, fists flying.  Chay kicked his leg up, narrowly missing Henbane’s shoulder.

     Henbane dodge, grabbing at Chay’s abdomen.  They fell, rolling across the ground.  The pair hit a tree, leaves falling around them.

     I didn’t think I could move.  I’d lost feeling in all parts of my body; I was still hoping this was a dream… some sort of very realistic dream–

     My thoughts were broken by a loud shout, from Henbane.

     “Stay still, Chay–I promise I’ll make it quick.”

     Henbane grabbed Chay by the collar pinning him to ground.  “Not painless,” he grinned.  “But quick, I swear.  I’d hate for the kid to witness a slow death–not a fun thing to see, is it Chay?”  Henbane threw Chay into the air, and he fell, a few feet away, landing in a crumpled heap.

     He didn’t move. 

     I prayed that he wasn’t unconscious.  Henbane advanced, swaggering as though he’d just spent a night with Virgil.  His nose was bleeding, the blood was black and falling into his mouth.

     I turned to Chay, preparing to run as quickly as I could if he didn’t get up.  He was lying face down, his back moving quickly up and down as he breathed.  It was a silent sound, muffled by Henbane’s heavy steps. 

     “Nice knowin’ ya,’ Chay.” Henbane’s voice was low, mimicking the soft sound of parent’s voice before putting a child to bed.

     Every part of me wanted to look away, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn from Henbane.

     I gasped.

     I’d spent so much time looking at Chay that I hadn’t realized what Henbane had suddenly withdrawn from within his coat: a knife.  It caught the sunlight dangerously.

     Henbane looked at the sudden noise, his eyes finding me immediately.  “Hope you don’t mind the sight of blood, kid.”

     Henbane lifted the knife into the air, and–as reflex overtook my mind–I tightly shut my eyes.

     There was a scream, deep, guttural, and pained.

     I fell to the ground, shaking my head and doubled over in disbelief. 

     It was several moments before I realized that I should run; I didn’t stand a chance against Henbane if Chay was… if he was–  

     “Hey, Henbane, long time no see!”

     I jumped back to my original position, eyes wide:

     Chay was alive, scraped and bruised, but perfectly capable of fighting: Henbane was pinned against a tree, one of Chay’s muscular arms held securely beneath Henbane’s throat.

     “You honestly think I’d give up that easily?” Chay was whispering.  “I wouldn’t give your ego that much attention.”  Chay laughed wildly, pushing harder against Henbane’s body; he was struggling, eyes bulging, the knife still held in his hand.

     Chay eyed the weapon, and reached a hand forward, a smirk crossing his face.

     “You won’t be needing–ahhh!”

     Chay released a loud yell, falling to the ground.  I clutched the tree root more tightly, my fingernails aching as they dug into the wood.

     Henbane was standing above Chay, his cackle restored.  With a jolt of horror, I noticed that his knife was dripping crimson.

     “What won’t I be needing, Chay?  How about what you won’t need?”

     Henbane delivered a harsh kick to Chay’s stomach, and I heard a loud groan as Chay rolled over onto his side.  I scanned Chay as quickly as I could, looking for where the knife had hit.  He was very bruised and bloody already–

     My eyes fell on his leg, where his pants were torn, showing a gash that spread past his knee.

     I felt my heart clench in my chest, and looked to the ground.  A feeling more intense than disbelief or fear had washed over me; I couldn’t look up–it was too…

     Familiar.

     I shuddered, trying to erase the thought from my mind.  It wasn’t hard–Henbane had advanced once again, swinging the knife at his side.

     “Well, you provided yourself a few extra minutes, Chay.  Hope they were with it.”

     Again, Henbane pushed the knife toward Chay’s chest. 

     But I knew that he wouldn’t hit Chay.

     And I was right:

     Chay’s feet kicked around, tripping Henbane.  Chay moved quickly, standing as best as he could, staring at the spot he’d occupied only moments ago: Henbane’s knife was planted firmly in the ground.

     Henbane rose quickly, pulling the knife from the ground, a new ferocity mounting his features.

     Chay moved quickly, Henbane stumbling over himself as he pursued.

     Before I even realized what had happened, Chay was beside me again.  He’d jumped over the ledge, falling because his leg couldn’t support him.  He’d shoved his hands in my pockets, his face contorted in concentration.

     “What the heck are you–”

     He pulled out the only thing I had with me–a fountain pen I’d received for my last birthday.  He stared at it in disbelief, shouting, “No Swiss army knife?  Lighter?”

     “Sorry, I didn’t realize I’d be in mortal combat!”

     “Oh, Chay!”

     I fell backwards, and Chay stood straighter, yielding my pen like sword.  Henbane had jumped in front of us, his steps becoming more and more demented the closer he came.  He began to sway more, thrashing the air with his knife.

     Chay used his foot to push me farther back, then took a step forward.

     “How many lives do cats have, Chay?”

     “Far more than you, Henbane.  You sure you want to risk coming closer?”

     Henbane released a loud bark–merciless and incoherent.  “I’m terrified, Chay.”

     Chay lunged forward, but Henbane was ready.  The knife flew forward, hissing loudly.

     I flinched as Chay moved to the side, barely missing the blade.  Chay was behind Henbane, grabbing him around the neck.  Henbane tried to turn, but Chay kneed him sharply in the back.

     Chay turned to me, shouting, “Now would be the time to go!”

     I didn’t move–couldn’t move.

     “NOW!” Chay shouted, struggling to keep Henbane in one place.  “Town!  NOW, TODD!”

     I didn’t hesitate any longer.  I grappled on the ground, crawling until I could finally pick myself up.

     I heard another loud shout, and noticed that Chay had been flung back over the ledge, and was again on level ground.  He had landed flat on his back, and was standing as quickly as he could.  Henbane was on top of him, the knife in hand.

     “Chay!” I shouted. 

     Henbane noticed, and mimicked, his voice several octaves higher than was natural.  “Chay, Chay–help me, Chay!  I wouldn’t rely on that, kid!”

     “I wouldn’t talk like that so soon, Henbane.” Chay was standing again, though struggling to remain upright.  “I said run, Todd!”

     I took a few steps backward, Henbane coming closer to me, his yellow teeth grinning crookedly.

     “I can make this a lot simpler for you–” Henbane fell to the ground, Chay on to of him, the pen held dangerously in his hand.

     “This’ll keep you busy,” Chay muttered, and before I even realized what he was doing, it had happened:

     A long shout of pain echoed through the forest, and Chay was running toward me, leaving Henbane sprawled on the ground, convulsing in pain.

     I stared at him, my stomach suddenly turning so quickly I thought I was going to lose my breakfast.

     Henbane stood, twitching as he clutched at his eye, where my pen was sticking upward like a sewing needle in pin cushion.

     I felt my legs give out as I hit the ground again.

     Chay gave an exasperated shout, and threw me to my knees.  “Huh, so the pen really is mightier than the sword,” he spat, as he pulled me toward the road.

     I felt dizzy, and I was positive that the world was spinning.  I felt suddenly sicker at the note of humor in Chay’s voice.

     “Todd, stand–I can’t carry you.”

     I realized that we had reached the road, the bridge directly to our right. 

     “Todd, let’s go.  That’s not going to stop him for long.”

     I shakily stood, no coherent thoughts forming in my mind at all.  I nearly fell back to the ground.

     “TODD!”

     “That was my favorite pen,” I muttered, holding my arms outward to try and keep my balance.

     Chay whirled around, annoyance evidence on his features.  “You want me to go back and get it?” he snapped.

     I shook my head numbly, and found that Chay was leading me again, limping heavily upon his wounded leg.

     “CHAY!”

     Henbane’s voice was stiff and shrill.

     Chay stiffened.  “Shoot, now I’ve really ticked him off.”

     “What did you expect?” 

     Chay whirled around; I’d barely registered that we’d entered town.  “Walk on your own, Todd!  We don’t want to attract attention!”

     “We’ve got an armed lunatic chasing us, and you’re worried about attracting attention?”

     Chay frowned.  “We need a car.”

     Chay had grabbed my arm again, leading me towards the nearest vehicle–it was a black car, nice for a rural area.

     “This isn’t your car,” I spat.

     Chay looked up.  He opened the door, muttering, “Small town, so trusting.”

     My eyes widened.  I looked around wildly; I couldn’t see Henbane, but I could hear his harbored footsteps and his infuriated breathing–he was getting closer.

     Chay was inside the car, fiddling with wires beneath the driver’s seat.

     “Chay, you can’t steal a car!”

     “Todd, will you be quiet!”

     “But you–”

     I was still looking wildly for Henbane.  I was hoping that his injuries were slowing him.  I could no longer hear him, but that thought just made me more nervous.  I scanned the area–

     My eyes stopped at a window directly in front of me.  The local grocery store, where I rarely shopped, seemed to be deserted this afternoon.

     Except for one person–I realized that school must have been out.

     Miss Carling was at the counter, completely oblivious to what was going on outside.

