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Chapter 24

Chapter 24

“What now?” Bugs asked, her voice disheartened. “Maybe we should get out of here, right?”

Cary agreed, partly, but he said nothing. Just below his heart, his chest thrummed now and his fingers twitched. He needed to touch the tablet again, read the Book and couldn't explain why, didn't want to explain, even to Bugs.

“We should check the attic..” Cary said hopefully. Bugs sighed but she nodded. "OK. but we have to be quick. It's been nearly an hour and he could come home...”

They moved out of the room, in the process angling the door back into position as best they could, the pieces of cracked wood they could do nothing about, though Bugs tried to smooth them down anyway. There was nothing else for it. Cary had ripped the hinges out of the door frame and nearly shattered the door as a whole. Even if they tried to screw them back in, the door wouldn't hold. Putting the door out of his mind, which was oddly easy, with the Book looming, Cary moved back to the hallway outside the workroom.

“The attic, then.” Bugs said. She gulped.

In the ceiling above the hallway, recessed an inch or so, was a door with a long string attached. Reaching up on his tiptoes, Cary pulled at the string and gently pulled the attic door down. He pulled down the set of folded up wooden ladder stairs. Both he and Bugs went inside the attic. It was far warmer than the house and very dark. Fluffy mounds of pink insulation loomed up through the darkness, like shadowed hills over a horizon. The sloping roof above was broken up every few feet by thin-looking two-by-four crossbeams in trusses. Stepping gingerly, Cary looked around from the small plywood covered landing. A large air-conditioning unit blocked off part of the attic, but otherwise the whole thing seemed devoid of anything beyond stacks of cardboard boxes. He sighed, annoyed and deflated.

“There's nothing here, Care. The tablet isn't here.” Her voice held a shred of doubt and Cary's mind took it, blew air onto it until it was huge and menacing. He glared at her, before he remembered she was Bugs and she believed him.

She's my best friend!

Taking a deep breath and whispering silently to himself – be calm! Be calm! Be calm! - Cary pushed the anger away, but he still needed reassurance.

“You believe me?” he asked Bugs again, low and wavering.

Bugs came over and squeezed his hand, he could barely see her in the dark. Her hand was smaller than his, but not by much and very soft, damp with sweat. “You know I do, right?” she said. Funnily, Cary did.

Cary sighed. "OK, well I guess it's not here...” He looked around one last time and saw something. Moving gingerly, Cary flitted around two stacks of boxes jutting up from the pink foam until he was standing before what looked like a very large steamer trunk. A padlock similar to the one he had crushed at school earlier secured the trunk. The trunk had thick bands of steel wrapped round it, each riveted by a huge bolt.

It must weigh several hundred pounds there's no way I can move it! Wait..

“It's locked.” Bugs said when she sidled up behind him. She glanced at him from the side. Cary beamed, partly at her presence, partly because he felt his new strength, innately, for the first. The nasty voice inspired doubt in his thoughts.

I can break the lock, but how can I hide from Clearing I've been up here? He'll definitely figure it out... if the tablet is really even in the trunk. He knows I want to look at it. Why else would he hide it? What does Clearing know about the Book that he doesn't want me to know? He must know something, Derek must've told him something...

Bugs elbowed him gently, snapped him from his reverie. “What now?” she whispered. Cary pulled and heaved the trunk so he could get to the back of it, an idea having come to him. He moved over to the back of the massive trunk, pinched the pin of a hinge and twisted. The metal rod which held the hinge together wrenched loose and fell to the floor with a thud. Bugs gasped. Cary repeated this on the other hinge, with the same result.

“I...” Bugs stuttered. “That ... Care that's amazing, right?”

Cary smiled and nodded at her. She smiled back. Even in the dark of the attic her smile blazed. Slowly, Cary lifted the lid off the trunk, the front locking flap now acting as the hinge. The was heavy, he could judge the weight and he was sure had he not had this amazing strength, he would not have even been able to lift it. The thing only looked like wood; it was solid metal, maybe lead. Cary set the lid down on the attic floor, still connected to the rest of the trunk by the padlock. He and Bugs fished through the trunk, though it appeared to contain only old clothes, a musty scrapbook full of newspaper articles and photos.

