Gah, just leave me ALONE, Cary. Geez!
Cary went to the living room and turned on the television, unable to sit quietly and alone anymore. He toyed for a moment with the idea of pulling out his hidden stash of action figures and having an epic battle, like old times, but somehow the magic was gone, especially with the constant refrain of Bugs voice in his mind telling him to leave her alone. Gah, just leave me ALONE, Cary. Geez. He sighed and went into the living room, which was blessedly Bird and Lana-free.
Where are they?
When the TV came on it was on E!, Entertainment News, a wide-mouthed smiling man beamed out at Cary from the screen.
“...and in a tragedy of epic proportions, just last night the entire cast of High School Musical was killed in a fire at the Dallas, TX area school, where filming for a sequel was taking place.” The blond man on the TV paused, pulled a woe-filled face. Pictures of devastatingly good looking teenagers flashed across the screen with two sets of dates under each. Cary had never heard of any of the names before, but some of the pictures looked vaguely familiar. He had heard of High School Musical, but had never actually seen it, because he had never been to a movie theater and Bird didn’t own a working DVD player, just an old VCR which made grinding noises before it tore up any tape put in it. After the last photo drifted off the screen the blond man returned to smiling.
“Disney had just announced a nationwide search for the new cast members to star in High School Musical 2, No word on whether or not that search will be canceled or not...”
Cary changed the channel.
He settled on SyFy, which had a movie on, with what looked like a gnarled witch battling a grizzled wizard. Cary leaned back into the sofa and lost himself in the mind-numbing movie. Visually it was fairly good, but he got very bored of the stilted dialogue and aimlessness of the plot after about fifteen minutes. I could write a better script than this. One of my battles would look so cool as a movie, maybe the Book of Fa... The front door of the house opening and closing jolted him out of reverie.
Lana walked primly into the living room and she wasn’t alone. Bird trailed behind, looking puffy and upset, not stumbling, though very red-eyed, his hands shaking. It took Cary a hard moment to realize a third person was with them. Standing just behind but between Bird and Lana was the fluffy-haired man from Lana’s church. Pastor. All three sets of eyes trained directly at Cary. The air between the four people was charged, volatile. With quickness, Cary turned off the television.
Pastor smiled and with a hand on Lana’s right shoulder, the other on Bird’s left, pushed between the pair and moved two steps ahead. The dark, fluffy-haired man moved with the sureness of someone who feared nothing and held mastery over everything he saw. Just like one of my dark wizards, like Lord Durth would move! Cary swallowed hard as the man kept his eyes stuck on Cary. The urge to dip his head down and stare at the carpet was so strong Cary’s head moved twice before he sternly told himself to keep looking at the man, not to look away.
Keep eye contact a stern voice said in Cary’s head.
“See how he mumbles stuff under his breath, Pastor?” Lana said suddenly. She whispered the word, loud enough to be heard, “Demons!”
Bird went rigid and so did Cary. Pastor nodded. He moved forward until he stood just before Cary, loomed. Pastor’s right hand glistened with the black stone ring, the stone catching light but not releasing it back. Pastor stroked something under his shirt with that hand. Cary swallowed hard, again.
“You’re right to fear, young man...” Pastor said, his mouth curving into a predatory smile. “In the presence of the Divine Master, your little powers are dust...” Cary blinked at the Pastor.
Divine? Powers? What is he saying? Can he honestly believe I’m possessed by a demon or something? I could almost believe Lana thinks so, but Bird and Pastor? They’re too old to believe in those kinds of things!
Too old to believe in magic books on a mysterious tablet which grants wishes? Cary snarled as the nasty voice in his head spoke
“See?” Bird said, “The demon knows we’re here to cast it out!”
Pastor held up hand, silenced her.
I should have wished for THAT!
Pastor leaned closer. Shadows lay across his whole body and face, deeper than they should be, giving parts of his figure a grayish tinge, a nightmare hue. His eyes were a deep, solid, and abysmal black. There was no reflection in them, only endless depth. Cary slid backwards into the sofa, away from those eyes, unable to stifle the sharp fear the Pastor inspired within him.
Pastor said, “Tsk, tsk young man. It won’t do.” He reached out his be-ringed hand, pressed the onyx-like stone on the ring against Cary’s neck. Cary wanted to move away but some unseen force held him fast. Panic welled up inside and he sweated and shook. Anger flooded into Cary and he grasped at Pastor’s wrist, thinking to flip the man into the wall, not caring if Lana and Bird saw what he could do.
I’ll flip them as well, let them finally understand I’m not a weakling any longer.
But strain as he might, he could not move the man’s hand. And where the stone touched Cary, it burned. He wanted to scream, but his throat constricted - nothing came out of his opened mouth. A tugging sensation - very much alike to what he had felt in his chest when he read the Book - flared up around the stone where it touched him. Cary continued to try and shriek. Nothing.