     I grinned devilishly, looking from the car to my least favorite teacher.  A pile of tests in the backseat confirmed my suspicions.

     “I work for the government, Todd, its not stealing!”

     “I agree, Chay, go right on ahead.”

     Chay looked up suddenly, giving me a strange look.

     “Get in!”

     I turned to go towards the front passenger’s seat, when Chay grabbed me by the shoulder.  His touch was so harsh that I was paralyzed for a moment.

     “Back seat!” he snapped, thrusting open the door, and pushing me inside.  He closed the door harshly, and I saw him look ahead, mouthing a string of curses as he threw himself into the driver’s seat, closing the door with a loud bang.

     The doors locked with a click, and I saw Chay putting the car in drive.

     “Seatbelt!”

     I obliged without argument, and leaned as far as I could into the seat.

     The small, mundane town of Agenton was filled with a deafening squeal of tires as Chay pulled into the streets.  Within moments, the speedometer had went from zero to sixty.

     I groaned, my head spinning.  Hesitantly, I looked behind me.  A small dot in the background was Miss Carling, running around in frantic circles.

     I was about to laugh until I saw who else was behind us–and much closer.

     Henbane, his eye still bleeding, was riding a motorcycle, trailing us so closely that I could see each hair in his coarse beard.

     I gulped, leaning back against the seat, shutting me eyes tightly.

     “Todd, get down!”

     “What!”

     Bang!

     I yelped, unfastening my seatbelt and hitting the floor.  “He’s shooting at us!”

     Chay kept his eyes on the road as he snapped, “What did you expect, water pistols?”

     More shooting.

     I saw Chay duck, moving as close to the floor as he could. 

     “Chay, he’s going to hurt someone!”

     “I figured that out already, Todd!”  Chay was looking frantically around the car.

     “Don’t you have something with you–like a gun?  A big gun?”

     The back window broke, the glass falling over me.  I put my arms across my head for protection.  The bullet landed in the passenger’s seat, inches from Chay.

     Chay dug in his pockets. 

     “You have something?”

     “I was saving it for a real emergency, but–”

     “You had a weapon and you stole my pen!”

     “You can thank me for saving your life anytime, Todd!” Chay spat.  He had withdrawn a small spheric object from his pocket.  I thought it looked like a grenade. 

     “You’re not throwing that!  You could kill someone!”

     Chay tossed it back to me.  “No, you’re going to throw it, Todd!”

     “I can’t throw!”

     “I’m driving!”

     “But–”

     Chay gave a low growl, snatching it back from me.  “Apparently I have to do everything!”

     He opened the window, a new round of bullets grazing the side-mirror.  It flew off the car, landing and breaking on the road. 

     (I was suddenly very thankful for how deserted back roads could be.)

     I kept my head low as I saw Chay throw the weapon directly at Henbane.

     I dared to look back at Henbane as Chay continued to accelerate.  (We had to be going eighty miles an hour now.)

     Green gas had engulfed Henbane.  He struggled with his motorbike, then drove off the rode, falling in a ditch.  The green gas remained as he ran back to the road, tossing a rude gesture toward Chay.

     Chay caught it in the rearview mirror and laughed.  It was the first laugh I’d heard from him.

     “So, Todd, that enough proof for you?” he asked, his voice downright jubilant.

     I didn’t answer, but looked behind me, inhaling sharply.  “Chay!”

     He looked back.  Where Henbane’s motorcycle had been was a plume of fire and smoke.

     I heard Chay swallow.  “Well, now he’s really mad at me.”

     I fell back onto the seat, shaking.

     “You okay, Todd?”

     “Chay… what was–”

     “It was filled with a gas–lethal if breathed directly, but once it meets the air, it dissipates.  Harmless–mostly.”

     I doubled over, clutching my stomach.

     “You okay, Todd?”

     “Chay, I think I’m gonna be sick.”

     I felt Chay shrug.  “Not my car kid, do what you want.”

     Chay laughed again, speeding forward, Agenton falling farther and farther behind us.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Sixteen: Answers… Sort Of

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?”

     “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.

     “Fine.”

     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.”

     “Project?”

     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.”

     “Why not?”

     “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?”

     “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!”

     “CIA?”

     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.”

     “The DPR?”

     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.”

     “I–”

     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

Forthcoming, Chapter Fifteen: Confrontation

Chay was waiting for me.  He was very relaxed, his mood placid.  Chay seemed to be able to encompass that uncomfortable calm before the storm.  He looked up from his place on the couch, and gave a smirk.

     “Todd, you look ill,” he began.

     I didn’t speak.  It wasn’t until he stood that I noticed he had my metal case–my stories.

     “Those aren’t yours!” My voice was hoarse, but it sounded angrier than I’d thought it would.  Chay noticed and came up to me.

     “These stories are officially property of the US government, Todd.  I am confiscating them for examination.”

     “Good luck,” I spat.  “They’re mostly ruined!”

     “I’m sure that’s upsetting.” Chay heaved the case into his arms.  “I thought you were finished with them anyway–that was why you were willing to destroy them, right?”

     His extreme nonchalance made me uneasy.  “Just give them back.”

     “Can’t do, Todd.”  He made for the door, and I jumped in front of him.              

     He sighed.  “Don’t make this difficult, Todd.”

     “Put them down.”

     His eyes flashed dangerously; he licked his lips and said, “Todd, I am doing you a favor.  Let me take these and you can start writing something that truly is fictional.”

     “These stories are fictional!”  I grabbed at the case and pulled it toward me; it didn’t budge.  Chay had an iron grip upon it.

     Chay sighed, obviously exaggerated, though his gaze didn’t betray the emotion.  “Still in denial?  Honestly, Todd, get a grip.”

     “I have one!” I pulled the case harder; he looked at me as though I was toddler trying–and failing–to master the toilet.

     “We can go about this all day, Todd.”

     “Listen, my mom will be home soon and she’ll call the cops.”

     Chay frowned.  “The funny thing is, Todd, its hard to call the cops on someone who doesn’t exist.”

     I loosened my grip and fell backward.  “What?”

     Chay grinned–it was humorless and threatening.  “You don’t know anything about the Department at all, do you?”

     He turned to leave, and I ran up to him, grabbing the case again.

     “Todd, I would hate to hurt you–that would mean that I would have failed on my mission.”

     “Let go of it!”

     He pulled at it again, and I fell to the ground.  Chay seemed satisfied and moved closer to the door. 

     “Those are my stories!” I shouted.  “My stories because I’m a writer… with an imagination… and….”

     “No, Todd you are not a writer.”  Chay turned, his voice hollow.

“No, according to you I’m just crazy!”

     Chay shook his head, advancing to the door.  “You’re not crazy, just very unique.”

     I followed him, blocking the door.  “You make me feel so much better,” I snapped, sarcasm dripping from every word.

     “I try.”

     “Are you completely unable to recognize sarcasm?” I spat.  “And you’re not leaving with that!  This is breaking and entering!”

     “You seem to be unable to understand that I don’t care about that mediocre law.” Chay moved forward, but I stepped in front of him.  He could have easily moved me, hurt me–he could have even killed me.

     But he seemed unable to convince himself that my death would be worth the trouble.

     He rolled his eyes.  When he spoke again, it was conversational.  “I’m not unable to detect your sarcasm.  I simply choose not to acknowledge it.  Now, move.”  Chay’s voice had turned grave.

     “Make me,” I whispered.

     Chay threw his free hand into the air, turning on the spot in exasperation.  His face flushed slightly, and his emotionless eyes stared to the side as he exclaimed, “I swear, of all the people to have the gift, it had to be a teenager!”   

     “What’s that supposed to mean?” I didn’t move from the door, but I straightened at the insult.

     “I had to get stuck with a teenager.  Give me a tyrant bent on world domination, but a teenager!”

     “Hey!”

     “I swear, my job couldn’t be any more difficult!”

     He stared suddenly at me, noticing that my attention had been drawn away from the door.  “But I think I can manage,” he spat, and pushed me out of the way.

     I fell to the floor, listening to his retreating footsteps.  “Hey!”

     He was running down the street to a car.  I followed him, my breath searing in my lungs.  Chay was in the car within seconds.  I ran as fast as I could, jumping in front of the vehicle.

     At first, there was no movement, then the window rolled down, and I could hear his voice clearly.  The windows were tinted, so I couldn’t see him from this angle.

     “Do you have a death wish?”

     “You don’t have any right–”

     “You’ve got questions.”

     It was a statement, not an inquiry. 

     I didn’t respond.

     “You want to know what’s going on–who I am, why these stories are so important.”  Chay’s voice sounded bored.  “My offer’s still the same.  You wanna know–I told you where to find me.”

     “Or you could find me again.”

     “There was an emergency that called for your visions.”

     I made to retort, to argue that they were nothing but stories, but the car’s engine roared to life.

     “Move, Todd, because I am not afraid to run you over.”

     “I thought hurting me would spoil your mission.”

