(written 11/9/2010 - total words 19,418)
Cal did what he could to avoid touching the frog. The chemical smell coming from it was oppressive and was working on the low-grade headache he’d had since he woke up.
Samantha Caldecott, his lab partner pulled the knife out of his hand.
“If you’re just going to sit there,” she told him, “I guess it’s up to me.”
She drew the knife across the frog’s mid section, the dull blade tearing the rubbery, yellowed flesh more than cutting it.
A wave of nausea passed over Cal. He blamed the burrito and lack of sleep. He sat back and took a deep breath. More of the chemical-laden air assaulted his nose. He pushed his chair back and looked out the window, trying to get control over his rumbling belly.
“You okay?” Samantha asked. She was hunched over the crucified frog, looking up at Cal through her safety goggles.
Cal smiled, wiping cold sweat off of his brow.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m-” His gaze had wandered down to the frog. It’s viscera was now exposed. The disturbing imagery of the night before leapt back into his mind, reinforced by what he saw before him.
“-gonna puke,” he said, leaping out of his chair.
He wished he had taken the cues earlier. He wished he had made it to the bathroom, but he didn’t. He did, fortunately, make it to the trash can by the door where he relived the experience of eating his burrito. The burrito hadn’t had much time to digest and, being a burrito, really didn’t change much from being chewed. It was going to be a long time before he had burritos again.
His stomach empty, he heaved a few times over the trash can, trying to convince his body to stop already. He felt like his head was going to burst. He finally stopped convulsing, and spat a few times into the trash can.
He looked up into a sea of eyes. Everybody was staring at him. One of the kids at the front was dry heaving into the back of his hands. Could this day get any worse?
He tried to talk, but his voice cracked. He spat a few more times into the trash can, took a breath, and tried again.
“Can I be excused, Mr. Palino?” Cal asked, from his spot on the floor.
Mr. Palino nodded. He looked pale, like he was ready to heave himself.
Cal pushed himself up, his body weary from such violent work to expel the burrito. He took a step towards the door.
“Mr. Cannon,” Mr. Palino said.
Cal stopped and looked over his shoulder.
“Take your lunch with you.” Mr. Palino waved towards the trash can.
Cal dropped his head and turned. Picking up the trash can, he went back to the door. This time he got it open before Mr. Palino interrupted him again.
“Mr. Cannon,” he said.
Cal looked back with a weary sigh.
“Maybe you should limit your partying to the weekends.”
Giggles spread through the class. Cal nodded and left.
He legs shook with every step. The bathroom seemed to be miles away. The door opened as he neared it and a senior kid walked out. He had a hall monitor badge on. He smirked when he saw Cal.
“You got a hall pass?” He asked.
Cal shoved the trash can into the senior’s hands.
“It’s in there,” he said, pushing past and into the bathroom.
The senior started to say something, but then discovered what was in the trash can. He yelled something at Cal, but by then Cal had his head in the sink and the faucet drowned out everything else.
* * *
It was a rough trip home. One of those days where Cal wished he had saved up his money and bought a car instead of a scooter.
His stomach was settled again by the time he got home, and back to complaining about being empty again. He plugged his phone into the charger then rifled through the cupboards for something to eat. He found some cup-o-noodles, but they looked a bit too much like cup-o-intestines at the moment. Another food crossed off his menu for a while.
He found a can of minestrone soup. That and a slice of bread would have to do.
He ate carefully, trying not to upset his stomach. He pulled his phone with the charging cord over and turned it on. It played some awful music, then got onto the network. A minute later it started bleeping as the queue of messages from the day started getting delivered. It reminded him of Angel and Oscar, and he sent a quick message to both that he’d gone home. He didn’t want them worrying about him any more today.
He finished his food and dragged himself down to his room. As his head hit the pillow, he remembered that he was supposed to work tonight. He closed his eyes tight in frustrated self pity, then pulled his body out of bed and back up to the kitchen.
He called Denny’s and asked for Mr. Tower.
After a few minutes of listening to all of Denny’s spectacular specials on hold, Mr. Tower picked up.
“What’s the problem, Cal,” he said.
“I’m sick,” Cal said.
“You’re not coming in?”
“Well, I’m sick,” Cal replied. He thought it was pretty obvious.
“You coming in or not?” Mr. Tower repeated.
“No, I’m not coming in.”
The line was quiet. He could hear the background noise of Denny’s music and plates clanking.
“I told you; I’m sick. We’re supposed to call in if we’re sick,” Cal said. He wanted to get off the phone and crawl into bed.
“Yeah,” Mr. Tower said. “You’re supposed to give us more notice. We need you to come in tonight, Cal.”
Cal dropped his head into his hand. He didn’t know how to respond.
“How are you sick?” Mr. Tower continued. “You got the swine flu or something?” A person could not be less empathetic.
“No, I just threw up earlier.”
“I don’t know, an hour or so?” Cal had no idea what time it was. “Maybe two?”
“One or two hours?” Mr. Tower asked. “Nothing since?”
“No, nothing since.”
“Then you’re fine; you’re not sick.” Cal wasn’t sure how much medical training Denny’s managers had, but he disagreed with the diagnosis.