“It’s working Pastor! Just like you said it would! The demon is leaving!” Lana cheered. But the silver-haired man paid her no mind; his eyes were glued to Cary, blazed with blackness. His mouth hardly moved and Cary was sure neither Bird nor Lana heard him whisper: “I know who you are now. You cannot hide any longer.” Pastor let up, backed a step away. Cary’s hand went to the spot and fingered the perfectly circular scar, a slightly raised mark, smooth as though he had had it for years. Cary wanted to cry.
What did he do? Who IS he? What does he know? And what did he mean he knows who I am?
Again, like a vision at the edge of sight, Cary was sure he knew the answer, but his mind would not find it. Pastor moved away and his ring, which Cary stared warily at, vibrated as though it might explode. Pastor put his right hand in the pocket of his black slacks. Lana clapped, Bird even cracked a drunken smile. Pastor held out his left hand and patted Lana affectionately, shook Bird’s hand, but his eyes did not leave Cary.
“Thank you Pastor, I knew you could do it!” Lana chirped.
“Indeed,” Pastor intoned. “But I caution you. These things are very tricky, and you must let me know right away if he exhibits anymore signs, of... possession.” Pastor drew out the last word, like it was funny, his eyes widened at Cary, almost like he had made an inside joke. Lana and Bird nodded sycophantically. After that Pastor was gone, Cary was shocked, one hand clasped to his neck as he fingered his new scar, miserably alone with Bird and Lana. His heart beat incredibly hard and fast. Breath came in ragged bursts.
What DID Pastor do? What just happened?
Freaked out as he was, Cary had not lost all his new-found confidence. After all, whatever Pastor had done, he couldn’t unmake the Book of Fates and the wishes it had granted.
Bird moved towards Cary and grabbed him by the upper right arm, hauled him up off the couch. "You’re in some real trouble now, aren’t you, kid?” Bird snarled. His breath stank, but not of liquor. Something else lurked inside the man. But Cary was done waiting. I’m going to HURT you! Putting Pastor and the strange mark on his neck temporarily out of mind, not wondering about Bird’s sobriety, or anything else except hurting the man, Cary drew his fist back and with all the strength he could summon punched Bird directly in the stomach, fully expecting his fist to go clean through his foster-father and kill him.
Bird grunted as Cary’s fist slammed into his gut, but for all the flab around it, the solid mass hardly moved. Cary’s knuckles flared into pain. He shook his hand and screamed in low pain.
Like the rush of sound of a filling vacuum, images swept through Cary’s mind.
The Book. Lurlene. Jenson. Clearing. and Pastor. Pastor’s black, unreflective eyes... his awful ring flashing
The pictures grew in size in Cary’s mind until everything was the solid, dull black of a looming crater.
“Screamin’ ain’t gonna get you outta trouble, kid.” Bird said, grabbing Cary’s arm by the wrist. Lana hovered behind Bird, her gleeful smile erased, replaced by a stern blazing-eyed joy. She was enjoying Cary’s misery, but it was all hate.
“Get him, Dad.” Lana said. Bird looked back at her and nodded grimly.
“And ta think I done raised ya all these here years so you could bring evil up in mah house?” Bird shook Cary by the wrist. "And you got the nerve to hit me after I had to get the damned Pastor in ’ere to save you from the damned demon you invited in?”
Cary wanted to cry, could feel tears coming. His confidence was shattered and it was like the past weeks had not happened, and everything was back to what it had been, only worse, far worse. The evil glint in Bird’s eye promised pain and suffering.
And I’m not going to like it. I might not even survive it. What happened to my strength? Where did it...
Cary went cold with fear. It must have showed on his face. Bird nodded and Lana growled.
“OH, so you is afraid now? Good, I...” Bird said.
Bird jerked forward, crumpled to the floor from a hit behind him, a hit so hard the man went into an unconscious heap. Lana shrieked and she too was on the ground, stilled. Cary saw, once again, he had been inexplicably saved by Lurlene. Yet the woman stared at him in much the same way Pastor had. With utter disdain. As though he were an object to be taken. Her eyes found the mark on Cary’s neck and she reached out for it, grasping. Cary flinched away uncontrollably. Lurlene snorted and used her other hand to grab and hold his neck still. Her cold, rough fingers caressed the mark for half a minute. She tilted his head back and stared deep into his eyes.
“You’re clean.” she murmured, half in disgust, half in relief. She pushed his head away roughly. “I was afraid that SOB left a minion in you. When I saw the mark...” Her voice trailed off, became snort.
“You see, Icarus Hadwell, people in this town just aren’t at all what they seem.” She had pulled her hands away from him, but not her eyes, like Pastor’s they were glued to Cary.
“Who am I?” Cary asked, the question coming from deep inside, along with a certainty Lurlene knew the answer. She called me Icarus Hadwell! How did she KNOW that? But she did not answer his question.
“You stay away from McGree. From Pastor. And be careful with these two. They’re infested with his minions.” She eyed Lana and Bird with deep loathing. “I won’t be able to keep saving you every time.”
Cary wanted to tell her he could look after himself, but the words died on his tongue when her eyebrows arched at him. I lost all my strength. Pastor took it away. I’m nobody again. “If I hadn’t seen that foulness come in with them, I might not have been nosy enough to poke around...poor little Ickie Queenie would be of no use to anyone then.” She laughed derisively. “You and I will talk again soon, Icarus. Very soon.” The stress she place on his right name was clear, and meant to be so. Cary knew. She wanted him to know she knew. Lurlene sauntered out of the house, slammed the door behind her.
