Cal awoke with a start
He sat up, gasping, heart racing, trying to convince himself he wasn’t drowning. He was afraid to move. Afraid of attracting the attention of something.
His alarm clock glowed red in the dark. Fifteen minutes before he had to get up. Not enough time to go back to sleep; not enough time to do anything but get up.
He dragged himself out of bed. His body felt heavy, water-logged. He felt like his life was a movie with a one second time delay. He hadn’t slept much, and what sleep he did get didn’t help. Maybe he should have stayed up and not bothered with it alt all. He certainly could have done without the dreams.
He stumbled to the bathroom, sore muscles and bruised scrapes aching. He flicked on the light and squinted at himself in the mirror.
His restless sleep was obvious in his appearance: puffy, bloodshot eyes and hair that stuck out in random directions. His quick clean up at Denny’s hadn’t been very thorough either. While ash still speckled his hair and face. He felt it when he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.
The scratch on his cheek wasn’t as bad as he thought, but it was an angry red.
His other cheek had a mark he didn’t remember. He looked closer, leaning over this kin. It was s deep, dark reddish color, almost black. He rubbed at it. It didn’t hurt, but it smeared down his cheek.
Then he remembered saying goodbye to Angel. He touched his cheek lightly, trying to remember the soft warmth of her lips on his cheek. The mark had been in the shape of her lips, but it was now just a smear on his face and finger.
His alarm buzzer went off, shocking him from his memories.
He dropped his head over the sink, trying to will his heart to stop racing. He was surprised there was any adrenaline left in his body after the last few days.
He took a long shower, making sure he had all of the ash and lake water washed off of him. The hot water stung the scrapes down his back. He felt clean, but couldn’t shake the muffled, gritty feeling of sleep deprivation. He was sure they had coffee in prison.
He went up to the kitchen and microwaved some instant oatmeal. That and two pieces of buttered toast were his last meal as a free man.
Rob banged into the kitchen, irritating Cal’s raw nerves further. He poured himself a bowl of Fruit Loops and milk and dumped himself at the kitchen table. Cal was sitting at the counter and could feel Rob’s eyes on his back.
“You look like shit,” Rob said around a fruity mouthful.
“Morning, Rob,” Cal replied. “Up late studying.”
“Huh,” Rob mumbled.
“Your girlfriend sleeping in?” Cal asked.
“I’d recommend you forget about that,” Rob said. “Unless you want mom hearing about your little trips out to ‘study’ in the middle of the night.”
Cal turned on the barstool and they stared at each other, an uneasy truce forming between them.
Rob got up and walked around the counter to the sink. He slurped up the last of his cereal then dumped the bowl and spoon in the sink and turned to look at Cal. He crossed his arms and gave Cal a smug smirk.
If Rob thought he had one up on Cal, he was dumber than Cal thought. Sneaking out was bad, especially when you’re grounded, but having a girl stay over was way worse on their mom’s rating system. Cal did have more to loose with their mom though. If Rob was playing on that angle, he was much smarter than Cal thought.
Rob continued to smirk, looking Cal up and down.
Cal put his spoon down.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s a girl, isn’t it?” Rob asked.
“What?” Cal repeated, this time more incredulous.
“That’s why you’re sneaking out,” Rob said. “It’s a girl.”
Cal was about to dismiss Rob’s question when he realized Rob was partially right.
Rob took Cal’s silence as a yes, and gave a hoot.
‘Alright,” Rob exclaimed, holding up his hand for a high-five. “Little bro is getting some action.”
Cal stared at Rob, ignoring the high-five, wishing he would stop speaking.
Rob came around the counter and clapped Cal on the shoulder.
“It’s about damn time,” Rob said, giving Cal a rough, homophobic shoulder rub. It actually felt pretty good. “Welcome to the best years of your life.”
Rob clapped Cal on the back again, and started to walk away.
“I’m proud of you, Cal,” he said on the way out of the kitchen, chuckling in disbelief.
Cal felt annoyed and embarrassed, certainly feelings he was used to having after a conversation with Rob. The strange feeling of camaraderie and, almost, pride was what bothered him. Having Rob as a father figure was the last thing his life needed.
Cal’s phone bleeped. He grabbed it and flipped it open?
U DOING OK? Angel texted.
YES. U? He replied.
He started gathering up his stuff to head out.