“I’m not coming in,” Cal said, trying for a more direct approach. “I feel terrible.”
“Oh, so you’re not sick, you just feel bad,” Mr. Tower said, a gleam of excitement in his voice like he’d finally uncovered some hidden truth.
Cal was again uncertain of how to answer.
“Look, it’s your choice if you want to come in or not,” Mr. Tower said. Cal felt a cautious hope growing in his chest against his knowing better. “But it looks bad to no-call-no-show. It’s irresponsible. The whole shift has to cover for you.”
“But I’m calling in,” Cal pleaded. He just wanted to get off the phone.
“No, trying to get out of work two hours before your shift is not calling in,” Mr. Tower replied. “If you don’t come in, I gotta mark you down as a no-call-no-show. That’s bad, Cal. The regional manager won’t like it. It might get you fired.”
Cal rested his forehead on the kitchen countertop. The cool pressure felt good.
“So,” Mr. Tower said. “You gonna come in or no?”
Cal felt stuck.
“What’s it gonna be, Cal?” Mr. Tower kept the pressure on.
Cal sighed. There was only one way to get off the phone and get a little peace.
“Okay,” he said, resigned. “I’ll be in.”
“Alright, Cal,” Mr. Tower said. “I appreciate it.” There was no appreciation in his voice. “And don’t be late. You’ve already got a few tardies this quarter. You gotta watch that.”
Mr. Tower hung up.
Cal dragged himself down to his bed and, making sure that his alarm was set for an hour and a half, dropped into a dead sleep.
* * *
The doorbell rang, waking Cal from his sleep. He looked at the clock. He had to get up in fifteen minutes. He pulled a pillow over his head. It was probably just the Jehovah’s Witnesses again.
It rang again, then a few more times. There was the low thudding of somebody banging on the door.
Cal stared at his pillow, but the ringing and banging continued.
He swung himself out of bed and started up the stairs. Somebody was going to get a piece of his mind.
He reached the front door and yanked it open, preparing the best glare he could muster.
His glare fizzled when he saw it was Oscar and Angel.
Cal stepped aside and waved them in. Oscar headed up to the kitchen with Angel following slowly behind. She was looking around the house, pausing to look at pictures on the wall.
“We heard what happened,” Angel said as Cal caught up with her in the hallway.
They continued into the kitchen and Cal dumped himself into a chair at the table.
“You doing okay?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Cal said, rubbing his forehead. “Just a bad combination of burrito and dissection.”
Oscar set a glass of Sprite down in front of Cal and took a chair next to him.
“Is that all?” Oscar asked. “Samantha Caldecott is telling people you were drunk.”
Cal shook his head. He didn’t know what he did to get the world working against him, but he needed it to stop.
“No,” Cal said. “Not drunk.”
Cal looked at Angel and Oscar then down at the table.
“You guys saw stuff last night, right?” Cal asked. “At the lake.” He tapped a finger on his temple. “Stuff in your heads.”
They both nodded.
“I don’t know about you,” Cal continued. “But that was, by far, the most disturbing stuff I’ve ever seen.”
The look in Oscar’s eye let Cal know they were on the same page.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Cal said. “There wasn’t any connection between the images. It was just this disgusting, horrible stuff all vying for my attention. Just for a second or two, then it vanished. I can’t even remember the images, just the feeling of horror. It’s like burnt in my brain, that feeling. I can’t shake it.”
“It was the thing in the lake,” Angel said. “I think it was talking to us.”
“You mean the lights?” Oscar asked.
“I saw a guy, I think,” Cal said. “On the edge of the water. I couldn’t see him clearly, though.”
“Yeah, I saw that, too,” Oscar said. “I thought it was a bear or something. Maybe two bears.”
“No,” Angel said. “There was something in the lake. Didn’t you guys feel it? That’s what sent those images to us.”
Cal felt a shiver run down his spine. He took a sip of Sprite.
“Why would it be talking to us?” Oscar asked.
Angel shrugged. She looked at Cal’s glass.
“Can I get a glass of that?” She asked.
“Oh,” Cal said, embarrassment flushing his face. “Sorry, I’m used to Oscar taking care of himself. Yeah, glasses are to the right of the sink. I don’t know where the Sprite is.”
“In the fridge,” Oscar said.
Angel went to forage for her glass of Sprite.
“Maybe,” Cal said, thinking out loud. “Maybe it wasn’t talking to us. Maybe it was just talking?”
“About what?” Oscar asked.
“Obviously horrible things,” Angel said, returning with a glass of Sprite.
Oscar dropped his head in his hands.
“Guys,” Oscar said. “This is really weirding me out. We’ve got a possibly fake FBI agent running around town abducting and killing people, maybe for the Lomolos, and now we’ve got some monster living in a lake at the country club. Last week everything was normal and now nothing is. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Cal said.
The three of them sat without talking, listening to the hiss of Angel’s drink, the crackling of the ice cubes.
A rumbling noise outside shook them out of their silence. It cut off and shortly after there was the muffled thump of a car door closing.
