Cal woke to sudden brightness. He shot up in his bed, shielding his eyes, heart pounding.
“Cal,” the voice of his mother. “What’s going on with you?”
Cal blinked as his eyes adjusted. His mom was sitting in his desk chair. She looked exhausted. He looked at his clock. 4am.
“Mom?” Cal said. “You’re home.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I just got in. What’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” Cal asked, hoping she didn’t mean what he thought she meant.
“I’ve got calls from Oscar’s mom, your school, the sheriff, and,” she paused, “the FBI. I called you three times and left messages and you didn’t call me back. Where have you been?”
“Mom, it’s not a big deal-”
“Not a big deal?” Her voice was getting loud. Frustration started showing through her exhaustion. “The FBI, Cal. The sheriff’s bad enough, but the FBI? Christ, that’s even worse than Rob in his heyday”
That comparison hurt. Rob was difficult to deal with now, but things were way better than they used to be. From Cal’s perspective, those days seemed to hurt Rob and his mom’s relationship. She obviously still loved and cared for Rob, but there was a detached coolness that Cal didn’t want.
“And who’s Beth Messenger?” she asked.
“That’s not her last name,” Cal said, dreading this part of their conversation.
“Well, what is her last name?”
Masterbug? Matherbird? Cal couldn’t remember.
“I don’t know, but it’s not Messenger,” he said. “She goes by Angel.”
That seemed like a perfectly good explanation when he said it, but the look in his mom’s eye made him regret it.
“Angel?” she asked with a frown. “Well isn’t that sweet. Why haven’t I met her?”
“We just met last week,” Cal said. This backpedaling wasn’t doing his side of this conversation any good.
“And already you’re in trouble. From what the Sheriff told me, she’s quite a character.”
“No,” Cal said. “They’re not telling the truth. They’re just trying to shut us up.”
“The Sheriff, and the FBI,” he said, though it sounded weak even to him.
“And why would they be doing that?”
He decided the truth was the best option.
“We saw a murder, mom. They beat this guy up and took him away. A few days later, he was dead.”
His mom bit her lip and shook her head.
“Are you playing around with drugs, Cal?” she asked. “The Sheriff said that your new little girlfriend has a drug problem.”
“Mom, no,” Cal said, frustration making his voice tense. “I’m not on drugs. Angel isn’t on drugs. Everything is okay.”
It was like Angel said. He’d been discredited. Even the truth was useless now.
“We had an agreement, Cal,” she said. “I trusted you.”
“Mom, I just had a bad day, you can trust me.”
“Cal, that’s one hell of a bad day. I think we need to rethink our agreement. Maybe I’ve given you too much freedom too soon.”
Cal was panicking now. Did she believe them? Did they get to her too?
“Mom, no, it’s okay, just give me another chance.”
“Cal,” she said. Her voice calm again. She’d made a decision. “No, this is way out of bounds.”
She moved over onto the bed and put her hand on his legs.
“We’re going to dial it back a bit,” she said. “First, you’re grounded for a week. That’s school and work, otherwise you’re home and your phone is up in the kitchen. Your laptop is for homework only. Do you understand that?”
“Mom,” Cal said. “C’mon, mom -”
“Do you understand me?” she repeated, speaking over his pleas.
“Yes,” he said in a quiet voice.
“After that, I’ll have some time to think and we can talk about where to go from there.” She said. He knew this tone well. There was no point in arguing further. “I can’t be around to keep an eye on you all the time. If you want me to trust you ever again, you need to do what I say here, okay?”
They had gotten to her and turned her against him. His own mother. His eyes started to water.
“Hey,” she scooted forward and lifted his chin up to look into her eyes. “You’re a good kid, Cal, and I love you. These are just difficult times. I want to make sure you make the right choices here. The choices you make now can affect the rest of your life.”
They looked into each others eyes. Her eyes were moist too. She leaned forward and pulled him to her in a tight hug.
“I know I’m not around enough,” she whispered into his ear. “And this is probably my fault, but I can’t lose you, too.”
She kissed him on the forehead and stood up. She looked at the poster of Thor and tapped it.
“What would he do in this situation?” she asked, wiping a tear from her cheek. “He wouldn’t listen to people trying to get him to make bad choices. He’d be true to himself, to what he knew to be right. Right?”