“Who keeps old, nasty clothes in such a secure trunk?” Bugs asked as she delicately turned over a moldy overcoat. Cary shrugged. All he could think of was finding the tablet, and the Book of Fates.

It's not here. It's NOT HERE.

Cary was ready to snap.

When Bugs let out a scream of delight, Cary thought she had just heard noise downstairs and was startled. But he saw her face, alight with excitement. He thought his eyes had adjusted to the dim light, he could see her well now, but there was light streaming up from near the trunk.

“It's here, Cary! Look!” Bugs said. She pointed to the lid of the steamer trunk. Cary moved over to stand next to her.

“See? It was under the lid, under this cloth covering...” Bugs said, pulling back a thin piece of black cloth which covered the entirety of the lid. Her face bloomed with light, streaming off the tablet.

“I saw the light, Clearing must have left it on!” Bugs offered when Cary asked how she had seen the tablet. He beamed at her.

“It's real, right?” Bugs said. Cary nodded. “What makes it shine like that?” Bugs asked, running her finger over its surface. It was a great deal brighter than it should be.

“I don't know.” Cary said. “It didn't shine so much before.”

They carefully pulled back the rest of black cloth, making a point not to rip it. It had been held on with Velcro. Once the cloth was off, Cary saw the tablet was held down by heavy angle brackets, making it impossible to slip the device out.

“No wonder the trunk was so heavy!” Cary said, brightly.

“We should take it, right?” Bugs said, her hand shaking.

“OK.” Cary said.

Cary used two fingers to pry the heavy angle bracket backward, careful not to press hard against the tablet, he lifted and placed it on the floor. He tipped the trunk lid back on top of the trunk, lifted the tablet, gently put atop the lid. Cary got a glimpse of what was displayed on the tablet and he breathed a long, deep gust. Pottermore. Already loaded and waiting, as if the tablet had been expecting Cary to find it.

That's crazy. Completely nuts!

So is a runt like me being able to break that trunk open...

Cary pushed the nasty voice aside. The words on Pottermore were as clear to him as though written in fiery letters in mid-air: The Book of Fates. Cary ran a finger down the lightning bolt which formed the stem of the F in Fates. The motion of his finger activated the tablet, and the cover swiped open. Cary let out a deep, excited gasp.

At first there were only the strange, unreadable symbols. Angrily, in a flurry of swipes, Cary turned the pages quickly. Several pages in a page suddenly had a mass of letters upon it. The letters were clear now to Cary. No symbols. No flashing. Cary shook his head, awed. He felt, rather than saw Bugs lean over his shoulder to read.

“Can you read it?” Cary asked Bugs.

Bugs frowned at the tablet, shook her head. “It feels like I should be able to, I mean, that sounds weird, right?” She took a deep breath. “I can't explain it better, it's like just on the edge of my vision, the tip of my tongue but I can't catch it.” Bugs reached towards the tablet but did not touch it.”It's definitely Pottermore though...but I've been everywhere on that site and I've never seen this!”

Cary was deflated. He sighed. The words on the screen, though clear to him, had no meaning, at least no special meaning. In fact, he was pretty sure they were the same words he had read the last time he had looked in the Book. Still, he wasn't ready to give up. Cary swiped back to the first page, where the title was displayed.

“What about this...” Cary said, pointing to the words “Book of Fates” halfway down the first page. “What do you think this says?”

Bugs made a vexed noise. “I don't know... just a bunch of symbols, right? But it makes me think of funny things...pictures and...”

Intrigued, Cary pushed. “What kind of things?”

“Weird things, Care. I see myself, right? Just like different, and every time I try to focus on the image it blurs into another one, like superimposed pictures of me, too many to count. Like one of those pictures of someone holding a picture of themselves holding up a picture of themselves, right?” She sounded concerned “Is that crazy?”

Cary brushed it aside.

