Blown speakers broadcast a tinny version of a Black Eyed Peas song into the night. A bright beam of light from a searchlight mounted on the golf cart swept around in lazy arcs. It cut through the darkness of the trees Cal and his friends were crouched in, but it didn’t linger on any spot and the cart didn’t slow. Cal stepped out of the trees, watching the lights of the cart as it continued down the gentle slope of the greenway. Angel and Oscar joined him.
“That’s the security you’re worried about?” she asked Cal, a teasing tone in her voice.
“It’s not the security I’m afraid of,” Oscar answered. “It’s the getting caught that worries me.”
“But you can see that light from a mile away,” countered Angel.
“Yeah, but they’re quiet,” Oscar said. “They can be quiet,” he quickly corrected. “If we weren’t so close to these trees that guy probably would have seen us.”
Angel made a dismissive, hissing sound.
Cal turned back to the others and looked at Oscar.
“So you decided to show up,” Cal said touching his cheek. “Change your mind?”
“No my mind,” Oscar replied. “I still think this is a bad idea.”
“Then why come?” Angel asked.
“It’s a bad idea, but I want to know what’s going on, too.” He replied. “Plus I didn’t want anything to happen to Cal.”
“Oh,” Angel said in a sneering tone. “I didn’t know you guys were an item.”
“We’re not,” said Oscar in a defensive whine.
“So anyways,” Cal cut in before things went any further and Oscar said something really embarrassing. “Are you guys sure it was the same guy we saw take Walsh?”
“Definitely,” answered Angel. “Same black suit and everything. He wasn’t wearing the sunglasses though. He had really strange eyes. Grey, but piercing.”
“Yeah,” Oscar agreed. “Scary eyes. It was definitely the same guy. I don’t get the name thing.”
“What if he’s not really an FBI agent?” Angel asked.
“What would he be then?” asked Oscar.
“I don’t know,” Angel said. “A killer? Maybe this is a mob thing?”
“No,” Oscar said. “I don’t think the Lemolos are big enough to fake an FBI agent.”
“Yeah,” Cal said. “And they’re not that subtle. They’re very obvious when they do things.”
“Okay, what the hell is a Lemonello?” Angel asked. “Sounds like some kind of fruit drink.
“Lemolo,” Cal said. “It’s some Indian word for like a wild man, or something.”
“Like sasquatch?” Angel said.
“I guess,” he said. “They’re real though. You see them around town pretty often. Black leather jackets and a raven patch on the shoulder.” He touched his right shoulder. “Lemolo spelled out across the back too.”
“Regarless,” Oscar said. “They sell meth and beat people up. They don’t hire weirdos to pretend to be FBI agents.”
“So what did Agent X say to you guys?” Cal asked.
“He mostly just talked to my mom,” Oscar said. “He told her I’d been causing problems with the sheriff and the FBI. Said he’d overlook it for now, but that she needed to keep an eye on me. Then he went off on all this stuff about how I seemed to be a good kid, but he’s seen lots of good kids get into trouble at my age, especially when they get mixed up with a criminal element.” He nodded towards Angel.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Angel asked. There was a sharp intensity to her voice.
“Hey,” Oscar said holding his hands up. “I’m just saying what he said.”
“But you assumed he was talking about me?” she asked, the intensity still there. A smoldering danger Cal hoped Oscar would know to avoid.
“I don’t make you dress like that,” Oscar said.
Cal dropped his head. This wouldn’t go well.
“I can dress how I like,” Angel shot back. “This isn’t Iran. And I’m not going to take fashion tips from you, Old Navy. You look like everybody else in town. I can’t even see who you are in your khaki uniform.”
“Yeah, I don’t really care about fashion,” Oscar said. “But when I do make a statement of my own individuality, I deal with the consequences. I accept them instead of being a whiny victim.”
“Good for you, Oscar,” she said.
They were starting to get louder. Cal tried to think of a way to break it up without them turning on him instead.
“And,” Angel continued. “Where is it stated that I’m a criminal just because I dress differently? I make most of this stuff myself.” She patted her hands on her chest. “I’m not a criminal, I just choose to dress nicely.”
“Nicely?” Oscar said. “You dress like a vampire. People call you Vampira at school.”