His mom opened his door and started to leave.
“And Cal,” she said. “Stay away from that Angel girl.”
She left, closing the door. He heard her footsteps going up the stairs to the kitchen. A few seconds later he thought he heard the soft sound of sobbing.
He laid back in bed in disbelief. They got her. In the line that had been drawn, she was now on the other side.
He looked up at Thor. What would Thor do? He would take his hammer and smash all of Asgard and Earth to defeat his enemies and protect his friends, consequences be damned.
* * *
Cal was out of History as soon as the bell rang. The teacher hadn’t even finished talking yet. While the teacher’s back was turned, Cal had texted Oscar and Angel to meet up in the parking lot. It was a risky move, even if he wasn’t already in hot water, but time was of the essence.
He was the first to arrive in the parking lot. He paced back and forth, looking at his phone. Angel showed up first.
“What’s going on, Cal?” she asked.
“We need to go to see Jason now,” he said.
Oscar came out of the door. Cal waved him over.
“Do we have time for that?” Angel asked.
“What’s going on?” Oscar asked.
“Can we get to Comic Conclave and back during lunch?” Cal asked.
Oscar looked at his watch, then up at the lunch rush of cars leaving the parking lot.
“Sure,” he said, pulling his keys out.
“Let’s go,” Cal said.
Once they were on the road, Angel leaned up between the front seats.
“Are you okay, Cal?” she asked. “You seem, I don’t know, tense? Angry?”
“They got to my mom,” he said. “Agent X and the Sheriff. Same as you guys. I’m grounded for at least a week.”
“Sorry,” Angel said. She squeezed his shoulder, which helped Cal’s mood marginally. “Though teens and their parents fight all the time. I guess it’s not all that big of a deal.”
“No, I actually get along with my mom,” Cal said. He was aware of the bark in his voice, but didn’t care at the moment.
Angel’s hand slipped off his shoulder.
“What are we going to say to Jason?” Oscar asked.
“I have no idea,” Cal said.
* * *
The door alarm bleeped as the three entered the store. There were actually other customers in it, something Cal had never seen before. Jason was talking with one of them, he looked up and waved at Cal and Oscar, then went back to talking with the customer.
They meandered up to the counter and waited. Oscar turned to the boxes of comics behind them and started looking through them. Angel looked around in wonder. Cal tapped on the glass case nervously and tried to mentally encourage the other customer to finish up his business and leave.
“There’s a Robert Smith comic book?” Angel asked.
Cal looked at her. She pointed at a statuette behind the counter.
“That’s Dream, from the Sandman comics,” Cal said.
“Classic goth,” Oscar said over his shoulder. “You should check it out.”
Angel shot Oscar a worried glance.
“Sorry about back in the car,” Cal said quietly to Angel. He noted that Oscar picked that moment to shuffle a few boxes away from them.
“Don’t worry about it,” Angel said.
“No, really,” Cal said. “This whole thing is really getting to me. I need to get this worked out and get my life back together. Sorry if I hurt your feelings in the car.”
“I meant it when I told you that I wouldn’t let anything happen to you,” Angel said, putting a hand on his shoulder again. “We’ll get this worked out.”
The moment seemed to stretch out. Cal started to wonder if this was a point when people would kiss.
“Back so soon guys?” Jason asked, shocking Cal back to reality. The other customer had left the counter. “I don’t think I have anything new for you yet, though I did get a new shipment in this morning. I could look -”
“No,” said Cal. Oscar came back and joined him and Angel. “We need to talk to you, Jason.”
“Okay,” Jason said with an uncertain tone. “What about.”
“How about a government conspiracy to kill a reporter,” Cal said.
Jason raised an eyebrow.
“And a monster living in a water hazard in a golf course,” Angel added.
Jason raised another eyebrow.
“I’m gonna say pass on the government conspiracy,” Jason said holding up one finger. “And pass on the monster in the lake.” He held up another finger.
“We’ve supported your store for years,” Oscar said. “We need your help now.”
“I don’t know how I can help you with either of those things, kids,” Jason said. “I sell comic books.”