“Nah, s'not crazy at all B.” Cary said, reached over to squeeze her hand. She squeezed back and smiled wide, showing the gap in her teeth. Cary remembered the other thing he wanted to try with the Book. Aside from simply proving he wasn't insane.

“Wish for something B! I'm going to do the same and we'll tell each other what we wished for after, and...” He couldn't finish the statement, as a sudden, very strong spasm roiled through his chest, just under his heart, as though a needle had just pierced his sternum. It was so strong his whole body lurched toward the tablet.

“Wow..” Cary said, rubbing at the spot. “It pulled me towards it!” Cary exclaimed. “Did you feel anything?”

Bugs chewed at her lower lip and shook her head “no.”

“OK...” Cary murmured and fixated on the wish he had been storing up. His face flushed with embarrassment at his wish as he wondered if Bugs would approve. “Wish!”

Bugs nodded. They both pulled faces full of concentration which devolved into bouncing smiles. After some time, maybe a minute or two, Bugs spoke again. “Look!” she pointed to the tablet. The light was growing inside it, moving as though it came from some great depth towards them, they leaned closer. Before Cary could do more than blink, the light flashed blindingly, both he and Bugs threw their arms in front of their faces and toppled backwards onto mounds of pink insulation.

“What was THAT?” Bugs asked.

“I don't know.” Cary said.

That did not happen the last two times, did it?

Bugs fixed him with a very eager look. “What did you wish for?” Cary asked though he looked away. Now it came to it, he was even more embarrassed, scared to tell even Bugs.

What if she...

“Care. I wished...” Her voice trailed off. She went red. “I wished I could move at the speed of light.”

Cary smiled. “That's a good one.”

“What did you wish for?” she asked.

Now Cary went even more scarlet than she had. He hadn't wished for anything like what she had. “Um. I wished I was the most popular person at Happy Endings High.”

Bugs was confused. “But why...?”

Cary gulped. “Because it'll be easy to see if it comes true. Since everyone hates me.” Of course this was not the only real reason, which he didn't think he could bring himself to tell her. Cary truly wanted to be the popular kid, just once, if only to see what it was like.

And maybe get revenge on Jonathan.

Then there was Troy. Cary pictured the swimmer's face, looking back at Cary with eagerness and excitement instead of the usual derision and contempt. He couldn't have expressed easily the feeling this roused inside him. All he could have said was he wanted it, wanted it desperately, even though he knew he should not want it.

It's stupid to care what these idiots think about me.

“Well, I hope it comes true then, Care.” Bugs said. She sounded sincere. “Although, I mean I clearly didn't get mine.” She stood up, made a darting movement, and nearly toppled back to the floor as she lost her balance. “See?”

They both laughed.

“We should get out of here...” Bugs said. Cary nodded. As best as they could, they replaced the tablet and the cloth cover. Cary hefted the lid back into place and slid the hinge rods back in. They stayed, barely.

“The lid is going to fall apart when he opens it...” Bugs said.

Cary sighed and shrugged.

I really don't care if Clearing finds out anymore. Even though he's been super nice to me. He tried to keep the Book from me!

They made their way out of the attic and out of the house using the bathroom window. Several houses down, towards Bugs' house, she stopped. “I really hope your wish comes true, Care. I know how much happier it would make you, right?” She smiled and squeezed his hand, but he was sure her eyes showed new emotion. “Cuz you're the coolest person I've ever met. And it's a shame for everyone else to miss out.” Cary almost got lost in her smile, in the bright white of her gapped front teeth, until he saw a set of headlights coming down the street.

“Hide!” Cary said. They ducked between two houses and down behind some bushes. As the car passed, Cary saw it was Clearing's. “Whew, that was close!” Cary breathed. Bugs nodded “That was Clearing, right?”

“Yeah...” Cary said, slightly breathless.

“We should get home, Care...”

“Yeah, well, I'll see you tomorrow, B.”

Cary fell asleep fifteen minutes later, still wearing his clothes and sneakers, his mind racing with thoughts of the other kids at school all looking up to him for a change.

Next Chapter: Chapter 25