He thought about leaving a note for his mom, but decided he’d just call her with his one phone call. He didn’t think a note was the best way to apologize for betraying her trust and breaking her heart.
He paused at the front door to read another text message from Angel.
YES. C U AT LUNCH? She asked.
YES, he replied. He felt bad about lying to her, but he didn’t want her to try calling him and persuading him to change his mind again.
Lying to her chewed on him as he started his scooter. He imagined her sitting at lunch waiting for him. He sat on the purring machine. He should tell her what he really felt before getting locked up.
He pulled off his gloves and flipped his phone open.
I LOVE YOU, he typed.
He looked at the words, his thumb resting on the send key. Part of him was yelling YES, DO IT, but another equally loud part was yelling NO, YOU FOOL. He remembered Oscar talking about playing it cool with girls. Not letting on too soon how you feel if you like them. Make them come to you. Of course Oscar had never had a girlfriend either.
The front door to the house slammed, and Rob came around the corner to the driveway. Cal flipped his phone closed and stuffed it in his pocket. He probably was being over dramatic. They’d have plenty of time to discuss his feelings during prison visits after he’d had some time to figure them out. At least he hoped she’d visit him.
Rob raised a fist of some kind of man-solidarity as he got in to his Mustang. It started with an impressive roar, and Rob gunned it a few times for effect. He shot out of the driveway, screeched to a halt, then took off down the street, tires chirping.
Cal pulled his gloves back on and headed off to meet his fate. Alone.
* * *
He arrived at the Sheriff’s station early, hoping to beat the morning rush, if there was such a thing. He’d rather have as few witnesses as possible.
He rode around the parking lot for a bit looking for a spot to park for the soon-to-be incarcerated. His scooter would be there for a long time, so he probably shouldn’t park too close. He also didn’t want to park too far away and have his scooter mistaken for an abandoned vehicle. He chose a spot that he measured to be a happy middle ground and parked.
He brought his helmet in with him, unsure of how well it would fare outside for so long.
There was no line.
The woman at the front desk was initially pleasant, but her demeanor hardened a bit when she saw him. She must remember him from his previous visit.
“What can I do for you, hon?” she asked.
He walked up and put his hands on the desk.
“I’m here to turn myself in,” he said.
The door opened and closed behind him. The woman looked past Cal and smiled warmly.
“Morning, Cecil,” she said.
Cal glanced over his shoulder and froze. The man in the black suit passed him, heading past the front desk.
“Why yes it is,” the woman said blushing and patting her hair.
Cal was confused by the half-conversation he was witnessing, though it was drowned out by the shock he felt at seeing the man.
“Agent Parson?” Cal said weakly.
The man stopped and turned. He took off his dark glasses and looked at Cal with his cold, gray eyes. Powerful memories of what those eyes could do caused Cal to take a short step backwards.
The woman looked between the two.
“No, hon,” she said to Cal. “That’s Agent Benson.”
“Yes,” Agent Benson said, coming back to the desk. “We met a few days ago when you came in with your story about teen drinking and it’s relation to gangs. What is it you need Mr. Cannon?”
“He said he’s here to turn himself in,” the woman said to the agent. She then looked at Cal. “Is that right?”
“No, no, no,” Cal said, avoiding the agent’s eyes. He tried to laugh naturally at such an ironic misunderstanding.
“Sorry,” he said. “I must have said the wrong thing. I was up very late last night.”
The agent stared down at him. Cal closed his eyes. This was one of those times where Oscar would say he should shut up. Unfortunately, he’d opened the door already and couldn’t just leave what he said out there.
“Up late studying,” he said, trying to come up with something reasonable “Big test today. What I meant to say is I would like to turn in an apology. To Agent Parson, err, Benson.”
He cringed inwardly, but tried to maintain his composure.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “for wasting your time the other day. I don’t know what I was thinking. And. I’m sorry.”
The woman frowned at him and looked up at the agent.
The agent continued to stare at Cal without betraying any emotion.
“Just stay out of of trouble,” he said, then turned to the woman.
“I have an important conference call with headquarters,” the agent said. “I won’t be taking calls or visitors.”
“Of course,” the woman said. “I hope it goes well.”
She watched as the agent walked away.
“Oh, you’re such a tease,” she shouted as his door closed.
She turned back to Cal with a reprimanding look.
“You should count yourself lucky,” she said. “Such a nice man. You don’t find a lot of gentle, warm men like him around much anymore.