“Look,” Cal said, glancing around the store to make sure other customers weren’t in hearing range. “We’ve stumbled into some really bad stuff. We can’t go to the Sheriff with it, and we can’t go to the FBI.”
“FBI?” Jason asked.
“Yeah, the FBI is involved,” Cal said.
“Or a person posing as an FBI agent,” Angel added.
“Posing as several FBI agents,” Oscar continued.
“How do you kill a vampire?” Cal asked.
“Stake through the heart,” Jason responded.
“Werewolf?” Cal asked.
“Silver bullet.” Jason responded.
“Zombie?” Cal asked
“Shotgun to the head,” Jason responded.
“See,” Cal said, “You know stuff. What do you do with a monster in a lake?”
Jason started to protest again, but Cal cut him off.
“Just listen to our story,” Cal said “Then tell us what you think, or go get lost, or whatever.”
Jason stared at them for a second then shrugged.
“Okay, fine,” Jason said. What’s your story?”
Cal laid it out for him with occasional corrections and additions from Oscar and Angel. Jason’s look got more and more serious as the story progressed.
“You kids are in a lot of trouble,” Jason said after Cal had finished.
“We don’t need help in understanding that,” Angel said.
Jason looked at her and smirked.
“Okay, number one, you’re screwed. I agree with you guys; I think you’ve got a fake FBI agent, but it’s obvious the sheriff won’t listen to you about that. Whatever happened is between that guy, the reporter, and, I’m guessing, the Lemolos. Bad news. You guys should leave it alone. I’d say you lay low and just let that blow over.”
The Lemolos. They’d come up more in the past week than since Cal’s dad was killed. Having Jason come to the same conclusion made it hard for Cal to ignore their likely involvement. It sounded like their activities were increasing. Maybe Bigby was back in town.
“Number two is more interesting, but we need a lot more info about it. You guys willing to go back out there?”
Cal looked at Angel and Oscar. From the looks in their eyes, they were just as afraid of that idea as he was. They needed to get to the bottom of this, though.
“Yes,” both Angel and Cal said, drowning out Oscar’s “no”.
“We have to go, Cal,” Oscar said.
“Oscar,” Cal said. “It’s worth going back out there if this can help us figure out what’s going on.”
“No,” Oscar said, tapping his watch. “I mean we’re out of time. We have to get back.”
Cal nodded and turned back to Jason.
“Okay, Jason, what do you need?”
“A few things,” Jason replied. “Time: when this thing happens; frequency: How often it happens; and I need to know about your visions: what’s in them, are they the same for all three of you, do they only happen when you see the green things or when you see the person or bear or whatever. And anything else you can think of.”
“What will that tell you?” Cal asked. “What do you think it is?”
Oscar grabbed Cal by the arm and started pulling him towards the front of the store.
“I don’t know,” Jason said. “Until you can get more information, it could be anything.”
“Okay,” Cal shouted from the door. “We’ll talk.”
Jason nodded as the door shut. He had a very serious look in his eye.
“We’re screwed,” Oscar said as he pulled out of the parking lot.
“We’re going to be late?” Cal said.
“No,” Oscar replied, then looked at the clock. “Well, yes, we are.”
He looked over his shoulder and change lanes quickly.
“But,” Oscar continued. “We’re additionally screwed in that he didn’t buy our story. He’s going to turn us in.”
“For what?” Angel asked. “Conspiracy theories aren’t illegal.”
“Do you think he bought it, Angel?” Cal asked.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t like him, though.”
“Why not?” Cal asked.
“He kept staring at me,” she replied.
“Probably doesn’t get a lot of girls in there,” Oscar said, speeding through traffic.
“Well,” Angel said. “Him staring at our chests isn’t going to bring more women in.”
The car went silent.
“You working tonight, Oscar?” Cal asked.
“Yep,” Oscar said.
“Wanna go back to the golf course tonight?” Cal asked, partly hoping they’d both say no.
They both said yes, though it was less than enthusiastic.
“We’re screwed,” Oscar said, slowing down.
Cal looked down at the clock. Plenty of time.
“We’re not late yet,” Cal said.
Oscar jerked a thumb to the back of the car. Cal looked over the seat and met eyes with Angel. She smiled at him, and a warmth spread through-
Then he saw the flashing lights on the sheriff’s car behind them.