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.
“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.”
“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.
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