Cal stared at her. Who was she talking about?
“You mean Agent Parson?” he asked, pointing down the hallway.
“I don’t know of an Agent Parson,” she said slowly, as if explaining the matter to a child. “The only FBI agents we have here are Benson and Wilson.”
Cal really wished he could have a conversation with somebody that didn’t leave him more confused before he started. Apparently he’d killed Agent Parson, but nobody knew about it because nobody remembered him. Or maybe Benson was impersonating Parson, except not when he visited Oscar’s family. And not right now. Cal rubbed his eyes.
“Don’t they all kinda look the same?” he asked, blinking at the woman.
“Benson and Wilson?” she said, her face screwed up in a confused frown.
“I guess you haven’t met Agent Wilson,” she said. “They couldn’t look more different.”
“How would you describe Agent Wilson?” he asked.
“He’s quite a bit older than Benson,” she said. “Hair’s completely gray. A little thick around the middle, but not as bad as some I’ve seen around here. He’s got nice eyes, just like Cecil,” she nodded down the hallway, “except I think Cecil’s are more blue.”
Cal was done. He wanted to go to school where things made sense.
He checked the time. If he left now, he’d just be a little late to first period.
“Well,” he said, tapping the desk. “Gotta get to school. Thanks.”
“Okay, you stay out of trouble, hon,” the woman said as Cal walked out.
He was getting so tired of hearing that.
* * *
Cal sat on the front steps of the school, waiting for Angel and Oscar. He was starving. He noticed that instead of feeling like a free man with a new lease on life, or even a lucky bastard with a second chance, all he felt like was a very tired, very hungry, and very confused kid.
Angel plopped down next to him and put her head on his shoulder.
“What’s that guy’s name in the poster on your wall?” she asked.
“Thor?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she pulled away to look at him.
“Can I call you Thor?” she asked, her lips curling into a mischievous smile.
Cal smiled back.
“Please don’t,” he said. “I don’t quite have the build. Plus, I use a shovel, not a hammer.”
“Hmm,” she said, tapping a finger against her lips. “Does Thor have a gardener?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “As far as I know, that’s never come up.”
He stood up and stretched.
“I’m exhausted,” he said. “Did you get any sleep?”
“After all of that last night?” she said. “No.”
She looked down at her watch.
“It’s getting late,” she said. “What are we going to do for lunch?”
“I don’t know,” Cal said. “Anything but Taco Bell.”
“The Super Deli is fast,” she said.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “Where’s Oscar? I’m starving.”
Looking across the crowd of students flowing out of the school, he flipped his phone open and pressed the button to send a new text message. His phone bleeped.
MSG SENT, his phone read.
“That’s weird,” Cal said.
“What?” asked Angel.
He pointed at his phone.
“I was about to -”
Her phone bleeped.
Cal remembered: he text message he hadn’t sent her this morning. He looked on in horror as she read at her new text message. Her eyes snapped up to his. He couldn’t read the emotions on her face. He saw happy ones, concerned ones, and potentially angry ones. He was at a loss as to how to resolve this.
“Hey guys,” Oscar said “Let’s get some food. I’m starving.”
He passed by them, but Cal continued to stare at Angel who continued to stare back. He could see a faint blush on her cheeks.
“You guys coming?” Oscar said, tapping his watch. “We don’t have much time.”
Angel stood up and they followed Oscar.
* * *
Stan was exhausted, starving, and angry. He’d spent all night fighting to close the portal, then most of the morning trying to figure out who his new adversary was.
Benson and Wilson sat across from him, still as corpses. The green light in the room didn’t help matters.
“Did Parson tell you anything before he was decorped?” he asked.
“He saw a movement by the maintenance building and went to look,” Benson said. “He engaged in combat, but we don’t know with whom. He was obviously overpowered. That combat resulted in his loss of corporeal binding.”
“Yes,” Stan said looking down at his steepled fingers. Losing Parson was a tremendous blow would hinder his progress greatly.
“It seems whoever we’re dealing with there has more than a passing knowledge of what we’re doing,” Stan said. “They knew how to pass a barrier, how to find and contact the portal, how to break a corporeal binding, and, the most interesting, they took Parson’s totem.”
He looked up at the agents. “Do you know of anyone in the area with that set of skills?”
“There may be some of the old ones with pieces of knowledge, but we would know if they were active,” Benson said.
