(written 11/21/2010 - total words 51,735)
For the next hour the three of them sat on the couch watching the local news team deal with the history, crimes, chase, and death of Cesar Bigby. The details were slow to be released by the sheriff’s office, so most of the time, the news team was just rehashing what was already well known. Cal was finding it numbing to see the same pictures and video clips over and over. He did note that none of the footage shown at the scene had a black SUV in it, and there was no reference to the FBI agents, but even his game of searching the background for black SUVs or agents grew old.
Angel sat next to Cal, holding his hand. Cal was trying to gauge when to introduce her to his mom. A local commercial for a car company came on, blaring.
Cal grabbed the remote and muted the television.
“So mom,” he said, sitting sitting forward. “This is Angel.”
Angel scooted to the edge of the couch and smiled.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cannon,” Angel said. “This probably isn’t the best time.”
“Don’t worry about it, dear,” Cal’s mom said, then looked back to the television.
“I never thought we’d see this day,” she said.
“It’s back on,” she said to Cal. “Turn the volume back on.”
Cal turned in back on and they were back in the looping news.
“Is the pizza in the kitchen?” Cal asked.
“Oh,” his mom said. “Yes, I put it in the oven.”
She waved her hand in the direction of the kitchen. Cal looked at Angel and tilted his head towards the kitchen. She nodded. They got up and he led her to the kitchen.
* * *
Five minutes later, they had warm left-over pizza straight out of the microwave. They sat next to each other at the table in the kitchen.
“Are you okay?” Angel asked Cal.
“Yeah,” Cal said, realizing he’d been staring at the pizza box over on the kitchen counter. “I’m just confused.”
“Your mom seems pretty shaken up,” she said, looking back towards the den.
“We went through a lot when my dad was killed,” Cal said. “It seemed like they were going to catch Bigby, but he just disappeared. It was tough to feel very good about that. A few months later, they seemed to just stop looking for him.”
“You’re okay with it, though?” she asked.
“There’s just too much going on right now,” Cal said. “Bigby said he was sorry he killed my dad. He seemed to really regret it. Like it was some big mistake.”
Cal took a bite of pizza, thinking as he chewed.
“Him getting caught or killed isn’t the end of it for me,” he said. “Not like it is for her. There’s something more to it. Something I need to find for my dad.”
“Do you want to open the envelope?” she asked. “Maybe there’s something in it.”
Cal went over to his jacket and pulled the envelope out of a pocket. He walked back and sat down, putting the envelope on the table. There was printed writing on the back that said Hallmark.
The front door slammed. Cal grabbed the envelope and put it on his seat, under his thigh.
Rob came into the kitchen, destroying their peace.
“Alright,” he said. “Pizza.”
He pulled out a slice and took a bite, then turned and saw Cal and Angel. He raised his eyebrows in question at Cal and pointed to Angel with his pizza. Cal and Angel looked at him.
“Yeah,” Cal said with a sigh. “So Angel, this is my brother Rob. Rob, this is my friend, Angel.”
Rob walked over to Angel, wiping his hand on his pant leg and offering it to her. They shook hands.
“Hi, I’m Rob,” Angel said, “Cal’s brother.”
“So I’ve heard,” Angel said with a pleasant smile. “Nice to meet you, Rob.” Rob looked over and nodded to Cal.
“Rob,” Cal said. “She’s right here. She can see you, too.”
Rob laughed and stood between their chairs.
“So what are you kids up to?” he asked.
“Did you hear the news?” Cal asked.
“Nope, what’s going on?” Rob replied.
“They killed Cesar Bigby,” Cal said. Rob’s smile vanished. “Mom’s watching the news in the den.”
Rob nodded and went to the den. That was one way to get him to go away. They watched him leave.
“He seems nice,” Angel said.
“I don’t know,” Cal said, pulling the envelope out from under his leg. “He’s been nice the last few days. That’s not normal. I don’t know what to think, but I don’t trust it.”
He looked down at the envelope and tore it open.
There was a greeting card. It was a watercolor beach sunset scene. Two seagulls flew in the sky right below the words “With Sympathy” in large, decorative script.
He opened the card. A wad of wet paper plopped out of it. There was writing inside, though it was fuzzed out due to the waterlogged card stock.
“What’s it say?” Angel asked, apparently tired of waiting to find out.
“I’m trying to read it,” Cal said. “The writing is all blurred together.” And Bigby’s handwriting was small and hard to read to begin with.
He thought he had the gist of what was on the card, so he started to read it aloud.
“Sorry, kid,” he read. “Some of this is going to be hard to understand.”
“First,” Cal continued. “Your dad. You can’t trust anybody in this game. I learned that the hard way. I’m not making excuses, I pulled the trigger under my own free will. I was happy to do it at the time, thinking I was finally doing something for good. It wasn’t until later that I found out I’d been tricked. Your dad didn’t need to die. In fact if he’d stuck around, a lot of this probably wouldn’t be happening. Though, honestly, if I didn’t kill him somebody else would’ve. He was a good man, and seemed to know what was going on, but I don’t think he ever thought they’d come after him in that way. He had too much faith in people. In the system.”