     An exasperated sigh.  “My mission is to keep you alive–and personally I think a little dent to your ego would be good for your health.”

     I stayed my ground until the car gave a small lunge forward.  I jumped out of the way, watching as Chay–and my stories–disappeared over the horizon.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Thirteen: The Shrew, The Goth, and the Spy

I was late to school.  I told the secretary it was because I overslept.  The excuse I gave Reb was that it’s a Monday.

     I didn’t tell anyone that I’d been busy all weekend trying to predict the future.  Ever since I’d talked to Chay, I’d been unable to write.  Every time I picked up a pen, his words came back to me.  This was more than Writer’s Block, this was like Writer’s Electric Fence, surrounded by a moat and guard dogs.  I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get past it.

     And–to be perfectly honest–I wasn’t sure that I wanted to.

     The little sleep that I had gotten this weekend had been plagued by nightmares, most of which involved being chased by quadratic equations, armed with exploding crystal balls.

     I laid my head against the desk as soon as I got to home room and closed my eyes.

     The bell rang.

     I had a headache.

     And I had Miss Carling first thing in the morning.

     Great.

     I was glad that Reb had that class with me.  I’d never really realized how many classes I had with him.  Reb was simply one of those people who blended into the wall.  He was normally very quiet–I’d never heard him talk in class.  In fact, I’d been more than surprised that he’d even talked to me.

     Maria and Alvin bustled past me on my way to the door: evidently, I was pretty invisible myself.

     Maybe that was why Reb had started talking to me.

     “Hey, Todd.”

     As though on cue, Reb was beside me.  His hair was less stringy that it was most days, and the ring was missing from his lip.

     “Hey,” I responded, turning a corner in the hallway.

     “I hate Mondays.”

     I nodded in agreement.

     “Carling’s going to suck today.”

     “She hates me.”

     “Yeah–I’m gonna agree with ya’.”

     “Thanks.”  My eyes rolled slightly.

     Reb shrugged. “Truth hurts, Todd.  Carling has a bitter soul.”

     “And it’s the most bitter to me.”

     “No, her soul’s most bitter to all–it’s not just you.”

     I would have liked to believe the statement, but I knew it was false.  I took my seat–front row, dead in the middle (better for Carling to torment me)–and opened my composition book.

     I closed it instantly. 

     I realized then how much of a reflex it was for me to simply turn to The Man In The Shadows: for tranquility, for release, for reassurance.

     Carling’s class was filled with the usual torture: I received a C on my research paper, despite the fact I had done precisely as she’d instructed.  Twice she called on me when I didn’t know the answer.  And I lost track of how many times she told me to wake up when I hadn’t been sleeping.

     As I moved to the door, Carling caught me, “Everett, I just wanted to remind you not to attend Writer’s Oval this week.”

     I didn’t even turn as I answered. “I know.”

     “Writing isn’t for everyone, Everett.  Maybe you should start considering something simpler–the way you’ve been going in my class, you’ll never be able to survive college.”

     I made my way to second period wanting to punch something.

     When it was finally time for lunch, I sat at my usual seat, though this time without a composition book to keep me occupied.  Alvin and Maria were excitedly talking about some sort of party they’d attended over the weekend and were comparing the amount of alcohol the two of them had consumed.

     It wasn’t until Reb was right on top of me that I noticed he was there.

     “Wanna come sit over here, today?” he asked. (I wondered if I looked that miserable.)  I agreed, though; Maria and Alvin were completely oblivious that there was table was minus one member.

     Reb sat in a corner on the floor.  It was darkened and very private.

     I felt immediately at home.

     “Thanks,” I muttered.

     Reb nodded, motioning toward his fries.  “Where’s your lunch?”

     “I don’t eat.”

     “Have some of mine; I never eat it all.”

     I obliged only because the fries smelled delicious, obviously filled with extra grease and salt.

     We were both silent.

     “Still got writer’s block?” Reb asked.

     “Yeah.”

     “I noticed that you weren’t writing.  How’d you end up with those two air heads?”

     I laughed.  “Good question.”

     Reb seemed to think about it.  “There must have been a split in the universe.”

     “Really?”

     “Yeah–the space time continuum was interrupted, and you just happened to fall at their table.”

     “And you know this how?”

     Reb grinned.  “I’m psychic–I can see things.”

     I put the fry I was about to eat back on his tray.  I felt suddenly ill.

     “You okay, Todd?”

     I nodded, but I still felt nauseous.  Carling had managed to make me forget about Chay, but now his words seemed as powerful as ever.

     “Hey, look!”

     I started.  Alexis and a few other preps were staring at Reb at myself, making exaggerated faces as they pointed at us.  “The freaks found each other!”

     “I’m sure you’ll be very happy together!” spat a basketball player I knew only Smith.

     “Yeah,” Reb said excitedly.  “We’re going to sacrifice a lamb after school–wanna come?”

     “Freaks,” Alexis spat, and she and the others walked away, cackling and jeering.

     I continued to stare after them.  “What was that?”

     Reb shrugged.  “I think its healthy to be smartalec back to losers like that.”  He grinned.  “Let’s go.”

     The bell rang then, and I felt slightly happier knowing that the day was almost over.

     It would have been nicer, however, if Carling would have left me alone.  But no, apparently she hadn’t had her fill of torture yet.

     She caught me in the hall after Spanish. I was ready to go to my locker–finally escaping high school for the day–when she called my name in her venomous voice.

     “Everett, can I speak to you a minute?”

     I turned dramatically, and stopped by her classroom.  She closed the door behind her (gulp) and looked at me with eyes that reminded me of tsunamis–violent and spilling over with menace. 

     “Everett, I think that we should really discuss your placement.”

     I didn’t respond because I positive if my mouth opened, I’d yell.

     “It’s just that I think this college preparatory English class might not be the best course for you.” She waited; I thought she looked disappointed that I hadn’t retorted.  “Have you ever considered a general class?  You could start taking one your senior year.”

     “You want me to go ahead and suit up for the factory?” I spat.

     “Everett, you will not speak to a teacher like that!”

     “Why not? That’s how you speak to me!”

     Carling flared with both enjoyment and anger.  “Everett, if this work is too hard for you–”

     “It’s not hard, just unbelievably dull the way you teach it!”

     “Everett!”

     “And no, I’m not changing classes!  Maybe my grade would be better if you’d actually grade things fairly!”

     I hadn’t raised my voice, but Carling looked as though she’d been slapped.

     “Everett.” Her voice was deadly, as she reached for something on her desk–a pink slip.

     Great, detention–just what I needed.

     “Todd, you really need to learn some respect.” 

     I waited until I was outside of her line of vision to punch the wall.  I got my things from my locker, rubbing my sore hand, cursing Carling again and again.

#

     I was surprised to find Reb’s car waiting at the front of the school.  I breathed slowly in an attempt to ease my anger.

     It didn’t work.

     I stalked to the car, opening the door more harshly than I should have.  Reb was sitting in the driver’s seat, listening to his CD player, his Algebra II notebook opened on his lap.

     He didn’t look up when I entered, nor when I sat, but he said, “Math is the devil in disguise.”

     My voice lacked the humor that it should have contained when I said, “I believe letters and numbers are two separate mediums.”

     “I believe I’m never going to use logarithms.”  Reb closed his notebook with a frustrated flourish and pulled off his headphones.  He threw his things into the backseat, and grimaced.  “So, Carling stick you in the stockades?”

     “No, she was in more of a ‘water-torture’ mood.” I should have smiled after the statement, but instead I turned to the window, not wanting to continue this particular conversation.

     Reb gave a dry laugh, pulling out of the school.  “What’d she say?”

     I inwardly groaned–apparently I’d have to talk more than I really wanted to.  I didn’t have any desire to complain to Reb, but he seemed genuinely curious, so I continued.

     “I just want to know what I did to tick her off.”

     Reb shrugged, letting another student pull out into the road.  “She just doesn’t like people who are different, Todd.  She’s not too crazy about me either.”

     “Then why hasn’t she kicked you out of Writer’s Circle or anything else?”

     Reb gave a small laugh.  “I’m not proud to say it’s cuz my dad’s a doctor and my mom’s a lawyer.” He shook his head.  “I’d rather solve my own problems myself, but sometimes my family’s prestige precedes me, so I get off easy.”

     I was silent, looking strangely at Reb.

     “What?” he asked, looking at me for the briefest of moments, before turning his attention back to the road.

     “I didn’t know your family was that… affluent.” I chose my words carefully; Reb didn’t argue with them, but I noticed that he was frowning.

     “Yeah, speaking of that, Todd, do you mind if I stop by my house before I drop you off?”

     “Sure, why?”

     Reb shrugged, stopping at the red light in the middle of town.  “I have a book to take back to the library, and I promised my brother I’d run off some flyers for him.”  Reb grinned.  “He’s running for president of the sixth grade,” he explained.

     I laughed.  “Well, wish him luck.”

     “Will do.”