Stan nodded. Unless he was being double-crossed, which was always a problem in this business. Problems could always be turned into opportunities, though. If he were to find this person or group of persons first, perhaps he wouldn’t need to rely so heavily on his debtor.
“Cannon was at the sheriff’s office today,” Benson said.
“You saw him?” Stan asked.
“Yes,” Benson replied. “Not only is he difficult to read, but he sees through the veil. He thought I was Parson.”
Stan pursed his lips. That wasn’t good news.
“What did he say?” Stan asked.
“He had come to apologize to Agent Parson for wasting his time last week,” Benson said. “He seemed extremely confused by the situation.”
“No,” Stan said leaning forward. “Tell me everything that was said.”
Benson replayed the entire conversation he had with Cal. There was something there. The boy was hiding something. Could he know who it was that was causing problems at the lake?
“Keep the pressure on him and his friends,” Stan said. “Pick it up a little, though. Let’s see who they’re talking to and where they’re going.”
He looked at Wilson.
“Speaking of our kids,” he said. “Anything on Massenberg?”
“Per your request, I haven’t been physically tracking her,” Wilson said, “but my passive tracking has shown no activity. She’s not in contact with any power.”
“No power that you know of,” Stan corrected.
“Correct,” Wilson said, sharing a glance with Benson.
“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Stan said.
Massenberg was certainly somebody to keep an eye on.
* * *
Cal kept his eye on Angel as he waited for his sandwich. She and Oscar were already sitting at a table talking and laughing. After the horrors of last night, it was good to see.
His reuben was finally ready and he joined his friends. He made a quick choice to sit next to Angel, as sitting across from her and avoiding eye contact would be awkward.
After a few bites of his reuben, he leaned forward, into the center of the table.
“When can we go see Jason next?” Cal asked. “Can we risk another lunch run?”
“No,” said Oscar. “We don’t have enough time to really talk, and I don’t want to miss more classes due to the sheriff.”
“Plus we don’t have half of the stuff he asked for,” Oscar said.
“That was all bluff,” Angel said.
“What?” asked Cal.
“Look,” she said. “My personal feelings about the loser aside, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And,” she held up her hands to keep Oscar from interrupting her,” I agree that he’s the best chance we have, but that was a clear tactic of giving us a bunch of busywork so that we either never go back to bother him, or he at least gets some time to figure out what to really ask us for.”
Cal looked at Oscar. She had a point.
“I ran into Agent Benson today,” Cal admitted.
“You mean Agent X?” Angel asked.
“No,” Cal said. “I think they are actually three different people, though, they’re clearly not people, but I don’t know, maybe not.”
“Where were you?” Oscar asked.
“At the sheriff’s station,” Cal said.
“Why were you at the sheriff’s station?” Angel asked.
“Hold on,” Oscar said. “There are three of those things out there?”
Oscar looked down at his skinned knuckles.
Cal held up two fingers.
“Two,” he said. “Two left.”
“And,” Cal said, “They change their appearance somehow. You guys said that Benson and Wilson looked exactly like the guy who beat up Walsh, right?”
Angel and Oscar nodded.
“The woman at the sheriff’s station says they look different,” Cal continued. “And she was having this bizarre half conversation with Benson, like he was talking back to her, but I couldn’t hear it. She said he was really nice, and I think she thought he was flirting with her.”
The puzzled expressions on Angel’s and Oscar’s faces told Cal that he wasn’t alone in finding that weird.
“I haven’t seen Wilson,” Cal nodded towards Angel, “but Parson and Benson are like exact clones. They dress identical, they both have those piercing gray eyes, both have the black hair slicked back-”
“Wait,” Oscar said. “They have blonde hair. Cut short, like a military cut.”
“Uh-oh,” said Angel. They both looked at her.
“I saw balding guys,” she said. “A little paunchy.”
Cal dropped his head down to the table. His brain hurt.
“None of this makes any sense,” he complained into the table.
A soft hand pet the back of his head and neck. He took the respite and enjoyed the touch.
He sat back up, and Angel’s hand slid to his shoulder with a squeeze, then it was gone. Oscar was chewing on a mouthful of sandwich. He raised an eyebrow at Cal.
“So,” Cal said, trying to sum up what he knew. “They look different to each person, but, to us at least, for some reason, they all look the same.”
“And they’re not human,” Oscar said.
“And you kill them with a shovel to the face,” Angel added.
