After she helped him drag his duffel bags inside, Bugs said, “And you can stay here as long as you want Care. I’ll call Mom and Dad and tell them later.” Maybe I can stay here forever! Could it really be possible not to have to live with Bird and Lana anymore?
Cary hardly dared hope.
“Now, let’s go see Clearing.” Bugs said after she had changed into a sweater and jeans. She had a willful, purposeful expression on her face, determination all the way. They hardly talked as they walked towards Clearing’s house.
“If we have to we’ll break-in again, right.” Bugs said, but Cary winced. He was sure it was wrong, had been wrong every other time he had done it, and he was tired of not being a good friend to people who were kind to him.
“No. We’ll wait for Clearing, B. I don’t want to break-in again. He’s ...he’s our friend.” Cary said.
Bugs stared at him for a moment, as though waiting for him to change his mind but she nodded and smiled.. “I guess you’re right. But I reserve the right to overrule you later.”
They both laughed. Cary moved faster towards Clearing’s.
Their teacher’s car was in the driveway and the lights were on inside. Cary whooped. Bugs laughed. Cary knocked on the door under the carport. After a long few minutes, Cary knocked again, harder, louder, found himself shocked his forceful bang didn’t shatter the door. He was just about to turn away dejected when he heard someone on the other side of the door.
It swung open.
Clearing stood back-lit by light streaming out of the kitchen. His salt and pepper hair was frazzled and his glasses were askew. He looked terrible, as though he had been crying or fighting, maybe both. Clearing took in Cary and and Bugs and glared at them both.
“Mr. Clearing...” Bugs started from behind him, but Cary coughed and she backed off.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Cary said. “I did it. I broke into your house and looked at the Book of Fates on your tablet. Twice. You trusted me and I betrayed your trust, sir. I really am sorry.”
Clearing’s head tilted and he studied Cary like Cary was a wild creature the teacher had never seen before. This lasted for an age before Clearing spoke again.
“Well.” was all he said. But Cary refused to back down, stare at the ground or give up.
I have to see the Book! I have to make this right!
“And I still want to be your friend Mr. Clearing and work with you, if you’ll let me, and you don’t have to let me see the Book ever again.” The words came out before he had time to think because he would never have made that promise otherwise.
I have to look at the Book again..
The nasty voice echoed this: I HAVE TO LOOK AT THE BOOK AGAIN!
His fingers itched, his chest gave a little spasm, his feet twittered.
I’m connected to it...it’s MINE... Both voices in Cary’s mind said this together. Cary knew he was right to promise Clearing...
That is what a real friend does...
Even the nasty voice in his head agreed.
Promise whatever you must to get what you want! The voice chided,
Clearing sighed, wearily. "OK. I give up, Carver. It’s not like I didn’t expect you to try and look at the Book, I just hoped you wouldn’t... I tried to keep it away. Come in, come in, both of you.”
“We must talk.” Clearing said softly.
Some time later they sat in Clearing’s office, not talking. The conspicuous absence of the bookcase which had held the tablet’s box irritated Cary and he could not stop glancing over at the indentations on the carpet where it had been. Clearing caught this and sighed every time.
“You aren’t the first person to have this problem, Cary.” Clearing finally said. The teacher looked away and pulled off his glasses, massaged the sides of his nose. When he looked back at Cary he had a very pained expression on his face. “Derek couldn’t read the thing, but after he found it tormented him anyway and it...did things. It was an obsession for him. He stopped caring about everything and everyone.” Clearing’s anguish was plain. “And it killed him. At the end he could not keep his mind off it, not for me. Not even to save himself.”
Clearing’s voice broke. He looked past Cary. Bugs sniffled. “You were trying to protect me...” Cary mumbled. Clearing nodded. "That Book is dangerous, Cary. I only kept it around because...”
Cary knew the answer: “Because you hoped it would bring him back.”
Clearing nodded fiercely. “You can’t understand what it is like ... to lose a... friend... like Derek.” Cary and Bugs shared a look, wondering the same thing:
Neither of them said it. Clearing had opened up to them and it just felt wrong to contradict him.