     The light turned green, and Reb began to move forward.

     “I hope he does well–”

     “SHIT!”

     My body lunged forward, as the car screeched to a stop.  I was suddenly very grateful that I’d worn my seatbelt.

     Ahead of us, a blue car was swerving.  The driver seemed to be trying to both break and go forward at the same time.  The car spun in a circle, straightened itself out, then continued forward as though nothing had happened.

     Reb’s foot was still on the brake, his eyes wide.  He was suddenly stiff, gripping the wheel.

     “Shit,” he exclaimed, staring after the car as it slowly disappeared down the road.  “He didn’t even stop.”

     I’d never heard Reb curse before and it caught me off guard.

     The blue car was no longer visible.  Reb shook his head, his color slowly rising, his eyes returning to a normal size.  “Idiot,” he mumbled, slowly accelerating.

     He turned back to me, giving an odd smile that was more of a grimace.  “That’s the closest I’ve ever been to an accident, I swear.”

     I nodded, not really sure of how to respond.  “Still don’t think you’d like to see the future?” I asked hesitantly.

     Reb seemed confused, then appeared to remember Saturday.  He laughed and the tension eased.  He turned down a road I was unfamiliar with, and said, “It would be helpful sometimes, huh?”  He was silent for a second; I noticed that he still hadn’t loosened his grip on the wheel.  “Man, where are the cops when you need them?”

     I agreed, as Reb continued.

     “I still don’t think I’d like to see the future.”

     “You were nearly rammed off the road, and you don’t think it would be nice to be able to avoid things like that?”

     “It’d be nice.  But this world isn’t perfect.  If you could predict every little thing, then you’d be perfect.  I wouldn’t like that.”

     I laughed.  “Now, that’s the strangest thing you’ve ever said.”

     “No, this is the strangest thing I’ve ever said: super-intelligent cats are controlling my brain to learn how to dance the tango!”

     “Yeah, cats would be way more interested in the charleston.”

     Reb gave a shout of a laugh.  “Ha!”  He turned onto another road, still chuckling.  “Fantastic, now every time I see a cat, I’m going to have 1920’s flashbacks.  Good to see Carling didn’t ruin your sense of humor.”

     I scowled. 

     “That’s what I meant by not wanting to be perfect.” Reb drummed his fingers against the wheel.  “I mean, Carling and all the preps she favors, they either think they’re perfect, or they like pretending to be.”  Reb shrugged.  “No one’s perfect, and I’m not any exception.  People have problems–we need to have them.”

     “Yeah, they’re great.”

     Reb frowned.  “I think they form our personality.  I wouldn’t like to see the future–I think I’d be missing out on something.”

     I didn’t respond.  Reb didn’t know, but he’d just managed to make me feel ten times worse.

     Because he had a point–a good one.

     “So the Writer’s Block still at ya’?”

     I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  Normally, after a day like today, I would be able to write and release my anxiety into fictional characters.

     Or not so fictional.

     But not now. 

     “Still there,” I confessed.

     “Ooh, that sucks.”

     “You don’t know the half of it.”

     Reb had stopped at a house–a very nice house (nicer than mine at any rate).  It was two-story Victorian with a wrap-around porch. 

     My face must have conveyed how I felt, because Reb said quietly, “I’ll be right back.”

     It didn’t take him long to get what he needed.  He came back quickly with his things, and grinned.  “My brother says hi, and my mom says she wants to meet you.”

     I raised my eyebrows.

     “I told her we were running late, so let’s go.”

     He began to pull out, staring behind him carefully.

     “What’d she say about the near-wreck?”

     “Didn’t tell her–she wouldn’t let me anywhere near a car again.”

     He switched on the radio as soon as we hit the road.  Queen was playing, and he began to sing along.  “Like Queen?”

     “Yeah, of course.”

     “Dire Straits?”

     “Money for Nothin’? Are you kiddin’ me?”

     Reb nodded, smiling. “Peter Frampton?”

     “No.” I shook my had exaggeratedly, and Reb moaned.

     “Ah, come on! Peter Frampton!”

     “Not my thing!”

     “Why not?”

     “I don’t get it–just not my thing.”  I shrugged.

     Reb shook his head.  “I guess I’m going to have ignore that oversight on your part.”

     “Ah, come one!”

     “I mean, I’d never be able to forgive myself if I kicked you out of the car and a band of circus freaks picked you up and forced you to perform for peanuts.”

     “What?”

     “Yeah, you could be the one who doesn’t like Frampton–right next to the beared lady.”

     I felt the need to hit Reb upside the head, but I didn’t want to go off the road.

     Reb was laughing, ducking to the side.

     “And so what’s your excuse?” I snapped back.

     “For what?”

     “Being a freak–I mean, gothic when your parents are practically rich.  You should be playing baseball and flirting with cheerleaders.”

     Reb laughed again. “That would be exactly why I’m gothic.”

     The car stopped and I realized we’d arrived at my house.  I shook my head and thanked him for the ride.

     As he pulled away, I noticed that Virgil’s truck still wasn’t in the driveway.

     For a moment, I forgot all about Chay and my stories.

     Until I got inside.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Twelve: Newspapers and Notebooks

Virgil kept his steins in the garage, wrapped in old newspapers.  I felt no hesitance in stealing the newspapers, and taking the wrinkled wad–which was threatening to fall from my arms–to my room. 

     I wanted to read them in private.  I knew I was alone, but this still didn’t feel like something I should do with an open door.

     I shook my head, tossing the newspapers on my bed.  The metal case was nearby, so I heaved it onto the mattress.  It felt heavier than normal, and I groaned audibly. 

     Hesitantly, I opened the case, my fears confirmed.

     All of the pages were still soaked: most of the ink had bled, and the pages were crumpled into little balls, the wet corners sticking together.  If my handwriting had been difficult to read before, my story was practically illegible now.

     I began to set the pages on my bed, one by one, hoping that I’d be able to decipher enough to prove Chay wrong.

     Or–

     I waved the alternative away.

     Chay was wrong because… because….

     Because it wasn’t possible for him to be right.

     Those thoughts didn’t stop me from painstakingly setting each page on a different surface of my room.  I’d had to throw most of my belongings on the floor.

     I sighed, letting my hands drop to my side. 

     The door.

     I turned to it and frowned.

     It was still lying stupidly against the wall, and I was hardly any good with tools.  In fact, a hammer in my hand was just as lethal as a grenade.

     I heaved the door into the frame. 

     There–it stopped people from looking in on me.  It wasn’t perfect, but it would work.

     Now for the hard part.  I faced my bed again, squinting at the first page of my… story.

     Chay’s words were still with me and I exhaled deeply.  Well, there was only one way to find out the truth.

#

     It was six o’clock when I’d finally had enough.  I fell onto my bed (after mercilessly tossing all the paper to the side), and put my hands across my face.

     My initial feeling was exasperation: three years’ worth of writing, and nearly half of it was ruined.  But that sense subsided quickly.

     I don’t know exactly what it is I’m feeling now.  It’s not really fear, though my heart has accelerated to an alarming speed.  It was pounding against my chest as though it were wanting to escape.  My throat was dry, and I felt unbelievably tired. 

     I would be completely content to stay on my bed for the rest of my life.

     But, after a while, I rose, and stared at the mess I’d made.  The newspapers were staring up at me, a few headlines catching my eye. “Sunny Weekend Expected” or “Reds Lose–3 to 5″ had been the topic of most of the stories, but others….

     I shuddered.  A few stories that had been collected from national newspapers (though I’m not sure how Virgil had gotten a hold of those–I wasn’t completely convinced that he could read) had been set carefully on the table beside my bed.  Next to them was some of my story.  I’d had to strain to read it, but there was not denying certain… similarities would be a good word.

     That was it. 

     I reached for the first of my stories that I’d been able to decipher and read through it.  I tried to tell myself that it had only seemed similar to the news articles due to my nervousness.  The situation had seemed… more fantastic because Chay’s words were still with me.

     Now, I’d had a few moments to reflect: surely I would see how… how impossible this whole thing was.

     I sighed, beginning to read my old story more slowly, examining each word carefully:

            The Man in the Shadows fell to the ground, clutching at his side.  He was bleeding profusely, but it wasn’t deadly–not yet at any rate.  The building behind him smoldered, the sound of breaking glass and melting metal reminded him of bones snapping in two.  It was an analogy that he couldn’t explain, but it made him grimace.  A sudden wave of heat engulfed him–and he ran, pulling Derek up from the ground.

            It would have been much smarter to have not brought Derek at all–adventure never treated him well.  Derek seemed about ready to pass out, so The Man pushed him harder, snapping, “Derek, just stay with me, okay?”

            The gruffness of The Man’s voice seemed to invigorate Derek, and he moaned.  “That is why I try to stay out of this stuff!”

            The Man threw Derek to the ground when he was positive that Henbane hadn’t followed.  The Man looked Derek over–unharmed.  That was far more than The Man could say for everyone else, for the mission itself.  In fact, the entire thing had been a disaster.