Cal took a breath and looked at Angel. She reached over and put a hand on his arm.
“So watch out for yourself. Don’t think that anybody’s on your side. Everybody’s out for themselves. Try not to think about things as good an evil as you dad did. There’s no black and white. There’s just the ones that you’re with now, and the ones you’re against now. Tomorrow they might not be the same.”
“The portal has to be closed, though. That’s one thing that won’t change. It’s a danger to the area, and maybe to more than just the area. If left open, it will continue to attract more and more dangerous things to the area until the thing behind has enough strength to come through. It’s in the area somewhere, but we never found it. It should be around a lot of water, not that that narrows things down much around here. These specific things seem to take their power from water. That means they should be vulnerable to earth. Metal. Never really tested that out. You need to find the portal and close it. More on that later.”
Cal paused again, flipping the card over for the text that continued on the back.
“The lake,” Angel said.
Cal nodded, then continued.
“The things you’re dealing with now, and make no mistake, they are things, not humans, have a spell over the area. They call it a veil. People see what they want, with slight tweaks as the things see fit. People’s minds won’t accept things that are too much of a stretch, but with people who are criminals, like me, and teenagers, like you, it’s easy to make up stories that play logically with people’s fears. Look for stories that are inconsistent from one person to the other. Stories that change over time. That’ll show you where they’re focused. Where to strike. The things are dangerous, but they’re most powerful with people’s fear. They rely on their mental powers to confuse and frighten people into submission. This means most of the people in the area will be working against you.”
Cal squinted at the card. The writing was getting small, cramped at the bottom of the card.
“Some people have a natural ability to see through the veils. Your dad did. We never found out why. Keep the raven’s totem on you. It will allow you to resist their attempts to manipulate your mind. Somewhat. Nothing will work perfectly. Just remember that it’s all in your head, and be ready to be really confused, and remember there are no coincidences.”
Cal flipped the card over.
“That’s it,” he said.
“What about that?” Angel said, pointing to lump of wet paper on the table.
Cal passed the card to Angel and picked up the paper. It looked to be five or six pages folded in half, but they were stuck together. The writing he could see was completely washed out into vague blurs that mixed with the pages behind it. He tried separating the pages, but they just fell apart into mush.
Cal swore and slammed the paper down on the table. Little pieces of gelatinous paper sprayed out onto his shirt.
“We could have used the information in there,” he said, picking bits of paper off of his shirt. “That’s just my luck.”
Angel handed the card back to Cal.
“Regardless,” she said. “It seems to mostly validate what Jason told us. We know where the portal is, and we have a plan to close it.”
“But this is from Bigby,” Cal said. “I mean, should we even trust what he’s saying? What if the portal is a good thing?”
“I hope you’re just playing devil’s advocate there,” she said. “There is no way that pond scum is a good thing.”
“But using his own logic, we can’t trust him,” he said. “He says there’s no definite good or evil, that sides are always changing.”
“He said the portal had to be shut down,” she said. “It sounded like that was a certain thing.”
“Yeah,” Cal said, rubbing his face with his hands.
He sat with his face in his hands, eyes closed, trying to figure out what to do.
“What’s the commotion in here?” he heard his mom ask.
Great. Like things weren’t complicated enough.
He pressed his palms into his eyes and took a breath, then sat up. His mom had taken the seat across from him at the table. He heard the thumping of Rob going upstairs to his room.
“Nothing, mom,” Cal said. “Just getting frustrated with things.”
“What’s that,” she said, pointing at the congealed mess of paper in front of him.
“Some notes that got wet,” he said. “Ruined. Very important notes.”
“Sorry to hear that,” she said.
“Yeah, me too.” He said.
They sat with that for a bit.
“Anything new on Bigby?” Cal asked.
“No,” she replied. “I had to turn it off. It was just the same crap over and over. Those old pictures of your dad.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cannon,” Angel said.
Cal’s mom looked at Angel and smiled.
“Thank you, Angel,” she said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been a very good host tonight.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Angel said. “I understand.”
“So,” Cal’s mom said.
He could feel her shifting gears. The conversation he was dreading was coming.
“Why do you go by ‘Angel’?” she asked.
Cal’s face grew warm, an indicator of the embarrassment he was feeling, though he was interested in the answer as well.
“Well,” Angel said. “I hate ‘Beth’. I’ve just never liked it. And my dad used to call me Angel when I was little. I found out in sixth grade that I could tell the teachers to call me anything I wanted, so I told them to call me Angel. It stuck.”
Cal’s mom nodded.
“And what’s your last name?” she asked. “Cal and I were having a hard time remembering what it was.”
Cal winced. Angel looked at Cal and smiled.
“Massenberg,” she said. “I’m not all that fond of it either.”
“What do your parents do, Angel?”
“My mom’s a lecturer at the community college. English. And my dad’s a Psychology professor at NYU.”
“Your parents are divorced?” Cal’s mom asked.
“Yeah,” Angel replied.
“Don’t be,” Angel said. “Things were a mess before they broke up. At least it’s somewhat civil now.”
“How’d you end up in Aberdeen?” Cal’s mom asked.