“What did it say, Cary?” Clearing said, animated. Cary debated for a moment whether he should fudge and tell Clearing a lie or a half truth. But then he looked at Bugs and decided to be honest.
“It was nonsense, really. But somehow... it.” Cary felt ridiculous saying aloud, but he swallowed and plowed onward. “It granted my wishes.” Cary said.”Three...I mean two of them.” He beamed wide at Bugs as he said this and she rolled her eyes at him.
“Amazing! And you can really read it, actually understand the symbols?” Clearing asked.
Cary nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Can you?” he asked Bugs, a shrewd expression on his face.
She shook her head chewed at her lip. “No sir.”
“You’re not telling me something...” Clearing said to Cary, his head swinging back to Cary. Cary glanced at Bugs and back to Clearing and sighed, resisted the urge to stare at the carpet, to clam up. As if someone opened a floodgate inside his mind, Cary began talking rapidly.
“They’re looking for me. I don’t know if they know it yet, but I think...I think, I’m important somehow. Because I can read the Book of Fates. Because I’m not from here. I know I’m not. Bird won’t ever tell me and Lana doesn’t know, but if I were from here, someone would have known my parents, or mother, at least. But no one seems to. And Lurlene, she can do things. So can Pastor, and they both know my real name...”
“Your name is Icarus Carver!” Bugs interjected.
“No. It’s not. It’s Icarus Hadwell.” Cary said. Clearing grunted as if Cary had punched him in the gut. Cary stopped, drew in a deep breath. But the teacher recovered before Cary could react. “What does Lurlene Darxis have to do with this?”
“Lurlene tortured Principal Jenson.” Cary said. Clearing sat up straight, his eyes riveted now to Cary. "Looking for information on adopted kids at Happy Endings High. And she made me go to the swim meet with her and asked all kinds of questions about Troy Smalls, she seemed too interested in him, but now since my wishes, she’s been watching me and she said we’d talk soon.” Another deep breath. “And the Pastor...” Cary’s voice failed. "He came over last night with Lana and Bird and they.. they said I had a demon in me and Pastor, he touched this ring with a black stone on it, a stone like the kind Lana’s ring is made of. The kind I saw on other people at their church. It hurt when he touched me with it, burned me and it left this mark,” Cary opened his neck outward, pulled his t-shirt aside and showed his scar. “And after it touched me, my chest hurt, in the same place that spasmed when I wished on the Book, and then... it was gone. My strength was gone.” Cary hung his head down, drained from the talking.
Clearing was restless now, his foot tapping as he paced. Bugs looked at Cary as though she had not seen him before. She again chewed her lower lip. “There’s something wrong with Pastor, his eyes are black, like his ring and they don’t reflect light, like...like dark matter you talked about in class. Like instead of seeing them you’re seeing an absence. It was scary.” It felt good to admit he had been frightened of Pastor. Still was in fact.
Clearing sighed expansively. “This is ... almost more than I can take in, Cary.”
Cary laughed. He wanted to say, “Welcome to my life.” But he didn’t. Bugs and Clearing each cracked a smile.
“I can’t make sense of it all for you Cary, but I think we need to talk to someone who maybe can...” Clearing said, resolve coming into his face. "And then...”
Clearing looked away, toward a window, stared off into the distance. Bugs edged forward on her seat, Cary fidgeted nervously.
And then what?
“I think you’ll have to use the Book again, Cary. Once we know more. We’re up against something here, something incredible none of us understands and the one thing we have, presumably which they don’t, is the Book of Fates and the powers it can give you. See Derek and I tested it. He worked for Pottermore after all. And he researched and researched trying to understand how it got there,but he never found out why. What he did find out is that it only shows up on that tablet.”
He said you and not us.
Bugs spoke next, “Who do we need to talk to?”
Clearing smiled and showed teeth. “Principal Jenson of course.” This made incredible sense to Cary, who nodded eagerly.