            The Man frowned , clutching at his side.

            “You’re bleeding.” Derek sounded immediately nervous.

            ‘It’s nothing–and you’re right.  You shouldn’t have come.  It was foolish of me… but like I knew what to bargain for when it comes to computers, Derek?”

            Derek shook his head.  “Never again.  I swear, I’m not leaving the computer.”

            The Man stood, looking back at the building, his heart suddenly heavy.

            Derek looked around.  “Where’s everybody else?”

            The Man turned back to Derek and didn’t respond.

            Derek stood, suddenly worried. “They’re not still in there!”

            “They were dead before the fire.” The Man hoped his voice didn’t betray the sadness he felt, but the memory of the evening made him feel slightly ill.  He turned away, trying to ignore the burning of his eyes, which had little to do with the nearby fire.

            Derek fell to the ground.  “Cyrus.. he–”

            “Cyrus doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.” The Man looked at the gash that had been left on his body–his hands were covered in crimson, but the blood didn’t bother him.  What worried him was the dizziness that was beginning to fog his reason.  “He lets Henbane do this.” He motioned at his injury.

            “And Henbane–”

            “Is pretty good at his job.”

            Derek jumped and The Man whirled around.  Henbane was standing directly behind them, his usual devilish grin reaching into his cold, blue eyes.  Henbane’s menace seemed to emanate from him like a disease–deathly and definite.  His rough face was marred by a long scar, still dripping blood down his neck.  The Man was proud to say that he was responsible for that scar.

            I threw the story to the side.  It had been the first chapter that I’d ever written–the only chapter that Dad had ever read.

     But the uneasiness I was feeling had nothing to do with the memory of my father, but instead with a news article I had found:

MYSTERIOUS FIRE KILLS FIVE

     Last night, at approximately three in the morning, a strange fire engulfed a warehouse, used for storage on Vine Street.  Five were found dead at the accident, and it appears as though foul play could have been involved.  Investigators feel as though drugs could have been involved in the tragedy.

     Police were reported in saying….

     The rest of the article wasn’t important.  What

was important, however, was the date at the top of the newspaper: February 3, 2005–two weeks after I’d written about The Man In The Shadows.

     I shook my head; it was too confusing.

     I tried to reason with myself that it had been just one story–a coincidence. 

     But I couldn’t deny everything that made so much sense: the disorientation I felt after writing, how disjointed and unfinished my chapters seemed to be.

     “Todd?”

     I jumped at the sound of Mom’s voice.  The room had grown dark, and I suddenly realized that I was hungry.

     I heaved the door from its frame, and walked slowly to the kitchen.  Mom was alone, and I was relieved to find that Virgil hadn’t come home yet.

     Mom looked sadly at me–my bruises must still be pretty evident.  “Todd, how are you feeling?”  Her tones sounded as though I were ill.

     “I’m fine,” I said and gave a shrug. 

     “Do you have any homework?” She began to make dinner, and I watched the process without really seeing her.  My mind was back in the alley, hearing the urgency in Chay’s tone.

     “Todd?”

     “What?”  I started.

     “Homework?”

     “Oh, yeah.  Algebra.” 

     “Get started on it, Todd.”

     I agreed soundlessly.  Mom went through stages like this: most of the time she was distant and depressed, but–sometimes–she would start acting like a mother again.

     I preferred that, so I never argued.

     We were doing quadratic equations, and I struggled over the plethora of numbers and letters as Mom put the meatloaf into the oven.

     “Todd?”

     I looked up–this was the only time in my life I had ever actually been thankful for math homework; its difficulty was keeping my mind off of Chay.

     “Yeah?”

     “I told Virgil to leave.”  She said this as though it explained everything.

     Well, she probably did think that my distant mood was the result of Virgil.

     She wasn’t completely wrong but–

     (“Those stories of yours, they’re not stories.  They’re real.  Real events that haven’t happened yet.  Do you understand?”)

     I turned back to my math homework.

     “Todd?”

     A feeling of frustration that I didn’t understand flared inside of me. “How long until he comes back this time, Mom?”

     Mom looked hurt, her blue eyes startled. 

     “Sorry,” I mumbled, and went on trying to figure out the square root of six-seventy-eight. 

     “Todd….” She was sitting beside me in moment.  “Todd, I know these last few years have been hard, but we’ll get it to work out.”

     Immediately I felt angry again.  There was no reason for the anger–

     Apart from the fact that my Mom married an alcoholic, my dad’s dead, and now the only thing that ever made sense to me–writing–is being threatened.  No, where would this anger be coming from?

     I didn’t let her see it though, and just muttered, “Mom, it’s not big deal.”

     “Todd?”

     “I don’t feel like talking, Mom.”

     She hesitated, then went back to making dinner.

     That was when I noticed the newspaper.  It was from today, and the picture on the front made my heart skip a beat.

     A man in his early forties, yet unbelievably young-looking, stared back at me.  His black hair was neatly combed, his stare arrogantly chilled.

     I’d seen that man only once before–in my mind, on the pages before me.  I could even hear his voice–low and uncaring as he gave Henbane orders.

     I grabbed at the paper and began reading the story before I even realized what I was doing:

IMPOS INC. REPORTS STOLEN PROPERTY

     It is believed that on the evening of May 4, 2008, that important documentation was stolen from IMPOS International Headquarters in Chicago.  The break-in left little evidence, according to police, and the only item missing was a disc, that–according to the founder and president of IMPOS, Cyrus Stokes–contained the blueprints for a new product that IMPOS was planning for release in early 2010.

     Stokes was quoted saying, “It is not important to us that the thieves are persecuted, but simply that they know we have many Plan B’s.  It matters not that this disc was stolen–little was accomplished in its theft.  Our plans have not been disrupted, nor have there been any need for changes.”  

     Police believe that this crime can be connected to one of the competitors of IMPOS and (contd. on Page 8)

     A piece of my writing–something I had penned only a few days ago–came rushing into my mind:

     “No.  Cyrus needs time to reassess the situation.  He thought he was coming after me for the software I’d stolen.”

     And I glanced at the newspaper.  It was from today.

     Not bad, I thought grimly, shoving the newspaper to the side so that I couldn’t see it.  Not only was I a prophet, but I seemed to have pretty good timing.

     I laid my head against the table, giving an audible moan.

     “Todd?” My mother’s voice.  I didn’t look up or respond.  I had a headache, and I was wondering whether my curiosity or good sense was going to win my mind’s battle: on one hand, I could find loads more stories on the internet.

     On the other hand, I didn’t really want to know how often I’d seen into the future.

     I shook my head, my hair sprawling against the table.

     I’m not predicting the future, I told myself.  The idea was… insane, and so was the guy who had told me.  He was probably schizophrenic–and he’d managed to convince me of the same insanity.

     Maybe I was equally crazy for believing him.

     I’m not believing him.  No where close.  I was just curious.

     Yeah, curious and becoming more and more alarmed with each second.

     “Todd are you alright?”

     I finally looked up.  Mom was washing the dishes, but she had turned toward me, concern in her blue eyes.

     I nodded.  “Yeah, I’m fine, Mom.”

     “Todd, you’re pale.”

     “I’m tired.”  I hoped the tone sounded matter-of-fact.  I was a terrible liar, and Mom could see through me better than anyone.

     Mom rushed over to me and put a hand against my forehead.  “Todd, you’re clammy.”

     “No fever, though, right?”

     “You don’t feel warm.”

     I pushed her hand from my face.  “I’m fine, Mom. Just… tired, like I said.”

     “Todd–”

     “Is dinner almost ready?”

     She shook her head, obviously giving up on me.  The silence that followed was stiff, so she turned on the radio.  The mood lifted slightly, but I didn’t look away from the table.

     This was all so confusing, I mentally tried to figure out what had happened–what was happening at this instant.

     I wondered if Chay was watching, and that thought terrified me.

     “Do you want to know a secret…”

     I looked up, knowing that my body language was far more surprised than it should have been.  I hadn’t heard my mom sing in years.

     And there she was, singing along with a Beatles song that I’d heard many times.

     I must have been looking at her strangely, for she gave me a little smile, a gleam lighting her eyes that I hadn’t seen for so long that I’d forgotten Mom could be happy.

     “You remember this song, Todd?”

     I was thankful for the lift in the mood, so I nodded. “Yeah, you and Dad used to dance to it all the time.”

     She nodded. “You know, Todd, you’re Dad was something else.” She shook her head, drying a plate carefully.

     I knew I looked confused, so she continued.  “Did I ever tell you that your Dad serenaded me?”

     I laughed outright.  I couldn’t imagine Dad ever signing.  “Did he?”

     She nodded.  “This was one of the songs.  The other time.. oh it was for our anniversary.  ‘Hanging by a Moment’–that was the other song.”

     I knew I was laughing.  It felt good to be thinking about Dad rather than… well, I didn’t want to think about it.