Cary sat still, stared at the comatose heaps that were Lana and Bird. He slowly shook from fear and crashing excitement.
What am I going to do now? They will kill me when they wake up. And I can’t stop them. I need HELP!
At best,Bird would blame Cary and kick him out, yet find some way to still collect the fostering check - just be done with Cary for good. Despair settled in with disturbing quickness. He moved to step gingerly over the still forms of Lana and Bird, saw them both move with shallow breathing. As quietly as he could with his body trembling from fear and anxiety, Cary gathered up his backpack, and two large Duffle bags Bird kept in the hall closest, for hunting trips. The man hadn’t taken one of those trips in years, so both bags were dusty, musty, and unused. Cary stuffed both full of clothes and books, his action figures, He-Man looked up Cary with unmoving eyes, his muscles silenced. Cary went back into the living room and with a wavering, shivering hand reached into Bird’s back pocket, fished out the man’s wallet and removed the fifty-three dollars inside. He reached into the voluminous front pocket of Lana’s denim skirt and took out her pocketbook; which, surprisingly, had nearly two hundred dollar bills in it. A sigh escaped his lips once the cash was in his pocket. I’ve never had this much money! Not even close. Without another look back, Cary fled the house.
His feet took him to the one place he hoped he still had a friend left. Clearing hates me. Lana and Bird want to kill me, Pastor has powers he shouldn’t have and he wants me too. Even Lurlene’s eyes promised discomfort.
Outside her house, Cary stopped and dropped his heavy bags on the concrete driveway. The lights were on inside the house and dusk set in around him. Cary tried to rehearse what he should say, but the more he tried to decide on specific words the more crazily his mind raced. Images flashed in his mind’s eye. Like a revolving strip, yet one flashed regularly, frighteningly. Pastor’s ring. Cary grabbed his head and tried to shake the images away. He failed. There was nothing for it but just to knock and hope Bugs could help.
Bugs answered the door, wearing a long t-shirt with a huge puffy unicorn on it, sucking on a Twizzler. She grunted when she saw Cary.
“Where’s your posse... C-dawg?” she said.
Cary swallowed hard and forced himself not to stare at the ground. Bugs grunted again.
“I’m so sorry, B.” Cary said. “I tried to stop it..” The words curdled on his tongue.
I didn’t really try very hard, did I? I...
“..and I shouldn’t have wished for popularity, but...”
"But WHAT Cary?” Bugs said, her foot tapped impatiently.
Creeping dread caused something to occur to Cary.
I wished for a best friend and Bugs appeared.
If Pastor took away the strength I wished for...did he also take away Bugs’ friendship? And the popularity?
Only as he stood there, looking at Bugs did it occur to Cary just how stupid he had been, how foolish his wishes had been.
What’s the point of a friend who only likes me because of a wish? Someone I forced to be my friend...how is that any better than Bird or Lana?
Cary started to cry. He truly had nothing left. Even Bugs, she was going to abandon him as Jonathan had, but with better reasons.
It’s all my fault...
He couldn’t even tell himself he didn’t deserve it. With the whole multiverse of wishes available, look what I had wished for...?
a best friend...strength...popularity...
The same nasty little voice which so often criticized Cary within himself piped up, thankfully less cruelly this time. "But you wished for a friend first. Everyone deserves a friend.”
It didn’t make Cary feel any better.
“Are you just stand there and cry at me, Cary?” Bugs said, though her tone softened somewhat.
It all came pouring out of him. Like a confession on The First 48, Cary told Bugs everything. From his suspicions of himself about the word “fag” Troy and Jonathan had used on him, to his hatred of Lana and Bird, to the wishes he had made to the Book of Fates, and ten other things he knew or suspected he shouldn’t have done. When he was done, Bugs cracked the candy in her mouth loudly.
“So what?” she said and Cary deflated into himself, wiped his nose and started to turn away, defeated. "You’re still my best friend, Care. I mean, did you really believe some Book made me like you, made me want to be your best friend? What, like I’m someone brainless twit? Like have no mind or choice of my own? How crazy is that, Care, right? Besides! I moved here before you made that wish and my Dad had the job and plans to move here months before. I’m mad at you, sure, but I’ll get over it.”
Relief flooded into him, stronger and warmer than just about any feeling he had ever known before. “Did Lurlene really knock Bird and Lana out?” Bugs laughed. ” I would have loved to have seen that! And you said Pastor pressed his ring to your neck and took your super-strength, that’s impossible, right?”
Cary nodded. "Yeah. Knocked them out cold. And it’s totally gone. I don’t know how he did it, but he did.”
“Well, then we have to go get it back don’t we?” Bugs said, swallowing the last of her candy. “And we know exactly how to do that, don’t we, right?”
Her grin was malicious, mischievous, but not directed against him. She was still his friend, always had been, and without a wish granted, Cary was satisfied with that.