“People at school are small-minded sheep,” she said. She was practically yelling at Oscar now. “Vampira? Just look at that. They think I look like a vampire, so they call me Vampira? With all of the vampire stuff out there, that’s the best they can do? No, they don’t like me because I don’t fit their idea of what a girl should dress like. They don’t like that I choose to be an individual. They feel threatened and lash out at me because they don’t understand me and they don’t understand their feelings of inadequacy and mediocrity.”
Her voice rang out in the darkness. Oscar didn’t respond. A light breeze rustled the trees behind them.
“Whatever,” Oscar said. “I didn’t assume you were a criminal. Agent X told my mom about you and had you file with him. He said you had a criminal record.”
Angel growled in frustration.
“Yeah,” she said. “He pulled that bullshit with me, too. He kept implying things like I’m a drug addict or a satanist. I kept challenging him to show us my file. Show us what proof he had, but he had my mom convinced. She just told me to shut up and go to my room.”
“Are you a drug addict,” Oscar asked.
Alice stepped forward and punched Oscar in the chest.
“Ow,” Oscar whined, backing away and rubbing his chest. “What was that for?”
“For being an idiot,” she replied.
“So what’s in your file then?” Cal interjected, hoping to stop a brawl.
She turned on him, making him worry that she was coming for him next. It was hard to read her expression in the dark. He half expected him to punch him, too.
“Just stupid stuff,” she replied looking away from Cal.
“They don’t track stupid stuff,” Oscar said.
She turned back on Oscar.
“Hey,” Cal said, reaching out to her with a hand. “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it. I probably shouldn’t have asked.”
“No,” she said. “It’s okay. LIke I said, it’s stupid stuff. The little crap charges like MIP.”
“What’s MIP?” Cal asked, then regretted it.
He felt her looking at him, judging him.
“Minor In Posession,” she answered. “Beer. It’s not like I’m some criminal mastermind out to corrupt the youth of Aberdeen.”
“Yeah,” Oscar interrupted. “A mastermind wouldn’t get caught.”
She turned back to Oscar. “But I guess I’m enough of a mastermind to let you copy my chem lab notes, huh?”
That shut Oscar up. Cal looked at him. He was surprised to hear that. Oscar was normally such a straight laced guy. Besides which he always said that Chemistry was his favorite class.
“Besides,” Angel continued. Unaware that she had unintentionally outed Oscar. “The MIP was Ivan’s fault anyways.” Cal’s mood dropped at the mention of Ivan. He wished that name would quit coming up.
“He didn’t tell me he had a beer in the car,” Angel continued. “The cops, being cops, made their assumptions and didn’t believe me when I said it wasn’t mine. Ivan got hit with the open container and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Not all that big of a deal for him. It helps with his band cred.”
That confused Cal.
“He didn’t get an MIP?” he asked.
“No,” Angel said. “Ivan’s not a minor.”
That killed the subject. Cal’s mind wandered into territory he didn’t like.
“Okay,” Cal said, eager to keep moving away from the subject. “Back to Agent X.”
“Yes, please,” said Angel.
Cal recounted his interaction with the sheriff and Agent Parson.
“Sorry I got you guys involved,” Cal said. “I don’t know why I couldn’t think of something else. I should’ve said I was with Aaron Miller.”
“Who’s Aaron Miller?” Angel said, wanting in on the joke.
“Captain of our football team,” Oscar said.
“Hmm,” Angel said. “Not really my scene.”
“I don’t know,” Cal continued. “I just froze up with him. I felt like his eyes were digging into my brain. Like he’d see any lie I could come up with.”
“Yeah,” Angel said. “His eyes were intense.”
“He’s FBI, guys,” Oscar said. “He interrogates people for a living. And real, hardened criminals, not kids like us.
“Got a lot of experience with the FBI there, Oscar?” Angel chided.
“I’m just saying it’s not Cal’s fault,” Oscar said. Cal was relieved Oscar didn’t take the bait from Angel. Maybe Oscar was learning.
“It’s pretty clear he didn’t buy my story,” Cal said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have visited you guys.”
“Yeah,” Angel said. “He didn’t buy it at all.
“But why go through all of that?” Cal asked. “He’s killed one guy, maybe others. Any not just kill us and keep things clean.”