     Mom returned with a chuckle.  “Yes, your father serenaded me twice, and lost my wedding ring only once.”

     I know I backed up in my seat.  “He lost your wedding ring?”

     She nodded, smiling.  “Yes, but he was there on our wedding day.”

     “How’d he lose your ring?”

     She shook her head, sighing.  “Oh I don’t know.  He gave me some kind of excuse, but I can’t remember it now.”

     I was still smiling when Mom had turned away, an undeniably sad air surrounding her.  “Your dad was something, alright.”

     I cleared my throat; it was suddenly dry.  Mom came over, placing a plate of meatloaf in front of me.  She and I were both silent as we ate.

     “You have that song, don’t you?” she finally asked.

     I gave her a curious look, and she explained.  “‘Do You Want to Know a Secret?’ by The Beatles.  You have that on record, don’t you, Todd.”

     I shook my head.  “I did.”

     Mom’s fork clattered to her plate.  “Todd, he didn’t–”

     “Mom, you knew he was going to!”  Again, that anger.

     I was beginning to hate Chay more and more with each minute–surely this fury was from him.

     “Todd, I… I…” She looked to the side, shaking her head.  “Todd, we’ll get your stuff back.”

     “Mom, you know that’s not going to happen.”

     “Todd–we’ll work it out.”

     I gave a nod because I didn’t want to upset her any more.  I wondered if she knew how empty that statement was.  Sure, we’d work it out–the same thing she’d said after the accident, after the first time Virgil had been drunk.

     I hadn’t seen any changes yet.

#

     It is very difficult to not think about anything, especially when a government agent could be outside your window.  I was doing my best, though–

     And failing miserably.

     The ball I’d been bouncing against my wall fell into my hand and I threw it again.  It bounded against a Rolling Stones poster, then back to me.

     I thought it would be funny if posters were like voodoo.  If they were, then Mick Jagger would have a very large, ball-shaped bruise on his forehead right now.

     I laughed, and I knew that it was something Dad

would have thought was funny, too.  He’d liked the same things that I had–even The Man In The Shadows.

     Great, I was back to my stories… again.

     I gave up.  Whether or not Chay was insane or not, his words had sparked something in my mind.  I might as well start trying to figure out what all of this confusion meant.

     I thought back to my stories.  The warehouse fire had been written when I was in the eighth grade–that would have been… 2005?  Yeah, 2005. 

     My head was spinning.  I was never going to make any sense of this.

     I reached for a scrap piece of paper, and began jotting down what I had learned.  I hoped that once I saw it on paper I’d be able to see how ridiculous I was acting.

     When I’d finished, I looked across the paper skeptically and frowned:

written in 2005– warehouse fire                                        2007–newspaper article

written a few days ago–The Man steals a disc                          Today–news article

I hit my head against a pillow until it hurt, then rubbed more forehead dramatically. Rather than seeming more insane, it just seemed to fit together–like the pieces of a puzzle. 

     I stared at the two dates I’d been able to find in newspapers: sometime between the warehouse fire and The Man stealing the disc, he had met Aislynn, and–

     I frowned.  Where did my other writing come in?

     I skimmed through the other stories I had written this week.  During all of these writings, it seemed as though the disc had already been stolen.

     So what I’d written most recently–The Man with Aislynn; The Man’s chat with Derek; Cyrus and Henbane’s newest plan of action–still hadn’t happened yet.

     But that didn’t answer the most important question, the one I’d had even before Chay had ambushed me:

     Who in the world were they all talking about?  The person who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere–the one that The Man seemed to be taking care of.

     I felt a lump in my throat.

     I had an idea, but there was no way that I would say it aloud.

Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Eleven: Library Time

I couldn’t sleep that night. It wasn’t even a sleep interrupted my nightmares: I didn’t sleep– period. I stayed awake, tossing and turning, afraid that someone was looking in my window.

When I woke up, I was glad it was Saturday because I wouldn’t have been able to go to school. Virgil wasn’t there when I woke up. Mom was very quiet. She kept looking at the smashed television as we ate breakfast.

I knew she’d figured out where I’d gotten the bruises. She didn’t say anything though, and I was glad. I wouldn’t have known how to respond.

I spent most of the morning in my room, glaring at the corner where my record player had been. Then, I caved and walked to the library. (I’d forgotten my bike in the alley. When I’d stopped by to get it, I’d seen that it was gone–my luck, of course.)

When I got to the library, I tried to convince myself that I’d come to do research for school. But I couldn’t lie to myself. Before I knew it, I had sat at a table in the corner, surrounded by books about the paranormal.

As if I hadn’t felt like enough of a freak, now I was reading books with titles like: The Inner Eye and You! or Psychics and How to Become One.

I hoped no one from school saw me. I reached for the first book, and opened it to the index, looking for anything that had to do with the future.

I sighed; it was going to be a long afternoon.

#

I’d scratched a few notes–rather haphazardly–in the notebook beside me by the end of an hour. Between attempting to reread what I had written and the anxiety that had increased with each word that I read, I’d gotten quite a headache. It was throbbing numbly against my skull, my eyes aching slightly, yet I couldn’t bring myself to look away from the books that I’d sprawled across the table.

I’d just set one tome to the side, and was now looking rather skeptically towards a thinner book that claimed to “enlighten the powers of the unconscious mind.” It sounded strangely like a commercial, and–if it wasn’t for the strange prickling of my neck–I normally would have laughed.

But not today, unfortunately.

Really not today.

I decided against that book. According to Chay, I already was having these “visions.” I fingered back through my notes, and frowned.

I’d located the names of three other so-called “prophets.” There was Nostradamus, from the 1500’s. Then Edgar Cayce, followed by Jeane Dixon. Nostradamus had preferred a process called scrying and astrology to predict the future. Cayce had gone into trances. And Dixon had used a crystal ball.

I still didn’t see what any of those had to do with my writing. But I couldn’t help but feel a strange sense of– familiarity?–as I read each of their stories.

And Chay’s words… his words had sounded so certain–

I’d acquired quite an annoying habit of tapping my fingers. When the librarian tossed a stern look my way, I immediately stopped, mouthing an apology.

Now, however, my leg had begun to bounce–an effect of the nervousness that I’d been feeling since yesterday. I felt as though I was being watched.

Which I probably was.

I glanced over my shoulder, looking for the man who had introduced himself as Chay-No-Last-Name-Necessary. I couldn’t see him, but I also couldn’t help but think he was there.

I breathed deeply through my nose in a futile attempt to calm my nerves, trying to turn my attention back to reading: there had to be an answer in these books somewhere.

“Todd?”

I looked up. Reb was walking towards me, a book in hand.

“Hey, Reb,” I gave a smile, but–from the look on Reb’s face–you would have thought I’d flipped him the bird.

“What?” I asked.

“What happened to you?”

I paused. I’d forgotten how I looked.

“It’s nothing.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, what are you here for?”

“I always come to the library on Saturday,” Reb responded, taking a seat beside me. I was glad he didn’t ask any more questions.

“I don’t always come in here on Saturday,” I responded.

“Really?”

“Yeah, I’m not that much of a dork.”

Reb laughed. “What’ve you got here?” He picked up a book, then put it back down, eyes narrowed. “I didn’t realize you were into the supernatural.”

“I’m not.”

“Then–” He motioned to the books.

“Long story.” I decided it would be best to change the subject. “What’ve you got?”

“Poe.”

“Always good.”

Reb nodded. He looked again at the books. “So, why this particular reading list?”

Great, I was going to have to answer. I didn’t want to lie to Reb, but the truth was so unbelievable that I didn’t see any other option. “Just interested. I mean, have you ever really thought what it would be like to see the future?”

“No. I don’t think I would like it.”

I was surprised. Seeing the future was one of those things that most people fantasized about. “You wouldn’t?”

He shook his head. “It would ruin the surprise.”

“But what if something bad was going to happen? You could stop it.”

Reb seemed to think about it. “Yeah, but then you’d know about all the good things, too. I’d rather be surprised.”

We were both silent as I began to collect the books.

“You checking all of these out?”

“No, I’ve got what I needed. I’m gonna put them back.”

“I’ll give ya’ a hand.”

I thanked him, and after Reb had checked out his book of poetry, we walked out of the library. It was sunny today. Birds were chirping, and the only clouds in the sky were white and puffy.

“Wanna ride? We could stuff your bike in the back again.”

“Nah, I lost my bike.”

Reb backed up. “How’d you lose it between now and yesterday?”

“Don’t ask. Long story.”

“Do I wanna know?”

I shook my head. “No, trust me, you don’t.”

“Okay, ride then.” Reb walked so eagerly to his car that I didn’t have the chance to say no. He settled into his seat, waiting for me to buckle up.

“You like music?”

“Yeah.”

“Sweet,” he said, turning on the radio:

Can you see the real me,

Can ya’?

Can ya’?”

I sat straighter. “I didn’t know you liked The Who.”

“Who doesn’t like The Who?” Reb responded, turning onto Main Street.