“And I think we should do it now.”
In the dark, houses they passed were mostly blurs of shadows. Cary was unsure where they were going, at first, inexplicably he had thought they were headed for the high school.
“Are we going to school?” he asked.
Clearing made a left turn. “No. I told you we’re going to Jenson’s house. Just outside town.”
Cary continued to watch the dim scenery outside the car and his mind wandered, his fingers itched to touch the Book, almost uncontrollable, making it very hard to focus on what they were about. Bugs seemed excited, eager. This was an obvious adventure for her.
“Now you kids let me do the talking with Beverly, OK? In fact, it might be best if she doesn’t even know you’re here. I’ll let you out just before we get there, and you can eavesdrop from the bushes.”
Cary didn’t like this idea and Bugs frowned, but neither argued. Five minutes later they had left town and were traveling down an incredibly dark, forested two-lane road. Clearing turned on a narrow gravel drive Cary had not even seen, would never have known was there in the dark. A minute later Clearing stopped the car but let engine idle.
“OK, get out here, the house is a few hundred feet down the drive. Stay hidden.” Clearing said. He didn’t look at either of them as he said it, and his grip on the steering wheel was so tight his knuckles shone a pale white, even in the dark. Cary and Bugs got out of the car, looked at one another with similar expressions of mild confusion. As soon as they shut their doors, Clearing pulled off, sending gravel flying into the night. The sounds of the night surrounded them: crickets chirping, odd scuttlings and the sweeping brush of tree limbs above. They could only see a narrow strip of sky above, patched with stars, between the crowns of trees. It had gotten chilly as well. A wind whipped between the trees and the branches above sighed and swayed.
“We should go.” Bugs said, wrapping her arms around herself while Cary stood still, looked around.
“Yeah.” Cary said, though a deep foreboding cossetted him. Like he was standing on the edge of some cliff and didn’t know it. “OK.”
They crept down the gravel drive, when the house loomed up out of the darkness, they remained behind the line of trees; which grew up right to the side of the house, giving them cover. Clearing’s car was parked, in the space between the forest and the house in front, still clanging on its pinions. The man himself stood before a pair of large, dark wooden doors. Jenson’s house was a mansion, and known to Cary, if not Bugs. It was the only such dwelling in Happy Endings; an old antebellum plantation manor called Allen Place. Rumors had always said it was haunted, and Cary could remember in elementary and middle schools overhearing other kids talking about how the place was haunted. He dreamed trips to sneak into the basement there and meet the spirits which tormented the old place, but had never actually gone, realized now he might not have ever found the place had he tried.
I didn’t know Principal Jenson had moved into the place. How long she has lived there?
Clearing banged the large brass knocker several times and gently hopped impatiently from foot to foot. A large spotlight flared to life above him, so bright even Bugs and Cary had to shade their eyes despite the cover of night and trees. Shaded as the doors swung inward by the inner blackness was a frizzled-haired figure, a dark ink sketch. It wasn’t until she stepped into the light Cary saw it was Principal Jenson and not some creature made entirely of shadows. The woman wore a voluminous bathrobe of fluffy blue material, her hair unkempt and wild, her expression displeased.
“Malston? Whatever is the problem? Do you know what time it is?” Principal Jenson said. Her hands went to her hips as she glared at Clearing and tiptoed up to look past him. Clearing’s head twitched as though he wanted to look back towards where Cary and Bugs were hid, as if he had a sense of exactly where they hunched. "We need to talk Beverly. And I think you know why.”
Jenson’s whole body trembled, her hair went wilder. Her head tilted around Clearing again, frantically searching for some other person.
“She’s not with you, is she?” Jenson said and nervously licked her lips. One of her hands dipped into a pocket of her bathrobe.
“No, Beverly, she’s not.” Clearing sighed. “Beverly, remember why you brought me here, to Happy Endings?” Clearing said.
Jenson bristled. “Of course. But you didn’t deliver did you, Malston?” Cary glanced at Bugs and knew she thought the same thing he did.