“My mom grew up here,” Angel answered. “When they split, she came back here.”
“Do you like it here?”
“Not really,” Angel replied. “I’ve spent a lot of time in New York with my dad and step-mom. I like it much better there.”
“Yes,” Cal’s mom said with a smile. “The city does have it’s charms, doesn’t it.”
“Yeah, I’m going to move back with my dad once we’re done with high school.”
“That will be fun,” Cal’s mom replied. “What are you going to study?”
“Mom,” Cal cut in. He couldn’t take it any more. “Enough with the twenty-thousand questions. This isn’t an interrogation.”
“Cal,” his mom said. “I’m just trying to get to know your girlfriend.”
Cal felt his face blushing at that. Angel didn’t meet his eye either.
“I’m sorry,” his mom said. “I know this is uncomfortable for you two, but it’s not easy for me either.”
Cal started to say something, but Angel put her hand on his.
“It’s okay,” she said.
Cal was annoyed at getting cut off, but he held his tongue.
“I know,” his mom said. “How about we play a game?”
Cal couldn’t stop a moan from escaping. Please don’t let her pull out Hungry, Hungry Hippos or something.
“I’m in,” Angel said.
“You like cards?” his mom asked.
Cal was apparently not needed in this conversation.
“Yeah,” Angel said.
“Cal,” his mom said. “There’s that shoebox of cards in the garage. Can you go get it.”
And with that he was dismissed, sent off on some mundane mission to the garage.
He slammed stuff around in the messy garage looking for the shoebox. When he did find it, the lid popped off and decks of cards went everywhere. He was imagining his mom breaking Angel down to tears, and returning to find Angel gone and his mom sitting there with a smug look.
He rounded up all of the decks except for the one that slid under the shelf. There’d been a giant wolf spider that used to live under there. He could keep that deck.
Cal returned to the kitchen to find his mom and Angel talking. Nobody was crying. Small miracles.
He plopped the box down on the table and slid the lid off.
“Ooh,” Angel said picking up a deck. “I haven’t played Spades since I was in New York.”
“Let’s play it then,” his mom said holding her hand out.
“Can you play with just three?” Angel asked.
She handed the deck over to Cal’s mom.
“Yeah,” his mom replied. “It’s easy. I’ll show you.”
She popped the deck open and started to shuffle.
“It’s every girl for herself, though,” his mom said with a mean looking smile.
Angel smiled back.
Cal was worried. He wasn’t really a card player, and, aside from a suit, had no idea what Spades was.
* * *
It was a painful night for Cal. He felt the need to keep playing as his mom and Angel were clearly enjoying themselves, but he was getting brutalized. He felt some relief that they were getting along, but it was at a cost to him. They shared the role of alternatively coaching him and beating him.
They finished a game, in which his mom came out on top with Angel close on her tail, and Cal so far behind that he could’ve been down in his room reading comics.
The deal went to his mom, but she stacked the cards up and put her hands on top of them.
“So Cal tells me you guys are in some trouble,” she said.
Angel looked at Cal, apparently as shocked by the change in direction that he was. He nodded, and she looked back at his mom and nodded.
“He says you guys aren’t playing around with drugs.”
Cal sighed and put his head on the table.
“Or alcohol, or doing anything illegal, but you’re potentially in danger. And you can’t go to the cops or me for help.”
The three of them sat in silence.
“Do I have that right?” she asked Angel.
“Yes, that’s about right.”
His mom nodded.
“I want to help you guys if you’re in danger,” she said. “I can’t let you just go out there and get hurt.”
Angel looked back at Cal.
“Mom,” Cal said. “I told you. You can’t help.”
His mom started to argue.
“You can’t,” he repeated. “I wish you could. I wish you, or Sheriff Bradshaw, or anybody who wasn’t me, Angel, or Oscar to step in here and make it all go away, but you can’t.”
He was going to add that he had to continue his dad’s work, but that would just bolster his mom’s fears.
His mom rubbed her lips together and stared at Cal. Angel looked down at the table nervously.
“I can’t not worry about you,” she said.
“I know, mom,” he said. “I’m not asking that. I just need some time to get this straightened out.”
“How much time?” she asked.
He looked at Angel.
“A week?” he asked, more to Angel.
“We should know something in a week,” he said. “Do you have to work? We could have pizza again. Maybe Oscar could join us.”
His mom continued to stare at him. He could see her trying to make the decision. It was out of his hands now.
“I’ll make sure I have the night off,” she said. “I’ll see you both in a week.”
She stood and put the cards back into their pack. She threw the pack into the shoebox and put a hand on Angel’s shoulder.
“It was nice to meet you Angel,” she said
“It was nice to meet you too, Laura,” Angel said as Cal’s mom left the kitchen.
Laura? How chummy did they get while he was out in the spider-infested garage.
“I think it’s probably time for me to go,” Angel said.
Cal nodded and they stood up and put their dishes in sink.
They shared a few nice kisses at her house before they said goodbye. That made everything better. Everything made a little more sense, was a little less crazy. The ride home was pure joy. His head hit the pillow still wearing a smile.
Everything was wonderful until he fell asleep and the dreams came back.