“I just… didn’t think that was your kind of music, that’s all.”

Reb pursed his lips slightly. “You thought that since I’m gothic, I listened to suicidal heavy metal or something, didn’t you?”

When I didn’t respond, he continued talking. “Stereotyping, Todd? Honestly, I thought you were better than that. First, you call me a vampire, then the music–”

“Hey, you called me a camel!”

Reb laughed. “Right, then I guess we’re even?”

“Yeah.” We were silent for a second. “I just thought goths didn’t listen to that stuff.”

“Goth is a state of mind,” Reb said, stopping at the light.

“State of mind?”

“Yeah. It’s, like, letting your art encompass you. My art includes the color black and The Who. It’s a way to feel different, like you can fall into your own little world whenever you want to, you know?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Reb shook his head. “Most people don’t.”

We had pulled into my driveway.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said, getting out.

“Not a problem,” Reb waved. “Hope you find your bike.”

“Thanks. Have fun with Poe.”

“Always do!” He grinned, and began to pull out of the driveway.

Virgil’s car and Mom’s van weren’t there, so I knew I’d have the house to myself.

Good.

There were some questions that I wanted answered.

(“Take your writing. Compare it to things that have happened.”)

And I knew exactly where to look.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Ten: Prophets

“What?”

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.”

“Others?”

“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.”

“Cyrus?”

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.”

“Vision?”

“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?”

“You’re crazy!”

“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!”

“Listen–”

“TODD!”

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.

“Listen, Todd–”

“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.”

“Let go!”

“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.”

“TODD!”

“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.

“Todd?”

“No one, Mom.” I lied. “I got in a fight at school.”

“Who, Todd?”

“No one. I don’t know his name.”

“Todd–”

“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.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

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

Forthcoming, Chapter Nine: Chay

I skidded to a wet stop at the bridge. The Kaliska River was roaring beneath me as I jumped off my bike. I nearly fell against the wet pavement, and had to hold onto the bridge for support. The box fell out of my hands, and landed on the sidewalk beside me.

The rain was falling so hard that it hurt my skin; I bent down and picked up the box, my breath catching in my chest.

I could see it perfectly: the metal case would leave my hands, flying in the air for a brief moment. The latch would come loose, and the lid would open with a horrible clanging sound. Papers and notebooks would fly into the air, littering the stormy sky. I would be able to catch one last glimpse of a phrase:

The Man In The Shadows–

The silver cup trembled–

Perhaps I would see Cyrus staring at me with those soulless eyes…

But then it would be gone, over. The case would fall with a splash, disrupting the already tossing river below me. I’d watch as The Man In The Shadows drowned, as Cyrus was finally vanquished, the edges of the paper soaking until the ink bled. A few, fortunate pages would blow in the stormy wind, far from my motionless form. Then, a roll of thunder would sound, so perfectly melodramatic that it would be ideal for the stories now sinking to the depths of the lake.

And I would turn, go home without a sound, and lie on my back, for once completely alone.

I glanced downward, my hands now clutching the case so tightly that my knuckles had turned white.

“Go–do it,” I muttered to myself, though without the force that I’d expected.

I couldn’t.

I should have known from the beginning that I wouldn’t have been able to do it. I couldn’t stand up to Virgil, I couldn’t write well enough for “Writer’s Oval”–I was beginning to wonder what I could do.

No, do it.

It had become a challenge. As quickly as it had been a statement moments ago, now it was a challenge. I had to do it to prove that… that I could. It was a test of will.

Now!

My grip loosened, my arms raised, my fingertips brushed the side of the metal–

“STOP!”

I don’t know what happened. One minute, I was standing, ready to get rid of my problems once and for all. The next, I was face-down on the sidewalk, the blood from my cut washing into a puddle.

The case did fly from my hands, and it did open, but–rather than falling in the river–it landed lamely a few feet from me. I made to get up, but not before a harsh hand pushed me back to the ground.

A pair of shoes rushed past me, to my notebooks, now getting soaked by the rain.

I stood, grabbing onto the bridge for balance. It was hard to see through the rain, but I could hardly believe what was in front of me.

A man was looking hastily at the pages, as though he was in complete shock. There was a definite calmness surrounding him, but–rather than being comforting–the man’s serenity just made me more nervous.

He was a round man, not obese exactly, but round. His extra weight seemed to be more from muscle than Big Macs. The man wasn’t tall; he was probably only a few inches taller than me.

The man was in a crouched position, clutching the pages he had saved from the wind. He was staring at one of the papers now with wide eyes that didn’t lend any sort of actual emotion.

I opened my mouth to speak, though I wasn’t sure what I was going to say. The man seemed to recognize the movement, and he looked upward. His eyes were clear, steel gray–perfect mirror images of the storm brewing above him.

“What were you thinking!”

The man’s voice didn’t match his body, and I stepped backward in surprise. His tone was harsh, his voice more of a growl.

I was suddenly reminded of an old movie I’d once watched. The man’s voice was identical to that of the werewolf right before the full moon struck: gruff, savage, and strained. I stared at the man who–with the wind ruffling his hair and the rain lashing at his face–seemed to have an unusual inhuman quality surrounding him.

“Well?”

I continued to step backward, hitting the railing of the bridge. I gulped slightly, though the crashing waves beneath me muffled the sound. Apparently, the man’s earlier question hadn’t been rhetorical.

“I–”

“Never mind.”

The man pocketed the paper, and sighed. The effect was immediate. He seemed to grow smaller, become more a part of his own body.

I didn’t move, but kept my gaze upon the man, who was now so drenched that his short, black hair was plastered to his head.

“Well, pick it up!”

The same gruff tone caught me off guard, and the man rolled his eyes. “The case, pick it up!”

I followed the man’s gaze. Despite the anger brimming from his words, his eyes were still without feeling. I saw my metal box, and realized with a jolt of horror that half of my pages were now soaked.

What had I been thinking?

I ran to the papers and scooped them into my arms as quickly as I could, holding them against my chest. The man only stared at me, his face unreadable; it was almost as though he was trying to assess the situation.

Situation?

That wasn’t right. There wasn’t any “situation.” He was probably a… a Good Samaritan. He’d seen a distressed teenager standing over a bridge. Shoot, he probably thought I was suicidal.

I rose, throwing my notebooks into the case.

“Listen, I’m fine.”

He didn’t seem satisfied. He continued to stare at me with those emotionless eyes. As though to elaborate, I shrugged. “I’m not suicidal.”

“Well, I’d hope you wouldn’t be that stupid.”

I was surprised by how harsh his voice sounded.

I didn’t allow my eyes to leave his face. “I was just getting rid of–”

“Yeah, you were just getting rid of some of the most important papers to ever be written! Nice thinking, Todd!”

The man turned harshly on his heel.

My brain was about two steps behind reality.

“Wait–how did you know my name?”

The man turned harshly on his heel, giving me an odd glance. “I know more than your name, Todd. But I don’t see the point in explaining while we catch pneumonia in this storm.”

That’s right, it was raining. Hard.

I agreed and followed him. The man walked briskly from the bridge; normally, I would have been able to keep up, but I was struggling with both my bike and the metal case. He didn’t slow; it was as though he didn’t care whether or not I kept up.

I thought he was going to turn into the ice cream parlor, but instead, he continued into the alleyway. There was a small alcove in the alley, and he stopped when he was within it.

I came, huffing and drenched behind him.

“What took you so long?”

I threw my things to the ground; they clanged loudly.

He frowned. “Don’t know much about incognito, do you, Todd?”

“Who are you?” I made my voice as forceful as I could.

The man seemed to consider me for a moment, before shrugging. “My name is Chay–” Before I could open my mouth again, he added, “No last name necessary.”

I swallowed. My day was going from bad to worse.

“What were you thinking?”

I looked up. His tone was stiff, as though I deserved a lecture from someone I’d never even met.

“I wanted to get rid of it.”

“Do you have any idea what you could have done?”

Chay snapped.

“Listen, they’re just some old stories!”

Chay’s head tilted slightly. He seemed to be surprised. “You don’t know?”

“Know what?”

“I thought you had at least mediocre intelligence, Todd.”

“How do you know my name?” I thought my voice sounded deathly, maybe even threatening.

Chay just laughed.

“Alright, I see your going to be hard-headed.” Chay leaned against the wall, crossing his arms. “Allow me to prelude this conversation: anything I say is on a strictly need-to-know basis. Do you understand that, Todd Everett?”

“Right now I need to know how you know my name.”

Chay frowned. “Persistent.” He sighed: it wasn’t a sigh of exasperation or pity, it was simply a sigh. “Okay, I’ll play it your way. Saves me a headache.”

I waited.

Chay rolled his eyes. “I have been following

you, Todd. I know that you live on 312 Buckcreek Road. I know your mother, Cheryl, married Virgil Lawrence thirteen months after your father was killed in a car accident. Your father’s name was Milo Everett.”

I backed up slightly.