Clearing knows more than he told us!
“It wasn’t mine to give you, Beverly. It doesn’t belong to either of us, and you know it.”
“I’ve been looking for it for decades, Malston! It has been my whole LIFE! Searching out every rumor, making sure to check every lead, I was so CLOSE. If I don’t have a right to see it, then who does?”
“Let’s not kid one another, Beverly. Seeing is just the beginning of what you want. How long have you been working with her?”
Principal Jenson licked her lips and her expression changed, went squirrelly and furtive. The hand in her pocket trembled.
“With her?” Jenson all but yelled. “SHE doesn’t work with anyone. She FORCES me to serve her, but I’ve held back what I know.” Jenson looked like a politician caught in a lie. “Some of it.”
Clearing snorted. “But what HAVEN’T you held back?”
“She knows about the boy now, she knows he’s here, that he is one of three adopted kids. She figured it out, even though I kept giving her incomplete records. And she knows what he is....Malston,” Jenson reached a hand out and grabbed Clearing’s lapel, tugged at it, beseeching. “she’s terrible! You can’t...you can’t know! She is so strong, she has powers...” Jenson licked her lips again, "But we can stop her Malston! Let me see it! I know I can read it. Derek made a mistake. He was flawed, he...”
Clearing had gone rigid. “You will never touch the Book of Fates while I live, Beverly Jenson.”
Jenson became a still-life, flattened and impressionistic. “Then maybe you won’t live much longer, Malston.” Clearing moved closer to her, she backed up. “Is that a THREAT, Beverly?”
“No! No!” Jenson said, backpedaling, coming back to life. “I didn’t ... Malston, it’s not me! I didn’t mean ME!”
She’s lying! Bugs mouthed, echoing Cary’s own thoughts.
“SHE will come for it. She knows, I haven’t told her... I mean I won’t tell her...”
“Please, Beverly. You’re done. She’s broken you. The best thing you can do now is leave after I’m gone. Flee from her. You know she won’t follow. She doesn’t need you any further. Save yourself and me the pain. But before you do, you’re going to answer MY questions.”
Clearing enlarged a bit, like he was displaying plumage. Jenson shivered, but she nodded. “Be quick, if I’m going to get out of here before she finds me, I don’t have much time. She is supposed to come over in the morning.”
“First, who is she exactly? Have you learned at least that much?” Clearing asked. It was amazing to Cary the change in the man. He was hawk-eyed and barbed in the shadows of the doorway.
Had this dangerous bird been hiding under the surface the whole time? And what connection does Clearing share with Jenson?
They obviously had a deep past and both knew more than either let on. Jenson cleared her throat. "I could never get it out of her, except she must be from THERE. She calls her people, or maybe it’s her home, I don’t know, but she calls it ’The Gray.’”
Clearing nodded with percipience.
“And. . .
“She’s not alone, Malston! There are others from the same place. At least one, and SHE’S afraid! She wouldn’t come out and say it, but she is! I can tell! And she said something about dark and stones and eyes, but she never outright.”
At this Bugs squeezed Cary’s hand and their eyes met as they both mouthed Pastor!
“Whatever it is, whoever it is, it scared her enough she’s planning to leave soon. This morning was going to be her last visit.”
Clearing sighed and relaxed. He looked away from Jenson for a moment, swept the dark horizon with his gaze. Cary saw Beverly lick her lips yet again and her features concreted into determination. Clearing turned back to her.
Jenson’s pocket trembled. It finally caught Clearing’s eyes. “What is that, Beverly?”
Jenson’s hand flashed out and a small gun came up. She held her gun, quivering in her hand, before Clearing’s face. "Don’t think about it Malston. She will let me come with her if I give her you. And once you’ve given the Book to her, she promised me I could use it. Just once, but that’s all I need, just one look.” Jenson dusted her lips with her tongue again, her eyes shone with manic light.
“Don’t do this Beverly.” Clearing said. “Better to die than give in to her or any of them.”