“You need to stop watching so many cop shows,” Angel said, looking at Oscar. “If he killed everybody who knew something, that would leave a lot of bodies to explain. Even if they were all considered suicides, that would raise questions. Better to get our parents on orange alert and discredit us.”
“Got a lot of experience with that, Angel?” Oscar mocked Angel.
“Yes, I do,” she responded. “I’m a girl. Girls don’t fight physically. Girls go after your character and reputation. Piss off a guy and you might get a black eye. Piss off a girl and you might get ostracized.”
Cal thought he heard the echoes of personal experience in what Angel said. A sadness that hadn’t been there before.
“Or,” Oscar said. “He doesn’t know what we know and he’s fishing to find out.”
“Maybe,” Cal said. “But I think they would have talked to you more in that case. Sounds like he barely talked to you guys.”
“Yeah,” Angel said. “But it doesn’t matter. We’ve got the ‘troubled youth’ label now. Agent X won the first round. If we go to the sheriff with this, it’ll just look like we’re just trying to start trouble. Nobody’s going to listen to us now unless we’ve got some real evidence.”
They stood on the grass, Cal contemplated spending his last year and a half in Aberdeen written off by the sheriff and FBI. The lateness of the night weighed on him. He felt exhausted an cold.
It started to rain. Oscar shuffled through his backpack and opened up an umbrella. Angel pulled her cloak’s hood up over her head making Cal think of Little Red Riding Hood. Only in black. Little Black Riding Hood.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said, huddling under Oscar’s umbrella.
Oscar and Angel nodded.
As they walked back they discussed what to do.
“Obviously Cal hit on something,” Oscar said.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “If he didn’t outright kill Walsh, it’s pretty clear that Agent X is involved with his death in some way.”
“So what do we do?” Oscar asked.
“Research,” Angel said. “Walsh did something to get killed. We need to find out what that was.”
“How?” Oscar asked. He was being especially whiney tonight. Cal made a note to ask him about it later.
Angel sighed. “Just like Chem lab,” she said. “He was a reporter, right? So we read his articles and try to find out what he was working on. Maybe we can even go see the body at the morgue.”
Cal wondered at the fascination he heard in her voice when a chill shot through his body, electrifying his skin and making the tiny hairs all over his body stand on end.
Oscar stiffened and looked behind him, dropping his umbrella.
“What was that?” He asked in a harsh whisper.
“What?” Angel asked.
“I heard something behind us,” he said stepping closer to the other two. “Like somebody dragging their feet through the grass.”
“Quit screwing around,” Cal said, looking behind them nervously.
“I’m serious,” Oscar said. “I heard something back there.”
“It was probably just the wind,” Cal said, eyes searching through the darkness. “Let’s just go, you’re freaking me out.” Had he heard it too? He didn’t remember hearing anything, but what Oscar had said was familiar, like a deja vu.
He felt Angel step closer to him. He could only present his fake bravery for so long. If she joined in, he’d have a hard time not running all the way home.
“What’s that?” she asked.
Cal’s heart skipped a beat. He looked at her, but her features were hidden by her cowl. He followed her outstretched arm pointing up the hill to their right.
“What?” he asked, again seeing nothing. He wasn’t enjoying this little game and wished it would stop. His nerves were screwed up enough right now without their help.
“Jesus,” he said. “You guys really need to stop-”
He saw it.
“That,” Angel whispered.
A faint green glow pulsed over the crest of the hill. Two quick pulses, like a heartbeat. A low thump with each beat, reinforcing the heartbeat similarity. Not really a noise, though. It was too low of a sound. It was more of a vibration in Cal’s body.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Oscar said, his voice quivered with either fear or cold, or, if he was feeling anything like Cal was at that moment, both.
Oscar didn’t move.
“I’m going to go see what it is,” Cal said, even though every instinct in his body was screaming at him to do what Oscar suggested.
Every step up the slow incline was hard work. Each step brought him closer to the crest of the hill, each step adding to his fear. It was like listening to glass squeaking on glass and the volume was slowly turning up. An irritation initially, but at some point it would just be too much to bear.
He probably would have stopped if Oscar and Angel weren’t sneaking right along with him. They were close enough that the glow was reflected on their faces, lighting them in ghastly contrast. Lub-dub. The fear he felt was evidence on their faces too. Eyes wide, brows drawn. Their pupils dilated wide from the dark night added to give them an disarming alien, almost animalistic look. Cal shuddered and closed his eyes, trying to get the images out of his head.