“Rob,” Cal said, sharing a glance with Oscar.
“Who’s Rob?” Angel asked.
“Get your drink,” Cal said. “Let’s go down to my room.” He stood and motioned towards the doorway that led to his bedroom.
“Yeah,” said Oscar also standing. “Now’s not a good time to meet Rob.”
The three of them fled the kitchen with Cal wondering what incriminating things he’d left out in his bedroom. He hadn’t anticipated company, much less Angel. First impressions are hard to break.
Oscar turned on Cal’s bedroom light and plopped into the swiveling office chair by Cal’s desk, spinning around slowly. Cal saw Angel looking around his room with that same patience study she had when she came into the house. He pushed past her and Oscar and started kicking things under his bed. He wrestled a pile of laundry into his closet and got the door closed.
Turning around, he found Angel laying on his bed, looking up at Thor. He winced. No way to really explain that away.
“Sorry,” Cal said. “The room’s a mess. I wasn’t expecting company.”
Oscar raised an eyebrow at him.
“So, who’s Rob?” Angel asked.
“He’s my older brother,” Cal said.
“Asshole,” Oscar said over Cal.
“Your older asshole?” Angel asked with a smile.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “Pretty much.”
“So,” Oscar said. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t even know where to start looking up the lake thing,” Angel said.
Cal looked up.
“I know who we can talk to,” he said.
Oscar and Angel looked at him.
“Jason,” Cal said.
“Jason?” Oscar said with a laugh.
“Guys,” Angel said. “I’m getting tired drawing out your inside references. Who’s Jason?”
“Jason,” Oscar said with a smirk, “owns Comic Conclave.”
“Comic Conclave?” Angel asked. “Is that the name of your comic book store?”
“That’s the worst name I’ve ever heard,” Angel said.
“And more to the point,” Oscar said, “How is Jason suppose to help us?”
“If we were being attacked by zombies, or werewolves, or vampires, he’d be the guy to go to,” Cal said.
“That’s right,” Oscar said. “But out here, in real life, I’m not clear on what he’s supposed to be able to do for us.”
“Who else can we talk to,” Cal said. “It’s like that Batman quote: ‘when you’ve run out of the possible, all that’s left is the improbable.’”
“Actually,” Angel said. “That’s Sherlock Holmes. And it’s ‘when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’”
Oscar and Cal looked at her.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “That. This seems to be pretty far outside the realm of normal. Even if it wasn’t we clearly can’t go talking with the sheriff’s office or the FBI. Who else can we talk to?”
Oscar shrugged. Cal looked at Angel who also shrugged and shook her head.
“I mean to start with,” Cal said. “It can’t hurt, can it.”
“Sure,” Oscar said, spinning his chair around to look Cal’s desk. “Whatever.”
Cal’s alarm went off.
They all jumped. Oscar tilted back and fell out of the desk chair. Angel sat up straight, almost bounding out of the bed.
“Sorry,” Cal said over the blaring buzzer. He walked over and turned it off. “I’ve gotta get ready for work.”
Oscar picked himself up, and got back in the chair with an embarrassed redness glowing in his face.
“You’re going to work tonight?” Angel asked.
“Yeah,” Cal said. “I have to.”
“You should call in,” she said. “Take the night off.”
“I tried that,” Cal said. “I think my boss said he’d fire me if I didn’t come in.”
“Wow,” Angel said. “Where do you work?”
Cal, once again, felt trapped into revealing some unattractive aspect of his life.
“Dennys,” he said.
“Really?” asked Angel. “I’m in there a lot. I’ve never seen you.”
Cal clenched his teeth.
“I’m a dishwasher,” he said.
“Oh,” replied Angel. “Well your boss sounds like a jerk.”
“He is,” both Cal and Oscar said.
A silence fell between the three of them.
Oscar’s phone broke the silence with a loud pinging noise. Oscar scowled and grabbed his phone out of his pocket.
“It’s my mom,” he said getting out of the chair and heading for the door. “Wondering why it’s taking so long to get groceries. I’ve gotta run. I’m still grounded.”
Oscar closed the door behind him, and Cal heard him bounding up the stairs and out the front door. He listened for the faint sounds of Oscar getting into his car and driving away, perplexed, frightened, and excited that he was left alone in his room with Angel.
“Do you have time to give me a ride home?” Angel asked.
“Of course,” Cal replied. He didn’t.
“I’ve got a spare helmet in the garage,” he continued.
“Oh right,” Angel said with a smile. “Fun.”
Although Cal was running into certain doom with being late again to work, the ride in was pure bliss. The girl he couldn’t stop thinking about, the one who was just lying on his bed, the one who’d given him his first (emoticon) kiss, had her arms wrapped around him and leaned into his back as Cal whipped his scooter into trying to achieve the speed limit and not dump both of them off on corners. It was frightening, and it was heaven.
Mr. Temple’s lecture about having another tardy on his record didn’t even sour his mood, and the rest of his evening floated by without incident. Something to be said for a monotonous, repetitive job. He was able to hold on to that warm feeling all the way until he got home and dropped into bed.
He even thought he could smell her perfume on his bed cover.