“How can you say that Malston?” Jenson bristled. “Derek died because of them! The Book sucked his soul out! How do you think they got the Scion here? They KILLED him Malston, so they could hide their precious Scion here. Do you think we can stand up to them? Our knowledge is dust before theirs, Malston! They’ve unraveled tenth-dimensional theory and hyperspace. Unified the four forces! What can we do to stop them?, Better to join them and live. They are too strong! Our very reality is clay to them!”
Clearing slumped a bit at the mention of Derek, and jerked away like he had been struck. Jenson moved the gun closer to Clearing’s face.
“You don’t know any of that for sure, Beverly. They might have as much power as you suggest, in THEIR dimension, but not here. They are limited here. We discovered that, when we found the first one...”
Jenson shook her head angrily. “You don’t understand! The first was just one of her slaves! A MENIAL!” Jenson sighed and pressed the gun to Clearing’s nose. “It doesn’t matter...” She began to say but Clearing snatched up his hand, wrapped around Jenson’s quivering gun, still pointed at his face.
“I won’t give you the Book, Beverly. And I won’t let Lurlene Darxis have it either. Shoot me if you must. Maybe I’ll be with Derek again finally.”
"You won’t be able to stop her.” Beverly spat. “And she will take the Scion too. She knows.”
“Who is the other Beverly? Tell me!”
“She didn’t say, Malston,” Jenson said and the gun she held quailed worse. “Don’t make me use this! It’s one of yours after all, you know what it can do. I will use it. Don’t make me! Give me the Book and we’ll use it against her! Against all of them! We’ll take the Scion for ourselves, imagine the rewards the others will give us when they come for him!”
Clearing spat at her. “You’re raving, Beverly.”
Jenson sighed long and deeply. “I’m sorry Malston...”
“NO!” Cary shouted as he dashed forward from the trees. He couldn’t let Clearing die, not over him, not after everything he had heard.
I am the Scion. She’s talking about ME! And as he thought this Cary knew it for truth, even without the tugging beneath his ribcage around his heart. Clearing knows so much! I need to know what he knows!
Bugs shouted, “Cary no!”
Jenson’s eyes widened when she saw Cary run towards her. Her face came alight with malicious intensity. “The SCION!” She glowered at Clearing. “You FOOL!” She laughed at nothing and turned her aching gaze to Cary, a foul smile on her wrinkled face, "She will have you now, she will be here soon.”
While Jenson was stared hungrily at Cary, Clearing moved, faster than any fat, bespectacled man should be able. His body crouched, one arm shot upwards and collided with the hand Jenson used to hold the gun. Up close now, Cary saw it was no ordinary gun, but more like something from SyFy, boxy and high-tech looking.
The gun flew from Jenson’s hand, clattered to the pebbled pavement. Clearing’s other hand slammed into Jenson’s gut in a balled fist, elliciting a whuff before she crumpled to the floor of the doorway. Clearing got steadily back to a standing position, breathing hard as though he had just done a sprint.
“I’m too old and fat for this...” He said. “I wish you hadn’t done that Cary. Now she knows too much, we either have to kill her or expect she’ll reveal everything she knows to Lurlene Darxis. As if we don’t have enough problems..”
Bugs dashed over. “What was all that about? You two seemed to know each other, right? And she said someone figured out ten-dimensional theory! Unified the forces of nature! That CAN’T be true!”
“It is.” Clearing. “They just aren’t sharing with us. And they aren’t from our verse. I should have told you before, but would you have believed me? Even with what you knew of the Book? I wasn’t sure. There’s more to tell, but we can’t do it here. We’ve got to get out of here before Lurlene shows up, or worse....”
Cary fluttered uncontrollably, thinking of Pastor. The man’s eyes cavorted in Cary’s mind until the whole dark night around them was full of the terror those eyes promised, full the madness which seemed to be overtaking him, bit by bit.
Lana. Bird. Lurlene. Jenson. What’s next?
“Let’s go.” Clearing said, washing the terrible eyes away for the moment.