Chay’s eyes narrowed. “You’re going to get wetter, then I’m going to have to take care of you. Not that I haven’t been doing that for years….”

“What are you talking about?”

“Slow, aren’t you?”

“Would you just answer a question!”

“I am. You asked how I know your name. I have established that my knowledge of your name is the least of your worries.”

“Listen, if you’re some sort of stalker, I have a cell phone. I’ll call the police.”

“You don’t have a cell phone. Your family’s hit hard times because of your stepfather’s alcoholism. He had to sell your record player.”

I know I flinched at the thought.

Chay raised his eyebrows slightly. “You should learn not to show your weaknesses.”

I took a deep breath, evening my speech. “What do you want?”

“What do I want? Well, quite frankly, Todd, I want to know why you were throwing these documents over the bridge.”

“They’re not documents! They’re just a stupid story, okay?”

Chay shook his head. “Still don’t get it?” He slumped farther against the wall. “Do I need to spell it out for you?”

I didn’t respond.

“Apparently I do.” Another sigh. “I was hoping you would have figured it out by now, but…. Okay, Todd, level with me.”

“You level with me.” I stared into his gray eyes. “Who are you?”

We kept each other’s gaze for a long while. He spoke first, but didn’t look away. “If I explain a bit, will you listen to me.”

“Who are you?”

“I told you. My name is Chay. I am employed by the government–all you need to know right now–and my current project is watching over you.”

“Why is the government interested in me?” It was an accusation, not a question.

Chay licked his lips. “Which brings me back to my original question: will you listen to me?”

“I’m listening.”

“Good.” Chay straightened. “True or false, you write on a fairly regular basis.”

I was hesitant to answer at first. “True.”

“True or false, after writing you feel incredibly disoriented?”

“True.”

“Do you have difficulty remembering anything you did while writing?”

“Yes.”

“And does it sometimes seem like there is something missing from your writing?”

I didn’t answer immediately.

(“Everett, its seems like you forgot to write a chapter.”)

“Well?”

“Yes,” I answered at last.

Chay seemed satisfied.

“That’s what I thought.” Chay leaned closer so that he was whispering in my ear. “I know why you do those things.”

“Yeah, so do I!” I snapped. “I’m a crappy writer, that’s why!”

Chay seemed taken aback by my outburst. He shook his head. “I don’t know, maybe you are.”

I didn’t respond. Something in his eyes told me there was more. He bit his lip, as though debating whether he should continue.

“I don’t know how good of a writer you are,” he said. “But you do seem to be a fairly decent prophet.”


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020

Forthcoming, Chapter Eight: Albums

I stumbled into my room. A bolt of lightening crashed across my window the moment I stepped inside. Twice I tripped on my way to the far corner. A part of me wanted to stay in the hallway; a part of me didn’t want to know.

But my feet continued to move forward. At last, I stopped, my wet hair dripping onto my face as I stared at the corner.

The bare corner.

It seemed so empty. The carpet was still dented from where the record player had set: my record player. I felt my throat clench at the phrase. I looked around the room frantically, as though expecting to find it on my bed or in my closet.

Nothing.

I stretched my arms, as though the record player was still there, and I was going to scoop it into a giant hug. I fell backward, sitting on the large metal case where I kept my stories.

It was gone. Virgil had taken it. It was gone.

The sentence seemed foreign in my mind. It didn’t make sense. It was like… like hearing about a car accident. It was the type of thing you saw on the news; it didn’t happen to you.

Gone.

I stood, holding my hands before me. And then I remembered: Virgil. I’d told him not take it. I’d told him that it was all I had.

And he’d taken it.

I turned sharply to the door, filled with an emotion I had never felt, an emotion that I never wanted to feel again.

Everything looked red. It could have been because of the darkened house: shadows covered every corner. With every step I took, red was the only color that stood out. Or it could have been my boiling blood, lifting to my eyes as my pulse quickened.

I wasn’t even aware that I ran down the stairs, my steps seeming to pound over the thunder. I turned into the living room so quickly that I nearly tripped. I stopped in front of the television. Virgil was sitting before me, slumped in the chair. He had a whisky in his hand. Several empty bottles surrounded him.

“Kid, git outta the way!”

“MY ALBUMS!”

I’d never heard my voice so loud. It was as though someone else had taken hold of my vocal chords and was using them like a megaphone.

An arrogant smile crossed Virgil’s unshaven face. Something inside of me ignited. “What about ‘em, kid?”

I felt my eyes dart to every corner of the room. I’d somehow forgotten every other word in the English language except–

“MY ALBUMS!”

“Yeah,” Virgil laughed thickly around his bottle; the sound was slightly muffled. “Them good records.” He raised his bottle in a would-be-toast. “Thanks, kid!” He chuckled again. “Pretty penny,” he said dumbly, motioning to the television. “Now move.”

My throat felt tight, yet my volume didn’t lower. “They were mine!”

My mind was reeling; half of my brain was supplying memory after memory: My dad telling my about each album–The Wall, Abbey Road, Back in Black, Quadrephenia; Mom and Dad dancing to “Wonderful Tonight”; Dad singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” as he poured over his work. The other half of my brain was picturing me hitting Virgil over the head with one of his precious whisky bottles.

“They were mine! Don’t you understand that! They were all I had–they were… they were… MINE!”

Virgil opened his mouth, but I didn’t want to hear any argument. I didn’t care what sort of drunken logic Virgil tried to use.

Or, rather, what string of curses Virgil was going to shout.

No, it was my turn. My turn to yell.

“They were mine, you–you–” I couldn’t think of any word that would suffice. “MY ALBUMS!”

“Is that all you can say, kid? ‘My albums, my albums–oh no my precious albums!’” Virgil’s voice was high-pitched.

“No!” I reached forward, grabbing a bag of potato chips and flinging them across the room. A few chips hit Virgil in the face, and he blinked slightly. “You stupid, asshole, they were mine!” The curse had left my lips before I had the chance to stop it. I couldn’t recall every cursing with that much ferocity.

Virgil rose, standing over me. He was much taller than I was, and he towered over me like a statue. But my common sense hadn’t returned. I was still breathing heavily when he said:

“You ain’t gonna talk to me like that in my house, kid!”

“I will! This isn’t your house! Mom and I can’t stand you! Get out! Get out, just leave us alone!” I numbly realized that magazines were flying through the air; it dimly registered that I was the one throwing them. “You can’t come in here and steal our stuff! It’s not yours! Just get out! Just leave us alone!”

I reached for an unopened bottle and smashed it against the floor. It hit the hardwood with a satisfying crash.

I stopped, hunched over slightly, breathing hard. The amber liquid spread across the floor, soaking my already wet shoe.

“They were my–” I stopped.

Virgil had come closer. He had a look in his eye that I had never seen, nor could ever begin to describe. I wondered if it was the same look I’d had moments ago, a look that no longer held a trace in my gaze. I backed up slightly, remembering who I was–scrawny Todd Everett–and who Virgil was.

Virgil: drunk and angry.

The smashed beer bottle seemed to awaken something from inside him, something far more violent than I could ever be.

“Virgil, I–”

“I told yer mom that if we ain’t got started disciplin’ ya’ we’d have ourselves a shit load of problems.”

“Virgil–”

“And look what we’ve got.”

I backed up so much that I hit the television. I didn’t look away from Virgil as the television fell, sparking and buzzing dully before the screen went black.

#

I was in my room. The door was still on the floor. I’d balled myself into the corner where my records had once been. My eyes stayed on the doorway, as though Virgil would come crashing through it.

I nuzzled my head into my arms. When I looked up, a streak of blood had been left on my sleeve.

I wasn’t thinking about anything, just sitting, staring at the metal box where I kept my stories.

I don’t know what logic I used as stood, reaching for my book bag. I grabbed my composition book. I thrust the book into the metal box, and lifted it into my arms.

My records were gone. They were gone because Dad was gone.

They were all I’d had left of Dad; they were all I’d had to hold onto.

(“Well… I think that Todd Everett sounds like the name of an author.”)

I shook my head against the memory.

All I was doing was holding on when there was nothing to grasp. It was gone, all of it.

I didn’t want any of it. I didn’t want this life anymore! I didn’t want to write stories without an end, because I knew that The Man’s story would never end. There wasn’t any place for me to stop… it would just continue until… until….

I was sick of the story that just reminded me of my father, sick of remembering my father and feeling empty.

I’d rather feel numb than empty.

And the only way to do that was to get rid of what was filling the emptiness.

I was just tired of everything–period.

And I wanted everyone to know how tired I was. I wanted to world to see what I was feeling. I wanted Mom to see. I wanted to Virgil to see.

I crossed the room to my door, and ran down the stairs. I grabbed my bike, placing the metal box beneath my arm, and hopped onto the seat.

The rain was pouring, the thunder was echoing, and I was riding: alone, with nothing except The Man In The Shadows for company.

And he wouldn’t be there for long.

Good riddance.


Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020