As they neared the crest of the hill, Cal laid down in the wet grass and crawled along on his belly. Angel and Oscar followed suit. The wetness from the rain was not a concern at the moment.
They reached the top and peeked over.
The hill sloped down on the other side with a lake at the bottom. Tentacles of sickly green light were dancing and wrestling around under the water’s surface.
There was something across the lake as well; a dark form. Cal squinted trying to see what it was. It wasn’t that he couldn’t see it clearly, it was that the form kept changing as he watched. It was generally human looking, though it couldn’t decide on a height. At times it had far too many arms.
“Okay,” Angel whispered. “That’s a water hazard.”
Then the entire lake pulsed the same sickly green. Lub-dub.
Horrific imagery filled Cal’s head. Bloody, mutilated, and rotting things. He heard Angel gasp and felt Oscar flinch next to him. Apparently they were having similar experiences.
The images faded with the light, leaving Cal with a headache and a burning taste of bile in the back of his throat. The lake was dark for a moment, then one of the light tentacles returned, followed by another, then another.
“Okay,” Oscar whispered then swallowed. “Seriously, that’s it. I’m out of here.”
They pushed back down the hill a safe way then stood up and ran all the way back to the fence.
“What was that?” Angel asked between gasps.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Oscar said. “I’m going home now. I think you guys should to. I’ll give you a lift if you want.”
“But,” Angel started.
“No,” Oscar said. “I’m going home now.”
They got into Oscar’s car and rode back to their homes. Cal sat in silence, trying to quiet the fear that wouldn’t go away completely. Oscar and Angel seemed to be in the same boat. Except for a quick goodbye that itself confused Cal, the car ride back to his house was quiet.
Cal laid in his bed staring at the Thor poster, but not really seeing it. There were only a few hours left before school. He couldn’t sleep.
He got out of bed. Weariness made him clumsy, his body heavy. He headed for the kitchen. He’d left all of the lights on in the house, but still every little sound made his nerves jump.
The kitchen was empty disappointment until he found a packet of Swiss Miss in a drawer. Warm definitely sounded good.
He sat at the kitchen bar, holding the warm cup of cocoa in his hands. His phone bleeped from the charging station across the counter from him.
He leaned over and grabbed his phone. Flipping it open, he saw a text message from Angel.
CAN’T SLEEP, she said.
Cal looked at the timestamp. It was an hour old.
Nothing from Oscar, but his mom probably had his phone. She was probably sleeping fine. Well maybe not so well now that Agent X had put thoughts in her head of her son becoming a delinquent.
Angel was probably asleep by now, but Cal decided to try anyways.
ME 2, he replied.
He finished off his cocoa, feeling marginally better, and headed back to his room. He was beginning to doubt the wisdom of trying to go to sleep now. If he fell asleep, he’d probably sleep right through third period. All he needed now was trouble at school too.
As he reached his door, he heard his phone bleep again.
A welcome warmth spread through his chest. He ran back up the stairs and grabbed his phone.
He started back to his room, then stopped, thinking about his mom. What the hell, he thought, she was out of town. He went back down to his room, fell onto his bed and flipped open his phone. He absently noted how less tired he felt.
I’M SCARED, Angel texted.
ME 2, Cal responded. Then typed I WONT LET ANYTHING HAPPEN 2 U.
His thumb hovered over the send key. It was an impossible promise, he knew, but it’s how he felt. Perhaps if he were less sleep deprived he would have reconsidered but, with a burst of adrenaline, he hit the button.
He laid back and looked up at Thor, then shifted to a figure behind Thor: Sif, Thor’s girlfriend.
His phone bleeped.
I KNOW, she responded. I WON’T LET ANYTHING HAPPEN TO YOU EITHER.
He read the message several times, each time with a giddy warmth building in his chest. Then his phone bleeped again.
:X, she texted.
Most people would consider an emoticon kiss to be a poor substitute for the real thing, but, as the first kill Cal had ever received from a girl, the fact that it was an emoticon was a minor detail.
He stared at it and giggled with a tear in his eye, the growing fear put on hold for a bit.
And that’s how he fell asleep.
And how he slept through third period.