“Oh,” Cal said fishing in his pockets.
He looked around to make sure nobody was looking.
“And they leave this when you kill them,” he said, laying the large coin down on the table.
Angel picked it up and turned it in her hands.
“It’s heavy,” she said, handing it to Oscar.
“And cold,” Oscar said.
“I’m hoping Jason can help us with what’s inscribed on it,” Cal said.
“I don’t know,” Oscar said. “Looks pretty amateur to me.”
“Oh,” Cal said. “Crap, we need to write this stuff down.”
Angel pulled up her backpack and got a Moleskine out of it.
“I’ll write, you talk,” Angel said.
“The boy scout strikes again,” Oscar laughed.
“Yeah, I got a merit badge in kicking butt, too” she told Oscar. “I’ll show it to you if you keep it up.”
Oscar put his hands up in surrender. Cal was starting to regret his errant text message a little less.
“Okay,” she turned back to Cal. “Go.”
“Uhh,” Cal said, the pressure was on. “The FBI agents. Probably not agents. Probably not human. Look different to different people, but they look like each other to us.”
He looked at Angel with a frown.
“Did I say that right?” he asked. “Does that make any sense?”
“I’ll fix it,” she said. “Just talk.”
“People have half-conversations with them,” he continued. “Oh, and the new thing: nobody remembers Parson.”
“What?” Oscar asked.
“The lady at the sheriff’s office says she never heard of an Agent Parson. Says there have only been two agents there, Benson and Wilson.”
“It corrected itself,” Angel said, tapping a pencil against her cheek.
“What do you mean?” Cal asked.
“You guys read scifi, right?” she asked.
“It’s like one of those time paradox thingies,” she said. “You do something that creates a paradox, and the time stream fixes itself so that there is no paradox.”
“They’re time travelers?” Oscar asked.
“Oh my God,” Angel said. “You guys are the stupidest geeks I’ve ever met. No, I’m not saying they’re time travelers, though that makes as much sense as anything else. I’m saying that there’s some,” she paused, thinking, “thingie here that corrected itself. Cal killed Parson, and suddenly Parson never existed. I’m putting that in the book.”
She scribbled in the book, talking to herself slowly.
“Well it was only the one lady,” Cal said. “I haven’t asked a lot of people about it, but she seemed to know the agents well. Benson didn’t correct me.”
“He’s part of it, though,” Angel said.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “He turned around when I called him Agent Parson.”
“Or,” Oscar said, “he turned around because he knew Parson was killed, and now he knows you did it.”
Cal looked at Oscar. He didn’t like that idea.
“That’s a good point,” he told Oscar.
“And then he kills you,” Oscar said, “And then none of us remembers you.”
Cal didn’t respond that time. Oscar still had a good point, but he was liking it less and less.
“Maybe there was somebody sitting next to me just now,” Oscar said, waving his hands in the seat next to him. “But he got killed and now we don’t know about him. Maybe you guys, and my parents, will forget about me.”
“Okay,” Angel said waving a hand between Oscar and Cal. “Enough. Let’s stick with what we know.”
“We don’t know anything,” Oscar said.
“Oscar,” Angel said, her voice soft. “You won’t be forgotten.”
“You can’t promise that,” he said. He was visibly upset now.
“Yes I can,” she said. “We won’t forget you.”
She reached out and grabbed one of Oscar’s hands and one of Cal’s hands. Oscar reached out for Cal’s other hand, and Cal gave it to him. It was awkward at first, but as Cal saw how shaken Oscar was, he got over it.
“Besides, we all remember Parson,” Angel said. “And we’ve all seen through their tricks so far. We’ll take care of each other.”
They held hands until Oscar nodded.
“Okay, what else do we know about the agents?” Angel asked, picking up her pen.
“Shovels,” Cal said.
“Yes,” she said while writing. “Death by shovel.”
“They do weird stuff with their eyes,” Cal said. “Some kind of hypnotizing thing. Don’t look in their eyes. And they leave a coin when they die.”
“Okay,” Angel said. “Anything else?”
“They’re strong,” Oscar said. “And fast. And, aside from shovels, don’t seem to get hurt.”
“And they’re here,” Cal said. Nodding towards the black SUV that just pulled into the parking lot.
“We should be heading back anyways,” Oscar said.
Nobody argued. They collected their stuff and tried to walk normally, but as quickly as possible back to school.